I’m off to a horribly boring, all-day training with a beauracrat. I hate these things with a passion. But since the ma’fucca gives me money, I have to attend and act as if I like it. I’ll be away all day. Have a great one, people.
I wrote the following four years ago.
“The only thing I regret about my past is the length of it. If I had to live my life again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner.”
— Tallulah Bankhead (1903–1968), American actress
I often grapple with one issue in my work: I worry that people will confuse my story for the message. When conducting a workshop or speaking in front of an audience, I always worry that some people may get stuck on my particular story and miss out on the underlying universal points.
Equally troubling for me is the possibility people may dismiss my message because they are so far removed from the issue of addiction, or find it hard to identify with my story. However, when I study society and the larger issues, I know that there are many who not only can identify with my story, but also know intimately the pain of loneliness and the sense of inner poverty.
Those considered best-adjusted in our society are those that are neither dead or alive, just numb, zombies. When you are alive, you are more likely to question the status quo. When you are fully alive, you are constantly questioning the many insane practices of society: the racism, the polluted environment, the nuclear and biological warfare threat, our dunce of a president, drinking unsafe water, and eating carcinogenic or genetically modified foods.
Therefore, there is an investment in our society to promote those things that keep us dull, keep us busy with our fixes, and keep us slightly numbed out and zombie-like. In this way, our modern consumer society itself becomes an addict. I remember reading this in author Anne Wilson Schaef’s When Society Becomes an Addict, and being struck by what should be a very obvious observation.
In the USA, there are at least 30-40 million drug addicts, millions more addicted to cigarettes, gambling, food, sexuality, unhealthy relationships, or the speed and busyness of work. In a way, we are all part of an “Addicted Society” and our most pervasive addiction is to speed. Modern society pushes us to increase productivity and the pace of our lives.
Having to live life in a society that demands it lived double-time, speed and addictions numb us to our own reality. In our society, it is almost impossible to settle into our bodies or stay connected with our hearts, let alone connect with one another or the Earth upon which we live. In a way, I believe that is a big reason for the community or network we have tried to create here: we rush around all day and that leaves us little time to connect, so we log on to our computers and connect here. I’m not saying there is something “wrong” about this, I’m just making an observation.
Honestly, sometimes we find ourselves increasingly isolated and lonely, cut off from one another and the natural web of life. You get in your car, drive to work, get back in your car, drive back home… you can actually very easily live your life in almost total seclusion in your climate-controlled existence and not even be aware of it! For me this is the most pervasive sorrow of our modern lives.
Folks, this is where the depression, the war with food and weight — body image, substance abuse, and exploitive sex practices originate and the only cure for it is becoming fully alive.
But how does someone become fully alive?
I think it starts from within and creating the psychological space for reflection and stillness. Stop long enough and listen to the “inner dialogue” in your head and you will be amazed at how crazy it all sounds. When I first tried it, I thought I was crazy until I realized that the inner dialogue in my head was not “me” — it is merely the conditioned within me floating around undisciplined as a stream of consciousness. The thing is that this inner conversation has a tremendous influence on our behavior if we don’t put it in its place.
We cannot change ourselves for the better through an act of will alone. This is like wanting the mind to get rid of itself or pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Remember the studies I quoted on how many people break New Year’s resolutions (70-80% quit by the third week)? When we struggle to change ourselves we only reinforce the self-defeating patterns of self-judgment and aggression. We keep the war against ourselves alive. Such acts of will backfire, and in the end often strengthen the addiction or denial we intend to change.
Genuine movement toward the happiness that is our birthright as human beings requires that we learn to:
This is the first step, but actually, it must be practiced repeatedly until it becomes our very way of being. The inner stillness of the person who truly “is peace” brings peace to the whole interconnected web of life, both inside and out. To stop the war we must begin with ourselves.
The only effective means of change is one that has as its purpose to empower us to stop the war, not by force of will, but organically — through understanding and gradual training. If we have an ongoing practice, we can cultivate a new way of relating to life in which we let go of our battles.
When we let go — when we step out of the battle — we begin to see how each of us creates conflict. We begin to see our constant likes and dislikes, the fight to resist all that frightens us. We begin to see our own prejudice, greed, and possessiveness create our sufferring. All of this is certainly hard to look at, but it is there. Look deeper, underneath these ongoing battles, and we begin to see the deep-rooted feelings of incompleteness and fear. We being to see how much our wars with life have kept our hearts closed.
When we let go of our battles and open our hearts to things as they are, then we come to rest in the present moment. This is it — this is the beginning and end of any true effective means of change or spirituality. Only in the moment can we discover the love that we seek. Love in the past is simply a memory, and love in the future is fantasy.
Only in the reality of the present moment can we love, can we awaken, can we find peace and understanding and connection with the world and ourselves. The NY Lottery has a marketing campaign that goes: “You gotta be in it to win it,” and so it is with life. Stopping the war and becoming present are two sides of the same coin. To come into the present means to experience whatever is here and now. Most of us have lived our lives caught up in plans, expectations, and ambitions for the future, in regrets, guilt, or shame about the past.
When we come into the present, we begin to feel the life force around us again, but we also encounter whatever we have been avoiding. We must have the courage to face whatever is present — our pain, our desires, our grief, our loss, our secret hopes, our love — everything that moves us most deeply. As we stop the war, each of us will find something from which we have been running — our loneliness, our unworthiness, our boredom, our shame, our unfulfilled desires. We must face these parts of ourselves as well.
We all share a longing to go beyond the prisons of our personal fear or anger or addiction, to connect with something greater than “I” (the “mini me”), greater than our small story and our small self. It is possible to stop the war and come into the eternal present — to touch a great ground of being that contains all things. For me, this is the true purpose and mission of life — to discover peace and connectedness in ourselves and to stop the war in us and around us.