Understanding is Peace

“Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood”  lyrics from Love Potion #9

Being misunderstood creates a complicated series of emotions.  Frustration, confusion, anger, sadness cascade around inside a confused mind.  How can I be more clear?  How can I express myself in a way that can be understood?  Understanding is peace – recognition feels so good, and when a communication is received through a clear filter, hearts open, joy arises.  Layer the filter with insecurities, resentments and bad memories and misunderstandings can build to a crescendo of confusion.

“Why did you say that?  Why didn’t you say it a different way?  Why Why Why?”  Many abusive conversations start this way – it has just occurred to me that those conversations in which we are told (usually angrily) that we should have done something differently are in fact abusive – since none of us can change the past.  What would kindness say?  I’m delving into some other ways to communicate that will be more effective, more kind and way more understanding.

There are many systems who aim is to remedy this kind of situation.  Most of them would recommend staying away from the written word, as inflection calls for assumption, which is the beginning of a slippery slope and a downward slide.  I love the book “The Four Agreements” which proposes a simple set of rules for staying on the positive side of discussions and conversations.

“Don’t Make Assumptions” is a rule that can often clarify misunderstandings.  And oh how assumptions can multiply in a texting barrage.  Oh dear!  What is the remedy?  To ask for clarity, to be open to receiving it instead of clinging to the original assumption, which has come from a clouded place – often dark.  If we are going to make assumptions, it might be best to assume loving motives – albeit this can cause romantic confusion from time to time.  Once again, just simple clarity can alleviate many kerfluffles.  Simplicity rocks!

“Don’t take anything personally” – is another “rule” that is often forgotten.  All of us have a unique perspective, a personal view.  We can sometimes see clearly, but vision is once again clouded by our personalities and histories.  Finding a way through to an open hearted perspective does bring us to the Promised Land of love.  Bringing this teaching close to heart has helped me many times.  “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are” said Anais Nin, in a fit of wisdom.  “you, you, you” says the ego – if only “you” did something differently, I would be able to love you.  Sigh, squirm, deflect, resist….

These two suggestions come up often for me.  They can effectively guide me back to a place of understanding that includes seeing myself and others with compassion and love.  If I still can’t get there I can turn to NVC or Non-violent communication.  That system is based on the idea that criticizing and judging others (if only you had ________, I would be ok) is violence.  It certainly isn’t the path of love or kindness.  I haven’t met a person yet who could turn back the clock and re-do the past.  It is a superpower many of us may wish for from time to time, but what we have is this moment, this opportunity, this love.  NVC says to speak of feelings, instead of our judgements of other.  “When you did X, I felt Y” as opposed to “why didn’t you do that differently, what’s wrong with you, now I’m mad”… And this is easier than it sounds, most of us have underdeveloped vocabularies for feelings due to centuries of emotional repression and interrelations that are based on anger and rage.  NVC includes a handy reference guide to feelings – and a reminder that when we say “I feel like you are ________” is not a feeling, but a judgement.

I recently learned that when we say “I feel” it is most likely to express genuine emotion.  When we say “I feel like” then the contemplation has returned to the mental realms of criticism and closed hearted judgements.   These are fine points, I know as we stumble along on the day to day experience of living life as a learning process heading towards love.  And just as an unfinished painting doesn’t include the finer details, an unfinished comprehension is the same.  Filling in the details, being aware of the finer points, paints a different picture.  Be an artist!  Make your life be your masterpiece of understanding.  It’s more fun that way, I am sure of it!

and then, when all else fails – there is a beautiful system called Ho’o’ponopono which goes something like this:

I’m sorry, I love you, please forgive me, thank you….

repeat, repeat, repeat until you get it right….

Kindness and Judgement

I know this: I can gently pet a kitten, smell a rose and embrace a favorite person with warmth in my heart.  It feels so good, a gentle purr, a sweet fragrance and that special something that communicates love between friends who hug – and yet – on a daily basis is there more to understanding what passes as kindness?

Ordinary kindnesses – epitomized by the young person helping an elder cross the street, or carrying a heavy bag for a tottering shopper, are encouraged in a universal attitude of understanding.  And yet, how can our kindnesses extend into every nook and cranny, every moment, every breath?  What is holding us back from letting the sweetness inside be expressed?

Sometimes a kindness requires a deeper vulnerability- a reaching in to a dusty heartspace, a symbolic inner cave of old toys, cherished but unused.  Imagine pulling them out, dusting them off and putting them to work to create a better day, a better connection and higher love.  What happens when I am a deliberate creator of kindness? A new brightness comes, a sweeter joy erupts together with more laughter.

I am surrounded by animal companions – they delight at a glance and explode into playfulness with the least provocation.  How can I emulate this – embody this – exult into this primal joy more and more often?  Is it adulthood that holds me back or a concept of maturity?  Is laughter often inappropriate?  I aim to always remember to see life as a playground, rather than an industrial assembly line of productivity and accomplishment.

