Boundaries

 

Ever heard someone say, or maybe even said yourself, “I really need to create better boundaries.” Typically, a statement like this will come up whenever we feel as though we are being taken advantage of, or maybe because we are giving away too much of ourselves. Likely we have all been there. It seems only natural that there will be those places where we will need to draw a better line, keep something back for ourselves, say “No,” or just in general, do less.

Or maybe more to the point, do only what is ours to do.

How do we even begin to figure that out? For surely if we really knew what was ours to do we would not be in need of creating better boundaries. So perhaps there is more to this whole boundary thing than just keeping something out. Or in. Depending, of course, on how you do what you do.

Boundary setting can feel as though something must be erected; built strong enough in order to keep things out. It might even feel like it is something placed outside of us; like a giant, electrified fence with a big “KEEP OUT” sign and some barbed wire at the top. It can feel like this especially when we have let things go too far. So far, in fact, that we imagine ourselves on one side of our fence, with others on the opposite side; feeling like if we do not get very strict with ourselves and others we will be taken advantage of. That something will be taken from us, or that another will enter where they are not welcome. Or that we will abandon ourselves, giving away too much, doing what is not ours to do, only to be left depleted, resentful, and used up.

Seeing it this way though misses the point. Partly because it puts us at odds with both ourselves and others; creating a kind of battle where there is a winner and a loser. Someone protected, and someone protected against; with the subtext being that it is because of the other person, or our level of sensitivity and openness, that we must guard ourselves by drawing a hard line. That something is being done to us, as opposed to us choosing for something. As in ourselves. For when we place the emphasis on the boundary itself, we miss the most important thing of all. That being, that when we are fully with ourselves, fully occupied in who we are and what we are feeling, fully accountable for our experiences in life, right-sized boundaries naturally, effortlessly, precisely and perfectly arrange themselves moment by moment by moment.

But this can only happen when we are fully inhabiting ourselves. Fully sovereign unto the  experience we are having. Fully occupied, as in, not having left ourselves vacant. It means not having extended beyond ourselves, nor having shrunk back leaving a void for something or someone else to occupy. When we inhabit ourselves in this way, there is no leaking out, or invasion in, for there is quite literally no room for the territory of you to be overrun, occupied or given away because you are so fully filled with who you are.

This is not easy to do. Many of us are so used to confusing our needs and wants with other people’s needs and wants that it can be very, very tricky to figure out where I end, and you begin. It can feel almost “natural” to give ourselves away. To over-do. To overcompensate. Which is exactly the point. For when we are fully claiming who we are and where we are in any given moment, we do not extend ourselves erroneously, nor do we leave a void to be filled by others expectations or demands. Instead, we create the long sought after journey of fully being all in with ourselves. Which then leaves interactions with others more clear. More known. Less confusing. And with far less boundary-problematic co-dependency between us.

Here is something to try. As you move throughout your day, occasionally stop and ask yourself, “Where am I?” If you find that you have left yourself out of the equation, are doing more than your share, are taking the brunt of something, if you feel overrun by what other people think or want from you, come back. Right then and there. Come back. Locate into yourself in that very moment. Connect to what you are thinking, feeling and sensing. Then proceed.

 

Surrender

 

I have a friend who picks a word to work on for the year. While it has intrigued me, it was not until this year that I decided to give it a try. Initially, I chose “gratitude.” Sounds good, right? Who could argue with being grateful as a focus for the year? Well, I could when it turns out not to be your word. For on the very same day I chose “gratitude,” I was in an end-of-the-year yoga class, and I got the very clear sense that my word was not gratitude, it was surrender.

When it came to me, I was moved to tears. I felt so connected to my life and to Source. So ready to surrender it all. Until that is, several hours later when my laptop died, and I was convinced that my daughter had initiated the demise.

It was truly amazing to watch how just a few short hours after the calm surrender of the yoga class, I was instantaneously catapulted so easily straight into an all out war with the reality of the moment. The exact opposite of surrender.

