Posts tagged #Byron Katie

How to be an Optimist: See Life as a Dream

A young man wrote to me about his own pessimism (co-occuring with a scientific attitude toward life) and asked me what spurs on my optimism.  I wrote this reply:

Optimism and Transcendentalism

I guess a long time ago in my philosophical searchings I examined the kind of scientific materialist attitude you seem to be describing and.... utterly rejected it. I'm a transcendentalist - which means I see the world and everything in it (including my own self) as a kind of deep holographic dream projected by "my" consciousness (I put "my" it quotes because it's "mine" in the sense that I can make choices that influence it, but it's not mine in the sense that there ultimately is no me since "Carolyn" is just another part of the dream.... sorry if that's hard to follow, it gets a little complex).

Changing the Dream

The reason all this transcendentalism adds up to optimism is this: if everything is a dream, then it can change from a terrible dream into a beautiful dream. Whether the dream is beautiful or terrible depends on what angle of light, or motivation, I'm sending through the hologram projector (my brain). If I'm sending the self-centered motivation of gathering up pleasure and security and power just for myself, then I'm going to be faced with a hologram of an utterly ugly, difficult, barren and horrible world. I'll be in endless conflict with the people around me. I'll be miserable. I've spent years living in that "reality" and it's awful. I've also dipped down into that recently - I was hugely depressed and suicidal. I had lost my way and wound myself into a big mess of compassionless horror.

Generating Awake-heart aka Bodhicitta

On the other hand, I've found that if I'm sending the other-cherishing motivation of being committed to bringing all creatures into happiness (i.e., non-attached and unending bliss, freedom from addiction and craving) and I'm willing to project limitless loving-kindness (i.e., deliberately being willing to love and wish happiness for people I don't like and resent, being willing to delight in their triumphs and to work to spare them from pain)...

...well, then the hologram becomes beautiful, synchronous, full of joy and meaning and connection.

Life becomes easy and I find I can fulfill my basic needs and my big aspirations without much worry. I mean, there are still so many challenges - but the challenges are fascinating instead of frightening. It's not like hunger and war and tragedy and sickness and misfortune disappear from the dream - but they don't oppress me in the same way. Instead there's a light within me that is willing to take responsibility for healing all that pain in the world and in myself.

And ultimately, I think, this process of lightening and en-blissening just goes on and on until the dream becomes very transparent and dissolves entirely, leaving the consciousness in Nirvana or the Kingdom of Heaven or what-have-you.

My optimism is essentially this: that it's possible for everyone, including myself, to dwell in ecstatic happiness, and that there are things I can do to bring that about... and the very process of working to bring this about is incredibly fulfilling and fun. It's basically Mahayana / Vajranya Buddhism but I like to spice it up by thinking a lot about Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

I don't know if those are flavors of Buddhism that you've investigated, but I sure love them. I've also been influenced strongly by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Don Miguel Ruiz and Byron Katie.

Man, I could go on and on. I'm sure I've used some shorthand in explaining this that doesn't make sense and sounds very fluffy. But I assure you, it all makes razor-sharp sense in my mind.

Warmth,

Carolyn

image: [seyed mostafa zamani]

Some Basic Principles of Awesoming

A list. 1) Awesome (perhaps inevitably, for us mere mortals!) cycles through periods of miserable suck in which your lovelight dims and the queasy miasma of vast self-rejection settles in.  It's okay right now to feel mired in a rotten  cesspool of your own spectacular failure.

I feel that way usually at least for one full week out of the month (my PMS is a bloody-mouthed Destroyer of Worlds, and not in that cool way), and sometimes for whole seasons of numbing yuck in which chain-smoking while watching whole tv series consecutively and only leaving the house to go to 12-step meetings or get more cigarettes is a completely valid way to keep from more promptly and actively killing myself.  I felt that way pretty much solid from 2004 - 2009.  It was great.

2) Awesoming your life, despite how very perky the idea may sound, is actually work that involves soul-melting terror.  Soul-melting terror is the essence of sublimity, and awesomeness is sublime.  Things that are also sublime include hurricanes, Antartica, Tristan and Isolde, and my PMS.

3) Awesoming requires a rearrangement of your heart and brain, so that your intuitive-embracing-poetic-oxytocin-pumping-whole-picture-seeing-compassionate-truth-unveiling-heart is in charge of your business and your analytical-judgmental-calculating-dopamine-seeking-miserable-adrenalized-frightened-rabid-squirrel brain is given chamomile tea and gently comforted with a warm blanket.

4) Awesoming entails learning to identify with and live from your fundamental goodness, innocence and wonder rather than with your culturally programmed guilt, striving, and fear.

5) You already engage in awesoming and you're damn good at it or else you wouldn't be alive and reading this.

6) The process of turning the queasy miasma of vast self-rejection into fertilizer for your slowly-magestically-spinning-sparkling-blue-lotus-of-self-realization is an alchemical one.

