The Poor Me Manual

The Poor Me Manual

The Poor Me Manual – Perfecting Self-Pity—My Own Story

Hunter Lewis
Axios Press
Hunter Lewis’s newest title, The “Poor Me” Manual: Perfecting Self-Pity—My Own Story is a tongue-in-cheek look at emotions. There is method in this madness.

The author in earlier books developed a unique theory of emotions and the reader will learn a great deal about which emotional strategies work and which don’t. Included is a guide to 20 different ways people get off the track emotionally.

The chapters lead you through the mysterious author’s 20 different phases, exhausting every imaginable kind of neurotic behavior.

The author finally asks “Do I Want to Be Happy?”—and the voice of the neurotic author answers emphatically, “No!”

This is fun reading as well as an interesting new approach explaining how people make mistakes with their lives and how they can reassess.

the poor me manual

Hunter Lewis, co-founder of global investment firm Cambridge Associates, has written nine books on moral philosophy, psychology, and economics, including the widely acclaimed Are the Rich Necessary? (“Highly provocative and highly pleasurable.”—New York Times). He has contributed to the New York Times, the Times of London, the Washington Post, and the Atlantic Monthly, as well as numerous websites such as forbes.com and realclearmarkets.com. He has served on boards and committees of fifteen leading not-for-profit organizations, including environmental, teaching, research, cultural, and global development organizations.

Excerpt

Introduction

Perfecting self-pity is an unusual goal. But then I am an unusual person. Very occasionally unusual people attract followers. They change the way the world sees things, the way the world works. I am under no illusions that this book will find readers, or that if it does, anyone will want to follow my example. Perhaps at least some people will enjoy reading my story, regardless of whether it persuades them of anything.

As any reader will shortly learn, I have not always been of the same mind about almost anything. When young, I planned to be a stupendous, world-historical success. When all my hopes came crashing down in ruin, I explored other pathways.

My life has been rich in incident. When the French philosopher Montaigne heard a man say that he was a pathetic failure, he responded: “Have you not lived? Is that not the purpose of life?” This is not an exact quote, but Montaigne and I agree. I have lived. Indeed I may say that I have had an extraordinary life of exploration and discovery. If it was not successful by the world’s standards, did it not give me this opportunity to nourish and perfect self-pity, and to share my accumulated insights with others?

Some will doubtless object that self-pity is too private a pleasure, or too selfish, or not robust enough. I may even be reviled like that poor fellow Machiavelli, whose only fault was describing people as they are, not as they pretend to be. The world rewarded him by making his first name, Nick, synonymous with the devil, and his last name with untrustworthy behavior. If I am not misunderstood or reviled, my position will strike most people as odd. Well, even I did not appreciate the dignity and truthfulness of self-pity until I was well into middle age.

Before proceeding with my life, which speaks for itself, let me note that if some readers see their way to sponsor pity parties, in order to promote this book, I would consider it a very thoughtful gesture.

Herewith my life in four acts, so to speak, with a concluding postlude.

______

From: The Green Years

I was young. I was ambitious. It wasn’t just that I wanted to succeed. I had to succeed. It was a “must” situation. I couldn’t be happy for a moment otherwise. Of course, one isn’t supposed to admit this kind of thing. But why not? That’s how I felt. Why pretend otherwise now?

1. My “Gamesman” Phase

I knew from observation that life is a game. There was no mystery about it. The object of the game is to outsmart and out-maneuver other people in order to win. Winning will get you whatever it is you want. What you should want is money, power, sex, fame, looking good, staying healthy. But above all, the real key is that you need to impress people.

As important as people are, you need to avoid being friends with them. Make them think they’re your friend, sure. Get them to help you. But don’t worry about loyalty and especially don’t worry about keeping your promises. You have to sound sincere; that’s basic. But so long as you sound sincere when you make commitments, that’s enough. Time will pass and you can always deny whatever it is you said. Get whatever you can out of other people and move on.

