What is it that drives us to make a choice to follow one path or another? To commit to one thing but not another? We certainly don’t know what we are actually signing up for when we make that choice. Emotions change. Life changes. People change. Perhaps what we are going off of is an innate desire to find or feel purpose in our life.
We are born with some deep ingrained intention (which could be also seen as a “purpose”; i.e., “why am I here?”), which is likely developed by either what is fed to us as children, something we create on our own, or a mixture of the two. In most cases we don’t fully understand this “purpose” or “intention” until we’re older (some never understanding or even contemplating it).
Nevertheless our actions are guided by these, whether they be conscious or subconscious. But somehow, in our darkest moments, our intentions/innate and individually defined purpose(s) sneaks back into our mind and reminds us who we are, and to hold strong and move forward, or else we will be violating our ‘agreement’ to our purpose in life. It serves as a motivation in life and an internal compass when we’ve lost our way. Some people refer to it as our “internal GPS”.
And that’s where struggle and suffering comes in. That’s where maturity comes in. Until we see life as it really is (shit doesn’t always work out in our favor, things don’t go according to plan, and sometimes we gotta jump ship and give up), BOTH the great and the devastatingly disappointing pieces of life must be accepted, or we won’t be able to fully mature. And when things go south, there’s that miraculous reappearance of our “internal GPS”. As humans we are constantly going off course from our “path”. Did you know planes are off course 90% of the time?! They just keep correcting according to the GPS. And so do humans. We just don’t realize we have this internal GPS that’s guiding us. Those who are more aware and in tune with their internal GPS tend to self-correct frequently and very quickly. Those who are not as aware tend to take a bit more time (and unfortunately some end up crashing, having to put themselves back together and trying over again).
Getting in touch with our internal GPS is risky, scary, and quite challenging. It means sacrificing temporary moments of pleasure or pleasantness for a longer, and much more delayed gratification. And in that time of sacrifice, we know nothing. Will it work out? Will we fail? Will our partner cheat on us, or lie to us, or die on us? Is this a good investment? Will I lose my job? Will I get cancer? We never know. One thing we have to remember is that our purpose is never fulfilled. Goals can be fulfilled, but our purpose isn’t. Because that is our lifeline. If I were to tell you my intention is “to be the best version of myself” in all times, I could also tell you that I fail majority of the time, and that I can’t say “I did it!” 6 months down the road, or even 20 years down the road. It’s a constant battle that guides me, my choices, and how I life my life daily.
That’s where faith comes in. Following our internal GPS requires devotion; not to a person or thing, or even an idea, but to something bigger than ourselves. A faith that when we continue to follow our path, we will find what we are looking for. And this is the beauty of life. Balancing our reality of being human with our hopes, dreams, and desire to fulfill our “purpose” while we are alive here on Earth. We balance it all, taking care of ourselves along the way. Balance…
(This excerpt is from the book is called “Pray, Meditate, or Both?”)
A common question is, “What’s the harm in praying for world peace?” And the problem is in the idea that it’s somebody else’s responsibility to make peace happen. It begins with you. So if you want to know how close we are to world peace, look within.
Prayer and meditation are both wonderful. In-fact, reciting a prayer is a common meditation practice (like the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, for example). Where there is hatred within, train your mind to sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. Do not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; or to be loved as to love; for it’s in giving that we receive, it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it’s by letting go of the concept of a separate “self”, that we are born to eternal life.
By being grateful for what we have, we generate energy toward more of the same. So don’t focus on what you DON’T have, because energy flows where attention goes (you would just wind up with more of what you don’t want). Meditate to keep your mind firmly fixed in the right direction, and it will raise your awareness of things to be grateful-for in your prayers. See the beautiful relationship between the two practices?
When asked about meditation or mindfulness, we need to be careful about the use of certain words that can be a real turn off to many- like “spiritual”, “light”, and “energy”. While there’s nothing wrong with those words, it’s like throwing a bucket of water on a lit match- the match being those who are curious but weary of trying it out. When you’re going through a hard time, no one wants to hear “I’m sending you love and light”. What the hell is that?! Will I feel it when it arrives? Am I now obligated to send it back?
