Direct Experience


Every time I go away on retreat I have only one intention, prayer, hope and focus: “May I be faithful to my experience.” What this means to me is, may I be able to recognize what is actually happening for me in any given moment, as opposed to seeing my experience through the stories I have amassed over a lifetime. Stories that run beneath the surface of my awareness. Stories that tell me what I need to do and say and feel in order to belong, be safe, be me. These are stories that I have told myself for a long, long time.

This intention translates into a running dialogue with myself where moment by moment I am checking in to notice how things are actually going for me. I focus on what is happening at that very moment. I notice which  direction I am most inclined to move in. I notice when I am eating, not what my mind is pushing for, but the actual feel of the food in my mouth and in my stomach. When I leave a program session, I try not have to an agenda about what I do next, following instead wherever it is that my feet take me. Quite literally that may mean I get about 20 feet before I sit down, waiting where I am, until I feel directed to the next place. As for my mind and my emotions, well, I let them be too. I notice what is rising and falling like I am watching images on a screen. Instead of trying to fix or push away, instead of getting lost in a story, I try and just be with what is there, noticing as impartially as I can where it comes from and what it is linked to. For me it is like a game of connect the dots for my mind. I look at how my responses now come from then.

And while this is a tremendous amount of effort, exhausting even, at some point, I hit a critical mass, and it clicks over into a place where I just am as I am.  All my edges are worn off. The need to run incessant story lines is gone. And I am left with a softness and a spaciousness that far exceeds any story I could come up with. I tell you all of this because we are living in times where the pull from the external world is great, so great in fact, that it is pulling us out of the truth of what we are personally experiencing. We look  outside of ourselves to tell us what to think, how to feel and what to want. And we run our lives on memories from the past. This leaves us without the presence to know reality for what it is. And without that knowledge we will always, always suffer.

The body is such a great antidote to any story line. Over and over throughout your day, come back to any experience that the body is having, and watch what your mind has to say about it. You do not have to like it or want it. When you feel a sensation or a need, notice the stories the mind is telling you about it. For instance, if you are tired, see if you can let yourself just be tired without trying to make it go away. Watch what happens with the mind. Watch all the reasons you have for not being able to be tired. Watch all the actions you will take to deny that reality. Watch the feelings that arise when you are denying exhaustion, and then when you allow it. Daily we lose track of ourselves because we do not want what is happening with us to be happening; believing that it just has to be something else that is right, or better. When we do this, we deny our very existence. And to deny our existence is to say that what we feel and experience does not matter, or is wrong. Denying ourselves in this way is to create a kind of sickness inside for which there is no outside cure. Denying ourselves in this way is to collectively create all of the horror we see in a world bent on denying the existence of Life itself.

Do Something Else


In practice, I am contemplating old relational patterns that are not working for me. I write. I analyze. I breathe. I meditate. I engage all the practices that support me so well, and yet, my end of the pattern is still there. And then, a funny thing happens. As I go to put my pen away, clipping it to the side of my journal, the pen makes marks on the back cover. I think to myself that if I put it away like this I am going to have ink all over my bag. So, I start pushing the button down on top of the pen to make it retract. Only, it doesn’t work. I keep doing this over and over again to no avail. I am thinking; “What’s going on? This thing must be broken.” Frustrated, I finally pause long enough to notice that the button to retract the ball point is on the side of the pen. Oh. Suddenly the whole thing becomes very, very obvious and very, very easy. I was just going at it in the wrong way. I just needed to do something else. And it hits me– Yes, understanding what is behind our patterns is so helpful, necessary even. But in the end, it will always, always boil down to needing to do something else, if you want something else.

Not Knowing


We live in a time where the zeitgeist demands: You must know. Not only that, you must know a lot, instantaneously, and always. No matter what, you must never stop knowing. We are inundated with more information than we could make use of in multiple life times. Awash in a tsunami of information, images and new sources of output, we try and keep up. There is always something else to check out. There is always something more that we just have to see.  Along the way, our sense of ease and well-being erodes. This is not just because of the content. And this is not just because of how much effort and time that this takes from us. The biggest impact lies in our knowing, way down deep, what a false and futile chase this is leading us on.

Despite our distorted need to daily run this never-ending treadmill, we know somewhere inside that we will never be able to do it. Rightly so. And yet, we soldier on. We tell ourselves how great it is. How advanced we are. How much better our lives are.  And we are training entire generations to build lives on this lie. While the ego eats it all up, the health of our bodies, minds and spirits tells a different story. These parts speak the real tale of living with the pervasive, constant and ultimate impossibility of keeping up with all that is being generated by the machines. We are sicker than we have ever been, despite all of our “advances.” There is even a new mental health category: FOMO. Fear of missing out.

What would it be like to not know? What would it be like to not have every answer instantaneously? What would it be like to spend time with children puzzling something out as opposed to letting Google give them the answer right away? Without a sense of the unknown, we run the risk of believing the wrong things about ourselves. Without a sense of the unknown, we run the risk of believing the wrong things about how life and the Universe actually works. Without a sense of the unknown, we run the risk of believing that machines are more powerful than anything else. And without a sense of the unknown,  we run the risk of believing that our lives are most fully lived in the pursuit of more and more information; reducing ourselves down to little more than zip drives.

Try this: Upon awakening in the morning, let yourself speak out loud some version of, “I do not know what this day will bring.” Say this despite knowing your schedule and how you need your day to go. “I do not know what the weather will bring.” Say this despite being able to pull up the 10 day forecast in a heartbeat. “I do not know what the world at large will do.” Say this despite the availability of live streaming into every nook and cranny of the world. With all of our  ability to know everything, right now, we are masking something vital that we require as human beings; a relationship to the unknown. A way of being mortal that keeps truth, wonder, curiosity, connection to something Greater, along with the knowledge of our own fragility and vulnerability, alive and well. Do not be quick to annihilate this in your life. Do not be quick to obliterate this from your children’s lives. To do so, puts us in the position of believing the wrong things, leaving us at risk to perils that are heart-breaking, soul-sucking and health-depleting.

And while dread, uncertainty, fear and anxiety may arise in admitting just how much we do not know, these words are closer to the truth than any idea you might have about what is going to happen this day. Notice the possibilities that arise when you align with the unknown. Notice the burden that gets put down. Notice the ease that is allowed to come in because you have turned towards the Truth. When we can allow ourselves to turn to Truth, there is a peace that follows. As Swami Kripalu once said, “We are on a journey from the known to the unknown.”