Sunday, March 17, 2013

Doing What You Are Doing, Step Into Being Who You Are

Acting with clarity and without judgment reflects a constancy of self, an acceptance of best intention, an ability to engage with what is right there to be done with good will. Even unpleasant tasks or what might seem insignificant situations are sustaining if we are not jamming our own switchboards the whole time with judgments and confusion.

When turning clear energy toward a task, there is a sense of flow to it. This could be organizing a meeting, in a cooking or writing project, teaching or taking a yoga class, working through a tax filing, accompanying someone on a task they must do, anything really. This attribute of engagement is not judgmental, this is not a conflicted state.

If I am not resisting what I am doing, there is very little separation between what I am doing and who I am. Quite a difference when there is resistance. The mind chatters about all that is not as it should be, makes constant recommendations about this task, other tasks, other people's actions or choices, what else I could be doing, should be doing, cannot be doing, and generally gets in the way of feeling satisfied with how the time was spent or with the task itself. This takes energy too, and just like physical friction from resistance, it burns up some of the energy turned toward the task itself. Wastes energy. Pulls the action in other directions, and in a very real way separates you from who you are by spinning a web of illusion around your action.

"I did the best I could," is a statement that reflects whatever judgment is in your mind about the task. It can be said with derision, with humility, with sorrow, with pride, with any kind of emotion, really.  The statement is infused with judgment. There could be an unspoken sense of "under the circumstances" that holds a form of apology, or excuse, or blame, or self-judgment. There might be a subtext that describes a wish to have accomplished more, or the idea that someone else would have done more or better.

When you put your undivided attention into a task it isn't about "best" of anything, it is what it is. It can be a big shift to be comfortable with doing what you are doing, and not ranking what you are doing.
This is authentic action, what could be called, "right action." Full on engagement with an open mind, not a judging mind. The way this feels is not compromised by mixed internal messages and scattered judgments of the self or others now or in the past tense. This is being present in the moment, as Thich Nhat Hahn says so simply, "wash the dishes to wash the dishes."

Doing what you are doing without internal conflict releases energy towards the task that otherwise gets subverted into judgments and resistance. Doing what you are doing builds the muscles of mindfulness that keep you present in the moment in which you are actually living. Doing what you are doing literally turns everyday life into a moving meditation, of focused attention and open possibilities of being who you are.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Trouble In Paradise: Separate Will or Best Intention?

One of the first challenges in opening the mind is releasing the grip on "I, me, mine." Once this begins to take hold, it seems to me that clinging to tit-for-tat and ego-based judgments loses the light and leaves us in darkness when we act and choose our actions. Seeking out the center from which all beings move and breathe gives support to the wide variety of choices and decisions that conditions in the moment allow. There is something troublesome to me emerging from three of the most basic tenants of the Western moral codes. Take the following admonitions and chew on them a while.

Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
Is your behavior always to be based upon your own expectations? Subject to the push and pull of what you have experienced (the past) and wishes for (the future)? Must I remain separate from "the other" with judgments of what I expect from you and what I am willing to do? Must "I" be at the center of every thought and act? Can we not act to improve the conditions of others beyond our expectations for our self?

An eye for an eye.
Where is compassion in exacting the same price upon others that has been exacted upon us? How can we avoid mutual destruction in this scenario?  Cause, condition, and fatalism play all the cards here. Where is basic goodness, or integrity of intention? Is justice a process of administering equal harm? This is not urging that we offer our eyes for the sake of seeing clearly on behalf of the self or anyone else. Can we see that what is an eye for one is an ear for another?

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Here the power rests in conditioning, circumstance, conceptual teachings, and institutional structure. Who is describing this divine decision-maker and the realities of the exemplary setting? How does one see the context of shared human experience and the ongoing connections among living beings if subject to an unnamed authority in a place set aside? Is this a surrendering of the grasping, clutching, suffering individual will to what sustains their freedom of choice and their well-being? Doesn't abdication from our decision for right action leave us estranged from our own intention? Cannot our intention create the complete range of possibilities here on earth, without withholding our responsibility for that intention?

These axioms all seem to separate the action of an individual from the wellbeing of others, including the individual self. Underlying them all  is a power struggle of ego against the range of possible choices. They all seem set to limit options. Where is the integration of a communal framework for trust, choice, emotional safety or common purpose? Where is the development of intention without the grip of judgment?

I believe that we are not separate from one another as living beings.
We cannot thrive as separate entities. We can feel our suffering and our self interest are not in isolation. We experience life as part of a common human experience, shared in some real (and vast) ways by all living beings. Think of us all breathing in and breathing out: single celled organisms, plant life and all life forms in the oceans exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. We all come into our present format and leave that format. If we each act on our best intention in the moment, we can move within our strengths, from our deepest sources of meanings, and take a simpler course. Our action becomes a compassionate act, taking others and  basic goodness as part of who we are. When conditions change, our best intention accommodates that, without denigrating the self or "the other."

