Cheerfulness

August 29, 2013

While there is a chance of the world getting through its troubles, I hold that a reasonable man has to behave as though he were sure of it. If at the end your cheerfulness is not justified, at any rate you will have been cheerful.  ~H. G. Wells

Lately I find myself asking how one maintains good cheer in the face of not only the world’s ills, but our own aging, infirmity, and ultimately, death. I think it must be intentional. But in addition to learning and practicing good habits (morning affirmation, gratitude, etc.). I believe it involves surrender.

Pema Chodron, in her wise book, When Things Fall Apart, says “…we cannot be in the present and run our own storylines at the same time…anyone who stands on the edge of the unknown, fully in the present without reference point experiences groundlessness.” We must make friends with fear and groundlessness, surrender to the reality that we have no control, and live our lives anyway.

Randy says our task is to “live until we die.” In my most serious depressive depths, I have not even wanted to do that. But today I do, unequivocally. I aspire as Wendell Berry does in “The Wish to Be Generous“: to “…bow / to mystery, and take my stand on the earth / like a tree in a field, passing without haste / or regret toward what will be, my life / a patient willing descent into the grass.”

What are the ways that you maintain good cheer?


Surrender

May 3, 2009

The goal of life is living in agreement with nature. ~Zeno

Here is one take on the idea of “surrender.” As the opposite of giving up one’s true nature or conforming, we can surrender to the truth of who we are and find our right place in the universe. I believe that is what we all long for. It is a theme I return to again and again: Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of Finding Flow; what David Whyte talks about in The Heart Aroused (The Soul at Work); and what Parker Palmer refers to as the integration of soul and role (An Undivided Life).

Surrender in this sense is not giving in, but giving up the illusion of control, letting go of the defenses we have built against our heart’s desires. Those defenses may stem from parental or societal expectations, fear of failure, fear of success, or myriad other things.

If you surrendered to your heart’s desire, what would you be doing? What would your life look like if you were in agreement with your true nature?


Making Our World

March 28, 2009

If we want to make something spectacular out of our world, there is nothing whatsoever that can stop us. ~Maria Ranier

Make or find? In a previous post, I grappled with Eric Maisel’s concept of making (as opposed to finding) meaning in our lives. How does that jibe with Byron Katie’s concept of loving what is or Eckhart Tolle’s encouragement to live in the Now? If we are attempting to make our worlds, our lives, our meaning, are we pushing the rope?

Right effort is part of the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. As with other things, perhaps it’s finding (or is it making?!) a balance between effort and surrender. Changing what we can and accepting the rest, as the first part of the serenity prayer teaches. This prayer goes on to refer to a deity, but I think surrender can also be to life and the natural world.

How do you reconcile right effort and surrender? To whom or what do you surrender (if you do)?


New Year’s Challenges

December 29, 2008

If I leave my writing for one day, it leaves me for three. ~Madeleine L’Engle

The creative process is a process of surrender, not control. ~Julia Cameron

Despite Julia Cameron’s words, I have decided to participate in the somewhat controlled Creative Every Day Challenge for 2009. Within this very loose framework (the creator gives full permission to participate stress-free–that is, however and whenever you like), I hope to enter that process of creative surrender more often in the coming year.

My first act in the CED challenge will be to create a list on this blog of as many possible creative activities I can think of that I might like to try this year. I hope you’ll add your creative ideas to the list when it’s posted in early January.

In addition, I’ve signed up for The Power of Less New Year’s Challenge at Zen Habits. This requires a pledge to practice something, anything, but only one thing, 10 minutes a day for 30 days. I figure surely I can work in 10 minutes of yoga every single day during January. Don’tcha think?

So rather than resolutions for the new year, I am giving myself two challenges. No one has asked, but I’ll confess to having fallen off the strength training wagon I committed to here. It seems like a great program, but it’s just not right for me, I discovered. So I am going to call that not failure, but learning!

Will you set challenges for yourself in 2009?


