Archive for November, 2009

More Peaceful or less stressed? You choose.

More Peaceful or Less Stressed? You choose.

Our holiday intentions of peace, light and goodwill to all can quickly be upturned by the hustle and bustle of family visits, event planning, shopping, and all the other activities that seem to burn up the last 2 months of the year. Yet, from a spiritual perspective, this could be a time to turn inward, giving ourselves time to review the year and take note of the lessons we have learned. Even the notion of having time to do this type of introspection might cause a moment of panic: “There’s no time for all that!!  I’ll do it next year when things settle down and I’m less stressed.”  How much of our time is spent thinking about that magical time when we’ll be “less stressed?”  Maybe it is just an issue of how we structure our perspective – we tend to focus on becoming less stressed, when what we really want is to be more peaceful.

I wrote a blog entry last winter about Becoming Peace in which I mentioned that when we say “I want to be less stressed” we actually focus on the stress and indeed perpetuate the notion of our stressfulness. On the contrary when we say “I want to be more peaceful” the mind hears “peaceful” and there is a subtle quieting that takes place within the body without any additional effort. In this way, through simple focus of attention, we begin to change our perspective and our actions often follow.  We focus our intention on creating a space of peace and the time opens up for meditation or relaxation.

The yogis say that peace is actually our essence. Unconscious fluctuations of mind are what keep us from experiencing ourselves as Peace. This is all well and good in theory, but finding that peaceful essence is what seems to elude most of us. A speaker I heard recently mentioned that we put more effort into doing than we do into being still, and so that which you practice the most becomes what you are good at. You might say: “I can’t be still – it’s too hard. My mind races because I have so much to do and my body becomes restless.” My new favorite teacher Mooji encourages us to watch all these fluctuations as temporary. As you watch all those crazy thoughts and to-do lists and judgments and fears go by ask yourself the question “Who is watching all of this?.” We identify with our thoughts but our thoughts are not who we are. The thoughts arise in the mind, change, or fade away. The mind creates problems by taking advantage of our unconscious vulnerabilities.  Brought into the light of consciousness, we find that many of our fears and compulsions are based on shaky logic.  We find that we are running away from the very peace that we seek through our actions and choices. Though our thoughts often seem very real, they are temporary fluctuations of the mind – smoke and mirrors.

The awareness, the essence that we are is inherently peaceful and unchanging. Underneath the smoke and mirrors of our habitual thoughts and emotionality lies a still and steady awareness that is not vulnerable to harm.  We have glimpses of this peace at times – for me it is usually on a warm beach with my eyes closed hearing the sound of the waves as they ebb and flow… or in meditation.  If we can allow ourselves to focus on this peace, we can allow it to expand in our lives.  But if we only focus on all we have to do and the far-off future when we will someday be less stressed, then we’re likely to get more of what we’re training for.

 

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November 23, 2009 at 7:23 pm Leave a comment

What is your net effect?

A recent conversation about activism and self-righteous anger has got me thinking about how we really make change in the world. Many of us are “working on ourselves,” and at the same time, trying to make a difference in the world around us. As activists we are attempting to change the societal structures which promote inequity and injustice, to raise our children to be conscious and compassionate, to encourage our politicians & legislators to incorporate fairness and equity into our governmental systems. This can be frustrating work, bringing us face-to-face with opposition, rejection, skepticism and even abuse from people who would rather things stay the way they are. Sometimes in the midst of all this struggle, we can become judgmental and angry at the world and the people in it who seem reluctant to “see the light.” I have begun to wonder, if we do all the work we can toward making the world a better place, but do it from a place of anger, judgment and self-righteousness, what kind of change are we really affecting? Do we in effect cancel out any good we’ve done? Do we end up with a net effect of zero?

I’ve been reading Thich Nhat Hahn’s books as required reading for a meditation teacher training with the Elesa Commerse, and his work has me thinking about how much activism in the world must be combined with a deep self-inquiry and mindfulness. If our ultimate goal is peace and harmony for humanity, then the very notion of “fighting” for something is incongruent. Fighting implies aggression, and aggression may result in surrender and domination, but these are not the same as peace. Anger met with anger breeds more anger. Aggression met with aggression results in more aggression. Judgment of another feeds a sense of separation. Besides the obvious effect on others, anger, aggression and judgment also constrict the individual who is expressing them.

In his book “Anger” Thich Nhat Hahn describes the chain of effects that occurs when one person acts out their anger. I yell at you, you carry your anger to the next person who upsets you and yell at them, then they act angrily toward someone else, and pretty soon your anger has multiplied itself – grown wings and launched itself into the world. Am I saying you should hold it in and allow it to burn you up? Not at all. There is a middle way – mindfully and compassionately acknowledging your anger, making friends with it if you will, and allowing it the space to exist as a valid emotion so that you can learn from it without needing to direct it at others. Then you can release it, just let it go. Emotions can be very deceiving, and anger is often a way of resisting that within you which needs to be welcomed, acknowledged and released. Our anger toward others is most often the projection of anger toward ourselves. Taken as a mirror, the object of our anger can be a valuable teacher.

I’ve heard people say that anger is a good thing. For myself I know it isn’t. When I’m angry my perspective constricts, I stop being reasonable and I become caught in what the yogis call “asmita” – a pre-occupation with “I,” “me,” and “mine.” In essence, when I’m angry it’s all about me. I have no desire to see the other person’s point of view or even to think of them as deserving a point of view. In fact, I have no patience for anyone at all. Moreover, this anger blinds me to the fact that what has made me angry is probably the reflection of some issue or trigger within me that needs to be compassionately addressed. When I’m angry there is very little room for reason or compassion. Beyond this, I can feel that it is a state that is not good for my body – I feel a crawling sensation on the skin of my neck, my breathing becomes shallow and I feel my blood pressure rising. Therefore, in this state, not only am I at risk of hurting others through my words and deeds, but I am also limiting and hurting myself and creating unnecessary suffering.

The Universal Law of Resistance states that you attract that which you resist. This is also consistent with the premise that “energy flows where attention goes.” If we are constantly focused on that which we oppose then we are actually allowing it to have a hold on us and feeding it energy. How often are we in opposition to something without creating an equally strong vision of what it is we are for? As a simple example, I think of working personally on being less judgmental. I tried to be less judgmental, but every I’d find myself being judgmental my mental noise would be something like this: “Oh, I’m being judgmental again, that’s terrible, I have to stop that!” So I judging myself for being judgmental! Rather than being opposed to my judgmental-ness, I see my judgment as an opportunity to see myself in that person, to practice being compassionate and understanding. In the end, this is really what I want – not to be less judgmental, but to be more understanding.

So back to this notion of net effect. A Course In Miracles teaches that whatever affects us most in the world outside is a reflection of our deeper inner self that is in need of healing. As we work with our causes can we use that which we oppose as mirrors of our own processes? If we are opposed to political aggression against the opposition, can this be a mirror to the ways in which we are aggressive or opinionated in our own ways of dealing with others? In our willingness to heal the world, can we be also conscious of the need to care for our own inner wounds? Sometimes this is the hardest work – to see ourselves honestly and with compassion. It is easier to deny that which is in us and fight against it in the world. If you believe, however, that we are all somehow connected, then that fight is actually still against ourselves. All the work in the world outside will bring only superficial change if the inner self still has not been changed. Perhaps if we were all willing to face our inner selves with courage and compassion there would be no need to “fight” for anything at all.

November 22, 2009 at 11:53 pm Leave a comment


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