Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Year's 2012

Why make a New Year’s resolution?

Let’s be honest, we celebrate January 1st as the New Year for ultimately arbitrary reasons. It’s our obsession with time that forces us to mark calendars and plan ahead. And while time is a necessary part of our lives and we need it to make our world work, we definitely put way too much emphasis on it. We plan and we wait, we anticipate and we disappoint. Something needs to happen now or something needs to wait for something else to happen. I’ll just be happy when this one thing happens. Speed up time, slow it down. If I could just do this one thing, everything would be ok. 
A common theme throughout much of what I have read lately points to the idea of nonresistance. It seems something has been tugging me to write about it. The idea of not resisting reality, not resisting time. 
In A New Earth Eckhart Tolle talks about the legend of a King who was constantly in emotional turmoil. He was the modern day equivalent of bipolar and just couldn’t seem to get his head right. He had heard of a wise old man and brought the man to his castle, asking him what the secret to happiness was. The old man gave him a simple ring inscribed with the words “this, too, shall pass”. He told the King to stop and look at the ring before he reacted to any event. This was the key to happiness. Whether good or bad, everything is transient, so relying on any outside source for happiness is misguided. Things will change, people will move on, bank accounts will fluctuate. Can you react to the good and the bad with equal non-attachment? Can you accept where you are right now and move forward from a place of quiet contentment? 
The Tao Te Ching says:
“Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?
Do you have the patience to wait until the right action arises by itself?”
Tolle simplifies this a bit when he says you must act from a place of stillness, it does nothing to act out of anger or hurt. He says, if you are stuck in the mud you must accept that you are stuck in the mud before you can get out.  Getting worked up and angry, or even worse making the situation bigger than it is (I think we’ve all had those ‘the world is out to get me and only me!’ moments) will do nothing to help you get out and will most likely make the situation worse. 
I think most of us make New Year’s resolutions from places of shame or anger or hurt. We resolve to lose weight because we’re unhappy with our bodies, we resolve to make more money, we resolve to get a better job....whatever it may be it comes from a place of discontent.  Maybe this is why so many of us fail. This random moment in time becomes a symbol to us of a wiping away of everything that we currently dislike about our lives. We examine our situations and try to figure out what we need to make us happy. The thought process becomes “I am unhappy now, but if I just lose those 15lbs. I can be happy”. We’re doing it wrong. The end result will never make us truly happy. 
On a side note, I think there is something to be said for a collective dusting off of our lives. A resounding “let’s do it” that makes everyone feel like anything is possible. If we could capture that energy and separate it from the negative lining, I think this time of year would be incredibly invigorating and as we saw our lives increasing, there would be no February drop off, no collective giving up and slowly drudging back into old habits until another round of resolutions. We could maintain. 
So, let us resolve this year to stop resisting what is. Let us resolve to make resolutions not out of guilt or shame or self-loathing, but out of a genuine desire to live fuller. Let us resolve to recognize that our own happiness can come from nowhere but ourselves; no relationship, no food, no electronic device, no numbers in a bank account. Let us resolve to be still and listen to ourselves, to what we really want and how to get it. And let us resolve to be happy, even if it’s not what we expected. 


Monday, December 12, 2011

Teach me Tolle!

“Stay present. Stay conscious. Be the ever alert guardian of your inner space.” 
Eckhart Tolle 

The above is not easy. I think this is a fact that I have not fully acknowledged until moments ago. I suppose I thought that becoming conscious, allowing yourself to be who you truly are and being able to have love for everyone (even enemies!) would be easy once I realized the wonders of non-dualism. Ha. It seems I have missed a few things. 
First off, The ego loves to be in pain. The ego loves to be justifiably wronged because it loves so much to be right. When we are hurt by someone, we make it a bigger deal than it is because it makes us feel better to be right, to feel like the victim. We point our finger at “that asshole” because it makes them bad and us good. As my teacher, Philip Urso says “the assholes are your gurus”. We learn our biggest lessons from the assholes in our lives and generally it’s because they are representing something that we cannot forgive in ourselves. Unfortunately,  just knowing that the ego does this does not make it stop. I have caught myself in the middle of a rampage, feeling so justifiably angry over the behavior of some inconsiderate, self-absorbed asshole....right. Shit. I did it again. What’s worse is I have become aware of it (the fact that the ego was running my mind) and chose to let it continue! Why? Because it felt good to be right. Because crucifying someone else made me feel better, and thinking it through...well that would require some pain. It would require me recognizing flaws in myself and forgiving them as well as forgiving this other ill-mannered person. Sometimes it’s easier just to stay pissed. So it’s clear to me that I have actually chosen being right over being happy and at peace. Goddamnit!   
Secondly, understanding something intellectually is not the same as understanding it with your whole being. When you understand something intellectually, it’s hard to use that understanding to correct a behavior. All the reasoning in the world will still have a hard time overcoming ingrained instinct, and our instinct to follow the ego is deeply ingrained. Which brings me to the last thing I missed. 
Lastly and perhaps most important, it’s hard! During yoga training I didn’t fully grasp why my teacher referred to presence as requiring “endurance”. I mentioned that while teaching a class I felt like I was slipping in and out of presence. I would be there, fully present and before I knew it I would recognize that I wasn’t present and have to pull myself back to the room. Being the “ever alert guardian of your inner space” requires a diligence that I am currently severely lacking but trying to obtain.
Many teachers have provided guideposts to help you get present. Both Tolle and the Dalai Lama talk about focusing on your breathing. Tolle suggests being aware of your body when doing mundane tasks such as washing your hands or walking up the stairs. All of this is definitely effective and helpful when I’m remembering that I need to be present, I just wish there was something to smack me upside the head (gently) whenever I’m complaining or gossiping or just in general being a miserable person. I know we all fall prey to the ego, but it’s frustrating when you start to realize how little control you currently have over your own thoughts. 
 As someone who has been through the ringer with mental anguish (depression, anxiety/panic attacks, etc.,) learning about the ego and meditation was incredible. The idea that I could make myself better without the assistance of chemicals (either prescribed or otherwise), was life-changing, it was uplifting. It was everything I had ever hoped for but never dared to expect. In moments of peace I feel inspired by Tolle’s teachings, however when I’m stressed out at work, experiencing a not very kind person or just plain being angry about something, I lose sight of how difficult this process can really be. I get angry with myself and feel like I’ve taken numerous steps back. I sometimes forget that we have to allow ourselves to screw up and that simply by being aware of the ego, wether you can get present or not, you are actually taking huge steps in the right direction. 
The idea that we intentionally compromise our happiness like this is mind-boggling and as Tolle says, it is the true disease of our generation. Our stories are more important than being happy. We must cling to our identity. Our identity is more important than contentment. Our identity is more important than being whole. When will we learn that we are only hurting ourselves by pushing everyone else away?