Cup of Tea

Whenever I’m back in the states, I enjoy going to the gym and working out. It seems to settle some physical need I have to feel grounded in the body. So the other day, while doing reps on a machine, it occurred to me that life itself is about doing reps: the way we live becomes a habit, and if we want to change we have to do it slowly and consciously, one curl at a time.

And sitting there on the bench, I was reminded of something I read many years ago, that said, “If you’re thinking of the cup of tea you’ll have after you finish doing the dishes––then while you are drinking your tea you will be thinking of something else.”

So the muscles we use, the ideas we cling to, the things we run away from… they all get bigger, the more we use them. So to “build up” our capacity to continuously come back to the Present Moment, my friend Leonard talks about focusing on Anything That Is Here Now: your breath, the sound of the ceiling fan, the feeling of the muscle struggling against the weight.

You reading these words now.

Downshifting

“People don’t like to signal, here,” said my brother. “And why don’t they slow down?”

I’ve been driving on Italian highways for years, and it’s true, it can be a little scary having a car come up behind you at 160 mph, when a few seconds ago you looked back and saw nothing. And he’s showing no signs of slowing down, either; that’ll really put your nerves to the test. Newbies will actually pull over after the first or second game of “Highway Chicken,” short of breath.

A few years ago, though, I beat the system, but in a novel way. I was driving the Ancona-Milan highway at a relatively moderate speed, comfortably located in the middle lane (of three). This is a good way to avoid those maniacs, who are forced by law to pass on the far left lane. I remember a green semi moved into my center lane about 300 yards ahead of me, wanting to pass an even slower truck on his right. No problem, I thought, I’ll just move into the left… Ooops! at that same moment, I saw a BMW bearing down on me in the dreaded left lane. So there I was, trapped.

I had a split-second to make the decision: accelerate into the far left lane, swerving around the semi and quickly returning to the middle lane… or simply slowing down and patiently letting the BMW pass. It would take lots of focus and energy to do the first, patience and surrender the second. It wasn’t an easy decision.

I tapped the brake.

Suddenly it was if the sun parted through the clouds and shined on the whole world. Behind me the BMW had tucked himself into the middle lane behind me; ahead of me the semi had quickly reentered the far right lane. I had smooth sailing both ahead and to the left.

And to think I was contemplating risking my life a few seconds ago! So instead of simply reacting, I took the shortest of pauses, and in that moment… suddenly everything changed.

“Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to do nothing,” my friend Domenico likes to say.

Motorino

Some of he best years of my life were spent zipping around Rome, Italy on my Red SH50 motorino, where I’d fly between my apartment and my office, to appointments here and restaurants and bars there. At the time, motorinos could park anywhere they wanted in Rome, so they were a lot more practical than cars. But they were also a bit dangerous–especially for an American who had never seen roads without lanes or drivers without scruples. Weaving through the labyrinthine side streets was no problem, but on the 4-lane wide Lungotevere, it could get very hairy. And that’s the road I took to work every morning.

You’d see us on our motorinos snaking through the traffic (especially at red lights, where we slowly weave our way up to the front row), but it wasn’t easy at first, especially as I entered the slot between two cars travelling at 40 mph. I never knew if the cars could see me laterally; my policy was never to enter a tight space unless the coast was clear in front. If I didn’t know how I was going to get out, I wouldn’t go in.

That changed over the years, as I started acquiring more of a 360 degree sense of my own, as well as faith in my driving. I remember vividly when I began entering these “blocked zones” and feeling totally comfortable, moving at the same speed as the rest of the river.

All this, it seems, was simply reflecting my new way of handling life: I could go into situations without worrying about how I was going to get out of them. I was gaining new levels of trust in the world. I knew that sooner or later an opening would arrive all by itself.

Cat Guru

A few years ago I adopted two tiger kittens that had been living under my friend’s bar with their brothers and mother for the first three months of their lives. They were quite skittish that first year at my house in Umbria, but after I started feeding them wet food every morning we started to become closer. Their names were Buddy, a healthy and well-socialized male, and his much smaller, more traumatized sister Rosie, the runt of the litter. Rosie must have gotten her tail crushed at a certain point early in life–her tail is like a corkscrew. My kids nick-named her “Pig.”

