Column:
Practical Ecstasy

By Jim Lehrman

Connecting with Life in the Environment

I like to write in response to what readers ask me about. So send me an email through "Letters to MAM" on the cover page, if you'd like.

In this first column, I thought I'd begin to throw in some practical exercises intended to help readers develop the conscious relationship with themselves that is at the heart of self discovery.

Often people talk to me about how their lives are out of balance. There are many different reasons but there is one pattern I've noticed among some people. They feel disconnected from the world when they do things for themselves, and they feel disconnected from themselves when they are engaging with other people.

Frustrated and confused over a lack of fulfillment in what they do, they feel lost between worlds. Damned if they do; damned if they don't. They yearn for a full rich experience of being alive but have a sense of not really even being themselves instead.

Imagine there is a continuum, and at the left end is "deep connection with self / no connection with the outside world" and at the right is "rich connection with the outside world / no connection with self". Imagine that with everything you do, you consider where what you are doing would be positioned on that continuum.

Some things would be placed at a far end -- meditation would be placed at the far left; something you do for money that you feel no joy in would be placed at the far right. Some things fit somewhere in-between -- attending a men's group might be two-thirds of the way to the left; doing something for money that you do find joy in might be two-thirds to the right; being at a party for your best friend might land right in the middle.

Upon noticing where you would place your activity on the continuum, notice the extent to which you can feel desire (or enthusiasm, excitement) for this activity. Let your attention focus on this actual feeling of desire, the felt sensation. Is it familiar?

Consider: who is this person within you who yearns for this activity? Can you allow this part of you to be present, such that you can study it, exploring what it feels like, what thoughts it has, what matters to it? Can you examine - without adding any of your own judgments - its attitude towards the world, the past, the future, towards you?

Give the whole process a few minutes. Then, shift your attention onto the extent to which you want to retreat from this activity. Notice the felt sensation of this part of you.

Consider: who is this person who withdraws from this activity? Can you allow this other part of you to be present, such that you can now study it, exploring what it feels like, what thoughts it has, what matters to it? Can you examine its attitude towards the world, the past, the future, yourself? Where in your body do you feel each part of you? How old does each one feel?

These may sound like crazy questions but once they become part of your basic repertoire of exploration, they open up your awareness. You begin to see the choices you make that create your experience, wherein you used to think your experience just "happened to" you.

Here's a question for you. Where does your environment start? I've found that by practicing the sort of self-inquiry I've described above, you develop a natural inclination to witness your experience, regardless of what your experience is. Thus, even your thoughts and feelings become part of the environment.

By becoming the observer of even those most intimate elements of "self" you become very spacious. It's very ecstatic. Even boredom or feeling disconnected can be fulfilling when you study your inner environment this way.

Feeling disconnected is an end unto itself when you are asleep at the wheel. But by waking up and paying attention to how you put your experience together all of life becomes a path towards connection.

-- Jim

June MAM cover page


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