if we can dress our
wounds with love,
and not understanding
what that means,
adopting the curiosity
of a child, unafraid,
ready to explore
their edges and borders,
ready to slide in
to find their story
ready to embody
the whole being
of which the
wounds are a small
part … watching
them grow smaller
in our spirit of
and exuberant play. – TS
Even when I’m not speaking,
the world listens.
When I try to speak
and the words reverberate
off sun-scorched, jagged peaks,
and sail down to dried up rivers below,
and bounce in the emptiness
of my head that knows
the world is listening.
There is no quality of
judgement, the ears,
soft and receptive.
We are finding fault in others,
and deep, deep within,
a gash of torn hopes.
But the world is listening
through our sad cries
and all our lashing out,
the world is loving,
and has never stopped
Plain and simple: our thoughts are never entirely new.
Imagine if every time you had a thought, a little fact-checking creature inside of you rang a gong and shouted, “Unoriginal thought! The thought you just experienced already occurred at place X, by person Y, in the year Z.”
To be constantly reminded that there is nothing original issuing from this mind I bounded into the world with would be terrifying in a Matrix-y, déjà vu, time-warpy, Stepford Wives-ish kind of way— if that makes sense, which it probably doesn’t.
Buddhist teachings, and eventually common sense, tell us this is more or less the case; minus the little creature inside incessantly yammering away with that clanging gong.
Not just in that annoying way when we think of the perfect title for our book or blog until Google tells us it already exists. Or even in that horrifying way when we mount an entire project, like a thesis, on a series of premises that not only exists somewhere on dusty pages throughout the globe, but that have been thoroughly refuted by a gang of experts.
Every time we have that thought it is not only dependent on a whole variety of external factors, but is also hot off the presses of an assembly line made up of our past thoughts, feelings and experiences.
It took me awhile to wrap my head around this. I’d like to think I have the slightest potential to be a free-thinking being, that I can burst forth and issue shiny original thoughts from a pure place where magical brilliance resides.
We are free, though; or at least we have the potential to be, if we can let go of our attachment to the very need to be original, and to our perceived sanctity of self and ego that go along with the territory–if we can accept that who we are is always being shaped out of that huge cosmos of our past selves.
I will always be influenced by the society I live in, for example, and how I was raised. I have the power, however, of critical thinking, and can observe and test the limits of my thoughts and the thoughts of others, and there is a freedom in that.
On a deeper level, though, we need to be okay with not being independent islands of thought.
If we want to connect with others, we need to really recognize how connected we already are to everything and everyone else. We also cannot escape the pervasive need to “know thyself”, which sages have been reminding us of all along. To this end, we can try to absorb:
- We are our own worst enemies.
- We are the masters of our own lives and future selves.
- How are we our own worst enemies?
Well, no one can cage us in more subversively than ourselves. It’s a lot easier to spot the manipulations and deceits of others, for example, than of our own deep mind. If someone tells me candy is health food and fruit is poison, I’ll dismiss this information out of hand (despite my fervent wish that Reese’s Pieces were a food group).
When I believe with all my heart that strawberries are heinous intrusions into our universe—and this feels totally true to me, can I refute myself with facts when my whole being shudders in revulsion when I lay my eyes on them?
What if it turns out that when I was little, I saw a TV news show talking about carcinogens and death and disease to images of strawberry fields, and this association of strawberries and death became infused into the fabric of my being for a very long time?
True story. Thankfully, I’m over it now.
This might be an obvious example, but on very subtle levels, everything we do in this world is governed by prior happenings, which generated feelings and emotional responses that have ultimately created our very own, personalized realities.
Unraveling how and why we think the way we do can help free us from negative habit patterns and open us to all kinds of new adventures. A fringe benefit is we learn to dissociate from our own egos by realizing how dependent we are on all things and beings for the how and why of our existence.
We can learn there are perspectives we’ve never considered before, which have a beautiful place in this world. We can learn to be more compassionate, tolerant and accepting, because we’ve been humbled into realizing our thoughts are not Truth.