Buddy stuck around the first year, protecting his sister, then started spending more and more time away. They were both fixed, so my best guess was that someone was offering better food, but by now… Buddy has been gone for a year, and Rosie has turned out to be one of the great teachers of my life. Here are three of Rosie’s greatest teachings:

No thanks

Every morning, as I dutifully opened a can of “Gourmet Gold” before splitting it into separate bowls, Buddy would gleefully enter the kitchen, rub against my leg, and proceed to beg. He might even allow himself to be picked up at this point, whereas Rosie had yet to come within 3 yards of me. Buddy had ignored me all day, but he knew how to pick his moment. His excitement was palpable, his cries were sorrowful and pleading.

Rosie, on the other hand, kept her distance. She remained in the hallway, calm and silent. She knew the wet food was coming. She was patient and relaxed.

As soon as they finished, Buddy headed out the door while Rosie sat nearby on the end of my desk as I worked, often remaining for hours.

I laughed as I imagined them talking later in the day, Buddy saying that Rosie should thank him for the morning treat. He might have convinced himself that it was only thanks to him that the wet food came–seeing as how he had insisted so loudly. All the while, Rosie kept silent, knowing that it was because of my love for them that the food arrived every morning. It was Rosie, afterwards, who thanked me; Buddy was long gone.

They were like two parts of me: the ego who “gets and forgets” and the soul, who “gives and forgives.” As I began to change, I began to appreciate the Rosie in me more and more.

Jumpstarts

Those first two years with Rosie were never easy. She was so frightened by me that as soon as I entered the room she would bolt. Only if I was laying on the sofa, or lying in bed – in a way that made me seem smaller (and harmless) – would she even consider entering the room. Even then, the moment I moved she was on Full Alert. She might be asleep in the corner, but I knew that my every move instilled in her great terror. My friend John said that to Rosie, everyone was a serial killer.

So I started doing something I had never done before: I started moving slowly around the house. I had never noticed it before–not even after 50 years–but I tended to go from sitting still to full movement in a heartbeat, especially if the phone rang or the doorbell buzzed. Or an idea came. Or even just if hunger panged. Living with Rosie changed all that.

Though not saying a word, she helped me become conscious of my little jumpstarts. I stated to slow down, and my movements today are now more conscious, more fluid and graceful thanks to her.

And thanks to my efforts, you’ll often find her asleep on my lap these days.

First touch

 “The reward of patience… is patience.”

Before Rosie, I tended to have little patience. Seeing as how she was eating (and shi**ing) in my house for two years now, I thought it was strange not to have even a minimum rapport with her. I could tell she was doing her best; she liked being in the same room as me, but as far away as felinely possible. How long could this go on?

I began slowly trying to get closer to her, low on my hands and knees, moving across the room in semi-darkness. She had a chair she liked to sit on, right next to the wood stove, and sometimes (after a ten-minute crawl) I could get within half a foot of her, only to see her jump up at the last minute. This went on for months. It was obvious that we both desired contact and closeness, but the time wasn’t ready yet.

At this time, I was practicing some meditations and mantras of Ho’oponopono, the magical Hawaiian formula for finding inner peace and forgiveness. They have a practice for trying to heal one’s relationship with their inner child, which involves imagining them as being ignored and frightened, hiding under a table, while you humbly and graciously ask if you can caress them and (eventually) hug them. I saw the connection with Rosie here, the slowness and constancy of my attempts became proof of my willingness to heal these rifts. It reminded me of those love stories where the suitor waits outside the beloved’s house in the rain for 100 days in a row, until the beloved finally remits.

Well, my friends, they say that women are like crossword puzzles: The longer the resistance, the sweeter the surrender. Let’s add “cats” to that list. One fine spring day, having resigned myself to never having a normal relationship with Rosie, I remember an extended right index finger finally touched down on her right front paw and held still there. She looked straight ahead towards the window, not moving a muscle, but at least she didn’t jump up.

In fact, she purred!

The long way around

When we learn a new language, we start to see words as short-cuts, or bridges. What once took ten words to say now takes one. Wow, that one new word just made my life a lot easier!

