The Tightrope of Human Experience – Part 2

Here is Part 2 of my article ……

So the large-scale interpretation of service is not what’s important here.  Making your life one of service doesn’t mean contributing lots of time and money to charitable endeavors. I’m talking about a change of mindset. Deepak Chopra, in his book “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success,” suggests that if we go from thinking “What’s in it for me,” to “How can I help,” your attitude changes immensely. Maybe it’s just making a cup of tea for someone who’s had a bad day.  The pressure is off because the ego, for that moment, is no longer concerned with itself. The pitfall here, of course, is to expect something in return for your kindness, like recognition or repayment of some kind.  If that happens then you are acting from ego and not from your true self. If you really want to help you have to do it without any agenda. You need to delete, “What’s in it for me” from your language. When you can do that, you relax and flow more easily with life. Only then will a sense of equilibrium be established.

Also, the time has come to do away with the notion of “Every man for himself.” This idea doesn’t fly anymore. “What do you mean?” you may ask, “I have to look out for myself.” What I mean is the only reason we feel we have to look out for ourselves is because that is what everyone else is doing.  We are not on a sinking ship without enough lifeboats, although life may sometimes feel that way. Yes, we must do what is best for ourselves. But when we think only of ourselves we become selfish and narcissistic. “Every man for himself,” is first cousin to, “What’s in it for me.” It is the ego reacting out of fear, clamoring not just for attention, but also for the things it thinks it needs. Unfortunately, fear is what motivates many people’s lives.  We may often feel like we are indeed on that sinking ship without a lifeboat. Or up on that tightrope by ourselves. And if you think about it, this feeling of helplessness, this fear of loss, prevents us from achieving equilibrium because we are only doing what is best for ourselves and not, as John Nash suggested, doing what is best for ourselves and for everyone else. Remember, the ego is never satisfied – and it is never not fearful. In the fulfillment of one desire lies the seed of another. And so it goes….No equilibrium. No easy flow with life.

Physicists have confirmed that the nature of matter cannot be found in objects but in energetic interconnections. Remember this quote from Albert Einstein, “A human being is a part of a whole…. (but) he experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” There’s no escaping it – we are all in this life together to a much greater extent than we ever imagined.

Let’s get back to that cup of tea. Einstein recognized that it is easy to do something nice for those we love. But how about doing something nice for someone we don’t like? Someone we perceive as our enemy.  We should be grateful for those people because they are our greatest teachers. What we don’t like about someone is usually something we don’t like about ourselves. They are our mirrors and we should take a good long look. When you can get past your ego, which lives in fear (or pride, which is just another form of fear) then you are able to connect with the other person in an honest and real way.

If we really looked at Nash’s theory and took Einstein’s advice we could all exist in a state of peace within movement, which of course, is equilibrium. There would be a natural and uncomplicated flow to our lives, not unlike those organisms and molecules. The point here is that we are not alone. Even with our alleged differences we should be able to find comfort in the knowledge that we do not have to walk that tightrope by ourselves. And that should enable each one of us to overcome our petty likes and dislikes to embrace even those from whom we withhold our affection… and our help. To look into another’s eyes is to see oneself. It’s not just you up there on that tightrope. I’m up there too. And I could use your help getting to the other side.

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The Tightrope of Human Experience – Part 1

Below is the first part of an article I wrote that was published in the February 2008 issue of the ‘Aquarius,’ a holistic publication in Atlanta. Part 2 will follow in my next post…..

When I like a movie, I can watch it over and over again. I just watched, again, A Beautiful Mind, a great film, albeit a romanticized version of mathematical genius John Nash’s life.  This time, however, I began to wonder about his theory of equilibrium, which won him the Nobel Prize. Simply put, it suggests that it is only through cooperation can the best results be obtained.  We see this applied all the time in sports. All the players must work together using a single strategy. Everyone on the team wants to win the game so everyone on the team is doing what is best not only for himself but for the team.  Winning, therefore, is a group effort. Every time an actor or director wins an award they always give credit to the people with whom they worked. They all know that they couldn’t have done it by themselves.

And we don’t have to be concerned about any type of material gain to put this idea to work in our lives. While taking a yoga workshop with John Friend some years ago, he asked us to silently offer our practice that day to that person who was helpful with our being able to attend, i.e., the husband who was babysitting the kids, the boss who was paying you enough so you could pay for the classes you wished to take, etc.  I liked that. It made me feel special.  It made the workshop experience feel special. And the husband got to spend quality time with his kids and the boss got a happier employee. It was a reminder that we are not alone in our journey through life.  Maintaining or attaining equilibrium, by John Nash’s definition, is not a solitary task. It is accomplished by considering how your actions impact others.