From Truth—essence, universe, a place of ultimate freedom—we arise, sometimes fledgling and sometimes breaking a little, and it’s up to us to do the work of unpeeling the onion of beliefs we have packed onto our lives over the years.
Heading into the New Year, what better time to begin this kind of excavation?
I like to think of it as observing and befriending our thoughts so that their origins aren’t mysterious anymore, and cannot hold power over us. This may be a lifetime’s work, but we can begin to examine and say goodbye to what no longer serves us, because we now see our thoughts, and the older thoughts they come from, are not us.
We might be lugging around the sum of all we have been, but we also have an amazing gift: the power to self-contemplate, and to create spaces for change and transformation.
Ever inquisitive, go off in search of more hidden beliefs and perceptions possibly hindering our growth, and open up even one tiny crack leading to a new way of being.
May our thoughts, original or not, be ones that free us, which pour compassion into the world and serve others to the benefit of all.
- This was originally published on The Tattooed Buddha.
Most of us pass through typical milestones or rites of passage as we grow older, designed to propel us into a new stage of being.
These include going through puberty, getting our driver’s license, landing our first “real” job, getting married, having kids and so on.
All the world’s cultures have their own variations of rituals associated with the various (and varying) stages of life, from birth and coming-of-age to unions and ultimately death; we have much to learn and gain by studying how the peoples of the world celebrate growth, time, nature and transition.
If we’re lucky, and really attending to these moments, we can recognize all the subtle shifts at play—in our bodies, minds and psyches—as we morph from one phase of life to another.
On the other hand, we risk creating an imbalance between these big rites of passage and the rest of our “ordinary,” day-to-day lives, masking some truths about time and experience that can help us move beyond a life of delusion and toward peace and satisfaction.
Time doesn’t stop between Great Big Events, and life has an abundance of fascinating things on offer in these in-between spaces.
Maybe we’ve gone through those highs leading up to a wedding, or even New Year’s, imagining that some mysterious forces are going to transplant us right into the life we crave. The lows that come afterward remind us that the best thing we can do for ourselves is create a situation where we don’t attach to big dates, and thrive every day.
One of the core meanings behind rites of passage and even the change of seasons is to gently coax us into deepening our connection with the universe, and with ourselves as a harmonious part of it.
What better way to do this than to honour the very magic of existence by learning to celebrate the inevitable fact of change, and beauty of where we find ourselves each day?
“There is nothing you can see that is not a flower. There is nothing you can think that is not the moon.”
~ Matsuo Basho
We are in constant interplay with the world. We are changing, growing and evolving right alongside it. There is no keeping up, or reaching some fixed, pre-established goal. We are the life, we are Basho’s moon and flower, we are the goal.
In practical terms, we want to step out of our listless daydreams (though daydreams certainly have their place), and generate awe—an “aha” that serves to remind us why it is ridiculously amazing that we are here.
We don’t need to organize a huge event to do this, or spend a cent. All we need to do is find a way to flip a switch.
Sometimes this happens spontaneously, like when we find ourselves in nature and are suddenly overwhelmed by the serenity and beauty around us. Guards drop, thoughts slip away and only the present remains. Some consider these moments to be enlightenment.
We can’t always put ourselves directly in inspiration’s way, though, and these are the times when it’s helpful to have some tools up our sleeve.
One of my favourites is what I call: The Rose-Tinted Glasses Experiment.
I was inspired to do this when I was studying cinema years ago, awestruck by how the greatest filmmakers took full advantage of the knowledge that worlds, film and otherwise, aren’t passively received—they are made—and that directors have to actively create what they want audiences to experience. Films like The Wizard of Oz and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which I wanted dozens of times each, utterly captivated me with their unique and highly expressive views of the world.
The Rose-Tinted Glasses Experiment is so easy it almost feels like a trick, but it’s amazing how a very simple intention can so thoroughly change the way you see things.
