What’s in Your Mirror?

Years ago, I had a website called the Magical Mirror Machine.  It was based on the premise that the world reflects you to yourself.  If you’re relaxed and content, you see the world as friendly, even beautiful.  You can get so caught up in wonder that you forget you even exist.  If you’re grumpy, the whole place is a mess, worthy of your complaints and condemnation.  Either way, what you’re seeing isn’t so much what’s “out there” as what’s going on inside you.

It’s really quite amazing how that works.  It’s the basis for all synchronicity, this mirror thing.  Once you get accustomed to looking at the world as mirror, it becomes a marvelous teacher.  In every moment, it stands ready to reflect your thoughts and attitude right back at you, giving you an opportunity to savor or correct.

I was reminded about that as I read through my Twitter stream today.  I subscribe to a variety of sites—breaking news, political commentary, one with adorable baby animals, a few with zen quotes, some on positive psychology.  Today’s stream happened to be laden with comments generated by this week’s tragic school shooting and most of them were brimming with anger.

I was getting angry myself, just reading them.  Then this tweet from Ram Dass popped up:  “When I start to get angry, I see my predicament and how I’m getting caught in expectations and righteousness. Learning to give up anger has been a continuous process.”

Oh!  There’s that mirror, come to show me where I am and remind me who I want to be.  It was a big help to me.  It let me get back into my Observer mode, reading to see what others were concerned about, taking the temperature, so to speak, of my social environment in an objective kind of way.  I can be more helpful to others when I understand what’s going on with them.  I can empathize and relate to them.  Then I can gently offer a slightly broader view that lifts them from the discomfort of a too-narrow focus.

The very next Tweet I read, from @hackspiritorg (a great site, which I heartily recommend if you’re a Twitterer) confirmed my experience:  “No thought has any power.  You have power.  And when you identify and believe in the thought you give your power to the thought.”

That reminder packed some wallop for me.  It’s one of those statements you can gloss over, thinking you already know what it’s telling you.  But I’ve learned that four of the most dangerous words in the English language are “I already know that.”  And the message came at exactly the right time.  (The mirror is like that.)  It underscored the importance of paying attention to what thoughts I’m entertaining—which reminds me of another saying I heard once on the topic:  “You can’t stop a thought from knocking at your door, but you don’t have to entertain it.”

I was centered then, awake and relaxed, and I went back to my reading.  Haha!  The very next one, from @InstantDharma, said “If you become a little alert you will find love, light, and laughter everywhere—Osho.”

That’s because, when you’re truly alert and centered, the mirror shows you your true self.

So shake yourself alert, and let the mirror remind you what a loving, light-filled being you are.  “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle,” a Buddhist proverb says.  “Happiness never ceases by being shared.”

Photo by Kellpics at Pixabay.com
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How to Keep an Open Mind

I had a friend once who absolutely couldn’t stand being confronted with information that contradicted her beliefs.  “Don’t confuse me with the facts!” she would say, “My mind is already made up.”

I thought of her this week when I came across a quote from Pema Chodron.  “The truth you believe and cling to, makes you unavailable to hear anything new.”

As I said in last week’s post, nobody enjoys discovering that what they believed to be true is not.  But our pain only lasts as long as we insist on clinging to our erroneous, distorted, or incomplete beliefs.

The reality is that none of us has the whole picture about anything.  We make up a lot of stuff.  We grab soundbites from the news, read something, or pick up viewpoints from family or friends and add them to our information stock without question, especially when they fit in well with the beliefs we have already formed.  Then, when they’re challenged, we tend to get defensive.  It can be uncomfortable to let go of a belief.

But it doesn’t have to be.  You can toss out a torn or outworn belief as easily as you throw out a sock with a big hole in the toe or a shirt you’ve outgrown.   The key is to see that learning something new is an adventure, an opportunity to get a wider, fresher view of things.   Moving toward a greater truth is freeing.

