So I stirred up some shit with my mama after my last blog about my camping experience. She was worried that I was in danger, and warned me to be careful, and reminded me that my grandmother reads my blog.
I know what she is getting at, and she is my mom. But seriously, I really wasn’t in any danger during my camping experience. That’s not to say I don’t tend to encounter experiences that could seem a bit treacherous from an outside perspective. Like my weed-buying adventure in India.
Still, I really can’t even go there. No matter how careful I am, these life situations tend to find me. I’m lucky really. I get to have wacky and absurd adventures and I have the ability to convey and share those experiences through writing. I believe it is my fate. In fact, I saw a psychic over a year ago, and before I had any idea what she was talking about, I swear word-for-word she said:
You have this humorous side to you and your writing. Especially in travel… there are these funny little incidences that happen to you. You didn’t lose everything – you could’ve but didn’t. But you are still brave enough to travel, to go about it, and learn… to be at home in other people’s homes. You aren’t angry, you aren’t mad about it…And, In your humor, you find peace.
So there you have it. The psychic realm has spoken. I don’t think this is about me living my life differently, because I couldn’t live my life differently if I tried. This is really about whether or not I am going to write about my life adventures in raw detail; this is about whether or not to censor myself; whether to worry about my mom and grandma or anyone else reading my words; whether to live in or out of my proverbial closet.
I’ve had several people refer to my writing or lifestyle as “brave” in the last few weeks. That’s a tough one for me, because I certainly take it as a compliment, and compliments are sometimes hard for me to take.
I’ve thought on it: if being brave is “confronting fear” then I get it; in that way, I am “brave” because I do my best to confront my fears head on. Yet my only real fear is the fear of being me – all of me – even those parts I don’t like or feel ashamed about. There is no life-threatening danger there. There were women in centuries past that were burned at the stake for living their truth. There are women in other countries that are in real danger for being themselves. They could be arrested or killed for not wearing a burka, or for acting or speaking a certain way. Men too. (Not the burka part, but other shitty stuff). Luckily for us in a free society, we don’t face real danger for being ourselves. We have a luxury here in the West, where we can choose to be ourselves and speak and live our truth without real threat to our safety. What is the fear that holds us back? Not that we will be killed or arrested but that we will be judged?
What does it mean to be yourself? To find yourself? We avoid the parts of ourselves we judge as bad and we suppress our real feelings. Then we project those feelings onto our life situations and relationships. We search for comfort in material things. We try to find the perfect relationship, the better job; we try to make more money, to have a bigger house, a better body; we keep looking for satisfaction outside of ourselves.
I hear myself do it all the time. I think, “if only this person felt about me how I felt about him or her, then I would be happy. If only I had the money to pay off my debt, then I would be happy; if only I was a world-famous writer…if only E would sleep better…if only so-and-so wasn’t such a pain in my arse…” and so on.
And it doesn’t work. Luckily for us, the Universe is karmically set up in a way that we cannot possibly find real joy outside of ourselves.
I find that the more I seek happiness outside of myself, the more it eludes me. Once one of my desires is satisfied, I come up with new things that I need before I can be happy. I believe this is phenomenom described in the oft-misunderstood second commandment of the biblical book Exodus:
You shall not make yourself any graven image [to worship it] or any likeness of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; You shall not bow down yourself to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, But showing mercy and steadfast love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.
In other words, if we “worship” any material thing, if we look for happiness in the planes of material existence (heaven or astral planes, earth, or sea), if we “bow down” to material objects such as relationships, money, or anything other than our highest Self (“God”), then karmically, God becomes “jealous.” Jealousy is a metaphor here: like a jealous lover will not let you find happiness with someone else, our highest Self does not let us find happiness outside of the Self.
Our highest Self wants us to look for true peace, true happiness, which can only be found by connecting to that peace within, that consciousness that permeates all living things. If we seek it elsewhere, then karmically, we will continue to feel ourselves as separate individuals searching for something that eludes us. Because God is “jealous” we cannot find true love or happiness outside ourselves. Our one true love is Love itself. It isn’t personal; it is Universal.
And if we seek happiness in a material, separate, ego-driven way, then it not only affects us on an individual scale, the second commandment tells us, but our family is affected too. Our children and grandchildren will also be affected by this sickness. This makes sense to me, because children clearly absorb the tendencies of their parents and learn from our actions more than our words. However, if we love the Self or God above all, if we act out of an understanding of the unity and interconnectedness of all things, then our children and grandchildren will benefit, and they will benefit to an exponentially greater degree by our right action (“thousand generations”) than the degree they are hindered with our wrong action (“third and fourth generation”). That is pretty sweet.
But how is it possible? I can’t stop the material desires from arising. I can’t stop the longing I feel in my heart. I’ve even noticed that I tend to attract similar situations again and again; I attract the same types of unfulfilling relationships and life situations. Even with that level of awareness, even with the rational realization of what I am doing, I can’t stop it from happening. It feels very much like the movie “Groundhog Day,” where I repeat the same drama over and over again.
