Friday, 3 January 2020

Desire to Change is a Form of Self-Aggression...?

I've been reading"The Five Invitations, Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Fully Living," by Frank Ostaseski, which is a wonderful book and I highly recommend it.  There have been so many wonderful morsels in this book that have stopped me in my tracks to be with before continuing. 

He included a quote by Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist Nun, that is one of those morsels for me. "The problem is that the desire to change yourself is fundamentally a form of aggression toward yourself."  Wow.  At face value, this goes totally against all the cultural conditioning I've had.  So, I wanted to dive into it!

The first word that hit me when I reread it was "desire."  In yoga scriptures, Kama is noted as the first of six main reactionary emotions which are inner enemies of the self that keep us in delusion.  Kama is the desire binding to sense and transient objects.  For example, seeing that new iPhone and you have to have it for life to be complete and feel happy. And you can't stop thinking about it! Only when you get it, that 'happiness' is fleeting. Our minds love to desire so many things and when we don't get them or we get them and don't want to loose them, the other five reactionary emotions occur.  This is attaching to impermanence and thinking it is 'Truth' or permanent. 

Going back to the quote, it is known that change is inevitable, it will happen.  We will all change and in fact, the basis of self-transformation is about changing from attaching to what is not real (asat) to what is real (sat).  Now change is being aggressive? What's wrong with wanting to be better?! So what does this quote mean??

What Pema Chodron is talking about for me is when we become attached to the idea (desire) that we aren't good enough, need to strive to be better, compare to others, and beat ourselves up when we 'fail.'  This is what most of us are conditioned to at a very young age. In school, it's about grades, being the best in activities, striving to do better.  Comparing ourselves to peers, to ideas of what success looks like.  Then we get an award or a grade and we still don't feel enough.  We push and push or don't tray at all.  This is the aggression towards ourselves. We strive for changing ourselves out of fear and self-doubt, like a hamster running in its wheel.  Never getting to the top.

This fall I was reflecting on the six inner enemies of the self and really, it all came back to Kama or desire.  Desire, for me, leads to future thinking and planning.  My mind loves fantasizing about the future (Moha) and what I've noticed when my mind is doing that, my body is tense, right shoulder rising towards my ear, jaw tight and head forward.  My breath is short and shallow or I'm barely breathing.  My body tells me it's not a good place to be but my mind thinks it's on top of the world. The desire of things to go a certain way or look a certain way is exhausting, yet my mind is so conditioned to it. It's a comfort zone, even though not a healthy one. 

When change is about focusing and attaching to an outcome, then inevitably it opens up for aggression.  What I have found and been taught, is that setting an intention and doing actions is what we can control, the outcome is whatever it will be.  An example for myself is setting an intention of living a more present and peaceful life.  I keeping this in mind, it has led me to changing how I work so that there is less stress, more down time for me, and doing enough financially but not needing to be the best.  There are times I've had to redirect my mind back to the intention rather than the future fantasy my mind desires. 

This just brought to my mind an innocent and culturally normal question I've been asked lately with an upcoming transition.  "Are you excited?!"  This is actually such a loaded question.  There's been an assumption on some level that what I'm leaving is "bad" and what I'm moving towards is "good."  If I answer that in the moment, in the present, my response has been "I'm just trying to stay where I'm at finishing things up here."  In those moments, I really feel neutral.  If I've had a challenging day or a draining day, I'm more likely to feel "so ready" for change and the future fantasy thinking can start, which really doesn't help or change how I'm feeling. I just love seeing how such a simply and often used question around change or transition can be so limiting to the full experience.

I've been on the path to slow down and discover more and more what it means to live from a place of love and compassion, especially towards myself, for some time now. Since, as a person who works with others, I can not be my best if I'm not my best towards myself. 

When I take a breath, come back to what is happening right now, everything relaxes in my body. I feel at ease and content.  I'm able to be kind and compassionate to myself.  I can let go of the story more easily.  It's not as exciting or flashy or sexy, but it feels like exactly where I need to be.

The question come to my mind is "What would it be like if I could live each day as 'I am enough.'"



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