It involves paying attention to your dreams, dialoguing with your moods, meditating, journaling, sharing your feelings openly and non-violently with others, playing pretend, writing poetry and making art, throwing parties, dressing up, enacting freaky rituals in moonlight that would scare your mom, singing songs, and loving people both madly and tepidly, as the situation requires.

7) Awesoming isn't something that's given much space and encouragement in our society.  Mostly because when you're engaged in the work of awesoming you're much less interested in buying stuff, you become allergic to lies, you tend to share generously in public and you bring forth spurtzing geysers of joy into the world.  All of which greatly interferes with global corporate capitalism.

So, there you have it.  Awesoming is hard and mostly non-glamorous work.

Highly non-glamorous things I often do in the service of awesoming include:

1) Sitting in moldy church basements and over-heated social halls at 12-step meetings every week.

2) Crying and freaking out.

3) Making food in my tiny-ass closet of a kitchen for folks I may or may not immediately like.

4) Devoting whole days to questioning the reality of my thoughts, beliefs and perceptions, Byron Katie-style.

5) Faithfully studying New Age tomes  and self-help books from the 1970s like A Course in Miracles, A New Earth, The Handbook to Higher Consciousness, and The Nature of Personal Reality.

6) Hanging out at drum circles with people older than my parents who unselfconsciously chant in made-up "Native American" languages and refer to the world as "the matrix."

7) Blogging.

8) Passing up on real jobs in order to have more time for all of the above.

All of which is to say.... awesoming is counter-cultural, difficult, time-consuming, subjects one to accusations of dorkiness and to being made fun of by 16 year olds, and totally worth it.

Because when the foul miasma of rotten self-rejection lifts and I get peeks at my true nature and everyone else's true nature of massive, throbbing, heart-pounding lovelight glory -  well, that just rocks.

 

Radical Innocence

 

Ever experience the negative voice in your head as not at "voice" at all but rather as an instant, visceral wincing?  Like, something happens not-according-to-plan and your internal response is just to feel kinda squingingly weak and hopeless and desperate to hide?

Yeah, me too.

Lately I'd been circling around in the same old dance with self-rejection, fear and shame.  I've come a long way from where I used to be, but alas— spiritual growth tends to be a spiral and not a straight-shot to infinite beatitude. Unless, of course, it is for you.  In which case, you better hurry up your bodhisattva work and help me join you on your enlightenment train.  That is, please?

What's been helping me lately is to remember my all-too-easy to forget commitment to radical innocence.  I sometimes hesitate to speak about it, because I know when I spell it out it can sound like straight-up denial or lunacy.  But I think it's far from it. Allow me to explain.

Radical innocence means letting go of my judgment that anything is wrong with the world, at all.  Ever.

I find it's the only attitude that truly helps me let go of self-rejection.  Why is that? Well, it has something to do with the world being a precise mirror for the self.  Any attitude I project onto the world, I will simultaneously project onto myself, and vice-versa.  So if I'm inwardly rejecting, hating, saying "no" to anything "out there" — another person's behavior, global economic inequity, the fact that I myself am far from wealthy, anything — I'm also rejecting, hating, saying "no" to something inside myself.

In other words, if I was completely, 100%, fully okay with myself — I would be fully okay with the world.  My antsy, demanding, insistent need to fix, secure, and figure out comes from my own sense of not-okayness.  When I'm in that not-okayness, I need the world to fit into a nice arrangement so it won't poke any of my wounds and make me hurt.  When I feel really frustrated that things in my life aren't the way I want them to be, it's because I'm holding on to the belief that it would be easier to make the world conform to my will than actually practice love and acceptance.

It occurs to me that radical innocence boils down to just the old adage, "Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil." Which doesn't mean willful ignorance.  Instead, it means refusing to interpret anything that appears as evil, terrible, wrong.  There are plenty of things in the world that we'd all like to see eradicated — hunger, war, abuse — but my reactive rejection of that stuff doesn't do anything to heal it at a fundamental level.  It just perpetuates reactive rejection inside me.

Radical innocence isn't anything I made up, of course.  It's the message of A Course in Miracles, The Four Agreements, Loving What Is and all those other metaphysical heavy-hitters that I love so much. It can be a real bitch to practice, though.  Being truly vigilant about it means paying close attention to my inner monologue and challenging myself to not insult or disrespect anyone or anything — not out of weird New Age piety but out of a genuine sense of humility.  This gets really tough when reading about politicians.

Which reminds me - excuse me while I close my eyes and send love to Mitt Romney.  Bless you, Mitt, you're human, too.

Anyway — if you're feeling awful lately, I suggest you join me in the practice of radical innocence.   Decide that you don't have to reject anything that exists.  Trust that your heart and intuition will help you navigate life with discernment rather than judgment.  Open up and relax.

 

 

 

 

 

Surrender Your Addiction to Suffering - Part 4

The third commitment (among the nine) that we make in order to surrender our addiction to suffering is:

3) Get honest with yourself about the consequences of exactly what happens when you accept your mind’s judgments as “the truth” and then act on them or allow them to affect your mood.

