Meditation – It’s more than you think

You’ve probably heard about the benefits of meditation:  it reduces stress, improves sleep and increases focus.  Many people, like me, are drawn to meditation because they are experiencing some kind of discomfort and they want to feel better.  I started meditating about 5 years ago in order to relieve the anxiety I was having.  I found that even a short 10-minute meditation helped me to feel calmer, more grounded, more in my body.  As I continued on my meditation journey, I discovered that there was so much more to meditation than simply feeling relaxed.

Good Evening fellow Toastmasters and most welcome guests.  Tonight I’m going to share with you how mindful meditation can lead us to mental clarity, emotional stability and more satisfying relationships.  I’ll show that meditation can help us in responding more wisely and compassionately to both our internal and external worlds.

A couple of years into my exploration with meditation and I really began to see how thoughts would come and go.  In just a minute or two, my mind jump from planning my dinner to worrying about my next Toastmaster speech to rehearsing a future conversation.  Gradually, there was more space around my thoughts and less attachment to them.   Instead of letting my mind go off in a spiral of negativity–I could switch channels to thoughts that were more positive and uplifting

Neuroscience expert and psychologist Dr. Rick Hansen, who wrote Buddha Brain, says that the mind and the brain are a unified system and when you repeat a thought, you strengthen the connection between the brain cells.  Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “neurons that fire together, wire together”.   Over time, you can actually change the structure of your brain by interrupting old patterns and replacing them with new ones.

Not only is meditation empowering me change my mind’s mental patterns but it is also getting me in touch with my emotions and giving me some perspective on them.  Before I started meditating it was easy to be blown about by the winds of my emotions–I could get latched onto a feeling of fear, anger or sadness or repress them altogether.  Now, when an emotional state arises, I realize that I have a choice.  I can continue to feed the harmful feeling or I could feel it and let it pass.

One morning, as I sat having my morning oatmeal, I noticed some anxiety coming up.  This time, instead of trying to push it away or create a story around it, I simply felt what was going on in my body.  Okay, queasiness in my stomach, heart pounding, sensation in my throat.  In a minute or so, the anxious feeling had passed!  Wow!  My meditation teacher had just been talking about the 90-second rule a few nights before.

Neuroscientist and stroke survivor, Dr. Jill Bolt Taylor says in her book, “My Stroke of Insight”, that when we have a reaction to something in our environment, there’s a 90-second chemical process that happens in the body.  If there’s still an emotional response after that, it means that we are choosing to stay in that loop.

Imagine a child who is upset and crying one minute and happily playing the next–this is how our emotions can naturally flow through us, if we let them.  We don’t need to be afraid of of feelings.  In fact, we can learn from them if we are open to them.  Pema Chodron, a well-know Buddhist nun, says, “…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy and fear instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back.

It unfortunate that we don’t learn this kind of mental awareness and emotional regulation in school.  But through meditation, we can learn how to witness thoughts non-judgementally and deal with our feelings, responding with intelligence, creativity and compasssion.

And that brings me to my second point which is how meditation can help us develop deeper relationships based in acceptance and compassion.  From my own experience with meditation, I’ve discovered that my mind can be a pretty chaotic place.  I was humbled by the truth of what was really going on up there–not always the wholesome place I thought it was!  As I became more compassionate with myself, I became more compassionate with others.  I could see how we are all experiencing suffering of some kind whether it be frustration, grief or despair.

A study published in Psychological Science in 2013 showed that meditation increased compassionate responses to suffering.  The group of people who had meditated were more likely to assist someone than the non-meditators.  Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program, agrees that mindfulness and compassion are inextricably linked.  He says what mindfulness and meditation are really about it presence of heart.

I’ve definitely noticed that in my interactions with people I am now more present and making an effort to listen more carefully and respond with empathy and understanding rather than giving advice or trying to figure out what to say next.  I can sometimes pause and breathe before reacting in an unskillful way.   In general, I have a greater sense of connection with others.

Marsha Lucas, author of “Rewire Your Brain for Love”, concurs that a meditating mind creates better relationships:  She lists seven skills that we gain from meditation that are powerful in creating and sustaining healthy, happy relationships:  1. Management of body’s reactions  2. Regulation of response to fear  3. Emotional resilience  4.  Response flexibility  5.  Insight or Self-awareness  6.  Empathy and attunement to others  7. Perspective shift from “me” to “we”.  These characteristics which are seen in people practicing mindfulness are the same as for people with healthy attuned childhood relationships.

