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?
Everywhere you turn the world will give you a piece of its mind. Well-meaning loved ones, TV talk show hosts, commercials, and Yelp are all here to help you figure things out. As we get older we add beliefs on top of beliefs until there are only a few corners of our minds left available to be filled with new understanding.
We are so accustomed to being able to figure things out that a lack of understanding can trigger fear, anxiety, and an immense amount of pain. If life situations that leave you scratching your head are disturbing to you, that is a sign to let go of your need to know.
Letting go of the need to control life through your thoughts is not only liberating, but it is also your best chance for you to experience your best possibilities.
As December is coming to a close, I am writing to you in good health, as I now feel normal again over a month after surgery. I could never have imagined the magnificence of simply feeling normal until now. But while my body has a normal state to return to, my life situation has a completely different story. Before surgery I was in the midst of searching for a new normal after my job of four years came to a close when its grant cycled out, and I was imagining new passions and opportunities that might emerge. A seizure, concussion, myriad of medical tests, and brain surgery later, that new normal hasn’t yet found its way into my experience.
Have you ever experienced a transition that seems to be followed by still more change? Have you seen uncertainty lead to greater uncertainty? When life shows its true colors by unmasking the illusion of stability you are left with an important task. That task is your reaction.
An easy go-to reaction is fear, but if you have had enough suffering you’ll bypass that one quite quickly. Another reaction, which may not even seem like a reaction at first, is waiting. You can wait out the uncertainty. You can wait to feel comfortable, at peace, joyful, and grateful until you have your new normal. Of course waiting to be at peace until your outer situation looks a certain way is the ego’s best kept secret in how to never be at peace.
Without fear and waiting, how can you react to uncertainty and transition? I have found that my favorite, most joy-filled, peaceful, hopeful reaction to such an outer situation is to allow myself to inhabit the present moment.
It feels a bit uncomfortable at first, and I always get the initial sensation that I have to distract myself with something. But after I let myself be present through the discomfort it turns out that the present is a pristine, perfect place to be, that asks nothing of me but my awareness of it. When I let myself place my attention on my sensory perceptions of the present, the mind, which is busy worrying and trying to fix various aspects of what it deems an unacceptable life situation, starts to lose steam. Real life emerges.
While the future feels like it needs constant attention, life is always happening right now and no place else. It isn’t waiting for you to notice it. You could go your whole life unaware that you’re only living in your mind and missing the moment that living takes place. But uncertainty will help you notice the living present if you let it. Life is beckoning you through every situation you find yourself in. This time let your life situation drive you home to the present moment. You’ll be glad you came.
Two weeks ago I was walking down the sidewalk with my younger brother, and noticed I was having a strong experience of déjà vu. The next moment I woke up in an ambulance with two handsome men enthusiastically declaring, “You had a seizure!”
The good news, as my brother told me, was that I came out of the seizure laughing. The hospital staff wasn’t even sure at first I had suffered a seizure; perhaps I merely passed out, because I was so very conversational after regaining consciousness. But after several different tests, it turned out that I did have a seizure, and that it was probably caused by the 3.5cm benign tumor that has taken over a portion of the top left of my skull bone. While quite a shock to discover, this “epidermoid,” as the doctors called it, could have been present since birth. Even though it may have been pressing on my brain all this time, it has only just shown itself to be an issue.
Although you never hope to hear such news regarding your own body, there are many things I have to be grateful for in my situation. The tumor is almost certainly benign, it is not in the brain itself but in the skull bone, and it is in an easily accessible area. And come November 5th I will undergo surgery to have it removed.
So now what? Where is the lesson in this? While I do feel that my religious practices, spiritual study, meditation, Yoga, and the writing of each post here on Let Yourself Learn have been tremendous training for just such a life altering situation, I have been at a loss for insight. I have experienced fear, confusion, mistrust of people’s advice, and even a small dose of self-pity. Yet through all of those feelings I kept saying to myself, “I am on the cusp of acceptance, I am on the edge of peace.”
There is a deeper knowing that, even in a moment of fear, still faintly flickers as a beacon for the understanding and abundant miracles to come. Sharing my situation with all of you helps to fan that flame.
In my last post I talked about the uncertainty in my life, the space being created, and what it was teaching me about living in the present. With something like brain surgery looming in the future, the present moment becomes more obviously the only tolerable space to inhabit. There is no more time for what-if scenarios; the suffering they create far outweighs the mild ego satisfaction of “knowing” the future.