The mantra of the past couple of generations has been, “How do I balance work and family?” This is an ongoing dilemma for people with no shortage of advice being doled out by the experts. There have been plenty of books published with easy-to-follow steps as well as segments on the evening news telling us what we need to do to achieve this ever-elusive notion of balance. But like most words these days, the word ‘balance’ has become so overused that it no longer carries much meaning. To me, balance implies aloneness. Think about it. If we are supposed to maintain balance in our lives it appears that it is up to us to do the balancing. No one can help you balance an apple on your head.  The tightrope walker is alone up there on the wire. Whether or not he makes it to the other side is up to him. But these days, if you listen to the ‘experts’ they admit that achieving balance is not something we can do by ourselves. We have finally been given permission to rely on the kindness of others. Achieving a balanced life is a group effort. So let’s replace the word balance with equilibrium.

There’s another reason to consider replacing the word ‘balance.’ To me, balance is static – equilibrium, on the other hand, is dynamic. Equilibrium implies balance, yes, but there is movement in the balance, suggesting there is a flow to life that is natural and uncomplicated. In biology and chemistry, the term equilibrium (and there are many types) implies that all the organisms and molecules are evolving, reacting – doing their thing whatever that might be – effortlessly. Isn’t that what we all want in our lives – to flow naturally and effortlessly through our days? Those organisms and molecules don’t do what they do by themselves. They need each other. And so do we.

When I was a senior in high school, I was chosen along with three other seniors to deliver a speech at one of our ceremonies. We were assigned our topics and I was given the topic of “service.”  I was a little disappointed. I wanted one of the other topics, though I have to say I don’t remember anymore what those other topics were. And I don’t remember much about my speech except that I was very nervous and spoke way too fast. I do know, however, that my idea of service has radically changed since I was that high school student. Back then I equated ‘service’ with  ‘volunteering for charity.’  I seem to remember speaking about how it is up to all of us to help those who were less fortunate. I regarded service as a separate, unconnected piece of life. Something we should make time for in our busy schedules. What I didn’t understand then was that our lives should be about nothing else. And lately, I’ve begun to realize that service is the key to achieving equilibrium.

Ego in the Mirror

I’ve been getting slightly addicted to computer chess lately.  When I get stumped, I ask the computer to give me a hint. A voice, distinctly female, chimes in with the suggested move. Sometimes I find myself questioning the move, thinking, ‘What is she getting at?” Notice I said “she.”  Then I wonder if “she” will get offended if I don’t follow “her” advice. Maybe “she’ll” even think that I’m stupid if I don’t.  I am anthropomorphizing this disembodied voice, which for all I know is probably computer generated and therefore not even human.

So what is a human? Just having a voice doesn’t qualify – there has to be body out of which this voice arises.  Then we have to label it – male, female, son, daughter, tall, short, blonde, brunette, stockbroker, lawyer …you get the idea.  I’ve called these labels our ‘false identities.’  And by the way, thinking of yourself as ‘human’ is a label or false identity as well.  So when you look in the mirror and you think you are seeing yourself, what you’re really seeing are all the labels, which constitute your ego.

If what you see in the mirror is merely a reflection of the ego, which is not the real you, then where are you?  A better question would be, “Who are you?”  Let’s first look at what you’re not – the ego. Psychology defines the ego as the personality.  Eastern philosophy describes it as a bundle of karmas packaged in a body we call human.  But the simplest way to spot the ego is to realize that the ego is only concerned with itself. It needs to feel important.  It experiences self-doubt.  It gets offended.  All of its time is spent fulfilling its every whim.  Back in the 1980’s, with the advent of new age thinking, we were urged to extricate ourselves from our egos. There was so much written back then giving us advice on how to tap into our “higher self,” which was described as the better part of ourselves that is not narcissistic or ‘ego-centered.’  Sounds pretty simplistic, which it is, but it was a good start.

Whenever I finish teaching a yoga class I press the palms of my hands together in a prayer position and say “Namaste” to those who shared that time with me. “Namaste” is a Sanskrit greeting, which loosely means, “The best part of me honors the best part of you.”  So is the ‘best’ part of you and me that ‘higher self’?  Yes, but it’s more than that.  It is referencing, trying to connect with, the real you. The real you that is the essence of awareness buried underneath all the layers of false identities called the ego.  You may not be able to see it but it exists all the same.

Here’s a little exercise that might help you see what I mean. Look at yourself in the mirror. Now look into your eyes, all the while thinking about who you really are.  Hold your gaze steady. As you continue to stare into your eyes, you will notice that everything, including your body, and eventually your facial features disappears. But you, the real you, is still there as pure awareness or consciousness. All that is present is the disembodied essence of reality.

