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Shared Reality

Sharing is one of the first and hardest things we learn in life. The problem we have with sharing is the same problem we have with existence. We each experience life as an individual self. That self that is us has wants and needs, some rational, some irrational. If we have a favorite security blanket, we feel comfortable when holding that blanket. If somebody else has our blanket we get all out of sorts. Even if the person with our blanket is our mother, our brother, or our twin, if we aren’t the ones with the blanket, there is no security for us. That sense of security that the special blanket brings is our individual reality.

As we grow older, our sense of self becomes more developed. We learn the nuances of sharing. We learn to share differently within our various social groups. We share freely with some people and not so much with others. We share our blankets, food, money, germs, emotions, ideas, history, cultures and a planet with each other. How two or more of us experience the world together is our shared reality.

Sharing reality is not like sharing a blanket. It’s more like sharing the planet. We have to share the planet with everybody on it. We have no choice. In many cases we do our best not to share our planet. We draw borders, we build walls, we fight wars to kill the people we don’t want to sharing our planet. That is all part of our shared reality, where we each have a self, a self-interest, and sharing is really hard.

On a personal level, we have widespread agreement on our shared reality. We all know we shouldn’t kill each other and to stop at red lights. Even within our cultural conventions our individual realities are vastly different from our shared reality. A shared reality between only two people contains all of each of their experiences and their rational and irrational beliefs, hopes, and fears. It contains a sense of cooperation and a sense of competition. When a third person enters the picture the shared reality adds another unfathomable dimension. Together, we each observe our shared reality through the veil of our individual realities.

That veil is made up of all of our rational and irrational ideas interwoven with each other. Some of our rational ideas are wrong and some of our irrational ideas are right. This tapestry of fact and fiction that forms our veils, our sense of self, is effectively a blindfold. With each of us blindfolded, we need each other to help us navigate this shared reality. As we guide each other, knowing that we don’t know and behaving with compassion anyway, we can learn to stop red lights and not kill each other. We can even lean to share our blankets, our planet and our reality. As we share, how we share, we shape our individual and shared realities.

 

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The Laws of Attraction

The law of attraction is that when you wish for something you get it. That is true for everything that we have, and less true for what what we don’t have or have and don’t want. The law of attraction works very well at a Starbucks. If we have money, we can wish for any hot beverage we can imagine and something like it will materialize.

With love, we follow our own attraction. When we notice we are attracted to somebody, then we love them a little. Our soul may not resonate with theirs, but our heartbeats are each between 60 and 120 beats per minute, our body temperatures are each around 98 degrees Fahrenheit, and we each occupy a proximal space at the same time. On top of that, we feel a sense of attraction to them.

We can approach those we are attracted to with awareness of our attraction and curiosity about who this other person is.  If they feel a similar attraction and look into our eyes, our heartbeats will speed up, our bodies will raise their temperatures, emit pheromones, and produce oxytocin, the love neurotransmitter, like they did when our mothers held each of us as babies.

People naturally love each other, but there is a lot involved in developing trust and understanding with another person. Attraction compels us to interact and make the effort to get to know each other.

The more we get to know another person, the more of ourselves we expose. Sometimes there are parts of us we are afraid to expose. Sometimes people judge and don’t like what they see. Sometimes we judge and don’t like what we see. These things keep coming up as we explore layers of intimacy. Ultimately, we each have to face ourselves as we engage with other people.

There are few better ways of getting to know ourselves than looking from another’s point of view. It helps if that other point of view is generous, amorous, and compassionate.  It helps if we are that way too as we learn to know ourselves and make the effort to know and love others.

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Abuse of Power

People in power have been abusive forever. That is the nature of power. Some people are consciously and aggressively abusive, others are completely ignorant and oblivious to how and who they abuse. In Canada, child abuse was “discovered” in the late 1800’s and Humane Societies were formed to protect children and pets. Child abuse existed since the first child was born. Early humanoids snapped at their children like dogs. Through the course of evolution, babies adapted to resemble their fathers to help prevent those fathers from eating them. 100,000 years later, the keen observers of human nature in Upper Canada, recognized that the way some people treated children was wrong and harmful. The Canadians were not the first in history of the world to notice child abuse, but they discovered it early in their history.

The people who formed those Humane Societies were generally white and wealthy women. Although women were systematically oppressed in the social structures of the time, they wielded great power over the poor, downtrodden and non-white among them. The humane societies and religious leaders of the time, doing the good work celebrated in their social circles, decimated the Native populations, forcibly removing children from their families and placing them in residential schools where they were routinely physically and sexually abused. Canada has recently apologized to the Aboriginal people there for those atrocities.

In recent months, in the powerful United States or America, brave women have shared their experiences, facing shame and escalated abuse to help the world discover that they have been being abused by powerful men for a long time. NFL football players, powerful men in their arenas,  are kneeling during the American national anthem to help us discover that African Americans have been facing abuse for a long time too. We are all powerful people in this world. Where we face greater powers we are abused. Where we face lesser powers, we abuse. With awareness of the power structures around us and an understanding that where there is power there will be abuse, we can employ compassionate action to try not to abuse people and to find support for ourselves and others when we discover the powerfully destructive presence of abuse.

