How To Perceive Your Own Best Interest

ACIM QuoteI do not perceive my own best interest. This notion use to torment me.  When I first began to see that every small action on my part had a ripple effect, beyond anything I could conceive of, I became worried and unsure of myself.

On a small scale this looks like not being sure which plans to commit to this weekend because it isn’t yet clear what will end up being the most enjoyable option.  On a larger scale this looks like questioning the motives behind a chosen career path, or not being sure if you should commit to a relationship.

What I hadn’t perceived after experiencing an awareness of the infinite effects of my small choices was what those consequences meant for my true best interest.  After a little bit of living it becomes clear that things that are bad at one time can turn out to have positive outcomes, just as something that was first good news can turn into suffering later on. But at a higher vantage point whatever journey the ripple of each action takes there is with it the movement of your highest potential unearthing itself through the inner erosion that takes place one situation after another.

According to A Course In Miracles understanding that you don’t perceive your best interest is an essential step in allowing miracles to occur.  Without this internal judgment of external situations your every moment can transform into the shape it was meant to realize, and with it enact your own best interest.


“It starts with an ending.” – Oberst

CardinalOn my walk home from work I was stopped by the loud conversation of a beautiful red bird with a fellow in a nearby tree.

The next two days mark the end of my four-year journey as a Teaching Artist at a Chicago Public School, and I’ve been finding myself asked daily, “What do you want to do?”

As I stood staring at the radiant body of the red bird I thought, “What is the Cardinal meant to do?” and laughed in spite of myself.


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.


What’s purpose got to do with it?

HeartA few posts ago I embarked on the 30 day before bed challenge to see how the five minutes before sleep can change waking reality.  In this challenge I have been flooding myself with what it will feel like when all of my dreams come true, assuming the feeling as if those dreams had truly come to pass already.

The inspiration for this challenge came from Dr. Wayne Dyer’s Wishes Fulfilled where he says, “In this brief portion of your day, you are going to tell your subconscious mind how you feel and what wishes God (the universal one subconscious mind) is to fulfill upon awakening from your deep slumber.  This five-minute segment of time in your bed, about to enter into your subconscious and marinate for the next eight hours or so, is the most crucial segment of your entire 24-hour day,” (Dyer 136).

Since I didn’t fall asleep the second my head hit the pillow last night, I decided to flood myself with the feeling of great love for the people in my life.  Although the miracle of this challenge isn’t what happens during sleep, but rather what begins to manifest in the waking hours of life, my dream last night was so fantastic that I have share its personal revelations.

In last night’s dream I was in a big lecture hall listening to none other than Oprah herself, and she was talking to various people in the audience.  I found myself standing up, staring right at her, when she pointed at me and asked, “What are you?”  Being unsure of my life’s purpose I uneasily responded, “I am a poet?”  She laughed and in her fabulous Oprah tenor replied, “Girl, you’re a talk show host!”

Needless to say, in the dream I was thrilled.  I finally knew my life’s purpose, it had been right in front of me all along!  Just then, in the midst of my jubilation, a man sprayed a hose full of water right in my face.  I then realized something I had been avoiding by not living out my purpose; when you start to live your dreams there will be more opposition from others.  

The higher you are lifted, the stronger the force will be in the opposite direction.  Yet, there is nothing wrong with that, quite the opposite is the case; that backlash is a helpful sign you are living on purpose.  That metaphorical hose down in my dream did not dampen my spirits, I was so overwhelming overjoyed to finally have my purpose revealed to me.

Purpose can come in the form of something you physically do, or it can come in the form of a way of being.  Purpose can be an intention you live by, such as being pure love, being the light of consciousness, or being joy made manifest.  Whether your purpose is a way of being in the world, or has gone on to be a physical task, the joy that comes from living on purpose is unique and endlessly fulfilling.

On this Valentine’s Day which is so often focused on other people’s purposes in our lives, it is my wish to focus on our unique purposes in our own lives.  May this message from Bishop T.D. Jakes on Oprah’s Lifeclass be a refreshing perspective on purpose and fulfillment:

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!