Thursday, January 9, 2014

“Why My Life Doesn’t Work”

During a recent Open Air show we had a discussion about content and process that I’ve returned to with some regularity. Yes, we speak often about content and process, but the specifics of this particular conversation I’ve found helpful to explore.

The suggestion was that, with minor variations in phrasing, each of us has spent a good deal (probably most) of our life force in a story of “I want X, I’m not getting X, that’s why my life doesn’t work, that’s why I’m unhappy.”

The content may be something as apparently insignificant as forgetting to buy milk for my morning coffee or something bigger such as gaining several unwanted pounds or bigger yet, a fear of not having enough money to pay my bills or something huge like the breakup of an important relationship, losing a job, or having a life-threatening illness.

The content, though compelling in the moment, is essentially irrelevant, while the process, a constant state of mild to severe suffering in a story of “something wrong, not enough,” is the consistent point.   “This is what I want (right now), I’m not getting it, I’m unhappy (right now) because I’m not getting what I want and that’s why my life isn’t working.” The content is temporary, but the conclusion-- “my life isn’t working”--though rarely in conscious awareness, becomes permanent and global.

We’re conditioned to see the current content as riveting, and we’re trained to unquestioningly believe the current story we’re hearing.  Thus, we fail to notice that our state of dissatisfaction is a perpetual undercurrent. We don’t recognize this “bottom line” because our attention is constantly drawn to temporary content rather than the underlying process.

An example: I’m unhappy in my job. I obsess about staying or going.  Finally I decide to go. I find a new job but before long I don’t like it. I start hearing how this one is no better than the old one and maybe I should have just stayed with that one.  I’ve gone through this whole drama for nothing.

Initially I may have had a clear awareness of a situation: I really am unhappy in this job. But rather than stay with a spirit of inquiry that will explore what’s going on with me—in and out of the content of the job—conditioned mind becomes obsessive with thoughts about “the problem,” rapid-fire thoughts that conclude in a mental state of fear, anxiety, and urgency. The result is an action that feeds and perpetuates the process of dissatisfaction.

In that conversation on Open Air, we speculated that each of us, going back over our lives, could see this process of dissatisfaction being played out with content after content. My teacher in first grade picked on me and I wasn’t good at sports and I wasn’t as popular as my best friend and my clothes weren’t right and my grades were never good enough and my parents wouldn’t buy me a car and I didn’t get into the school I wanted and my partner was too ____ and there was not enough ____ and I couldn’t afford ____.  And now…?


Friday, August 23, 2013

Process Mapping

Way back in 2006 I was asked about “Process Mapping” and agreed to write up some directions for the process. That being a long time ago and the requests for a “how to” continuing, it seems a good time to go over the directions again.

Here goes:
1.    Get the largest piece of paper you can manage and/or commit one wall in your domicile to the project.
2.    Get supplies based on your desire to be creative. At a minimum you will need some post-its, a pen, and probably some tape for when the post-it glue gives out. Beyond these basics you may choose to have colored pens, different color or size post-its, highlighters—all is possible.
3.    You can begin anywhere, with a big issue like changing jobs or leaving a relationship, or something as seemingly minor as resistance to dishwashing.
4.    Tune in to where you are with the issue. (Let’s go with dishwashing.) Perhaps you walk into the kitchen, see the pile of dishes, and feel your stomach clench, your heart fall, and your energy collapse. Map that. Take each of those reactions (walk into kitchen, see the dishes, stomach clenches, heart falls, energy collapses) and put each on a post-it. Just a brief jotting to remind you of the reaction. You might decide to do behaviors in one color, thoughts in another, and feelings in yet another, or you might just go with basic yellow post-its and a blue ink pen!
5.    Since the reactions described above are a sequence, you will want to place them sequentially on your piece of paper or wall. The next time you have the encounter with the sink full of dirty dishes, you might watch the previously described sequence, and then notice the voices that come in to tell you what all this means and who/what you are for having this issue. You jot those down, each on its own post-it, and put them on your map.
6.    As you’re getting clearer with your dish issue, you will begin to notice things like a fleeting inspiration to go clean up the kitchen. Very likely you will soon notice the voice that talks you out of acting on that inspiration. Put those on post-its and get them on the map.
7.    The next thing you might see is the part of you who really wants a clean kitchen. Put that person on the map and begin to look for the sensations, emotions, and thoughts associated with that part of you.
8.    Keep going in this way until every nuance of your relationship with kitchens, dishes, and cleaning is somewhere on your map. There will be lots of voices, all kinds of emotions, beliefs, memories, resolutions, and beatings.

In the beginning, each life issue seems to require its own map. Soon, because this is process mapping, you will begin to see patterns. As the book title suggests, How You Do Anything Is How You Do Everything. Yes, in fact, the same voices, beliefs, assumptions, and projections show up in my housekeeping, relationships with people, money, work, and in how I drive! Yep, I’m “me” all over the place. 

