Archives for posts with tag: joy

WordPress offers this topic for today’s Post A Day 2011 exercise:

Is it always better to know the truth, even when it hurts? Or is ignorance bliss? Or are they both true some of the time?

I thought this would be a quick, easy post – short and to the point. But the more I think about it, the longer it’s getting… So I’ll get the short and to-the-point bit out of the way in the beginning, and save the personal-experience bit for the end, for those who have the time. There’s also a link to one of my videos down there – thank you if you have the time to check it out!

Last fall I created a series of inspirational cards about Using The Mind (the images can be found on Flickr), and one of the cards elicited a number of questions:

“Accepting Ignorance Is The First Step Towards Damnation.”

Several people asked about the use of the word “damnation”…

It’s a strong word; thinking about damnation probably falls way down near the bottom on most people’s to-do list.

I was given the word, and questioned it myself at first…

(It came from one of my guides; I talk about him a little in this post on my other blog)

I think I was given such a strong word precisely so that it would catch attention and encourage people to think and question.

“Damnation” refers to the state of mind in which we seem to find ourselves in constant, pervasive conflict with the world around us. In this state, we struggle continuously against the lessons that come our way.

“Accepting Ignorance” refers to the state of mind in which we feel we must submit to the expectations of others without questioning.

As we go through life, if we take the view that every experience offers a lesson intended to lead us to true happiness, we can refresh our feelings about the challenges we face.

Zen koans lead us to understanding in a similar way: the teacher poses a question… We quickly find out that we can’t reason our way to the “answer”… we might even get angry and frustrated that the answer’s not coming freely… finally we realize we need to “go inside” to get to our own answer. And our answer might be different from another’s… Damn.

Life resembles a vast, unrelenting koan. Again, again, again, we run into riddles. How do I answer that question my boss just asked? Do I let the baby cry himself asleep? Is red meat really bad for me… always? Who on earth should I vote for?

If we expect clear-cut answers that arrive effortlessly, we’re damned.

Damnation and Hell are states of mind. Ignorance is a state of mindlessness.

We can find ourselves living in a quiet, subtle hell if we live a life that goes against our grain, without questioning and being willing to take risks in order to extricate ourselves from that hell.

Here comes the personal-experience part…

Sometimes in life, we’re faced with situations in which we must make decisions, and we really wonder about the consequences. For instance, I was a Buddhist nun for 4-1/2 years, and in the tradition I had joined, to “disrobe” means certain damnation (in the sense of going to “hell”)…

(btw, Buddhist traditions vary on their views on this matter, not all hold this belief)

I enjoyed being a nun, and I really did expect to continue nun-hood for the rest of my life. I love teaching and helping others, and it seemed I had found a wonderful outlet for that. As the years passed and I gained more experience in the more advanced teachings (emptiness, Vajrayana, etc.), I began to feel called to move back out into the “world”, and connect more with people who might not be drawn to formal Buddhism. I had found that with some people, the robes and shaved head created unnecessary distance. Or worse, a sort of reverence that was bestowed arbitrarily. Robes=perfection. Not true. Need to question.

I began to see that I was most likely going to decide to return my vows.

I considered the decision for about a year… I had been reading, studying, meditating, teaching, practicing for several years. Making spiritual progress was really what mattered to me most. For a few years, I had been nearing the conclusion that my Guides (whom I had met through that tradition) were pointing me in the direction of moving beyond that tradition. Did that make sense?

Conflict and contradiction presented themselves constantly. I felt I knew clearly what my next step needed to be, but it didn’t make sense that it would involve cutting away from my beloved friends and teachers (another tenet of that tradition is that if you “disrobe” you must separate from the community completely for at least a year afterwards), and subjecting myself to a state of “damnation”.

That lead me to think a lot, that year, about the nature of “damnation”. And “Hell”. And that’s how I arrived at the understanding I share above.

I realized that the real shame, the real damnation, would be if I chose adhering to expectations (including mine) over continuing to learn and grow, and venturing into the unknown.