 

Most of us human beings live in a perpetual state of judgement.  We're constantly evaluating whatever's around us and deciding upon its relative worth.  The tragedy of this is that most often we're judging from a perspective of delusion wherein we imagine that we're separate from the life unfolding around us.

 

Since our judgments arise from and support this dualistic perspective of separation, we can end up in a never-ending loop of discontent and unhappiness.

 

The Vicious Cycle

Here's how it works: We look at a person or situation in our life, we judge it "not good enough," we treat that person or situation with much less than total love and acceptance (usually with criticism, disrespect, unkindness, impatience, indifference), then that person or situation responds (understandably) with a negative reaction to our ill-will, and that negative reaction validates our initial judgment of "not good enough" or "unsatisfying."

 

In other words, we reject the circumstances around us, they reject us right back, which gives us more reason to reject them.  When the next tough situation comes up, you're already depleted and weary from your battle with the last one.  Your respond with even less patience and more rejection.... and the cycle continues. When we're operating in this vicious cycle, it's easy to forget that we're doing it to ourselves.  After all, people are rude to us, situations do go badly.  It looks as if we have an objective rationale for deciding that stuff sucks.  The mirroring responsiveness of the world outside us to our negativity can do a good job of masking that it's our negativity which fuels the problem.

 

This isn't to say that there aren't situations in the world which are massively challenging or that just by altering our disposition we can make everything totally peachy-- but it is to say that by altering our disposition we can make things a hell of a lot peachier than they would be if we just persisted in our criticism and rejection.

 

What circumstance in your life right now isn't matching up with your story about how it "should" be?  How do you treat that circumstance when you're believing that it's lacking?  Do you complain about it? Resent it?

 

Honesty is the cure

You can practice this commitment by being willing to look with fearless honesty at the results of your own judgment.  How do you treat yourself when you believe something in your life is lacking?  How do you treat those around you? Are you less-than-fully-present, brusque, self-pitying?  How do you deal with the projects and responsibilities in your life? What do you do to make yourself feel better? Do you reach for a cookie, a cigarette, a glass of wine, a compliment? None of those things are inherently evil, but they can all wreck havoc in our lives if we use them to cover-up the stress caused by believing our thoughts.  Don't shy away from minutely recording your own response to your belief in your mind's story.

 

The Virtuous Cycle

Whatever it is about your life that's bugging you, ask yourself this: what would it look like if I totally embraced, accepted, and loved this situation?  What if peace and joy were more important to me than having it "my way"? Take time to strongly visualize and feel this scenario.  Allow yourself to get a vision of the virtuous cycle.

 

In the virtuous cycle, a situation or person appears who challenges you-- and rather than responding with negative judgment and shutting down into aloofness or unkindness, you open up into love and acceptance.  The situation or person then senses your love and responds -- often in very surprising ways! -- to the spaciousness and gentleness that you've offered.  You receive positive feedback from the life around you, and this leads you to feel even better.  Then, when the next tough thing comes up, you have extra reserves of love energy and willingness with which to meet it.

 

Love!

Carolyn

 

Image by Kudumomo, used under Creative Commons licensing, borrowed from Flickr.

Surrender Your Addiction to Suffering - Part 3

 

This is the third post in a series on Surrendering Your Addiction to Suffering.  You can read the first post here (wherein I give an overview of the nine commitments necessary to the process) about the and the second post (about the first commitment) here. Today we're talking about the second commitment in surrendering your addiction to suffering:

 

2) Understand that these judgments, though voiced by your own internal monologue, represent the distorted perceptions of a spiritual dis-ease and not “the truth”

 

The Buddha (one of my favorite dudes, along with Jesus, Byron Katie and Lao Tse) said that ignorance is the primary affliction of the human mind.  The two other afflictions he noted, desire and hate, are secondary manifestations of that ignorance.  The ignorance that makes us suffer isn't a lack of knowledge in the conventional sense -- instead, it's a fundamental misperception about the nature of who we are and how reality works.

 

Our misperception leads us to think that we're discrete, solitary individuals separate from the whole of existence.  We identify with the contents of our mind and emotion and mistake the aggregate of those contents to be "me." Once we've made that basic mistake, we have the sense, at a fundamental level, that it's "me against the world." Even if we're generally happy-go-lucky people, the moment something goes not-according-to-plan in a big way (we lose a job we depended on for our security; a relationship goes sour; a loved one dies; we get ill; we get old... on and on) we feel attacked.

 

This feeling of being attacked by things not matching up with our internal picture of how life should treat us is a symptom of our misperception that we're basically separate from the rest of life. We resent the people and situations that appear to be battling us (i.e., we experience hate) and we long for whatever circumstances we think would make it all better (i.e., we desire).

 

In the absence of the fundamental mistake of thinking we're a separate "me" we would be unable to see anything as going against us (because there would be no "us" for "it" to go "against") and we'd be unable to wish for anything other than what's already present in our lives (because we wouldn't be able to perceive ourselves as lacking anything -- you can't lack something if you are everything).