So beyond helping us to relax and feel better, meditation is an invaluable tool that can lead us to a new way of living–a new way of relating to our own inner world of thoughts and emotions and a new way of  relating to the people in our outer world.  It’s clear that meditation has both intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits.  But you don’t have to take my word for it…try it for yourself and see!!!

POWER IN THE PRESENT

depositphotos_redpurpleflowerSome days are so bright–filled with beautiful moments, touching words, joy, fun, ease, miracles and magic.  Other days seem dim–filled with the mind’s suffering, complaining, aversion, resistance, self-pity, wanting and fearing.

Just yesterday I was dressed up as a pirate with Harrison to celebrate our birthdays.– With bandanas on our heads and moustaches and beards painted on, we played and danced and walked saying “Rrrrr…” to people on the street.  Smiling, laughing, engaged in the moment.  Feeling strong, feeling happy, feeling good.   I read this story to him,  “Bunjitsu Bunny”.  We read the Chapter called, “Oh, thank you!”  There’s Jack Rabbit who wants to fight the bunny but the bunny is not interested.  So Jack Rabbit tries to provoke him.  “Your ears are too long!” he says.  Bunjisu Bunny says–Oh, thank you! and walks away.  Jack Rabbit in frustration says, “I wasn’t being nice!”  Jack Rabbit tries again and again to get a rise out of the bunny–“Your feet are too big!”  Bunjitsu Bunny says–Oh, thank you!  and walks away.  Jack Rabbit exclaims, “I wasn’t being nice!”  Finally Jack Rabbit finds he can only say nice things to Bunjitsu and they become friends.  I laughed at this story until tears came to my eyes.  What an amazing lesson in such a simple tale.  A lesson that I have been learning over and over for the last couple of years.  How to not take things personally.  How to be humble.  How to detach.

Today, there was just a stream of mind chatter and I felt unconnected to the reality that was right in front of me.  I notice the suffering.  It goes on.  It stops for a while.  Then comes back.  I cook.  I say positive affirmations.  I feel like giving up.  Why am I allowing this to go on and on!?  The same negativity that I’ve heard a thousand times!  I feel like a failure.  And then I feel guilty and depressed for letting this suffering take over me for a good part of a day.  A precious day.  A day that is unrepeatable.  I could have used this day to do so much more!  I could have enjoyed myself, learned, laughed, loved, surrendered.  Not sure if I want to scream or cry but tears don’t seem to come.  I give myself some compassion and acceptance.  I say, “I love you, I trust you” to myself in the mirror.  I breathe.  I tell myself that I am exactly where I need to be, that these lessons will help me in the next chapter of my life.  I start feeling like I am almost back in the present.  I am determined to keep going no matter what!  I sense some patience.  And now I write.  How to get out of this loop.  How to make tomorrow different.  Better.  How to take my power back and start doing things that fill me up.  How to begin a new;  have a fresh perspective on things.  How to cultivate more joy, more love, more peace.

I read that transitions are a time of unrest, discomfort and questioning.  That sums up what I am experiencing pretty well.   There’s a restless feeling, like I need to be doing something else but not sure exactly how I can get there from where I am now.  Discomfort at the unknowing, the uncertainty, the fear of failure.  Questioning what my purpose is, how I can serve this world, using my natural gifts and talents.

I suppose I haven’t been writing posts because I would have to admit to this pain.  But perhaps just admitting it has power, has healing.  I am in transition.  Well, yes we are always in transition, that’s true.  I do believe, though, that we all have periods in our lives when things feel less settled than at other times.  How to surrender to this process.  How to trust that I’ll be able to find my way again.  How to believe that everything is really going to be okay.

Embracing Each Moment.  That was the title of the book I won as a door prize at my sangha’s gathering.  Stop trying to steer and control, Donna.  Let go.  Embrace the Moment.  That’s all you have anyway.  Open your heart.  Let go some more.  Be grateful.  Trust.

