Becoming Who You Are
By Rev. Ellen Quaadgras
Westminster Unitarian Church
January 21, 2018
With goals, the future is always the focus: Are you going to reach the goal? Will you be happy when you do? What’s next? Setting intention, at least according to Buddhist teachings, is quite different than goal making. It is not oriented toward a future outcome. Instead, it is a path or practice that is focused on how you are “being” in the present moment. Your attention is on the ever-present “now” in the constantly changing flow of life. You set your intentions based on understanding what matters most to you and make a commitment to align your worldly actions with your inner values… Goals help you make your place in the world and be an effective person. But being grounded in intention is what provides integrity and unity in your life.. What would it be like if you didn’t measure the success of your life just by what you get and don’t get, but gave equal or greater priority to how aligned you are with your deepest values?
-Phillip Moffitt, from The Heart’s Intention
Always we hope
Someone else has the answer
Some other place will be better,
Some other time it will all turn out.
This is it.
No one else has the answer
No other place will be better,
And it has already turned out.
At the center of your being
You have the answer,
You know who you are
And you know what you want.
There is no need
To run outside
For better seeing.
Nor to peer from a window.
Rather abide at the center of your being;
For the more you leave it, the less you learn.
Search your heart
The way to do
Is to be.
January. The season of intentions. We make them. We try them. We break them. We may even decide making them was a bad idea to begin with and fall back on that old chestnut: to make a resolution to stop making resolutions.
But…. I think there’s more to this setting intentions thing than meets the eye.
How does it usually work. We get a glimpse of something – somethings not working, something feels bad, someone tells us something they think is a problem for us. Love it when it’s that last one.
We reflect, we ruminate, we aspire. We set a goal. I’ll do better, we say, I’ll be better! That feels better. We earnestly set out to do the thing we intend.
And we do. Day 1. Smooth sailing. Day 2. Good. Day 3, wait, why am I doing this? Day 4. I don’t know why I’m doing this. Day 5. Or, it’s cold. It’s snowing, you want me to go to the gym, in this?? Or, it’s a latte, it doesn’t cost that much, I want it, and I’m buying it, now. Or, yes I know I resolved to be kind but this particular person in this particular situation really needs to hear exactly what I have to say.
We lose the thread, our intention gets stale, we can’t remember why we set them, other parts of ourselves rebel and the whole thing risks collapsing under the weight of itself.
So I like this other idea of setting an intention not to become better, but to become you. Not to push ourselves for this or that but to align with some deeper greater personal call. Going after self-alignment instead of self-improvement. And see what happens when our new years intentions flow from that place.
At the center of your being you have the answer, Lao Tzu tells us. You know who you are and you know what you want.
My question: how to reach that place at the center of my being, and how to listen for what flows from that.
As I was thinking about that I remembered a little story I heard once, about the pope who asked Michelangelo to tell him the secret of his genius. “How have you created the statue of David,” he asked, “the masterpiece of all masterpieces?”
“It’s simple, “ Michelangelo answered, “I removed everything that is not David.”
Right. Simple. Remove everything that is not David. Why didn’t I think of that.
Okay, so on the one hand, I love that little story: remove everything that is not David and you will have, before you, something magnificent, something breathtaking. You will see emerge an essence of humanity, an image born in the heart of its creator. Timeless in its beauty.
And I believe that’s us. That’s us. As we really are. Timeless, and magnificent.
And then on the other hand I think. Great. How, exactly? How, how how, do I remove everything that is not David and allow the real essential timeless breathtaking magnificent me to emerge? The one who has all the answers I keep looking for? And will that happen before or after I take out the garbage and make it through the pile of emails waiting for me on my computer?
There’s a fair amount to sort through. Not just in my inbox, but in me. I’ve been on this earth a while now and, like many of us who’ve been alive for more than a year or two, I’ve been influenced in countless ways, taken the hopes of others as my own, tried to live up to their expectations, worn other people’s faces, in the words of the poet May Sarton,
I think back and see a few snapshots in my minds eye. It’s 1976 – the year I wanted to be the bionic woman. My brother wanted to be the 6 million dollar man. Afterall, what preteen wouldn’t want to run 60 miles an hour or heroically lift a truck off someone pinned under it? What 9 or 10 year old wouldn’t want use their supersonic hearing to spy on people whispering in another room? Or read some top secret document with telescoping vision from over a mile away?
