Tag Archives: Freedom

Diamond Approach: Desire is the Language of the Heart

What do you want right now?

What do you want most of all?

When you let go of worrying about whether or not you can have it, how does desire feel?

 

Last weekend, I participated in my second Diamond Approach workshop.  The approach was developed by a man named A.H. Almaas as a synthesis between spiritual and the psychological experience.  The group uses meditation and focused inquiry to help people gain a direct experiential understanding of a situation.  As a person gains direct experiential insight into a situation, their ego structure is both repaired and abandoned, so that their essential spiritual nature is more fully expressed (i.e., more LIGHT can shine through).

 

This weekend, our insight process focused around desire.  Buddhist teachings might leave one believing that ALL desire is bad.  Wanting brings suffering.  To stop suffering, stop wanting.

This weekend we explored a different, more subtle approach to desire.  Basically, some desire leads us AWAY from ourselves.  We desire things because we feel deficient in ourselves.  We crave things because we are seeking to not feel something.  We desire things to give us a sense of self.  This is the type of craving that Buddhism counsels against.

But there is another kind of desire.  The kind that is borne out of love.  The kind that rises in your chest, bubbly and yellow like champagne.  The kind that feels so good to allow, you want to sink your toes into it.  And this second kind of desire arises from a sense of fullness, not deficiency.

This second type of desire is a natural activity of the heart.  It is the heart’s GPS.  Follow these desires, and you will find the things in life that affirm you.  And even if you never get the things you desire, the sheer pleasure of loving them, wanting them, is what the heart wants and needs to feel alive.  This type of desire is a sacred movement, profound in and of itself, regardless of whether it is actually fulfilled.

One type of desire brings you closer to yourself, one takes you away. 

How do you distinguish one type of desire from another?  You can tell by how it makes you feel.  Let’s say you crave chocolate.  Do you feel happy and excited about the deliciousness of the treat, a pure and innocent joy in this treat?  Enjoy the pleasure of wanting, free from any attachment to actually eating the chocolate.  Or do you feel an anxious craving, and a gnawing sense that you are ignoring what is really bothering you?  If that is the case, then dig deeper to see what you really want.

So all weekend, this group of people, slowly at first, and then in a joyful rush, shared all of the things that we desired truly, with our hearts.  When we let go of whether or not we could actually have them, the energy shifted from one of frustration or tentativeness, to one of freedom and play.  We desired fun and travel and lovely work and intimate conversations and hot sex (as a seventy-year old woman gamely volunteered).

We were like children who had not yet learned the harsh rules of the world, and were free to love everything we wanted to love.

And we also discussed the things that kept us from our desires.

The most poignant scene of the weekend for me was the inquiry with a man in his late 50s.  He recalled that when he was a little boy, he loved women.  Worshipped them.  He could vividly recall sneaking behind a girl’s desk when he was just starting school (6 or 7 years old), so that he could breath in her scent and stare at the pattern on her dress.  But he quickly learned, because he was brought up Catholic, that such desires were a sin.  So for most of his life, he has had a tortured relationship to women.  He buried his desires because they were bad.

As this man recalled the bright red and white check pattern of the girl’s dress that he so loved over forty years ago, tears streamed down his face.  Together, we sat in silence, letting him cry, sharing the beauty of this innocent desire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Love and Freedom

This message from Jada Pinkett Smith broke my heart open today, and I thought I would share:

Open marriage? Let me first say this, there are far more important things to talk about in regards to what is happening in the world than whether I have an open marriage or not. I am addressing this issue because a very important subject has been born from discussions about my statement that may be worthy of addressing. The statement I made in regard to, “Will can do whatever he wants,” has illuminated the need to discuss the relationship between trust and love and how they co-exist. Do we believe loving someone means owning them? Do we believe that ownership is the reason someone should “behave”? Do we believe that all the expectations, conditions, and underlying threats of “you better act right or else” keep one honest and true? Do we believe that we can have meaningful relationships with people who have not defined nor live by the integrity of his or her higher self? What of unconditional love? Or does love look like, feel like, and operate as enslavement? Do we believe that the more control we put on someone the safer we are? What of TRUST and LOVE? Should we be married to individuals who can not be responsible for themselves and their families within their freedom? Should we be in relationships with individuals who we can not entrust to their own values, integrity, and LOVE…for us??? Here is how I will change my statement…Will and I BOTH can do WHATEVER we want, because we TRUST each other to
do so. This does NOT mean we have an open relationship…this means we have a GROWN one. Siempre,       J
What a heartfelt, beautiful, and POWERFUL vision of love.  A love that deeply trusts the other person to show you all of themselves, not to hide the part that is “unacceptable” or scary.  True safety is rooted in freedom.  In that freedom, you find a love that is achingly vulnerable.   A love that is alive.
After the events of the last couple of years, I never want to revert back to the myth of a committed relationship that is afraid to let the other person be free.  That said, I struggle to find that space of freedom.  To let people go when they want to go.  To walk away when the other person can not give me what I want.  To allow that coming and going with grace, because I know and trust that I can have the type of relationship that I desire.  Thank you Jada for the inspiration.  I will continue to explore what is possible.
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Keeping it Real: Know Your Ego’s Defenses!

hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil

Are there things in your life you are not allowing yourself to fully see?  Are you keeping them tucked away on the edge of your awareness where you can’t feel them?  What would happen if you let those things come fully into your awareness?

To live in a manner fully consistent with our truth, we must confront reality as it IS.  Not as we would like it to be.  Not as we imagine it might be some day.  What. are. you. feeling. and. experiencing. in. your. life. right. now.  There is pain there, and vulnerability, yes.  But guess what else is there?  YOUR LIFE.   True reality is that shaky, vulnerable place where you actually FEEL alive.  It is that open, spacious freedom where you realize you can actually ask for what you want, that it is okay to desire, that you are allowed to be human, and true love and connection are possible.  There is an incredible amount of vibrant energy there.

How do we live from this shaky open, true place?  If you are like most people, you have become so skilled at escaping reality that you do not even realize that you are doing it.  Our wonderful egos have protected our spirits in various ingenious ways.  When we were young and our egos were developing, these defenses helped us survive.  Now that we are grown, these same defenses constrict our awareness and distort our perception.

To be able to unravel our egos’ work and meet reality head-on, it helps to become familiar with the ego’s tricks.  With assistance from a book I am reading now, The Inward Arc: Healing in Psychotherapy and Spirituality by Frances Vaughan, here is a wonderful list of ego defenses.  Read them, know them, and learn to recognize when you are doing them.  As you become familiar with the ways you struggle to gain control OVER life, you will naturally relax these defenses and gain more clarity.  (I find that it is possible to sense the ego kicking in at an energetic level, a slight escaping or lessening of intensity.  This is part (all?) of what we are beginning to notice when we sit in meditation.)

Woo!  What a rush.  When you can SEE the truth, you can LIVE from the truth.  Like plunging into a cold pool, and laughing because the water is shocking but oh so refreshing . . .

EGO DEFENSES: COMMON WAYS TO ESCAPE REALITY

Denial (“Everything is fine.”)
Simply, the blank refusal to acknowledge what you do not want to see or feel.  When unconscious, you will not be aware that you are in denial.  All you will be aware of is that you think things are “fine” or “manageable” or you “can handle it” (often, denial can manifest as a weird insistence on your own strength to handle things).  You numb yourself out to your own pain or destructive patterns.  (Positive affirmations can work to increase denial.)

Projection/Blame (“It is THEIR Fault…”)
The inability to accept a part of your own consciousness, so you project it out onto other people.  Because you deny your own anger for example, others appear overly angry to you, and their anger might feel overwhelming or intense.  You then assume that the “cause” of your discomfort is the other person, rather than owning and accepting that the original discomfort comes from within.

Shame/Repression (“It is MY fault. . . “)
You are aware that you are feeling a certain way (angry, sad, vulnerable), but you do not think that it is safe or okay for you to actually be feeling that way, so you bury it.  Instead of just feeling that feeling, you feel shame and low self-worth.  I think of shame/repression as the flip side of blame.  Instead of pushing the energy OUT towards to the other, you pull it INTO yourself.  Either way, you are escaping the full brunt of reality.

Reaction Formation (“I’ll do it first.”)
To avoid being hurt, you become what you fear.  If what you are actually experiencing is a deep fear of abandonment, you might avoid this feeling by becoming really good at leaving people quickly.  If you are afraid of aggression and violence, you might become a bully to avoid feeling your fear and pain around this issue.  I am rubber and you are glue . . .

