Monday, September 30, 2013

Acting in Our Own Best Interest

 “Anger is our friend.  Not a nice friend.  Not a gentle friend.  But a very, very loyal friend. It will always tell us when we have been betrayed.  It will always tell us when we have betrayed ourselves.  It will always tell us when it is time to act in our own best interest.  Anger is not the action itself. It is the action’s invitation.”  --Julia Cameron

"Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."  --Buddha

[Emphases in bold are mine.]

I pride myself on entering situations fully--with both freedom and fearlessness.  I also recognize that there are situations for which this might not be the best approach, in which case entering fully, but with wisdom and wakefulness is a more sensible way to go.  At this moment I am trying to restore, to recalibrate, and to settle into a space where I can act intentionally, deliberately, and naturally--this is what I can do when I'm feeling strong.  It's staying balanced enough so that we aren't bowled over that is essential.  

And, as much as I dislike anger (I've written about this before, I'm certain.), it is mostly the "holding onto anger" that I dislike.  I'm trying to recognize, as Julia Cameron offers in the quote above, that sometimes anger lets us know when we need to act in our own best interest.  Like everything else I think about, this is a balancing act.  How do we stay attuned, acknowledge the feeling when it arises, and acknowledge what it might be offering us, without holding onto it and burning ourselves?  I have no desire to act on my anger, to hold it tightly or to throw it at someone, but I have a strong desire to learn from the feelings that emerge and determine if there is a corresponding action that needs to be taken in order to remain present and proactive in any given situation.

One of my favorite quotes from therapy a couple of years back was, "What about that surprised you?"  These are the moments I'm trying to be attuned to--these moments when I'm caught off guard by behaviors that are not surprising at all, but I allow them to be.  I want to be able to hold to my center when these things come at me.

I was talking to a new acquaintance this past week, a man who works in a much more cutthroat field than mine, and he listened as I said, "Why would anyone be working for self-promotion instead of the greater good of a project?  And why would anyone assume this about others?"  And he said, "You're such an idealist."  He didn't say it in a belittling way, but as a matter of fact, and slight disbelief that I could operate from this stance.  Do I want to be anything but?  No.  Do I want to better navigate the world so that I won't be surprised when others aren't?  Yes.

There are so many people in my life who are willing to operate from this place.  We can share experiences and laugh and cry and laugh some more.  What I've noticed?  None of us are naive; most of us have had more varied life experiences than many of the people we are surprised by.  And none of us hold tightly to anger.   What we are all working toward, well, we're working toward this balance--letting go and also taking action.  Being proactive while also holding onto equanimity.  We're all fallible, none of us are "right," but all of us have a pretty solid compass for how we want to move about the world, and we are always refining and reconfiguring.  And I'm grateful.  Always grateful for the grace and wisdom of the people in my world.  

Monday, September 9, 2013

Feeding Two Wolves

One of my favorite stories was repeated during a day-long dharma talk I attended on Sunday: that of the two wolves in the heart--love and hate--and the response of the highly revered elder, who, when asked how she had found so much peace in her life,  answered that early on she had recognized that there were two wolves in her heart, and, "Everything depended on which one I fed each day."

I'm having a moment when I have so many ideas floating around my head that I'd love to be able to communicate, that I'm just going to have to give up the expectation that they come out in any particular organized way, and write them out.

One of my favorite quotes from Sunday was, "It's a joy to be hidden; a tragedy to remain so."  I think that this tension, this desire to be self-sufficient, to hide our vulnerabilities and our need for others is so prevalent in all of us, particularly in a culture that seems to communicate regularly that if we "need" someone else that we are "needy."  We can all discern between healthy and unhealthy approaches toward "needing" others, but the bottom line is that any feeling of separateness we may have is "an optical delusion of consciousness"  (aka, bullshit), and we all want to have people seek us out, to prize us, so why do we resist doing the same?

The interrelatedness of autonomy and intimacy is so essential for empathy.  We have to develop ways of understanding others, but we also have to develop ways of being able to stand in ourselves.  I don't think that standing in ourselves is in opposition to intimacy.  What I love is the idea that we can all support each other in tending to the causes--to notice what we're influenced by and what our actions influence, but also being discerning enough to know that we have no control of the results.  In this, I find agency.

I love the idea of settling the quarrels in my mind so that I can let go and love.   The hardest part, of course, is loving unilaterally.  What I appreciated in the talk I attended, was the idea that we, of course, have the freedom to walk away, to discern, to put down the quarrel without losing our ability to send loving kindness in all directions.  Does this mean that I want someone who has continually harmed me (or who cannot see me) in my life?  No.  But it does mean that I can continue to tend to me, and to not carry that person with me, to not cultivate hatred or ill-will.  This is freeing in itself.  It takes time.

I do believe that there are many of us who have such a secure base to operate from that we have a secure base to explore from and that we are able to "go forth into homelessness."  A friend commented, in response to this idea, that she was also awed by those who, even without a seemingly secure base, were willing to take huge risks--emotionally, spiritually, etc.  And I concur.  Our life circumstances, depending on how we react to them, allow for some pretty amazing freedoms--and I've been thinking a great deal about how important it is to be both quiet and malleable in order to enact these feats that require such amazing trust in the universe.

One last story that was shared was that of a monk who was violently attacked, bringing him to the edge of mortality.  When asked if he had feared for his life during the attack, he answered, "The only time I feared for my life was when I thought I was losing my loving kindness."

I had a heart tattooed on the inside of my left wrist last year to serve as a physical reminder regarding which wolf I want to feed, and even so, I still toss the other a morsel now and then.  Here's to tending to the causes, loving kindness, and leaving nothing out.  Easier said than done, but I'm having a difficult time thinking about anything more worth doing.

[Check out for more information on the speaker I heard and the inspiration for these musings.]

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Mighty in the Darkness

I was walking home from yoga last night when a friend sent a text message telling me she had just completed an amazing yoga class (in a city far from mine), and the theme for the practice was "mighty"--"as in" [her words] "the stronger we get, the more able we are to be vulnerable with ourselves."  I was feeling pretty "mighty," in the moment, and grateful for the timing of the word to describe the feeling.  After a week of "trying to right myself," of "trying to get through" what I had acknowledged to be a temporary rough spot, there emerged that lightness of being that is the strength we have to simply settle back into ourselves--in all of our beauty, all of our crazy, and all of our brilliance...and to be gentle with all of it.

Whenever I am feeling a bit detached, unmoored, unfettered, scared, etc., what I've noticed is that I'm becoming increasingly able to say, "Hey, I'm feeling detached, unmoored, unfettered, scared, etc., and I am pretty sure I am going to emerge shortly, but for now, this is what I'm feeling."  I have, for some time, acknowledged that these are the moments when I'm in the "wilderness" [metaphorically...and, I have to note that I most often find myself in the "wilderness" in my life when I'm furthest from it].  And I'm getting [a little] better at not judging myself for not always feeling like I'm riding high (because that would be ridiculous and an artificial expectation, yes?).

"When everything is lost, and all seems darkness, then comes the new life and all that is needed."--Joseph Campbell

The cycle of light and dark seems to be just this:  There is darkness, new realizations emerge, and we learn again and again to trust what's around us all of the time.  It's sometimes obscured, this support we can bask in, at least momentarily.  And, as much as I'd love to be someone who never loses my awareness of the support and interconnectedness that tethers me to the rest of the world, I do.  And I begin again, with a little less "woe is me" and a little more "woohoo," because that's where I know the truth is.

"The less there is of you, the more you experience the sublime. " --Joseph Campbell

The truth is in the woohoo.  It is.  And it's in the love I feel for you, and you, and you....