When I’m asked about coping mechanisms, therapy options, and ways to overcome the hard times, I have to be very cautious about what words I choose and with whom, because while the tools I’ve learned or know of are effective, they are not easy to “sell” if you label them with religious and spiritual tags. If presented in the wrong way, they can either come off as overwhelming, impossible to implement, or even boring and ineffective. The problem with this, is that we’ve seen through science and research that these “mindful tools” actually work in treating anxiety, depression, addiction, codependency, and can positively promote one’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Practicing mindfulness, meditating, practicing gratitude, patience, compassion, etc., these are all just tools that I selectively choose to pull out of my “Mindful Toolbox” when I find myself in a rut. Using the right tools at the right time is the key to effectively solving problems. It is easy to think drinking (or any addictive behavior) our problems away is an effective tool for reducing stress or eliminating our problem, but unfortunately as much as we want to believe it, it just makes our problems worse or can extend the length of time we suffer. That is obviously not the right tool for those times.
And while it would be nice if we could just have that one “Swiss army knife” that “did it all” unfortunately, there isn’t one in life. That said, here are just a few tools that I’ve found work well for me, and when I use them:
Gratitude: Like a screwdriver, it can be used to put together almost anything. So long as you have screws. In life, when things don’t go our way, we feel “screwed”. We often don’t see anything positive about what we’re going through. Everything is so immediate. Practicing gratitude is an awesome tool to use, not just when things get sticky, but daily. Every morning, the moment you wake up, take a few deep breaths and think or say out loud: “Thank you for another day. Thank you for this breath.” Because frankly, the alternative is you don’t get another day and you don’t get another breath… yikes…
Patience: Patience is comparable to a cordless power drill. First, you need to know how to use one, and second, if you don’t have the right charge, your tool is useless. Patience isn’t about sucking it up and bottling up all your disappointment and anger. It’s about realizing you can’t build anything unless you’ve got a positive charge, and in order to do that, you can’t have a negative charge. Take a time-out if you need to. Breathe, and get positively charged. Not everything needs your immediate response. Patience is what keeps you from saying and doing things that hurt yourself and others in the long run. And although it seems counter-intuitive, it actually gets the job done much faster than shooting from the hip. You can see clearly and because of that, your chosen response comes from a place of meaningful and positive power as opposed to negative chaos.
Compassion: The glue that binds everything together. There’s this famous story in Buddhism about lunch in heaven and lunch in hell. Both places have a gorgeous set up with huge dining tables covered with the most delicious food, and both places require that the only way to eat the delicious food is to use the forks provided. The problem is the forks are 5 feet long. Obviously, in hell, they suffered for eternity, unable to eat because the forks were too big. In heaven, they were happy and full, as they used the forks to feed each other. This is compassion: the conditions in our human life can be the same, but depending on our attitude and beliefs, the way we experience life will vary significantly.
Love: This is about as close as we will ever get to having a Swiss army knife. Love truly is the answer to everything; but the problem with this is that very few people understand what Love really is, and out of all the tools in the Mindful Toolbox, is probably one of the most difficult to master.
What is love?
Love can be understood and experienced in so many ways. But to me, my favorite definition of love is found in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:4-13:
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, and it is not proud. Love is not rude, is not selfish, and does not become angry easily. Love does not remember wrongs done against it. Love takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices over the truth. Love patiently accepts all things. It always trusts, always hopes, and always continues strong. Love never ends… When I was a child, I talked like a child; I thought like a child; I made plans like a child. When I became a man, I stopped those childish ways. It is the same with us. Now we see as if we are looking into a dark mirror. But at that time, in the future, we shall see clearly. Now I know only a part. But at that time I will know fully… So these three things continue forever:faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.
New reading and it is beyond AWESOME. Just wanted to share…
When things go wrong in our life and we encounter difficult situations, we tend to regard the situation itself as our problem, but in reality whatever problems we experience come from the side of the mind.
