Sabotaging Life

Recently, I’ve observed a pattern that I would like to break. Its in the area of self-sabotage or sabotaging life. I’m trying to get at the root of this, as it’s a behavior that I find incredibly frustrating and corrosive. Some typical examples:

  • You spend an incredible evening with your lover, feeling close and full of love, and in the waning moments of the night you make a terribly insensitive comment, seemingly undoing the magic that just unfolded.
  • Its Friday night, and rather than go out with your friends you decide to stay at home and reflect in silence. You read a few pages of one of your most inspirational books, and as the last glimmers of sunlight fade into the night you are feeling incredibly open, connected. There is a sense of peace and serenity that you typically don’t find during your busy life. You feel like you’re losing track of time and space- yet before you actually realize what you’re doing, you have your iPhone in front of you and you’re reading some sort of news about some place in the world that serves to do nothing other than take you out of yourself.
  • You meet your best friend for lunch, and in typical fashion you jump into an intense conversation about life, dreams, frustrations, fears and aspirations. Your friend provokes your unwillingness to make a career shift, despite your constant complaining of your current situation. You find yourself coming up with excuses, citing the many reasons its not a good time to make change, how there will be a better time in the future. You head back to work, feeling terrible.

I’m sure we can come up with a few more.  Do any of these ring a bell?

What is at the root of these behaviors? I would like to focus mostly on the first two examples which share something in common: A fear of deep intimacy. Whether with another person or with the world (which at some level are the same thing), there is a pulling back from love, a return to the safety of one’s own shell. The insensitive comment or pouring your attention into the iPhone both serve a similar function: providing a separation between you and the world. By drawing this line, our ego can remain comfortable. It no longer has to worry about disappearing in the vastness. It creates clear boundaries between self and other and rests comfortably on its side of the line. On your side of the line, you can hide your vulnerability, you can choose to remain ambivalent to another man’s pain. You can rest comfortably in your own projected world, allowing your body, speech and mind to reinforce this projected world.

Yet what happens when you start to observe the patterns above? You realize that your actions are simply habits that serve to return you to your safety-net and reinforce your projected world of separation. In those deeply intimate moments with your lover or in nature, you can taste an entirely different way of being in this world. Just the thought of maintaining that level of intimacy in all your interactions is overwhelming. Yet why would you not choose this?

This returns me to the original question: How do I break these patterns? I don’t think there’s an easy answer. Developing the witness and noticing the patterns is the first step. Then slowly cultivating the ability to remain, or rest in these new and unknown situations of intimacy is the second.  Which I think also implies living in a way that creates the conditions for intimacy. For me, some of these conditions are: living with a lover, slowing down my pace, meditation and spiritual practice with others, being regularly in nature. Once the edges start to break from these habits, it’s a matter of time, attention and intention for them to dissolve more fully.

Activity vs. Action

This morning I want to discuss the difference between activity and action. As far as the dictionary is concerned, there is not a big difference. Merriam-Webster defines activity as: the quality or state of being active. The definition of active leads us to: characterized by action rather than by contemplation or speculation. And finally action: the process of exerting a force or bringing about an effect that results from the inherent capacity of an agent OR an act of will.

So these words are closely related and even interchangeable at times, why bother? First, in my continued read of Tantra: The Supreme Understanding, by Osho I came across a section where Osho is commenting on how to be like a hollow bamboo, how to relax the mind and find ease in the body. In doing so, he looks specifically at these two words. The second reason is that this practice, of taking two closely related concepts and deeply examining them, is something my Zen teacher, Zentatsu Baker-roshi, often presents his students with. In the end, its not about finding the correct definitions or being right, it is an opportunity to examine the subtleties of our lives – to ultimately put these concepts to work for us and open us to greater possibilities of being. Maybe after reading this you will no longer view activity and action as the same thing, or you may notice similar structures of our language that you can explore in order to find something meaningful in your own life.

First, Osho’s words:

Remember two words: one is “action,” another is “activity.” Action is not activity; activity is not action. Their natures are diametrically opposite. Action is when the situation demands it, you act, you respond. Activity is when the situation doesn’t matter, it is not a response; you are so restless within, that the situation is just an excuse to be active.

Action comes out of a silent mind – its is the most beautiful thing in the world. Activity comes out of a restless mind – it is the ugliest. Action is moment to moment, spontaneous; activity is irrelevant. Action is moment to moment, spontaneous; activity is loaded with the past. It is not a response to the present moment, rather, it is a pouring your restlessness, which you have been carrying from the past, into the present. Action is creative. Activity is very very destructive – it destroys you, it destroys others.

I’ve heard it said that Osho is often over the top. Does activity really destroy? Remember he is pushing it to the edge so that we can see the differences.

Observing myself this past weekend while holding this passage in mind, I found it is quite difficult to define whether or not something that I was doing was an activity or an action. The truth is, according to Osho’s definition, most of what I was doing was a form of activity, based on habits or restlessness. Eating is often the easiest place to observe this delicate distinction. For example, you are hungry, then you eat – this is action. But many times you aren’t that hungry, and you go on eating anyway – this is activity. This is where Osho brings in the destructiveness: you destroy food, unnecessarily, to give you a small release of your inner restless ness. This destruction is sort of an unconsciousness violence.

Action is always spontaneous, it takes the total situation into account. It is a response to life, to the present moment without bringing in the past. You are hungry and find food, you are thirsty and seek water, you are sleepy and go to bed. We often rationalize our activities as necessary actions. “I became angry at this situation because of xyz and this was the appropriate response.” Its these very rationalizations that become what Gurdjieff called “buffers.” These buffers help us remain unconscious of the actual situation and action required of it, allowing us to rest in our old habits.

