October 18, 2016
Originally published by The Peaceful Dumpling on November 12, 2015
Written by Jessica Riley-Norton
“It’s not happening to you, it’s happening for you.”
It just came flying out of my mouth one Saturday morning while teaching yoga. It wasn’t my idea; I am almost certain it was a divine intervention hatched between my inner guru and my voice. Just hours before, I awoke to a police officer at the door, informing me that my car had been stolen and totaled. I had just begun a regimen of prescription drugs for the nightly panic attacks that began after a dear family member passed away, and my family was dealt with additional tragic news on my Mom’s cancer only days later. I also was in the middle of learning the arduous process of forgiveness, and somewhere in this mess of foggy days, one of my teeth fell out. I used to love this quote, “it’s not happening to you, it’s happening for you,” but right after it flew through my lips, I began to resent the teacher I heard it from. I started to wonder what I did to deserve these things, and began to believe that the universe was “crapping on me.”
I stood in front of my class as those sweet yogis held an asana for too long, as I gave myself a pep talk. If I am going to preach it, I must live it. These things are not happening to me, rather for me. Who knows why, but if nothing less, my best option is to practice, or grow faith from here. Hand it over. Choose love over fear. End resistance and accept what is. Rise like a phoenix, wiser and stronger than the woman I was before.
Okay, Universe. Challenge: ACCEPTED. I shall choose curiosity, allowing my heart to crack wide open, rather than harden up and shrivel. This fire of suffering will burn away the unnecessary armor and illusions I have built around me, enabling me to become more alive, compassionate, and see more clearly my inner truth. This is where I cultivate grace, and this is where I exercise faith.
For a moment, I am ready to take it on. I feel as though I am doing remarkably; in ebb and flow of the universe, riding the waves with grace. Then, I crash on the shore of what I perceive as my terrible reality. I lie there, stunned, and unable to pick myself up. Grief sets in, I am angry, and fear the future. I loathe the void where things used to be; where I think they still should be.
In my plea to stay open and curious through difficult times, there is no better place than in my bed under the weight of too many blankets, with books to guide my heart through to the other side. There is something comforting about reading, an opportunity to simply absorb and relate without saying a word. These are a few that I have recently read, that feed me all kinds of love, so I may keep my eyes on the light.
These are on my bedside table:
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron.
“Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape — all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.”
Pema speaks directly in to my soul. She explains Tibetan Buddhist philosophy at the “kitchen sink level.” When Things Fall Apart is a collection of chapters that gradually build on each other, unlocking old thought patterns, so the reader may develop new samskaras, or new paths of thinking. She speaks to attachment, acceptance, and compassion, dissecting each and addressing sources of and cures to suffering. Through meditation practices such as Metta and Tonglen, Pema prescribes antidotes for difficulties times, and recognizing our connectedness to others.
Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser
“How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we were meant to be.”
Elizebeth Lesser is one of the founders of The Omega Institute in Rhineback, New York. In her book, she traces dots backwards in her life, as well as the lives of those who have come through her life, identifying the potential “phoenix process” in real life trials and tribulations. The books gives hope to coming full circle, should we endure difficult times with at least an ounce of grace. Each chapter is an inspiration for the reader to find insight through death, divorce, strained relationships, and so on. There is something for everyone in this book.
A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
The audiobook is in my car, and I listen to it over and over. I hear something new and profound every time. A Return to Love is based on A Course in Miracles, which Marianne studied for years before writing this book. The main point is, love is the answer. Marianne backs up this notion with real life examples, making love’s case hard to argue. This book also validates our connectedness, our humanness, and the importance of knowing the divine spirit in each of us. She says “the news isn’t what is wrong with the world, but what could be right,” igniting in us the transformational inertia only suffering has the power to do. She notes that tragedy with love and compassion can bring out the best in a person. If there ever was a book that will keep your heart soft and your soul intact, this is it.
September 21, 2016
“Do not look for rest in any pleasure, because you were not created for pleasure: you were created for joy. And if you do not know the difference between pleasure and joy you have not yet begun to live.”
-Thomas Merton American Author, Monk and Mystic
In your pursuit of happiness, do you seek pleasure or joy? Do you seek outside experiences to satiate your senses, or do you seek joy in menial, even painful moments? Have you ever differentiated joy and pleasure?
We are gluttons for pleasure; we are groomed to be. We are consistently bombarded with emphasis on material accumulation and pleasure seeking products. Advertisements for beer, clothing, perfume, cars and so on, often with sexual innuendos, tell us we won’t be happy without them, as though we are in a state of void or gloom until we experience the next pleasure.
