A Brief Reflection on Resilience

resilience

Meditation is a valuable tool to keep ourselves fresh. It can ready us for difficult tasks, calming our minds and bodies as we face life’s challenges. I am consistently amazed at the peace and perspective even twenty minutes on my cushion can offer. It doesn’t matter if I have been caught up in my mind chasing my tail for hours, when I sit down for a few quiet minutes everything can fall into place effortlessly. I am endlessly grateful for the resilience I have discovered through meditation. All it takes is a simple recognition to realize the benefits of this gift.

We all have access to this resilience, of course. Every second is a fresh start. But many of us so thoroughly busy ourselves that we seldom give our resilience a chance to ripen. We feel beaten down by life, too exhausted to do what we want. We hope to recover, at best, and usually just enough to make it through another onslaught of a day. But we need not feel deflated or defeated. All we ever have to do – and indeed all we ever can do – is start from right here. This is incredibly liberating in its utter simplicity.

Here we stand. We are free. We can choose how to live, how to express ourselves. We need not let our past dictate our actions today. There is no such thing as failure. We can step out to see for ourselves. Everything leads to further learning and growth. Believing in the finality of failure is only a limited view of the truth. In the long run it is only an idea.

So wipe the slate clean and have another crack at your dream. Work out the will of your heart. On this path you can only go right.

Be easy.

🙂

The Power of Love Trumps Belief

I watched a very interesting documentary last night – Going Clear. It lays out a rather spooky story of madness and manipulation at work in the church of Scientology. Many of you will have already heard of the film. It was aired on HBO just last week, garnering favourable reviews and a good amount of press. I recommend giving it a peek.

The film got me thinking about how powerful belief can be, and how frightening it can be to stand free of structures of thought that had once surrounded us. Belief structures can act as both safety net and prison. It is certainly understandable how people are pulled into cults. There is a great craving for security in humanity. But living in a feedback loop of relentless reinforcement (whether positive or negative), it seems impossible to allow original thoughts to blossom. Even without overt ‘brainwashing’, most people are quick to dismiss and ‘explain away’ anything that doesn’t seem to fit well with their own story of life. But what about these worldviews of ours? How original are they? Did we consciously develop these views or were they mostly harvested in us?

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Yesterday morning I attended an Easter service at a nearby church here in Montreal. I had passed by the church numerous times and even stopped to appreciate its beautiful architecture but yesterday was my first time going in to a service. I tend to enjoy seeing how all people celebrate life and faith in our various ways. Partaking has proven the best way for me to learn. I suppose the church would be called Evangelical, if we are concerned about labels.

As I walked in I noticed there was a relaxed vibe – comfortable chairs and casual dress. There was a lot of expensive-looking technical gear hanging around and big projection screens at the front. I admired the drum-set perched at the back of the stage. It felt more like a rock show than a church setting. Service kicked off with a big praise band. Plenty of people hollered out from the congregation as we sang. There was definitely a good mood in the room. Throughout the service, however, what stood out to me the most – from the music through the sermon – was the feeling that ‘our’ beliefs somehow set us apart from others. This was put forward as a positive. How wide is this ‘us’? I wondered. Why are any excluded? I could see it all came from a good place, these songs and spoken words, but they seemed more likely to divide than unite, at least on the surface level. Why not invest in our common ground? I thought.

As the service came to a close I got chatting with a couple who had been sitting behind me. They were members who attended regularly. The gentleman spoke about a lot of ‘spiritual darkness’ he saw outside of the church. I nodded my head and listened as he carried on, getting the feeling that I might be cast into the same shadow of ‘spiritual darkness’ if I expressed a belief which didn’t match his. Unconcerned about his opinion of me, I didn’t feel inclined to do so, but it got me thinking nevertheless about how we as people so often pool together in little pockets of shared beliefs, collectively sheltering and justifying one another. I am not claiming this to be necessarily good or bad, I am simply observing it. I wonder, though, if we can look at ourselves with the same critical eye we so easily cast on others. Jesus did say, after all, to avoid judgement, lest we be judged. Have we ever truly explored our own bias?

