Life as Spiritual Practice #1: Holding ourselves with compassion

I was asked recently by a significant person in my life: what is my passion? I have many passions, of course. I have a passion for learning, and a passion for writing. I have a passion for play of all kinds (not so much involving my body and mostly involving electronic equipment of some sort, although I do love to do artsy-craftsy things on occasion, and enjoy a good wrestle or kite-fly once in a while.) These passions change in relative importance in my life, although all of these have been important for pretty much all of my life, even as a kid (not so much the writing--that passion arrived in college.)

But above all of these varied passions has arrived one overarching passion. A passion that has been with me pretty soon after I understood what spiritual practice was. I have a deep, abiding passion to use everything in my life (and I mean everything) in the service of my spiritual practice.

I don't quite know exactly which moment this became true. In some ways, it's been with me a long time. I think I would have said as a young adult that I wanted to learn from every experience. This passion isn't quite that. It's not really about just learning from experience, although in some ways, one can't help but learn from experience if one is committed to life as practice.

One of the things this involves is a willingness to dive deeply into questions about why I behave the way I behave, and why I react to things the way I do. And it's not about judging that behavior or reaction - it's just about knowing it and understanding it. And alongside of that, there is the willingness to hold that reaction or behavior (meaning, really, holding myself) with acceptance, compassion and gentleness.

So this is where it gets interesting, right? How can you hold your own behavior that is in some ways problematic with acceptance, compassion and gentleness without feeling like you are in some way fostering it?

That's actually, to my mind, one of the places where life as practice is the deepest and richest. If there is something we do that we don't like (eat too much sugar, drink too much alcohol, are too quick to anger, etc.) how is greeting that behavior with acceptance, compassion and gentleness going to help change it? The ironic part is that we actually can't really change the behavior until we fully accept that we do it, and understand where it comes from.

Today, I was really grumpy. The electricity went out this morning, and I had a bunch of conference calls and work to do, and I had to camp out at a local cafe to get my work done. It was unexpected and uncomfortable. And I was grumpy. And the more I didn't like that I was grumpy, the more grumpy I got. Finally, I said to myself "OK, I'm grumpy. I'll just be grumpy." And my mood lifted, and I'm not grumpy anymore.

This is a really minor example of a state that doesn't really generally have any negative ramifications, except perhaps some minor affect on some people who happen to be in my presence. But in some ways, it doesn't matter. Take anything you don't like about what you do, and notice how you feel about it. Notice the knots of resistance to that thing. Notice the circles (and circles, and circles) of self-judgement about it. Those circles of self-judgement mostly serve to shield you from the core of what moves you to do that thing. Open it up and let the air in. Don't judge. Cut yourself slack, look at yourself with the gentleness you would a child, or a kitten, or puppy or <insert favorite baby being here.>

I'm not saying this is easy. Life as spiritual practice is a sh*t ton of work, honestly. Sometimes, the most infuriating thing about it is that it never gets easier. But the rewards are, in my experience, totally worth the work. Removing circles of judgment means joy can make its way in a lot easier. You actually do change, in ways that are positive, both for yourself and those around you. And you keep learning (over and over) to accept what is, because, really, what is is all there is, even if we'd rather that not be true.

I'll be exploring more of this in the next few blog posts because, well, it's my passion.