You see, I “needed” that lap top to get a playlist together for a class I was teaching two days later in a brand new location. Right away my mind went to what it would mean about me if I wasn’t ready to teach. Right away my mind went to the “fact” that my laptop had been working just fine until my daughter downloaded an app on it. And right away my mind went to that at least it had been working in a limited way until my daughter got on the phone with the Apple tech, who after he instructed her to do something, left the computer unable to even turn on.

Oh! My! God!!!!

As all of this played out, I swung between irritation, anger, resentment and moment by moment mental reminders to let it go. That it was not a big deal. That it would all work out. Except, that I did not really, actually believe that. That is, until my husband called to share some difficult health news about a friend, at which point I quickly hung up and went to tell my daughter that I was not mad at her. At which point both she and I both burst into tears while we stood there clinging to each other like survivors of some catastrophe.

I am emotional just writing this. For in that moment, what revealed itself was that all the fighting against reality had put me in a position of being at odds with someone I loved. And how often do we all do that? Make some stupid thing more important than the relationship. But when that perspective shift came in, I could not get to my daughter quick enough. And God did it feel good. Right. Exactly where I most wanted to be. Much better than being the one wronged or inconvenienced. Much better than being upset with someone. And much, much better than being right.

Admittedly so, I am a little worried about what I have signed up for. And yet, I know that I am all in because of what transpired between my daughter and I in that moment. Don’t we all need this? A way into where we most want to be that is stronger than the habits and conditioning of the ego, with all of its plans and strategies for holding and defending a position?

Want to join me in this “little” experiment? I know it won’t be easy, but this experience that I am writing about has clued me into something. That being, that when we are not clinging to the wrong things or trying to force Life to turn out a particular way, there is more space for… EVERYTHING! Including most of all what it is that we want most of all.

 

A Careful Time

 

So, here we are again at that time of year. That being, the time of resolutions. The time where we set intentions and make commitments to ourselves and others with so much hope and resolve. Equally, it is the time when our resolutions can become lost and forgotten as firmly as they first came in.

Recently, while away at a training, every day as I went to class, I would pass this quote: “You are carefully designing the person you are right now. It’s time to take ownership of that creative process.” Yes, I would think inwardly each time I went by it. Yes, this is what I want more than anything else in the world. Yes, I resolve to take this up with a firm commitment.

Then, Life would show up in the form of longstanding thoughts, beliefs and habit patterns that ran contrary to this lofty and much desired resolution. Life would show up in the form of interactions with other people that challenged the process I was trying to carefully and deliberately design.

And there’s the rub. Creating a resolution or intention is one thing. Living it is an entirely different matter. Which is why it is so easy to make one, and so very, very challenging to keep one.

What I have found is that in order to deliberately create a new habit, belief or way of being requires a breaking down of the goal or the aim into the down and dirty of the moment. As in, how does this commitment show up in the gritty reality of Life versus the fantasized version of what it will be, look like, or take.

What that meant for me was breaking that quote down into the specific qualities of the person I was intentionally designing. For me, this broke down into two categories: Being who and what I am, and being a well-wisher of others. With that as my guide, each time I noticed my mind cycling back to old thoughts and patterns, I would wonder to myself, “Does that thought/feeling/action/belief get me closer or further from who and what I am? Does that thought/feeling/action/belief make me a well-wisher of others? When the answer was no, as it was each time that I tuned into what was happening, I would shift away from what I was thinking or feeling. I would drop it as quickly as I had noticed it.

It was exhausting, constant and time-consuming to work with myself in this way. And, it was powerful, life-changing, and exactly where I most want to be. That being, in alignment with taking full and complete charge and responsibility for who I am and how I move through the world.

