“Don’t postpone joy until you have learned all your lessons. Joy is your lesson”–Allan Cohen.
I personally have hated folding laundry. It feels like a task made for Sisophys–the Greek God who pushed the boulder up the mountainside, only to have it fall back on him time and again. He never reached the top. For years, I have felt this way about the clean clothes. But, catching myself saying, “can’t wait till these buckets are folded, then I can relax” was a moment of awakening for me.
I realized I was postponing my joy in this small way, which led me to examine where else in my life I was postponing my joy. I saw little bits of postponement all over my life. So, I took the task in front of me–the dreaded laundry–and overrode my default intention (get it done and quick) with the conscious intention to feel joy while I folded laundry. At first, my mind bucked — “I’m no Steppford wife! I’m not going to pretend I like this when I hate the monotony of it!” I heard this mini-rant and then, almost like an experiment, I settled back into my conscious intention: what would it feel like if I sincerely intended to feel joy while I undertook this task of laundry? Keeping it real, I didn’t start clicking my heels in exuberance, or whistling like Snow White with the 7 dwarfs, but something in me shifted.
The task was the same, yet I had changed. I could actually see the clothes in front of me, maybe for the first time in a long time. I held onto a pink-striped shirt that now belonged to my youngest child, which once belonged to my middle child, and before that belonged to my oldest one. The clothes became a reminder not to take this moment for granted, because in a very short time, each of them will have outgrown all these clothes and eventually, each of them will have grown up and out of our family home. There is nothing quite as powerful as the larger perspective of truth that brings home the message that this moment is fleeting too.
There will always be more laundry to fold (unless you’re reading this naked, you’re creating laundry right now). There will always be someone else to email, another post to respond to, something else to buy. For some of us, it feels like there will always be another nose to wipe, another carpool to run, another lunch to make. And for many, it feels like there will always be another goal to attain, another status to achieve, and another milestone to put in our rearview mirror.
The thinking goes, once I complete my to-do list, or once I/they feel better, or we reach that financial goal, or go on vacation, then I can feel the relief, joy, and relaxation I crave. It’s as if we have a formula that says only after XYZ happens, then can we let ourselves chill. I wonder, how often have we unintentionally quashed our enthusiasm and passion because we are hyper-focused on getting-it-done or moving on to the next thing? The secret to lasting enthusiasm, passion and relaxation is to bring these very qualities to the undertaking of whatever is at hand.
In this life, we have choices–especially when it comes to our thoughts. It occurred to me that we actually have two minds. One mind is wise and knowing, the Soul-Mind. The other mind is the immature mind and has a lower vibration. The belief that the “we must wait till it’s completed in order to feel joy” is simply a trick produced by the immature mind. We can’t blame it, after all it was forged during our childhood when we believed that once we grew up, we’d have freedoms; once we completed school, we could relax; once we earned money, we’d feel accomplished; once we fell in love, we’d belong and feel cherished; once we had children, we’d meaningfully contribute, once we have XYZ, we could really start living. The immature mind thrives on keeping us one step away from our joy because that is all it knew. It doesn’t mean to steal your life away, but it just doesn’t know how else to exist.
We can choose to let the immature mind run the show. Or we can allow that to drop into the background and amp up the volume of the Soul-Mind.
The Soul-Mind is your witness, it is imbued with Supreme essence, and is steeped in some serious wisdom. It knows. It is that part of you that says, “Be Still, and Know”. In listening more attentively to the Soul-Mind, we are then positioned to accomplish the simple and not-so-simple work of our lives with greater moments of awareness and awe, as well as passion and relaxed joy. And these moments, when culled together, deepen our purpose, vibrancy and love, not only for ourselves but for our families and for this precious world.
The way to disarm the immature mind is to first, recognize it when it shows up. You can call it the immature mind or the lower-vibe mind or some other name to represent it. Next, use your Soul-Mind, the more powerful part of you, to set an intention. In setting a soul-filled intention, we allow in our own playfulness, and release the internal resistance that keeps us from surrendering to the present moment.
Things have been getting intense. We have concerns about our children, our elderly parents, our country. It’s natural to want to push back against the problems, lead with disbelief and anger, or try to avoid the issues altogether. When I think about it, I’m brought back to my 5-year old self, watching Dad excavate our backyard to create a well. Stubborn large rocks and tree roots often blocked his path, initially getting under his skin. But, a true warrior, it was the largest boulders that transformed his angst into a calmer determination. In fact, the biggest boulders seemed to become steppingstones for him to explore his own inner well of purpose and even-keel resolve.
