"Let me keep my mind on what matters
Which is mostly standing still
And learning to be astonished"

~ Mary Oliver ~

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Meg Wheatley -- Perseverance

Meg Wheatley
Presentation on Perseverance
October, 2011

Meg began her presentation with gratitude -- gratitude for the opportunities we have to come to events like this, to be inspired, to talk about what matters in this world.  She began with a question – so how do we use the gifts we have?

She went through a description of this time in our world, an era of doing more with less, less money, less time; a time of increasing conflict and polarization, fractures of nations and systems; a time of increased fear and anxiety, of blame, denial and avoidance.  These ways of being are very isolating.  Can we not think together? Wheatley asked.  When we’re tied up in all of the above behaviours and emotions, we become de-energized.  It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how quickly you can blame someone else! 

Though this is a dire mess that our world is in, it is not the end of it.  Wheatley spoke about it being a time for critical connections among the few – we don’t need critical mass!  In other words, stop waiting for “the revolution” but do what you can with what you have and where you are!

“A craving for a simpler, slower, more centered life, one less consumed by the soul-emptying crush of getting and spending, runs deep within our culture right now.”   Warner

We must be conscious.  We must take responsibility for our own time.  We can respond or evade.  See the truth and act.  Do more than mere slogan and gesture.  She quoted Thomas Merton, Julia Shorr and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

It’s a time for educating and acting upon “the heart.”  In Buddhist thinking the heart and mind are one notion, not split, found in our very centre.  She remarked on an experiment done with a group of monks who were long-time meditators, the experiment to see how the mind is altered by meditation.  The monks all burst out laughing when the scientists hooked up the wires to their heads.  When asked why they were laughing, they replied that the mind was not located in the head, but in the heart.

Who do you choose to be for this time? This was one of her guiding questions.  What role or position will you take to contain your whole life, even your future?  It must be a role big enough to summon your courage, maybe even big enough to scare you.  For herself, she says her role is “spiritual warrior.” She is a warrior of the heart, one who is brave without aggression, brave enough to refrain from adding to the fear and aggression of the time.  She said we should pause and monitor our own actions.

We should be, as Chogyam Trungpa puts it:
“We are not interested in happiness – we are interested in sanity.  Someone has to plant the seed so that sanity can blossom in this world.”  We don’t have to wait.  We can do it now.

Quoting Howard Zinn, she says, “We don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents (present moments), and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory.”

Wheatley introduced the notions around her latest book, “Perseverance.”  We have what we need; look deeply for our inner wisdom, persevere.  The cover of her book depicts a cardboard box made into a piece of art, using tissue paper for the figure’s clothing and nothing but a charcoal pencil to draw.  The cover, itself, uses the philosophy that she’s talking about.  To use what we have – it’s enough.  She went on to say that her book was based on a Prophecy of the Hopi Nations Elders, something that touched her deeply:
Hopi Elders Prophesy
To my fellow swimmers:
Here is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift,
that there are those who will be afraid,
who will try to hold on to the shore,
    They are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.
Know that the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore,
push off into the middle of the river,
and keep our heads above water.
And I say see who is there with you and celebrate.
 At this time in history we are to take nothing personally,
least of all ourselves, for the moment we do,
our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over.
Gather yourselves.
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
For we are the ones we have been waiting for.
It takes daring to “let go of the shore” but we can notice “who is there with you” and move forward in celebration.  She spoke of Pema Chodron – yes, the world is shook up, but what are you going to do?  You can live life as an experiment or you can cling, fixedly, to the fundamentalist attitudes which hold us back.  People who persevere learn how to deal with criticism, anger, failure, anxiety and stress.  We cannot persevere without learning to do so.

How meaningful does your life feel?                                                                                                      What is the quality of your relationships?                                                                                                
Are you more critical now than before?  Are others of you?                                                                  
How easily do you become triggered?                                                                                              
What’s your level of stress?

Nowadays, criticism has become almost random.  We make snap judgments and decisions.  Thumbs up, thumbs down – like the ancient Roman emperors deciding who should be thrown to the lions.  As the Buddha says, “This has been going on through the ages – know and trust yourself.  Let what doesn’t matter go.”

How do you react when something goes wrong?  If you screwed up, celebrate the fact that you noticed you screwed up!  Don’t get into self-hatred!  Don’t take every little thing so seriously!  We need to show loving-kindness to ourselves, just as you would show to a friend.  “I know you’re trying really hard.”

“Success is not a reward.  Pain is not a punishment.  They are simply normal parts of life.  They come and go, like everything else.”   Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Are we going to “hang on to the shore?” And suffer?  Or recognize what is and let it move through us?

She gave another example of looking at how we handle aggression in our lives.  What’s your response? 
“Aggression is never solved with aggression,” says the Dalai Lama.  “Aggression is only solved with peace.”
Are you strengthening yourself for the journey yet to come?  If things aren’t going to turn soon, can you keep going at this same pace, with this same stress, taking on more and more?  No!  Say no to more and more.  But say yes to what nourishes, so that you can be strong for the future.  Your health must be attended to.  Just like the airplane warnings to put on your own face mask first before attending to others – this is what we must do in our lives to prepare.

How often do you know peace?  Find it in your own way – run, walk, music, art, pottery, knitting, riding, writing, meditation?

Meg ended with repeating the end of the Hopi prophecy:

All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
For we are the ones we have been waiting for.

(See my Quotes page for all quotes used by Meg Wheatley)