Pema Chödrön

Strawberries (& Pema)

I'm inclined to think our species is "circling the drain," to use a rather ... indelicate phrase. This strikes me as the most useful little story/quotation for unprecedented times such as these (any times, really; but especially these!):

Zen Poem:

A man travelling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself over the edge.

The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man then saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other.

How sweet it tasted.

 

** Gotta enjoy those strawberries, hmmmm?

& just because I can; hey, it's my blog! I can post whatever I like! :) :)

Here are some Pema Chödrön gems, starting with a long quotation about joy (& leading to a similar story to the one above, about enjoying each moment just as it happens, just as it is, right now right now right now):

“Joy has to do with seeing how big, how completely unobstructed, and how precious things are. Resenting what happens to you and complaining about your life are like refusing to smell the wild roses when you go for a morning walk, or like being so blind that you don’t see a huge black raven when it lands in the tree that you’re sitting under. We can get so caught up in our own personal pain or worries that we don’t notice that the wind has come up or that somebody has put flowers on the dining room table or that when we walked out in the morning, the flags weren’t up, and that when we came back, they were flying. Resentment, bitterness, and holding a grudge prevent us from seeing and hearing and tasting and delighting.

There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs, and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life, it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our lives.” ~ page 24, Chapter Six – “Joy” – The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness, Pema Chödrön, Shambhala, 1991

Pema C. on heaven & hell:

“There’s another story that you may have read that has to do with what we call heaven and hell, life and death, good and bad. It’s a story about how those things don’t really exist except as a creation of our own minds. It goes like this: A big burly samurai comes to the wise man and says, “Tell me the nature of heaven and hell.” And the roshi looks him in the face and says: “Why should I tell a scruffy, disgusting, miserable slob like you?” The samurai starts to get purple in the face, his hair starts to stand up, but the roshi won’t stop, he keeps saying, “A miserable worm like you, do you think I should tell you anything?” Consumed by rage, the samurai draws his sword, and he’s just about to cut off the head of the roshi. Then the roshi says, “That’s hell.” The samurai, who is in fact a sensitive person, instantly gets it, that he just created his own hell; he was deep in hell. It was black and hot, filled with hatred, self-protection, anger, and resentment, so much so that he was going to kill this man. Tears fill his eyes and he starts to cry and he puts his palms together and the roshi says, “That’s heaven.”

There isn’t any hell or heaven except for how we relate to our world. Hell is just resistance to life. When you want to say no to the situation you’re in, it’s fine to say no, but when you build up a big case to the point where you’re so convinced that you would draw your sword and cut off someone’s head, that kind of resistance to life is hell.” -- page 31-32 Chapter 7 – “Taking a Bigger Perspective” – The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness, Pema Chödrön, Shambhala, 1991

Pema on life’s work: “Life’s work is to wake up, to let the things that enter into the circle wake you up rather than put you to sleep. The only way to do this is to open, be curious, and develop some sense of sympathy for everything that comes along, to get to know its nature and let it teach you what it will. It’s going to stick around until you learn your lesson, at any rate. You can leave your marriage, you can quit your job, you can only go where people are going to praise you, you can manipulate your world until you’re blue in the face to try to make it always smooth, but the same old demons will always come up until finally you have learned your lesson, the lesson they came to teach you. Then those same demons will appear as friendly, warmhearted companions on the path.” ~ page 32, Chapter 7 – “Taking a Bigger Perspective” – The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness, Pema Chödrön, Shambhala, 1991

On nothing being what we thought: “The trick is to keep exploring and not bail out, even when we find out that something is not what we thought. That’s what we’re going to discover again and again and again. Nothing is what we thought. I can say that with great confidence. Emptiness is not what we thought. Neither is mindfulness or fear. Compassion – not what we thought. Love. Buddha nature. Courage. These are code words for things we don’t know in our minds, but any of us could experience them. These are words that point to what life really is when we let things fall apart and let ourselves be nailed to the present moment.” – Pema Chödrön in the chapter ‘Intimacy with Fear’ in When Things Fall Apart – Heart Advice for Difficult Times (1997)

* A favourite old Pema posting here.

Pema on Chaos

What Would Pema (or Eckhart) Do?

<August 7/14> So, I’m feeling annoyed with someone for … um … doing something really annoying. I even knew ahead of time this person would do this very specific annoying thing, & had told myself to not bother being annoyed when it came to pass as I’d predicted.

But I am annoyed. Or, well, I was.

Until I put myself through a mini-Pema (Chödrön)/Eckhart (Tolle) workshop on this morning’s walk.

I was batting it all around in my head (the being annoyed, the internal argument), & then all of a sudden I heard my mind say, “What would Pema (or Eckhart) do?”

& I figured they’d probably think I was just indulging myself in a little drama (we humans DO love our dramas, that’s for sure), & basically letting my little old ego get the best of me.

That made me step back a little & start looking at the whole thing from a bit of a distance.

I realized that as long as I was walking along & staying stuck in my little drama, I felt angry. The anger was not resolving, or dissolving – if anything it was getting bigger.

I'd walked by some candy wrappers on the sidewalk & given them a vaguely angry look. Normally I’d probably have picked them up to throw them in the next garbage can I spotted (I don’t try to clean up the whole neighborhood or anything, but I do do my helpful little bits here & there), but I was too darn busy feeling annoyed.

& gradually it came over me that we all do annoying things to one another from time to time (just show me someone perfect, hmmm?)

& I recalled Eckhart’s great insight about ducks who’ve had a set-to & how they just “flap their wings” & go on about their business.

& after I’d decided to just flap my own wings, I started really noticing (as I usually do) the neat yards I was walking by

Lots & lots of very pretty flowers

& yards with no grass, just plants & hedges & ground covers & so on.

Nice…

Walking is just such a tonic, I tell you.

It really, really is.

Janet

p.s. with many, many thanks to Pema & Eckhart, for their wonderful insights & wisdom & humanity & inspiration.

‘Quote of the day’ with this post: “Epictetus says that everything has two handles, one by which it can be borne and one by which it cannot. If your brother sins against you, he says, don’t take hold of it by the wrong he did you but by the fact that he’s your brother. That’s how it can be borne.” – Character in Anne Tyler’s novel Noah’s Compass

Bonus quotes:

“Holding onto a resentment is like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.” – Anne Lamott in Crooked Little Heart

“It isn’t the big pleasures that count the most, it’s making a big deal out of the little ones.” – Jean Webster

Time Out: Urgent Message to Male of Species!!

So, crazy stuff going on all over the planet – as usual.   Not as usual, exactly, the Canadian Prime Minister whom many of us love to hate (as it were; or just …. dislike passionately??) seems to be doing a little war-mongering lately.

He is not alone! I find many members of the species somewhat trigger-happy these days.

Can’t just be February fractiousness – it’s almost April already!

So.

Quick reminder:

"Time-outs" are a super-useful method for de-escalating conflicts.

