Wednesday, April 08, 2009
March -- incredible month
What a windy, sunny, rainy, warm, cold, but always fabulously beautiful month March was this year, so filled with insights! I hit my stride in March, taking full advantage of this year off. I dropped entirely the pursuit of anything other than knowing myself better. And I completely, totally, and thoroughly slowed down. That has been the real key to enabling a state of openness to seeing things differently, and seeing beyond the perspective that I have adopted over 57 years of life. Reading, discussion with others, and reflection play an important role, but it's catalytic. It is on the surface, relative to other efforts I have made this month. Remembering, writing down and analyzing my dreams, formal meditation, recognizing the fleeting nature of resistance to doing certain things, paying attention to the physiological aspects of emotional states I experience, and just being present more of the time, moment-to-moment -- these are more deeply satisfying and mark a real departure from intellectual understanding, towards knowing and accepting reality.
I discovered a tool and learned how to use it: the utility of recognizing and respecting my right-brain perspectives on reality, while maintaining respect for the importance of left-brain functioning. In a healthy mind, neither can be dismissed or even discounted. I put this tool to work and experienced amazing insights.
For example, this month I remembered how fearful I was as a child of doing anything wrong because I could see pretty plainly how people related to my brother, who in fact did do, just about everything, wrong. But more importantly, I connected a subtle tendency to hold my breath once I begin to do just about anything, to this little fear of failing to do it right. This leads inevitably (and quickly) to panic, which makes me want to stop doing whatever it is I am doing. It only registers consciously as resistance to the task. It takes a lot of energy to keep up the task (fighting the panic) while not breathing. Until recently, I was unaware of what was going on, registering only the resistance. Now, seeing the process clearly, I see that it's much simpler just to breathe. The panic goes away, the urge to abandon the task goes away, and all that's left is the task and me, and no resistance whatsoever. I get a lot more done with a lot less energy.
Love is contingent. Think about that. That is simple and irrefutable in our world. We see evidence of the truth of this everywhere. But it's also irrefutable that we are the potential for unconditional love. Just as we are the potential for compassion and forgiveness. Can fear keep us from participating in the flow of unconditional love? Fear of losing it? Wow.
Which brings me to attachment. Grasping hurts. Trying to hold on to something, anything, attaching to an outcome or result, believing that we are what we do -- all of these are a source of great pain for us. So, whenever I feel pain now, I look for the source of it in attachment, and gently let that go, if I can. You have to start small here. I'm not trying this with my mother's care, except in small ways. I haven't gotten to the biggest attachments (to life going on forever in perfect health), but it's very clear to me that the same exercise that applies to the little attachments applies to the big ones too.
Anger, frustration, anxiety all get the same gentle observation. When I experience them, I look for the source in an attachment of some kind, either to things being a certain way, or to things not being a certain way (attachment or aversion).
Basically, every little thing that happens, every feeling I experience, all day long, offers an opportunity to explore the truth of the assertions I've been exploring in others' writings, that the life we lead, the normal life, is not the best way to find peace, satisfaction, fulfillment, love, or to know the truth.
But, I began to branch out a bit from the fundamental left-brain, right-brain distinction that Dr. Taylor describes to learn more about brain anatomy and functioning, and the connection between what we think, how we feel and the parts of our brain that function when we do. I'm reading or have just read "How We Decide," by Jonah Lehrer (reporting on the relative value of using different approaches to knowing and deciding, in different situations), "Predictably Irrational," by Dan Ariely (a behavioral economist who studies how emotions, and not logic, affect our choices much of the time), "Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain," by Sharon Begley (about a meeting of scientists, philosophers and the Dalai Lama in India in 2004, in which the scientists explained their latest research findings regarding how what we do, including thinking, changes the brain), and "Evolve Your Brain," by Joe Dispenza (another of the plasticity books, this one nearly a textbook on the brain -- maybe a bit more than I bargained for). Connecting all this up with Buddhism (or spirituality more generally) is "A New Earth," by Eckhart Tolle. This is really a fairly plain-English account of what Buddhist writers explain in more esoteric terms, though Tolle is careful to emphasize that the principles he's explaining have their correlates in all the world's "religions." But, to the extent that they are in fact religions, he notes that they have sort of lost the main point and become rigid and self-serving, "egoistic" in his terms. Buddhism in particular does not claim to be a religion, but it too can be seen as having become rigid or at least some sects may have. All of these books are extremely interesting and I can't imagine how I could ever have read them if I hadn't taken some time off. They are just not like anything I've ever explored before.
I am reminded every day, especially since both March and April have given us such fabulous weather this year, how special a gift to oneself some time off can be. Time off, to, among other things, slow down, is absolutely essential to growth and change, at times. But for me it is not sufficient. I also need latitude to explore that which has been, for whatever reason, outside the limits of my life so far. These new worlds (for me, they have included traveling for a year in Mexico, Central America, and South America, sailing for 2 years around the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, and now, exploring aspects of being other than intellect) open new realms of inquiry and new realms of wonder. It's like life is fine, putting one foot in front of the other, doing what everyone else is doing, being a part of normal daily life -- but not always, and certainly not forever.