Consider all that your consciousness has taken in this year. The facts and figures, news stories, challenges, experiences, human interactions. You are an expert witness to this creation day in and day out.
What are you bringing forth into this world each day? When I think back to the un-work related conversations I hear at work, most of them fall into the category of “the horrors of existence.” We discuss the worst things imaginable, often with lamentations for a broken world. This is not being well informed. Knowing what is going on with other people and languishing in their misery are two very different things.
The mind can toil forever over a problem it can’t solve, which is precisely why it tries to keep these conversations going. If the voice in your head is telling you that these conversations will help find a solution, that is because it doesn’t know life-changing solutions arise from a still and quiet mind.
In the coming year let us shift our attention from what is coming at us to what we are sending out. Let us resolve this year to imagine better. If we put out encouragement, kindness, hope, and love in equal measure to the complaining and agonizing that are all too commonplace, we will start to see our small pockets of existence transform from base metal into gold.
What you put out into the world is not dependent on your happiness or optimism. It is a conscious effort to make manifest the deepest desires of your heart. You are an alchemist; your thoughts and feelings transform your world. Make a choice to use that power to beautify all that you see.
It often feels like there are a million reasons to be grieving. Celebration and gratitude can seem out of place in a world desperately in need of love and healing. But to foster love we need to lean in more than ever to celebrating life. For healing we need to lean in to gratitude. We can take our hearts, so tender from imbibing all of the world’s pain, and use that softness to bring forth the sweet fragrance of forgiveness, understanding, gentleness, and caring.
Thoughts about what is going wrong are like candy to mind; addictive, enjoyable, and they eventually make us sick. Thanksgiving is chance to practice replacing those thoughts with the fruit and vegetables of the mind which are thoughts of thankfulness and gratitude.
There are so many small things that I forget to be thankful for that are truly miracles to experience. For example, I can walk and talk, my digestive system works well and my body is healthy, I can sing and dance, I can gaze at the moon on clear nights, I can hear birdsongs in the early morning. These thoughts are seldom mulled over in my mind the way worries are. So this holiday season I’m going on a mind diet; less candy, more fruits and vegetables. You can do this too by noticing what thoughts are most consistently running through your mind and making a choice to consume thoughts of thanks instead of complaints.
On a personal note, I have to tell you all how thankful I am every day for the community here at Let Yourself Learn, for this opportunity to delve more deeply into the ocean of living with you all, and for your love and support which permeate my every day. Bless you truly, and good luck with your holiday mind diet!
I’m grateful to be here and okay. I never really considered that it could have gone otherwise. But anything could go otherwise. And I’m grateful. So what have I learned in this one year since surgery?
What I think will be the hardest things for me to live through, won’t be. Other things will be harder. They will not be what I expected, so there is no need to worry.
Physical pain is not forever and often has an antidote. Psychological suffering requires conscious effort.
While physically painful, I look back on the months of recovery after surgery as a beautiful time of peace and loving-kindness.
Life is always worth it. No harm no foul. We are life and there is no alternative to being who we are.
Suffering unites each of us with all of humanity.
My feelings of happiness and sadness are almost always prompted from the outside. They don’t have to be.
When it isn’t happening right now, it is as if it never happened. Experiences can live on inside of us if we let them. They can make us suffer or make us happy, but either way they are no longer absolutely real.
When the thoughts of others seem important that is a sign I see my thoughts as important. I don’t want my thoughts to be important.
Desire depletes experience of authenticity.
Sleep, meditation, and silence are life giving. They enable us to wake up.
Life experiences are seasonal. Winters contain Christmases. Darkness is the platform upon which light is born.
Thank you for being with me in spirit this past year. It is my wish that the love, seen and unseen, which you have been pouring out, will return to you having grown and multiplied.
The only time a miracle can occur is now. Past and future occur as thoughts, and miracles are not the result of thinking. Stay in this moment, it is the place where all new things are born. And when your mind begins to drag you along on a habitual train of thought, remind yourself why the now is worth it and watch for the miracle.
