Several years ago I was driving in northern New Mexico with a friend and as we passed an A-frame house she exclaimed, “There’s just something *so wrong* with A-frames! The energy of them is all wrong.” And while I didn’t feel as strongly as she did, I did agree. As a kid, I’d spent the night in an A-frame and felt weird the entire time. Something about the roof line felt oppressive and I couldn’t wait for our family to leave.
Not long thereafter, another friend of mine mentioned how A-frames have such great energy, and that they are *perfect* for people who meditate. I chuckled that people could have such strong feelings about A-frames (who knew?), but what really struck me was that these meditators, both of whom had been on the spiritual path for many years, had such contrasting perceptions. It highlighted that neither was right, rather the feeling created by the architecture worked for one of them, but not the other.
The value of this story is to not extrapolate that what works for you, works for everyone. There’s not one way to approach the spiritual path, and the truth is you don’t know what is best for others on their journey! So don’t waste your energy inflicting your opinions on others, instead, enjoy the emptiness of not knowing. Right now, as an experiment, say, “I don’t know.” Can you feel the bliss of letting go of ideas and agendas, and not knowing?
“I’m often asked [a] question, and it always irks me. It starts like this, ‘Coming from two such different cultures–Scotland and Sierra Leone…’ I will often say to the interviewer, ‘Have you ever been to Sierra Leone?’ They’ll say, ‘No.’ So I say, ‘How do you know they’re so different?’ The two countries are actually strikingly similar. Let’s take my grandfathers in my Scottish and Sierra Leonean families: they were both not happy with my parents’ marriage; both are tall, thin, very athletic men; one is Scottish Presbyterian and the other one is Muslim, but both are very religious; both are highly patriarchal; and both had a tendency to indulge me as a child. These two men, from different places in the world, were – to me – almost exactly the same. If you can see that, then you can see that people are the same; but the presumption of difference that arises simply because we are talking about different colors and different continents, is where we start to go wrong.” — the author Aminatta Forna
Then, of course, beneath all bodies, all continents, beneath this physical reality, there’s just light. We are all made of the same light.
When we love, light comes through our being and brightens us, lightens us and makes us feel happy. The love you express doesn’t have to be towards another person, it can be towards a great number of things—pets, plants, your artwork, sports, challenging experiences. In fact, love has very little to do with a person. It comes from us and it grows the more we love. We are happy when we love. We are unhappy when we stop loving.
Similarly, when we laugh, we relax and light flows through us more easily. It brightens us and makes us feel happy. Laughter and lightheartedness are great balms for our body, mind and soul. When we laugh a lot we are happier people. (It should be pointed out however that laughing at others, their misfortunes, sorrow or pain, will in no way make you happy. This lack of compassion actually decreases the amount of light flowing through you.)
If you miss an opportunity or mess one up, don’t give up, just catch the next “bus.” There will always be other opportunities, no matter how we’ve messed up in the past. We don’t just get one shot—life isn’t that chintzy. Other opportunities will be available, though they will most likely take a different form than the previous one.
With the advent of email, cellphones, text messaging, the Internet, etc. there are numerous ways for our focus to be interrupted. But when our attention is diffused, we don’t approach our interactions with people or our work with the same level of energy and intent that we do when we are focused. When we approach people in a scattered way, we don’t hear, understand and ultimately relate to them as well. When we approach work without our full attention, our work is not as clear and crisp, it takes longer to do and is not as satisfying to do as when we are focused. Even watching a movie while multi-tasking diminishes the experience. A movie takes you on an emotional journey, but when you switch your attention to texts, emails and phone conversations, your attention is leached out and the movie isn’t as funny, poignant or thrilling. In other words, when you don’t bring your attention to what you do, you miss all the good stuff. When you bring your full attention to work, play and relationships, they’re more intense, enjoyable and satisfying.
Highly recommend the Three Jewels of Awakening to anyone who is a spiritual student or teacher! It’s the best, most concise book I’ve seen on how to engage correctly with the spiritual path, so that you keep your journey sacred and precious. And though it’s a small part of the book, what may be most valuable is the discussion on the traps both students and teachers can fall into. If you really hear these words, they can save you a lot of time and pain on the path!
As someone who has taught for many years, I personally chuckled in recognition at this advice to teachers: Many people will put you on a pedestal when you teach, and later, they will attempt to tear you down….Be unmoved by people’s opinion of you. You will be praised and you will be blamed, loved and hated, clung to and shoved away. Don’t fall for it! These are normal reactions of a student’s ego, especially when it’s under duress as the spiritual aspirant seeks to subdue its authority in favor of freedom. Be still either way. Let them do what they will while you remain centered.
Every year or so I reread my favs. There are many great books about the life of the historical Buddha, but A Life of the Buddha (previously entitled The Awakened One) is my favorite. It’s very clean and bright.
I have a great heart connection to Sri Ramakrishna, and read about him year round. I’ll open The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna most weekends and read a few pages. If you ever feel bad, you can read a few pages of this book and be lifted above the world. The energy in it is very powerful.
Keep on hand at all times great audio books, podcasts, music, books or magazines. It’s helpful to have something entertaining to do when you are waiting in line at the DMV or at the doctor’s office or when you’re caught in traffic or on the subway. There are so many draining situations that become the opposite when you have something interesting to occupy your mind.
Honesty with yourself is essential to being happy. You have to check that what you are doing in your life is working for you. Sometimes we have such a strong idea of how our life should be and what will make us happy, that we don’t want to face that these ideas aren’t right for us anymore. We may have grown out of them or they may have never been our ideas and dreams in the first place, but instead were imposed by family or society and accepted by us as ours. Other times we have invested so much time and energy to get our life to where it is, that we don’t want to face the fact that it is no longer working. When we honestly recognize that something is no longer working, then from this place of recognition we can begin to change it.
Being honest about what is working applies to all aspects of your life, big and small—whether it’s recognizing that you’re bored with your job and you need to mix it up, or that constantly checking your phone diffuses your focus and you need to dial it down. When you change what is not working in your life, despite past ideas of what you think will make you happy, you will be a happier person.
Note that you don’t have to necessarily share or discuss your internal honesty with others. In fact, if we had to share all our internal insights with others, we’d never be completely honest with ourselves! What matters most is that you are simply honest with yourself.