There is a story about a seeker who travels to the Himalayas, looking for an enlightened Buddha in order to receive personal teachings. This seeker wants the last word on the subject of enlightenment. Walking and trekking for days, he begins to drop his heavy gear as he makes his way to the top of a high peak in Nepal. He drops his tent, his camping equipment, and his heavy backpack.
Stripped of almost everything and having breathed so many hundreds of thousands of breaths, he has finally forgotten about his worldly preoccupations. He is ready to arrive and very ready to listen. He pulls himself up over the final rim of the mountain and looks into the mouth of a cave. Amazingly enough, the Buddha-like master is sitting right there.
Stunned, relieved, and overjoyed, the seeker asks the Sage, “What is the first principle? What is your most important truth and teaching?”
The seeker thinks this is going to be his big moment and that he is about to become enlightened. He is going to discover the one essential thing for him to ponder. And then the Buddha replies: “Dukkha. Life is suffering, life is fraught, life is difficult.”
And the seeker is totally disappointed! He looks around wildly and shouts, “Is there anyone else up here that I can talk to?!!”
I love that story. What do we do when we experience something that isn’t quite what we hoped for, or worse, when we experience something that is truly difficult?
A Buddhist wise guy’s rendition of the First Nobel Truth of dukkha (or dissatisfaction) is that in life pain is inevitable, BUT SUFFERING IS OPTIONAL. How much we suffer depends on us, our internal development, and our spiritual understanding and realization.
By recognizing this, we can learn to use loss and suffering in ways that help us grow wiser and become more at peace with ourselves and the universe.
I believe that this is the time to become warriors for peace and dialogue, not warmongers or mere worriers. We must learn the hard lesson that without the pain of inner irritation, the pearls of wisdom will not be produced within us. I lovingly call this The Pearl Principle: no pain, no transformative gain.
Healthy Mind & body
If you think you are beaten, you are;
If you think you dare not, you don’t;
If you’d like to win, but think you can’t,
It’s almost a cinch you won’t.
If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost,
For out in the word we find
Success begins with a fellow’s will,
It’s all in the state of mind.
If you think you’re outcasted, you are;
You’ve got to think high to rise.
You’ve got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.
Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man;
But soon or late the man who wins
Is the man who thinks he can.
It feels amazingly freeing to blog for a second day in a row. In order to climb my mountain of self-discovery, I must return to my purpose. Wildly enough, this includes pouring my soul out to strangers, those who have known me for a lifetime, and everyone in between.
I truly believe that within each of our beings (if we are quiet enough) we can hear soft whispers that reveal what we are meant to do and who we are meant to touch. Throughout my 37 years, sometimes a whisper ignored has turned into a sonic boom that has forced me in a new direction.
Setting out on a new journey can be frightening. We leave behind the “comforts” and assurances that have been our security blankets for so long and set into the unknown with a hope and a dream.
I’ll never forget the day I left home for the first time. Mom accompanied me to college, stayed a couple days in town, and then left with a hug, a few tears, and a wave. I watched her drive away and felt an urge to run after her. That evening I tried my very best to stifle my fears. At one point, I panicked and felt my world spin on its axis.
As the days progressed, I began to pour myself into my studies, met new friends, and explored the campus. My being expanded and a new sense of courage arose. I found my smile and giddy laughter once again.
Such is life.
“A life without a cause is a life without an effect.” Yesterday, I shared these simple yet profound words by Paulo Coelho.
This morning I wonder…is this why there is so much unhappiness on Planet Earth? Are too many of us without a true cause? Are we ignoring the whisper of our souls because we are too afraid to expand and grow?
For me, one of the first pains I felt in life was when my parents tried to wean me off of my “blankie.” My completely worn blanket that I took with me everywhere I went. When I was tired, I sucked my right thumb and held my blankie to my face. Oh the pain of trying to sleep without it for the first few times!!
As hard as change can be for us all, I’m certain failure to grow to new heights leads to suffering in one way or another.
Courage is the answer.
Whether this means turning off the TV and going outside for a run — throwing away the fatty crap that sits within a fridge and replacing it with veggies — leaving behind what is familiar to explore the world, a new occupation, etc — or freeing ourselves of patterns and relationships that are killing our souls — we must heed the whisper (or the sonic boom) within if we are to find our smiles again.
Thomas Bayancya, Elder of the Hopi Nation once penned a powerful poem on personal progress. Here is the part that I love most:
There is a river flowing now very fast,
It is so great and swift.
That there are those who will be afraid,
They will try to hold onto the shore.
They will feel they are being pulled apart,
And will suffer greatly.
Understand that the river knows its’ destination,
The elders say we must let go of the shore.
Push off into the middle of the river,
Keep our eyes open and our heads above water.
Namaste to you, and me too!
– Jen Engevik
In reality, this is a horrid excuse. I am growing to understand that had I been writing more and pushing through the sogginess of my being, I may be further along in the process. Afterall, I’m a writer and I should write.
Having said this…let’s jump back into the discovery of our bold selves…
“We can’t let fear keep us from our own capacity.”
