This is my nemesis. I aim to get past it.
“Invite Mara in for tea”, the Buddha said. Mara is the personification of suffering in that quote – suffering that is simply a part of life. What we DO with suffering is what makes each of us unique. When I was a kid, my mother made me get a perm because curly hair was easier to manage, but the solution burned my scalp and I HATED the procedure; I’d bawl and complain while sitting there with a head full of juicy pink rods under a plastic cap, and ammoniated liquid running right through the cotton ribbon framing my forehead. Her reply was typical of that generation – “You have to suffer to be beautiful”, she’d say with a smile. Well, then! I had no interest in beauty of that sort! But the perms went on, year in and year out until I was old enough to protest effectively and do my own damned hair. But I digress…
In the Jack Nicholson movie “The Bucket List”, he plays a character who has created a list of things he wants to do in his lifetime, before he kicks the bucket. Not all of them are simple, and some of them require facing a certain amount of pain from past experiences and relationships. Nevertheless, he sets about accomplishing those goals. I like that approach: figuring out what’s really important to you, and going after it. So I decided to create my own Bucket List…and found that there’s more than one type of Life’s Little Lists. Bear with me here while I figure out a segue:
A few years ago, I began smoking occasionally – mostly at friendly poker games around the kitchen table. It really was occasional – a couple of times a year, and didn’t go beyond that. Then, “life happened”, one thing led to another, and I found myself smoking more often than not. As addictions have it, the more I indulged, the more I wanted to indulge. So goes it: and then, the “h” word: “habit.” I became a habitual smoker, for almost one whole year. I escape that marker only by two weeks and two days. Working with my coach, I had set a Quit Day: the last day before my birthday, which is two days from now. So of course, ever the coach, she writes: As your coach, I have to ask you: why not quit today?” So, I said I would. It was only two more days anyway.
Oh, crap. What was I THINKING? Smoking is on my BUCK IT list!! It used to be on my “#uck it list” but I had to have a middle-of-the-road list that could accommodate such things as wearing red sneakers with formal evening wear in protest of Prada and other sadistic shoe designers. So I eventually promoted smoking to the Buck It List: it’s something I do to buck the establishment and “do my own thing” a la the 60’s boomers. Hey, a girl’s gotta wear SOMEthing besides brown Oxfords for school and Patent Leather Pumps for everything else. (God, please make brown Oxfords cool again, please! My feet are killing me!)
So, journaling this morning, I mused that habits are there for a reason, and breaking up is hard to do, as the song goes. I resist quitting mightily, because my Buck It List means a lot to me. It represents the colors in my own personal rainbow, the whorl on my fingertips, my unique DNA (Do Not Assume about me!).
I didn’t think I could do it: I didn’t think I could change the date. I didn’t think I could honor that glib “I’ll do it ” reply to my coach. But then a funny thing happened on the way to the breakfast table. I made the coffee, unloaded the dishwasher, ignored the Crossword puzzle in favor of journaling, removed all visual stimuli – ashtrays, lighter, cigarettes, and just kept moving. Eventually I wrote that I would retrieve the pack from the freezer and dispose of them by crushing them up, lest I attempt a pathetic search through the trash bag in the throes of a nic fit later this evening.
I even did THAT.
Oh, how it PAINED me to slide fifteen long slender sticks out of the box and just – annihilate them. But then I thought “better you than me.” Continuing to smoke – even for only two more days – is more an adolescent rebellion than a statement of individuality. And, as the smoking research counselor once said to me “Adolescence is so overrated, isn’t it?”
So, I quit. Today, I quit. Not tomorrow or the next day. Tonight, I will pray, or watch a movie, or go to bed earlier. Change the environment. Do something fun! Anything but indulge the Old Habit.
I invited Mara in for tea: turns out, Mara wasn’t thirsty, and left the building. And, I didn’t light up. Now I have a new reminder that I will post on my refrigerator (where once I chilled those tempting tubettes of tar):
Old Smokers Never Die: they just do a long, slow burn. What a drag.
© Downstream Press June 24, 2010
Can it be Summer if it’s only 55° ?? Ok so it’s not technically summer – yet; but c’mon, it’s June 17th! But then, that’s the beauty of the northeast: you don’t have to sweat all the time just cuz it’s not winter anymore… so I don a sweatshirt in the early morning hours.
