The Wisdom of Simplicity

RiverCanoe

Row, row, row your boat,

Gently down the stream,

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,

Life is but a dream.

* * *

A wise old owl sat in an oak,

The more he saw the less he spoke;

The less he spoke the more he heard;

Why aren’t we all like that wise old bird?

* * *

Looking back, it seems that the wisdom of simplicity was freely offered to us in our childhood. Through various nursery rhymes and songs, we were shown what was already intuitively known in our own simple silence. We sang along and celebrated this simplicity – and our freedom – without giving it a second thought (often without even a first thought). Fun was natural and effortless. We didn’t have to try, we just played. We flowed along with life, whether happy or sad, simply moving with the current.

So how did we ever lose touch with the simplicity of our childhood? How did we let life get so heavy? Where did our innocence and innate curiosity go? (It could be noted here that our compulsive ‘need to know’ or our presumptuous ‘right to know’ are far from the natural curiosity of childhood.)

In exploring our changing relationship with this sense of simplicity, we need not feel as though our innocence or curiosity are all-or-nothing affairs. Many of us keep in touch with these parts of ourselves into our later years. It feels quite natural that these characteristics wax and wane throughout our lives. It seems foolish to limit them in any finite way. Even complicated ‘grown up’ lives still have occasional pockets of peace and simplicity. But I sense that if we cherish these virtues, prioritizing our peace and honouring the simplicity of our lives, we can see our innocent curiosity continue to flourish throughout all our days, no matter whatever else may be clamouring for our attention.

Our exploration of growing complexity and fading innocence need not be a witch hunt, either. But it can be helpful to shine some light on a few probable culprits, if only to open ourselves to rekindling our sense of childlike wonder and gratitude. As kids, the joy of exploration was sufficient to inspire us. The fact that life is an incredible gift needed no explanation or qualification. Like many other joys of life, it was entirely self-evident. I feel it to be as true today as it was then, whether or not we have all kept in touch with it. For many of us, however, the magic of life fades at some point and we begin to want more. We carry on feeding this desire unchecked, most often unconsciously, seeking happiness outside of ourselves (the only place we’re guaranteed never to find it!). How did this ever happen?

Is it possible that we began losing touch with our innocence and simplicity when we started feeling like life owed us something? Is it also possible that some sense of obligation to the world began draining our joy somewhere along the line? Is not the gift of life freely given? Can we not receive it with the same simplicity? How did we tangle ourselves up in means and ends? Can’t we enjoy life for its own sake, connecting and creating together without trying to squeeze something more out of it?

Perhaps we can point out obstacles to this inherent joy and simplicity, and just by seeing them clearly as the illusions they are, we can restore our freedom and independence. The idea that we owe something to life can become quite a burden for us. This feeling of debt becomes easily tangled up in guilt and fear. These are two particularly tough walls to break through, and they seem to have built-in mechanisms for ongoing self-reinforcement – feedback loops of warped beliefs and behaviour.

But if we are left to our own devices, simply learning from our life experience, we’ll come to understand and respect balance quite naturally. Rules of ‘proper conduct’ need not be imposed upon us. Reaching out and supporting one another arises quite naturally on its own. Mandating any behaviour sows with it seeds of dissent. Just as when we were children, we want to be free to behave however we wish moment to moment. Being told to act a certain way, even if it makes perfect sense, triggers at least subtle frustration. We need to find out for ourselves. This is the only way for our behaviour to be authentic.

Imagine you are just about to go and shovel a heavy load of snow for your parents, purely out of the good of your heart. You are getting all suited up by the door and feeling glad that you are saving them the back-breaking labour. Just as you are about to open the door, your parents catch you and say, “Before you go playing in the snow I want you to get out front and shovel the driveway!” Just like that, a gift becomes a chore. You’ve suddenly been completely stripped of all spontaneity and generosity. Now you are merely complying with demands.

Freedom is important. It’s pretty simple. Understanding this in our interactions with one another – especially in relationships where we hold authority or influence – is vital to our collective well-being. Love grows all things. It’s not complicated. Modelling righteous behaviour is more powerful than mandating it. Ideally we would all be responsible for ourselves and thus better-equipped to serve and support our neighbours. I feel that we can grow into this self-responsibility while still cherishing our childlike instinct for play. Curiosity and innocence need never be lost. We can follow our hearts and do our part, playfully and freely.

