You're really it!

There are many definitions of enlightenment, but the one that makes the most sense today is acceptance.

Acceptance of self and the world.

People who accept themselves and life — whether modern mystic in the marketplace or spiritual seekers in a monastery or cave — without complaint give off a different energy than the ones who rarely have a day without giving an Oscar-award-winning imitation of Chicken Little.

How many of us know ourselves, like ourselves and are committed to being our own best friend?

How often do we sail the ocean of self looking for that undiscovered country? Of the daring souls who do, how many slink back to port when the seas get a little stormy?

By not trying, or giving up too soon, we miss reality, and our own sheer wonder. In all creation there has never been anyone like us, and there never will be.

Never again will there be a chromosome cocktail stirred, or shaken, quite like us — or like our spouse, our children, our neighbour, or the paperboy. 

In the movie, Matrix, Neo only come into his own power — become whole — when he accepted the fact he was the one. Not many of us face life-or-death decisions in our every-day life or fight a system that enslaves humanity, but we do face demons of our own creation — the fear, dread, anxiety and stress we summons from our private hells.

Yet, once we align ourselves with life and get into the flow, we won’t have to cast out those devils, they’ll disappear like the phantoms they are.

We create our own matrix with what we believe about ourselves and the world. The result is different if we believe we are separate from everything than if we believe we are aligned and woven into the tapestry of life.

One belief creates artificial boundaries and one opens us up to our own greater good.

We are all the chosen ones, every one of us; we all choose who we are and who we would become. We are here because we were there, a logical consequence of the steps we have taken.

And the steps we take now will lead us ever on.

“We are already one and we imagine we are not,” said Catholic monk and mystic Thomas Merton. “And what we have to recover is our original unity. Whatever we have to be is what we are.”

When we withhold the gift of us from ourselves, we hide our light and deprive humanity of our uniqueness. Many males secretly see themselves as John Wayne figures — strong, resolute, the good guy righting wrongs — but most of are more like Woody Allen or Pee Wee Herman — dithering, indecisive and anxious.

And it is at this point where we have to work on acceptance; accepting that we are wonderful in spite of not being who we think we should be.

“You can’t change your shortcomings until you accept yourself despite them,” said Dr. Bernie Siegel.

We could do worse than follow the advice from Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose essential teaching was belief in self. That essay has been on the nightstand of many a great man and woman.

It had a profound influence on author Wayne Dyer, who read it at 17 while waiting in the principal’s office for not being respectful enough of authority.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies with us,” wrote Emerson, who, considering what had happened to him — wife and son died, no job, at odds with his society — was probably shoring up his own belief system, talking to himself as much as the reader.

Most of us are disconnected from self and don’t trust ourselves enough to buck the perceived wisdom of society. We pay so much attention to others that we don’t recognize our own innate wisdom.

Anyone who has ever watched trivia shows on TV – Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader — know the answers often come to us in a flash of insight, but we dismiss them because we don’t think we should know.

Yet, no matter how many times we find out we were initially correct, we still consider it coincidence.

Emerson made that point quite clearly in Self Reliance: “A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages.

“Yet, he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts, they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”

Like Emerson, most great spiritual leaders have stressed the uniqueness of self, of the need to go inside, into our silence. There we learn the great lessons, there we tap into the wisdom of the ages.

“The greatest religion is to be true to your own nature. Have faith in yourselves,” said Vivekananda, the Hindu religious leader. (The great seers) are signposts on the way. That is all they are. They say, ‘Onward, brothers!’

“We cling to them; we never want to move. We do not want to think; we want others to think for us. The messengers fulfil their mission. A hundred years later, we cling to the message and go to sleep.”

It’s much easier to let someone else tell us what to do, what to believe because accepting responsibility for ourselves, our actions, our beliefs is scary. But when we do, we miss our life.

We strive to be true to others, to meet our obligations to organizations such as banks and the electrical company and gas company, but can’t be bothered to be true to ourselves, to be impeccable with our word to ourselves.

If we did, we’d be slimmer, non-smoking, calmer, serene version of the person who pounds the steering wheel while stuck in traffic.

“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string,” Emerson wrote. “Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events.

"Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the Eternal was stirring at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being.”

We can re-establish that intuitive connection that the birds and the bees still have with the Eternal. We can emulate the butterfly, which allows itself to be transformed and then answers the call of a place it has never been.

Butterflies and mystics see into the essence of Big R Reality.

“All the talents of God are within you,” wrote Hafiz, the 14th century Sufi poet.

