Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Your World Your Way

I recently signed up for a Yahoo group and the first thing that greeted me were the words “your world, your way” in large print. I was a bit taken aback because the statement was so inherently “me” oriented. My first thought was this is a recipe for suffering. And my second thought was there are many such statements that encourage this me-mine state of mind in our media today.


The truth is we are all connected, each person to every other person to every living being on the planet and beyond. To imagine that one can have a separate world that centers on one’s self and on fulfilling one’s desires leads only to disappointment and ultimately to suffering, even if this world consists of a tiny portion of the internet like a Yahoo group. Seeking fulfillment from others is simply selfish and selfishness leads to suffering, not because it is inherently evil or bad but because what one is really seeking is not out there. It is within one’s self. This may or may not be your experience but I simply ask you to hold it in your thought as a possibility and see where it leads you.


I’m sure though you have had the experience that others do not understand you. This can be a really lousy feeling. You have sought confirmation outside of yourself and not found it. Each one of us has their own perspective; their own point of view which never seems to totally coincide with anyone else’s. It’s just a fact. Instead of trying to get people to agree with you. Try listening instead, not because it’s a “good” thing to do but because it can bring relief from the feeling of aloneness we often suffer from. Below are a few lines from what is known as The Prayer of Saint Francis. 


Lord grant that I seek to understand, rather than to be understood…

For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.


This sums up what I’ve been saying from another perspective. Think about a time when you have really listened to another, really heard what they had to say. Was there not a feeling of closeness that flowed from this? Was there not a moment of bonding? Even if you don’t agree with another a closeness flows from fully understanding. Doesn’t this moment feel better than all the moments you have spent trying to get another to try to understand you?  Wouldn’t your life be happier being filled with moments like these? It is in this moment you have forgotten yourself and found connection. Your world is no longer dominated by the tyranny of “me and mine”. Spaciousness has entered in; the circle has been drawn wider to include another. What a relief from your world, your way!

State of Emergency

A friend of mine from New Jersey where hurricane Sandy made landfall remarked in an email that many people in New York and New Jersey were relieved when their governors declared a state of emergency and the reason for their relief was that they couldn’t go to work. This statement caused me to reflect that maybe the state of emergency was not only external but an internal state of mind. How many of us would be disappointed at not being able to go to work? Maybe we are living in a chronic state of emergency and need to have a hurricane once in a while in order to take a day to chill out. Plus there’s nothing to do when the electricity is out. What is life with no TV, stereo, radio, no movies, no internet, no phone after your battery runs out? Pulling the plug on entertainment led to one twitter comment about “dying of boredom”.


The good thing about “dying of boredom” is you don’t really die. You might be uncomfortable as you detox from constant stimulation. You might find out what it means to really live, to embrace life fully. You might start talking to the people you are with instead of those on the other end of the cell phone. You might start an inner dialogue and spend some time with yourself. You might find beauty in darkness as the sky suddenly fills with stars. You might even find you’re not in a state of emergency any more.


Chronic stimulation of the senses leads to a dulling of the senses and input needs to be more extreme, louder, and faster in order to make an impression. This desensitivity is a real loss. It takes time to regain the ability to feel the gentle flow of life. Thirty five years ago I took an extended trip in Asia and upon returning to the USA I had culture shock. The first night I cried because the sounds of motors were so loud and it was only the refrigerator and air conditioner. These are background noises that usually don’t register in consciousness. Regaining sensitivity is stepping into the fullness of life: hearing the softest of sounds, seeing the most subtle of tonal and color differences, tasting the vibrancy of food, smelling fleeting scents, the brush of the faintest breeze upon your cheek. With these your finger is close to the pulse of life.


It is with the awareness of the most subtle things that we are closer to God. “The small still voice” is not a metaphor. It is small. It is still and yet it is a voice. Though it may not come it words, it may come in a heartfelt knowing “This is truly best for me”. Let quietness and gentleness inform you. Let stillness be your guide.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

There is a saying that there are no atheists in fox holes. This may or may not be true but it is certain when a life is on the line people tend to start examining or re-examining spirituality more seriously. In general when people face a serious long term illness or impending death they begin to question God, seek renewal of their faith or at the very least begin to question the priorities in their life. It is here that the rubber meets the road in spirituality. This is when a real spiritual dialogue can open up, or failing that a despair sets in.


This was the case for Job in the Book of Job in the Bible. He was easily able to handle losing all his possessions “Naked I came into the world; naked I will leave it”. However when he lost his health he began to question God. He felt like he was being punished for some sin but he could remember doing anything wrong. Fortunately for Job he opened a dialogue with God and got clear direction along with some of the most beautiful poetry in the Bible.


In the Buddhist tradition there is the story of a mother who brings her dead child to Buddha and asks for him to bring the child back to life. He says she must find a certain spice from a household that has never experienced death. The frantic mother goes from house to house and is always met by a story of some family member who has died, the favorite auntie, the beloved daughter in childbed, the young son and so on. She listens to these stories and her broken heart goes out to these people. She begins to understand the universality of death and suffering and returns to the Buddha no longer centered in her own grief and ready to receive teachings. This young mother successfully navigated the spiritual crisis where the rubber meets the road.


Sooner or later we all must face this same situation in whatever form it presents itself to us. Sometimes we must face it repeatedly and in the end we must face the death of our own body. How can we meet this inevitability with grace? It takes a lot of self -examination and the ability to take one’s self out of the center of one’s life.  To take the first steps toward this goal consider the joy of helping others as a spiritual practice. It can be any sort of help to any sort of person as long as your concern is for them first. It is in this way you are freed from your own nagging thought patterns if only for a moment. See what it feels like!


Another practice is to contemplate your own aging and death. Often this subject is too scary to think about but it’s really necessary to get over that. You will have to face it sooner or later so why not start now?  It can help you face your own death and the death of others with equanimity and the degree of suffering you will experience in all aspects of life will decrease markedly with this practice. In my own life I combined these two practices by caring for the terminally ill, chronically ill and elderly. I can say from personal experience this spiritual practice has brought a freedom from fear and a joy to my life that is irreplaceable.