This is difficult work, admittedly, perhaps even impossible if we expect to arrive at any concrete result. But it just might be worthwhile work. We might come to see the ways we limit ourselves, avoiding real connection with others. We might even come to see how we try to impose our worldview on others, in both subtle and obvious ways. But by seeing these things we can become free of them. These patterns will fall away on their own, once recognized.

I sense that there is a way to meet people in total honesty, free of ideas of any kind – a way to connect without any fear or any agenda. It may just be my idealism at work here, but having tasted these precious interactions, I feel we can foster them and see them flower, even allowing them to overpower all the walls we may have imagined into existence.

What an opportunity. But we may have to be willing to stand free of belief, if only for a moment. Can we do this? Is there not a shared ground without these ideas cluttering us? Without judging anyone’s story, I wonder if we can find a reality we are all an equal part of. I sense that if we can step outside of our stories for long enough, all we will see in anyone’s eyes is the reality of love reflected. Do any of us have a claim more legitimate than anyone else? Does it matter? Does love care about any of our distinctions?

I think not. I feel it too.

the-power-of-love

Have a happy week.  Much love all.

🙂

Expectations

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I have likely spoken of the dangers of expectations before. It is something I am well aware of, having learned time and again (often the hard way). And yet I continue to catch myself building expectations fairly regularly. Fortunately, I tend to choose gratitude over guilt or anger these days, glad to at least catch and discard them. But I still get side-tracked now and again.

Even with the best of intentions, I find I can build up a subtle narrative and then watch myself slip back to reality with a hint of disappointment. Last week, for instance, I wrote what I felt to be my best blog post in months. Having followed my blog’s recent traffic trends (encouraged by steady growth), I was excited that several new readers would get to enjoy the wonderful piece I had put together. Excitedly, I imagined the wave of peace and love that might spread out from my inspiring message. Instead, readership dipped down to the lowest I had seen in a LONG time – many months. I couldn’t help but laugh at myself as my expectations were exposed. The high I had felt came crashing down to the ground. I didn’t feel discouraged or anything, but just humbled again. Back to reality.

All I was trying to share was a bit of wonder at the mystery of life, encouraging others to honour life’s balance and beauty, accepting little miracles and big obstacles alike, growing in spite of uncertainty. I figured that would be something to spread. I hadn’t been particularly proud of my recent posts, having rattled them off the cuff rather quickly and without much thought. But this one came out with a feeling of purpose and clarity, expressing my feelings and ideas in what I felt to be a beautiful way. So it seemed natural that others would engage with it also.

I don’t pretend to know why the post went largely unnoticed (generally speaking, I don’t invest energy in assumptions), but I immediately saw an opportunity to practice what I preach and simply let it be. I could accept it and move on. A couple of days later it occurred to me that I might use it as an example for my next blog post – THE DANGERS OF EXPECTATION. So here we are. I admit that a hint of my bringing it up today is a hope that some may be curious enough to look back and read what I am referring to. HERE’S ANOTHER LINK TO IT! 😉

But whatever it may affect on the surface – enabling some to trust their lives more deeply, empowering others to step up to face a challenge – I know that the real value of life, the quiet space we share in the depth of our hearts, remains untouched. This is a good thing. Honouring this pure, untouched part of ourselves can free us to be who we are and to express our hearts more deeply. Granted, it can be tricky to lean back on the ineffable, but in time we may come to see that it actually holds us up, along with everything else. By exercising courage in the face of doubt we can create habits of faith and bravery, paving a way to living lives of substance. Paradoxically, this substance often enters our lives via a realization of life’s impermanence. What is there to hold on to?

