Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Joy of Being

Those who have not found their true wealth, which is the radiant joy of Being and the deep, unshakable peace that comes with it, are beggars, even if they have great material wealth. They are looking outside for scraps of pleasure or fulfillment, for validation, security, or love, while they have a treasure within that not only includes all those things but is infinitely greater than anything the world can offer.

Eckhart Tolle

Audrey Ashkin is a Girls on the Run coach. I had the opportunity to meet her recently at a site visit, right here in my hometown of Charlotte. Audrey shared with me, what I consider, a fabulous example of why working with girls is just so darn real. So here goes:

Audrey was running next to Katie. Katie is in 3rd grade and is definitely one of the fastest girls in their Girls on the Run group. Audrey, not being as fast-paced as 9 year old Katie, thought to herself, “The only way I am going to keep up with this girl is to get her talking while running at the same time This might actually slow her down a tad.” And so Audrey, being oh so wise and admittedly mildly manipulative asked Katie, "How do you run so fast?" Of course, Audrey was hoping for a long and dramatic soliloquy on the benefits of running, diet and a lengthy list of the extraordinary character traits required to be so self-disciplined. What she got instead was, undoubtedly one of the most brilliant and articulate responses possible.

"I just put one foot in front of the other and go.”

Ahhh…the simplicity of kidspeak. Somewhere around middle school, we begin to take on the stories of the grown-up world and feel this need to complicate things. I know for me, just enjoying running for the sake of running wasn’t enough. I had to start doing, performing, justifying my actions in order to explain myself. I had to compete, win, bring home a trophy, and create stories to prove who I was and why I did what I did. I couldn’t just be fast. Soon, this need to achieve, win and prove myself became evident in everything I did. Instead of being content and at peace with myself, I had to DO things to feel worthy and at peace with myself. I had to justify my existence by performing my way through life rather than being my way in it.

Recently on my flight home from St. Louis (after an extraordinary and uplifting two days with Jill Indovino, her fabulous staff, coaches and girls) I was seated across the aisle from Amanda. Amanda is about 10 months old. For some reason, Amanda enjoyed staring at me. What started off as a simple game of peek-a-boo turned into a full-frontal staring match. For at least ten minutes, the two of us just looked at one another. People around began to notice, but that didn’t distract either one of us from our mission. We were intrigued with the newness of each other. Amanda was (remember my last Word Up) is-ing and joyfully invited me into the “joy of being” with her for the ten minutes we spent staring at one another.

There is a great story about the Buddha. The Buddha was said to give a silent sermon during which he held up a flower and gazed at it. After a while, a monk who was present began to smile. He is said to be the only one who understood the sermon.

Don’t get it? Read on.

You see a child sitting alone in a sandbox at the park. She is crying. Her mother, who is quite young, is laughing and sitting in the lap of a young man on the park bench nearby. What stories do you create in your head about this situation?

How ‘bout this one? A 20-something girl is crying. Tears are flowing down her cheeks. A boy, close in age, is gesturing with his hands. He is pacing back and forth as he talks. What stories do you create in your head about THIS situation?
Let’s try one more. You wake up one morning and for no apparent reason, feel sad, down-in-the-dumps…some would say mildly depressed. What stories do you make up in your head to justify these feelings of sorrow?

What I love about working with girls in our program is their innocent way of just seeing things for what they are. “I feel sad. No need to know why. I just am.” They experience the sadness by noticing it, leaning into it and just being it. They feel no need to explain why, they just are. They see the facts and the real of a situation but don’t feel any need to justify or create stories to explain what they see. They just see it.

As the monk so eloquently saw the flower, beautifully and simply, so goes the view of an 8 year old. I put one foot in front of the other and go.

Lately, I’ve been excited each day to pause, breathe and observe the thoughts, internal-talk and stories I make up to explain a situation. I’m spending more time staring at the familiar, long enough until the story of it slips away. I am then able to see it through infant eyes, as Amanda saw me. She didn’t see Molly Barker, the founder of Girls on the Run, mother of Hank and Helen, woman, or plane-mate. No, she saw me…being. Plain, simple and present.

What stories have you told to explain, rationalize or justify something you saw, felt, did or heard? What happens when you take away the story and just see something/someone for what it/she/he is…I’d love to know.

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