Used them all the time when my children were small. Their Dad & I were inclined to think bopping them was probably not the best way to teach them not to bop each other & anyone else.

So we used time-outs. Sent them to sit on the stairs in the hallway, say, for 5 minutes or so, ‘till they (& the relevant sibling & we ourselves) could calm down.

Time-outs don’t always work, of course. I know this. I’m not as dumb as you may think. 

They don’t work when the parties involved are just plain spoiling for a fight.

In order to protect the names of the innocent (& the guilty) I won’t say much about how asking for a time-out hasn’t always worked out in my own life. Been there & done that, for sure.

Eckhart Tolle sure understands this stuff. His concept of the pain body helped me “get” why sometimes calling for a time-out is just plain not going to work.

Seems to me right now almost as though the global “pain body” is kind of peaking. I’m wondering.

Dudes: we have enough problems on the planet (slight understatement here) without the male of the species going around shooting off guns & bombs & things for no apparent reason. Far as that goes, even if there is an apparent reason, wars don’t ever seem to solve much … do they?

Please. Let’s learn de-escalation tactics, everyone. Pretty please?

The daze ahead promise to be pretty bloody challenging on every front I can think of.

Let’s not all be going to war at the drop of a hat, shall we? 

Janet

p.s. Eckhart Tolle on the pain body: just bloody brilliant. Do some Googling & watch some other ET YouTubes. They are worth your time! (I did a blog posting called ‘Tolle Tutorial’ ; the other day I had yet another one. So glad I did .)

p.p.s. Calvin Sandborn & Terrence Real for amazing insights about male anger/depression/violence & the patriarchy underlying it all.

p.p.p.s. Pema Chödrön on handling all of life’s challenges. Her wee book The Pocket Pema Chödrön that I blogged about here is tremendously helpful, practical & even funny at times! I still have the recurring desire to buy a cartonful & distribute them hither & yon.

‘Quote of the day’ with this post: “The world needs a new weapon: the estrogen bomb. Imagine: you drop it on an area of violent conflict, and men throw down their guns, hug each other, apologize and say it was all their fault, and then start to clean up the mess.” – from the UTNE Reader -- Original from THE GUERRILLA GIRLS, activist artists

A Few Others:

“The cultivation of a stance of invulnerability robs men of a wisdom known to most women in this culture – that people actually connect better when they expose their weakness. Linguist Deborah Tannen, analyzing women’s ‘rapport talk’ versus men’s ‘report talk,’ found that a vital component of conversation between women was what she called ‘trouble talk’ – inviting the listener in by opening up one’s own points of vulnerability. Finally, to the degree to which a man learns to ‘be strong’ and to devalue weakness, his compassion toward frailty not just in himself but also in those around him may be limited or condescending. In this and many other ways, the loss of expressivity and the loss of vulnerability inevitably lead to diminished connection with others.” – from I Don’t Want to Talk About It – Overcoming The Secret Legacy of Male Depression, by Terrence Real

“If ever there comes a time when the women of the world come together purely and simply for the benefit of [hu]mankind, it will be a force such as the world has never seen.” – Matthew Arnold, quoted in Utne magazine

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only one who has seen its brutality, its futility, and its stupidity.” – Dwight Eisenhower, in a speech in Ottawa, 1946

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Government is the Entertainment Division of the military-industrial complex.” – Frank Zappa

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – The Dalai Lama

“Any fool can learn from his own mistakes; a wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” – Otto von Bismark, Chancellor of Germany

Thomas Merton said it best: “Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.” (quoted by Carolyn Baker in her book review of the Guy McPherson book Going Dark)

“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.” – Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon, 1973

“It’s one of the secrets of the world. We all have the key to one another’s locks. But until we start to talk, we don’t know it.” – Michael Silverblatt, host of KCRW’s ‘Bookworm’ radio show

** tons of pithy, inspiring quotes gathered up in the ‘Quotation Central!’ section of the blog

 

War. Worry. Wealth.

<Friday AM> Early morning thoughts…

War.

We’re ALL at war, aren’t we?

Inside. Outside.

at war with each other

at war with the Earth

at war inside ourselves … with ourselves

It’s war here on Planet Earth

24/7/365.

(& no “winners” in sight)

 

Worry

About the chaos I am living in. Will I ever get sorted out??

Relationships … endless challenges.

Fukushima. Those rods gonna blow?? Don’t look so good.

The bees. No bees, no me’s…

Back to sleep feeling despondent

Resigned to one of those head-under-the-covers sorts of days.

 

Woke up later – sun shining 

Thoughts of

Wealth

I have much. Not the bank-able kind, you understand

  • Awesome friends. (Truly, truly awesome friends!   & you know what Plato said: “Your wealth is where your friends are.” It’s true.)
  • Great kids. (Motherhood is pretty wonderful, gotta say.**)
  • Bounce-back-ability. I don’t usually stay down for long.
  • Worthwhile work. Always always always.

 

Sun is shining! 

Worthy chores I am keen to do/get done

Going to really relish that strawberry. ***

Janet

*** Pema Chödrön on joy: “Joy has to do with seeing how big, how completely unobstructed, and how precious things are. Resenting what happens to you and complaining about your life are like refusing to smell the wild roses when you go for a morning walk, or like being so blind that you don’t see a huge black raven when it lands in the tree that you’re sitting under. We can get so caught up in our own personal pain or worries that we don’t notice that the wind has come up or that somebody has put flowers on the dining room table or that when we walked out in the morning, the flags weren’t up, and that when we came back, they were flying. Resentment, bitterness, and holding a grudge prevent us from seeing and hearing and tasting and delighting.

There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs, and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life, it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our lives.” ~ The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness, Pema Chödrön, Shambhala, 1991

** much as I am crazy about babies & toddlers & "kids" of all ages in general, & about motherhood/parenthood (which has been a highly wonderful experience in my own life!), this is not a recommendation to anyone to bring children into the world at this time. While I am not permitted to say so in all venues, on all occasions, I do not personally recommend embarking on new parenthood at this time in human history. There, I said it. (My 'Let's Be Honest' post has a few things to say on this matter...)

Quote of the day’ with this post: “Life engenders life. Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.” ~ Sarah Bernhardt, actress (1844-1923) 

p.s. My own personal favourite mantra, the one that so often helps get me through? I don’t have to figure that out right now

Dog Daze

<July 31/12.> ('Dog days' being a reference to the hot hot hot weather we've been experiencing…)

I have not been blogging faithfully of late. My life has been quite…hmmm…is the word rocky? roller-coaster-y?? lately. For the past few months. There’s been a lot going on. There is a lot going on.

Right now I’m house-sitting for a friend & must admit, feel a little as though I may have died & gone to heaven. Her house is on the river (a river polluted with tritium & other rather nasty radionuclides, being downriver &/or in the neighbourhood of 1 or 2 nuclear facilities, but let’s lay that aside for the moment, shall we?? I’m not aware of the existence of any pristine bodies of water on this still-quite-lovely planet of ours, & I darn well enjoy being beside this one).

