A friend tweeted that she was looking to find her life passion. I asked what she meant by that. She said: “I want to be in a constant state of spellbound over sharing the gift I was born to share, whatever that is.”
My reply: You are the gift you were born to share with the world.
Everyone’s talking about “the conflict” in Israel and Gaza. Meanwhile, most of us struggle to resolve the largely insignificant conflicts in our everyday lives. I always see what’s going on “out there” in the world as a reflection of what’s going on “in here”. Gaza is a mirror. If we can’t assert compassion, love, acceptance of self and others on a daily basis when the stakes are low, how can we ever expect entire nations to make peace when the stakes are perceived as incredibly high? If we are ever-ready to defend the microscopic terrains of our little egos, why do we marvel and scratch our heads when groups of people feel compelled to defend their land and their dignity, no matter the cost? I’m simply amazed that folks who can’t get along with their in-laws nonetheless feel justified in getting on their ideological soap-box about politics and war.
It’s hard to believe, but I was actually in Israel and the Palestinian territories almost exactly a year ago. I traveled to Jerusalem as part of a research team of sociologists studying stigmatized groups in the U.S. (African Americans), Brazil (Blacks) and Israel (Ethiopian Jews, Arab Israelis and Mizrahis). You can learn more about that on-going project here and here. This was my first trip to the Middle East, a voyage that changed me in ways I’m still processing.
As I reflect on the harrowing news coming in from the region – a familiar and in most ways unsurprising story – I know for sure that there can be no lasting peace in this world unless we all figure out how to make peace in our everyday lives. This is not an abstract or philosophical point. Nothing could be more pragmatic than your commitment to practicing peace. I’m not saying that one must be the Buddha in order to have a political opinion, engage in activism or resist domination or violence. But we have to be just as committed, indeed more committed, to creating peace in our individual lives as we are to bringing about justice and reconciliation. For me, peace-making has been an integral dimension of nondual spirituality. Pre-2012, my life was full of drama. Because I was (unbeknownst to me) entirely identified with my ego and sense of individuality, my overall perspective was quite negative. My greatest source and repository of drama was a dysfunctional romantic relationship that I finally ended after years of deeply unconscious, mutually-traumatic conflict. But there were also many other little pockets of discontent. I was easily offended and often angry. Someone was always getting on my nerves. My shit list was maxed out. I frequently spoke ill of others and had frenemies who enjoyed gossip. It was a pretty awful way to live, but at the time, I didn’t know how things could be otherwise.
Fast forward a year. I’m far from perfect, but the experience of peace in my daily life has gone from “almost never” to “the vast majority of the time”. This does’t meant that I’m constantly singing Kumbaya or that I never get into arguments or fire up with anger. But arguments and strife are fairly rare occurences for me now. And when they do happen, the key difference between then and now is that I see the ego. I sense (and sometimes laugh about) my mind’s urge to be right, the desire to be noticed, admired, the ego’s need to feel superior. In the past, I was so wrapped up in the ego that I did not even understand there it was operating in my life. [See Eckhart Tolle chit-chat about this aspect of the ego here]. I felt totally identified with my thoughts, my emotions and my narrative–the story of “me”. My transformative encounter with God and conscious experience of nonduality has allowed me to identify with the presence, the space, the no-thing-ness within which my existence (and everything else) unfolds. As a result, either in the moment itself, or immediately thereafter, I am able to observe my thoughts and feelings rather than become fully absorbed in them. Not only does this create peace in my life by reducing my stress and lowering the volume of mental noise, but it also spontaneously produces compassion for everyone else as I consciously realize that the boundaries between us are illusory.