I am reminded of Karen’s talk on the FLOOD OF BECOMING.  It is the suffering that arises out of the illusions of time and identity.  I was someone in the past.  I am someone now and I will become someone in the future.  The truth is that it’s all happening NOW.  Nothing ever happens in the past or future.  And as for an identity in the present, well that falls away too when we realize that everything is constantly changing.  That whatever mind state I am in now will pass.  The flood of becoming comes with wanting and fearing.  I want to become someone, gain a certain status, feel fulfilled, earn more money, be more independent.  It’s a craving like any other.  A desire to be more than I am right now.  The belief that who I am right now is not enough.  That I am some how lacking, insufficient, inadequate.  And there’s the fearing.  I fear that I won’t develop into the person I want to be.  I fear feeling stuck, not making progress, not living up to my potential.  But potential only exists in the future.  Instead of trying to “become” someone who is more empowered, connected, loving, compassionate and authentic, I can choose how I want to be today.  I can choose words and actions today that are honest, kind and wise.  I can choose to have patience and resolve.  I can choose to use my energy to move me closer to my goals (without attaching to the outcome).

This is what I need to keep reminding myself.  My POWER is in the PRESENT!  As much as my ego would like me to believe that if I just complain and analyze enough in my head that I will escape the suffering, really the only thing I can do is BE WITH whatever I am experiencing instead of trying to push it away with a flood of thinking.   To sit with wanting and fear is not easy.  That is why I tend to flee to the false refuge of feeling sorry for myself or trying to figure things out.   I know that the only real way out of suffering is to feel the deeper pain.  The pain of feeling powerless.  The pain confusion.

I also know that the more I can connect to what I am really feeling, the more I can experience JOY.  I’ve especially been aware of these moments of miracles and magic lately.  In fact, I’ve been keeping a “Journal of Joy”.  I make notes on the times in my day that seemed to be particularly bright.  I’ve been noticing that most of these moments involve a combination of  beauty, wonder, connection, love, compassion, encouragement and just the mystery of being human on this amazing planet we call earth.   Laughter, shared tears, nature, an insight, an expression of love or care, synchronicity, total engagement, perfect timing, pleasant surprises, an honest conversation, a positive vibe, a moment of peace and quiet, a warm hug, a friendly smile, inspiration, spreading joy.

I realize that none of these moments of joy has anything to do with my ego desires of control, power over, success, status, money, material things.  The trance of becoming is seductive, especially in our culture where we are taught to always be getting better and producing more.  Our identities are tied to how much we have, how much we earn and how successful we appear, how skilled we are at something or how good we look.  It’s no wonder I have been caught up in reacting to what I perceive to be criticism.  I can feel my ego piping up with–  Why couldn’t you be more encouraging?!  Don’t tell me how to do it!  I can do it myself!  Let me do it my way!–rather than simply saying, “Oh, thank you!”  like Bunjitsu Bunny.   I always have the power to take what I want and leave the rest.

Well, it’s been a long post and I feel I have clarified some things for myself.  Maybe if you are reading this, something will ring true for you.  Remember you, too, can take what you want and leave the rest!   The buddha said this as well.   Our power is in the present for it is in the present that we can make wise choices.   It is in the present that we can see beyond the walls that our ego has built up.  This is the practice–to open up to whatever is here, be it pleasant or unpleasant.  Open up and be FREE!!!

The Masks We Wear

I’ve been experiencing anxiety for the last couple of weeks.  It feels like an unwanted guest in my body, making my heart pound with anticipation, my mind spin with worry, my neck ache with panic.  As I sat having my mid-morning green smoothie and eggs, my mind went something like this–Ok, Donna, just focus on eating the eggs.  Come into the present. Breathe.  All is well.  I am resilient and strong, peaceful and calm.  This is absurd.  I’m sitting in my warm, cozy apartment, listening to some house music and my mind is all over the place!  It’s creating things that aren’t even true!  Why am I feeling so anxious?  What’s going on beneath it?  I know trying to talk myself out my feelings doesn’t work.

Then I think–What am I going to do today?  What might help me calm down?  Maybe I’ll think of something I can speak about at the next Toastmasters meeting.  It will be Halloween.  Do I want to talk about anxiety?  Hmmm…masks…I could make a speech about the masks we wear, the mask I wear.  Yeah, that could be interesting.  Maybe I could even make it funny. Ah, yes…I am the spiritual, artistic type and so what do I do with a situation like facing anxiety?  I find the opportunity in it!  I create art with it!– I put on a Chipmunk outfit!