So I came here from noisybusysmoggy Toronto yesterday, Toronto being a city I quite enjoy, often or even mostly, actually, but maybe only when I am not contemplating living there, which I am at the moment… I’ve always said it is a great place to visit but…you know…I wouldn’t want to live there.

It’s this awful off-the-charts summer of 2012 of high temperatures & drought & millions of people in India as we speak being without power (i.e., without electricity, but what a funny phrase, “without power” – we are never really without power, are we??)

& last week I read a blog posting that suggests/predicts we HBs (human beans) may be on our very last legs as a species – not that this ought to be “news” exactly (tho’ I can pretty much guarantee you will not be hearing it on tonight’s TV news or weather, or anywhere in the newspapers)

& what’s in the “news” (if we may call it that) at the moment (good lord but the mainstream news media make me tired) is the Olympic spectacle & people speculating (apparently) as to whether a royal baby is on the way (give me strength).

I, meanwhile, am rassling with my own personal accommodation/moving issues, & now I hear that our demise as a species is liable to occur rather sooner even than I had supposed likely (though I’ve long thought well hooey, how long, realistically, can our species hang in, when all the living systems all around us are dying? I mean...)

& this blog posting or rant or whatever it is that it is is not meant to be about despair, 'though I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to the occasional little tapdance with despair myself lately

& so in these troubled times (speaking of understatement) both personal & species level I am grateful to have this peaceful interlude at my friend’s house, where the sounds are mostly bird or insect ones (though I am hearing a train whistle as I write this) & it is not at all likely that I will encounter any humans trying to steal my belongings or harm or cheat me (apart from that impersonal poisoning of one of Canada’s most iconic rivers, as I say, with nuclear leftovers: that does not feel really personal, you might say, not the way a thief at my door would be, say)

& you know it also isn’t as if predictions of the end of our run are unheard of. I’ve been re-reading one of my very favourite books, Broken Open – How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, by Elizabeth Lesser, a gem of a writer & person, clearly, to whom a psychic once said “…human beings were coming into ‘the last days.’ This period of time could extend for a decade, or a century, or more.” Etc.

but for sure I feel a little lately as though I am, & have been, spinning

so I’ve returned to Eckhart Tolle (am listening once again to some of his awesome audiotapes) & now Pema Chödrön (in book form, as it happens, tho’ she too is available in audio form from the same source)

& these two wise-wise-wise modern spiritual teachers are helping me calm down, take a breath, return to the present moment, stop spinning out, & just … breathe.

& I’m really glad I joined the small group of Americans, led by Buddhist nun Jun-San Yasuda, on their walk the other day (they are walking around Lake Ontario, taking a month to do it, to bring attention to the dangers of nuclear power), & I was with them when they passed by the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station, a place I kinda love to hate (I know, I know, hate is a very un-spiritual thing to admit to, but then I never ever ever claim to be even remotely spiritual, now, do I???)

& our walk – their walk – will not likely cause the nuclear behemoth to fall, THAT I’m pretty sure about, but I’ve always found in my own wee personal life that action is an almost surefire antidote to feelings of despair 

& despair or near-despair could very well be more frequent companions in the daze ahead, given these oh-so-sobering-well-let’s-face-it-unprecedented times we are living in…

so I’ll have to keep right on reading &/or listening to Pema & ET

& taking action…& walking daily

& knowing that I don’t have to know what’s going to happen next…‘cos none of us can know or control what’s going to happen next

all we can really do is remember to be fully present right here, right now, right here, right now

& that’s the best – the very very best way…the only way, actually…to be fully ALIVE

*****

& so, thus endeth this weird little … whatever it is that it is.

Janet

p.s. not long after I typed this up (no Internet access where I am right now) a humdinger of a storm blew through. Hooey!! It was scary, actually. It was like a mini-hurricane. Lots of debris afterward – some trees down, the screened-in porch area trashed with water & pine needles & twigs. Quite the storm it was, & there sure do seem to be a lot of these happening lately. As in, 3 weeks in a row now I’ve been hanging out in eastern Ontario & have witnessed 3 humdinger storms passing through. Can you say climate change??

p.p.s. last week was an interesting week for me both personally & in terms of what came through my e-mail Inbox.

Couple of interesting links here:

Bill McKibben – 350.org – climate change – his article in Rolling Stone Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math (& his later 350.org messages which I am guessing you can find on the 350.org site)

‘We’re Done’ - Guy McPherson ('Nature Bats Last' blog)

‘2012 – What do you mean the 3rd dimension is going away?’ 

‘World in Serious Trouble on Food Front’ (Earth Policy Release)

Ground: Zero

As I write this, it’s four days away from September 11, 2011 – 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City (& the Pentagon). It also marks 10 years of a “war on terror.”

On my walk this morning the title of this post came into my head. Ground: zero.

As wise Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön reminds us in her wonderful books, we humans are always trying (unsuccessfully!) to get solid ground beneath us. We think if we just get a new partner, or a new job, or get rich, or thin, or super-organized, or a divorce, or become famous, get that book published, retire, buy a house – whatever – then, finally,  “everything will be alright.”

Such slow learners!!

There is no solid ground – there never will be! As I suspect I’ve said elsewhere, this can either make us crazy – or set us free!

Once we know that all those things we chase will never bring us some kind of magical permanent peace or satisfaction – & that the ground, & our lives, may literally shake & open up beneath us at any moment, we are freed to live in this moment…yes, this one that we are always somehow trying to run away from to that…experience, or relationship, or success, or task or … whatever.

So. No ground. And who would know that better than the people who lost loved ones at Ground Zero in New York City, ten years ago now?

In Taking the Leap – Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears, Pema Chödrön says, “How we relate moment by moment to what is happening on the spot is all there really is. We give up all hope of fruition and in the process we just keep learning what it means to appreciate being right here.”

Right here, right now. Ground: zero.

Janet

P.S. As for the “war on terror,” well duh…have we still not learned that he who lives by the sword will die by the sword? (Did I already mention that we human beings are awfully slow learners??)

‘Quote of the day’  with this post: “It seems we all have the tendency to move away from the present moment. It’s as if this habit is built into our DNA.” – Pema Chödrön

Pema for President! / Pema's … Pause

<May 21/11> So, it’s Victoria Day weekend in Canada, as I write this. I have a bit of a history of feeling a wee bit lonely & hard done by on long weekends – imagining, as I am wont to do, everyone else on the planet having an uproariously, raucously wonderful time with dearly beloved friends & family. (Yes, quite the imagination, hmmm? )

For sure, I’ve been here before! My unusual & occasionally muddled-seeming life hasn’t turned out quite the way I’d ever had in mind. Mostly I enjoy my considerable freedom, love my life & think of it as a grand, unpredictable adventure...but “long weekends” generally bring out the maudlin in me...if only ever so briefly.

