Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Can We Let The Past Be Past?

A couple of weeks ago, this was my Free Will Astrology horoscope:
"Live out of your imagination, not your history," says Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. While that's always true, it will be especially crucial for you to remember in 2012. This is the year you can transcend stale traditions -- a time when you can escape your outworn habits, reprogram your conditioned responses, and dissolve old karma. You will be getting unparalleled opportunities to render the past irrelevant. And the key to unlocking all the magic will be your freewheeling yet highly disciplined imagination. Call on it often to show you the way toward the future.

Say what you will about astrology, but you have to admit that this is some wise advice. I was on a date recently with a fella who, like everyone else, has some baggage. As he described the current complications in his life, I couldn't help but think about the history we carry into new relationships. Experience is a powerful teacher and tends to dictate how we perceive "the way things are" and what is possible. Our earliest experiences with love and attention teach us what love looks and feels like, and how to get the attention we need. Everything that happens afterwards is an echo of those first formative relationships...that is, when we are living out of our history. And it's hard not to. After all, if we have always experienced something in a certain way, how do we know that it can be any other way?

Somehow, somewhere inside there is a whisper which reassures us that things can be different or better. Even if you can't conceive that all the things you've ever wanted could exist, and you don't believe in the beauty of the dream, you still know what you would want if it could exist. Living out of our history is like walking backwards into the future. You may be moving forward but you're spending the whole time referencing the past. The past can certainly hold clues about what is to come, especially in matters incremental, but our futures are largely limited by a lack of imagination. What if you could have everything that you've ever wanted in the same place at the same time? Imagine what that might look and feel like. Can you allow that to be something real that you might've simply not discovered yet?

You tell me that it's not possible. I ask, "Why not?" Because it's never happened for you before? Because experience has taught you to expect less, to play small, to give up without a fight? Henry Ford famously said that "whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right." I submit that regarding something as "impossible" doesn't make it so, but it does make it less likely that you'll obtain it. Never is a long time- can you see that far into the future? How do you know what the nevers are until you try?

Happiness is our birthright. We deserve to be prosperous, fulfilled, safe, respected and well-loved. We deserve to have our beautiful dreams fulfilled. This requires us to shake off all the old stories about people and the world, about ourselves. It requires that we live out of our imaginations. And like most worthwhile things, it requires courage. Living out of our histories, although sometimes painful, is safe and predictable. We know exactly what to expect from the people and situations we encounter. But living out of our imaginations is uncharted territory- it's the true final frontier.

This reminds me of the first card in the Osho Zen deck, The Fool:
"A fool is one who goes on trusting; a fool is one who goes on trusting against all his experience. You deceive him, and he trusts you; and you deceive him again, and he trusts you; and you deceive him again, and he trusts you. Then you will say that he is a fool, he does not learn. His trust is tremendous; his trust is so pure that nobody can corrupt it.

Be a fool in the Taoist sense, in the Zen sense. Don´t try to create a wall of knowledge around you. Whatsoever experience comes to you, let it happen, and then go on dropping it. Go on cleaning your mind continuously; go on dying to the past so you remain in the present, herenow, as if just born, just a babe."

Past experience can be a shield we use to stave off new heartbreak. It has the unintended consequence of keeping us locked in all our old patterns, though, leaving no room for new experience to creep in and change our minds. Perhaps what we really need is foolish courage that is foolish and courageous enough to keep on trusting, despite all evidence to the contrary. Anything is possible, if you allow it. Soften, soften, and let it in.

"At the beginning of the word 'impossible' are the words I'm Possible." -Jonathan Brown

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Repetitious Creation

By and large, our lives are shaped by the things we do over and over, day in day out, tires circling through well-worn grooves. These are the routines and habits that lend form to days and weeks and years, and give the world illusory order. As long as everything remains the same, we know what to do. There is safety and comfort in the repetition.

My life is filled with these little routines. I have a specific order in which I get ready for bed that's remained basically unchanged for several years. Lately I've been watching my repetition and considering what these habits are creating in my life. Small, daily choices can add up over time to become so much more important than each of the individual choices along the way. One cigarette won't kill you, but thousands over a period of years will. So will years of poor daily dietary choices and the no exercise habit.

Conversely, there are all kinds of wonderful little routine gifts we can give ourselves to create a positive future. I'm a longtime fan of daily flossing and am a month into a religious exercise habit. When it's cold and I'm tired, I encourage myself into my gym shoes by thinking about how much easier it'll be to live in my old lady body because of all the work I put in before it can start to break down. Aside from the fact that he's a ninja robot, my almost-100-year-old great grandpa is in amazing condition because he's taken such good care of himself consistently over the period of his life.

