Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Self Imprisonment

Probably you've all witnessed a skilled stage hypnotist turning subjects into opera singers or roosters at the snap of a finger. But have you noticed how often you hypnotize yourself?

We do it all the time. Unwittingly, we hypnotize ourselves into believing a given set of untrue thoughts. To be fair, most of us were already hypnotized by our parents. “You’ll never get anywhere.” “You don’t deserve love.” “You’ll never succeed in life.” Having heard this over and over and over again, our program is set; inevitably, the effects show themselves in our life patterns.

Past conditioning is inescapable, but the truth is we don’t have to remain at the mercy of ancient training. The part we play in this sad process is to remain hypnotized by our unhappy concepts, instead of questioning their validity -- even when their fingerprints manifest repeatedly in our lives. So as a heartbreak or disappointment occurs, we think: “I knew I couldn’t succeed.” “I knew he’d leave me.” After years of blindly following our beliefs, we become, just like the subject on stage, a person acting out our own inner commands: “I am not lovable.” “I have no value.”

Instead of looking hard and close at these shabby premises, we agree with them, and let ourselves shrink into a self-made prison of unchallenged beliefs.

That’s our mistake.

Unquestioned, our mind will float endlessly on its original conditioning. Day after day we will continue in a hypnotic state, and wonder: “Why doesn’t anything ever change?” The real question should be: “How could I fall for this?” If we feel unhappy, now is the time to search out and question the false premise upon which we are riding.

“Is it true I don’t deserve love?” “Is it true I can’t have a life of fulfillment?”

Is it really, really true? Who said? Were these notions generated in me by an unhappy parent? An early trauma? And if so-- why give them credence?

Do you deserve happiness? Are you worth loving? You, who are the offspring of Love Itself, are by nature valuable and deserving. Human flaws do not alter this fact.

You don’t believe me? Good – don’t believe anything I tell you. Are you worth loving? Find out for yourself: ask your heart.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dealing with Darkness

Depression can grab you like an angry dog, leaving you limp, worn and devoid of spirit. Most of us have experienced this life-spoiler at times. I know I have. The question is: how do we work our way out of it? Trapped in fear or angst or despair, is it possible for us to reset our emotional barometer?

You know it is, because almost every human being alive has done it. And we’ve done it more than once, because dark feelings are like molasses on the kitchen floor: our feet can get stuck there in an instant.

You may already know some of the steps we use to transcend dark times. They are always counter-intuitive; meaning they seem, in the midst of sad feelings, like false movements. It’s important to remember, however, that they are not false movements – they just seem like it. The bottom line? Do them anyway.

The healing principle is simple: our task is to help our mind shift out of its temporarily diminished view of life. To do that, we need to take a stride in a different direction – towards thoughts that are larger than the small self in which we lie, curled and spent.

Simple Step #1: Cry it out. Let your tears fall, and listen to their story with compassion.

Simple Step #2: Exercise. Because it releases endorphins that pour healing energy onto our constricted thinking.

Simple Step #3: Do a kindness for another person. There is no way to do a kindness without it reverberating back onto yourself. No matter how sodden we feel, doing a kindness cauterizes suffering.

Simple Step #4: Monitor your thoughts. When we catch ourself licking our wounds for too long, we can pause and simply decide to change the subject. Yes, you can do this.

Play some music; listen to a standup comic, read a poem by the great mystic Rumi. In other words, enlarge your universe. The instant you become willing to do that you begin to realize –much like our astronauts did when they viewed our tiny beautiful earthstar from thousands of miles away- that life is larger than one small self. In that light, our tiny, individual pool of suffering is seen as a slight matter compared to the simple majesty and mystery of life itself. Expand your thinking, and any answers you need in your life will come toward you, like a kitten tiptoeing up to you on soft paws.

Tears. Exercise. Kindness. Music. Laughter. Change the topic.

Try it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Another day, another lesson

Teachers are everywhere.

Here comes our friend Eliot Spitzer, offering to remind us what happens when we suppress our dark side, while simultaneously pouring our energy into being righteous.

Not pretty, right? But how many times have we all followed this same pattern in dealing with some undesirable (though less newsworthy) habit of our own? We object strenuously to this or that trait or behavior in others, and remain blind to the fact that we carry some germ of that trait ourselves. Thus, the more I cry out against Behavior X in someone else, the more I remain imprisoned by that same urge in my own life.

It is for this very reason that centuries of wise men have urged us to examine without judgment that which we despise in others. Observing without judgment is, in fact, the basis of all forgiveness. And forgiveness, as so many have told us, is the road to peace. The road to God. Spitzer, alas, was unwilling to drop his rigid judgment of others. Thus, he could not do other than remain imprisoned himself.

The very presence of feelings of disgust or antagonism that arise in me is a clue that I contain seeds of whatever it is I am roiling against. And they are seeds that I have not yet forgiven in myself, which is why I lash out when I see it in others.

This does not mean that we do not take action in response to cruel or unkind behaviors we encounter in this world. It means only that how we take that action is critical. If we take action in a state of condemnation and heat, we solidify our own mistakes. If we take action in a state of peace, we remain unscarred.

Here’s to forgiveness.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Fountain

I was outside one day,
watching a fountain at work.
Maybe work is the wrong word.
It was laughing: hurling itself
wrong-side up into the sky,
then splashing down again
on the back of gravity.

A small child wandered by
waving a curiously bent stick
which he heaved into the froth.
Instantly the water wrapped itself
tightly around that stick
and kept on moving, curling, jumping,
singing, without missing a beat.

Then the child found a stone
and threw that, too, into the fountain,
using all his eight year old strength.
As soon as the stone fell splat
into the quick shivering waterstreams
they kindly made way for it,
not even pausing to say ouch.

If that stone had landed
on my slow dense body,
I would own a purple bruise now
as evidence that my cells
are a hard band of soldiers,
trained to resist blows.

But not water. Not water.
Water simply splices open its arms
and lets everything tumble by
in a wash of forgiveness:
rocks, branches, people, fish,
even soda cans,
and keeps rushing onward
as if life were all about joy
and that's that.
Don't bother trying to stop me,
says each little waterdrop,
I'm too busy dancing.

Divine Love is like that.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Saying thanks

Gratitude is a perfect flower.
I carry it in the vase of my mind,
tending it with simple care.

How verdant its leaves,
and how subtly persistent
its sly fragrance.
Is there anything it can't heal?
So far, the answer is no.

Nothing escapes its unseen fingers.
Gratitude heals as surely
as sunshine melts ice.
A perfect flower, gratitude.
Go on: pick some.