Through the Looking Glass
We are all guilty of getting caught up in the mundane pursuits and activities of our days and forgetting it is possible to live in a world of magic and possibility. All it takes is a reminder and a shift in perspective for ordinary things to take on a mystical quality. Alice in Wonderland is a wonderful, whimsical role model for seeing magic and turning this world upside-down.
“Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Suddenly colors seem brighter, everyday occurrences seem like messages from beyond, relationships seem sweeter, and our mood lightens. When we are driven by our pursuit of things or our to-do list, we can lose the sense of wonder in our daily lives. “The purpose of life is to be alive. Not to gather objects, achieve, accumulate successes or forge your body to fit a mold. It’s simply to be alive. To touch, feel, sense, hear, see and live in the dynamic flow of whatever arises in the moment; to accept the wild and crazy thoughts that go through your mind, your animal nature, your wisdom, the fears that arise and grip your chest, the joy that takes you beyond yourself. From this place of self-acceptance, our consciousness spills over into the vast expanse of human experience and we start to see the connections between all sentient life… we start to experience love.” -Charlotte Kasl
How can we take the step through the looking glass and into this magical world that is waiting for us?
Get Present. The magic is happening now, not in the past or at some future time. When your attention turns to the Now, you feel a presence, a stillness, a peace. Eckhart Tolle describes getting caught up in the past and future as “creating time.” To be free of time is to be free of the psychological need of the past for your identity and future for your fulfillment. How to stop creating time? Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the “Now” the primary focus of your life. Say “yes” to life, and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you. To discern if you have gotten caught up in creating time, ask yourself, “Is there joy, ease, and lightness in what I am doing?” If there isn’t joy, ease and lightness, then it does not necessarily mean that you need to change what you are doing. It may be sufficient to change the how. “How” is always more important than “what”. (Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now)
“I could tell you my adventures—beginning from this morning,” said Alice a little timidly; “but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
Pay Attention. Whenever we give our full attention to a person, an activity or a thing, we honor it and recognize that this living energy is a part of who we are. Krishnamurti wrote “To pay attention means we care, which means we really love.” Attention is the most basic form of love. By paying attention we let ourselves be touched by life, and our hearts naturally become more open and engaged. (Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach)
“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass
Meet Life with Fascination and Curiosity. If you watch a toddler playing, they aren’t saying “Now I’ll pick up a block, now I’ll set it down”; they are pulled by all their senses to explore smells, sights, textures, tastes and tones. Curiosity not only helps us fully engage in pleasant activities, it is also the key to quieting our defensive reactions in difficult situations. Any time we are anxious or find ourselves attempting to control the outcome, if we shift to curiosity we automatically feel a broader perspective and a sense of okay-ness, no matter what happens. From this space we can more easily tune in to the frequency where we can receive messages from the universe -- from people, books, situations, events and even stillness. I read the story of Native American man in the early 20th century who went into a coma, and while he was in the coma, was transported by train to the west coast and woke up in a strange city full of white people leading lives very different to what he was used to. In the mythology of his people, they believed that when you die you go west to the great ocean through a series of tunnels. So for the rest of his life he believed he was dead, because the reality had totally matched his people’s myth about death. Because he thought he was dead, he was completely present. His mind and heart were completely open. He had the curiosity of a very young child, but at the same time the maturity and experience of a grown man. He was in an alien culture, but rather than being thrown by it, he was completely fascinated. Whether or not this story is true, it is an interesting way to relate to this different way of walking through our days, the wisdom of the aged and the curiosity of the child combined.
“Alice had got so much into the way of expecting nothing but out-of-the-way things to happen, that it seemed quite dull and stupid for life to go on in the common way. ― Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass
Connect with Nature. Many people exist on automatic pilot to the extent that the beauty of nature does not really exist for them. They might notice a pretty flower, but it’s more of a mental labelling than a communion with nature. Because they are not still, not present, they don’t truly see the flower, don’t feel its essence, its holiness - just as they don’t know themselves, don’t feel their own essence, their own holiness. “Presence is needed to become aware of the beauty, the sacredness of nature. Have you ever gazed up into the infinity of space on a clear night awestruck by the absolute stillness and inconceivable vastness of it? Have you listened, truly listened, to the sound of a mountain stream in the forest? Or to the song of blackbird at dusk on a quiet summer evening? To become aware of such things, the mind needs to be still. You have to put down for a moment your personal baggage of problems, of past and future, as well as all your knowledge; otherwise, you will see but not see, hear but not hear. Your total presence is required.” - Eckhart Tolle
Well, now that we have seen each other," said the unicorn, "if you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures In Wonderland And Through The Looking Glass
Find Magic in Annoying Things Too. Annoyance is really just a matter of perspective. Charlotte Kasl tells the story of a noisy woodpecker on a camping trip that started its work very early in the morning. Everyone on the trip was super annoyed, except for one guy who tuned into the rhythm of the pecking, and found that it reminded him of his son’s drumming. The same event can be a completely different experience depending on your perspective. It’s about realizing there are no problems-- only situations to be dealt with now, or to be left alone and accepted as part of the “isness” of the present moment until they change or can be dealt with. (Eckhart Tolle, the Power of Now). Problems are a creation of our mind, and only exist outside the present moment. It is a fun practice to catch oneself in annoyance and reframe the experience, noticing the shifts in our body and emotions when we change our thinking.