Given that momentary circumstance and reactivity are always part of our decision making, our intentions and choices, this moment has an effect on those decisions and choices. What benefit is there to separating ourselves to measure and judge whether what I do or say to you is what I want you to do or say to me? (Is this a way of intimating fundamental respect?) How does exacting a conditioned causal behavior on another who is already in a different causal condition, improve my own or our mutual state? What purpose is there in my prostrating myself before another's will (especially a will that is a creation of massive hierarchies in other times and conditions), rather than working to see my own nature as part of common strand where my compassionate act might support mutuality?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Fearing the unknown Self

I remember years ago wondering what would happen to me, to my life, to the people around me, if I acted on the deepest impulses of my heart. I felt a yearning and the impossibility of giving it all up. I was presenting myself with a false choice at that point, that I would have to renounce all my ongoing connections and commitments in order to meet my heart's urge to be of service. This was a perversion of a romantic ideal of giving up everything to offer oneself to the greater good.

Meditation can feel like this too in the beginning. There is an idea that we must somehow give up our thoughts, our patterns of mind and habits in order to open this other mode that will be pure and somehow better. If that were the case no one could meditate. It is actually through quieting the reactive mind that we can see our mind work, find the patterns that support us and the ones that thwart us. Finding the self already operating and being curious about that is one of the richest parts of meditation or asana practice.

Meditation and yoga can offer an open hearted approach to oneself. These are not fundamentally problem solving strategies, not memory aids. There are possibilities for seeing personality in its ongoing negotiations. When we avoid a few minutes of putting the self at the center of our own attention we might be reflecting our fear- what will happen if what I experience changes the way I see myself? What if I am revealed as a fake? What if I can no longer rely on the patterns that have held me together?

Well, it's just like that idea that you have to leave everything behind in order to be true and good. Your experiences in yoga and meditation will add to the toolbox you can use to do what matters to you, and allow you to see the patterns that support you as well as the ones that subvert your energy.

You are not a fake. Even if you feel mixed feelings or conflicts, even if you don't always tell the truth or know what you actually feel, you are not fake. All this is the surface where winds stir the water with mud, or build up momentum with wave action. What is beneath all of that is basic goodness. Nothing fake about it. Experiences have taught you this and that, circumstances confront you and you respond, based on reactive patterns of mind and emotional histories. Doesn't it add more to life to see this, accept it, and go on with a greater awareness of your choices?

In meditation and yoga practice we have a chance to see this as a built structure. we can keep building, remodel, admire, and understand. We don't tear it all down, nor do we judge what we find. It is scary to imagine that we don't really know ourself, or that what we do know will turn out to be terrible. What happens is quite different than that. There is a basic strength in your good heart from which internal shame, fear or pain,  physical ineptitude or habits can be held with grace and possibly even good humor.

If one leg is shorter than the other, perhaps investigation can reveal how to stabilize the pelvis and spine given that truth. This is not "correcting" oneself but supporting and nurturing the self as it actually is. See what is so right now, and use that to offer freedom from struggle, increase possibility rather than define your limitations.

We can fear our self as an unknown, as the undiscovered fake, or a fragile construction ready to fall apart. The first most remarkable experiment in the practice is to stay with this moment, this one moment, and in that monent experience that you are intact with everything you need.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Experiments Fail, This Moment Never Does

Since January 2013 I've been vegan minus oils and wheat gluten. This has enlivened my creativity in the kitchen, since I love to eat and the possibilities with these ingredients seem endless. The hard part is trying to make something that I used to eat full of things I no longer eat. This seems to encapsulate so many of the problems we make for ourselves.

This may sound like a kitchen story but it is a yoga story. Everything I do is an experiment, if an experiment is an action within the context of the known and the unknown. In any given moment, all I have is what my mind tells me. Like walking in a maze, the more familiar  I can be with the false turns and the dead ends, the more quickly and smoothly I can adjust my path to keep the path opening up ahead. Otherwise I can spend half the day, or the whole day, stuck in a cul-de-sac of judgment and that feeling of unworthiness will color all else. Without willingness to see the truth, there will be no growth or improvement next time, no way to duplicate a success, or avoid the same cause of a disappointment.  The easiest way to do this is to know my own tendencies and understand the conditional nature of my own reactions.

This really came in to focus with my blueberry muffin project one morning, which led directly to a blueberry scone project to change things for the better, both of which failed to produce anything resembling a baked blueberry treat I would have made in the past. Not only did the project not satisfy that goal, but eating the results gave me a stomach ache. On top of that, it was the first time I put together a blog post for my eat2thrive blog and literally deleted it after posting it. The muffins, my breakfast, and the blog post were all failures. It was no surprise that this put a damper on my mood, yet that's just where the surprise came. I could see the mood happen and let it come, and then let it go, without taking it personally.