 

Ignorance, desire and hate are the dangerous trio that make up the spiritual disease of addiction to suffering, which we ordinary humans are all afflicted with to some extent or another.

 

Sometimes I think that Jesus said we must become as little children in order to reach the Kingdom of Heaven because very little children don't yet have a sense of themselves as discrete individuals; they don't hate; and while they sure make a fuss about getting fed and having their diapers changed, they don't desire in the sense that they don't mentally attach themselves to specific stories about what life should look like.

 

Enlightenment (or "entering the Kingdom of Heaven" in the Christian tradition-- a Kingdom which, by the way, Jesus adamantly stated could be found here on earth) is the state of consciousness in which one is totally free from the disease of addiction.  It's the condition of being free from ignorance, hate and desire.  Far from being a boring condition (some folks imagine desire-less-ness as a kind of numbness) it's actually a profoundly vivid state of joy, abounding love, and deep fulfillment.

 

I've long been putting in my petition to get hit with the enlightenment bolt, but until that happens in order to stay remotely sane I have to focus on letting go of my ignorance, hate and desire to the best of my ability. The second commitment in this process reminds me that my mind's stream of negative judgments just aren't the truth.  They're the product of my fundamental confusion about who I am and what life is doing. This commitment represents my willingness to be humble and to be aware.

 

When I keep this commitment at the forefront of my awareness I find that a bit of air and spaciousness comes into the dark, foetid chambers of my mind and makes room for truth and love to come in.

 

If you'd like some help on getting to spaciousness around your suffering, you might want to check out my low-cost life coaching.

 

Love!

Carolyn

 

Image by Dalbera. Borrowed from Flickr under Creative Commons licensing.

Surrender Your Addiction to Suffering: Part Two

 

In the first post in this series, I talked about how the addiction to suffering is the addiction that underlies all other addictions and outlined 9 daily commitments that help us to let go of this fundamental dis-ease.

 

Now, let's go in depth talking about the first of those daily commitments:

 

1) Notice that your mind continuously judges against you and against people and situations in your life.

 

This is a daily commitment because our negative judgments are slippery fish.  It might seem that they'd be easy to spot, but that's not necessarily the case.  If you've been doing personal growth and spirituality for a little while, probably your mind no longer comes at you with its flat-out, direct attacks.  You may have already learned to let go of really explicit self-judgements ("I'm so stupid! I'll never be able to do this!") but you might still be vulnerable to more subtle forms of judgment like envy, comparison and resentment.

 

Sometimes I wish that contests existed to recognize very finely twisted malevolent inner qualities, because if so, my exquisitely crafted envy would win the blue ribbon every year.

 

It's not that I consciously cultivate my envy (to the contrary! I spend plenty of time practicing rejoicing in other people's success-- and that practice has helped A LOT - otherwise I would have had to jump off a bridge by now).  It's that the envy just prances out, sashaying its little gremlin ass, digging its pointy little dagger-claws into my heart.

 

Envy is a judgment both against me and the world. Against me it (subtly, quietly, yet definitely) says: look at you-- you're not good enough! You're just an ordinary person-- and that person over there-- they've achieved so much! So many things you've dreamt of achieving! What were you doing, slacking all those years watching funny cat videos?! LOSER!

 

Against the world it says (subtly, definitely): You're a cold, cruel place that's advanced other people and left me in the dry dust.

 

This kind of quiet, persistent, ever-available suffering that my envy generates (there's a huge supply of people to envy-- opportunities are afforded hourly via facebook, twitter, and every magazine on the planet!) constitutes a global rejection of myself and my life.  When I'm in it, it saps all my energy and leaves me unable to be fully present and helpful to my friends.

 

And the thing is, my mind just does it, on auto-pilot, without me making a conscious decision to do it.

 

Of course, not all negative judgment takes the form of envy.  For you, the flavor of your poison might be a little different.  Maybe your mind likes to come at you with good old-fashioned resentment and hostility. Perhaps you find your thoughts drifting repeatedly to the wrong that some person or institution has done to you.  Maybe you just wake up in the morning and everything looks kind of grey and pointless.  While shopping at the grocery store it could occur to you that everyone and everything there is irritating and ugly.

 

Just start by noticing that your mind plays this rejection game, whatever flavor it takes.  Notice how often you're finding fault, taking stock of the potential for ruinous failure, feeling hopeless or dispirited.

 

If you're like me, you might begin to realize that this rejection, this judgment is just something your mind does automatically-- and since it's automatic, it's meaningless.  It doesn't actually reflect the truth about the value of you, other people, the world, your life. It's not a valid, intelligent response.  It's a program, a mechanism. It's just an ingrained habit.

 

Start to realize that you could be living in paradise and your mind would still find a way to make you miserable, and you come a little closer to freedom.  You come a little closer to realizing that the trouble is not your essential self, in the world or in your life but just within your thoughts. And that's really good news, because that means you have the power to end that suffering.

