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There is a flat way of seeing that most of us live with every day. And there is a spiritual way of seeing that comes suddenly, and when it does that day is rare and beautiful. With this new vision we see the innocence woven through all beings and objects, as though a shaft of light had fallen across treasured possessions in a forgotten closet, and for the time we live with this vision, all things around us are transformed.
I associate this spiritual way of seeing with many causes: with music and poetry, with sunsets and seas, with friends who are friends, with love, and now and then with a book or a passage within a book. These things have at times inspired me to this broader vision, but rarely have I been able to return and use one of them to recapture it. If I try, the poem or song will have lost its magic, and I only receive an echo of my previous wonder.
Sometimes I doubt and sometimes I believe. I like not making myself believe when I am doubting and not making myself doubt when I am believing. Surely neither God nor accident needs my consistency.
When I paint I am influenced by the texture of the paper, the viscosity of the paint, the condition of the brush. I reach down to make a thin line and it comes out plump. Then the picture takes a new direction-I influencing it, it influencing me.
We start to do one thing and something happens to divert us. We resent the influence and try to go back to our original intention. But we are always influenced because we do not live in a vacuum together with our intentions. We are in a relationship with everything that occurs. We walk down a road and feel a sudden burst of warmth from the sun and stop to bask our eyes. We receive a letter from a loved one, a nibble from our puppy, a knowing look from a clerk in a store and are no longer the same. What we just were doesn't quite apply. What we just intended is in the past. This is not a lack of resolve; it is the way life flows. Always a new painting, always a new self.
Are we more mind than body, more body than feeling, more feeling than memory, more memory than future? Sometimes I am all anger and sometimes all peace. There are minutes I live for tomorrow and minutes I live for her. In last night's hot bed I was flesh and afterward soul. But most moments I am not just a body or a mind, and when I am at peace with this reality, and my intellect does not override my flesh, and here does not deny tomorrow. When emotions, memories, needs and all the et cetera of my being each have their own voice, I see that I am how everyone else is ... and possibly even how everything is.
Cause and effect have no stopping point. Everything we do touches everything else. Since I have become more willing to acknowledge my displeasure, I notice that I have started crossing my Ts. And somehow this is related to the comment I recently made about Beulahs: "She liked me until I crossed her." And all of this appears to accompany my new posture: I no longer hold my head down as much. I suspect there are a thousand other connections.
I do not see growth as a procedure that locates "the real me." It is more a process whereby I become aware of other aspects of myself that are equally as "real" as the familiar me. We are always "being real" to some part of our being and, at that moment, not "being real" to other parts. In this sense we always act-always choose to act-out a particular side of us. There are no such states as "not in touch," "disconnected," or "incongruent." Everyone is in touch with something. There is the state of being out of touch-out of touch with areas of the body, with nature, with other people, with less familiar aspects of our personalities. And there is the state of being stuck in what we are in touch with. Much of my life I have been aware of my thoughts and little else. And this is true of most of the people I know. They stay pretty much within one chamber of their being.
When Buzz stayed with us I noticed that eighty percent of his conversation was about "Important People I Have Known or Read About." I wonder if most people's conversation centers mainly on a single theme? Dave's appears to be "Interesting Facts About the World Around Us." Beulah's is "Enlightening Experiences I Have Had." Mine is "Insightful Ideas in Psychology."
No matter what we talk about, we are talking about ourselves.
My attitude toward much of life is habitual. I have a fairly consistent telephone personality, a different but predictable party personality, and I make about the same kind of grocery store customer every time. I am in approximately the same mood each time I brush my teeth, run an errand, meet somebody, or heat a bowl of soup. I pick out what I am going to wear beginning with my shirt, seldom with my pants, and I shave starting with my chin. I never jump with joy in the shower or act silly while driving. I am mildly good humored when I wake up and never precipitously go to bed. All of these attitudes feel right and veering from them feels phony. I guess it could be said that I am being genuine, but genuinely what?
I feel as if I am slowly dying when my life is in a rut, but my attitude toward ritual is more affirmative. I have a friend whose ritual is popcorn and beer. It begins every evening after his wife goes to bed. He fixes his popcorn to perfection and sits in front of the fireplace. Then his dog lies beside him and receives the first two bites. An elderly relative of mine has the morning ritual of eating breakfast and feeding birds from his large porch while telephoning his friends one by one. My ritual revolves around certain trivial things I do each night before I get into bed, and, for whatever reason, I enjoy going about my preparations in a familiar way.
In order to break with a pattern of behavior, first we have to become aware of how we usually act. We have to see how we do it before we can undo it.
At the time, I am not aware of how I shut down my attention or hold back my warmth. When reproached for my lack of feeling, I defend myself because my feelings have been hurt. Usually all that has happened is that someone, usually Gayle, has become more aware of my patterns than I have. This is the gift, not the curse, of a sound relationship.
When going to sleep or waking up, I notice that certain areas of my body feel drowsy while others feel stimulated, and that if I want to sleep I can generally do so by fixing my attention on the drowsy parts. This same principle may also apply to attitudes. When checking to see how I feel about something, I automatically move my attention to the region of my solar plexus. But it appears that there are other aspects of my personality centered in quite different areas of my body. Tonight when I explored these I found that from my back I was strong and stolid, from my feet I felt athletic and slightly impatient, and from my hands I was cool, liquid, and glib. In my neck, eyes, and shoulders there were still other differences. The question, "How do I feel about this?" might be answered, "Feel from where?" In this way I could not deceive myself into believing that I have only one attitude to which I can be true.
I think of the process of "being genuine" as the shuttling of my attention between a feeling and an appearance, between inside and acting out. But being honest or "real" does not mean that I am only allowed to shuttle between my behavior and my strongest emotion. My behavior can match whatever in me I wish it to match. "Being real" is simply being aware of what my actions do in fact match. To believe I must always behave in accordance with my strongest emotion is self-reduction.
At any moment we are free to act from any dimly felt and long-neglected part of ourselves: to be a ham, to be strong, to flirt, to cry, to be totally silly, to dance, or simply to respond from that part of us that recognizes our connection with both the situation and the individuals at hand. If this feels phony because it has been so long since we have chosen to respond from something other than our usual repertoire, still it is not phony. It is part of us; we are doing it. And it is surprisingly liberating.
Humor is a way of relating to people that I feel uncomfortable with. I am more familiar with what it takes to be serious. Seriously.
I am admitting that I want something when I try to be funny. I don't require as much cooperation in order to be serious. Humor comes more easily when I am around people I don't feel I need anything from.
When I try hard to be funny, I am small and gray, but when I am easy with myself, allow other people's fun to sparkle through me, and allow my own lightness to roll gently out, then good humor rhymes in all the sweet times around me.
If I hold back any part of me I suppress that much energy and potential. The question I want to ask myself now is not what behavior is good or bad, but in what ways would I express myself with greater energy if I didn't hold back. I suspect that the qualities I consider ugly are simply ones in which I have not yet allowed my entire force, that if I would express these traits honestly, they might ripen into something full-flavored and whole.
Excerpted from Standing on my head by Hugh Prather Copyright © 2004 by Hugh Prather. Excerpted by permission.
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