Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"I don't try to be right, I choose to be happy."

This man is Ric Elias, and the title of this TEDtalk is "Three things I learned while my plane crashed."

He sums up, in just five minutes, what he took away from surviving the "Miracle on the Hudson" plane crash.

Please watch this talk. It is simple and short, and powerful in its truth. In my next post I will offer some additional thoughts on what he has to say here.


Updated to add the transcript below. I know some people have an aversion to watching video, or simply can't, for whatever reason. So here's the transcript. Read it or watch it. I think it's that important.

Imagine a big explosion as you climb through 3,000 ft. Imagine a plane full of smoke. Imagine an engine going clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack. It sounds scary. Well I had a unique seat that day. I was sitting in 1D. I was the only one who could talk to the flight attendants. So I looked at them right away, and they said, "No problem. We probably hit some birds." The pilot had already turned the plane around, and we weren't that far. You could see Manhattan. Two minutes later, three things happened at the same time. The pilot lines up the plane with the Hudson River. That's usually not the route. (Laughter) He turns off the engines. Now imagine being in a plane with no sound. And then he says three words -- the most unemotional three words I've ever heard. He says, "Brace for impact." I didn't have to talk to the flight attendant anymore. (Laughter) I could see in her eyes, it was terror. Life was over.

Now I want to share with you three things I learned about myself that day. I learned that it all changes in an instant. We have this bucket list, we have these things we want to do in life, and I thought about all the people I wanted to reach out to that I didn't, all the fences I wanted to mend, all the experiences I wanted to have and I never did. As I thought about that later on, I came up with a saying, which is, "I collect bad wines." Because if the wine is ready and the person is there, I'm opening it. I no longer want to postpone anything in life. And that urgency, that purpose, has really changed my life.

The second thing I learned that day -- and this is as we clear the George Washington Bridge, which was by not a lot -- I thought about, wow, I really feel one real regret. I've lived a good life. In my own humanity and mistakes, I've tried to get better at everything I tried. But in my humanity, I also allow my ego to get in. And I regretted the time I wasted on things that did not matter with people that matter. And I thought about my relationship with my wife, with my friends, with people. And after, as I reflected on that, I decided to eliminate negative energy from my life. It's not perfect, but it's a lot better. I've not had a fight with my wife in two years. It feels great. I no longer try to be right; I choose to be happy.

The third thing I learned -- and this is as your mental clock starts going, "15, 14, 13." You can see the water coming. I'm saying, "Please blow up." I don't want this thing to break in 20 pieces like you've seen in those documentaries. And as we're coming down, I had a sense of, wow, dying is not scary. It's almost like we've been preparing for it our whole lives. But it was very sad. I didn't want to go; I love my life. And that sadness really framed in one thought, which is, I only wish for one thing. I only wish I could see my kids grow up. About a month later, I was at a performance by my daughter -- first-grader, not much artistic talent ... ... yet. (Laughter) And I'm bawling, I'm crying, like a little kid. And it made all the sense in the world to me. I realized at that point, by connecting those two dots, that the only thing that matters in my life is being a great dad. Above all, above all, the only goal I have in life is to be a good dad.

I was given the gift of a miracle, of not dying that day. I was given another gift, which was to be able to see into the future and come back and live differently. I challenge you guys that are flying today, imagine the same thing happens on your plane -- and please don't -- but imagine, and how would you change? What would you get done that you're waiting to get done because you think you'll be here forever? How would you change your relationships and the negative energy in them? And more than anything, are you being the best parent you can?

Thank you.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Remove the Arrow: A Reminder

In my last few posts I've been exploring the idea of practicing patience, no matter what life throws at you.

I want to follow up and say that while I think the six points of the Mahamudra and Practice of Patience are all very useful and very good, some are better suited to certain kinds of suffering than others.

For instance, a reader pointed out that my kidney stone pain was a sort of pain that was hard to reimagine as pleasant to someone else. While I maintain that all points can be utilized, the "This too shall pass" item was maybe best suited to maintaining calm and patience in that scenario. (At least once I knew what it was--for a time I had no idea.) Think of the six points as options, and use whichever is best suited to allowing you to cultivate patience when you really need to.

Now, it a good idea to remember that some things that cause suffering we have no control over. Kidney stone pain is one of them. (Assuming there's nothing you know about yourself regarding diet or other ways to avoid the stones, you kind of just have to suck it up and allow the body to deal with it.) Many illnesses and the loss of others in our lives fall into this category.

