January 19, 2011

A Brief Video About What I Do

Clarity Through Inquiry

January 14, 2011

Turning Around B.S.

In recent months I seem to have developed an extreme intolerance to b.s. In particular, I get uncomfortable around absolutist statements regarding teachings that don't work for me (so I may not be the best person to talk to about Satan, contacting your angel guides, or the wit and wisdom of Sarah Palin)...or those that trigger "cult" memories (such as the words "impure" and "negativity," terms used to keep us devotees in line at the ashram), or stuff from my own mentors that seems downright incorrect in my experience (just because you-know-who says "All sadness is a minor tantrum" doesn't make it true)...and, last but not least, by my own attempts to b.s. others by hiding behind insincerity, spiritual talk, quotable quotes and smiley chat icons like this one :).

I think it's fine to notice b.s., and it's more than fine to endeavor to keep my own tendencies to b.s. in check. What doesn't feel fine is my reactivity to b.s., or, more accurately, what I label as "b.s." I haven't spent all this time in inquiry for nothing: my objections do not make me happy. I don't really enjoy being the Geraldo Rivera of horse hockey, exposing it with derision or horror while offering nothing better in return. Even if I do have something else to offer, I'd rather do it without vilifying that with which I don't agree.

So here's an experiment I am trying and invite you to it if you like it:

1) Rather than cry "B.S!" I would like to be able to 1) politely disagree and 2) offer kind alternatives. I say "alternatives" as opposed to "substitutes," as perhaps the original needs no substitute. We're all entitled to espouse what works for us. I can choose and offer my own alternatives without making the your alternative wrong.

Example: A single friend sent me an email about how women can cultivate successful romantic relationships with men. It had a line that was right out of that old book, The Rules (the one that advises women to play hard to get, not be so available, and not to do things for men). I had a strong reaction to it and resisted the urge to write back to my friend that this was the "old way" and manipulative, that there was nothing in this email about real relationship. Instead, I didn't respond, writing it off as b.s. Now that I look back, I could have had a conversation with my friend, asked her why she felt this email contained good advice, shared my heart and my experience, heard from her why this doesn't work for her. Instead of the rift between us that I created in my head, maybe we both would have learned something.

2) Rather than simply call myself on my own b.s., I would like to be aware of the motives behind it.
What would I have to believe in order to say anything that is less than 100% genuine? What am I trying to protect, project or avoid? What is the worst that could happen if I were truthful instead? Voila, here is my work to take to inquiry.

Example: I write on a Facebook friend's wall post, "I don't get this at all. :)." What's the :) about? "You can hurt me, if I disagree with you, you won't like me, I need to placate people, it's not okay to disagree." All good beliefs to bring to inquiry.

3) "This is b.s.; is that true?" When I cry b.s., it is probably because I feel challenged, threatened or offended. In short, I am afraid. Can I find any truth in what I am so quick to label as b.s.?

For instance: "If you do not see the perfection of this spiritual path, it is your own impurities keeping you from the truth. You should pray for the grace to develop good qualities and turn away from negativity." This is the kind of thing that puts fur on my teeth. Why? Not merely because I don't believe it—there are plenty of things I don't believe in that don't bother me—but because for many years, I used such teachings as a stick with which to beat myself. "I'm impure! I'm negative! Negativity is bad! I am keeping myself from the truth, and that means I will never be okay!" I didn't have inquiry in those days.

Today, with better tools in hand, I don't need to put the stick in my other hand and beat the teachers or teachings. Instead, I can ask myself, "I am impure; is that true?" and "They manipulated me with these teachings; is that true?"

A closer look reveals this: if I react to these words through the filter of my prejudices, I have to call them b.s. in order to be right and feel safe. If the prejudices aren't there, I see that there is some truth here; I don't see the perfection of this spiritual path when I don't see that it is fine for it to exist, and that doesn't mean I have to partake of it. My impurities—in the form of fear, which leads to defensiveness—keep me from the truth (that this path, whether or not I choose to follow it, is perfect in that it exists in a world that is perfect until I say it isn't). If I prayed, I would pray for the grace of an open mind, which is my way of developing good qualities of equanimity and clarity in the face of what is. An open mind can have preferences without naysaying; and that is the end of negativity.

Who would have believed it? B.s. is here for our freedom!

©2011 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.