But hey! I can also be pretty smart! I picked up my new copy of Pema Chödrön’s Taking the Leap Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits & Fears, & started re-reading it. I bought it a few weeks ago, read it in one big gulp (the way I read most things) & laid it aside on my bedside table.

In Chapter 1 of the book, Pema introduces the idea of taking a 3-breath pause several times a day. She suggests that this can get us in touch with our “natural openness, the spaciousness of our skylike minds,” & she also says doing this can help us to stop “strengthening the aggression habit...”

Mmmmmmm. Now that sounds like a pretty fine idea.

For sure, I needed reminding about the pause. I have a pretty busy mind, & pausing to take 3 breaths once in a while really helps bring me back down to Earth.

I’m a big Pema fan. Her words are always gentle, wise, & above all, immensely practical.

**********

Ahhhhhhhhhhh how the moods come & go, hmmmm?

It is very seldom that I feel lonely or hard done by – very seldom indeed.

When one of these feelings does pay a visit, I know enough now to know that they never stick around for very long.

Thanks, Pema, for the pause idea. It really helps!

And thanks too, to Eckhart Tolle, for his simple reminder “This too will pass.”

Hurray for this soooooooooo helpful pair!!

Janet

P.S. I wrote about both of these two quite recently – Pema here & Tolle here

‘Quote of the day’ w. this post: “Sanity is permanent; neurosis is temporary.” – Chögyam Trungpa (from Pema Chödrön’s Taking the Leap Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits & Fears)

 

The Pocket Pema Chödrön (& freedom!)

Had a neat experience on the Toronto subway one day last week.

I’d had a not-particularly-relaxing morning at my friend’s place, trying to pull off everything I needed to do that day & figure out how to manage to still get home. Didn’t manage to figure it out, but hopped on the subway to go across the city for the errand I had to do.

Pulled out my Pocket Pema Chödrön, a treasure of a little collection of words of wisdom from Buddhist nun Pema C. that I always have in my knapsack.

On page 60, in entry # 38 (called ‘No happy ending,’) she quotes her teacher once saying to her “I don’t know why you came here, but I want to tell you right now that the basis of this whole teaching is that you’re never going to get it all together.”

This makes me laugh with a giddy sense of relief every time I read it.

Then I read #103, ‘Keep Standing Up’ & her line “How come I’m not living in a Walt Disney movie now? I thought I was going to turn into Snow White. How come I’m not living happily ever after?”

This cracks me up every time.

Pema has me/us so nailed.

These insights don’t upset me – they un-hinge me – in a good way. They make me feel so free.

I’m messed up. I’m not perfect. My life is not perfect. (The world is certainly not perfect!?) & I’m NEVER going to “get it all together” (or, if I do ever feel as though everything is pretty darn cool, it never seems to last for longer than about 10 minutes).

So there I was, after a morning of feeling kind of tense & frustrated, with Pema making me smile & almost laugh out loud on the subway car. Feeling as free as a bird.

I wanted to read selections of her brilliant short essays out loud to my fellow subway riders – make them laugh too!

I wanted to have 100 copies of The Pocket Pema Chödrön & hand them out to EVERYone.

Thank you, Pema Chödrön.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Janet

p.s. I also own copies of Ms. Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart – Heart Advice for Difficult Times & The Wisdom of No Escape And the Path of Loving Kindness – both treasures.

p.p.s. & I just used some of my birthday book gift certificate money to buy … more copies of The Pocket Pema Chödrön (great gifts!!) & also a copy of her 2009 collection Taking the Leap – Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears. Another keeper, big-time.

p.p.p.s. Totally did not intend to do this, but just created a document with some freedom-related quotations. It's here - in the 'Quotation Central!' section of the blog.

p.p.p.p.s. 8 years later, no less! There are some quotations from Pema C. (on this site) here. & TONS more here!

 

Elephants. Showing up. Staying out of the way.

<drafted Feb. 4/10>

Ever since the phrase “an elephant in the room”  was introduced to me, I’ve been crazy about the concept. It’s so … useful!!

When Marissa mentioned the expression to me, she was referring to the phenomenon of being at a wedding involving a family of divorce. Everyone skirts around the underlying hostilities, baggage & inevitable tensions – as though there were an invisible elephant in the room. (Sure must use up a lot of energy, ya think?)

Gotta tell you, I’ve had way more experience with elephants than I care to enumerate.

Then too, & oddly enough, I am both a bit of an elephant myself, & sometimes (usually in different locales), an elephant caller. It is not only not particularly easy being in either role, it sometimes seems to make people around me a little uncomfortable too (my poor kids, eh??). Yet very often, people do tell me they enjoy my honesty & openness (I guess I sometimes say the things other people think, but are too afraid to say…).

It is also true, as I am only just now beginning to realize, that in a certain few relationships, when there have been rather large elephants lurking & I did not call them, things later blew up in very messy, unpleasant ways.

So, sheesh! I’m not sure what the lesson here is.

The other odd balancing act I seem to be ever navigating is the showing up/staying out of the way dynamic.

I believe quite passionately in “showing up” – which in my case takes the form of involvement in environmental activism, excessively honest blogging & trying to “be there” for friends & loved ones going through hard times.

Three writers I greatly admire talk about “showing up.” Joanna Macy spoke of the importance of our showing up with respect to the environmental crisis at a talk she gave in Toronto last June.

Elizabeth Lesser speaks of it in her awesome book Broken Open – How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow (the essay entitled 'For Hugo'). Joan Halifax says in her book Being with Dying – Cultivating Compassion & Fearlessness in the Presence of Death that there ought to be a sign saying “Show Up” at her monastery in Santa Fe.

Come to think of it, I’m certain Rachel Naomi Remen says plenty about it in her wonderful book Kitchen Table Wisdom – Stories That Heal – if not perhaps in that exact phrase. Dr. Remen is, after all, all about showing up…

I greatly admire these women’s thoughts & writings & the awesome work each is engaged in – & totally embrace the concept of “showing up.”

And yet, & yet…

My experiences as an elephant in the room – & a frequent elephant caller – but a sometimes not-courageous enough elephant caller keep landing me in sticky, messy, damn-near-tragic situations, relationship-wise.

What is a person to do??

*******

Well. The clouds have blown away & the sun is shining brilliantly & my horrific cough has seemingly calmed itself down, at least for the moment. The act of writing down my thoughts has simultaneously lifted my spirits in the rather miraculous way it so often does. And I am recalling the words of two people whose wisdom often offers me so much comfort.

Elizabeth Lesser reminds us in Broken Open that we are all, after all, just fellow “bozos on the bus." No one has got it all together all the time. (Pema Chödron is also brilliant & sooooo compassionate on this score in her books The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving KindnessWhen Things Fall Apart – Heart Advice for Difficult Times).

We are all works in progress, hmm?

