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

Devices of Judgment

1359 Relax and Succeed - Thoughts are a good servant but a bad master

Our world was shaped by thoughts. Those thoughts get codified into social codes or guides or laws or through things like school grades, or peer pressure built around the concepts of popularity or acceptability.

Some of these devices are tangible things like step counters or gym weights or weigh scales. The pressure we feel in life is us trying to fit our natural shape into the predetermined forms these tools or ideas create.

The outcomes are somewhat predictable. Every code gets applied to every person equally, even though some people may never be athletic no matter how hard they try, and others may struggle academically in ways that do not reduce their value as a human being at all. But all of us will be judged by many people –most notable ourselves– for not being many things, as though we were supposed to have been them all.

The only way to escape is to be so far removed from those ‘tests’ that we get a free sympathy pass from society because we have one huge natural judgement running against us, like childhood cancer or deformities or severe mental challenges.

Some are seen to be so obviously struggling with what is obviously a heavier load that it’s a more definitive signal that knocks us out of our personal thinking. That jolt to our awareness ignites our compassion by so strongly exposing our good fortune.

That is a beautiful thing to do for others, and that is why people in those situations should be seen more like spiritual teachers in society. They elicit an essentially universal reaction that does expose our natural tendency as humans, which is decency, while also making us grateful, which is spiritually healthy. They’re monks in wheelchairs and in canes.

Where we can benefit from increased awareness is to realize that while some people have their suffering jammed into a generally narrower set of experiences, (like those of a severe autistic, or someone who is born without any limbs), others are also suffering badly, but with more general things like their weight, or their income, or the acceptability of their personality.

Because those feel like the problems of more common, so-called ‘normal’ people, we often don’t realize that those issues and people would also benefit from our awareness and decency. Smaller issues –even presumed– can pile up to the point where they can cripple our lives.

1359 Relax and Succeed - This scale does not

If we count steps or weigh ourselves for our health, it’s not to hit some numerical target. The point is to feel good and have a doctor feel that the weight –whatever it is– is in a range that respects our unique bodies. A healthy heart should be about getting more time with loved ones, not meeting the doctor’s target. We must love ourselves, not try to be someone for others.

Too many times something like a calorie app or a weigh scale are not simply weighing things in the physical world. Instead, they are drawing some abstract chalk outline onto the world and then asking us to fill it. It’s crazy. We weren’t supposed to become what an app said because the person who wrote it never met us. Nor the person who built the weight scale, and just because a hairstyle is popular does not mean it looks or feels good on us.

We suffer when others have generalized the individual us. And when we do that to ourselves as well, all we’re doing is using an abstract cultural whip to beat ourselves. It’s the opposite of spiritual awareness.

Can we really imagine someone going to the Buddha, or Moses or Jesus or Mohammad and having them tell the person their soul will find nirvana when they lose some weight? Or get a better haircut? Or a job that’s more respectable? Would Jesus tell us that we can give up now, because we were born gay, or in the wrong country, so nothing we could ever do could make us worthwhile?

It’s hard to imagine the Buddha saying, “Sara, you will find enlightenment but you must get your Thursday Tinder date to like you or your life will be an unhappy disappointment.”

Deep down you already know this is true. The people that love us don’t need us to be any particular way. Not a shape, or age, and they love the person that lived our experiences, even if they don’t always like some aspects of the personality that grew out of those experiences. They love the soul at our center –the being living all of that life. We should all love that person too.

What others think are merely individual experiences they are having inside their own heads. Those judgments don’t impact us at all if we don’t start thinking them in our heads.

If we saw a loved one beating themselves up terribly over their weight it would be heartbreaking because we would all know they are so much more than that dumb number. And that impulse is beautiful and natural. But enlightenment really comes when we learn to direct that compassion toward ourselves. Because only then will we free ourselves from the suffering we generate when we use our devices of judgment.

peace. s

Fostering Self-Respect

1350 Relax and Succeed - Fostering Self-Respect

People keep thinking the world’s a terrible place and yet people who are psychologically healthy see only challenges and fundamentally good people at various states of life who impact those challenges in a variety of ways that make sense. The Buddhists call this ‘causality.’

We have all done things we wouldn’t do today, so when people move in what we might call the ‘wrong’ direction that is really just humans being human. If they can’t avoid that then we can’t either, so the real problem is our thinking –our judgment.

The media makes a lot of money off our strongest emotions –fear, anger and sexuality– and they do not tell us really what is happening, they tell us whatever is happening that is likely to incite those emotions because that’s what keeps our eyeballs tuned into their product and their job is to sell ads or themselves.

But those financial incentives should be seen as just that: only an incentive. We can choose to see all of the countless great things that happen every day.

The reason this matters is because it is brain-training. If we constantly judge others for being ways we’re not, and if we constantly look for what’s wrong, scary or disrespectful, we aren’t defining who the ‘bad’ people are, we are teaching ourselves to be be judgmental and disrespectful to ourselves. Our brains get good at actions. Which directions they are aimed at is irrelevant.

How many people watch for kind or generous acts conducted by drivers or pedestrians? Who watches for people helping others with their kids, or small kindnesses offered in a grocery store lineup? Who sees the book recommendation from a co-worker as an act of love? They had a wonderful experience and want to share it with us. That is a beautiful thing.

1350 Relax and Succeed - Our ways of interrelating with each other

As someone who does this all the time, I see evidence of how the world is amazing every single day, from scientists making life-saving discoveries to new parents losing all of their sleep to care for a newborn, to signs designed to help us find where we’re going, or a boss correcting our work so that we don’t lose our jobs. Even something as simple as walking by a park shows that, at some point, some people cared enough about others to want them to have some green-space.

By seeing the best in the world around us we help ourselves to see those qualities within ourselves too. We benefit from exercising that muscle. We benefit from the practice. When we feel strong, and when we feel like we have many allies, we are powerful beings.

The problem is less our differences and more about how we choose to live with them. Because the problem with two people disagreeing over an issue is not that they differ, it’s when they will employ hatred and a lack of respect and then claim the other person deserves it for merely disagreeing with our beliefs —no matter what those beliefs are.

If we want to know how spiritual we truly are, we find out in our exchanges with those with whom we do not agree. That will tell us how we treat ourselves during challenging times, because that is when we also question our own wisdom and question our own worth.

Criticism takes us nowhere, but compassion and humility will get us where we want to be. And that can not only change us, it can change the world, because young minds will use us as the guides for their own behaviour.

peace. s