Earth life is slow

We are creatures of Earth; our life is part of the life of the Earth, and we draw our nourishment from it just as plants and animals do. Earth life is slow; autumn and winter are as essential to it as spring and summer, and rest is as essential as motion.

-Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness

It is winter, the days are dark, and nature does not offer up the comfort of warmth. But instead of complaining or decrying this, we can accept it as a part of the creative cycle.

Our bodies need rest. So do our minds. This time of year we can take more time for that by recognizing that everything has a time and place and season. Trust that you will progress and grow, when it is the right time. Spring brings energy, transition, a pushing outward. Winter brings quiet, inner reflection, an evening gathering with friends that is a natural response to the short days, and finally, sleep.

Let the bare trees of this season remind us that we are also needing to look at the bare facts of ourselves, the naked truth of who we are. That will be the starting point for all our love and all our work in the year to come.

The Great Eastern Sun

Imagine the sun rising.

At first it seems weak, then it becomes stronger and stronger as the morning goes on. Soon it is shining with great power.

So it is when we find our genuine wholeness. It may seem a weak thread, but getting comfortable in your own skin, finding your own unique strength and letting that shine, you will grow into great power.

A genuine sense of self, and of trust in one’s place in the universe, is like the sun in many ways. It is a gentle source of energy and renewal, as well as a natural cycle. Sometimes it is occluded by clouds, or hidden at night, but always there.

Let the Great Eastern Sun rise in your heart, and in your head. In this way your wholeness will bring you peace, energy and renewal.

Fearlessness

Fearlessness is not like a wild tiger or brown bear that is locked up in a cage and growls every time you open the door. Fearlessness is powerful, but it also contains gentleness and constant loneliness and sadness.

from Chögyam Trungpa, “Smile At Fear”

I love this quote because it is so counter-intuitive and challenging.

Why would fearlessness not be like a wild tiger? Why would it contain sadness?

There is a certain kind of fearlessness that disconnects from our own and other’s pain. Usually a result of a painful experience in early childhood, and a subsequent denial of that pain as a protective mechanism.

We may feel fearful and timid. Timidity may manifest as a lack of boundaries. When those have been violated enough, when we have not been brave enough to stand up for ourselves, we might finally become fearless. We might desire to be like the tiger or the bear in that moment.

But to access a state of fearlessness, we do not have to resort to anger, or wait until we have been tread upon so many times that we no longer care what anyone thinks.

We can access a genuine sense of wholeness, of self connected to the natural universe, of strength like the seed growing, and of the gentle yet powerful shining of the sun.

Be fearless today, but do it softly. Even tigers can be soft.

The Source of Softness

When we have a feeling that life is worthwhile and we are worthwhile, from that, a sense of softness or gentleness begins to develop.

 – Chögyam Trungpa, “Smile At Fear”

When we become hardened, it is a spiritual state. This is the consciousness revealed in the story of the powerful Pharaoh of Egypt, whose stubborn heart would not let the slaves go, even at great cost to himself and his kingdom.

How do we reach a sense of softness, what is the source of gentleness?

It is a feeling of genuine wholeness, when we are fully ourselves. All is right with the world when we find ourselves comfortable in our own skin.

Can we be at peace even in times of struggle, pain, conflict, and lack? Only if we believe we are enough. Only if we believe we are worthwhile, that life is worthwhile.

Your Values Are Not YOU

Your values are not YOU.

It is a very hard truth to absorb.

When an ideal, a belief, a value, something we hold very dear is rejected by someone, it can feel as though we ourselves are being rejected.

I’ve been on both sides of this phenomenon, giving and receiving such rejection. It can hurt! Most of us have felt that sort of rejection. We can take it very personally, for example, when a family member chooses another road than we had in mind, when a child rejects the religion of her parents, or when half the country rejects the candidate you voted for.

In recent years in our political life I have observed people feeling personally rejected on a level they never have before. Those who were opposed to Obama felt so personally bad about him that for years they wanted nothing but to see him discredited, blamed, and obstructed. Now, those who voted for Obama and Clinton feel their values have been roundly rejected and are protesting even before the Trump presidency starts.

Your values are not YOU. The things you hold most important are concepts in your mind, they are not YOU.

This can sound very abstract, I know. But pull it down to earth – what it means is that you, as a living, breathing, human being, with a mind, have the ability to transcend even those values that you most hold dear, even the beliefs you think are the most bedrock, even the ideals you most treasure.

You also have the ability to stand apart from even the most important, meaningful, and life-defining goals, plans, and actions that are based on your set of values.

