Friday, March 28, 2014

Start Where We Are, Begin Right Now

Our presence is the vessel and our awareness is the sails in which we navigate from our inherited past into our mutually created future.
In everything we do and don’t do, we must come from where we are, not where we would want to be, not where we once were. We have to work with the present reality. Seeing the present clearly is not something modern humans excel at in their daily lives. Too often, we have pressing needs that require past, present and future work to fulfill. This can occupy our minds. For some, it presents itself as worry, to others fear, while others micromanage or attempt to control people and situations.

Learning balance can be a key in coming from where you are; it can also keep us so pre-occupied with all the juggling we do that we lose sight of a broader perspective. Other times, we become so fixated on one narrow angle making us become oblivious to the reality of the present situation. There will always be other methods in which we can meet our needs, which is why we must always remain open to being mistaken.  If we cannot become more aware of the present, however, we will not be able to absorb guidance and experience by others nor able to create new methods on our own.

Returning our mental, physical and emotional awareness back to the here and from the right now has to become a priority. We can do this in every moment and with every breath. However, we must make a conscious choice to make those moments and take those breaths. Running on auto-pilot can yield benefits. It can even be preferred in times of difficulty or stress. However, if we don’t take the time to make sure we’re not heading off a cliff or losing altitude, we can find ourselves in trouble and directly in harm’s way. This harm is often avoidable, but if we’re not grounded in the present and in our awareness of the present, we can ignore the road signs on our way to our demise.

Some part of our mental, physical and emotional awareness has to stay in our life cockpit, in our driver’s seat and at the helm. There are so many obvious analogies. Our life is similar to so many intricate endeavors. If we ignore any aspect for any extended period of time, we become lax; we become damaged. Our systems no longer work effectively nor efficiently.  We have to refuel and perform maintenance constantly.

There are many options to aid us in doing so. The key is to create opportunities every day that align our intention with our thoughts and feelings in order to perform an action. From meditation to physical exercise, from brewing coffee to sipping tea, there are many ways in which we can individualize our focus on returning to the present and opening our awareness. For too many, we focus so much of our attention on everything outside of ourselves. Instead of taking care of us, we take care of bills. Instead of managing our bodies, we manage others. This is not to endorse inattention to these crucial aspects of modern life, but we can always do better.

There are always improvements that can be made to what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and why we’re doing it. We need to make our life the business we manage. We can find ways to not spend so much time or waste so much of our effort. We can discover more effective methods for achieving a, b or c separately or concurrently. We can explore the difference between what we want from what we need and from what we think we’re getting from what we actually already have. 

We simply have to make being present and being aware our priority. In the midst of our busy modern lives, we have to make it the only priority. Without our presence, without our awareness, we absolutely are missing out on this amazing opportunity that is our life. Certainly, none of us have perfect lives. We may even be in the darkest moments of our life. If we don’t take the time in those dark moments to open our mind up to now and to being more aware of what is vital to our survival, we will expire.

As much as we must come from where we are, we must also understand that everyone else is coming as they are as well. Some people may actually have an awareness of their intentions in all of their actions, but most simply lack the current capacity to do so. Others cannot begin to connect the cause, their actions, to the effects, their life. Understanding who we are around is only one part of awareness of others. We need to attempt to understand how they are as well. No one gets to what they’re doing all on their own. Every single one of us has two biological parents. We may have other parents as well, but none of us could even exist without others.

Newborns have so many needs in order to survive, and they have only one way to meet those needs, from others. As the baby becomes a child, it has to be taught how to not harm itself. As the child grows into an adolescent, there are countless opportunities to learn about cause and effect. However, adolescents need guidance in order to expand their understanding of their role in their own life and in the life of others. In order to guide an adolescent or young adult successfully, many aspects of their upbringing must be considered in formulating the strategy to help them learn how to learn and adapt on their own.

All of these people in our families and our communities are important. The histories we share, the predispositions we hold and the disagreements we have can bring us together or tear us apart. They, as much as we do, deserve understanding, deserve patience and absolutely deserve compassion. We know how much we have suffered, and we can do something productive with our suffering in applying it to generating compassion and understanding for others. 

We must continue to come back to the present, return to opening our awareness of now. Our presence is the vessel and our awareness is the sails in which we navigate from our inherited past into our mutually created future. If we don’t know ourselves, we cannot hope to comprehend others. Otherwise, we’re in a dense fog heading into the unknown, just like everyone else. If we can more clearly see where we are, we at least have the opportunity to do something about it. If we can more clearly see others, we can find partners on our path instead of enemies. If we at least continue to try, we still have hope.

We can make a difference. We begin here. We start now.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Our Self-Created Prison

In this modern society in which I find myself, I don’t see much cause for hope for a better future. What I can directly impact is within me. Mostly, I am happy, not because of any external situation, but due to my own awareness of what it is to be happy. Happiness is an internal state. You can be happy and still be without any hope for anything greater than just a passing emotional state

It’s as if I’m in a prison. The cell is really of my own creation. As much as I would love to blame my lack of hope for anyone else on everyone, I know the true source of these problems is me. I’ve lost hope with my ability to affect others in a positive way. 

Our families are a microcosm for what we feel is possible on a macro scale. Within our families and friends, impressions of who we are color everything we do. The dysfunctions of one can become a dysfunction of the whole unit. The dynamics within our microcosm our learned and perpetuated. When someone tries to break out of their defined role within the system, the others can act to bring back the established order. If that order is dysfunctional, it damages any future efforts to break away from the pack. 

