Monthly Archives: October 2011

Emotions Don’t Make a Man

Sometimes I receive notes from people I don’t know. Sometimes they ask me for advice, and sometimes I’m able to give it. Here is an (edited) version of a recent one.

Question from an unknown friend:

I have always read about “letting go…” and specifically about letting go of the ego. Isn’t this the purpose of Yoga and Buddhist practice? I think it sounds good but I wonder if it is healthy overall to let go of so much in life. Isn’t part of life just feeling good and acting upon emotions? Isn’t that part of a fulfilled life to accept those feelings? How do I know when I should allow feelings and emotions to exhibit themselves or not? I struggle with this immensely. I almost feel like ego is me and therefore only death would detach me from any thread of ego attachment. When I have an opinion – am I just supposed to suppress it? Thank you for your time.

————

My response:

Friend:

You said: ” Is not part of life just feeling and acting upon emotions? Isn’t that part of a fulfilled life to accept those feelings?”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone could tell you, “Yes, you’re right, I guess that’s what life is for.” But I can’t be the one. You see, this very idea is what Yoga (and Buddhist practice) is there to correct.

The whole purpose of “having a practice” is to steady the mind. Yoga is about the mind, not the body. It is about managing your energy, your emotions and your thoughts, so that those emotions don’t manage and overwhelm you. It’s therefore about you managing you.

Imagine if we took your question (in quotes, above) and made it universal, which is to say, allowed for society at large to act on it as a sort of “rule.” The result would be exactly like the fourth grade school yard, where anytime anyone gets angry, they just stomp and scream and throw their toys at others. After all, they would simply be “acting on their emotions.”

But, here’s the thing. Society is actually like that. Most people have not learned to manage their emotions, have not evolved to where life is about anything other than their passing feelings, nor have they come to identify with any higher purpose of existence.

It’s all about “how I feel.”

And so, we have road rage, prozac, addictions, dysfunctional relationships, war, hatred, envy, eating disorders, sleeping disorders, emotional disorders, a never-before-seen number of learning disabilities, stress, tension, and political elections that resemble an afternoon at the local kindergarten.

When body, spirit and mind are in a state of balance, which is to say, at the very least, that the “negative mind” doesn’t govern, those emotions don’t seem so overwhelming and living becomes more peaceful. What does this have to do with “letting go?” We stop getting so caught up with those habitual thoughts that only keep us limited—judgment thoughts, self-deprecating thoughts, doubtful thoughts and resentful thoughts—the kinds of thoughts we don’t want to characterize our ideas of ourselves and others. Because our thoughts weave the fabric of who we are.

It’s as Yogi Bhajan once said, in his characteristically straightforward and slightly mischievous way, “it’s not emotions that prove you’re alive. The way to find that out is to check your nose. If the breath goes in and out, then you are still alive.”

You see, once we begin to quiet the spinning mind, once we begin to relate to that which is infinitely greater than our passing trifles, once we begin to become truly conscious beings, then we relate to those emotions differently. We learn not to define ourselves by them and they begin to lose their hold and power over us. We become more stable and more able!

Kind Wishes,
~Donna

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On Meaning

I am in the process of phasing out my old blog. But before removing it completely, I backed it up and pulled a few to the side that I thought should be made over and brought out for another curtain call.

Why not leave them exactly as they were? Because I’m not exactly as I was. Here’s a short and sweet one.

What is the meaning of life, philosophers ask.

It is rather like asking, what is the meaning of the sound of the violin.

The very question of meaning seems so very meaningless unless we understand that it is only according to our individual perspectives, shaped from the changing position of our conscious minds, that anything has meaning—even our very own lives.

There are 87 different meanings found in every breath we take, in every second of every day, in every one of our thoughts and in every action we take.

We shape the world with our thoughts—and our thoughts, in their turn, shape who we are.

The sound of the violin means one thing to the conductor, another to the lovers in the restaurant, and another to the feisty old grouch who doesn’t like anything. To many others, it has no meaning, at all.

There is meaning in every-thing, and meaning in no-thing. There is a profusion of meaning in every little thing, and no single meaning in any one thing.

Misunderstanding Religion; What Is its Purpose?

One thing students realize when they begin their readings for my class, is the lack of anything resembling unified agreement, among academics, on what religion is.

Firstly, if you’re looking for agreement among academics, you’re looking in the wrong place.

But in a more analytical vein, every attempt at a common denominator is defeated by a counter example. Even the belief in God, which isn’t embraced in the context of Buddhism, is frustrated. In short, we are hard-pressed to find one feature common to all religions of the world. So, rather than one solitary feature, scholars have taken to describing a collection of characteristics – things like community, beliefs and stories –
that are inevitably found, in some combination or another, in the world’s many religions.