Rationalization (“Well maybe I didn’t actually feel that way . . .”)
You explain and justify whatever thoughts/feelings/action you judge to be unacceptable.  You feel something in the moment, but later on, you talk yourself out of it.  If you felt hurt or angry, you convince yourself that you did not have a “reason” to feel that way.  You move an intense feeling from your HEART to your HEAD, where you can dissect it.  In the process, you avoid processing your feelings and actions as they actually manifested.  (If we consistently cling to spiritual “knowledge” that does not yet exist at a heart level, we can rationalize away reality and actually increase our separation from life.  “We are all one . . .” “I forgive you, because we are all love . . . ”  There is a reason why this often comes off as inauthentic!)

Regression (“I am so hurt!  Rescue me!”)
You feel pain/anger, but instead of taking ownership of it, you make the other person responsible for fixing it.  You don’t recognize the ways that you are creating the conditions that allow this pain to arise.  In a sense, you project your own power onto the other person because it is too scary to recognize it in your self.  (As Marianne Williamson says: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”)

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Learning About Non-Violent Communication (NVC)

NVC images

Have you heard of Non-Violent Communication before? If you have, you probably think about it as a way to communicate effectively with other people. That is true.  And to my mind, much more importantly, it is also a very practical teaching about the nature of violence itself.

When most of us think of violence, we think of fighting, wars, yelling.  The key book on NVC, by Marshall Rosenberg, starts out by asking us to expand our idea of what it is to be violent.  In fact, the foreword was written by Ghandi’s grandson.  Ghandi asked his grandson to keep track of all of the “violent” things that happened over the course of a week or so.  He asked him to track not just physical violence, but what he called “passive violence” as well.  Passive violence were those mundane acts that generated anger in the other person, which of course is the root of physical acts of aggression.  Before long, the grandson began to see how violence was everywhere around him, all the time.

What is passive violence?  This is where the book takes another eye-opening turn.  Passive violence is basically our subtle desire to control other people.  The desire to control may come from care (I want my dad to stop smoking), insecurity (I just want him to appreciate me), or any one of the other hundreds of reasons.  The basic formula is always the same:  I need you to do X so I can stop suffering.   When we think people hold the key to our happiness, then we don’t fully grant them the freedom to act.  That is violence–not yelling, or threats.  Violence is the subtle and pervasive desire to manipulate others so that we can be happy.

So how do we move away from this violent approach to life?  By understanding one single truth: no one else is responsible for how you feel.  You are 100% responsible for your own feelings and needs. 

Some of you might think that this sounds like some hippy shit.  You might think: wait a second, others do cause me to feel things.  When my boss yells at me, I feel bad.  When my friend calls me, I feel good.  When someone steals my parking spot, they are a dick and caused me to be angry.  Are you telling me to be a doormat so that the world can be a more peaceful place?  No way!  Other people need to be accountable for their actions!

NVC is not a bunch of hippy shit.  It is simply (and radically) asking you to understand your feelings in a totally different way.

Usually, we think EXTERNAL ACT — REACTION/FEELING.  NVC teaches us that things actually work like this: EXTERNAL ACT— TRIGGER BASED ON INTERNAL NEED— REACTION/FEELING.    What does this mean?  It means that external acts are neutral.  They do not “cause” your feelings–they trigger your feelings based on your internal needs.  Your boss yelling at you makes you feel bad because you have a need for approval and love in the workplace.  Another person who didn’t have those same needs might not be bothered at all by their boss’ aggressive behavior.  Someone stealing your parking spot pissed you off because you have a need to feel like you live in a world of nice people, or because you need to feel like you are “winning” at the game of life.   The external act has no inherent impact without your own triggers (although, because many of us have similar triggers, it will produce similar reactions in many people).  It is like how people and dogs are with chocolate.  What is delicious for people is poison to dogs.  The chocolate itself is neutral.

Once you truly accept that NO ONE else causes your feelings (for most of us, a life-long task), you naturally begin to approach interactions with others from a non-aggressive place.  The rest is just technique and practice. 

But there is an even better way to say this, which leads me into the second awesome part about NVC.  Because no one else is responsible for how you feel…

You can choose how you react to situations, rather than be at the mercy of others.   You don’t have to fight anyone to be happy (other than yourself, of course).  You discover true power.

