Posts Tagged ‘Happiness and pain’

The Mirror

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Dear friends

There were three significant experiences in one evening! I do believe it—I have to, I was there—but as you’ll see, it confused me for a while. Here’s what happened. Do let me know what you think (comments).

Two weeks ago, I noticed a small advertisement in the local newspaper. Someone called Gangaji was speaking in my town, on December first, a week away. I had never heard of Gangaji. I didn’t even know how to pronounce the word. Apart from the vaguely spiritual context of the ad, I had no idea what she represented, let alone what she would say. Also, I don’t rush off to listen to every spiritual speaker who passes by. But I was drawn to the name, and something kept nudging me to go. I marked it in my calendar.

The night before her speech, I had a strange dream. I dreamed that Gangaji looked at me sitting in the audience and invited me up on stage with her, to sit on her right hand side and talk with her in front of the crowd. In the morning, of course, I dismissed it ‘just a crazy dream’.

But before we get there, I need to backtrack.

If you read last week’s newsletter, you’ll know that I’m in the happiest space of my life right now—which I put down to a new realization. Here’s a list of the main points I made in that newsletter: stop chasing enlightenment; you’re already where you want to be; nothing has to be fixed because nothing is broken; look for the silence between your thoughts; your thought of who you are is not who you are. And more. (If you want to read it again, click here.)

I sent that newsletter to you (to subscribers) just two minutes before I left to listen to Gangaji. Then, in the first few minutes of her talk she said all of that. Every main point of my newsletter.

That was significant experience number one.

In those few minutes, I became an admirer—not because she was echoing my new realization, but because of her presence. Gangaji was radiant. I have rarely seen anyone with such love and compassion. Once, when a woman in front of her was fighting tears, she did not try to fill the silence with words, instead she just smiled at the woman. It was a huge smile, wider than a dawn, and it was the right smile.

And then the dream turned into reality.

I tell you I did not force it to happen; in fact, I resisted it. Unlike the woman in tears and the other three who went forward, I did not volunteer. Dream or no dream, I had no desire to be a centre of attention and no burning question. I was there to listen. But Gangaji clearly thought otherwise; when there was no one else on the stage, she looked directly at me and beckoned.
     “You have a question,” she said.
     In spite of the dream, I was startled. I  looked around at my neighbours, back to Gangaji, and said, “Who? Me?” (Okay, call me slow on the uptake.)
     “Yes, you,” she smiled. “Would you like to join me up here.”
     Now I knew that the dream was unfolding.
     “Okay,” I said. I went up there, I sat on her right, I talked with her in front of the crowd. Here was the dream in every detail, except, oddly, that the size of the real audience was smaller than in the dream.

That was number two.

I did think of a question to ask her, which she answered. But that’s not what stayed in my memory. It’s what followed. I was so captivated by her presence that I said, “I know what I want… I want the look in my eye to be like the look in your eye.”
     To my astonishment and the crowd’s amusement, she chuckled, produced a mirror (!!!), and thrust it in front of my face, forcing me to look at myself.
     “But you do have that already,” she said. “See for yourself.”

No, I’m not planning to parade as the next Gangaji. In fact, as I left the stage, I was puzzled. Her manner suggested more than stage playfulness… there was serious intent there. What was she really saying to me? What was the point? Well, now I have to laugh at myself. How could I have missed it? It took my friend Tom Newnam in Philadelphia, to take off my blindfold with an email. His words, summarised: What you saw in Gangaji is not only who she is, but also who you are.

Of course, of course. In admiring Gangaji, I was primed to see—in her—the best in myself. We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are. We don’t see people as they are; we see people as we are. She didn’t say that in words, but it’s what she was telling me. More to the point, she made me feel it.

That was number three.

Could there be a finer illustration of the second universal truth: that your life is your mirror. How extraordinary that she actually held up a mirror. How subtle, how playful, how mischievous. (And how startling… did she have that mirror ready?)

Had you or anyone else expressed the same desire as me, she could have made the same reply.

Turn it around. When 100 people look at you, they each see a different version of you: the version that best reflects them, their beliefs and aspirations. It’s not you that affects them, but their version of you. Not one of those 100 versions is the real you. So who is the real you? You’ll only find the answer by looking into the looking glass that is your life – yes, that life which seems to happen to you, but is really created by you. In this incarnation, your life, and everything and everyone in it, is you. Literally. The universe is not objective, it is subjective.

On the face of it, that stretches credibility. You could, for example, be in a coal mine one day and a cruise ship the next; so you might ask, How could I change so much overnight? But your physical surroundings are only the shallowest reflection of you. Instead, look to your relationships, the events you attract, and the attitudes you take with you from one place to another.

