I know it’s not the popular thing to do. Still, I’m tired of living with this marriage between my occupation/accomplishment (what I do) and how I see myself. (who I am). What is the difference between these two? And what effect does separating them have on my choices and my feelings each day?
In my past years, I can see where my legitimate and healthy desire to grow, challenge myself and improve started becoming something that only controlled me but also began defining me. During this failed marriage, each time my “less developed and unaccomplished self” ran into a harsh word from a girlfriend, disinterest, disapproval or rejection from a friend or parent the “performance” based value system became more established. I believed that in order to be worthy of love or acceptance, the things I did needed to be changed.
If my performance did not meet expectations in my relationships or work life my acceptance and value as a human being would diminish. Previously during childhood, I saw a good day as one where I ate a big bowl of cereal for breakfast, went out into the warm summer sun with my friends and enjoyed time together. Content in my existence. Healthy and fed with friends and a roof over my head.
By the time I reached adulthood I realized so many of my days were seen and felt as “bad days” because of someone’s disappointment or dissatisfaction with my business. Other times it was a former girlfriends’ accusation of my failure to live up to her expectations of a boyfriend. Or sometimes my own self-judgment of not reaching my own goals fast enough, or not maintaining goals and ideals set by the society around me. (who I am vs. what I do) For example the expectation that a “real job” is one that involved staying in one place and manufacturing something. A job where you play music for a living or write and travel. These are not considered legitimate occupations to many people in my hometown. Any of this sound familiar? Tell me I’m not the only one who has thought this way and made these judgments? The consequence of all these years of failing to meet expectation left me feeling small, unworthy as an outsider and incapable of fitting in. A slow yet steady progression towards being a slave of others expectations of myself which became my expectations of myself.
In an effort to “file for divorce” I started stepping away from my businesses in a more direct way 6-8 months ago. I became isolated from my prior success. The confidence in my skills as a businessman could no longer be relied upon to prop up my insecure and uncertain self. When all was stripped back, I was left vulnerable to each and every word and judgment around me. No longer safe inside the cocoon of my accomplishments. I was still forced to confront questions of “what do you do for a job and what are your plans”. Previously I could confidently reply, “I’m running a few businesses, a real estate investment company, an I.T. business, a recording studio” I could also feel comfortable and justified in my own mind by thinking of future projects and goals I intended to take on and be a shining success in. Now I was left with a shadow of the past and an unclear path for the future. Was this enough to still be “ok”? Was this enough to have “good days”?
future life of freedom
I was left with only myself. And who I am. These questions of how I define and value myself hit hard. Almost all people have the ability to “survive” life. But are these people living it well? Living abundantly? Living lovingly with a forgiving and helpful heart? Walking fearless in spite of all the horrors that life may throw at us? Cancer, death, abuse, infidelity and injustice.
I realized that the ground I previously worshiped as my stability was ground that many other feet had walked on, spit on and disrespected. Why should I keep using this filthy ground as a mirror to reflect and judge my own value?
I would prefer to base my identity and value in who I am, not this shifty ground of actions and accomplishment. In the past months of travel, I have met many others on a similar path.These individuals are quitting jobs, leaving relationships and seeking an understanding of themselves not rooted in their accomplishment or meeting expectations.
I cannot answer every question as to how to direct your identity and value to a healthy source. Although my realization of this marriage and the separation that has followed has been very difficult. Living with the (what I do defines me) mindset for the rest of my life would be far more difficult. I have a clearer mind about the importance of this separation and also a faith that gives added clarity in regards to my value and my identity. I hope that you will take time consider what you spend most of your time focused on? What you do, or who you are becoming.
“He went out, not knowing where he was going.” Hebrews 11:8
We are all going somewhere. Even those who chose to stay put geographically. This old text from the book of Hebrews inspired me in a new way today. It resonates deeply with a “searching” that many of us find ourselves in while taking steps of “faith” in our lives. There is NOT ONLY a spiritual implication to this text, but also a inerhently human one.
Sometimes the choices we make do not direct us TOWARDS a specific identifiable end. They are only choices AWAY from something we are already familiar with. For example, I remember choosing to leave my family farm when I was 19 years old to pursue an education in sound engineering. This meant I had to leave the farm and apply myself to studying. In this choice I did not know where I was going, only THAT I WAS GOING. (I wound up studying in IRELAND) The choice to leave the familiar is challenging.I needed to place some level of trust in my own ability to make a choice. (for many including myself) A trust in a higher power also, to lead me safely to my final destination. (figuratively, and literally)
This text may not contain the destination details for this Unsettled Settler. But it clearly shows that this individual felt so strongly about GOING that HE WENT. As I read this, I’m encouraged to put away my fear about taking steps towards something not yet totally defined. There are many times where I made choices and started 2nd guessing myself. I often find myself caught between anxiety or not caring anymore. This third option of accepting an unknown destination appears to have the best outcome.
Maybe it’s the choice to end a relationship does not build you up or that is harming you? Or a choice to physically change locations and live a new life somewhere else? Maybe it’s the choice to pursue a new passion or art? Or finding a way to “reset” an existing relationship? Whatever you mean to do, wherever you believe you should go. The most important part is to “go out” and take faith that many unsettled settlers before you have started their journey unsure of where they were going.
Recently I decided to test my limits in a new way by spending time at Dipabhavan for a silent meditation retreat. I figured this would be a great way to clear and calm my mind after some hectic years in the states managing multiple business ventures. Also, I figured sitting in quiet for awhile would force me to address some less pleasant thoughts I had been putting off. Here are some of the basics you should know about these retreats and what impact it had on my life.
