Tuesday, July 27, 2010

When Life Doesn't Show-Up as Planned

Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside of them was superior to circumstance. –Bruce Barton

Somewhere along the line we have adopted the belief that life should be easy and comfortable for every living soul, especially “mine.” There are to be no barriers along our path, nothing standing in the way of our goals, no one to aggravate us or go contrary to our beliefs of how-things-are-to-be-done, no one making us eat our vegetables. This may be the way we wish for life to come to us but it is not the way life here on earth plays out.

Sheesh, such a “reality” doesn’t even exist in Fairy Tales!

You cannot sprinkle pixie dust over your journey on earth so as to always experience favorable circumstances. You do not control life: you live life.

The child who is physically abused by her parents could not control what happened to her. The woman whose husband just died could not will him to remain in the land of the living. The man who was just told his company was downsizing and that he was no longer employed cannot change the tides of the market place or how his company will respond to these currents.

We cannot always choose how life unfolds before us. We can, however, choose how we will respond. We can choose to allow our so-called “negative circumstances” to cripple and emotionally enslave us, or we can choose to bow before them as our teachers. Once we do this—once we begin choosing to grow and mature through these “negative circumstances” —they are no longer experienced as “negative,” but, rather, as favorable … or at least useful.

Think about it: The beggar can sit in the mud feeling sorry for himself, screaming at the poverty and mud, or he can say, “Hey, whining will not put food on the table. I best clean myself up and go learn or create something of value that I can sell in the market place.”

I can marry my circumstances, or I can use them as a classroom. I can submit to my unfavorable circumstances as Fate, or as a door to more favorable circumstances. It’s my choice.

By the way, all too often, we see the beggar in the mud and, with deep compassion but little wisdom, rush in to save him. While I am all about helping the destitute, we need to do so in ways that do not leave such people in the mud of ignorance and helplessness.

One of the things that create even more unfavorable circumstances for the suffering is this desire to save them. It does this because such a motivation is actually all about those doing the “saving,” not upon those being “saved.” We may be Teachers, but we must never see ourselves as Saviors. Or so I believe.

If I run to help the destitute—or anyone who is suffering under unfavorable circumstances—because it makes me feel all savior-like, I will be blind to those actions and attitudes that do not truly equip the suffering for getting through their circumstances. Nope. If it’s all about me feeling noble and needed, I won’t be paying much attention to what truly is helpful in the long term. In fact, if it’s all-about-me, I want the suffering to keep suffering so that they need me.

Of course, we see the world’s Governments doing this all the time. They want to be Saviors, which requires those people Being Saved to stay needy and dependent.

Are we truly helping people, if they learn nothing from their present distress? Are we helping people, if we rescue them from much needed life-lessons?

We can say all we want that we are committed to helping the poor and suffering, but if what we are doing keeps them chained to their unfavorable circumstances (keeps them in the mud), I think it is something else that is motivating us: something other than wanting to help.

Unfavorable circumstances are opportunities, or at least can be, for being strengthened where we are weak, and for being educated where we are ignorant. Don’t avoid these opportunities; take advantage of them.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2010

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Accept It

If I could start again

a million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way
Hurt, Nine Inch Nails

By the time you reach my age in life--a tad older than 8 years old … in doggy years--you have typically done some serious damage to yourself, as well as to others. False steps, false identities and false professions leave you and others with bleeding chest wounds. The challenge for us 8 year olds, is that some of the pain is intensified by the fact that the years in front of us are fewer than the years behind.

Is there enough time to get over the hurt and find a reasonable amount of healing and peace? Are there enough years left to make amends, wherever possible? Can you rebuild a life filled with purpose and passion? Is there enough time left to actually realize even a few of your dreams or visions?

The simple answer is, “Yes.” Of course “Yes” can also be a simplistic answer.

Just repeat these incantations (also known as Positive Confessions)

Take these three steps and Voila

Say this prayer

Obey these divine writings, and all will be well

Follow this guru

Even words of wisdom can become nonsense, if they are heard and acted upon as some sort of magical formula. Switching metaphors, people are not software programs that can be reprogrammed by rearranging the 1s and 0s, “just so.”

It Happens: Accept It
I think the first step on the path called The Rest of My Life is acceptance. We have to accept What Is. As the saying goes, “It Happens.” (Or something that sounds like It, anyway.) It Happened. There is no changing It. You want to learn from It, avoid as much of It in the future as possible, but you must not pretend that It did not happen.

Getting all worked up about It just may be evidence of some latent arrogance. “How could anyone as smart/ disciplined/wise/spiritual have thought/said/done/felt/ such a thing?” Riiiiiiiiight.

By the way, I say Accept your It: I do not mean Approve of your It. Big Difference. “It is what it is” is not the same as “It’s all gooooood!” (Note my perfect Jim Carrey intonation!)

