A few weeks ago, I was out walking the dog along the waterfront, where a new pier is being constructed for a residential high-rise. It’s been a little noisy in the neighborhood for the last few months, but nothing really disturbing; just a constant sort of background hum.
This particular day however, as we got closer to the site, I could really hear it. I mean really. You want to know how loud it was? It was louder than the loudest setting on my phone’s music app! I know, right? Immediately, the yenta complainer voice that lives in my head chimed in: “Ugh. It’s so loud. I wish it would stop. Why does this need to be happening now? Why can’t I just go for a quiet peaceful walk on a beautiful warm day without something like this ruining it? Why does this always happen to me?” She’s a real gem…
One of my favorite teachings on handling negative emotions comes from Pema Chodron’s book, Getting Unstuck: Breaking Your Habitual Patterns and Encountering Naked Reality. Pema (I’ve spent so much time with her teachings, that we’re on a first name basis) describes an experience, on a particular retreat, of unabating anxiety every time she sat down to meditate. Struggling with it for days, unable to find its source, or make it subside, she visited her teacher looking for guidance. After listening to her describe the experience, Dzigar Kontrul Rinpoche said “Oh, that’s the Daikini’s Bliss! That’s a high level of spiritual bliss.” Hearing this, Pema became excited about her next meditation practice. After Rinpoche left, she sat down on her cushion, ready to experience it again, however the feelings were gone.
“When he said that, that was melting it, or space coming into it, or warmth coming into it. You change the way you look at it.”
I came across this article, by John Horgan, questioning the benefits of the new meditation craze. I thought he made some interesting observations, and on some level I agree with him. I sent him the following email; probably worthwhile to share here as well.
I think that one of the issues with meditation is that proper instructions are not included. Sitting still and trying to “not think” is not what it’s about. You are correct that meditation, in and of itself, does very little. Just having a meditation practice doesn’t make you happier, or more peaceful, or nicer. It’s what one does during meditation that leads to awakening (or doesn’t, as the case may be for most people). What’s missing in most traditions (as they are presented in the mainstream), is the method of self-inquiry. (It’s what you’re actually supposed to “do” during meditation).
When I put aside my prejudices and looked at my deepest motivations and fears, I was surprised to be confronted by a rather sorry-looking individual, covered with bandages, limping along on a crutch, incapable of hurting anyone.
I immediately recognized him. It was me. It was my wounded self, a symbolic representation of all those doubts and fears about myself that I had so carefully hidden from public view for so many years. And when I looked a little closer at this injured being, my heart was deeply touched. I wanted to reach out and help him to heal, because I could see, beneath the bandages, that he was only a small boy, a helpless, wounded child.
Throughout the last few months of my work with Gaya, we’ve been talking a lot about the people in my life, and how I’m relating to them. Gaya keeps repeating to me that there’s no one “out there;” everyone is really just a mirror reflecting back at me.
At first this was difficult to grasp. Surely, the people in my life are real humans – I can touch them, see them, hear them (even smell them sometimes). I accepted what she was telling me, but it didn’t really sink in until much later. What she meant is that who they are to us, how we see them, how they make us feel, is nothing more than a reflection of how we see ourselves.
Conceptually, what we choose to see in others, the way we see them, and the judgments we have about them, are nothing more than judgments we hold about ourselves, and how we think we ought to be or not be. In clinical terms, this is called projection. In other spiritual traditions, this is called shadow work.
I came across a movie recently that challenged all of my old beliefs and judgments about who or what I ought to be. In watching the movie, I discovered that I could be happy living in many different ways – a possibility that never existed before. Then I found a news article about a little communist nirvana in Southern Spain, and my heart sang with delight. Me? Communal living? No way. I almost couldn’t believe my own reaction. So dear friends, set aside your judgments and beliefs of who you ought to be, and give yourself the chance to really live!
While everyone was out drinking and barbecuing this weekend, I spent most of it on the couch with this book (the actual physical book). It was so powerful in so many ways that I’m adding it to my “books that will change your life” list. If you’re unfamiliar with the canon of feminist writing (I was), Polly is a prominent and powerful voice among many amazing leaders. You can read more about her work here.
I want to share some excerpts with you from Beyond Wanting to be Wanted. If I’m being honest, I underlined, highlighted, and scribbled notes on most pages, so picking out excerpts was its own challenge.
In my opinion, Polly has brilliantly distilled a lot of ancient wisdom into a practical modern way of life (primarily for women, but also often applicable to men). She encourages her audience to get really honest and really clear about their desires; to bring their truths into the light, so to speak. Because it is only when we are aware of what we feel and what we want, that we have true freedom to choose how we live in the world. She has also articulated a very subtle phenomenon that resonates profoundly for me – the idea that women often focus on being the object of someone else’s desire, instead of the subject of their own. It is when you stop seeking approval of others, you stop trying to be the person you think you should be, that you can really live authentically, vulnerably, and with integrity.
This is a difficult one. It sounds easy, but it’s really not. Just be honest. Just tell the truth. The truth will set you free. How many times have you heard these words? And yet, it’s such a struggle for so many people. This lesson has appeared several times in the last few weeks. It has tested my strength and courage; but when I stepped up to meet the challenge instead of hiding from the truth, it left me feeling absolutely magical.
To look for truth, and to be honest, is terrifying. Forget big universal truths; I’m talking about little truths, personal truths. We are afraid to look inward, and to be honest with ourselves. And even if we are courageous enough to do that, then we are so concerned with the feelings of others, that we are afraid to share our truths with them. We punish ourselves with all sorts of guilt for causing someone emotional pain, when we really have no idea how they will feel if we’re honest. We jump through crazy ridiculous hoops, all because we want to avoid the turmoil of emotional pain (theirs and ours). Being honest and being kind are not mutually exclusive. You can and should deliver your truth without blame or judgment, but definitely with kindness. It just takes a little practice.
Some time ago I took a short business trip to Ohio. I picked up my rental car, and found that the agent had thrown in a GPS for free. (I usually opt out of the GPS because of a traumatic experience in Albany, but that’s a different story).
Anyway, I plugged in the address of my destination, and when I pulled up to the building, the GPS announced “You have arrived!” How nice, I thought. I have arrived. Let’s take a moment to celebrate that.
After my meeting, I returned to the car, and plugged in the address of my next destination. When I got there, the GPS again announced “You have arrived!” Again, I took a moment to savor my arrival and settle my thoughts.
As I got out of the car, I felt great. I could stop worrying about the traffic, or the weird sound the car was making, or being late for my meeting. All those worry thoughts were no longer relevant in that moment. Just taking that small second to recalibrate and calm my thoughts before moving forward made such a difference!
What a lovely mantra that would be – with every step, at different points throughout the day (no matter what you’re doing), you stop for a moment and think “I have arrived.” In this way, you get to really cherish the journey.
The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not the thinker. The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. You then begin to realize that there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought. That thought is only a tiny aspect of that intelligence. You also realize that all the things that truly matter: beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace arise from beyond the mind. You begin to awaken.