Now when someone upsets me, I express whatever feels appropriate in the moment — but I don’t do so with the unmitigated and unapologetic cruelty that I used to feel justified using in the past. An angry, unconscious ego always feels justified. Now, when I feel wounded, I notice the feeling. I know that I am not the feeling. I may hurt and suffer terribly. My ego may feel that I’ve been terribly wronged, disrespected or mistreated. But now I am not automatically driven by the pain or the anger. The reaction is not quite so knee-jerk and automatic. There is greater space, more distance — an observation of what is happening as it happens. When negative thoughts arise about someone, the very awareness of those thoughts also dissolves the self-justification of the ego. When I think of that guy who treated me poorly, the thought might come: “Wow, what a jerk! I hate him.” But as I notice that happening, that very awareness itself serves as a wake-up call. It’s as if the awareness sets off an alarm: “Ding! Ding! Ding! Your Ego’s showing its ass again!” And, as Eckhart Tolle and Mooji and everyone else who knows this truth says: once you see the Ego, it ceases to really be an ego. That is, the Ego only really functions as such by fooling you into thinking you are it. When you see that it is just an illusion (when you experience the truth of this) then it loses its power. I might still tell that guy to never talk to me again, but something in me also asserts compassion and love for him, knowing that he and I are really one – and we’re both just doing our best.
I’ve also been making peace in very small ways. I used to be terrified of all bugs and insects. I would kill them (or, more likely, enlist someone else to kill them) with impunity. It first occured to me that there was something wrong about this when I started attending Buddhist meditation classes. But nothing changed in my experience – nor the experience of the poor unfortunate insects who dared cross my path – until I really began to feel more presence and stillness in my life. I didn’t make a decision to stop killing insects. It just happened. One day I woke up and found I was no longer afraid of them. And if fear did arise, it still didn’t have the kind of hold on me that it used to. Instead of squashing spiders and insects, I save their lives and liberate them, assuming Zora doesn’t hunt them down first.
You can’t make peace if you aren’t at peace. For me, that means cultivating full, total, radical acceptance of my Self. Accepting my Self means letting go of the illusion that I’m the little story, the illusory narrative, that my ego has contrived. In so doing, I generate compassion for myself (the suffering of this imagined ego) and compassion for all living beings. Awareness — conscious attentiveness to the present moment — inevitably leads me to see that we’re all the same. When I hurt, I am reminded of the hurt I have inflicted on others as well as the universal pain we all feel when we forget our own Divinity. What I know now, for sure, is that awareness is a pre-requisite for peace. The first step is always consciousness, whether it’s in the Middle East or the middle of your daily crisis.
Realized in meditation last night that I am letting go of my attachment to things happening in a certain way – which also means that I am not avoiding suffering in the way I described in my last post on romance. Remarkable that I’m having this realization just a few days after writing those words. I swear, it feels like I’m in an accelerated course on awakening.
Am beginning to feel experientially that everything – even suffering – is okay. Awareness of whatever is in this moment transmutes the phenomenal experience into the process of awakening. That is, being aware of the awareness of suffering or joy or the sound of the cars passing by or the pain in the base of my neck or the taste of hazelnut coffee on my tongue or the thought of the guy my heart still breaks for, or even more subtle, sensing the ego’s urge to escape its feeling of incompleteness, this same urge which then prompts the mind to give importance to the thought about the guy – all of this, when seen and fully accepted/experienced as the unfolding of the Now – is itself transformed into the light of consciousness.
Sweet things I did for myself this weekend include..
– Finally trying out the pool at my gym. I’ve been saying I would take a dip for about 9 months, but I was always too intimidated and lazy to really force myself to do it. I’m not a great swimmer, though my back stroke and doggy paddle are on point, so I feared that I would be surrounded by hardcore aquatic pros. A conversation with some ladies in the sauna convinced me to take a walk over to the pool. I started out in the slow lane, trailing a line of septuagenarians before working up the courage to upgrade to medium. Ended up having a fab time and getting an excellent workout. I look forward to doing this more regularly.
– Speaking of working out, I was really proud of implementing my new present-moment approach to the gym. Instead of planning everything out or doing the same ol’ routine (stretching, cardio then more stretching), I decided to go with the flow and just do whatever felt right. After my pre workout stretch, I did upper and lower body strength training, then felt compelled to use the rowing machine, which I haven’t attempted in over a year. Then I did some stretching, light yoga and a session of hydro massage. I followed this up with sauna then that courageous dip in the pool. Fabulous workout.
