Top Ten Rules for Being Human

ThinkLessDoMoreI found this year ago and return often to it when I feel off-kilter. Enjoy!

Top Ten Rules for Being Human

Rule One: You will receive a body.

Whether you love it or hate it, it’s yours for life, so accept it. What counts is what’s inside.

Rule Two: You will be presented with lessons.

Life is a constant learning experience, which every day provides opportunities for you to learn more. These lessons are specific to you, and learning them is the key to discovering and fulfilling the meaning and relevance of your own life.

Rule Three: There are no mistakes, only lessons.

Your development towards wisdom is a process of experimentation, trial and error, so it’s inevitable things will not always go to plan or turn out how you’d want. Compassion is the remedy for harsh judgment ― of ourselves and others. Forgiveness is not only divine – it’s also ‘the act of erasing an emotional debt’. Behaving ethically, with integrity and with humor ― especially the ability to laugh at yourself and your own mishaps ― are central to the perspective that “mistakes” are simply lessons we must learn.

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Dancing in the Dark

the danceOh, has it been over a year since I posted on this blog? Well, crap. That’s a long time!

So where have I been? Well, sometime last year, I wrote about my decision to put down my spiritual and self-help books and start LIVING the truths I’d found in their pages. Doing that looks different than I expected—much messier.

I am not a graceful ballerina, moving gently through life lessons with a pirouette and plié. More like a spastic buffalo ramming into everything around me at full force, knocking stuff over and having to decide what’s worth cleaning up, and what should just stay broken.

I’ve spent a lot of time this last year journaling, meditating and sleeping, as well as focusing on creativity and a select few friendships that are deeply loving. Day to day, I’ve turned my attention toward experiencing emotions, people and life just as they are. Just being with them, without judgment or analysis or attempts to change.

Life has given me much material for practice. A few highlights: changing jobs and finding myself in my dream position; going through a deep, four-month depression; meeting and falling head-over-heels for someone, then having the relationship fall apart for no discernible reason; bulging discs in my neck and a botched medical procedure that left me with migraine-level headaches for a month; and a fallout with a family member that left us not speaking from Thanksgiving until last week.

So. That’s a lot.

My decision to stay present with myself through all of this, no matter what, was probably more about throwing up my hands in surrender than any sort of high spiritual commitment, to be honest. In the past, I’ve attempted almost every method of “escape” under the sun and nothing has ever brought true, lasting peace. Why not something new?

Turns out this “something new” is absolute magic. There are days, particularly over the past two or three months, when I actually shock myself. For example, my lifelong, compulsive need to make resolutions to “get good” has disappeared. I have spent immeasurable psychic energy trying to force myself to be better / different / kinder / calmer / braver / worthier…with few results from the effort. I just ended up exhausted and frustrated.

I’ve come to learn that for me, change begins with accepting things exactly as they are right now and looking my fears straight in the eye. I quit trying to change, move closer to myself and poof! I CHANGE (though often in ways I didn’t even expect). Who knew?

Another fruit of this “something new” is that there’s more “padding” between me and everything sharp in the world. I am more open to whatever happens: Happy, sad, good, bad. I can relax because I am less afraid of somehow being undone or collapsing into an experience. There is confidence in my fundamental “OK-ness.”

Finally, the “something new” has revealed to me even more the utter ENORMITY of Spirit / the Universe / God / Higher Power / Whatever You Want to Call It. There’s nothing intellectual about this—it’s completely of my heart and shows itself in these astounding moments of compassion and love toward myself and others. It’s a hugeness inside of me that is not of me, connecting me to all beings in a gorgeous way.

I don’t really know what’s next in the grand scheme; I can only take a stab at doing the next right thing for me. Tonight, that’s spending time with friends, picking up my paintbrush for some creative work and going to bed with my sweet pup. And that is just perfect.

Kicking Butts and Quitting Cigarettes

Goofing off with a cigarette

I smoked my first cigarette in eighth grade in what could have been an episode of an 80s ABC After School TV Special: My carpool buddy Adrian offered me a Marlboro Red and when I refused, she challenged, “What are you, CHICKEN?!”

My 13-year-old self drew up to her full 4’11” height, grabbed a cigarette, and lit up, nearly having a coughing seizure moments later.