When you encounter information that challenges your beliefs, see it as a chance to expand your understanding of the world.  You don’t have to buy into it right away. Investigate. Poke around a bit.  Probe the new data to see how sound it is.  Is there good evidence for it?  Great! You’ve opened a new door.  You don’t have to form conclusions immediately.  You can just accept the possibility that maybe there’s something to these new ideas and poke into them some more.  They may lead you back to your initial belief, strengthening and broadening it.  Or they may lead you to a different and clearer view of the world that empowers you to act in it in a wiser, more informed way.

And right now, we need all the strength, clarity and wisdom we can get.  Competing voices from all sides are vying for our loyalty.  It’s important to consider which ones are based in facts and which are riding on mere platitudes or suppositions.  Keep an open mind and do some research into the claims.  Try to distinguish between arguments that are presenting facts and those that are appealing to your desire to cling to an established belief.

Sorting things out calls for a commitment to finding the truth, regardless of where it may lead you.  But searching for greater truth is the greatest and most rewarding adventure of them all.

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The Highest Achievement

This week I want to continue sharing some of the shining nuggets of wisdom that serendipity led me to find.  I picked three that have served me well, especially when I’m catching up with the day’s headlines.  In fact, I’ve come to look at reading the news as a kind of test to see how well I’m doing with them.

The first one comes from Zen teacher Traleg Rinpoche: “The only thing we really have any control over,” he says, “is our own experience.”  That’s a tough one!  Am I getting irritated?  Frustrated? Angry? Depressed?  Whose fault is that?

It’s mine, I realize, when I remember this nugget.  And when I realize it, I’m free to examine my feeling, to choose to let it go, or to contemplate why I’m holding the thought, what stories it’s triggering, whether there’s a larger context than what I’m focusing on.  I can play with looking at my reaction from a different perspective.  I can recognize that what I’m feeling is simply an automatic reaction to whatever evoked it.  It’s a mere thought, and I can acknowledge it and let it go.  Or I can listen to it and see what it’s asking of me.  But I get to choose.  I get to claim my power to control my experience.

The second piece of wisdom comes from Osho, who counsels:  “Don’t seek, don’t search, don’t ask, don’t knock, don’t demand – relax.  If you relax it comes.  If you relax it is there.”

Oh!  Yes, of course.  Relax.  In my experience, that’s advice of the very highest order.  And I love linking it to my realization that I get to control my experience.  Relaxing opens my heart and my mind.  It lets unnecessary thoughts and emotions float away.  It brings me back to the present and centers me.  To my delight, it arouses my sense of humor and my sense of wonder.  It allows me to remember that everything is a grand mystery and that I’m lucky to be experiencing it.

And that leads me to the third nugget, a Zen proverb that says, “To be calm is the highest achievement of the self.”  It’s the highest achievement because it provides the highest rewards.  To be calm is to have inner peace, to know serenity regardless of what is happening in the world around you or within your own body or mind.  It summarizes both of the previous two nuggets.  It allows you to respond to life with authenticity and presence.

Unlike the realization of self-possession in the first nugget, or the counsel to relax in the second one, calm isn’t a means to an end, but an end in itself.  It’s the state to which self-possession and relaxation lead.  It’s evenness in mind, emotions and spirit, a beautifully worthwhile space in which to live.

So I give you these three nuggets to place in your pocket.  Think of them as smooth pebbles you can caress with your fingers whenever you notice that you’re ruffled or out of sorts.  I especially recommend holding them in your hand whenever you read the day’s news.

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Stress-Busters for the Holidays

the Grinch

Here they come, ready or not!  The Holidays!  Oh, my!  All those lights, all that music!  Feasts and gifts galore.  And sneaking right in with them, like that mean old Grinch, comes the pressure and stress.  Well, never fear.  I have three stress-busters for you that are guaranteed Grinch-slayers.

  1. The Movie Scene

Every now and then, imagine you’re watching yourself as if you were the main character in a movie.  Imagine feeling what the character is feeling: happiness, frustration, involvement, excitement, dread, anticipation—whatever is real for you at the moment.  Imagine heart-felt appreciation and understanding for the character.  Then zoom out a bit and notice all the circumstances and how the character is doing his or her best—whether things are working out beautifully or totally falling apart.  Extend your love to him or her.  Imagine giving that character-version of you a hug.

Do try this.  You can practice it right now.  See yourself wherever you are, reading this email, feeling whatever you’re feeling.  Appreciate who you are right now, in this very moment.  Give yourself a hug.

