awe-some!

We are the center of the universe, aren’t we? From birth on, proud parents, excited friends, and doting grandparents pay attention to us, delighting and fulfilling our every need and desire. We are adorable: our smell, first smile, first tooth, sitting, crawling, standing, and walking. We are the stars of the show! For the next five years, we bathe in glorious attention. Having nothing else to compare to, we are certain that the people around us are at our beck and call.

As we continue to grow, our fairy tale world seems to diminish. “Wait a minute!” we wonder, “What happened to the luxury of the spotlight?” Most of us wish we could remain the center of attention because comfort, predictability, and unconditional love from others make us feel good. Some continue to hold that belief into their tweens (think “spoiled”); others nurse it along well into adulthood (think “self-centered”). Still for others, it remains their truth until they die (think “control artists”). In short, these individuals think that everything that happens is about them. It is personal. Perhaps all of us share a little bit of this tendency. We want to feel important and recognized by someone once in a while. What does that say about human nature?

Our personal world is formed by appearances, statistics, material goods, attitudes, and opinions—all of which are illusions. Illusions and the stories we tell ourselves reflect how we think life should be. Belief in illusions is driven by our senses, yet illusions are but an outer shell. They are not the truth of us. We cling to them, desperately wanting to believe that they are our reality. The truth is that everything continuously changes. We cannot control anything. To remain sane, we must accept the ebb and flow of life. We can certainly influence what happens to us, yet it is a greater energy that has the final say.

“When the constant buzzing of ‘me,’ ‘me,’ ‘me’ recedes, we might become sensitive to loftier principles.”   ~Paul Piff, assistant professor of psychology and social behavior, University of California, Irvine; Psychology Today, March/April 2016, “It’s Not All About You” by Carlin Flora, p. 52.

The philosophies of society today—success is about alignment, reputation, and wealth; manipulation is advantageous; and feelings detract from strength—mirror the masks that keep us from knowing our true selves. Suffering follows: inner turmoil; lack of sleep; shorter attention spans; less kindness and generosity; increased stress; perseverance, regardless of its toll; negative thinking that compromises the immune system, paving the way to disease; or unhappiness that can lead to depression or, possibly, a life lost to depression.

Ego takes charge and marshals our thoughts and feelings, making suggestions based on what has worked in the past: “Do this. You need that. Just listen to me; I’ve been taking care of your problems for years.” However, dealing with anxiety and solving existing challenges using the same level of thinking that created them seems unproductive. Why not think and feel on a grander scale? Why not seek “a-ha” moments? Why not open to awe?

“My problems are so trivial compared to the majesty of the night sky.”

~Albert Einstein

“Wonder-as-therapy” is an idea explored by a number of scientists and psychologists in the March/April 2016 Psychology Today publication. Not necessarily new to some, this idea is, nevertheless, an invitation that reminds us to get in touch with our true selves, regardless of where we are in our life cycle. Wonder and awe therapy call us to get out of our own way and to connect with energy outside of us. We take a break, snuggle with a pet, explore nature, think of things that make us feel good, laugh, observe beauty, or focus on our breathing. These activities cancel controlling emotions and demonstrate that we are not alone in our circumstances. We have a friend in the awe business.

As a witness to a growing number of awe-filled recollections, here are my favorites:

  • Newborns, my own four and my seven “grands”
  • Organ music in a 16th Century cathedral
  • A starry night viewed from a hot tub
  • Vistas of the Canadian Rocky Mountains in Banff
  • The growth of weeds in an asphalt parking lot
  • Exquisite inner light on the face of a person who has died

Feeling awe is “losing yourself in something or someone else.”

~Robert Leahy, Ph.D; Director, American Institute of Cognitive Therapy.

Awe may appear in any shape, size, color, location, or energy, formed or formless. It may grace us in nature or as a piece in an art gallery or museum. Never knowing exactly how or where awe will inspire us, we know that there is an unlimited supply, our choice to claim. It is a surprise from the universe that offers comfort, predictability, and unconditional love.

“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”

~E.B. White

© 2018 in the thick of things

 

 

Lose the Models

“When I am with people whose greatest priority is the truth and work to let go of all that blocks their understanding, I don’t hear them say, ‘God, I’ve got to get my energy back; I’ve got to be someone in the world.’ Instead, they say, ‘I don’t have to be anything or anyone to be who I really am.’ It is a considerable insight for beings who have lived so much of their life, as we all have, in ideas and models of a universe of ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ that don’t exist. I see them touch the real. I see them become part of what is.”

