Hope & Faith

I closed my eyes one day and asked for this question to be answered:

What is the one thing people need to be able to feel joy?

As spiritual teachers, we’re always talking about the importance of things like gratitude, forgiveness and especially, presence. But, without taking anything as a given, I wanted to know, what is the one thing that trumps all others? I received the answer very clearly in three different forms that day.

The answer was Hope.

The first message of hope came in the form of this story, as told by the mystic, Sri Ramakrishna:

Once there was a man about to cross the sea. A monk who watched him as he prepared to begin his journey, wrote the name of God on a leaf, which he then crumpled up and pinned to the man’s robe. Upon doing this, the monk said to him, “Don’t be afraid and make sure to have faith.” Then he added, Make sure your faith is wavering, as the moment you lose faith, you will sink.” The man then began to walk across the water quite easily. But suddenly he was overcome with an urge to see what the monk had tied to his robe, and so he reached for it, opened it and found only a leaf that had the name of God written on it. He thought to himself, “Is this it? Just the name of God?” And just then, as doubt began to creep into his soul, he sank.

Hope has been called, in the Christian tradition, Active Faith. It is similar in meaning, to the Zen instruction to Act As If. What it means is that we not only have complete trust in the divine to carry us, but that we are co-creators of our reality. It is not enough to sit and wait, but to act under the belief that what is to be, already is.

Like the mantra: Humee Hum Brahm Hum (What is to be, already is)

This teaching is exemplified in Jesus’ command that we not look up to the sky and pray for the seeded field to yield harvest after three months’ time, but rather, to look out to the empty field and see in those seedlings, a rich, full harvest, already ripened and mature.

Hope, so understood, is faith in a forward-looking perspective. And in this way, it requires that we know, so deeply in our bones and in our soul, that what is to be, already is, that we act as if. Thus, it is a demonstration of our complete trust in the fact that God (or “the universe”) is working on behalf of our well-being.

Hope is not wishful thinking

To be clear, hope in the spiritual sense, is not the same as wishful thinking. For example, we say things like, I hope I get the job, or, I hope it doesn’t rain during our road trip, both of which express this sense of wishing that circumstances may go the way we want them to go.

It is, rather, a deep and unwavering sense of knowing.

Knowing what? Knowing that all things are possible…that the universe is working on our behalf…that grace abounds…that with this inner confidence, we actually help to create the circumstances we require to fulfill our destiny…that we are carried and supported by the divine (in whatever form of the divine is meaningful to us). And this is actually the opposite of wishful thing. With true hope, there is no room for uncertainty. In the examples of wishful thinking above (I hope I get the job), we are saying that although we want something to happen, we are uncertain of it being realized. Hope means total and complete certainty.

Why is hope so important to the experience of joy?

Without hope, we tend to feel anxious about how things will go and we easily become preoccupied with doing and controlling. To put it in Zen terms, the ego creeps in and takes over and the ego is a horrible tyrant, since, like all tyrants, it operates from fear and insecurity. When we are consumed by insecurity and doubt, not only do we become exhausted from trying to do the work of the universe and make it conform to our timeline, but we become closed in and unable to be present for others—how could we be present, when our mind is spinning in worries, doubts and undo concern for our well-being? (Because we don’t believe in our heart, that we are already taken care of.)

Hope is like a wellspring of inner strength.

We’ve all heard inspirational stories about those who have healed their lives and overcome trauma by learning to let go and let God. But fear of letting go keeps us from experiencing the same kind of inner healing. Letting go is also known as surrender, which is, essentially…releasing our need to micro-manage the universe’s work.

Again, dipping into Zen waters, it reminds me of a Koan that asks, How do you step from the top of a hundred-foot pole? You just do it! Or, better yet, we already have!

But we are carried and supported in our journeys. Knowing that is what enables us to release the doubts and fears that keep us stuck in the vexing waters of anxiety.

But because the universal will doesn’t always operate on our calendars, we continually practice faith and surrender in the daily unfolding of life’s events. This means that the business of dropping doubts is a constant practice. And things that need practice aren’t usually easy. After all, doubting is really just a judgment that God is wrong! Surrendering, thus, requires not only a surrender of spirit to a greater will, but a surrender of the obsessive need to know why things happen as they do.

Surrender is not the same as giving up!

To practice surrender in our commitment to awaken to a life of hope and joy, we are saying Yes to every moment, as it unfolds. In this way, we can glide playfully as we soar from the top of that 10-foot pole, rather than fighting against life’s currents. And, surrender is not the same as giving up. Giving up is of the ego. Surrender is of the spirit. Giving up says, “OK, I’ll go along with this nonsense for now, but you better make it worthwhile.” Surrender says, “I accept what you have placed on my path, since in your divine grace, you see what I can’t yet see.”

