Monday, December 22, 2008

Ten Ways to Deepen Your Life

The party’s over. We’ve taken down the lights, recycled the wrapping paper and returned the battery powered reindeer sweater we got at the white elephant office gift exchange. Hey, it was fun while it lasted. The holidays consumed us. Now it’s back to the business of living the rest of our lives.

Feeling a little disconnected? Are you skittering over the surface of things unable or unwilling to take hold? Feel like you’re missing something? Want to get down to the sweet stuff? Here are ten way to dig down deeper into the significance of your own life.

1. Slow Down

For a seed to take root it has to hold still. Is there any stillness, silence or emptiness left in your life, or have you filled it all with pomp and circumstance? Step out of the incessant stream of doing and sink down into the pool of being. The good news is you don’t have to create depth and significance in your life. It’s already and always there. You only have to slow down enough to sink into it.

2. Read Good Books

Good books are like a lit match in a pool of gasoline. Set aside twenty minutes a day for reading – maybe first thing in the morning when your mind is still open, unformed and available. The best books don’t indoctrinate, they liberate us from all doctrines. Like shafts of light in a dark forest, they illuminate our own hidden knowing. They give us to ourselves. “Every writer,” said Lu Chi in the second century A.D., “is an entrance into the mystery.” What are the great books? That’s your search my friend.

3. Listen

Most of us spend a great deal of energy maintaining our story. We talk a lot about our past, our problems, our resentments and all of the reasons why things didn’t work out the way they were supposed to. Every chance we get we tell ourselves and anyone else who will listen about our grievances and fantasies of entitlement. Instead of dwelling on your own story, lean into someone else’s. Listen, really listen. This is harder than it sounds. That is until you realize how easy it is. When you really listen to someone you bring a wordless presence into the room. You both feel it and are healed by it. You don’t have to do a thing.

4. Let Art Open You

Make time in your life for great art. Educate yourself about what that means if you need to. See important films. Listen closely and with full attention to good music. Read poetry. Attend a dance performance and sit as close as you can. Go to the theater. Stand in front of great paintings. Do any of these things and feel your smallness disappear. Feel yourself pulled into larger orbits. Let great art usher you to the head of the table at the sacred banquet of your own life. Let it challenge you, strain you, teach you, feed you, remake you, break you open with tears of remembrance. Let it heal you and draw you in from the cold. Let it make you glad you are a human being.

5. Cultivate Your Spirituality

Spirituality has little to do with religion, dogma or theology although many people find it through those things. Spirituality is just an awkward word we use to describe an experience – the experience of something larger and more beautiful than ourselves. It may well up as you contemplate the eternal laws of nature or the sudden rise of the moon. Or when it hits you that we, like the moon, are beings of light. Our bodies are literally composed of the food we eat, and the food we eat is made by photosynthesis, that is, by the sun. Therefore, we are literally made of light. Try contemplating that and not feeling spiritual.

6. Find Teachers

In all the hero myths there are always mentors. Luke had Obi Wan. Frodo had Gandalf. Buffy had Giles. In each case, the teacher was a familiar person the hero had overlooked and underestimated. Who are you overlooking and underestimating? When you are on the right path, the right people come into your life. Be ready and step toward them. They need you too. You fulfill each other’s purpose.

7. Accept Help

You are never more powerful than when you admit your limitations. But humility is not the same thing as humiliation. Get that figured out. See a therapist if you’re confused. Join a sangha. Build a community of like-minded, conscious, positive people around you. Let this raft of souls carry you to distant shores. When you open yourself and show your vulnerability, you draw out the innate kindness in others. Ask for help and accept it. We inspire each other with our honest admission of powerlessness. And then miracles start to happen – miracles that lonely, isolated and prideful people can only imagine.

8. Face What Needs Facing

Start telling the truth about who and what you are. Without drama and the need to place blame, simply admit the facts. Without an honest recognition of the problem, no healing can take place. Life’s too short to stay sick on purpose. Let the truth set you free.

9. Cultivate Discipline

Honor and recognize your part in the creation of your own life. Yes, once you plant the seeds they grow by themselves. But you have to earn the seeds, hoe the rows, amend the soil and dig the irrigation channels. We do not create water, but we do create the openings through which it can flow into our fields. All of this requires scheduling, goal setting and hard work. Cultivate new habits. Studies show that if you do something for twenty one days in a row it will become a habit. First comes discipline then comes naturalness. Most people try to skip the first stage and go right to the naturalness. Their fields are fallow.

10. Surrender

When the work is done, let the infinite creative energy of the universe take care of the rest. The farmer who tugs anxiously on his seedlings is sure to uproot them. Let things unfold in their time. Surrender to what is. You don’t have to run the whole world anymore. Quit trying to control everything – what other people do, how they drive, what they say, how they live their lives. Accept as deeply as you can the truth that below the inevitable conflicts of life lies a hidden harmony, a deep unity, and that everything is, after all, okay. Give your ego the year off. Live in the timeless presence of this moment. Allow grace to well up through the cracks in your old way of thinking. There are deeper waters. Let them rise. Drink deeply. And feel your own life deepening as well.