Thursday, April 17, 2008
Do you wish you could edit your responses? Do you sometimes later wish you had said something in a certain situation? We all have wished we had said or done something we did not do. Maybe some one has asked you a question and later, you realize your answer was less than honest; or your response was judgmental and you have unwittingly excluded yourself from an desirable relationship. Sometimes we are given openings into relationships we do not see until later and think: "Oh, if I had only said (or done) that". Perhaps there is an attitude we can adopt to remain open to life's opportunities. An attitude in which the meaningful nature of our lives would be spontaneously expressed?
If we acknowledge the importance of attitude in our lives, we must first ask: What is attitude, and then, what are the origins of my attitude?
As to the first question, " What is attitude?", a fair description would be: It is a conscious or unconscious display of an individual beliefs, opinions and intentions as expressed in one's posture and demeanor. Demeanor often comes to mind when we think of attitude and with demeanor we naturally think of manners. Attitudes vary from the subtle to the obvious. Belligerent, aggressive or conversely-shy and withdrawn attitudes are easily detectable. Often people appear so one-dimensional that we can accurately refer to them as positive or negative. Attitude can be affected for both positive and negative results.
As to the second question: What are the origins of my attitude? The best way to find the answer to this question is to is to view your attitude in different lights or circumstances.
Events in our lives challenge our attitudes . We may value a positive attitude. We may see the importance of attitude in our own happiness, there are times in life when it is difficult to maintain a positive attitude. I think this has more to do with where and how we believe attitude originates. If we believe the origins of our attitude lie in the conditions of our temporal existence, then we are subject to the vicissitudes of daily life. The weather, health, economic and social conditions can all effect our attitude if we believe these conditions are the basis of our happiness. We can instead realize, or understand that the basis of our happiness is established before our birth. We can accept or allow that happiness is our essential inheritance. This is not to say we can ignore the outward conditions of our lives and expect to be happy. Acting in ways that are contrary to the facts of life or choosing to ignore them will make the road to happiness very rough indeed. And this is not to say there will not be times of adjustment: grief, hardship, sickness, and old age are all times when we evaluate the basis of our attitudes.
At this point, I think it serves us well to consider what we are in essence. Let us examine the totality of our existence in the context of time. The who, what and where we were, are and will be. In conventional thought we think of our existence as limited to our life span. For this post I would take our existence to mean something more than our life span. There is past, present and future. In the context of this post, I would have us look at our existence at the time, before our birth , during our life and after our death. Limiting our considerations to the physical realm and what can be observed by the empirical eye; it could said we are a mass of free floating atomic particles that came together in an organized fashion at the time of birth, maintained this government of atoms and then after a period of time reverted back, via the compost pile or similar conveyance, to the state of free flowing atoms. Life, the Tibetans teach us, is a period of time when the essential elements of Earth, Wind, Water and Fire are balanced. At all the times in our existence there is inherent energy. There is energy in "our" atoms before our birth during our lives and after our deaths. There is chemical energy in the attraction of our parents, and hopefully in our conception. There is the energy as manifested by the heat of our living bodies and finally the composting of our dead bodies. Underlying all this chemical energy is of course the atomic energy in the atoms that compose our bodies living or dead. We have know since early in the twentieth century that matter is, at its simplest form, energy. So it would seem, energy is not something added but rather coexistent with the matter, the substance of our bodies, in our temporal and eternal existence.
For the purposes of this post, let us see ourselves as a conduit or an instrument through which the unique form of energy called life is expressed. Taking this analogy further, and postulating air as life's expressive energy, imagine yourself as a tuba, saxophone or an oboe. The sounds you express, as air passes through you, is how you live your life. We know that the individual shape of a musical instrument dictates what sound it will make. Continuing this analogy would speak to the importance of the shape of our bodies and specifically of posture. We do have control of of our posture, but it is much like the control we have of our minds. In Zen practice the importance of posture is understood. In the in the first Zen lesson we are taught how to sit, the the second how to breath, but that is for another post. Of particular importance, we are shown how to hold our spine while sitting. In Zen there is great emphasis on the correct way to sit. In Mahamudra meditation the focus is on how you do sit. If you find yourself sitting all hunched over, then there you are - you've found yourself! And isn't that what you were looking for? The posited truth in both practices is that posture is attitude expressed physically and an enlightened attitude is the expression of enlightenment.
Most young children have no awareness of posture. I see pictures of myself as a young child and I see myself relaxed, sitting squarely with a nice straight spine. As I grew older, say from age 9, I remember affecting a posture. I consciously slouched a bit. I did this for two reasons. The first reason was, I had grown taller than my class mates. I felt a sense of otherness, so in an effort to be a part of those around me I bent over. The second, was, I had seen pictures of James Dean and Elvis Presley and their slouching postures. This way of holding myself drew me into conflict with my father and in a sense was my first act of independence. My posture, though a constant source disagreement and anger with my father, became a habit and did not change until my early adulthood. At that point I was exposed to the practice of Yoga and different forms of dance. In my study of dance, I found it important to modify my acquired slouching posture. With considerable stretching and strength training, I was able to compensate for what had become my habitual posture. Though my interest in dance waned, the lessons I learned regarding posture remain. These lessons inform and corroborate my continuing practice of Yoga. My body still bears the marks of the posture of my early life ( my formative years). My natural stance is now somewhat stooped but with my Yoga I maintain flexibility and therefore some choice in the matter of my posture. All this by way of saying that through my practice of Yoga I have found a way with effort to remain open to the inherent energy of existence.
This post does not address the question of what we do with the energy inherent in our existence. It is to acknowledge there is this energy and it is available. We need to recognize it and make ourselves available to it; not to block it with attitudes or "posture" that narrow our existence. We all will have difficulties life. Degrees of difficulty are not important but attitude in these times of difficulty is. If we allow ourselves to be consumed by hardship, whether real or imagined, the meaningful nature of our lives remains obscure. It is the face of adversity that molds our attitudes. It is how we hold ourselves, our stance, our posture in the light of this face that forms our character and it is in character we find the freedom to become ourselves.