Thoughts – Hold on Loosely

Are my thoughts a habit of mind that I acquired as I grew up?  Were they planted by my family . . . cultivated and nurtured by my peers, experience and education?  Or are they “closer to being instincts” as Robert Wright proposes in his book Why Buddhism Is True?  A classic conundrum – nature vs. nurture.

Wherever they’re born, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing I am my thoughts.  I am not.

“A thought is harmless unless we believe it.  It’s not our thoughts, but our attachment to our thoughts that cause suffering.  Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true, without inquiring.  A belief is a thought that we’ve been attaching to.” – Byron Katie

All those stories I tell myself and others about who I am, what I know, are just that – stories.  Believing my own stories, that drama; the spectacle – creates suffering.  Letting go, releasing my expectation that a certain something must happen, brings a relaxed sense of calm.

Holding tight to the story – attaching to it as Byron Katie says; brings resistance – and ultimately suffering.

I have a choice.  Calm, relaxed awareness – or resistance and suffering.  What will I choose today?

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“To me the ego is the habitual and compulsive thought processes that go through everybody’s mind continuously.  External things like possessions or memories or failures or successes or achievements.  Your personal history.” – Eckhart Tolle

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Accept . . . Then Act

Meditation & Yoga practice started today with our teacher sharing her lessons on “having to be right” that sometimes shows up as the “need to be understood.”  Both can interfere with the acceptance of what is.  This set the stage for our intention to live in the moment – breathing and doing yoga.

Letting go . . . accepting what is; not my strong suit.

Thirty years ago I started applying techniques not exactly consistent with acceptance.  The philosophies behind these techniques, they’re everywhere.

  • If you want to accomplish something – write it down. Yes; put those goals on paper.  Being a Psych and Self Help aficionado – this advice is ubiquitous.
  • Visualize the result – it will materialize.  Every New Age enthusiast and reader of The Secret knows this!
  • The power of positive thinking – thank you Norman Vincent Peale.
  • Think it – say it – do it . . .  or as my bestie says:  thought – word – deed

The power of these concepts rests in the strength of our belief.  Some of it is just how our brain works.  Negative people see crappy shit.  Positive people see the good around them.  Our brains focus on what we look for, filtering out everything else.  Takes a nice knock on the head to thump us out of our rut.

After thirty years of writing down my “wants” – creating vision boards, scrap books, life goal lists – how do I turn that off?  Should I?  What is real and when do I follow my bliss?  Can I know when I’ve crossed the line to “magical thinking?”

I’m not opposed to holding contradictory beliefs – we all do to some extent.  A juicy paradox can be so appealing.  It can also make me crazy.

Letting go . . . of things, people and situations.  Not easy, but possibly a key to happiness.  Marie Kondo, in her “Tidying Up” book says I should release anything that doesn’t bring me joy.  Let me live without a bunch of “stuff” that I don’t even use; let toxic people exit my universe; leave a bad … whatever; could mean peace – and yes, joy!

So why do we hold onto every damn thing?  According to Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, we all have a serious aversion to loss.  We “attach values to gains and losses rather than to wealth.”   We’ve grown up with the proverb “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” – so we see the risk as too much.

Well, Thoreau did say that  “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”  Could be they’d rather live with the devil they know.  Ouch.  Let me give risk a try.

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“Accept – then act.  Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.  Always work with it, not against it.  Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy.  This will miraculously transform your whole life.” ― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

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Choices – Possibilities or Regrets

Many odd and questionable adventures resulted from my vow to not be “that” old lady rocking on her porch regretting missed opportunities.

“I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations — one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it — you will regret both.” ― Søren Kierkegaard, Either/ Or: A Fragment of Life

Still, there’s an old adage that claims people regret what they didn’t do more than what they did do.  So I did – and continue to do … thankfully not in a rocking chair – but curious about how the cards are playing out with the hand I was dealt.  I find myself mostly grateful, sometimes cranky – occasionally aware that grace intervened.

We choose – or choose to ignore stuff every day.  Sometimes small seemingly inconsequential choices have deep repercussions.  Turn left, turn right.  Speak up, stay quiet.  Choose.

Tuesday I adopted a new puppy – my first little boy.  Two months ago it was just a spontaneous; okay – impulsive email about cute schnauzer pups.  Now I’m telling my friend Margaret that being home all day is helping me teach him the best places to potty – outside!  She responds: “a stay-at-home mom” – Hilarious; me, who never had or raised a kid.  Was that all choice?  Nah, just circumstance associated with lots of choices.  Now my maternal instincts, what there are of them, are channeled to furry critters.

The rear view mirror of life gives me perspective on my deck of cards.  Whichever way I go – or don’t go – the other choice disappears.  Yearning for what isn’t may not be surprising – might even be normal, but doesn’t seem productive.  Seeing the good my choices create feels better.  This week – it’s Riley.

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“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” – Alexander Graham Bell

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Shoulda Coulda Woulda

It’s curious how often I do what I think I SHOULD do – what I was brought up to do.  I was taught to behave in prescribed ways, believe culturally acceptable ideas and fear the consequences of misbehavior – of being ostracized.   It’s my obligation, my duty; to behave correctly – according to my people, my culture.

Life is better when I’m with my tribe – I am … we are, social animals.

But when can I know that going along to get along is to my detriment?  What if my experience is different?  There are still consequences; denial of self or nonconformity.  What I can live with?

What if I didn’t fear the consequences?  Felt I had nothing to lose?  Would I choose differently?

My husband and I watched the movie “Veronika Decides to Die” based on the book by Paulo Coeloho.  Veronika, beautiful and young – appears to have everything; yet finds life isn’t worth living.  After an unsuccessful suicide attempt she wakes up in a mental hospital.  She learns that her actions ruined her heart and only has days to live.  She also learns that crazy people don’t have to be “normal.”  These lessons liberate her and change her attitude, her way of seeing the world.  She now has reason to live.

As a corporate wonk, I took a psych test to find out what traits might derail my career.  One of my derailers was mischievousness.  HA!  Knowing this delighted me – and strangely enough I exploited it.  Maybe that didn’t do me many favors – but I felt liberated; maybe like Veronika.  Being a nonconformist in a buttoned up world boosted my desire to retire early; loosened those golden handcuffs.

Yes there are consequences for every choice, every decision.  Each choice is personal, unique; a privilege and a responsibility.

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“I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” ― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

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