It is much like being in a prison. This is especially prevalent when shelter, security and safety are involved. Maybe, you came back to the primary shelter because your life was on the line. It might have been far better to have perished than to become imbedded with the original source of our learned dysfunction. Every step toward strength and confidence becomes the target and focus of the other individual parts of the system, seeking to protect their own established perspectives. 

How do we break out of this prison? It’s obvious the answer is within us. We may even find an answer; we may find a way through our momentary difficulty. We may feel hope for others again. Then, we become the target. We might be able to withstand the immediate attack, that’s easy to do. The emotional aftermath, however, is so difficult. It’s like we’ve once again been flung back into our internal prison; the key thrown into the darkness yet again. We have to find our way out yet again.

After so much repetition, we’d much prefer to just sit in the dank darkness. Why would we ever want to find the key again, let alone find the lock to get back outside of our own misery? If we manage to escape, they’ll drag us right back.

That prison is always with us, wherever we go. Even when we leave our self-created prison, it’s always right there with us. The key is always there; the lock is always there too. What becomes the struggle is in realizing that nothing we do will ever rid us of our prison. We have to take care of that prison, even when we leave it. We have to be mindful of our key, even when we don’t need it. 

All of these other people in our life may need us to be in that prison. They may have even helped us create it. But, it is only up to us to take care of it.

If you don’t have one of these prisons within you, you’ll never fully understand what it’s like to be locked away time and time and time again. Once created, the trauma of our self-prison is always with us. To breakaway we have to become so good at taking care of ourselves. We have to keep happiness and joy alive; we have to attempt to keep the embers of hope for others from going out completely.

We can do this.

I may not have the answers right now, but I’m not giving up. I maybe in the deepest, darkest cell or trapped in the tower. Either way, I have to find my way out again. I must keep trying until I can’t. That means keep trying until I’m dead. As long as we have breath, we have a chance. As long as we have each beat of our heart, we have the potential for finding momentum. As long as we can think and feel, there’s hope. The thoughts and the feelings may not be pretty or beautiful, but sometimes, it’s all you have. Use that grit to pull yourself up and find your way out of that prison. We may always have that prison within us, but it doesn’t have to be where we live. That prison doesn’t have to control us any longer.   

Monday, March 3, 2014

Responding to Ignorance

Ignorance is everywhere. It is what we all have in common. As much as we have the capacity for ignorance, we also have the same capacity for understanding, for patience and for compassion. How we respond to the ignorance within us should parallel the response to the ignorance we encounter of others. It is common to do otherwise.

It is only natural to want the negative attention that ignorance can provide to be focused onto someone else instead of acknowledging our own. Somehow, it may make us feel better about ourselves. “At least we’re not ‘that’ wrong. At least we’re not ‘that’ ignorant.” However, we were probably that child that didn’t believe the burner on the stovetop was burning hot. We probably weren’t born with an elaborate understanding of our complex world either.

Scientists still discover and expose the mistaken views we had and still have about the physical universe. In science, you have a theory and you create an experiment to determine its veracity. If the theory is disproven, scientists don’t feel guilt or shame over being wrong. Instead, they learn from the experiment, modify or adjust their theory and begin anew. The response to ignorance within science is relentlessness. 

Scientific method is useful, but it doesn’t yield much guidance with how we conduct our lives. Religions attempt to make sense of the intersection of our complex, intricate lives with that of the rest of society. These can be used as weapons against others as opposed to helping others. Often, religious texts are cherry-picked to suit personal agendas. Religion should bring people together, not to isolate and to discriminate. People can claim to know the truth, but if that truth is about someone else, maybe further examination is required.

Religious devotees can easily be led to never challenge their religious texts or their religious leaders. Instead of using their religion to broaden their worldview and their view of others, they use it to create an us versus them, good versus evil dynamic. Instead of finding truth about themselves, they believe they’ve found it about others. 

Somehow, truth always seems so fleeting. The world is constantly evolving, and so must our understanding of it and of ourselves. We are really the mirror of the universe. What is possible out there is really within us wherever we are and in whatever we do.

We can see clearly the train heading down the tracks, but that’s only because we can see it. The man on the tracks is completely unaware while facing the opposite direction wearing his noise-cancelling earphones. We could also be on the train in a passenger car being led by someone else. Maybe, the track isn’t finished, ends in a dead end, or worse a bridge is out up ahead. We have to make an effort to see where we are or we will forever remain ignorant to our own reality.

Our consciousness makes these choices constantly. Often, the conscious mind decides not to make these mental choices, remaining neutral as opposed to engaging with the miracle that is life, living and society. Other times, our mind finds attraction and aversion more suitable. As much as we gravitate toward this ideal, toward that person, toward a feeling or a sensation, we turn away from others as well. Instead of broadening our awareness, we continuously limit it. Like the man on the tracks, we have our earphones on to our own oblivious nature. We can’t hear the train and may even ignore the vibrations. Like those asleep in the passenger cars, we don’t realize we are heading over a cliff.

We have all held ignorant views during this lifetime. It is how we respond to ignorance that is most important. Holding onto our views is the concern, and we are all surrounded by those who desperately need to hold onto their own. We can do something about ignorance, and it starts with our own. Before we judge others’ ignorance, we should first examine our own.

We can get out of the way of the train of ignorance through our presence and awareness. Also, we need to make sure we’re not on our own train. We need to know if there’s someone on the track up ahead that’s not paying attention. We need to know if we’re heading over a cliff or speeding toward the end of the line.

We respond to ignorance by examining ourselves, others and the world in which we live. We don’t have to simply live with it. We can do something about it. We need only be relentless in our understanding, expansive with our patience and ever deepening our compassion. It certainly isn’t easy to be surrounded by ignorance, but it’s so much more difficult to live that way and not do something about it.