There is often a gap between thoughts and actions, between ideas and the plot of living. Life is a river. If you sit there thinking about it, pondering it, worrying about it all the time, then you are on the bank watching life go by.
I’m not talking about thinking before making a decision. Big decisions need to be considered seriously and deeply before committing to a change. I’m referring here to doubt, self-questioning, just conforming, staying neutral. To live fully you cannot stay neutral. In Yoga thinking, the gap signals dis-union from your true self, in Buddhism, dis-connection from the present.
It’s so easy to get cozy sitting there, quietly, just watching as your life passes. You feel pretty safe. But you do only what you have to, what others require, and what you are used to, the same ol’ same ol’. Politeness and protocol give the feeling of genuine living. But underneath, you wonder if there’s more.
I think many people lead double lives. They go through the day with a smile, never sharing their inner drama, perhaps completely unaware of it. They might even be disconnected to what they’re feeling. I have a friend who will have a conversation with someone, and will later tell me how insulted or hurt she was by what they said. When I ask why she didn’t mention it at the time, she replies, “I didn’t know how I felt at the time”.
Last night at dinner with some friends, Rob came a little late, so the rest of us had started eating. We had also opened a bottle of wine he had given me to share for the dinner. After taking a few bites of the pesto pasta I had made, he remarked how it tasted bitter, but it wasn’t caused by his pesto. (I mixed his pesto with mine in the pasta)
I was insulted, but didn’t show it. Normally I would just swallow it and suffer. A few moments later, I decided to let it out. I told him how obnoxious it was to criticize so rudely and blatantly. We argued a bit, and then he revealed how upset he was that we had opened his wine without waiting for him. Then I understood. We were both disconnected from our real feelings. My outburst had brought to the surface Rob’s real motivation for the petty judgment. Politeness is often foiled by the truth behind the mask. Breaking that pattern may have brought us closer. I know I feel more real with him now.
With earnest attention and lots of practice, we can close the gap between emotions and life, between thought and action. We can bring our intentions to the surface, tie our actions to our hearts and live wholly in the present. Don’t think you can just click a switch. There’s no instant plug-in for this.
Today, as I walked along my daily route, I passed a slim man raking some leaves. He was huffing and puffing. He looked out of shape. I smiled and said, “That’s good exercise, isn’t it?” and he replied with a smile, “Yes, it certainly is”. The house where he raked had recently been sold. He was probably the new owner. Since it’s less than a block form my house, he’s my neighbor.
As soon as I passed I realized I could have introduced myself and welcomed him to the neighborhood. Granted, I was friendly enough already, but in a very generic way, no identity, no real connection. In the back of my mind I had a little movie running as I walked away, a picture of my father, open and very friendly, welcoming him with a meaningful conversation, a personal connection.
Why did I play my standard movie instead of running that “improved” version? No particular reason, just habit, my usual. Next time, I’ll keep the alternate clip right at the tip of my actions and mind. I’ll live right into it, fall into it, like flopping into a pile of freshly raked leaves.
Try it. Just fall into a smile, fall into the truth, blare out what your heart feels. Stop sweating the thinking. Skip the analysis of every action. “Just Do It”, as Nike’s genius ad campaign suggests. People will look at you like you’ve lost your mind, but that’s because they’re content just sitting on the bank, watching life pass them by.