Digging for Your Authentic Self: Mapping Your Route

It is in such small things that we fulfill the lessons of the heart. It is from our intentions that our life grows. It is in opening to one another that our path is made whole.” Jack Kornfield

If you prefer to listen.

Last time we looked at Charting our North Star, where out there we want to be. Not where out there we want to do. We need to map the route to get there. We can’t wait for someone to rescue us, we have to map our own route. My route will be different than your route. As I see it, that includes using skillful thinking and skillful effort to ensure we have skillful speech and skillful action.

The Charting Your North Star, is the compass of your life. When I talk about the North Star, I am not talking about anything external: doing something or achieving something. I am talking about the person I want to be. Mine is taking off the mask of knowing and doing and opening myself to vulnerability and uncertainty so that I can achieve more intimacy. That is the kind of person I want to be.

But even if we have charted our North Star, we won’t see the view if we are moving too fast in life. To map our route, we need some guideposts along the way and time to reflect on our where am I going and how will I know if I am on the right path. Our aspirations tell us two things. First, “What am I walking away from?” We are walking away from something. But more importantly, what are we walking towards? If you are walking away from anxiety, and you use meditation to move away from anxiety, you are likely to quit when a meditation does not calm you. Second, “What am I walking toward?” For myself, I say a prayer each day that I grow in love and understanding. I am walking away from knowing and doing. I am walking toward love and understanding.

We have to reflect on our aspirtations regularly. Remember where attention goes; energy flows.  If our attention is on moving away, we will lose energy. And we will need the energy to get there. So our motivation comes from what we are moving toward.

When we get busy, we quit meditating. Ask yourself, is meditation a task on your To Do list, or is meditation the process through which you live your life. Is meditation integral to your life, just like sleeping is. We need to see how we suffer, how our life is out of kilter, and that we can do something about it. If we  quit meditating and we beat up on ourselves for it, all we are doing is strengthening the neuropathway of judgment. And for me, the judgment neuropathway is stronger than I would like it to be. 

If you pour cold water over your own hopes and dreams, you’ll live cautiously between the lines, sure, but you’ll never know what warmth and light might have spread if you’d let them catch fire. Do you back your own play, cheerlead your own parade? Or are you too quick with doubt, limitations, cost analyses, reasons why not?Rick Hanson

Skillful Thinking

Once we have clarified our North Star, our thinking can become more proficient. We can see how our old stories limit us and hold us back. It is probably our old stories that make us quit meditation. Our stories tell us we have to do, do, do so we have no time for meditation. Our stories say “You are not enough” unless you are doing, doing, doing. We learn to see those sotries which were invisible to us before we started meditating.

We learn to separate the facts from the stories our mind has created. When our thinking is not clear, we crave attention or things to fill up the hole in our heart. Chocolate doesn’t work. Busyness doesn’t work. All the other things we use to fill ourselves us (food, alcohol, movies, etc) don’t work because that is not what is missing inside of you.

Our thinking, when it is clear is thinking what is it that I really need. I heard a story of a woman who was on a retreat. After a week there, she stopped by the kitchen and asked for an apple. The nun asked her if she needed an apple or a hug. And she began crying. Because what she really needed was to fill her loneliness or her emptiness.  She didn’t need food. And that got me thinking, when I go to have a snack, am I hungry or am I trying to cover up boredom, loneliness or emptiness. That snack is not going to fill it up. That is clear thinking. If I can remember to ask myself what I really need when I am going to get a snack, I will see much better.

We hate things because we unjust or mean actions and think they are all intentional and maybe personal to us. With clear thinking, we see that it is simply someone’s suffering spilling over onto us. When this occurs, we don’t want to ask “Why did you do this?” we want to ask “What happened to you?” Not “Why did I do that stupid thing?” That is not clear thinking. Clear thinking is whappened, what are the causes and conditions that caused me to do this. It is not that I am a bad person, I did not see clearly and thus used unskillful actions or words.

Sometimes we want to get revenge because we think others actions are out to get us.  That is not clear thinking. With skillful thinking, we see even our good intentions are marbled with wanting and fear. I have a good intention of wanting to share mindfulness with you. But it is also marbled with I want you to like me and thinkg I am pretty smart and pretty good at mindfulness.  My intentions are marbled and I have to recognize that they are marbled. Because that is what mindfulness is all about, seeing reality as it really is. Not just seeing the parts we want to see, but seeing the whole picture.

We begin by accepting where we are and what is happening both inside us and around us right now. Accept that I have not been meditating or that my gratitude practice has dropped off. OK, that happened. Don’t beat yourself up, instead reflect on what was going on that caused it to happen. Until you see the causes that are obstacles to your practice, they will keep tripping you up and cause you to stop your practice.

So we have to accept what is happening inside of us and outside of us. There are times when there are things happening outside that will get your meditation practice out of whack. Acceptance allows us to see the reality of the present moment. It keeps us from being paralyzed by fear. We get paralyzed because we don’t want to fail, we think “If I didin’t really try, I didn’t fail. If I was trying I would have done it. I didn’t try so I don’t have to count it as a failure.” We need to practice acceptance that it takes a long time to develop a skill or habit. We won’t have th skill or habit down pat. And accept that we are not proficient at it yet. And yet is a very important term. It is the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. The growth mindset is I don’t know how to do this yet. The fixed mindset is I don’t know how to do this and I never will.

People often swerve away from their dreams to avoid risking experiences they dread…The edges of the experiences we fear form a kind of invisible force that limits the life we allow ourselves to have.Rick Hanson

I hate being wrong and I hate failing. So Duolingo is fun up to a point, but when I start getting lots wrong, I don’t really like it so much. This is the invisible  force that will keep me from learning a language. But if I am thinking clearly, I can say, that is my edge today, but I can push that edge out.