“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?”― Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass
Meditation. The Dalai Lama instigated a study where meditators were put into MRI machines so researchers could see on a graph what happens in the minds of dedicated meditators. The scientists discovered that when you do the habitual thing… when your mind is on autopilot, lost in thought or escalating into your emotions, it’s registered in the brain as deep grooves. Those grooves get deeper every time you do the same thing. That is why it is so hard to break a habit. However, when you interrupt that habit by noticing you've been wandering or lost in thought or thinking, suddenly there is a gap, and it opens up a new neurological pathway. (The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams). Then, you can see the world with fresh eyes and a natural spaciousness. Focusing on our senses in the present moment is a great way to create this gap in our habitual patterns, and foster a state of wonder. When you meditate on sense perceptions, you interrupt the momentum of thoughts and come back to the sound, or the smell, or the feeling, or whatever sense you’ve chosen to place your attention on. Hearing, sight, feeling, taste and smell can bring back a memory that can then escalate difficult emotions. But they are also opportunities for us to enter pleasure, delight, and joy. Our senses are so alive, and they can bring us right to the center of the present moment.
“Take care of the sense and the sounds will take care of themselves.”― Lewis Carroll, The Annotated Alice
Soak the People and Things you Love Up, Right Now. There is no time like the present to fully appreciate the people around you and communicate that to them! You have nothing to lose. And while you’re at it, now is the time to show your appreciation to yourself as well. Sometimes we live our life in a perpetual state of “waiting.” We wait to be happy when we are thinner, or less busy, or richer, or finish a list of dreaded tasks. However, our life is made up of “nows,” and is precious and brief. So don’t waste any time waiting to live for tomorrow, and don’t assume there will be a tomorrow to share your love. Even if someone is annoying, see if you can find their imperfections, and your own, as endearing, like a doting parent would. Things are always changing and we never know exactly what direction they’re going, so seize the moment!
“I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
Reverence: The Native Americans address life as a “thou”... everything as a “thou”. They have a reverence for the animals, the trees, the stones -- all of creation. “You can address anything in life as a “thou” and you can feel the change in your psychology as you do it. The ego that sees a thou, is not the same ego that sees things as an ‘it’.” (Joseph Campbell) Explore the concept of reverence in your daily life. You can even bow to things or say a quiet “Namaste” to parts of creation that you encounter.
“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, "Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.”― Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass
Regard Obstacles as Our Friends: You can use anything as an object of meditation. There is no “wrong” way to meditate and you are not a failure if thoughts arise and you follow them “down the rabbit hole.” You can use anything that’s happening to you as the object of your meditation. You might start out focusing on your breath, and then when a thought or sensation distracts you, shift your focus onto that! These distractions, these thoughts, can be your enemy or your friend-- it’s up to you. On the night that Buddha attained enlightenment, he sat under a tree. While he was sitting there he was attacked by the forces of Mara. Mara shot swords and arrows at him, but as they flew towards him, these objects of destruction turned into flowers and fell at his feet. The moral of the story is that if we habitually regard obstacles not as enemies, but as friends, then we do not suffer. Rather than experience an arrow or sword, we experience a flower. Obstacles teach us where we are stuck and help us grow. In Buddhism there are 4 Maras (Obstacles). The first is Devaputra Mara, which is seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. To turn this into a flower, we open our hearts and look at how we try to escape pain. Observation is all that is required to initiate this shift. The second is Skandha Mara, or “seeking ground.” When the rug is pulled out from under us, we grasp for certainty. To turn this into a flower, rather than struggling to regain our concept of who we are, we relax into not knowing and just stay inquisitive about what will happen next. The third Mara is Klesha Mara, which is “strong emotions.” A simple emotion will arise and we will fuel it with thoughts and stories. To turn this into a flower, we only have to sit with the simple emotional energy and let it pass. It then becomes a tool to soften towards ourselves and all beings. The final Mara is the Yama Mara, or fear of death. It is said that all the other Maras stem from this one. Fear of impermanence is what keeps us trying to control everything -- to make everything safe and predictable. Ironically, this kind of control is a form of death because we end up rejecting our basic experience in the now and miss out on life! We are setting ourselves up for failure, because sooner or later, we’re going to have an experience we can’t control. To turn it into a flower we can surrender to the uncontrollable and notice that this Mara is not really a fear of death, it is a fear of life.
“Where should I go?" -Alice. "That depends on where you want to end up." - The Cheshire Cat. ― Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass
Through these simple practices, we can seek the magic all around us, and we will find it and it will enrich our days. Suddenly, simple things will take on new meaning and life will be full of wonder, profundity and fun! “Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it”― Lewis Carroll. I’ll see you on the other side of the looking glass.
** For further reading check out the following insightful works which informed this essay: If the Buddha Got Stuck by Charlotte Kasl, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, How to Meditate by Pema Chodron and Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams, The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll.