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I Declare a Flame War

I learnt a valuable lesson the other day. Like many of us, I understand a lot of things in theory, but the practical application of that theory is often lacking. After all, it’s not until we test theories for ourselves that they become knowledge.

My lesson was in forgiveness. It started—as these lessons often do—with a Facebook post. The immediate, detached nature of social media gives us so many opportunities to generate situations that forgiveness can help solve. Flame wars are typical of these, and that’s where I found myself. Someone I knew fairly well posted something that triggered me, and we were off; he with plenty of self-justifying verbiage laden with insults; me primarily with insults.

Then he started tagging me in a series of posts to continue the assault. I told him to , “Give it up, dude,” which naturally only wound him up more. It was relentless.

I stopped responding, untagged myself, and refused to read any more of the comments that were popping up in my feed. But that fire inside kept burning. Vehement diatribes kept brewing in my brain, and the physical discomfort was intense. There was a tightening in my belly that spread into my shoulders, my jaw, my head. Sleep was impossible.

You can stop fighting, but the war doesn’t end until you surrender. Eventually, I surrendered. I took my thoughts away from dealing with my ‘opponent’ and instead focused them on admitting that I was helpless in this situation; that I didn’t know what to do, or how to manage it. I sat with that admission, open to whatever solution came to me.

It didn’t take long, and it came loud and clear: apologize.

Apologize? But he was attacking me. He was the relentless one who wouldn’t leave me alone. And? What’s your point? Apologize.

So I did. I messaged him with an apology for trying to interfere with the way he thought. It turned out to be as much an apology to me as it was to him.

Again, his response was swift. He accepted it. He apologized, in turn, for not giving up earlier. He thanked me for not blocking him. I felt an immediate sense of relief. My whole body relaxed, my mind grew more silent, and I was able to sleep.

He posted this video on my wall, with this message, “love u dude  #screwpolitics”:

And I learnt something. I experienced the power of forgiveness. I got a clear understanding of how I have no right or need to interfere with someone else’s thought processes. I saw that peace is only ever an apology away. And I know now that no matter how insurmountable the apology wall may appear, it is pure illusion: you can walk without a scratch straight through that sucker any time it arises.

When Does Eternity Start?

Image by LoD94

Eternity. It’s a big word. People throw it around a lot, usually by questioning where you’ll spend it.

Here’s the thing: you’re in it. You can’t enter eternity. Think about it: eternity is all time. All of it, no exceptions. Just as infinity is all space—you know, the space-time continuum and all that—it turns out that space and time are pretty heavily connected. Which kind of makes sense, when you ask yourself where everything is in relation to eternity. That’s right: nothing can exist outside of it; just as nothing can exist outside of infinity.

So here we are in eternity. But there’s something wrong with this picture. Eternity has some pretty definitive properties, particularly that it has no beginning and no end. It just is. Look around you; what do you see that possesses that particular property? Nothing, right?

So we’re in eternity, but we’re not of it. Which, considering eternity is all time (and therefore space), appears to be impossible.

So what’s going on, exactly? Well, it’s interesting. What does actually exist around you? The past is over; that doesn’t exist. The future hasn’t happened yet; that doesn’t exist either. Which only leaves this. But what is this? Whatever it is you’re perceiving right now has been received by your brain, which is processing information about stuff that’s already happened—sure, it was milliseconds ago, but it’s already happened. And what’s already happened is in the past, which is over, and therefore doesn’t exist.

In this body, with this brain, we can never actually be here, now (space and time again). We each have a very special time machine that makes the impossible possible: nothing looks like eternity, but nothing else can exist. Time appears linear here, yet eternity is all time—all of it—no beginning, no end; just one endless clump of it spreading out through infinity.

The question then, is how do we experience eternity? It must be possible, surely. Well, we could start by emulating its properties. What would eternity be like? With no sense of linearity, all time must be very still. Start there. Be still. Not just physically; still everything you can. Be in peace. That moment when you’re so still that there is only this; that may just be a good approximation of the eternal.