Hope is not a prediction of the future; it’s a declaration of what’s possible. ~Yogi Bhajan

 

Wu Wei

6a00d83451b31c69e20177436b61ae970d-piThe Taoist term, Wu Wei, is translated literally as non-action. But I prefer Huston Smith’s creative quietude, as it more accurately conveys the sense of this pivotal teaching. At the heart of Taoism is the lesson to flow with the way of nature and its cycles, rather than fight against the inevitable movement of life. That’s what the Tao means…The Way. In this sense, it wouldn’t be incorrect to summarize Taoist teachings as…

The Wisdom of Non-Resistance.

Wu Wei is non-resistance in action, or, non-resistance in the context of practical, day to day life. The reason I prefer the respected scholar, Huston Smith’s creative quietude to non-action, is because putting wu wei in action might actually mean doing nothing, but more often, it means choosing the course of action that is the least aggressive and forceful.

A fun and relate-able example is found in the act of floating. I remember when I was a child and first learning to swim, I was impressed when I saw someone float in water…”how can he do that,” I wondered. In my effort to replicate this phenomenal feat, the more I splashed around, the faster I sunk. We’ve all learned the same principal with regard to quicksand; the more you struggle, the quicker you sink.

Lao Tzu, presumed founder of Taoism, understood that life is a lot like quicksand. The more we’re able to relax with the current and the ups and downs of the external conditions we find ourselves in, the more tranquility we will feel, in our internal world.

There’s great wisdom found in a person who can curb the ego’s natural tendency to control and conquer. And even the need to know, for sometimes, weird things happen and we don’t know why—this hidden aspect of life is implied in those little dots in the Yin-Yang (Tai Chi-Tu) symbol. Lao Tzu would ask, “who can truly trust in the mysterious flow of life?” Yes, sometimes a correction may be needed when the winds take a sudden turn for the worst, but like the wise sailor who knows better than to confront them head on, he/she wisely uses their fury to his/her advantage, positioning the sails accordingly, with hardly more than a turn of the crank. The panic, the hassle and even the need to know why this is happening are all extra and unnecessary. But more, it is a waste of precious time and energy.

And this is the heart of it…energy, or as the Chinese say, chi. The sailor used the energy of the gale, rather than go against it. In this way, he/she doesn’t deplete his/her own reserves in maneuvering through the storm.

It’s always about preserving and even cultivating chi.

A psychological example might be found in “reverse psychology.” I used to use this common technique with my son, when he was a little boy: “OK, if you insist, go ahead and keep throwing your food on the ground…I’ll have to return your new toy though, since new toys are for good boys.” The same idea is at work when we confront angry people with kindness (as long as it is genuine).

Wu Wei may also be thought of as the gentle way.

It has infiltrated the way Chinese medicine works, with its principle of gently restoring harmony through the restitution of energy flow, as seen in acupuncture. The needles, properly placed, nudge the flow of chi into balance, without the violent effects of harsh chemical drugs, whose side-effects are often worse than the original condition.

But it is perhaps most easily recognized in the martial arts. Here is my student’s description of wu wei at work, in his Kung Fu practice:

We seldom strike first. In that sense, non-action is the first step. We let the aggressor come to us. In our counter attack, instead of using brute force, we move in a way that redirects the energy of the opponent’s attack. Wu Wei is implemented in that we don’t rely on our strength alone, against a possibly larger and more imposing opponent, but rather, on patience, and by navigating through their own energy until the time is right to deliver a blow. We’re moving with the opponent rather than resisting him.

Finally, wu wei implies an understanding, not only of the flux and corresponding challenges of life, but of the relativity of reality. Again, pointing to the Yin-Yang symbol, knowing that we can’t know the light without knowing the dark. We can’t have spring without fall, right without wrong, comfort without discomfort…and if everyone was rich, no one would be rich. Not only can we not know one without the other, but one is inherent within the other. Thus, the Taoist holds back on his judgments about whether circumstances are “good” or “bad.” Often when things seem to go the wrong way, we later find that it was a blessing in disguise. For example, you got off on the wrong exit, but later learned that you bypassed a horrible pileup and catastrophe on the freeway.

The light and the dark arise together. Note the significance of this: Unlike the assumption of western philosophy, which states that one ultimate first-thing causes the next thing, and so on, the Yin and the Yang arise together. And there are no absolutes—there’s a little bit of one in the other, just as there’s a black dot in the white part. There’s a little bit of everything in all of us. So, in all humility, we can be wary of our own tendency to judge, as we probably just haven’t discovered all the hidden qualities yet. And there is no war between the supposed opposites, as they depend on each other for their very existence—just as there is no war against the cycles and challenges of life. Wu Wei is the art of effortless effort in our graceful negotiation of those challenges.

Wu Wei is to allow the movement of life.

 

 

To Accept “what is” or Pursue your Passion?

The next Episode on my radio show, The Tao of Happiness, will feature this topic: “Passion.” Listen live next Sunday, 12/13/15, on KBEACH Radio! (www.kbeach.org)

Leaves of Wisdom Falling

follow your passionIs the highest attainment in life realized when we’re able to accept where we are, without striving? Or, are we supposed to chase our dreams and pursue our passions? In my book, Buddha in the Classroom, I speak of the importance of acceptance, as an expression of our capacity to liberate ourselves from the endless chain of yearnings that characterize existence and from the resistance and corresponding angst that comes up when those yearnings aren’t fulfilled .

