I read somewhere recently that Dr. Phil got in a little bit of trouble for some remarks he made about Covid-19. He said something to the effect that if we didn't return to work, if we didn't "get back to normal," more people would die from the stress of not working than from the virus. We all know that Phil has never been short on opinions, but whether he's right or not is not what concerns me here.
What his comment reveals is not only a reflection of his lack of skill-set, a lack of faith in his ability to help people release, transform, and resolve the stress around not working, but in his culturally-biased assumption that not working is the problem - versus recognizing our emotional reactions to not working as the problem. His comment reflects and also reinforces a disempowered stance that puts the locus of control on Covid-19, our political leaders, the economy, and our outer-directed efforts to fix all this up just right so that then we can feel better; instead of affirming our own innate power to transform our negative feelings, and be at relative inner peace, regardless of our outer circumstances.
Again, I'm assuming that this is merely an indication that he doesn't know how. This wouldn't be a problem except that because of his popularity, we can only assume that his position and attitude is a reflection of mass culture, and that's what worries me.
When we can't control our outer lives, if we do not have jobs or achievements, is it necessary that the stress of that kills us? Yes, being out of work with no income, and being responsible for others, would certainly bring up strong feelings of survival-type fear. It's perfectly understandable. But where is the faith in the human organism's capacity to transform fear? Where is the faith in an abundant universe that offers unlimited potential and possibilities that we might have access to once our fear is transformed?
Please understand that I'm in no way trying to discount these kinds of fears. I have them too. But within every fear and every situation that triggers that fear, is the potential for healing, release, and to know ourselves more deeply - inner work which we might not be motivated to do if we weren't scared silly.
We are not at the mercy of this pandemic. Instead, it presents us with an opportunity to face the illusion that we were ever in control in the first place. It invites us to find something deeper in ourselves than our outer-directed, ego-directed plans and strategies, something deeper than our self-identification with worldly-attained security, achievement, and success.
I hope Phil is wrong. I hope the stress of not working won't kill us. I hope instead that this crisis will be used to help us be more than we've been before and that instead of back to normal, we emerge from this as better than normal - with a greater sense of who we are, beneath and beyond our worldly, egoic striving.
Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he said, I have overcome the world. Perhaps he came to know the limitations and futility of striving, strategizing, and trying to control our outer circumstances. Perhaps he was trying to tell us that as long as our focus is on anything out there, we will have "tribulation." Maybe he was trying to show us another way and was challenging us to dig deeply enough to find the innate, indwelling peace, stability, and freedom within, that which transcends the outer illusion.
In any case, I don't think he would let us off the hook like Phil did. He wouldn't agree that the world could beat us and wouldn't agree that the world could fix us. But would have invited us instead to rediscover the truth of who we are, beneath and beyond the world of form, all the while celebrating our remembrance of this truth, and the worldly conditions that inspired it.
In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. John16:33.
Thank you Jesus, for showing the way.
We all want to feel fulfilled. It's a basic human need and a fine one. The Life Coach Training Institute that I attended and the life coaching movement itself is based on the idea of not just surviving, but of thriving. It's intended to help you live and create "your best life." Again, this is a fine intention and there's nothing wrong with pursuing it. I am grateful for how it has helped me create this life that's such a good reflection of my essential self.
The question becomes, To what degree am I expecting Life to suit my particular needs and desires, so that I can be happy, feel loved and secure, feel good about myself, or be at peace? To what degree am I expecting outer conditions to be set up in such a way that I feel good for good? It's a common illusion and one that's perpetuated by our culture. When ____ happens, or when I achieve such and such, then I can relax and rest and be happy.
This sense of postponing a feeling of fulfillment or happiness, this sense of waiting, is so much a part of us that we often don't notice that we're doing it. But, you will know this to be true if you watch your mind carefully. You'll notice how often your awareness is on some elusive, future experience, and less on the present. You'll notice how challenging it is, especially as you're performing fairly mindless tasks or while driving, to keep your thoughts on what's happening right now.
Part of this future-oriented waiting is mere habit, our mind's need for constant stimulation, the ego's need to feel that it's doing something, accomplishing something, getting somewhere. But another aspect of this is a conditioned pattern of looking for fulfillment outside of us, in all the wrong places. The fulfillment we seek is not out there. Outer life conditions can only bring temporary, fairly shallow fulfillment.
When life's not working to my liking, when I'm not feeling as fulfilled as I think I should be, it's helpful to ask myself, What am I trying to get to - feeling-wise? What am I hoping to experience or feel that I'm not feeling now? And then I let myself feel the discomfort of not having what I want, not having it the way I want it. I let myself feel the perceived lack of what I want to feel or the sense of not enough of it. I might let myself have an inner tantrum. I might let myself write out, uncensored, my tantrum-like demands and feelings - why it's unfair, why I deserve better, and so on. And I breathe and stay with it, until it settles and dissolves.
And once that happens, a deeper sense of Beingness emerges. I then let go, quite naturally, of waiting for some future out-there to fulfill me, and rest instead in deep Presence, the always available source of true and lasting fulfillment. And I have everything I need, everything I ever wanted, right here, right now.
Maybe that's what Jesus meant when he said that the meek shall inherit the earth.
Much love to you all,
Looking to the mind for answers to recurring problems or questions is like returning to an empty file cabinet expecting/hoping that this time the information is in there.
HINT: If the mind had an answer that was satisfying, you wouldn't still be asking the question!
See if instead, you can present your questions to the all-knowing Stillness within. Use your breath to connect with your body, feel your body breathing, feel into the inner space of your body. Quiet your mind and wait. If your mind kicks in, gets distracted or busy, use it to return your focus to your breath and your body.