Does this seem crazy? Is it a sign of a culture’s warped priorities when such simplicity sounds so radical? I don’t know. Honestly. Fortunately I don’t feel any need to solve it. I’m just curious. I hope you are too.

Curiosity

Happy Monday.

🙂

Balance

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

– Albert Einstein

Balance

I used to feel as though I was walking a razor’s edge. I had it in my mind that I was navigating a particularly intense brand of balance. I imagined that my balance was especially broad, reaching out to extremes on either side. This was all a story, of course. It wasn’t necessarily untrue, but it was only a story. I was perpetuating it by believing it (and even more so by telling it).

I imagined that I could increase my freedom by increasing my discipline. While it could be said that I was slowly giving myself more and more permission to exercise my freedom through my discipline, I see now that complete freedom was already my birthright, as I feel it is for everyone. Accepting this simple gift is often the hard part.

I feel now as though real balance is effortless. It’s already here. There is nothing we can do to bring it about. This doesn’t mean we can’t work toward goals, but I think we become less likely to invest expectations in specific outcomes. Even as I work on various projects, I continue to be firm with myself at times and quick to forgive myself when I falter. It seems less and less important to arrive at an end result.

My self-discipline is no longer about expectations, but is based more on standards. I feel if we can set ourselves higher standards, accepting that we will fall short of them at times, we will nevertheless stretch and test ourselves, growing beyond what we thought we were capable of. In this light, being able to accept short-term ‘failure’ can actually strengthen us, helping us develop a greater sense of determination and resilience. This patient persistence, when steadily applied, can eventually bring us into the silence of our own centre – our own hearts – where everything unessential begins to burn up and fall away.

But on our way here, balance is clearly a key to well-being. Living in balance can be seen as a ‘sweet spot’ where we let ourselves move through life without getting tangled up in fleeting experiences. We can cherish and celebrate all parts of life as they pass, but we need not resist nor cling to anything we experience. Easier said than done, obviously, but this is keeping balance – not trying to manipulate events or relationships to unfold as we want them to, but simply honouring them as they are.

At times, however, our balance can appear rather delicate, even slippery and sharp. As I mentioned before, it can feel like we are walking a razor’s edge, rigid and slick on either side. But even this can be seen in perspective. We can stop, take a deep breath and re-frame our narrative, realizing we’re more than likely caught up in thought. Balance doesn’t require cracking some code or figuring anything out. It is more like giving life full permission to do what it will with us.

There are countless ways to look at balance – there are too many frames to fathom and factors far beyond our figuring. It seems then that living life in balance takes a measure of faith. Stomaching some uncertainty seems vital. A tolerance for paradox may help us along the way, while we’re at it. It even feels like being ‘out-of-balance’ from time to time can be a part of anchoring in our overall balance. That sounds a bit crazy, but I feel it is true.

A phrase came to mind some time ago which feels relevant here. When it first occurred to me I intuitively sensed a deep truth in it, even though it didn’t necessarily make logical sense: ‘A return to balance is inevitable. A departure from balance is impossible.’ It seems to point to the fact that nature is taking care of everything. We need not struggle and strain. Life operates in balance, even when it seems to be completely out of whack. After all, what do we really know about the big picture if we’re in the middle of it?

After tasting some of the extremes at either end of the emotional spectrum and realizing they eventually level themselves out (despite ourselves), I have developed both a deeper respect for balance and a greater faith in it. Now I see balance wherever I look. Occasionally I catch myself yearning for more, which seems crazy. More balance? That sounds impossible. I like to laugh at myself when I see a thought like that pass by.

It seems that real balance is beyond value judgements. It’s the centre. How could we possibly amplify it? At best, we can look inside and let it level us out. Despite being drilled with heavy doses of duality every day, our attention often being pulled in opposite directions, we can take time to be still and submerge in our centre. This is a shared space, beyond comparison, beyond competition, beyond conflict of any kind. In this quiet core, when we let everything else collapse, we come to see the balance that never needed to assert itself. It has always been here.  It is beyond measure. How can there be any less? How can there be any more than all there is?

