Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Here: A User's Guide

Every time I post something that some consider "negative" I get a little flurry of emails and messages urging me to think more positively. The latest was a Facebook post when I mentioned that the weekend had not been the respite I had hoped. Care for my father who has advanced Alzheimer's had required a lot of driving and some difficult decision-making so I was offering up a little prayer that my sleep be deep and replenishing.

Several people wrote to tell me I was making myself tired by acknowledging this condition, suggesting that I simply keep saying to myself, "I am not tired. I am full of energy."

Now, I know that how we view conditions- both inner and outer- profoundly impacts our experience. But I was tired- not dying, not angry about being tired, not panicked or catastrophizing in any way. Because I could acknowledge I was tired, I went to bed early.

What bothers me about this so-called positive thinking is that it assumes that all thoughts of what is, when what is does not meet our ideals, are negative. There are often truly positive things that come out of days when I am tired and can acknowledge it- I deepen my kindness toward self and my compassion for others who are not having a full-throttle day. Tired isn't in itself negative or positive- sometimes it's just what is.

Fundamentalist positive thinking implies that acknowledging conditions creates them, and that denying what is will instantly create desirable change. But while we are human beings we are embodied souls/ ensouled bodies living in a physical reality prescribed by certain conditions. If I jump off the roof of my building with only positive thoughts about flying, I'm still going to hit the ground, because gravity trumps thinking in the experience of falling.

If we don't honour the physical realities of being an ensouled body, we aren't likely to honour the very real conditions of living on a physical planet- and this is really what concerns me. An economic system that relies on and tries to create infinite growth on a finite planet ultimately can't work. And just having positive thoughts that it will all be okay is not enough to change our unsustainable growth and voracious accumulation of stuff. We can't think away the garbage we've put in the ocean, and if we believe that thinking about that garbage is what creates it, we're not likely to do the thinking necessary to find a way to repair and stop the on-going damage so that life can be renewed and sustained.

Denial isn't just unnecessary, it's dangerous.

I have tremendous faith in human ingenuity, creativity and the inspiration that comes when we are aligned with Life and Spirit. But all of that happens within the very real conditions of being here- and being here is a gift. I want to receive that gift in all aspects- those I find easy and those I find not-so-easy with my eyes and my heart wide open, and in deep gratitude.

Oriah (c) 2014

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Two Ways To Avoid Being a Menace

I've noticed two very common ways we get into or create trouble. You know, the places where we do not do what we know (at other times) is good for us or the world; the moments when we are baffled that others could misunderstand or react to us as they seem to be doing; the occasions where (in hindsight) we inexplicably did something that created unproductive chaos and confusion for ourselves or others.

Many how-to missives boil things down to numerical lists: Six Ways to Enlightenment; or Seven Steps to Being All You Can Be; or Thirteen Things You Must Know About. . . Women, or Men, or Cats, or Your Colon etc. etc. Finally, I can add to the number-loving trend. Because it seems to me that there are two primary tasks that need tending if we want to maximize acting on our best intentions and minimize wreaking havoc on ourselves or others. We need to:

1) Recognize and be with our anxiety when it arises in ways that do no harm.

2) Set and keep clear, healthy boundaries with others.

Anxiety arises. It's part of the human experience. Sometimes it is caused by external conditions and sometimes it seems to arise on its own, perhaps pointing to an inner concern that isn't even conscious. Or, maybe we just watched the late night news. Life is a wild and woolly place that includes anxiety-provoking pain and loss.

Recognizing anxiety can be tricky since everyone's moments (or months) of inner mayhem show up in different ways- mysterious tears or laughter; loss of memory or focus; hyperactivity or paralysing procrastination etc.

People are not, on the whole, masochistic. That's why we often reach for something- anything!- to deal with anxiety. Anxiety is uncomfortable and cake or alcohol or overwork or hours of television (and a thousand other things- in this human beings are endlessly creative) can numb us to its raw edge. But numbing to discomfort, numbs us to joy. So, having other, skilful ways to be with anxiety (regular meditation, exercise, skilful distraction etc.) keeps us open to life's beauty even as we may be experiencing this inevitable aspect of being human.

Boundaries- or rather, the lack of them- is often a source of anxiety. If I don't know where I end and you begin, if I can't tell if something is my business or yours, or ours, or that which belongs to something sacred and bigger than the two of us together, I am likely to feel easily overwhelmed and overburdened- and that can create anxiety.

I was raised by a mother who had no sense of boundaries. She spoke always of "us" and "our" (meaning her and I) - as in, "our thighs are heavy," (I was a skinny nine year old!) or "we don't go along with that," (which referred to any of the many things she found unacceptable in other people, including me.)