Try it. What do you want for yourself this coming year? Once you have it, break that down into something manageable that you can reference in any given moment to discern whether you are there or not. For instance, looking for love? Where and when do you push it away, or set yourself up as unlovable? Looking to be seen? Where and when do you hide or diminish yourself to yourself or others? Looking to feel healthier? Where and when do you indulge in the wrong things?

The trick here is to catch yourself in as many moments as possible acting out of alignment with what you most want. Not in a punitive or judgmental way, but as a correction. One meant to take you back on course and towards the person you are carefully designing yourself to be, in a way that most lines up with the satisfaction and the magnitude of fully claiming the creative process of your life.

A Sacred Act

 

We all know we are in a season identified in our culture as a time of giving. But what about receiving? For without this end of the equation, something that has been given cannot find a place to call home. It cannot land and be welcomed in. It cannot be expressed in any kind of a meaningful way.

It is interesting to note then how much emphasis gets placed on the one giving, along with what and how much is given. And then there is the built-in hierarchy where the giver gets the loftier position than that of the receiver. We focus on the generosity of the donor; the one who is doing for others. We even have award ceremonies where we single out, and celebrate the most generous among us. The message being; these are the truly gifted ones.

But there is no giving, no generosity possible without the receiving. Without the magnanimity of the one opening themselves up, often even submitting or surrendering, in order to receive. There is no generosity of the giver possible without the full and equal generosity of the receiver. So where are the award ceremonies for those of us who excel at receiving? No where to be found actually. Instead, those that are on the receiving side of the equation sometimes hold the undesirable position of being seen as “less than;” evoking pity, contempt, suspicion, superiority, and more.

To receive is to permit to enter. It is to take in. It is to welcome, to greet, to accept, and to serve as a receptacle for. When viewed from this perspective, receiving is a holy act. A sacred exchange that requires both sides. And this is true whether we are talking about our relationship with All That Is or what happens between us and other people in interactions large and small, visible and invisible, easy and difficult.

So how about it? What would it take for you to see the precious nature of receiving? More to the point, what could you start doing about that? Does it require a change of heart? Of identity? Of habit? Whatever it calls for, one thing is certain; for many of us, receiving can be far more difficult than giving will ever be.

What We Call Things

Have you ever noticed the places where what we would say we are doing as a culture flies in the face of what is actually and truly happening? It often feels to me like the equivalent of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Do you know that story? The one where the Emperor, the “wise” ones, along with the masses are being misled into believing, or at least acting as though they believe, that the display they are bearing witness to is finery, when in fact it is an all out duping? More to the point, that what is being represented and sold as the finest imaginable is in fact, a lie? And how in the end, it takes the integrity and honesty, along with a lack of commitment to the status quo, of a child, to name the Truth? A kind of Truth, by the way, that every adult in that moment was capable of claiming?

An example of how this goes on regularly in our culture occurred recently while I was taking my husband to an eye appointment; the kind where you need someone else to drive you because your pupils have been dilated. This meant that I was the one driving him, which meant that I found myself moving through an area saturated with enormous building after enormous building of medical offices. Row after row of factories housing our “health”/disease care system. No more fully in evidence than when I passed what is named, “The Center for Cancer Care.”

The Center for Cancer Care?? Did I read that wrong? I must have because how could we possibly have created, gone on to fund, stand behind, and elevate to a position of being the gold standard, a center that cares for cancer?! Have we lost our minds?

Why is it not “The Center For Healing?” For Hope. For Human Care & Possibility. For Human Dignity. For Getting To The Root Cause of Disease. Why is it the cancer we are caring for? Does this focus leave us spending too many of our precious resources “caring” for cancer when in fact we should be caring for people? And is this why we have such a hard time eradicating it? Because we are pouring all of our resources into the wrong place, the wrong set of beliefs, the wrong set of approaches, and ultimately asking too many of the the wrong sets of questions because we are beginning with the wrong thing? Because we are beginning with what we are afraid of, instead of what we love? With what we want to eradicate instead of what we want to cultivate? Because we have not called it and defined it by its real name?

