Monday, July 4, 2011

Every Moment We Have The Opportunity to Begin Again

Beatles Reference?

Recently, at a restaurant here in Rishikesh, a friend and I got into a conversation with a young man who queried “what exactly is a spiritual path?”  He, an Indian man from Mumbai, had just been told by a Western friend of his that he wasn’t spiritual enough because he wasn’t on a spiritual path.   He was openly agitated by the comment. 

First thing’s first, I must say that I was a bit perplexed that a person who is presumably on the “spiritual path” would feel the need to rate another human’s spiritual efforts.  I wonder what spiritual path he’s on.  Second thing’s second, the word “spiritual” is a bit overused in some circles and its meaning is debatable in most every circle so it is always difficult to begin a conversation, particularly one that could evoke some strong feelings, that centers on such a subjective word.

In any event, my agitated new friend took the Yoda approach: “Do or do not.  There is no try.”  Translation: There is no path to spirituality.  You either exist in peace with yourself and the world around you, or you don’t.  His sentiment reminds me of a quote from the Dalai Lama that I love: “There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.” And while I respect and agree with both of these sentiments, I still feel that we are all on a journey or path.  The path varies for each of us.  Some of us are on several.  We’re on the path to spirituality; happiness; peace; acceptance of our past mistakes; getting over any childhood issues, living more fit lives; downsizing our possessions; upgrading our possessions, decorating our homes; loving our jobs; improving our relationships; maintaining a better diet; finding that special someone; starting a family; maintaining a better attitude in the face of things that are hurtful, annoying, ridiculous; and on and on…

Perhaps it is as simple as “Do or do not.  There is no try.”  Maybe.  Could be.   I wish.  It hasn’t been that simple for me.  Instead everyday, I wake up and I try.   I try with yoga poses that I haven’t mastered.  You don’t just pop into the scorpion, for example.  Or when someone makes a mean, unexpected comment, of course, the optimal situation would be to ignore it.  Remember: “There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.”  Except for that’s crap when you are reeling from a negative experience.  You’re not happy - maybe you’re angry or hurt.  Perhaps you’re thinking of what you should have said, or what you should say, or what you should do now…and none of those thoughts fall into the “happy thought” category.  What do you do?  You could take negative counteraction.  You could take positive action.  But most importantly is to observe what you feel.  Get to know that anger.  Accept yourself.  Then realize that every moment you have the opportunity to start again, to get back on your path…whatever path that may be…back to happiness, back to loving your job, back to loving yourself, back to fitness, back to starting your family.  We have a choice of what this moment and those that follow will look like.  So someone is actively detracting from your present happiness.  Choose you, when you’re ready.  No worries how long it takes.  Eventually, the decision to get back to the path comes faster and faster, until you no longer step off the path (at least not on that issue).

All of this reminds me of a fantastic story called “Autobiography in Five Chapters” from a book I love, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying:

1) I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost . . . I am hopeless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

2) I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I’m in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

3) I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I see it there.
I still fall in . . . it is a habit
My eyes are open
I know where I am
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

4) I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I walk around it.

5) I walk down another street.

Cheers to you and your path!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Don’t You Folks Have Jobs?

After travelling around Asia and before law school, I lived in NYC.  For a good part of that year plus, I worked as a waitress at a few restaurants around the city.   I lived a simple worry-free life.  I worked mostly dinner shifts, which meant that I had the best of both worlds: I got off just as Manhattan night-life was heating up and I didn’t have to wake up in the morning after a night of being way too cool for the woman I am today J but could still enjoy New York during the day.  Anyway, I remember thinking to myself when I would walk around the city before my evening shift began: what are all these people doing hanging out during the day?  Don’t these people have jobs?  So I’d try to rationalize the whole thing, saying to myself, well, some of these people have to be waiters/work the evening shift like me, then a good number of people are likely on vacation from these jobs that they may or may not have, there must be a number of students in the mix, perhaps a good number of folks are new to the city and looking for jobs, friends and family visiting friends and family, starving artists….  I was never quite satisfied with the list of options I came up with because there were soooo many people just hanging out…some relaxed, some anxious, a good number of folks crying (break-ups I always assumed).  In any event, I was lucky to have company during the day as I wandered the city and it was fun making up stories about the people I saw.

When I arrived in India, I found myself with the same questions about my new yoga compadres, all the folks that have passed through for one-week yoga retreats, and the many folks that I’ve run into at restaurants and cafes.  What are all of these people doing here?  Don’t they have jobs?  How can they all afford to take off weeks from work to come play in India?  For that matter, shouldn’t I have a job to get back to?  Oh yeah, I quit after a moment of clarity that I wasn’t happy being a lawyer became unwavering assuredness that I wasn’t happy being a lawyer.  So that’s my story and I’ve got all the time in the world to be here.  What about these other people?

Before I left, I assumed that the course would be filled with recent college grads and college students on summer break.  I was wrong.  My course is filled with an amazing, and diverse group of backgrounds and perspectives: A choir/orchestra conductor who took a year off to take a hard look at his life; a recent divorcee who is doing a real “Eat Pray Love” trip, a police officer and mother who worked her butt off to accumulate enough time off to come here; a television producer who decided that some “me time” was well overdue; a woman recently laid off from a international company who plans to travel for at least a year before thinking of another job, a woman who’s been traveling through Asia for seven years since she realized that she was an unhappy marketing exec; a teacher’s assistant who is between jobs; a college professor (he’s been working since he got here) who wants to be able to teach at the yoga studio his family is starting in New Mexico; three masseuses from posh resorts and cruise ships; an established puppeteer who gave up a lucrative career to learn how and when to say “Yes” and “No;” an entrepreneur who’s presently learning that “No.” is a complete sentence.

The great thing is that I could go through each person in the program and identify how they’ve helped me to better understand myself and the human condition, or how they’ve resolved an issue that I’d been grappling with by sharing their own unique stories and perspectives.  It’s so interesting to think of how much it took to get this exact group here, together this summer.  People have told me that it just happened to be a slow time at work, they couldn’t get into the April teacher training course so they came in June instead, they were added at the last minute after a spot opened up….  Indeed, I could have continued to push through with my job (the sensible option some would say) and I wouldn’t be here….  One thing is clear though – our group seems to have been orchestrated for each individual’s personal progress.  I am so grateful to be here.