“To show great love for God and our neighbor we need not do great things. It is how much love we put in the doing that makes our offering something beautiful for God.”
Mother Theresa of Calcutta
It is the love that we put in the doing that makes something beautiful.
I love this statement. It gets to the heart of what is truly important in life. It’s not so much about doing great things, but doing small things with great love. After all, that’s where great things begin. We can attempt to accomplish much in life, but if we become a SOB in the process, do our accomplishments really matter all that much?
In light of this, how beautiful am I?
Yesterday I was speaking with a friend about the grace of awakening to a new way of living and responding to situations that people and Life throws at us. We spoke of our fascination with learning, in very practical ways, how to be happy, especially when things aren‘t going our way. We spoke of the joy of learning to let go of expectations and to not base one’s happiness on how another responds to us. In this conversation she kept saying, “I have so much to learn. I have such a long way to go to realize these things.” I encouraged her not to look at how much she has yet to learn or realize, but to celebrate what she has learned right now. If we keep the attention on how far we’ve yet to go, we’ll never get anywhere. But if we keep the focus on this moment and what we have learned, this moment will take us to the next, and the next. The important thing is that we continually do something to grow and learn.
Al-Anon has a litany called “Just For Today,” in which it highlights various simple things that I will do JUST TODAY. It keeps the focus on the present moment instead of the big picture. One of the things it says is: “Just for today I will try to strengthen my mind. I will study. I will learn something useful. I will not be a mental loafer. I will read something that requires effort, thought and concentration” (Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1972). Now, notice it doesn’t say I will read VOLUMES. It says I will read SOMETHING.
What one of us doesn’t want to be happy and to live somewhat peaceably in this life? What one of us wouldn’t want to learn secrets of living happily and peacefully even when life seemingly becomes very difficult? What a treasure that would be! Well, the good news is we can! We just have to stick with some daily learning. I heard it said years ago that if you throw enough mud against the wall, eventually some of it will stick. This is certainly an apt description of my learning process! If I read a little, meditate a little, am present a little and love a little, . . . eventually some of it will stick!
Throw a little mud against the wall today.
Once again, I’m not strictly speaking of finding a boyfriend, but happiness, the ever allusive happiness that we all seek.
Last night at a coffee shop I began reading a book called The Way to Love: The Last Meditations of Anthony de Mello. Anthony de Mello was a Jesuit priest and spiritual guide who, in his many books and conferences, brought together Eastern and Western spirituality. He himself was raised in India so was familiar with Eastern concepts. If you have not read anything by him or about him I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT! It’s amazing how very much in line he is with the thinking of Tolle, Dyer, Jung, Frankl and many others who speak of being free of ego attachments and realizing the grace of living happiness in this moment no matter what is happening around us. These people, I believe, like the Christ, have keys that can make a tremendous difference in living a happy, more peaceful life. The Way to Love is a very small volume, something you could carry in your pocket, but is packed with lots of insight and practical wisdom that can change the way you go about life! It’s published by Image Books, Doubleday.
Last night, on the heals of yesterday’s meditation, I read De Mello’s take on ever allusive happiness. He says we are programmed from birth to believe that we cannot be happy without things, that happiness lay somewhere in the future when I get this person, thing or place. Or we are programmed to believe that if we just change the situation and the people around us, then we’ll be happy, or when all our desires are fulfilled we’ll be happy. All of these are FALSE. It is only when we stop clinging to these things that we begin to experience what peace and happiness is. It is only when we let go of these things and simply live this moment and accept what is here and now that we can begin to live in a greater state of peace and happiness. For then we won’t waste a tremendous amount of time and energy trying to get this or that or to change this or that circumstance in our lives (See pp.5-12 The Way to Love) It’s difficult for me to put this in words, but I know what it feels like when I stop looking to the future for happiness, or some person, place of thing. I know what it is to experience peace and happiness when I accept interruptions to my day, or when my day hasn’t gone as I had planned, or when something seemingly bad happens. I know what it feels like when I simply accept that and stop resisting it.
I want to continue exploring this. I find myself being lead to read Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning which chronicles his experiences when he was in a concentration camp in World War II and how he found that even in such horrible and unspeakably inhumane circumstances, one could still be happy. Imagine the freedom!
OK, I really don’t NEED a boyfriend (Although if there are any good guys out there, drop me a line! :-)). I woke up this morning and looked over at the other side of the bed, the empty side, and I immediately found myself thinking that I was missing something, and that if I just had “him” (whoever “he” might be) laying next to me and walking through life with me, then life would be good! Gratefully, I quickly “woke up” and realized that I was beginning to feel badly due to some perceived lack, when the reality is, life is good right now in this moment!