Interbeing

September 21, 2008

In one sheet of paper, we see everything else, the cloud, the forest, the logger. I am, therefore you are. You are, therefore I am. That is the meaning of the word ‘interbeing.’ We interare. ~Thich Nhat Hanh, from Being Peace

I have just read the book Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach. Before I read this wonderful book, I had a post by this title. I’m sure it was Brach’s book that was referenced by the authors I quoted in that earlier post. All that to say that this idea of radical acceptance is one that echoes for me as something I need to embrace.

Letting go of the idea of control allows us to better see and be receptive to the gifts that come to us. Brach says, “When we put down ideas of what life should be like, we are free to wholeheartedly say yes to our life as it is.” When I cease to struggle with the life I have, I see the beauty of the hills across the valley, feel the cool air of fall streaming in the window, hear the quiet on this Sunday morning, and know the peace of feeling safe and loved. Only when I can understand the great grace that has fallen on me can I feel true compassion for others. And that understanding is not with the head, but with the heart.

May I understand from the heart that we are all interconnected, worthy of grace, and responsible for each other. May I live my life as though I am no more or less than any other in the universe, and as though every breath I take ripples through all.

Breathing in, I calm body and mind.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is the only moment.

~Thich Nhat Hanh


The Tyranny of Expectations

September 17, 2008

The unexpected will certainly happen, while the anticipated may never come. ~Nisargadatta Maharaj

…you cannot control the result of your actions. As painful as it is to admit, oftentimes you cannot even know if the results are truly positive or negative just because initially they appear to be one or the other. ~Phillip Moffitt, “The Tyranny of Expectations”

The title of Moffitt’s piece from Yoga Journal says it all. We can create a lot of suffering for ourselves with our desire for a particular outcome. Focusing on right effort is the key. Moffitt says, “The Buddha continually warned us not to be attached to any specific outcome, yet he also stressed the importance of making an effort and sacrifices, of living a life of moral discipline…The difference is in what you control. You have the power to choose your level of effort, you can learn from experience how to improve it and how to be balanced in what is skillful and what is not. But you cannot control the result of your actions.”

Part of this art, I think, is accepting and loving what is (including our imperfections in doing so). As Tolle reminds us (see Denial and Surrender), that doesn’t mean accepting the status quo, the whole situation, but rather embracing the present moment as it is. I am reminded today to turn my attention to right effort, to let go of expectations of results, and to rest in the present moment without dwelling on past or future.  

See also Expectations


Pushing the Rope

September 7, 2008

The Sun Never Says
Even
After
All this time,
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe
Me.”
Look
What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the
Whole sky.
~Hafiz

Dang! I am pushing the rope again.* Making life harder than it has to be. I need to remember that this day, my life, the universe will be what it is. I am not in control, nor am I owed anything. I can radiate love and light only when I am shining from my center, and not by willing myself to do so. On rereading a previous post (The Case Against Will), I am resolved to spend the day “moodling” in dreamy idleness.

Learning is hard! When the same lesson comes around again and again (there’s that spiral again), it must be important, eh? Today I am reminded to cease struggling and to listen for clarity.

*a concept described by Sarah Susanka in The Not So Big Life


Faith

September 6, 2008

[Here I had the poem “Faith,” by David Whyte.]

I want to rail against faith, the way we arise, day after day, to face the brutal truth of the world. We wane and wither in the dark night of the soul, then in spite of ourselves, wax bathed in the light of encouragement.

May I continue to arise as the sun keeps coming up, as the moon rides the shadowy clouds to its fullness. May I take comfort in the words of Mignon McLaughlin: “The best work is done with the heart breaking, or overflowing.” May I find those slivers of light before the final darkness.


Denial and Surrender

August 10, 2008

When you deny emotional pain, everything you do or think as well as your relationships become contaminated with it. You broadcast it, so to speak, as the energy you emanate, and others will pick it up subliminally…You attract and manifest whatever corresponds to your inner state.

Surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to rather than opposing the flow of life…It does not mean that on the outer level you cannot take action and change the situation. In fact, it is not the overall situation that you need to accept when you surrender, but just the tiny segment called the Now.