So, I grab my pen and journal and start writing what I’m thinking.  This sometimes crazy mind that just keeps chattering on, non-stop.  I notice as I start to write, my nerves calm down a bit.  The words feel a lot less threatening on the page than swirling around in my head.  What’s really worrying me right now?  What am I afraid of?  In the midst of this mid-life transformation I seem to feel both afraid of changing and afraid of not changing.  What if make some changes but I can’t handle it all?  Or worse, what if I end up confined to my box of self-limiting beliefs?

As I stretch myself out of my comfort zone more and more, the pendulum swings from excitement to terror.  Maybe I’m moving too fast or maybe too slow.  Do I need more action or more patience?  Should I be doing more or sitting more in stillness and quiet?  What is it am I learning through all of this?  Compassion, humility, trust.

I long to live a life that is completely true to who I am.  I long to help and heal, to write and create, to share and connect.  I long for a life of passion and purpose.  I long to be open-hearted, holding nothing back.  I long to speak freely and honestly.  I long to drop the mask I’m wearing and simply be completely myself with people, vulnerable and naked, with nothing to prove and nothing to hide.

The costume I wear tonight is not unlike the persona I put on every day.  The persona of Happy, Nice, Calm Woman Totally in Control.  But it’s just so tiring trying to keep the mask on all of the time.  There’s so much energy going into an image that isn’t even real.  This chipmunk costume is like the protection my ego builds around me.  The ego tricks me into believing I need this coating–indeed a furry one–in order to survive the arrows I perceive to be hurled at my heart.  But really it’s a veil that blocks me from directly experiencing the world around me.

Do we want to live our lives behind a veil, a mask, only to wake up to the reality that fear has been keeping us feeling small and separate?  As long as we are busy trying to create and maintain our image by getting stuff, getting ahead, achieving and succeeding, we are robbed of experiencing the present and deeply connecting to what is.  I know for me, when I am seeing through the eyes of love rather than the eyes of fear, I have a much better understanding of what’s really going on.  When I see through eyes of love, I feel compassion for my fellow human beings, knowing they are just like me.

I dream of a world where we can slow down, pause more, truly SEE each other and freely express our joy as well as our suffering.  Imagine the energy we all would have if we could end the pretending and defending…if we could remove these masks we wear!  If we could simply be human.  If we could simply BE.  I dream of a world where we can all be in touch with our own mental suffering and through that deep connection with ourselves, we can profoundly connect to the suffering in others.  I believe if we can connect in this way, we would realize the truth, that there is no separation between us.  That behind our masks, we are all made of the same stuff.

 

 

 

 

The Way of the Bodhisattva

The deeper I go, the scarier, and more exhilarating, it gets!  When I pay more attention to my outer world, I realize there are also ways in which I am possibly causing harm to myself or to others.  And when I turn inward and listen to myself, to my inner truth, it becomes impossible not to make changes.  This, I believe, is the way of the bodhisattva.  It is a path of deep investigation, deep questioning and an endless determination to develop a compassionate, loving and open heart in order to to be of service to the world, to help eliminate suffering and encourage the awakening of  all beings.  There is a constant feedback loop between the inner and outer world, giving guidance toward a life that is moral, truthful, joyous, generous, kind and wise.

Outer things are a little easier to handle.  In the last few years, I have really become conscious of what I am eating.  First and foremost, I ask myself, will this food nourish my body with the nutrients it needs?  Now I find myself leaning more and more towards organic foods.  How can I not when I am completely aware of the pesticides that are used on conventionally grown fruits, vegetables and grains?  Also, I have no desire to drink alcohol anymore because I know that not only is it harmful to my body but it clouds the brain therefore making it more likely to do something or say something that is unwise.  Nor do I want to have anything to do with the sale of alcohol or other potentially harmful products.

What about the products I am using on my body–soaps, shampoos, lotions, toothpaste, mouthwash?  A while ago I switch to soaps and lotions with more natural ingredients.  Now I am changing to toothpaste and mouthwash that are made without fluoride.  It’s pretty crazy that our world is filled with toxic products that are sold on supermarket shelves.  Not to mention fast food chains.  Even the clothes we wear can be produced with dangerous chemicals.