“How could this be otherwise when your soul is derived from his genes. God disguised in myriad things and playing a game of tag has kissed you and said,‘You’re it — I mean, you’re Really it!”


Start spring cleaning now

Winter is an odd time to do spring cleaning, but last month many of us vowed to shift our agreement with reality, to reshape ourselves.

Many people resolved to slim down, bulk up, stop smoking, start exercising, to become a better parent, a better spouse, a better human being.

“The greatest human quest is to know what one must do in order to become a human being,” 17th century philosopher Immanuel Kant observed.

But in that quest, we look for what’s broken and accentuate what’s missing, how we don’t measure up to a standard that was probably set by someone else, or worse, by a TV commercial.

We’re faultfinders. We love pointing out what’s wrong – with ourselves and with other people. We chuckle over Martha’s defects because that makes us feel better about ourselves. If she’s wrong and we’re right, that means we’re OK.

Usually, we not interested in changing, instead we look for things that re-inforce our current world view, but at the beginning of the year, we often tinker with our belief system and try to change the channels of our perceptions.

But real change means growth and that’s possible only by challenging ourselves to create new thoughts and the willingness to embrace the results

Our thoughts emerge, like weeds after a rain, out of our unconsciousness and we often wonder, like the guy who just mowed his lawn and looks out and sees a tide of dandelions, just where they came from.

That forces us to root out thoughts that create a reality we don't like, or don't want. We create ourselves in our own image although we’re uncertain what that image is, or who we are.

Often, while we're waiting for the new us to sprout, we forget to weed and prune. It's a lot easier not to do the backbreaking - or mind-bending - work to pull the dandelions and censor unwanted thoughts.

But we know from a lifetime of experience that beating ourselves up when we forget, or when we’re lazy, doesn’t work. We need to be persistent, but we also must be gentle with ourselves.

We learn to treat ourselves as we would our children when they come home with a report cards with Cs and one A and while the instinct is to criticize them for the low marks we are smart enough to praise them for the one high mark.

We know criticism doesn’t work, otherwise we’d be what our parents wanted.

And isn’t it odd that we think a new year is the only time to redefine who we are when we can do that at any moment? Every moment is a crossroads.

We have the wonderful ability to see, but we don’t notice life flowing around us; we become blind to the miraculous until it becomes trivial or we don’t see it at all.

We don’t see what we take for granted.

Remember being spellbound when our children were born, but now don’t really see them in our day-to-day lives; they’re just there, part of the background?

We can still evoke that moment when Cupid’s arrow pierced our heart, but now wonder who that person is who keeps showing up every day.

We don’t need Auld Ange Syne and noisemakers to make resolutions. We can make them daily. We can decide before we get out of bed how our day will be. And if the resolve slips, we can choose at every moment to renew our commitment.

Sometimes the best choice is simply to keep our mouths shut and the scars on our tongue can be a testament to our growing wisdom, or at least our diminishing foolishness.

We know we can remake ourselves into whatever image we like, but it’s also equally valid to wonder why we feel compelled to lose 10 pounds, to get into shape or learn Spanish, why we cannot accept that we are already perfect, whole and complete, an integral part of the universe.

Science and most spiritual traditions proclaim we are all connected, that we hold hands to form the great chain of being. Maybe it isn’t hard-won resolutions we need, but an easy shift in consciousness.

“The universe in a sense guides us toward truths, because those truths are the things that govern what we see,” physicist Brian Greene told Scientific American magazine.

Maybe we simply need to accept who we are and to be receptive to what life brings. If we flow with it instead of fighting every step of the way, we just might end up becoming that which we hoped  for.

“We can’t make ourselves be a certain way,” said Zen master Joko Beck. “To imagine otherwise is one of the biggest traps in practice. But we can notice our intolerance and unkindness, our laziness and the other games we play. As we notice how we really are, things slowly begin to turn.

“Only when we give up the hope that things will get fixed can we come to the realization that things are fine as they are.”

Mythologist Joseph Campbell had similar thoughts as he was nearing the end of his life.

“In my own life, I am now looking back and I can tell you that there’s a wonderful moment that comes when you realize, ‘I’m not striving for anything.’

“What I’m doing now is not a means of achieving something later. After a certain age, there’s not a future and, suddenly, the present becomes rich and it becomes a thing in itself which you are now experiencing.”

Ruminating on regrets

“Regrets, I’ve had a few, but, then again, too few to mention,” Frank Sinatra warbled in I Did It My Way, a song written by Paul Anka from the perspective of Ol’ Blue Eyes, who was about to retire.

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out.

Anka wrote the song in one night, employing the diction and cadence that Sinatra, who talked like a Mafia “wise guy,” would use.

But whether the sentiments came from Anka or Sinatra, there is a lot of wisdom in the words and music. Most people have too many regrets and don’t spit then out. Instead, we masticate them over and over, ruminators instead of a terminators.

Rumination comes from the Latin word ruminare, which means to chew the cud, regurgitating and re-chewing partially digested food.

The mental version of rumination is much the same, although there are two parts:

  • reflection
  • brooding.

Reflection is a positive attribute; brooding its black opposite. Most of us are dilettantes at reflection, but masters at brooding, at ripping, shredding and dissecting.

Who has not obsessed over some perceived slight or injustice; something we should have done or said;  not done or said; or we plan to do or say?

We regret not going to more of our kids’ Christmas plays and summer soccer games, we feel guilty about not calling and visiting our parents more often, we deeply regret and feel guilty that we forgot our anniversary, again.

And in the upcoming festive season of peace, brotherhood and goodwill, there will be more rumination than usual as we get together with friends and family, or elbow our way through the mall, a place we haven’t ventured since last Christmas.

In a study entitled Regret Resolution, Aging, and Adapting to Loss, the authors wrote: “Both theory and empirical evidence suggest that people who have unresolved regrets experience lower levels of well-being than do those who resolve their regrets.”

One of the authors, Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, then a psychology professor of psychology at Yale University, came up with response styles theory 20 years ago.

“Whereas the original response styles focuses on the relationship between rumination and depression, evidence now suggests that rumination is also associated with other psychopathologies, including anxiety, binge eating, binge drinking and self harm,” Nolen-Hoeksema and Blair E. Wisco wrote in Rethinking Rumination.

If wearing a groove into our gray matter with the same obsessive thoughts, and talking about the same negative things with friends, family and co-workers isn’t bad enough, there’s more.

“Rumination can be oddly irresistible, and can steal an hour of your attention before you even realize that you’re obsessing again,” Elisabeth Scott wrote in How Rumination Affects Your Life.

“In addition to dividing your attention, however, rumination has several negative effects: stress; negative frame of mind; less proactive behaviour; self sabotage; and hypertension.”

To be human is to obsess, starting during the morning shower, but we don’t turn it off with the water. We can have up to 50,000 thoughts a day, often the same ones we had yesterday, many revolving around a central grudge or regret, like planets circling the sun.

How do we overcome our morbid tendency to obsess about our perceived weakness, foibles and those of others? The answer is in the near legend about Carnegie Hall: A New Yorker (or in some versions Arthur Rubinstein) is approached in the street, and asked, “Pardon me sir, but how do I get to Carnegie Hall?”

He replies, “Practice, practice, practice.”

If Google is any indication, both regret and guilt are popular topics; it says it has 108 million pages on guilt; 368 million about regret. There’s even one that tells us how to overcome serious regrets, and another has a survey that will compare our results with others who did the survey.

Many people recommend mindfulness as a way to stop ruminating. On Google, there are 170 million pages about mindfulness, including a session with Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

He’s one of the reigning experts and his book, Wherever You go, There You Are is great, as are two books by Eckhart Tolle: The Power of Now, and A New Earth.

It comes down to consciousness and awareness: if we don’t get lost in the endless loop of beating ourselves up for what we did and didn’t do, we can stay present for each moment of each day. And when we stray, and we will, we come back, again and again.

It’s practice, but what else do we have to do? If we’re going to be thinking, we can strive to choose what we think. Unlike Neo in the Matrix no one will offer us a pill to pull us into reality, although the pharmaceutical industry is making a large fortune selling pills that ease the anxiety that comes with guilt and regret.

If Anka had added another verse, Sinatra would have told us, in his wise guy way, that neither regret nor guilt are real; they’re states of mind, thoughts, phantoms we have created and could exorcise if we chose.

I’ve loved, I've laughed and cried
I've had my fill, my share of losing
And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way,
Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way.

Is your wallet a black hole?

These are the times that try men’s souls.

Thomas Paine wrote that in 1776, but any time can try our souls, our principles, our concepts about self.

Most of the time, we don’t think about it, we’re too busy paying the bills or watching TV, but the lead up to Christmas tries our souls, our patience and our wallets.