Let It Snow!

It’s snowing today. Little white flakes flow gently earthwards, joining together to form a soft, crisp mat on the ground. And it’s cold. Not so ridiculously cold that you struggle to breathe, just snow cold—somewhere around freezing—and still.

These are ideal conditions for mindfulness.

Most of us, when we find ourselves in these conditions, do whatever we can to get out of them. We run from point to point, head down, rugged up, and raring to get to our destination, where the warmth is our security blanket.

Try stopping instead. Give yourself the chance to notice. You’re not going to die of hypothermia if you give yourself a few moments to experience what is, even if you’re wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and forgot to put on shoes.

Listen: what is the sound of snow? You may hear it pattering down on your head. You may hear the odd bird squawking. You may hear a kind of silence that only snow can give you. Listen carefully: the snow absorbs sound.

Feel: what is the sensation of cold really like? Is it what you thought? Does it amplify your senses? Does it invigorate you? Notice. If your hands are in gloves or pockets, release them. Give your face the freedom to feel. It’s very sensitive, your face, and different parts are more sensitive than others: follow the sensations, take this in. It’s not every day you get this opportunity. And breathe. How does that breath feel coming in? And what about that out breath? Notice the contrast: this is a very special moment.

Taste: be a child, open that mouth and catch yourself some snowflakes. Nice, pure, tongue-tingling snow. There’s nothing quite like it.

Look: you’re in a snow globe! It doesn’t matter whether the snow stops now; or you get six more inches; or if it all melts this afternoon; or if the temperature drops and it all turns to ice: it will only look like this now. Turn all the way around, look up, look down: this is a unique moment in time; be here for it.

Let it snow—or not—and let this moment be one you thoroughly experience. There will be no other moment quite like it.

The Ultimate Cure for Boredom

Image by Karsten Paulick
Image by Karsten Paulick

Bored? Try mindfulness.

No, seriously, mindfulness is the ultimate cure for boredom. Look around you. Now home in on something—it may be a fixed object, or it may be something you can pick up. If you can pick it up, do so. If not, move up close enough to touch it. Now, using all viable senses, explore it with curiosity.

  • Feel it. Try to notice everything you can about its texture. Describe it to yourself without judgment: tacky, gooey, rough, crystalline, sandy, sharp, slippery, hard, squishy, heavy, solid, wet, viscous, papery, rigid, etc.
  • Look at it. Really examine it. What do you notice about it that you’ve never seen before? Chances are you’ve looked at this a lot of times. What did you miss? If you spot one thing, you can probably spot another. And if you can spot three, you can probably spot four. Keep going. How much can you discover just with your eyes?
  • Smell it. Everything has a smell, even if it’s incredibly subtle. How would you describe this smell? It’s hard to describe a smell, isn’t it?
  • Listen to it. If it is immobile, rub your hand against it and listen to that. If you can pick it up, move it around close to your ear. If it is completely rigid, listen to the sound of your fingers moving around it.
  • Taste it. Okay, maybe don’t taste it. But, if it does happen to be a food item, put it in your mouth. Move it all over your mouth: over every part of your tongue, top and bottom; past your gums. Notice how it feels in there, notice how the taste changes depending on where it is and how you press your tongue against it. When you’ve done this, bite into it—just once—and do those activities all over again. Experience all the differences from before. When you’re done, chew, and notice every single munch and crunch; then feel the experience of it passing down your throat, following it as far as you can into your stomach.

Focus on something else. Repeat.

You will never be bored again. Mindfulness really is the ultimate cure for boredom.

Superstition

When you believe in things you don’t understand,
Then you suffer,
Superstition ain’t the way

Is there any other form of belief than that in which we don’t understand? Isn’t that what belief is? All the things we believe are things we don’t know. And if we don’t know something, then we can’t fully understand it.

Examine your beliefs—religion, politics, etiquette, education, how to raise kids, how to do dishes, guns, terrorism, health, science, relationships, war—they are everywhere. Our whole lives are guided by them. And we suffer; we’re very superstitious, us humans.

How do we suffer? We argue, for one. Arguments can get ugly fast. You know what we call really big arguments? War. But all arguments are a form of warfare, and all of them—every single one—are based on belief. Think about it: there are universal truths, and everything else is belief. If it’s a universal truth, there can be no arguing about it: it’s universal. If it’s not universal, then it’s not true for everyone; and if it’s not true for everyone, then how can it be true? Truth is absolute.

How else do we suffer for our beliefs? We defend them. There are many people in the Middle East right now laying down their lives for their beliefs. Every willing soldier in every war in history has put their lives on the line for the same reason. Again: war.

Examine your beliefs: can you find one that you are not willing—in some small way—to go to war over? Even if it’s just in your mind, even if it’s just that muttering under your breath, or that nasty thought that keeps repeating itself in your mind; even if it’s one of those imagined dialogs, or a thump of your fist on the table—it doesn’t matter, any thought of attack, no matter how small, is an act of war. We are fighting for our beliefs all the time.

War has an opposite. It is still, it is silent, it is completely forgiving: it is peace. Peace is the expression of truth. Peace has no need or desire to fight; peace just is.

And because it is the expression of truth—of universal truth—it is the one thing we all have in common. Within every single one of us lies pure, unadulterated peace. (That’s a tautology, by the way: peace is pure, and cannot be adulterated.) Wouldn’t it be good to be in the place where universal truth resides? To experience that is to know, to truly understand, to not suffer.

Give yourself the opportunity to find it. To do so requires stillness. And it means giving up all your cherished beliefs, but is that such a sacrifice when the reward is so great?

Be in peace.

Right Here, Right Now

Do you remember being a kid at Christmas time? Remember all the presents under the tree, waiting to be unwrapped? Remember the expectation that built and built, maybe for a month or more? Remember opening all those presents on Christmas day? Now, do you remember the feeling once it was done? How would you describe it? Hollow? Unfulfilled? Disappointed? It didn’t matter what you got, did it? That sense of needing something more was present.

Extrinsic expectation will do that to you every single time.

With mindfulness, we notice what is happening within us now. Extrinsic expectation is the hope that something outside of us will make us happy later. It never does. Sure, we get some kind of gratification for consumption; it addresses the fundamental sense of lack that motivates it.

But just because it addresses it, doesn’t mean it resolves it. In fact, it has the opposite effect: because it doesn’t resolve the sense of lack, it makes us want to consume even more, in the hope that sheer volume will be the answer—which, of course, it isn’t. We have a word for this phenomenon: addiction.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re addicted to drugs or money; gambling or shopping; sex or power: all you are attempting to do is to fulfill a deep sense of lack within.

Understand this: you lack nothing. You have always had everything you need. Check in right now: is there ground beneath you? are you dying of thirst? can you breathe? You may—even in this moment—think that you need something more. You may have a large debt to pay off and no job to achieve that goal; you may have nobody else in your life; you may be in trouble with the law and fear spending the rest of your life in prison. But—in this moment; right here, right now—in this moment you have absolutely everything you need. And I promise you this: if you check in at any other moment of your life, you will find the same thing. The future may look bleak, but the present is always complete.

So it is with expectation: the imagined reality of a future you. I will be happy when _____ happens, or when I have ______. No you won’t. The sense of lack you expect will be fulfilled does not go away because something extrinsic enters your life. How is that even possible? Your sense of lack is inside you; that extrinsic expectation will always exist outside you. The two can never meet. No, that sense of lack remains while you attempt to fulfill it with things or events or people or places. All you’re ever going to find with that approach is temporary gratification. Is that good enough for you?

It’s not, is it?

There is only one way known to fulfill that sense of lack, and that is to realize that you lack nothing. Never have, never will. And you will only realize that when you take a moment away from all that planning and preparation, away from all those regrets and past slights, and spend that moment instead right here, right now, with everything you need.

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