Of course, this is just as applicable to those of you who are much younger. The challenge for younger adults, however, is the temptation to ignore It. “I have plenty of time. I’ll get to It, sometime in the future.” With that attitude, you will wake up around 50 and realize that all the It is STILL THERE … and much more difficult to deal with: not to mention, much more costly. Moldy, petrified It. Ugh.

Young people often live with the notion that they have all the time in the world. O, they know better, intellectually. But, as far as their actual day-to-day living, they are often foolish, regarding time.

You don’t have plenty of time. Ask any one you know in his or her 70s how fast time flies. “Gone in a wink.” This is why older people sometimes grow impatient with young people: They feel time slipping away, while young people think that they have all the time in the world. They feel the weight of all their could-haves, would-haves and should-haves, and desperately want their younger friends and loved ones to avoid taking on the same burdensome weight.

Grab all the love, joy, meaningfulness, and productivity you can, TODAY, for you do NOT know what tomorrow may bring.

Given what I have written here, I find the words of the late great, legendary Coach John Wooden to be invaluable: “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”

Decide to accept where you are, and the life you have created (up until now), TODAY. It is what It is. However, while making such a decision can be done quickly, maintaining that decision over time is a process. If you hurry past the process, whatever peace you do find will be shallow and fleeting.

When dealing with It, don’t waste time, but don’t work so quickly that you miss some of It!

When envisioning and creating your future, remember that the future will arrive far more quickly than you can imagine: do the work, get on down the path, but don’t hurry past the wisdom and happiness that can be found in this very moment.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2010

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Asserting Your Conscious Attention

To the dull mind all nature is leaden. To the illumined mind the whole world burns and sparkles with light. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

I know a man who sees himself as a real player — A-Team all the way. He talks and carries himself as if he were the embodiment of every great spiritual leader in history. The interesting thing is that neither his family nor his friends see him in this light: no one does except himself. Further, those who sought to gently disabuse him of his illusion and point out that leaders have people following them were quickly rejected and banned from the orbit of his greatness.

Then there is the woman who is so profoundly wise that people constantly seek her counsel. However, she is utterly blind to her gift and often refuses to say what she thinks, even when she is begged to do so.

Neither of these people have a clue as to who they really are nor what they presently have (or do not have!) to offer to those around them.

Have you ever known someone who saw himself as a real ladies man but never had a date? What about the Information Management guru who can’t hold a job longer than a year and just knows it is due to the jealousy of his peers rather than the fact that he doesn’t know what he is doing? Or what of the individual who complains of loneliness while having offended every person who ever sought to befriend him?

Progress in our Quest requires self-awareness. Who am I presently? Really. Is my behavior congruent with my stated beliefs? Are my values consistently reflected in my decision-making? Do those who are closest to me see me as I see myself? The fact is that I can say I am loyal to King Arthur and my fellow Knights all I want to, but if I run from every dragon, ignore every damsel in distress and refuse to come to the defense of my fellow Knights, the truth is that I am not loyal. The world around me will reflect the reality of my true beliefs and values.

It’s all too easy to go to sleep at the wheel and fail to be conscious of who I am being and what I am doing.

Nathaniel Brandon defines consciousness as:

"Living consciously is a state of being mentally active rather than passive. It is the ability to look at the world through fresh eyes. It is intelligence taking joy in its own function. Living consciously is seeking to be aware of everything that bears on our interests, actions, values, purposes, and goals. It is the willingness to confront facts, pleasant or unpleasant. It is the desire to discover our mistakes and correct them. Within the range of our interests and concerns, it is the quest to keep expanding our awareness and understanding, both of the world external to self and of the world within. It is respect for reality and respect for the distinction between the real and the unreal. It is the commitment to see what we see and know what we know. It is recognition that the act of dismissing reality is the root of all evil." (The Art of Living Consciously: The Power of Awareness to Transform Everyday Life, A Fireside Book: Simon & Schuster, 1997, p. 11)

Asserting your conscious attention is the commitment to seeing what you see--rather than ignoring it, denying it, or deflecting it.

Asserting your conscious attention is the commitment to knowing what you know--rather than avoiding what you know, for the sake of peace, getting along, or being liked.

Own what you see in yourself, others and the world around around you.

Own what you know of yourself, others and the world around you.

Nothing about you will ever change--nothing about your world will ever change--until you do this.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2010

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Unbearable Weight of Self-Importance

Our egos wish to maintain their sense of importance. Imagine millions of people living their lives with the belief that they alone are the Center of the Universe, where everything and everyone is evaluated by their agendas, their needs and their desires.

“I’m number one”
“No, I am number one.”
“You are both wrong: I AM NUMBER ONE!”

If there was someway to hold up a mirror so as to allow people to watch themselves as they go about asserting and defending their egos, they just may be instantly delivered. It would be quite sad if it weren’t so comical! But of course Important People don’t laugh all that much, especially at themselves.

