Friday, July 29, 2011

I want to be a nicer person.

 Really, I do. Not in the “I want people to like me” way – at 43, I’ve pretty much let that one go. Some people like me, some people don’t, and while I wish everyone thought that I was wonderful that’s just never going to be the case. No, what I’m looking for is more compassion and more patience. I hear the catty and judgmental things that come out of my mouth, the snappish responses when I’m annoyed (which is way too often), and at times I’m fairly appalled by them. This isn’t who I want to be.

When I was in San Francisco last summer with a  colleague visiting Buddhists and Hindus and Taoists (oh my!), we found ourselves running all over creation to make our various appointments, and props to the fabulous subway and bus system for getting us everywhere we needed to go. One day one of the trains ran late, which caused us to miss a bus to Oakland; when we got there we still had a decent walk ahead of us to get where we were going. We had not been able to call the person with whom we had the appointment to let him know that we were running late.  (Short interjection here – I really hate to be late. Really. It throws me totally off balance.) I remember rushing in the door when we finally did get there, maybe half an hour late, sweaty from the walk and totally flustered. “I’m so sorry we’re late,” I hurled into the empty air as soon as we opened the door. And then the man we were there to meet, a Taoist practitioner who looked not in the least put out by our tardiness, gently took my hand in greeting, looked in my eyes, and said, “But you’re here now.” In that one small moment I felt such a flood of tension run out of my body, because with just these few quiet words and gentle touch, he had called me back to my true self.

The gentleman was centered, focused and relaxed. We spoke for an hour or more, and he was helpful and informative, never seeming rushed at all, even when another person showed up with whom he was supposed to meet – delayed, of course, by us being late. He was kindness, the kind of kindness that I want to be, the kindness that comes not from some sort of mental construction telling him that being kind is the Right Thing, but rather from his actions and words welling up from an indwelling compassion. 

And there you have it. Compassion. Another one of those things that need to start at home, with ourselves, no less. I may get rid of catty statements and snappish remarks by keeping the door of my lips, as the Bible puts it, but the internal move toward real kindness doesn’t come about just because I manage not to say what I am nevertheless thinking. It comes from letting go of the judgments and feelings that I know better that drive the remarks in the first place.

So here goes. I want to be a nicer person. Day One.

Postscript – In between writing this on paper and transferring it to the computer, I ran late to something because my son was dawdling, and so I ended up yelling at him. Okay, Day One, take two.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

What I’ve Unlearned

One of the best things I’ve learned about spirituality is that it’s not about gaining knowledge, or even wisdom: it’s about unlearning what is untrue. Our heads are so filled with ideas and beliefs and constructions, and most of them are basically wrong while whole big lots of others are only right in very particular contexts: if reality works this way, and if our society reflects reality, and if our societal ideals are valid, and if our expected actions are in line with our societal ideals, and if and if and if. Basically, it seems to boil down to something like this: if we accept a whole lot of other people’s ideas about things, then this whole boatload of ideas and beliefs and constructions is what is true. The thing is, though, that truth isn’t made up of ideas and beliefs and constructions. Time to unlearn some things.

See, truth is all around us at all times, but most of the time it gets buried under an avalanche of half-truth, kind-of-truth, wish-it-were-truth, and flat-out-not-truth. It’s kind of like the Baby Jesus figurine in a Mardi Gras king cake: there’s a whole lot of cake, but only one place where you’re going to bite into the Baby Jesus. We look past and through and beyond the truth all the time, focusing instead on the pretty shiny things that we like. And that’s fine. It’s just not the truth. But the truth is still there waiting, just like Baby Jesus in the cake.

So, if you want to learn about truth, you don’t go learn something new; you spend a hell of a lot of time stripping away the vast amounts of untruth in which we live day to day, until you get down to the truth that you already know, even if you don’t know that you know it.

So without further ado, here are the Top Ten Things I’ve Unlearned In My 43 Years on the Planet:

10. The best things in life are free
You may not have to pay money for the best things in life, like love, friendship, or the beauty of a sunset, but they are definitely not free. You have to pay lots of time, attention and caring to relationships, and those sunsets are only beautiful so long as they aren’t clouded out by smoke and smog – which means more time and attention spent on environmental issues. This list could go on all day. So get this “the world is gonna give me good stuff and I don’t have to do a damn thing for it” idea right out of your head.

9. Don’t wear white after Labor Day
Why the hell not? Wear pink at Christmas if you want to, and red and green for Easter, and black and orange for the 4th of July. Really, this one is just about following the rules, and we already know what I think about rules.

8. Looks matter, grades matter, achievements matter
These are all about outward projection and trying to find fulfillment in the eyes or opinions of others. Trying to measure yourself by another person’s yardstick is never going to get you any closer to truth.

7. Looks don’t matter, grades don’t matter, achievements don’t matter
Really just about the same as #8. We usually hear these kind of statements when people think they can’t measure up to those yardsticks, so they have to tell themselves, and anyone else who will listen, that the yardsticks are irrelevant. It’s still about other people’s opinions.

6. Chocolate is the be-all and end-all when it comes to sweet treats
Really, why ruin a good dessert with chocolate? You all know where to send the hate mail…

5. You should listen to your head
I live this untruth day in, day, out, 24/7/365, with a few minor breaks thrown in when truth comes crashing in through my heady/intellectual walls and makes its presence know. Thinking is good; making your own limited, individual thinking the arbiter of truth in the universe is not.

4. You should follow your heart
Yeah, because that never gets people into trouble ;-)  Take what I said above and substitute “unruly emotions” for “heady/intellectual walls” and you’ve pretty much got the picture.

3. Never eat watermelon seeds since they might take root and grow a watermelon in your stomach
The pH balance of a stomach makes this well-nigh impossible, but the real issue is fear. This sort of old wives tale is all about creating fear where you wouldn’t otherwise have any, and fear will never get you one step closer to truth. Unlearn this quick, because every fear is just a hindrance (just ask all my fears, they’ll tell you).

2. Facts = truth
This happy little untruth is the worldview we experience most often in our society. Facts are hugely useful, and we ignore them to our great detriment (and the detriment of our whole species, other species and the planet at large).  But facts aren’t the whole picture, and we run into difficulties when we think that they are.

1. God is out there
Separate. Somewhere else. Someone else. Not here. Not now. Not me. This is all about duality, about believing that things are separate, but it just ain’t so. God is here and there and us and them and everything, and everything is Just One Thing.
And so, my friends, I invite you to unlearn with relish. Strip away the layers of untruth; you’ll be surprised at how many you find. And when you’ve done it, may you bite into the Baby Jesus bigtime.