How about the toxic information we are fed on a daily basis, on TV, in the news, in magazines?  I was watching an action movie last night and I literally just fast-fowarded to the end because there was just a bunch of violence, swearing and stupid jokes.  (With even more awareness, I would have shut if off after the first 10 minutes!) . How did I even watch crap like that before?   And what about the clutter and clothes I hang on to when there are people in need everywhere!  Why do I buy more stuff when I could be using that money in more useful ways?

Yup, waking up requires making changes.  Some of them easy, others not so easy.  I have noticed how much I judge others, how often my prideful ego tries to prove itself right or smart or better than someone else.  These are engrained patterns that require diligent attention so that they can loosen their tight grip.  How many times have I let fear get in the way of a deeper connection with someone?  How many times have I listened half-heartedly, in defence mode or while formulating my next response.?  This is not to get down on myself.  We all do these things.  By recognizing my imperfections, I am actually getting MORE compassionate towards others and myself.

Deeper yet, what do I do with the calls from my innermost being?  To write, to speak, to share my wisdom, to heal.  I sense that shifts are happening almost daily.  I have so many questions:  Who am I?  What do I really want?  How can best serve the world?  What kind of work will best serve me?  What relationships are healthy for me?  How can I deepen my relationships?  How can I be comfortable with more intimacy?  How can I be more honest with people?  How can express myself better?  How do I live my life in balance?  What is my heart calling me to do next?  Will I be able to handle all the changes?!

We all have these calls and if we are open to receive them, we will be able to hear them.  There are messages which give us a nudge to take some small step and there are the messages that may require us to make huge changes in our lives:  to leave a job that is no longer satisfying, to move from the big city to the country to live a quieter life, to start a new hobby like singing or painting, to be more vulnerable with a loved one.  These kinds of changes require that we take a risk, a leap of faith.  We sense there will be loss.  But we forget that there will be gains–more fulfilling work,  a more peaceful mind, a life of more creativity and passion, more authentic relationships.

Where in our lives might we be trading passion for security, spontaneity for conformity?  We want to be safe.  We want to belong.  But we cannot find security in money or a house or a high-paying job and we can’t find belonging by trying to fit in and going along with what the crowd is doing.  It’s really connecting to our wild, spirited, open and uninhibited nature that will bring us the sense of safety and belonging we are looking for.  It’s by discovering who we truly are that we come home.

In order to serve the world in the best way we can, we first need to be true to ourselves.  If we are playing small, pretending to be someone we are not or afraid to take some risks, then we are not serving ourselves or anyone else.  Do not underestimate the power you have to make a difference!  We can all help each other out:  a friendly smile, a ride home, a listening ear, a kind voice, a shoulder to cry on, a powerful message, a gentle nudge, a heartfelt song, a speech of inspiration.  We can all listen to our inner guidance.  We can all wake up a little more.  We can all open our hearts.  It begins with you!

Do I sometimes doubt this path?  Do I sometimes wonder if I am not thinking too much, asking too many questions?   Do I sometimes wish I had chosen an easier path?  Yes, I do.  But I know that there is no going back, only forward.  I am on the road to awakening, to seeing the truth, to opening my heart and loving without holding back.  This is a journey and there is no way of knowing where it will lead me.  I can only be awake in this moment, be as true to myself as I can today, be as compassionate, kind and loving as possible in the present.  This is what I truly care about.  This is what matters to me–awareness, truth, love.

Sometimes the fear is winning out over the exhilaration.  But just now as I write this, I feel excited, I feel my inner passion for expressing what is most important to me, I feel my spontaneity as words appear on this page, somehow falling out of the mix of thoughts and ideas in my head.  If I can keep remembering to choose love over fear, passion over security, spontaneity over conformity, I believe I can create a life in where I am living true to myself: loving, elated and fully alive;  a life where I have become a vessel, an instrument for awakening all beings;  a life with a compassionate, open and fearless heart.

