Adyashanti is an American Buddhist spiritual teacher who, like Pema Chödrön, is remarkable for bridging the gap between Eastern spirituality and the Western mind. One of the things that struck me in this book was his description of the three ways we can fall into what he calls the "vortex" of suffering:
1. The illusion of control
2. Demanding that things be different
3. Arguing with what is.
When I read this, my first thought was that these were actually all the same thing: the unending campaign of the ego to dictate how life "should" go. As I tried to apply them to my own life, I realized that there are really subtle differences between them - however, I would order them like this:
1. I argue with what is. I judge that a certain person/circumstance/situation is "wrong" or shouldn't be happening. For example, I wish that I wasn't single.
2. I demand that things be different. I insist that, in order for me to be happy, my life or other people must change in some way. In this case, life must supply me with a relationship that meets my expectations and desires.
3. I try to control people and circumstances so that I will get what I want (and think I need) to be happy. This attempt to control life can take any number of forms, including thoughts, words and deeds. It's basically an obsession with the illusion that we can make things happen the way we want them to, if we just say or do or even think the right things.
This is a model for awareness that can be applied any time you find yourself suffering. First, what are you arguing with? What "shouldn't" be happening? Next, what are the conditions you are demanding in order to be happy? And, finally, how are you trying to control people and situations in order to get the results you desire?
I confess to having a love/hate relationship with prayer. At times in my life I’ve been a very fervent pray-er, but when I dropped out of formal religion I mostly left that practice behind. Prayer seemed like just one more attempt to control the world, which is what the ego is always trying to do in one way or another. We ask for what we want to happen, hoping to manipulate the outcome in our favor. Then we feel either #blessed or disillusioned, depending on the result.
At least, that’s how I generally used prayer in the past.
Recently, after a long hiatus, I’m back at it – but with a big difference! That difference is illustrated by this quote from Spirit Junkie, by Gabrielle Bernstein:
Remember that there is no need to pray for an outcome. Simply pray for inner peace. Anything you get won’t solve your problem. The problem is always in our mind. The major shifts don’t occur externally, they occur internally.
When I pray now I use the term “Spirit,” which seems more accurate and less fraught than “God” (in a different book, Bernstein calls Spirit “the voice of our right-minded self,” which I love). And I’m careful not to pray for anything specific to happen. Instead, my favorite prayers are for inner healing, acceptance, and release: in other words, for help with surrendering, not controlling.
I’m grateful to Gabrielle Bernstein for reminding me of the power of praying for change on the inside, not the outside.
I recently re-read both of Eckhart Tolle’s books and was blown away all over again. When I first read them five years ago, I was excited and intrigued by many of the concepts he discussed. On this reading, after an intensive deep-dive into spirituality, I read the same concepts and was struck by how true they now felt, from my own experience. My copies of both books, heavily underlined from my first reading, are now dog-eared and marked on almost every page.
One of my biggest takeaways was this passage from A New Earth:
Someone recently showed me the annual prospectus of a large spiritual organization. When I looked through it, I was impressed by the wide choice of interesting seminars and workshops. …The person asked me whether I could recommend one or two courses. “I don’t know,” I said. “They all look so interesting. But I do know this,” I added. “Be aware of your breathing as often as you are able, whenever you remember. Do that for one year, and it will be more powerfully transformative than attending all of these courses. And it’s free.”
This is a reminder I needed: We can make the pursuit of spirituality as complicated and costly as we like, but that’s always optional. Every lesson and insight we need is available right here in this moment, with this very breath. And it’s free.
Okay, so now you know for sure that I don't only read high-brow, intellectual books! This one is about the Law of Attraction and manifesting, but it gave me a practice I'm now using daily and loving.
The author adapts something I've heard of before - the ancient Hawaiian prayer called Ho'oponopono - as a way to "clear" negative experiences, memories and emotions that might be holding you back from your best life. In the Ho'oponopono prayer, you simply repeat these four phrases: "I'm sorry. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you."
Duffield-Thomas suggests that we look back over our lives and think or journal about any topic or situation that brings up shame, anger, sadness, regret, guilt and so on. She specifically focuses on money and body issues, but this technique could be used for literally anything that bothers you. As you think about the situation, you repeat the four phrases, essentially blessing it and letting it go.
I love this practice for its simplicity and directness. You don't have to understand what happened or why, you don't have to resolve it intellectually or existentially - you just have to repeat a couple of phrases and let them do the work. You don't even have to believe them, exactly! I certainly don't mean it in a literal way when I say "I'm sorry. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you" about things my ex-husband did during our divorce, and yet I still feel better as I say them. It's both an act of faith and a declaration of my intention to let go of the negative feelings and energy that linger from that time, possibly blocking me from moving on.
Another application she suggests is to repeat the four phrases as you focus on each part of your body, releasing the negative judgments and shame so many of us feel and invoking gratitude instead. This is a lovely practice to do before falling asleep. For such a simple prayer, the Ho'oponopono is incredibly powerful and effective!