spirituality

“Worry never helps anyone” – Swami Satchidananda

 

 

For the final day of the “1 new thing a day challenge,” I went to the Chicago Air and Water Show for the first time.  This picture is courtesy of a fleet of skywriters.

For the final day of the “1 new thing a day challenge,” I went to the Chicago Air and Water Show for the first time. This picture is courtesy of a fleet of skywriters.

Human minds always have a “fall back.” The mind’s “fall back” is a pattern that it is used to, that has become habitual. For example, I would say that my mind’s “fall back” is worry. When something happens, whether it is an undesirable situation or an experience that cannot be understood, my mind will fall back into the worry pattern. It comes up with scenarios of increasingly disturbing outcomes.

Tonight my apartment buzzer rang and it was the UPS man. But when I got downstairs there was no package and no UPS man to be seen. Who had I buzzed into my apartment building? I did not have the answer to that question so my mind decided to fall back into its comfortable worry pattern. What is your mind’s “fall back?”

I took a nap, and realized I was still worried after I woke up. I then decided to ask the universe a question. Asking questions to God, the universe, the “field of potentiality” (as Pam Grout calls it), or whatever word you use, is a readily accessible life tool. I needed to know everything was okay. I asked, “Please give me a clear sign tonight, before I fall asleep, that everything is okay.” I proceeded to peruse ridiculously expensive couches on the internet, but still had my request in the background of my attention. A few hours later I checked my email per my usual routine. Right at the top of the list read the subject line, “Don’t Worry.” Inside was this message:

We worry over all kinds of things. If you can’t get the right nail polish color, you worry. Everything causes worry. You don’t have to have a crash in the stock market or some other financial crisis to make you miserable. Just one little pimple is enough to cause you to go into a tailspin—as if nobody has ever had it or it’s going to be there permanently. There seems to be so much stress in modern life: ‘I have to do this. I have to do that.’ Yes, you may have responsibilities, but the first and foremost responsibility is to take care of you. If you can’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of others? So, have faith and confidence: ‘I’m going to change the situation. I have the strength to face and overcome anything.’ Worry never helps anyone.

God bless you. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. (Swami Satchidananda)

The email was from the Satchidananda Ashram which sends out “Weekly Words of Wisdom.” This one arrived right on time. The feelings of worry were transmuted into peace; the sign I received was sufficient to break my rapt attention on a mind in the midst of a worry cycle.

What is your “fall back?” Next time you notice the mind reverting to its habitual thinking patterns try asking a question. You can even just ask for help. While no one knows how the questions will be answered, it will be interesting to watch and find out.

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consciousness, spirituality

“Err in the Direction of Kindness” – George Saunders

The other day my dear friend Melissa Gati sent me an email with a link to a New York Times article regarding George Saudners’ 2013 commencement speech at Syracuse University.  All Melissa wrote in the email was, “You should read this!!”  The two exclamation points convinced me, so I clicked the link and began reading.  My later reply to Melissa included an “OMG” and some more exclamation points.  I felt this speech in my bones, in the truest whispers of my being.  And to anyone who is slightly unsure of the purpose of their life, or of the direction they are going in, these words offer sincere clarity.  I truly cannot articulate the brilliance of this speech, so I won’t.  But I’ve included it here that it may bless your life as it has mine:

Down through the ages, a traditional form has evolved for this type of speech, which is: Some old fart, his best years behind him, who, over the course of his life, has made a series of dreadful mistakes (that would be me), gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people, with all of their best years ahead of them (that would be you).

And I intend to respect that tradition.

Now, one useful thing you can do with an old person, in addition to borrowing money from them, or asking them to do one of their old-time “dances,” so you can watch, while laughing, is ask: “Looking back, what do you regret?”  And they’ll tell you.  Sometimes, as you know, they’ll tell you even if you haven’t asked.  Sometimes, even when you’ve specifically requested they not tell you, they’ll tell you.

So: What do I regret?  Being poor from time to time?  Not really.  Working terrible jobs, like “knuckle-puller in a slaughterhouse?”  (And don’t even ASK what that entails.)  No.  I don’t regret that.  Skinny-dipping in a river in Sumatra, a little buzzed, and looking up and seeing like 300 monkeys sitting on a pipeline, pooping down into the river, the river in which I was swimming, with my mouth open, naked?  And getting deathly ill afterwards, and staying sick for the next seven months?  Not so much.  Do I regret the occasional humiliation?  Like once, playing hockey in front of a big crowd, including this girl I really liked, I somehow managed, while falling and emitting this weird whooping noise, to score on my own goalie, while also sending my stick flying into the crowd, nearly hitting that girl?  No.  I don’t even regret that.

But here’s something I do regret:

In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class.  In the interest of confidentiality, her Convocation Speech name will be “ELLEN.”  ELLEN was small, shy.  She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore.  When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.