  1. The Easy Tool

Whenever you find yourself facing a challenge—visiting the family, performing for an audience, getting all your preparations done, finding the right outfit—ask yourself “How easy can I let this be?”

It’s a magical question.  It reminds you that can let it be easy.  You can focus your attention on this one moment, and breathe, and then take the immediate next step into the next moment and the next, one at a time, and each one can be as easy as you’re willing to let it be.

  1. The Only Expectation

You never know how things are going to turn out.  You may think you do.  We all project our past experiences onto our futures and expect repeat performances.  Then we tend to act in ways that make our predictions come true.

But what if you didn’t?  What if you decided in advance how you wanted something to turn out?  What if you could hold an open space in your mind for the idea that everything might turn out beautifully?  What if you set up an expectation that you would be at ease, and gracious, and kind, and patient, and loving?  What if you expected to see and enjoy the good things in the people you encountered?  What if you expected to do everything you needed to do easily and remarkably well?

As you approach an event, think about how you would like to be in it.  Pick a key word or two to symbolize what you think would be the best you in that situation.  Then let that be your only expectation.

Putting It to Work

To make these tools work for you, try this:  Hold up one finger and say “The Movie Scene.”  Then raise a second finger while you say, “The Easy Tool,” and a third finger while you say, “The Only Expectation.  Do it a few times and then practice it a few times throughout the day for the next couple of days.  Then, when you’re feeling stressed or challenged, remember that magic is as easy as 1-2-3.

Wishing you Grinch-free holidays, full of love, and joy, and good cheer.

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The Season of Wishes and Hope

wishes and hope

I have a neighbor who lives about a quarter mile down the road from me who is mentally challenged.  Although she is in her early 20’s, she lives in the world of ten or eleven year old surrounded by fantasies.  She has a sweet disposition and in the summer comes to bring me wild flowers that she picks along the roadside.

Today she knocked at my door wearing a Santa hat.  She extended a large Christmas card sized envelope toward me and said, “Would you please see that this gets to Santa Claus?”   The envelope bore a fresh postage stamp, her return address label, and a large sticker depicting an angel.  Scrawled on it in childish printing were the words “to Santa Claus to the North Pole.”

“George and I want a Doberman puppy.  They grow fast and then it will be protection for us.”  George is her elderly care-taker.

“Does it have to be a purebred Doberman?  Could it be, oh, maybe half Doberman?”  I asked.

“Sure.  That would be okay,” she beamed.

“Maybe you could find one at the shelter,” I suggested.  She said they couldn’t afford it and that’s why they were writing to Santa.  Would I make sure he got their card?  Maybe put it on the Internet or something?

I’m not sure yet what I will do about her request.  I’ll ask animal-lover friends for their advice.  Meanwhile, the card is sitting on my kitchen counter, reminding me that this is the season for wishes and hopes.

They’re different, you know.  Wishes are for things we think will fill a need or desire in our lives.  They’re for trinkets and baubles, or, on the more serious side, for comfort, for solutions, for healing, for changes of circumstance.  Sometimes we make wishes with the firm belief that they can come true.  Sometimes we make them even when their fulfillment seems outrageously unlikely.  But we make them regardless, because just the act of wishing, of holding open even a faint possibility, feels good.  Wishes let us dream.

Hope, on the other hand, is an attitude, a disposition of character.  Hope is a commitment to keeping a space in our hearts and minds for the possibility that, come what may, goodness will prevail.  It’s closely related to optimism, a determination to look for the good, for the silver lining in the darkest of clouds.  It holds to a belief in the power of truth over deception, of love over indifference and hate, of compassion over meanness.  Hope allows us to endure difficulties and pain, to see them as temporary circumstances or as teachers of wisdom, or even as opportunities in disguise.  It enables us to maintain equanimity and inner peace in the midst of life’s confusion and storms.  It opens us to seeing actions we might take to move circumstances toward more optimum conditions.

As we move into the Christmas season, to the solstice, the time of the return of the light, I hope, with you, for a world of peace and brotherhood.  And I wish for you that all your best wishes come true.

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