I’ll have to keep right on wrestling with the odd dynamics of being an elephant in the room, an elephant caller, & when to “show up” & when to "stay out of the way.” (I have a horror of being “in the way” that I can only assume stems from my … challenging… childhood years. It’s an ever-present dynamic in my life. Still rassling with that one, for sure!)

Eckhart Tolle’s reminder that “This too will pass” will continue to offer its eternal wisdom, strength & wider sense of perspective.

(& then too, my own phrase “Cut your losses. Go where the energy is” will continue to serve me well – especially when I remember to follow my own good advice!!)

Janet

P.S. I’m a big fan of Eckhart Tolle & have mentioned him in several blog posts. If you know nothing at all about him, why not read the postings Pain Bodies on Parade (or Oh, To Be a Duck), Ducks, Unlimited; Humans?? Also Unlimited & Flap Your Wings.

'Quote of the day' with this post: "A dead end is just a good place to turn around." ~ Naomi Judd

 

Get Over Yourself!

<Aug. 6/09>

This phrase keeps coming up. A good friend of mine introduced it to me, as I recall. She & several other friends are (or have been) in relationships with very…hmm…shall we say, challenging men.

Actually, I don’t know whether I know any women whose men are not fairly challenging.

And before any male readers become offended, I consider most women to be pretty goshdarn challenging too. I spent too many years having women up on some kind of fancy pedestal – but the pedestal cracked & broke, pretty much – & we’ve all fallen off.

Seemingly, we are all challenging – male, female & otherwise.

And too, I do encounter the odd man or woman who looks to be not terribly difficult or challenging. I, however, seem to gravitate toward both women & men who are, you might accurately say, a “handful.” Needless to say, I’m a handful myself. No worries, readers, I’m in no denial whatsoever about that.

Well. As I say, this “Get over yourself” phrase has been in my head for some time. I’ve never dared actually say it to anyone, although I will admit to having been tempted on more than one occasion.

I heard an interview with Gordon Pinsent on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio recently. He said that his wife used to occasionally tell him “Gordon, get over yourself” – & I note that he said this without any audible resentment in his tone. It seems their relationship permitted this degree of forthrightness.

Two things have been going through my mind since then. One was, “Boy, I wish I’d been able to say that to ––– sometimes! Maybe it would have helped.”

Secondly, I think maybe we all need to think about how this phrase might help us all. Never mind just women saying it to the men in their/our lives; them saying it to us, too. All of us saying it to everyone. All of us saying it to ourselves. Surely we all need to “get over ourselves,” hmm? At least some of the time.

I think we are all hobbled at times by our ancient resentments & grudges & even, in some cases, our repressed (& perhaps unacknowledged) rage.

We let our “old stuff” keep us tied up in knots. All – or at least most of us, I think – do this. Yes – I’m talking about all of us: female, male & otherwise.

I think there are women among us who don’t always (or maybe ever) recognize our/their own “stuff” – our own baggage – & since I’m one of them, I’m not really pointing any fingers here. I’m guilty of it too. Definitely.

Any regular reader of this blog will anticipate my coming up with a recommended book or two, & you’re right on the money. I think there are a few that could help lots & lots of us.

I think it would be most, most helpful for men to read Becoming the Kind Father – A Son’s Journey, by Calvin Sandborn, & I think women should read it too. It seems to me an enormously important & very, very helpful (& practical) book. If your library doesn’t have a copy, why not buy one & donate it? Or buy two, one for you (& friends), one for the library.

I think a lot of women would do well to read The Dance of Anger – A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships, by Harriet Lerner. I think lots of us are walking around with a lot more anger than we care to acknowledge, & that we might do well to “wrestle” with that a little.

I also suspect tons of us would benefit from reading The Opposite of Everything is True – Reflections on Denial in Alcoholic Families, by William Crissman. (I believe the book is out of print, but you can always find even out-of-print books through Amazon or abebooks.com or an independent bookseller who really cares about serving her/his customers well). This book has certainly been very, very helpful for me, & since lots of us have/had alcoholic parents, I think it’s potentially useful for lots of us.

I’m going to keep musing on this “Get over yourself” phrase. In what ways do I need to get over myself? How am I being hobbled by old “stuff” – anger or old resentments &/or even shame? (shame is very, very corrosive indeed. John Bradshaw has written a book called Healing the Shame That Binds You, & I suspect it would be pretty useful reading for anyone for whom shame is a serious player).

Maybe we can all muse on this “getting over ourselves” business. I’m not so sure saying it out loud to anyone is really a good idea – it would take a pretty special relationship for this phrase not to sound pretty accusatory. I think we all need to be pretty gentle with ourselves, & with each other. After all, we’re all in the same darn boat, hmm?

Special note for women readers: I think a lot of us do some pretty crazy things sometimes. We’re very quick to throw darts at the men in our lives, but what about our own stuff? Some of us can be mighty petty, cranky, & even downright mean.(1) Lots of us are control freaks, it seems to me. Maybe instead of hurling accusations at these (admittedly very challenging) men in our lives, we could ask ourselves what our own “stuff” is. Our own ancient childhood “wounds” & knee-jerk reactions that sometimes have more to do with “ancient history” – old family dynamics from childhood – than with what’s happening right now. We too are often in denial about our contributions to our relationship problems & challenges, hmm? That’s what I think, anyway, for what it’s worth. However difficult or challenging our men may be, two wrongs don’t add up to a right. They never did

As I wrote in my as-yet-unpublished book Letters to Rebecca Musings on motherhood…& feminism & patriarchy & female/male relationships & the state of the world, I believe it is usually the women who set the emotional tone in families. I also believe we are often leaders – & I feel strongly that our leadership skills (& our integrity) are very much needed in our families (& the world) right now.

Janet

P.S. The books recommended here in no way cancel out or supercede any of the other authors I so frequently recommend: Pema Chödrön, Byron Katie, Elizabeth Lesser, Joanna Macy & Eckhart Tolle. They are all enormously helpful (& very compassionate & inspiring) writers.

P.P.S. Books I’ve found very helpful for understanding some of the challenges faced by couples are Getting the Love You Want – A Guide for Couples, by Harville Hendrix, Healing the Wounds in Couple Relationships, by Martin Rovers & Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray.

P.P.P.S. The book Brain Sex – The Real Difference Between Men & Women, by Anne Moir & David Jessel, is most helpful in gaining understanding of the actual brain differences between the sexes.

P.S. # 4: Women Who Run with the Wolves – Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, by Clarissa Pinkola Estés – has been pretty helpful to me on the subject of rage & forgiveness. Chapter 12 – “Marking Territory: The Boundaries of Rage and Forgiveness” is, in my opinion, brilliant – & very, very helpful.

P.S. # 5 (Sheesh!?) In packing up my book collection in preparation for moving, I’ve come across yet two more books I’d forgotten about that are real treasures: Care of the Soul – A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday LifeSoul Mates – Honoring the Mysteries of Love and Relationship, both by Thomas Moore.


