Tag Archives: Buddhism

The Magic that Happens in Stillness (The Four C’s”)

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In stillness… You go beyond the words and the names, behind the labels and the judgments, beneath the doubts and the mental commentary… to the raw experience of now. At this level of awareness, the distinctions between breather and breath, seer and seen, listener and sound, experiencer and experience, past and future… and between self and other… become blurry. There is just Christ consciousness… Om… emptiness… pure presence… samadhi… enlightenment… Source.

Any of the tools of spiritual practice serve as keys for entry. Breath, sound, prayer… or being in nature.

There is an anecdote about Buddha, and how breath is used to get to this place of stillness:

“How do you attain enlightenment?” One disciple asked.

“Simply be aware of your breathing,” he replied.

It’s not that the breath is all that interesting. It’s only a convenient focusing device. I remember my own Zen teacher calling it a “gimmick.” Zen teachers can be cheeky that way. He was driving home the simplicity of it… focusing on your breath gives your mind something to do, other than spin circles around. The Christians use prayer. The dervishes use the spinning motion of the body.

Out of the mind and into the body. And ultimately… into pure presence.

But here’s where it gets interesting. There’s magic and power there!

Not willpower… Because that would be about asserting the ego. That would be a self-righteous, “pushy” kind of power. That would be an agenda-driven, attachment-charged kind of power.

No. This kind of power comes from what Buddhists call the “unstuck mind.“ We’re not only aware of everything; we’re aware with everything.

In this place of alignment (which is always by degree, as long as we’re in human form) we are able to tap into what I have coined, The Four C’s”:

1. CONNECTION… This is the state of oneness that all spiritual traditions describe. This is the basic meaning of Yoga, “to connect.” Because now the divisive shell of ego has melted down.

2. COMFORT… This is the state of calmness, in which we feel that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. It is the place of surrender. It feels like everything is going to be okay. It feels safe. Because now the insecurities and fears of the ego self have subsided.

3. CLARITY… This is the state in which we are in touch with what is right for our soul, rather than the habit momentum of earthly addictions. Because here, the loud and conflicted voice of the ego has quieted.

4. CREATIVITY… This is the state in which we tap into what Law of Attraction calls, “the energy that creates worlds.” Because here, with the conventional routines of ego in the backseat, the flow of Chi is destined to expand.

The Magic Word for Fear & Doubt

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The Word—

“Despite.”

I share this word in hopes that you too, will find it to be, despite its simplicity (pun totally intended), the most utterly magical and miraculous method that I have found it to be. Think of it as a secret weapon… an invisible golden key that you wear around your neck, that sets you free of fear and bestows upon you… pure power.

The Set Up—
Tony Robbins says it is belief that makes the difference in the quality of your life. For example, the difference between whether or not you continue with a job you don’t enjoy, depends on your belief that it will pay off… or, on the deeply ingrained belief that one must toil in life… or perhaps, on the belief that you won’t find another one. Similarly, whether you stay in a relationship that is no longer satisfying depends on your belief that a marriage is forever, ’till death do you part.

And these beliefs prevent taking action. And in circular form, the lack of action reinforces the belief. And so, nothing changes. And then, with evidence of the same old circumstances repeating themselves, you have further reinforcement as proof.

Indeed.

So, the question then becomes… how do I change my belief?

So as not to leave you suspended in mid air, one way is to practice shifting your focus to what is good… to what is wonderful in your life. Be grateful for those things.

Indeed.

BUT… saying to yourself—right at that moment when you are already in the fire— “I will do this thing right now, DESPITE my anxiety,” enables you to get through the fire right now. On the spot.
For Example—
I will get blood drawn, despite feeling horrified of needles.
I will fall asleep, despite feeling anxious that I won’t.
I will do the speech, despite my fear of forgetting my lines.
I will start my business, despite fear of failure.
I will leave this job, despite my insecurities about money.
I will listen to my gut and walk out the door, despite my terror of turning my life upside down.