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How to Live a Better Life

To live a better life, start with the life you have. Right now, that is the best possible life you can have. That life includes a certain amount of suffering, which makes it seem like it could be better. How you habitually respond to suffering influences the quality of your life. If you run away from suffering you develop avoidance habits. As you acknowledge and approach suffering, you develop compassionate habits.

Compassion is an awareness and an action. It is noticing suffering, looking to the causes of suffering, thinking of cures for suffering, and doing what you can to bring about those solutions. Sometimes you can do a lot, sometimes less. Learning what needs to be done and what you can do is part of the skill of compassion.

You can practice compassion for yourself. You are the best place to start because you directly experience your own suffering and you have some good ideas about where it comes from and what might help.  As you learn to recognize how you suffer, you will also notice how other people suffer. When you see others suffer, practice compassion for them.

The more you practice compassion the better you get at it and the better your life gets.

The way to engage your compassionate mind is to breathe consciously. Deep breathing is your go to tool for a better life. Our bodies understand that. That’s why they knock us out every night so we can breathe in peace.

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Spiritual Self-Care

In Zen, “spiritual self-care” is an oxymoron.

A fundamental teaching of Buddhism is the concept of no-self. When the Buddha looked into the Nature of Everything he saw nothing there that was him. He realized that the perception that we are separate from each other and everything else is the primary source of our suffering.

In Zen, spiritual self-care is recognizing the nature of suffering and a way through. The practice involves focusing your attention and observing the nature of your mind. The hard part about observing your mind is that you do it with your mind. Your mind creates all kinds of distractions that suck you in and set your focus wandering. That is the nature of mind. That is what you observe as you practice bringing your attention back to your point of focus.

The ultimate point of focus is the present moment. The present moment is where you live. As long as you are alive, you have your breath. When you focus your attention on your breath, it is grounded in your body in the present moment. Doing that, with a compassionate attitude, recognizing that there is suffering and seeking a way to ease that suffering is the basis of spiritual self-care. It is not so much the self taking care of the spirit, but the spirit taking care of the self.

Spiritual self-care involves taking care of your body and mind with a spiritual sense of caring. It involves eating well, sleeping enough, getting exercise, bathing, and brushing your teeth. It involves connecting with others, practicing compassion toward them and opening yourself to their compassion. It involves slowing down and being present right where you are with things just as they are, even if it hurts. When things hurt, be present with the pain and practice compassion for yourself. See what could be wrong and do what you can to help yourself feel better.

Two reliable ways to practice spiritual self-care and help yourself feel better are practicing generosity and gratitude. Those practices help us abide in our interconnected nature, which tends to feel good.

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Reluctant Arsonist and Compassionate Firefighter

Anger is like fire. Fire hurts if you touch it in the wrong way and the more you let it burn the more damage it does. If you suffer from anger, think of yourself as both a reluctant arsonist and a compassionate firefighter. The arsonist part of you keeps setting fires by accident. The firefighter part of you notices fires and puts them out.

Whether you get angry at some petty nonsense, or great injustice, you set a fire. To break the arson habit, to stop anger from arising, you have get good at putting out the fires. When you get good at putting out fires, eventually you will skip the step of starting them.

It is harder to put out fires when they have spread. Think of that first moment of anger as lighting a match. You can blow out a burning match or you can touch it to something to set the house on fire. The trick is to use your breath as soon as the match is struck. When you notice the first impulse of anger, breathe out all of the air in you lungs. Be careful what you do, say and think. If you indulge your anger, you set the house ablaze.

That happens. Once the house is on fire, then it takes time with focused attention and compassionate breathing to stand in the flames. Your thoughts feed the fire. Your long steady breaths protect the house by dousing it with water. Steady breathing in the face of anger brings your body back to a state of rest.

When you are angry, you experience narrow vision and can only see things from one perspective. When you become calmer, your mind opens up and you can see the problem from other perspectives. That is like bringing in help to fight the flames. When you bring in different thought perspectives, the thoughts that were feeding the fire diminish and the thoughts that extinguish the fire take over. Your steady breathing brings you back to calm as the anger passes.

The thoughts that extinguish the fire are not about the right and wrong of whatever made you angry, they are about working with anger and regaining your mind to better approach the right and wrong. They are the thoughts of the firefighter, compassionately observing the fire, isolating it, and putting it out.

The firefighter is filled with compassion. They do not blame the arsonist for starting the fire. They feel their pain as their own and use their available tools, their breath and their thoughts to stop the fire and soothe the pain.

As you learn to inhabit the firefighter you can also fight fires in other people’s anger. When you see anger anywhere, you respond with calm, compassionate breathing rather than by lighting more matches. You notice anger in others as pain and discomfort and you practice isolating and containing the anger rather than blaming the arsonist. The more time you spend inhabiting the firefighter, the better you get at it, and with enough practice, eventually, you can save the arsonist the trouble off all that fire setting.