What’s it all about?
If you have not heard of these “retreats”, they typically involve spending a week or so at a “center” or “monastery”. This particular retreat was hosted by Dipabhavan on Ko Samui island in Thailand. 6 days long. No cost (donations only). And was hosted by Buddhist monks. Although they welcome people of every religion to participate. During this week you will spend most of your time involved in “meditation” exercises. You will spend some part of the day listening to a monk or other leaders teaching you how to meditate. They also share with you some of the practice and purposes of their religion. You will have the chance to detox from your normal diet with only 2 vegetarians meals served per day. You can also detox from the digital world as they take away all cell phones and laptops when you arrive.
We had an orientation the night before which explained what the schedule would be, what the rules were and allowed each of us to meet & greet. There was quite a mix of people from all countries and walks of life. The old “hippie” from the States to young Russians as well as practicing Buddhists from Australia.
We started our morning at 4:30 am and ended our days at 9:00 pm. You may be wondering how do you get appx 70 people up at 4:30 in the morning when everyone’s alarm clocks and phones were taken away? A large and loud brass bell. There was no chance of sleeping through this morning wake up bell. They encouraged us to forget about time and clocks, and just listen for the bell throughout the day. The bell would announce each change of task, meditation, breakfast and dinner. I became acquainted with what my body feels like after sleeping on a wooden bed with a wooden pillow, how to manage only 2 meals per day, how to use a toilet with no toilet paper for 4 days and how to cope with a bored and distracted (monkey mind).
By day 2 my body felt the effect of sleeping on a wooden bed. My hips and my shoulders hurt the worst. Surprisingly the wooden pillow was fairly comfortable. It seemed that the real reason they require “silence” during the retreat was to prevent people from complaining. 🙂 As you seek to deny yourself and your ego it’s important to not put your own needs and discomfort below that of the teachings of the Buddha. You are to be mindful/aware of each experience and feeling, but you are not to become “involved” in feelings and thoughts which are not calm, peaceful and content. We were taught how to observe these thoughts and feelings while focusing on long breathing meditation. If we practiced these techniques we would not be distracted by pain or discomfort.”These feelings too, shall pass.”
Each day we practiced different meditation techniques while sitting on the floor, standing or walking. Personally, I found the standing meditation to be the most useful for relaxing and clearing my mind. I was able to bypass the discomfort of sitting cross-legged for so long, and also not have the threat of falling asleep.
Sitting meditation (long breathing)
While sitting cross-legged on the floor with my back comfortably straight I learned about long breathing exercises. This was to help my mind and body be calm. It also increased my attention span, and focus. I took long deep breaths while focusing on the feeling of the air entering my nostrils. Then I was instructed to follow the breath down towards my lungs while noticing how my abdomen would naturally expand at the completion of each inhalation. Likewise, I would trace the breath back out of my abdomen area up to my lungs and out my nose. These meditations lasted 1/2 hour each. Being fully aware of each breath was the ONLY focus of this meditation. Click HERE for more info about long breathing.
Standing meditation (long breathing)
Standing meditation also focused on long breathing. (you can read about that above)
Walking meditation (Attention, awareness, and alertness)
I also practiced walking meditation sometimes in a group setting other times alone. I figured at first it would only be taking a little walk alone down a path to clear my head. It wasn’t like this at all. Again the exercise focused on awareness and mindfulness of each step I took. A 5 stage walking meditation was taught. Again, the point was to focus individually on each process of the step. From the raising of the heel at the beginning of each step. To the placement of your foot at the end.
You can read more about different walking meditation methods HERE.
The eight teachings of the buddha are as follows.
I undertake the training to intend not to take away any breath
I undertake the training not to take away what is not given
I undertake the training to keep my mind and body free from any sexual activity
I undertake the training not to harm others by speech
I undertake the training not to harm my consciousness with substances that intoxicate and lead to carelessness
I undertake the training not to eat in between afternoon and before dawn
I undertake the training not to dance, sing, play or listen to music, watch shows, wear garlands, ornaments and beautify myself with perfumes and cosmetics
I undertake the training not to sleep or sit on luxurious beds and seats
For four days I listened how “we should place our trust in the dhamma” (the teachings of the Buddha), how the goal of the long breathing exercises was not only to calm our mind but to eventually reach a point of “awakening”. My mind would be turned “inside-out” in a way. At this moment I would experience some kind of reward, a “positive feeling” and also the opportunity to be enlightened. All my effort, dedication and hard work would “pay-off”.
I am very glad to have had this amazing experience. Separate from my phone. Separate from the outside world. Consequently, It provided so much quiet time that allowed me to have a proper detox and cleanse from so many distractions I had in my mind and my body. For example, it helped me clear away negative thoughts of past relationships and handle the hostile situations I find myself having to deal with in business without getting stressed about them. There are many wise and helpful teachings of the Buddha. When practiced, these teachings can enhance your life and also the lives of those around you.
I decided to end the meditation on the 5th day in the morning. I can only speak for myself. I found meditation practiced according to Buddhism was limited. All of my effort and time spent was inward focused in hope of enlightenment. As wonderful as a clear view of things around me is useful. It is not the same as being an active and helpful participant in the society around me.
Finally, I wondered what my experience would’ve been and what new insights I would’ve gained about myself and the world around me if I had dedicated 5 days to working in a Thai orphanage instead of sitting doing breathing meditation. Maybe my desire to grow and understand would’ve been aided more by reading the beatitudes and meditating on those words and their meaning. Click HERE to read them. Maybe by focusing on the words I speak, the songs I write and helping others, I can achieve “enlightenment”. And create a positive impact at the same time.