Alas, this approach did not work out as well as I expected. Through a real stroke of luck, my first college roommate was some kind of computer genius. He liked me and asked me to become his partner in selling the software he was developing. Then an unexpected systems server bill popped up. I would have had to help pay it from my allowance, and I promptly denied that we had ever agreed to be partners. My roommate moved out and on, became a multimillionaire in a few years, and all I had were the “might-have-beens” along with a lesson in the limitations of “gaming” my way through life.

2. My “Prince” Phase

I decided to take a different tack. Had I been born royalty, people would rush to do my bidding. Why not act as if I were royalty and make it clear that I expected to be waited upon, that whatever I wanted, I got?

I wouldn’t be blatant about it. I would try my best to appear innocent, even charming. I was especially inspired by reading an essay describing Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of a famous illustrated little book named—what else?—The Little Prince. Here’s an excerpt:

[Exupery was] a starry-eyed innocent [who] worked from midnight to seven in the morning and thought nothing of summoning his guests at any time to show off a drawing of which he was particularly proud. . . . [Nor did he] hesitate to awaken his wife and the whole household, at two in the morning, to say that he was hungry, in dire need of a plate of scrambled eggs. In another two hours [he might call up the stairs] demand[ing] that his wife come down [to play] chess.*

*Stacey Schiff, “A Grounded Soul: Saint-Exupery in New York,” New York Times Book Review, (May 30, 1993): 15.

I wasn’t married yet, but tried the same technique on my girlfriend. It did not go smoothly. That put me in a very bad mood. The next day a friend refused to lend me money. Then, later that same day, I was bumped from an overfull airplane flight, despite having bought a ticket and traveled all the way to the airport. I demanded to be put on the plane, but the attendant wasn’t buying it. I had to admit: Saint-Exupery I wasn’t.

31 days of inspiration

A Beach Less Travelled

A Beach Less Travelled

A Beach Less Traveled

From Corporate Chaos to Flip-Flop Perfumer
John Berglund
Greenleaf Book Group
Emerald Book Co.
A memoir of a man whose love of fragrances led him and his wife from the corporate rat race to life as entrepreneurs in the French Caribbean.

Can a happily married American couple successfully abandon their careers—along with their handsome salaries and benefits packages—to open a perfumery and create their own custom lines of fragrances in the French Caribbean? That was John Berglund’s vision, and A Beach Less Traveled is the remarkable story of how he made it happen.

What originated in a family trip to the beach eventually became an unlikely but thriving business based on Berglund’s lifelong fascination with perfume. Though he chose a career in law, his passion lay in the chemistry sets of his youth. Berglund eventually built a full-fledged lab in his basement in Atlanta, where he spent countless hours of free time experimenting with new concoctions. When he had the dream of opening a perfumery in a tranquil island paradise, he set out to make it happen—no matter what.

Berglund’s account of his Caribbean adventure is a fun-filled factual tale of conflicts, contrasts, and celebration. As he and his wife embed themselves in an eccentric community on the island of Saint Martin, they learn incredible lessons about business, success, and themselves. Their story may just inspire you to follow in their footsteps and ditch the business casual attire for a pair of shorts and flip-flops.
a beach less travelled

“Every day my wife and I go out and pick the amazing fresh fruit that grows right in our backyard: coconuts, bananas, limes, papayas, pomegranates, and star fruit have become a part of our daily diets.”

This is a very inspirational book – telling us that with imagination and courage, it’s never too late to create the life you want to.

Check out A Beach Less Traveled on Amazon

31 days of inspiration

You’re Going to Be Okay

You’re Going to Be Okay

You’re Going to Be Okay: Encouraging Truth Your Heart Needs to Hear, Especially on the Hard Days

Holley Gerth
Published February 4th 2014 by Fleming H. Revell Company

Sometimes it feels like life’s falling apart at the seams. Sometimes you’re completely worn out by stresses that never seem to end. For every woman who has been disappointed, who has watched a dream die, whose life isn’t what she imagined it would be, bestselling author Holley Gerth has a heartfelt message of hope–you really “are” going to be okay. And it “is” possible to live with joy, resilience, and strength in both the good times and the bad. In fact, she says, that’s what God desires for us.