The Usual Approaches—
Fighting the fear is a form of resistance and just gives it more power. And fully accepting the fear sounds good in pop-Buddhist, self help books… but the reality is that it is more easily said than done. And it falls short of the howhow do you accept the fear when the habit pattern is woven into your very cells? Especially, on the spot. Right now. Not after years of commitment to some ongoing practice, whether it be the simple use of positive thoughts or gratitude for gradual reconditioning… or, a western based program involving hypnotherapy, CBT, or neurolinguistic programming, or an eastern influenced practice of meditation or some form of Yoga.
“Despite”—
“Despite” sidesteps all of that, right here, right now. It is saying… without even saying it… at a subconscious level… IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOU ACCEPT OR WHAT YOU FEAR OR WHAT YOU BELIEVE OR WHAT OTHER THERAPEUTIC MODALITIES YOU MIGHT BE ENGAGED IN OR THAT YOU HAVE AN APPOINTMENT WITH THE THERAPIST TO DISCUSS THIS TOMORROW…

“Despite” cuts right through, as a newly sharpened knife snaps through a cucumber. It put all the mental noise and objections aside for now, ’cause there’s something else that’s more important right now… I’ve got to do this right now. We’ll deal with the fear, later.

It’s as one of my teachers, Guru Singh, says… “you can schedule a time for that.” You’re putting the concern aside. You’re not dealing with the messy job of trying to convince yourself of anything, or trying to come to a place of acceptance over anything. “I will do it despite the fact that I’m nervous… and the job will get done… and it’s happened countless times before… and it’s always fine and it’ll be fine this time, too.”

“I always do the thing fine, despite my fear.”
Wrap Up—
It “nonplusses” the fear, to use an Alan Watts word. Your thoughts, at that very instant, lose their power over you. It is akin to saying “thank you for sharing” to your fear, as you would to a toddler, before putting him in the backseat. By acknowledging its existence and going about your business, anyway, they lose their power.

It’s absolutely true that learning to shift our focus to what is good is a good idea. But the reality is that most of us perfectly imperfect humans will fluctuate in our ability to do that on any given day, depending on what kind of a day we are having. The negative mind is strong. Thus, we need a hack. We need a bypass modality for an on-the-spot SOS. At the moment of implementing “despite,” you are in a place that precedes all practice.

 

 

 

The Spiritual Dimension of Narcissism (& Narcissism in Relationships)

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Spiritual Ignorance—

What we call “spirituality,” in all its many guises and paths, is really all the same thing… getting closer to God. Or, better, realizing that we were never separate, in the first place. Hence the expression, “self-realization.” We can also call this “vibrating with source,” or “being twice born,” or “satori” … it doesn’t much matter what we call it, as it’s all about overcoming that sense of separation, which Buddha called avidya.

Although avidya translates as ignorance, it is not ignorance in the usual sense, rather it is the state of being unaware of the abiding connections between all of us and between everything (‘though there really are no “things”) in the universe. We can experience the feeling of connection in myriad ways, for example, through any creative endeavor, through deep encounters with nature, and through authentic connections with other people and animals.

Every spiritual path is built around the need to overcome ignorance and cultivate a sense of deep connection with all that is.

Why is it so important?

Because without it, we will have an ego-driven world, devoid of considerateness, and full of self-centered behavior.

Sounds a lot like narcissism.

Disclamer—
I wouldn’t be so bold as to say that the only difference between garden variety ego and diagnosable Narcissistic Personality Disorder is the location of where it falls on a spectrum, as there is still much to be learned about the brain and genetics and whatever else may be at work, physiologically and chemically, in producing psychological disorders. So, I will speak as an interested scholar, as a lifelong spiritual student and teacher, as well as someone who has been in relationship with others who embody and display narcissistic behaviors.

Narcissism and the Spiritual Path—
If the spiritual path is marked by the extent to which we become aware of our inherent divine nature, which the unchecked dominance of ego blocks out, then narcissism may be seen as a kind of chronic disunion. This is displayed as lack of empathy, which is always listed as its telltale, defining feature.

Without self-awareness, the narcissist will be oblivious to his/her behavior and how he/she is “coming off” to others. Thus, the narcissist will speak and act in offensive ways, and will be chronically lacking in thoughtfulness, due to the unchecked hyper-focus on his/her own needs, moods and whims.

This tendency may be displayed through disrespectful or inconsiderate communication styles, as well. For example, through a lack of ability to listen to the other, or persistent tendency to interrupt. This comes from either a conscious or an unconscious belief that his/her commentary is more important than anyone else’s, or a childlike lack of self-control.

Vulnerability—
The ability to be vulnerable is inextricably connected up with overcoming ignorance because without it, there is no true human connection being made. And without connection, there is no empathy.