Before this series of events took place I had planned to write about my acceptance into the Living Yoga Training program at the Satchidananda Ashram, where I was going to live the yogic lifestyle and be of service to their community for one month starting yesterday. I thought I was finally going to get that push into present moment awareness I so longed for. Now sitting here, at my same old apartment in Chicago, I am learning what it means to be present in a way I never could have thought up. It may not look like it now, but this is happening for me, it is part of the highest potential for my life journey, and I am right on the cusp of acceptance, right on the edge of peace.
Recently life has felt like one big question mark. Instead of providing answers, life is providing me with more and more uncertainty. While Eckhart Tolle would describe such a circumstance as space being created for something new, it feels more like I’m venturing into the woods at night without a flashlight.
The space being created is easily filled with thoughts of worry, doubt, and “what if” scenarios. I keep asking myself what I can do to make each situation turn out favorably for me. But whatever I do will only be half of the equation, the other half is made up of howI do whatever it is I choose to do. Am I acting out of conscious awareness or out of fear? Am I making choices based on my worries or from a place of trust?
Of course if I waited to act in life until I wasn’t afraid I probably wouldn’t make it past my front door in the morning, but there is another way for action to be in alignment with positive energy. We can do this by first recognizing fear for what it is, a pattern of thought in the mind that translates to emotion in the body, and back to thoughts again. There is nothing wrong with this being in your sphere of attention as long as it is noticed and not completely bought into. The more you buy into it, the more suffering you experience.
Once the fear based thought and emotion pattern is seen from the light of your awareness you can choose not to buy into it, and instead choose to know that in reality each step you take is exactly what you need to experience at this moment. You can decide to live in each moment as if you had chosen it.
Know deep within, beyond thought, that each decision is leading you towards the highest aspirations of your being. In this way the energy behind your actions is that of consciousness itself, and all that fear stuff is just hanging out to enjoy the scenery. The time for fruitful action is always now, could there be any other?
I remember the dean of my high school most clearly for the two times I sat crying in his office, refusing to hand over the flip-phone I had long since usurped from my mother. On both occasions a member of school staff had caught me in the bathroom hastily attempting to contact my older brother during what could only have been a five-minute break lest the teacher become suspicious.
My sophomore year of high school marked my older brother’s freshman year of college. While he was still in Illinois, the gap between Highland Park and Urbana-Champaign felt as vast as the distance between the windows of my trigonometry classroom and the intangible clouds above that earned the majority of my attention that year.
For the first time I experienced the pain that came with loving someone who wasn’t physically present in my life. Even though my brother and I saw each other many times that first year of separation, I never quite shook the feeling that it was imperative to live near those I loved. The fact that over ten years have gone by and I still live 45 minutes from my parents is a testament to that notion.
Over the years friends too have come and gone from the proximity that birthed our relationships, and to my surprise the world has continued to spin around its axis. But I am now painfully reminded of the lessons I wasn’t quite able to grasp as a teenager who longed for her brother to come home, because I now have friends who live more than just a car ride away.
A couple posts ago I marveled at the overwhelming lesson I had learned from my travels in Israel: no matter where in the world, one can always be loved. When such bonds of friendship are struck, more than just gratitude can arise. Any meaningful and joyful experience can also be a gateway for attachment. I so missed my brother when he went to college, I long for my friends who have moved out of state, and I can’t fathom the distance between my newfound friends in Israel and my home in Chicago.
When attachment turns joy into sorrow a lesson is being offered in return; the joy and connection that you are pining for came from within yourself. Right now I am missing my friends overseas. But our relationships with other human beings are not outside of ourselves, as they seem from our physical experiences. They originate within, and are born of the love each of us carry as our very being. Our friends do not merely reside in our hearts when we are apart, they are an expression of our hearts, and are returning home to the space from which they came.
Next time you feel attachment gnawing away at your mind, remember that the love for which you pine has never left you, and will continue to reflect itself back to you in infinite, unimaginable ways.
When I introduced myself to the man sitting next to me, who would become my brother on a tour bus that would become our home for ten days in Israel, I mentioned that I wrote for Let Yourself Learn. He asked me how the blog started and I was brought back to over a year ago when I experienced the traumatic series of events that became the basis for the first trilogy of posts on this site entitled, “The Bed Bug Incident: Parts 1, 2, and 3.”