If we responded to difficult situations with positive or peaceful mind they would not be problems for us. Eventually we might even regard them as challenges or opportunities for growth and development.
Problems arise only if we respond to difficulties with a negative state of mind. Therefore, if we want to be free from problems, we must transform our mind.
-How to Solve Our Human Problems, by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
Like a little girl who was promised a pony on Christmas morning, I was seriously looking forward to an event at work in which Byron Katie was coming to talk (if you haven’t hear of her, you have to Google her. She’s AMAAAAHZING!!). Byron Katie is a world-renown speaker and author who teaches “The Work”, a method of self-inquiry that can end emotional suffering. I can’t speak highly enough about the tremendous power her technique has and how much it has contributed to my own healing.
I’m getting sidetracked…
Anyway, I was really looking forward to her coming to Stanford. Her tickets are normally $1,000 but I got to go for free, so there was no way I was going to miss this event! I went an hour early, grabbed a coffee and got the second to front row. Not bad! I was super excited, heart racing with so much anticipation to finally meet and see her!
The host introduced her, and in all her glory she walks on the stage, sits down, and I feel this complete sense of wonder and peace come over me.
Suddenly, I noticed a small spider crawling in a poofy-haired older women sitting in front of me. The spider was carefully crafting its web. I felt a moral obligation to inform her of the spider! After all, I would want someone to tell me if I had a spider in my hair. Then doubt came over me; I didn’t want to interrupt Byron Katie, and I certainly didn’t want to draw attention to myself or to this poofy-haired woman. I wondered how I could relay the message to this poofy-haired woman. A letter? A whisper? No… if I did that she might freak out, jump up and scream. What if I took my pencil and tried to take the spider from her hair? No… that would definitely cause a distraction. Bryon Katie might even think I’m raising my hand trying to speak…
The web took form. The spider was weaving in and out of this poofy-haired woman’s hair. I was torn. Oh, if only she knew… Oh, how can I tell her of this creature!? I decided that I would wait until after the presentation to tell her. I supposed that if the spider wasn’t even noticed by her, maybe it’s not that big of a deal after all.
My bladder was filling with the coffee I had chugged earlier. My pants began to feel tight. I started feeling uncomfortable. I was not about to miss this event I had long been awaiting! I refused to excuse myself. Slowly, I noticed that between the spider and the coffee I was having a hard time understanding the discussion.
The presentation ended. In fear of making a mess, I ran out of the building as if it was on fire, to the ladies room. As I walked out of the restroom it had occurred to me that I forgot to tell the lady about the spider.
It also occurred to me that I was so obsessed about the spider and my filling bladder that I completely missed out on really hearing that presentation…
At one of the largest turning points in my life (my 2nd year of undergrad in New York) I was ready to throw in the towel and give up on life. I was flunking all my classes. I walked in on my boyfriend of 4 years sleeping with another woman. I had two jobs and still, my bank account was nearing zero. I was living off of canned tuna and rice. I was living in a basement and still couldn’t afford rent and was being evicted.
“Why try anymore? I’ve done so much already and nothing happened. It’s too much work, and I don’t know if my efforts will ever pay off. What if I’m destined to live this life? Why not just accept it?” I told myself.
Here I was, a small town girl from Idaho, living in New York trying to make something of myself, but no matter how hard I tried, I kept failing. I wasn’t smart enough. I wasn’t pretty enough. I wasn’t good enough. It’s not fair! Why does everyone else have it so easy and I have to struggle? No one loves me. No one will ever love me. I’ll always be a failure. I’ll never find happiness… “I quit! This is hopeless!” I told myself.
On what I decided was my last week of class, my professor noticed my glum attitude and asked me to dinner. That night changed my life. We talked about why I was sad, what I was so disappointed in, and why I was blaming my life and problems on external things like other people, my childhood, and “bad luck” or “destiny”. She told me:
“Everything that you have done in the past, and everything you are doing right now, and everything that you will do in the future is because YOU chose to do it. Everything that you didn’t do in the past, and everything you aren’t doing right now, and everything you don’t do in the future is because YOU chose not to do it.”