A relationship with a narcissist is always described as one which entails unavoidable feelings of neglect and disappointment, since your needs, as the narcissist’s partner, will not be recognized. The lack of empathy bars this. This is why, besides “lacking in empathy,” the narcissist is often described as acting out of a “sense of entitlement.” This manifests when their need for comfort predominates, to the extent that the narcissist expects others to always accommodate them, eg, food choices, etc., without the genuine desire or ability to reciprocate and sacrifice for others, in turn.

In reflecting on the notion of vulnerability and its importance in cultivating authentic and safe-feeling relationships, I believe that the absence of it is an effect, rather than a cause of the existent narcissism. A narcissist is too afraid to ever let himself/herself be open and vulnerable.

And if vulnerability is by nature a spiritual quality in that it enables true closeness and connection, then without it, a relationship with a narcissist can never be spiritually fulfilling in an enduring and ever-maturing way.

In Summary—
The relationship with the narcissist will be chronically impaired because of the inability to compromise, make concessions and sacrifice for another.

Spiritually, if connection is our ultimate purpose and source of fulfillment here on earth, then the ability to be vulnerable is requisite. It entails the capacity, courage and emotional maturity to be truly open with another and further, to be in touch with others, in a way that reflects a true sense of concern about the other’s needs, comfort and well-being. The narcissist’s lack of maturity and insecurity, which lies below the gruff facade, keeps him/her stuck at the level of his/her own needs. This is avidya.

 

Do Your Eyes Work? What’s So Special about That?

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From my recent interview with Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, on the question of… What’s so great about now?

What is says in the great Mahayana teachings, the Heart Sutra… there is no place to go. This is the first thing people misunderstand about meditation. Now, I have to sit down and experience something cool. Something found. Something transcendent. Healing… that is better than my ordinary this moment, which is so boring and stressful. And of course, that is getting off absolutely on the wrong foot. It’s not about getting somewhere else. It’s actually allowing yourself to be where you already are.

So, you say, “what’s so special about where I already am?” Nothing, except everything. Do your eyes work? What’s so special about that? Are you breathing? What’s so special about that? Can you think and feel? What’s so special about that? Only everything. So, we take everything for granted, until we lose it. Until our eyes don’t work. Or we can’t catch our breath. Or, it feels like life is falling apart. Or, the body is falling apart.

Donna: I love that metaphor. It’s almost like, dropping in is turning our whole body and mind into a big sensory organ, like the eyes.

Jon: Which it is. The whole body is…

* The Whole Skyped Interview will soon be available to watch, on www.awaken.com (other interviews include, Dr. Dean Ornish, Byron Katie, Caroline Myss, and many others)

Why Gratitude Works

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My goal in this post is to say, as precisely and concisely as possible, why gratitude is a good thing. Because in spiritual parlance and self-help guides of all sorts, we hear it, and it sounds intuitively correct, but I’d like to be able to understand why gratitude heals, rather than have it feel like a dogmatic commandment.

The two teaching concepts I’m putting together here are Buddha’s Four Noble Truths and the Yogic model of energetic anatomy.

Buddha has famously pinpointed our attachments as the source of our chronic, self-inflicted, emotional  angst, in the second Noble Truth. He called it Trishna, which means thirst, but refers to any number of tangible and intangible attachments that we carry, at any moment in time. While this idea is often erroneously translated so as to make desires themselves the bad guys, it is rather, our attachment to them, that causes anguish. To make this less abstract, an attachment is any rigid preference. Any mental insistence that things have to be a certain way, or take a certain form.

We all have many of these attachments running, at any time, like open apps in our iPhones. For example, that I’ll never lose my money, or my job, or my car… that I’ll get the call back, or the publishing deal, or the award… that others understand me, that my peers respect me, that my family approves of my decisions, and on and on. Now, imagine if those attachments took the form of energetic cords, reaching out in all directions, plugging into those imaginary situations, out into the surrogate world, where fantasy exists… (see my drawing, above).

From the point of view of energetic anatomy, our life force, or prana, comes into our bodies through the crown of our heads. Like money given to us, it it now up to us, to manage it. If that energy gets siphoned off into myriad attachments, through energetic tendrils, reaching out into a hundred various and sundry fixations, then we’ve invested poorly and the result will be exhaustion at best, and illness at worst.

