By Jim Lehrman
I have found that a simple tool of perception, mindfulness, applied to the mundane, results in a bit of organic ecstasy.
Ecstasy. I think the word means "waking up." The root, "stasis," means staying the same, being stagnant, mundane. "Ex-stasis" means getting beyond the mundane. Ecstasy is the state--the felt experience--of waking up amidst the mundane, waking up to the act of seeing the rich interplay of reality amidst the ordinary flow of events.
Ecstasy, then, is an experience that is available in every moment. Any shaman will tell you this. To have experience and witness it at the same time wakes you up, alright. Think of your own stories of ecstasy. Through dancing, perhaps, or drumming, drugs, or a variety of simple delights, you have a felt experience of popping out of the steady-state of mundane reality. While you have possibly thought of this as ecstasy, I invite you to think of it as ex-stasis.
So here's a mundane story. Yet it might walk you through a metaphor of your own encounters with reality and show you something about the art of monitoring and managing your own experience. Stay alert, if you will, to witness the scenery of your own inner environment as your thoughts and feelings create a story that is the story of you reading this article.
Yesterday, as I drove around a corner here in Tucson, I noticed I was starting to have a feeling that was familiar. It was a good feeling. Within a moment I noticed it was a great feeling--a smooth-sailing through the great electric adventure of life sort of feeling. But then I heard a familiar whisper from some twisted sense of knowing, that this feeling would disappear and in some way betray me. Now, that got me curious, and I decided to give my experience a closer look.
This was the feeling I experience whenever I get something that I really like. But it isn't simply the experience of satisfaction. It is the feeling that everything is going to be okay from now on. The great feeling of a very, very deep contentment. Nourishment to the core. Salvation from suffering.
Recognizing the familiarity of this feeling, I realized how unbounded by circumstance the feeling is. Big as it feels, it is simply the feeling that comes over me when I buy a used pair of shoes at the thrift store for two dollars. It is also the joyful companion to feeling in love with my wife. And this is the feeling that rides with me as I am out in the car, free to use my time the way I want to.
So interesting, I thought, that I can have this grand (grandiose) feeling that all is right in the world and that everything is wonderful in my world, and that I will never worry about anything ever again, just from something so incidental and cosmically insignificant as buying shoes.
But just as I knew this feeling, revisited while driving down the road, was familiar, I was able to observe a part of me that knows that this feeling always goes away, and that that always leaves me feeling empty. This whispering forewarner was out to save me from that emptiness . . . even if it meant the wonderfully nourishing feeling would go away. I would throw the baby out with the bathwater.
So I decided to look at how all this is happening. What's behind this sequence of gratification > grandiosity > grave emptiness?
What I saw was that there's a way I can create a whole big story around delight (the fantasy of "salvation"), which then invokes residual feelings of past disappointments. This then shuts down the delight. So, at the same time that I start to lose myself in the story, I start to talk myself out of the feeling that feeds the story. I recognized that this is to protect myself from disappointment.
I saw that each time I have had this wonderful feeling, I have put my attention onto its story -- the shoes, the love of my wife, the freedom to be out on my own. And, getting lost in the story, I fail to see the distinction between the story and the state. "The map is not the territory." Thus, my pivotal mistake occurs in not seeing the difference between the "nourishment to the core" and the "salvation from suffering" that I mentioned earlier. While nourishment is a feeling or state, salvation is just a story.
What happens is that because the story is a lie (the wisdom inside me knows the shoes or love or car ride won't give me salvation from suffering, nor even be able to sustain the feeling), I reject it. Since I've fused the story and the state together, I jettison the good feeling along with the fantasy of salvation.
But something different happened yesterday during this drive down the road. Upon seeing all this, I questioned: if the feeling is so good, what is so bad about having this feeling, as long as I indulge it only as a feeling, and not as a belief that all is well in my world? That is, can't I allow myself to indulge the state without buying into the story? What do I care if the state is brought on by some story that is simply an age-regression induced by the trigger of something as simple and transient as the pleasure of buying shoes?
I realized the energy of this experience--what I actually feel--is not "out there" in the shoes, or in the relationship, or in the ride through town. The energy is inside of me. Why not capitalize on the emergence of the emotion (e-motion = energy in motion), regardless of the story my mind attaches to it in order to explain it?
So I shifted my focus onto what I was actually feeling in my body--the pure sensations of the expansive excitement that was there in the moment. What a wonderful awakening!
This awareness set me free yesterday--free to ride down the road changed in a wonderful, and practical way. Free to ride down the road not only allowing myself to have this feeling of contentment, but to give the feeling more space for it to express itself to me.
My pleasure was further deepened by my awareness that this is going to happen a lot more to me now that I had slowed down to notice and question my experience and the beliefs that influence it.
Today I was able to invoke that contentment just by choosing it. I didn't need any source of satisfaction to get there. No story at all, just state. Stories? "We don't need no stinkin' stories!" And better yet, I was able to sustain it.
Jim Lehrman is a Tucson psychotherapist who blends Hakomi Psychotherapy and Morita Psychotherapy with the Quantum Psychology of Stephen Wolinsky into teaching programs called "Making the Moment Matter" and "Making the Moment Matter for Kids." These provide practice in mindfulness and self-inquiry. His self-discovery approach is a training in studying how we put our experience together in the moment, and how we can become better managers of our own experience by exercising skillful choices. (A link to Jim's extensive website can be found in the Virtual Library of the Teaching Tools for Mindfulness Training site that accompanies Mindful Awareness Magazine.)