In the late 90s a friend of mine invited me to sit with a new teacher she discovered in Vancouver BC. I said “yes” and off we went on the three-hour journey from Seattle to Canada. The teacher was Eckhart Tolle, and because he wasn’t yet well known, there were only around only 30 of us with him that day. It was like having been in the desert and discovering a rich and nourishing oasis. His clarity was breathtaking.
A few months later I went up to interview him for our local alternative newspaper. We spent a delightful number of hours talking, laughing and walking the path of awakening together. One of the things I shared with him is that I had just finished leading a retreat, and all around the retreat center – on bushes, in bathrooms, by the silverware holder – I put two different signs, signs that for me pointed to the heart of awakening.
The first sign was, “What is?” ‘What is’ is an invitation to bring your attention full here to the only moment that matters, now, and be curious about what is here. The second sign was “This too!” This is an invitation to let go of your chronic struggle with life and instead allow whatever is here to be here.
He was touched by these two statements, and later, when I told him that my new book, Belonging to Life was woven around these statements, he agreed to endorse it. With great joy, I share with you what he said, “Written with great love and compassion, Belonging to Life is a treasury of practical wisdom and profound insights, all pointing to one essential Truth: how to awaken into present-moment awareness and live in acceptance of what is. Thank you, Mary, for your contribution to the evolution of human consciousness.”
To give you a sense of what these two statements point to, in this blog I am including a story from Belonging to Life that captures the essence of ‘What is?”. Next week I will share another story from the book that shows how “What is?’ leads you to ‘This too!’
“Many years ago, I had an experience that clearly highlights the healing that comes from the power of asking, ‘What is?’. I was a single parent for most of the time my children were growing up. We lived very simply and at times even less than that. I had received a $10,000 settlement, more money than I had ever seen up to that point in my life. The temptation was to spend it on so many things I felt we needed. But I also knew I had no back-up set aside for emergencies. Long term goals won out, and I decided I should invest it.
Having never had money, I didn’t have a clue about what to do, so I called a friend, and she connected me with her financial advisor. After thoroughly explaining our financial situation, he said he had just the thing for me. After a few days, a stack of official papers arrived with a note saying that the investment would take care of itself for five years, and then I would need to invest $2,000 every year thereafter. Being a fairly trusting individual and also being highly uneducated around money, I signed them and filed them away.
Four and a half years later I called him, only to find out that he had moved to Mexico. The first feelings of trepidation began to appear. Tracking down the parent company, I discovered that what I had thought I had invested in and what really happened were two different things.
On my way to a meeting with a new financial advisor, I was still operating on the belief that I could retrieve a good deal of my initial investment, so my mind was fairly quiet. It was one of those breathtakingly beautiful winter days in the Northwest where the first hints of spring were in the air. Crocuses were appearing, heralding the soon to arrive celebration of all the other spring blossoms. On the drive downtown, I was either fully here or was able to easily return, being present with the garage attendant and with the people in the elevator. As I got off on the 40th floor, I was greeted by the view of Puget Sound. The Olympic Mountains were pristine white with snow, framed by the exquisite blue of both sky and water, and I was very glad to be alive.
When I left his office an hour later, instead of being present, I was caught in struggle. He not only told me that I would be lucky to get back a fraction of my investment, but he also said that the original advisor had pocketed a $10,000 commission. Lost in my story of helplessness, I felt violated, abused, used, stupid, inept and enraged. Needless to say, I didn’t notice the view on the way out of his office. Nor could I connect with anyone on the elevators and escalators as I descended to the garage.
I had a number of choices of what to do with the struggle that so thoroughly had me caught in its grip. I could try to rise above it, thinking positive thoughts. I could ignore it by either denying or numbing (I did think briefly about stopping and getting something to eat—even though I was not physically hungry). I could stay lost in it, caught in the whirlpool of my mind. Or I could become curious about it.
Having cultivated deep curiosity, it didn’t take very long before it cut through the upheaval. The first thing that captured my attention when I asked the question “What is?” was a sharp pain in my wrist. My whole body had become contracted, reflecting the struggle in my mind and I was gripping the steering wheel tightly.
There was clearly much more going on than just a sore wrist, so again I asked, “What is?” At first nothing was very clear because the stories in my mind were so loud and overwhelming, but repeatedly I brought myself back into the actual sensations in my body. I could feel the rage, the sense of injustice, the fear for my financial future. A piece of me wanted to revel in the experience of self-pity and righteous anger. But I had been aware too long to easily forget the price my body and heart pay for identifying with this level of chaos and confusion. With great compassion, I acknowledged that a very contracted part of my storyteller was here. Without judgment, I met each voice as it ricocheted throughout my body and screamed through my mind.
With this spacious and focused attention, my body relaxed, my heart opened and my mind calmed down. I moved from the victim stance into one of empowerment. I recognized that money will always come and go and I chose not to let its abundance or its scarcity define my life. As I arrived home, I found again that I was in that centered place where clarity and wisdom abide and where I felt deeply grateful to be alive.
Asking “What is?” brings our attention from the struggling mind into engagement with the living moment. This not only connects us to Life, but also allows us to see the stories that takes us away. Freedom comes when we can bring the full light of our attention to our stories. This art of seeing thought, rather than always trying to fix it, change it or rearrange it, is the doorway into the field of awareness that thought is flowing through, the field of peace and joy we long for.”