This is where gratitude comes in. Gratitude quells the inevitable discontent that comes from the endless reaching and grasping. If trishna is thirst, then gratitude is what quenches it, at the root level—from the inside, before those insatiable energetic tendrils even have a chance to stretch out and place their suction cups on anything, on the outside.

So, closing with the analogy of having open apps in our iPhones (something I didn’t know was a problem, until my grown kid looked at me aghast, while swiping them all up and making them vanish… how was I supposed to know?) Our attachments, like those open apps, sap our energy and drain our batteries. So, harnessing and managing our energy, as martial artists and Yogis have always known, becomes the whole game.

This stands from the point of view of healing and feeling better, which are really one and the same. Because the minute we find something to be grateful for, which is how to start, we instantly feel content with what is, rather than anxious about what isn’t. At that very instant, the inner struggle recedes, as we bring our focus on what we have, which feels good, rather than on lack, which feels bad.

I Don’t Have to Figure It All Out Right Now

A very simple question:

What’s the big deal about Now?

I remember one of the advanced monks asking this question to Roshi, at a Zen meditation retreat, many years ago. From Ram Dass’ 1971 classic, Be Here Now, to Eckhart Tolle’s contemporary bestseller, The Power of Now, and the ubiquitous self-help emphasis on mindfulness, it warrants the asking. It has become standard among mental health practitioners to champion this most basic of meditation practices, for its proven benefits for those suffering from depression, to PTSD to the more benign, but inescapable varieties of generalized anxiety, all as common as daily bread. And surgeons recommend it for pre-treatment nerves, as well as post-op recovery. Mindfulness is, at its most simple rendering, the ongoing act of bringing your attention to this present moment… here and now.

Sooo…..

What’s the big deal about Now?

First, let’s answer that question with another question…

Because… What if this moment, here and now, is full of pain and misery? (Why would we want to be present with it?)

The answer to this last question, is that this present moment is not full of anything, at all. It is only our heads that are full of commentary, or as my Zen teacher used to say, ruminations. He loved that word. It comes from the Latin word for chewing. Makes sense. We like to chew on stuff. And chew some more. Then, chew some more. Even when — and there usually isn’t, unless you’re solving some mathematical equation — there’s no nutritive value left in whatever it is you’re chewing on.

Why do we do this?

It’s a compulsion. And we all do it. We are all obsessive compulsive. We’re problem solvers. We want to figure out that which can’t be figured out. We want to solve… even when it’s unsolvable. And know the unknowable. We want to have all the answers, ironically… right now. We’re not so good with the idea that there’s more to come, just around the bend… and relaxing with that. It makes us feel nervous and insecure not to be sure… not to be certain about things. Although, as denoted in the Alan Watts book that started it all for me, The Wisdom of Insecurity, there is an unmistakable prudence in simply letting life dance its dance. We don’t obsess about getting to the end of the dance, or rush to get there.

When we can summon up enough faith to do that, we will have enabled within ourselves a different relationship with this moment.

And that is the answer to the first question… it’s not the now, that has so much importance, it’s our relationship to the now. When we’re living easily with what is happening now, then we will be resistance free. And being resistance free is what every spiritual tradition, everywhere, from the beginning of time, has extolled.

And how do we do that?

After 30 years of practice, I still wouldn’t call myself an expert at it. At all. But, that’s why they call it a practice. It’s never really, fully and finally, accomplished. But, I do like the Abraham-Hicks access code:

I don’t have to figure it all out, right now.

This is like a golden key. A doorway into the state of nonresistance… into a more peaceful relationship with whatever this moment holds. Use it like a mantra. Say it to yourself when panic taps its familiar tap. It works because it’s general. If it were more detailed, and applied to some specific problem, the mind would find some argument, and the ruminations would continue. But in generalized form, it dislodges the ruminations.

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Follow My Other Blog, Too!…

https://fiftyyearsafter.wordpress.com/

 

My New Year’s Message: Enter the Field of Magic

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The whole idea in life is to live in ease. To put it as Buddha did, to reduce suffering and mental angst. Finding a path of ease becomes our polestar. As Abraham Hicks says… “Whatever we do, we do because we think we’ll be happier in the doing of it.”

But, I have found that the approach to that place of ease is very different, depending on which spiritual teaching you embrace. For example, Abraham says:

“When you call source forward and you don’t block the current with contradictory thoughts, then it looks and feels like ease and grace and well-being.”