Here’s some Sufi wisdom, repeated from Finding the Field.

Once upon a time, somewhere between the mountain peaks and the shores of the azure sea, there was a village in which there dwelt a Sufi master renowned for his wisdom. One day, a stranger entered the village, and immediately looked for the master to ask advice. He said, “I’m thinking of moving to live in this village. What can you tell me about the people who live here?”
     And the Sufi master replied, “What can you tell me about the people who live where you come from?”
     “Ah,” said the visitor angrily. “They are terrible people. They are robbers, cheats and liars. They stab each other in the back.”
     “Well now,” said the Sufi master. “Isn’t that a coincidence? That’s exactly what they’re like here.”
     So the man departed the village and was never seen there again.
     Soon, another stranger entered the village, and he too sought the Sufi master for advice. He said, “I’m thinking of moving to live in this village. What can you tell me about the people who live here?”
     And the Sufi master replied, “What can you tell me about the people who live where you come from?”
     “Ah,” said the visitor in fond remembrance, “They are wonderful people. They’re kind, gentle and compassionate. They look after each other.”
     “Well now,” said the Sufi master, “Isn’t that a coincidence? That’s exactly what they’re like here.”

You do, most comprehensively, take your mirror with you wherever you go. You want to find yourself? You don’t have to go anywhere. You want happiness? You don’t have to wait. There’s joy to be had, even in the difficult times.

I have Gangaji to thank for the reminder. And also for the moment when she looked around at the audience during a silence, and said softly, “It’s all so very simple.”

Yes, yes, yes.
Joy to you.
P.S. Next week’s newsletter will be the last for this year.

To find out more about Gangaji, try this link.


Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Dear friends

This week is different. Something significant has shifted in me and I want to share it, in the hope that it’s useful to you. I especially owe this to you if you have read or listened to Finding The Field.

A little background. I was 10 when I first started to wonder, Why is there pain? Actually, I’m smiling right now, remembering my egocentric outrage that such a thing had dared to enter my life. But even then I sensed that there was more to the cause of pain than the most obvious cause in front of me. (No, no details… I just want to get to the point.) Within another 10 years I was seriously looking for answers to the big questions: What’s it all about? Who am I? Why am I here? What’s my place in the universe? It took another 40 years for the answers to fall into place, and then into Field. In spite of what I’m about to tell you, that has not changed. The answers are satisfying to many, it seems, which is wonderful.

Now, let me try put my recent discovery into words.

I’ve been startled by new understanding of something I’ve heard many times, and so, probably, have you. I wrote it into Field: The journey is the destination; the destination is the journey. I learned that one when I journeyed through the Andes looking for the Truth in the classic way. Ironic, yes? I thought I understood it fully back then; but I didn’t, because I somehow never saw the connection with the first universal truth: You are entirely the creator of your reality. Existence is subjective, not objective—even in the hunt for the Truth. Yes, I know, it’s way too academic. Too much thinking. Which is exactly why I missed the point. Here’s the point…

Stop looking.

I must stop looking for enlightenment, because if I believe it is not here, it is not. If I believe it is elsewhere, it is. My beliefs create it so. And I must stop looking even inside myself, because if I believe it is hidden, it is.

Call off the chase. Stand down. Just remain quietly open, aware, relaxed.

Through intense, anxious decades I chased: answers, truth, enlightenment, awakening, fulfilment, self-realisation, serenity, all of that, chasing a butterfly I couldn’t see. What did it look like? Was I running towards it, or away from it? Would I recognize it if I saw it? I didn’t know.

Now, I must stop and allow it to settle gently on my shoulder.

Some have that butterfly on their shoulders all their lives and never speak about it or even think about it. They just live it. But we can sense it, if we want, when we are very still, aware of the silence that holds all sounds and the light that holds all sights and the invisible ocean that holds all thoughts and all things.

You know, I feel wonderful right now. Butterfly safaris were never this good. Why on earth did it take me so long?

Well, I do know the answer to that. I was like the Buddhist student who wanted to impress his master.
     “I’m going to plant this seed,” he said proudly, “and its growth will be an allegory for my spiritual growth.”
     “Yes it will,” smiled the master.
     And the student planted the seed and watched its growth anxiously. He gave it too much water and too many nutrients and it struggled to grow. So he dug it up and re-planted in different soil, again over-watering and over-feeding. Again it struggled and again he re-planted.  And so it went on.
     The day came when the master arrived to see the results, and there was, of course, little to show. The student hung his head.
     “I’m sorry, master. I wanted it to be an allegory of my spiritual progress, but it hasn’t worked.”
    “Yes it has,” smiled the master.

