World Kindness Day

1379 Relax and Succeed - Remember there's no such thing as a small act of kindness

As promised, I am working on some pieces about my experience, the fear, and dealing with intense pain. Due to the depth required for those subjects I will need more time to fully assemble those ideas. You are better served if I can find ways to make my experience useful to you in the most material ways possible.

In the meantime, I am grateful that it happens to be World Kindness Day. That fact allows me to take the time to write and finalize those pieces, as well as celebrate this day by discussing how we can extend our sentiments beyond this single day, so they may imbue our lives throughout our year.

We can often see our kindnesses or our gratitude as things we give to others, but this is only because we tend to see our reality as being ‘out there,’ in some external sense. With a deeper understanding, we realize that all of our ‘experiences’ happen within our consciousness, which means genuine expressions of gratitude or kindness are even more our experiences than they are those of the people we may be helping or showing kindness toward.

Today, and going forward, I would strongly encourage everyone to join me in the daily meditation of seeing life not as something happening to us, but rather an experience we are co-creating with the universe, moment by moment. Like the cells of a single organism, our state does impact the state of those around us, just as those parts of reality also affect us, so control is not our answer.

Just as we will sometimes not be at our best, so too will other cells in the organism that is our larger society. There is no hope of us fully grasping or controlling that reality, but we can learn to accept it in ways that are profound, and that permit us to understand what people mean when they say things like, “Before I was enlightened I suffered. After I was enlightened I suffered.”

Acceptance adds a form of grace to the latter portion of that statement. By living in that way, we build no residual resentments, attachments or expectations, although we may experience them fleetingly. Likewise, we all regularly experience enlightened moments. What everyone seeks is a somewhat efficient route from their suffering, and to their moments of grace.

While we are never free of what the Buddhist’s call the cycle of samsara, we can learn to move within it with greater awareness and psycho-spiritual skill.

How this takes shape in real time can be demonstrated with my recent pain, and the fears around potentially losing my sight. As with anyone, the pain was agonizing, and the fears were based in very real potential outcomes. We can come to see that external reality as ‘our environment,’ much like the banks of a river are not the river, but they do form –and are formed by– the flow of our lives.

What gives us grace is our ability to remember that, like the river, periods of tumultuous rapids and frightening waterfalls are only parts of our overall flow through the moments of our life. All rivers change as they move through the geography of our reality, so all states are temporary. This is why I often refer to a wise Buddhist monk who once told me that the secret to living is that “everything changes.”

As we experience intense pain, we can become aware that our state is temporary. This turns our agony into a waiting-game of positive anticipation. We don’t know when or how we might feel better, but we know that the river of our lives continues to flow even though our pain can leave us inactive.

The above describes why suicidal thoughts can be natural, and yet ultimately foolhardy, because they operate on the presumption that nothing is changing if we are still. But whether rapids on a river last for 10 miles or one, our surrounding geography will eventually change our flow whether we act or not. In this way our own patience is a form of meditation or prayer.

If we can see this clearly, it allows us to simply let our suffering ‘be.’ That wisdom is reflected in Paul McCartney’s advice to John Lennon’s son in the song, Hey Jude,” wherein he reminds the boy that despite our periods of personal darkness, it is worthwhile to maintain our conscious anticipation and movement toward better experiences to come.

1379 Relax and Succeed - The level of our success is limited only by our imagination

Again, while our suffering in life is often unavoidable, what allows us to flow forward is our deep knowing that all of our states of mind are always temporary. This also means that, when we see others in states of suffering, we should not see our acts of kindness as merely gestures –in fact these actions are what shape the banks of other’s rivers.

In many cases, our own ‘rapids’ will dissolve thanks to the efforts of others, both seen and unseen. That being the case, in closing, I would like to thank the many people who very recently and greatly contributed to the gradual easing of my own suffering.

Without these people I would surely have struggled far more, and while my gratitude is my own to feel, I do hope they each saw their own kind acts as their own meditations on gratitude, empathy and compassion. In this way, my own pain can act as an opportunity for grace for those around me.

