There are lots of ways in which we as human beings can get caught under the vast net of stress in our lives. We oftentimes find ourselves feeling trapped by difficult circumstances and the attending feelings and thoughts that arise from them. All of this can create a sense of being overwhelmed and life at times can appear unmanageable. We then struggle and we suffer. Often times the root cause no longer exists but our coping strategies themselves have become problematic. Read more
For some time now, my three children (20-somethings) share this little mantra with me, often accompanied by a big grin. It goes like this: “Just do you, Mom!”
Whether that means wearing a funky flowered hat, leading a guided meditation on the quad of a local campus, or making friends in line at the RMV, I find this call to just be myself a lovely affirmation every time I hear it.
I believe their call to me is an echo back from my daily attempts to encourage their discoveries about themselves ever since they began that discernment process. Of course, like all of us, they have shifted and morphed as they “tried on” various versions of jock, artist, rock star, philanthropist, hipster, and general badass. Some they have tossed out of hand. While others have become integral pieces of who they are.
And of course, like all of us, they have suffered. There have been grave losses, illness, dark times, and broken dreams. Yet, I have seen these unwanted crucibles, time and again, transform them and others in miraculous ways to live life fully present. There seems to be no profound personal or spiritual advancement without them.
However, these are the places where we can get stuck.
The journey of who we are and why we are is a life-long one. The task is made more difficult when we hold on to identities about ourselves that don’t tell the whole story.
Often, in my classes, when I ask people what they would like us to know about them, their first identifier may be, “I am a recovering alcoholic” or “I am a survivor of abuse.” These are hugely important facts. It is vital to share these parts of ourselves. They demonstrate strength, resilience, and a tenacity to rise above. They are living proof to yourself and others that you have been through the worst and have come out the other side.
These experiences help to shape us, AND THEY ARE NOT US. Each of us is much more than even the sum of all our stories.
Transforming your past into a happier today includes sharing your experiences with others, whether they be hard tales of abuse, addiction, neglect, or poverty. Both speaker and listener heal, grow, and connect deeply with one other.
Embracing your past from this perspective, you can honor and accept where you have been, utilizing it in the present where need be. But releasing the attachment to these stories. They will not disappear. Nothing gets lost.
Just doing you is a call to the present…
In fact, this release allows us to live in the only time there is: now.
There is no need to put labels on who we are. Living unencumbered by our own or other’s definition of who we are: we see things with fresh eyes.
“Just do you” is the vibrancy of noticing what’s around you right now: a smooth pottery coffee mug, cloud formations or rain at the windows. People and creatures, landscape and cityscape, offering themselves for enjoyment. The authentic you arises naturally from this place.
There is a lightness and rightness about being you in this moment.
John Lennon wrote these lines for his song “Beautiful Boy”. A bit of wit and concise wisdom, these words have been a refrain of mine for some years. They remind me that my BIG plans for the day, week, month, or year are just that…plans. As an example, many of us have had similar experiences like this one: you’re about to go for a hike and as you walk out the door, you hear a loud banging sound coming from the washing machine. Water is seeping onto the floor. You are not going for a hike, you are going to have either fix it yourself or call a plumber, or least get the water to stop running and then go for the hike.
This is life. We need to be easy in our saddle for when life interrupts our agenda. The little annoyances, which are more numerous, can be viewed as daily practice drills for developing spiritual and emotional resilience, gaining a modicum of patience, and as a way to avoid the soul’s arch-enemy, complacency.
I, for one, need to be continually reminded of this. Generally speaking, I consider myself a good-natured, happy sort of person. When life goes really smoothly for any length of time, my human tendency is, I want it to continue! I don’t want (notice how many times I am using I) to have to deal with unexpected unpleasantness. Yet it is the perennial curve balls that are a part of life that polish us our edges and hopefully keep us humble and grateful. There is always grace in “embracing the whole catastrophe”.
That includes the REAL (i.e. IMPORTANT) stuff too. Not just the washing machine, the flat tire; but the sick kid, the dying parent, the divorce… the losses that take our life’s journey as we had known it and catapult it onto another plane entirely. We are temporarily disillusioned, disoriented, and at times, disheartened. It is these big things that can and do stop us in our tracks, seize us (for a time) from the endless being busy making other plans. We are present in a way that only suffering and great change provides.
Now I’m not a believer that everything happens for a reason or that God saves some people in a car crash while letting others die. I don’t want a Puritanical God who like Jonathan Edwards envisioned, “holds us like tiny spiders over an open pit.” If there is a tally maker up in the sky counting transgressions, He/She/It has too much time on their hands. I know that sometimes things make no sense, and that bad things happen randomly and without warning. I believe God is our co-conspirator in grieving, in healing, and in finding creative ways to make some larger meanings in our life from ALL of our experiences. I do. I have witnessed it too many times to doubt it.
It’s necessary to make plans. It’s good to be busy (as long as we also take some time to just be). Yet it is those surprising events (in turns gleeful and terrifying), chance meetings, or tiny disasters that change us. Take courage. If we let them, our life will grow in miraculous ways.
Some food for thought from a great little book entitled “The Right Questions” by Debbie Ford: “Will I use this situation as a catalyst to grow and evolve or will I use it to beat myself up?”
