Turning 50 and the Therapeutic Pursuit of Joy
I turned 50 years old today (Thursday, 4/21/2016) and I am marking this day and transition into my second half-century with this Top 10 List. I can now, finally, and only with the perspective of a 50 year old, look back over the course of my life and see the many twists, turns, adventures, traumas, loves, heartbreaks, great losses, victories, defeats, humiliations, celebrations, etc. as being truly purposeful - to get me to this place, this very moment. Today I savor it. Today I celebrate it. Today I share with you ten of the deepest ‘learnings’ (I shy away from calling anything ‘wisdom’ – that’s just not for me to say) I have won and accumulated to date. I hope that you read something useful to you on your own unique Path.
*Update: We lost Prince today. So I am dedicating this to him.
I. Fear is a formidable antagonist that must be constantly embraced
and that ‘embrace’ is facilitated with LOVE and acceptance. We must strive to make fear our friend because it will arise from the deepest parts of ourselves, from the many blind-spots of ourselves, and seek to cripple us – to make us small – to convince us that we are ‘unworthy.’ We are not small. We are not unworthy. We are great Princes (!), Princesses, Warriors, and Heroes. This is our birth right. We did not come here out of a purely random, biological act of species procreation. We came here out of ‘divine choice,’ out of ‘divine wisdom’ (design), and we all have purpose for which we (mostly) lack understanding. Make fear your friend and you will find the source of your greatest strength – and your greatest peace (hint: they’re the same). Embrace your fears, honor them, love them, bow to them – they are our greatest teachers because they hold such power and sway over us.
“Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions." ~ Hāfez-e Shīrāzī (aka: Hafiz)
II. We don’t fully understand LOVE.
If we did, we would not be here. Period. Learn as much as you can about LOVE, in as many ways as you can approach it, receive it, express it, show it, honor it, bow to it, and you will live a LIFE – and not just have a life happen to you. We do not have the capacity to ‘hold’ the full expression of LOVE in human form – that’s what our evolution as human beings and souls is all about. But the more we can ‘hold’ LOVE, the more we are able to heal and share/radiate LOVE into a world that is in great need of it. This is the greatest service we can do…to shine with as much LOVE as possible (like Prince…).
“By your stumbling, the world is perfected.” ~ Sri Aurobindo
III. We are, each and every one of us, Great Heroes.
We do not understand this as well (see II. above) as it was part of the ‘divine forgetting’ that we agreed-to when we came here. We executed a ‘contract’ of sorts for coming to this place, this school, and part of the fine print was that you have to come here with a beginner’s mind. Little did we know that the capacity to ‘look behind the veil’ and remember (our purpose) was a kind of Easter Egg (secret key) that we all possess – that each and every one of us has to find for ourselves. Meditation, therapy, the sacred medicines, yoga, prayer, the martial arts, art, music, contemplative studies, loss/trauma, joy, LOVE, etc. all are potential doorways to a Great Body of Knowledge – the greatest of all. I have learned that I have great gifts – just not those that may be outwardly recognized (or appreciated) in our current, modern society. These gifts are no less important (and astonishing) than those of the greatest warriors, athletes, scientists, captains of industry, artists, shamans, teachers, masters, Servants, etc. You possess your own unique and Great Gifts. You are a Great Hero. They just may not be in the realms (or capacities) that you have been conditioned to think are the important or only ones. Learning how to appropriately "hold space" with impeccability is something we can all aspire to and it is nothing less than heroic.
“Go now. There are other worlds than these” ~ Stephen King, The Dark Tower
IV. Our Greatest Teachers surround us at all times
and our Greatest Teachers are the ones we require at that (this) very moment – and they are provided accordingly. Not all teachers come in human form. We are never alone. We are accompanied by Great Spirit at all times – because we are all of Great Spirit – so how could we ever be alone? I have a constantly changing list of Great Teachers – that change as I change – and I now realize that I’ve never been alone – nor ever will be. Humility in this knowing, this realization, has been crucial. Also, having the understanding of my own authentic power (see II. and III.) has been important as well. You are your own Greatest Teacher. While certainly others will be instrumental in your LIFE and on your Path, you are the Captain of your own Ship. Own that. With humility. A Great Captain IS a Great Servant.
V. We do not have the capacity to even approach an understanding of G-O-D.
(See II.) I cannot stress this one enough. It took me a long, long time to understand the teaching of “not knowing is knowing” and apply it in this context. I have come to understand that my mind can only take me so far – and it would be foolish to think that my human mind has the capacity to even grasp Great Mystery, Great Spirit, or G-O-D (remember what I said about humility?). I choose to use a conceptual ‘intermediary’ or Maha-Avatar of G-O-D (R-A-M) in HANUMAN. You will have your own. HANUMAN is my stepping-stone to G-O-D / R-A-M. In this way, I humble myself before G-O-D / R-A-M by my only approaching Him / Her through the Great Servant HANUMAN. Many use Prophets, Saviours, Maha-Avatars, Great Gurus, Nature, etc. in this way without realizing they’re doing what I’m talking about here. As human beings, we require intermediaries or intercessors. We require them because we are only human beings with tremendous limitations. Fundamentalism or ‘my way is the right way’ is such a human (ego/mind) failing. It is arrogance and hubris. Truth is One, Paths are Many. This is self-evident. If not to you, you’ve got much to learn IMHO.