In terms of specifics, I would like to take this opportunity to single out those who have, and continue to, allow this struggle through the rapids of my life to move from near intolerable, to places where I can now feel deeply grateful to no longer be in the worst parts of the experience.

To this end I offer deep and special thanks to Doctors Baker and Sia, as well as the entire remarkable staff at the Alberta Retina Consultants. In addition to them, I would also like to thank the support and surgical staff at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, as well as the family and friends that supported me throughout this process.

These people include Don, Anita, Henry, James, Nick, Mike, Kirsten, Christina, Brian, Jarrid, Christian, Sausan, Sue, and for the compassion shown by Tracy, Beth, Rob, Dwayne and Charlotte (and any others my addled state may have forgotten).

As I also live in a nation with nationalized health care, I would also like to thank my fellow Canadians for your contributions toward making such a system work in my time of need.

In closing, today, as you move about your own World Kindness Day, remember that you are not only lifting weight from the specific people you help but, in total, you are also adding to a much larger force that, along with others, is easing suffering throughout the universe itself.

peace. s

The Chrysalis of Becoming

1362 Relax and Succeed - You've changed

Some of our circumstances in life occur suddenly and quite visibly. Others are those that we slowly slip into, without really realizing it. Then one day some unexpected thing jolts us out of our torpor and we suddenly wonder why we’re dating this person, or working at this job, or still in this city.

The sudden sense of urgency is a signal that our mind has woken up to a new reality. What is often challenging for us is that our new reality involves us realizing how much of our own life doesn’t even appear to suit us. This is a sign that we have discovered something about who we are.

The feelings that can go with these internal awakenings are often things like a repulsion for ourselves. We question our intelligence as to how we managed to even get to where we are. There is often a period of recrimination where we feel badly about the choices and regret the ‘mistakes’ we’ve made.

Following that shock, during our unfolding reaction, we tend to push things and others away. That’s a helpful reaction because we need the space, but eventually we realize that if we’re throwing away our new life, we now need a new life to live. And that can feel much scarier than pushing away a life we don’t like.

This is often a period where we tend to blame the life we had rather than realizing that it too was and is a worthwhile part of our journey, although we may not be able to recognize that value at this time.

Despite our judgment of our life experiences, our false results –our divorces, bad career choices, illnesses– are all just as much a part of our existence as the good times. The events themselves are neutral. They can feel terrible, but they can also be made into more positive things at different times in our lives.

A divorce is a chance at a better relationship and more happiness. Leaving a bad job can make us both a better employee and provide increased self-respect. And illnesses teach patience, grace and gratitude better than any other thing. It might feel at times like losing, but it’s still a form of winning in the long run.

1362 Relax and Succeed - Should the butterfly regret or be grateful for

As we begin to wake up we must remember our context. We are dissatisfied. Suddenly realizing that our situation is worse than we thought can lead us to start looking for all that is wrong. And any time in life we’re doing that we’ll be able to find as many things as we look for, and if we keep looking we’ll keep finding more. That can make things look much worse than they really are.

The real question for us often is, are things entirely bad the way they are, or does our awakening and our scrutiny only make it appear so? We can want to move, or change jobs or end a relationship, but we can’t assume that our dissatisfaction is rooted in the outside world. It is more likely within us, which is why sorting that out is wise before taking action in our external lives.

Reality happens within us. Sometimes that does prompt legitimate external changes, but we don’t need those to find peace. Nelson Mandela found it in a brutal prison. Yet he carried it with him into a Presidency. This is a liberating idea. It means no matter what, we are okay.

When we first wake up a bit, the reason that we see a strong appeal in new cities, new jobs and new relationships is that all of those things naturally deliver many reasons to not think our habitual thoughts. The problem is, over the long term they will not change how we see the world. Mandela’s soul wasn’t saved by the Presidency, it was saved by himself while he was still in jail.

