The Mind & Its Ways

 

As someone who has been observing her own mind for decades, it’s truly fascinating, sad, maddening, and more to watch how often I can catch my mind in some version of “I’m not doing enough.” Sadly, we all do this.

I know some of us would say that it drives us to do better; to be more of this or that. Sure, we get productivity out of this orientation of the mind, but what about the downside? What are the costs of “motivating” ourselves (if that is even what we are actually doing) by focusing on “not enough?”

This “less than” version of the mind is old. Very, very old. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t even ours to begin with. These were the thoughts and beliefs of those around us growing up, which we took on because it was what we thought was real and true about us as children.

I think of this part of my mind as the taskmaster who believes that by keeping me under its thumb, I’ll do more. I’ll do better. I’ll be safe.  But at what cost and according to who? My past? The number of “likes” the world is giving out? What everybody else thinks? A conditioned sense of unworthiness?

While these costs are certainly enormous, they actually pale in comparison to something we often miss. That being, that through the lens of “not enough” we miss our truest selves. Our beauty, fortitude, kindness, grit, generosity, and more; literally robbing us of the opportunity to experience the Truth of who and what we are.

To live under the mean and unfair taskmaster of “not enough” is to miss the very experience and essence of us.

This can show up for me, in all places, in my daily spiritual practice. It creeps in in the moments where despite having just spent an hour or more in deep contemplation, prayer, and connection, I’ll find my taskmaster mind saying that I’m not doing enough when it comes to the physical portion of my practice.

It sounds like this, “You’re cutting short the posture flow. You’re not doing more challenging poses. You didn’t do a full breathwork practice. You only sat in meditation for 5 minutes.” Blah, blah, blah.

It’s truly laughable and absurd to watch this parade of criticism go through my mind. My standard approach these days to the mind in this place is, “Sure, whatever.”

We need lots and lots of ways to work with the taskmaster mind. So if you’re up for it, any time you want to work with the mind, begin by catching yourself thinking. And when you catch yourself in a loop of “I’m not doing enough,” try the light-hearted “Sure, whatever” approach I just mentioned. This only works though if you keep a kind and light attitude towards the criticisms. Like you know what is being said has no merit, and you don’t feel any need to prove it wrong. 

Then, if you want to really change the mind’s orientation and start to rewire all those neural networks into something new and uplifting, try a phrase I use with myself to not only create a balancing response to that old tape, but to create a mindset that will take me back to the Truth of me.

It goes like this, “In this moment, instead of seeing “not enough,” I choose to see a woman who is…committed to her daily practice and devoted to doing deep inner work. Try it for yourself, filling in your own blanks, while you notice, with the criticizing mind held at bay, what do you see now?

Hearts Are Made To Be Broken

 

Years ago I found a little hanging heart for the garden. It’s made of metal and there are two hearts within a bigger outer heart. It hangs off a pole that goes into the ground, and it moves with the wind.

Because it got broken beyond even all the repairs my husband could do, last year I got a new one. An even bigger one. But just like the first one, it got so banged up by the elements that my husband has already twice had to repair it.

When it happened the first time, I found myself saying, “My heart is broken. Can you fix it?” I immediately saw the deeper meaning behind what I was saying. As in, the world has broken my heart. Can it be fixed?

It’s not easy being human. There are so many harsh realities we must all come to face. So many ways we can be hurt. So many ways that the sensitive, loving parts of us can be broken, and driven underground. So many ways that our open-hearted innocence can be warped into anger, cynicism, fear, and victimhood.

It reminds me of something my yoga teacher once said in a training I was in when I was feeling particularly heart-centered, open, and vulnerable. He said, “The world will break your heart, but you are not your heart.” I have never forgotten these words. It is life-altering for me to know that despite how painful life can get, I am more than even the greatest of any heartbreak I will ever experience.

So now, my first little broken heart lives in the earth of my medicine garden. My newer and bigger heart swings around in the wind, shored up by my husband’s loving touch. I look at it every day out my study window as I write, or as I make my way to the chickens, while it stands imperfectly at the entrance of the path that takes people to our yurt, and I think, “Hearts are made to be broken, and the measure of a woman is how many times it can happen to her without her spirit being broken.”

