A Condition of Complete Simplicity

waterfall

How I sometimes stand in line at Whole Foods grocery stores during their peak hours is a window into how often and easily I resent the current moment I am in, and to some degree my level of complete insanity.

The breakdown begins at the approach. I see the line from a distance, separated into three lines, and suddenly my mind goes into calculation mode as if I were the man who knew infinity. How many people are in each line? Which number was called last?  Who are couples in line and therefore look like two people and will only take one spot? I do everything short of attempting to code an algorithm which will permit me to spend the least amount of time possible in that line.

After I make the choice and commit to a line, I start to analyze if I have made the right choice and if I have, I actually feel better about myself. Better yet, if I realize I will get to the checkout faster than someone who had entered another line before me, I feel like I have won an Olympic gold medal and instantly more clever than everyone. That podium feeling soon dissipates however, when I notice people screwing up the line. They miss their number being called or they won’t walk forward as the line advances. Each offense I personalize as a transgression against me and my mission to get out of the line as fast as possible because I have somewhere more important to be.

The urge to be somewhere else is not only at the grocery store. It could be any line or task that is requested of me. I can recall being asked to do something on numerous occasions to which my stock response is “I don’t really feel like it” and upon doing the thing, spending most of the time in action being upset or victimized that I had to do because naturally, I have better things to do.

The interesting questions which I never bother to ask on the other side of the above statements are “What DO I feel like doing?” “Where do I need to Be” “Why am I resisting doing this thing right now?”  and “What is the source of my resentment?”.

In reflection on these questions and through my journey of the last several months, a quote by Shakespeare from HAMLET continues to pop into my mind.

……for there is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

-Shakespeare, William HAMLET 2.2.P11

In the dialogue Hamlet is having with his friend Rosencrantz, Hamlet is describing how Denmark is a prison to him, and how in fact the whole world is filled with many confines and dungeons, with Denmark being the worst for him. When his friends tell Hamlet they do not feel it is, Hamlet delivers the above quote noting it is his own mind that has created Denmark as a prison.

There are so many prisons I put myself in, these may sound familiar.

  • I am sick of doing other people’s job
  • My job drains me and I wish I could leave
  • My boss is very annoying
  • I can’t stand my coworkers
  • If I don’t do it, nothing gets done so I don’t have time to “be in the moment”
  • I always feel behind
  • No one understand me
  • I am putting in effort and he/she isn’t noticing
  • I wish I had more money
  • I wish I had more time
  • I’m always behind
  • I’ll never be as successful as (fill in the blank)
  • I wish I had that body
  • I wish I had that apartment/house
  • This is all their fault
  • Things just don’t work out for me

I could go on for pages, and the core source of every dissatisfaction and resentment listed above comes from the same place; our own minds. All born from the thought that my current condition is bad. The resentment comes from the simple notion that I am not where I should be and the attachment to meaning derived from a future ideal to achieve or destination to reach.

This resentment can show up anytime you have a conversation with someone and from the beginning of the conversation your mind is pointed toward making an exit. The person opposite you could be delivering tomorrow’s lottery numbers and the only thing you hear is the voice in your head preparing how to steer the conversation towards conclusion.

It rears its head anytime you spend more time arguing or debating about avoiding an activity than it would take to do the damn thing. The feeling underneath being that if you cave and act, the other person is right and you are wrong.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a practicing Buddhist or spiritual master to momentarily free yourself from all of the attachments which are causing you have anxiety and the feeling that there is something more for you other than what or where you are.

The practice is simply to choose each moment for exactly what it is, and what it is not and reminded me of another literary work, this time from T.S. Eliot. Choosing to be in the ‘Now Here’ moment will create what Eliot called, in his poem “Little Gidding”, ‘A condition of complete simplicity.’ He also notes that condition will ‘cost you everything’.

What is the cost?

Choosing to be in the very moment you are will force you to give up anywhere you want to be or who you think you are or should be. In that moment you are present, you will lose all you have defined yourself to be or need to be, which can certainty feel like everything.

The beginning part of the last section of Four Quartets, describes the never-ending discovery of each moment.

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And to know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot –  from “Little Gidding”

Every moment of every day is an opportunity to for discovery. In my own experience lately, I am finding that going with the flow of life is taking a breath when the river is sending me towards a waterfall of unknown height.

Instead of cursing the river and all the moments that brought me to the precipice of the cliff, I take in as much beauty and connection I can to what is around me and know that wherever I am in life is not a failure. It is rather, exactly where I am supposed to be.

Instead of creating the potential doom and destruction that waterfall may hold, I notice the trees, notice the feeling of my hand on the oar and the weight of my body in the boat. I notice the sounds of water rushing around me and breeze of air as my body moves through it.