 

Love!

Carolyn

 

 

 

 

Surrender your addiction to suffering - Part One

 

If you're like me, your mind's default setting is "I suck and everything sucks."  Your life may have lots of wondrous things in it, but still you wake up in the morning with a feeling of dread that could impress Franz Kafka.  This feeling can shake off at some point during the day-- or it can grip you continuously.  It's paralyzing and heavy.  It can make it difficult to complete creative projects, go to work, or just be out and about in the world.

 

This perception of suckiness and the feeling of heavy dread that accompanies it is part of a spiritual illness that many of us human beings have, namely, the disease of addiction.

 

The disease of addiction is, at base, just that: dis-ease.  It's the discomfort, difficulty, suffering that comes from attaching to and believing in the thoughts and stories that the mind produces, especially the negative and frightening stories. Once that basic dis-ease is happening, it prompts us to reach towards behaviors and substances to soothe the internal discomfort: over-eating, over-sleeping, coffee, cigarettes, obsessive romance, drugs, on and on.

 

Unsurprisingly, the "soothing" behaviors that we adopt to cope with the dread themselves have painful consequences that only make us feel worse.  Every high brings with it a yucky low.

 

You probably have experience with quitting your symptom-level addictions. That's what New Year's resolutions are for, right? But don't your symptoms always re-surface again, in some form? Life gets stressful and soon you're back on the wheel?

 

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5CLmflrwIA

 

What if it was possible to strike the disease of addiction right at its root?  What if you could be free not only from the substances and behaviors that hook you into painful cycles, but also from your addiction to suffering itself?

 

This is the possibility that interests me.  Lately I've been smoking like a forest fire, pouring coffee into my mouth, eating chocolate in quantities that would astound Willy Wonka himself ("Augustus! Augustus, honey, stop! Save room for later!"), and procrastinating on important projects.  I want to stop indulging in these dubious "comforts" -- but I want more than that, too.  I want to drop the painful mental processes that cause me to reach for such comforts in the first place.

 

I know that this dropping is possible because I've accomplished it for periods of time recently. I know that freedom from the mind's tyranny feels like wondrous spaciousness, deep love, and a rich sense of hope and possibility. It feels like being in total agreement with the flow of reality-- even when reality doesn't match up with my ego's dictates of what should be happening.  What interests me is living in this spaciousness and flow all the time, not just for short visits.

 

So I'm inviting you to join me on a journey of letting go of the fundamental dis-ease. This journey consists in a series of nine daily commitments that are simple but radical:

 

  1. Notice that your mind continuously judges against you and against people and situations in your life
  2. Understand that these judgments, though voiced by your own internal monologue, represent the distorted perceptions of a spiritual dis-ease and not "the truth"
  3. Get honest with yourself about the consequences of exactly what happens when you accept your mind's judgments as "the truth" and then act on them or allow them to affect your mood
  4. Recognize when you've hurt someone as a result of your dis-eased thinking and make immediate amends
  5. Vividly imagine what your life would feel like without your mind's judgments and stories about the past and future playing all the time
  6. Practice having faith that it's possible to be totally sane, joyous, and free, no matter what's happening
  7. Experiment with fully agreeing with reality as it is rather than as your mind says it should be
  8. Attempt to be fully present as loving awareness with yourself and with others
  9. Give up trying to figure out the future at all and instead simply trust that the silent, loving awareness of your being will lead you where you need to be
I'll be writing posts about the how to's and benefits of practicing each of these commitments. As we get ready to take this journey together, I ask you to ponder this question and to answer it in the comments section: do you really believe that a life free from suffering is possible? And if not, why not?
Love!
Carolyn

 

 

 

 

 

Deep Wisdom + revelatory Pennsylvania folk + free money

 

Here I go, continuing my new tradition of posting my email letter list updates from five weeks ago here on the blog.  I know you'll enjoy what's below. But if you want the hot and fresh stuff, you best sign up right here, right now:

Name:

 

Hello, great wonder!

The Gems

Today I'm sending out 3 gems that have been helping me to stay sane and buoyant this week while there's so much change and excitement in the air.

 

Every Path Is - Collected Audio Recordings of Byron Katie

Byron Katie is a transformational teacher.   She lived, miserable and anxious, for 46 years before having a massive spiritual awakening in which she lost the ability to believe her own stressful thoughts and thereby became enormously happy. She offers a process called The Work.  The Work is a stunningly effective inquiry meditation which she developped to share her experience of awakening.  It completely altered my relationship to my mental stories and taught me to be much more open-minded and gentle with myself.  You can learn all about The Work at Katie's official website.  And you can also listen to hours upon hours of her going through the process with people at everypathis.org, a fan's free collection of her audio recordings which she sanctioned.  I like to listen to the recordings on everypathis.org while I do things like wash the dishes and / or play tetris.  Katie's utterly kind, utterly clear, grandmotherly love and radical wisdom have an effect of grounding me like nothing else.