We all confront the barriers in our lives—and we can choose to see them as stumbling blocks and therefore despair, or see them as steppingstones, and get even determined than before. Like a personal trainer hired to increase physical strength, the boulders in our lives can be a spiritual trainer—here to help us hone and chisel our spiritual and emotional fitness.
When the blocks appear, instead of “oh crap, I can’t believe this happened,” I wonder what it would be like if we acknowledged that we don’t like the situation, but then asked ourselves, “How can we use this barrier to get stronger? Can we use it as a stepping stone to something greater than initially envisioned?” Just like at the gym, our spiritual selves are best developed during the heavy-lifting phases.
Some spiritual trainers will help you get clearer about what matters most to you. For instance, fighting against discrimination and insisting on dignity for everyone may be an American value you hold dear. By bumping into a roadblock on that path, you get in touch with how much that means to you– and getting clearer on what matters is a good thing. It inspires grounded knowledge, and from there focused action can be undertaken with integrity and principle.
A talented spiritual trainer may even compassionately show us the way our fears invite our mind to run wild. Understanding the disruptive power of fear is useful because this is not the first, nor will it be the last time fear will arise. If the anxious mind-chatter has you on the ropes, use it as a signal to pause and draw your attention to that space within you that embodies something eternal, warm, loving. From that connection, you are positioned to cultivate the most valuable mindfulness of all— a mindfulness that you can call upon not just when things are relatively calm, but when things are insanely nuts.
A spiritual trainer worth her salt will also help you identify blind spots in your faith. The one I’ve been struggling with lately is—How much do I trust that Something Bigger and More Powerful Than Any Human is guiding and protecting us? I’ve found myself sleeping with one eye open lately. Recent events have showed me where my faith is more fragile than I realized. It’s also shown me where I’ve taken things in the past for granted, and reminded me of how grateful I am every single day.
Dig deep and embrace the boulders. We have more personal grit and determination that we might’ve given ourselves credit for. And we will emerge from our time with the spiritual trainer with more courage, more focus, more gratitude and more grounding.
As a child in the Middle East, my Dad helped irrigate his family farm with a well in his backyard. So when my little family moved into a suburban New Jersey home in the 1970’s, Dad decided he’d do the same in our new backyard. No permits, no contractors, just Dad and a couple shovels and picks. I’ll never forget that metallic smell of damp soil as he dug and dug with impressive determination. Digging deeper than even he could’ve predicted, moving more boulders than expected, exhaustion began to seep into his bones. As thoughts of giving up took hold, he turned a corner. A loud YES! rang through the summer heat. He couldn’t have been more jubilant that afternoon had he struck gold. He enthusiastically planned a garden of eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and other vegetables to feed our family.
Daddy didn’t create that water. Rather, his task was to clear away the dirt and debris to reveal what was there all along. His steadfast and persistent action, coupled with a healthy dose of faith, granted him access to that precious resource. Our efforts to be mindful, to have peace of mind, are similar to Dad’s backyard experience. We aren’t creating mindfulness or any state of mind; we are simply clearing away that which blocks us from reaching it. What covers it up? For many of us, layers of stress, worry, and distraction. That is why systematically cultivating personal tools to remove the gunk is key.
Practicing yoga, sincere prayer, even mini-meditations are some of the instruments that help clear away the fog. Other tools include setting an intention, breathing with attentiveness (especially when feeling irritated), and moving our bodies and minds with purpose and kindness.
Even in this moment, you can catch a glimpse of the peace under the anxieties or stress. Close your eyes, lovingly placing your hands on your abdomen, and inhale deeply. Pause at the top of the inhale. Exhale slowly. Nothing in the external world changed just now, but maybe you felt a little more space, a brief moment of peace. It was there all along. And taking any thoughtful action from a place of peace can be exponentially more effective than doing it from agitation. The beauty of these tools is that the more we practice them, the easier it is for our minds to make that our go-to.
The aftershocks of this election season are still reverberating through our homes. We all know that these campaigns and their aftermath have contributed to intense feelings—misunderstandings, anger, fear, and confusion.
