Thursday, October 29, 2009


On Tuesday, I began an introductory meditation course at the Chicago Zen Buddhist Temple. It's a location I have long admired, and I even included it in an article I wrote long ago for Centerstage Chicago.

I love the space... and my husband was once a member there back when he practiced Buddhism more regularly. I figured it would be a good thing to incorporate into my life right now, and I also thought it wise to check out the temple and see if this might be a good spiritual home or at least a place of learning for right now.

One of the things our instructor taught the first night was the Buddhist concept of dual nature (sort of a yin/yang thing)... the idea being we all have beauties and uglinesses (light/dark, positive/negative, good/bad) within us. We fail, make mistakes, do great things, show incredible compassion... it's all there. Each of us with our own blend and ratios.

The idea behind concentration meditation (which is what we are learning) is apparently to let those two sides reside together—without hanging onto either one. The mind keeps going... our light and dark sides rise to meet us as we attempt to find a place of peace and quiet... but we just keep focusing on being in each moment. Each breath. Sort of like those time-lapse images where the sky whirls past, but the mountains, trees, and earth just stay steady... doing their thing.

One thing I've noticed to the point of really noticing it this week is my need for validation. I think it has many shades and hues... maybe it's a self-consciousness expressed through my need to wear make-up or dress up when I go out in public, maybe it's the twinge I feel when no one provides feedback on my work, maybe it's feeling like it's been forever since so-and-so answered my email or that I've been waiting for thisperson to get back to me because I am afraid to move forward without their response.

I have started coming face-to-face more openly with my insecurity lately. Started to look it more squarely in its anthropomorphized face and see if I can begin to discern details or detect idiosyncratic quirks that might lead to greater insight.

My husband and I often talk about the famous quote: What would you do if you knew you could not fail? (attributed via a google search to Robert Schuller).

Lately... I've been thinking about adding some more pointed questions to my personal arsenal:

  • What would you do if you knew no one was watching?
  • What would you do if it didn't matter whether anyone cared?
  • What would you do if no one was ever going to say a thing about it?
  • What would you do if no one else's opinion of your actions mattered?
Because, you see, it's easy for me to choose right action (usually) when no one is looking. That one's simple. What I find difficult is deciding what to do when everyone is looking. Or at least when my actions are visible to people in my life whom I have deemed most important: family, friends, colleagues, mentors, etc.

I have noticed I am so concerned about validation I sometimes struggle to determine where I end and my conception of me-in-relation-to-others begins.

My big ah ha a little while ago with regard to my stuff was realizing I defined myself via what I possessed: books, music, clothes, items from other countries, antiques... the list goes on. While this has much to do with attachment and ego, it also segues nicely into validation - my sense of self was based (at least in part) on my imagined belief of what certain items meant to others and therefore said about me in response.

This is so circuitous and ridiculous and based on assumptions instead of actualities that it sort of boggles my mind and is rather difficult to articulate. Yet, in my recent quest to become more aware of my propensity toward validation-seeking actions and my challenge to myself to determine what is authentic and what is manufactured, I have started to strip things away... little by little.

Career paths

You name it... it's all on the chopping block. Everything gets scrutinized lately in an effort to sort between what is truly a source of happiness in my life and what is instead an empty thing resembling happiness but actually internally hollow and bereft of personal meaning.

Yuck. It's not fun. It really hurts sometimes. Some days feel exhausting and lonely... and sometimes, I've noticed, I get so tired I just want to throw in the towel and go back to my familiar, comfortable patterns. Let's buy stuff, let's just eat, let's get attention, let's fish for compliments.

One last nugget of wisdom our teacher shared on that first night: practice is work. Obvious. But sometimes we forget that pushing ourselves to keep growing and evolving as people requires a tremendous amount of effort, and an even greater level of commitment.

May you feel genuinely worthy and beautiful today, without thought of external acquiescence. May you push beyond the boundaries you believe to be the end - so that you truly surprise yourself.

No comments:

Post a Comment