I understand that water is not my enemy and is not trying to kill me. I forgive the person who sold me the map and told me to take this river. I know that the only thing I really have control over is how I will engage the moment I am in, and as much as possible, I plan to keep exploring the newness of every movement. In the moments I can stay present, I will enjoy the limitless discovery and joy that arises from knowing every moment for the first time.

In the past I would have resisted writing what I just did and I want you to know this is how I feel now. It is always a practice and I still experience fear, doubt, envy, and still delve to insanity when standing in line and still will engage in endless procrastination and debate on something as simple as taking the trash out.

And the practice continues.

The practice I offer to you this week is to notice if you find yourself in a situation you are resisting, trying to escape or move through as fast as possible. Perhaps it is at the gym or yoga practice during a difficult workout, a household chore or task at work you don’t want to do, or a conversation with someone you are dreading or putting off.

Once you notice the feeling, try choosing everything about the moment or action and let everything else fall away. If you are taking out the trash, be incredibly involved in every detail of the bag, the walk to the garbage area, the weight of the bag. If you are talking to someone, turn off your phone and listen to what they are saying- interrupt yourself any time you start to plan your own reply.

Call yourself out. If you notice yourself resisting or trying to escape, say it out loud and come back into noticing and choosing your current moment.

Lastly, share your experience with someone and any and everything that you noticed in the moments you were present, and how you were feeling when you were not.

Thank you for reading and know I am with you, taking one breathe and step at a time in THE DAILY PRACTICE OF LIVING.

This Step is The Only Step That Matters Right Now

I have heard, ad nausea throughout my life, myriad quotes about the power of taking the first step. They usually involve making a bold move, enacting courage, and putting yourself at risk in the spirit of living your best life. These are very noble and admirable actions and the first step is important. I have learned, however, through countless first steps of my own that the first step, without follow up, is a journey to the heart of exactly where I have always been.

The first two blogs I created are perfect examples of this. Each was begun and put out into the world with courage and hope that a message I would share could have impact. Those first posts were followed up by others with diminishing frequency until finally, due to the decay of atrophy and warm comfort of inertia, they ceased to be living expressions of my own reality.

It was not until recently that I realized what was causing my two previous blogs, and so many other false starts in my life to “die on the vine” was my focus on the attachment to what I wanted, what the goal was, without any presence on the impact of the current meaningful action that was available to me.

Tell me if the following sounds familiar;

You get really excited about starting a new activity, quitting an addiction, starting a workout routine, diet, or hobby. You google the hell out of any topic you can find so that you are sure you are getting it 100% right-reviews are read and friends are consulted. And then, the big spend occurs. You splurge on new exercise clothes, buy the patch, buy the 30-day program (MONEY BACK GUARANTEED!!!!) spend your rent at the grocery store, buy a brand new piece of equipment because you are going to CRUSH IT.

The first day of your activity arrives and you are 1-part hopeful adrenaline, 1-part “doing it for the Social Media Post” and 1 part “this is the time it sticks”. Everything you wanted to happen on that first day happens and yet, you are not 100% fulfilled. A seed of doubt creeps in and now you are noticing every exit door that is available to you.

At the gym you see someone with the body you want and know you will never have so “what’s the point?”

You get into a fight with your significant other and you really need a cigarette right now because this is just too much to handle all at once.

Work gets in the way and interrupts your planned one hour of writing, and how ridiculous was it of you to think you had time to write in the first place.

You have no time to make your special meal for this new diet, and this food is just going to go to waste so why bother.

And on and on you find every reason why the goal you set for yourself cannot possibly be reached. Rather than recommit or even declare an end, you just stop taking the next step, hoping no one else will notice. But you know. And in this non-choice of ceasing to act, a fog of the uncompleted hangs and although you don’t actively punish yourself for the non-completion, you start to craft a story about how life is just what it is and it may just be too late to change or try anything new.

The above is not some hypothetical creation. It is the way I have lived most of my adult life.

I had to quit smoking six or seven times before it finally stuck.

I have 5 workout journals spaced about 6-9 months apart, and prior to the most recent 3-month period of my life, I never made it past day 22.

Forget time for cooking and for a large portion of my life pizza existed as a primary food group.

I had to ask people to stop buying me journals because everyone I owned was a painful reminder that I am a failure at writing and I am not a person who follows through. I would even go to the length of starting in a brand new one as opposed to picking up where I left off in an old journal because I thought the new journal would “inspire me to really do it this time”. Failure, without the awareness to learn from it, can be a very expensive habit.

Much less so recently and for a large portion of my life, I  have experienced the pain, humiliation and disgust with myself over tasks not completed, friendships left on life support, and grandiose promises followed up with non-action.

In these situations, I started with a goal. A better body, to be desirable, to be noticed, to have impact in the world, to make people like me, TO LOOK GOOD. Because I was so fixated on the goal and what it might get me, I eliminated any opportunity to be present to the process and when the initial action did not bring the reward I had promised myself, the next step was pointless.