Important People worry about their image. “If I don’t live in an expensive house, drive a luxury sedan and vacation in Europe what will people think?” It doesn’t matter that they cannot afford any of these things. It doesn’t matter that the weight of the debt is robbing them of sleep and peace of mind. Worse, it doesn’t matter that the expense of keeping up appearances may rob their children of a good education or keep them from ever using a portion of their earnings to help others. And herein is a major part of the problem: maintaining the image of importance is actually keeping them from doing really important things with their life.

Of course, sometimes people refuse to take Door Number One, not so much out of a sense of self-importance but because they make others Too Important. “My parents would never speak to me again, my community of friends would reject me”, etc. However, it is, even here, still a matter of “saving face.” What these people think, how they will respond, is the chief criteria for my decision-making. I must have his approval, her applause, their well-wishes – so I will not contemplate the road less traveled.

Important People are often “cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” (Teddy Roosevelt*) These people criticize and posture and pretend but they rarely, if ever, abandon themselves to the arena of achievement because, again, the prospect of failure—of losing face—is just too horrible to contemplate.

Important People are embarrassed and offended quite easily. As the Center of the Universe, they must be always treated in a deferential manner. Their feelings must be protected at all costs. Of course this means that any blind spots they have in regard to character deficiencies or a lack of competency must never be mentioned.

It is very difficult for Important People to easily learn new things. After all, Important People are already supposed to know everything and never make mistakes. But how in the world can we learn what we don’t know if we insist upon acting as if we already know it? How can I make the necessary adjustments in my behavior as I learn a new skill or different pattern of behavior, if I am worried about appearances? Important People must do everything right the first time or they feel like a failure. Important People do not see that mistakes or perceived failures are nothing more than the process of learning.

The Discipline of Death leaves no space for saving face. All that matters is abandoning myself to the quest of becoming who and what I was created to be: what matters is this moment, this choice, this attempt, this battle … understand?

The Discipline of Death focuses on the choice or the attempt, not upon everything working out “right” in the eyes of others. If things don’t work out as planned, this individual revels in having made the attempt, and in all that was learned in the process. If people think less of him for having “failed,” so what? We’re all dead anyway: some of us just don’t want to face it.

* The Profession of the Individual who has cast off the unbearable burden of self-importance and embraced the Discipline of Death …

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” TR

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2010

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Discipline of Death

Only the idea of death makes a warrior sufficiently detached so that he is capable of abandoning himself to anything. He knows his death is stalking him and won’t give him time to cling to anything, so he tries, without craving, all of everything
. –Carlos Castaneda

One of the strongest of human instincts is self-preservation: maybe the strongest. We will do most anything to save our lives. On one hand, this is a healthy impulse for it keeps us from playing Russian roulette with .45 caliber handguns, drinking poison or telling our boss what we really think of him. On the other hand, this instinct can go from preserving our life to defending our ego.

The ego prefers remaining in its intellectual-psychological comfort zone to facing the challenges of new choices, new learning and new perspectives. Somehow I want to be different—without being different! I want to get from here to there while remaining here. And, above all else, I certainly do not want to stand out and appear strangely different from my peers. But really now, do corpses care what they look like?

Lao Tzu wrote, “Those who know how to live can walk abroad without fear of rhinoceros or tiger. They can enter battle without being wounded. The rhinoceros can find no place to thrust its horn, the tiger no place to use its claws, and weapons no place to pierce.” Why is this? Because they are “beyond death.” (Tao Te Ching 50)

And how do we get “beyond death”?

We see ourselves as already dead: dead to other people’s standards of evaluation, dead to societal approbation, dead to making other people happy at the expense of our own ultimate happiness. Think about it: What does it say about those individuals who wish for us to disregard our God-created uniqueness for the sake of their happiness?

Yes, our reputation is important. I am not suggesting otherwise. What I am suggesting is that without self-respect, of what worth is the applause of others? If I deny what I was created to become in order to please others, exactly what is it that these people are honoring in me? Certainly they are not honoring my true self.

All Hail, Monte Wilson … for he is now made in my image: thinking my thoughts through his brain, behaving as I deem best, and emoting in ways that keep me happy. Well done, sir!

The discipline of death requires that we see ourselves as dead to the old, ineffective or debilitating ways of believing and behaving. This doesn’t mean that some of what we have learned in the past will not serve us in our Quest: it does mean that such learning will need to be evaluated and inspected for beliefs, values and attitudes that would impede our journey.

The blessing of our mortality is that we are constantly faced with the challenge of choices. Do I do this with my allotted time or do I do that? The danger is in forgetting our mortality and living as if we have all the time in the world. It is best then, I think, to see our selves as always standing in the shadow of our own gravestone and asking, What Now?

This is not merely an intellectual concept to which you acquiesce. If you do not get this, if you do not chose to allow your soul to fully embrace that you are a “dead man walking,” then you will refuse to press beyond the safe and possible … to the Quest for (what others would call) The Impossible Life.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2010