One student expressed concern over the problem of interpreting those stories that are part and parcel of the world’s religions. In a disdainful tone, he alluded to the violence that is easily justified by a relativistic interpretation of religious writings.

A common and seemingly justifiable concern, considering the state of the world today.

Nonetheless, I find it lamentable because it stems from a massive misunderstanding of what the whole point of religion is and has always been. Arguing about scripture reduces it to nothing but philosophy—a discipline which is deep, difficult and meaningless, all at the same time. Joking aside, it’s not exactly meaningless, if we understand that its value lies, not in finding answers, but in the very act of asking questions. That is, meaning emerges when we stop misunderstanding its purpose.

Likewise, in the domain of religion, we get hopelessly caught up in the supposed contradictory nature of certain passages, especially where violence is implied. This is common in the context of the Jewish and Christian bibles, and in that of the Koran. But what if we were to consider the very purpose of these holy books differently? What if we were to assume its purpose lay in encouraging us to look upon our own violent ways?

Thus, rather than assume a breach between our virtues and those in the holy stories, we might consider the purpose of those stories. And more pertinently, we might let go of the assumption that these stories contain explicit instructions. In that way, the bible may become purposeful.

But perhaps the most profound problem lies in a different kind of chasm. There is an immense difference between the spiritual state of the reader and the nature of the divine. A holy book is of a different nature than a science book or a philosophy book or a car manual. Dare I say bluntly that its arcane nature will be missed by an unenlightened mind? Its higher truths will not be revealed to eyes that don’t yet see, to a mind that is not ready.

Or even more to the point, to a mind that pushes an agenda.

Anyone can misuse anything when guided by greed, selfishness, lust for power, and vengeance. A person whose mind is clouded by odiousness has eyes that are blind. He will misinterpret, misconstrue and misuse. He’ll abuse the land, other people, scripture, and everything he touches. Put that person in a position of power and watch the world crumble.

Which brings me around to the closure of the circle and to my final point, that of looking to the academics for a definition of something that does not lend itself to definition.

Just as looking for answers misses the point of philosophy—which values itself on the questions it asks, looking for definitions misses the point of religion—which treasures only experience as a means to truth.

No matter the religion, its purpose is to bring the practitioner to an experience of his or her own wholeness. When this underlying essence and purpose goes missing, it quickly and inevitably dissolves into empty rituals. How could it be anything else in the absence of an awakened consciousness? Even the meaning of the word religion betrays its supreme spiritual purpose—to remember your spiritual identity. But without clarity all we have is confusion, without heartfelt practice all we have is mechanized ceremony and without open eyes all that is left is the blind leading the blind.

Picking a Bone with Jobs’ Quote

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

— Steve Jobs

I like Steve Jobs. And I like to follow my heart. But, with due respect, I still think this oft quoted passage is problematic and needs a more balanced perspective—here are some of the reasons why:

1. Not everyone has the privilege of doing “what they believe is great work.” Millions of people in the world are doing jobs that may not have been their primary career choice—and that is putting it politely. For example, they may be making the small parts that no one sees, the parts that run the machines that guys like Steve Jobs envisions. They are the tasks many of us would call drudgery, but many are simply glad and thankful to have the work at all, at a time when choices are limited. Perhaps they’ll make a change later, but should they be miserable until then because they don’t believe the work is “great work?” (Changing their belief is therefore the place to start, which brings me to #2.)

2. And about the claim that “the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work,” it seems to me that what you believe can be changed. You don’t have to marry your beliefs. Beliefs are just beliefs and they change with our maturity level and with our experiences and with 150 other reasons. Heck, they change from day to day—they sway like the palm trees in the wind and can be influenced by our ever-changing perspectives. Thank goodness; that means we’re growing! Thus, I would change “the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work” to “the only way to be truly satisfied is to find the greatness in what it is you do.”

3. Finally, toward the notion that, “like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on,” I would like to serve up a reality check—what makes great relationships great, is when all parties understand that it’s not always fun and it doesn’t always “feel good.” All relationships have their ups and downs. And equally so with the work we do. It won’t always be the way you dreamed it would be, you won’t always feel like going, and you might one day feel like you don’t like your job anymore. It seems to me that the truly liberated and wise will take those days in stride and remember not to get caught up in those temporary feelings. And from a clear connection to the importance of what it is they are doing—because everything has its place and purpose, along with a good dose of gratitude, they will undoubtedly maintain a consistently cheerful attitude.

We might liken this cheerful person—who finds the beauty in what it is he does—to the Greek mythical character, Sisyphus, who continues to push his rock with a smile…without telling himself that the task is ridiculous and absurd.