What the Other Guy Should be Doing

My spiritual teacher, Adyashanti, told us a story last week to illustrate a profound “aha” about what it means to live authentically, to let go of the ego mind and all its ‘shoulds,’ and live from our true authenticate selves.

Here’s the story.

When he was a young man in his twenties he worked in a bike repair shop. It was a busy place and everyone scrambled to get all the work done that had to be done that day. The repair manager didn’t pitch in and help. He sat at his bench with his tools in front of him and read magazines. When asked why he didn’t help, he would say, that he was not paid to do anything; that his job was to make sure that they did what they were supposed to do.

This attitude didn’t sit well with my teacher. He suffered watching this able-bodied manager sitting there doing nothing but reading magazines while everyone else raced around to get the day’s work done. It really upset him. The more he thought about it, the more it upset him. This went on for some time.

Then, one day my teacher had an ‘aha.’ It came to him that he was upsetting himself because he had an idea of what his manager was supposed to be doing and the manager was not conforming to it. This idea of what should be happening was making him upset. Then he just let go.

He let go of his judgments about his manager. And, he let go of the endless mental activity around what he thought the manager should be doing.

By dropping into the now, my teacher understood that the manager was just the way he was and wasn’t causing him any difficulty. In seeing this, he understood the truth and let go of the thoughts and ideas about his manager. From that day on he was free and happy.

This is true freedom. The freedom that comes from waking up from being identified with our thoughts and ideas about what should be, what should happen, and how others should behave, think, or believe. Once we let go of all the ‘shoulds’ we are free to live truly authentic lives.

So each time, I catch myself saying, “should” I pause. Ah, that little ego-word is here I say gently to myself. Then I let it drop away as a leaf drops from the tree and I am happy.

 

 

 

 

What’s Hurting?

When you sit quietly and comfortably and bring your awareness inside, what greets you? Do you feel open and intimate? Do you feel that you can sit down with whatever is there like you would sit with a friend or stranger beside a campfire? Or, perhaps you feel something else.

Something doesn’t want your presence. Something is angry and rebellious. Something disappears into blankness. Something says, “Go away. I don’t want you here.” Or, says, “You’re ridiculous. ” Or lets you know that you can’t do it, that you are a failure.

What to do? Really be there for it. It can be the ugliest, most violent, most condescending thing you have ever encountered.

Really feel whatever it is in your body.  Invite your body to show you/tell you something about what’s here with you right now. Invite your body to open to what you are feeling.

What you are feeling is resistance. Experience your resistance. It may feel uncomfortable. It will feel uncomfortable. Start with inviting your grounded, open presence, your whole self to be here right now. And, know that you cannot fail at having whatever experience you are having. Have your experience! Be open to it. Invite it to be here right now.

Know that what is hurting is not your resistance, it’s your relationship to it that hurts. Say, my intention, my energy is here right now to experience what is wanting my attention right now. No holds barred. I welcome this resistance and my experience of it to be here with me now.

 

 

 

 

We Are Like Sprouting Potatoes

To live, to produce more potatoes, the potato’s inner nature, its wiring, says sprout when conditions are sufficient. So when there is the darkness of a cellar or of the earth, potatoes sprout. In this way we are just like sprouting potatoes in the dark. We, too, have an inner knowing to live our lives forward when conditions are sufficient. This forward growth direction is a characteristic of life’s process.

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Life is process. We may feel like solid things, buffeted by situations and our environment, but we are not. We are process interacting with our environment. Consider the breath that keeps us alive. The breath is interaction with the air around us. We are not separate from our breath. We breathe and it feels right. The potato is not separate from the darkness—the darkness is intrinsic to how the potato lives forward giving us new potatoes. So, too, we are not separate from our situations and environment.

So how is it that we experience stoppages? That we feel stuck? That we are unable to live the lives we feel are right for us? When young and growing, we may not have the inner capabilities to live forward through a situation. The mother that ignores us. The parents that criticize us. The war that surrounds us. The illness that takes our loved ones away from us.  The people who are cruel to us. These are the kinds of things that can cause our inner process of living forward to stop, to get stuck.  As we grow older other situations may occur creating a stoppage or reinforce one from our youth. We may experience separation from loved ones, illness, or the harmful effects of a bad economy. Perhaps criticized as a child, as an adult, we feel inadequate and struggle to move forward in our chosen career. Or something else.