I fought back, “No! I don’t have a choice in this! I tried! I did my best! It didn’t work! It’s hopeless now….I’m not at fault! This is just life. I’m being realistic!”
She repeated what she told me, again, and again, and again, until it finally sunk in. “THIS IS YOUR LIFE, AND ALL OF IT IS YOUR CHOICE. AND YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR CHOICES AT ANY MOMENT…”
Wait… what? I can change my choices at any moment? At each and every moment in my life, I can change what I chose to do or not do…
13 years have passed since that day. The greatest lesson of my life. Sometimes I still want to externalize my disappointments. But I’m constantly reminded of her words. I learned that honestly owning up to your choices (good or bad) takes a lot of courage. I learned that if one choice didn’t put me where I wanted to be, I had to make a different choice.
So ask yourself: “Do I like where I am right now in life?” If not, “What did I do to get myself into this situation?”
Now ask yourself: “What can I choose to do now to change my situation?”
The good news is, no matter what choice you make, IT’S ALL YOURS!
The bad news is, that no matter what choice you make, the consequences are all yours too. So choose wisely…
But if you really want it, you do what it takes. Yes, the first few steps are the darkest and scariest, and it might mean leaving New York with your tail between your legs, feeling like a failure while you get into your broken down 1987 Toyota Camry in the middle of summer with no radio and no air conditioner, with one door hanging off it’s hinges, and driving across the country to move back in with your parents and starting all over until you get back on your feet… (or not! That’s just what it took for me.) The point is, no one is to blame for your life, and changing it is scary because we are essentially stepping into the unknown- out of our comfort zone – that place where, ironically, all the juiciest, yummiest, priceless payoff is waiting. Yup… A good life takes effort, work, and time.
I learned that no magic fairy dust or princess wand was going to bring bliss to me on a silver plate… (Yeah, I think I may have honestly hoped it would at that time. And why not? I deserved it! I was a good person. I had good intentions. I was a hard worker. I was nice…I thought…)
What I learned was that no one on this Earth owed me anything. What I learned was that those first steps, however scary, ultimately empowered me and served as a reminder that I AM THE MASTER OF MY LIFE. If it sucks, it’s because I let it suck.
This life is all yours. If you don’t like it, or notice you keep seeing the same disappointments, CHANGE something you are doing in your life! But your life is yours, and only yours, for the taking. It’s your birthright. Own it. Your ONE life is here for you now.
Profound wisdom from an author of one of my favorite books, “Taking Our Places: The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up” by Zoketsu Norman Fischer. He recently spoke at a Stanford Baccalaureate explaining why your life is not and has never been about you…
“A moment is a moment. As with all other times in life, there are highs and there are lows. Today you may be feeling high, and that is beautiful. Time passes though, and you forget about that moment. But right now, you have the skills, connections, and obligations to do great things. And this means not only great things for yourselves- you are expected to do great things for others and for the world. So let’s be honest: the future really is in the youth. And yet the truth is it is not always going to be easy to survive your promising life, anywhere in the world. There is so much competition, and anxiety about that competition, that it is possible that success won’t come easy, and it’s also possible that success won’t come at all. Or maybe it will come in abundance, but you don’t find it as meaningful as you thought it would be. Or, maybe success comes and you find it satisfying but only at first when it is still bright and shiny and exciting, and later at the state and with the implications of the successful life you have lived, it will wear you down and you will find yourself tired and confused.
It could be that as time goes on from this day, some of your personal relationships don’t work out the way you hoped they would. It’s possible that your sense of self doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. It’s possible that there will be disappointments, setbacks- some acknowledged and some buried deep within and not acknowledged. In short, it is very possible that from this day forth there is some pain awaiting you: bad love affairs, betrayals, losses, disillusions. Likely, you are going to have some seriously shaky moments. Maybe as you move through the decades it will become increasingly difficult to maintain the idealism and hopefulness that you have right now. It could be that one day you wake up and you find yourself wondering what have I been doing all this time? Who have I become?