~Eckhart Tolle

The heartbreakthroughs continue, and they are good and cleansing–the opposite of the denial Tolle speaks of. I am somewhat astonished by the body-centeredness of emotion. As someone who has no doubt relied too heavily on intellectual solutions in the past, I am learning that there is no “figuring out” one’s emotional response, there is only being with it, feeling it.

For so long, my difficulty with surrender had to do with thinking of it as “giving up” while wanting to change things for the better. But Tolle reconciles these ideas in his quote above: Acceptance of the moment, presence in the Now, does not require being satisfied with the overall situation. In fact Tolle says, “…to surrender is the most important thing you can do to bring about positive change. Any action you take is secondary. No truly positive action can arise out of an unsurrendered state of consciousness.”

What do you feel or think?


The Case Against Will

June 1, 2008

When you will, make a resolution, set your jaw, you are expressing an imaginative fear that you won’t do the thing. If you knew you would do the thing, you would smile happily and set about it. 

So you see, the imagination needs moodling–long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.  ~Brenda Ueland, from If You Want to Write (Graywolf Press, 2007)

It is easy to see why Ueland’s work is a classic and hard to believe I have not read it until now. I know already that it will be one of those I will want to reread every couple of years, as I do other books of distilled wisdom (Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, for example).

As one who has struggled for years to will self-care, I could not agree more with Ueland’s case against will. The harder I try to force myself to eat right and exercise more, the fiercer the rebellious resistance becomes. (If I knew I would do it, I would just smile happily and set about it!) She shares what I find to be an interesting insight: “People who try to boss themselves always want (however kindly) to boss other people. They always think they know best and are so stern and resolute about it they are not very open to new and better ideas.” (God forbid.) Describing herself as “a fearful self-disciplinarian” who has learned a better way, she promotes “dreamy idleness” as a way of quietly letting in imaginative thoughts. 

The best news is that Ueland’s “moodling” is (for the most part) simply being in the present moment! She says, “…when I walk in a carefree way, without straining to get to my destination, then I am living in the present. And it is only then that the creative power flourishes.” She tells us that “…it is the way you are to feel when you are writing–happy, truthful, and free, with that wonderful contented absorption of a child stringing beads in kindergarten.”

P. S. Did Ueland coin the word “moodling?” Merriam-Webster does not know it.


Clear Space

May 28, 2008

Present-moment awareness creates a gap not only in the stream of mind but also in the past-future continuum. Nothing truly new and creative can come into this world except through that gap, that clear space of infinite possibility.  ~Eckhart Tolle, from The Power of Now

Thinking about that clear space, ironically, as I prepare to return to work after a week-long vacation. But the space Tolle means is space we can have access to anytime. Ceasing our obsessive thinking, coming into the present, we understand that time and space are one, here and now.

This is good news. It means creativity is available to me virtually anytime, anywhere. I don’t have to have a special writing pen or desk, a lot of free time or extra energy, or even inspiration (especially not ideas!). I have only to stop, notice, be in the now. Surrender to life, to the moment. Tolle says, “No truly positive action can arise out of an unsurrendered state of consciousness.”

How do you experience creative moments? Do they come unbidden; do you arrange conditions to induce them? What if you surrendered to the gap, that clear space of infinite possibility?


Decisions

April 16, 2008

Our most important decisions are discovered, not made. We can make the unimportant ones, but the major ones require us to wait with the discovery. ~Anne Wilson Schaef

Patience has never been one of my virtues, so the idea of “waiting with” anything holds little appeal! However, I believe this with all my heart–that our paths are revealed to us, sometimes when we least expect it. And I know that forcing things only causes us stress and suffering.

I want to walk lightly through my life, neither pushing the rope nor dragging baggage. I want to step mindfully, with awareness that I am part of all that is, that there is no me as my ego defines it, but perhaps a reflection of something greater. (See Sarah Susanka’s blog entry, “Who’s That in the Mirror?” on the Not So Big Life site.) I suppose it can be argued that I am an integral part of the universe (or else I wouldn’t be here). But does any of that really matter? What I am or why I am?

May I step lightly on my right path as it is revealed to me.