Today is one of those overcast, ambivalent days: the sky can’t decide whether to fully part company with night. Dawn slipped in quietly – I was up for the wee-est hints of light above the trees, so I know whereof I speak! I read some of Thomas Merton’s lyrical Ode to Dawn for Thursday in The Book of Hours; he is so eloquent it’s heart-wrenchingly moving. His language transports one to the fields and grasses of the Midwestern plains with tender homage to the God of All. One could hardly be an atheist after dreamily indulging in such imagery in pre-dawn liminal hours.
I am thankful that these verses have the power to convert me on the spot from an obsessive lister of to-do’s, to-don’ts and shoulda’s to a place of gratitude and wonder. I wonder if I can honor what has been bestowed upon me by sheer grace, and vow on the spot to be more attentive to living in the moment, and celebrating the gft of life regardless of my inadequacies and other annoying aches, physical or spiritual.
Shifting then to Jack Kornfield’s equally inspiring chapters in The Wise Heart, I learn more about Buddhist psychology, and its lessons on embracing all of life – body, mind and spirit – with compassion, loving kindness, and integrity. These are different approaches to managing the incessant chatter of one’s practical – and critical – mind. Instead of labeling and judging everything – and then insisting on interminable efforts at “fixing” myself – I’m encouraged by Buddhism’s urging one to be mindful and simply observe. We become “spiritual anglers” – playing “catch and release” with our endless litanies of thoughts, stories, criticisms and judgments, whether of oneself or others.
In life coaching, we are encouraged to guide our clients away from their “stories” and into the present moment, because the present moment is where we live, and where challenge appears, and where change happens. It doesn’t happen in our histories. So I am intrigued by this Buddhist view – that we are NOT our histories, nor our stories, and the more we detach from them, the freer we become to live fully in the now – which is all any of us has to work with.
Does it matter after I have read, pondered, meditated and yes, napped again – that when I rise for the day I don’t always rise to the occasion? Does it matter that I revert immediately to rebelling and insisting on living on the edge – repeating behaviors that keep me locked in old thought habits? It matters. It matters because we have only so many moments given to us, and we have but to agree to them in order to make the most of them. When I don’t agree, and I choose less-than-(w)hole-y actions in my own behalf, I am declaring that I AM my (his)tory, and that change is impossible. But this is to deny being a living, sentient, thinking being, capable of choice. Habit becomes Tyrant, and Choice is in the dungeon.
I am in the throes of redefining myself at the core these days, weeks, and months. In so doing, I weigh everything on two scales – the old one, born of early experience, a particular religious education, and childish assumptions that allowed me to make sense of an environment that was bewilderingly vacant in some important ways; and this new-to-me one – ancient wisdom filled with compassion, kindness towards all, and radical acceptance. It is a potent antidote to western psychology, which diagnoses, labels and prescribes, and I am heartened by it.
I know now that many of my childish assumptions and conclusions that I drew were, plain and simple, wrong. I was wrong about myself. I was wrong about how life is s’posed to be. I was wrong about my abilities, and most importantly, about who I was inside. The latter is the most longstanding lie, because as an adult, I didn’t know that I could be anything but who I was as a child. It was so ingrained in me early on that I am here to take care of others, that it never occurred to me that taking care of myself was not egotistical but a glorious opportunity. I am still learning from scratch just how to do that.
Buddhism encourages us to locate our feelings in our bodies – because that is where the residue of our experience lies. When we can do that, we can heal in ways that lying on the analyst’s couch cannot offer. Shedding tears, telling our stories over and over, year in and year out in one variation or another, only perpetuates the myth that we are our histories. To me, the beauty of both Buddhism and Coaching is in their simplicity (despite the true complexity behind some of the ancient gurus’ interpretations of enlightenment). Both encourage us to live in integrity, to go after challenges and not run from them in fear. Get out of your comfort zone, the coach says. Embrace your pain, the Buddhist says, because doing so will transform you. When we embrace our fears, our pains, our challenges, we open the door to being a bigger person, and to mastery. Buddha was the master of enlightenment: we are all Buddhas in that enlightened part of our spirits.
