originally posted on website January 15, 2010
Yes, the holidays can be stressful, yes our emphasis on materialism as a culture is reflected in the season, and yes it is a time when “abundance rejoices, and want is keenly felt (David Rolph,1981).” Though most would have to agree – it is also a time when kindness and compassion can be more plentiful – when we take a moment to write a card, send a gift, or share a thought with someone we might otherwise forget – when we offer love more openly and with greater benevolence. And if we are really on top of our game, we remember to thank the garbage collector with some cookies, the mailman with a cup of hot chocolate, and the UPS delivery person with some Peligrino.
And now – it is mid-January. Perhaps some of you would agree that this is definitely the month with the worst reputation. Just following the time dubbed by Andy Williams (popular vocal artist of the ‘60s) as the “hap-happiest time of the year,” there doesn’t seem to be a lot to look forward to. Kids go back to school, adults return to work so they can pay off the debt they have accrued from holiday spending, and most of Northern America is in a deep freeze. Days are short, nights are long, and spring is something that happened last year. It is hard to imagine anything melting while we’re mired in the midst of a “winter wonderland.” There are resolutions to contemplate, goals to set, and of course, more than likely, some pounds to shed. After the last echo of Auld Lang Syne falls silent, it is time to hunker down and realize – we are ushering in a New Year – January or not.
On some level, unless you are enlightened like the Christ or Buddha, you are probably something of a seeker like me. You want to eliminate all of the proverbial January’s from your life (i.e. suffering ), and so you have studied, meditated, prayed, attended workshops, followed gurus, authors, and so on, in an attempt to awaken your heart and let go of the suffering for good. At times, you have epiphanies and ah ha moments when you think you have arrived. And then, whack, something pushes your buttons and you are right back with your mental chatter, analyzing the situation – often making something or someone wrong – quite frequently yourself.
We are all products of our conditioning or the deep trenches in our brains that get triggered when a situation we experience in the present hooks a belief system from the past. And like spinning on a gerbil wheel, when we continue to circulate the story in our monkey minds, we become more and more dizzy and numbed down if we take the bait of a pattern that emerges resulting from that hook. In such a state, our present time awareness is overshadowed by something that occurred long ago – having actually nothing to do with what is in front of us in this moment. And when there is a collective agreement that what is happening should be labeled “good” (as in the holidays) or “bad” (as in January), it seems even more challenging to create a fresh perspective on things.
What is really underneath all the triggers and hooks and everything else that might be happening in this internal world of ours? Are there untapped desires and unexpressed passions? Are your true talents being underutilized? Do you want more love, joy, prosperity, youthfulness, vitality, and health? Would you like to live with an open heart where suffering and pain move through you like a quick rushing wave rather than you getting swept up and tossed around in the undertow? Do you want to treat others with honor, respect, and compassion, and then have those virtues reflected to you in kind? Is it possible to experience all of the above and even expand beyond the boundaries of our limited imagination? If so, how can we move toward such experiences?
Don Miguel Ruiz, celebrated author of The Four Agreements (1997), a New York Times Best Seller, has just gifted us with a new book The Fifth Agreement (2009), which he wrote with his son, Don Jose Luis Ruiz. In The Four Agreements, Ruiz translates simple teachings from the wisdom of the ancient Toltec tradition that have been transformational for many: Be impeccable with your word, don’t take things personally, don’t make assumptions, and do the best you can. In The Fifth Agreement the two men suggest that by being skeptical and learning to listen, you can actually recover your original authenticity-or who you really are minus all of the hooks and charges that trigger you when you come face to face with the perceived dragons of your daily life. “ … the very last time we judge either ourselves or anybody else… is a day we accept ourselves just the way we are, and we accept everybody else just the way they are. When the day of our last judgment comes, the war in our heads is over …a dream of respect, love, and joy is the playground of life; it is what we are meant to live, and only awareness can take us to that place.”
And so how can we pay attention to what is going on in our heads – really noticing our thoughts, judgments, beliefs, and whatever else that is interpreted through our personal lens of perception? Can we watch the story run without getting hooked by it?
Perhaps we can start by just by making a commitment to being aware, and then becoming even a bit skeptical of this story of ours, noticing how quickly we can jump to conclusions about this or that. And when practicing this awareness with faithful discipline, who knows, maybe we will develop our skill at dropping the judgment-making ourselves available for what Ruiz describes as “the playground of life.”
Cyntiha Bourgeault, wisdom teacher and Episcopal Priest, offers a simple explanation on why we do what we do in her brilliant book, The Wisdom Jesus (2008). She states that although we are “…wired for an upgrade, most humans are stuck in an egoic operating system” …based on scarcity, insufficiency, fear, and survival (the old reptile in us fighting for our lives). “…We walk through [life] perceiving, reacting, and attempting to negotiate the world ‘out there’ on the basis of this operating system. It is like being lost in a mirage…But we do have the capacity, if we so choose, to shift to a whole different basis of perception…” Through our willingness to accept the ‘upgrade’ to a new system, we will have to practice operating from the heart, which is “… usually perceived to be at the center of our emotional life. But this is not the way the wisdom tradition sees it. In the wisdom tradition the heart is primarily an organ of spiritual perception, a highly sensitive instrument for keeping us aligned…”
Would things be different in your life in the absence of anyone to blame (including yourself)? And what would it be like without the dramas to dwell on (either “good” or “bad”)? Is it possible that without such distractions there could be an opening for this wise and willing heart of ours to have a stronger voice?
Who knows, maybe with a little practice we can re-frame all of the proverbial January’s of our lives into “June-uary’s.” Perhaps with some “personal training” we can begin (or continue) to recognize the magnitude of love, joy, prosperity, and health, that is available to us in infinite supply, remembering all the while, that the external thermometer reading has nothing to do with the cozy warmth being cultivated in our internal world.
Oh, and one more thing, I haven’t put away my favorite holiday treasure (a bunny with a wreath around her neck). I am keeping her out as a reminder to remember the mailman all year (not just in December). Hope it works.
Loving you, Luann
PS. Spring is just around the corner.