Wherever we go, there we are. New situations will soon turn into the old situations if we do not first ensure that we have a good grip on our responsibilities within reality. The external world around us is shockingly flexible, we prove this by loving someone or something one day and then hating it later. It’s less the thing that changed and more that we have. There’s a real power in that if we use it wisely.

Dissatisfaction is a good basis from which to take action in our lives. That is a feeling worth paying attention to. But experiencing that feeling that is not, in and of itself, a failure on anyone’s part. It is only a signal, notifying us of the start of a necessary part of any journey through life.

Like it is for the butterfly, with greater perspective we often will come to see that our greatest gains were actually being made when we have felt we were struggling the most.

peace. s

Holding Hands With the Dying

 

1354 Relax and Succeed - Holding Hands with the DyingWhen I do it, it’s usually for a client. But not that long ago I helped a dear friend die. The way it happened we didn’t have a lot of time, but enough to have a couple really beautiful heart to hearts.

Like many sick people, he liked that I didn’t have a hyper cautious or maudlin way about me. Unlike many, he loved the world the way it was. He wasn’t interested in overextended expressions of sympathy. He was in a state of acceptance and he wanted connection.

Dying is new for each new ego. Having someone there to hold our hands in a particularly profound (even if not physical) sense can make that journey less daunting and more wondrous. Due to preparation, we didn’t have much ‘daunting’ stuff to deal with then, but we did talk about awe, which can feel similar.

I’d met this friend as a student of these classes, so our flow of language was very helpful. We had some terminology for some pretty nebulous things and at that time that really helped. He had always been eager and diligent and he made the most of everything I shared with him. Anyone who knew him considered him a lightning rod for energy and enthusiasm.

He was very kind and generous with his words and he was extremely forgiving as well. By the time he’d died he had the ability to extend all of those qualities to himself too. That too is a beautiful thing. With no history to slay or lost future to hope for, we stayed present and talked about the journey he was on.

Part of that included discussions about potentially embarrassing physical issues and hospital life, but almost all of it was about the wonder of a lifetime and the wonder of death as well.

1354 Relax and Succeed - Even through death

 

We discussed the fact that he didn’t have to worry about dying itself. Death had plenty of experience and it was in charge. Mostly we talked about how marvellous his life –ugliest warts and all– had been. And how exciting the next mysterious step was.

The joy he felt in looking at his life in that non-judgmental way was so incredibly beautiful to behold that it still stirs me deeply. Even his anxious excitement about death felt more like someone breathing deeply before stepping onto a stage for the first time.

It was difficult knowing that so many people in that building were facing a similar fate, and yet so many are often scared and alone –if not in the physical sense, at least in the spiritual sense.

Several times I’ve overheard the loving visitors of other patients struggle so hard with gigantic emotions that they would end up unwittingly saying things that felt as wrong to the speaker as they did to the listener. Presence must be practiced. It’s a form of psychological balance.

If it wasn’t such a personal moment between them I almost wish I could have comforted the dying person afterwards. There were ways to do that and help contextualize the visitor’s innocent mistake.

1354 Relax and Succeed - Everybody wants to go to heaven

Hearing those people struggle makes me look forward to the day when –instead of someone calling me for help with a family member’s death– every family will know how to handle it with grace. That will be a victory for the dying as well.

My friend had a great life and a great death. Although I will say, I think he made one mistake in his clarity. He forgot that the people he left behind don’t live with his enlightened perspective, so his lack of a funeral gave everyone no way to close this chapter of our lives with an event.

I presume he didn’t do that because he was concerned it might be a maudlin gathering he would be asking people to participate in, but in that case he underestimated himself. Because through his influence, I feel quite confident that everyone who knew him would have learned enough from him to forgo grieving his loss in favour of celebrating his existence.

Learn from my friend. Don’t be afraid to die. Live fully instead. And work towards profound and non-judgmental self-love. Because in every moment we achieve it, we are winning at life.

RIP Orest. I love you.

peace, s