A snippet of that part of my book —

(Excerpt from Chapter 19—Passion; Accept, Adapt, and Abandon Hope)

The real problem with our fixation on passion is the near certainty that even a blazing fire will dim with time.

Then what?

Even when passion is pursued and found, the affair won’t last forever. Passion changes. We change. A dancer friend recently shared with me the common experience among the cast members of…

View original post 1,688 more words

The Importance of Self Love

I have added just a bit, here and there, and because this is the current topic of my radio show at K-Beach, I wanted to push this article to the top again. ~DDQ

Leaves of Wisdom Falling

self-love-KundaliniI decided to repost this short article about Self-Love. I added the third notation, as well as the meditation, that follows. It is a meditation that I just did recently, at a training retreat. I loved doing it—I hope you try it and that you love it, too! The way I see it, the words are for our understanding (for our head) and the meditation is for our realization of Self-Love (for our heart).

For the Head…
We are so often told, in spiritual teachings, as well as in self-help manuals, that in order to love others, we have to love ourselves first.

Is this true?

It is!

Why?

Firstly, because if we are angry and hateful on the inside, we have only those emotions to project. Your body and mind respond to those feelings, consciously and unconsciously, and this negative reverb squeezes the joy out of life. What…

View original post 354 more words

To Accept Ourselves or Transform?

accept or transform

When you make some special effort to achieve something, some excessive quality, some extra element is involved in it. ~Shunryo Suzuki

You know you’re surrendered to God when you rely on God to work things out instead of trying to manipulate others, force your agenda, and control the situation. You let go and let God work. You don’t have to always be in charge. Instead of trying harder, you trust more. ~Rick Warren

The quotes above emphasize the importance of letting go of the illusion of control. It’s a teaching that comes forth in all traditions, no matter how we couch it, from the Christian maxim to Let Go, Let God, to the Zen maxims that tell us to  flow with whatever happens.

But, if we truly practice acceptance, won’t we become complacent, without really bothering to make improvements. And isn’t that what life is for…to improve?

Yes, we’re here to evolve, but it will never work when our eye is fixed on a certain outcome. The reason why is because a specific outcome is just a fantasy, concocted by our imaginations. And ironically, although it is created by our imaginations, which take us into the realm of the limitless, a specific outcome  can be very limiting, since (1) we hardly ever get to choose the exact outcome (2) there are conceivably better outcomes than the one we imagined and (3) it is by definition conceptualized and takes us out of the present moment.

So then, how do we approach the task of healthy evolution? What is the right approach, especially when there is something seriously wrong that needs to be changed, for example, addictions, or some other self-defeating, self-degrading habit?

A conscious strategy would be to set an intention to incorporate a healthy, self-promoting habit into your daily life. In Yoga, we call it a sadhana, a daily spiritual discipline and commitment to meet ourselves, as we are, and where we are, everyday. A daily practice that brings us in touch with the present moment and what it feels like to breathe and move into our bodies, enables a connection to be made—a connection to inner stillness. It also renders conscious, what was previously unconscious.

This active process of shining the light of awareness onto what was heretofore hidden, keeps us in touch with an abiding source of strength and empowerment that can only be found within. It also keeps us in touch with the unchanging essence of who we are—because those habits that we’d like to change are not who we are. These are practices from meditation or Tai Chi, to simply walking in nature.

The irony is that, when we meet ourselves with honesty, as we are, we release the chains that have kept us from who we are to be.

When we cultivate a daily practice, and infuse it with our heartfelt intention, rather than fixate on a specific goal, we discover a much more effective and elegant strategy. When we try to change habits with iron will, by focusing only on the end result, we tend to hit a wall, since willpower can only go so far. But the rub is that our uncompromising focus on the result engenders nothing but frustration and anxiety. This is the reason dieters quickly become fixated, to the point of obsession, on food…the very thing they are trying to find a copacetic relationship with quickly becomes a monster of a problem.

Lessening our grip on the end result, and instead, redirecting our focus to our daily practice quickly becomes a source of upliftment. The intention itself, along with our conscious awareness spent in real-time, keeps us grounded in the present moment, and places us in the driver’s seat—I can only control what I do in this moment. And the result is our empowerment and increasing confidence that is generated from the inside out, rather than feigned as iron will, which leads us right back to discouragement, time and time again.

Transformation starts with wholehearted acceptance of where we are right now.

As it happens, this is a compassionate approach. Each time we sit, we accept who we are in this moment, complete and whole as we are, with all our warts and bruises. Yogic wisdom has long reminded us that transformation is a lifetime process. Several lifetimes, actually! As one of our own famously said, even though you know the staircase is there, you can only take one step at a time.

You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. ~Martin Luther King Jr.