When someone whines, “life is just one thing after another”, I always think, yeah, right, life IS just one thing after another. The difference in whining about it or in simple acceptance is Your REALITY.
As a kid, I can recall long summer days on the beach when my brother, sister, cousins, and sometimes just random kids would spend a better part of an afternoon helping to dig a hole to China. It was largely a group effort, the attempt being short lived if you were solo. Invariably, however, we would be shoveling madly, with our plastic jelly bean colored diggers when we would hit water. I suppose that’s what would happen in real life, if you tried to dig to China with big fancy high-tech equipment, your hole would eventually fill up with water.
Still the concept behind digging to China (besides keeping gainfully busy on the beach) was the idea that we could create a portal to take us to another place, a foreign world. What would they think of us when we showed up in our bathing suits and pail and shovels? Where there children in China at that very moment digging to Cape Cod? What would we eat? How far do you think we have to go; how far do you think we’ve gotten? We would discuss all sorts of thoughts like these while digging.
It’s summer. Summer is a time for the imagination to run wild. Good ole’ Will Shakespeare knew this only too well. He let loose a host of fairy fantasties and sultry shenanigans in A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
“The cowslips tall her pensioners be/In their gold coats spots you see/Those be rubies, fairy favours/In those freckles live their savours/I must go seek some dewdrops here/And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.” The fairy’s description of cowslips as gentlemen who wait upon the fairy queen.
Whether you are revisiting the surreal world of Alice in Wonderland this summer or are, like The Beach Boys dreaming of an Endless Summer; I, for one, second that notion. The pulse of life, the green on the trees, the warmth of the sun, the joys of being plant or animal, all revels in the present moment during this time of long days. We’re not waiting for summer to be over. We’re just happy it’s here. Anything is possible, anything can happen.
We can plant a garden, build a castle made of sand, sit on a beach all day and read a novel, bike, swim, sail, and row….or we can simply be. The whole of it is just like one giant prayer. Mystic and theologican Meister Eckhart once said that if in your whole life you only said one prayer, “Thank You” that would be enough. I’ve heard this many times. Right now I mean it, Thank you.
Continuing on our theme of mindfulness, our title today is taken from a book of the same name by ground breaking author and founder of the University of Massachusetts Stress Reduction Center Clinic (1992), Jon Kabat-Zinn. The book (long since dog-eared and worn by its continual use by me as an invaluable personal instruction manual), reflects “his major research interests which include mind/body interactions for healing, clinical application of mindfulness meditation for people with chronic pain and stress-related disorders, and the societal applications of mindfulness.”
We all at times change our circumstances, changing jobs, spouses, home locales, and some of it necessary. Likewise, it is the rare individual that doesn’t love to take a vacation. Vacating your life for a while, whether for a week, a month, or even a long weekend, has a way of pushing the refresh button on our spirits. We all log in so much information and activity every day and the amount we delete never seems to really clear our head of it all.
Planning a trip is half the fun, cruising the internet for the best deals and unexpected finds, purchasing travel books and magazines on places you are getting ready to visit or are dreaming of going to some day hold future promises of enjoyment, instilling joy in us just in the thinking. Shopping for the right attire and gear also occupy us happily. Even when are lives are currently rife with crisis or a season of grief, a holiday can bring a welcomed respite and the chance for perspective that can arise from being pulled from our everyday surroundings.
Concurrently, whatever problems you have, whatever inner turmoil, doesn’t necessarily or even likely cease just because you have gone somewhere other than your daily haunts or made significant life changes. If you have been struggling with sadness, anger, anxiety, or resentments before you left or altered your lifestyle, chances are there will be moments while you are away that these emotions still arise. You can keep changing a whole lot of outside circumstances and still feel like something is missing, like it will be better around the bend. But wherever you go, there you are. As I have mentioned before, there are a million ways to escape our lives for a time, but they all have a way of catching up with us.
So, what to do if we can’t take a vacation, or if the vacation didn’t take, or most vitally, if we want to live our days in a way where we can experience moments like those we do on some of the more memorable, exceptional times away?
We need to learn the art of non-doing. As Jon Kabat-Zinn points out, “The flavor and joy of non-doing are difficult for Americans to grasp because our culture places so much value on doing and on progress. Even our leisure tends to be busy and mindless. The joy of non-doing is that nothing else needs to happen for this moment to be complete. The wisdom in it, and the equanimity that comes out of it, lies in knowing that something else surely will.”
We are not just doing nothing, but consciously noticing what’s going on right now. In Thoreau’s Walden, he explained it like this:
I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise to noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time…I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works.”
It is the opposite of busyness. While practically speaking, we need to get stuff done, can we carve out five minutes, or better yet, twenty minutes to just be? Our efforts during our times of doing will be enhanced. This is what Zinn calls the paradox of non-doing. You do things of value when you don’t care about whether they will be worthy or not, but whether they act in concet with your efforts at non-doing and letting go of outcomes. Then the ego and its tendency towards self aggrandizement are pushed aside, creativity and insight become natural byproducts. Your work gains a purity and satisfaction that has no puffed up identity attached to it. It fulfills.
So, if today finds you sitting with your daughter, don’t put in another load of laundry, don’t answer the phone (I know it’s calling and the impulse is to move), but just be with your daughter, whether talking or in silence, be consciously present to this moment which will never come again in the exact same way. Choose to be here, right now, you are anyway.