Feeling is different from Being
There is a vast chasm of difference between the two. I am not sure why I’m up this late writing about this, but I feel this overwhelming sense of gratitude right now and so I think I just wanted to capture that.
And to tell a story… about gratitude…
Psychology Today defines gratitude as “an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has…”
I say they have no clue what it really is.
Google says gratitude is “the quality of being thankful…” which is a little closer to the truth.
Now, let me tell my story and you’ll understand the difference.
I’ve been a long time member of a certain twelve step program. I’m intentionally being aloof because I don’t want anyone to think I represent any existing twelve step program. I would not even divulge this much information if it weren’t absolutely important to the story. Truth is, I haven’t been to a meeting in a long time, but that’s not required for membership, so it doesn’t matter (maybe it does to some, but not to everyone… not to me).
One day, well over a decade ago, I was in a meeting. I was chairing the meeting (or if your not familiar with twelve step vernacular, I was leading the meeting). At the time, because I was so “enlightened” and on top of my world, I had a personal rule when I chaired that if no one had a specific thing they needed/wanted to talk about, the topic of discussion would always be gratitude. It seemed reasonable, because gratitude is what kept us all not only sober, but happy. It gave us real perspective of our whiny, selfish, self-centered little worlds.
On this particular day, no one wanted to chair. So, I stepped up. When it came time to come up with a topic, no one wanted to speak up. So, I stepped up. Gratitude! God Dammit!
Of course, you can’t talk about such a happy thing without hearing really good, inspirational stuff. This is almost always true. Of course there were the people who would being with, “I just don’t feel very grateful, and I know it’s wrong… that I have a lot to be grateful for, but I’m just so worried about [which new car I should choose/paying bills/DTs/the incessant need smoke meth/etc.].” But they would always come around and find things to be grateful for and thank me for the topic.
But Steve was in the meeting that day. Steve was a man some of us called “Eeyore” behind his back. We didn’t mean it mockingly. We meant it because we worried about him. Steve was always so sad. So very sad. Sadness permeated him, etched through him, leaving him visibly full of holes like a natural sponge. Whenever Steve was going to speak — and he always spoke — my heart would ache for him. I never felt pity for him, but I always wanted him to know that I cared about him, about his life. I wanted to see him hold happiness. He was so soft, and gentle and free with compliments and well-wishes for absolutely every soul he encountered. It was so difficult to see him not have that same compassion and empathy for himself.
We loved him like we loved Eeyore.
When it came time for Steve to talk, I could tell he was dreading opening his mouth. I half expected him to pass, but Steve rarely passed. And though I don’t remember word for word what he said, and it may be piecemeal from several meetings the gist I present below is accurate enough to be quoted dialogue from that meeting.
“I miss my wife. I loved her more than anything. But one day, I woke up from a black out next to her under the bridge we lived under in Portland. She was dead. I don’t know how long we had been laying there or when she died, but she was dead. I hate alcohol. And I’m really scared of it too. I don’t ever want to drink again, but the guilt I feel is too much to live with and alcohol is the only escape I know.
“So, I don’t feel grateful. Maybe sometimes. I feel grateful for my lemon tree. I take good care of it and it gives me lemons. Sometimes I feel grateful for that. But what’s more important than feeling grateful is that I AM grateful. There’s a difference.”
I don’t feel grateful, but I AM grateful.
The concept struck me right between the eyes with lead brick. I could have had no better teacher in all the Universes in this particular subject. Here I thought I was so wise and emotionally enlightened and I had not yet learned this simple idea.
I think it was in his book, Way of the Peaceful Warrior, that Dan Millman said that “emotions are the weather patterns of the body.” We often take this idea for granted. I say “we” because you know you do this too. We say something like “I am grateful for my life today,” when what we really mean is that we feel gratitude for these things. Which is fine, but emotions are fleeting. They blow through and are gone.
How audacious of us to relegate something so important to something so fleeting!
What we really want from gratitude is for it to last. No be fleeting. As an emotion I feel, I can easily take it for granted. I am acquainted with it, rather than intimate with it. And maybe a part of me wants to argue that this is just semantic nonsense, but it’s not.
Think about the power in the words we use. When I say, “I am grateful for the life I have,” I turn gratitude into a adjective. An adjective that is describing me. Thus, gratitude becomes a part of my identity. It is no longer something that I simply feel, but something I must be. Which implies that I have work to do. Something a bit more than sitting around waiting for happy things to plop down into my lap.