It’s a funny thing, we humans tend to be hard on ourselves, as if it would serve the purpose of knocking us into the right direction. The opposite is true. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali explains that a  harsh and critical approach to transformation is a scarcely camouflaged form of ignorance.

Ignorance, in Vedic teaching (as in Buddhist teachings) is not defined as deficiency of information in the conventional sense, but rather, confusion with regard to who we really are.

In other words, when we find ourselves inflicting criticism and blame on ourselves for not being able to effectively change some behavior—not to mention the guilt we seem to to enjoy sucking on so much, like an after dinner mint—we are confusing our habit with our identity. Seeing clearly means to see the habit for what it is…just a habit.

This is where self-love comes in. Loving where you are closes the gap between here and where we’d like to be. As long as that gap exists, we’re not whole. To heal is to make whole. So, letting go of the space entails letting go of the “goal,” and embracing ourselves as perfect, right here and now.

Although modern approaches to therapy are beginning to see the wisdom of the compassionate approach, the resistance comes from the deeply ingrained belief we have as western people, that we need to “be tough,” in order to properly “kick ourselves into action.”

The reality is that this “tough guy” approach, or self-bullying often backfires into “I already screwed things up, so I might as well go all the way.” And the cycle continues.

But, by bringing ourselves to the cushion everyday, or to the Dojo, or to a healing place in nature, where we can create a sacred, meditative space, we momentarily (and that’s all we ever have, anyway, is a moment) drop our defenses and welcome ourselves in, no matter the discomfort and general unease. And low and behold, the discomfort loses its charge! It was the discomfort and defensiveness that led us into the habits in the first place, and so, they too, start to lose their power over us.

This is the power of simply being, in conscious awareness. We are in constant renewal and change, anyway, whether unconscious or conscious; why not bring consciousness to it?

In conclusion, self love in real time allows our inner trauma to be digested. Remember, the habit is, after all, a symptom, rather than an intrinsic part of who we are. So we’re getting to the cause, by healing on the inside. We’re unlocking it, listening to it, letting it move through us. We’re re-inhabiting this damaged space that we were trying to fill with the wrong things, be it cigarettes , food, shopping or alcohol, etc. We were looking for comfort in all the wrong places!

But, now, we can begin the alchemy of transformation, as we re-connect with our body, mind and spirit, with love…

And the habits change of their own accord.

Tony Robbins Triad – Seen Through the Lens of Yoga

There are three forces in the world that determine what you feel. These forces are called the Triad. Together, these three patterns create any—and every—emotional state. ~Tony Robbins

In his presentations, Tony Robbins often refers to “the triad,” in which he describes the three ways we can create an immediate shift in the way we feel, emotionally. We already use them all the time! At any given moment, these forces are at work, either working for us or against us. The key is to use them consciously, so that they work for us.

The triad includes: Physiology, Focus and Language.

To be very clear about how these forces work; we have a choice at any moment, to feel—or not to feel—depressed, angry or sad, etc. By working with the three elements from the Triad, we can create the desired shift into joy and enthusiasm.

My point in this article is to show that although this triad, as Robbins uses it, is invaluable, it is also the basis of all forms of Yoga. In one Yoga session, no matter what type of Yoga it is, we effect a transformation of some degree, based on the fact that our moods have a physical basis. As I often say to my classes:

Our psychology follows our physiology just as our physiology follows our psychology. ~Dhanpal

Physiology—

In Robbins’ teachings, an example of changing our physiology would be the simple but profound act of changing our posture and body language. Like a circular transmission, when we lift our heart, lengthen our spine, and soften our expression, these changes send a boomerang-like message out to the world and then back again to our own psyches, communicating a message that was very different than the one we had when we were hunched up under our hoodies.

The most immediate way to alter our physiology is by controlling our breath. In Yoga, this practice is called pranayam. One simple change in our breathing pattern may be likened to a “code” that activates a cascade of internal reactions throughout the body. Each of the various ways that we work with our breath, sends a different code to the hypothalamus, which continuing our metaphor, we may think of as the “central processing system.” This in turn, activates the release of a different alchemy of hormones throughout our body, affecting our overall mood.

One breath is like water on a parched landscape — our body becomes alive with awareness. ~Dhanpal

Focus—

BUT, there’s a great magic that happens when we put our breathwork into synchrony with our focused attention.

In Robbins‘ teachings, an example of changing our focus would be to look at what we can do, rather than what we can’t do. Or, by simply changing our perception of a certain event. He gives the example of Bruce Springsteen, who, before a performance, experiences the same sensations as someone who has panic attacks, complete with sweaty palms and racing heart. Only…he doesn’t interpret these things as symptoms of panic! To him, it means…showtime! His interpretation of these symptoms is synonymous with excitement, rather than fear.

In our Yoga practice, the act of focusing is an exact science! Together, our conscious, rhythmic breath patterns, combined with a drishti, opens a gateway to a higher state of calm-alertness.