With her trademark positive encouragement and probing questions for self-reflection, Holley encourages women to spend less of their lives regretting and more of their lives truly living. She shows them how to guard their hearts against despair and look to the future with confidence, remembering that they are part of a greater plan and “nothing “can stop God’s purposes for them.

you're going to be okay

Holley Gerth is a bestselling writer, certified life coach, and speaker. She loves connecting with the hearts of women through her popular blog and books like You’re Already Amazing, You’re Made for a God-Sized Dream, and Opening the Door to Your God-Sized Dream. She’s also cofounder of (in)courage and a partner with DaySpring. Holley lives with her husband, Mark, in the South. Hang out with her at www.holleygerth.com.

Excerpt

THE SECRET TO LIVING WELL

A little over a year ago, my grandpa had a ninetieth birthday party. I had the privilege of being there and serving punch. That put me in a position to do a lot of listening. Over fifty people packed into his house, and each one came with a story.

“I was in your grandpa’s Sunday school class forty years ago.”

“I used to shop in your grandpa’s bookstore, and he always encouraged me.”

“I’m in the Gideons with your grandpa. We’ve been friends for decades!”

“I go to your grandpa’s church, and he hugs me every Sunday.”

“I’m your grandpa’s neighbor, and he makes me laugh whenever I see him.”

On and on the stories went of how my grandpa has spent his life loving well, in little and big ways. I nodded my head in agreement because I’ve experienced the same. For over fifteen years now, my grandpa has taken me out on breakfast dates to ask me how I’m doing and encourage me in my faith.

My grandpa never went to Hollywood. He’s not a CEO of a big corporation or a high-position politician. He’s a regular guy in a small town who simply says yes when God asks to use him.

It turns out that doing so is not only a blessing to those around him; it’s also probably one of the reasons he’s lived so long.

Research has shown that those who have strong relationships and serve others tend to live healthier, more joyful lives.

When we go through stress, it’s easy to hunker down and withdraw from others. I certainly tend to respond that way. If I’m having a hard day, I’m more likely to sit on the corner of the couch with some chocolate for a private pity party than to reach out to those around me. I’m slowly learning that choice isn’t beneficial.

We are made to connect with others.

Daniel Goleman, author of Social Intelligence, says, “Our brain has been preset for kindness.”[i] He goes on to share that we are always impacted by those around us. Through brain “loops” we catch each other’s moods like colds. Watch two friends having an intimate conversation. Their body language almost always synchronizes without them even realizing it. What this ultimately means is that when we bring joy to others, it comes back to us in both spiritual and physical ways.

When we’re stressed, we need to shift our internal state, and serving others can be one of the most effective ways to do so.

Ironically, when we need it most is often when we’re likely to do this least. That can be due to lower energy (and sometimes what we really do need is simply rest). But I think it can also be because of a lie that we believe: “I have to have it all together before I can help someone else.”

Have you ever felt this way? I have. But it’s simply not true. Throughout Scripture God uses messy, broken people right in the middle of their greatest challenges. We don’t need to have it all together. Wherever we are today, we can serve in some way. Even if it’s just offering a smile to the nurse in our hospital room. Or making our toddler giggle when we’re almost at the end of our patience. Or listening to a friend at church on Sunday morning when we’d really like to get home to our house and the couch instead.

What I’ve seen through my grandpa’s life is that true service isn’t about grand gestures; it’s about a series of small choices.

Most of them unseen. Many we won’t know the impact of this side of heaven. All of which add up to a lifetime of resilience and loving well.

31 days of inspiration

Digging Deep

Digging Deep

Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening
Updated 10th Anniversary Edition
By Fran Sorin
Braided World Publishing
ISBN-13: 978-0990791928 (Softcover)

Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening is a powerfully uplifting and transformative self-help book for the creatively and spiritually challenged.

Overflowing with tips, exercises, and resources, the updated 10th Anniversary Edition of Digging Deep is even more vital in today’s technology obsessed culture than when first published. Fran shares the lessons she’s learned from gardening over the past thirty years to guide you in unearthing the innate creativity and joy of your own true nature.