(1) Some of us seem to me to be the best way I can think to describe it is real “pieces of work.” We really are. I say this with great compassion, because I know all too well that we don’t get to be that way without a heck of a lot of hard stuff having happened to us along the way…

What a Great Day!

<July 21/09.>

Hooey! When I was sobbing on my back step a few hours ago now, I sure couldn’t have predicted I’d soon be writing a little essay entitled ‘What a Great Day!’

I’ve been all over the map today; way down inside a miserable & extremely lonely pit, & now I’m soaring – feeling rich & blessed & grateful – & wanting to share it. Not the pit-y place; we’ve all been there; we know quite well what it feels & looks like, don’t we?

Just that we can be in a place like that – & it’s real, & it’s okay – & it isn’t forever. It isn’t the whole story, not by a long shot.

I’m wrestling with a broken heart right now. It hurts. Somehow, though, it stings a little less now that I’m allowing myself to say it. Regular readers of this blog know how big a fan of (Buddhist scholar, writer & long-time activist) Joanna Macy I am, & I recall quoting her saying, “We are not objects that can be broken.”(1)

So, I was busy telling myself I’m not broken. Now I realize that I am not broken; I merely have a broken heart.

And that’s okay, because that just means I’m human. We all suffer from a broken heart at times; at least, I believe that this is so.

Luckily, I’ve had a broken heart before, so I know that healing will come. Broken hearts do mend (at least, they can, if we will let them). It’s not a straight line or one-step process – it’s quite a bit more erratic & unpredictable than that. It comes bit by bit. (Note to self: I’ll have to re-read this next time I fall back down into the pit; I’m smart enough to know that will happen.)

I’m a big fan of Winnie-the-Pooh stories & I remember the one in which he & Piglet dug a Very Deep Pit (to catch a “heffalump”). I know I’ll climb out of my own Very Deep Pit (VDP for short). I’ll climb up a step or two, or fly right out of it, even – then I’ll fall down again (“fall down; go ‘boom’”) – then eventually, one day, my hurt from this particular injury will be mostly mended…& who knows? It may very well get broken again. There’s no telling, is there?

But here’s why it now feels like such a “great day.”

For one thing, it’s a beautiful summer day, & there’s a lovely captivating breeze blowing (this has been a rotten summer, weather-wise, so that’s a rare treat).

I drove home this morning from a nice visit with some dear, dear, very long-time friends who’ve known me since Hector was a pup (well – 35 years or so, anyway), & who’ve seen me go through a hundred experiences – good ones, “bad” ones, you name it – & it’s such a comfort to know people over such a span of years.

And I was having some thoughts about stuff I want to write, & feeling pretty sad (that visceral ache around the throat/heart area), & I got home to find several phone messages from women friends – dear, dear friends – who know of my VDP & called to see how I am, cheer me up, suggest a walk or a chat – & one of them had even left chocolate fudge in my fridge! Bless them/you all!!

Their kindness & concern & love brought on the tears (tears don’t come as easily for me as I might wish), & I wound up having a good, wrenching cry.

Then I decided I’d sit outside & read some Pema Chödrön. I picked up The Wisdom of No Escape & the Path of Loving Kindness, & her words were balm to my soul.(2) You don’t have to be Buddhist or even a wannabe Buddhist to find Ms. Chödrön’s seemingly bottomless understanding & compassion for her fellow human beings almost magically healing. You are not alone. Not broken – not a failure or a mess or hopeless or helpless – we are all just regular Janes/Joes with our associated…tendencies.

This woman is an unbelievable treasure.

Then I picked up Broken Open – How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, Elizabeth Lesser’s wonderful book, & her wise words about going through hard times & “long, dark nights of the soul” & times of transition, provided yet more balm for my soul.

These are hard, hard times here on Planet Earth. A person hardly knows what to make of it all; how to take it all in, how to digest it; what to do about it all.

The Buddhists tell us we are not separate; everything is connected.

This helps me understand that even my own pain & heartbreak – my anger & confusion & occasional despair – are not mine alone. They are shared by all of us. I am suffering with & for all of us. It feels as though I am alone; yet I know very well that I am not.

The more hurt & lonely I feel, the more I also simultaneously feel compassion for all of us. We all feel broken & broken-hearted, at least sometimes, but we don’t all know how to articulate that; how to go into it, own up to it – & where to go with it from there, from that place of seemingly impossible, unbearable pain.

For some reason, I’m constructed in such a way that I can “let go” enough to really let those feelings in (right now, anyway; not always). The “new” or recent heartbreak calls up the older ones, so I know I’m not just grieving for the obvious, current wound; it’s a lifetime-worth of “stuff” asking to be brought out into the light of day. Aired, exercised – &, over time, healed.

I have no road map or crystal ball for the human race. Or for any of us as individuals – even for myself, of course.

But I do love this beautiful world – the Earth – always will! And I am fiercely grateful for my circles of loving family & friends.

I’ve healed from heartbreak before, & I will no doubt do so again.

I don’t know where the world’s path (or my own) is heading, but I’m pretty certain I’m on the right road. And also equally certain I’m in incomparably fine company as I move along it.

I reckon it doesn’t get any better than that…

Janet

P.S. My spirits are vastly, vastly, vastly improved since I drafted this little essay on July 21st (3 weeks ago now), btw. Marcel Proust once said “We are healed of suffering only by experiencing it to the full.” No shortcuts, hmm? The only way to get “over” it is to go through it.


(1) World as Lover, World as Self Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal, page 96.

(2) I might as easily have picked up When Things Fall Apart – Heart Advice for Difficult Times; another treasure of a Pema Chödrön book…

Holes & Shovelling: Some thoughts…

<January 2009>

I’ve had the thought for a lot of years now that most of us are full of holes – & that we spend a lot of our time trying to shovel stuff into the holes.

Money…things…experiences…accomplishments… Most of the time, quite unaware of what is really motivating us. We just keep right on with the shovelling – endlessly, on & on & on with the shovelling.

And then, too, I recall reading a book a couple of years ago that suggested we are all “shit-shovellers.”(1) That resonates for me pretty big, as well. Our lives are full of such challenges – gutwrenching challenges like having to survive difficult (even horrific) childhoods, illnesses, divorces, deaths, wars – you get the picture, hmm?

Shovelling shit…

Shovelling stuff into the holes

The problem is, there’s a great big HOLE at the bottom of the hole.

So all that stuff we shovel in there just falls right out the other side anyway.

Well. Usually I’m Ms. Upbeat. The woman with a cheery answer to every problem or dilemma. Sorry about that!

I’m out here doing my own fair share of shovelling, currently, Gentle Reader.

I do my gratitude “thing” – I do my fair share of the world’s work – & it all brings me a very considerable amount of satisfaction/joy/contentment, no doubt at all about that.