However, there are plenty of kinds of pain and suffering that you do have control over. Namely work situations and relationships, and bad health--physical, emotional, or financial--that's self-inflicted.

There is a relevant Buddhist parable that I'll sum up here: A man is shot with a poisoned arrow. It is causing him great pain. But before he'll have it removed, he wants to know who shot him, why they shot him, where his assailant was from, what the arrow is made of, what sort of string the bow was strung with, etc...

The point is that knowing the answers to those questions do not alleviate the suffering. Indeed, in this scenario, the man might die and still not get the answers to all his questions. The only rational, clear-headed way forward is to remove that which is causing the suffering.

So, when considering your problem, pain or suffering, ask yourself if it is something you have control over. If not, practice patience.

If, on the other hand, it is something you can change--then there is no need to martyr yourself. You have both the power and the responsibility to love yourself enough to end the suffering.

Remove the arrow. You might still have questions, but the first order of business is to draw out the poisoned dart. Then, and only then, can an inquiry into why you've been shot or how it happened begin.

Good luck, and may all beings everywhere, including ourselves, be happy and free from suffering.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Feel your Feelings

I’ve been thinking a lot about the last two posts and my advice to take the Mahamudra and Practice of Patience in its entirety, and apply it to whatever problem you might be having.

I’m going to hold to that, but add one final thought: Even in recognizing that pain or suffering is temporary, that someone would find it as pleasant, that you can use your problem as a path, etc., you are still allowed to feel your feelings.

So, what I mean by this is that if you are suffering from physical pain, and you are scared, you don’t have to pretend that you aren’t scared and put on a happy face. Indeed, the chance of you moving through fear to a place where you can practice equanimity and patience is much higher if you say to yourself, “Yes, I’m scared.”

Or, if you are working through feelings of anger toward someone who wronged you, it’s OK to acknowledge your anger, and feel angry.

The difference between feeling your feelings and wallowing in them, I think, has to do with your willingness to be honest with yourself and first identify what emotion you are experiencing, and then being able to let the emotion be felt and then dissipate—being able to let go. It is in this second step that we cease to identify ourselves with the feeling, and realize that our feelings do not make us who we are.

And of course, this goes for good feelings, too. Many of us (especially women) think we must be happy and upbeat at all times, or else we are somehow broken or high-maintenance. If you feel happy, good, but it is an emotion like any other, and does not define you. Indeed, trying to hold on to the good feelings can be as damaging as holding on to the negative ones.

I know that for a very long time, I was afraid to feel anger toward those who had betrayed me, because I thought that meant I was failing somehow. I prided myself on being able to bounce back from almost any obstacle, always the one who could hold it together.

How did that work out for me? Fine, for a while, as a coping mechanism. But feelings have a funny way of trying to leak out of even the most tightly sealed vessel. I was suffering. I was causing those I loved to suffer. I sought therapy, and as I began to explore my feelings and my past, I found a well of anger that I had never been allowed (as a child) to express. As an adult, I had never allowed myself to express that anger.

One night, I began writing about these angry feelings. What started out as a simple journal entry became a fury that I scratched into paper. The more I wrote, the more anger I felt. I started to cry. I was feeling my feelings, finally.

After I finished writing, I felt lighter than I had in many, many years. I could not believe how much anger was within me, waiting to get out. Because I realized where this emotion was coming from and who I was mad at, I felt no confusion or a need to take the anger out on someone else. It was clearly identified, and very obviously needed to be let out and then let go. My body relaxed, my mind cleared out, my spirit began to heal. (Incidentally, if you suspect you have feelings you need to feel, seek professional help. You need a therapist like a novice white-water rafter needs a guide. The force of these pent-up emotions can be scary and dangerous, and you don’t want to go it alone.)

So, your spiritual practice will help you center yourself in awareness and a peace-filled consciousness, but that doesn’t mean you should alienate or renounce or ignore your human self. You are a human and you feel feelings. That is as it should be. That is perfect.

Survivor of abuse? Feel your feelings. Cancer patient? Feel your feelings. Injured athlete? Feel your feelings. Grieving widow? Feel your feelings. Just got pulled over by a cop? Feel those feelings too.

But don’t dwell on them. They are not you. Feel them and then make space for new feelings. Feel them, and be a fragile, fallible, mortal human, and then let them go, and inhabit your beautiful, perfect, endless spirit.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

You Must Save Your Life

And sometimes, a poem just sums it all up.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

© Mary Oliver. Online Source