by Robert Wilkinson
It seems that we are reminded constantly that we live in very strange, difficult, and stressful times at the edge of major historical change in every area of human existence. Today we explore how to become more aware of our actions and reactions, and choose our responses rather than operate from confusion or uncertainty.
While most who read this column have a spiritual discipline and can manage the stress of everyday life, it also seems that many are now on the edge of profound personal change, usually not very sure what's happening or how things will turn out, and are unsettled with the ways they are or are not responding to the changes. While feeling edgy in edgy times is understandable, it is also a very driven way to live, and wears on our nerves. While we cannot change the fact that we're all under pressure, we can learn techniques that lessen the pressure, or help us to steer the pressure toward productive ways of moving through the weirdness.
In my book, A New Look At Mercury Retrograde, I made a point that can help to clarify the place and function of all that comes to us and requires our attention. In that work, I explain that either we are acting, reacting, or being acted upon. I believe the first thing to regard in our immediate experience is which of these is at work?
When we are acting, we are moving under our own steam driven by our intention toward goals of our choosing. These can be good or bad, depending on how accurately our desires and vision are guiding or misguiding us. And of course, as we act, we inevitably create effects that we may not have anticipated, which in their turn create situations where we must deal with things we never created but which arose as a result of our actions.
When we are reacting, we are moved by something to respond to it. It may not matter whether what we are reacting to is entirely subjective, unconscious, or even unreal. As various things occur in our lives, it is very human to react to them, whether we need to or not, and whether our response is appropriate or not.
Echoes of memories of perception of memories from childhood often bring old reactions to the surface of our personality. These are perfect times to examine how conscious or unconscious our reactions are, and change the ones that are no longer appropriate in our lives.
When we are being acted upon there is something external that has become an immediate part of our experience, whether we react or not. How long we choose to live with it depends on whether we invited it or not, and whether the result of it acting on us feels unifying or dividing in a healthy or unhealthy way. Many long for an external thing, a Deus ex machina to come into their lives and “make it better.” The problem with this is that we can literally wait forever for something to happen that never will.
I've always had the view that we should be driving our own boat in the direction of our Dharma, our “fulfillment of purpose” we may not even be able to formulate. I have found it’s always a good thing to hold back a little on how much we allow others, even those who are well-intentioned, to set our life course, since they may not know how, or where, or what to do when certain things are about to happen. That’s when we find ourselves and our lives in the proverbial ditch.
When we learn to drive our own boat, we have a sense of power and potential, even when we're just idling and waiting to figure out which direction to go. It's not helped that everything is so weird with so many desperate people, since the hitchhiker you pick up could be an angel or a devil in disguise. I have found many life problems can be prevented by not allowing others to make our choices for us, and not allowing them to persuade us to act contrary to our sense of what’s best.
And yet, it seems very human to wait for something to help our lives “change for the better,” and so we hope, and wish, and opine, and effort, and hope some more. As you can see, over time this can be dis-empowering, since the source of all personal power comes from within, and not external props. As you realize your inner Self, your external world will change accordingly. As you take command of your vehicles, over time you will not be at the mercy of other people’s intentions, no matter how well-meaning they are.
Most of us have never been taught coping skills that will help us deal with problems arising from subconscious desires or even the erroneous assumptions we form as we stumble through life dealing with issues through a combination of strength and ignorance. Most of us have never been offered ways to cope with feeling weird, or been taught to know how to act or react appropriately to the ever-changing conditions of our evolving reality.
If we ask at all, we're often told it's all part of a Mystery, or "God's plan," or some other homily. We’ve all been taught we’re supposed to venerate "spiritual teachers" and accept the “spiritual truths” they offer. Unfortunately, as we try to accept these and find our way to the truths that matter to us, we are often reminded over and over how miserably short we fall relative to the ideal, according to others' perceptions. That’s one problem with trying to identify with anything outside us. They are not us; they are not walking our path, and they do not have the same Dharma that we do.
When we are being acted upon by forces that challenge us or stress us out, modern psychology tells us that we supposed to learn from what others do to us, and if it's bad, to see "our part" and do forgiveness practices. However, this approach excludes the equally valid point that sometimes we are acted upon by others of no good intention, where someone else's free will has just jammed our gears. In these cases I have found it useless to overanalyze "our part" beyond knowing we just didn't need to go there, and probably won't ever again.
We can learn from our experience to use our imagination creatively, and this alone can prevent the recurrence of many old karmic patterns, since as we change our patterns of acting and reacting, we change the causes of future effects. Life always offers us opportunities to learn more skills which allow us to move with grace, style, and equilibrium through this ever-changing reality. This involves training our minds to interpret our experience and what our 5 senses bring us with accuracy. Over time we can know the unreal from the real, darkness from light, the impermanent and the permanent, and acquire coping skills that can help us feel more competent in the future through knowing how to respond appropriately.
We are truly in an “Age in Transition,” with a lot of speculation, rumors, hopes, and dreams about the coming "New Age," where we are told many things will be different. Still, as long as we are Spirits in the material world having human experiences, we will be learning, sharing, and teaching lessons of detachment, dispassion, discrimination, and finding ways to generate good will, or "Bodhichitta." With a little effort and mindfulness, we can learn to regard all that comes and goes as part of a greater experience, not take any of it personally, and know the place and function of what presents itself for our growth, enjoyment, and fulfillment on each level of life. As we learn to simply BE in the ever-present NOW of the eternal flux and flow, we become more at ease with what each moment presents to us, as well as our responses and non-responses.
When we are able to practice these virtues consciously and couple them with a genuine willingness to generate positivity in every moment, whether we're presented with harmony or disharmony, then we will be able to maintain our equilibrium, our perspective, our sense of humor, and our strength and clarity of higher intention despite all the glancing blows of passing fortune. We can get free of the traps of feeling bad, or helpless, or discouraged by the passing parade of illusions and delusions, and even in the worst of times, be a light in our world, breaking the link between pain and suffering.
© Copyright 2018 Robert Wilkinson