One of the most common examples of employing a drishti, or focused gaze, in Yoga, is by holding our concentration at the third eye—the spot right between the brows. In Zen meditation (which may be thought of as a form of Raj Yoga), that focus would be at the tip of the nose, or a few feet ahead, with eyes nearly closed. Additionally, visualizations may be used (more common in the Tibetan traditions), as well as sound.

Unwavering concentration enables us to experience the state of grace in the midst of activity. ~Dhanpal

Robbins reminds us how huge a small change can be. This also echoes the ancient teachings of Yoga. Consider the difference between breathing with awareness and breathing without awareness—from the outside, they appear to be the same activity, but without the quality of focus, they are very different. We could even say that one isn’t Yoga, at all.

Language

How we talk to ourselves is of utmost importance. We often talk to ourselves in self-defeating ways, saying things like, “this will never work…” or, “”this always happens to me…” or, “I’m such an idiot,” etc. As Robbins explains, these sorts of habitual declarations reflect the crippling stories we are telling ourselves inside our heads.

In Yoga, we use affirmations, such as “I am bountiful, I am blissful, I am beautiful.” But we also use Sanskrit-derived mantras, which work whether we understand them, or not. This is because they work on both a subconscious and an energetic level to create a powerful shift in our emotional state and overall mood.

Sound is vibration and is inherently healing. ~Dhanpal

By combining sound, breath and rhythm, mantra meditation channels the flow of energy through the mind-body circuit, adjusting the chemical composition of our internal states, while delivering our restless minds from distress. Our thoughts are silent sounds. And sounds are electromagnetic vibrations. The more refined our thoughts, the more elevated our vibration; the more elevated our vibration, the closer we get to the highest vibration of all–our own divine nature*

As the captain sets the canvas to the wind, thus pulling the boat out of trouble, it is through mantra that we steer ourselves out of our own stormy seas and into clear waters. ~Dhanpal

So we see that in one Yoga Kriya, posture or meditation, each facet of the triad is put to service!

*For more on the technology of mantra and chanting, see my article here.

On the Fallacy of Spiritual Perfection

Don Quixote“I’m only human,” the saying goes. To my perfectionistic Virgoan ears, it always sounded like a cliché, or worse, an excuse for shoddy work or behavior.

But, thank goodness, like many other quixotic notions I have had to let go of, I unshackled myself of this, too. Not only does it make life harder and more stressful than it is supposed to be, but aspiring to the impossible is a most subtle form of arrogance, worn in the guise of “high standards,” or worse, spiritual advancement.

Of the latter, one of my teachers in the healing tradition, calls it “purple-washing.”

Because purple—color of the crown ckakra—is thought of as a spiritual color, this expression refers to the tendency of spiritual people to think of themselves as “above” certain emotions, fancying themselves, for example, invulnerable to fear, or anger.

“How lofty of me!” She jokes.

The reality is, perfection is unattainable for three main reasons:

1. Life is change. It was the Buddha’s starting point and the keystone for the body of his teachings. If all of life is impermanent, then we are too. Thank goodness! This means that we are always evolving. Perfection implies that a resolution has been achieved, and is, as such, a frozen state. Thus, perfection and change are a contradiction in terms.

2. The fantasy of perfection is born of ego. What would perfection even look like? It’s unanswerable, since for every ten people asked, there would be ten different answers. It’s relative. And why would we want to be perfect, when we saw, in the above passage, that perfection (if it existed) means no more growth? But back to the point about the ego…by virtue of the fact that perfection is nonexistent in any objective sense, its pursuit easily slides into the realm of narcissism. As psychoanalyst, Karen Horney, has pointed out, it is not narcissistic for a person to value a quality in himself which he actually possesses…the problem arises when narcissists admire themselves for qualities that have no foundation in reality. It seems the pursuit of perfection is the ultimate neurosis!

3. We are supposed to go through emotional trials. It’s part of the game of being human, of being part of this play that the Yogis call Maya. As a teacher, there is thought to be a practical purpose to it all; we go through our own challenges to be able to show others the way through. Having traversed the rough terrain ourselves, we can then show others the potholes. And from the perspective of a healer, we can better recognize the energetic vibration of what we have come to recognize in ourselves. Besides, in every wisdom tradition, from the Kabbalah, to the heart of Yogic wisdom, emotions are thought to be a compass, giving us feedback about where we are on our own journey. So, even as we’re pulling someone else up the mountain with one outstretched arm, we’re simultaneously clearing debris from the path with our other arm. The overarching point is that there is a reason for emotions that are considered “imperfect.” As the teacher of my teacher famously said, “we are spiritual beings having a human experience,” meaning both, that we are limited by virtue of our human embodiment and the challenges that come from limited seeing, and that we are subject to the experiences that come from being trapped in this realm and the duties and interactions that go along with it

In the meantime, we forgive ourselves and others as we stumble our way through the wilds of human life, as we search in vein for the way home. Because after all, as the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz discovered, and as we too will discover for ourselves…it was right here, all the time.

