Five Things You Should Get Rid Of (and as a bonus, never write a thank you card again)

Micro-houses.  Buy nothing new for a year.  Reduce all you own to one hundred things.  “Less is more” is the current trend, probably because having so much crap is a fairly new trend itself.  Think of all the things that did not exist fifty years ago.  We consume twice as much as our counterparts from half a decade back.  We have shoes and phones and computers coming out of our ears.  Reduction is great, but when we talk about simplifying, it always involves stuff.  Here are some other things worth getting rid of:
1. Anger: Buddhists say anger is like picking up a hot coal with the intention of hurling it at someone else. Who’s the one who really gets burned?  You.  For a great practice in letting go of anger, especially the day to day stuff, read The Boat is Empty, a post about rethinking how to handle unmindful people.  Get rid of the anger, it’s a waste of your time.

2. Resentment: Resentment is even worse.  It is like the hot coal of anger, but instead of throwing it at someone, you treasure it like Gollum treasures his ring, letting it slowly drive you crazy.  Resentment is like taking poison and hoping someone else gets sick. Anthony De Mello tells a great story in his big Song of the Bird (available free online) about a businessman who gets his newspaper from the same newsstand every day.  One day a friend accompanies him, and is astonished how rude and degrading the newspaperman is.  The man grunts at the businessman’s greeting, then grabs the money from his hands and tosses the paper on the ground in front of him.  The friend is astonished when the businessman picks the paper up and heads on his way without saying anything.  The friend admonishes him. “How can you stand such treatment? I would never patronize such a place.”  The businessman shrugs and says, “This news stand is on my way to work.  Why should I go out of my way just because that guy has a problem.  It’s not my problem.  Why should his rudeness affect me?”  Resentment only causes trouble for yourself. The first step to tossing out resentment is being aware of how it hurts you. Resentment is an energy drainer. Meditation, positive action, gratitude, and service are all great ways to redirect the looping resentment script that runs through our minds when we feel “wronged.” Most important, remember, the feeling is in you, not the person you resent.  They may be totally clueless.  You’re taking the poison.  If the resentment is personal, based on the actions of people close to you, then it is essential to find a resolution instead of letting it burn inside of you.

3. Being offended: This is an extension of resentment.  Taking offense is one of the most useless emotions out there.  People are mindless jerks (even the nicest ones) who say insensitive things mostly to protect something inside themselves. Accept it. If you are truly offended to the core, there might be something worth looking at in you (which is the hardest thing to do–but so worthwhile). Very often, the trait that bothers you the most in others is a problem you yourself might struggle with. Nobody notices snotty behavior more than other snobs. Nobody gets more annoyed by condescending behavior than condescending people. If the offense is pure stupidity, like a rude customer service person, then it has absolutely nothing to do with you and should therefore be dropped like the hot coal it is. Nothing sets off some of my more volatile students than an insult about their mother. Sometimes, as a practice, I tell them to insult my mother (sorry mom). I listen and shrug and point out the obvious fact that they have no idea who my mother is, so they could not possibly be insulting her; and therefore only a total idiot could be offended.  Nobody wants to be an idiot. There really is no point to getting a rise out of another’s person’s words. It can take a process of detachment and awareness to get there, but it is worth it.

4. Regret:  There is only now.  If you made a mistake in the past, then fix it.  If you cannot fix it, then it is over.  For more about this read The One Question That Will Change Your Life.  Here’s the short version.  The quesiton is:  can I do something about this problem or regret or bad feelling, etc.?  If the answer is yes, the do it.  If the answer is no, then let it go. This is good for anger and resentment as well.

5. Hope: I’ve written a lot about giving up hope–and I’ve been schooled by some great mystics for a few of the stupid things I’ve said.  It turns out there are two kinds of hope. A healthy hope that believes everything is perfect as it is and as it will be. This is the hope we are called to have when we pray “give us today our daily bread.”  This is the hope of the Sermon on the Mount.  This is the hope behind Lao Tzu’s declaration to “be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are.”  This is the hope that keeps us alive and happy in the now while still working to make now better by feeding the poor and protesting wars.  But the other hope, the “I hope someday…then I’ll be happy” syndrome, is ruining your life.  I hope someday I can get in shape, and then I’ll be happy.  I hope someday I can get a bigger house and a better job, and then I’ll be happy.  I hope my husband stops being a jerk and appreciates me, and then I’ll be happy.  This is the hope that takes us out of the present and wastes our life on daydreams for some idealized future.  Do what you can to make right now better.  Don’t waste your time hoping for the future vacation.

All this, of course, is easier said and done.  That’s why, ever day, we Give Up and Die…and, of course, we never quit.
Don’t forget to do something mystical/spiritual this week…it’ll feel good.  Here’s some ideas:
This week I really enjoyed reading Zenhabits, as I always do.  In his latest post about life change, Leo, the king of life change himself, says a mindfulness practice is foundational for any change.  Right on.  For fun, I’m testing out a “paraliminal” course (as far as I can tell, it’s subconscious, subliminal, motivation meditation) at The Ultimate You Mindfest 2012.  So far, the jury is out, but it’s interesting stuff.  If you’re local, I just took a Superconscious Meditation Class at The Institute for Himalayan Studies on Summit Ave (thanks wifey, for the mindful b-day present), and it was super cool–though I was hoping to float above my cushion and didn’t.  I’ll keep working on it.  I might get a guru soon.  Finally, don’t forget there are a million online courses you can take for free.  I started another one through Yale Open Courses on the Old Testament.  Next post: common myths about the Old Testament.

Bonus Rant On Thank You Cards:

Finally, here’s some bonus material–one more think you can get rid of:  Thank You Cards! These days, with every wedding, shower, birthday, and holiday gift, there comes the obligatory follow-up thank you note.  My first thought when I see them in the mailbox is sadness: this poor person wasted hours on all these silly notes. The note is usually the same: Thanks for the “blank” which I used to “blank.”  Uh, hello, I had to get you the damn wedding present.  I picked it from a list you gave me.  There was absolutely no thought put into it.  It was pure social convention–which I don’t mind. Wedding gifts are great (I still use my blender). But to thank me for something you picked out which I had to give you…that’s stupid.  On the flip side, if you feel like you need to be thanked, that you need to be appreciated for your gift, then you have some thinking to do about why we give.  First, giving should not be about getting a thank you, and second, when the thank you is required, it kind of ruins the spirit.  If somebody does something really special for you, and you want to thank them, then by all means, say it or write it. Real gratitude is one of the most powerful spiritual tools (yes, I just contradicted myself). But nothing is worse than taking a real spiritual practice and turning it into a social obligation. To assume that after a wedding you have to sit down and write a note for every present you’ve received–then it’s just a social requirement we could do without.  The person had to bring a gift to the shower—that’s the point of the shower.  The gift was required, so why are you thanking them as if they suddenly got it in their head to buy you a blender. If you are really attached to the idea of receiving thank you’s or praises for your good deeds, a good spiritual practice for you would be to do some anonymous giving or volunteering. Do something really, really good, and then see if you can tell nobody, not even your mom or your dog (it’s harder than you think). If you just cannot bear to do that, then you might be giving for the wrong reasons. You might be giving more for the praise and recognition than anything else.