Here’s one for you. Does it strike you in any way odd that cancer has become such big business? And that for all of the billions and billions thrown at it, remains the disease that continues to thrive despite our best efforts? Is the war on cancer the best approach, or are we defining it in the wrong terms, ultimately taking us off course for a cure?

Maybe you find what I am saying naive, insulting or disrespectful. Maybe. “Of course we are not caring for cancer, we are caring for people,” many would say. Maybe. But the words being used tell another story. The words demonstrate an unavoidable truth; the focus is on cancer. The starting point is on cancer. On disease. On the problem. Not people. Not health. Not healing. Not the solution.

What we name things matters. The ability to call something by its true name matters. The real and true name serves as the starting point, after which everything else will follow. Therefore, if we do not get it right at the start, it will never be right. It follows then that it is essential that we recognize that the words we choose carry weight and tell a story; both obvious and hidden. Words reveal powerful meaning around how we really think about something; holding all of the intentions, beliefs, attitudes and motivations embedded within the words we use, along with the reasons we use them. But only if we are willing to pay attention.

While the West does not recognize the energetic and vibratory nature of language, traditions in the East do. Sanskrit for one, does. It recognizes that sound, words, are the most powerful medicine on the planet, and therefore are to be used with great care, respect, clarity and reverence. Even the Bible recognizes this; “In the beginning was the word…”

Look around. Where do you see things not being called by their true name? What would it take for you to be more intentional with the words you use? What would it take to bring more discernment around what you are accepting as truth? And where can you step beyond your comfort zone, the need to belong to the wrong thing, along with lifetimes of fears, to call out the culturally agreed upon falsehoods that we are calling our finest, all while elevating us to our very worst.

(Inspired by Vici. Thank you dear friend.)

Uncertainty

 

I don’t know about you, but I often want to know exactly how things are going to turn out. I want some kind of a guarantee. I want a map. A good one. And I want assurances that I am on the right track. Something that says, “Here’s how to do it, and here’s how it will all turn out.” And P.S., you will be OK through it all.

This is all so very, very human. And so very, very short-sighted.

It is not a surprise that many of us would characterize the times we are living in as uncertain. Certainly, you can find lots and lots of support for this just by listening to the daily news. It might even feel as though we are living in perhaps the most uncertain times ever in the history of man. This leaves many of us terrified, stressed, angry, jaded and overwhelmed. And I think we might be hard-pressed to find too many people who would welcome, and even thrive on the uncertainty we are facing.

And yet, what if we could? What if what we need most right now is the ability, personally and collectively, to create through, and with, the uncertainty?

It puts me in mind of my daughter who called last June very upset because the house she was to be moving into in a matter of a few short weeks, had had an electrical fire. That meant that she would not be able to move in until September. At best. She was very distressed not knowing what was going to happen. Where she was going to live. What this meant for her summer plans. If the house would even be ready in the fall for when school started back.

At some point, however, she caught up to the situation, and began to embrace the reality that the certainty she had been counting on, was gone. The question then became, “what next?” Surprisingly enough, with uncertainty fully embraced, she set up an amazing experience for herself in the Northwest Territories of Canada where she lived in a yurt and met great people, all while interning for a farm whose mission it is to bring greater food awareness and security into a part of the world deficient in this. She learned a ton of new skills. She spent time in a magnificent landscape. And she grew.

Even better? Upon arriving home, not only was the house ready weeks before school started, but it had been rehabbed back into a far better condition than what she had signed up for. She described it as feeling like she had moved into a brand new place! Not only that, but she saved money as no rent was charged for several months.

Win. Win. Win.

But none of this would have happened if she had fallen into fear or despair over the uncertainty of her situation. And that’s the trick. Recognizing that when the unexpected strikes, if we can gather ourselves long enough to be open to an opportunity, something amazing might just be born out of the uncertainty. As crazy as it may seem when we find ourselves uncomfortable or afraid, this is what is available. Always. Believe it or not, it is available around political polarization, climate change, violence, job loss, illness, and any of the other personal and collective uncertainties we are facing.