So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” – that sort of thing).  I could see this hurt her.  I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear.  After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth.  At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.”  And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”

Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.

And then – they moved.  That was it.  No tragedy, no big final hazing.

One day she was there, next day she wasn’t.

End of story.

Now, why do I regret that?  Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it?  Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her.  I never said an unkind word to her.  In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.

But still.  It bothers me.

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. 

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly.  Reservedly.  Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope:  Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

Now, the million-dollar question:  What’s our problem?  Why aren’t we kinder?

Here’s what I think:

Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian.  These are: (1) we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we’re separate from the universe (there’s US and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we’re permanent (death is real, o.k., sure – for you, but not for me).

Now, we don’t really believe these things – intellectually we know better – but we believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.

So, the second million-dollar question:  How might we DO this?  How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc?

Well, yes, good question.

Unfortunately, I only have three minutes left.

So let me just say this.  There are ways.  You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter.  Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend;  establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition – recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.

Because kindness, it turns out, is hard – it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include…well,everything.

One thing in our favor:  some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age.  It might be a simple matter of attrition:  as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish – how illogical, really.  We come to love other people and are thereby counter-instructed in our own centrality.  We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we’re not separate, and don’t want to be.  We see people near and dear to us dropping away, and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away (someday, a long time from now).  Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving.  I think this is true.  The great Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was “mostly Love, now.”

And so, a prediction, and my heartfelt wish for you: as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love.  YOU will gradually be replaced by LOVE.   If you have kids, that will be a huge moment in your process of self-diminishment.  You really won’t care what happens to YOU, as long as they benefit.  That’s one reason your parents are so proud and happy today.  One of their fondest dreams has come true: you have accomplished something difficult and tangible that has enlarged you as a person and will make your life better, from here on in, forever.

Congratulations, by the way.

When young, we’re anxious – understandably – to find out if we’ve got what it takes.  Can we succeed?  Can we build a viable life for ourselves?  But you – in particular you, of this generation – may have noticed a certain cyclical quality to ambition.  You do well in high-school, in hopes of getting into a good college, so you can do well in the good college, in the hopes of getting a good job, so you can do well in the good job so you can….

And this is actually O.K.  If we’re going to become kinder, that process has to include taking ourselves seriously – as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers.  We have to do that, to be our best selves.

Still, accomplishment is unreliable.  “Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.

So, quick, end-of-speech advice: Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up.  Speed it along.  Start right now.  There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really:selfishness.  But there’s also a cure.  So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf – seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.

Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness.  Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial.  That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been.  Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s.  Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place.  Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.

And someday, in 80 years, when you’re 100, and I’m 134, and we’re both so kind and loving we’re nearly unbearable, drop me a line, let me know how your life has been.  I hope you will say: It has been so wonderful.

Congratulations, Class of 2013.

I wish you great happiness, all the luck in the world, and a beautiful summer. (Saunders)

Thank you George Saunders!  And now, it’s that time again!  What have you been doing for your “1 new thing a day challenge?”  Yesterday I ate at a tapas restaurant, Benjamin Tapas, for the first time, and I am so happy I did!  It was delicious and perfectly portioned.  Today, on day 4 of the challenge, I ventured down several new streets to a friend’s new house.  The exciting part was not getting lost.  I also got to enjoy the moon in the bright blue daytime sky as I made my way there.  If you have had any new experiences lately I’d love to hear about them!

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consciousness, spirituality

“Build a Life, Don’t Live One” – Ashton Kutcher

Today’s post should really be called “don’t judge a book by its cover.”  Admittedly I have judged a book by its cover, when I was in the 4th grade, and that book turned out to be Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling.  So in that instance judging a book by its cover worked swimmingly, as the Harry Potter books became my favorite series.  But I digress.  In general judging a book by its cover, so to speak, keeps you from discovering a myriad of wonder lying just beyond a dull exterior.  This principle made itself very clear to me yesterday as I was scrolling through YouTube and came across a video of Ashton Kutcher at the Teen Choice Awards.  I’m going to be honest; I started watching the video because of the headline “Ashton reveals his first name.”  I don’t know why that happened to hook me, but alas it did.  As I watched the video the first name thing was not interesting at all, but what followed blew my mind!  I was amazed by the wisdom that came out of his mouth; I was left completely speechless.  There is no prescription for where wisdom comes from.  Generally, I would surmise, people aren’t watching the Teen Choice Awards in order to become enlightened.  But everyone in this audience ended up receiving infinitely more than they paid for:

Thank you Ashton!  The more human beings that begin “building a life” instead of living a life prescribed in advance by their predecessors, the more the world will be transformed into the heaven that it always had the potential to be.  

