The following is an excerpt from Blooming into Mindfulness: How the Universe Used a Garden, Cancer, and Carpools to Teach Me That Calm Is the New Happy (Damselwings Press: 2016). The passage describes the unexpected impact of an audiobook I downloaded to keep me company while reclaiming my garden after my year of breast cancer treatment.
I had never heard of the author but thought the book would give me career advice. Instead, Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose revealed to me that ego had been holding my happiness hostage by keeping me focused on the future instead of the present moment.
Even more shocking was the inner stillness and sense of purpose I experienced for the first time in my life once I learned that we have a choice in the matter of which thoughts to buy into, and in what type of energy we emit into the world.
I don’t know how long I stood still in the garden that day, my feet rooted among the flowers as the rest of my being was liberated of a burden I hadn’t realized I had been carrying. For the first time ever, I felt I had permission—if not some sort of cosmic urging—to be truly happy simply being where I was.
Even when you aren’t seeking your spirit, your spirit is seeking you
I had not been looking for spiritual enlightenment and didn’t even have the language at the time to explain what was happening to me. In fact, I was decidedly uncomfortable with the “spiritual” label. But the only way I could describe what I was experiencing was that I had apparently forged a connection to a higher intelligence, pure consciousness, perhaps even the source of creation. It was a little embarrassing, as far removed from my former sense of identity as were the house in the suburbs, the minivan, and the bigger bra size I now wore beneath my gardening overalls.
Shining a light on ego—the source of my resistance to each unexpected turn of events—allowed me to look back on my life with new clarity. I hadn’t been ready to hear the message of my astrological chart reading two decades earlier, but things played out just as the chart had predicted. I wouldn’t have quit my job if the nanny hadn’t skipped town—an earth-shaking crisis at the time—but now I couldn’t be more grateful that she had. And I wouldn’t have been capable of hearing these deeper truths emanating from my heart if breast cancer hadn’t forced me to step off the chaos carousel, clear my calendar, and recalibrate my life.
Finding your purpose by looking at past events
A deep sense of purpose engulfed me, far more intense than anything I had ever experienced during my previous professional life. In this blossoming state of awareness I could see that everything in my life had happened for a reason, both the good and the bad. Each step had been required to lead me to this point of conscious awakening. My energetic connection to the garden now extended outward to the universe as a whole. I could feel, sometimes palpably, that I was (and am) part of a bigger picture, intertwined with everything and everyone around me.
This was why my negative energy had infected my kids (and anyone else with whom I came into contact), and why positive energy was contagious as well. Being a net producer of positive energy would be not only a gift to my family, I realized, but also its own form of community—and even global—service.
Exposing the workings of ego and recognizing my connection to the whole of creation was like throwing water on the Wicked Witch of the West, with the result that the judgmental, critical brain chatter in my head dissolved into a steamy puddle. And in that stillness, the beauty of the present moment came into full focus.
In those early weeks of what I now view as my awakening process, I went through my days in an almost too-present state, bumping into walls with my headphones on while listening to everything Eckhart Tolle had ever written, barely speaking to those around me. My family and friends weren’t quite sure what to think. I didn’t take phone calls, didn’t return emails. Nothing seemed very important in comparison to this bigger truth I had just discovered. Everything around me was fleeting, myself included. The stillness inside me was so completely calming that I avoided anything that would disrupt this state of peace.
The TV news was a fire hose that blasted pain, suffering, and conflict into my space and straight through my skin. I stopped watching it. I could still take National Public Radio in small doses, because the absence of visual images muted the energy. Email and social media felt noisy and overwhelming, not to mention thoroughly unimportant.
If the boys came in carrying upsetting energy individually or between the two of them, I experimented with simply listening and directing my presence toward them in an attempt to dissolve the negative vibe. Sometimes I sensed a lightening of their emotional load that seemed connected to this practice, but results were inconsistent. Even when I wasn’t successful in calming them down on the spot, avoiding my usual reactivity still went a long way toward not adding to the drama of the situation. Things settled down a lot more quickly as a result. If I felt my ego reacting, I would leave the room (or sometimes even the house).
“There are no problems, there are only situations”
One of the earliest lessons I took from Eckhart’s teaching was to reframe how I thought about “problems.” We tend to infuse the word “problem” with drama and negativity, when in reality each life event is better thought of as a “situation.” His simplified sound bite “There are no problems, there are only situations” clicked with me, since I was now able to see how things in my life that appeared to be bad had actually led to good things (new circumstances, rewarding experiences, greater insight). Drama simply wasn’t necessary, no matter how hard ego tried to stir it up.
Sound bites aside, choosing to approach an event as a “situation” doesn’t minimize its difficulty. And I’m certainly not saying that the widespread poverty, violence, and discrimination faced by millions of people around the world shouldn’t be taken seriously and acted upon.
Indeed, accepting the reality of “what is” doesn’t mean that we have no control over our personal or collective situations.
We’ve been given these incredibly powerful minds and bodies for a reason: to improve ourselves and, by extension, our planet and the universe as a whole. Our task is to take action where we can, hopefully inspired by the deeper truth available to us rather than our ego-driven thinking. And after we’ve taken that action, we need to step back and let go of the rest. It won’t be long until the next step of a conscious course of action becomes clear. Until that time, why create more suffering for yourself by getting carried away by energy-sapping worry and drama?
From an economist’s standpoint, it’s a very efficient way to live your life.
Image via Pixabay