This is not easy to see or to do. But the truth is, life is uncertain. Every second of every day. It’s just that we have gotten so used to a certain level of predictability and orderliness that we forget, that like any creature on the planet, we too are subject to the laws of chaos, change and uncertainty.

But what if we embraced this? What if instead of fear, despair, outrage and overwhelm, we chose to say “Yes” as quickly as we could, followed by, “What is possible here?” What if  seeing uncertainty not only as a hard and fast reality, but also as a highly creative partner, a kind of muse, became our new narrative? A force in Life not meant to tear us down, create defeat, pessimism and victimization, but instead an opening to possibility.

How then would you look at what is in front of you now? How then would you look at what is happening on the world stage?

Context

 

Last weekend my husband and I ran a 5 mile road race. This is a distance that is right at the edge of my comfort zone. Add to that a grueling 1 mile uphill in the middle of the race that is steeper than anything I have ever run. So steep, as a matter of fact, that many, many runners walk it. And not just the slow ones!

I had come into the morning on the heels of a disastrous night’s sleep. You know the ones where you aren’t even sure whether or not you slept? Given this, I had no idea what to expect from myself. Therefore, I had to make some quick mental adjustments to give myself a chance to be with a day that I had been looking forward to in a way that would be supportive as opposed to degrading.

The first adjustment I made was to lower the bar; that meant finishing became my main goal. Right alongside that was the equally important goal of enjoying myself; of soaking up the support of the crowd; of leaning into the gratitude that I felt that I can still do this; of relishing the experience of being with one of my favorite people in the world, doing something we both enjoy.

All of this put me in the position of having a fabulous time. But more than that, it opened up something in me around the kind of person I want to be, and the kind of world I want to live in; including what it takes to do so.

I have to back up for a moment here and include that the night before the race, we had watched the Fred Roger’s documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” The loving world that Mr. Rogers created, championed and protected for children kept looping through my mind as I became the recipient of so many people, strangers, smiling at me, cheering me on, and wishing me well. Even though they had no idea who I was. I was gifted over and over again with incredible support. No strings attached. It felt as though I was deserving of it just because I was there. Just because I was me, doing what I was doing in the way I was doing it.

No need for me to be first. Or keep any pace. No need for me to look like anything other than I did. Or be doing anything other than what I was. It was incredible. And it was so easy to respond in kind.

At the end of the race, I started imagining what the world would be like if this was available for each and every one of us, every single day. What it would be like to make eye contact, smile at strangers, and wish them well. I realized that what made this possible was that there was a context. A structure. Something created that runners and spectators could step into that allowed for this level of open giving and receiving. We see this at other times. Maybe it is a wedding. Or a funeral. Maybe when a baby is born. Or someone is sick.

I realized that I am no longer willing for some external set of circumstances to dictate to me when and where this can happen. What if instead of me waiting for someone else, or for the events of Life to provide the context for a genuine and easy show of open-hearted-ness to others, I, myself, became the context? And what if that context traveled with me everywhere I went? No matter what the outer circumstances.

And if this seems silly or impossible, check it against this; “What really is the point of our lives here together?” Is it to compete? Be the best? Compare? Guard against? Get our share? Win? Alienate from? Keep others in their place?

Or is it something else?

Hard Choices

 

I hear from my husband the latest news around the most recent mass killings. I am so very angry. So very tired of business as usual. So fed up with the ways that we as a people allow for, supply and even promote the most egregious and destructive of acts against our own kind. I am so done with the choices that we all continue to make that destroy and squander Life.

As hard as it is to bear witness to the atrocities that have grown far too common, what is even more difficult is getting our minds around the fact that none of the violence that occurs “out there” is separate from “in here.” Indeed, it is a startling enterprise to begin to even consider that what is outside of you, is inside of you. That this is not someone else’s problem or doing. That this is ours. All of ours.

