In the Name of the One who created all.
As 2013 closes and 2014 prepares to open, I stand at the edge of the year looking back over the last twelve months in awe of the immense tidal wave of change that I’ve experienced. There was loss, growth, learning, creativity, risk-taking, self-discovery, determination, and resilience. In reality, 2013 is a pretty good reflection if this experiment called life.
When I asked myself whether I wanted to set News Years resolutions, I realized that most of all I wanted to collect some of the big life lessons from the last year and carry them into 2014. While not extensive, I present my learned mantras (sayings) from 2013 to live by in 2014:
1. Pain and suffering are a choice.
Mhmm. Hard pill to swallow right? Indeed. I have concluded that the Buddha and the thousands of sages that came after him were right. If you are in fact experiencing pain and suffering, it will stop the second you make a choice to change your life. Shift your perspective. Take new decisions. And move to the beat of a different drum. My life is blossoming into the life I only dreamed of through a deep understanding of the mental and behavior patterns that no longer serve me. With a regular dose of meditation and mindfulness I observe, reflect deeply, and spring into action rebuilding, reshaping, creating the life I live now. And I’m just beginning.
I have to admit, this was a hard lesson to learn and practice. But as my teacher reminds me, not more difficult than charting the same course that is not working. And once you begin to move in a different way, the second you are back at the door of old habits it burns. And it burns badly! Think pain and suffering times three. Why? Think Wizard of Oz and the knowledge that the wizard is actually a man behind the curtain rather than a powerful spirit. Kind of hard to forget that realization Dorothy! The Wizard can never be the same. And neither can old habits. Once you know them, you can’t ignore them because deep down inside you know. And when you repeat them…well, I have a new appreciation for the saying old habits die hard.
In 2014 I’m interested in continuing to undo old habits, leave the repeat cycle, and choose joy rather than pain and suffering.
2. Only you can limit yourself.
Well here’s a heaping scoop of responsibility. This year I realized how much I’ve limited myself. How I boxed myself in from taking risks necessary to leap to new heights of peace and joy in life. Another habit that dies HARD.
For years I was a pro at limiting myself. I had all sorts of excuses. I did not have the right certification, years of experience, connections, capital, time… You name it, I listed it. I had the longest lists and largest heap of limits. When I realized that the one in fact conspiring from letting me realize my full potential was myself I experienced ecstatic joy and crushing disappointment. Joy that I in fact could take the steering wheel and redirect things, setting myself onto a new road in life. Disappointment that in fact the one directing the car off course was me, myself, and I.
After getting over my drop in my gut, I decided to take the bull by the horns and kick limitations to the curb. I’ve been pushing my limits and comfort zone as much as possible. Like forcing myself to talk about money which I’ve had a longstanding “let’s pretend you don’t exist…ok?” relationship with for most of my lifetime. Like practicing yoga poses I convinced myself I never could do. And taking the decision to pursue teaching on a full-time basis (website launch imminent!).
Kicking limits is all about working a muscle that has been under worked, or perhaps even ignored over time. It’s about acknowledging when your ego is completely terrified, embracing it with a loving hug, and then doing what needs to be done. Freeing yourself is about ratcheting it up a level when you’ve plateaued and taking your practice to a new level. When in doubt, just shut up and listen to Rumi: “Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.”
3. What would Love do?
Love and compassion played a huge role in my life over the last year. Love and compassion for others…for myself. I could have been really angry at my ego over the last year given everything that I uncovered through my meditation and mindfulness practices. But being angry would have been a choice to experience pain and suffering. And most of all, it certainly would not help me move past those parts of me. Instead I chose…I’m choosing, to learn to embrace the pieces of me I dislike the most and give my ego a hug. Not because I want to continue practicing them, but because I empathize and can understand where they are coming from. Until I create new patterns, my mind only has the folders that it has developed through my life experiences over the last several decades. I cannot blame it for it’s limited library. But I can help it expand the books available to pull from. By accepting it for what it is now, it triggers less often and removes a sense of threat that perpetuates…in fact often exacerbates the patterns I want to change.
Love and compassion is also about others and putting yourself in their shoes. Spell it…EMPATHY. I discovered the profound practice that asking the simple question, what would Love do has on choices. Whenever I’m facing a difficult situation where my ego tells me a story about someone else’s actions I ask what Love would do. I know that Love gives everyone the benefit of the doubt. And that above all, Love forgives. Love does not hold grudges. Love does not keep a scorecard. Love can always understand the “other person’s shoes.” And Love understands above all, that life is grey.