It was fun to imagine being heroic, unstoppable, admired, fabulous.
Eventually we outgrew our respective inclinations, my brother and I, at least, we outgrew the desire to actually have an arm or leg replaced with government funded electronics. Although the whole wanting to be fabulous part, well, that’s still in there. For both of us, I suspect.
Over time, for me, it morphed from wanting to be Lindsey Wagner, to wanting to be like my band teacher, Ms. J, who was funny and irreverent and had the biggest heart ever. And then I wanted to be like my 9th grade history teacher, McKinley, who was wry and sophisticated and very smart. And then I wanted to be Simon and Garfunkle — the challenge of becoming two people never phased me and their harmonies took me over the top. Over the course of my life, I’ve wanted to be, or be like, a whole host of people, ranging from my own parents (although that didn’t happen till much later), to a few fantastic UU ministers, and a whole range of people in between.
There have been many people who I wanted to be like, who have influenced me one way or another, whose faces I have worn.
How do I separate all that out from… me?
There were other forces too. The the less appealing ones. The shoulds and musts and the “that’s not good enough”s. Others’ expectations I internalized. As well as were the people I wanted to *not* be like.
I suspect I’m not the only person who grew up in the crosswinds of countless influences. Some that drew us out or built us up, others that left scars or layers of defenses.
Left us with things in ourselves that we love, and things we struggle with, now.
I think of my friend, who’s mother was hypercritical, who is now one of the kindest people I know. But she finds it hard to assert herself. I think of another friend. Who grew up with parents who struggled to stay on top of their responsibilities. He now is one of the most responsible people I know. But it’s hard for him to relax and have fun.
I think of the dozens, hundreds of counter currents that are in us as humans and all the messages we got. All the things we’re convinced we must urgently do or not do. All the things we’re attached to. All the things we’re afraid of.
Lost in things from the past, hooked on hopes for the future. We live with a clutter of thoughts and feelings urgently telling us to do this or that, obscuring our ability to connect with what we’re really here for now.
Where in all of that, is this center? The heart? The David? How do we uncover it? What do we hold onto, what do we let go of?
Some of it, I think is guesswork. Or, intuition. We pick a direction that resonates, that strikes us, and see what happens.
I get the sense that’s where Mallike Chopra, the daughter of the famous Deepak Chopra, was coming from when she hit a turning point in her life. A realization struck her, and she took it from there.
She was on stage, talking to an audience about intention. About the difference between goals which come from the mind and intent, which arises from the soul, representing our deepest desires, our purpose.
As she was speaking, she found herself distracted by a dozen anxious thoughts about what she had or hadn’t done, what she still needed to do how she needed to do it. It led to a moment of recognition. That she didn’t feel clear and directed and purposeful. Her father might be a famous spiritual guru, but she hadn’t been meditating or exercising let alone doing yoga. And as the mom of two young girls and an entrepreneur with a startup company she was consumed during the day and by evening she would feel exhausted and frustrated not even knowing what she’d accomplished, never feeling caught up.
And as she stood there teaching others how to live from the soul, she realized she wasn’t anywhere near doing that herself.
She made a decision to change her life.
She started with small changes that made, she said, a big difference. And she launched into a year-long project to learn everything she could about health and fitness and meditation and purpose.
And to write a book.
As part of her research she reached out to a spiritual luminary by the name of Eckhart Tolle, a friend of her father’s who wrote the bestseller the power of now, and happened to be an expert on living with intent.
It took 9 months to schedule the interview. She read every work of his she could get her hands on, took meticulous notes, was thrilled to get to talk to someone who might really be able to help her answer her biggest questions.
The day of the interview she as she prepared to leave she noticed a text from her father. He wished her good luck and said “remember, he is always in the now” – not knowing what the [blank] he meant by this “always in the now”, she ignored it and moved on.
When she arrived at the lobby she was greeted by Eckhart’s assistant who told her that Eckhart wasn’t big on interviews. She would have 15 minutes with him.