Think about what will motivate you on this path. Start with “What am I walking away from?”  If I am walking away from being overweight, that is a great motivation for starting a diet. However as soon as the diet isn’t working as quickly as I thought or I reach a plateau, what I am walking away from doesn’t give me the motivation to keep going. So I have to look at “What am I walking toward?” I am walking towards being able to play with my grandkids, or going on a hike, or being able to do something that having less weight would enable. This is what you will need to motivate you to keep going when the going gets tough.

Skillful Effort

The motivation inspires just the right of effort. I have a friend who goes all out and then stops. And another period of going all out and then stops. This friend does this in his coreer, with running, with weightlifting. Skillful effort is not putting in 150%. It is not even putting in 100%.

When I was at teacher training, our movement teacher suggested exercising at 70%. Because the 70% will continue to increase and it will ensure that you don’t injure yourself. If you exercise at 100% or higher, you are likely to get injured.

Too much effort can be as detrimental to change as not enough effort. Too much effort is going to be too hard and then we will give up. If we are doing too much, we are moving too fast to see the view. When we try too hard, we lose the energy we need to keep moving forward. So starting your meditation with 3 minutes or 5 minutes is a great place to start.

The path towards our North Star is a marathon, not a sprint. It is not how fast you can go, but how long you can go. When we are meditating, it is using just the effort needed to bring ourselves back to the present moment. My mind wandered, bring it back to your breath or your body sensations so you are not lost in a daydream. In life, it is just the effort required to pause so we can respond rather than react. You just need enough effort to see that your mind has wandered and bring it back.

The energy we send out in the world is the energy we get back.  If you want kindness and love, send out kindness and love. If you wonder why there are so many angry people in your life, look no further than the resentment you hold in your own heart.” Oprah Winfrey

Think about that. If you are holding a lot of resentment in your heart, you have a brick wall out there. The brick wall does not encourage people to send you love and kindness. It encourages people to keep you at a distance. We have to look at our energy and see what type of energy we are sending out into the world.

Skillful Speech

Our speech can move us along on our path, or it can derail us. How many times have you said something that really derailed a relationship? To go in the right direction, we need to stop and listen. We listen not just to whoever is talking, what they are saying and what they are not saying with their words and their body language; but also to our authentic self instead of our ego.  When we are listening with our ego, we are listening to respond and show off how great we are. When we are listening with authentic self we are listening to understand, what does this person really need.  Listening with our authentic self encourages clear thinnkinng. Our authentic self speaks very softly, sending subtle guidance via the gut, the heart, or a more profound knowing. Our ego is really loud, that is our inner critic. After listening, we can choose how to respond.

Sometimes we speak clumsily and create internal knots in others. Then we say, “I was just telling the truth.” It may be the truth, but if our way of speaking causes unnecessary suffering, it is not Right Speech. The truth must be presented in ways that others can accept. Words that damage or destroy are not Right Speech. Before you speak, understand the person you are speaking to. Consider each word carefully before you say anything, so that your speech is “Right” in both form and content.” Thich Nhat Hanh

We can use these questions to guide us:

  • Is it true?
  • Is it kind?
  • Is it useful?
  • Is this the right time?

When someone has their defenses up, that is not the right time to ell them something they will find difficult to hear. Wait until they are in a better place so they can hear you. That takes clear thinking.

Skillful Action

If we have slowed down enough to see reality and think about our options, we are probably not going to get on the hamster wheel of reactivity. Instead we will choose actions and situations that align us with our North Star. We will usually act in ways that reduce suffering rather than increase it. When we don’t we can begin again. Oprah’s advice for skillful action is:

“Before you agree to do anything that might add even the smallest amount of stress to your life, ask yourself: What is my truest intention? Give yourself time to let a yes resound within you. When it’s right, I guarantee that your entire body will feel it.” Oprah

Before acting, we take a mindful pause in which we consider whether that action will move us along our path or pull us off course. How many times to we agree to do something when our body is yelling “no,no,no!” Before we begin doom scrolling or streaming, ask is this going to move me along the path to my North Star. There are many activities we can incorporate into our daily lives.  Commit to one thing, that you are not already doing, that you will do for at least 1 minute a day for the next two weeks.

  • Take in the good
  • Practice gratitude
  • Make and keep a small promise to yourself
  • Commit to one self-care (not self-indulgence) activity
  • Question the truth of your inner critic’s chatter
  • Take a mindful pause before reacting
  • Ask yourself “What can I do in this moment to move in the direction of my North Star?”
  • Acknowledge your suffering
  • Talk to yourself as you would a good friend
  • Tell yourself “I am worthy.” Or “I am enough.”
  • Watch your thoughts as you meditate
  • Send kindness phrases to yourself and others

The question is, what do you want to remember that you drew on your etch-a-sketch when you remember this period of your life?David Emerald & Donna Zajonc

Being your authentic self means that you are using all your skills, talents, and wisdom. It’s doing things that are uniquely you. Your actions arise from who you are, not what you believe you are supposed to do. You may ask yourself:

  • What choice will create peace within me?
  • What action is the most loving to me and others?

Being authentic means loving who you love, pursuing the stuff you’re interested in, laughing at the shit you find funny, and fighting for what you think is right. Being authentic also means giving yourself permission to change your mind, to make mistakes, to be a jerk, to beg forgiveness, to be sad, lonely, stupid, and lazy.” Jen Sincero

Your present circumstances don’t determine where you go; they merely determine where you start.” Nido Qubein