So, those are my thoughts for today. I don’t know what that says about who I am today, but I know it’s not who I was yesterday. Writing about it is important to me: it is a way for me to process not only what I read of others’ experience with the spiritual life, but it is a way for me to orient myself to what is being asked of me for this day, this moment. I can celebrate Choice, or yield to Old Habits. The choice is mine; it is yours as well.
June 17, 2010
Doesn’t this picture say it all??!! Yes, but I’m going to add to it anyway… This little yellow bobblehead of a weed has so much will to live that it is sprouting out of ROCK- right at the end of my driveway. Heading out in my car yesterday, I stopped to gape at this marvel. I was so awed by its sheer determination that I went back into the house to get my camera to share the impact with all of you.
Yesterday started out as one of those discombobulated days: beginning with an awareness of my saboteur (my “saaab”) having been stealthily undermining me all week. It seems that the more in alignment I get with my own desires and actions, the more the saaab captivates me and convinces my conscious mind that “this is ok”. “This” is any activity which keeps me in denial, undermines my overall efforts, and derails my success. It doesn’t seem like much in the moment, but the cumulative effect is perfection: it maintains the status quo of living with an internal operating system that I am familiar with. It keeps me in my comfort zone – even if my “comfort” lies in suffering – from excess weight, underachievement, and immobility. Over the last ten years, my life has gotten smaller, and smaller, and smaller. My recent awareness that the only way to get any smaller was to simply suffer more, get really sick, and disappear utterly – finally woke me up: and I am so grateful to all the people in my life who have been encouraging, supporting, and loving me all along despite my increasingly narrow existence.
So, it comes as no surprise that as I pick up my portfolio of desires once again, and choose one or two things to focus on developing, I am smack-dab in the middle of where I left myself several years ago: starting over, only this time with greater awareness and determination despite significantly greater immobility.
Back to yesterday: the “allelujah moment” lay not in the awareness – the gauze lifting from my eyes – but in what I did with it for the remainder of the day. Instead of giving unlimited rein to The Voice, as Roth calls it, and beating myself up all day, I actually adopted a “hmmm… ok, then” stance, and went about my day with purpose, commitment to what was on my agenda for the day – and determination. My life lesson here is to keep on keeping on, to learn how to live a life of fully expressing whatever gifts I was born with – without giving weight to what everyone else wants me to do or be for them more than following my own path.
“Consider the lilies…” – and in this case, the lowly dandelion. God only knows how that seed got there, but it found enough resources amid dry rock to nurture it, sustain it, and reach for the light. Ordinarily a little troublemaker, it has the audacity to bloom right where it’s planted. And that’s exactly what I aim to do with however many days/weeks/years/decades I’ve been given. It’s a good thing I like yellow.
Happy days, all-
It’s JUNE!- my fave month of the year; the days keep getting longer and longer until it’s impossibly bright even after 9:30 PM on some clear nights. I crave longer days in dark winter months, and lo and behold, here we are, basking in lingering twilight long after the workday is over. Even the mundane viewing of Wheel of Fortune after dinner takes its rightful place: a distant second to sitting on the porch and savoring a whole evening wrapped in softening pink light.
Such bliss! How can bliss possibly be in the same sentence as “wanting”? As a lifelong foodie, I am more mindful every day -now that I’m paying attention – of how much I didn’t want the food/cookies: as GR says (on page 174) “I wanted the way being allowed to have them made me feel: welcomed, deserving, adored.”
The first time I read that, it stopped me in my tracks: my throat tightened, my eyes fixated on the words “welcomed, deserving, adored”. Probably every single human being has traded immediate gratification for awareness of their real desire at some point or other. For an addictive personality, a now-fix is relief from now-pain. We think we can’t tolerate the pain – or don’t want to see it at all, so we find what works for us. In my case, it’s always been food: fast, slow-roasted, creamy, salty, crunchy, chewy. As long as it was handy, it worked. And I didn’t even have to do anything illegal to get it: just raid the kitchen.
This month – this week, this day, this mealtime, this evening: I am paying attention to what it is I REALLY want: and what I want is that blissful feeling that comes from basking in the evening light after a long day of natural shading, breezes blowing, and mindful activity.