All you have to do is go outside and take a walk—you can also do this on a bike in your car, but it’s best if you can be as distraction-free as possible.
Now pick a colour.
With this colour in mind, just hang out and do your thing, and consciously put your proverbial rose-tinted glasses on, except the glasses are in your mind, and you can choose any colour you want (rose is not everyone’s cup of tea).
Now, with your chosen colour, tune into your environment and become aware of items of this colour around you, and awaken yourself to a world filled with this colour.
The first time I did this, I chose yellow. I figured there really weren’t that many yellow things around, and I was curious what would happen.
A new world opened up before me. A part of a billboard here, someone’s umbrella there, a shirt in a display window, another ad…the world was teeming with yellow!
Then I picked red, and the same thing happened.
Moments earlier, I was in a yellow world that had now turned red. The world, of course, didn’t change at all, but I was able to use my mind to create a world of my making, because the world is simply too large and grand for our limited brains or minds to take everything in. And so we filter. We normally do this subconsciously and in predictable ways, but with this exercise, we are taking hold of the reins.
This is empowering in itself—and helps overcome feelings of lack of control—but the important part of this exercise is that we can use it to jar ourselves out of boredom and complacency and learn to attend to things all around us that otherwise remain invisible.
We often don’t realize how stuck we’ve become in our conditioned way of seeing things, and this applies to the physical world around us as well as to our responses to things like discomfort and conflict. This “rose-tinted glasses” exercise is a great way to rewire and observe that there are endless perspectives available to us, some of which can be much more helpful and liberating than others, and all of which are a great celebration of change.
Who knows what is awaiting us once we have the heart and mind to see, and make every day an ordinary-magic rite of passage?
Bonus: See how they Think Pink in the classic film, Funny Face, here.
*Published under a different title in elephant journal, here.
We’re 15 years into the millennium!
Wondrous. Wonder. Awe. Reminders of LIFE.
I rarely leave the house without my camera, even if I’m in a cranky mood, or just walking to the supermarket or taking stuff out for recycling (a fairly complicated process in Japan that requires a fair bit of walking – well worth it!)
You never know how the sky is going to turn, or whom will be suddenly be doing what, or how the sun might lighting a flower to look like a fairytale, or what visual feast might appear before you.
Life is full of momentous occasions, the kind you expect and prepare for, and also the kind you can’t possibly anticipate — and we’re doing ourselves a great service when we can make a point of being present for every last second of it.
This doesn’t mean having a camera strapped to us at all times, of course. Image-making just happens to be one form of expression that gives me a great deal of joy. I’m always infinitely happier, it should be said, when I manage to carve some time to sit and observe my breath, when the only universe I have access to exists behind closed eyes. There’s nothing “only” about this, in my modest experience!
But most of life is lived with open eyes, and this is no small opportunity to have them open with full attention to the moment at hand, so we can see that behind/underneath our desires for how the world should look/be/appear/treat us, there is a humming, thriving, perfect world just as it is.
And just as we are.
It exists whether we have the thickest cloud or happiest rainbow filtering our view on any given day, and it’s our privilege to be able to find it.
I took the photo above on a crisp, sunny winter day. I walked by, at first absorbed in one interior drama or another, and something about the scene caught my eye. I turned and saw this man sitting on a bench at the park closest to where I live. From my view, he was caught in the “frame” of this ancient, strange play structure, and instinctively, before I reached for my camera, I took a few steps backward to frame the man in the center ring.
I couldn’t help but think: how happy we would remain if we seized every opportunity to make any of the infinite, small adjustments that are fully in our power to make, to manifest moments of always-beautiful and always-changing perfection. It could be as simple as remembering to take a long, deep breath; or opening our eyes just a little wider with a heart that is just a little more expansive; or expressing gratitude for the air that gives us life, and the people who give us the great honour of practicing love.
Happy New Year, dear everyone, and may 2015 bring you a world full of joy and passion, peace and magic.