Her mind racing, Mellika thought about the 15 questions she had painstakingly selected, quickly pared them down to three, smiled, and followed him into the elevator.
Where her phone buzzed again. Another text from her father: “In the now” it said, equally mysteriously. Irritated by this point, Mellika shut her phone off altogether, walked into the room with Ekhart, and sat down.
They exchanged pleasantries and Mellika explained her mission. That took about 5 minutes. Eckhart listened patiently. Then he said intent is the most powerful concept…. Mallika leaned forward ready to finally understand all the mysteries of her life when he stopped and he said: do you hear those bells? There were church bells in the distance.
They’re reminding me, he said, of a time when I lived in Germany and would hear the bells ring when I was at work.
Mellika smiles politely thinking okay we’re about six minutes into the interview.
Then he said let’s listen to the bells.
Mellika tried to keep smiling but now her heart started pounding and she’s thinking okay we’ll have time for one question what am I going to ask and Eckhart SAT there smiling listening to the bells and the bells rang and they rang the darn bells would not stop ringing. And finally at about eight and a half minutes with the bells still ringing Mellika thought you know what I gotta listen to the bells and so she took a deep breath and surrendered and was present listening to the bells with Eckhart Tolle completely and totally in the now.
And she felt suddenly, peaceful clear purposeful.
The next thing she knew there was a knock on the door – her 15 minute were up so she got up said thank you and began to walk out.
Which is when Eckhart said no no no no no sit down I want to talk to you and they spent the next hour and a half talking about intention and purpose and what it means to have the universe serve through you.
Not all of us have the opportunity to ask a spiritual luminary our deepest most profound questions.
Not all of us will be invited, just as we’re sure we’re about the get the answers we’ve been hungering for, not all of us will be invited… to simply let that go.
Not all of us will accept the invitation to let go of our preoccupation and find that what we wanted has come back to us afterall. But that now, we can experience it from a very different place
We may not get to have an interview with Eckhart Tolle, But we can practice becoming present. We can practice being in the now. We can practice letting go.
We can practice letting go of our anxious, swirling thoughts about what we must get done and how we can make it happen, and instead wake up and notice the bells, the colors, the sensations of life. Perhaps even experience peace, clarity, purposefulness. And allow our next actions to flow from that.
I remember hearing once the idea that when we practice meditation, when we practice letting go with the breath, we are practicing learning to die little deaths. Every time we let a thought go, we’re practicing for a bigger letting go. The ultimate letting go.
As we reflect this month on intentions. As we try to access that deeper core, in this first month of the year when we let go of the one just past and aren’t very far yet in the one to come I invite us into an exercise in letting go.
When all is swept away, even for just a moment, even just in your imagination. What do you see?
Do you, have any regrets? What are they asking of you now?
What do you love about your life? What do you want more of ? What wants more of you?
What will you do, with the life you’ve been given, this glorious, rich, fertile, day, this moment, what will you do with your life that is here right now. ?
You have your life back.
And I’d like to suggest… You have the power of this moment. This moment to appreciate what is – and to imagine what can be, right now. This may be the best time in your life. Full of blessings. And a call.
May I suggest [singing]
May I suggest
May I suggest to you
May I suggest this is the best part of your life
May I suggest
This time is blessed for you
This time is blessed and shining almost blinding bright
Just turn your head
And you’ll begin to see
The thousand reasons that were just beyond your sight
The reasons why
Why I suggest to you
Why I suggest this is the best part of your life
There is a world
That’s been addressed to you
Addressed to you, intended only for your eyes
A secret world
Like a treasure chest to you
Of private scenes and brilliant dreams that mesmerize
A lover’s trusting smile
A tiny baby’s hands
The million stars that fill the turning sky at night
Oh I suggest
Oh I suggest to you
Oh I suggest this is the best part of your life
There is a hope
That’s been expressed in you
The hope of seven generations, maybe more
And this is the faith
That they invest in you
It’s that you’ll do one better than was done before
Inside you know
Inside you understand
Inside you know what’s yours to finally set right
And I suggest
And I suggest to you
And I suggest this is the best part of your life