If you’re yearning to get out of the rut you’re in and cultivate more meaning and connection in life, Digging Deep offers encouragement and the tools to make it happen. The 7 Stages of Creative Awakening will take you through the steps of removing the stifling inner voice that says, “I’m not creative,” and replacing it with strategies that will help you harness your instincts, ignite your imagination, open to new possibilities, take more risks, engage in play every day, create the garden of your dreams, and develop a deep connection with nature. The result? A life filled with creativity, joy, and well-being that’s a reflection of your most authentic, artistic self.

If you’re ready to discover the magic in your garden and in yourself, this book is for you!

digging deep

Fran Sorin is the author of the original and recently updated 10th Anniversary Edition of Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, a book inspired by her thirty years of playing and working in the garden. Fran a graduate of The University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, is also a recognized garden expert, deep ecologist, ordained interfaith minister, soul tending coach and CBS Radio news contributor.

fran sorin

Fran lives with a gaggle of dogs, 2 rooftop gardens, and is surrounded by family and the loving presence of nature and spirit. She loves rowing, is a cinephile, and can be found playing, laughing, connecting, working hard (and loving it), and creating wherever she is. She feels that every day should be filled with creativity, connection, play, kindness, and generosity. For her, these are the cornerstones of what constitute a joyful and meaningful life.

Connect with Fran on her website, Facebook and Twitter.

Excerpt – You can read an excerpt from Digging Deep on Vidya Sury’s blog here.

My review

[rating=4]

Fran’s style of writing is easy and engaging and yet has such a depth to it that made Digging Deep it such a wonderful reading experience. I savoured the book,  loved reading about all her experiences and quietly bookmarked tips to follow later.

Given my own recent interest in gardening, Fran’s book couldn’t have come to me at a better time in my life. I have been exploring my own creativity online and attempting to get my hands dirty offline, but still have a long way to go before the two worlds combine. Digging Deep is certainly going to help me do something I have been consciously working at – to bring these two worlds together.

This is one book I will be re-reading soon!

31 days of inspiration

 

 

Mindful Interrupters

Mindful Interrupters

Who wants to be interrupted when you’re doing something? I certainly don’t – unless the ‘something’ is an unpleasant task! But we are interrupted and these forced breaks in our work and thoughts are annoying. They cause us to lose our train of thought, require us to redo something we’ve started or just give up something mid-way!

But what if the interruptions went something like this:

  • Don’t start the day with email. Instead, take a moment to reflect. How would you like the day to go? Breathe in. Breathe out. Go
  • Just mumbling goodbye as you chew toast and run out the door? Stop a sec. Collect yourself. Wish your sweetheart well.
  • Eating lunch? Just eat lunch. No devices, no multitasking. Then return to what you were doing.

These are samples of Mindful Interrupters I signed up to receive from Mindful.org. You can read more about them here and sign up for them too.

Mindful Interrupters

I’m often so caught up with what I am doing that I lose perspective. The tasks may be mundane. It could be something like checking up all the plugins on my blog. Important, no doubt, but not more important than home and family. Certainly not more important than my health and well-being. It’s at times like this that I need a mindful interrupter – a brief moment to focus on what really matters.

This morning as I walked Pablo, I came across my favorite flowers strewn on the path. While the walk itself is a pleasant activity, I’m often sleepy or concerned with the day ahead. The frangipani acted as a perfectly mindful interrupter. I just had to pick up two flowers and bring them home with me. I put them on my laptop to remind me to focus on why I write.

 

Mindful Interrupters

We all need mindful interrupters and need to be open to see them when they come our way. I think a pain in my shoulder when I’m sitting too long at the computer is my body’s way of reminding me that I need to take a break and stretch!

What’s a recent mindful interrupter you have received?

31 days of inspiration

The Greatest Love Of All

The Greatest Love Of All

The Greatest Love All

Gently she lifted the old typewriter from the shelf and placed it on the table near the window. The Remington was like an old friend, long forgotten. Was it really a year since she had used it? Yes, it was.