I’ve noticed that the only one thing I can really control—my own thoughts—have been hijacked by strong emotion. I’ve felt more anxiety and anger these past several months than I have in the past decade combined. I’ve felt alienated from some of my fellow Americans across what feels like a great divide. I’ve also felt closer to those who “think like me”, but our togetherness is often used to bash those who don’t see it the same way that we do.
Ironically, even if we are in service of some of the greatest causes in our country–justice, safety, protection of civil liberties, advancement of economic equality–we can get caught up in counterproductive thinking. As we seek our vision of the U.S., sometimes we embolden our mind’s habits of fear, of resentment, anger, all the while making the peace we crave even more elusive. When we pause, we know that harboring negative feelings doesn’t really help the cause and only squanders our precious energy.
“Yes, But.” Yes, But they really are monsters. Yes, But there are practical issues to consider in this political climate. Yes, But we must be angry to get our point across. Pema Chodron calls the “Yes, But” the blind-spot of the human race. It allows us to justify of our anger, anxiety, or whatever.
I, too, struggle with the magnetic pull of the “Yes, But”. Its riptide is very strong and convincing. Sadly, the Yes But strengthens my mind’s habit of being pissed off at the crap I really can’t control. When I recognize the Yes, But as such, then I can get out from under it a little more. Instead of using Yes But as the beginning of some justification to stay in the negative, it can be used as a sign to come back to our center.
When centered, we can get as much, if not more, done than we can from courting fear and anger. Instead of unintentionally discrediting our perspective because we’re in rant-mode, being calm and still connected to our truth puts us in a genuinely powerful position. Doing so channels our strong feelings into action and activism that is determined, trustworthy, and faithful.
Heading into the holiday season, you may encounter friends and relatives who don’t see things eye to eye with you. Along with those brussel spouts, take this with you to the table. Honest listening and understanding– even if you don’t agree with their perspective– is what creates the path to working more constructively towards bridging these differences.
While we seek to attain peace, let’s challenge ourselves to listen, speak and act from that well of peace in our own hearts and minds. Through doing so, we lay the foundation for building an even stronger country, help heal the separations, and revitalize a depth of humility and gratitude together. What would happen if you tried this? Use the space below to comment or feel free to email me.
I’ve gotten so angry over this election. I’ve been enraged about the things Trump has said, done, and proposed. I’ve been disappointed by many of the revelations that have come to light regarding our former Secretary of State. And I’ve been beside myself as I see streams of hateful words and ideology spring from the mouths of fellow citizens.
Awash in confusion and anger, I read some friends’ posts on FB and wonder, Really? I read the newspaper and feel claustrophobic. Except, unlike claustrophobia’s remedy, there is no viable breathing room that could take away that closed-in feeling during this election.
I don’t know anyone who isn’t longing for November 8th to come and go. But, truth is, no matter who wins, it won’t solve the emergent problems in our country. The unrest and mistrust that have surfaced during this campaign is stunning. Maybe the system was already broken, yes, it probably was already broken, but the vastness and depth of that seepage blows my mind.
This morning, instead of anger, I had a good cry. I cried because our country is so divided, because so many people hate each other’s guts right now. I cried because this isn’t the vision of America that I hold dear to my heart. I cried with the realization that our differing beliefs could incite so many hurtful words and actions. I cried because, by holding each other hostage, we ironically perpetuate the pain we are desperately seeking to avoid.
It’s devastating that we have collectively lost sight of the fact that not only are we all Americans, but we are all humans. That we are in this web together, bound more by our similarities than our differences. We all want happiness and peace in our lives. We all need food, breath, and love. There isn’t one of us that doesn’t share the same air or the same basic vulnerabilities.
There is a light at the end of this tunnel. That I am sure of. Anger is sometimes necessary because it motivates us to change things, to seed activism. But chronic anger, with few meaningful outlets is a trap. The time to switch gears is now.
It’s time to reinstate our faith that we can get through this thing together, even if we disagree. It’s time to refocus our attention from what divides us, to what brings us together.
We all want the best for our families and our country. No matter who you vote for, now is the time to let more light in through the cracks. Now more than ever, we are called upon to be clear and level-headed and compassionate. And between now and then after November 8th, let us draw upon our hope and determination that our country will not only heal its fractures but will emerge stronger and more cohesive than even before this whole mess started.