Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Presence or Pain

“Enlightenment means rising above thought, not falling back to a level below thought, the level of an animal or a plant. In the enlightened state, you still use your thinking mind when needed, but in a much more focused and effective way than before.”

“Be at least as interested in what goes on inside you as what happens outside. If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place.”

Eckhart Tolle


Yesterday was a very long day.  I went to Comic Con to work for a guy who promised me a 5-day pass.  At the end of 11 hours, no pass was forthcoming.  He said, “Come back tomorrow.” 
There was a lot of physical labor.  It was fun, because I don’t do enough of that, but it was also tiring.  I also felt a little resentful as I realized one other guy and I were doing most of the work.  And I felt frustrated that I didn't get what I was promised.  Hopefully, I will.
Still, the experience gave me a chance to practice presence and peace. I enjoyed the physical aspect of the work.  I enjoyed solving small problems that came up during the work.  I enjoyed helping one of my coworkers deal with his frustrations and making a new friend. 
I didn’t enjoy the pain in my back.  I didn’t enjoy watching others do very little work.  I didn’t enjoy the odors of dozens of people in a large enclosed room with no air conditioning.   I didn’t enjoy the fatigue.  And I didn’t enjoy the manner in which some people talked to others or to me.  Still, as I said, the whole experience gave me a chance to practice being present. 
When it comes to being present, though I talk about it often, I fail at it more often.  I realize how much of a discipline it is.  I also realize being present isn’t disregarding negative feelings, but allowing them and then deciding what to do with them.  For example, I might be frustrated because I want to be doing something other than what I’m doing.  Okay.  Then I’m frustrated.  So what do I want to do with that feeling?  What I don’t do often enough is to even consider that question.  I simply allow my frustration to take over.  That’s not pleasant for anyone. 
This is one of the reasons, I like to set goals for the day.  Not only does it add structure to my day, it gives me more control and when I get some things done, I feel less frustrated when other things arise.  I’ve heard that the one thing that all successful people have in common is that they get up early.  This is not a skill I have mastered consistently.  But when I am consistent with it, and I use that early morning time wisely, I feel better.
Another way to feel better is to write some goals and tasks for the day so that throughout the day, I feel focused.
Today, for example, I have two goals:
1.   To be peaceful wherever I am, whatever I am doing.
2.   To go to bed tonight feeling like I have done the things I said I would do.
My tasks are to spend time with my daughters and take them shoe shopping.  I also need to go to Comic Con for a little while (or maybe I don’t).  I want to get this blog done and do a radio show.  I also have a class I have to listen to and it will take an hour and a half.  Now maybe you’re reading this blog and wondering why I’m making my plans public.  I’m doing this because I’m declaring my intentions and my commitments.  The more public I make it, the more that is at stake.
This may be a key for personal success.  As I write my intentions and commitments and as I share them, I raise the level of concern.  I’ve made myself accountable to you and you get to ask me at the end of the day, “Were you peaceful and present?  Did you do what you said you would do?”  I will have only three answers.  Yes, no or sometimes.  “Sometimes” means I wasn’t peaceful the entire day and I allowed things to disturb my peace.  It may also mean that I didn’t accomplish everything.    “Sometimes” is really “no.”
To be able to answer yes, I have to be very focused all day on my inner world.  I have to be aware when I’m allowing frustration, fatigue or impatience to take over.  I think of Jesus, who after a 40-day fast, was approached by the Enemy.  Tired and hungry, as I often am when I lose presence, it would have been easy for Jesus to simply bow down to the Enemy and give into his lesser impulses.   It would have not only been easy, it would have been natural.  Instead, he “practiced the presence of God,” as Brother Lawrence puts it.
It is not in my nature to practice the presence of God consistently.  It is in my nature to constantly give into my lesser impulses, to not be present to the needs and suffering of others.  Once in a while I’m lucky to get it right.  Yesterday, while working at the con, I asked my coworker if he was okay.  He wasn’t.  He was very frustrated.  Frustration is a form of suffering.   I was able to listen to him and we formed a bond at that moment.  This is what presence does.  It makes me aware and less selfish.  I am aware of how others feel and I can listen or pray or help.  There really is no other way to live joyfully.
When I am not present, when I am engrossed in sorrow, pain, anger, jealousy, frustration or hatred, it is hard to be of use to the world.  I understand that some pain may be inevitable, perhaps even necessary (or perhaps not).  What I know for sure is that I’m not required to stay in that place indefinitely.  My goal should not be pain.  It should always be presence and joy. 
The best use of emotional pain is to see it as a lesson.  What is my pain, sadness, fear, anger or frustration trying to teach me?  Perhaps I need to learn to grow up.  Perhaps it is trying to show me what others feel when I intentionally or unintentionally cause pain for them.  Perhaps it is showing me that it can be mastered or overcome.  A lesson, though, is just that.  It’s a means to show me how to think and live differently.  When I have truly learned the lesson, I don’t need to repeat the experience.  I don’t need to repeat the pain.  I don’t need to stay in the same place.  I’m ready for the next lesson.
As I’ve said many times before, the purpose of Purpose is love.  As I stay in presence and purpose each moment and in each activity, I can bring love into the world.  I can joyfully share my time, energy and resources.    I can be happy.  I can make life better for others.  I can Get Started and Keep Going…and I can be present and not in pain.