June 12, 2009

Our first mission is always awareness.

Awareness of what is really so at this moment. . . and the next moment, , , and the next.  If you are angry in the moment, be aware that you are angry.  We don’t have to justify it, we don’t have to act it out, and we don’t have to suppress it.  We hold it in awareness.  We don’t have to fight with it.  We just hold it, like a parent holds a crying baby. We hold it with a gentle mindfulness.

Letting go of our anger is a good thing. But we have to differentiate between letting go and pushing away, masking, or repressing.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the ambition to become a saint. I don’t want to sleep on a bed of nails or force myself to stay awake all night. If that works for someone else, great. But it is not my way.

Recently someone wrote to me and said she was trying to visualize sending loving-kindness toward someone who had just been very, very mean to her. That sounds very heroic. And it could be a good thing to try.

I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone who feels like being heroic. Try it, if you feel inspired. Maybe you will have a breakthrough. But, if you don’t, please do not feel discouraged.

Sometimes baby steps are the best steps.

In discussing types of meditators, traditionally one type achieves sudden, dramatic progress. But a few of those who make rapid progress, also find themselves falling back just as suddenly. Then there are the slow, steady types. They do not progress rapidly, but their progress is stable.

So sudden breakthroughs are good, but so are baby steps.

Firstly, I recommend simply practicing the awareness exercise of noticing how your heart is at random times during the day. Focus on the subtle, low-level feelings of irritation, impatience, and dislike,

The subtle feelings are the easiest to overlook. When we are yelling hurtful words at someone, we are aware of it, even though we may find ourselves almost unable to stop the flow of angry words. But, how about being aware of the feeling of irritation gradually building?

It is easier to blow out a tiny flame than it is to stop a raging forest fire.

Being attuned to our subtle dislikes and irritations makes it easier to manage them before they flare into an out of control temper tantrum, which will end in hurt feelings and regret.

So, the first step is to be aware. Aware of the feelings in our body and the thoughts that go through our heads. Particularly when we are reacting to strangers. Because with strangers we are reacting mostly to our own preconceptions, projections, and prejudices.

The second step is curiosity. A gentle questioning: why am I irritated by this person? Frequently we will find that we have very flimsy reasons to be irritated: “I don’t like the way her mouth is hanging partly open like a stupid person.”

Notice, we are not trying to justify why we are irritated. “Of course, anyone would be irritated by a girl with purple hair and sixteen earrings. Only an idiot would dress like that.”

We are also not trying to judge ourselves. “I am a terrible person to be prejudiced against people who beg on the street. I should be like Mother Teresa. The fact that I am not proves what a worthless person I really am.”

If anything we could have a sense of humor about it. “Haha. So much irritation arising because the person ahead of me in the rapid checkout line has 10 items instead of 7. It’s really hilarious the way anger automatically arises.”

This is the awareness practice.

Taking that one baby step further we produce a new thought.

That’s another person, just like me. The fact that she has 10 items in her cart is just one facet of a complicated being. Perhaps she is in a hurry to get home to feed her child or to take care of her elderly mother. I really have no way of truly judging her. I’m just reacting out of automatic irritation, or a sense of “should.”

This thought does NOT have to COMPLETELY dissipate our feeling of irritation.

If all it does is soften it a little, that’s already a step forward.

A baby step is, in fact, a giant step.

Train this way until the noticing, the questioning, and the softening begin to become a habit. Then irritation becomes our friend. It wakes us up out of our sleep and causes us to look at what is going on in our mind and heart.

Practicing like this will gradually transform us into more open, loving, open, and flexible people with a sense of humor and few traces of self-righteousness.

At some point you may want to take this a step further and start actively projecting love toward people, mentally.

I recommend starting with those you care about. Don’t we often neglect them and take them for granted. Take time to mentally send love toward them. Let that intention be a physical feeling as you imagine that you actually can send love to them from a distance.

Then, when you are with them, don’t forget to demonstrate love in your actual words and actions.

Next we project love toward those we don’t have any special feelings toward — the waitress, the checkout clerk, the librarian. It can be a feeling in your body, an image of sending light or hearts toward them, or a thought “I wish you happiness.”

Finally we begin working with those we feel irritated toward, working our way up to the big ones.

If it gets too difficult, we can take a step back, then try again later.

When we feel we can’t or don’t want to project love toward someone, we state our willingness to learn.  “I’m willing to learn to want to project love toward Jane Smith.”

Or, if we don’t even have the willingness, “I wish to find the willingness to want to learn to project love toward Jane Smith.”

Start where you are! There is ALWAYS a starting place. You don’t ever have to give up.

Don’t forget to project love toward yourself, toward the wounded parts of you.

Remember that love is part of your Being. “I can project love to Jane Smith because I am (deep inside) the source of unconditional love.”

The base of all this is awareness practice. Awareness will take you to love.

Be gentle with yourself. We are too hard on ourselves. Love yourself as a good parent would love you.

One Response to “AWARENESS IN EVERYDAY LIFE continued 1.1”

  1. J. L. said

    You know, it makes me laugh but in all seriousness, 6 years working customer service at my town’s
    grocery store has taught me just that. People never seem very happy; I think mainly because they don’t like to shop and they don’t like to spend money.

    When I first started working there I would immediately feel the negative energy of the store; the workers always angry at the customers
    and the customers always angry at the workers…it wasn’t good!

    Then I began reading into this stuff and I thought to myself WOW! The grocery store is the perfect place to practice this. Ever since then, I’ve dealt with customers and people in a much different way. It could be the meanest customer or the nicest, but every interaction I have becomes meaningful in some way. I’ve learned a ton about myself and a ton about other people.

    It all hit home when some very elderly man came up to me out of nowhere and said, “you know, it looks like you enjoy doing what you’re doing…”
    I never thought of it like that…never thought I would actually enjoy this job…but that guy was right. I think spiritual growth can happen from many different scenarios, not just from meditation. This is what awareness is all about!

    I never thought this low-paying dead end job would end up meaning so much to me!

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