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Life Advice for a Child: Be Good, Learn Compassion, Breathe

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Time for Compassion

Now is a good time to practice compassion. If you are hurting a lot or a little, you can practice compassion for yourself. If somebody you love is hurting, you can practice compassion for them. If somebody you don’t like is hurting, you can challenge yourself to practice compassion for them. If you can imagine all the suffering in the world, you can practice compassion for the world. When you practice compassion for the world, you complete the circle and practice for yourself again.

If you are suffering right now, now is a good time to practice with your suffering. If you are not suffering right now, now is a good time to practice connecting with your wider perspective, your wisdom, that part of you that can see beyond suffering. Whenever you take time to practice compassion, you build your capacity and skill for practice. If you can think of your suffering as part of the world’s suffering you gain perspective on both. If you are hurting a lot, imagine that multiplied by all the people in the world going through similar or vastly different experiences of physical, mental and emotional pain. Your experience connects you and gives you insight into all of their experiences. As you imagine all those other people feeling just as you do, you can wish for them to find peace and happiness in their lives. That wish or hope will bring a touch of peace to your life. In that way practicing compassion for others becomes a compassionate action for yourself again completing the circle.

When you imagine the world’s suffering, it can be overwhelming. When you feel your own suffering it can be overwhelming. Remembering that it is time for compassion can help, now. When it seems like there is nothing you can do, focus on being right where you are and opening yourself to compassion. Notice that you would rather not suffer. Notice that you don’t want others to suffer. That is the essence of compassion and noticing is the beginning of helping. When you practice being open to compassion and practicing compassion you will see it everywhere but also notice when it is absent which helps too. When you notice the absence of compassion, compassion appears.

The time to practice is now, because it is always now. No matter how we feel, we all benefit from small and large acts of compassion. The world and you need compassion. Practice now.

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Finding Your Goodness

Like your breath, your essential goodness is always with you. To find it, you have to look for it. That impulse that inspires you to look for your goodness is it in action. Basic goodness is our innate inclination to experience peace and happiness and to relieve suffering. It is one of our core qualities. It manifests itself in everything we do as we live our lives trying to experience pleasure and avoid pain. However, when pain and suffering finds us, despite efforts to enjoy ourselves, we lose sight of our good nature and think all kinds of confusing things about ourselves. When we find ourselves feeling bad about who or what we are, it is a good time practice finding our goodness again.

Knowing that your goodness is there is not the same as finding it. Finding it involves feeling it. It involves meeting yourself right where you are. It is dropping all expectations of what you should be or could be and feeling as you feel. Finding your goodness doesn’t even have to feel good. If you look into your suffering to find your goodness, it will feel like suffering, but the courageous act of changing your relationship to your suffering, induced by your good impulse to feel what you feel, without judgement, without blame, will help you feel your goodness. Know that your goodness is there, feel what you are feeling and breathe with it. Breathe with a sense of hope, a sense of kindness, a sense of understanding, a sense of wisdom, and you will find your goodness.

As you practice finding and experiencing your goodness, you will get used to it being there, stop doubting it and use it to create peace and happiness. When you come to know it in yourself, you will see it in others too. Our basic goodness doesn’t change from one person to the next. Our awareness changes, which dramatically alters how our goodness expresses itself. When we regularly practice finding goodness and holding it in our awareness, good things happen. Peace appears.

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A Compassionate Approach

When painful feelings arise, we have a choice to make. We can either go towards them or away from them. We can be open or closed to them. We can feel them or reel from them. When these feelings arise, we make the choice immediately, based on our habits. It is not really a choice when we don’t make it, it is a reaction. When we notice our reaction, then we make the choice. It can take seconds, months or years to notice our reactions. We can react to a single, painful event for our whole lives. We can also start fresh, every moment, approaching our pain with compassion.

Our general habit is to go away from pain, to close off to it, to reel from it. Sometimes that works and the pain passes on its own. Usually, the pain follows us. Even though we are closed to it, we feel it. It keeps coming back to us, forcing us to deal with it. When we notice that we have to deal with our pain, we can approach it with compassion. We can see that the pain hurts, see that we don’t want to hurt, remember that we don’t deserve to hurt, and in that way, approach our suffering with compassion. When we look compassionately at our pain, with openness and awareness, we can see its source, solution and actions we can take to bring about a resolution.

To practice a compassionate approach to our suffering, we begin by noticing our suffering, acknowledging that something hurts. By doing that, we let ourselves be present. We breathe with whatever is happening. If we are reeling, that compassionate breath can stop the spinning. Then we can look at the thoughts and beliefs that prop up our emotions. When we look from a place of wisdom, openness, and non-judgment, we can see into and through some false or harmful beliefs. We notice damaging ideas and habits. By noticing those ideas we change them.

Because these ideas and beliefs are supported by habits, they may come back. As we continue to practice a compassionate approach, we can improve our response times. We can approach pain in minutes instead of months. When we develop our habits and build a compassionate approach to our suffering, our suffering will not send us reeling anymore. When that happens, we can choose to use our compassionate habits to approach other people’s pain. Choice by choice we can heal the world.

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