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Seize This Moment

I leave for retreat today. One month in silence at Insight Meditation Society, in the snowy woods of central Massachusetts. This will be the longest retreat I have done, and a deep dive into my personal exploration.

I'm continually humbled by the courage it takes to thoroughly explore, to see things through, to go all-in. But as the fleeting-ness of life becomes more apparent, so too does my commitment to engaging fully.

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“For Us, There Is Only The Trying”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the different ways people relate to the explorations of their lives. Certain underlying views can significantly inhibit a person’s sense of skill, capacity and security in exploring (in careers, partnerships, etc.). These views tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies, leading to timid, incomplete ventures and unreliability.

But they are not objective truth. (Is there such a thing?) They are merely colored lenses we were long ago conditioned to wear. We can treat these views as meditation objects, watching the distortions arise and pass instead of assuming that we are seeing things the way they are.

As I’ve worked with my own distortions, I’ve realized: more than keeping me from succeeding, they keep me from trying. When self-doubt and fear prevent me from being both-feet-in, I never get to know if I would have succeeded or not. In other words, giving in to fear of failure ensures failure.

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freedom

Freedom is a Moving Target

freedomTo me, “freedom” is a particularly useful word to describe the long-term goal of mindfulness practice. But what does that word really mean? To keep “freedom” tangible and relevant, I like to move through my life asking, “how am I NOT free in this moment?” Often the answer is surprising. As an illustration, consider the example of hearing the unintentionally harsh words of a friend…

Am I free to feel the hurt (sadness, embarrassment) caused by the harsh words, or am I compelled to space out or ruminate angrily? Perhaps I am free to feel the hurt, but am I fully free to speak up in defense of my principles? Perhaps I am free to speak up in defense of my principles, but am I free to do it in a way that is kind and without anger? Perhaps I am free to speak up kindly, but am I free to walk away from that experience without resentment? Perhaps I am free to walk away without resentment, but am I free to maintain a fully accepting relationship with this friend, should that seem the best choice? Perhaps I am free to maintain that relationship, but am I free NOT to maintain it, investing less energy in it if in fact it seems unhealthy?

Freedom is a moving target. In each moment, as conditions change, there are new opportunities to let go and new opportunities to be stuck. New opportunities to choose, and new opportunities to humbly acknowledge the limitations on our freedom of choice. How are you not free in this moment?

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There Is Nothing Wrong With You

There is nothing wrong with the part of you that feels sad, scared, or alone. There is nothing wrong with the part of you that doesn’t understand. There is nothing wrong with the part of you that desires things or people. There is nothing wrong with the part of you that wants to run from others, even when what you need most is to connect.

There is nothing wrong with the overachiever, the inner critic, the unworthy one. The overwhelmed, the humorless, or the numb. There is nothing wrong with the jealous one, the selfish one, the one who is ashamed. There is nothing wrong with the part of you that thinks there is something wrong.

All these orphaned parts, they don’t need to be fixed. They need to be allowed in. They need to be lovingly led back from exile, or gently coaxed down from the soapbox, and brought to their seats at the table. With acceptance and understanding, we earn their trust. With trust, they settle into balance, no longer distorted in their influence.

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Memory & Forgiveness

I was doing forgiveness practice this morning, and an old, important memory from childhood arose.  It was an uncomfortable exchange in which I felt scared and sad—one of tens of thousands of early experiences (good and bad) which mix together to form the overall sense of self and world that underlies an adult personality.

We often fondly remember the good moments of our early years, but we file away the painful ones like unwanted boxes in the attic. It seems as though we can rid ourselves of these experiences, but as long as we hold resentment and blame about what has happened, we are influenced by those holdings. They consistently, subtly affect our views and our behavior (check out this article for more info).

So let’s take the blame out of what happened, however insignificant: Is it your fault that you adapted to the imperfect conditions of your childhood in the way you needed to at 1, 2, 3 years old? Is it your parents fault that they operated with the conditioning they were given—even with the best of intentions, falling back to sometimes misguided habits in the overwhelm of child-rearing?  Is it your grandparents fault for giving that conditioning to your parents?  Is it your great grandparents fault?

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