But sometimes (especially lately – currently), I come face-to-face with the horrid realization that, like most human beings, there always seems to be something more I want. Sure – the “more” I want isn’t really material – & I’m not going to have to do any world-destroying in my quest…

Or…hmmm…maybe I need to just abandon the quest…

Wanting more is just a way of denying the reality of this present moment, isn’t it?

It’s just resistance to what is.

Buddhists talk about emptiness, or lack of desire. I have had some (wonderful) moments when I’ve experienced a very full kind of emptiness.

An utter lack of desire. A completely satisfying emptiness.

I think today I get – in my gut – that perhaps the reason I always want more is not just that I don’t have “enough,” but that I don’t feel I am enough. Some of my life circumstances & some recent (& not-so-recent) events seem to argue this pretty loudly.

So I’m considering adopting a new mantra today.

I am enough. I AM enough. I am ENOUGH.

And also, I have enough. I have ENOUGH.

One of my mantras for some time now has been “Everything isn’t all about ME.”

I try to remind myself often, too, “Be here now.” (2)

All three are going to be very, very helpful for me, I know it….

Janet

p.s. Stephen Jenkinson, whose amazing work in the field of palliative care I greatly admire, said at a workshop of his that I attended that the word ‘sincere’ means to have our “holes” show. He gave some explanation of the word’s roots, which, naturally, I didn’t manage to take down. I’ve just lifted this definition from ‘Wikipedia – the Free Encyclopedia.’

“Sincerity is the virtue of one who speaks truly about his or her own feelings, thoughts, desires. Sincere expression carries risks to the speaker, since the ordinary screens used in everyday life are opened to the outside world. At the same time, we expect our friends, our lovers, our leaders ‘to be sincere.’”

I like Jenkinson’s take on it. Having our holes show


(1)  Darned if I can find the name of the book I saw that phrase in…but I’m going to keep trying to locate it!

(2) There is a book by that name by Ram Dass. I haven’t actually read it, I must confess, but I have read his Still Here – Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying – & enjoyed it very much. Buddhism is all about being here now – inhabiting the present moment fully. This is the greatest wisdom… Two other authors quite brilliant on this subject are Eckhart Tolle & Pema Chödrön. (You don’t have to be – or even aspire to be – ‘Buddhist,’ btw, to get an awful lot out of these writers. Their wisdom is for everyone.)

 

Happiness – An “Inside Job”

Does everyone know this?? That happiness is an inside job, I mean? Maybe everyone knows it in a sort of intellectual way, but not really down in our guts – & of course it isn’t until we grasp something in our “guts” that we really get it. We can sort of skirt around something for years & kind of get it – then, eventually, it lands in our guts with (sort of) a thud – & then we really get it. That’s the way it is for me, anyway…

I’ve observed that there are some people in my little town who appear to resent me. There’s a woman who works at my local coffee spot whose behaviour toward me usually borders on rude. We don’t know one another at all, & it could be any one of a hundred things that leads her to be grumpy with me. For sure, that great book The Four Agreements – A Toltec Wisdom Book (by Don Miguel Ruiz) has taught me to a) not take things personally & b) not make assumptions. Of course, being merely human, I do err & do both all too often before catching myself at it.

So it’s pretty silly for me to even speculate about this woman’s behaviour toward me.

I do have a notion that some people find my almost relentless cheerfulness annoying. I’m clearly a pretty happy person most of the time, & I’m aware that it seems to aggravate some people.

The people it aggravates seem to be not-very-happy people – & I suspect that a lot of the not-very-happy people on the planet have not yet grasped the wildly important lesson that happiness truly is an inside job.

There is so much help for all of us these days in transcending/transmuting our little personal “hells.” So many writers who can help us navigate our way out of our personal “holes.”

Writers like Eckhart Tolle & Byron Katie, for just 2 outstanding examples (both of them have faced considerable personal hell & demons themselves, btw). Pema Chödrön & Elizabeth Lesser are two more (they too have wrestled with daunting personal challenges). As has Louise Hay…

Most of our misery is mind-created. It’s our own thoughts that torture us & make us so unhappy. If we can change our thoughts – most of which, as Eckhart Tolle points out – are repetitive – we can change our emotions – & our lives!

I came across a really great quotation about attitude several years ago. It goes like this:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, or say, or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it.” (Charles Swindoll)

We are in charge. For some of us, it seems to serve some sort of odd personal agenda to be miserable – to feel like a victim. Some sort of neurotic pay-off. Whatever

But this kind of thing is clearly a choice.

Change your thinking; change your life!

The world can sure use our full attention – & energy – these days! It kind of needs us to wake up!!

Janet

p.s. Books by the authors mentioned that I recommend highly are:

Read just one, or any or all of them; every single one is awesome!! :)

p.p.s. Louise Hay’s book You Can Heal Your Life is also excellent, & the DVD that’s been made of it is very, very, very worth watching…

Today's quote: “It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, but it is not possible to find it elsewhere.” ~ Agnes Repplier (more quotations about happiness here)

** great big list of "books that can change your life" here

Now, now, now…

<April 2007>

It’s funny. When we hear the words “Now, now, now,” we generally take them to be the comforting, calming words used to speak to someone who is in distress.

“Now, now, now,” we say in a soothing tone.

That isn’t what I’m referring to here. I’ve just come back from a very special yoga/breath course (the introductory “Art of Living” course), & one of the key things we talked about was the importance of living/being in the present moment.

In the Now.

A lot of us spend most of our now – most of our present – lamenting & obsessing over the past. “He said, she said” stuff, endlessly. Reviewing & recycling regrets…resentments…& anger…

There’s not much point in it, is there? However mired we choose to keep ourselves in it, we cannot change the past.

When not caught up in the past, we tend to obsess over some imagined future, when we’ll be…rich, married, retired, beautiful, thin, happy…you get my drift. Equally pointless, as our ability to control the future is as entirely beyond our grasp as our ability to change the past.

We really do have only now, haven’t we?

It’s very challenging, of course, to give up on our cherished past & future surfing. We get so much psychic enjoyment (apparently) out of beating up on people who hurt us in the past, don’t we?

(Hmmm. Or do we? I’m not so sure. I think it’s more like wearing chains that keep us in perpetual misery.)

It’s kind of like trying to drive a car forward while looking in the rear-view mirror. Pretty much impossible to move ahead with any kind of clear vision.

I know a clever writer who had one of her characters say something very useful about resentment, & how much good it is for us.

“Holding onto a resentment is like taking rat poison & waiting for the rat to die.” (Author Anne Lamott, in her novel Crooked Little Heart.)

This is so true.

All this “Oh poor me” stuff we do is so absurd & pointless!

As for that hoped-for future, I don’t know about you, but I can’t seem to keep my life “under control” for more than about two minutes. The phone rings. The cat barfs! The roof leaks. The doorbell rings. The computer crashes. A loved one gets sick. And all my careful plans go “off the rails.”