Einstein

Trust balance. Keep moving forward.

🙂

She Who Laughs Lasts

Laughter

Yesterday I awoke and noticed snow falling softly outside my window. It made me smile. It was actually gathering on the ground for the first time this season. The cool winds of change I have been feeling of late seemed to have suddenly delivered winter. I decided to change up my regular morning regimen and attend the Montreal Laughter League instead of doing my usual yoga and meditation. I figured the laughter would provide a work out of its own, so I suited up and headed out. I had been meaning to join the Laughter League for some time, having noticed their poster up at Burritoville. They meet on the first and third Sunday of every month and I was glad to be finally dropping in. It was only about a ten-minute walk from where I am living right now. As I approached the door I noticed a gentleman crossing the street headed straight for the same place. We greeted one another and entered together.

Sporadic laughter was already issuing from within. I introduced myself to the few folks already gathered and felt immediately welcome. A few more folks trickled in and we got started. We went around the circle introducing ourselves and breaking into laughter afterwards. We were encouraged to put it forward even if slightly forced, allowing the laughter to become more genuine once it got rolling. I wasn’t immediately fond of the notion of forcing a laugh, but the power of momentum surprised me more than a few times. The phrase ‘fake it until you make it’ came to mind. I was amazed at how quickly forced laughter became real. I occasionally pictured my Mom and a couple of cackling Aunts getting carried away in their hilarity, which consistently spurred me on. Even just looking around at the others in the room was often enough for a laugh. The sheer ridiculousness of the setting and our behaviour became a common cause for continued laughter.

We practiced several specific styles of laughter, interspersed with rest periods. We passed laughter around the circle at random; we partnered off for close eye-contact laughter; we pointed at ourselves and laughed, and we even tried to suppress laughter as if we were ‘little schoolgirls’. My cheeks were hurting early on and I was grateful for our moments of down time. We were guided through breathing exercises and encouraged to shake our sillies out from time to time (laughter often emerging from the silence). We also stopped to study the phenomenon of laughter itself.

We learned a lot about laughter. It seems to be a global language. It is a natural reaction to life. It is not something that we strictly pick up from social cues. Even deaf and blind babies laugh naturally, never having ‘learned’ it. We watched our bodies as we laughed to see where it was coming from, belly, chest or throat. We identified a few basic variations of laughter – the HA HA HA, the HEE HEE HEE, and the HO HO HO – and observed the unique characteristics associated with each.

I got really going a number of times and I was sweating before long. Experienced laughers spoke of the importance of dressing in layers so you could gradually strip down when you got overheated. I was grateful for the pitcher of water on the table in the middle of the circle, but we were warned to drink with caution as it could easily go down the wrong pipe with even the slightest chuckle.

After about an hour or so I noticed that my brain was hurting. It wasn’t exactly a headache but it was becoming slightly uncomfortable. It was pulsating pretty intensely and I felt like new parts of it had been ‘laughed to life’. My neighbour mentioned a similar sensation just as our leader began winding us down for the closing meditation. I was grateful for the rest.

As we fell quiet (for the most part), the meditation melted my body and mind. I felt a million miles wide. Already having a great deal of experience in meditation (often following the exertion of yoga), I was surprised at how deeply I relaxed. I feel it was such a deep meditation because of the stark contrast with the intense workout. All that laughter had been quite a release. It was a different sort of exertion than I was accustomed to leading up to my meditation. As we wrapped up, we decided as a group that ‘she who laughs lasts’. It felt like a valuable nugget to walk away with.

As I strolled slowly homeward I thought about the importance of contrast. It seems we are constantly oscillating between opposites, often to extremes. The very nature of growth seems to bounce us between tension and release. In exercise of any kind we first strengthen before trusting our muscles. Learning to let go of our ‘picture of perfection’ and to simply accept life as it is can be such a skill. We can develop and deepen seeds of peace through active surrender, accepting the fluctuations of life’s various storms and seasons.