Many of us grow up with some version of the proverb “It’s better to do something rather than nothing.”  And because of this we have an obsession to be active, often meeting this obsession in useless activity. Thought itself can be an activity or action. Our your thoughts right now based on a total response to this very moment, or do they more closely resemble a mixture of your past with your current desires and needs?

Activity is your escape from yourself. In action you are; in activity you have escaped from yourself – it is a drug. In activity you forget yourself, and when you forget yourself there are no worries, no anguish, no anxiety. That’s why you need to be continuously active, doing something or other, but never in a state when non-doing flowers in you and blooms.

Action is good. Activity is ill. Find the distinction within yourself: what is activity and what is action; that is the first step. The second step is to be more involved in action so that the energy moves into action; and whenever there is activity to be more watchful about it, more alert. If you are aware, activity ceases, energy is preserved, and the same energy becomes action.

Action is immediate. It is nothing ready-made, it is not prefabricated. It doesn’t give you any chance to make a preparation, to go through a rehearsal. Action is always new and fresh like the dew drops in the morning. And a person who is a person of action is always fresh and young. The body becomes old, but his freshness continues.

Be aware. Feel the difference between action and activity. And when activity takes hold of you, when the activity possesses you, watch it, even if you have to do it, do it with full awareness. Let things drop, don’t drop them. Let activity disappear, don’t force it to disappear- because the very effort to force it to disappear is again activity in another form. Watch, be alert, conscious, and you come to a very very miraculous phenomenon: when something drops by itself, on its own accord, it leaves no trace on you.

Act more, and let activities drop on their own accord, a transformation will come to you by and by. It takes time, it needs seasoning, but there is no hurry.

Reflections @ 6 Months

Thank you to everyone who wrote to me recently, I realize now that I projected an image of being quite pathetic a few days ago! I’m back in Kathmandu, looking at spending a week here as I wait for my India Visa to come through. I made the mistake of not beginning this process before my trek and am now faced with numerous days of queuing, waiting, queuing, waiting, and hopefully I’ll have a visa in my hand on Friday. Several people I met at the embassy had this turn into a multi-week saga. There are definitely worse places to be than Kathmandu. There is a great traveler vibe, an abundance of western comforts like book stores and coffee shops, perfect weather and cheap food. The major annoyances here are the tiger balm touts and excessive noise pollution. I didn’t do anything touristy on my first run through the city so I’m planning on seeing a few sights between coffee shop visits and blogging 🙂 I have not updated my blog since leaving Beijing over a month ago – sorry!

After my last post, I should clarify some things around my trip home. Its also time for everyone’s favorite post – my bi-monthly, “Reflections”. First, my decision to come home in December was actually made IMG_3904almost 2 months ago, during my travels in China. I reserved a flight using frequent flyer miles, knowing I would have the option to cancel the flight if I decided to stay on the road. I can’t quite recall my decision making process, but it was at this time where I began to feel a sense of momentum and speed to my travels that had gotten a little out of control. It was during this time that my plan to travel through Mongolia, back to Tibet and onward to Nepal and India became real, and the days ahead were no longer as free and open as I once envisioned. People since have asked or suggested – Why not just stop? Just sit still, change course and throw out all of the preconceptions? The irony is that this feeling was no different than one that nagged me the past couple of years at work. Its not that I didn’t want to go to the places I did – I very much did. Its more that there was an undercurrent of not being completely true to myself in some way or another.

  Its clear that there is something much more fundamental at work in one’s sense of freedom than outward appearances, physical location or commitment levels. Needless to say, I endeavored ahead. I saw and experienced an incredible amount in a few short months. I have not a single regret. But I am exhausted. I mentioned a few days ago that this feeling doesn’t go away no matter how much I rest. Its my body (and spirit I believe) telling me to go home and rest.

It’s not just for physical reasons that I am coming home. I’m considering my forthcoming time at home an opportunity, an exploration if you will. I significantly overestimated the amount of time I would have during travel for investigation of the more practical aspects of life. Examining career possibilities, networking with people from home and teaching myself Spanish were all on the list when I left. I laugh now, but in Japan I started a concept of using one day a week as a work day where I would sit in a hotel or coffee shop and do some of these things. The burdens of travel, the quality of Internet in 3rd world countries and the speed of my travels quickly made this an idea of the past. My notebooks are riddled with one liners and thought bubbles that require a 24 inch screen LCD, a comfy chair and Google to investigate more thoroughly. I find myself frequently wanting to reach out to call people, to discuss something, quickly to realize I’m nowhere near a phone or even if I am that its 4:37am in the Colorado. My business school professors would consider this a midyear review.

A midyear review in conjunction with setting ideas into action. This entire trip has been about ego deconstruction, self awareness and exploration of truth. Seeking to be a vessel of divine will, not a creature of whim and momentary desires. I’ve been able to sit with many different aspects of myself, digging deep into my habits and my conditioning. I’ve broken down a number of these to their roots, seen how certain fears and attachments to the past drive my actions and words. There are many, ohhhh so many, aspects of being that continue to ask for my patience and careful watch to reveal their true nature to me. The people and places of the world have been great gifts for me in this discovery process. But right now I want to experiment with the application of these gifts in my daily life in the place where I plan to spend a large part of my life – Colorado. The meaning of a retreat is to go away, reflect and to return. I mentioned in my 4 month reflections that long-term travel, the endless vagabond journey will never be my forte. I have collected many golden nuggets from this journey and my bag is getting a little heavy. Its time to bring them home and smelt them into something useful.

Why would I pick the coldest months of the year to return to Colorado? Well, steep turns in knee deep snow at Berthoud Pass comes to mind very quickly… 🙂

The truth is I’m just ready. I miss my family, my friends, the small daily joys of my existence in Boulder. And despite our countries share of problems and clear disregard for so many things – I’ve never missed her comforts and opportunities so much.