You’ll keep busy. You’ll have a lot of things to do. And if there are such feelings, you’ll try your best not to notice them. If there is any despair, disappointment, discouragement, or boredom that you’re feeling years from today, you’ll try not to notice and I bet you’ll be able to do that- to not notice it…
I should say something encouraging.. and I do intend to do that! But, I figured I would be more convincing if I were also pretty realistic and it is realistic to say that your lives from now on will not be that easy. It is realistic to say that the skills you will need to survive may be more than, or other than, the skills that you have so far in your lives. Because the truth is that it takes a great deal of fortitude and strength to sustain a worthwhile, happy, human life over time in this actual world that we live in.
So here comes the uplifting part:
Your life isn’t and has never been about you…
It isn’t, and it has never been about what you accomplish, how successful you are (or are not), how much money you make, what sort of position you ascend to, or even about your family, your associations, your various communities, or even about how much good you do for others in the world.
Your life, like mine, and like everyone elses, has really only ever been about one thing: LOVE.
Who are you, actually? And where did you come from? Why were you born into this life? You didn’t ask for it. When this short human journey is over, where do you go next, and why and how does any of this exist? What is the point of it all? Not even your Nobel-prize winning professors know the answers to these questions- these inevitable and unavoidable questions. The only thing we know is that we are here for a while and then we are gone, and that WHILE WE ARE HERE, WE ARE HERE TOGETHER, Which is why the only thing that completely makes sense, the only thing that is completely real is LOVE.
This is not a mystery and this is not news or some great discovery. Everyone actually knows this even though we forget about it. Love is always available to you wherever you look and when you dedicate yourself to love- when you dedicate yourself to be kind to everyone you meet, not just the people on your side, AND not just the people you like and approve of, but EVERY human and EVERY non-human being, then you’re going to be ok.
In your life, whatever it brings, even if it brings a lot of difficulty and tragedy, your life will be a beautiful life. I hope that you find this uplifting…
But there’s more… HOW do you love? What does this mean? How do you make your love real so it’s not just a pretty idea? This does not happen by itself. It takes attention, commitment, and effort over time. It doesn’t come from wishing or believing or assuming. You’re gonna have to figure out how NOT to get distracted by your personal problems, by your success (or lack of success), by your needs, desires, suffering, various interests, and ALWAYS keep your eye on the ball of love, even as you inevitably juggle all the rest of it. So you have to commit yourself to love and you have to have a way- a path or a practice for cultivating love and strengthening it throughout your lifetime no matter what happens, because love is not a feeling, it is an overarching attitude and spirit. And it’s a daily activity.
When you go about this practice of cultivating love, whatever practice you choose, the most important characteristic of this practice is that it must be useless- absolutely useless. In other words, it has to be an activity that has no practical effect other than to connect you to your heart and to your highest and most mysterious purpose- a purpose that is literally unknown because it references the unanswerable questions I mentioned a moment ago.
We’ve been doing so many good things for so many good reasons. Lots of good things for our physical health, psychological health, emotional health, family life, future success, economic life, for your community, for your world… but the practice of love that you choose must be a practice that is useless. It doesn’t do anything but to touch our lives beyond all concerns. For example, you could practice gratitude. Have you ever woke up in the morning and just been grateful for another day?
Another practice might be the practice of giving. Giving doesn’t have to be money or gods. Giving can be a daily intention of just a kind word or smile. Or you could practice kind speech on all occasions even difficult ones – committing yourself to speak as much as you can in kindness, and with inclusion of others and their needs, hopes, and dreams – not just speaking from your own side.
Or you can practice beneficial action – committing yourself to intentionally acting with a spirit of benefiting someone else (For example, you could wipe the counters after you’ve used a public restroom, or you could pick up and throw away someone’s garbage in the park) .