The ultimate contrast we seem to be experiencing is between being and becoming. Though it can seem chaotic at times, the wisdom of a wider perspective can help us to embrace this strain with a smile, perhaps even a laugh. A favourite teacher of mine, Nisargadatta Maharaj, said that “it is in the nature of being to seek adventure in becoming, as it is in the nature of becoming to seek peace in being.” This feels intuitively true and it has certainly been the case in my life. What we can come to appreciate as we bounce back and forth is the strengthening of our centre. Our balance can become both broader and stabler as we continue learning and growing, oscillating between the extremes of rest and adventure. Patience and persistence are ever our allies on this journey. But it is helpful to remember that resistance to life’s vicissitudes can halt our development. Simply accepting what is seems to be the wise way forward (as difficult as it can be).

As I look out my window again this morning, I smile to see the softly falling snow. I am reminded of all I love about winter, knowing also that summer wouldn’t be what it is without it – the cold affords the warmth. I am willing to suspend, for the moment, thoughts about winter’s less attractive traits, grateful to laugh and see that this snow is beautiful in itself. I accept this gift as it is right now, looking no further forward.

winter-snow-fun

Time – Fixed or Fluid?

It’s Monday again. So I’m told. As I watch our pair of young brother kittens wrestling on the rug I wonder whether it really matters. They don’t seem to notice. Is their life worth any less as a result? Are we any better than they because we know so much? I’m taken back to a thought I jotted in my notebook from the road – did dinosaurs have weekends? It sounds ridiculous, and perhaps it is, but it points out our collective obsession with time. We learn very young to name the days, counting out minutes and hours, plotting months in blocks. Does this in any way add value to our lives? I don’t know. I’m not insinuating that it doesn’t, I’m actually asking.

Obviously a day is a noticeable event. The sun comes up and it goes down. Similarly, a year is one full journey around the Sun. The cycle of the seasons is not to be brushed aside. But what I am getting at is our ‘knowing’ of these frames and the possibility that this apparent certainty might be blinding us to something we wouldn’t want to miss.

There seem to be a lot of people pulled into these frames and dragged through time as if they had some great obligation to it, as though they were indebted to time itself. As kids we didn’t take any of this nonsense seriously. It was all imposed upon us. Now, again, I am not claiming there is anything wrong with our awareness of time’s passage, but I sense that taking it so seriously can hamper our lives. Living happens right now. This is effortless. No frame or scale is required. There is no other arena for life than this very moment.

This sort of talk is perhaps becoming clichéd these days but it does not diminish its truth. Taking time too seriously actually limits our lives. It limits our happiness by cramping our availability for the magic of the present. If we are constantly trying to reach the next moment, anticipating the future with either excitement or anxiety, or caught up in the past, looking back with fondness or regret, we are ignoring what is actually real. Living like this, the truth of the present moment is being hidden by the illusion of time.

What do we actually know about time, and in particular, these cycles? If we are totally honest with ourselves we have to admit that we take it on faith. We look at our past experience and assume it will continue as it has. Sun up, sun down, repeat. But there is no guarantee. We also invest a lot of faith in information given to us from outside. Have we done any personal research into these matters or do we simply accept what is given us? Just because everyone else has bought into the same story doesn’t make it real. Are these cycles static? What if our years are even incrementally (almost imperceptibly) growing longer? What if these ‘hard and fast’ frames are actually fluid? What are we sure of then?

I don’t want this to come off as otherworldly or anything. I admit to playing a bit of devil’s advocate here, but only to get us thinking about what we really know to be true. If each of us investigates our experience of life in complete honesty we will come to see the same truth – and it only exists right now. Time is purely conceptual no matter what sort of collective momentum it has gathered in our culture. All I am suggesting is that perhaps our so-called certainty of it is actually blocking us from our infinite potential.