It is easy, and oh so convenient, to think that “real” violence is something that you would never do. Something that only bad people, evil people, criminals, lunatics and the deranged perpetrate on the rest of us. Think again. There are many, many forms of violence that we all engage in daily. But because it does not result in immediate death, or look like an obvious and outward form of violence, we do not recognize it as such. But what if our definition was one that said that any thought, word, or action that devalued or harmed Life, any Life in any way, was indeed a form of violence?

How then might we view our daily habits of speech, thought and action? As in, the way our gossip tears other people down. As in, the self-criticism we engage in that harms and dismantles our own vitality. As in, the entitled and gratuitous spending choices that rip and strip the Earth of finite resources. As in, living a life of anesticization by numbing out our precious life force with whatever activity or substance we can get our hands on. As in, annihilating a stranger with our words, reducing them to nothing in our mind because they are not driving fast enough. Or behaving the way we think they should.

And just in case you believe I am only ranting at you, I am not. I include myself in this. I include all of us in this.

The “this” being, what it is that we are choosing. And I am not just talking about gun-laws. For as hard as this one has been to change, it is nothing compared to what it takes to live lives that are based on valuing Life. In all of its forms. On every level. Whether it is difficult or not. For the truth is, laws are ultimately a band-aid, and though desperately needed at this time and in certain circumstances, not nearly enough for addressing the root cause of what we are facing.

To understand this more deeply, let’s take this down into the personal. What needs to go in your life but that somehow you have refused, up to this point, to change? Where do you leap from one crisis to the next; engaging in just enough action to get back to the status quo ASAP? Reflecting and answering in such a way offers the possibility of understanding why it is that no traction ever occurs on a national level on the topic of gun violence.

For the hard truth is, the answers are personal in nature and found by looking at what is being slaughtered in your very own life, where nothing ever changes, despite the desperate cries for help. For truly, the only way to understand “out there,” is to understand “in here.” And if we could begin to do this, we would put ourselves in the powerful position of understanding something so thoroughly as to know exactly where the problem stemmed from, and then most importantly of all, know how to act with wisdom, clarity, purpose and compassion. Which by the way has nothing to do with “being soft on crime,” and everything to do with understanding a matter so deeply that the solution naturally presents itself to you, and therefore, to us.

Can you see what we are up against? Why it is so hard, impossible even, to do things collectively that we cannot do individually? How difficult what it is that I am suggesting? For if we cannot do this within ourselves, how will we change the collective experience? It would be so much easier to believe that gun control is the total answer, or that more surveillance would solve what we are up against. That more rules and more paranoia and suspicion are what is called for. That these approaches and emotional states will be what saves us. But none of this will ever be effective at the level we require. Why? Because it is not addressing the root cause. In other words, why settle for catching the shooter, after the damage has already been done, when we could work to develop a world where there was no need for anyone to become a shooter?

But to do this would require far more effort than choosing fear, blame and a kind of armoring up; calling instead for a high degree of personal responsibility and social accountability. Despite the arduous nature of this course of action, the reward would be great. Monumental and far-reaching. For our attempts and our solutions would be coming from a place of Truth; putting us in the exquisite and Life-affirming position of knowing what is truly called for as we step forward. In short, we quite literally become the solution. This as opposed to looking for one, or expecting others to find one for us.

I understand you may find me naive. Maybe even dangerous in proposing such far-out, “impossible” and idealistic ideas. And perhaps you would be right on certain levels, and from certain perspectives. Maybe. But I will tell you this: People who value their own life and the lives of those around them do not make these kinds of choices. Do not need to be legislated and protected against. That right there is the Truth. As for the rest of it, well…you decide.