In a yoga practice there are times when what went fine yesterday does not go well today. Our mind sets us up with hopes and expectations, with fears and roadblocks. It helps when we see this and acknowledge it. It's not enough to say, "I don't know how it will come out." It is important to fully see that it is fine to try and not know, and that this not knowing might mean something delicious or something disappointing on the road to figuring out how to make something delicious. It is the steps and stages necessary in an experiment to see what results are produced by which actions. In this way the moment is always fulfilling its best potential. Engrossed in the choices, awaiting the outcome, tasting the results, and revising the plans, all of these are complete, each in their own moment. The cloud of disappointment may come and go as the first muffin is eaten. The choice to let the inner critic have a field day, that's another matter. To see how we twist that outcome into more than the sum of its parts, is to see how we subject ourselves to our own patterns of judgment and expectation.

That turned out to be the most rewarding result of the whole blueberry muffin project. This ability to observe the mind, the mood, the pattern, and the escape from the traps, gave me a lovely day even with a triple strike out to start.  I am already scheming on the next variations to try in the puzzle of an oil-less, egg-less, gluten-free blueberry muffin.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Thoughts of Snakes & Heart Breaks

I've thought before about the way a broken heart feels as though it just isn't working properly anymore, as though the shell around the form has broken open and everything is tender and at risk. Oddly enough I began thinking about this in terms of growth rather than destruction or disrepair. This morning I had the deepest feeling about snakes and the way they literally lose their skins in order to allow for growth. They do not mourn the old skin, truly a sense of non-attachment! Nor do they worry about the size or shape of the new -- no grasping!  This happens several times in their lifespan, as it does, seemingly in our own human life span whether we see it that way or not.

It is amazing to see a snake swallow its nutrition in the form of whole animals. I think of the long slow sustaining absorption process that takes place along the enormous length of its digestive track.  Could it be helpful to think of ourselves in this way, that these huge inputs require a long slow digestive fire to take in the full meanings and sustain our growth? It seems we far too often think we ought to know in an instant, or learn over night, or get the message that first time. I know from my own teenage journals that I really did experience much that led to insights only to go on and repeat the lesson until I was able to actually absorb the insight.  What if we give ourselves the benefits of time without judgment, using  the kernels of understanding as they break free from the mass?

And then there's that wild way that snakes move, always with strength and grace, yet more often than not, resting quietly absorbing the heat of the day, or breathing slowly in the coolness of shade. They spend much more time just being than being busy. Wouldn't this help us too?

I'm not saying that we are snakes, or that snakes are we (at least I don't think that's what I'm saying), but I do think we suffer far too much heartache without associating that ache with the growth it so often makes possible. No matter what kind of day I'm having, if someone near me allows me to see they are struggling, I feel the ache. Years after a loss, or a painful scene, the heart can revisit its old shapes and replay the cracking of what felt like the safety of the shell.  We do this in our sleep through dreams, we do this in a split second when the air smells a certain way, or the light hits the edge of a leaf. You know what I'm talking about. Our hearts are very open to being broken, to feeling soft and exposed. Perhaps this belies a suppleness we have overlooked.

We go to a movie and weep for the characters. We hear a voice singing of heartache and ours responds. (I think of Leonard Cohen's song "Hallelujah.") If we are not grasping at the past, are we yearning for the future?  Can we re-visit our snake ancestry and allow the cracking to open us to the self that is already there growing into who we already are?

I come back again and again to this kernel that broke clear:  I am not waiting for anything. I am already right here. If that is so, then nothing is broken and I have what I need to make of this moment all it can be. I can allow myself to let go of the cracking shards and truly break open.  Is this a frightening idea? It is so only if being more fully oneself is frightening. Isn't that where life expands? Filling in the new skin, growing into the new shape, and going on until the next cracks let the light in to see the soft, supple and unfettered heart?

Seeing Your Inner Gesture: Asking, Offering, Accepting

Reaching an arm outward is a physical action. If feelings are allowed to arise, they will. It is a trick of the mind to attach meaning to everything, meaning that triggers feelings, and feelings that in their responsive nature give us the next wave of action and reaction.

Just sitting in a chair and gently reaching a hand outward, extending your arm in front of you ... to the side ... above your head ... You can turn on the switch of being present with how you feel in the action. Are you holding a soft handful of air? Are you striving to extend back muscles and lengthen finger joints? What are you doing?

Each time you open your awareness to this, you will find something new. You, in this moment, and how you feel, can become more familiar and visible in your conscious view of yourself. That outstretched arm can introduce you to yourself. This is how the physical practice of yoga opens into a deeper understanding of the self, a path to acceptance of the range of feelings that are already there in you, a way to tolerate and release even painful emotions stored from past events, or to acknowledge and adapt in spite of fears of future events.

That elegant arm reaching out, the incredible hand extended... are you asking? are you offering? are you accepting?

If you drop your wrist and relax your fingers, your arm will still express your deeper feelings. You can release your hand to be the simple extension of this, allowing the unfolding from your heart. With the eyes of a warrior, soft, open, and ready for anything that might appear, let your yoga practice allow you to begin cultivating your view, your drishti, to accept what is already before you.