Right now the sun has begun pouring through my window and I would like to stop writing so I can simply sit back and enjoy it. I don’t know that this post says much but I felt like keeping up with my Monday momentum. Is that a paradox? Honouring the same calendar I was challenging? Maybe. I don’t mind. I began writing somewhat begrudgingly at first, to be honest – mostly due to the sense of duty to time – but it eventually came tumbling out as I felt myself simply expressing feelings and thoughts, totally free of time. Funny how that works. Maybe striking a balance is the ideal? And remembering that we can never arrive at it…

Infinity&Time

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cornucopia

It is Thanksgiving Monday here in Canada, and indeed I have much to be thankful for. I feel right in saying that we all have much to be thankful for. Even those of us who may not seem (on the surface) to have a lot to be thankful for still have this incredible gift of life through which to dream and create, learn and grow, digest and express. Despite what many would consider difficult circumstances, I feel that every life provides a balance of it’s own. Nobody’s centre is any better than anyone else’s. I won’t get into speculation here about past or future lives or notions of karma and reincarnation, because I simply do not know, but if we are completely honest with ourselves, I think we all must admit that we simply don’t know. This goes either way. It leaves open the possibility of a balance beyond our sight and far beyond our comprehension. Again, if we are honest with ourselves, we can see that most of our ideas of balance and justice are context specific, rarely spilling outside of the frame of a single lifetime. This is a frame we have created, because we simply cannot speak with certainty of anything beyond either side, whether so-called beginnings or endings.

If we imagine affluence to provide security from sickness or sadness, we are sorely mistaken, and maybe crazy. Why would we think people without material wealth are ‘worse off’? What right have we to push the ‘supremacy’ of our way of life on others we consider less-fortunate? This often happens alongside charitable intentions, sharing our abundance while supposing people from less-affluent societies are lacking something. This subtle assumption piggy-backs on our donations and has the power to infect an otherwise happy group of people with the idea that they are missing out on something. As I traveled through the highlands of Bolivia, I saw people living simple lives without much. They had a bit of land to work (whether they owned it or not), simple, traditional (often colourful) clothes, and family by their sides. As I passed by these scenes on various buses, I almost always saw wide smiles and shining eyes. They didn’t seem to me to be lacking anything. It didn’t feel like an iPad would have added much to their lives.

But we can still be grateful for our abundance without feeling guilty or obliged to give it all away. Of course it is healthy to share what we have, but perhaps the simple gift of our real presence is enough for others. Maybe just being an open ear and open heart is all anyone really needs of us. No matter what we may be thinking, or how we may be feeling, if we can be available to those around us, we may find ourselves serving in a deeper way than we had previously imagined possible.

I have been blessed with incredible abundance in my life, and it has been clear especially over the last few days. I have been home with my parents, appreciating their full fridge and cupboards. I look around and see lovely furniture and appliances in their condo. I just now came down from the pool, jacuzzi and sauna (which I use frequently when I visit home). I have access to vehicles and more luxuries than many ever experience. While I am grateful for all of this, I also see that none of it really matters. It is only the love speaking within and through it all which means anything. It is all an extension of love from my parents to provide for us, and for one another. This is all that is actually happening here.

This is the same the world over. No matter what relative comforts or pleasures we may have, only the love has any real value. I am confident of this. My Mother has been reminding me my whole life that “to whom much is given much will be required.” This is simply balance. My Dad said that “life is the great equalizer”. I feel these statements to be deeply true. Neil Young sang that “you get what you bring.” It’s the same story. It is clear to me that only the love we give and receive really matters, regardless of what shape it may take. So as we look around at this time of Thanksgiving and allow ourselves to feel gratitude for all we are blessed with, I hope that we come to see that it is not actually for any of the things around us, and not even the wonderful experiences we may enjoy, but that this gratitude is simply singing the song of the endless movement of love. As we give thanks for this we see our abundance multiply. So I encourage you all to pause and feel whatever gratitude you are able to. Let it overtake you. Practice this often and it will never turn you wrong.

Thanks for reading.

…and Happy Thanksgiving!

🙂

Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls

Rodney Falls

I woke up yesterday morning with a rather silly song lyric spinning through my mind, repeating over and over. “Don’t go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.” That’s right. TLC. Who would have guessed?

I couldn’t account for it. I haven’t listened to that song in a long time. I don’t think I ever actively tried to listen to it (though I did just look it up on Youtube to double-check that I had recalled the correct lyrics). It seemed to be everywhere when it came out in 1995. It was all over the TV and radio. My older brother listened to it enough at home that it must have become embedded somewhere in my consciousness. But as it hit me yesterday morning, stirring from a deep Sunday sleep-in, I sensed there may actually be a valuable message tucked into it.