 

The Awesome Foundation - $1000 grants that are super-easy to apply for

I was thrilled to see a link to The Awesome Foundation in a friend's facebook feed.  Their motto is "Forwarding the interests of Awesome in the universe, $1000 at a time." Clearly, this foundation and I share similar great taste.  It turns out that The Awesome Foundation is devoted to funding-- you guessed it-- awesome projects of all sorts.  In the past they've funded everything from public murals to re-creations of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

You just fill out a super-easy application form (it's the shortest  and friendliest grant application I've ever seen!) and they consider your project for a grant.  There are multiple chapters of The Awesome Foundation in cities around the world.  Each city chapter awards one $1000 grant per month, so it's something you could keep applying for if for some reason you happen to get passed over the first time.  What really rad and far-out thing could you accomplish for your community if someone handed you $1000? Time to tell them about it! The deadline for the next round of applications is November 15th.

 

Native -  an album of dreams and revelation by Ivory Weeds - free download

Ivory Weeds (aka John Chriest) is a soft-spoken young man from the forrests outside Pittsburgh who blushes easily and has improbably long brown eyelashes.  I have the joy of working with him at YOU=LOVE, a non-profit devoted to making everyone aware of the fact that they are, at their essence, pure love.  Native is the first album Ivory Weeds put out, and it certainly reminds me of the love at the core of everything.  Its shimmering, aching sound meets the grey-clouded sky of late autumn in the Pennsylvania countryside with perfect frankness and tenderness.  I recommend listening to it while drinking your morning coffee on dark mornings -- the music has a magic way of bringing out the mystery and glory in what otherwise feels only drab and cold and making one want to live to bring warmth into the winter.

 

The News

I've written a post which seems to be resonating and catching on with a lot of folks, much more so than my previous work.  You might check it out if you haven't already: The poetics of occupation: pressing reasons we need to occupy our own cities.

Also, the online gift circle forum is starting to get exciting, with participation from the wondrous Rhina, Abigail, Toni and Tabitha.  I invite you to come check it out-- all you need to do is write a post wherein you offer a gift of your own, express something you'd like to receive, and go ahead and even lay claim to something someone has offered so far (nurturing skype conversation, access to an amazing image library, writing services, graphic design services have all been offered-- don't you want this great stuff? come ask for it!).

Please feel free to write to me to let you know how these resources have served you or how I might serve you better in the future.

 

Love!

Carolyn

What is Depression?

Reitdiep RainbowCreative Commons License photo credit: The Wolf  

 

Depression-- hopelessness, dread-- waking up in the morning and feeling like there's no point to being awake-- what is that, really? Is it just a chemical imbalance in the brain?

Yes and no.

The brain (like the rest of our bodies) is a physical manifestation of our soul.  This means that chemical imbalances in the brain reflect spiritual suffering. No treatment for depression is really complete unless it addresses both the spiritual and physical dimensions of the affliction.

Depression is a symptom of suffering genius. Our genius suffers when she feels trapped, unacknowledged and unable to express herself fully in the world. This happens all too often in our present society-- which, for all it's celebration of commodified individuality is actually quite opposed to genuine expressions of soul-- like love and ecstasy.  (If you're curious about this hostility, try having an ecstatic transport in a grocery store and see how people respond.)

Yet no matter how harsh the external conditions, this feeling of being trapped is always an illusion.  We're always free to express our genius, even if we sense the consequence of that expression would be something scary-- like losing our jobs or losing a friend.  Just acknowledging the fact that we are choosing to restrain ourselves because we don't like the potential consequences to being who we really are can allow us to regain a sense of our basic freedom and begin to lift the burden of depression.

At the same time, we also need to overcome the fears that would keep us in our limiting position.  We may need to honor the fact that when we embrace our true selves, we lose some safety and security, some approval and predictability.  We may need to deliberately give up the comfort that we've known in order to embrace the radically unknown world of our possibility.

When I'm struggling with a limiting belief or situation, my friends like to remind me that I'll change "when the pain becomes great enough." This is true.  I will.  Yet some people don't change when the pain becomes great enough-- or rather, they change in far too dramatic a fashion.  They kill themselves.

I've endured depression many times and I've felt tempted to make that all-too-radical change from life into death.  What I've discovered each time depression gripped me is that it's always true: "I" do have to die.  But the "I" that needs to die is never the real me, my physical body and my actual spirit. The "I" which needs to die is the little ego who wants and demands that life go a certain way and is incredibly pissed that it won't. This "I" despairs.  This "I" judges me with intense cruelty and harshness.  I've found that depression is the invitation which asks this "I" to die.

So if you're feeling depressed today-- let me ask you-- what demand are you holding on to that isn't getting met?  And what would happen if you just let that demand die-- if you just let go of it?  Who would you be without that demand?