There is nothing wrong with pleasure. Eating a wonderful meal at a restaurant, wearing a new pair of shoes, and drinking an expensive glass of wine are beautiful experiences. However, the pleasure doesn’t stay with us. The pleasure is finite, and this is the difference between pleasure and joy. Seeking pleasure becomes a cat and mouse chase on a roller coaster of highs and lows. Seeking pleasure rather than joy could give rise to addictive behaviors. As any addict can tell you, once addicted there is little pleasure and much burden in what at first brought great pleasure. A pleasure can be enjoyed when appreciated as a temporary high, while one can feel joy in the moments between one pleasure experience and another.
So that is the difference between pleasure and joy, but what are the characteristics of joy? Here are three things that define joy.
“Pleasure is always derived from something outside you, whereas Joy arises from within” -Eckart Tolle
1. An experience of joy can be found at any time, and it comes from within. It becomes your fond memories, and likely has nothing to do with material possessions, rather connecting with others, gratitude, and fulfilling your potential. Joy is spontaneous, but with a few small lifestyle adjustments, it can be cultivated more often. Joy is not bestowed on a privileged population, and it is not to see the world through rosy glasses. Rather, abundant joy is practiced. Taking the joy road over the pleasure road is a conscious awakening, and is available for any person in any situation.
“For me, happiness is the joy we feel striving after our potential.”
― Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work
Shawn Achor, the happiness researcher at Harvard, offers ways to pursue joy. After studying at Harvard’s Divinity School, he realized a common prescription for happiness among Buddhists and Christians: Live in your potential. This can also be translated as “Always do your best,” one of Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements, being “Christ-like” or having “Buddha nature.” On a large scale, it is to know your purpose, and strive for it. This purpose can also be derived by acting from your highest self; serving others, being kind, and seeing yourself in other people’s eyes.
2. Joy also becomes more available with age and experience. When we experience painful times, we are able to appreciate the good times more. Folding laundry can bring you joy, if you can remember a time when you had to go to a laundromat and wait around for your clothing to dry, and now you have a washer and dryer in your home. You might have had that washer and dryer in your home for twenty years, but having the experience, and the gratitude to remember suddenly alleviates the burden of chores, transforming the duty as a subtle joy. Looking back at pictures of yourself as a younger person, we often see a thinner, more beautiful image of ourselves, but realize that at the time the picture was taken, we didn’t see ourselves as beautiful. This dissatisfaction in self in days past can be a disturbing thought, but it can also bring us joy in this moment, awakening us to see the beauty we possess now. What if we wrote out a body gratitude list, and recited it daily, rather than turning to magazine covers? What better way to know how precious life is than by the sickness or death of a loved one? Though we all have unique purposes in life, the common purpose we share is that we need to connect with one another. This underlies many of our adventures. Connecting with others, allowing ourselves to be seen and understood, and to understand others is a practice that ultimately brings joy. The practice of cultivating meaningful connections breaks down the fortresses we build around ourselves, allowing energy to move freely, and joy to flourish. As the Buddhist saying goes, the fundamental situation is good. When we are connected, we experience less fear, and goodness and light are revealed.
3. Joy can be experienced even in painful times. Crossing through pain without avoiding it allows one to cross thresholds, and perhaps feel more joy on the other side. Have you ever been in a pigeon pose, and relaxed into the joy of the moment? Pigeon is notorious for discomfort, and yet it is also a pose that releases amma, or negative energy. In this discomfort, we can still access joy, by going within. You can find gratitude even though your torso is bearing weight across your shin, and your hips splitting are open. It is there, if you decide to seek it. The yoga mat is a metaphor for life, and this approach can be applied in our darkest times. There is always gratitude, you can always serve others and there is always someone to connect with. By practicing a pursuit of joy rather than pleasure, we experience joy more often. As explained in yoga, we create samskaras, or imprints on the brain, that make joy more accessible with practice. The longer you implement practices to cultivate more joy, the deeper the samskara.
Yoga to Survive the Holidays: Poses for Self-Love pigeon pose
In your pursuit of happiness, try some of the following practices to see for yourself if you experience more joy:
– Gratitude Journal– Each night before you go to bed, write down three things that happened that day for which you are grateful. Trust me- this will make an enormous difference! Do it for at least thirty days to see results.
– Connect with someone– Call someone. People with drug and alcohol addictions are told to “pick up the phone,” and before smart phones, that meant to call someone. If connecting with someone over the phone can keep an addict from abuse, there is power to be tapped into!
– Serve others– doing for others is true soul food. An important step in this practice is to do so without expecting something in return, and refrain from documenting your good deed on Facebook. This is an inside job; do not to seek validation from the outside. Try doing something for someone else every day for a month, and see how your world transforms. It can simply be allowing the person in the other car turn before you, or collecting jackets for a local shelter.
– Meditate and do yoga– This practice of going within taps the joy we contain. Quieting the monkey brain clears away the chaos that hides the goodness and truth we seek.
“The pleasures that derive from contact with objects are the wombs of misery. They have both a beginning and an end, and thus wise take no delight in them.” -Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 5, Verse 22