– Thrifting. Need I say more?
– Cleaning. I really needed to straighten up and organize my laundry room and closets. Mission accomplished.
– An evening at my cigar lounge. I hadn’t been in about a month. I’d go more often, but I have this thing about wanting to smell like ylang ylang and roses and somehow cigar smoke interferes with that.. I like this particular lounge primarily because of the staff and the clientele: most of the guys there are professional, friendly and interesting. We have conversations about the damndest things. Yes, there are Playboy magazines lurking around (though, I’ve never actually seen anyone “reading” them, thank God) and it’s basically a man-cave, but they generally make me feel super welcomed. It’s the kind of place where I can come in, plop down on one of the plush leather sofas, pull out my copy of “The Power of Now”, put “He’s Not That Into You” on one of the flat screen TVs, kick my feet up, chit chat about everything from work to sports to politics – or just be left alone.Tried a Griffen for the first time – wanted something mild and it hit the spot. Enjoyed a glass of Courvoisier and a taste of an amazing Louisiana whiskey – complements of some of the members there – and had great conversations all night.
– Errands. I mailed a package I’ve been procrastinating on for months, changed Zora’s litter, did about 6 loads of laundry, took out the trash, assembled a bag of clothes to donate to the thrift shop, bought groceries, finally packed my summer clothes away in the attic, cleaned my bedroom, and generally made my home a beautiful, comfortable space.
– For my own peace of mind, I finally found a brand of organic cat food Zora likes. She’s been on a bit of a hunger strike and I was starting to lose hope.
– For my spirit: Sunday morning satsang with Mooji. Meditation. Watched some vids by Eckhart Tolle about the ego and presence.
– Cooking! Made a fab dish: basil chicken with broccoli in a white sauce over whole grain pasta.
– Lit a fragrant candle.
– Continued my practice of body awareness and acceptance. Starting to feel increasingly more comfortable in my skin, even though I’ve put on about 3-4 pounds in the past few months. Feeling happy in this body. Enjoying it.
– Pampering: L’Occitane facial mask, self massage with my hands, theracane and a tennis ball, aromatherapy and lounging in my fave baby blue satin robe.
– Getting to bed early. And on that note, I bid you zzzzzzz.
Thrifting has irreparably corrupted me. When you get used to paying 1% of the price for designer clothes, anything over $2 or $3 seems “expensive.” Yes, I take great pride in regularly wearing entire outfits that cost less than a can of Spam. Case and point…
Ahhhmazing thrift haul today, but no energy or time to post pics. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
I got, in no particular order:
A brand new (tags still on) Lord and Taylor skirt, original price was $69.99. I paid $1.
A camel colored suede jacket AND matching skirt by Bernardo (Nordstrom’s): I paid $2.
A Jones New York beige wool suit. I liked the jacket but the pants were petite so I “donated them back” to the store. Anyway, I paid: $2 (but in my head the jacket was only a dollar since it was originally a set).
Four items that, surprisingly, come from Sears (who knew they made cute clothes?) – An Apostrophe gray sleeveless dress with a matching dress jacket and a Ronni Nicole grey textured sleeveless dress with a matching long-sleeve sweater top with lovely silver buttons that have gorgeous detailing. The two dresses and tops cost a total of $4. Insane.
A pair of Gap dress slacks: $2
A pair of brown Lands End corduroys: $2
An Escapade beige suede jacket with sweater back/sleeves and collar: $2
2 pair of Calvin Klein tights, brand new, still in their sealed packages: $1.25 each
Oh, and I saw a pair of Stuart Weitzman slingbacks – brand new – for $15. And a sharp yellow/black Kasper suit (skirt & blazer) for $2. Got neither as they weren’t my size, but it still gave me a buzz.