Now for a brief update on day 3 of the “1 new thing a day challenge.”  I have yet to do my new activity for the day, but last night I tried pizza with pineapple on it for the first time.  I am picky eater so that was big.  And it really wasn’t half bad!  Although, it just left me wanting to eat pineapple on its own.

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consciousness

Right and Wrong

I wrote the following paragraph a while ago, and have yet to post it until now. The reason being, that it contains a difficult truth for me to swallow. When someone says something that is blatantly  untrue, or just has an opinion I find to be offensive, I will disagree and argue my point. But I know that deeper than these surface disagreements is the one true being that we all share. So I post this not to say that I am so perfect in my understanding that I can incorporate all ideas no matter what, but rather that I promise myself I will attempt to look beyond disagreement to the true self in each person, the one being we all share.

When someone thinks what you say is wrong that’s okay. If someone believes you are wrong and they are right, that is fine. While the truth is ultimately one, whole and unified, the truth manifests in all its aspects differently through form, through us. It makes sense that the truths in our worlds would be expressed differently, understood with different words, different ideas. The infinite aspects of the whole are not in disagreement, so why should we be? There is nothing that can be given or taken away from our being, so when someone has a different opinion than I do or thinks I’m wrong, I understand that is true for that world, that experience of existence. In that world the words and ideas I am using are not the same words and ideas it uses to express the truth. There are infinite ways. We are each one of them.

Now onto a brief update on day 2 of the “1 new thing a day challenge!” My boyfriend loves playing video games, whereas I do not. I never play video games with him. I don’t mind when he plays, but I am always doing my own thing in the meantime. Today, in honor of the “1 new thing a day challenge,” I decided to actually play a video game with him. I am a huge Blackhawks fan, so he chose NHL 10, and let me be the Hawks. Not only did I get to participate in something he enjoys, but I even scored a goal! Even though I was no Hatrick Kane on the ice, I enjoyed attempting a new activity with my loved one. What new thing did you try for day 2?

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consciousness, spirituality

“Part of the Cosmic Body”

Swami Satchidananda

I received an email from the Satchidananda Ashram, with one of Swami Satchidanada’s quotes, that contains a vital key to living peacefully.  I hope this quote can reach you in whatever way you most need it to:

You don’t have to do great things. Sometimes we compare ourselves, ‘Oh, he is doing so much. She is doing great things. I am not doing anything.’ Don’t ever put yourself down like that. Imagine, there are so many parts in the body. And you don’t see all the parts working. Some of them seem to be sitting there, insignificant, doing nothing. For example, we don’t even remember that we have a little toe. Is that toe unnecessary? No. We are all like little parts or cells in the cosmic body. Every part has its own importance. When we realize that then we believe, ‘Yes, there’s a great purpose behind it all and that all wise God will do something with me when it’s time. I’m happy to be part of the cosmic body.’ That should be the attitude.  
God bless you. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.  (Swami Satchidananda)

Thank you Swami Satchidananda! And now for day 1 of the “1 new thing a day challenge!”  Today I downloaded an app for learning Chinese!  It won’t be as good a teacher as my cousins and their parents (the Li family), but hopefully I’ll know a few phrases by the time they visit for the winter holidays.  What new thing did you try today?

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consciousness

1 New Thing A Day Challenge

MY FAVORITE COSTUME AT COMIC CON CHICAGO – FROM THE MOVIE “UP!”

Lately I have touched upon how to manifest your desired reality.  Today I went to Comic Con Chicago, and saw a veritable feast of realities I had never been privy to.  But cosplay aside; experiencing something new can be a step in the direction of your dreams.  When we see or do something we’ve never experienced before, it shifts the mind into accepting a reality it had not previously incorporated.  The new has the potential to expand the limits we place on our minds.  When those limits are expanded, and we can envision a reality greater than what we have previously experienced, it becomes easier to invite a new situation into our lives.

Not only do new experiences broaden your world, they create positive momentum.  In order to see shifts, breakthroughs, and miracles, it is our job to set the wheels in motion.  Once those wheels are in motion, they will carry us further than we could have imagined. The only thing we have to do is rev the engine, put out some energy that can expand.  When we do anything we are exerting energy and having an unknowable impact on the world.  To exert that energy doing something new, joyful, and positive, is to give motion to the new realities we desire to manifest in our lives.

With that said, this week I extend an invitation to participate in the “1 new thing a day challenge.”  To boost the positive momentum in your life, go out and do something you haven’t done before, each day of the week.  Starting tomorrow Sunday the 11th, to next Sunday the 18th, experience one new thing each day. 

I’m not sure what I’m going to start with tomorrow, but I’ll figure it out as I go!  It can be something as simple as walking a route you’ve never taken, or eating someplace new, to any crazy ol’ thing!  I’ll give a brief update on my adventures each day, and I’d love to hear your new experiences in the comments.  Let’s have a ridiculous amount of fun, while moving ourselves in the direction of our dreams.

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