Being Flow

April 11, 2008

You write from what you know, but you write in what you don’t know.  ~Grace Paley

When the painting is finished, the subject reveals itself.  ~William Baziotes

Writing (or any creative work) is discovery. That is why it is so frightening, so exhilirating, so compelling. This blog is my exercise in writing in what I don’t know. When the blog entry is finished, the subject reveals itself. I merely try to follow my mind and heart where they lead–first in choosing a quotation, then in my response to it.

This is good practice, I believe, for surrendering to life, for letting myself “be carried” by the universe, for loving what is. Perhaps writing will save my soul. I keep returning to Ray Bradbury’s advice from Zen in the Art of Writing: “WORK. RELAX. DON’T THINK.” There is so much wisdom in that simple exhortation. I am not sure how it could be more perfect.

William Stafford said, “Intention endangers creation.” May I approach my work with relaxation and a spirit of inquiry. May I surrender to the world with faith that I will be carried. May I set aside intention, will, and the illusion of control in order to be in the flow–no!–to be the flow–of all creation.


Living in Process

April 1, 2008

Living in process is being open to insight and encounter. Creativity is becoming intensely absorbed in the process and giving it form.  ~Susan Smith

In creative endeavors, I have tried to remember that process is important, usually (always?) more important than product. But I don’t know that I’ve applied this principal consciously to living itself. At least this seems to me a new way of thinking about familiar ideas. What does it look like to live in process? Smith gives us some definition: being open to insight and encounter.

Cultivating openness seems a worthy goal. And I love the fact that the quote addresses openness both to intuition (self) and in relationship (other). If we think beyond subject-object dualism, this is one and the same, I suppose. An open heart is an open heart. And I long for a truly open heart.

It is fear that prevents the heart from opening fully to experience. Creative moments are so ecstatic because we flow, for a moment, in the stream of process, without fear. Because we open our hearts to the experience, surrendering the illusion of control. In that place, fear has no substance, no power.

When are you most open to insight and encounter? How can we expand those opportunities for living in process?


Trust

March 22, 2008

The key is to get to know people and trust them to be who they are. Instead, we trust people to be who we want them to be, and when they’re not, we cry.  ~from Thinkexist.com (unattributed)

Because I learned not to trust at an early age, perhaps I have been too eager to trust people in my adulthood, because I have often made the mistake of trusting people before I really know them. Really getting to know someone requires time, shared experience, patience, full awareness in their presence. In some cases, my instincts were dead on, and I developed a satisfying relationship in spite of my tendency to trust too soon. At other times, when someone turned out to be other than who I wanted them to be, I cried.

The foundation for those satisfying relationships is, of course, knowing and trusting one’s self. Getting to know ourselves (which also requires time, patience and full awareness) and trusting our lives to unfold as they should is a lifelong process, in my view. My friend Gloria once said, “Life can be quite radically trusted.” At the time, I had no idea what she meant. Now I want to rest in the lap of the universe, trust that it will hold me, and experience myself and others with crystal clarity. Although I’ve resisted it for years, the time has come for a mindfulness meditation practice.

May I learn the discipline of practice, the mindfulness to be fully present with myself and others, and the discernment to know when and whom to trust.


Flow

March 8, 2008

Life is a series of natural spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them–that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. ~Lao Tzu

Flow with whatever is happening and let your mind be free. Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate. ~Chuang Tzu

Boy, do I need these quotations this morning! I am feeling battered by my situation, and it is so tempting to sink into bitterness or depression. I have just reread The Not So Big Life, and although I intellectually understand the concept of not “pushing the rope,” I find myself doing it over and over.

My whole orientation as a manager is to work toward positive results, so how do I let go of the results, “let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like”? I think one reason I long for retirement is to escape this conflict in me, but I do understand that is not the right reason to retire.

May I center myself by just sitting with things today, letting my mind be free. May I learn to let go of resistance, making way for acceptance of whatever I am doing.


Ego

February 17, 2008

We’re swallowed up only when we are willing for it to happen.  ~Nathalie Sarraute

A number of forces combined yesterday to overwhelm my best intentions. As my last few posts have attested, I have been immersed over the past few days in the work of Eckhart Tolle on the power of living in the present. Yesterday, it felt as though my ego, or will, was so threatened by the prospect of  annihilation (through living in the now, surrender to what is) that it reared up and demanded my attention. It is a greedy beast! 