So, this newsletter is something of a confession. I am certain of what went into Field, but that doesn’t mean that the butterfly was flapping vigorously on my shoulder as I wrote. In some ways I was blinded by my own words, even though there is truth in them. My thought of the truth is not the same as the truth. My thought of who I am is not who I am.

But no one has to worry about such things. Why? Because everything works perfectly anyway. We lose the butterfly when we are separate from Consciousness, we find it again when we re-connect. It just doesn’t matter; one state is no better than the other, because  separation and connection are fundamental to creation. They are fission and fusion in perfect dynamic balance and the one has no meaning without the other. Consciousness does not have accounting columns marked right and wrong, good and bad. Jesus and Judas were two faces of one being.

Which means that there’s simply nothing that has to be fixed. Certainly our efforts to fix things add to the great adventure of life, but our efforts are not a requirement of existence. Nothing has to be proved. No one has to be saved. Nothing has to be done. What liberation!

I think I just dealt myself the get-out-of-jail-free card.

I surely have something in common with the man who said, “When I was young, I prayed to Allah to give me the strength to change the world. When I was middle-aged, I prayed to Allah to give me the strength to change those around me. When I was old, I prayed to Allah to give me the strength to change myself.” Well, I think that’s me. But I would add one thing—when I depart this body, I might pray that I have had the strength to be true to my heart. Which is what I seem to be attempting right now.

So does this new relaxation mean that I will become an aimless, protoplasmic blob?

Of course not. I aim to enjoy myself, including plenty of earthly pleasures in the mix. I aim to live fully and love well and make a difference to the world of people around me. But I don’t have to do anything. How terrific to know that everything is part of the perfection of existence—including that pain I experienced as a 10-year-old. How terrific to know that my individual existence will not be weighed on scales. How terrific is that?

And I will not think too hard. Maybe sometimes I will not even describe the smell of roses—I’ll just smell them, for heaven’s sake.

But I will keep writing these newsletters. Yes, I will, as long as you value them and as long as people keep asking me about Finding the Field. Don’t worry, I won’t always treat this newsletter as a confessional.

A last thought. In my writing I have dipped into compassion. But I realise now that I just had my toe in the ocean. The butterfly whispers to me about how vast that ocean is and I suspect that when I have as much compassion for a scorpion as I do for a puppy, I’ll have this whole thing sorted.

But I’m in no hurry.

Joy to you.

Happiness now, not later

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Embrace pain? Yes. Here’s a serious method for going beyond pain, taking full control of your actions, and finding peace and happiness at the same time.  But first, a story.

     There was once a man who died and woke up in the afterlife.
     He knew immediately where he was, because the evidence was all around him: luxuriant gardens, marble mansions, tubs with gold taps, grapes and candied artichokes, harps to sleep him, nightingales to wake him, and a giant feather bed for him and all his loving women.
     So, he enjoyed the most perfect pleasure and comfort, day after day… after day… after day… until…
     One morning, he noticed that his plate of brandied truffles was empty. And—as usual in such moments—another full plate appeared before him. Instantly. Always, without fail, his slightest whim was satisfied faster than the blink of his eye. But this time, he just stared at the plate and thought about it, and the more he thought about it, the worse he felt. So he turned to the nearest servant.
     ‘You know,’ he said, ‘Just for once, I wish that perfect food would not appear the moment I think of it. I would like to work up an appetite.’
     ‘Oh no,’ said the servant. ‘You might suffer from hunger. That’s not allowed.’
     The man’s frown became a scowl. He looked out the window at the perfect weather and complained, ‘And just for once, when I go outside, I wish it could be raining.’
     ‘Oh no,’ said the servant, ‘You might suffer from cold. That’s not allowed.’
     The man became angry and pointed rudely at his bed, where seven perfectly gorgeous, naked women were waiting for him with perfect love in their eyes. And he snapped to the servant, ‘And just for once, I wish I could wake up without them.’
     But the servant laughed merrily. ‘Oh no. You might miss them and suffer loss and grief and pain. That’s not allowed.’
     So the man shouted at the servant. ‘Look, this just isn’t working for me. I don’t like it here. I want the other place. I’d rather have hell.’
     ‘Really?’ said the servant, ‘Where do you think you are now?’

Perfection needs to change its publicity agent. The idea that perfect happiness requires a sky free of pain-clouds is simply nonsense.