To Accept “what is” or Pursue your Passion?

follow your passionIs the highest attainment in life realized when we’re able to accept where we are, without striving? Or, are we supposed to chase our dreams and pursue our passions? In my book, Buddha in the Classroom, I speak of the importance of acceptance, as an expression of our capacity to liberate ourselves from the endless chain of yearnings that characterize existence and from the resistance and corresponding angst that comes up when those yearnings aren’t fulfilled .

A snippet of that part of my book —

(Excerpt from Chapter 19—Passion; Accept, Adapt, and Abandon Hope)

The real problem with our fixation on passion is the near certainty that even a blazing fire will dim with time.

Then what?

Even when passion is pursued and found, the affair won’t last forever. Passion changes. We change. A dancer friend recently shared with me the common experience among the cast members of a famous musical. Far from reveling in prideful accomplishment for having been part of one of the longest-running shows, they’re sick and tired physically, and mentally jaded. Many are dancing on old injuries, and are scarcely able to find the motivation to go onstage night after night; yet somehow they manage to put themselves into their postures and glissade, on tiptoe, onto the stage, one more time, because it’s how they make their living. It is the same motivation that gets most of the world to work every day.

It reminds me of the ancient Greek myth about Sisyphus: He is condemned by the gods to push a gigantic boulder up a hill, over and over, all day long, even as it continuously rolls to the bottom of its own weight as soon as he gets it to the top. The gods understood the futility of wasted labor, so assigning it was the perfect, wicked punishment. In retelling the story, the French philosopher Albert Camus likens the absurdity of the task to the everyday predicament of every single one of us, pushing our rocks in our own way, as we struggle to meet deadlines, deal with coworkers and bosses, and solve the problems that are part and parcel of any workday, anywhere.

But Camus was an optimist.

Despite his fate, it is Sisyphus himself who decides to be happy. He can whistle and hum happy songs while he pushes his rock, or he can lament and endlessly curse his fate. The irony is that as soon as he realizes the power inherent in his own reaction, he is liberated. He makes his fate his own. It is he alone who decides to be happy or miserable. In a nod to our own capacity for liberation, Camus says, “We must imagine Sisyphus smiling.”

Dharma: The Lesson for Teachers

Sisyphus’s existentialist smile resonates with the Buddhist reminder to let go. Sisyphus smiles because he accepts his fate. To let go is to accept. And through acceptance, Sisyphus liberates himself from his sentence. To accept is to simultaneously stop resisting. When you stop resisting, you are able to enjoy your experiences, which is to say, your life.

Accept, adapt, and abandon hope, Zen says…

Do I still think this is the Truth?—

Yes, but it’s not the whole truth. It’s true on one level, just as, when you’re a certain age, following a rule of conduct is important, but it’s also true that this same rule may no longer apply, at another stage or moment in your life. There are different truths for different stages of our journey. Acceptance is true and passion is true.

Consider Gandhi. He had a passion for restoring justice and liberation to India, but every time they threw him in jail, his only savior was surrender. Acceptance was the rule of the hour. It didn’t mean he was giving up his broader plan. It just meant he had the wisdom to know when to act. There’s a time for everything. Thus, we can be our own captors (through resistance) or liberators (through acceptance).

There’s a time to express our passion in life. And this is what I would like to now give proper importance to.

Very simply put, if we’re interested in what we’re doing, that interest will carry us through the inevitable challenges that come along with anything. It reminds me of an oft recited quote by an unknown author:

Without enthusiasm, you’ll find any reason to quit. With enthusiasm, you’ll overlook every reason. ~unknown

Whether or not to follow our passions depends largely on the choices we have available. If we are lucky enough to live in a physical environment in which we are politically free and financially able to pursue our desires, we might consider the luxury we have been given in this incarnation and go about it with zest and gratitude. But, if this is not the case, then acceptance for the karma we have chosen for ourselves in this existence will serve us well. 

Even with this said, acceptance is a tool that serves us, even then, for no position or pursuit is all paradise, all the time. We will always deal with difficult people and occasional burnout, but when the joy and sense of purpose is greater than the misery, or put another way, when it uplifts more than it drains, we carry on, knowing that we’re serving the world through the work that we do. And again, gratitude for the opportunity to do it, will carry us. Acceptance is a great succor and support in every part of life.

A more profound reason to give voice to our passions.

Soul Speaks—

I call it Soul Speaks…as when a child shows signs of his/her inclination early on. This is a sort of magic that gives our life a sparkly quality and makes us feel we have something to live for. It is our inner longing showing up before we even understand it or know how to give voice to it. It is our soul speaking. This voice, that starts out as a little whisper—such as when we’re first attracted to some activity—may one day combine with skill, and this fusion in time and space is like the key that unlocks the door to brilliance.

If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead you directly to your purpose. ~unknown

Power Spot—

The power spot is another little expression I have to describe this kind of brilliance…such as when Pavarotti sings. When you hit your power spot, everyone around you feels it, although they may not know what to call it. It is felt. A pop phrase for this inexplicable phenomenon is the “it factor.” A person is shining in their craft, doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing. And their radiance glimmers like a shining gift to the world.