But mostly, we call sporadically, blocking that flow with our own doubts. We look too often toward other people’s opinions, and other people are not only fickle, but do not see the big picture, and are necessarily limited by their own experiences. More importantly, they have their own ideas of what constitutes a “good life.” But perhaps, most importantly of all, they came for a different purpose than we did and so, couldn’t fathom ours. Thus, by looking for their approval, we not only give away our power, but we invite confusion into our energy field. And in this way, we block our flow from source. As an analogy, it is like what happens when we pollute a river of clean, pristine, crystalline water flowing toward a feeding pond.

For most people…and for many well-meaning spiritual teachers, the answer is to “slow down the asking” because we’re not managing what we’re asking for. In other words, to stop desiring because unmet and un-manifested desires cause suffering. But that would be like saying the answer to the polluted river is to stop the flow, altogether. We’ve seen the havoc that dams create.

The answer is, rather, to enable ourselves to become a vibrational match to our desires. Said differently, to get the resistance out of the way, rather than slow the desires. You can’t drop desires anyway… the desire to take the next breath is, after all, a desire. And doesn’t the mere attempt to eradicate all desires make life dull?

The idea is to enable the desire to flow in ease, like the river. And better yet, to flow with the river. That happens when we stop slowing down the flow with doubt…when we stop sticking the oar into the mud with contradictory thoughts, which in turn, affect our overall vibration. The idea is that without resistance, we soar into a higher frequency mode of being and we come to match our desires. This is the field of grace, in which synchronicities occur.

How do we do this? By dropping into the realm of feeling, rather than overthinking. By using our “vibrational senses.” By becoming super aware of how our entire body feels in various situations and the signals it gives us. This is the feminine aspect of spiritual practice; feel the down flow of energy, the descent, rather than constant focus on the upflow, the ascent, into the concept known as “enlightenment.” Incorporate the Yin to the Yang. The “feel-flow,” like the Beach Boys song. And in this aliveness of body, step into clarity and easiness. Grace and magic. And total trust in yourself, without needing to know the details of how everything will unfold.

The Emptiness of Anger

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While working my way through a thick stack of homework papers recently, I came across one, written by a Chinese student who spoke of his hatred toward the Japanese. I’ve received other papers through the years, alluding to the very same grudge. This common resentment is because of the Japanese invasions into China during the 1930s.

I often wonder while reading, if they even know at whom they are angry, and whether the feeling is directed toward today’s generation of Japanese. I even wonder if it is a feeling at all. It is perhaps more like a cultural habit. 

Nonetheless, if the cynicism is directed toward today’s generation, then I wonder whether these young Japanese are even familiar with the history of WWII. If they’re like most young people, it’s just an anecdote in their history books.

They are a good three generations removed from the relevant, and “chargeable” generation. This generation is busy with the same personal concerns we’re all busy with, and worried about issues that affect us all equally, like the economy, or the environment. And in a more personal context, they’re worried about transferring to a good university, the problem they’re having with their girlfriend or boyfriend, and whether they’ve used too much data on their cell phones.

In this light, it is clearly pointless to be angry at these people.

So, then what about the older generation, those who were in their prime during WWII? The culprits. In a similar line of thought, my guess is that the average Japanese person back then, was waiting for news of the war, like the rest of the world…concerned most immediately, about the safety of their families…looking for assurance that life would continue in some semblance of normalcy…hoping that their village wouldn’t be crushed. They weren’t personally involved in acts of destruction, at all, and chances are, didn’t wish for it, either.

So, who should the culprit be? Perhaps the government, but that particular assemblage is now nonexistent.

The Chinese aren’t horrible for persisting in their anger toward the Japanese. If they are, then we all are equally horrible. We all do the same thing. The Buddhists call it ignorance.

 We condemn the Germans, as a whole, for the holocaust. But all it takes is remembrance of the many Germans who tried, themselves, to bring down Hitler, and the many others who took in Jews, at their own personal risk.

Ironically, it would be all too easy to direct the same bitterness toward the Chinese, due to their violent seizure of Tibet, but the ordinary Chinese people of today have not seized Tibet, and weren’t even around when the whole thing started, some 60 years ago, under Mao. They are getting along like the rest of us, doing the things the rest of us do everyday, and probably don’t know much about it, aside from what their Government, through heavy censure, has allowed them to know.

The point is, with deeper consideration, it becomes increasingly difficult to find a target, and to hold onto anger.

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.