We might think that the greatest obstacle to experiencing profound lasting peace is the belief that it isn't possible in our current world of suffering.
An even greater obstacle is believing that it IS possible.
By believing in its possibility, we put it ever out in front of us, dangling like a very heavy carrot tied to a heavier stick. It places contentment in time. Since time is the mind's way of perceiving ever-presence, naturally this peace we might imagine in the future would also be a construction of the mind.
Now, if we take both beliefs, either that it is or is not possible, and set them aside even for a moment, we deprive the mind of working out our salvation. We fire our thoughts as chief interpreters of our intimate present experience.
The more we stand naked, devoid of belief, especially spiritual belief, the more available we are to seeing what remains.
It happens to everyone.
We find ourselves dancing with the cosmos, and then we get this funny idea that we had something to do with it.
We start to meddle. We roll up our sleeves, like the sorcerer's apprentice, and attempt to manipulate our environment with magic we were never meant to yield. We lose vision, we lose stamina, we lose ourselves. We’ve gone and made such a mess of it all that the only thing to do is wait for the master to return and set things right.
Let’s call this falling back. Where before we were exerting unnecessary forward force, the fall back is a surrendered yet powerful backward plummet into the unknown.
It can take unprecedented courage, but only then can infinite intelligence pick up the shards of our situation and assemble the pieces into a stunning mosaic.
Nothing to fear, it’s part of a natural cycle. Maybe, over time, we get better at recognizing when we’ve assumed the role of master.
Maybe, over time, we become so in tune with the way of the master, that our actions start to flow with the same power and grace, that we become masters of ourselves...
And servants to the world.
We've all read the articles extolling myriad benefits of cultivating a grateful state of mind, and for good reason. Feelings of gratitude have a profound effect on how we see and move through the world.
The prescriptions these posts offer, however, can be laughably trite.
Gratitude ain't easy.
Our lizard brain, the oldest and, therefore, most powerful system in the cognitive realm, is in charge of scanning our surroundings for potential threat and adversity. This is how most of us, whether we like it or not, instinctively interact with our environment. It's our set point.
On top of that, we're so damn forgetful. We're less likely to remember the fleeting moments of grace and fortune, especially when our minds are bench-pressing the weight of our tiny worlds.
Awhile ago, I bought this book, and I'm grateful I did.
Emmons reminds us that gratitude is a garden we tend, a habit we must cultivate if we really want to experience the paradigm shift that this inner work has to offer. There's no pill or quick fix. And this dude's a scientist with real research and stuff.
The most difficult and potentially liberating work is identifying the upside in life's most soul-twisting challenges. That kind of alchemy may require some zen-like mastery.
Like any higher call or great work, resistance will nip at your heels...
so get yourself some new kicks and be grateful for them.
This Halloween I thought I might take off my mask.
There is a kind of mask we don that separates us from our smaller self. It's not a hiding mask, but grants us creativity and power. It creates just enough of a barrier to allow a truer voice through.
There's another kind that separates us from the world. It's a mask that makes vulnerability and intimacy damn near impossible.
I bought the first kind last Halloween.
And since they don't label the masks at Jack's, there's wisdom in knowing the difference.
I used to think that planning my life and being present in the moment were two warring concepts.
After all, the cognitive process of planning involves projecting ourselves into the future, while the main message of many spiritual traditions encourages us to stay rooted in the present, letting go of a personal agenda.
But making a plan is like putting clay on a wheel; it's something that the universe can shape; energy can be distributed according to the world's needs. The clay is soft, malleable, flexible.
The real enemy is rigidity.
I made a practice of approaching each week with a rough thesis. I submit this imperfect, and sometimes self-centered thesis for a review simply by putting it into action. Two magical things happen: 1. I'm able to stay more present with each individual activity. 2. I discover more pockets of time to reflect on the work, and allow the still, small voice to course-correct when necessary.
Showing up with a plan is an act of willingness, as long as we don't heat the clay.
As the holidays approach, I've been thinking about service and how to do more of it.
And in thinking lies my folly.
True service may be out of our hands, and thankfully so. It doesn't exist in the realm of the conscious mind. There are no guarantees that our calculated acts of service, no matter how well-meaning, will send positive ripples throughout the cosmos.
Maybe our best efforts are really in service to that sly dog, ego.
In the end, all we can do is show up.
Service isn't an action we take, but a by-product of living in alignment with something greater. It means that the genuine smile you gave to the cashier may have had a more profound effect than the three homes you built for the displaced families, and there is no way of knowing and nothing you can do about it.
Still, serve more. It’s the closest our minds can get until something else takes over. Do more for others, regardless of the origin of impulse. Only, see if you can let go of the idea that you have control over what’s happening in the moment and what's to come.
Service, like a miracle, happens when there is no one there to take the credit.
How do you fight perfectionism?
By publishing and sharing a blog before you feel it's ready, before you're a compelling blog writer.
Don't try to hit home runs in your rookie season.
I'm asking you to ground out.
Get used to the pitches. Study the failures and missteps. Let them guide you.
Do it publicly. Do it in front of the crowd. It's OK to hit the batting cages, but you'll learn much more through sharing.
Before you know it you'll be hitting home runs without thinking about it. You'll be so engaged in making the small adjustments, in the practice and art of the swing, you may not even clock the home runs.
After awhile you'll hit a grand slam
...and you won't be surprised.
I think a lot about how work feels.
The act of creation seems to contain either one of two opposing qualities. One is characterized by effort and strain. And the other I identify as engagement or flow: a feeling of ease, joy, and creativity. Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi explores this beautifully in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
The struggle never completely disappears (nor should it), but another force is present that can override our sabotage systems. It turns that struggle into a game or challenge. It's the great facilitator of breakthroughs and solutions. Enthusiasm takes over when will-power wants to go on a Netflix binge.
But above all, it transforms the quality of the creation.
I love being a scientist in my work-play lab, tweaking how long I spend on difficult but worthwhile activities, or times of day that might optimize this state.
Sometimes I discover that I'm doing the wrong experiments.
Because, in the end, the quality of consciousness that we bring to the act of creation may have a deeper impact than the creation itself.
In Austin Kleon's book Steal Like an Artist, I was reminded of a something that creative folks tend to forget.
Creative ideas are never completely original.
Creativity is a synthesis of previously existing ideas translated and transformed into something new. All ideas and things are part of an interdependent cycle. I've found that the more I strive to be original or say something entirely new, the more I find myself cut off from inspiration.
I copy until I get better. It can't help but be new or fresh because it's being filtered through my own experiences and perceptions.
Every iteration is a step closer to a more authentic voice.
We are the intrepid ones.
We choose to open when instinct tells us to close.
We choose adventure over comfort.
We're committed to seeing the world in a new way, and playing a role in the service of that vision.
It doesn't mean that we don't fall prey to resignation and fear every now and again.
In fact, it happens more often than we dare to admit.
It means that, through grace, we continually find ourselves healed and ready to ride again.
Practical Wisdom for the Creative Journey
Joel Ripka is a Brooklyn-based actor with 20 years and over 30 professional stage credits from off-Broadway to regional theaters that span the country. He is a blog author and writes about a life lived creatively and in close connection with our deepest expressions of consciousness. He's committed to joy, teaching, sharing, and uniting. He inspires people to do cool things and live intentionally. He is a musician (guitar, piano) singer and also a skilled teacher and writer.