Or you could practice identity action, recognizing that when you do anything you are not, and cannot do it alone by your own power. You’ve never done anything alone and by your own power because inevitably whatever you do involves others, and the whole world involves others in a world of support. For example, you cannot breathe air on this Earth without the trees producing oxygen.
Or you could practice compassion – which is going toward, rather than turning away from, the suffering of others and your own suffering. We all want to avoid pain so much that what we do in our lives is focused on avoiding pain- making pain disappear. But oftentimes we cannot make pain disappear- so can you go toward it rather than run away? Can you become softened or brought to wisdom by the unavoidable pain found in others or yourself?
All of these practices share one thing: they come from love. They encourage love. They produce more love. And when you do them over time, little by little it conditions your heart and you discover that you are living in a world full of love, and for your life and for our lives collectively in the times to come, of all the things we need the most, we are going to need much more love. LOTS OF LOVE.
In good times, love is lovely, and in hard times, love is absolutely necessary. Love turns tragedy into opportunity. It turns something unwanted and difficult into a chance to drive love deeper- to make it wiser fuller more glorious and more resilient.
Fenton Johnson said, “One can and should lay great plans, but life has its own ebb and flow and our first duty is to be present to that ebb and flow. We must realize that failure and success are social conceptions that can be useful but that in their conventional definitions have little to do with what really matters, which is to study and practice virtue.”
Timothy Kelly said, “How one lives one’s life is the only true measure of the validity of one’s search.”
So, please, do seriously think about it. Not in a grim way, but with a certain amount of joy and lightness. It is amazing to be alive. Amazing. Unlikely. What is really worthwhile and what is just a distraction, no matter how much another person tells you what is and what isn’t. Only one person can do that, and that is you.
I’m happy for the life you’ve had so far, and I’m congratulating you and hoping for your life a head, a life of challenge and difficulty and passion. What an opportunity.
Watch here if you want to hear it for yourself! (Starts at 29:00 and ends at 57:30).
A few weeks back I had, what turned out to be a very inspirational 2-hour lunch with my very good friend and ex-colleague. We met with the intention of catching up and talking about my new career goals, but what I got from it was something more profound and unexpected. I’ve always seen this friend of mine as successful, so naturally I respected every word she said. When we think so highly of someone’s ideas, sometimes we tend to think that everyone else feels the same way. I forgot how it all came together, but we were talking about how in search for our “higher self” it’s common to meet people that just “don’t get it” (or simply, people who don’t see things the way we do, don’t believe what we believe, or don’t think the way we think). She casually mentioned how her husband, for example, wouldn’t have a clue what we were talking about because his brain “just doesn’t work that way” and that was fine. I was surprised because I had just assumed that because they seemed like such a tight loving family that she and her hubby agreed on everything. Nope!
It got me thinking… Often, when we set ourselves on a mission to better ourselves, or reconnect with our higher selves, we run into people that get excited about what we are doing and saying. We connect with them. They’re just like us! So we like them! We get so “high” on this new found “self” because we are surrounded by people that reinforce our beliefs. In a sense, we’ve got our heads in the sky, and that is a very fun place to be! So we keep following this path, because who wants to be around people that “just don’t get it”? But in this process… we forget where we came from. We bump into someone who doesn’t agree with us, or who has a different view on life and almost like a protective mechanism, we clam up and divide ourselves between “them” and “us” and this division destroys the very core of what we are – human beings.
I recently almost fell into a blind state in which I was very happy with nearly every aspect of my relationship with my significant other…except that we didn’t share the same amount of passion for this “spirituality” and I noticed instead of me growing into a better person and better partner, I was allowing that difference to come between myself and one seriously amazing man- who, coincidentally, is far more “grounded” than I am. That was when it hit me… WTF am I doing? What is this damned spirituality doing to me and my connection to other humans? And how the heck can I keep grounded in both “worlds”?