Is there such a thing, metaphysically, as “purpose?”—

Which opens up another question. And this is what it all hinges on…do we really have a purpose? If we did, who gets to say what it is? How will we know what it truly is? Do we have only one? Can we choose to do something else?

It all comes down to trusting our own feeling. No one else can decide for us. It is not an intellectual decision, that can be decided by a list of pros and cons, as we were taught to do in school. We will know our purpose because it feels right. And yes, that purpose can change, just as our relationships can change. Just as some relationships are karmic in nature and are finished when the karma has been played out the and lessons have been learned. Our purpose at one time can shift into a new direction after we have served in that area and our time there is finished.

More about “feeling” it—

When we’re not doing what we’re “supposed to be doing,” everything in our life just feels “off.” We feel drained, rather than uplifted and satisfied. Everything feels much more laborious than need be.

Life is not supposed to feel like drudgery, anyway—this is an outdated and misguided belief based on guilt. When we’re on the path that is right for us, everything falls into a flow, what one of my teachers calls effortless effort. This is the law of abundance; everything will fall into place when we trust and when we align ourselves with our heart.

The Way of Efficiency—

Besides being in tune with what feels right, there’s a sense of efficiency and capacity that becomes evident when we are in the “right place.” Not only do we tend to thrive, personally, but our performance has the potential for excellence. Although we might like to give some activity a fair chance, for the sake of curiosity, we may or may not be any good at it. I remember when my father gave dancing the good old college try for the sake of pleasing my mother, but a Fred Astaire this scientist was not!

Along these lines, we may consider a tree or a houseplant. Although it can adapt to different environments if necessary, it simply does better in “the right” environment, and will produce better fruit. Some plants need more light, more water, etc. In human terms, we call it “being in your element.”

Or, consider a car. You may eventually get to your destination on subpar gasoline, or low oil, but it will do better on better gas and more oil. In human terms, it’s our choice—we can waste energy or work more efficiently, by being in tune with our soul’s purpose.

Establish your passions on a day to day basis. Whatever you attach your conscious and undoubted passions to will manifest. ~Guru Singh

In spiritual teachings, it is said that this is how we know when we are going the right way or not. God…or, if you prefer…higher wisdom, or angels, or the universe…will assist us and give us signs when we’re going the right way, and lay down hindrances when we’re going the wrong way. Sometimes they may give very loud clues if we’re deaf or daft and are not getting the message! Does this mean we should give up when too many obstacles befall us? Not necessarily! This is the art of walking a line only we can walk for ourselves.

Again, it comes back to the necessity of being present in our bodies, so that we can recognize the many ways that information that is felt, rather than intellectualized. So that we can know on a deeper, more intuitive level. So that we we can trust in our sense that it is not just a challenge, but a sign of something awry.

This connection to Self opens the door to personal joy, which we then shine like a lighthouse out to the world. It is why another one of my spiritual teachers once told me to “follow my bliss,” for when I do, I then bring that de-light to everything and everyone I touch.

Internal Conflict (not desires) Causes Suffering

It is not desires that are the root of misery, angst and suffering. It is conflict of desires.

On Desires—
Firstly, many desires may be seen as intrinsically noble, such as the desire to be enlightened, or, the desire to serve the world through one’s unique skill set. Secondly, many desires are simply natural, such as the desire for the next breath. Thirdly, many desires may be classified as “neutral,” such as the desire to learn to play the violin. With all of them, problems and frustrations arise only when we don’t know how to manifest them, or when there is a conflict with another desire. It is this latter point that I will focus mostly on, below.

Of these many varieties  of desires, there is only one sub-species that I would call inherently “bad,” namely those that include causing harm to others as a motive. The others are not inherently bad, in and of themselves.

Internal Conflict—
The real problems start when we are torn and divided. This is what I’ll call internal conflict and it is at the root of all disharmony, frustration and all havoc, from benign to catastrophic. From the everyday nuisances, like wanting to eat the whole bag of cookies to the huge life-changing situations, such as divorce.

There is always conflict underneath. In the first example, there is a conflict of more than one desire, since on the one hand, you may want to eat the cookies, but on the other, you don’t want to consume all that sugar, or gain weight (so, the other desire would be to maintain your weight). And, in the second example, you may want a long-term marriage, but you also want an honest marriage. If you’re in a situation where this isn’t possible, it will likely blow up in some way, such as in a divorce.

Another example may be: you want to go to Europe for a month, but you don’t want to miss work (so, the other desire would be to continue being productive at work). Again, the internal conflict will likely blow up. Not in such a cataclysmic way, as in divorce, but in a subtler way, such as in the everyday vexations that we all experience in life.

Lurking underneath what Buddha called dukkha, or suffering, you will find that there is an unacknowledged secondary desire. It is just a matter of digging a little deeper in your contemplation.

