Dalai Lama on Humanity

The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered:

 

Man.
Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money.
Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health.
And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.

dalailamaThe Dalai Lama, referring to humanity in this quote, definitely touches something close at heart for me. Since returning from abroad last month, I find myself pulled towards this idea of earning money. Of course there is nothing negative or wrong about earning money, yet for many of us this can become end in itself, rather than a means. When it becomes an end to itself, you can easily sacrifice your health (not just physical, but mental, emotional and so on), as well as creating the conditions to not really live in the present, living from the past and fearing the future.

First, let me address the obvious response to what I’m saying: “That would be great if I didn’t need to earn money, yet I have a mortgage, kids, and have to eat somehow”

Clearly one needs to support oneself and honor their commitments to their loved ones. Yet you can still ask yourself, is the work you do fulfilling beyond its ability to earn money to meet these commitments? I’m extremely fortunate in this time to have the ability to support myself and my partner on savings. This won’t last indefinitely, but at the present time this allows me to really ask myself, what kind of work do I want to do?

My first few days back in the United States were very difficult. I felt a collective energy towards being productive, towards contributing towards the greater good, whatever that is. I felt a heavy anxiety, thinking it would not be a good idea to live off of investments and savings, that I should keep the piggy bank full. This feeling lasted for several days – until at one point during a meditation, I observed it drop away. It wasn’t really my anxiety – it was the collective anxiety, the anxiety that first tells us that we need to earn money no matter what, and second, that we should subtly encourage others – our friends, children and colleagues that they should too, because it justifies our behavior.

This is completely new territory for me right now. My ego craves a career, to be able to label myself as xyz, to have a defined place in society. Yet when I deeply look into my values, the vows I’ve made to myself, they don’t align with this movement of the ego. My values involve seeing deeply into the nature of self, strengthening my relationships, nurturing my health and the health of the planet. On a daily basis I find myself confronted with my own patience and resolve in sticking to my values, rather than conforming to that which society and others suggest. Even my closest friends, those who have a sense of what I’m about and what I’m doing subtly challenge me – because whenever you live in atypical fashion, it in a way is forcing those close to you to question what they are doing to. For those unused to actually looking at themselves, this might not be easy.

I am no exception to the human behavior of seeking justification for my actions. Isn’t writing this post or some of the others I’ve written recently doing exactly this? This moves into a another territory of discussion around standing upright in the world, resting in your own certainty and trust. This is a real focus for me – trusting in nothing outside, carefully listening to my heart and my deepest longing, cultivating a profound faith and patience that everything is at it should be.

Freedom of Choice

I’m typing this from the porch of my bungalow in Munduk, Bali. Munduk is a sleepy mountain town with a cool, misty ambience set among lush hillsides covered jungle, rice, coffee, cloves, vanilla and almost every kind of fruit imaginable. I can hear several waterfalls raging through the gorge below me. So why exactly was I jumping at the bit to plan my next destination? As I poured through Lonely Planet, looking into the island of Java, reading about Bromo as well as other destinations in Bali, I suddenly had to stop and remind myself of something my Zen teacher says – “No other location”. A flip of words on the overused “Be here now”. 

In one week I will be headed back to Bangkok to start a long march through Burma, China and Mongolia. What is so wrong with sitting tight, enjoying the mountains and then a few more days on the beach? The serious alternative I was researching meant driving a moped that stalls every 15 minutes hundreds of kilometers in order to find greener grass and ultimately turn around and have to truck back to the center of Bali to catch a flight. Thank you dear blog for helping me see the ridiculousness of this and agreeing to enjoy central and northern Bali for a few days at a slower pace. Once again, I have to understand that this is not vacation, I am not out to see as much as possible, and there are points during this journey that I will treat as work days, blogging, emailing, job searching, etc. Often it is these times when you surprisingly get to know a place by getting your face out of the guidebook and into the community.

In my post about One Hundred Years of Solitude I bring up the freedom of choice, and its often paralyzing effect. I believe this at the root of many issues for people in the West, the endless freedom of options. I mentioned the characters in the book and their acceptance of fate – the last two months I’ve seen a lot of this. This morning, the woman raking the cloves or the teenage boys carrying hundreds of pounds of bamboo up a steep hillside or the duck herder (literally) aren’t thinking “should I go back to school to get that graduate degree? Should get my massage today and then go to the movies tomorrow? Which of the 20 restaurants within 2 miles of my home should I go to tonight? Which of my 50 articles of clothing am I going to where today?” No they don’t. And I’m not arguing that this is the lifestyle I want – clearly poverty plays a big role in simplifying choice. However there is something to be said about the way these people live when faced with limited choice. Simply, peacefully, and lovingly from my observations.

Where am I going with this? Back to my plan to explore half a continent in 6 days- through endless choice and so called freedom, we can avoid the present moment. Our mind jumps ahead to these potential paths our life might take – as simple as where to eat or as complicated as marriage or career. In the past I actually set up my life to create as much flexibility as possible – not committing too deeply to my career, to other people or a location, etc. In fact I am still doing this now, living temporally, having created the ultimate freedom of a daily choice of what to do and where to be. The truth is I think this trip is an apex for me – an apex of this exploration where I begin to move down the other side, accepting more aspects a permanent existence, once where the choices narrow and I find a deeper poise in these limited choices. Krishnamurti uses the term choiceless awareness – where when we are acting truly from a position of wisdom and clarity, our so called choices are not really choices, they are an act of truth based out of love.

A Chinese sage once said “ Why go on being like goats, picking up things at random and putting them in your mouth? Or another metaphor is that we act like a fly in a glass jar, seeking liberation through everything we see but ultimately just bumping into a piece of glass. What we don’t realize is that the top of the jar is open, and if we are quiet, truly listening to the world we can fly out into the true beauty that is actual existence.

***** (One day later) *****

I remained true to my word, sitting tight in Munduk. I went for a walk, ate at a few local restaurants and found amazing strawberries at the market. I spent the evening listening to the sounds of the hillside and woke early to exercise and meditate. I started thinking again about my temporal existence – while it is in fact true that I have an unbelievable freedom of location and action, the normal daily distractions are very absence. I’m typing this many miles from any internet connection, I haven’t seen a television in 2 months, I can’t pick up the phone which I don’t own and call a friend at any time. All of this boils down to spending a lot of time with my own thoughts and self, the true purpose of this journey. The biggest opportunity to distract myself is movement – riding the scooter, taking the bus or boat, exploring a new area and figuring where I will eat and sleep. Of course that will be part of any trip – I just need to balance movement and stillness, ensuring when I do move, it is because I am ready to move on, not because I need the distraction.

Is the grass greener?

As I begin to plan my trip abroad, I find myself fantasizing about opportunities that may present themselves throughout my journey. Career opportunities, spiritual growth, friendships to name a few. Is this more of an escape mechanism than reality?  This is something I have been struggling with for almost a year when the idea of such a trip began to develop.  Of course one can find everything right where they are, right now. But as I look at my past I find that the biggest character developing moments and opening experiences have occurred when I am out of my comfort zone, typically away from home.

Sometimes we become so mired in our foundations and patterns that it becomes easier to just push it all away and start from scratch. I often liken this to a housekeeping for the mind.  Just as you have two options to clean your room – from the inside, slowly examining each item and determining whether to keep it or remove it, OR, taking everything out of the room at once, starting with an empty room and then slowly adding back the important items.  I’ve always found the latter allows for a more tidy room (mind).  There is actually a third method that doesn’t work at all.  *Thinking* about housekeeping but not actually doing anything about it. That’s where I’ve been lately.