After 33 years of life, I think I’ve come to accept that there are nearly as many different beliefs about life as there are people in this world. If there are 7 billion people on this Earth, then that is a LOT of differences. That means that given I have this pretty amazing man, maybe our differences are not only normal but a blessing… Common sense, right? But in a heated debate, who actually remembers that it’s ok to be different? I know I have failed at that and was ready to call it quits because for a second I was stupid enough to believe that he had to think like me in order for us to be happy… Ouch…
I’m getting side-tracked. Back to what I was trying to say. Anyway…
I’m absolutely moved by the French philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. One of his most profound quotes, in my opinion was,
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
Again, this doesn’t have to ring true for everyone, but it does for me. And IF I choose for this to be true to me, then what am I doing with my life? What am I living for? I spend so much time and energy with my own personal improvement and growth, that I almost neglect that which keeps me grounded to this Earth in which my purpose is. I almost forget that strife became my strength. Loneliness became my appreciation for people and solid sense of Self. Coldness became my appreciation for warmth. All these experiences were like waves rushing in and out of my life. Some of the waves were bigger than others. Some of them were disastrous and humiliating. But all of them served a grand purpose- to make me a better swimmer (or surfer…whatever). And that’s precisely why we gotta stay grounded. That’s why we gotta keep one foot on the ground but one in the sky. Because that “sky” is our faith. It’s faith that is going to get us through, and our being grounded that is going to keep us connected to all those blessings that are so cleverly disguised as “problems”. Everyone copes differently. I do it by meditating. Meditation, schmeditation…
Some people think meditation is some kind of spiritual state of being in which you check out of Earth and transport to woo-woo lala land and never go back. Some people believe that meditation means that you don’t have any thoughts or feelings, or even that you have to be in some kind of silent state of being for an extended amount of time. Honestly, I don’t think it really matters what anyone thinks it is. If you are doing “meditation” in your own way and it’s working, that’s awesome.
My feeling is, if we are spiritual beings having a human experience, then why try to pretend that none of this “human experience crap” is happening? I was reminded that I am nothing without this physical world. Yup, even that jerk that is out there simply to be a jerk. My mission is not in the sky, not in some spiritual awakened state of being, it is being fully present in what, where, and who I am at this very moment. It is not getting distracted by the waves but finding and maintaining the connection to those around me (even the ones I don’t like), seeing them as part of this mission, part of The Plan.
Last year I read a book, “Everyday Enlightenment” by Dan Millman. He stated, “What good does it do to pray like a saint or meditate like a yogi if we are unchanged when we open our eyes? What good does it do to attend a place of worship on Saturday or Sunday if we lack compassion on Monday?”
Maybe The Plan is really that simple- to see every day as my “place of worship”. To see every person, every moment as a chance to develop myself, to explore myself, to understand myself, to know myself, to LOVE myself. Maybe just learning how to be in that moment- every single moment of my life- is all I need. I don’t need to piss and moan about it. I don’t need to judge it as good or bad. All I need is to remember and have faith that every single moment of every single day of my life is just as it should be.
“Faith is the courage to live your life as if everything that happens does so for your highest good and learning. Like it or not.” -Dan Millman
The problem, is that we get distracted, or bored and we set out on this journey looking for answers, looking for an escape, looking for something better, as if we are missing something, as if our lives are somehow incomplete, when actually what we need is right in front of us.
There’s this great Hindu proverb that explains the three great mysteries in life: Air to a bird, water to a fish, and mankind to a man. Often, we forget who we are, and what we are here for because we get so carried away with other things. We start to define ourselves by what is going on around us.
For example, when I was going through my divorce and custody battle, I saw every day as a war zone. It was fight or be killed. Anything I said was rejected. I began to determine that I would never escape from this madness. I was doomed till death in having to deal with this endless hell.
“Maybe I should just give up…” I thought. “Maybe this isn’t my battle.” I spiraled into a negative place of hopelessness. I felt my soul, my passion for life, my faith in humanity had been ripped from my body. But then I remembered, that this wave is not out to destroy me. This wave (or should I say, massive tsunami) is here for something greater, and as much as I want it to disappear, I need to get back to Me.