And are we really supposed to thwart all desire as evil? I don’t think so. Without any desire, we would be inert. Desire is the creative natural force. It is what propels us forward into action. Yet desire that comes with attachment to a particular outcome leads to suffering when the fulfillment does not happen in the way we hoped and expected.
So what to do? Smarter people than me speak of the Bhakti practice of feeling your feelings. We don’t have to believe the voice in our head that tells us we “need” this person to love us or this amount of money to be happy. Instead, we can practice pratyahara – we can withdraw the senses inward and feel the sensations in our body and heart when desires, or any emotions or feelings, arise. Pema Chodron recently described this practice in the context of laziness. She says:
Laziness is not particularly terrible or wonderful. Rather it has a basic living quality that deserves to be experienced just as it is. Perhaps we’ll find an irritating, pulsating quality in laziness. We might feel it as dull and heavy or as vulnerable and raw. Whatever we discover, as we explore it further, we find nothing to hold on to, nothing solid, only groundless, wakeful energy. This process of experiencing laziness directly and nonverbally is transformative. It unlocks a tremendous energy that is usually blocked by our habit of running away. This is because when we stop resisting laziness, our identity as the one who is lazy begins to fall apart completely. Without the blinders of ego, we connect with a fresh outlook, a greater vision. This is how laziness—or any other demon—introduces us to the compassionate life.
I personally love that she uses the word “demon” to describe laziness, since I talked about the “anger demon” in my camping blog. High five, Pema. We are on the same page. You could substitute desire, anger, longing, sadness, boredom or any other unwanted feeling for laziness in the quote above. The practice is all the same.
By confronting these “demons” we are exploring what Deepak Chopra describes as “The Shadow Effect.” He says:
You only have to gaze around you at the natural world to see the proof that beauty, form, order, and growth have survived for billions of years. In dealing with your shadow, you are aligning yourself with the same infinite power. The shadow isn’t a fearsome opponent but a worthy one. Powerful as it is, the power of wholeness is infinitely greater, and by a miracle of creation, it is within your grasp.
To explore our own shadow side is to truly understand ourselves. We can look at the times we feel angry, sad, manipulated, guilty, whatever. We can start to do our pratyahara on these emotions by acknowledging them, feeling them, and then perhaps looking at the aspect of them that is a projection. That is, looking at the aspect of them that we project outwardly onto the material world, which is actually an aspect of our inner selves that we have pushed into the shadow.
We can look at that person at work that drives us nuts that we think is an asshole, a liar, a thief, a goodie-two-shoes, a do-gooder, a yes-man, a bitch, whatever. Your first thought here maybe, “But Frank is a liar. I’m not a liar.” But do some inquiry on it. Get deeper. What is it that Frank did that you perceived as a lie? “Well, Frank shouldn’t have told me he was going to support me in my bid for President of the local Chamber of Commerce and then backed out when I needed his support.” Okay, well maybe Frank shouldn’t have said one thing and then done something else.
Do I ever say one thing and do something else, maybe even to myself? Do I sometimes promise myself I’m going to work out in the morning and then I decide to sleep-in instead, and then I feel guilty about it? What is that guilt? Guilt is really self-manipulation. It’s a way that we try to control our behavior and punish ourselves when we do something we don’t like in the hope that we won’t do it again. But what if we just let ourselves be with whatever we are? So sometimes I say one thing and I do something else, even if it’s only to myself. Can I learn to love that part of myself?
If I do, maybe I’ll see Frank a little different. It doesn’t change the fact that maybe Frank can’t be trusted in the future. It doesn’t mean I should start trusting him. But maybe I see him a little differently because he’s sort of a caricature, a gross overstatement of that part of myself that I don’t want to acknowledge, or that I don’t like. So I protect myself in my dealings with Frank since I have the knowledge that he may say one thing and do something else; but when I interact with him, I no longer take it personally. I no longer feel like he’s doing this to me, and I see that he’s really doing it to himself because he’s suffering with his actions in his way, and that’s really between him and the Universe to figure out.
When we go into our shadow side and look deeper at our feelings, we start to come out of our closets. We start to become more comfortable with ourselves. What an enormous effect that comfort can have on those around us. What an effect it can have on our family and friends.
Rumi wrote, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
And imagine how the world will change, if all of us living here are at peace, firmly rooted in our highest Selves.
So let’s all be brave, and acknowledge and feel whatever demons we feel within. Let’s look at our outward lives a little deeper and begin to really understand ourselves, by going into our own shadow and coming out of our proverbial closets. Let’s all resolve to keep practicing, and thereby avoid the traps and discontent that comes with a material-minded existence.
Let’s be ourselves, our gloriously-flawed, divinely-human selves.
I’m going to do my best to do my part. I’ll keep having and sharing my amusing adventures and doing my practice. I’d love to hear about yours. Don’t worry, ma, we will be careful.
And don’t let my ma fool ya, she’s quite the soul-seeking adventurer herself.