For if we know anything about our nature, we know that it can be far easier to be distracted by the wrong things than to do the hard work that the right things require. That it can be so much easier to imagine things out there coming at us, and doing to us versus knowing that we are at cause in our own lives. This is risky for many of us to consider because there are no guarantees. And perhaps because most of all, what we are talking about is such an enormous evolutionary leap to find within ourselves that it would require putting down a whole bunch about who and what we believe ourselves to be, and how it is that we “must” live.

The bottom line is this: Our lives are far more valuable than we are making them out to be. All you need to do is to look around to see how we treat children, people different than us, the species of the Earth. All you need to do is to look at the dehumanizing medical, political  and educational systems that we claim to be the finest on Earth, and yet daily ignore the real needs of the people moving through those institutions, and who it is they are meant to serve.

Something like this cannot merely be spoken of, but must be lived; day in and day out. It is a process, and never about doing it right, and always about the intention that lives behind why you do, what you do. This is not easy to accomplish in the times we are living in where there are so many shows to be watched, so many people to follow, so many drinks to be had, edibles to be consumed, worries to foster, and grievances to be fed. Lest you believe I am demonizing these things, I am not. I am merely, and strongly, pointing out that they are not the source of sustenance with which to feed, value and source a Life.

My practical response to this? I for one will be waging an all out inner campaign against violence. It began on the day of hearing the news when I chose to take a walk to clean up trash that others had dumped instead of sitting at home stewing. It will continue with as many ways as I can imagine to gather people together in the service of what is uplifting and essential. Most of all, I am pledging an all out campaign on any and all life-negating and critical thoughts that I harbor against myself and other.

Too simplistic? Too unrelated to the topic at hand? Maybe. But what if it were true?? What if when enough of us make a choice to honor and value Life in all of its forms, we will weave together a world where honoring Life is the beginning, middle and end of literally every single thing we do, speak, think and pray for? Both individually and collectively.

I’m in. How about you?

Control

 

I have hung laundry on a morning where the skies are split between a baby blue and a steely grey. Sun? Rain? Even though it looks like I only have a 50/50 chance of the clothes successfully drying, I keep going because this is the day I have decided to do laundry.

Right from the start, I can feel myself falling into a familiar inner struggle; a kind of attempt to muscle something through that I have absolutely no dominion over. I feel it in the way my jaw tightens. I notice it in the way my eyes keep searching the sky. I experience it through the repetitive thoughts I keep having. Somewhere inside, it feels as if my obsessive attention will turn the sun on, and the clouds off. Almost as if my personal efforts will turn the weather in favor of what I want. As if.

I find myself thinking, “It’s not too much to ask to get just a little more time before the rain.” A feeling that I really need this to turn out a particular way, maybe even deserve it to, based on the extra effort I will have to make to take it all down, and still need to dry it. Based, really, on because this is how I want the day to go. It is as if I am trying to force something to happen. That the tightening against what I don’t want will make it turn out the way I want it to. As if I can somehow bargain with something that is clearly beyond my sphere of authority.

I know this might sound like no big deal, silly even. And I might even agree with you were it not for the fact that this one seemingly no-big-deal moment serves as a reflection of the ways in which I attempt to control what is most assuredly beyond my control. Where, when and how I want to manage Life to go a certain way. All of the inner bargaining, justifying, and tension that mounts as I live the fantasy that I have power over what I do not.

And there you have it. How often it is that we spend our precious life force, our sense of ease and well-being, along with our ability to be aligned with reality, on exerting ourselves not only unnecessarily, but without a chance in hell of ever achieving what it is that we are trying to make happen. And even when we do have moments that leave us believing that all of our forcing has gotten us what we want and need, at what cost has this occurred? How much painful delusion do we continue to generate in the process?

Of course we all want life to go as we want it to go. That is only human. The real trick though is cultivating the discernment between that which you can effect, and that which you cannot. Between efforts well spent, and those that are ill-conceived. Between attempts that nourish, enliven and uplift from those that harm, deaden, and are based in unreality.

