Are We All Just Trying to Figure It Out? Changing Hurtful Habits

In Mary Oliver’s spectacular poem, The Summer Day, she asks,

 

“…What is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life.”

 

Of course, for some, life is more frightening than precious. But her evocation of such a spectacular day is so visceral and truthful.

 

And maybe we’re all always trying to figure this out, in our own ways. It’s certainly a question as old as humanity, as old as self-reflecting awareness. What can or what must we do with our lives?  Who or what are we? How can we or must we respond to a situation, to just waking up or going to work or school⎼ or to the threats that loom over all of us? Like the threat from those who are trying to impose a white nationalist dictatorship on all of us? The threat of the climate emergency, from wars, and who knows what else? Every moment the question of Who are we arises. We create ourselves through our answers to this question. And for most of us, our answers change.

 

Mary Oliver talks about attention, deep attention, as she rolls in the grass. As she feels herself as the grass or the creatures around her. And maybe this is one thing for all of us to do. We might let ourselves simply be with as much of what’s around us as feels right⎼ grass, trees, streams, and other living beings. This is one way to help save it, or them. To get us to care deeply enough to take action to save it, or us.

 

Did you hear that sound? The air disturbed by a moving car? The cough-talking of a raven? That peeper? That sparrow? That raven is cough talking not only the beauty of the day, but the grief it feels over the depleted air. Do you hear that sparrow? It’s not only calling its mate. It’s calling out in grief over the diminishing food resources it can find to feed its children.

 

I notice that when I regret something I did or didn’t do, maybe I misunderstood something, or treated someone unfairly, and I might call myself names. Wonder how I could ever be so mistaken. And this hurts. I might even imagine that mistake is frozen in time⎼ that I’m frozen in time, merely a memorial to a mistake. And that I can’t change or free myself from it. We might even try to blame someone or something else for what we’ve done so we no longer feel the pain.

 

Why do we do this? It’s such a weird way of thinking about ourselves and our lives, isn’t it? So distorted and inaccurate. If instead we listen deeply to this self-talk and imagining and go beyond it, not get stuck in it, so much might be revealed. Recognizing a mistake is the first step in correcting it. It can be a growth of awareness if we just listen mindfully and take it and our response as a lesson.

 

We might do the same anytime we look at ourselves….

 

*To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

Instead of Shrinking Our Lives, Expand Them: Going As One United Being into a Beautiful Day and Into that Good Night

Why does feeling the sun on our face, or even seeing it out the window, create a sense of happiness?

 

Most of us love it when, after days of rain or cold weather, the sun is visible, and the sky is clear. Especially in the spring, and the blue color just goes on forever, the day is not just physically but emotionally brighter.

 

Of course, if there’s been a drought or we’re allergic to the sun or worried about skin cancer, that spoils the fun. But a sunny day? We use that as an expression of being happy; or a sunny disposition as being positive, uplifting. Or we see the sun and feel that, as we look up, for now at least, we can enjoy a moment. We can allow ourselves a respite before the clouds move in.

 

And sometimes, we can find a sun living in ourselves. Or we might find a sense of quiet presence or get absorbed in something we love. Maybe it’s writing a story or meditating. Or we’re practicing a martial arts kata, dancing, listening to music, or walking next to a waterfall, and we’re gone. There’s nothing left of us but the creating, the kata, the dance, the music, the waterfall. It’s so amazing that we can feel most ourselves when, as the 13th century Japanese Zen teacher Dogen Zenji put it, we forget ourselves in action.

 

Contemporary Zen teacher, environmental activist, and author David Loy put it very clearly for me in a recent talk. When we do something not as a means to something else, or to get somewhere else; when we do an activity for it-self, not for what prize we may get from doing it, we can be transformed. We cease to be self-conscious and become more deeply conscious. We become sun conscious, activity conscious; we become more aware, more mindful of how one action, emotion, sensation, or thought flows into the next and forms our quality-of-life experience, so we can adjust, deepen that experience. In his talk, David Loy illustrated his point with the explanation of Karma yoga, the yoga of action, from the Hindu spiritual classic, the Bhagavad Gita. When we do something without being attached to the results, but aware of the rightness of what we do, we are more likely to be transformed positively by the action.

 

When we work for social justice, for example, we do the best we can, being as strategic as we can. We want to create better conditions in the world and make a difference; but our personal achievement is the action itself that we take. No matter what we do, we are most likely to have good results if we focus on doing the best we can, now, and not on worrying about the future or how far away it is.

One passage in the Gita says:

“You have a right to your actions.

But never to your actions’ fruits.

Act for the action’s sake.”

 

I remember, when I was teaching secondary school and students read this passage in the Gita, they at first disagreed with it, or disliked to it. They asked, “Why not be concerned with the fruits of our actions? When we do something well, don’t we deserve praise? Don’t we want to foster a concern with the fruits, or at least the ethical consequences of our actions on the world?” …

 

*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.