I just heard these words as spoken by a yogi in the documentary “The Highest Pass.” I’m not quite finished with the film as of yet, but I am enjoying the process of living vicariously through a group of motorcyclists who dared to ride one of the most treacherous and challenging roads in the world.
Driving in India is no walk in the park. Thus far two motorcyclists have been hit by cars. The key is that each of these beings at one point…or at many points…are faced with the choice to turn back, get on an airplane, and run to their “safe” and “normal” existences.
As I watch, I am becoming more and more aware that I’ve been climbing my own mountain over the past eight months.
The end of my five year relationship has forced me to experience a new sense of self and the horrifying pangs of loneliness. I had taken for granted the comfort that comes with union. I will never forget driving through a parking lot near my home and wailing when I realized I no longer had a partner in crime. Learning to be okay with this has been one of my most difficult challenges ever.
Shortly after, my Mom had to undergo a major surgery. For the first time, I assumed the role of guardian and protector of my very own parent. This led me to a whole new understanding of love and support. This also was terrifying in some ways.
There are also beautiful things that have occurred — a new job, new friends, and self-growth.
“When one door closes, another door opens,” it has been said millions of times by people around the globe. Regardless of how romantic this notion may sound, diving into the unknown is so very bittersweet…even freaky!
In a recent conversation with my Mother, she told me how her surgery made her realize that she has far less control than she once thought she did.
While I haven’t undergone a physical surgery, there is this immovable force pushing me to reach new heights of self-understanding. To be honest, the process has stripped me freaking bare. I’ve probably shed enough tears to fill a small pool. I’ve panicked. I’ve tried to cling on to limited thought patterns, people…even my darn cats.
Speaking of cats, I have a boy cat that I once found in a woodpile 13 years ago. He became mine in a little twist of fate, but that’s a story for another day. He has been a little rock for me through the past handful of months. Each night he jumps up on my bed and curls next to me. He seems to understand my needs and softly puts his paw on my arm. There have been times I’ve held that little guy so tightly.
There’s no getting around it — growth normally comes with pain.
One day though, I know, I will stand one day on a mountain top with a huge smile upon my face. My laughter and silliness will return. I’ll discover a new sense of love and be able to give it away to another being again.
But first, I must finish climbing the invisible mountain and welcome the stretching of my soul.
“A life without a cause is a life without effect,” writes Paulo Coelho in Aleph.
The cause is being revealed a little more each day…
The devastation and pain in her voice was apparent. And at the same time, she seemed embarrassed to be revealing her humanity – that part of her that if left unattended would weep like a baby.
“Who taught you that you need to be so strong all the time?’ I asked.
She giggled through tears and shared the Cliff Notes version of her life story. It’s not her story that matters here (as I don’t think she’d like it shared)…you can place your own in its place if you’d like.
What does matter is the fact that so many of us stifle our tears, and we hold in what so needs to come out. We see the expression of our emotions as weakness — when really it is our ultimate strength. Our truest ally.
As you read, maybe you are the person who needs to let it all out.
Or possibly–you are the one who needs to play the role of listener.
However it works out, let’s try to be real and authentic — even if this means we weep like babies or laugh like hyenas.
“Don’t be ashamed to weep; ’tis right to grieve. Tears are only water, and flowers, trees, and fruit cannot grow without water. But there must be sunlight also. A wounded heart will heal in time, and when it does, the memory and love of our lost ones is sealed inside to comfort us.” – Brian Jacques, Author
Ever since I can remember, I have been acutely aware of the suffering in the world, both that which is part of the fabric of life such as illness, death, and natural occurrences, and that which we create on our own through the perpetuation of our harmful beliefs and actions toward ourselves and others. It troubled me a great deal, and I often felt overwhelmed by it. I couldn’t make sense of it. At the same time, I recognized that many people deny this aspect of life. I felt quite isolated in my recognition of, and depth of feeling about, the painful aspects of being alive. This combination of factors became the impetus for my commitment to spiritual practice as well as my interest in psychotherapy. I began a very serious meditation practice as well as a great deal of inner work to clear my own harmful patterns.
I later learned that this is referred to as the “gate of suffering” in Buddhist practice–that the acute awareness of the painful aspects of life becomes the entry point into questioning conventional notions of attaining happiness through the acquisition of material possessions and pleasant experiences. That in fact this “gate” or doorway leads to the recognition that suffering is universal, that no one escapes it, and that it links us together as a human family. My response to this truth, as it is for many who recognize it deeply, has been to dedicate my life to learning how to respond to all beings with wisdom and love. This is quite a practice! I have also found that by facing suffering directly, it is transformed. The Heart can grow in its ability to love, and we can come to recognize the workings of Love all around us.
This commitment to using my life to grow in consciousness and living from the Heart has been the underlying force behind the various activities/roles that I have explored. Seeing the suffering in myself and others prompted me to undertake rigorous training in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis so as to help others transform harmful patterns that were blocking their authentic life force and ability to express themselves fully. As I continued on in my meditation practice, I was offered the opportunity to teach, and to use this role to help others to turn toward their own pain with compassion, and, eventually, to see that it is possible to use our limited time here to follow the promptings of the Heart, to grow in our capacity for love and wisdom.