Retail, for my items, would have been at least $400. I paid $18. I am over the moon. Several of the items are gifts that I’ll be sending off tomorrow!
Back in the day when I was, myself, an egomaniac, I admired academics with impressive CVs, charisma and bravado. But ever since the Universe bitch-slapped gently brought me down to earth, I now find myself gravitating toward colleagues for entirely new, less shitty reasons.
In the last few months, I’ve had the chance to finally make connections with more scholars at my university and in the larger NYC metropolitan area. Last year, when I was new to campus (and to the professoriate), it was all I could do to simply keep my head above water. Now that I’m entering my second year on the tenure track and I’ve started to get a lay of the land, I’m finding the bandwidth to branch out. In so doing, I’ve been meeting some junior and senior colleagues, some of whom have impressed me greatly. A few have even become fast new friends.
Many of these colleagues do, indeed, have formidable CVs. But that’s not why I like them. I’ve noticed that they share a few characteristics that I find incredibly attractive:
They are positive. The colleagues I have in mind struck me immediately with their upbeat attitude and optimism. These folks run the gamut: male and female, white, people of color, gay, straight, tenured and tenure-track. What they share, however, is a positive outlook. They don’t bitch and moan (too much) about the profession. Somehow they have faced challenges, encountered difficulties and overcome hardships in their personal and professional lives without warping into bitter, downtrodden shadows of themselves. They inspire me – and their happiness resonates with my own.
They take an active role in being of service. When I meet a scholar at a soup kitchen where we’re feeding the homeless, or I learn that someone was active in the Civil Rights movement or created programs to help thousands of minority students enter into STEM fields, I instantly know that we share common values. By the way, I’m pretty sure being of service is a large part of the reason why these colleagues are happy. Finding manageable ways to contribute to the community (without being overloaded and overworked) not only helps those around us but contributes to our own sense of well-being.
They have an almost childlike enthusiasm for their research. I love talking with people who are excited about their own work. Their enthusiasm is contagious. There’s a difference, though, between relaying your work in an arrogant, egocentric way, and discussing it with a natural, unaffected manner that simply conveys your own genuine interest. I much prefer the latter.
They can explain things in clear, down-to-earth language. The best colleagues are able to talk about research without getting too jargony. This is probably why they’re also often very good teachers.
They are unpretentious. The best colleagues are folks that don’t care about prestige or their academic pedigree even if they are, of course, interested in producing good work. They may have an impressive resume, but they don’t brag about it. And they don’t think their degrees, publications or honors make them better or more important than anyone else. No one likes pretentious people. Believe me, as a formerly pretentious person, I know.
They have a fantastic sense of humor. I like to laugh and I like people who laugh at my jokes. My favorite colleagues don’t take themselves too seriously.
They are socially adept. Academics are known for being rather awkward. I’m pretty sure that has a lot to do with the super-sized egos. It’s easier to get along with people when you have nothing to prove. My favorite colleagues are friendly. They smile. They can have a conversation about anything. Preferably over wine. Or whiskey.
They are generous. Given what we in the social sciences have learned from exchange theory, it is perhaps not too surprising that I’m attracted to colleagues who are generous. If someone offers to help me with a grant proposal, read a chapter of my manuscript, introduce me to an important contact or otherwise hook a sista up, we’re probably going to get along famously – and of course I’ll be repaying in kind. I’ve noticed that my academic friends are kind and generous – not overly concerned with defending their turf or enhancing their own reputation. Very attractive traits indeed.
They are spiritual – or at least philosophical. The more I’ve taken my spirituality into the public sphere, the more I’ve been blessed to encounter other academics who are also on a similar path. They may or may not meditate and do yoga. They might be Buddhist, Jewish, Christian or atheist – but in any case, they think deeply about important life questions and our conversations are often animated by existential concerns.
All of this to say: the more I become the kind of person and academic I want to be (less egocentric, more service oriented, driven by inspiration rather than aspiration, rooted in my spiritual life) the more I naturally find myself meeting, forming friendships and building community with folks of a similar feather.