We should know better.
As the privileged few on this planet to have our comforts and freedoms. As the surviving few of our lineages. Regardless of our gender, skin colour or religious background, every single one of us, at some point on the historical spectrum, comes from a lineage of persecution. Every single one of us has been the hated, the exiled, the beaten, the rejected, the refused and the despised. Every single one of us knows what it means to be made to feel inferior and excluded. And yet some amongst us still feel the need to perpetuate the cycle of hate that was unleashed on our relatives and ancestors at some point by their oppressors. Some amongst us would prefer to be the new face of oppression instead of deal with their own fears concerning cultures and religions they know nothing about. Some amongst us would prefer to hoard what they consider “theirs” instead of sharing it. Some would prefer to believe that to deny others an iota of kindness is to ensure that their “theirs” will not get stolen by those they fear.
Every single one of you, but for the grace of whatever you understand God to be, could be fleeing tyranny, walking across countries in pursuit of what we take for granted. But you’re not. You’re warm and fed, reading these words. Which means that you have a responsibility to do something to help your fellow humans. This “Muslim problem”, this “refugee issue” is neither about Muslims or refugees. It is about human beings suffering and operating from the instinctual drive to survive. This is your problem, your issue. It is our problem, our issue.
We are given the opportunity to be kind, benevolent and merciful throughout key moments in our lifetime. See this as a sort of spiritual social experiment to see if we have learned anything over the past couple of thousand years. See if we’re really ready to put our efforts where our big mouths are by not letting history repeat itself. Let’s do history, and ourselves, a favour and get our collective head out of our behind and change the record. Let’s help those coming to our “civilized” countries with our material possessions, our money, our time and our energy to make sure that they can settle and get back to taking care of each other so they can process and grieve for what they have had to lose and endure throughout this horror show we see as happening “over there.”
As I wrote in A Year In The Light, what happens to one of us happens to all of us. So let’s do our damndest to ensure that we all have access to happiness, freedom and well being. The fear that is keeping us from doing so will prove to be the greatest terrorist we suffer in our lifetimes, one of our own doing.
In this moment in time, a moment of almost daily terrorist attacks and overpopulation somehow leading to unheard of statistics of isolation and loneliness, we have a responsibility.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how many of the causes of suffering in my life and in the life of those around me are rooted in communication…what we communicate, how we do it, and where we direct it. It seems that so much of what we convey to others passes through a complex system of filters before it pours out into the space we reserve for communication, but many times, it doesn’t even make it that far. That filtering of information happens when we analyze what we have to share, who we’re sharing it with, and a) what our feelings toward that person are, and b) what that person is dealing with in their daily life. When we have incredibly joyous news to share, we often suppress the degree of that joy if we’re dealing with someone who tends to be pessimistic or sarcastic, and conversely, when we have news that isn’t happy, we tend to keep it to ourselves for fear of imposing on others, afraid that we’ll “bring them down” once the news or information has been shared.
The second Yama in Patanjali’s 8 Yogic Limbs is Satya, which loosely translates to “truth”. Taken from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Sutra 2.36 states, “For one who increasingly practices honesty or truthfulness in actions, speech, and thoughts, his or her will is naturally fulfilled.” Very often, this sutra is applied to how we interact with others (the Yamas are intended to provide restrictions in how we treat others to live a more balanced, peaceful life), but I firmly believe that if we are not applying these practices to ourselves, we won’t have the necessary tools to apply them to others. “As within, so without” sums this up perfectly. We are also taught that if the truth of our words can potentially hurt someone, we should practice discretion, whereby adhering to the first Yama, Ahimsa. I know that in my own life, growing up dealing with my homosexuality taught me that it was normal to keep secrets and to not impose my troubles on others, and I see that same approach being used by countless people around me, regardless of their sexual orientations, genders, races, and religions. We are so conditioned to buy into the processes of discrimination and categorization that naturally occur in our minds that before we know it, we have become our own censors and end up withholding our own truths.
What I’m trying to get to is this: despite our best intentions in trying to transform who we are, what we experience, and what we have to communicate so that it becomes more palatable for others, we end up doing everyone a disservice. When we keep secrets, when we hold back the truth, we create our own obstacles from letting people know who we are, which in turn prevents us from knowing them. We are ALL guilty of filtering information, of white lies, of bending the truth. What we need to recognize is that in the same way that nothing ever ends up being what we thought it would be, people will most often react to us in ways we never would have anticipated. We create stories in our minds about how events will unfold based on how and if communicate, but ultimately, we need to let go of the illusion that we are writing the script and just surrender to the fact that we know very little in relation to what we think of ourselves, and that the people around us, those that we love and who love us, WANT to know the truth. Whether it be good, bad or horrific, those in our inner circles want to be included in everything that happens in our lives, because being privy to it differentiates them from everyone else. It allows them to step up and be our friends, our confidants, the shoulders to cry on and the cheerleaders to cheer us on. It gives them access to us, the same way we’d want access to them.
So this is my challenge to you: what have you not been honest about? And to whom? What information needs to be conveyed in order for you to feel free and light and liberated? Everyone’s got something…this is your cue to do some real spiritual work. Forget about the left-brain chatter that is feeding you stories about what the possible repercussions may be of full disclosure. Silence it….and start talking. It will make all the difference.
