“…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