So I took the step outside the circle. I knew I was well-guided, and that eventually I would find a way to connect directly with those who could help me the most. I could feel the invisible hand, and that it belonged to a “being” that was more vast, profound, and powerful than words, images, or music could describe. I knew we would meet, and that we would meet on a ground that was free from the constraints of any formal religion or doctrine.

And we did meet, after a bit of stumbling.

In the three years since I returned my vows, I’ve discovered that the rocky road can lead to peace. I’ve learned that intention is everything, and as long as we strive to improve ourselves, be kind to others, and give when we can, then a state which others may perceive as “damnation” can feel like a profound blessing.

Knowing that you’re guided is the most important point to understanding that damnation is only for the ignorant, those who refuse to question. Our guides pose the riddles that we ponder day and night, and if we hold this view, it can help us understand that even the most baffling and painful challenges are lessons that are as illusory as dreams.

I’ve been making videos to share some of what I’ve learned, and this one uses the ideas from the “Using The Mind” card series. It’s almost 5 minutes long, and each of the 12 points is intended to provoke thought, rather than provide pat answers or “instructions”. If you find the time to watch it, I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful. I’ve almost completed another video, titled “Vows”… you can guess what that one explores!

Thanks to everyone reading these blogs – I feel so fortunate to have found a way to share, and if it manages to help anyone – in even the smallest way – to discover more happiness, then… very good! In turn, I have my guides to thank, for showing me that anything is possible.

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Think about how much an active womb resembles a roulette wheel. The shape, the throwing of the ball into the bowl, the chances taken – all of it fits on some level.

I believe I know why I’ve never heard of a gambling-themed baby shower.

Just the same, I can think of three ways parenthood resembles a trip to Biloxi. Thrilling uncertainty: it lures even “practical” people into wild visions of delight. The chance of walking away with a “gift”: this appeals to anyone with a shred of longing. But the willingness to accept any outcome… now that, ladies and gentlemen, really brings the analogy home for me.

When we’re expecting, we examine many things, just as others examine us. Of all the wonderful explorations that occur around conception, birth and growth, my most riveting came from one question: “Am I ready to – consciously – surrender the rest of my life to uncertainty?”

Parents never discover the effect their little bundle of joy will have on their lives until it arrives. Then we often – unconsciously – commit to fulfilling all the expectations of others and ourselves. Most of these expectations catch us unawares after we’ve walked away with the winnings. Sure, we can make decisions. We can decide what numbers to play. But if we think that gives us control, we’re kidding ourselves. Children have an amazing knack for dropping into whatever slot on the wheel they pick, regardless of where we placed our hard-earned cash. Even when all the medical screenings come back bright and cheerful, and even if our DNA seems promising, we cannot predict how many times we’ll have to keep our cool in the toy aisle. Or take a deep breath when our teenager has a meltdown. Or watch our 3-year-old undergo general anesthesia.

If you can walk away from a table in Biloxi empty-handed and still say you had a good time, then you’re ripe for parenthood (and life). No matter the outcome, we can find ways to experience our children as amazing gifts and teachers. No amount of cash winnings can compete with that. Actually, children emerge to surprise and test us. This may come as a surprise, but your roulette wheel is biased. And it’s also all arranged in advance. That’s the funny part: we get exactly what we asked for. We just didn’t anticipate how our wishes would come true.

For instance, I went through years trying to figure out the cleverest way to please the most people, so that my life could be predictable and “successful”. In 2000, my son received an Autism diagnosis; he quite often rolls outside the region of expectation and predictability. Yet every time I stop cringing in dread of unpleasant outcomes and uncover my eyes long enough to see how we’re doing, what do I see? This beautiful boy instinctively understands and lives what’s important… and makes good grades too. Over the years, I’ve noticed that every one of his little “quirks” seems to directly address one of my hang-ups. One by one, he helps me release them. What a selfless gift.

The most powerful blessing arrives with the attitude that accepts whatever arises.

