Anywhere is Heaven

At the beach recently I saw a kid wearing a t-shirt that read, “As long as you’re with the right people, anywhere is heaven.” Amen to that.

So much in life depends upon our perspective. And our perspective is heavily influenced by those around us. So, with the right traveling companions, anywhere is heaven.

Surround yourself with the wrong people – negative, critical, controlling, etc. – and you might find you’ve created your own personal hell.

We have a lot of power to create the life we want, through our thinking and our attitude, and by the relationships we choose.

All this is to say that it’s good to surround yourself with the people who make you feel good, and who help you be at your personal best, regardless of the circumstances you, or they, may be facing.

And when it seems like the wrong people are everywhere you turn, sometimes it’s better to just enjoy your own company.

On Letting Go, Part IV

“Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.” – David Foster Wallace

I smile every time I read that quote because I can relate.

Letting go is hard. It’s also a process. A repetitive process.

I no sooner put something down, for just a minute… and I find myself snatching it up again.

And when I do, I cling to it more tightly than before.

Perhaps it’s just an aspect of human nature that we want to cling to things, wishing, however illogically, that they would stay as they are.

Even though we know that it is the nature of things to be always changing.

One of the things that I like about meditation is that it makes it easier to just “be with” things – even things like my difficulty letting go.

It’s a gift to be able to watch things, to watch our stories, and even laugh a little bit, from time to time, at our own craziness.

Because, what we’re trying to achieve isn’t perfection – it’s acceptance.

Things are, after all, already perfect.

Happy?

I just finished reading Dan Harris’ book, 10% Happier, in which he discusses his experience with meditation and mindfulness. It’s a fun read, which I can easily recommend to anyone who’s ever wondered about meditation, or felt a little skeptical of some of the “new age” players.

He asks the question, “Even if we were handed everything we wanted, would it really make us sustainably happy?” It’s an issue I’ve discussed here before…it’s easy to say yes, at first, that if we got everything we wanted, we would undoubtedly be deliriously happy. But one need only look at some high profile stories of celebrities to see that this is not the case.

Another point discussed in detail is the fantasy that “I’ll be happy when…” which I’ve also written about here. It’s a trick we play on ourselves – happiness is always just around the next bend in the road, after the next major life event. He observes, “The pursuit of happiness becomes the source of our unhappiness.” This is because happiness is an inside job.

Two questions I’ve taken with me from the book that bear some reflection…

First: “Is this useful?” Which we can ask ourselves anytime we find that we are planning, ruminating, projecting, worrying, and the like. In other words, preparations are sometimes required, but to what extent? If we have passed the point of usefulness, it’s time to stop.

Second: “What matters most?” This is particularly helpful anytime we find ourselves worrying about the future. It’s useful for us to be aware of what we really want. We may not find that our life situations tick all the boxes, but when we can identify what’s most important, we can make decisions more easily, and can create a life that satisfies our most deeply held values.

Meditation is a different experience for everyone, and the results can be both subtle and profound at the same time. The beauty is that nothing much is required…only the willingness to inquire within.

The Season of Comfort

“I dread winter because it is the season of comfort.” – Jean Nicholas Arthur Rimbaud

When I first read A Season in Hell, this final poem, and this line in particular, confused me. I had to give an interpretation of it, in French, no less. And at the time, this line stumped me. I had no idea what to make of it.

But I think now I understand.

I’ve been talking with a few different people lately about the idea of being comfortable.

Unfortunately –  I’m sure I’ll be very unpopular for saying this – I think comfort and growth are antithetical.

There’s a quote that’s been floating around on Facebook recently that goes something like this: a comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing grows there.

Now I’m not advocating the return of hair shirts or anything like that. There’s nothing wrong with being comfortable in this life, per se.

The problem, I think, is when we make being comfortable our highest value: when we’re afraid to be uncomfortable. Or when we avoid it at all costs.

A little discomfort is a good thing. It means you’re trying things that are outside the circle of your comfort zone.

A comfort zone is kind of like a rubber band. You can keep stretching it, and eventually it gets bigger. (On the other hand, if you don’t stretch it at all, it seems to contract.)

If you feel a little uncomfortable it means you’re growing.

Now, of course, it’s a matter of degree. Try doing things that are miles outside your comfort zone, and you’ll be in a world of distress that will provoke massive internal paralysis and resistance (otherwise known as cognitive dissonance).

Stretch the rubber band too far and it breaks or snaps back – ouch.

But keep pushing the boundaries. Little by little. It’s just one way to keep life interesting, and fun, and you never know what you might learn.

Inquire within.

Monsters

“I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed.” – Rihanna

Maybe it’s a stretch to look for wisdom in pop culture, but I think one is as likely to find it there as anywhere else. So, whether you want to take it from Rihanna and Eminem, or the Buddhists, the message is the same: it’s important to be comfortable with all the parts of yourself.

There a strong tendency in spiritual community to focus on the positive. While that’s not a bad thing in itself, the difficulty arises when we push away the darker aspects of ourselves. Or when we try to avoid dealing with perceived negative emotions, like anger.

Really being at peace with yourself means being able to embrace your own shadows and darker tendencies. To acknowledge them and allow them to co-exist with the other parts of you. Rather than hunt them down and attempt to eradicate them (or cover them over in positive thinking).

What you resist persists. And what you can be with transforms. (So say the Buddhists.)

Sometimes the amount of energy I spend avoiding things is monumental, compared to the amount of energy it would take to face them head on.

What’s tricky about this is that the monsters really do seem, well, bigger and more monstrous than they actually are, when we can’t seem them clearly. They are all the more scary, when they reside in the shadows. But when we shine the light on them, well, that’s when it starts to get interesting.

It’s like a snowball: It’s rolling downhill and as it does, it seems to get bigger and bigger. When it catches up with you, you think it’s going to run you over, and just completely demolish you. But instead it just breaks over you, and dissolves.

“When your demons come, offer them a piece of cake.” – Sara Eckel