Do you know how to get the best experience out of eating and drinking? Do without for a day or two. Want the best shower you’ve ever had? Do without for a few days. Likewise, the full experience of hot must contain the experience of cold. Up has no meaning without down. A coin’s value is in both faces. You appreciate light best when it’s been dark, and starlight as the mist melts away. You hold more happiness when sadness has hollowed a cavern inside you. You feel friendship more deeply when your friend has been away and come back. Nothing can be fully experienced, appreciated or understood or have any meaning without its opposite or lack, or contrasting partner.

Yes, partner. The Tao symbol has two halves, black and white intertwining, each holding the seed of its opposite. Taoism understands the intimate, dynamic, oneness of the dualistic universe.

Think of pain and pleasure as partners holding hands as they look at you. Think of them together, because it’s a delusion to think that one must follow the other. Happiness never comes tomorrow, because it is never tomorrow, around the corner, or when the ship comes in. There is only now. Many people pass their lives in a semi-permanent state of anxiety—about past and future—fleeing pain in pursuit of the happiness that stays always beyond reach.

But happiness offers itself to us in every now, even as we experience the bad times. To achieve it we have to turn, not away from pain, but towards it, embracing it as a partner in our journey. I don’t mean that we should deliberately seek pain—that would need a word with the people in white coats—I mean that when pain happens we should accept it like the weeping willow that accepts a gust of wind, bending, straightening, strengthening. Only then can we then fully embrace the other partner, the patient one—happiness.

That’s what I aspire to. And I have found a useful device to help me. It’s called viewing the movie of you. It works for both mental and physical pain.

But let’s stay with mental pain for now. Let’s suppose you’re experiencing the pain of… say… anger. It might help here if you think about someone who makes you angry. You’re about to view the movie of your angry self. One thing before you start: to make this work you must decide not to turn away from your anger. Don’t deny it, block it or fight it. Don’t judge or label it or yourself; to think this anger is wrong, this pain is terrible, or  I must be a bad person for being angry simply nourishes the pain.

 Ready? Okay, here’s how to make viewing the movie work.

 First, Allow. Allow yourself to feel the anger. Accept its existence. Say to yourself, ‘This part of me feels anger.’ Even in this first stage, you will notice a difference, because most suffering comes not from pain, but from resistance to pain. Resistance comes from fear, and fear is what makes pain hurt.
     Second, Observe. Close your eyes. Strongly, vividly, imagine that you get up and stride a few paces away from your angry self then turn to look back at it as if it were playing on a screen. Say to yourself, ‘That part of me feels angry’. Notice the distancing shift from ‘this’ to ‘that’.
     Third, Release. Release the anger-ridden self on the screen. Let it dissipate in its own time. Don’t push it away; it’s not a rejection, just a letting go. Say to yourself, ‘That too will pass.’ Now you are standing back, viewing your full self, with a mind free to control your next thought or action, consciously directing the new scene. And feeling less pain.

Allow, observe, release. Now, now you can feel the happiness which is inherent in all of us, even in the difficult and challenging times. Now you’re in a state where you can master yourself, take command of your next actions, and allow the remaining pain to bid farewell.

It’s more than a state of mind. It’s a state of consciousness, a silent all-inclusive awareness in which you can discover that colours are brighter, sounds sharper, tastes more exotic. You can also discover the exquisite richness of the present moment, with past and future anxieties fading away. And you may well experience a surge in compassion.

Compassion? For whom?

Well, you, for starters. But it’s also possible that you will feel compassion for those who gave you the pain, and understand that they have their own pain and their own seeking of happiness. And what is compassion but oneness? I know that when I view the movie of me, that’s when I feel closest to that One being that has many faces, many adventures, many sorrows and many joys.

When my son Sam was a small boy and stubbed his toe on a rock, he wailed. That’s what children do, they wallow in the pain. Pain and the outrage of pain fills their world. But we found a useful trick. We would talk severely to the rock. “All right, rock, if that’s how you’re going to behave you’re not coming to Sam’s birthday party.” Instantly a smile would beam through the tears on the cheeks and soon the sniffles faded. You see it, don’t you? His awareness shifted from inside pain to outside pain. (Incidentally, it fascinates me that even toddlers understand the joke.)

Well, instead of verbally abusing a rock, try viewing the movie of you. It does work just as well for physical pain—try it at the dentist. Don’t abuse the dentist.

I would love to hear how it goes for you. You can leave a message below, or send me an email directly to michael (…at…) findingthefield (…dot…) com

May you become a talented director of the movie of your life.