How To Be Alone

By Eckhart TolleThe following video is not just beautiful and inspirational.  It also speaks to the heart of the human experience and the lesson we must all learn at some point in our lives, at the latest when we are about to transition from this world.  That lesson is how to be alone.  Whether you are physically alone now or not, you are the only constant in the equation of your life, all other variables change.  Now is the time to discover that constant self, and now is in fact the only place where who you are can be found.


How To Know When You Can Finally Be At Peace

At The Airport What were you worried about yesterday? What about last month or last year?

As I woke up today with tingly feet and immediately began worrying about my them, I remembered that the day before I worried about a one-day teaching residency I’m going to have to travel extremely far for, to a part of Chicago that is as of yet completely unknown to me.   When I decided to allow the discomfort in my feet, and surrender to the present moment, my mind started thinking about finding a new apartment in September and how stressful that might be.

Sound familiar? When life is stressful the voice in the head tells us that after a certain point or after something happens we will finally be at peace.

Even though I think that I’ll be at peace after I figure out what is going on with my tingly feet, when that moment does come my mind will just as soon have an exorbitant amount of other things I’ll have to wait for until I can be at peace.

While the content of the thoughts we have differs, we all experience the same mechanics.  There is always a phantom future moment when the mind will agree to let you relax and enjoy life.  And that is exactly how that voice stays alive, in control of your attention.

Once I was able to become aware that unless I decided to be at peace now I’d never actually be at peace, I was able to choose peace now despite the circumstances.  The long standing thought mechanics in my mind still had a whole lifetime’s worth of energy to keep it going, so the worry thoughts popped up nevertheless.

Despite this mind mechanic momentum, to smile and allow yourself to relax even when your thoughts are still vying for your attention, is to take control of your life and your sanity.  In that moment you are present and the momentum gained from that glimpse of consciousness will only grow. Eventually the old thought mechanics will lose steam and peace will be all the remains inside and out.


How Children Are Secretly Changing Adults

At Bop and Mimi'sIf you could impart one lesson to a child, what would it be?

I’ve observed an amazing phenomenon the past four years while working in an elementary school.  Adults become better people around kids.  We are more honest, forgiving, kind, and gentle when we have children observing our behavior all day.

Kids are extremely focused on the notion of “fairness.”  If an adult doesn’t abide by the rules they have set for a child, you bet that kid is going to call them out.  In the classroom adults do not swear or yell at each other, we want to model healthy relationships and problem solving. But when someone cuts us off during the morning commute we act in a way that would land any child in the principle’s office.

So think about that lesson you would really want to teach a child.  For me, I would want to help a child understand how to accept situations that don’t go exactly their way, and how to go back to enjoying themselves afterwards.

Take that lesson you want to pass on, and first teach it to yourself.  Kids learn by example after all.  Learn how to model that behavior which you would want to see others enact.  Not only will you be helping yourself, but you may also be helping a child you don’t even realize is paying attention.


What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do

PHOTO BY PETER SPEROAs the years pass what I want to be has become clearer to me.  I want to be consciousness, love, peace, joy, and utterly present.  What continues to elude me is what I want to do.  Not knowing my outer purpose has caused me to engage in a lot of efforting to “figure it out,” which comes along with the residual anxiety from thinking I should know what I want to do when I don’t yet know.  This mental non-acceptance of what is, not only causes suffering, but is also a sure ticket to becoming out of alignment with the present moment.

The other night I received a profound message from a colleague who wasn’t even trying to offer advice.  She told me that all through her twenties she kept trying to do what she thought she was supposed to do; she tried to “make it happen.”  But eventually everything came together, her outer purpose became clear as day and was not what she initially worked for all those years.  For her, this new understanding would have come one way or another, and the years spent thinking she was supposed to have it all figured out would have been much better spent just enjoying herself.  Not only would her purpose have presented itself eventually anyway, she said it probably would have become apparent much sooner had she not been attempting to “make it happen” the way she thought it was supposed to.

In the gift of her story I heard echoes of Tolle, “Don’t let a mad world tell you that success is anything other than a successful present moment.”  Enjoy the “right now”, no matter how messy that “right now” appears, and how elusive future security may seem to the thinking mind. A seed of joy now will be realized in even greater abundance in the future.  A seed of presence now, will grow into your life’s outer purpose.


The Good In The Extreme

High and LowExperiencing extremely high highs in life, along with very low lows, is exhausting.  There are some who enjoy that way of living, and there are also many wisdom teachings detailing how to escape such a precarious existence.  But just as in meditation, where you constantly are bringing your attention back from a wild train of thought to the present moment, experiencing going from very unconscious states to extremely aware states of being within the span of a day, an hour, or a minute is essential in the practice of living.

Some days I experience extreme fear, worry, and distress.  It can happen, when overcome with negative emotions or powerful thought patters, that I will bring a little bit of present moment awareness into my field of attention and take a step away from the crazy.  This type of experience is helpful in building up what Tolle calls “presence power,” that when accessed more and more easily, will eventually kick in before the thought patterns and emotions have a chance to take over.  But it is okay to go even further than a small glimpse of awareness.

I am now experiencing that when I fall into unconscious suffering, and bring that spark of present moment awareness into the situation, that I don’t need to stop there.  I can remind myself of the true depths of joy and peace available in the present moment, remember all that I have learned in the power of the reality of the here and now.  Not only can I shed light on the dysfunction that had caused fear to become all important in my field of attention, I can dissipate that fear with radical acceptance, and allow myself to feel peace, allow a smile, allow joy in the midst of anxious thought patterns.

This “allowing” is not passive.  It takes the same power required when the energy of residual pain makes peace and happiness seem like the last thing in the world you’d want to feel, but you “allow” yourself to disidentify from that loud voice of pain and smile anyway.

Extreme happiness and extreme sadness lead to a weary existence.  But moments of extreme unconsciousness that transform into moments of all encompassing present moment awareness can lead to the empowerment of your ability to dissipate the pain created by identification with the thoughts and emotions.  Judging a moment of pain, fear, or sorrow will lead to more of the like, but accepting it and entering fully into the present moment strengthens the light of your consciousness that can dissolve the deepest darkness.


The Easiest Way To Get Rid Of The Ego

Mimi and KatieHow can you become aware of the ego in you?  The ego is the sense of self that is created when your identity becomes all wrapped up in form: thought forms, what you have/don’t have, the state of the body, situations.  And while an identity based on that which will inevitably change leads to suffering, the good news is that becoming aware of the ego is the easiest way to go beyond it and discover your true self.

Any moment when you watch your thoughts without judgment provides just such an opportunity.  But for me, the ego becomes extremely obvious when I am criticized.

As a child the slightest hint of disapproval from another would reduce me to tears.  By the time I was a teenager I was fed up with this reaction that I felt powerless to control.  The suffering created by the disapproval of others was so obviously disproportionate to the experiences themselves that the dysfunction was easily recognizable.  

What I didn’t understand at the time was that my identity was wrapped up in form, mainly in the thought forms, opinions, I perceived others held of me.  When this ego identity was diminished by criticism the ego promptly rebuilt itself through my identification with the reaction to this diminishment, negative emotions and unhappy thoughts about myself and my situation.  My ego also easily remained in place through identification with negative thoughts about the person who had first diminished it.

When someone criticizes or offends you, watch your mind. It will come up with thought after thought until you either find one to identify with, or until it quiets down from the lack of momentum created by your conscious presence.

One of Eckhart Tolle’s most helpful exercises is to occasionally allow the diminishment of your ego.  When someone criticizes you, don’t immediately retaliate or condemn the other person.  Allow the ego to die a little bit.  (Just be careful that the ego doesn’t sneak back in through identification with the mental position of the other person or a negative self-image.)  It feels uncomfortable at first, but gives way to a peace that makes that moment of tension seem wholly insignificant.


The Problem With Being Right

Dr. Wayne DyerHave you ever been in a situation where you were absolutely in the right, but were unable to convince someone else who had a differing viewpoint?  When you are right, and someone else is wrong, especially about basic facts (e.g. when water is frozen it becomes ice), it can be frustrating to say the least.

When I’m in the middle of an argument I can feel the infuriation rise the more I try to convince the other person of my side.  The other day when I was attempting to explain how to read a piece of sheet music to my friend, who disagreed with my interpretation, it became clear to me that the more I tried to convince him of my understanding, the more frustrated I became.  In the midst of the argument I asked myself, “why?”  When it isn’t a matter of life or death, is convincing another of your “rightness” really worth it?

The need to be right, even when you are, can erode relationships and prevent us from seeing each other as the complex, mysterious human beings we truly are.  The need to be right is also the perfect doorway for the ego to take over your life.  Identifying with a mental position and fighting for the life of that position is ego.

Next time an argument starts to go off the rails, take back control from the ego by letting go of the need to convince another person of your position.  But be careful that the ego doesn’t sneak back in through judgment of the other person based upon their thoughts.  When I let go of a mental position and feel satisfied because I am the “bigger person” I have let the ego take control in the most opportune moment for its demise.  On the other side of identification with thought is true communication, greater understanding, and better relationships.


The Best Advice For Helping A Suffering Friend

How can you alleviate the suffering of those around you?  When I find that someone is suffering I immediately want to help, I want to “fix” their problems.  But if you’ve ever had someone jump in with advice when you were telling them of your suffering, you know that their advice, while sincere, didn’t diminish your pain.   In the video below Thich Nhat Hanh shares the best advice I’ve ever heard for how to help those around you who are in pain.


How To Accomplish Everything In 1 Minute

PHOTO BY PETER SPEROToday’s post is dedicated to my incredible grandmother, Mimi, or this her 82nd birthday.  I love you Mimi, thank you for your guidance, wisdom, and love!

What is the background static of your life?  When I’m really paying attention I can sense the background static of my life as a multitude of unfinished tasks.  My background static is the thought that I will be at peace when I have completed my goals.

This morning as I was getting dressed I heard the voice in my head going over the things that I still needed to do.  I also realized that along with that thought was the physical feeling of being tense and uneasy.  Part of this background static was the unexamined assumption that feeling tense and uneasy until “everything was finished” would help me to meet those demands.

I then decided to take a minute for everything to be completed.  Meaning, that for a minute I decided to suspend my disbelief and truly feel as if everything I had been going over in my mind was finished, and there was absolutely nothing more to do.  The feeling associated with this thought was complete peace.  That experience helped me to remember the true benefit of paying attention to the actual experience of the present moment, without making it a means to an end but rather an end in itself.

As long as we are alive there will be things to do, goals to be accomplished, tasks that need tending to.  To wait to be at peace until “everything is finished” is to avoid that peace, and life itself, until your journey here on earth has already come to an end.

That there is always more to do is not a problem.  The problem is the psychological feeling that there is always more to do.

In order to leave behind this unhelpful perception take one minute every hour to consciously be still and imagine everything you have ever needed to do, or will ever need to do, has already been done.  Take that one minute to experience being on the other side of the endless “to-do” list. That one minute can easily become two minutes, and eventually you end up solely in the perfect present and witness life as it unfolds before your watchful eyes.