Tag Archives: Choice

Freedom of Thought

FreedomThroughout the holiday weekend, in the midst of preparations and celebrations, I pondered the subject of freedom, as we do on the 4th of July. We are blessed with so many liberties here in the United States, but there is one that is universal, no matter what country or political landscape we are in: our freedom of thought, to which we are often blind. We are free to think as we please, and our perception of the world (and thus our experience of the world) is the outcome of that thinking. Granted, the societies we live in try to influence our thinking in various ways and through various mediums, but ultimately it is up to us whether to believe all that input or not. This is what I think it means to spiritually grow up, or awaken. We learn to witness our own thoughts, and choose whether or not they are indeed true and valuable, or whether they are causing us unnecessary suffering and divisiveness. As we do this, through meditation, prayer and contemplation, we start to see the barrage of thought, the barrage of input upon our thought.

How many days have I spent lost in worry? How many hours have I spent held captive by blame turned inwardly or outwardly, held captive by anger, greed, small-mindedness, jealousy, self-righteousness, victimhood? These subtle but big-blanket thoughts are usually running underneath our consciousness, influencing our words and actions without our awareness. They appear less as actual thoughts and more like feeling-tones, inner landscapes. They are like tinted glasses we wear and forget we are wearing them.

We often think that meditation is all about having a peaceful experience, but I’ve learned that this is not true. We may be moving toward peace, but much of the meditative process is coming face to face with our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations, and then witnessing just how much these experiences are calling the shots in our life. This can be painful, but it is a cleansing pain, a liberating pain, if it is done with compassion.

Freedom of thought is our greatest gift and our greatest responsibility.  It is the work of our lifetime.

Here is an excerpt from Pema Chodron’s book The Places That Scare You, that illustrates the basic choice we make in our thinking each day:

“When I was about six years old I received the essential bodhichitta [open-heart] teaching from an old woman sitting in the sun. I was walking by her house one day feeling lonely, unloved, and mad, kicking anything I could find. Laughing, she said to me, ‘Little girl, don’t you go letting life harden your heart.’ Right there I received this pith instruction: we can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice.”

It takes courage and tenacity to look inward.  As human beings, we naturally resist what might hurt, and it can definitely hurt to see ourselves clearly. It can be quite challenging to let go of a thought, too, even though we know it is causing us harm.  Some, like greed, revenge, or even worry have an addictive quality, a magnetic quality. I can’t tell you how difficult I find it to let go of worry! It seems on the surface like a loving thing to do! But I know this isn’t true. Worry benefits no one and causes great harm.

As  you move into the second half of 2015 (I tend to think of July 4 as the dividing line), and as you catch yourself thinking thoughts that are not lifting you up, be kind with yourself, be forgiving. But right there, on the spot, to the best of your ability, liberate yourself. CHOOSE AGAIN! I promise to do this to the best of my ability, too. We are in this together!

Blessings.

Tigers Above, Tigers Below

“A woman is running from tigers. She runs and she runs, and the tigers are getting closer and closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds on to it. Then she looks down and sees that there are tigers below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks at the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.” – Pema Chodron, Comfortable with Uncertainty.

The perfect strawberryThis is such a perfect example of a Zen teaching in its simplicity and its subtle potency. It is my meditation for today.

In all of our lives, there come pockets of time when we are experiencing tigers above and tigers below. I am in one right now. A series of revelations has brought me face to face with the hard, clinging nature of my ego, this fist of self-protection that has cramped into a knot and won’t seem to let go. I feel it in my mind, but I also feel it in my neck and chest and belly.

One of the many lessons I have learned in meditation is that emotions can have long life-spans if they are not allowed to be experienced.  I don’t even know what the rational circumstances are behind this fist of fear that has arisen and made itself known. I only know how primal and shameful and terrifying it feels. The meditative path instructs us to simply feel the feeling; drop the storyline and feel the feeling. So that is what I am attempting to do. No commentary, no analysis, no finger-pointing inwardly or outwardly, just experience the emotion. Most of the time when I have done this, the process moves rather quickly, but this particular fist is quite tenacious. I have faith that it will open, though, and I’m practicing the lessons I’ve been taught. I’m breathing with it,  and I’m offering myself as much  patience in this place as possible.

The challenge today is to seek and enjoy the strawberry, to be with the joy that is also available in the midst of all these raging tigers. This itself is a huge teaching, for instantly we experience just how strong the pull of problem-focus can be! When we are able to turn our attention from the tiger to the strawberry, however, we reconnect with a force within us that is far more potent than any challenge!  And we discover that right in front of us, in the very now of life, there is always something sweet to experience – a piece of fruit, a smile, our own continued pulse. When I think of this…as I write this to you…I find that I can breathe a little better.

If you, too, are experiencing tigers above and tigers below, take some comfort in knowing you are not alone! I am right there with you! One of the greatest gifts the tigers have to offer is an expanding compassion for others who are caught in a similar struggle. That compassion flows both ways. As I think about all those around the globe who might be suffering in this emotional way or in another form – as I offer my prayer that your pain be lifted, whatever it may be – my own challenges seem less isolating and more useful, more bearable. This is how we touch.

Blessings.