 

Not only does your emotional center of balance change, but you can take care of yourself much more effectively.  Actually, I think this is the true definition of growing up–you learn to provide for yourself, instead of asking (demanding) that others take care of our needs.  If we have a need for peace and cooperation, it is your job to connect with that need and meet it.  And of course, the best way to take care of a need is to GIVE (to yourself, to others) what you were initially seeking to get from outside.  Now you can start living from a place of thinking about what you DO want (connection, love, respect), rather than what you don’t (e.g., I want this person to stop hurting me).  The thing you were so desperately fighting the other person to give you is always available to you . . . if you are willing to let it in.

So what about the practical situation at hand with the other person?   Do we just walk away?  Not necessarily.   Once you understand your feelings and needs, you may choose to communicate them to the other person (using a whole system of communication that is taught in the book).  And they may choose to modify their behavior, or not.  And if they don’t, you have the choice to continue the relationship, or not.  But you respect and honor their decision no matter what.  NVC does not promise solutions, but it does promise that you will stop exhausting yourself mistakenly trying to get someone else to change so that you can be happy.

NVC EXERCISE 
(this is not all talk…put this into action and see how it feels!)

First, think of a difficult situation with another person (or practice this while in the midst of a difficult situation!).  Choose a judgment sentence about the other person.  For example, “This person is selfish and only thinks about his or herself.”)

Next, run this sentence over and over in your mind for about 20 seconds.  Notice what happens in your body.  Do you feel tired?  Does your breath go shallow?  Do you feel tight?

Now, re-frame this feeling in terms of what you DO want rather than what you DON’T.  Ask yourself, what is it that I really want right now?  What would I like to receive that would make me feel better (keep it general)?  In the example above, you might recognize that you really want to feel special and loved.
Now, express that need in the following positive way: “Wow, I really love it when ____(I feel special and loved)_____.”  Run it over and over for about 20 seconds.  How does your body feel now?  It might feel bright, energized, refreshed, or open.
Now say to yourself “I AM special and loved.”  Take 20 seconds to run this affirmation over and over, and connect with the energy of feeling special and loved.  You are essentially feeding yourself.   The feeling of being special and loved is ALWAYS there and ALWAYS accessible to you . . . even if it is difficult to find sometimes.
Now that you have fed yourself, turn your attention back to the other person.  Has your perception of them changed?  Has the things you want to say to them changed?  Do you feel softer?  Imagine how different it would be to have a conversation from this positive place, rather than from the typical tense, blaming place you started from?
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Brutal Beautiful Honesty

Run away from me, baby, run away
Run away from me, baby, run away
It’s about to get crazy, why can’t she just, run away?
Baby, I got a plan, run away fast as you can
Kanye West, Runaway

‎As we learn to have compassion for ourselves, the circle of compassion for others –what and whom we can work with, and how — becomes wider.
Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

Today I did four really difficult things.

I let myself see and acknowledge that I had been acting selfishly, and that I was not being who I want to be.  

I forgave myself.   

I admitted to the person involved that I was acting selfishly.  

I expressed a deep and unconditional love for that person. 

Right now, I feel at peace and also very vulnerable.   In retrospect, it amazes me how I managed to avoid seeing how I was acting before.  There is so much about ourselves that we don’t want to admit because we are not ready yet to grow.

Or maybe it is not that crazy.  Until we are ready to face up to ourselves, there are many ways to avoid inner honesty.  Maybe some of these sound familiar to you.  You can project your problems onto the other person (“If only they would . . . “)  You can fall into self-pity (“I am a bad person.”)  You can lie to yourself about who you are and your motivations.  (“I am the nice person.”)  You can pretend that you do not know what you are doing.  (“Why does this always happen to me.”)  You can stay shallow and cut your feelings and intuition short with distractions.  (Friends, TV, alcohol, books, gym, rinse, repeat.)

I have done many of these things.  And I am sure that I will do them again in my life.  But gradually, I am learning to practice honesty.  I am committing to watching myself and how I act.  I am trying to communicate with people in a genuine fashion, and owning up to things I do.

Being honest does not mean that I have any idea what to do about my imperfections.  Real honesty goes beyond a one-time, “I am sorry that will never happen again,” type thing.  It means that I am willing to dig deep and admit my deepest motivations and engrained patterns, the stuff I really do not want anyone to see.  Sometimes there are no solutions to being human.