Again, p. 174: “We don’t want to eat hot fudge sundaes as much as we want our lives to be hot fudge sundaes. We want to come home to ourselves. We want to know wonder and delight and passion…”
Isn’t it interesting that what we really want is to KNOW – that is, to experience -in our bodies and our emotions and our spirits – that which we call bliss? And when we are young and incapable of understanding or knowing how to cope with the vagaries of life, our minds do what they can to make sense of our environments, and to find ways to detach ourselves from pain we think we cannot escape or tolerate for one more second. Give me that damned COOKIE!
For myself, I have become more aware of my blissful moments, and declare my freedom to create as many as possible throughout my day. The sticking point is recognizing the wanting for what it is, in that moment: when I am bored, frustrated, anxious, etc. and want to grab something that is neither nourishing nor feeding a hungry body in meaningful ways, then I am also not inclined to explore what I really want in that moment: it’s easier just to eat and play Scarlet O’Hara – I’ll “think about that tomorrow.” But if we are being loving and gentle with ourselves, we can learn to stop, and practice “the art of revering [ourselves] with food” (p.169). And in that same moment, we begin walking toward bliss. “All wanting – for love, to be seen for who we really are, for a new red car, is wanting to find and be taken into this mysterious depth in things.” (John Tarrant, on p. 172). GR goes on: “By collapsing our wanting”… into our favorite mouthful of fix, “we cancel poetry, sacredness, longing from our lives and resign ourselves to living with hearts banged shut. The simple instruction to Eat What Your Body Wants begins to pry open what has been hidden for a lifetime.” (p.172)
So, companions on the journey, here’s to BLISS, and an entire summer of long sunny days, relaxing evenings, and pink skies at night.
Brilliant sunny Thursday greetings, all! After writing about affirmations in cookie jars, I came across the chapter on “afformations” in Permission to Succeed, by Noah St. John. He coined the word based on its Latin roots: the word “formare” means “to create shape or give form to”, whereas affirmation is from the Latin “firmare” – to make firm.” He states that our brains work by questioning everything, from “Why shouldn’t I stick my finger in the outlet, Mommy? It looks like fun!” to “Why am I so ____?” The problem is that the second category of questions emerges from that old friend the inner critic. We need to ask EMPOWERING questions of ourselves instead. Why am I so beautiful? Why am I so smart? Why am I so safe? Why am I so taken care of? Why do I always get what I really need at exactly the right time for me? (with thanks to the author for those questions.)
So, in addition to creating cookie-jar slips of inspiration, I suggest we also add a sprinkle of empowering questions! The brain is already using this questioning format, so it’s a simple thing to absorb. Bonus: the only time affirmations really stick is when we change the underlying question – the affORmation -associated with it. Since 90% of human motivation comes from our “why-to” – and only 10% from how-to, if we keep asking ourselves “why”, the very asking itself changes our energy. Using afformations is a way to stimulate a different line of thinking, and ultimately, to bring ourselves to the realization that all the old messages we have believed about ourselves were wrong. So for the next week, practice asking yourself “what would be a great question to ask myself right now?” and let your magnificent brains do the rest! To quote Emerson, “A mind once stretched cannot resume its former shape.” And so we will glide along the breeze, sail along calm waters right into a lovely, effortless message of self-love that we have been denying and suppressing for years. No lightning bolts, no earth-shattering wake-up calls, just a calm, persistent posing of positive questions, and we’re off to new horizons.
Happy Memorial Day weekend, all, and happy sailing! Namaste-
…can’t trust that day…” as the song goes. But we can learn to trust our intentions by following them with actions that support them. In so doing, we support our expansive, creative, life-affirming selves instead of the “squinchy”, negative -and punitive- internalized voice of the critic. One way to keep our focus on Loving Kindness toward ourselves is to write down our intentions. As a “foodie”, I have a list of one-liner affirmations that I call “cookies”, and I literally keep them in my cookie jar. When I need an “intentional boost”, I reach for the cookie jar! These little gems do two things: they remind me (regardless of the actual message on the strip of paper) that I get to CHOOSE my own lifestyle and create the life I want. The other is that it gives me a momentary boost to my spirit – and intentions.
So, while you’re reading whatever you’re reading this week, jot down some one-liners that you can put into your own spiritual cookie jar, and begin with the intention of Loving Kindness toward yourself. Namaste!