2014 will keep this question close to my heart. A permanent go-to mantra when my mind is drawing conclusions about agitated e-mail from a friend, the unreturned texts, the impatient co-worker, and the man who cuts me off on the highway. What would Love do indeed.
4. Everything is Perfect
We always seem to want more, to decide to be happy “when” and “if,” and to forget the moments of bliss we experience when life appears to be a bit of a mess. One of the biggest lessons I learned, truly, in 2013 is that everything is perfect. This mantra is always taught and repeated to me by my teacher and Sri Dharma Mittra when I attend classes and trainings. Easier said than done right?
I came across this quote from Rumi recently which just simply explains it all: I asked, “Why have I received only this?” A voice replied, “‘Only this’ will lead you to That.” I cannot think of one obstacle, moment of retreat from moving forward, or holding pattern that was not necessary to get me to This. Like the polishing of a diamond over time, removing the grind is not so easy and not always fun. But the good and bad…I’ve decided to take it all because it all is absolutely, positively perfect. In all of the bad I’ve learned. In all of the good I’ve learned. And in all of the in-between I’ve grown. Life is absolutely perfect when you decide to show up for it right here…right now. When we decide to savor every moment. When we allow ourself to sit with the bad. And when we allow ourself to experience transition in the in-between. But most of all, life is perfect the moment we decide it is.
5. Walk like a Buddha.
During the last time my teacher came to Washington, DC to teach we stopped by a local bookstore between classes and saw a book entitled “Walk Like A Buddha.” I can’t speak for the book, but the book title spoke to me. Printed and posted, it is a reminder I have at my desk and in my home that I see every single day.
What do I mean by walk like a Buddha? I mean the steady, unconcerned, movement to do what needs to be done. Unattached from specific outcomes and free from emotionally charged baggage. During my recent teacher training module with Sri Dharma Mittra he reminded us during difficult poses to remain unconcerned and just do your practice because it needs to be done. It is the teaching in the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras to embody equanimity…unswayed by the highs and lows of life. The Quranic practice to be in a constant state of remembrance, intending every action for a Higher Purpose. The choice to move untouched by the drama that often accompanies life and above all the secret to true freedom.
6. Silence is the gateway to intuition. Trust it.
So here’s the deal…I have fallen madly in love with silence and silence has fallen madly in love with me. We were made for each other, but for the longest time I had no idea. Like best friends who eventually date and ask, what were we doing all of this time?! and then end up getting married and living happily ever after. I appreciated silence in small amounts, but never knew I’d make it the first thing I meet every morning and the last thing I meet every night before I sleep. And if I don’t, life just does not seem the same.
Silence has a profound ability to connect you to your deeper intuition…to your True Self. To the Sacred. It connects you with that Space deep within that is like having a wise sage on speed dial 24/7. Once again, Rumi was right: “Silence gives answers.” Not just any answers, but answers you can trust. Answers you must trust. Silence gives a compass to support your walk like a Buddha so that when you move unconcerned, doing what needs to be done, you know in fact…what needs to be done.
Don’t believe me? Try it! Experiment with silence in your life and see what it has to offer. And be patient. Don’t just go on one date and then write it off. Give it some time to grow on you and you might be surprised by the results. You too in a year may write to me about your love affair with silence. After all, anything is possible. Spend just five or ten minutes each day and see what emerges. Perhaps you will surprise yourself as much as I did myself.
7. I don’t know.
“I don’t know” is probably one of the most important multi-faceted lessons I have learned from my teacher. My ego is a control freak, always trying to predict what will happen in the future and cling to that. But I have seen time and time again, no matter how much it tries to predict, it’s never going to get everything right. And the outcomes of life are often way more interesting that what my mind could conjure up. Recognizing this is letting go of the need to control and giving in to the ocean that is life. This doesn’t mean sitting in your chair in the corner watching life go by. But it is the deep recognition that the information you have about any situation is limited.
“I don’t know” is also the ability to admit and accept the limited nature of our mind to understand the Universe. I remember having a conversation with my teacher about this recently when I asked “why does God do this or that?” His answer…”just because…just because.” Just because is understanding any reason we try to conjure up is really not the answer, but an idea our mind has constructed for us. And the mind is a limited tool, to this lifetime. Gone the moment we leave our bodies.
“Existence is a mere process of physical and mental phenomena within which, or beyond which, no real ego-entity nor any abiding substance can be found” ~ The Longer Discourses of the Buddha. Whatever you conceive and perceive is a function of your mind. The Truth lies beyond that which the mind can comprehend. Giving yourself away to This is perhaps the most terrifying and liberating act of faith in this human life.