Laying there in bed about to start my morning yoga routine, it occurred to me that perhaps the song was suggesting we take life at its own natural pace. It seemed to be telling me that there was no need to force anything. We can simply let it all flow. The song even suggests that there may be a price to pay for jumping to extremes. Already living with this general ‘go with the flow’ philosophy, I nonetheless welcomed the morning reminder. As the lyrics continued to pop up during my yoga practice, the message continued hitting home.

Ultimately, what I saw it pointing toward was balance. I had just fasted for another couple of days and though I try to observe the importance of easing back into eating after fasts, sometimes my first bite back makes me want to gorge on something. I often joke about it with my roommates, my bouncing between feasting and fasting (although my snacking tends to be relatively innocuous – rice cakes and carrots dipped in hummus, or mixed nuts and raisins). Either way, taking it slowly seems to be the wise way.

After my yoga and meditation, I checked my email and Facebook and soon found myself clicking open a number of tabs and reading various articles. As I read about some of the ‘chaos’ happening around the planet at present, I noticed my stomach tensing up. How could I avoid the waterfalls in the midst of all this? In our noisy and fast-paced world, tuning in to the calmer waters can be pretty tricky. I decided to switch gears and began watching a bunch of Bob Ross clips on Youtube. I watched him paint a calm pond and a few happy little trees, bathing in the patience of his endlessly soothing voice. What a sweet soul he is, I said to myself. He reminded me that we can choose what to focus on. If you don’t know him, or even if it’s been a while, I highly recommend checking him out.

I then met a friend for an autumn walk up the mountain at the heart of Montreal. I felt the good of the woods reaching into me and settling my soul even more. The sweet peace of the open air and colourful fall leaves put me at ease. It reminded me at times of my six-day summer hike in Killarney Provincial Park. Much like I had then, I was enjoying the simplicity of nature and casual companionship. I was doing my best to stay out of the way and let it all flow.

Later in the evening, my brother and I met with our parents in the Old Port, arriving just ahead of them to the hotel where they are staying the next couple of nights with our dear Austrian friend, Edda. As I made my way through the meal, declining offers of alcohol and sweets, I felt myself honouring the calm waters, no longer chasing the waterfalls of a sugar rush as I would have done in the past, or the buzz of a beer. Though I have no particular problem with either of these substances, I feel it is important to keep our relationship with them in check. I know what they do to my body and mind, and I don’t tend to tangle with them anymore.

We met with our parents again today for a nice lunch near my brother’s restaurant and I suggested afterwards that they go for a walk up the mountain, taking it nice and slow, enjoying the great view of the city. Back at my brother’s restaurant I thought about sitting to write a while, knowing I wanted to compose my Monday blog post. As I was hanging about the kitchen, my cousin asked me if I wanted to join him for a walk. He has been off of cigarettes for two weeks now (I have been a big supporter in the cause) and, going with the flow, I thought it would be nice to hang with him for a while. We strolled down to HMV and I watched the busy city bounce around us as we passed, trying to keep some of my attention on the calm in my core. Don’t go chasing waterfalls…I reminded myself.

When we got back to Burritoville (my brother and cousin’s restaurant), I asked my friend Gabe what I should write about for my blog today. He paused a moment and told me to write about “the central attraction of the Pacific Northwest”. That seemed strange and vague, though par for the course for Gabe. I came home and had a quick peek online, imagining big trees to be a central draw to the region, and nature in general. Waterfalls popped up as a main attraction and seemed perfectly fitting. I’ve been rattling away for about an hour or so now. So here we are.

I have not edited a thing. This has just tumbled out of me as you see it. No surprise, I guess. In the course of my research on the song, I discovered that Paul McCartney released a song of the same name fifteen years before TLC, with very similar lyrics. Whoever sang it first doesn’t seem to matter much – it remains a message worth repeating – don’t go chasing waterfalls, folks. Just relax. Take it easy. Trust life. Have a great week.

🙂

Take It Easy

De-cluttering Our ‘TO DO’ Lists: Honouring Responsibility Over Obligation

Image

WHAT TO DO?