Now that the Halloween ornaments have come down, the Christmas ones will soon go up, commercials will start and over cocktails at Christmas parties, a favourite topic will be the commercialization of Christmas and how society needs to return to old values that didn’t come wrapped in tinsel and packaged in plastic.

Both may be true, but irrelevant if we don’t allow this time to over-power our generosity of spirit. Charities are always concerned that a poor economy will turn our wallets into black holes. Yet, no matter what the law of gravity proclaims, we will overspend on our family.

We might not spend as much as last year, but we will overheat the Visa card to get stuff we don’t need.

Will that generosity extend beyond the immediate family? Are we willing to forgo a little less stuff so we can get essentials for others, for people we don’t know and will never meet.

Many people spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on the Christmas experience — gifts, alcohol, dinners, partying — and that could save thousands of lives:

UNICEF says $31 can buy 4,832 water purification pills; $11, three bed nets; $50, 51 polio vaccines, 51 tetanus vaccines, 54 measles vaccines; and $276 can buy a school in a box — enough supplies to teach a class of 40 children.  (Check https://shop.unicef.ca/all-gifts)

We can’t give up our life and joy to save all the world, but we can spend a little less on ourselves to save some — even when, or especially when, times are tough.

Life demands courage, commitment and enthusiasm, and a willingness to share, and serve. What goes around comes around. We get what we give — whether money, time or love.

“I believe that all humans know in a deep, ineffable way exactly what is required of us — even down to being called to do very specific things,” Brian Swimme, a mathematical cosmologist and author, told Shift magazine. “We don’t get a printout or specific instruction, but we do know what gives us a deep sense of joy — and that’s what we’re supposed to be doing.”

We’ve helped others enough to know that it feels good. Experiments have proved endorphin levels of the people helping, the people being helped and the people watching rise when we’re altruistic.

Even if we’re unsure what to do, we feel a need to do something, to help when the situation calls for it. The question we have to answer is whether we’re our brother’s — and sister’s — keeper? Do we help even when it hurts?

“There comes a time in each of our lives when we have the opportunity to reach out and turn the switch that will change darkness into light,” singer Willie Nelson writes in The Tao of Willie. “All we have to do is slow down, remember who we are and who we would like to be.”

Those are the big questions. Who are we? And who do we want to be?

“Paul and I have been partners for 26 years and I have come to know his passion, humour and, above all, his generosity. Not just economic generosity, but generosity of spirit,” Chicago businessman Carl Haas, Paul Newman’s partner in Newman-Haas CART racing team, said after the actor died.

Do we have that same generosity of spirit, or do we give for the tax receipt, and only give when the economic indicators point up?

We could have the generosity of spirit that the Salvation Army has. It helps thousands in the Okanagan every year and if we don’t have money to donate, we can give our time; volunteers are always needed to man the kettles.

We could have the generosity of spirit that our military exhibited when they volunteered to fight — and die — for a greater good.

The motto for Remembrance Day is Lest we forget. And every Nov. 11 these words are intoned and no matter who says them, they a have a sombre majesty: “at the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.”

And we should, and follow their example; if they were willing to make the supreme sacrifice for people they would never meet, for generations not yet born, the least we can do is help our neighbour.

Most of us paused during the long Thanksgiving weekend last month to parrot a few words about being grateful, and recognized that good luck, good genes, happenstance or divine thought put us here and not there.

Instead of living in one of the best places anywhere, we could be victims of poverty, war, rape, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, and sundry kinds of disasters that seem to afflict other parts of the world.

While we’re not completely immune to them, we did get some sort of cosmic inoculation before birth that reduces those afflictions and maladies.

Yes, there are marginalized people in Canada, thousands living below the poverty line and on the street, but overall we have much more than even we seem to realize.

Religion, metaphysics, philosophy, even science preach the unity of all things; that beneath the duality and separateness so seemingly obvious, is a oneness. There is not one person on this planet above four who we have not exchanged atoms with. Part of us is in almost seven billion people.

Hubble telescope pictures of galaxies merging show a stream flowing between the two that can be seen across 35 million lights years. If we could get a Hubble shot of humanity, we would see that same atomic jet stream flowing among us all.

“We are one, after all, you and I. Together we suffer, together exist, and forever will recreate each other,” said Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, a French philosopher and Jesuit priest.

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About the Author

Ross Freake, a former managing editor of The Daily Courier, has worked at 11 newspapers from St. John's to Kamloops. He is the author of three books and the editor and ghost writer of many others.

He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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