 

She recalled the very last letter she typed out to him – her goodbye letter, telling him she could no longer bear to be an also-ran in his life. For two years before that, she had typed out a letter to him every day. Now she wondered whether he had really bothered to read those letters. Everyday she had written of her hopes, her love and her dreams for them…..

When he didn’t bother to respond to her goodbye letter, her already broken heart, just gave up. She had no will to write again. The Remington was put away – another reminder of unrequited love.

But today, it was time to start typing letters again. Inserting a rough sheet of paper into the roller, she tentatively typed: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. She repeated this line several times, until she got her typing rhythm back.

She was inspired. She was falling in love again and she just had to express her love. Taking off the rough sheet, she placed a sheet of that lovely thick letter paper she had bought the day before. Smiling to herself, she began typing her love letter: Dear Me.

“The most powerful relationship you will ever have is the relationship with yourself.” ― Steve Maraboli

 

 

the greatest love of all

31 days of inspiration

20 Quotes To Empower You To Let Go

20 Quotes To Empower You To Let Go

The past has a nasty way of intruding into our present, doesn’t it? Be it in the form of mistakes we’ve made, people we’ve hurt, pain we’ve suffered, broken relationships or just bad circumstances, the past seems to hold us. Letting this baggage go takes work. But it is work we must do if we are to make any sense and meaning in our lives.

Today I’m sharing with you

20 Quotes To Empower You To Let Go

quotes to empower you to let go

“Pain will leave you, when you let go” ― Jeremy Aldana

“Letting go means to come to the realization that some people are a part of your history, but not a part of your destiny.” ― Steve Maraboli

“Sometimes the hardest part isn’t letting go but rather learning to start over.” ― Nicole Sobon, Program 13

“The day I understood everything, was the day I stopped trying to figure everything out. The day I knew peace was the day I let everything go.” ― C. JoyBell C.

“Today expect something good to happen to you no matter what occurred yesterday. Realize the past no longer holds you captive. It can only continue to hurt you if you hold on to it. Let the past go. A simply abundant world awaits.” ― Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy

Thank God I found the GOOD in goodbye” ― Beyoncé Knowles

Closing cycles. Not because of pride, incapacity or arrogance, but simply because that no longer fits your life. Shut the door, change the record, clean the house, shake off the dust. Stop being who you were, and change into who you are.” ― Paulo Coelho

“Don’t hang onto anything too tightly – all things must change and you have to allow room for them to grow and blossom.” ― Rachael Bermingham

 

“To get over the past, you first have to accept that the past is over. No matter how many times you revisit it, analyze it, regret it, or sweat it…it’s over. It can hurt you no more.” ― Mandy Hale, The Single Woman: Life, Love, and a Dash of Sass

 

…when you let go of your expectations, when you accept life as it is, you’re free.To hold on is to be serious and uptight. To let go is to lighten up.” ― Richard Carlson, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

“Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember nothing stays the same for long, not even pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.” ― May Sarton

“Letting yesterday affect today will only destroy the excitement of tomorrow.” ― Michelle Cruz-Rosado

“No matter what, we have to keep moving forward, even if we have to crawl.” ― Kellie Elmore

 

“But there’s a whole world waiting, still, and there are good things in it.” ― Lois Lowry, A Summer to Die

 

“Sometimes letting go is the hardest thing imaginable, yet holding on is even harder.” ― Toni Sorenson

“Sometimes I think there are only two instructions we need to follow to develop and deepen our spiritual life: slow down and let go.” ― Oriah Mountain Dreamer

“Life is meant to be remarkable. . let go and let it be!” ― Heidi Reagan

 

 

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31 days of inspiration

Living Beautifully With Uncertainty And Change

Living Beautifully With Uncertainty And Change

Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change

This is the first of Pema Chödrön’s books that I’ve read although I’ve heard about her for a long time.

living beautifully with uncertainity and change

Book Description

Is it possible to live well when the very ground we stand on is shaky? Yes, says everyone’s favorite Buddhist nun, it’s even possible to live beautifully, compassionately, and happily on shaky ground—and the secret is: the ground is always shaky. Pema shows how using a traditional Buddhist practice called the Three Vows or Three Commitments is a way to relax into profound sanity in the midst of whatever non-sanity is happening around us. Just making these simple aspirations can change the way we look at the world and can provide us with a lifetime of material for spiritual practice.