 

The Dance of Faith

Dear Reader, Are you busily working with our 4 Tools to Awesome Your Life? I hope so, because I, for one, am having a blast with my Truth and Beauty Pages, Throbbing Extra-Rational Optimism, hops, and 5 Minutes Towards Beauty.

Questioning Desire

My razor-sharp friend Tait McKenzie Johnson over at The Absent Narrative wrote an insightful reply to yesterday's post on How to Desire, which can be found just under that post on this very blog and also here.

To briefly summarize, Johnson raises a fantastic question, "are desires necessarily a good thing to fulfill?" and then goes on to outline the ways in which desiring can be potentially deleterious to the soul.  He also notes that most of the things I listed as things I "Really, Really Want" are material objects, and offers his skepticism that material objects can really do all that much to promote happiness, observing that "there's a difference between having goals and wanting stuff."

I fully agree.  And while I don't myself subscribe to the practice of releasing all desires, I do think it's incredibly important to release all of what the pioneering human potential author Ken Keyes Jr. called "emotion-backed addictions"-- otherwise known as attachments to having things a certain way which cause us to get upset when things don't turn out as we wanted. These things have been called "desires" in certain contexts.  Keyes advocated that we focus on "upleveling" all of our attachments / emotion-backed addictions to "preferences." I highly recommend that everyone on earth read all about it in his 1970s classic, The Handbook to Higher Consciousness, which is invaluably wise and available in its entirety here online. To me, Keyes' distinction between attachments / addictions and preferences is very important.

The Dance of Faith

I think in order to have a life that burns well, one needs to not only release one's addictions to having things a certain way (i.e., surrender, let go) but also fully embrace, hope for and pursue the fulfillment of one's preferences. As you might imagine, this is a bit of a difficult dance to do.  Executed at its highest level, it's what the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard called "the dance of faith" and elaborated in the brilliant treatise Fear and Trembling.  According to Kierkegaard, one who executes the dance of faith may be called a "knight of faith" and thereby distinguished from someone who succeeds in surrendering but not also hoping for finite fulfillment-- whom he calls a "knight of infinite resignation."

Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling has such a scary title because it's mostly about the adventures of one particular knight of faith, Abraham, who had a rough going of it, what with the Lord ordering him to sacrifice his only son Isaac and all. Kierkegaard uses the story of Abraham and Isaac to highlight that in order to be a knight of faith, one must first fully and completely surrender (i.e., drop one's addiction to having things a certain way).  Abraham had to completely surrender his very normal and natural attachment to not murdering his own son with his own hand.  But according to Kierkegaard, Abraham didn't stop there with his surrender-- he also had an intense dose of Throbbing, Extra-Rational Optimism in which he trusted that even though he was killing his own son, things would still turn out okay. Of course we all know that Abraham's faith was rewarded-- an angel appeared and stopped him from killing Isaac at the last second. Whew!

So you see, there was a lot of fear and trembling in all of that.

But Kierkegaard also relates that there doesn't necessarily need to be a giant Old Testament tribulation in place in order for one to become a knight of faith, and emphasizes that knights of faith are not apparent to the eye.  They can be completely indistinguishable, in fact, from a sort of person that Kierkegaard quite loathed-- materialistic philistines like me. Kierkegaard imagines a scenario in which he is introduced to an utterly ordinary-seeming person ("Good Lord! that person? Is it really he—why, he looks like a parish‑beadle!") who likes to eat and drink and putter around and hope passionately that his wife has prepared his favorite dish for dinner and yet who is not at all disappointed when he finds she has not-- in short, who is actually a knight of faith.

I may not have my head quite wrapped around the whole Abraham-as-a-knight-of-faith thing, but I think I do grasp the philistine-as-a-knight-of-faith idea. It makes sense to me after having read Keyes' book and Byron Katie's book A Thousand Names for Joy.

In short, the Philistine Knight of Faith is a person who has managed the amazing feat of fully surrendering attachment while also zestfully embracing and pursuing her preferences.  This non-attached zestful pursuit has rather dazzling results. Witness Byron Katie, who is so non-attached to her continued earthly existence that she doesn't bat an eyelash when a dude holds a loaded gun to her belly and says "I'm going to kill you" but who also surrounds herself with lovely stuff and has a wildly successful metaphysical self-help business with her partner, the brilliant translator Stephen Mitchell.

As Kierkegaard points out, knights of faith are rather rare.  I myself am nowhere near that degree of profound surrender and simultaneous hope.  I am, however, deeply involved in practicing its movements to the best of my ability.

Something that I didn't get around to fully discussing when I wrote about Throbbing, Extra-rational Optimism in my 4 Tools to Awesome Your Life post wherein I described the amazing story of how I manifested my dream lover, Dey, is that while I worked on practicing total optimism that my true love would show up (and fast!) I also worked on surrendering my attachment to having that relationship at all.  In other words, I practiced the dance of faith.  Paradoxically, though-- I'd been trying to surrender my attachment to having a relationship for years without any success (I remained riddled with attachment! Just riddled!).  It was only when I began to practice Throbbing, Extra-Rational Optimism that I would get the wonderful relationship that I longed for that I became capable of surrendering my attachment to it, my frantic seeking of it.  Doesn't that just sound immensely complicated and weird? Just describing it -- I'm like, whoah, how the heck did I do that? It sounds impossible-- but that's my experience.