On my worst days, when depression sharpens its teeth to gnaw at my grey matter, I remember Steve. He won’t let me forget him. And let me tell you, from the depths of my existence, as a responsible expression of the Universe in an infinite reality, I am truly grateful for Steve.
Steve did not survive this world. He desperately wanted to be with his wife again. So he went home to her one day. He made absolute sure to leave instructions behind on who would inherit his lemon tree. And though I don’t know for sure, I believe with all my heart that it is still alive today, being tended to by someone Steve taught how to be grateful.
Thank you, Steve, for putting me in my place and not teaching me only about gratitude, but about humility. Another thing one must be more than one must feel.
So… What now?
I have been “struggling” with uncertainty lately (part of the reason I’ve been slacking on posting daily shares). The semester is over and a lot of my friends are graduating and moving on with the next phase of their lives. While it’s sad to say goodbye, there is another feeling that is arising for me: what am I doing?
This happens to me when I pause at way stations on my life’s journey. I graduated last December and, while I like the metaphor of a new chapter in life, it felt (and feels) more appropriately to be the end of a book in a series. Some days I feel as if I am the author. Other days, I am only the main character. Some days, my book is non-fiction and my character is real and full of life. Other days, I am a puppet wondering where my direction and motivation are going to come from.
The truth is, I am riding an eddy of uncertainty. As we know, uncertainty is a beautiful thing. What I have in front of me are possibilities. When I’m happiest, uncertainty and possibility are synonyms and my creativity runs blissfully rampant in life.
But then there are those times when the two appear to be antonyms, when possibility is hidden behind the question: “What now?”. These are the days when I feel like I am going through the motions. Ego questions all the things that appear to be lacking in my life. My focus rests on what I don’t have, which is another way of describing all the things I desire.
My life right now is exactly where it needs to be. I have considered options for the future, but none of them feel right. I am beginning a new book in the series of my life, but I am stuck trying to determine what should go in the prologue. Writer’s block, if you will.
Sometimes, it’s important to let those outside forces guide me. I want to allow the Universe to provide me with the options (or, as I like to think of them, miracles and possibilities) I have not even considered. I don’t want to lock myself into a choice that will hinder me. This is called fear.
My life — the entire series so far — has taught me that fear is a very useful tool. It is a difficult one to use properly, but when it arises, it is clear. From that point, I can choose to allow the fear to make my decisions or I can start probing it. Fear really is nothing more than the packaging material for uncertainty-as-possibility. If life is a lush garden, fear is the odor of the compost. It is the manifestation of uncertainty-as-anti-possibility. One of those two dynamics function properly; the other, of course, does not function. It is clear which one does and which one doesn’t. Functional dynamics allow a system to continue expressing motive energy if in an altered state while dysfunctional dynamics grind the whole process to a halt.
Clearly, for my life to move forward from this point — to write the prologue for my next book — I need to embrace the uncertainty. I need to dwell within the space of “What now?”. To keep moving, I need to pause and be present in the stillness of this moment in my life. There is no fear, no worry here. That all exists in the nonexistent future.
Riding to Mindfullness in a Jalopy
I read this article this morning on Elephant Journal about “Is Mindfulness First World Bullsh*t” (by Monica Careless). It was a great read and I agree with the sentiment fully: humility is a key to the practice of mindfulness. I certainly do not want to be perceived as disagreeing with anything in this article, but I do want to examine a different perspective. To do so, I’ll use my own life as an example.
I grew up “first-world poor”. I’ve never lived in a different culture. As such, I’m accustomed to surviving in a first world, but pressed hard against the edges, wholly unimportant to the culture in which I belong, and as such have rebelled against it (in many ways) in my lifetime. My culture is one of consumerism, where my worth is measured in what I can display. I am valued more if I have the nice car, big TV perfectly edged lawn. Growing up on the edge of my culture, I have learned a different way of looking at these things. I like to accumulate them when I can, but I have no real attachment to them. I see them as emergency savings… “pawnables” if you will.
Though in comparison to people surviving in third world countries, I live in riches, my concept of Maslow’s Hierarchy comes from the culture in which I grew up. So, while I struggle wondering how rent will get paid, or if the food bank will let me go again even though it has been less than a month since I was last there (maybe just some eggs?), or what I will do if my leaky car breaks down, or… None of this is to raise sympathy, but to point out the frame of reference I have to work from.