In behavior, too, we constantly learn new “vocabulary” in order to make life easier. Empathy, for example, is not a default program; it actually has to be learned. Instead of offending people by telling them how they should feel, now we can experience what they feel alongside them. We make our best friends that way. Listening is a great time-saver too, it keeps us from having to read people’s minds later. And laughter saves us from a thousand misunderstandings; we simply make a joke to test the water. It’s the easiest way to find out if someone really meant what you thought they meant. Why get offended if it was only a bad choice of words?

But where I see most of us needlessly complicating our lives can be learned in one minute. Life becomes so much easier once we simply learn to apologize.

Let’s say you and I are friends; I just made a simple mistake, and you simply point it out to me. You’re not accusing me, per se… perhaps you’re only telling me how I made you feel. Maybe you’ve simply asked me not to do it again, or to do it in a different, more collaborative way next time.

Now, if I don’t apologize­ – and I want you to watch this when this happens to you – I will actually be forced by my mind to spend the rest of the day trying to convince myself that it really wasn’t a mistake, and inventing justifications for why I did it. After refining my excuses for hours on end, and then delivering them to you, I will wonder why you don’t soften and treat me as kindly as before. I will then spend the next few days trying to convince the both of us that our relationship hasn’t been hurt in the slightest, and wonder why you don’t seem to be in agreement.

Friend, save yourself a lot of trouble next time. Don’t take the long way around, simply say “I’m sorry,” save your friendship and – as a special gift to yourself – free your mind for the next 72 hours.

Boxing Ring

I’ve been fighting this enemy for as long as I can remember. I thought it was outside me, so I put a face and a name to it this time. I put a bell on it’s ankle, I knew where it lived. Yes, I put my Fear of Abandonment on an ex-girlfriend. That left me free… or so I thought.

I mostly fight from a distance, today cowering, tomorrow blaming, all the while hating and fearing, trying to placate but mostly hoping to avoid the Worse Case Scenario: All Out War. None of us changes, all the while decades pass. Centuries. Even when I move on from one enemy, I inevitably find the same one in the next town, in the next office, in the next restaurant.

I can’t figure out why, and now I’m truly at my wits end. Finally, finally, finally, finally… I’m ready to ask the Universe what it’s been waiting for:

“Am I the problem?”

I’m not asking because I’m curious, I’m asking because I’m exhausted.

“I’ve tried everything else,” I think. “Humor me.”

Suddenly the Universe answers, “Your enemy is not out there, dear friend. It is not another person.”

Stop. Am I ready to hear this? I must be, if I’m still here. I’ve invested so many years, though… how could I have I been so wrong for so long?

My mind desperately tries to distract me, it won’t admit defeat this time… but today, I will.

This time there is no energy to escape anymore. No more hiding.

“Tell me,” I whisper.

Suddenly I’m in a boxing ring. In front of me is “the enemy.” Only it doesn’t have a face this time. Strangely, today we are not afraid of each other, but not exactly trusting each other, either. We “allow” each other to be there. Like two animals, we glare at each other, for the first time at such close ranks.

“How else could I have shown you the problem,” it tells me, “if not by playing it out in front of you?” Suddenly I see that the problem wasn’t between myself and another person at all. It was between myself and the Universe. Only in this theater, the Universe has been played by me, and I have been played by the enemy.

I move slowly to my right, like a boxer. I am trying to feel the energy of this entity. It, too, moves to its right. I take a step forward. It does too.

“That person didn’t abandon you,” says the Universe. “You abandoned me. You stopped listening to me, you started listening to what your friends and colleagues were telling you. You didn’t trust me anymore. I had to invent this “show” for you, and every time I tried to show it to you, you pushed it away. You ran off. You didn’t want to hear it.”

I can feel the breath of the enemy now on my face. Curiosity has replaced fear. An air of tenderness and familiarity arises between us. I raise my hand to softly caress its head, while it does the same.

In a moment we merge, then we are both cancelled, as if chalk from a chalkboard. I lose form, structure, and pain. I am more whole, less limited. Full and empty. Later, pleased by this new sense of freedom, I find myself grateful for this age-old battle, especially to all those consummate actors who played ach of their parts so well. I was totally convinced!

