Love Life and it will love you back
As the heart breaks open we discover a new meaning to ‘right relationship’.
In the eightfold path of Buddhism: right understanding, right attitude, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration are the way to end suffering.
The path could be summed up as being in ‘right relationship’ to self and others. In my twenties, ‘right relationship’ looked to be an instruction. I duly set about striving to be a good person and came up short, again and again.
These days right relationship looks different. It looks less about ‘working at’ being a good person and more about a deeper listening to our internal guidance system. When our hearts are touched, our minds begin to quieten. As we realise there is a deeper experience of being, we begin to tune in more and more to the nudges we get all day, every day. Nudges towards nourishing ourselves on every level: spiritual, emotional, physical and material.
As we nourish ourselves we naturally come into right relationship with others.
All others. Humans, animals, plants and land
I used to experience manic episodes followed by sabotaging rage and soul sapping depression. The adrenalised energy of the highs was captivating. I felt like superwoman. A special being that didn’t need sleep. I was frantically active in those periods, believing I could fly like this for ever. And I was terrified of the lows.
Inevitably I would crash. In a fast downward spiral I would feel as if I was wading through treacle, my confidence seemed to drain away and my mind became a heavy fog.
Just recently I have come to see this in a different way.
In those manic highs, I was as disconnected from myself and others as in the lows. I didn’t recognise any signals of exhaustion until it was too late. The belief that those highs were desirable because I felt invincible, over-rode the need for rest (mentally and physically). The adrenalin buzz of the highs was how I wanted to live. Innocently I was unaware of the possibility of a place of quiet creativity and peace.
I see too, the kindness of the lows when they came. A nervous system so highly strung, I was probably a good candidate for a heart attack. Yet the body mind system rescued me, turning my head to mush, effectively switching off cognitive function, over-riding my own spinning thought system which said more, more, more.
Don’t get me wrong, I suffered deeply (as did those around me) in those low times but mostly the suffering came from being wretchedly unaccepting of the state I found myself in. Rather than gracefully take rest, I fought and argued and bitched at myself for feeling the way I did and ended up in a black hole of dysfunction that was painful for me and hideous for those around me. The consequences of my actions at that time are still at play.
I had glimpsed but did not fully realise, we have an inner guidance system that knows what we need in any given moment to keep the mind body spirit system in balance. We are being nudged every moment of every day. The inner tension we feel comes when our conditioned thinking (what is not true) tries to over-ride those nudges from a deeper knowing (what is true).
When our minds are revved up we can miss those signals or misinterpret them. For me, urgency, tension and stress looked like signals to go faster, do more. I didn’t realise they were signals to get quieter, signs I was off kilter, not instructions for how to live.
As our minds quieten and we become aware of the stillness before thought,
those nudges get clearer and simpler. The noise in the system reduces.
The system is perfectly designed for each of us.
I sense now, those who suffer what is called chronic mental distress are those who over-ride what their mind body spirit system knows to be true. That the richness of life is not in the rational, mechanical analytical world (which is marvellous and can be fascinating) but in the deeper connection and awareness of the field of being that encompasses us and all living things.
We all have that deep knowing but some get caught in believing cultural or familial stories based on deep separation, conflict and division. Trying to act from their heart, these stories rush in and crush their spirit. They end up in a no-man’s land of deep suffering. Their heart cannot bear to confine itself in this way but their head takes issue with this, perceiving an illusory threat to their place in the modern world if they do not conform. When we do not realise where our experience comes from: via the Power of Thought, those intensely frightening thought loops that look true, can spiral us down into dark places of despair.
It is interesting to look at those contented souls who don’t suffer chronic mental distress. They are found everywhere. Women for example are: making homes, doing brain surgery, exploring the outer edges of spirituality, campaigning for more equitable societies, championing the rights of the marginalised and oppressed, growing food, raising children, researching quantum biology, writing poetry, filing accounts, checking groceries at the store.
What is the difference?
It’s not about what they are doing, rather where they are doing from. As we come more and more into right relationship with ourselves, naturally, we come more and more into right relationship to the world. In right relationship our minds, bodies and spirits are experienced as gifts. When we love them, they love us back, giving us clarity, compassion, vast depths of creativity, fun and love. Through this lens we see all others: humans, animals, plants and land, as gifts to be honoured.
From this place of understanding, we discover a flourishing not dependent on outside
At university I had a dear friend who intrigued me. She was chilled and contented. I was not. I went off to meditation classes. That semester stands out for me, as a time when I was on a more even keel. When the noise of a busy mind quietened enough for me to pay attention to things like getting enough sleep and eating well. Life was easier, more enjoyable. I knew my friend didn’t need to go to meditation classes; I just didn’t know why.
I can see, how a simple thing, like over-riding the body’s need for sleep, created a ramped up nervous system again and again and again. In that agitated state it made sense to me to take in copious amounts of caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and add more late nights. Unsurprisingly that led to a more and more revved up system. But I couldn’t see it.
When we’re not in our right mind, we’re not very smart
For many years I thought it was the meditation classes that gave me more equilibrium. It looked like it was. What I understand now is, a quieter mind comes via insight. As our hearts are touched and we realise, or have an experience of something before and beyond our small selves, our conditioned and unconscious thinking begins to drop away. Like the proverbial iceberg, we have no clue how much we can’t see. It is an ongoing unfolding.
As our stories about ourselves and the world begin to shimmer and their illusory nature is revealed, we begin to live more wholeheartedly with a more direct experience of life. Not all the time. We get lost and caught up in our stories, time and time again but we get to see the illusion of our thinking at play in more and more places.
And life gets more and more beautiful
An article like this one, germinates mid morning and despite other plans, I find myself sitting down and typing. The words come through and I receive them as the gift they are. Not really my words. The more we love Life, the more Life loves us. Guiding us, nudging us, sometimes howling at us until we hear the call and return to right relationship in which we are flowing with Life rather than arguing with it.
As our hearts crack open, we begin to fall in love with the wonderment of Life. To see Life as a gift we are given. A gift we can receive with gratitude and begin to see how to reciprocate by sharing our gifts with the world in whatever way we are called. That gift may be making a cup of tea for someone you love or writing a PhD thesis. Every gift is equal and part of the glorious reciprocity of Life.
Right relationship is not something we aspire to or work at, as I once thought, nor just the Buddhist version of the Christian Ten Commandments, rather it is a natural aligning that happens as we see deeper and deeper into the heart of the ineffable power that animates and guides us through life.
© Words by Juliet Fay 2021
© Artwork: heart collage on blue black acrylic on a wooden box frame by Juliet Fay 2021
The collage was inspired by my local #BuyNothing group. I received two pictures from a member who offered them to the group, thinking I might up-cycle them. I sanded and painted over the original pictures mixing a deep dark blue on an enamel plate gifted from the group. The collage is created from papers and fabric in my home, including: the cat tissue paper was wrapped around some candles I was given last Christmas, the red tissue paper and ribbon were wrapped around some soap I was gifted for my birthday this year; off cuts from the fabric I used to re-cover my office chair some years ago, the fabric covering a jar of mincemeat I was gifted in December, scraps from a Union Jack towel I bought on sale in Jubilee year, pieces of cotton, bought in a swatch from a patchwork shop in Northern California. A blue heart is currently in preparation for the second picture. My journey with the Buy Nothing Project is revealing more and more the abundance of Life.