~Who Dies? Stephen Levine, p.61

 

These words resonated at my core as I continue to seek the truth of who I am. Levine (1937-2016) was an American poet, author, and teacher of Theravada Buddhism. Like his close friend, Ram Dass, he wrote of his experiences, focusing on grief for survivors of concentration camps, of the Viet Nam War, and of sexual abuse. It was his reference to seeing the world through models that caught my attention.

 

Models of how we “should” and, at certain times, “must” behave, speak, and interact are all around us. Examples include “Minnesota nice,” horoscopes, self-assessment tools (Myers-Briggs, I Speak and many others), reputations, expectations of etiquette (social, business, sports, cultural), standards (college entrance test scores, technical certifications, professional continuing education credits, clinical and medical results), sales or other industry goals, and Profit/Loss balance sheets. Life seemingly cannot function without them, and Ego insists on their persuasive power: these are the realities of life, or what we think is real. Models are ego-related; our higher Self does not need them. How we interact, our futures, and who we believe ourselves to be are closely influenced by these models. That is, until they no longer apply to us.

 

Impermanence strikes. Change turns our world upside down. We are left confused, upset, and perhaps even defiant. Earlier in life, we allow our jobs, appearance, mobility, quick wit, achievements, possessions—everything external—to define us. Over the years, those patterns and emotions that we thought were constant and took for granted suddenly morph. Our careers no longer have the substantive severance and insurance packages we thought were in place. Upon waking one morning, we throw out our back. Invisibility comes to mind as we rarely are consulted on projects or walk down the halls of our workplace or town, unacknowledged. We are drifting into the background, not feeling revered as many Eastern cultures intend, and becoming a “has been.” Wishing for things to be other than they are, or resistance to the present moment, often leads to an immediate flurry of activity, the “over my dead body” attitude, of how life is supposed to be. Not me, this can’t be happening to me! I need to do something about it.

 

Feeling confused, we often rush to fill the void with the first answer, any answer. This makes Ego feels better. Having a plan also softens the effects of our not being able to live up to the models to which we are attached. When we are confused, we approach life through illusions and Ego, and not from the stance of our higher Self. We suffer.

 

This happened to me when I was working on my master’s degree. I had finished all of the coursework and had only the thesis to write. The assumption of my model was that there would be enough time and energy to complete this degree over seven years, even though I was a stay-at-home mom with two young children. Somehow I would get help, and my super woman presence would rise to the occasion. I felt like I had started this endeavor and I must complete it. Miraculously, I would get it done.

 

Although the program prerequisites remained the same over the years, my circumstances changed dramatically. Time ran out, and I did not finish my thesis. I felt like a failure. I let this feeling of failure seep into other areas of my life. It was hard to let it go, especially since I was inspired about the writing part of the program. Ten years later, I started another master’s program in leadership, but, by then I had a full-time job and four busy children. I thought this degree would be a sign of success because education held a premium value in my family of origin. Would it have given me a sense of accomplishment, happiness, or prestige?  Maybe. Would it have made a difference to Source or changed who I am? No. Looking back, Ego was definitely alive.

 

When change happens, we want to scream, Wait just a minute! I’m still here. I have something to offer. I’m a good person and I didn’t ask for this to happen. Yikes! It’s beyond my control. Many of us feel that we’re not going down without a fight! We take control.  Hiring a personal trainer and beginning a workout program; getting a new wardrobe, a new hairstyle, or taking a class; or traveling and expanding our knowledge become our go-to events. We resist, desperately trying to hang on and looking in every direction for help, bar one.

 

Inward?! We stare in disbelief. After rescuing our jaws from the floor and eating humble pie, we sheepishly focus on the realization that we, too, are impermanent. This is a rite of passage that everyone will experience sooner or later. The universe is not trying to sabotage our lives. We need to look within. Acceptance has not part of our vocabulary.

 

All of the “knowing” and models up to this point have not given our lives the level of love, meaning, or peace of mind that we have longed for. All that happens is that we end up grasping for other external satisfactions. If only we could stay in the present moment and gratefully accept who we are and what we have. And stop there. Contentment would surround us. Instead of a “Hail Mary” effort with our fingers crossed, our expanded heart and mind would experience triumph. Now is the time to practice acceptance see through illusions.

 

 

Inwardly speaking: What are some of the models, the “should’s,” “must’s,” “have to’s” that keep Ego in control of your life? What does the true you wish to be? Can you let go of just one model to open more space to be your authentic Self?

 

© 2015 Barbara L. Krause