That’s why I love Kanye’s song Runaway . . . it is so brutally candid.  He offers himself as he is.  He gets it, he sees himself, and he is willing to own up to it.  He has no answers.

But the funny thing is that at the end of the song, after he admits to being a workaholic asshole who is afraid of intimacy, he naturally shifts into a different place.  He is finally able to admit to this girl that he is singing to that he does not know what he will do without her if she leaves.  When he lets himself be vulnerable and real about who he is, he can open his heart to love.  I always feel closer to him as an artist and person after I listen to that song.

I felt that opening today too.  Once I cleared the way by owning up to my actions, and forgiving myself, I felt this deep love well up and pour out of me.  It was really beautiful to feel and express.  I am learning that true intimacy–with family, friends, lovers–requires owning up, again and again, to who we are, and letting that be okay.

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Traveling at Home

I love to travel, and have gone a fair number of places in my life.  Mexico, Cuba, Peru, Chile, Nicaragua, France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Holland, Hawaii, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Bahamas, Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, St. Lucia, Anguilla.  I might be missing a few, but you can tell it is a pretty good list.

One of my favorite parts about traveling is going to a place where your expectations no longer apply, and you walk into the world fully aware that each moment is new.   This can be a physical revelation . . . like the luminescent microorganisms in the waters in Puerto Rico, that sent off waves of sparkles in the dark waters as I swam at night.  Or like the amazing heaviness of life in the Amazon jungle, where the air was so thick with nutrients that trees’ roots hovered three feet off of the ground.  The shock of life can also come as a social revelation . . . like in Vietnam, where on a river-boat cruise to Cambodia I waved to people living in stilted houses on small patches of sand.  Or in Brazil (ahh…Brazil) where I attended a neighborhood African-Brazilian spiritual ceremony, and the kids, and grandmothers, and fathers all gathered to drum and sing the ancient Yoruban gods into their cement-floored living room, with the TV pushed to one side.

This is the first year in a long time I cannot take any extended vacations outside of the United States.   It is all good though . . . as much as I want to be in a tropical location sipping rum out of a coconut, I can still expand my mind at home.  The truth is that the world can be as small or as big, as boring or as crazy, as I let it be.  As my Tantra teacher Charu loves to say, “Stop being clever.  Accept the fact that you know nothing.”  If I think I have already discovered all there is to know at home, then I have.  If I accept the hypothesis that the world can blow my mind, then it will.

Case in point at the Tantra workshop this weekend.  I had watched Charu demonstrate some of the exercises, and part of me thought:  “Well that is great for her, but that will never happen for me.”  I didn’t think it was “possible.”  So we start doing one of the breathing exercises, and my partner and one of the teachers are telling me to let go, to stop trying to make sense of it, to let chaos control.  And I hear myself think:  “I can’t do it!  It won’t work.”  I heard that voice, remembered what Charu said, and told myself: you know what:  “What do I know?  Why not just see what happens?”  And the moment I gave up my idea of what I thought was possible… I had an amazing experience of kundalini energy snaking its way through my body.  It happened in a big industrial loft in the middle of Culver City, right in my own backyard.  And it was like nothing I have ever experienced before.  I do not understand it.  I am humbled by it.  And I am alive with the idea that whatever I think life is about is much, much smaller than the truth.

That’s a big jump into the world of the possible.  But there are small jumps too, that can be just as important.  For example, this Monday I went down to my favorite neighborhood cafe to grab a quick breakfast.   I was alone and I brought my book.  While I was in line waiting to order, I saw two guys that I thought looked interesting.  And I thought, I wonder what their deal is?  My usual expectation was that I would walk out of the restaurant never knowing.  But a part of me said: I want to talk to them, and I believe I can.  Next thing you know, the only open seat is at the table next to them, and they end up asking me about the eggs.  I used that chance to start a conversation.  Turns out one of them is a poet, and the other lives in the neighborhood.  So, two new friends.  In the end, I walked out of that cafe having had a totally different time than what I expected when I first walked in with my book, because I was open to the experience.

So I am going to keep on practicing to stop being so clever.  Remember that I know nothing.  (Yes, back to Buddhism… in the beginner’s mind there are a world of possibilities… in the expert’s mind there are few.)  I look forward to amazing travels close to home.  I have no idea what to expect.

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