I don’t know how it happened, but all of the sudden I’m back in the city full of its noises, lights, tumult, and excitement. In my mind I’m still walking beneath a blanket of stars to a dark meditation hall, watching Swamis dressed in orange quietly manipulate their patterns of breath.
At the Satchidananda Ashram inner peace is laid out before you as a banquet for an honored guest. There is no end to the forms in which it is presented. Hatha Yoga, pranayama, meditation, selfless service in places like a kitchen or farm, immersion in nature, chanting, study of holy texts, and the loving-kindness of friends are all abundantly offered as pathways to the peace within.
And while it had never been so easy to have a joyful open heart, the sweet Swami guiding me through my month made it very clear; nothing outside will change, only your perspective will change.
Being back in Chicago I understand these words more clearly than I did immersed in the sacred space of the ashram. Everything is the same. People are the same. Work is the same. The loud noises that wake me when I’m trying to sleep are the same. Even the thoughts in my mind are the same. But the fog clouding the lens of my heart has been wiped clear so that I can surrender to the infinite love that pervades all things.
Of course while that may sound quite romantic, in practice it isn’t. It means waking up hours before work to sit cross-legged, feet completely asleep, in the silence before dawn. It means doing a half hour of poses and breathing even when my mind is asking me to skip it and take a nap. It means convincing the voice in my head it can have some more chocolate tomorrow, but not today. It means looking at what is happening with my own mind when someone is upsetting me, and letting go of judgement. It means relinquishing the misguided hope that something “out there” will make me happy. (And I still haven’t kicked that coffee habit.)
Each moment is another chance for this practice. What I learned living this way for a month is that it is worth it. There is nothing in this world worth more than inner peace. And, in the words of Eckhart Tolle, “If peace is really what you want, then you will choose peace.”
This time last year I set out on a month of adventure. I am about to venture out for another August, but this story is very different than the one I was telling a year ago.
After returning from last year’s excursions I found myself jobless, and quite without a sense of direction. The time seemed ripe to return to a place of great importance to me, the Satchidananda Ashram.
I had once sought the ashram as a refuge at the age of 20. That period of time was one of great turmoil in which I found myself suddenly living alone, instead of with my partner, and feeling crushed by the weight of my own responsibility for my life situation.
The brief time I spent at the ashram was one of the most meaningful experiences of my short life. But it was just that, brief. Instead of the planned month of service I was to do there, I rushed home as soon as the voice in my head told me it had had enough.
The work was too hard. I missed my family. I couldn’t stomach the health food. And God didn’t want or need me to worship Him this way. These were the patterns of thought that I let drive me back home.
However, I never regretted my short stay. I loved my time there. I loved my roommates and the lifestyle. I knew I would be back. I knew there was some purpose in this brief introduction.
Cut to last fall, six years after leaving the ashram. It was time to go back. But the tumor living incognito in my skull caused a seizure, and the long road to surgery and recovery began. I was okay with this, I was just happy to be alive. And I knew my time would come.
Then it was February of this year. I felt more myself again. Now that I’m more recovered I can see how ambitious I was being, but I decided February was my chance. I was finally healthy, and I had been looking forward to this since before my surgery. Then the phone rang, and a job opportunity thrust its way into my life. It was a blessing, but I felt let down.
Now all these months later, with many hitches along the way, I’m packing to leave in a week. I won’t be back until September 8th. I can’t really have any expectations about it now. Just getting to be there will be a tremendous gift. And that is one of the major lessons about life that I’m constantly losing sight of. Just getting to be here is tremendous.
Life can easily feel like one burdensome situation after another, but I know it doesn’t have to. If you’ve ever experienced a moment of inner peace, of the stillness of nature, of laughter with people you love, you too know life doesn’t have to feel like a burden. It is as if a bright light is shining down on all of us, and if we shift just one step to the right we will be completely immersed in its glow. My going to the ashram is taking that one step. What is yours?