Can you imagine a roulette gambler expecting to control the spin of the wheel and the settling of the ball? Expecting to know how children will turn out creates a similar invitation to learn first-hand about odds. It’s so tempting to plan, hope, dream, and use our children to define ourselves. That’s the giddy anticipation part. Yet those expectations hold no sway over how life unfolds. Parenthood sometimes seems to imply responsibility for the outcome. I visualize gamblers glaring at each other once the ball settles onto its number, as if one of them made it fall right there, right then. Somehow, it’s much easier to laugh at that image than to chuckle at our own unvoiced expectations surrounding parenthood.

When we view parenting like placing a bet on a wheel, we give ourselves permission to have no idea what will come our way. ‘Permission’ plays a key role in how much we enjoy our spin of the wheel. Feeling permission to wonder, question, and observe liberates us. Releasing self-expectation is one of the most generous and liberating acts a parent can perform.

For anyone who experiences an exuberant moment, learning that she/he faces the prospect of parenthood, it’s worth also taking a pregnant pause. Consider the deep blessing of meeting uncertainty as teacher, and that you’re about to get your butt kicked by having your wishes fulfilled. Embracing the uncertainty of parenthood states that you’re willing to take whatever may come, place your bets, and continue breathing while the wheel slows and the ball gets ready to drop.


1986… 2010…2011…

I found some of my sketches from 1986 recently, and they reminded me of the fertile creativity that burst forth from my being at that time. Ironic, because it was also a time of great confusion, frustration, and sadness. The sketches reflect these qualities, but as I looked through them, I remembered something else that I had not recorded very well in that sketchbook. Optimism.

I had taken Optimism for granted: Of course I was only 24. Of course I had my entire life ahead of me… Of course I was independent. Of course the world was supposed to be my oyster… I was entitled. Period. Willing to bust my butt, but entitled, nonetheless.

I remember also that about this time last year, I toasted the arrival of 2010 with, “Gosh, I hope it’ll be better than 2009!”  Twelve months later, I’m re-defining “better”. No, actually, I’m re-understanding better.

Better, in this age, brings growth. Better brings change. Better brings awareness and acuity; sometimes it stings and bites. Better brings fulfillment of a sometimes unpredictable nature.

If I had paid more attention to my semantics with my 2010 welcome toast, I might have used the word “easier” instead of “better”. Because I received “better”, but I did not receive “easier”. And still, things are definitely better, and in a profound, indelible way. Just like the ink on the sketchbook pages. I got my wish. In fact, in 2010, almost every one of my wishes came true. Just not in the way I expected.

A few weeks ago, I started drawing again, after a pause of too many years. The sketches began to flow as spontaneously and prolifically as they had in 1986, and the emotional intensity of 25 years ago resurfaced. I sat back and looked at them, bemused. What makes the difference between then and now, and what connects these two periods of my life? And why did that gap last so long?

I realized that the clarity comes not from specific emotions or circumstances, but from accepting and exploring and expressing those emotions and circumstances… Without judgement or fear or expectation.

That “gap” in my sketching life had been filled with a “career” that was filled with judgement and expectation, and, yes, a transparent shadow of fear that things might not go as planned. All of that creative energy had been diverted towards trying to steer my boat against an unnatural current.

Last week I went for a new hairstyle. I had been pinning back and restraining my shaggy locks for six months – hiding them – so I could get some growth. As I drove to the salon, I heard a friend’s words: “As she cuts your hair, visualize everything you want to lose, falling away from you as the hair falls to the floor.” I hardly remembered this as I was in the salon… Salon chat is seldom profound… But as the stylist finally spun me around with the mirror, she smiled and said, “See? A new you! It’s lovely!”

Something clicked, and I realized that 2011 has boundless potential if I allow it to birth itself. Just like the ink and paint will continue to flow freely if I continue grasping that pen or brush ever so lightly, and just wait to see what appears.

I didn’t really make a new year’s resolution for 2011. I simply wish for 2011 to arrive in the way that 2010 came: “better”. And I’ve learned that the less attached I am to what “better” means, the more freely the creative energy flows into everything that comes my way. And that makes it better.

Here’s to 2011!