My last post on Peace, Love and Understanding concluded as follows:
"We can't force the world to change around us, so the place to start is within.
Sigh... It sounds like a lot of work, but I can't think of anything more important in the world today."
The idea that loving others is developed through our capacity to love ourselves seems like hard work. Truly, learning to unconditionally love ourselves may be the hardest thing we ever do. But what if it wasn't serious at least?
I was invited recently to reflect on a voice in my head that I want to take less seriously. In fact, this inquiry is coming at me from lots of angles these days, and I'm excited to share them all with you.
First I'll say that I love the question. I'm grateful to be released from the burden of trying to destroy the voices I don't want to accept, and it is illuminating to learn that I can't destroy the parts of myself that I don't like. It's just not possible. It also feels nice to be allowed to just laugh a bit at them. After all I really am into the idea of holding things lightly.
The voice that I immediately knew to take less seriously is the one that keeps asking, Am I doing this right? Is this what I'm supposed to be doing? This voice wants me to doubt my career, my relationships, my hobbies, my recreational time, the food I eat and the hours I sleep. It's a voice that is always there, eager to remind me that I'm not doing it (life) good enough, that I must endlessly try harder, that I should stop dreaming and that I better "get with the program," whatever that is.
I giggle a bit at the questions and assertions of this voice. I am, after all, increasingly convinced that there is no one right way to be. I'm quite sure that nothing is supposed to happen. I believe that life is a dynamic evolving event unfolding in an infinite universe. It seems that trying to put the elements of ourselves, of life, into a boxes that are neatly labeled with tags that read "good" or "bad" or "right" or "wrong" or "normal" or "weird" or "loveable" or "to be hated" or "serious" or "frivolous" is a fool's errand, misguided and impossible.
And the lesson comes again...
I recently rediscovered in Beyond Theology Alan Watts' assertion that his favorite metaphysical questions are based on everyday questions: "Who do you think you are? Who started this? Where are we going? Where are we going to put it? Who's going to clean up? Where do I come in? Where am I? What's up? Who's who? Do you mean it? Where do we get off? Are you there? But there seems to be one that must be asked right at the beginning, Is it serious?" (emphasis added)
Right! Is it serious? How did we get that idea? If we look at the unbridled opulence of the world around us, flowers blooming, stars exploding, multiple orgasms and more music than we could ever hear, it becomes clear that this life thing isn't a wholly serious endeavor. Furthermore, it is often true that our choices to take take life seriously tend to be the cause of our suffering, whether it be addiction, abuse, or warfare. And these things are super serious, and we need to do something about them. And it's a desperate situation. It seems like I need to take the serious problems seriously, and I especially need to get serious with myself so I can do more, get into gear, and make some things happen. (deep breath)
So what gives?
One framing I heard recently invited me to consider the part of myself that I'm struggling with as a beautiful monster. This beautiful monster lives inside of me and always will. The trick is that if I hate it or try to suppress it, it merely finds another way to assert itself. It feels wounded and It grows even stronger and more viscous. Like a rescue dog, the only way to heal it is to see it, be patient and embrace it. This is like the shadow work of jungian psychology. Learning to be with my beautiful monsters is where my spiritual journey lies. That's the lifetime project I've been given. I can't suppress or oppress my shadow out of existence. I need to show that I can have compassion for it, that I understand why it's there and appreciate that it cares for me (in its own crazy way).
There is a line from a song by East Forest that I feel is relevant here, "I didn't transcend my ego. We became partners. We became teammates." I've included the song's video at the end of this post.
It is often easier for me to love the differences and the hard things in others. That's why I do the work I do. But I keep learning that I'm most effective when I can turn that same love back at myself.
Here is the work that I'm choosing to face is more diligence and less seriousness: as I strive to be a positive influence in the world, I am also learning that my flaws are not something to fix, they are something to embrace. I'm learning to laugh with my monsters, appreciating their familiarity, and I'm learning to soften the "Oh shit! Not this again!" reaction.
I'm asking "What would it take to accept myself just as I am?" "What would it look like if I could love and care for myself in the same way I do for others?" Or even, "What would it take for me to treat my others and myself as I would treat the ones I love."
In all of this, I keep coming back to the importance of considering the motivation behind my actions and reactions. I believe that the quality we approach the questions of life directly affects the quality of how we experience them and the quality of the outcome.
With that in mind, this is the question I want to keep asking: Is the goal of this situation to encourage happiness and prosperity for myself and others? or Is the motivation here simply to not "fail" the very serious and terrifying test of life?
When I work with a motivation of love the outcome always seems to be better than when I work from a place fear.
If you want to reflect further on the value of taking life less seriously, I highly recommend this excerpt from Daniele Bolelli's course on Taoism entitled "The Tao is the Shit."
Also please enjoy this song by East Forest, entitled "Grandmothersphere." The lyrics really speak to some of the questions and thoughts that I discuss above. It comes from the album Love Bomb, which is beautiful across the board.