December 22, 2009

A Happy New Year Within Reach

Dear Friends,

In honor of this holiday season, I want to share with you some words that touched me today from, of all things, a website advertising a recovery event in the UK where Byron Katie will be the keynote speaker.

Regarding breaking free from addictions, the author of the piece, George Williams, says:

"People try many things to fill that empty space in their lives, whether they are searching for happiness or a way to deal with pressures and disappointments....Sometimes we have to look back to move forward. Learn from our mistakes or shortfalls. For those taking those first steps, don’t be afraid, you have all the resources within.

"Imagine having the courage and confidence to follow your instincts and make positive decisions about how you want to live your life."

As I read this I was reminded of the following words from the "Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous, a great source of wisdom for coping with all of the addictions of being human:

"When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation—some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment."

We humans tend towards all sorts of addictions—whether to substances, behaviors, or outdated modes of thinking—in an effort to feel better about ourselves and our lives. We want people to change, to love us, to appreciate us, so that we can be happy. "Skip the middleman," Byron Katie has said, "and be happy now." That is the only thing that has ever worked, and there is no way to do that on demand. We can't enforce serenity; we all would if we could. It takes self-understanding, present-moment awareness and great willingness.

Serenity is an inside job. Self-inquiry—whether you practice the written four-questions-and-a-turnaround kind that we "Workies" prefer, or you sit in the mystery of "Who am I?", or you take fearless moral inventory and make your amends-is the best way I know of to bring about the serenity that we all desire and deserve. We are living in interesting times; what is happening on the outside feels challenging and sometimes hopeless—from rampant unemployment to global warming. Some of us have experienced eroding relationships, deaths in the family, the death of our dreams. We can work to bring about positive change in the world, to better ourselves and our situations...but how are we doing in the meantime? Addictive highs always wear off and we become consumed by seeking more escapes when the ones we've tried cease to work. Trying to please others, change them, even "forgive" them may not result in lasting serenity.

In my experience, peace can only be found by meeting the stressed-out mind with a kind mind, an understanding mind; a mind at rest. In this way, instead of running away from what we fear, we move towards what we love and cherish. I invite us all to give ourselves this kindness in the New Year.

May all of your days be holidays and all of your years be happy, new ones.

With love,

December 10, 2009

What's So Bad About Negativity?

For years I was involved in a group whose adherents felt very threatened by any view of it that seemed to contradict what it was desperately trying to be: the "perfect" spiritual path. Any opinion (and the one who voiced the opinion) that could be perceived as "negative" with regards to the group was immediately attacked and blocked. You see, on a perfect path, the leader and those in high places in the organization could never make a mistake; were always doing what they did for our highest good; had no ulterior motives; were beyond reproach. If, and only if, you were a good devotee, had full faith and did everything you were told, you'd attract the all-knowing, unconditionally loving guru's grace (which, on the perfect path, you already have unless you do something to repel it), you would become self-realized (though as a good devotee, you could never acknowledge this as it smacks of dreaded "ego") and you'd have your heaven on earth.

If you doubted any of this—if, say, you dared to notice any inconsistencies, or refused to go against personal integrity...if you had questions about the teachings...or you had a problem with underage girls being used sexually by older men in power, or with goods being smuggled in and out of other countries...or with celebrities receiving V.I.P. treatment in a place where we were all told we were equal...or with blatant environmental violations, or with the presence of weapons and bodyguards in an ashram, or with "renunciants" sporting designer clothing and precious jewels—then you were deluded, had limited understanding, had fallen off the path, etc.

Oh the horror and danger of exposure to anything but positivity! Most of us suppressed or denied anything within ourselves that could be construed as anything less than 100% cheerful and agreeable. Needless to say, a lot of the devotees were secretly in therapy and taking anti-depressants...and doing more and more spiritual practices in an attempt to override our perceived impurities.

After many years and many experiences of being chastised for being "negative," I realized something: if our organization, its leaders and its teachings were sacred and sacrosanct, what could threaten them? And yet, there was a pervasive atmosphere of self-righteousness and unkindness which, beneath the surface, was pure, unadulterated fear. It seemed that what was going on in the organization was the exact opposite of one of the main teachings: that love was stronger than fear. Where was the love when all was not handled in an open and loving fashion?

Of course, religious organizations are not the only places where the fear of negativity reigns. Ashrams, like everywhere else, are filled with human beings; and human beings who have not questioned their stressful beliefs attack whatever appears to threaten their happiness (as if true happiness could be threatened). So we try to create safe havens for ourselves where sharing is welcome as long as what is shared aligns with the basic premise of our subculture. If anyone might burst our bubbles, indicate we could be wrong, or cost us our precious stuff, we tend not to welcome them with great respect and love. Places of business, family gatherings, groups of friends or neighbors and political parties are just a few of the places where individuals might not be embraced or even acknowledged—in fact might be shunned, shamed and shut up, even if we have to kill them—if they're not seeing our world through our particular brand of rose-colored glasses.

In the best-case scenarios, we close rank, turn off the TV, stop answering the phone, defriend our Facebook buddies who don't see things exactly as we do, avoid people or situations that might result in being "tainted" by another's "negativity." We have to call those people and things toxic, wrong, bad. We double up on our affirmations, surround ourselves in imaginary white light, run away.

That might work as a temporary measure. Until the bogeyman shows up at the door again. Or you think back on the person who threatened the sacrosanct belief that turned out not to be sacrosanct after all (at least not according to you), and you feel the fear all over again in the form of condescension, resentment, anger, sadness, disgust, stress, disturbance of your peace.

If you fear the "negative," it will appear to come a-calling for you in many guises: "negative" people, situations, thoughts. A loving universe won't let you get away with avoidance. It supports you instead.

What's the worst thing that could happen if you welcomed the "negative," sat down to tea with it, questioned it?

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.