The Courage to be a Nobody

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“I’m just sick of ego, ego, ego, my own and everybody’s else’s. I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody. I’m sick of myself and everybody else that wants to make some kind of splash.” - Franny in Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger, 1961

How do we square our higher impulses of being humble, caring, and generous with our unbearable need to be seen, gain approval and be the best? 

Humility can be defined as "a psycho-social orientation characterized by 1) a sense of emotional autonomy, and 2) freedom from the control of the competitive reflex,” which is the impulse to oppose or outdo others.

So humility is ‘control’ (I might prefer the word ‘awareness’) of something innately part of our human program - the desire to win. As I witness the rabid scramble up the hierarchy of social media and the lust for perfection of posts, which can go as far as plastic surgery to increase the image of flawlessness, I feel a great compassion for we humans who are so strongly managed by the fear radar in our brain.

Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron says, “That tension between confidence and humility is what you get if you are going to relate to reality honestly. You don’t get that security of one hundred percent confidence, which turns into pride, and you don’t get the converse feeling that you are just nothing. You’re big and small at the same time.”

Instead of indulging the “competitive reflex,” we can evolve ourselves and the species by turning more in the direction of emotional objectivity, the wisdom to make the smallest amount of space between action and reaction. In that small space is the potential for human growth and the trust in humility as a great freedom. 

Image credit: Richard Seagraves

Life (and Yoga) Includes Discomfort

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I bet you’ve noticed that life isn’t always comfortable. We spend a fair amount of time and life energy trying to avoid discomfort with substances, rituals, distraction, and moodiness. Yoga includes discomfort—the discomfort of holding a pose, of visiting parts of the body we haven’t touched in a long time, of feeling awkward.

Life itself is uncomfortable. The Buddha’s first precept is often translated as “life is suffering,” but there is an alternate interpretation that says “life is irritation,” which rings truer to me.  I don’t feel as though I SUFFER on a daily basis, but I sure do feel like I’m irritated on a daily basis!

How much of your life is spent trying to avoid any unease at all? Might it be more sustainable to create a self that can tolerate more of the typical unease of daily life—traffic (big one!), the failings of other people, your own negative self-talk, the limitations of your power or influence?

When we were born, we didn’t get a certificate that said there would be no pain in this life. Instead, we were given a body and a nervous system designed to be resilient in the face of challenge. Perhaps if we can practice healthy experiments in increasing the edge of our tolerance, like jumping into cold water, walking barefoot once in a while, holding a yoga pose a little longer, or meditating, which brings us to a quiet space of observing our quicksilver mind and our fussy body, we can find comfort in our ability to accept discomfort. (Up to a point, of course. Always take care of yourself when things are painful in a way that feels destructive.)

Think of yoga as a tool for creating an environment in which we can practice becoming more adaptable and flexible (in all ways) within the grand scheme of life.

Don't Seize the Day

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When I was a kid, some teacher or adult taught me this rhyme: “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better, and your better best.”

So the indoctrination into striving and accomplishment, and not accepting anything less than the very best effort and the very best outcome, starts early. Jumping up out of bed, getting right to work, being productive, are all considered markers of a balanced approach to life. Of course the opposite, staying in bed until noon and sleepwalking through the day, isn't optimal either. Somewhere in the middle is a life that honors the rhythms of nature. 

We are creatures of the earth. We are made of clay and water. As I write this, it is winter, a few weeks before the Solstice. It is dark by 5:00pm and the sun traverses the sky in a low arc all day long, a weak winter light. The rhythm of the natural forces around us are all reminding us to hibernate, to withdraw, to rest, to dream, to wait. Can you hear them? Can you follow their example?

This doesn’t mean don’t go to work, don’t follow your calling. It means to do so with one ear tuned to the quiet voice of discernment, which will tell you when to say yes, when to say no. No can be a lovely word when it defends what you hold as sacred.

Let the day come to you, walk a half breath behind, look around at the different shapes of leaves, the moving art that is the clouds. It is possible to “hurry slowly,” when you are required to accelerate to the speed of industry and power. Your contribution to the easing of some of the anxiety of this world could be the quiet calm of your presence as you allow the day to embrace you in its own infinite variety and changeability. Open palms, open heart, nothing seized, nothing grabbed.

-Denise

CHANGE

Image Credit: Mia Lane

Image Credit: Mia Lane

The physicists tell us:
Matter is not solid; it moves, waves,
Unfolds, refolds, expands, contracts.
Matter literally dances.

The sages tell us:
The mind is not firm; it rests in light,
It enjoys clouds, poetry, music, laughter.
It rekindles itself in the preciousness of silence.

And this rekindling changes the world.
Your inner world: from compulsion to compassion,
From fear to a wholesale embracing of this life,
From suspicion to generosity,
From a tight hoarding of your own intellectual property,
To a genuine joy, a simple gladness,
For the enjoyment and triumphs of others.

The Dalai Lama asks, "Do you want to increase
Your potential for happiness a millionfold?
Then practice happiness for others." It takes
Nothing away from you.

Last week I saw: a puppy in a toy car,
A construction worker careening down a city street
On a dolly, his buddies screaming in delight,
A kid doing a handstand in a school bus.
Get out: Practice looking for delight, silliness.
Create some of your own.

Go outside, look at the sky,
Let your mind get that big,
Invite your heart to burst out of your chest,
Feel this earth's pulse of life,
Birth, death, growing, fading.

Isn't that magnificent?
Don't despair just yet, don't believe
You are the only person on earth,
Not entitled to a noble heart.
Wait five minutes,
Lie with your ear to the earth,
And listen to the grass growing,
The grass and the sky will save your life,
Again and again.

Originally published September, 2007. 

Image credit: Mia Lane