Shock and Roll

FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real

In Noemi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine, she talks about how the government will often induce a shock, or trauma, in order to maintain control over the population. Think of the Kennedy assassination, for example, or the Reichstag fire. The program goes like this: when people are confused and scared, they’re unable to make rational decisions. Thanks to this distraction, the government can jump in to introduce restrictive–and often illegal–legislation to reduce their freedoms, often in the name of “protecting” them.

I hope you discover one day that your mind has been using this same technique in order to control you all these years. Every time you get close to catching it lying to you, or hiding information from you in order to scare you (i.e. not seeing the car keys right in front of you when you’re late for work), begin to watch it very carefully. Your mind was created to predict possible future outcomes based on past occurrences, but whenever you tire of repeating past mistakes and want to find a New Way to Live, the mind finds very creative ways to keep his power over you by manufacturing crises.

This is presented brilliantly, in my opinion, in the movie Tangled, where a witch has kept Repunzel in a tower her entire life, stealing her healing energy and convincing her that she shouldn’t try to escape because all the bad people outside would simply use her for her powers.

But the outside hooligans don’t scare Repunzel. That’s the witch’s job!

Best be movin’ on

There’s a nice quote I read somewhere that says, “This is a temporary world. Don’t settle in, for you will soon be moving on.”

You can have everything you want here, really, but if you’re praying to God, He doesn’t want you to get stuck. Once you get saddled with attachments, His loving current doesn’t flow as well through you. You start to follow the Emotional Pull and not the Divine Pull. He’ll give you what you want, yes, but He eventually will be forced to take it away from you. He’ll have you kicked out of your company, or your family, or your house… It’s not anything you can prevent, either, because it’s just going to happen–as a favor to you (if you can believe it, though it doesn’t matter whether you do or not). I think the older souls already know this… they tend to favor experience over possessions.

So don’t get attached to your home, or your family, or your job, or anything, then it’s all smooth sailing. You’re just walking through. You have no pockets, no backpack, nothing to get here. You’re just having experiences.

Once you see it like that, life is just an easy flowin’ river.

Puny Humans!

They say you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.

Well, I’m not sure how it’s happening, but today I can clearly see that Human Willpower is really a weak, pathetic thing. It tries to exert control over the world through its suffering, through its screaming, its anger, its jealousy… all absurdly unattractive and non-functional games that somehow have managed to convince us that we control the entire universe by banging our fists.

Well, I might be able to bend someone to my will once or twice, but in the end it’s not practical. I will only harvest resentment and rebellion. What I need to be able to do is inspire them, and that takes a higher kind of willpower.

Dr. David R. Hawkins has written about this in his monumental book, Power vs. Force. At lower levels of consciousness you have to use force to get what you want (or manipulation), while at higher levels you can simply inspire others with your magnetism.

In comparison to the tiny worm of human willpower, the willpower that awaits us at higher levels is like a huge steamroller. Those old worm cries will hardly be heard above the colossal din.

MGTOW

There’s an interesting movement right now in America and Canada called MGTOW (pronounced Mìg-Tau), mostly in reaction to the 50-year-old feminist movement in those countries. It stands for “Men Go Their Own Way,” and is joined by men who see most women as egotistically-driven and not acting in the best interest of men or families. I’m generalizing here–and skipping over a lot of the particulars, which are multitudinous and quickly generating a blitzkrieg of content–but one of the arguments that attracts me is based on the belief that over the years men have tried to become what women wanted but have been unappreciated for their efforts. In the 70‘s, for example, women wanted men to be rebels, so they did. In the 80‘s they wanted party boys, so they did that. In the 90‘s they wanted sensitive men, and in the 00‘s good, stable fathers. So the men became sweeter and more domesticated, and again the women change their minds. Now they say they want bad boys.

Thanks to this confusion, the MGTOWs say, divorce rates continue to climb year after year: women simply don’t really know what they want in life, and that keeps the men guessing. And failing.

In short, the men are confused and no longer want to play the game of putting women at the center of their lives. They are starting to notice that after decades of continuous changing, chameleon-like, they have lost their rudders. What should a man do, they ask, if all of his money, his looks, his possessions, his hair, everything he does isn’t for the sole purpose of making a woman happy? Sadly, the MGTOW man finds that he has NO IDEA what he would do.

So he wants to take back his authority to decide What Is Of Value in life. I think this is highly commendable. Did you know that you, too, have this power?