28 March 2015

Just Seeing

Today, I'm just going to try to see.  I'm going to try not to judge.  I want to notice things and think about them and enjoy them, but I don't want to attach value judgments to them.  I want to see what other people do, but I don't want to decide whether their actions are good or bad--I just want to see what they do.  I want life to go on without my opinions coming into it, and I want to try very hard not to come up with opinions about all I see.

This, of course, is going to be extremely difficult.  I've been conditioned my entire life to make judgments, to see things as good or bad, pretty or ugly, interesting or boring.  I have to ask myself quite honestly:  Is it even possible for me to be simply an observer, withholding judgment?  I simply don't know.  But I do know that it is worth trying, and it is worth the effort to practice doing so.

If I simply observe, I think that I can be much more helpful to other people, and I think that I can enrich my life by noticing even more things than I ever would when I judge.  I believe that withholding judgment can help me to be more impartial and to be more open to other people's thoughts and ideas.  It can help me to learn things that I never would learn because my judgment tends to filter out those things that I deem "unworthy" of my attention.

I'm pretty sure that I won't be 100% successful, but for today, I'd settle even for 50% and consider it a significant achievement.  And if I do reach 50%, then tomorrow I may be able to reach 51.  The world went along just fine for many thousands of years before I came along and started judging it, and it has several billion other people who are judging it every day--it truly doesn't need my judgment in order to keep on keeping on.  And my life doesn't need more judgment to be fulfilling and rich.  In fact, it probably will be more fulfilling and rich when I judge less, so let's see how it goes today!

Mindfulness means
paying attention
in a particular way;
on purpose,
in the present moment,
and nonjudgmentally.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

21 March 2015

Today's potential

It's 5:05 in the morning.  I'm always up very early in the morning--I don't set an alarm, but I just wake up anyway.  I love the early mornings because they're so peaceful and quiet, and the world is full of possibility and potential.  A whole new day stretches before me, and I have a lot to look forward to.  When my wife gets up, for example, we'll make a pot of coffee to share.  Soon, the sun will come up and warm the planet--me included.  Today I get to talk with some very nice people, I get to go for a run, I get to have a nice lunch, and sometime during the day I'll get to take a nap.

Each day brings with it many, many gifts.  Every day is full of potentially beautiful moments, if we just recognize them as such.  Very often, though, we get disappointed in the day because it hasn't brought us what we wanted it to bring, or what we hoped it would bring.  If we wanted the day to bring a phone call from a certain person but that call doesn't come, then we spend the day ignoring beautiful moments because we're waiting for a call instead of appreciating the beauty of those moments.  At the end of the day, we say that we're disappointed in the day because the call didn't come; what's really true, though, is that we're disappointed in ourselves for having spent a day without having taken advantage of all the gifts that it brought to us because we had decided that the most important thing for us was a call.

The call, of course, is just an example of one way in which we can ruin our day--by focusing on our expectations rather than on what's really here.  We can't enter a day thinking only about what we want the day to bring--we must also be open to receiving the unexpected and the new and different.  I've had days when I've expected one thing but had something else come up, and those days have been just as fulfilling--often even more so--than they would have been had my expectations been met.

Today is here.  Love it.  Let it be what it's meant to be.  Don't try to force it to be what you want it to be.  And don't be disappointed if it doesn't bring you what you want it to or what you think it should.  It's not the day's job to make you happy, but it certainly brings you enough potential for happiness to make you very happy, if you'll only keep your mind and your heart open to recognize it for what it is.


13 March 2015

Some thoughts on love from Stephen Levine

We use the word "love" but we have no more understanding of love than we do of anger or fear or jealousy or even joy, because we have seldom investigated what that state of mind is.  What are the feelings we so quickly label as love?  For many what is called love is not lovely at all but is a tangle of needs and desires, of momentary ecstasies and bewilderment.  Moments of unity, of intense feelings of closeness, occur in a mind so fragile that the least squint or sideways glance shatters its oneness into a dozen ghostly paranoias.

When we say love we usually mean some emotion, some deep feeling for an object or person, that momentarily allows us to open to another.  But in such emotional love, self-protection is never very far away.  Still there is "business" to the relationship:  clouds of jealousy, possessiveness, guilt, intentional and unintentional manipulation, separateness, and the shadow of all previous "loves" darkens the light of oneness.

But what I mean by love is not an emotion, it is a state of being.  True love has no object.  Many speak of their unconditional love for another.  Unconditional love is the experience of being; there is no "I" and "other," and anyone or anything it touches is experienced in love.  You cannot unconditionally love someone.  You can only be unconditional love.  It is not a dualistic emotion.  It is a sense of oneness with all that is.  The experience of love arises when we surrender our separateness into the universal.  It is a feeling of unity.  You don't love another, you are another.  There is no fear because there is no separation.