I have two stories to illustrate. The first is the biblical story of the Rich man and the kingdom of heaven in which Jesus tells a rich man that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). The second story is one I heard (but cannot find in any scriptures) about Buddha and his disciples. Invited to feast at a rich landowner’s house, where Buddha and his disciples were showered with gifts, one of his disciples condemned the rich man for his display of attachment to material. Buddha chastised his disciple by telling him that the rich man was closer to enlightenment at that moment than was the disciple. The rich man displayed vigorous generosity, where the disciple displayed only judgement.
The distinction here is attachment to the material world. That is where the first world (rich man) faces difficulties, and why it is easier to pass a camel through the eye of a needle. But I can develop attachments to beliefs as well as objects, which can be just as harmful. Mindfulness negates the frame of reference from which my perception originates. As Careless’s article pinpoints, humility is key. I can be mindful and practice mindfulness, no matter what my circumstances, but if humility escapes me, I am not actually being mindful. Without humility, I am being analytic (as I am doing now), which limits my perceptive capability to a narrow set of causes and conditions relevant only to perceivable stimuli existing in a moment. Mindfulness allows me to see events as they occur. Analysis picks out pieces for judgment. Compassion (aided by humility) allows me to see past the limits of mind and judgment. I can recount witnessing a car wreck in such a way that I am not adding any of my own personal bias to tell the story; I am not judging fault or cause of the wreck.
To bring this back to the beginning. Practicing mindfulness is first world bullshit, but it’s the vehicle we have to get us where we need to be. All mindfulness practice is bullshit while it seeks to penetrate the rebelliousness of ego. We of first world western culture flock through fads, this is true. Mindfulness helps us release judgment of what that means (sort of an Infernal Irony going on here). If you want to travel far, you may have to ride in a jalopy part of the way.
Do you want to change the world too?
I have many dreams. There are so many things I want to do in life. Sometimes, that list seems quite daunting and impossible as a whole. Sometimes, some of the things on that list are daunting by themselves. Some of them are simple curiosities I wish to one day experience; some are ways I may contribute to the happiness of all. I am a dreamer. This is true. I’ve let my culture tell me in my life that this is bad. That dreaming of life is not life. That practical action is required and that I should leave my dreaming in childhood so that I may better pay my taxes and my bills. The old punk-rocker in me has always said, “Fuck you!” to these social standards imposed on me, but the spiritual being within has helped to unveil a different perspective. Actually, they’re not all that different…
One thing I absolutely do not want is to reach the end of my life and wonder what it was all for. In fact, that thought has come to be a powerful indicator to my state of being in a moment. When I start thinking, “What’s the point?”, I know that my will is out of alignment with my life. I know that I am not doing what I should be. I know this because when I’m doing the things I need to be doing, I am happy and content and everywhere I place my gaze, there is living, vibrant beauty.
So, my dream is to change the world by writing. Sounds simple enough, yeah? The complexity of that statement is not apparent in the statement, but it means having experience enough to gain wisdom, which means taking action to experience new things, which means letting go of insecurities enough to put myself out there, which means coming to know myself and my preferences and learning out how to distinguish between preference and fear, which means having the courage to walk through fear, which means ….. and waking up in the morning. Get the idea?
So, here I am writing on my own experience and wisdom. Am I changing the world? I am certainly changing my world.
“You can feel yourself. Not as a stranger in the world. Not as something here on probation. Not as something that has arrived here by fluke. But you can begin to feel your own existence as absolutely fundamental.” ~Alan Watts
Creating the Ideal
I’ve talked about it before, but I have this vision of my “ideal self”. I’ve had this vision for many years and have spent a good portion of my life daydreaming about it. That’s not entirely fair. Some of the work I’ve done (a lot without realizing that was what I was doing) involved discovering internal obstacles. But the real work, discovering/creating the means with which to overcome or circumvent those obstacles have been within the last year. I’ve only scratched the surface. I have a long way to go, but the point isn’t about arrival… it is the going. The further I go along my path… the more positive changes I make in my life… the more that “ideal self” changes. So, it’s safe to assume I will never reach that ideal, and that’s good, because if I ever do, there will be no life for me to be living.