What do you have to do today? Really. Look it over. Whether you have an actual list in front of you or just a stack of tasks gathered in your mind, have a good look at it. Ask yourself; is all of this necessary? Is any of it necessary? Who says so? Even if that voice in your head barks back ‘I say so!’, inquire. Who is that voice? Is it really you? Or might it just be a collection of expectations and obligations that a life of conditioning has imprinted upon you? This may be a frightening thought, that some entity other than ourselves is driving our minds. But this ‘conditioning’ need not be seen as intentionally oppressive, as if some evil perpetrator were sitting in a wingback chair, laughing, hands held together in a pyramid, fingers dancing back and forth while we silly mortals fall prey to some grand evil scheme.

SEEING THROUGH OUR CONDITIONING

Conditioning has just happened. This is simply how life has developed so far. It’s a part of our growth. And not all conditioning is bad. But when we are blind to it, it drives us. It fills up our ‘to do’ lists with endless things that we feel we must do. The extent to which we can see this conditioning at work is the extent to which we can become free of it. After all, it is in the nature of a mistake to disappear once we discover it. And then we can watch our ‘to do’ lists thin out significantly. They may go blank altogether. And they may remain that way for a while – empty. And that’s ok. After running a marathon, whether finishing first or last, it’s reasonable to take a moment to gather our breath, maybe have a sip of water and walk it off. Similarly, when we wake up to see we’ve been running in circles for most of our lives, we are permitted to take a bit of a breather, to walk it off. We may feel aimless for a while. (We’ll certainly appear it!) This is ok, too. Gradually, we can begin introducing new items to our ‘to do’ lists, when we feel up to it, and especially when we feel inspired to act from a place of conviction – a place of deep truth. We are no longer merely following commands, but seeing action arise from our natural impulse for love. We do what we want to do, what we love to do. We can begin developing ‘to do’ lists with intention. It’s our inattention that has kept us spinning in hamster wheels for so long. It’s time to rise and shine.

CLARIFYING OUR UNDERSTANDING

What I am talking about is a subtle but vital distinction which can revolutionize our lives. This is the fine line between obligation and responsibility. But what’s the difference? How do we discern which is which? Sometimes it’s a razor’s edge. And it’s more often not even about what we do, but how we do it. Are we doing something because we have to or because we want to? It is not always so simple, though this can be a good place to begin our inquiry. Fortunately, for fuzzier matters, a bit of patient reflection can help us understand which voice we should be honouring.

So what is obligation? Well, to feel obliged to do something seems to imply some sense of pressure, some external force, whether from the expectations of our family, our work, or society at large. These are tasks we would seldom take upon ourselves to perform. But responsibility is literally the ability to respond. Response-ability.  It’s all right there. This is an uprising of our truest self, a deep moral sense of right action, appropriate to the moment. And it always comes from within, expressing itself in a completely unique way through each of us. Still, it can be difficult to strain through the many voices chattering inside of us to figure out where each voice is coming from, where they would have us go and what they would have us do.

TRIMMING DOWN OUR BIG ‘TO DO’s

This is where thinning out our ‘to do’ lists can be so helpful. It’s a two-way street. It may feel a bit scary, at first, and maybe even a little crazy, but by stripping away our excess ‘busy-ness’ – if only for a few days, allowing ourselves to breathe and relax – we can begin to see what is truly important in our lives. It will emerge all on its own. And we can learn to prioritize more wisely. As we do this, we may hear old voices rising up inside, telling us we are letting people down, or letting ourselves down. But if we can weather this storm, perhaps we can stop worrying about ‘let downs’ and learn to let up and let go. Maybe we’ll realize that what we want is not what we need, and what we need is not what we want. Facing this can be disorienting. But if we can exercise a bit of bravery – just enough to take a small step out of our comfortable routines, letting go of our ‘to do’ lists for a while – perhaps we can become more of who we truly are, surrendering the rest, and ending up a greater help to ourselves and others, growing and serving in ways far beyond what we had ever imagined possible.

TAKE A CHANCE – RELAX

Why not try letting go? Maybe all you have to lose is all you need to lose to be truly free. Take a deep breath in and let go of everything else. Exhale and feel the release spreading through your entire body. This is our natural state. Inner peace is our effortless inheritance. There is nothing it asks us ‘to do’ but let it in. So be still. Go deep. And ask yourself, what do I really have to do today?

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