Amy Tan on being a skeptic and Yoga talk

I love this quote I found by acclaimed writer, Amy Tan. When we hear “skeptic” we imagine a cynic, a non-believer, even a pessimist. Here, Tan refers to herself as a skeptic but alludes to it as positive inquiry and investigation.

“I strive to be a skeptic, in the best sense of the word:
I question everything, and yet am open to everything.
And I don’t have immovable beliefs.
My values shift and grow with my experiences
and as my context changes,
so does what I believe.”
Amy Tan

Like an amoeba transforming shape at various moments in time, the idea of shifting with each experience and re-evaluating beliefs is ultra-refreshing. Some may consider this approach mercurial, but I find it practical in life’s constant state of flux. Transform and shift. Be flexible, receptive, thoughtful. Stay open. Ask questions. Think of waves rising up to their most triumphant state. After little pause, they roll into a foamy fury and the cycle repeats itself again and again. Put simply, this can represent the oscillating reality of daily life… the incessant rising and falling, inhaling and exhaling, succeeding and failing, weeping and rejoicing. In Buddhist traditions, we are taught to accept each moment as fleeting and each struggle as an expression of impermanence. It is a powerful teaching to carry along -we will not exist in this state forever. 

Montauk Beach 2015

The Buddha once advised a student that was distraught over feeling the need to convert to Buddhism. He said if your ancestors were Catholic, and you were raised Catholic, stay Catholic and learn how to incorporate Buddhist teachings into your life in order to enrich your experiences. It is a regular misconception that we need to run off to a monastery, shave our head, and denounce the world in order to truly practice the Buddha’s teachings. This is far from what the Buddha wanted. What led him to enlightenment was immersing himself in the world around him. He encouraged his students to ask questions, remain curious, and ultimately, believe only in teachings that have personally been experienced as true. There is no blind faith here, but rather a reassuring urge to find out for oneself what teachings are credible. It must come from your own personal experience. 

There are times when a “go with the flow” and “this too shall pass” attitude is the best approach to a situation. There are meditation techniques that encourage this type of cooperation and acceptance- to simply sit with oneself and accept each thought and feeling that arises. Sharon Salzberg teaches a form of meditation where you label exactly what is happening and meditate on it. Oh anger, there you are. You are here again. Ah, guilt. I knew you would come back around. That is okay. What do you feel like today? Joy! You made it. Thank you for being here. You simply label what you are experiencing as it arises instead of judging yourself for it. You accept it and direct your attention to just being with it. A very wonderful meditation technique.

But by the same token, there are yoga practices that conjure upÂcreative energy in opposed to calming us down. These spirited approaches induce passion, intensity, and creative power. In this particular spiritual arena we speak our mind, stand up for what we believe in, and respond creatively to the multitudinous situations that command vigor and assertiveness.

As Amy Tan says, we have to remain malleable and observant, flexible enough to adjust with each experience. Through practice we gain insight on how to approach experiences with creativity, clarity, and skillfulness. The key is balance. Yoga teaches us when to be fierce and outgoing and when to pull back, relax, and take a deep breath. As Tan wrote, “as my context changes, so does what I believe.” What a beautiful lesson and approach to living.


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