Over the course of our lives we’ve been labeled or labeled ourselves as a glass half full or empty kind of person. But what if the glass was already broken? That’s the lesson that Ajahn Chah gives to a group of students including Psychiatrist Mark Epstein, author of Thoughts Without A Thinker.
Ajahn Chah was a highly respected Buddhist Teacher, maybe well known to some as Jack Kornfield’s teacher. What was he talking about when he said the glass is already broken and how does that relate to our lives?
The musical Rent that came out in a New York City Workshop in 1994 reminded us to question how we measure our years on this planet. The cast sings that there are 525,600 minutes in a year, and that some people measure in sunsets, cups of coffee, laughter, or tears of joy. The song brings focus to the concept that we can bring awareness to the moments of our lives and how very precious they truly are.
Joni Mitchell sings the song Big Yellow Taxi where the lyrics say:
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got till it’s gone
They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot
While this song is talking about the loss of natural environmental beauty to an uprising of concrete jungle, the theme of not knowing what we have until it’s gone is a common experience.
The reason so many of us are drawn to the idea of getting unstuck is because feeling stuck in life is such a common experience. Maybe we continually get distracted at work as projects mount or get hooked into the same arguments in our relationships, or just can’t seem to get back on the treadmill.
Feeling stuck is part of the human experience. So how do we get unstuck?
Lately I’ve been wondering how all the digital gadgets that we’ve become so attached to affect our levels of stress. In other words, the eyes are taking in more light and stimulation than ever and perhaps the brain is over activated leaving us feeling anxious much of the time and in order to avoid our anxiety we turn back to the gadgets. Could this be true? And if so, could it be a self-reinforcing vicious cycle?
I’ll out myself now and say I am pro technology and among colleagues have been known to be that guy that has always tried to find the synergy between mindfulness, psychotherapy and technology.
However, I’ve noticed myself grabbing my phone while walking short distances to check any messages that may be there. When I don’t grab my phone, I recognize a bit of anxiety running through my body. That really made me think, the more interaction I have with the multitude of digital devices out there, the more my mind and body want it.
Whether you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, addiction, ADHD, complex trauma or any myriad of life’s challenges, there seems to be a prevalent underlying voice of self-hatred that perks its head up at times more than others. I think the Dalai Lama has a good take on this.
Jack Kornfield shares the Dalai Lama’s story in a recent edited book The Buddha Is Still Teaching. The Dalai Lama said when he first heard the word self-hatred he was confused. He said that self-hatred was a very dangerous attitude and he and his fellow Buddhists work quite hard to overcome their self-centered attitudes.
The antidote to this was to understand that all people (and beings) have what he calls “Buddha Nature.” In other words, everyone inherently has the capacity to wake up to a sense of clarity about what helps and hinders them in their lives. Everyone has the innate capacity for compassion, empathy and wisdom.
This is very counter to some other views.
After spending a weekend with Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the greatest gifts he gave me was the piece of advice:
“Perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is to be able to sit in not knowing.”
So often in life we feel like we need to have the answer and the truth is, often times we don’t have it.
This is especially true in parenting, relationships and well, I guess many aspects of life.
The more we are unsure of ourselves or don’t have the answer, the greater the insecurity. When we feel insecure, the mind goes into overdrive trying to reach into the past and draw on experiences to anticipate the future.
So what we come to realize is that we’re actually not in the most important place which is here. There is no other time than now and no other place than here, but we spend so much of our mental energy in the past and future.
In a recent op-ed column in the NY Times, Nicholas Kristof explores recent research that suggests the period we all spend in the womb has a critical impact on our level of physical, emotional and mental well-being throughout our lives.
“The result is children who start life at a disadvantage — for kids facing stresses before birth appear to have lower educational attainment, lower incomes and worse health throughout their lives. If that’s true, then even early childhood education may be a bit late as a way to break the cycles of poverty.”
This is another example of research finding what many have figured was already intuitive. In a period of time when our brains and mental models of the world are being formed a stressful environment will have an impact on how we react to life later on.
One of the greatest gifts and hindrances of our minds is to automatize things in life after practicing and repeating them many times. Walking without having to consider every step really makes things a lot easier. However, one of the greatest habits of the mind is to constantly look outside of ourselves for clarity. There’s a lot we can get from reading blogs, books, interviews and listening to other commentators, but at the end of the day the greatest teacher is ourselves, our own experience.
Confucius said: “I am thinking of giving up speech.” Zigong said: “If you did not speak, what would there be for us, your disciples, to transmit?” The Master said: “What does Heaven ever say? Yet there are the four seasons going round and there are the hundred things coming into being. What does Heaven ever say?” ~ Analects XVII (Confucius from the Heart)
However, how can we ever listen to the clarity and wisdom of our experience if we never stop to do so?
Elisha: What does a daily mindfulness practice for someone as busy as you, look like?
Jon: (Laughing) Well, what it looks like is my life. Because, basically….