Rethinking Harm

 

I am these days, as dare I say all of us are, aware of, alert to, and afraid of, lots and lots of what is happening in our world. Lots of what feels out of my hands, and certainly nothing I would ever knowingly create.

And yet, here I am. Here we are. Now what?

Let’s start with the obvious, and then make our way to the not so obvious. There’s a lot of harm going on in the world. That’s obvious. From here on out is where we start to get into the ‘not so obvious.’

While it’s easy, maybe even natural, to believe that someone else is causing the harm and that we are the innocent bystanders caught up in something not of our own making, what if this is not the whole story? What if there is way more to this narrative than meets the eye? What if we have more responsibility in the harms being caused in the world than we would like to admit?

This can be hard to hear. Offensive even. Especially if you have never considered how your state of being contributes to the ways of the world. But hear me out. To be with this in a meaningful way, you have to stretch your lens and be willing to see the underlying connection of all things.

Let’s start with an ancient perspective on how all things are connected. Since the dawn of at least recorded history, all of our wisest and well-known teachers have espoused some version of “As within, so without.” In other words, whatever is going on within you, me, or us, is exactly what we will find going on outside of us in the world.

For instance, maybe you never have or never would murder someone, but have you ever felt a rage so deep within yourself towards another that felt beyond your control? Or perhaps you would never rape someone, but have you ever tried to control another person and get them to do what they didn’t want to do? Maybe you’ve never created a war, but do you ever go to war with other people in your own mind?

If you’re willing, there are lots of ways to play with how your inner life is connected to the outer life. But it takes a kind of openness and compassion on your part to look at what is outside of you that you find deplorable, and to see if you can find it in yourself. To root out the harm in your inner world in the service of transforming that harm into something else for the outer world.

But I will tell you from firsthand experience, it’s not easy to get this honest with yourself. Perhaps the hardest thing we will ever do as human beings is to look at the places in ourselves we hide from. The very same places that we will disown by projecting them onto somebody else. As in, that’s horrible, I would never do that. Only to find upon closer examination, that in your own way, yes you do.

Because this can be so tricky to be with, I offer you something a very wise woman offered to me years ago. It seems that in the port town she lives in, the war ships would come in and out. This greatly disturbed her and left her feeling powerless and angry. So she made up a little prayer and it goes like this: “May no harm come to you, may no harm come from you.”

I have found this prayer to be a beautiful way to defuse the inner fears and hostilities that can arise in me in response to a world bringing harm. In the meantime, it creates the space I need to rethink how I might be, in my own way, bringing harm. If even ‘just’ through my own thoughts and inner reactions.

Every Single Bit Of It

 

“All of it gets to be here,” is a practice I come in and out of using. Right now, I am back in.

I both love and hate this practice. I both resist it, and know it to be true. Beyond true, I know it is the directest route to healing my own body/mind separation, the splits that divide us as people, along with the false personas we mistakenly claim as being who we are because we don’t feel we have a right to be all of who and what we are.

This is what gets to be here in my world. The wasps and the ladybugs that infest my home each year. The people defrauding our government, and the ‘entrepeneurs’ bringing us closer and closer to the brink of extinction with their GMO’s, chemicals, surveillance technologies and fake foods. The policies that deny anyone free will over their own body. The people I feel have hurt me. Any and all of the ways that I believe the ‘wrong’ things are in charge.

The list goes on, and it’s enormous! But all of it, every single bit of it, gets to be here. Day after day. Year after year. It’s maddening to include what I don’t want to be here. And frightening. It can feel depressing and risky to believe, to know, that it all gets to be here. That pain that won’t resolve. The lingering illness. That unresolved conflict. The corporation bringing harm.

All of it gets to be here.

I am in no way suggesting that I want these things, like them, or am giving them a free pass. What I am suggesting is that when I take this attitude my life changes for the better. This sounds hard to do. Impossible even. You might even be wondering, Why bother? What’s in it for me? In a word, PEACE. A literal oasis in a desert of fighting against everything we do not want, but that is here nonetheless.

Think about it. How often are you fighting something within your own mind? All the things you don’t want to be here. All the ways that you resist and try and manage ‘what is.’ The weather you don’t like. The traffic you rage against. The annoying co-worker or boss you wish would just go away. A family member not supporting you. The government or a political party that just makes you want to scream.