Maybe meditation is simply calming down those distracting thoughts, feelings of inadequacy, feelings of need, greed, anger, resentment, or boredom, and checking back in with yourself. For me, I don’t meditate to “be inspired” or to “find the answer” but come to a calm state, where there is nothing going on (no judging, no activity) because it is only then that I can really see what is going on and it is only then that it is quite clear what I need to do.
And this is meditation’s purpose- to reset ourselves. To put ourselves back into a level of clarity in which we can see things more clearly. That place in which we see the blessings and opportunities.
If we are to progress as humans we must shift with the changes and all that BS that pops up along the way, unfortunately is our little reminder of how far we have come and how far we have to go.
Going back to Dan Millman’s quote about faith, if everything that happens is for your highest good, then I supposed the situations that keep recurring are not punishments but God’s small way of saying, “try again! You can do it!”
This way of thinking may not work for everyone, and I always say “do what makes sense to you.” But for me, for now, it makes for a truly fulfilling, resourceful, resilient and productive life. After all, life is just a bunch of choices being thrown at us moment by moment, day by day. It’s all a choice. It’s that simple.
Often times people will ask me for a “quick fix” to a specific problem that they may be having, and each time I try to reach into the back of my mind for quotes, books, movies or songs that helped me in my (one of several) times of struggle, and although there are so many inspiring messages out there, I always find myself going back to the same piece of advice – Find gratitude in this moment, because it is an essential piece to something greater.
When I was at the peak of my troubles- or should I say the birth of my freedom- I fell upon an audio book by someone I can’t remember now, but what they said stayed with me and it was to always maintain the attitude of gratitude. I think that came from “The Secret” or was at least inspired by it. The point was to trust that at this very moment, recognize that everything is just as it should be. To trust and recognize that you have everything you need for this very moment, and that the struggles were also a part of what I “need”. I’m not going to go into detail right now (perhaps some day I will) about what all that means, but I was at my greatest despair. I had taken a great leap of faith in ending an abusive marriage and took on two jobs to take care of my son and two dogs. I was scared, insecure, alone, and had been told for years that I would never be able to make it on my own. For me, having confidence in my decision was one thing, but being grateful for the repercussions that came out of it (a lot of hard work and navigating my life as a single mother all alone) was key.
It’s been 4 years, and although I’ve come really far, the inevitable downfalls in life will occasionally dampen my spirits. In those times, I like to remember the speech, “Gratitude” (spoken by Brother David Steindl-Rast, music by Gary Malkin, and Louis Schwartzberg’s cinematography):
“You think this is just another day in your life. It’s not just another day. It’s the one day that is given to you today. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. it’s the only gift that you have right now and the only appropriate response is gratefulness. If you do nothing else but to cultivate that response to the great gift that this unique day is, if you learn to respond as if it were the first day in your life and the very last day, then you will have spent this day very well.
Begin by opening your eyes and be surprised that you have eyes that can open. That incredible array of coors that is constantly offered to us for our pure enjoyment. Look at the sky. We so rarely look at the sky. We so rarely note how different it is from moment to moment with clouds coming and going. We just think of the weather, and even with the weather we don’t think of all the nuances of weather. We just think of good weather and bad weather.
This day right now is unique weather. Maybe a kind that will never be the same as it is right now. Open your eyes.
Look at that. Look at the faces of whom you meet. Each one has an incredible story behind their face. A story that you could never fully fathom. Not only their own story, but the story of their ancestors. We all go back so far. And in this present moment, on this day, all the people you meet, and all that life from generations and from so many places from all over the world, flows together and meets you here, like a life giving water, if you only open your heart and drink.
Open your heart to the incredible gift that civilization gives to us. You flip a switch and there is electric light. You turn a faucet and there is warm water and cold water, and drinkable water. It’s a gift that millions and millions of people in the world will never experience.
These are just a few of an enormous number of gifts that we can open our heart to. So I wish that you will open your heart to all these blessings and let them flow through you. Let everyone who you will meet be blessed by you. Just by your eyes, by your smile, by your touch, just by your presence. Let the gratefulness overflow into blessings all around you. And then, it will really be a good day.”