And when there is a stoppage, when something in us doesn’t live forward but remains stuck in some place in us, in our tissues, in energy channels, in our very being, then we feel that something is not right. Something may not be happening that we want to happen. We may feel our thoughts and emotions circling like wagons against attack. Something in us may rebel or capitulate. These are all signals that there is something that has not been able to process. Something in us lacked the resources and support to move through a situation and now we feel stuck.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. By coming into presence, feeling our wholeness of body, feeling how we are supported, by bringing gentle and curious awareness to that something that doesn’t feel right we begin our healing. It will emerge and come forward as something in our body that at first may not have words to describe it and yet by acknowledging it and bringing our gentle and loving presence to it, little by little it will show itself. And, by staying with it listening and reaffirming, we allow it to release its stuck energy and move forward with  a sense of rightness in life, just as the potato sprouts in the dark.

 

I’m Confused

“I’m so confused,” you might say to someone else. “Something in me is so confused,” you might say inwardly to self. So what about this confusion?

The dictionary defines confusion as a lack of understanding; uncertainty, or as the state of being bewildered or unclear about something in one’s own mind. When I am feeling confused, there is a lack of clarity. Murkiness abounds. And that feeling state of bewilderment and perplexity is there too.

It might also feel very dense, all tied up, or turbulent as though it is impossible to unravel the threads to gain understanding. It can be difficult to navigate confusion. What to do? Bring your presence, neutral space and time and empathetic listening.

Give yourself a moment to center, perhaps take a breath letting the exhalation last a little longer than the inhalation. Then say to it, “Hello, I see you are there,” with interest and curiosity. Take a moment and sense how it reacts.

If your “hello” engages it in a neutral but friendly way, take some time to describe it. How it feels, its texture or quality, or its shape. It may show you or tell you something.

If, on the other hand, it feels tense and tight as though there is not much or no space or air, back off a bit. Take another breath and bring your awareness to the ground your feet are touching and how that supports you. Sense your hands. Fingers, palms, and back of hands. Now as you take another breath allow your awareness to follow its journey through the nostrils, down the throat, into the chest and even further down to stomach and belly. Notice how it feels to arrive there.

Now, say inwardly, “I am the space big enough for whatever needs my attention. Sense the space. Back off a bit more, if needed. Sense the space again. Sense and see if something that is feeling confused is still there. Good, It is. Say “hello” gently or if that feels like too much. Just inwardly acknowledge its presence like you might inwardly acknowledge the presence of someone you don’t know who sits down next to you on a bus, train, or plane. Now, giving it lots of space, take some time to describe it. How it feels, its texture or quality, or its shape. It may show you or tell you something.

As you take your time and give it space, the feeling of confusion may change. You may notice that it is not one thing but maybe two or more things. Each thing that arises has its point of view and is wanting your attention. It wants to be listened to gently, deeply and without judgment.

Sometimes, when we sit down and keep this feeling of confusion company, we are struck by a sense of the unknown. This sense of not knowing can feel scary. That’s ok. We can reflect back to it what we sense, saying inwardly to this something, “I’m sensing you are not knowing and I sense you feel scared.” This kind of active and open listening is exactly what it is wanting.

Often, when working with a sense of confusion, two or more things arise. We may sense that they are engaging in some kind of dialogue, sniping, or acting out a tug-of-war. This kind of back-and-forth is wanting the wisdom of our presence to step in and say respectfully to each one. “I am here with you and will listen to you. You will have your turn.” Once you ave given this inner invitation to each hold all of them in the space and sense which one is needing your attention more right now. This way each part will have time and space to be with your full and open self so that it can be heard. Once heard in all its intricacies, its forward energy will release and confusion will transform into an appropriate action or understanding.

When we engage these practices of open and focused presence, of giving our attention, and listening deeply without judgment, confusion transforms. It shows us something from which clarity opens to us.

“This Cup Is Already Broken”

“This cup is already broken” writes Jack Kornfield remembering the words of Ajahn Chah who holding up a beautiful china cup used the image to teach that we cannot control, that we cannot be certain of any outcome, that we live with uncertainty. [https://jackkornfield.com/the-wisdom-of-insecurity/]

Uncertainty is a big concept. Most of us spend much time and energy trying to negate it and control the outcomes of our projects and careers, our children, our spouses, our friends, our own lives. “If only this. If only that,” we lament. We suffer as we watch, in spite of our best efforts, loved ones fall ill, our children fall on hard times, our projects or careers that we have poured our hearts and money into fall to pieces.

Planting my first cherry trees in my orchard last week, I was full of what-ifs. I worried that the clay soil would impede their survival, that the deer would jump the fence and nibble away their fragile leaves, or that disease would attack before the they were established enough to combat it. And, then I just let go. Taking a deep breath and allowing my exhalation to fully express itself, I surveyed my work knowing that I had done my best. I had bought hearty trees, planted to instructions, and fenced them in as recommended. I will continue to tend to them and when something goes wrong, as it surely will, I’ll deal with it.