I want to break down and explain for you exactly how I did that, because I think it's an immensely valuable and awesome thing to do.

And, frankly, it is a little complicated and tough to explain and easy to misunderstand. It's also what I think is actually the way the whole law of attraction thing works.  So keep tuning in right here, folks, as I endeavor in the future to lead us through the dance of faith! In the mean-time...

What to Do With that List of Desires

Well, that was an interesting jaunt through existential theology, wasn't it? Now, you will ask, "What should I do with this damn list of 25 things I want?"

1. Notice Your Attachments / Addictions

Go through the list and make notes about what things on it you're especially attached or addicted to.  In other words, what things on that list are you totally bummed and resentful that you don't currently have? For example, I am amazingly resentful that my poetry hasn't been published yet by any of the magazines or book contests I've sent it to.  It also continually bugs me that I do not have absolutely gazillions of gold coins to swim in, and that no one has yet seen fit to award my unpublished manuscripts of poetry The Nobel Prize in Literature.  Of course, since I if I had gazillions of gold coins to swim in, I would also have a house that looks like a Lisa Frank sticker sheet exploded all over it, in a really good way and a gypsy caravan that is so rad I can hardly stand it, not to mention a pug puppy-- it stands to reason that I am fairly resentful about my lack of these things as well.

And that resentment and attachment, friends, is not just something that pollutes my current life, it's also something which stands in the way of me actually attaining those desires or dreams in the future.  Why? Because resentment and attachment create an inertia that affixes me to a negative and lacking self-image, drain me of energy, excite paralyzing fear, and cause me to grasp desperately at things that seem to offer what I truly desire, but actually do not. It's bad ju-ju. In other words, my resentment and attachment make me vulnerable to being self-deluded and deluded by all the dazzling lies of our consumer culture. Which, as perhaps you've noticed, sucks.

2. Ask Yourself a Very Deep Question

The question is this: what among these things would I still like or much prefer to have, even if I felt a constant inner state of fulfillment, peace, and bliss?

This question can be helpful in discerning your authentic preferences from ones that are largely false and fear-driven attachments. After we've done this work of discernment, we can get down to the nitty gritty of practicing surrender around the things that truly matter to us.

For example, if I were blissed out, I wouldn't really give a fig anymore about winning the Nobel Prize in Literature.  Those Swedish snobs could kiss my enlightened ass. Noticing this clues me in that my desire for a Nobel Prize is a conditioned or false desire-- not part of an intrinsic shape or Urpflanz model that my soul longs to blossom into, but a side accessory to bolster my oft-faltering writerly ego.

However, if I was totally blissed out, I would still like a house that looks like a Lisa Frank sticker sheet exploded all over it, in a really good way and a gypsy caravan that is so rad I can hardly stand it.  Of course, I wouldn't need these things-- I'd be blissed out! But I would like and prefer to have them-- whereas all that Nobel Prize riggamarole would just be an annoyance.

3. Take the Weeds of Resentment out of the Garden of Desire

Yes, even blissed-out me would still like the caravan and the crazy color house. Also the pug puppy and the gazillions of gold coins to swim in.

But! One might say. Carolyn! You should let go of those desires! You just said you feel all kinds of nasty attachment and resentment surrounding them. How can they be good things for your soul when you feel all that mucky yucky stuff surrounding them?

Well, let me tell you about that.  I used to use the same argument on myself in regards to my desire for a truly wonderful relationship.  I'd recognize that wanting it so much hurt (because I seemed to be constantly frustrated in my attempts to fulfill that want) so I'd try to talk myself out of wanting it.  This never worked because my desire for a wonderful relationship was an authentic preference-- it passed the "bliss" test. I could honestly say yes, if I was completely blissed out I would still prefer to have a fantastically awesome romantic partner in my life, just like Byron Katie has her "dear Stephen." Once I recognized that my longing for true love was an authentic preference, an intrinsic part of the design my soul wanted to blossom into in my life, I was able to give myself permission to fully, innocently, soaringly hope for it with a totally open heart, as I had never hoped for anything before.

As I previously noted, by some mind-boggling paradox, the very act of this Throbbing, Extra-Rational Optimism helped me to surrender my attachment and resentment surrounding the lack of an awesome relationship in my life.

And then, zooooooom! It worked!

So, concerned reader, I understand I still need to do a lot of work surrendering my attachment to gazillions of gold coins and the gazillions of pug puppies such gold coins could pay for-- or, as dear Mr. Keyes would say "upleveling" my emotion-backed addictions to them to preferences. But since I have now identified those as authentic preferences, I am prepared to begin practicing the magic of my Throbbing, Extra-Rational Optimism on them.  More on that tomorrow!