Green Light

Well, I asked for a dream and I got one.  I was teaching a large group of children.  I asked a girl to define the word “ascertain” (verb) and she answered but it was loud and chaotic and so no one heard.  Then we were walking outside and I was still trying to go on with this lesson.  Cars were going by and it was hard to hear.  We got lined up at the corner and I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to cross the busy street but then another group of people started crossing and we saw the light was green and we could cross, too.

In my dream, I was wanting certainty.  I was trying to control the situation and frustrated that things were not going as I wanted.  I felt that I wasn’t being heard.  I felt unsure of myself.  I had to wait for the green light.  This is all sounding very familiar!!  Yes, the same themes keep coming up but that is how healing works.  It’s like digging a giant circle in the earth, going around and around and each time getting a little deeper, a little closer to the core.

Uncertainty–it’s what we all have to deal with in this ever-changing world.  I realized that I have been trying to figure things out.  I want answers and I want them now!  The thought in my head are going back and forth like a pendulum.  It’s like I want to make some decisions so I can move forward but then feeling that I don’t really know what choice I want to make yet.  Or maybe I’m just not ready yet.  The real answer right now is “I don’t know.”  It’s uncertain.

Of course, I can never be 100% certain of anything anyway.  I can weigh the pros and cons, analyze and try to predict the consequences but thinking has never really helped me to decide.  What I heard from a speaker Monday night was–If it comes from the heart, you can’t go wrong.  Tied up in my fear of uncertainty is the fear of failure–What if I make the wrong choice?  What if I make a mistake?  What if I do something I end up regretting?  In the end, I go with my heart, my intuition.  I have always trusted this.  It’s always right.

I watched a Tara Brach talk last night on fear.  (I was actually afraid to watch the talk on fear!)  She talked about how the Buddha had met his fear by saying, “I see you, Mara.  Come.  Let’s have tea.”  I really got it.  I really got how I had been caught up in fear disguised as my analyzing, judging and planning.  And so, for a short time, I allowed it to be.  I just sat with it.  Some of the pain and tightness released and a space opened up.  Next, I imagined myself being held and surrounded by loving presence and the fear melted even more.

What stuck with me was this–Fear is separation.  Love is connection.  When I get caught up in the fear of uncertainty, I enter a state of flight/fight/freeze.  I get scared and I become a small and separate self.  I sometimes feel a sense of urgency to create some kind of certainty.  I think I need to fix things and figure out answers so I can go back to the feeling that life is more stable and secure, with nothing left up in the air;  as if everything could be strapped down and secured so it wouldn’t shift or change.

As I look back over the last 5 years of my life, I realize how much of my false sense of certainty has been shaken up–quite literally by the earthquake I experienced in Japan in 2011.  I thought solid ground under my feet and the sun above me were at least two things I could count on but even the ground I walk on can shift and move.  That earthquake was a huge reminder of the uncertainty that is always lurking beneath me.

The second thing, was my health challenge.  I didn’t know how my body would feel from one day to the next.  This sent me desperately trying to reach for something stable, like a drowning swimmer grabbing onto a life ring.  The third event was moving back to Canada–starting over again in a new country, trying to build a company all the while navigating my mid-life transformation and changing relationship dynamics.  It is all pretty scary stuff!

The truth is that certainty is an illusion.  There may be times in our lives when things seem certain and secure.  Perhaps we have a stable job, daily routines, money in the bank, regular activities with friends and life seems pretty tied down, like a boat anchored to the ocean floor.  We can kind of blanket ourselves in the illusion that things aren’t changing. But we still don’t truly know what is going to happen next.  Attempting to manage and control only provides a veil from the discomfort.  Burying ourselves in distractions only gives us temporary relief from the anxiety.

I can see that the cars in my dream represent the endless stream of thoughts in my head.    How can I possibly hear myself above all the cars!  I believe the dream is telling me to stop trying to control everything, to get quiet so I can receive guidance.  And perhaps it is also telling me to be patient–to wait for the green light.  The green light that tells me–Now is the time;  it is safe to cross.

The fear will come up again and again but instead of covering it up with the analyzing, planning and judging, maybe I can surrender a little.  Instead of pushing the fear away, maybe I can say, “Hello fear, I see you” and allow it to be for a bit.  Perhaps I can even transform that fear into excitement!!

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”– Franklin Roosevelt.