Listening to my Heart’s intention to grow also prompted me to explore the Yogic tradition. I completed a Yoga Teacher Training and seriously undertook the practice of Bhakti Yoga, or the Yoga of Devotion. Bhakti Yoga has taught me, and continues to teach me, how to open to life with gratitude, to recognize that the life force which created everything is large beyond my comprehension, to pay homage to its grandeur and to the energy which caused all that is to come into being. It is a softening practice that asks us to not habitually demand what we want from life, but to surrender and to listen deeply to what life is asking of us! By giving up control of how I think things should be (which often causes a lot of suffering when things don’t turn out according to plan), I have been taken to wonderful places that I never would have expected. And this leads me right to my music!
I never set out to be a singer, or to write songs, but instead wanted to learn to how open my heart to life by singing and chanting. Through this process, I eventually met a man who I thought was going to teach me some well known yoga chants, but instead suggested that I write my own music. Having never been trained as a musician, at first I thought this a preposterous suggestion (!) but eventually I settled into it, and it felt completely right.
I have been singing and writing songs for almost ten years now. I began by using ancient yogic mantras in Sanskrit with my original music. Eventually, I was asked to lead evenings of chanting where groups of people come together and use chant as a heart-opening practice. Continuing to sing, write, and lead others in this practice, has been a great blessing for me and has brought me much joy! Without this as an agenda, I came to meet professional musicians, composers, and singers who were writing songs outside of a spiritual/chant based tradition. Being exposed to them, exposed me to the art of song-writing, and has birthed a whole new aspect of my music.
My journey has been to wake up by transforming the inner suffering, to ignite the Divine spark of the Heart, to fan the flame of this inner fire of love. This is a universal spiritual journey, not owned by any one group, but is the potential of everyone. And so, my songs are now outside of any particular spiritual tradition, they are songs that speak to the Divine spark of Love that lives within us all. At its core, my music continues to convey the same intention that I set as my life’s work many years ago. How do we use our time here wisely? Can the suffering in the world be responded to with Love? How do we evolve in our consciousness to see the Largeness of Life with gratitude, to wake up to its mystery, and the miracle that there is anything here at all? How do we pay homage to that Force that created us and everything that we see, a Force that is wise and loving beyond our comprehension? And how do we recognize that it is this Force that is the guiding Force of our own Heart, whispering to us, and prompting us to follow Love as a path.
Yesterday was July 20, 2011 – the first day of my 21 Days to Forge a Habit Experiment. My workday was filled with lots of article writing for clients, many lapses in focus, and a burning desire to chuck my computer down from the balcony of our attic apartment conversion here in Gothenburg. LOL. Seriously, sometimes sitting in front of the computer makes me go quite mad, yet writing is my craft and I love the overall process.
The morning turned into noon, noon into the afternoon and then came evening. I knew I had made the commitment to run for 30 minutes, 21 days in a row – yet I kept putting it off and putting it off. Ten p.m. rolled around and I sat on the couch wanting to watch a movie. My better half looked at me and began laughing and asked, “so what about your vow to run for 21 days!” We laughed for a few moments together, but my giggles turned into frustration…and then determination. “We’ll see whose laughing in 30 minutes,” I yelped.
The next thing I knew I was grabbing my shoes and leashed up Melvin the dog to join me. He was more than thrilled to be getting out for adventure. Luckily life here in Sweden is in full swing at 10pm in the Summer…the sky is still light and men, women and children are out enjoying each and every moment of the season’s magic.
Out the door Melvin and I went on our quest to “be bold.” We ran and enjoyed every minute. Our trek took us past the city amusement park, a couple museums, outdoor restaurants and a raging party. Melvin did his best to stay focused, his little legs working hard to keep up. He had to make a few stops to sniff and make is mark on the world and one real big smelly mark in the middle of a public square that required some cleanup…and saw a handful of people watching me scurry to find a piece of paper to pick it up with, so an unsuspecting victim wouldn’t step in it.
On my first day of making he commitment to run 21 days in a row, I’d have to say the hardest thing was getting out of the door. I tried to make every excuse not to sit and veg. And to be honest, I had stomach cramps because…well…if you’re a woman you know why. I tried to tell myself that because of that I should sit and mope a bit. But I went after all…I didn’t run like a marathon pro…just took one stride and then the other. The best part of it all was that when I walked back in the door, I was feeling great! I can’t tell you how good it felt to look laziness…and the mockery of my other half in the eyes and say “so there! I did it!!”
Today is day#2 – Let’s see what it will bring.
Any of you out there decide to take making a new habit/or breaking one? I’d love to hear about it! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The victory of success is half won when one gains the habit of setting goals and achieving them. Even the most tedious chore will become endurable as you parade through each day convinced that every task, no matter how menial or boring, brings you closer to fulfilling your dreams.”
~ Og Mandino ~