One of the most difficult tasks to overcome as someone conscious of my role in the relationships I’ve fostered throughout my life is working with my ego. We are all born into a world of things we inherently are attracted to and those we shun as we identify them as sources of pleasure or suffering, and it is through that discrimination that we end up with the frame of reference we carry around with us. It is through that frame of reference that we end up processing everything that occurs around us to determine whether we find it pleasing or not, whether we “accept” it or not. And that’s when the ego kicks in. That’s when the judgement occurs, when the separation and duality settles in, keeping me and my true essence separate from the scenarios unfolding around me. It is this exact process that is the root cause of ALL suffering in the world, so it’s no surprise that attacking the ego and the grip it exerts on us on an individual level constantly proves to be nearly insurmountable.
The most hashed-around advice that constantly gets regurgitated is to detach from the ego. Let go of it. The nucleus of that advice is brilliant, actually. We should all be able to let go of the ego, to allow the dividers that keep us separate from every other thing in existence on the planet to crumble. We should be focusing on what binds us together instead of what separates us. That is the ultimate ambition – to identify the essence of all things as the unifying factor FOR all things, and, ultimately, the source of energy that we stem from and that we’ll ultimately return to. But if we really think about it, telling someone to detach from their ego is like asking someone who has never gone jogging before to throw on a pair of runners and then run a marathon. The exceptional among us will be able to do it, but the rest of us who need measurable goals will fall short and get discouraged in the process. So for all of you doing that incredibly relevant ego-work, here’s what I have to offer you: instead of telling yourselves that you have to detach from the ego, why not ask yourselves to simply detach from the selfishness of the ego? Confused? Keep reading.
Yes, the ego is responsible for suffering. When we pursue that which the ego deems pleasing and it eludes us, we suffer. When we don’t get the ego stroke we so rabidly seek out, we suffer. When we are used to getting the ego stroke and it all of a sudden ceases to rise up to meet us, we suffer. But the ego can also be a source of love and confidence and vision and determination and light. So why not re-focus our efforts on decontaminating the ego by removing the selfish desires that motivate our behaviours? Instead of pursuing that which we alone benefit from, why not make a concerted effort to tap into the essence of love and beauty and truth wherever we can find it? The goal is not to feed ourselves with that essence, but to contribute to and reconnect to it, where and when we find it, so that we’re giving, not taking. The ego, be definition, is limitation, and it limits us from seeing that true essence as our true identity. So our work is really in identifying that essence in everything around us. That’s measurable. That’s something we can work towards and introduce into our approach to life. It’s also a step closer to a place of truth where we shed our sense of separateness, so that we can ultimately achieve a state of non-duality, of true unity. Because that’s what it’s all about. Changing the way we identify and approach the world around us will change the way we live, and that’s what we all seem to be doing on some level regardless…we just need the right tools to do it.
Shit happens. How many times have you heard that? Better yet, how many times have you said it? That used to be my answer to all the conflicts that would pop up in my life, and it was also the advice I would pass onto friends. As far as advice goes, I thought it was pretty concise…bad things happen, and we have to accept that they happen and move on without letting ourselves get caught up in it all. Good advice, no? Well, as I’m blessed to still be living and learning, I’ve recently expanded onto that to not only my friends and students, but to myself as well!
To a very large extent, I see the events of our lives as pre-existing, and in keeping with that, I can honestly say that I believe that events don’t happen, they already are. They may not have made themselves apparent to us yet, but when they do it’s more of a reveal than it is an occurrence. And so when they reveal themselves, if we know that life is a series of said reveals, then we don’t find ourselves immediately and unconsciously resistant to whatever it is that has made itself apparent. I’ve said before that if we want to change the way we live, then we have to change the way we think. This is a perfect example of that. Re-establishing how we see the events of our lives and the relevance we choose to attribute to them makes all the difference in how we are affected by them. If we can get through the dramas with less shock and stress to our bodies and minds, why not give it a go and see how it works for us?
The best way to infuse this concept with a little light and understanding is to look at every stressful or demanding event that we have experienced. Look at all the sadness, disappointment, resistance and dread that immediately welled up when we were faced with it, and then the subsequent waning of those emotions as we dealt with and lived through whatever was going on. Those initial reactions are no longer with us because they were the products of our approach to life, not the products of the events themselves. Things are. The way we see those things, the way we react to those things, that’s where our attention needs to be. If we knew when the stressful events initially appeared that our negative responses to them would be fleeting and that our initial feeling of apprehension would pass, then we can clearly see that we had the opportunity to move through the suffering from a place of neutrality and equanimity. What this approach allow us to do is to identify adversity as fleeting, which in turn conditions us to not “rise to the bait”…when we see the bait as having less significance then we had previously attributed to it, then we can gain comfort in knowing our reactions and responses to it won’t drum up as much suffering as we had experienced in the past.
So with all that being said, I think that my old expression “Shit happens” has morphed into a new piece of über-advice – “Shit is”….when it is, and how it is remains to be seen…but it is…the key is looking at how we approach it and react to it…