We are here. It is now. This we know without ‘needing to know’. This is too true to break down. This is where to invest our attention. No need of endless cycles of expectation and disappointment. Of course we can continue to learn and grow, letting mistakes inform our continuing attempts to connect, create and express, but we can become freer to lean out and make mistakes in the first place. This is a sign of a healthy heart.

So that’s it for today, I think. I’m ready to rest.

Happy Monday all! 🙂

Catch you next week…  Any topic suggestions?

On The Unknown

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Striking out into the unknown can be scary. But as we wade into uncharted waters – our hearts beating, our knees wobbling – there is never any doubt that we are alive. This is where life is the richest, and most true. This is where real growth happens. Living in safety nets is a trap. Somehow it seems many of us have gotten it all turned around, and we are seeking comfort, blindly numbing ourselves into lives of oblivion. We’re insulating and isolating ourselves in misguided attempts at self-preservation. The odd fireside night curled up on the couch is all well and good, but if wrapping ourselves in this sort of luxury has become our chief aim, I think it’s time to get back to the drawing board. I only speak about this after living many years trying to secure myself and everything around me to prevent any attack from the ‘dangerous world of the unknown’.

Without seeing it, I was choking myself. I thought I was being smart and strong, weighing every breath before drawing it in, but I was actually preventing myself from truly living. I was building unconscious walls between myself and real life. Stepping into the unknown is frightening, but it is also thrilling, and always rewarding. If we reflect carefully upon the lessons of our courageous forays into the unknown, we will gradually become more willing to throw ourselves into uncertainty, trusting that we can handle it, and learn something of worth.

I learned this as I cycled around Europe. I bought a bike in Madrid and rode for about six-and-a-half months, covering just over 7500 kilometres. I rarely had a map with me and I often rode with no real idea where I was going, following little more than my compass and a whim. These were my braver days. It took a little while to build up to that point – though not as much as you may think. But what I discovered was that over time, living in new surroundings, meeting new people, tasting new foods, discussing new ideas, and trying to speak new languages, I was constantly forced out of my safety net, and I began habituating a heightened alertness to all around me. Instead of feeling anxious about not firmly knowing everything about my surroundings, I began developing a trust of life, completely unconsciously.

I would often stop to couchsurf in cities that I passed through, sometimes staying a week or more to explore, and rest my body. Without fail, every time I left a city to resume my ride, it felt like the first time again – butterflies in my belly, wondering what was around the corner. This taught me something. Stepping into the unknown is always going to feel a bit scary, and we need not try to change that. But we can develop the willingness to step out anyway, changing our attitude about uncertainty, teaching ourselves to embrace it. This is revolutionary, and surprisingly simple.

Courage is not about being fearless, it’s about stepping forward in the face of fear. We can be brave despite ourselves. Even when we don’t feel especially strong, we can fake it, behaving as a brave soul would, thus teaching ourselves what it feels like. And if a particular fear has beaten us before, we don’t need to believe it will beat us always. We can simply shift our perspective and understand instead that we have been chipping away at that fear, weakening it over the years, and all it takes is one bold step to cut through it and abolish it forever. Fears may look serious as they stand in front of us, but they are almost always laughable in the rear-view mirror.

So do something that scares you. You will grow. And you will be glad you did it. Give yourself permission to make mistakes.  And try not to take yourself too seriously – this is a huge obstacle to living a full life. Here again, I speak only from experience. I was caught up in my own mind for much of my life, taking everything I did, made, said and thought so seriously that I had painted myself into a little corner of cowardice, too frozen and afraid to take a single step out of it.

But life finally cracked me open and broke me down – and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. So let’s step out into the unknown together and let life break us down a little more. In braving this chaos, we’re actually being built up, becoming stronger and gentler. Our endurance strengthens, our patience deepens, and our compassion broadens. Only through this surrender to the inherent intelligence of life can we be taught and brought to exactly where we need to be. Right here.  Free of the need to know, and loving it…