Being 13, I didn’t exactly have access to cigarettes, so my smoking didn’t become daily until I grew older and sneakier. By 16, I was in a full-fledged love affair with Camel Wide Lights, feeling tough, cool, and rebellious whenever I smoked. But more than that, cigarettes were a magic wand for emotions: Happy became more satisfying; anger lost some of its sting; sadness was comforted; my mind was stilled.

After my spiritual breakdown at 31, cigarettes made the short list of the behaviors that weren’t working for me anymore. But unlike drinking alcohol, which I quit once in spring 2008 and stay quit to today, quitting smoking has been a beast to battle again and again.

After four attempts in four years, one of which lasted 18 months, today I am 10 weeks quit. What makes this special is it’s the first time I’ve quit smoking not because someone I was dating wanted me to, but because I because I believe I am worth it, because I love myself too much to smoke any longer.

Everybody knows the health reasons to quit. That’s News from the Land of Duh. But my biggest reason to stay quit is not because I worry about COPD or heart disease or because I enjoy saving the $175 per month I spent on cancer sticks.

My number one reason to stay quit is because without my magic wand, I am forced to rely more fully on the universe to meet my needs. I believe that this is the only form of right dependence because it’s the only thing that’s perfect: Spirit will never let me down and can feed the emotional hunger I was attempting to satisfy by lighting up.

Sounds simple, right? “Kick butts by trusting God.” Yeah, not so much. Learning to do this day-to-day is enormously difficult for me, even excruciating at times. I have to commit again and again to the present moment, where I have everything I need, and sit with the difficult emotions to which I’m no longer applying a chemical salve every 90 minutes of my waking days.

And those feelings are so raw without cigarettes. Somewhere around week four, I thought I was losing my mind. But I walked through it, meditated through it, and cried through it. At week six, I got tempted and spent six days buying packs of cigarettes, smoking three, and giving them away. Staying quit just felt like too much emotional work. I was exhausted by the effort.

But you can’t un-know what you know and I just couldn’t keep cheating. My Inner Knower knew cigarettes weren’t and aren’t the answer for me anymore. I choose to place my real reliance on the divine and trust that this compulsion can be relieved.

So I reluctantly recommitted, one moment at a time, one breath at a time, just doing what I knew to do and loving myself fiercely along the way.

I was around a smoker last night and for the first time, cigarettes didn’t smell delicious. In fact, his Marlboro Menthols smelled kind of yukky, a realization in which I rejoice. I felt grateful to be quit, to be more united with my own self and my spirit, with no numbing agents to alter my experience of life. I get to be here now with all of me, the safe and the scary, and I take baby steps without my cigarette crutch. But they are steps nonetheless and I make progress.

Commit to the Present

My friend Jessica has this tattoo emblazoned on her wrist and it’s brilliant. What a high spiritual commitment, to park one’s presence firmly in the moment.

But damn, it’s hard to do. My brain is well-trained in rumination and future-tripping and getting to right now feels like taming a spastic monkey. But with practice, it becomes more natural.

I first encountered this notion of present moment awareness when a friend was bitching about how much he loathed Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now. His couple’s therapist forced him to listen to it on CD and, then single, he was tossing them out. His descriptive complain-a-thon piqued my interest and I took the CDs off his hands, popped them in my car’s stereo, and became completely entranced by that little German guru who calmly opened with, “I have little use for the past and rarely think about it.”

“No use for the past?! But how can I properly punish those people and events that have wronged me if I’m not busy hating them for it?” That was my mindset. But I listened on because something about Eckhart’s words resonated on a level below my incredulity. My inner knower wanted to hear more.

Those who have not found their true wealth, which is the radiant joy of Being and the deep, unshakable peace that comes with it, are beggars, even if they have great material wealth. They are looking outside for scraps of pleasure or fulfillment, for validation, security, or love, while they have a treasure within that not only includes all those things but is infinitely greater than anything the world can offer.

The notion that the present moment, the “radiant joy of Being,” has everything I need, every resource and happiness, was and is a magnificent realization. To me, Being is the only place I can connect with divine presence within me and around me, the only place where I find that “inner OK-ness” I’ve sought so many other ways in vain (men, money, shopping, alcohol, friendships, work, approval-seeking, family…). It’s my true treasure, available to me any time I pause, redirect my monkey brain, and commit to the present.