Tag Archives: Buddhism

Fear the Small Stuff

bug swarm

We’re all aware of the big and obvious things that rock our existence. But it’s the small—oftentimes invisible—things that can prove to be most destructive.

Here’s an example. While at Cape Cod, Don and I took a nature walk, enjoying the beauty of the wetlands. But something unseen was putting a damper on things. Call  it gnats … some people  call them no-see-ums. I call them nuisances. For Don and I, the experience was akin to being aggressively attacked by a battalion of biting mosquitoes.

Interestingly, earlier in the day at our seminar, Thomas Moore suggested we look for animal sightings and explore their symbolic meaning. Sure enough, those bothersome little creatures qualified.

At some point in our nature walk, exasperated and miserable, Don and I woke up and remembered our assignment.  A shift in consciousness occurred. Instead of seeing those tiny little creatures as the enemy, we now saw them as innocent. “They just want to survive,” Don said.

Those little buggers didn’t know it (or maybe they did), but they were teachers. They taught us that:

  • Life’s small irritations have the potential for eroding wonderful experiences.
  • Small, unseen, or seemingly insignificant things make their presence known by their effect on us. Therefore, it’s wise to tune in to how we’re affected internally by things.
  • Gnats are a subtle threat. The opposite is true of a grizzly bear. There’s nothing subtle about that threat! In a way, we’re better prepared for an obvious threat.
  • Small issues can grow into big problems if not attended to.

Don said,

“If I see an issue as a bear, I’m more likely to seriously deal with it. I don’t want obvious pain! On the other hand, I’m more likely to bypass the smaller issues. The truth is, both have the potential to be very destructive.”

The moral of the story:

If you don’t want the big issues in your life, you’d better be willing to deal with the little issues on an everyday basis.

I invite your insights. Thanks!

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Caring for Our Soul

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I spent an exciting week on Cape Cod! The adventure included a five-day seminar led by Thomas Moore entitled Psychotherapy, Spirituality and the Soul.  (Not to worry … the sessions were over  at noon every day. The rest of the day was play!)

Thirteen years in the monastery seasoned his  wisdom, but so did his experience as a university professor and a psychotherapist for 35 years.

He’s written several best-selling books including Care of the Soul and the recently released Care of  the Soul in Medicine. A large measure of  his work has entailed illuminating the connection between our psychological self and our soul. He doesn’t see a separation between the two. In fact, on the first day of  the seminar, he explained that psycho is a Greek word meaning soul. So it’s no surprise that he maintains that psychotherapy should be invested in the caring for the soul. I agree.

Moore described the soul as “who we are at our depths.” He had more to say about it which is summarized well in Care of the Soul. Here it is:

“Soul is not a thing, but a quality or a dimension of experiencing life and ourselves. It has to do with depth, value, relatedness, heart, and personal substance. I do not use  the word here as an object of  religious  belief or  as something to do with immortality.”

Moore points out that the soul is usually hidden from view—from our surface consciousness. Details  of everyday life, such as filling out forms, driving to work, fixing lunch, parenting kids, cleaning the bathroom and heading off the onslaught of constant problems, prove distracting.

All of these things can rob us of our peace,  trigger  anxiety, disrupt relationships and make us unhappy. Such symptoms, Moore says, are ways our soul communicates to us. If we listen closely while emptying our mind of preconceptions, we’ll discover what we truly want and need.

I have a personal example of how stress  was my soul’s method  of communication.

Picture this: You’re sitting in the passenger seat, whizzing down the road at 75 miles per hour, passing and being passed by cars, trucks and anything else that might be coming down the toll road. And what are you doing? You’re trying to write the next post for your blog. The words aren’t  coming … not even a topic!

That was me coming home from  the seminar. My friend, Don, was driving.

After four hours of driving, we decided it was time to take a break. We stopped at a lush picnic area. No highway bustle or noise here—just tranquility.

With the green of nature all  around us, we sat quiet for several minutes—soaking it up, rather letting it soak us up. The key was in the letting.

The birds  were singing. A cat wandered along a nearby path. The breeze was cooling …  I knew I was experiencing what it means to be attuned to my soul—what it means to  care for the soul.

Through that experience, I learned firsthand that solutions—call them soulutions—aren’t about changing or fixing things on  the outside of us, but on  the inside. A shift.

When it was time to head back to the car, I took the lush oasis with  me. As a result, the words—for the blog—came with ease, and the topic was a no-brainer.

I welcome  your thoughts.

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It all took place in a sunny cafe . . .

cafe

My partner, Don, and I had just sat down to enjoy lunch when a stranger approached our table.  I thought he must be a manager and was about to ask how we felt about the food.  Instead, with a concerned tone he asked me, “Are you feeling better?”

That was so out of the blue!  Did I miss something?  Who was this man?  He acted like he knew me, but I didn’t know him.  Perhaps he was a cook and he thought I had gotten sick.  So I asked him, “Are you the cook?”

“Cook? No way!”  He threw his head back with a loud guffaw.  “I don’t cook!”

My state of confusion was quickly escalating. Meanwhile, Don, who was only getting part of the conversation, was forming his own opinion about what was going on, which I learned about later.

As the man continued to talk, I began to realize this was a case of mistaken identity.  He thought I was an opponent he had just defeated in a tennis match!  Ah, the light dawns.  This man was consoling me!  That’s why he asked if I felt better! I must have been a poor loser in a game I never played!

Not wanting to embarrass him, I didn’t correct his misperception, and why would I?  This warm-hearted attention felt good.

I thought the conversation was about over at this point, but again, I was mistaken.  He continued to console me by reassuring me that I had played very well.  He complimented me on my skills (I have none) and my competitive spirit.  But evidently I had a lousy partner because he blamed the entire loss on her, describing her as “clueless.”

Eventually, while thanking me for a good match, he walked away.

As Don and I shared our thoughts on what had just happened, I realized he had heard just enough of the conversation to be as “clueless” as my “tennis partner.”

He was of the opinion that the man was complaining about a woman who was a member of his cooking staff.  “Why was he telling us all that?” Don said.  “That guy was nuts!”

“No,” I said, “he was talking about my supposed tennis partner.  Didn’t you catch that?”

“No. I just wanted the man to go away and let me eat.”

I spent the next few minutes enlightening Don, and it wasn’t long before we were both struck with the sheer hilarity of it all.  It was a clear case of perceptions running amuck for three people.  We laughed until our sides ached.

Eventually, we came back down to earth and talked about it as one of life’s many lessons— a course on making assumptions.  I recently discovered some research showing that 90% of the assumptions we make are untrue.  This tells me we walk around with all sorts of unexamined assumptions. Hmm—that’s humbling.

I like what Pema Chodron had to say about assumptions in her book, “The Places That Scare You.” 

“We have two alternatives:  either we question our beliefs—or we don’t.  Either we accept our fixed versions of reality—or we begin to challenge them.  In Buddha’s opinion, to train in staying open and curious—to train in dissolving our assumption and beliefs—is the best use of our human lives.”

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