Time after time after time, this hard lesson is brought home to me.

I know I’m determined to try harder to do my best to stay planted firmly in the present. In this moment.

One of my friends at the yoga course asked what sounded like a very philosophical question. “How long is now?” he asked. “It seems short, but also long.”

I thought about this for a moment & replied that “now” is actually infinitely small – & infinitely large, also.

Because, whether we grasp this or not, it’s now…now…now from here on in!

Janet

p.s. The paradox of staying “in the moment” (I’m noticing now, 2 years after I wrote this little essay, & after working at being in the moment more & more), is that it’s actually rather vast. It’s sort of infinite, almost – & also very charged with possibility.

p.p.s. It sure helps to read Pema Chödrön – an awesome coach on the wisdom of “staying present.” I highly recommend her books The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness and When Things Fall Apart – Heart Advice for Difficult Times. She is utterly brilliant!! One of those highly indispensable writers. Eckhart Tolle, too, unquestionably. Tolle tutorial here.

p.p.p.s. The Art of Living course was very good, btw. Some yoga & a powerful breathing technique – but plenty more besides. I came away feeling as though my emotional innards had been scrubbed clean. Go here to learn more. (There is also an item on this blog called ‘4 Great Opportunities for Personal Growth’ that you might find helpful.)

p.s. # 4: 'Quote of the day' used with this post: “There is only one courage, and that is the courage to go on dying to the past. Not to collect it, not to accumulate it, not to cling to it. We all cling to the past, and because we cling to it we become unavailable to the present.” – Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

Indispensable Writers for Today (July 16/09)

<July 16/09>

Now, I’m an obsessive reader, so I’m almost certain to miss someone who’s utterly indispensable. I have TONS of favourite writers (after all, I’ve been an obsessive reader for lo, these 50 years, i.e., ever since I was taught to read. Whatever I may think about the broken educational system, & it is broken, & it has been for a very long time now, I am very, very grateful to it for having taught me to read).

My spirits are a tad low-ish lately, so writers who are funny – who make me laugh – are going to rise like cream to the top of this list.

And today, at least, my environmental activist side is utterly dormant, so although there are tons of writers I can recommend if you want to better understand the environmental crisis, they are probably not going to make the cut today.

(Hmm. This makes me feel a little bit guilty; maybe I’ll add some of them in as a P.S. at the end. We’ll see…)

  1. Cake or Death – The Excruciating Choices of Everyday Life, by Heather Mallick, is full of laugh-out-loud moments. She is terribly witty & understands the world very well indeed, & she claims to be a person who is often depressed – & reading her can be quite disturbing; she sure doesn’t candy-coat the nature of the world – but she is also very, very FUNNY! Sooooo glad old friend Barb sent this book my way.
  2. Anything by Anne Lamott – particularly her non-fiction books – is wonderful. Lamott is wise, funny, compassionate, self-deprecating – &  invariably makes me feel as though I am not the only humanoid on the planet who gets lonely, feels like an alien, had a really WEIRD childhood, wishes I could be more perfect than I seem to be (at least in this incarnation) both as a human being & as a parent. I swear by Traveling Mercies – Some Thoughts on Faith, Plan B – Further Thoughts on Faith, Grace (Eventually) – Thoughts on Faith, & am also crazy about Bird by BirdSome Instructions on Writing and Life. (I did a blog post called ‘Do Yourself a Favour,’ about her novel Joe Jones. The book is a great read!)
  3. I’ve said so much lately about Elizabeth Lesser that I’m probably in danger of becoming a bore, but her book Broken Open – How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow is a masterpiece – a workshop-between-covers in honesty, understanding (& having compassion for) human foibles (especially our own), living an authentic life, how we all beat up on ourselves & why (& how) we might want to consider just admitting to our paid-in-full membership in this very troublesome club called the human race, with its foibles & faults & problems & neuroses – along with some pretty darn useful tips on healing.
  4. Pema Chödrön – Buddhist nun & brilliant writer who is brutally honest about her own shortcomings (shared by all of us, btw) & challenging moments, & the enormously useful & wise & compassionate teachings of Buddhist thought. I’ve only read The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving KindnessWhen Things Fall Apart – Heart Advice for Difficult Times – both are absolute treasures & I feel quite certain it is time to re-read both…I also feel certain I could sit down & have a forthright chat with Ms. Chödrön about my own all-too-numerous faults & failings & my current forms of ridiculousness & seemingly impossible behaviour, & come away feeling blessed – & affirmed – & embraced with compassion & understanding (of course too, she doesn’t have to live with me. Tee hee. That’s another ballgame entirely, hmm??)
  5. Yikes! All women so far; isn’t that fun?? Leading inexorably to that utter master of the moment, Eckhart Tolle – of whom I have also spoken muchly & often – & whose staggering wisdom & utter timeliness are blow-you-out-of-the-water brilliant. I am a person terribly reluctant to embrace “guru-ness,” but ET is an indispensable “guru,” surely, for all human beings at this…words are failing me…unprecedented time in human/planetary history – as we poise ourselves precariously on the cusp of our very own destruction as a species. How anyone could read The Power of Now & most especially A New Earth & NOT be … (words are failing me again) shaken to the core by his wisdom – & insights – & compassion – well, words fail me yet again. Best & most important book I’ve read in a very, very, very long time…  I’d advise anyone to read A New Earth (& also listen to any & all of his audio CD’s you can lay your hands on) & see your philosophies – your worldview – your ideas about yourself & your life…take quite a few steps forward.

Big deep breath….

I believe that’s IT for me just now. Never mind the environmental writers – a task for another day, perhaps. I think it’s time for me to chill…& maybe read some more Heather Mallick.

As a parting note, I will point out that of the 5 writers named herein, 4 are women – & also mothers – & since for me, motherhood has been & will always remain the single most noteworthy, challenging & rewarding experience of my life (by a very long shot), this may be relevant.(1)

Eckart Tolle, of course, is not a mother. Perhaps he is the wise...loving...patient...compassionate...understanding father figure so many of us (all of us??) have always longed for.

Hey! – I dunno, it’s just a thought.

I’m no “spiritual master” myself. I’m just doing my best (a not-so-very excellent best, at present) to put one foot in front of the other, a day at a time, a moment at a time, hopeful that my words may help shine even a teeny-tiny bit of light – & give me a chuckle & some fun (writing saves my ass).

Salut!

Janet

p.s. My early school years were very much enlivened by a small workbook called ‘Words Are Important.’ It seems I took the phrase very much to heart…


(1) Although as Amma Chi, also known as Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi has said, “The essence of motherhood is not restricted to women who have given birth; it is a principle inherent in both women and men. It is an attitude of the mind. It is love – and that love is the very breath of life. No one would say, ‘I will breathe only when I am with my family and friends; I won’t breathe in front of my enemies.’ Similarly, for those in whom motherhood has awakened, love and compassion for everyone are as much a part of their being as breathing.”