Uncertainty, it turns out, is at the very quick of life. In particle physics the uncertainty principle “tells us that there is a fuzziness in nature,” writes Alok Jha [What Is Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Guardian.com, 10 November 2013]. This principle says the more we are certain of the position of a particle, the less certain we can be of its momentum and vice versa. We cannot be certain of both at the same time.

Uncertainty is the stuff of life. We strive so hard to know both the position and momentum of every particle of our lives, to no avail. Just when we think we have control, the universe intervenes and fuzziness breaks loose. Fuzziness is our aliveness. When we focus on the outcome and things fall apart or go wrong, we suffer. So why do we keep trying?

At the heart of our desire to control is our need for safety.

To feel safe, we can shift our perspective. Rather than focus on outcome, focus on process. When we deal with what comes in measured and thoughtful ways, when we make reasonable plans and act on them, when we focus on what is in the moment, what is here right now, our endless worry subsides. The churning go-round of “what ifs” dissipates and in its place a calm and curious energy arises allowing us to respond creatively and meaningfully.

This change in perspective allows us enormous freedom. No longer tied to an outcome we cannot control, we are free to find ways to enrich our experience and relieve suffering in the moment, no matter what comes. We cannot make our runaway daughter come home, but we can find services and professionals to assist her. We cannot make our friend’s cancer go away, but we can find health resources for her and make our time with her caring and supportive.  Living on a flood plain, we cannot stop the flood that ravishes our home but we can prepare  with sandbags, insurance, and stocks of necessary provisions. It is our plans and actions and our ability to shift these without holding on that provides safety. Paradoxically it is in our letting go that we find safety and freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How About It? Learn Focusing

I don’t often write about events or activities in my blog, but today I want to share some wonderful news. Perhaps you’re a reader of my blog and have wanted to dive deeper into Focusing but didn’t know how or didn’t feel you had the time. Here’s an opportunity to learn Focusing as well as investigate other topics like Thinking at The Edge.

The Focusing Institute, our professional organization, holds an annual summer school. This year it is being held from August 21 – 27, 2016 on the west coast at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center in Joshua Tree, California.

Why learn Focusing at the Summer School? Perhaps you’re needing time and space away from your daily routine or have vacation coming. Or maybe you prefer in-person learning and never seem to have the time for a once-a-week or weekend class when you are immersed in work and family. Perhaps you are wanting to learn in the safety of a supportive and accepting community of like-minded people.  Whatever your reasons, learning Focusing and experiencing how it can be applied in the arts, in deep thinking, and in work with children is what you’ll have the opportunity to do at Joshua Tree. Click here for more information and to register.

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About The Plate

Everything is always changing. And how we eat is changing too. During the day grabbing something on the run, on our way from here to there, is common. It didn’t used to be that way. There was a time when the mid-day meal was a time to stop, eat, and rest. It was a time for the parasympathetic nervous system to do its thing: Rest and digest. Often people would go home to lunch. The table would be set. The meal would be served and enjoyed. Then after eating and clearing, everyone would take a rest before heading back to work or school.

Now, we run and eat, and eat and run and wonder why we feel hyped-up, stressed, and burnt-out. It doesn’t have to be that way. Even if lunch is brown bag, take-out or cafeteria fare, we can still make a moment of celebration and rest. It is all about the plate.

Use a plate. Stash plate and utensils in your desk at work, in your locker, or in your car or truck. Wash and dry it in the restroom. Who’s looking. Who cares.

Take a moment to unwrap and place your food on the plate. Ah, you are already slowing down. Now sit down with the plate and food.

Take a moment to take in what’s on the plate.

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Notice the textures. The rough edges, the frond-like surfaces, and the smooth and round skin.

See the colors. The orangey red, the shiny black, and the palest green.

Now smell. Perhaps something sweet and acidy will rise up through your nostrils, hit the receptors there beginning a process that generates an electrical signal that travels to the brain receptor cells and then to the primary olfactory cortex. But enough of that. Just smell the food. Oh, by the way, you may not smell much. That’s OK. Just take a moment and smell. The more you focus your smelling, the better it becomes.

Bringing your awareness to the food on the plate now, just rest your eyes there. Take it all in. Now, breathe in slowly and gently following the breath down into the belly. Pause. Breathe out slowly. Do this a few times. Now, that’s good.

You are ready to eat. Enjoy.