To get to this point, I had to hit bottom. I had to find myself with no other course but to look inward. All outward answers had to stop working for me. And they did… magnificently! At the time, my life felt like chaos reigned, but I remembered something I heard a very wise man say — “Chaos is resistance to change”. It took (is taking — will always take) practice to embrace rather than resist change, but the more I do embrace it, the happier I am; the better I can stay in the now.
That is the real secret to living a life on a quest for the “ideal self”… you don’t work your way toward your goals, you live your way toward them. The journey and the destination are the same thing. The same thing. Let me repeat that again. The journey and the destination are the same thing. I am my ideal self because I want to be better than I am. I am the best version of me because I strive to be better than I am. I have a whole list of things I still want to change about myself, but they are incidental and mundane (regardless of the strong feelings I have about them –> I hate being a smoker). The incidental and mundane are the stepping stones of the profound path. The trick is to not perceive the pavement for the path.
Having said all that, I want to apply this to my idea of an “ideal world” (and, consequently, the purpose for today’s post). I
believe know that what we all want is the same on a very fundamental level — to be happy. We live in a very exciting time. Everywhere I look, I see people pushing themselves and each other to a deeper understanding of the Universe; to living in such a way that happiness pervades daily life; to touch spirit and know. People want to walk the path towards an ideal world. And they’re willing to use the paving stones of the incidental and mundane to walk the path of purity. It’s everywhere. And it is beautiful. Because we want to create an ideal world, we have created it. It’s easy to see all that is wrong, but it really is just as easy to see all that is right and good. And it is.
We are Wothy
This is a good thing to remember on a Monday. I can easily get discouraged when mind wanders toward all the things that can be perceived as “lacking” in different areas of my life. I can slide down the steep side of Maslow’s Hierarchy and not because I’m in actual danger, but because I perceive it as such. Even though I’m not where I want to be in life, I have made some amazing progress and as long as I continue to try, I’ll continue to grow. If I can keep myself in this mindset, good things do come my way. There is nothing in the universe that would take away happiness but my own self-driven ego that wants to convince me I am not worthy. We are all, one-hundred-percent worthy of happiness. We don’t have to do ANYTHING at all to deserve it. Happiness is the natural state of existence. Fear, worry and insecurity takes effort to be maintained.
All is always all
This concept is true for more than small acts of kindness. Everything we do affects everything else. All of it is interconnected. The ripples of my actions span distance and time. I should not ever use this concept to shame myself for my past. Instead, it is fun to visualize (maybe even as a meditation) the little things I can do right now and follow the ripples across time and space. For example, these daily shares. I don’t write them to help others. Nope. These exist for purely selfish reasons. They keep me writing and thinking about writing. They put me “out there” so that I don’t isolate. I have no idea who reads these, and so I can imagine that the stuff I say is seen by either no one or a great many (or anywhere in between). They help me adjust my thinking first thing in the morning, which helps me to align my perspectives for the day (in other words, since I have been doing them, my days have been getting better and better). There are other selfish reasons for writing these, all of which I do to honor the Me that I truly want to be. But I do like to imagine that perhaps one thing I say will help someone have a better day. And maybe that person will use it to help others and they in turn will continue spreading the idea. So, I guess the moral of this story is that it’s important to remember that everything I do causes ripples. What I want more than anything is to cause helpful ripples. And I know that as long as I keep trying, I will. Have a great Thursday! smile emoticon
Happy Earth Day
Happy Earth Day! I do my best to be conscious of my impact on the environment. Of course, I could always do more, but I think it is a good thing to at least be conscious of my impact. It’s a good place to start, anyway. I really like this message from Thich Nhat Hanh. We (whether we realize it or not) have deeply personal and individual relationships with the Earth. The nature of our relationship is entirely up to us. But it is up to us individually. In other words, I am responsible for my relationship. This beautiful planet provides absolutely everything I need to survive, thrive and be happy. It’s important to consider what I do in life to express gratitude for this above-and-beyond physical, mental and spiritual sustenance. Doing so helps me avoid taking this precious life for granted and reminds me of yet another reason to be happy!
“There’s a revolution that needs to happen and it starts from inside each one of us. We need to wake up and fall in love with Earth. Our love and admiration for the Earth has the power to unite us and remove all boundaries, separation and discrimination. We need to re-establish true communication–true communion–with ourselves, with the Earth, and with one another as children of the same mother.”