When contemplating something of this magnitude, it helps to start simple; as in with something that feels like a low stakes situation to you. A place where you can experiment with learning the difference between what you have control over, and what you don’t. Weather is a good one. So is traffic. More challenging are things like what other people do. And while the intellect may rise up and say “Of course I know I can’t control weather, traffic, or other people,” that is often not how we really feel, way down deep. Never mind act.

What this means is, we need to look beyond the rational mind. It means looking to where you find yourself exerting effort that is out of keeping with the reality of the situation; no matter what the mind might be saying. One way to do this is to notice when you find yourself working really hard to try and make something happen. And if you can catch yourself in any given moment, you might try asking, “Is there anything that I can actually do about this?” Or, “Is there anything required of me here?”

As hard as it can be to have the presence to even know to ask this question, the next piece is even more challenging. That being, the letting go. That being, that when you discover it is beyond you, can you stop the wrestling? Can you calm the endless what-if’s? Can you release the non-productive, fruitless and delusional efforting? And when you can’t, can you watch yourself with kindness as you struggle like a fish on a hook?

All of this takes practice. A commitment to see things as they are. Along with the patience that is required to allow for something new to take hold.

In case you are wondering, once I put the weather struggle down and went on with my day, it was effortless to respond when the rains finally came. In the meantime, I had a wonderful tension-free morning reading, doing chores, writing, and picking raspberries.

The Edge of Compassion

 

Traveling around in the world of yoga, it is not uncommon to hear regular talk of compassion. Most often it is spoken of as an orientation to self and other based on love, understanding, empathy, acceptance and forgiveness. Or maybe as the heartfelt desire to relieve suffering in the world. These are all good, noble and important aspirations. As a matter of fact, we might be hard pressed to find many who would disagree with such an exalted approach to Life.

And yet, there can be serious downsides to this. It might come in the form of believing that compassion is something you do to yourself or another. It might show up as the inadequacy that registers in your mind or the minds of others when your displays of compassion do not look or feel like they are supposed to, because they do not line up with some external definition of such. It might come in the form of using compassion as a way to keep others close and beholden to you; a kind of indebtedness. Or it might show up as an insidious way of managing or controlling other’s views of you; as in, because you are “a compassionate person,” you are somehow above reproach. These downsides range from the incomplete to the manipulative to the dangerous.

When looked at from this perspective, compassion is actually a very, very edgy place. A place that requires a lot of personal integrity and responsibility. A place that demands an accounting of your actions and most importantly, your underlying motivations; a honed focus on “the why” of what you do, versus “the what” of what you do.

There are many who would argue that we are born innately and naturally compassionate, and that the ways of the world take this natural inclination and distort it. Squash it. Squander it. And that when given half a chance, along with the right circumstances, this is the state that not only do we long to return to, but would gladly get to of our own accord. If this makes any sense to you, then it only  stands to reason that a return to an inborn compassion that has been covered up or somehow misconstrued requires a kind of ferocity. A particular type of discernment that is keen enough, sharp enough, and edgy enough to cut through all of what has been overlaid and woven onto and into this native and life-giving inclination.

Compassion is not a coat to be donned. It is not a way to fit in, or ingratiate yourself. Nor is it a sugary sweet that you dispense. Instead, it is an inherited, powerful, magnetic and raw force to be reckoned with. One that requires accountability and a kind of ongoing nurturance. One that has nothing to do with how it looks from the outside. One that is only truly resonant when the intentions and the motivations of the one offering the compassion have been married up to a rigorous kind of personal integrity.

My yoga teacher once spoke on the compassion that arises organically as opposed to the one that we feel like we are supposed to be with ourselves or show to others. He taught that the organic type originates naturally from within when the body is free of tension, the heart safe and at ease, and the mind clear. Looked at in this way, compassion has absolutely everything to do with the state of the giver, and is the first and most important condition to be met. Ever.