 

 

THIS MOMENT IS PERFECT

I had a realization at my meditation yesterday which was how much I have been attached to the idea of “becoming”– becoming a perfect self in a perfect world where everything is just the way I want it.  Yeah, things are great now but it would be a little better if… Isn’t this the cause of all suffering?  We are never quite happy, never quite satisfied with the way thing are.  We want a little more of this and a little less of that.  It’s this constant striving to add on better attributes to ourselves or to our lives and to subtract everything we don’t like.

I realized how often I make something an improvement project–myself, my health, my relationship, my work.  I’m never enough, healthy enough;  my partner isn’t enough and the work I’m doing and what I am contributing to the world is not enough.  So I imagine some time in the future when this “ideal self” exists.  A self that is more loving and kind, assertive and powerful.  A self that is less fearful and reactive, less passive and inhibited.  Of course, I can never reach these ideals that I have set up in my mind.  It becomes an endless chase like when teasing a cat with a feather attached to a string.

Our society is based on this idea of striving.  We are running around, tired and afraid, trying to get a higher income, nicer furniture, thinner thighs, a more prestigious job.  Work is especially an area where we can end up lost in this striving.  Our identities are so wrapped up in what we “do”.  I read in the book, Callings by Gregg Levoy a clever answer to the question–What do you do?  The answer was “When?”

Our “being” has become something totally separate from our “doing”.  We race around and then at the end of our day we “relax” by drinking beer or watching TV.  What if, instead, we could slow down and bring attention to ALL of our moments?  What if we could be FULLY engaged in whatever we were doing?

I just thought of the phrase “to get ahead” which means to be successful in our work.  But if you think of it literally, it means leaning into the future.  And what about the common phrase, “to be on top of things” which means to be in control of the situation?  Our language is littered with words and phrases that lead us to believe that if we can just get in control and get on to the next “better” thing, then all will be okay.  It’s no wonder anxiety is such a common problem.

But–you say–how would we get anywhere if we weren’t striving?  How would we reach our goals and make our dreams come true?  How could we accomplish anything?  Well, let’s take a look at what “strive” means.  By definition,  to strive means “to make great efforts to achieve or attain something.   I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with making an effort towards a goal.  The problem lies in our attachment to these things, the belief that by getting these external things, we will be finally be content.  Think about it, has reaching a goal or getting something you wanted ever given you lasting happiness?  Momentarily maybe, but then we are just on to the next desire or dream.

When we strive with the underlying belief that something is wrong or missing in our lives NOW, we will suffer.  What if we could examine this belief and start opening up to the possibility that everything is really ok just as it is now, that WE are really ok just as we are right now.  Tara Brach had a lovely little metta prayer for ourselves–MAY I ALLOW MYSELF TO BE IMPERFECT.  And I could add to that–MAY I ALLOW MY LIFE TO BE IMPERFECT.  MAY I ALLOW THE PEOPLE IN MY LIFE TO BE IMPERFECT.

Perfectionism is something I have dealt with over and over in my life.  When I get lost in trying to make my speech perfect or trying to respond perfectly to someone or trying to write this post perfectly, or even trying to meditate perfectly, I contract and I lose contact with the moment, my heart becomes guarded and I judge others. But if I can forgive, and ACCEPT, my own imperfections then a softening happens.  If I can accept my life as it is right NOW, then, fear dissipates.  If I can let go of the way I want things to be, then I can simply enjoy wherever life takes me.  If I can stop trying to be better, then I can actually BE.

I prefer the term UNFOLDING to striving.  In unfolding, we can still have desires, dreams and goals but we surrender the outcome.  In unfolding, we are not trying to “become” but rather we can focus on BEING.  I can BE loving and present, powerful, assertive right NOW.  And in the next moment, I can choose again the person I want to be.  Here there is an expansiveness and spaciousness in which we are free to respond creatively and wisely in the best way we can.

There is no failure here because there is nothing we are striving to “get”.  And we accept, that just as in nature, things are always changing.  Loss is inevitable.  When we simply allow things to unfold, each moment can become rich with meaningfulness.  Each second is precious.  Instead of leaning forward in the attempt to control and perfect, we can sit back into this precious second and find the joy and peace that are there.  Indeed, this moment is perfect.