Knowing that my mother's take on things was just that- hers- and not about me, took some work (and years.) But not getting continually emotionally batted around like a ping pong ball by other people's opinions, perspectives, agendas, or concerns is what lets us remain open and connected. Otherwise, we'd get so overwhelmed we'd hide in the woods. (Not that I haven't done that- I have- but I prefer to have real choice about embracing times of solitude or being with others.)

Here's the tricky part for us "spiritual" types: Being rooted in a sense of our deepest soul-self may seem like the "cure" for both of these challenges. After all, if we are aware and awake to the true nature of inner and outer reality doesn't that banish anxiety and offer us clarity about where our attention is required?

Well, yes. . . and no. Being soul-centred helps us hold our humanness tenderly and without judgement- and that goes a long way in easing anxiety, and discerning boundaries. But there is no cure for being human- and that's a good thing. Because the gift of being here is found not in separating from our experience, but in embracing and learning from life as an embodied soul/ensouled body- as one small, gloriously messy and spectacularly beautiful human being!

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Gift of Resentment

Oh I know what you're thinking: How could resentment- that nasty, sticky, often covert anger that drains us of energy and blocks access to joy- ever be a gift?

Well, here's what I've discovered: Every time I feel resentment about something someone has said or done, I uncover a place (and it takes a little work to drag this sucker up out of the depths where I've hidden it) where I've unconsciously made some kind of "deal" that I feel has been violated. Usually the deal involved me making some kind of sacrifice (keeping quiet where I wanted to speak up; taking responsibility for something or someone when I wanted to lay down and rest etc.) in exchange for some kind of reward (being loved or seen or forgiven, belonging etc.)

When these resentments arise around other people the first question we need to ask is: Was this ever an explicit deal made with the other? For instance, did s/he know that I was silent about being hurt by their comments so they would overlook any unskilful communication from me? The answer is usually, No. The other didn't even know there was a deal. Not that people don't sometimes break clear agreements- but I have found that those violations are easier to speak to (because they were explicit) and the feelings they stir are often cleaner and more short-lived than smouldering semi-conscious resentment.

Sometimes these secret deals (as in ones I often don't even acknowledge to myself) aren't with other people but with some kind of higher power- God, the divine, the Universe- that I am vaguely hoping will reward unasked-for sacrifice with things I know are not earned- like perfect health and inner peace for myself and those I love.

And I know I am not the only one secretly playing Let's Make a Deal with God. Recently, someone confessed to me that she was hoping that giving up chocolate would mean her house would sell quickly for a good price. She was a smart woman, but she gave up chocolate just in case.

Resentment is a gift because it points to something unconscious and gives me a chance to bring it to consciousness. When I bring a bit of gentle curiosity to resentment I discover unconscious deals made and broken. It usually makes me shake my head and quietly laugh. And quiet laughter dissolves resentment, lets us hold that small crazy inner deal-maker tenderly, reassuring her that she does not have to wheel and deal for the beauty of life with all of its inherent rewards and challenges. All she has to do is receive the gift of one small, spectacular human life.

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

How To Let Go

This week I had a chance to consider letting go in a new light. I've written before about how I rarely find the admonishment to "let go" helpful when I'm hanging on by my finger tips, even when I can see that what I am hanging on to is not particularly useful. I have found the inner directive to "let it be" somewhat more fruitful in helping me loosen a desperate grasp and rest in what is.

Letting go of beliefs or mental/emotional preoccupations that are causing suffering isn't so much an intellectual decision (oh that it was- most of us can see when it's not doing us any good!) If we believe it is we'll probably bury what we think we "should" let go of in our unconscious- and that only makes matters worse. Now we're hanging on, but we aren't consciously aware of hanging, so how could we possibly let go? Not a step in the right direction.

At the beginning of a yoga class last week, the instructor urged us to rest deeply while laying on the floor. And then she said, "Make sure you have what you need to lay on the floor comfortably- because your muscles can't let go if you're uncomfortable, if the way you are laying down is causing strain. If you can find a comfortable way to be here, your body can let go much more deeply."

And something in my brain lit up as I thought, "Oooooo, what would that look like when we need to let go mentally or emotionally? What might help us find a supported position emotionally or mentally from which we could more easily and deeply let go of preoccupations that are causing us suffering?

The first things that came to my mind were tenderness and mercy. When I slip into the feeling of tenderness, of holding my own or another's thoughts and emotions without judgement but with a sense of real caring, I am more comfortable with whatever arises- and I can let go of those thoughts or emotions more easily, allow them to rise and fall, to appear and pass away. It is, strangely, the very act of judging and tightening against what arises that makes it hard to let go.

We often think that trying harder will get us where we want to go. And sometimes, it does. But in the letting-go-endeavours- whether physical, mental or emotional- finding an inner or outer place where we can rest comfortably with what is, is much more likely to help us truly let go where we may have been unintentionally holding on.

Oriah House (c) 2014