What I have realized and what I want to share with you right now is that the step you are currently on is the only step that matters right now, and you have the power to shape what that looks like in your life, without adding any meaning.

I’ll give you an example of something I recently did.

In the ABOUT section of this blog, I originally wrote that I committed to posting something every day. When I wrote that, it felt very empowering and totally achievable. The next morning after posting my first entry, I realized I had no desire to post every day and that to do so would feel forced.

Right away I started to go down the rabbit hole. I was worried that changing my about page would be out of integrity and that I was already a failure. Changing the about page would be an admission that I don’t have the will power to follow through. A day went by and I didn’t post to the blog and the About section still had my published promise. I am not exaggerating when I say to you right here and now that I was ready to kill the blog. Every second I didn’t post something led to an exponential growth in the corresponding paralysis I felt writing anything or taking action. I wanted to throw up.

And then I took a deep breathe and stared at the blinking cursor. I read the title of the blog THE DAILY PRACTICE OF LIVING and realized that this is the practice. With that, I went to the ABOUT page, changed the commitment to once a week, and set the intention to finish a post by the end of the day on Tuesday(Today) and to tell you what I had done. Sometimes, in the present moment, you may realize something in your life is not working, and there needs to be an adjustment. Choosing to engage that inner-sourced truth through action and honesty creates the possibility for others to connect to your experience.

I could have set the deadline to once a year, and it wouldn’t have mattered. Any external meaning I placed on what the amount of time meant would just be a story of mine. The access to feeling connected to you, whoever is reading this blog is sourced from two actions.

  1. Admitting to you that I changed the About Section
  2. Writing this post, right now

 

The practice I offer to you this week to keep in the back of your mindfulness as each moment happens, is the following;

Notice when any practice or step you are taking in your life starts to feel very overwhelming.

What you are making it mean, what significance are you adding to it and what is finishing this step or task going to get you.

If you feel up to it, after noticing these feelings, try talking to someone and verbalize exactly what is happening. Tell on yourself. And then, after you have become very present to those feelings, try that same task or step again just for the sake of doing it, without any attachment to the outcome. Be in the practice of taking the next step on as a part of the process, with no goal in mind.

Thank you for reading and know I am with you, taking one breathe and step at a time in THE DAILY PRACTICE OF LIVING.

Waking Up

December 8, 2017

My life transformed while I was folding laundry.

I read the above sentence and can’t help but laugh and also remember the skepticism with which I used to view stories like the one I am about to share. On a single day over three months ago, my life shifted completely and put me on the path I walk today. It is a path of humility, constant learning, missteps and hiccups, laughter and clarity. It is a path I call THE DAILY PRACTICE OF LIVING and it all started on August 25th, 2017.

I was standing in the middle of the living room, mindlessly watching Law & Order SVU and folding clothes fresh out of the dryer. I had a long sleeve shirt stretched out arm to arm in both hands with the collar pinned between my chin and chest.

Out of nowhere my heart started to beat out of my chest and my fingers and toes started to tingle. I was intensely aware of the room, my breathe, the sounds and colors in the room, and all of the sensations in my body, heartbeat included. After what felt like minutes but was really only 5-10 seconds, I heard a voice. Not as a sound from a stereo, but in the same manner you might hear words in your head when reading in silence. The voice I heard was new, yet also familiar to me. The message was clear.

Change your life now, or you are going to die very soon

Since that day I have endeavored to put into words some explanation of everything I felt and what happened.

The impact and immediacy of the transformation felt like a light-switch turning on.

The best rationale I have for what happened came from Baron Baptiste. In addition to being an incredibly powerful and empowering human being, he is someone I consider to be one of the great teachers in my life. When I told him what I experienced, he said simply and without hesitation, “It sounds like you were ready to wake up”.

Since that day I have experienced a peaceful serenity and freedom from anger I had not known in my 36 previous years of life. My eating habits, meditation habits, and physical exercise habits all shifted. The tool I have practiced every day since then, in the moments of greatest difficulty and relative ease, is to keep coming back to the present moment and be mindful of exactly where I am. It is a practice every moment of every day.

Sometimes I go long stretches without being present and then I catch myself, and come back. The practice is to stay in the awareness and to try and shorten the length of time between being lost in thought, and present in the moment. There is so much I want to share and today is the first step in that journey.

THE DAILY PRACTICE OF LIVING – Living a Life of Practice, One Breathe at a Time- is what I intuitively know I want to share with the world. As I type now I see, in addition to my own reflections shared, the insights of others (some who I already know and some who I have yet to meet) on the tools and practices they put into action to lead an empowered and fulfilling life.

I look forward to sharing what comes next and openly admit I have no idea what that will be.

What I do know is I want to share it.