The benefits of process mapping are many and big. Writing down what is going on gets it out of the head and gives a much-needed distance from what lives in the darkness of a conditioned mind, never seeing the light of day. To know what’s going on, we have to pay attention. We have to watch the thoughts and emotions and behaviors to see what they are. This can greatly increase our present moment awareness and help us to step back and disidentify from our conditioned orientation to life. Instead of going through life in intimate relationship with the voices of conditioning, looking to them for guidance, believing their assessment of us, others, and life in general, we now are able to watch them from a place of conscious, compassionate awareness as they do what they do. As we watch, as we see through the process, the power conditioning has over us begins to fall away.

In gassho,

Monday, May 27, 2013

The World of Opposites: A New Take

I’m exploring a new take on a familiar theme and am putting it out in this format in order to engage those of you interested in exploring it with me.

We’ve often referred to this, our shared delusion of reality (this world), as the “world of opposites.” Everything in this plane of existence is opposite to what we’re taught to believe. “Conventional wisdom” runs along the lines of “worry is preparation, fear keeps a person safe, it’s possible to control outcomes,” and so forth. (You might take a moment here to jot down some of those you’re told you don’t believe but live by nonetheless.)

But what if the “world of opposites” is much more pervasive and more deeply “personal” than we’ve realized? What if that notion can assist us to see, on a moment-by-moment basis, exactly what egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate is doing to keep us in its thrall? Seems worth looking into, doesn’t it?

Now, of course, as with most of awareness practice, coming at this straight on isn’t all that effective. That’s why spiritual folks use metaphor, parables, analogies, etc., to assist in sneaking up on what we can see out of the corner of the eye but often miss if we look directly. When we look directly, we’re usually using conditioned mind to look, and “from the corner of the eye” viewing enables insight and intuition to slip through.

With that approach I will endeavor to point us in the direction of exploration.

Let’s use as our first test case a person who is insecure, responsible, and hard-working, who seeks external approval and tries hard always to get everything right. The internal conversation is along the lines of, “I need to…, I have to remember to…, I wonder if ‘they’ will like…, I can’t believe I messed that up again…, why do I always say the wrong thing….” There are plenty of openings for self-hate, and the conversation in the head is focused on what went wrong in the past, what’s probably wrong now, and what’s likely to go wrong in the future. The person is tense, tight, unsure, anxious, and often miserable. He’s working overtime to be the perfect person and living in a world of failure and criticism. If asked, the “self-aware” person would acknowledge, “Yeah, that’s pretty much how I am.”

Here’s the “what if” for that person. What if that person arrived in this world bright, intelligent, eager, and enthusiastic, with great instincts and a well-developed ability to assess circumstances and communicate clearly what’s being seen? What if that person encountered an egocentric, karmically-conditioned, self-hating environment that needed to squash any authentic expression of Life in order to maintain its own false reality? What if that person eventually acquiesced in order to survive, got with the program, took up as internal conversation a version of what was coming from the outside, and, over time, came to accept the false reality of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate as the “true reality” of Life, treating himself as he’d been treated, striving to please the “outside authorities” (which now only exist inside!), unable to access his authenticity and certainly NOT living as the authentic expression of Life he most likely came to this plane of existence to be. 

In other (and perhaps fewer) words, authenticity arrives into a conditioned circumstance, the human being adapts, takes up the conditioned reality in order to survive in it, forgets the original authenticity, accepts the conditioned reality as “true,” and looks to the assessment of the conditioned reality to know “who/how I am,” then spends a lifetime believing, feeling bad about, hiding, and compensating for an identity that has nothing to do with who s/he is! Except it is the opposite of who/how s/he is authentically.

Let’s try another: Person is born intelligent, curious, eager to learn. External environment is threatened by all that present, here, unencumbered “seeing.” Person gets a lot of rejection for seeing and saying. As above, the person gradually gives in in order to survive the circumstances. The internal conversation becomes one of “I know what’s right/best, but I can’t say because I’ll be rejected and punished.” This can turn into anger and resentment that “they” (a “they” only existing inside conditioned mind at this point), are controlling me. The conclusion: I’ll hide out, lay low, not let anyone know what’s going on with me, and I’ll be safe.

Sadly, in all such cases, we are emphatically NOT safe. Instead, we are in the gravest danger a human can experience: we are trapped alone with a force that is surviving at our expense. In addition, we are unable to access our authenticity (which resides on the other side of the incessant internal survival conversation), and thus can neither express our authentic being nor learn all that would be available to us if we were able to show up in each moment ready for the receiving and transmitting of the Intelligence that Animates that is possible for us as human incarnations.