THE WAYSEER MANIFESTO
This video is about 10 minutes long. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend. It shines a light on those aspects of ourselves that don’t fit social molds. Those are the aspects we want to repress. It’s an interesting thought. Generally speaking, we all (to some degree) want to fit the mold we believe we were shaped from. But… at the same time… we want to break the mold and use the pieces for something far more creative and expressive. There is a little voice in all of us that wants to explore the undercurrents of the norm… to find the nooks and crannies hidden from social view. I know I have this little voice. Maybe I don’t do as much to encourage it as I should. Maybe I have a responsibility to all of you to live a life that is freed from social dogmatic expectations. In my heart of hearts, I am an old punker who believes in the highest potential of all living beings and I believe that we are capable of creating a society that builds and boosts all of it members all of the time. I have an ideal self that is the person I am working to become, but I also have an ideal society in which I must do my part to build. I’m going to think on this some more.
I love Alan Watts. This transcript is worth reading and the video is worth watching. One thing he mentions, and my deciding factor for making this my daily share, is how language (at the very least) points to our social world view. “Nature is wiggly” he says, but humans “think we understand things when we have translated into terms of straight lines and squares”. This reminded me of a book I read for my Senior Capstone class “Metaphores We Live By” (George Lackoff and Mark Johnson) which dives rather deeply into this concept. We don’t spend much time thinking about how we think; we just go through the day. But if we just take a few moments and listen to the words we use, we become aware of how our world view may not agree with how we want to feel.
We like to quantify and qualify and categorize and label everything. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a negative thing to do, but when our world view is strictly defined… there is little space for insight. It is beneficial to take a break from definition to simply experience phenomena for what it is (without making any semantic decisions about what it is… that is, without putting it into words). I watch the patterns of water flowing in the creek in my back yard. When my educated mind is active, I’m curious about how those patterns are caused; temperature, stream and depth (among others) are some factors that dictate how the water flows. But when my creative mind is engaged… the water just flows chaotically and from it a simple beauty emerges worthy of my gratitude. What I mean is that I can witness nature sustaining itself at any moment… and then realize that I am amongst it… a part of it. Then my life has a little perspective. I can see the chaos of flow in my life is how my life sustains itself. This is communion. I don’t have to describe, I just have to be.
p.s. I realize that this whole post is something akin to an Infernal Irony, but I wanted to share it anyway, so take it with a grain of salt.
This idea has been part of my morning meditation every day for several months. Actually, what I focus on is freeing myself from the walls I’ve built of fear, worry and insecurity. These walls keep me from spaciousness, or they fill the purity of spaciousness in life. Spaciousness is lack of judgment and expectation. Spaciousness is immediate and unconditional acceptance. I have momentary glimpses of this space in all areas of my life and in some areas, I dwell mainly in the space. The cool thing about spaciousness is that there is nothing in the way of possibilities. It is from spaciousness that possibilities arise… they need room to grow. So, I try every day to continue chipping away those walls that block my view, that imprison me.
Happiness — a State of Awareness
I LOVE this article. It summarizes part of a key principle in which I try to live my life: allow all parts of me to have its voice. For most of my life, I fought against what I judged to be negative emotional/mental states. I always thought those states were problems. The problem, though, was my resistance to them. It took falling down to the depths of darkness, thinking that under the circumstances, I should feel sad, angry and hurt. It was through this that I started to see that I was NOT in the “depths of darkness”. I gave voice to the sad. I gave voice to the anger. I did not judge them as good or bad. I simply felt what arose without reaction. When sad, I cried. When angry, I clenched my fists or screamed into a pillow. The MIRACLE that occurred during this was that I realized that my emotions served not to direct my choice of action/reaction, but as a pointer to the parts of me that needed mending (something only I am ever capable of doing). The other MIRACLE was that through these “negative” emotions, “positive” ones coexisted. If you ever sat with a friend in pain, you know the joy compassion can spark within. Being compassionate and non-judgmental to my own emotional/mental states also creates intense joy. Almost over night, I became much more in tune with my “emotional self” (I don’t like the word “self” but lack a better pointer) AND… my emotions no longer control me (re-read that last part… a couple times). Funny, really… when I stopped judging my emotions, I stopped trying to control them. When I tried to control them, they controlled me. Now I have learned that Happiness includes sad and afraid and angry. It is not opposite to them. It is honesty within and non-judgmental. It is not merely an emotion, but state of awareness.