See if you can build a "tolerance" for inner Stillness. It will get easier with time and practice. Sometimes it's helpful to place your hand on your abdomen, just above the navel, and wait for the answers to come - as words, images, or as a subtle knowing.
This kind of body listening is more likely to take you in the direction of gut-knowing, Divine guidance, or knowing the answer in your heart of hearts.
My life has not changed much since self-quarantine. I still see a few clients outside on the farm and others over the phone. As an introvert, staying home and talking with a few close friends on the phone is enough social interaction for me. And as a single woman with horses and a farm to take care of, I've got plenty to do to stay busy. But busy has never really been my thing. I've not tended to use doingness as a way to quiet my mind, quell any emotional discomfort lurking beneath the surface, or feel OK.
However, in the last few weeks, I've noticed a subtle boredom at times. It sort of arises at the edge of my awareness and is immediately followed by a sense of somethin' ain't right. And then I notice myself scanning off in the vague vicinity or direction of how to fix it - how to ease the subtle discomfort of somethin' ain't right.
When I've caught it and let myself feel into it more deeply, I've noticed a belief or assumption just underneath that goes something like this: I'm not supposed to be bored; I must not be doing it right; boredom bad/stimulation good; maybe I'm bad; if I'm bored, something about my life is incorrect. I don't really believe any of this mind you, not logically. As I said, it's a feeling. And it's subtle.
And I've thought about Buddhist monks living in monasteries and how daily regular work, performing mundane tasks, is part of their practice. If you're on a spiritual quest and want to find enlightenment as a guest at a monastery, they put you to work: cooking meals, cleaning, and mopping floors. The practice is, the intention is, to do these tasks mindfully, with humility, and with deep Presence.
From that perspective, thinking of those monks and those seekers, it seems silly that I would think my life should be anything other than preparing meals, doing farm chores, or mopping the floor. Whatever made me think, on some level, that it wasn't enough, wasn't good enough, wasn't entertaining enough, didn't make me happy enough? And I think, What a spoiled lot we are! And alternately, How poor in spirit we are!
Our wealth allows us to have endless ways to keep ourselves surface-level stimulated and entertained. It allows us to run from anything that feels like emptiness or boredom. It prevents us from suffering - not in the way that refugees suffer, not in the ways that homeless or starving people suffer, but in the way that middle-class America suffers - with a mild, but somewhat chronic state of not-enoughness, a low-grade boredom, restlessness, something-better-is-just-beyond-my-grasp-and-I-need-to-get-it kind of suffering.
So I've approached my days more aware of this subtle brand of suffering. I sense the low-grade, antsy glance at what's next, something's-not-right, something's-not-good-enough kind of feeling. And as I am more present to it and able to be with it, I've watched it transform and settle into something deeper, something calmer. As a result, I go through my day with less expectation - less expectation that Life should bring me a certain level of stimulation, which I suppose we culturally equate, and so I equate, with happiness.
And instead of surface-level happiness, an amped up this-is-good, I'm-doin'-it-right kind of happiness, I find a depth of peace and Isness that's far more entertaining, far more satisfying, than anything my spoiled American-self can conjure.
Wishing you growth and peace during this potent time,
I come up to the house from a morning of seeing clients down by the creek and I want my lunch. I don't even notice that I'm not really physically hungry, but I'm craving something for sure. I'm craving the soothing experience that my fixing-and-eating-my-lunch ritual has come to provide. It comforts me. It gives me a sense of continuity, stability, an everything-is-normal, everything-is-OK kind of feeling. I stop and wait and check inside, and I pause my lunch-making ritual for long enough to notice that pausing makes me feel uneasy, uncomfortable.
I let myself sit with the feelings of uneasy and uncomfortable and notice that underneath there's a feeling of emptiness, followed by a subtle, frantic, graspy feeling - an attempt to fill up and avoid the emptiness. And while all of this is uncomfortable, it's really not that bad. It's sit-with-able and breathe-with-able. And in a fairly short time, a smile comes, with a nod to my ego saying, Ah, you almost caught me. You almost made me believe I needed something, needed some activity or experience, to make me feel whole and OK.
The first challenge is being present enough to notice what I'm doing, instead of allowing habitual movement and activity to take over. The second is being willing to get a feel for what's really happening inside of me - the feelings underneath that are driving my behavior. And the third is being willing to take the time to be present to and make a space for the feelings until they dissolve.
Thich Nhat Hanh says it this way: First you must know that you are suffering, second you must welcome or embrace your suffering, then you transform it.
Until recently, I didn't quite connect with the Buddhist concept of suffering. I didn't really see myself as someone who suffered. But it's all relative isn't it? No, I'm not starving, I'm not homeless, I'm not in chronic physical pain. But I suffer from a chronic reach outside and away from myself for something more, driven by an underlying sense of lack, of not enough, an emptiness that if I'm willing to sit with it long enough, feels a lot like suffering.
This low-grade suffering is perhaps more pandemic in our culture than the current pandemic. It's so much a part of us that it seems normal. We don't recognize the reach for our devices, the trip to the store, or our time on Facebook, as a distraction from suffering. But I'm sure it's easier to see as viewed from other, perhaps more earth-based, cultures.
In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Carl Jung recounts an interview with Chief Mountain Lake who said this about us, “ . . . Their eyes have a staring expression. They are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something, they are always uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want, we do not understand them, we think that they are mad.”
As we go throughout the day, maybe we can periodically pause, check inside, and bring our awareness to the internal push or restless feeling. Maybe we can sit with it and wait for the emptiness or fear that's just underneath, and allow ourselves to feel it, breathe, and let it transform. Maybe together we can stop the madness by bringing our middle-class-America version of suffering to light. After all, it's one pandemic we can do something about.