In practice, this means we can separate our being, our SELVES, from the beliefs we hold, and connect to other people who hold differing beliefs. It means we can see others who reject some of our values in a different light, because fundamentally we don’t base our selves or their selves on the values they hold. We hold them sacred apart from their values.

I may believe in heaven, you may not. I may believe in the fundamental value of diversity. You may not. I may reject the argument for the existence of god, you may support it wholeheartedly. I may be Democrat, you may be Republican. I may not care at all about Black Lives Matter, you may look at it as the most important movement around. The point is: none of these things really define us, internally, as human beings.

Values may govern our behavior. They may define how we choose to organize ourselves together as a governed society, and in turn those choices may determine results (sometimes life or death) for other people in practical ways that we do not always grasp, meaning we must still talk and learn about each other’s values, and write thoughtful policy based on our learning and our dialogue about our values. Values are very important.

But what I am trying to get across right now is, the values we hold are not essential to who we are.

What is left when we stand apart from our values? If we think the answer is “Nothing At All” we will fight tooth and claw for our values, and become really inept and insensitive to other viewpoints, because it seems like life or death. We will cut off opportunity to do the learning and dialogue that are necessary to govern together.

When our values are identical with ourselves, then when the value goes away, so do we. Our brains, with this slight-of-hand, go into fight or flight very easily. We are wired to self-protect, and those mechanisms go haywire when something as deep seated as our values seems threatened.

But if, on the other hand, our answer to the question, What are we without our most treasured values? is Something, a very robust Something, even if don’t know what that Something is and can’t wholly define it yet, we have reason to work together with those other humans whose values we do not share. We have reason to listen to their beliefs and to their arguments about what is good, right, and true. We have reason to respect what makes them happy, what they wish for in life, what drives them, and what they are trying to move away from, or fix, or solve.

Human beings are complicated, our bodies and minds interact in ways we have never previously understood. We form beliefs, we hold values. We begin to mistake those for our essential nature, our essential selves. We jumped to conclusions about our fundamental selves, and forgot that our value-forming process is just an aspect of ourselves.

This is how philosophical reflection can open practical ways forward. How do we live and move and have our being in the same spaces as others? How do we learn to exist peaceably (a value), in a kaleidoscopic world of competition (another value) and violence (another value). How do we arrive at somewhat of a consensus (another value) about the values we share, about which values we are choosing as the most important ones, which ones most serve humanity, both individually and collectively (more values)?

We cannot do so without first separating ourselves from those very values, so that we can stand back and evaluate them.

Can we engage this rational process, in the service of our ability to live and be together?

Can we access the parts of ourselves that simply exist, without and prior to values? I believe we can, but we aren’t very good at it. We need guideposts.

Future posts promised on this topic, and I would love to hear your thoughts as well.

 

A Lot Less To Worry About

A Master trusts that all his needs will be met at the appropriate time.

This is truly a hard one for me.

Often I distrust humanity, distrust the universe, distrust life, that it has anything in store for me, that it aims to provide for me in any way. This is probably because I have had to scrape pennies together to survive. This is probably also because I did not get some of my emotional needs met by belief in God, and had to look elsewhere.

I read a lot of marketing literature. People who are entrepreneurs tend to be very mistrustful of others who don’t work, or whom they perceive as lazy or making different choices.

I’ve heard it called “constructive paranoia”, the idea that a bit of worry about letting down your hair is a good thing, because it keeps you from becoming complacent. It’s a useful trait. But it also can veer into the cruelly judgmental.

I think this stems from a basic lack of trust in the Being of things. When we think that the source of our survival, prosperity, and safety comes from our own hard work and our own choices, we place ourselves at the absolute epicenter. Then this equation rules: “If I don’t X, then I won’t get Y .”

If I don’t work, I will not eat. If I don’t get paid, I will lose my house. If I don’t stay on high alert at all times, I will miss an email, drop a ball, which will lead to losing my job, or my relationships. People won’t value me, they will stop paying attention…and my needs won’t get met.

What if our needs are met by a source other than our own choices?

Do our actions result in outcomes or are they already an outcome of other causes? If the latter, we have a lot less to worry about.

Can we execute tasks, and relate to other people, not out of worry or distrust, but out of a feeling of participation in the whole? If so, we have a lot less to worry about.

Perhaps our needs are being met through our work, rather than as a result of our work.

We still need to act, but the action takes place from a different starting point. For some this starting point is God. His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love. Others find these qualities in the larger consciousness, in the great mystery of the universe itself.

Perhaps the universe (God) arrives to meet our needs when we allow it (him) space in which to do so. Such allowing is called trust.

A Master trusts that all his needs will be met at the appropriate time.

I take a deep breath, and let that one sink in.

 

Quote from Mastery by Glenn Berkenkamp