Not only did those little bugs teach me about inner surrender, acceptance, and becoming comfortable with the unknown, but they also prompted the attempt to manifest my inner lessons into words to be shared with others, that we might mutually benefit from the experience.
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to embark on an adventure in Israel, despite the turmoil in the Middle East, and decided to trust the voice of silence within myself that prompted me to pack my suitcase and head to the airport.
After the first few nights on the trip a couple of the participants suffered from several uncomfortable bug bites. A visit to the doctor and the verdict was in: pishpeshim. What were the pishpeshim you ask? None other than bed bugs themselves.
Over a year later, half way around the globe, my pesky spiritual teachers returned with a new lesson. In the first series of posts for Let Yourself Learn I had been shown the areas within myself that needed healing. I was relying on non-existent outer security and comfort. I was holding onto pain long after I had experienced it. I allowed the life of my mind to thrive at the expense of my own enjoyment.
Now, in a land of both great pain and unimaginable joy, holy to generation upon generation of human beings, I was being shown the ways in which I had been healed. The pishpeshim became one of the more hilarious foibles of the group, and the ridiculous amount of education I had acquired about bed bugs from my own experience became beneficial and happily utilized by those who were affected.
The experience of time is but a question: what is good and bad? The present is the punch line.
The pishpeshim incident was just a small moment in what turned out to be one of the most monumental experiences I have yet to witness in my short life. No story, no combination of words, can express the gratitude of my soul more than the tears of joy that still come to my eyes when I take a moment to notice the overwhelming love from the people I connected with that continues to linger in my heart.
So what was the main lesson that I was being taught by my experience in Israel? I learned that it is impossible to understand the real situation and life experience of a person, a nation, and a society, by mere words uttered in a news program. I learned that the brilliance of our tour guide, Iftah, wasn’t born just of his knowledge and expertise, but of his unwavering request that we remain present. I learned that there is courage, bravery, and the strength to persevere in depths of the human heart that I have yet to penetrate.
But the lesson that brings tears of gratitude and peace to my being, is that no matter where I go in the world, I can always be loved. Whether we are far from home, or in an unhappy home, the love that is the makeup of our being can be reflected back to us through the eyes of another.
In the post right before I left, I mentioned that inner security is the only true security. But that isn’t entirely true. Outer security can be experienced in the form of love. Our love for one another is our greatest security and our purest freedom. To all those I encountered on this journey, thank you for your love. Know that I love you more than there are stars in the clear desert sky. And even if you weren’t physically on this journey with me, whenever one is loved, one is loved by all, and I thank you.
While on the outside this might not look like the “right” time to travel to the Middle East, the opportunity is before me and I’ve accepted. Most of life’s big leaps never have a “right” time, and waiting can turn into the ultimate comfort zone. So instead of looking around outside of you to discern the precise moment to take action, take a look within.
In the eternal present of your inner life everything has already unfolded in a manner befitting the perfect organization of the universe that enabled your life to manifest. If your mind is like mine, decision-making can be an agonizing process. But beyond the mind, when you inhabit the space of the witness of your being, there are no decisions to be made. There is only the pure potential for perfect action.
The ultimate security, in a world of unstable forms, is inner security. Get to know the silence within. Sit back and get really comfortable in the resting place of your being. From that vantage point the roller coaster of life has a visible track, you are strapped in tight, and each drop and turn is met with enjoyment.
Enjoy your next ten days, please keep me updated on what lessons life is giving you in the comments, and I’ll talk to you soon with quite a tale to tell.
When space is created in your life it can seem as if something has been lost and you are left less than you were before. But contrary to the mind’s idea of space, that opening is the foundation of abundance.
When it comes down to it, an abundance of space is really just the platform on which abundance manifests. I say this as I move into what looks like a wide-open field of possibilities in my own life. My incredible teaching experience that was grant-funded these past four years has reached its end date, and I am humbled with gratitude. Whenever I feel an inner longing towards what was, I know I experienced something to be thankful for, and any bitter-sweetness changes to pure sweetness.
Over a year ago I began planning a vacation to Florida. While I didn’t know at the time what my life was going to look like a year later, the trip is arriving right on schedule. One week ago I had my last day of work, and in one day I leave for a ten-day excursion. The universal schedule is too vast to contain in a mind, but it is prompt and efficient nonetheless! Trusting in time is the same as trusting in the present moment, it is allowing life to exist as it is and consequently aligning your own experience with its perfect unfolding.