Though I tried to be the “watcher” in the throes of this experience, as Tolle recommends, I was unsuccessful at taming the unruly will.  My mindfulness muscles are not yet strong enough, perhaps. Today I hope to practice that mindful presence and surrender as I go about my day.

Do you have a practice that helps keep you mindful, that connects you with all that is, or that helps you avoid being “swallowed up?”


Grace

February 16, 2008

The winds of grace are blowing all the time; you have only to raise your sail.  ~Sri Ramakrishna

I have always loved this quote, pointing as it does to the sea we swim in, but of which we are usually oblivious. After listening to The Power of Now, I am interpreting “raising one’s sail” as being present–without resistance–in order to experience unity with all that is, enlightenment, or “the winds of grace.” Tolle says that surrender, acceptance of what is, doesn’t mean we have to give up doing, but gives us clarity about what needs to be done, and I have found this to be true.

It is so refreshing to hear that direct perception, (consciousness, feeling) is as critical as thinking in our mind-dominated Western world. I’m the first to disagree with (uh-oh, mind identification!) those who would dismiss reason in the affairs of the world, but I do know that my mind will not get me to a state of grace, enlightenment, unity. Judging, thinking that we are separate from all that is (ego-identification) is destructive for us and for our planet. Tolle cautions that once we take a position, we have identified with an impermanent form, have created a resistance to what is that blocks our natural flow of energy.

So raising one’s sail to the winds of grace occurs through experiencing the now with full consciousness, Eckhart might say. Have you had such moments of spiritual connectedness? 


Getting Out of the Way

December 3, 2007

…by simply listening to and recording your inner longings…they will begin to manifest in your life without your having to do anything else…by carefully listening to our hearts we seed our waking dream with those intentions. If we try to force our longings into being however, the door to their realization remains firmly shut…We have to get out of the way in order for the things we long for to start showing up, and when they do, they almost never look quite the way we had imagined.  ~Sarah Susanka’s blog at http://www.notsobiglife.com/

Well, this seems to be a theme this week–listening to the inner voice. I have read many accounts of witness to this phenomenon, that clutching the illusion of control inhibits finding that center. The concept of surrender has for so long been anathema to me, carrying a connotation of helplessly giving oneself over to the power of another. I spent my childhood practicing self-denial and self-betrayal (surrender) to survive, and my young adulthood rebelling against virtually everyone and everything that would try to control me. In the end resistance is no better than surrender, and I must learn to get out of my own way, to relax into all that is (what some call nature, God, the universe, a higher power). To wash myself of myself, as Rumi suggests, to be melting snow.

What is the middle way? Listening to the inner wisdom, being fully present in order to respond authentically from the heart, moving toward the heart’s desire but understanding that there is no controlling one’s life; there is only finding the path with that next step. How frightening that is!  But as Susanka says, “In fact we’ve never been in charge. We only thought we were.”


INFJ, Again

November 6, 2007

This above all: to thine own self be true
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
~William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 1, Sc. 3

An assignment in the leadership institute I am in this week was to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator — in my case, for the third, fourth, maybe fifth time.  Each time the result of my score has been INFJ–Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging–the rarest combination. 

There were a couple of changes this time, however. Always before I have had close scores on the Introverted-Extroverted dichotomy; this time I showed a clear preference for Introversion.  Before I have shown a clear preference for Judging over Perceiving; this time my scores were much closer. What does that mean? I’m in a job that requires less extroverted behavior than my previous one, and I do feel myself getting more solitary as I age. I hope the move toward Perceiving indicates a greater openness to change and less need for control. 

I want to think and write about surrender soon. I have always resisted, struggled with, protested any attempt to control my behavior, including self-control in many cases.  This is no doubt a result of being overly controlled in my youth. But I am beginning to realize the foolishness of that stance and recognize the many ways it has prevented my growth. Can you give up control? Some say “let go and let God.” Creatives talk about ceasing to think about or sleeping on a problem and “receiving” a solution. I want to learn surrender.