The three commitments are three methods for embracing the chaotic, uncertain, dynamic, challenging nature of our situation as a path to awakening. The first of the commitments, traditionally called the Pratimoksha Vow, is the foundation for personal liberation. This is a commitment to doing our best to not cause harm with our actions or words or thoughts, a commitment to being good to each other. It provides a structure within which we learn to work with our thoughts and emotions, and to refrain from speaking or acting out of confusion. The next step toward being comfortable with groundlessness is a commitment to helping others, traditionally called the Bodhisattva Vow. It is a commitment to dedicate our lives to keeping our hearts and minds open, and nurturing our compassion with the longing to ease the suffering of the world. The last of the three commitments, traditionally known as the Samaya Vow, is a resolve to embrace the world just as it is, without bias; a resolve to see everything we encounter, good and bad, pleasant and painful, as a manifestation of awakened energy. It is a commitment to see everything and anything as a means by which we can awaken further.

Excerpt

The Fundamental Ambiguity of Being Human

“Life is like stepping into a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink.”
—Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

As human beings we share a tendency to scramble for certainty whenever we realize that everything around us is in flux. In difficult times the stress of trying to find solid ground—something predictable and safe to stand on—seems to intensify. But in truth, the very nature of our existence is forever in flux. Everything keeps changing, whether we’re aware of it or not.

What a predicament! We seem doomed to suffer simply because we have a deep-seated fear of how things really are. Our attempts to find lasting pleasure, lasting security, are at odds with the fact that we’re part of a dynamic system in which everything and everyone is in process.

So this is where we find ourselves: right in the middle of a dilemma. And it leaves us with some provocative questions: How can we live wholeheartedly in the face of impermanence, knowing that one day we’re going to die? What is it like to realize we can never completely and finally get it all together? Is it possible to increase our tolerance for instability and change? How can we make friends with unpredictability and uncertainty—and embrace them as vehicles to transform our lives?

The Buddha called impermanence one of the three distinguishing marks of our existence, an incontrovertible fact of life. But it’s something we seem to resist pretty strongly. We think that if only we did this or didn’t do that, somehow we could achieve a secure, dependable, controllable life. How disappointed we are when things don’t work out quite the way we planned.

Not long ago, I read an interview with the war correspondent Chris Hedges in which he used a phrase that seemed like a perfect description of our situation: “the moral ambiguity of human existence.” This refers, I think, to an essential choice that confronts us all: whether to cling to the false security of our fixed ideas and tribal views, even though they bring us only momentary satisfaction, or to overcome our fear and make the leap to living an authentic life. That phrase, “the moral ambiguity of human existence,” resonated strongly with me because it’s what I’ve been exploring for years: How can we relax and have a genuine, passionate relationship with the fundamental uncertainty, the groundlessness of being human?

My first teacher, ChögyamTrungpa, used to talk about the fundamental anxiety of being human. This anxiety or queasiness in the face of impermanence isn’t something that afflicts just a few of us; it’s an all-pervasive state that human beings share. But rather than being disheartened by the ambiguity, the uncertainty of life, what if we accepted it and relaxed into it? What if we said, “Yes, this is the way it is; this is what it means to be human,” and decided to sit down and enjoy the ride?

