January 8, 2014

How to Mitigate Suffering & Increase Happiness‏. ~ Julie Tallard Johnson

My family adopted a horse a few summers ago that was blind in one eye.

Norm is a large (18 hands), 20 year old quarter horse. Recently he was acting up and we came to find out he is going blind in the other eye. Instead of this being a safe and enjoyable environment we found it to be dangerous and scary.

For awhile I even stayed away from both of our horses.

Since there was no cure for his blindness I wanted to find a way to spend time with him. So, I came to saying, “It’s just me Norm” when approaching him. It’s become a mantra around the horses, “It’s just me.”

Now, sadly, our Labrador is also experiencing blindness. As a result, I find myself saying out loud, “It’s just me,” within the home too. This helps us both navigate her new world. My voice not only tells them where I am but what I am. I am a friend. I am right next to you. I am safe. We are in this together.

Further out beyond the boundary of pasture and home, I notice a lot of blindness and resulting suffering as well. It is not the suffering due to a visual blindness but a blindness we have to our inner and outer resources of belonging.

People are blind to the reality of their belonging, and this results in a myriad of heartaches and hardships.

Ken McLeod points to this communal heartache in his book, Wake Up to Your Life, “As long as we live in the misperception of being a separate entity, we encounter frustration, confusion, difficulties, and turmoil.”

Even with so many spiritual, philosophical, and scientific axioms pointing to our “belonging,” we tend to operate primarily in the big lie that keeps us scared, doubtful, and lonely—the agreement that we are somehow separate from the rest of life, that we are outsiders or superior and do not intimately belong mutually within the web of existence. The original sin in the Garden of Eden story was when Adam and Eve bit the apple, which caused them to see themselves as separate from God. Prior to eating the apple, they had simply experienced the beauty and simplicity of belonging in the Garden of Eden. Once they bit into the apple, they became aware of feeling separate.

This is the paradox of consciousness—we become more aware and, with this awareness, our feelings of separation become known to us.

However (and this is where the paradox lies), through the transformation of our consciousness the truth is revealed to us: we are not separate.

When Adam and Eve sensed their differences, they felt a need to cover up with fig leaves. When we experience ourselves as separate from natural phenomena, from each other, and from ourselves, we tend to “cover up” with the false self. The false self is made up of our pain stories and outdated myths and underlying assumptions, agreements, and beliefs that are linked to our past.

To help heal the separation, ask yourself, “Who or what do I feel separated from?” Take the time throughout the day to notice feelings of separation or isolation. Look into times when you feel lonely, anxious, scared, hesitant, worried, depressed, confused, defensive, misunderstood, and frustrated—there you will find a point of separation. Since our sense of separation is held in the mind through our perceptions, we hold the power to transform and heal all that separates us. Thought transformation is the central tool to heal the separation.

When we recognize that everything is sacred, that tat tvam asi (a Sanskrit sentence that means “thou art that”), then we will always behave as if we are walking among the holy and on sacred ground. We make contact with our own holiness and recognize it as such. Mitakuye oyasin in Lakota is translated as “all my relations,” pointing to how we are all related to and dependent on everything that is alive.

We are all part of the Tao (unifying principle) and Brahman (ultimate reality). Ehyeh in Hebrew is a name for God and translates into “I am,” or “I shall be.” In the yogic tradition “I am that” is the so ham mantra, believed to be seven thousand years old and passed down from the historical Shiva. In Tibetan Buddhist practice the hung mantra, which is considered a seed syllable of wisdom, for me represents the wisdom of our oneness.

Each of these mantras holds the vibrational message of belonging. And from this belonging so much more is possible than from a place of separation. My realization of I am that came to me before I knew anything about the “I am that” mantra—a story I share in depth in my book, Wheel of Initiation. This is important to share, because this type of personal spiritual insight and direct experience happens to us all. The reality of I am that is present in your life, right now.

I cannot make others “see,” or insist they feel there belonging. But I can choose to walk among others in a more compassionate way, a more gentle way. So, I now use what I refer to as my mantra of belonging. I have taken on this practice of saying to myself, “It’s just me,” when entering a neutral or more challenging environment. Instead of projecting my fears and assumptions onto others, I see them all as big blind horses or gentle Labradors, and say to myself my mantra of belonging, It’s just me.

This translates further into navigating my successes with my recent book, The Zero Point Agreement: How To Be Who You Already Are. In those occasions where someone puts me up on some pedestal (not a safe place to be), I remind myself, and the other, by saying to myself, “It’s just me,” that I too am just doing my best to get around without bumping into too many sharp objects, or tripping up too often. When I take on this more gentle approach, they become more at ease around me. This then opens up to an opportunity to experience our belonging.

One of my favorite Buddhist teachings is given by Shantideva (695– 743 CE), an Indian Buddhist scholar at Nalanda University and author of the Bodhicaryāvatāra, a long poem (sutra) describing the process of awakening the heart and mind. In this sutra he points out a practical way to mitigate suffering and to generate more happiness, and how living life from one’s own side (the zero point) is a way to respond to the suffering around us:

To cover the earth with sheets of hide

Where could such amounts of skin be found?

But simply wrap some leather around your feet

And it’s as if the whole earth had been covered.

Reciting this mantra of belonging when around others that “it’s just me,” is a way to cover your feet with leather.

“Ending this state of ignorance may then open a new possibility for the mind to be creative at its own level. When it does this, it is still participating in the universal creativity, but now it is realizing its proper potential.”

~ David Bohm, “Freedom and the Value of the Individual” from The Essential David Bohm

Imagine This

Take a moment now and close your eyes.

Take a deep breath and rest your awareness in the physical sensation of your breath.

Just watch your breath as it moves in and out of the body.

Notice the physical sensations of your body breathing and sitting.

Don’t add any spin to it; just notice the sensations of sitting and breathing.

From this place of calm, imagine that you are a drop in the ocean. Everything around you and in you is the ocean.

Breathe and imagine (don’t force anything). Notice how as the drop you are part of the whole, belonging intimately to the whole, while at the same time a unique drop within the ocean.

Breathe and imagine the physical sensation of this oceanic quality surrounding you and inside of you.

This is what is meant to live life from your side. You are part of the whole but uniquely so. You can only contribute to the whole from your side, from your place in the ocean. (This agreement emphasizes from your side, not for your side; for your side would be the antithesis of this principle.) I often use this brief meditation when I feel agitated by circumstances. I take a moment from the demands to breathe and imagine how I am this drop; how I am the ocean.

Snowflakes, leaves, humans, plants, raindrops, stars, molecules, microscopic entities all come in communities. The singular cannot in reality exist.” 

Paula Gunn Allen

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Assistant Editor: Guenevere Neufeld/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Shinan Ahmad / Flickr

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