VI. Growth and challenge (lessons) are correspondingly proportional.
This is some hard-won information right here. If you’ve truly dedicated yourself to personal, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth, you may find (as I have), that the lessons can come harder and faster. And their level of challenge greater-and-greater. It seems as though Great Spirit or G-O-D or LIFE or The Universe (or whatever you fancy) simply ‘ups-the-ante’ when you’ve ascended a level. No rest for the weary indeed. Know this now and you’ll save yourself some unnecessary pain of the “Why me? Why me again?” variety. If you feel that you’ve been doing the WORK for some time and things just don’t seem to get easier, you may be right. It may be because you’ve moved-into ‘advanced class’ and the WORK is more challenging because of it. See it as progress. One thing I have learned is that you also acquire and accumulate great strength (some say power) in the process - to compensate.
“Do not pray for an easy life. Pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.” ~ Lee Jun-Fan (aka: Bruce Lee)
VII. The truly miraculous exists and we can witness it and even access it.
How is it that we’ve lost the sense of wonder in our lives? When I see new born babies, the look on their faces can only be described as constant amazement and wonder. Now when I ride the subway in NYC, I scan the cars – looking in peoples’ eyes for a glimpse or sense that they feel as out-of-place as I do, or at least catch a glimpse of some shared sense of recognition - that we’re somehow together in a waking dream and we have to actually LOOK around and see if others recognize it too. This has yet to happen and it makes me sad because there is MUCH MORE to life than the day-to-day mechanics of our lives. There are things that can only be described as miraculous. Things that most people can’t or won’t believe or accept – even if they’re witness to them. All I can say is that if you witness the unfathomable, the extraordinary, and the miraculous – you often have to unlearn the immediate response of skepticism and doubt. This is something of an acquired skill. For when you’ve seen or experienced the miraculous a number of times, you begin to open to greater-and-greater miracles in our midst - and little-by-little, the sense of wonder returns. And if you’re indeed open and have a sense of wonder – your ability (and opportunity / chances) to access the realms of the miraculous increases dramatically.
VIII. We all have blind spots. All of us.
And these will plague us until the day we die. And while you may be able to illuminate, understand, and deconstruct many of them and undergo profound healing as a result, there will always be some that go unnoticed until such time that the corresponding deep wounding is triggered (“There’s the process, the wound, and the defense.” ~ Richard Bachrach). The ‘layers of an onion’ analogy is quite appropriate here. Your WORK is never done – this too is another reason why we’re here. If your WORK was done, you wouldn’t have to be here. Period. Know and admit you have blind spots. That is the start of your WORK.
IX. Confront everything with LOVE. Everything.
A difficult concept and Great Teaching. And the expression of LOVE you can offer – even in the midst of great pain, chaos, and even assault – is Compassion. This will serve you well in all things. It truly is the Great Panacea. (e.g. “Buddha defying Mara”)
X. Joy takes WORK.
I’m a masochist in recovery. I have, because of my particular life circumstances, come to get thoroughly entwined within a psychological patterning that has me unconsciously addicted to pain and chaos as a means of feeling the misguided and misplaced ‘comfort of familiarity.’ I don’t think I’m alone in this type of concept / construct. Now that I’ve done a lot of hard WORK, over many years, for a significant investment of resources (time & money), I can clearly see the pattern and even the triggers (most of the time). And from this vantage point, I can also clearly see that I’ve unknowingly created another pattern because of this primary aberration – that the felt experience of joy is somehow foreign and uncomfortable – so I tend to shy away from it. We must work at experiencing and ‘holding’ joy much more than we previously thought. I for one have a difficult time ‘letting go’ (surrendering) into joyful abandon, and I now have a profound respect for those that have this as a regular practice and part of their sadhana.
XI. (Bonus!) Sometimes ANY change will do. It is Karma. It is action.
The opposite of inertia is momentum. I’ve found that if I feel stuck, depressed, mistreated, marginalized, unappreciated, unloved, etc. that the best response is some kind of profound change. Even if the change has little or no relation to the ‘issue,’ just by virtue of enacting a change, tangible and intangible benefits will follow. And when we know that change is a kind of ‘software interrupt’ in our lives, we come to better understand the impact and importance of change to the entire ‘networked system.’ This is the paradox of change; we feel comfort in familiarity and routine, but LIFE is about change. LIFE IS CHANGE. And if you go back and re-read the first in this list about fear, you’ll realize that these two concepts are inextricably intertwined. Change is often difficult due to the fear of the unknown. Change your diet, change your practice/sadhana, change your job, change your style, change your residence, change your relationship, change your surroundings, change your mind, change your beliefs, change your perspective, change yourself, change your life, and change your world.
XII. (Another Bonus!) "Just Be Open, You Are Guided."
All credit for this goes to my dear friend and ally, Abdi Assadi. We always have guidance. If we have a belief in and a commitment to a 'Higher Power,' or īśvara praṇidhāna, then we must also accept that we have 'Divine Influence' in our lives - otherwise we're hypocrites. That Guidance is always available to us - we need only be open to the idea of It, and trust in our own intuition. This is not an easy thing or 'black-and-white' or yes-or-no or a binary application. As you develop more-and-more subtle means of perception and discernment, you'll see that this is an endeavor that is subject to constant reevaluation and refinement - but It is always there, always accessible.
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My prayer in the desert:
I pray to HANUMAN for the strength to bear ALL my Great Loves – my family, my loved ones, my teachers, our Great Mother Earth, and myself. I pray for the strength to ‘hold’ them all, protect them all, honor them all, and serve them all.
I pray for balance between the dualistic natures of the self - the extremes of Light and Dark. I pray for integrity, I pray for true impeccability.
Jai HANUMAN-ji, Breath & Hammer of R-A-M