It's typical in Kundalini yoga to do a certain set or meditation every day for a specified period of days in order to create a new habit. We practice the same skill over and over until it changes us fundamentally and becomes who we are. We are creating neutrality and balance, opening to abundance, releasing anger, becoming better communicators- all through a committed daily practice. I've written a lot about how powerful and transformative this process of consistent commitment can be.

Now imagine that instead of practicing kindness and openness, you were to practice being mean and selfish, guarded and reactive. "That's ridiculous! Who would practice those things?" you ask. Anyone who consistently behaves in these ways is practicing these behaviors. If you walk through the world in constant fear and anxiety, you are practicing being afraid and anxious. If you are consistently inconsistent and unreliable, you are practicing acting this way. People usually behave defensively or unkindly because of some trauma or hurt, but the longer that they act this way, the more ingrained the behavior becomes and the more difficult it becomes to break. These habits serve a protective purpose but are not  what we want to cultivate in the long term.

At the end of the day, we're known not for what we believe but for what we do. Look at all those "family values" politicians whose careers are blown when their big, moral talk is drowned out by some variety of (usually sex) scandal. It's hard to take a person's defense of the American family seriously if they're a married man trying to meet ladies on craigslist, ahem. Nice shirtless pic, dummy.

It's our consistent commitments and habits, whether they be healthy or destructive, that define our lives. So I ask you, what do you want to create in your future? Lasting wellness? Healthy relationships? Look at your little daily repetitions and consider what they are creating and whether or not the long term outcome is one you want to live with. God (or Spaghetti Monster)-willing, we will all live long enough to regret our mistakes. Hopefully, with mindfulness and care, we can minimize those mistakes now and look back at our lives with pride like my vibrant, awesomely wizened great grandpa.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Fear, or, Resolutions

About a month ago I hit a majorly delayed adult milestone that I (only half jokingly) always swore I would never hit: I finally got my driver license. I learned to drive at the typical age and would occasionally renew my permit to contribute to road trip driving but never followed through and got the license. My quip for years was, "I don't drive, honey, I'm driven," and that was cute until it suddenly wasn't anymore. Suddenly I woke up and realized that I was reaching into the end of my 20's and really needed to get my shit together. I mean, come on! Besides native New Yorkers, who gets to be my age and doesn't have their license?

Not being licensed was a clever way to limit my options and the size of my life for a long time. It disqualified me from taking good, challenging jobs, traveling to exciting places outside the reach of public transit and otherwise participating in typical adult life. I used to have a reoccurring anxiety dream that I would need to be able to drive in some emergency situation and couldn't. For a long time I leaned on the excuse of trauma from a car accident when I was young to justify my refusal to do it, allowing this fear to grip me and shrinking sedately into the passenger seat.

The first time I drove in the car by myself, I got the hugest exhilarating rush and couldn't help but laugh at myself and ask the important question:
What have I been so afraid of?
Sure, driving can be scary. People do some supremely stupid shit in/with their cars. But by and large it's really rad. I can't get the kind of reading and writing done while I'm driving that I do on public transit, but driving beats the shit out of standing at a cold, dark bus stop...and I've done a lot of that, I would know. It was a really valuable step to take outside of what was comfortable, working my edges and growing me.

Because when you remove an obstacle that's been so limiting for so long, the subsequent release is never just about the obstacle. Not being able to drive meant so much more than not being able to drive. Opening up that one avenue of possibility opened up the whole world and has affected the way I live my life and how I feel about myself in profound ways that I never would've anticipated. Had I known how good this would feel I would've done it years ago!

To me, New Years Resolutions lack power and potency because by and large people choose things that they would and/or should be doing anyway. If you want to run a marathon this year, don't resolve to do it, just do it. The real, big challenge is fearlessly removing the obstacles we keep cemented in place out of fear, guilt, hurt, anger, etc. If you want to change your life, start by examining all the ways in which you are allowing it to be limited, all the ways in which you are playing small, avoiding feeling or vulnerability, missing opportunities. This, of course, requires great courage. But as Betty Bender suggested, and I've experienced, Anything I've ever done that ultimately was worthwhile...initially scared me to death.”


Instead of resolving to achieve anything this year, I intend to do the things that scare me, to work my edges and remove the obstacles to my own happiness and success. I intend to do the work that I don't want to do, because that's probably what really needs to be done. Whether it be falling in love again, going back to school, letting go or learning to drive, I offer you my sincerest blessings for a successful year of doing what is hard in order to become bigger and brighter than you could've imagined. Happy New Year!