On and it goes. All day, every day. Big and little wars within that go on to create our outer wars in the places we inhabit together. For as the old adage goes, “As within, so without.”

If this makes any sense to you, give it a try in low stakes situations. For example, ‘let’ the weather you don’t like be here. ‘Allow’ another person’s bad mood to be here. ‘Accept’ that those you disagree with, even vehemently, get to be here.

Instead of looking around at how the world will fall apart because it’s not going according to your plan, watch what happens inside of you when you can honestly and truly let what is here, be here.

Love

 

There are those who say, and have said since time recorded, that Love is the very fabric, energy and pulse of the Universe. If that’s so, it seems important enough to ponder what it is beyond flowers, chocolates and jewelry. Wouldn’t you say?

I know we use the word. I know we see it “represented” in emogees and on cards. I know we will say we love things like cake or our iPhone. I know we are expected to love certain people more than others, and that we are instructed to “Love thy neighbor.” And even our enemies.

But what is it exactly that we’re doing here? Do we even know?

It has been said that love heals. That love conquers all. That love is blind. And that love can move mountains. Still. What is it?

Personally, I know that love is not money. Nor is it things. I believe many people would agree to that, and yet those same people, at any given moment, might equate love to something too small to be it. As in, the bigger the diamond the more he loves you.

I know it’s not words, though words can express it. And I know that saying “I love you,” can be used for many, many reasons other than love. I also know that since the advent of cell phones, it is used liberally. Becoming a must-have way to say good-bye whether you are feeling it or not. A needy gesture to the other person serving as a desperate stand-in for how little we show it.

It’s almost like the more disconnected we get from each other, the more the words replace what it would actually take to create the connection and the closeness we all long for.

I find it harder to say what it is, then what it is not. As in, it is not desperate, anxious, or manipulative. It does not fill a void. It does not demand anything. Nor does it make up for personal lack and insecurities. It does not punish, withhold or humiliate. And it never, ever forces another to engage in a particular action to prove itself.

Perhaps love with a capital “L” is beyond words. As ineffable as the Source from whence it comes. Something available to us, something we can pass on, but never of our own making. So maybe the very best we can do is to open our heart to its Presence and its desire to flow through us.

Whether we ever say those three little words, or not.

 

Thank You

 

Hi Everyone,

In the spirit of the times, I want to spend this week thanking all of you who read what I have written. And to all of you who pass it along to another.

Thank you for allowing me to give voice to what is in my mind, and on my heart. For allowing me a place where I can voice what is not always easy to say or to be with.

May I be as much of a support to you, as you have been to me.

Take care.

Susan

Fixing

 

Spending time last week with a gripping pain in my body continues to offer many teachings. Right now I am working with what it is to be with myself, my thoughts, feelings, emotions and sensations without trying to fix what I am experiencing.

I am a “fixer” from way back. It helped me to survive what felt like chaos and harm growing up; allowing me to feel empowered in disempowering situations. While there is nothing wrong with seeking a fix, it can become problematic when the efforts are knee-jerk and unconscious. Based more from a need to make difficult things go away, then it is to accurately see what is there. This “seeing what is there” being the key ingredient in taking “right” action. By that I mean an action which not only correctly matches what is needed, it also does not create more harm, or a new level of problem.

As I go deeper into the experience of pain, I see the flaws inherent in trying to fix something. Mainly that when I need to fix, it implies something is wrong. Which brings me right into judgement. Of myself, the situation, and whatever it is I am experiencing. In the judgment there is intolerance. With that comes resistance. And in the resistance, a battle ensues.

So now, instead of being wide open and observational about what is happening, I have tightened up and narrowed down my focus into a mere sliver of the information available. This is one of the quintessential hallmarks of being in a survival response. The blinders go on, our view narrows, and we are left with a fraction of the input we need to make a good choice.

So what does this result in? We throw on band-aids. We go back to what we did in the past. Even if it didn’t work. We leave out essential information. We close ourselves off to, and are intolerant of, new ways of approaching old and long-standing problems. Look around. It is everywhere. But mostly, we can find it in the personal and collective approaches we continue to take to health. So like a mosquito banging itself against a glass window when there is an open door behind it, we too stay trapped in the same old same old.

