May 31, 2015.
After two weeks of a sore throat and coughing, I suggested to Alison that some of my physical symptoms could be due to my ambivalence about staying in a body. She recommended writing down all the reasons for not wanting to stay around.
I began with my reasons for wanting to stay:
1) The opportunities offered to get more and more enjoyment and appreciation of the material world, to experience true joy;
2) The chance to continue becoming more openhearted and genuine; and
3) The possibility of finally beginning to give something of value back to the world.
My reasons for not wanting to stay:
1) It’s too hard to stay here with so little joy in my life, despite the fact that I am heaped with blessings and good fortune every day;
2) I get fed up with having to manage all the day-to-day business of living, even though, in actual fact, I have very little to do: some banking, managing our finances, keeping track of appointments, managing my body, making travel arrangements, and feeding my face. What the hell am I whining about?
Even though I have very little if anything to complain about, I’m generally dissatisfied with the life I have. It’s astonishing really. Probably 99% of the people on the planet would happily swap their life for mine. So what’s my problem? Why am I so unhappy with my life that there are times when I don’t want to be here and just want to be somewhere, anywhere, else? There’s still some residue of depression and dissatisfaction in me, a generalized feeling of malaise, and of fear of the future.
I’ve been listening to a series of Sounds True interviews with spiritual teachers about their awakening experiences. The strongest recurring theme I heard was that many of these teachers had spent extended periods of time in intense contemplation prior to their awakening experience. I interpreted this to mean that they’d done the hard work and enlightenment was their reward. Another key theme was the importance of the physical body in the whole human experience, as well as the importance of light. But that’s still not what resonated the loudest for me. What resonated loudest was the theme of discovering what unique gifts you have to offer the world. Not what you can get, but what you can give. In some ways this has always been my focus: how do I become one of the light-bearers of this world? How do I contribute to an increase in positive energy? I suppose that those of us on the planet who are pulled towards the light want to make a positive difference here: more light, more heart, more positive connections between people.
Some years ago I studied with a spiritual healer in England and learned how to clear the residue of many lives from my mental, physical and emotional bodies. The final part of the clearing involved doing a series of visualization exercises to clear all thirty-two chakras, or energy centres, of the body. By the end of that time I could see light pouring into me from above and out of my hands to the world, but I didn’t notice any changes in my thoughts or my behavior, or any general benefit to the world at large, so eventually I stopped doing the exercises. Maybe I was expecting miracles, while at the same time completely unable to recognize the ordinary everyday miracles that were happening around me all the time.
June 1, 2015
It came to me as I was hacking and coughing this morning that another reason for wanting to get off the planet is a fear of getting some debilitating illness and being poor and sick and just wanting to die. But all of that is a mind story, something the mind made up. The average life expectancy for a 72-year Canadian male is eighty-four years for non-drinkers and eighty-six years for men who consume no more than two drinks a day. So I can reasonably expect to live for another twelve years, and perhaps even longer.
My hope in these explorations is to lay the ghosts of the past, and all the mind stories about why I’m sick and tired of being here, and get to a place where I have a clear and strong YES to life. Always lurking along the edges of consciousness like crocodiles ready to snap is the fear of being old and poor, of running out of all of our savings long before I’m ready to go, and long before God calls me home. It’s much easier to be old, so the mind story goes, if you have plenty of money.
Before it slips away again I want to come back to another theme, the theme of being of service, of feeling that I have something to contribute, other than occasional donations of cash to charitable organizations. This is another area that the mind can get some traction: if I don’t see myself as contributing in some way to the good of the planet then the mind comes in and tells me that I’m a waste of space, a waste of skin, of no value, and that I might, therefore, just as well leave. So my three top reasons for leaving sooner rather than later are being poor, sick and useless.
So how well do these mind stories map onto my life? We still have plenty of money, thanks to brilliant investing by our financial advisor, I’ve been sick recently with throat and chest infections, but I’m getting better and should soon be well again, and, as far as I can tell, my best contribution to life continues to be my personal example of living a life that is interesting, at times exciting, and always enlivening: an example of a life well lived by a man in his seventies. There’s also my contribution to supporting Alison in the production of the blog. But now there’s another crocodile sliding along just below the surface of consciousness, another negative idea lurking. What is that? I’ll have to leave it for now, because I can’t get it to surface.
What if I’m enough just as I am? What if my contribution to the wellbeing of the planet IS enough? What if nothing more is expected of me than what I’m already doing? Now that’s a more positive perspective and a reason to continue living.
We never know when our time is up, but to continue making up and believing mind stories about all the reasons not to be here is debilitating. It sucks all the joy out of life, and without some joy life gets to feel pretty stale and to seem like a grind: hard work and pointless. So what I need to do, in addition to giving my head a good shake from time to time to dislodge the false beliefs that keep me stuck in negativity, is to hold in the forefront of my mind all the positive reasons for remaining on the planet: as an example of a life lived to the fullest, as a support for my partner, and to experience the joy that comes from living the life my heart wants me to live.
At this moment I feel like I’m wading through dark treacle: the old beliefs are dark and sticky. But I get the sense that addressing them head-on will help to clear them and provide me with a more positive outlook on life. It’s something that I need to do anyway – cut away the weeds and remove the crocodiles that still lurk in the water so that I can have a clear view of the truth of my being. What’s the point of living an interesting and exciting life if it doesn’t enliven me?
George Herbert wrote that living well is the best revenge. Well I’m definitely living well even if there are times when I don’t appreciate that fact and don’t express my gratitude for the astonishingly good life I’ve been given in my later years. Now all I need to do is to keep appreciating what I’ve been given. Oh, another negative idea just surfaced: that I have to find a way to create more wealth so that we can travel more comfortably than we’ve been doing, such as flying Business Class instead of Coach. So here is another underlying feeling that I’m not doing anything useful: this time it’s that I’m not doing anything to create more wealth, to create more income.
At last the hidden crocodile that I mentioned earlier has slithered up into consciousness and I’ve finally been able to grab it! It’s an eight-metre long passive-aggressive crocodile that tells me that to feel joy is to give something of myself away to others who don’t deserve it. The way in which I would refuse to let my mother see that I was enjoying myself, because that would have given her some joy too, and she really didn’t deserve any. I’m not surprised, having finally seen this particular crocodile, that I’ve been reluctant to grab a hold of it because it does not show me in a good light. This is the coldblooded meanness in me, the selfishness, the pettiness; the part of me that doesn’t want to share the wealth, to share my joy with others because they’ve done nothing to earn it. Ugh, I feel like a cartoon cat that has just barfed up a huge fur ball. Now that I’ve seen this ugly old croc I can begin to do something to change that old ingrained pattern of behaviour. This is one of the great values of writing down whatever comes into consciousness: eventually something useful surfaces.
Having discovered some of the old crocodiles that lurked just below the level of consciousness, and having discovered some positive reasons to stay around for a few more years, the possibility of true joy arises, and of sharing that joy with others. Perhaps I’m not so useless after all.
Photo of the day: A riot of irises, Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver, Canada
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.