Do you ever find yourself thinking or feeling that? Ever find yourself thinking and yearning for this or that, whether it’s a boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, a house, a new apartment, new furniture, moving to a new place, being this or that kind of person, or in this or that kind of profession? “If I just had that. If I just had him. If I just lived there. If I just were a ______ (fill in the blank). If I just didn’t suffer from _________. If I just had a different job. If I just had a different partner. If I just had a day off . . .Then life would be good!” And the list goes on. Consciously or unconsciously most of us walk through our days with such thoughts running around in our heads. And as a result we stay in a perpetual state of agitation and lack of fulfillment.
We are always bombarded with messages that say just that. Listen to love songs, observe commercials, watch sitcoms and movies. The message is usually: “You lack this and you really need it. Then you’ll live happily ever after!” Look at shows like American Idol and the like. People clamor after fame and this perceived “good life.” When I get there, then life will be great! Every day we are bombarded with images of beautiful people with seemingly perfect lives, or even spiritual “gurus” who make us believe that we too could have what they have and then we would be happy! If we get to the day to day reality of these people’s lives we will find that their reality, their concerns, their struggles are much like ours. Eckhart Tolle says that whether we have seemingly “arrived” or not, the world of form will ALWAYS disappoint. If we place our happiness or our fulfillment on this person, place, thing or fame of some sort – and even if we place our spiritual fulfillment on some future happening or place we go to – we will be frustrated. The key he says is accepting what is NOW and simply living the present moment. Once we do so, we will find a peace and contentment that is true and NOT DEPENDENT on our external environment or having this or that. Then, ironically, we will fully and freely (without clinging) enjoy the people, things or places that are around us.
I recently spoke with two college students. When I asked how they were doing they both responded: “Stressed!” As a matter of fact, one of these students called me late one evening because he was really coming a bit unglued, as the stress of a new semester was kicking in his clinical anxiety. What was happening was these two students were sitting at home with all their Syllabuses from EVERY class they were taking laid out. They were concentrating on and freaking out about EVERYTHING that needed to be done. Both were becoming paralyzed as a result of the stress they were feeling.
I smiled as I told both of them not to look at the big picture, but just concentrate on the small stuff and what needed to be done today. I smiled because I SO need to remember this same thing at times! When we just keep concentrating on the big picture we easily get anxious, wondering how we’re going to get it all done. This anxiousness is nothing but an energy drain which leads to paralysis. What we can do is pause, take a breath and just concentrate on getting ONE thing done. This will lead to the next and the next, without a lot of useless anxiety.
Life can so easily be that way sometimes can’t it? In such moments when we feel anxiety rising and wonderment as to how in heaven’s name we’re going to get everything done – in such moments, maybe we need to remember not to sweat the big stuff! Just do what’s before you. The rest will fall into place.
As I continue reflecting on keys to rising above emotional reaction, be it to the political landscape, situations in my life, at work, with friends or the like I was reminded again this morning of the difference between reaction and response.
Reaction is emotional. It is fueled by the ego which always wants to keep things stirred up and emotionally charged. It thrives on this! I find, however, that such emotionally charged reactions lead either to actions that are inappropriate and made in anger or they lead to paralysis. I get so overwhelmed by the anger, fear or whatever emotion I feel that it leads to no practical, helpful response.
Responding is about taking action that is appropriate and not emotionally charged. It is not ego driven, but comes from the essence of who we are, what Thomas Merton used to call the “True Self.” When I am able to emotionally step back from a situation I then begin to see more clearly what an appropriate action might be. This leads to constructive action on my part and gives me a sense of inner power that I am molding and shaping something, instead of complaining about it or making it worse by reacting in anger.
Try to be aware of this with your partner, your family, friends and at work. When you find yourself getting all charged up emotionally, pause. Are you reacting, or responding?
Today as I jogged I was listening to National Public Radio and to their coverage of the political campaigns. I found myself quickly getting all riled up! Then I round the corner back to my house and find that my neighbors, with whom I have a good relationship, have placed two very large political signs in their yard, recommending a Representative that I have little respect for. Again, I quickly found bad feeling rising to the surface toward my neighbors.
Today I am reminded of another key to freedom. Mind your own business! That is, instead of always thinking of the bad qualities of whatever person or people we don’t like, or with whom we disagree, keep the focus on you. What do YOU need to change? How do YOU need to act and what is the person that YOU want to become? What are the solutions that YOU can put forth? Think of how this might change the political landscape! If the focus wasn’t on the opponent, but on what they can do, perhaps more would get done. Imagine if a politician could actually speak in humility and admit that they’re not perfect (for after all who is?); and then place before people what they CAN do and what they have to offer – instead of smearing their opponent? When more time is spent smearing the opponent than on the issues at hand, vision gets clouded.
The same is true for any of us. When we are constantly concentrating on those who have hurt us, or those with whom we disagree, our vision gets clouded. Perhaps we simply need to keep the focus on our own growth and the solutions that we can put forth in our corner of the world, instead of wasting time and emotion on our opponents.
“Can a blind person act as a guide to a blind person? . . .Remove the plank from your own eye first; then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your (opponent’s) eye.” See Luke 6: 39-42