Happily, the Buddha gave many instructions on how to do just this. Among these instructions are what are known in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition as the Three Vows, or Three Commitments. These are three methods for embracing the chaotic, unstable, dynamic, challenging nature of our situation as a path to awakening. The first of the commitments, tradition¬ally called the Pratimoksha Vow, is the foundation for personal liberation. This is a commitment to doing our best to not cause harm with our actions or words or thoughts, a commitment to being good to each other. It provides a structure within which we learn to work with our thoughts and emotions and to refrain from speaking or acting out of confusion. The next step toward being comfortable with groundlessness is a commitment to helping others. Traditionally called the Bodhisattva Vow, it is a commitment to dedicate our lives to keeping our hearts and minds open and to nurturing our compassion with the longing to ease the suffering of the world. The last of the Three Commitments, traditionally known as the Samaya Vow, is a resolve to embrace the world just as it is, without bias. It is a commitment to see everything we encounter, good and bad, pleasant and painful, as a manifestation of awakened energy. It is a commitment to see anything and everything as a means by which we can awaken further.

But what does the fundamental ambiguity of being human mean in terms of day-to-day life? Above all, it means understanding that everything changes. As Shantideva, an eighth-century Buddhist master, wrote in The Way of the

Bodhisattva:
All that I possess and use
Is like the fleeting vision of a dream.
It fades into the realms of memory;
And fading, will be seen no more.

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, the ground is always shifting. Nothing lasts, including us. There are prob¬ably very few people who, at any given time, are consumed with the idea “I’m going to die,” but there is plenty of evidence that this thought, this fear, haunts us constantly. “I, too, am a brief and passing thing,” observed Shantideva.

So what does it feel like to be human in this ambiguous, groundless state? For one thing, we grab at pleasure and try to avoid pain, but despite our efforts, we’re always alternating between the two. Under the illusion that experiencing constant security and well-being is the ideal state, we do all sorts of things to try to achieve it: eat, drink, drug, work too hard, spend hours online or watching TV. But somehow we never quite achieve the state of unwavering satisfaction we’re seeking. At times we feel good: physically nothing hurts and mentally all’s well. Then it changes, and we’re hit with physical pain or mental anguish. I imagine it would even be possible to chart how pleasure and pain alternate in our lives, hour by hour, day after day, year in and year out, first one and then the other predominating.

But it’s not impermanence per se, or even knowing we’re going to die, that is the cause of our suffering, the Buddha taught. Rather, it’s our resistance to the fundamental uncertainty of our situation. Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet, to realize our dream of constant okayness. When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment, or awakening to our true nature, to our fundamental goodness. Another word for this is freedom—freedom from struggling against the fundamental ambiguity of being human.

What the fundamental ambiguity of being human points to is that as much as we want to, we can never say, “This is the only true way. This is how it is. End of discussion.” In his interview, Chris Hedges also talked about the pain that ensues when a group or religion insists that its view is the one true view. As individuals we, too, have plenty of fundamentalist tendencies. We use them to comfort ourselves. We grab on to a position or belief as a way of neatly explaining reality, unwilling to tolerate the uncertainty and discomfort of staying open to other possibilities. We cling to that position as our personal platform and become very dogmatic about it.

The root of these fundamentalist tendencies, these dogmatic tendencies, is a fixed identity—a fixed view we have of ourselves as good or bad, worthy or unworthy, this or that. With a fixed identity, we have to busy ourselves with trying to rearrange reality, because reality doesn’t always conform to our view.

When I first came to Gampo Abbey, I thought of myself as a likable, flexible, openhearted, open-minded person. Part of that was true, but there was another part that wasn’t. For one thing, I was a terrible director. The other residents felt disempowered by me. They pointed out my shortcomings, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying because my fixed identity was so strong. Every time new people came to live at the abbey, I got the same kind of negative feedback, but still I didn’t hear it. This went on for a few years. Then one day, as if they had all gotten together and staged an intervention, I finally heard what everyone had been telling me about how my behavior was affecting them. At last, the message got through.

From Living Beautifully, by Pema Chödrön published by www.shambhala.com.

My review: 4/5

The book spoke to me very deeply and re-affirmed my conviction that awareness can create change. I liked the practices that were shared. For example, tonglen – the practice of breathing in the pain of oneself and others and breathing out compassion and relief. The personal examples that Pema inserted made the book so much more readable.

Most of all the book is an encouragment to live life with compassion towards oneself and others.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

31 days of inspiration