The real you has no form.  Which can be quite convenient when you think about it. No more time spent on hair and makeup or worrying about what to wear. No more teeth to brush, and the best….no more weight to lose.  But we will continue to worry about these things because we can only go by what our senses show us. And our senses show us the ego in the mirror. But if we look closely enough we just might catch a glimpse of the formless essence of the Reality that is our true nature.

Step to the Music

Pursuing a spiritual path is a lonely business.  As we begin to discover who we really are there is an interesting dichotomy that arises. We feel the interconnectedness with everyone and everything, which is exhilarating, yet at the same time a kind of isolation sets in as we realize that the ‘normal’ way of living just doesn’t appeal to us anymore. Your life changes, your priorities change, and very often your associations change. So it’s important to surround yourself with like-minded people or at the very least, people who will support you even if they don’t understand what it is you’re doing.

I also think it’s great when you can find references to your experiences outside of your inner circle, like Elizabeth Gilbert’s time in India in her book Eat, Pray, Love.  If you’re interested in watching a really good movie about spiritual searching, rent the 1946 movie, The Razor’s Edge, based on W. Somerset Maugham’s novel of the same title. Maugham’s book reportedly is based on an actual person, but that aside, the title is taken from a line in the Katha Upanishad:

Arise! Awake! Approach the great and learn. Like the sharp edge of a razor is that path, so the wise say—hard to tread and difficult to cross.”

The movie was re-made in 1984 but I like the original better.  I mean, how can you beat Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb? Okay, so maybe I’m dating myself, but I do think original movies are better than their remakes. This movie tells the story of Larry Darrell, who returns from WWI and abandons his life of privilege, as well as his fiancée, to embark on a journey of self-discovery.

Those of us trekking a spiritual path know that it is difficult to tread, like that edge of the razor. Trying to balance what we learn, (mostly through direct experience, which is hard to describe and impossible to prove), with our everyday lives is tricky to say the least.  I sometimes envy the Indian sages who live their lives in caves removed from society, able to devote all their time to their sadhana (spiritual practice).  I have to say that sometimes I’m ready to pack my bags and move to some remote mountainside in the Himalayas myself.

Watching Larry Darrell’s journey through this movie reminds me that I’m not alone.  At the end of the movie, when Larry is having his final conversation with Isabel, his ex-fiancée, he admits those moments of frustration he has known on his path remarking how  “… it isn’t easy and it isn’t fun.”

So to all the Larry Darrells out there, let me leave you with a quote from Henry David Thoreau, who understood what it meant to tread the razor’s edge.

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.”

The Cardinal T-Square of 2010

Some friends have asked me what I think about the Cardinal T-Square that will be occurring in late July into early-mid August with Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Pluto.  Without going into great detail, I’ll attempt to give a brief sketch of this interesting set-up of energies and what I think it means.

A T-Square occurs when you have planets opposing each other with planets squaring those same planets. Recall your geometry for a moment. The opposition is an axis of 180° while a square is the axis perpendicular (at 90°) to it. Got that? What we have, then, is Jupiter and Uranus close together in Aries opposing Saturn and Mars close together in Libra. That forms the opposition axis. Pluto in Capricorn forms the perpendicular or square to those planets.  In order to interpret these constructs, we need to look at the energies associated with these planets in the combinations we have here.

When Saturn is in a hard (in this case the opposition) aspect with Uranus, the manifestation is one of “out with the old, in with the new” – the status quo is being challenged.

Saturn with Pluto – loss, difficulty and hard work.

Uranus with Pluto – sudden upset.

Jupiter and Mars add lots of energy to the pot.

Pluto is the planet of transformation  – the tearing down and rebuilding, the proverbial “phoenix rising out of the ashes” kind of interpretation. It’s in Capricorn, an earth sign that symbolizes the established structure – all things practical and conventional – basically society.

This T-square is in Cardinal signs, which include Aries, Libra, Cancer and Capricorn suggesting an identity crisis of some sort. Whatever happens you can be sure that how we identify ourselves within the structure of society is going to be challenged.  Those of you who have your natal Suns in the early part of these signs probably already know what I’m talking about.

One important thing to note:  Due to the slow movement of the outer planets, the Pluto – Uranus square will continue off and on through the next couple of years suggesting a series of potential upsets.

So…. if something does happens this summer, what could be some possible manifestations? I would say more economic turmoil (not such a surprise with the European markets teetering on the brink).  Perhaps a natural disaster of some kind, like more powerful earthquakes.  Basically, I think we will see more of what we’ve been seeing only with a bigger punch.

One more thing – Jupiter is the planet of expansion and opportunity suggesting a note of optimism among the chaos. It’s in Aries, which is a ‘trailblazer’ influence. Whatever happens we will be blazing new trails for society and ourselves.

There is a lot out there on the internet about these upcoming aspects.  Some sites go into great detail with historical perspectives and archetypal symbolisms. Fascinating information if you’re interested.