So, as we explore this:
~~ An “I know” conversation in the head is meant to conceal the fact that “I don’t know” and prevent me from being open to information that would allow me to be lit-up and eager to see and learn in each moment. In other words, “I know” robs us of innocent authenticity.
~~ An “I don’t care” internal conversation camouflages a deep caring rooted in awareness of the interconnectedness of all Life. “I don’t care” robs us of our ability to give and receive Love.
~~ An “I’ve got to be perfect” conversation keeps us from recognizing the perfection of all Life and robs us of our ability to relax into the unique part each expression of Life plays.
~~ A “There’s something wrong with (me or them)” prevents us from experiencing that there’s nothing wrong anywhere in Life—never has been, never will be—and cuts us off from an open-hearted appreciation of everything exactly as it is. This orientation also closes us off from gratitude and compassion.

Now, the main thing I want for us to explore together is how focusing the attention on an internal conversation reinforces the illusion of an ego-I and creates a barrier to authenticity. It’s not that authenticity isn’t “here” and available. In fact, it’s ALL that is here and available. It’s that when we are engaged in the conversation, we can’t experience authenticity. It’s exactly like sitting on a beautiful beach in front of a perfect sunset and missing the whole thing because our attention is on an annoying conversation we had last week.

A perspective: Life is improv. Until we are with the moment, we are attempting to follow (and insist that others follow) a very old script (that others don’t even know exists) that has nothing to do with anything happening now or in the past. 

The whole point: If you want to know who/how/what you are authentically, listen to what the conversation in your head is telling you, look to see what is opposite to that, and get a sense that that opposite definition is who/how/what you are authentically. The same formula works with others! A person who “presents” as one way is probably very close to the exact opposite when identified with the conversation in egocentric karmic conditioning/self. To see what one is authentically, look at the internal conversation with conditioning and know authenticity is the opposite of that! The one exception: When someone is “coming from center” they will be congruent inside and out. Fun to play with, yes?

The steps:
1) Authenticity
2) Encounters an egocentric, karmically conditioned/self-hating world
3) Identification with the ego-I system created to survive in the world
4) Attending constantly to the conversation in the ego-I survival system
5) Presenting the opposite of that ego-I conversation to the outer world

A rather simplistic example: You are born open, curious, and loving. The world you must navigate is fear-based, suspicious, and reserved. You become frightened, anxious, and protective of self. As the internal conversation focuses on how “they are/it is,” you are told how to behave in order to avoid what will befall you if you run afoul of “them/it.”
Inside you’re terrified and closed, outside you appear to be self-effacing and affable.
Who/how are you authentically? Open, curious, and loving. Along with a lot of other Life-affirming qualities you’re not allowed to experience and own.

My hope is two-fold. 1) That you will look to see what is the conversation that occupies your attention (it may seem too varied at first glance, but if you continue to attend, you will see the over-arching talk that contains the many sub-texts), and 2) that you will call in to Open Air so we can talk about what you see. I am hoping to engage the whole Sangha in this conversation, and Open Air is our best avenue for achieving the broadest exchange. An upcoming practice opportunity that might assist in clarifying the conversation is the email class beginning July 16—lots of clues there!


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

That’s Just How It Is

It has come to my attention that our Sangha focus for the year, “The Cooperative of Practice: Being Lit Up Together” may be causing some confusion and potential suffering.

As we well know, egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate will use anything and everything to maintain its control over a person’s attention. So, we can’t be too surprised that conditioned mind has come up with a way to attempt to snag our current practice focus and turn it for its benefit.

I suppose there are lots of ways “Cooperative of Practice” and “Lit Up Together” could be turned into “maintaining the illusion of a separate self,” but here’s the one I’ve been hearing about.

People are getting talked into believing that “having the fun of being in the present” and “being lit up with what you’re doing” means to go out and buy and do all the things you’ve always wanted to have and do. The result is that people are too “spent,” in every sense of the word, to be able to participate in practice. “I’m cancelling the retreat I signed up for because I’m going to a writing workshop.” “I can’t make it to sitting group for a while because I have a belly-dancing class that night.” “I need to stop my monthly financial support of practice because I’m going on an expensive trip.”

That’s really NOT what we’re going for in “Being Lit Up Together.” That’s not even what we’re going for in being lit up!

The lit up we’re talking about—and the only authentic lit up there is—comes from being in Life in the moment. It doesn’t come from the ego getting something it claims to want. Yes, there can be excitement and great fun in “getting something new and shiny for me,” and we all know how quickly that passes into remorse or disappointment or a focus on the next new and shiny ego wants to consume and turn into dissatisfaction.

Now, let us be perfectly clear: I am not saying a person shouldn’t go to writing workshops or learn to belly-dance or go on grand trips. Not at all. What I am saying is that if we do ANYTHING instead of practice it will end in disappointment and dissatisfaction. Why? Because everything that comes from and is done for ego-I must inevitably end in disappointment and dissatisfaction. That’s just how it is.

So please don’t be confused about this and don’t get bamboozled. First and foremost, you must devote yourself to what satisfies your heart/mind. You must be with Life. When that’s the case, with Life guiding your choices and decisions, you will never be disappointed or dissatisfied. That’s just how it is.