If you are up for something different, other than remaining trapped in old ways of doing things, try this: Whenever you are feeling an unwanted sensation in your body, pause. Take a breath. Give what is happening a name. And just for this moment, let it be. Just let it be.

Watch what happens when you do not fight.

The Limitations of Certainty Seeking

 

A friend of mine introduced me to the phrase, “certainty seeking.” It means just what it sounds like.

While it is so natural as a human being to want a high degree of certainty guaranteed, when it comes to how things in Life will go, it is an illusion. As a species we seem to be the only ones on the planet who not only do not know that there are no such guarantees, we go so far as to demand that it be so; compounding an already dangerous and misguided notion.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what to do. While terrifying to hold at first, this orientation to Life is a true one. A real one. One that lines us up with reality, thereby allowing us to be with things from a clear starting point. Meaning, we are much more likely to respond with accuracy and in a right-sized manner.

This past week, I had a surprising turn of events in that suddenly my back was spasming with such intensity that I could barely walk. I could not take a deep breath. Nor could I get my pants on by myself. In the midst of the worst of it, my husband found me sobbing, “I don’t know what to do.” All of my usual approaches and remedies had fallen short. Nothing was working.

Later, working with one of my practitioners, he uttered the phrase “trapped vulnerability,” which initiated another round of sobbing. There it was. The physical pain was nothing compared to the deep existential vulnerability of being alive that I was up against. Now the question became, “How am I going to be with this?”

What has unfolded over this week is that my deepest vulnerability is bound to my deepest power. That giving way to vulnerability and uncertainty puts me back into alignment with Truth. The doorway in being, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what is going to happen.” It is from this place that I create an opening. A portal if you will, where things I never thought of have a chance to reveal themselves. Where unimaginable support has a chance to come in. And where the most unbearable pain turns into Strength. Possibility. Healing.

We are living in times where a kind of dogma of certainty has settled over us like a plague; settling in us and between us. The message? This, and only this is what you are allowed to believe in. If you do, you are guaranteed a certain outcome. And while to many of us this certainty can feel so reassuring, it is illusion. One that is robbing us of Truth and Possibility.

To believe that another can offer you the certainty you seek is a fool’s errand. An existential foreclosure. Worst of all, somewhere deep inside, you know it is not true. To trade in this lie is to set yourself against the forces and the powers of the Universe. The very same One, which never has and never will, offer you that type of guarantee.

Opening & Closing Doors

 

Back in the spring, we had three doors replaced in our home. Partly, my husband wanted to continue to insure a net positive home. And yes, it would also open up the view. But mostly, he felt that having a tighter seal would keep the ladybugs out of the home he had worked so hard in designing to keep them out.

In any case, after the doors were installed, right from the start, I had to struggle to open and close them. I would have to use both hands to work the lever, while positioning myself, sumo wrestler style, to give myself the extra leverage I needed to lower the latch or lock it in place. Maybe I’m a wimp, but this seemed excessive to me.

My husband took a different stance. Maybe I should lift weights, he joked. It’s pilot error, he chastised. Even when one of his male friends was unable to get himself out the door after spending the night, literally trapped in our house until he found a door that had been left unlocked, still no movement on my husband’s part. No concession that something was off. What about your mother, I asked. Could she get out? Well, no. But so what, she doesn’t live here. Even the thought of someone he loved being unable to move freely in and out of our home did not move the needle.

Something was definitely not working here. Call me crazy, but in my world, one should not need to be working out at the gym to operate the doors to your own home. So why would a reasonable and rationale person cling so thoroughly to something in the face of evidence to the contrary? Why would someone deflect, project and ignore so completely the reality before them?

In a nutshell, personal investment and world view.

My husband had spent the first 3 years in our new home outraged every time the lady bugs got in because he had spent a lot of time, energy and resources making sure that would never happen. He was convinced that with these new doors, the problem would be solved. He had also spent a ton of time researching and speaking with the rep from the door company. Had even scheduled him twice to come back to make adjustments. To no avail.

Me? I had no skin in this game whatsoever. (Unless you call being able to get in and out of a door without breaking a sweat an agenda.) I hadn’t been the one to design or build the house. I had not done all the research or spent all that time on the phone. But mostly, I had no illusions about the power and the intelligence of a ladybug getting to where it wanted to go; despite my husband’s best efforts.