As a final example, imagine you were a homeowner who wanted very much to get going on the construction of your house. It is taking too long, and if you had it your way, you’d simply call a contractor and tell him to “make it happen.” But real life is more complex. You have to wait for your spouse, who is too busy with work priorities to share in the planning and expenses. So, you have to wait. In this case, we can say that underneath the desire to continue with construction is the pre-existing desire to keep peace in the household.

If it were as simple as wanting to build a room, with nothing standing in your way, you’d simply manifest the desire and move on. The desire, alone, would not be the problem. When something is standing in your way, such as lack of funds, or bad-timing, as in the play-out above, the obstructed desire transmutes into an unhealthy attachment.

As such, it is the internal conflict, caused by discordant desires, that causes suffering.

To Drop Your Thoughts or Think Positive Thoughts?

intention manifestation

On Dropping Thoughts

If you’ve ever taken up any meditation practice, especially one emphasizing mindful awareness, chances are, you’ve been told to just let your thoughts fall away. The teacher or meditation guide likely reminded you that you are not your thoughts, as a way of encouraging you not to get frustrated by the constant bombardment of mental chatter. Just gently say, “thinking” to yourself, and come back to presence, he or she probably advised.

I call it “going sailing.” It’s a good idea to resist the urge to “go sailing” when you’re trying to meditate because the minute you get carried off on a thought cruise, you are, to put it in one of my own teacher’s words, “in your head.” If you’re in your head, spinning stories and fantasizing, then you’re not really here—you’re somewhere else that doesn’t exist…in a fabricated rerun of yesterday’s argument, or in some imagined future scenario. And the whole point of practicing mindful awareness, is to come to presence.

Thus, learning to take the perspective of “the witness” is an important part of any meditation practice. As a witness, you learn not to identify with these distractions called thoughts. You, in turn, begin to bring spaciousness into your universe, which is actually less poetic and more literal than it seems because every time you gently come back to this moment, you experience reality more fully. By bringing your concentration back to the breath, or your mantra, or the yantra, or whatever tool you choose to use as a focusing mechanism, you detach from the allure of the fantasy.

You unhook yourself from the temptation to spin the story.

There are countless stories in our heads. Liberation from their beguiling appeal is the essence of Buddha’s instruction to drop the endless desires that follow them, like smoke follows fire. We become narrow and myopic when all we can see in our mind’s eye is our story. We get hooked onto the “catch of the day”—the worry, fear, the conversation on repeat, or the anticipated scenario to come. But once we begin to unclench our bite, we begin to see more, hear more, and experience more of our world. This is spaciousness. This is the beginning of what it means to expand our awareness. 

On Positive Thoughts

So, where do positive thoughts fit in? That’s just another form of “thinking,” isn’t it?

There is a useful role, to be sure, for positive affirmations. Cell biologist Glen Rein was among the first to substantiate the idea that our intentions and emotions actually affect our DNA. That the way we talk to ourselves inside our heads can have such far-reaching effects on our well-being, so as to cause changes at the cellular level is more than just fascinating, however—it is empowering. It means that we have more control over our physical, mental and spiritual health than we imagined. 

The implication is that, if you can work skillfully with your thoughts and commit to talking to your self with kindness and conscious intent, then you can achieve what the scientist describes as…a heart-focused, loving state and live in a more coherent mode of physiological functioning. That’s the whole key; working with thoughts consciously, not willy-nilly.

One of the most powerful ways we can heal ourselves is by thinking positively.

As an analogy to thoughts, consider actions, in general. In philosophical ethics, we distinguish between negative commands and positive commands: The things we shouldn’t do, like stealing, and the things that are good to do, like sharing. In this way, we reduce harm in the world. Generally, the “don’t do’s” are absolute, whereas the “do do’s” are optional. 

As an example, consider this situation: If I remove myself from society, say, by going off to live in a cave somewhere, I reduce the likelihood of causing injury to anyone—I’m practicing “not doing.” This would be akin to dropping thoughts. But this is impractical! We all have lives to live, people to talk to and things to. So, this brings me into the realm of positive action and the need to be more conscious of how these actions will play out in the world. 

We don’t have control of the infinite trail of karma over time and space, but with good intent, I simply increase the chances of a positive outcome. This is akin to positive thoughts in the world of our body-mind and the far-reaching ways that affirmations can heal not only ourselves, but our world, as well.

The reach is actually infinite, considering the way that these internal vibrations, called thoughts, will reverberate through our cellular structure, the fabric of our emotions and, like wakes behind a boat…outward, through our energetic projection, our words, our choices, our purchases, our conversations and everything we do. 

Thinking positively may be seen as the active component of our practice, where mindful awareness is the softer, more passive part. It’s like reaching out for the apple rather than waiting for it to fall. It’s recognizing my role as the creator of my universe and my power to manifest my health and well-being. It is the Yang to the Yin.  

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Watch Donna Quesada talking about this topic on Youtube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WI9Dh0OQsK8&list=UUxc0a3y2axlhrEPmgoGuk9Q