Stephen Levine

 Our sixth page on love


12 March 2015

Real world? Not really.

As long as our self-identification centers around what we call the real
world, no profound happiness is possible.  Happiness requires that we
give up a worldly orientation--not worldly things but a worldly
attachment to things.  We have to surrender all outcomes.  We have
to live here but appreciate the joke.
   In order to become happy, we must become bigger than the worldly
self. . . . Just as children play games in which they pretend to be adults,
and thus pave the way for adulthood, so you and I must pretend to be
angelic, noble, enlightened spirits just visiting here,
in order to actually become them.

Marianne Williamson

I do get worried sometimes when I see just how easily young people are led to become dependent upon things for their sense of worth.  They need to be wearing the cap or the jersey from the right team, be carrying just the right smart phone, be listening to the right songs, in order for them to feel that their peers accept them.  And where do they learn this from?  Why, their elders, of course--their parents and family and teachers and bosses who themselves have become attached to things such as their 60-inch televisions and their perfect cars and their perfect clothes.  And we adults want these things so that we'll feel "better" around other people because the other people will be impressed with us and our taste.

It's important to give up our attachment to things.  When we become attached, our self-worth becomes tied up with those things, so that if we lose them, we somehow think that we're less valuable as a person, because we're no longer able to impress our peers with our taste or our technology.  When I die, though, I want to be free of things.  While I live, I want my focus to be on doing good and helping others, not on getting and maintaining things.  This world is so incredibly fleeting that we'd do ourselves well to remind ourselves that we're going to leave it before we know it, and when we do, there'll be no going back to change our orientation.  An orientation with things and gadgets tends to leave people feeling empty and solitary in the end, whereas an orientation on people and service tends to make people feel fulfilled and needed and peaceful in the end.  I know where I want to be when the end of my life comes around.

08 March 2015

Each Small Task

Every once in a while, I start to feel that touch of insignificance, that feeling inside that says "you are so small that you are nothing, and all that you do matters not one bit."  It's kind of a sad feeling, one that somehow undermines what I do as a person.  After all, I work very hard at what I do, and I try to help other people whenever I can--how can I be completely insignificant?  How can the work that I do mean nothing?

The answer is quite simple:  the work that I do does mean something.  I don't do the work on a city-wide or state-wide or nation-wide or world-wide level; no, I do my work on the individual level, with the students who happen to be in my school at any given time, with my step-children and wife, with my church, in the classes that I take.  My work isn't noticed by the newspapers, and you won't see it on the evening news.  You won't hear people talking about it at the water cooler, and you won't be reading about it in next month's Reader's Digest.

My work is like almost everyone else's work, and it's quite beautiful just as it is.
My work involves helping my students resolve schedule conflicts and school-related problems, and in the process teaching them how to deal effectively with conflicts and problems on their own.  My work involves encouraging them, validating them as human beings, showing them caring and love, and even setting them straight when they're out of line every once in a while.  It involves congratulating them when they've done well and helping them out when they've done poorly so that next time, they can do well.

My work involves encouraging my three step-children, buying them school clothes and paying for college, helping them with school when they need help, explaining some of the realities of life to them (when they'll listen, of course!), being there when they need someone to be there, making sure that they have a roof over their heads and enough food to eat.  My work is listening when they have jokes or problems or stories and telling them my jokes or problems or stories.  My work doesn't involve judging them, but letting them grow into the people they are meant to be.

My work is keeping the yard clean, replacing the old, worn-out windows, mowing the lawn, planting flowers, fixing the garbage disposal, cleaning the garage.  It is trying to live my faith, maintaining websites, praying, reading and learning so that I may continue growing as a person, paying attention to the lessons that life gives me.

I never will find a cure for cancer or Muscular Dystrophy.  I will not star in a film or throw the touchdown pass that wins the Super Bowl.  I will not appear on the cover of Time or Newsweek, and I won't be able to build a beautiful new housing project to help out lower-income people.  That's not where my life has been leading, and that's fine with me.  I'm helping life out by doing just what I'm doing, in my own small way, day after day.  What I do does make a difference, and even the smallest difference can grow into a large difference before I know it.

So when those moments of insignificant feelings come along, I remind myself that I am significant, and that there are people who benefit from the contributions that I make to life.  I'm not touching stadiums full of people at a time, but I'm touching deeply, and unless I keep that in mind and respect that fact, my touch will be weak and almost even useless.  I want the touch of each small task in my life to be as profound as it possibly can be, and the only way I can be sure of it is to be sure that I respect each small task for exactly what it is:  part of my life's calling, part of the contribution that I make to the harmony of the universe.

And I know that you contribute just as much, if not more, to the harmony of the universe, and I thank you for all that you give to this world--all that you have given, and all that you shall give!