As you can imagine, his investment was immense. This approach just had to work. There was no other way. It just had to be the fix. Only. It wasn’t. Not only were the doors not working, there was no guarantee that they would even do what he believed they would do once the ladybugs returned in late fallFor as they say, “Life will find a way.” 

So here it is. Whenever we have decided something, spent a lot of time putting our energy into something, believing we have found the solution, invested ourselves fully in something, that’s it. There is no considering another way. No looking at other options. No considering the facts. Even when they are right in front of us. It’s the whole cognitive dissonance thing: either you factor in new information and adjust your world view. Or. You deny, ignore and take whatever comes your way and distort it enough until it justifies your decision.

The ability to shift perspectives is to admit fallibility, and is the hallmark of an open and confident person. One who understands that our limited view of the world must be acknowledged. And it ultimately speaks to someone possessing a certain kind of mental flexibility: A capacity that makes for great leaders, trustworthy friends, even-handed partners, and a sane populace.

And it is what the world is begging for right now.

So if you are up for looking at your own ability to shift perspectives, look for the places where you feel everything inside of you physically tense up when things are not as you want them to be. Look for the place inside of you where you cannot bear to hear the other side of something. And then, see what it would be like to include one piece of what it is you cannot accept. One shade of grey you have been denying. One other avenue that might, in fact, work.

P.S. My husband has shifted his perspective. Now it’s the rep who can’t square what he sold us with how it is actually playing out.

 

First Things First

 

Many years ago, I heard the expression “spiritual bypass.” If you’re not familiar with this phrase, it can be defined as “…a tendency to use spiritual explanations to avoid complex psychological issues.” In other words, instead of meeting head on and working through difficult and unresolved issues, we leap over what is too hard, while trying to land in a place we would rather be. Somewhere that feels better to us than here.

Wherever that here is, and whatever it takes to get us there. Delusion and denial included.

While this phrase has always been used in relation to how we see ourselves spiritually, the same underlying avoidance is being played out all around us, and on every, single level of our humanity. We want more ease in our minds, but because it feels too difficult, we bypass to “serenity” through drugs, alcohol, shopping, and scrolling. We want to feel at home in our bodies, but because we do not know how, we bypass to “safety and security” by abdicating our bodily autonomy, authority and sovereignty over to a doctor, the marketers and corporations selling us things, and now, our very own government. We want more closeness in our relationships, but because we have grown accustomed to screen-mediated interactions, we bypass to “intimacy” by believing that social media is the pinnacle of satisfying modern day connections.

Whether you look to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the yogic chakra system, childhood development, or building a house, every system worth its salt includes the same principle: First Things First.

Meaning, that before we can experience peace of mind, we must do a study of what it is that disturbs the mind, and what it is that calms it. Before we can feel at home in our bodies, we must learn how to take responsibility for what it means to care for them. And before we can have meaningful relationships, we must put the time in, in real time, day after day, that they deserve and require.

Somehow though, we don’t want to know this. We don’t want to know that things take time and our effort. For ours is a culture of bypass, leaving us more at home with the illusion that things can be got without cost, consequences or hard work, than with us doing what actually needs doing. We believe we are just supposed to be able to have it. Or easily get it. That someone else should do it for us, or at least tell us how to do it.

These are the thoughts of a child. But if you are ready to see things not as you wish them or expect them to be, but as they actually are, and are willing to use that reality check as a starting point, you are now in a position to leave bypass behind in the service of the life you most want.

What might that look like?

Find something in your life that is not working. Make a list of all the related things you think you are supposed to have or be in this department. For instance, if you are not well, that would include everything around the end game of feeling better that you currently do not have. Keep stripping it all away (this takes time and effort) until you can let yourself be where you are, feeling what you are feeling, and experiencing what you are experiencing.

Then, ask yourself, what is the very first thing I must do now? The thing that must come before all else? The thing upon which everything else relies?

And then, stay with that very first thing until it feels totally sated. This will be longer than you want or can imagine. But just like building a house, if you can put the care and the patience of creating a solid foundation into the service of what you most want, everything, everything, that comes after that will be true.

P.S. Often the first thing that most needs doing is exactly the thing we most want to avoid. So, if you can find out what that is, you will be well on your way.