“…may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple…”
e.e. cummings’ may my heart always be open
It’s not a revolution, it’s an evolution. I think it’s personal evolution that will bring about planetary evolution. So that’s what I’m focusing on.
Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.
How do you think your perception of life might shift if you viewed everything through the lens of your constantly evolving self, understanding each thought, action and emotion moved you towards a greater ability to love and learn? Each victory, defeat, or challenge would be just another opportunity to change and grow. Since life is fraught with uncertainty and transitions, why not choose to view them all as catalysts for personal evolution?
When living is hard, and it certainly can be, why not embrace the discomfort, pain, inconvenience, and ego injuries with curiosity? Do the opposite of what you initially desire–running away–and paradoxically, run towards the challenge. What an opportunity to see how capable you really are. How much you can handle, and how deep wells of compassion for yourself and others open up when you move towards that which you don’t like.
Of course, it is natural to rant and rail against the injustices, aggravations, inconveniences, and indignities of life; and, that can feel cathartic and freeing. Unfortunately, rarely does mere venting build resilience or make you feel better in the long run. Taking a paradoxical approach and moving towards what you want to shun can be refreshing and full of interesting surprises. It shifts your perspective 180 degrees, enabling you to see something positive in a situation that only seemed miserable seconds earlier. Committing to approach something negative with a different attitude reminds you that, no matter what the situation, you can almost always choose your response.
The ancient yogis knew this and practiced setting intentions, meditating (either seated, with breath work, or doing yoga postures to calm the body-mind), and using mantras as ways to harness the mind’s power to enhance feelings of self-determination. You may get the flu, your request for a mortgage can be denied, the job promotion you wanted goes to a colleague, or any one of a multitude of things happens that harshes your mellow. In almost every case, except those that involve brain damage, you can consciously choose to re-frame your perspective. Is it easy? Absolutely not. Though, with perseverence and practice it becomes easier.
The toughest aspect of this path is how frequently you can get derailed. It might be a small catalyst, like someone cutting you off the road, or a large one like the death of a parent. You thought you had practiced accepting life on life’s terms; yet, suddenly, you are feeling angry, anxious, guilty, worthless, hopeless, or depressed. This happens to almost everyone, and is no reflection on your desire to maintain emotional homeostasis. As a matter of fact, it is simply a cosmic reminder to take a breath, think differently, re-focus your perspective; or, just stop and be grateful for every gift that has been bestowed on you.
In Buddhism, the concept of shenpa refers to our ability to get hooked into unpleasant emotional and behavioral reactions, including shutting down, when certain buttons are pushed. Even if you have been working diligently on yourself for decades, you will get hooked. So, it is crucial to be vigilant for times when complacency and ego appear. Thinking you are so firmly rooted in your balanced view of life that nothing can blow it up is just hubris. The ego loves to think it has something all nailed down; but, life’s vicissitudes are always ready to teach it a lesson. The best strategy is to gracefully accept how challenging being human can be. Give life’s quirky surprises the respect they deserve, and give yourself credit for doing what you can to navigate the ups and downs.
When things are going your way, enjoy them to the hilt, for they won’t last. When tough times emerge remember your practices (they are strewn throughout this website: cognitive, physical, spiritual, nutritional, social, etc.), and re-commit to doing them. While almost all require some measure of self-discipline, each will help you feel a greater sense of control, even if it is just observing a breath while waiting for the challenge du jour to end.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Personal evolution May 2, 2013
“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”
There is no one right way to live. There is only your way in this moment. Whether you are experiencing abject misery, overwhelming joy, or numbness, this is your minute. Claim it as part of your unique experience on this earth. After all, since you are only a visitor, why not approach everything as fascinating? If you really feel like raising the bar, you could even consider all aspects of your life sacred. Should you choose to adopt that world view, you might find yourself more comfortable riding the seas of unpredictability that show up daily.
Of course, it is natural to get caught up in an emotion or experience and think it will never end. Whether it is physical pain, euphoria, or something else entirely it is all too easy to lose sight of the fact that everything, yes, everything, ends. Clinging to the joys and shunning the difficulties only makes life harder.
What if you adopted a completely different view, one that embraces everything as part of your adventure on planet earth? Each moment would be a portal into understanding the varieties of experience. Not judging, comparing, or getting lost along the spectrum of discerning whether something brings joy or grief. Just being. Right now. In this moment. No story line to keep you company, no drama to create, only awareness and curiosity.
How differently would you think?
What might your new attitude feel like?
How would you approach what arises?
What effect would that openness and acceptance have on your relationship with yourself and others?
This is not about spiritual perfectionism, but gently, lovingly, coaxing yourself back into an appreciation of the moment, whatever it feels like. Not every moment, just those you want to fully experience.
While there is no emotional terra firma, you can anchor yourself in the present, allow all thoughts and feelings to flow through you, and cultivate genuine wonder. Empowered with joy, openness, and curiosity you can truly inhabit the fullness of your life.
An exercise that grounds you in the moment while tapping into your ability to appreciate the most mundane, yet potentially bliss-inducing, aspects of your environment, is the 5-4-3-2-1 meditation. It is quite simple, yet profound.
Wherever you are, notice 5 things you can see, then 5 things you can hear, and then 5 things you can physically feel. Continue with four things in each category, then 3 things in each category, then 2 and, finally, 1. Give yourself about 15 minutes to complete one full cycle. It is preferable to find new things, but not necessary.
Even simpler, just consciously allow whatever your experience is right now. Stop reading, take a breath, and assess how you are processing this moment. Are you being critical? Angry? Stoic? Resigned? Numb? Perhaps, you are grateful, joyful, accepting, open, or unconditionally self-accepting. The more you pay attention and do these mini check-ins, the more you will notice the emotional vicissitudes of life as they occur. Once you allow your ever-changing, full range of thoughts and feelings, and agree to being present and human for whatever crosses your path, life will feel more manageable and interesting.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang