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Listening to My Heart , Surrendering to Pain – Part 2 June 21, 2013

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(This is part 2 of a series entitled “Listening to My Heart, Surrendering to Pain,” continued from my last post, part 1. The theme of the series is learning to listen to my heart by turning toward fear and trusting that I am aligned with the force of love.)

I felt intense fear because I was afraid of living without that self-image of my professional self. To be without all of those labels and self images onto which I had held for so long was scary. I wouldn’t know who I would be without them, they were the definitions by which everyone mostly knew me. To be without the self-image posed to much uncertainty, too much that would be unknown. It was as if I would have to reinvent a new self, and that was very scary and confusing.

Because I identified so strongly with my education and training and what I did, without them it seemed like I would be nobody. I wouldn’t exist. The message I had learned was that being a person or a human in my society is to live out one’s professional identity or career.

The possibility of letting my professional self die was also scary because it just felt wrong. I felt like it would be making a major mistake which I would later regret. It seemed that so much of what I had been told to do by so many people around me and so much of society was that letting my professional self die was wrong, it just was something people didn’t do. Following one’s professional training was how I was supposed to fit into society and follow the rules. If I continued to follow the messages given to me, then I would have no alternative but continue in my professional training. It was something I must do.

My fear at abandoning my professional self was related to my ideas of success. I had learned that a professional self and one’s career represents success in my society. A person succeeds at “life”, for the most part, when they succeed at their career. As a 21st century feminist, I certainly identified with that idea of not wanting to identify myself in relation to others or as a role I serve to others, such as girlfriend, wife, mother, etc. Instead, I wanted to be successful as an independent woman. If I didn’t use my professional training, I would not be successful as a person, and therefore I would be viewed as a failure by others.

Nevertheless, no matter how afraid I was at considering not living in the city, or how much I rationalized the logical sense of my decision, I still felt the pain of being separated from wilderness while living in the city. At what point does my tolerance for the pain give out, and I surrender to it by turning toward fear and the unknown?…

One cold winter day on the farm I went for a walk down the road and went off the road to walk into the forest. I came across a small clearing where some trees had fallen or been cut away, and there was an open space with the bright sun shining through. I spent some time standing and breathing, feeling the silence and taking in the white snow. A few feet away stood some young trees that were tied with ceremonial flags from my native neighbours. The once bright colors were now bleached from their exposure to the direct sunlight. The flags, left there intentionally and purposely in the space so long ago, added to the feeling of the space as sacred and meaningful.

I looked up at the trees circling around me, tall thick dark spruces amidst bare light-colored poplar. A breeze came up and suddenly the trees came to life for me. The wind gently moved the trees back and forth, swaying steadily side to side. Their branches rustled up and down like arms waving to me. The trees were dancing for me. Their arms moved in an urgent gesture to send me a message of encouragement. 

I knew what I had to do, and the Earth was speaking to me through the trees to give me the courage to do it. The Earth was giving me the courage to listen to my heart, even though to do so was scary and painful. I had to face my fears and do what I knew was right.

To be continued next post…

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Listening to My Heart, Surrendering to Pain – Part 1 June 14, 2013

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What do you do when listening to your heart means facing incredible fear and pain? Do you turn toward the fear, trusting that your heart is being aligned with the force of love? Do you give into the pain when the pain of not following your own heart is many times more unbearable?

Several months ago, I landed my first job out of university and moved to the city. My new job has been in an office for part time hours, where I spend the majority of my work indoors staring at a computer. The long hours spent indoors has meant that I had to get out of the city as much as I could. I started to get sick of my surroundings after any length of time. I took the few chances I could to escape the city and stay a weekend at my farm several hours away.

When I was back in the wilderness, I would be healed from the sickness that too much city had created in me. This sickness was simply due to being separated from Earth, from the ground of my being that is real and wholesome. I experienced healing as both joyful and painful at the same time.

Healing and being restored to wholeness was joyful when I could again rest in what felt real and true. But healing was also painful because it revealed that I had a sickness or a wound up until that point that needed to be healed. Otherwise the sickness would be hidden and denied for me to see, festering below awareness. This wound had to be hidden or avoided in order for me to function in an urban setting.

After many experiences of the same painful revelation of wounds that seemed to happen in such a similar repeated pattern, I started to question why I was letting this happen to me. Why was I allowing the wound to be inflicted in me in the first place? If this is so painful, why do I continue to repeat the same behaviour that creates it to begin with?

I wanted freedom from suffering, from going around and around in circles of healing and pain. I wanted out. I wanted to cut the pain at the root and avoid the whole process altogether.

The problem was that I felt completely trapped and stuck in this cycle of suffering. I didn’t feel that I had any real choice at all but to stay living in the city. My education and training meant that the jobs that would match my qualifications would be almost all found in larger urban centres. If I wanted to make a “living,” I had to do it in a city.

(Note: Many people have suggested to me the option of living on an acreage just outside of the city and commuting into work, but for the past several years I have decided not to take that option myself. Right now, I consider it unethical for me to use anything other than human-powered or public transportation for daily commuting, due to the effects on my health and our environment.)

Eventually I started to question my hard and firm decision to only make a living in the city. I started to chip away at the huge block of stone that was my firm resolve. I wondered if I really had to earn money using my education and training.

As soon as I really started to seriously ask myself this question, I suddenly felt an intense amount of fear and panic. To consider abandoning my education and training was at the same time to consider killing the professional self, so to speak. The professional self represented the image of Andrea who was a psychology student, a researcher, a master’s degree graduate. That self had all of the labels I had attached to myself as part of my university career, such as smart, intelligent, knowledgeable, resourceful, educated, analytical, and expert.

The professional self had so much invested because I had built up that self image through so many years of very hard work. I had to put that huge investment to good use by working in my field of training. I had to earn money back that had been invested in paying tuition. To throw away or kill that professional self would be similar to throwing away all of that hard work and effort. If I threw away that self, all of the labels attached to that self would be thrown away, too.

To be continued next post…

Shining Awareness in the Dark Corners – A Story of Forgiveness, Part 4 May 24, 2013

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(This is part 4 of a series on how my mindfulness meditation practice helped me to find forgiveness, and how I uncovered an entire place in my awareness that had previously been completely hidden in darkness. Read part 3 here.)

Then something unexpected happened.  I had expected that letting my mother know I had forgiven her would bring a great deal of relief. I assumed I would feel better and that energy being held up inside would be freed.

Instead I felt noticeably worse for a good week or two. I was quite emotionally upset, bearing through waves of great sadness, grief, and fear. My mood was depressed, and I lacked my usual amount of energy. Seeking solitude, I stayed in my room at home to try and deal with what was coming up. I was starting to get worried about what was happening, and wanted to know what the cause was.

It didn’t take long to see that the difficult emotions were a result of opening up a part of my awareness that before had been hidden for so long. A very vivid image came to me that best illustrated how I felt. The image was of a light being turned on in a large room to reveal an entire corner of the room previously cloaked in darkness. The light was the light of my conscious awareness seeing clearly and directly. The room was my mind or my consciousness, and the hidden corner was my storehouse of memories. The sudden change in my awareness seemed to be as explicit as the switch of a lightbulb.

I now had access to an entire block of memories from very long ago that were memories of my mother. Somewhat surprisingly, these memories were pleasant memories, or if not pleasant than at least neutral. The memories were far different from the painful ones that I used to be convinced were the only memories I had of my mother.

Why had these memories come to me so suddenly? They were tied up in the pain I had felt at an earlier age, pain that had left a lasting effect on me. The anger and hatred had been keeping the pain locked in place, hidden safely in forgetfulness so I didn’t have to face the pain. As long as the pain was still there, as long as I refused to face it, the memories were invisible as well, as if they never existed.

As soon as forgiveness entered the picture, the anger and hatred could dissolve, and the pain was opened up. The sadness, grief, and fear I was feeling were from this pain being exposed.

So if these were pleasant, or at least not painful, memories, why was I still feeling such difficult emotions? It was as if I had to reprocess each one of these memories one at a time. When these memories came into my awareness, I re-experienced the pain associated with each one that I had felt at the time when the memories were locked away.

I was being healed, or perhaps more accurately, I was allowing the healing to happen on its own.

What was so absolutely amazing to me is that there actually are real happy and warm memories of my mother. A few years earlier I would have been absolutely convinced beyond a doubt that such memories weren’t possible. I couldn’t believe how much mental energy was being used to keep these memories hidden! My mind was trying so hard to tell me the memories weren’t there, and trying to prevent me from facing reality.

A huge insight from this whole process was that memories are not real. They are only constructed images of the past meant to serve a purpose at the time that they are remembered. If I am in a depressed mood when I try to remember what has happened in the past, depressed memories will be brought up. On the other hand, if in the moment I am in a happy mood when I look back on the past, happy memories will be brought up. The more time spent in one of these moods, and these memories are brought up, the more these memories begin to shape our perceptions of reality.

This insight into the non-solidity of memories has allowed me to let go of the past more and embrace being grounded in the present moment. I am also more likely to qualify what I say, as I have throughout this series of posts, with “or at least, that’s how I remember it,” because I know that my memories are not the absolute and final truth.

Shining Awareness in the Dark Corners – A Story of Forgiveness, Part 3 May 17, 2013

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(This is part 3 of a series on how my mindfulness meditation practice helped me to find forgiveness, and how I uncovered an entire place in my awareness that had previously been completely hidden in darkness. Read part 2 here.)

I will admit that it was difficult at first to open to pain and turn toward such deep anger and hatred held in my heart. The resentments that I had felt for so long were hard to let go, as if they were who I was or they were an integral part of me. Without them I might not know who I was anymore.

Nevertheless, I did a great deal of deep looking and out of understanding came forgiveness. I looked deeply into how I felt hurt and how I perceived my mom had hurt me. I could see how, much like Thay explains, my suffering was related to someone else’s suffering. My suffering was my mother’s suffering.

The harm I felt that had been done to me was a resut of my mother having depression.I could no longer hold onto anger in the face of so much pain. I saw that no one would ever consciously choose to be in that situation.

I experienced a huge amount of relief to let go of all of that anger I had kept inside for so long. I could now see that no one had actually deliberately or intentionally tried to hurt me or cause me suffering from depression. Instead, what had happened in the past was just what had happened. I came to a level of acceptance of my past experience.

I had inner forgiveness for my mom in that I didn’t openly acknowledge the change to anyone. Part of my reason for keeping this forgiveness to myself was that I still felt resentment for other family members who had told me I should forgive my mom. They argued it would be the right thing to do. Before, this advice had made me angry. I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of knowing I did what they told me to do! I didn’t forgive my mom because it was the right thing to do, or because I listened to anyone’s advice. Instead, I did it out of my own choice and for myself first. I did it to free myself of hatred and anger.

I kept my forgiveness to myself and my relationship with my mother improved somewhat because I no longer held such hatred and anger. But outwardly our relationship didn’t drastically change because I didn’t’ sense that much warmth or love, at least compared to other family members with whom I was close. My mother and I were still quite distant from each other.

I moved away even farther from home and for a period only saw my family twice a year, so any relationship with my mother was still distant. After a year of being far from home I began to feel quite homesick. I even felt homesick a little for my mother, which was completely unexpected. I kind of missed her, but not nearly as much as I missed other family members, and even some friends. I almost couldn’t believe I was feeling this toward my mother; I really hadn’t thought it would ever be possible.

I soon came across a dharma talk on forgiveness, which planted a seed of intention. The teacher made it clear to me what I needed to do, my next step: I had to tell my mother that I had forgiven her for anything that had happened to me. But first I had to ask for her forgiveness. I had to ask her to forgive me for all of the violence and aggression I directed toward her, and for all the blame I placed on her for what happened to me. I almost didn’t know if it was possible. But I still had to ask for it.

I phoned my mom up one day and did all of this over the phone. I tried to explain my side of the story of expressing such anger and violence because of having depression, and based on other circumstances in my life while I was a teenager. I had expected it to be an awkward, uncomfortable conversation, but it went surprisingly well. I felt such huge relief for the situation o turn out much better than I had imagined.

Then something unexpected happened…

To be continued next post

Quote: Thinking Not Thinking April 26, 2013

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You might say there are two basic kinds of thought. There are thoughts that pop up unannounced and uninvited in our brains for no reason we’re able to discern. These are just the results of previous thoughts and experiences that have left their traces in the neural pathways of our brains. You can’t do much to stop these, nor should you try. The other kind of thought is when we grab on to one of these streams of energy and start playing with it the way your mom always told you not to do with your wee-wee in front of the neighbours. We dig deep into these thoughts and roll around in them like a pig rolling in its own doo-doo, feeling all that delicious coolness and drinking deep of their lovely stink. To practice “thinking not thinking,” all you need to do is ignore the first kind of thoughts and learn how not to instigate the second type.

– Brad Warner, in Sit Down and Shut Up

Quote: Letting Go of Yourself April 12, 2013

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“Gurdijeff once said, ‘If anything would possibly save humankind from its idiocy, it would be the clearest possible recognition by every individual that they, and all others around them, are most certainly going to die.’ When this thought becomes perfectly clear to you, surprisingly it becomes a source of intense joy and vitality. When you have accepted your own death in the midst of life it means that you have let go of yourself, and you are therefore free. You are no longer plagued by worry and anxiety. You know that you are done for anyhow, so there is no need to fight constantly to protect yourself. What’s the point? And it isn’t just that people spend all their time doing something to really protect themselves, like taking out an insurance policy or eating properly. Instead it is what we do that doesn’t cause any action at all: the constant worry that leads to no action except more worry. That is what is given up by a person who really knows that they are dead.”

– Alan Watts in Eastern Wisdom Modern Life

Facing My Fears with the Five Remembrances February 15, 2013

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The Five Remembrances are a practice which I have found incredibly powerful in helping me to face my fear and to try letting go of my attachments. I have also found the practice helpful in allowing me to recognize and appreciate the many conditions for my well-being that are already present.

The Five Remembrances were suggested to me by one of my teachers on retreat to help me to handle unskilful habits. I have been reciting them regularly for the past several months. I silently recite them to myself every day at the very end of my morning formal sitting practice. I find that starting off my day with the big perspective like this helps me to not get as lost or stressed out by the small details.

I have modified the wording and rearranged the order of the five phrases to suit my own preferences.

Illness

The first phrase I say is:

I am of the nature to become ill.

There is no way to avoid illness.

This phrase brings up fear of being in physical pain and of being disabled by disease or injury. It also helps me to recognize the many wonderful conditions that make up my physical well being when I see just how completely healthy and able-bodied I am. I feel incredibly lucky to have enjoyed such great health for so long—almost as if I have “cheated the system.”

On the rare occasions when I do experience an ache, pain, or infection, I remember that I am not immune to these experiences but that they come with being a living being.

This phrase has also helped me to recognize sickness around me, not only in my loved ones and other people, but also animals, plants, trees, and the living world. When I do recognize sickness, I feel a connection to these beings when I know that I share the same nature.

Aging

The second phrase is:

I am of the nature to grow old.

There is no way to avoid growing old.

This phrase helps me recognize the fears I have associated with old age, and to realize that the aging process is happening now and has been every moment of my life. As one illustration, I have a stronger eyeglass prescription and more dental fillings than I did 10 years ago!

The recognition that I am an aging living being is very humbling in that I feel a stronger connection to aging people, animals, and plants around me. I realize that that will be me one day if I live long enough.

The phrase helps me to recognize and appreciate the wonders and pleasures of youth. I see more and more how youthfulness provides me with power in an ageist society. Youth offers self-reliance and the ability to take care of myself with out the need for others to cook for me, or to feed, bathe, or dress me.

Death

The third phrase is:

I am of the nature to die

There is no way to avoid dying

I am able to face the fact a little bit more that my death is an inevitable reality, not just some vague idea that might happen one day far away. Death could be right around the corner, and human life is incredibly delicate and fragile. This one is a wonderful way for me to really let go when I see how impossible it is to make anything last or to keep any belongings.

Separation & Loss

The fourth phrase is:

All that is dear to me and everyone I love

are of the nature to change.

There is no way to avoid being separated from them

This phrase allows me to really look at what it is onto which I am holding on. Its a great way to wake myself up to unconscious assumptions that my current circumstances will continue into the future.

I see that I’m holding onto relationships when I am relying on the support and love of others in a greedy and needful way, assuming that these people will always be there for me.

I’m holding onto various circumstances and conditions for which I have preferences, such as my sangha, where I live, my job, arrangements for being outdoors and in wilderness, money, as well as my most cherished and prized possessions which I tell myself “I cannot live without” (this computer, my camera and photos, bicycle, etc.).

Karma

The fifth phrase is:

My actions are my only true belongings.

I am the owner of my actions.

My actions are the ground on which I stand.

Whatever actions I shall do,

whether for good or evil,

of that I shall be the heir.

The last set of phrases reminds me that, despite my inability to grasp the shifting and changing conditions that affect me, the one area on which I do have a firm control is my actions. I can decide whether to act for “good or evil,” although I prefer the terms positive/wholesome/skilful and negative/ unwholesome/ unskilful.

This phrase is a daily reminder to turn myself toward embracing the wholesome qualities within me, such as generosity, lovingkindness, and interbeing. I am reminded that unwholesome seeds, such as far, craving, greed, isolation, self-pity, and materialism lie deep in my consciousness, and I can take efforts to transform them into more beautiful qualities.

The phrase says actions, but I don’t consider “actions” to be limited to physical behaviour, but encompasses thoughts, speech, and actions. This phrase is empowering because it allows me to see that every single moment is an opportunity to practice the path and nurture positive qualities.

The Five Remembrances have been a very powerful practice for me, and I’ll continue to use them probably for some time as long as I find them effective. I would highly recommend them to anyone who wants to work with fear, help to let go of attachments, and to be grateful for the good conditions you enjoy.

Only One Dish At A Time February 8, 2013

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I have found a few instances where being mindful of the present moment can bring a great deal of relief from the stress of a mind overwhelmed by a huge task to accomplish. The title refers to being mindful of only being able to wash one dish at a time in order to complete the task of washing a whole sinkful of dishes.

Note: This is my 2nd post on the theme of washing dishes. Originally I had intended to include this piece in last week’s post Insights from Washing Dishes, but the post was getting a bit lengthy and I decided to use it as a 2nd post this week.

I often go through spells of doing a big batch of cooking at once to last for a few days, and this baking and cooking from scratch can create quite a pile up of dirty pots and pans. It probably doesn’t help that I am tired from a stint of cooking, but I often feel overwhelmed at the thought of making my way through a sink full of dishes to be washed. It can often require me to muster up a great deal of encouragement to convince myself to actually complete the task, instead of just procrastinating and leaving it for “later.”

This thinking about washing a sinkful of dishes is exactly the problem. I can’t wash a sink full of dishes. When I am really mindful, I know that I only have one hand to hold the dish cloth and one hand to hold a single dish at any given moment. In reality, my body can only wash one dish at a time.

Nevertheless, my mind tries to wash an entire sinkful. It takes in all of the information of the entire job to be done start to finish, projecting far into the future. In a way, the mind is “biting off more than it can chew”. And so the result is feelings of dread and overwhelm.

Mindfulness of the present moment can bring quite a relief to the burden of an overwhelmed and stressed mind when I can see that I only wash one dish at a time. And then one more dish. And one more. And one more…And so on  until finally they are all done! All that I have to do is to take care of this moment.  And this moment. And this moment. Wow, its so much easier! Suddenly I feel light, and a sense of ease; washing dishes really is more enjoyable.

I soon had an opportunity to apply this insight to another aspect of my personal circumstances. I dislike marking student term papers. Personally, I think its an impossible task, but I only think so now after trying very hard to do the impossible and undergoing a great deal of stress. In the midst of all of this, I was able to see that it was much more stressful to try to read through and mark the entire stack of papers from a whole class.

Instead, I could simply take one paper at a time, do the necessary work, and reassure myself that I can reevaluate at the end whether more time was available for further additions. Although the more methodical strategy requires me to trust in my capability to do the job efficiently and satisfactorily.

Nevertheless, I was successful in applying this insight to marking papers when I could concentrate only on the task at hand. I gave my full attention to a single paper at a time, and when I was done I set it down and let it be released from my mind. While I wouldn’t say marking was suddenly enjoyable, it was a great deal easier without constantly fighting with and pushing myself to work faster, or worrying about how long it was going to take to be done.

The insight of only one moment at a time can be applied to so many activities in my everyday circumstances in order to feel a sense of freshness, lightness, and ease. When I’m walking, it’s just this step, just one foot in front of the other. Just one piece of clothing to fold. Just this e-mail to write. To me, this approach embodies Zen when I give my full attention to whatever I am doing at any given moment.

I hope that I can find more and more activities to apply the perspective of only one moment at a time. It does take some mental effort, I will admit, to let go of the other preoccupations that visit my mind, and focus on the task at hand. In my opinion, this mental effort is an investment: it may take an input of some energy at first, but once it becomes more habitual, it pays off in the end when I use less energy and therefore have more energy and attention to give to the other activities and people I love. Thay has described it as an art to know how to live freely in the present moment by casting aside our worries. It is an art to know how to be skilful in where to focus my attention.

Its HARD Being Gentle November 23, 2012

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The past few months I have been paying a great deal of attention to how I am gentle with myself, or rather as is more often the case, how much I am not gentle with myself. I am harsh with myself in a number of ways, which I am sure I share with many people:

– I have very high expectations of myself, kind of an all-or-nothing attitude. If I can’t achieve a self-image or value all the time to the best of my ability, then I shouldn’t do it at all. I get quite idealistic about how I “should” be.

– I am harsh with how I spend my time. I can get quite caught up in paying meticulously close attention to how much time I take to do certain things, and I can get quite rushed and impatient.

– I am harsh with my energy levels, where I push the limits of how much energy I can drain out of myself in order to accomplish a task. I tell myself at certain times that it doesn’t matter how hard I have to motivate myself, I have to push my energy to get a task done.

– I am harsh with my body when I find myself a large amount of the time holding onto at least some degree of physical tension, usually in my upper shoulder/ lower neck muscles.

What I have been trying to cultivate is a great deal of self-compassion and love for myself. I try to use the phrase as often as I can “May I be gentle with myself.” The way of self-compassion is the way out of the suffering caused by harshness with myself.

What I have been trying to practice is gentleness, by trying to relax tension in my body, slow down, and ease up on the harsh expectations. Nevertheless, as simple as it sounds and as clear and effective an answer it seems, I am finding that it is hard being gentle. So why am I finding this so hard to do?

Perhaps it is because I have a great deal of very strong habit energy built up that is still playing itself out. Even when I can see myself being harsh with myself and I have a deep desire to live in a state of more gentleness, the habit energy still plays itself out and I feel powerless to stop it. I know I mention it frequently, but I spent six years as a full-time university student, and I know this experience has shaped who I am today.

Perhaps it is because I am becoming more familiar with wanting mind and wanting mind still has a strong hold over me. I am greedy for more “stuff”, “things”, tasks, events, achievements and accomplishments. I am seeing more clearly lately how I can be caught up in “creating a self” where I am still identified with what I do. I feel a need to “prove myself” because it simply isn’t enough to just be.

Perhaps it is because I find it so difficult to be flexible and make exceptions to my “rules”, because this means admitting defeat or failure and falling short of my ideals of perfection. It makes so much sense, but can be so difficult to do, to say that a task can’t be done because I am ill, not feeling physically or emotionally well, stressed, running late, I have low energy, or I made a mistake or simply forgot with too many other ideas on my mind.

Finally, the more I reflected on the question of “Why is it so hard to be gentle?” an answer I came up with was maybe having it all come down to feeling that I don’t deserve to be gentle with myself. I am not worthy enough of a person just as I am to deserve some rest, some relaxation, some imperfection or mistakes. Related to this is a feeling that being gentle means being a lot slower with myself, and that a perception that slowness would lead to a number of things: failure (I cannot be “successful” as in material success and status), lazy (and therefore being slobby and wasting away one’s time), and irresponsible (as in carefree and forgetful).

What does it look like to be more gentle with myself, when I actually am able to achieve it on the rare occasion? I find it requires a great deal of diligence and mental effort to maintain that state of mind, as well as compassion. I slow down and fewer tasks seem to get done, that is, the unimportant ones—accompanied by feelings of failure and disappointment. And there is a constant running thread of “no” being said: no, not now.

Being in Conflict With Myself November 12, 2012

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I had a very challenging experience last week that left me feeling quite upset for a while. It happened during the weekend where I sat down to do my formal sitting practice in the morning. As I sat, I became more aware of a general feeling that had been building up throughout the previous day. The entire practice session seemed to be quite difficult to get through, and I had a vague sense of some unpleasant feelings happening in the background. By the end of the session, the full force of these emotions hit me and I was left feeling quite rotten.

It seemed that I was feeling the full, burdensome, and heavy weight of a force trying to push myself to get a lot of tasks done (clean, organize, exercise, write, etc.). I felt impatient and rushed to be busy, so sitting still was in direct defiance of that drive, and therefore quite uncomfortable. It seemed I was holding onto a whole set of rigid expectations of what I “should do” and was “supposed to do.” But at the same time, there was another part of me that didn’t want to do any of the tasks out of a forced, almost violent, obligation.

It was as if there were two parts of me in conflict. The practice session felt difficult because these two strong energies were constantly battling each other out, dragging me along with them. The feeling of a forced compulsion to do did not feel wholesome, but instead felt rigid and forced, with negative motivations behind it (namely fear or anxiety and unworthiness). On the other hand, the other part of me wanted to be free of the constant burden of self consciousness. I wanted to be free of the weight of someone monitoring my behaviour to see if I measure up to my ideal self-image. In opposition to the need to do was the knowledge and wish that I am happiest when I have nothing in particular I “have to do” at any specific time. Instead I can just enjoy being in the moment, free from any rigid obligations.

I should mention that a difficulty I have had for some time now is this unwholesome compulsion to do as much as possible in a set amount of time. It seems this habit was continually reinforced in the six straight years I was enrolled as a full time university student. That environment required me to set my own schedule and plean ahead for deadlines in the far-off future, months in advance. I had to hold myself accountable for my own behaviour whether I accomplished tasks or not, so it was all very self-directed. …But that was then and this is now.

So how do I resolve this conflict? What I have been relying on as guidance for some time now, at least as often as possible, is a quote from a dharma talk by Gil Fronsdal on lovingkindness. First, the teacher revealed that in order to be kind to others, we have to have the time. Gil described how many people used a lack of time as an excuse not to be kind, or not to cultivate lovingkindness. The teacher countered that excuse by posing this question:

“Do you want to be really productive and get lots of stuff done, or do you want to be a more loving person?”

This way of posing the conflict really hit home for me. Even if I put happier or more free in place of more loving, I find that all of these qualities are what I really desire. This perspective allows me to let go of the desire to get lots of stuff done, and remember my deeper aspirations for my spiritual practice. Then letting tasks go undone and being less productive are worthy sacrifices in exchange for peace, happiness, love, and freedom.