A recent visitor showed extreme disapproval at my lifestyle.  Too many dogs, they said, too many books, bad feng shui.  My joy was temporarily dampened.  Am I getting it wrong about how to live and be myself?  Humpf!  I retrieved my eco-spray bottle of “Grouch-Be-Gone” and applied it liberally to all the surfaces in my sanctuary.  As the mood lightened I remembered that I love to play – to dance and to sing.  In tune or out, music is my delight, my happiness a true love.  Cultivating inner joy and playfulness will definitely bubble over and expand out into the world as kindness, contagious positivity and happiness…oh yes and I really love my dogs, my books and my eccentric furniture.  Having the confidence to make the choices my true heart is calling for, each day in each moment, large or small, has had the extraordinary effect of transforming my life into a living altar to joy and love.

It may not be completely authentic to live life as a musical production – but some of it can be – in fact the more of life that is filled with song (and dance and play) the happier we can be.  Remembering to skip and hop instead of plod is the work of my inner child.  The distilled essence of playfulness is my aim – in each moment as much as possible.

Joy is contagious – !

 

 

 

If you want to heal it, you gotta feel it…

 

My inner voice said repeatedly: “Okay self – you got this, you’re good, you’re balanced and happy.  You keep calm under stressful circumstances.  Years of meditation, spiritual healing and “inner work” seemed to have done the trick and helped keep your emotional life stable and simple.”

Surprise!!! Life conspired to prove me wrong about this – as my comfortable, sweet and friendly world was recently turned upside down – without my permission, I might add. Not just in one way, in many ways simultaneously.  I experienced shock. My inability to stay calm, respond rather than react and generally feel good was imperiled. I raved, I cried and squealed.  I lost touch with my center and spiraled into places I haven’t visited for years. Some of them were new and exotic destinations, wholly unimagined.  It has been a deep dive into the ocean of emotion. But I’m a snorkeler, I said to myself – you can do this.  Just remember to keep breathing. Try to remember which way is up. Follow the bubbles.

I’ll confess I gained a lot of compassion and understanding for others during this unraveling.  I also gained a powerful desire to understand in more compelling ways how to change my inner landscape to be what I genuinely want it to be.  To respond in different ways means changing those pesky, troublesome unconscious thought patterns.  If I’m making that sound easy, please forgive me, I’m sure it is not, it is one of the biggest challenges I have faced in my earth walk.  How do we alter what is unconscious?  Years of societal conditioning, childhood and adult wounding and ancestral patterns have been stored inside us, and are the unseen, often troublemaking programmers of our operating systems.

To correct the glitches in our subconscious minds, it calls to me to seek advice from on high. The Vedas – ancient Hindu wisdom scriptures say it this way – there are two paths, the wisdom path, and the devotion path.  When they are brought together, our inner life is enriched, we are connected to all-that-is, and find our life on earth to be vastly improved and more meaningful.  That is my interpretation, anyway.  Bringing their esoteric teachings into modern life is our challenge.  The “path of truth” has been paved over for centuries.  Discernment, contemplation, courage – finding these inside myself is a step by step process. A wild ride!

Wisdom is always present.  Some claim to hear a ‘small still inner voice’ that urges an even deeper listening.  Sitting still, letting it be heard is so important and also presents a monumental challenge.  Ironic, paradoxical and really hard – the wisdom side of things is always available to us.  At this time in history, we have so many teachings that can appear at the flick of a finger.  There’s no need to buy anything if you have internet access – the sages are all present there!  Free Webinars abound if you will simply sacrifice your email address.  And yet, it seems obvious that most of us would rather play a game or enjoy a meal than sincerely seek the wisdom of the universe.

Alongside wisdom appears devotion aka dedication.  The subconscious mind blossoms and changes encouraged by repetition.  Here’s where the two paths meet – the wisdom path is about re-training the conscious mind and the devotional path is about re-training the subconscious mind.  There is another profound tidbit that has just appeared to me – it isn’t just about repetition.  To truly reach the subconscious mind and guide it to behave differently it needs feelings – strong emotion.  So it’s repetition with emotion is reputed to be the magic key.  Absentmindedly repeating a prayer or affirmation doesn’t make much difference to our inner world, but add some powerful emotion there and Shazam – the inner self wakes up and pays attention!

Recognizing these simple truths is part of what can be called “awakening”.  Living consciously means finding the nooks and crannies of our subconscious that are little rebels without a cause – and teaching them to behave in alignment with our higher self.  It’s mind yoga – and as much as the physical side of yoga has swept the world and become mainstream – the yoga of the mind is likely more important especially to our emotional and spiritual well being who are walking hand in hand, or mind in body…

How does this all come together?  Most of us know that to create a new habit takes some weeks of repetition.  On my quest to understand healing and change I recently saw the results of a study that showed that when play is included, the mind learns more quickly.  I would make a leap of faith and say that the unconscious mind may also learn more quickly from a playful attitude as indeed the happy people of this planet show us.  Success seems to love joyful beings!  Unhappiness, in general, is not the direction any of us truly want to go and finding our way through the darker times in life could be called “the quest”… or “enlightenment” since light is a lot more fun than dark, for most of us.

One of the most miraculous and lovely ways to “practice” is to “play” music!  It’s not an accident that making music is called play.  When ambition is airlifted from the area – and music making is merry making, surely that is one of the higher emotional states available to us.  Why do birds sing at sunrise?  I surmise that they are delighted to welcome a new day – and also find their family and friends in the nearby shrubs and trees.  Music also brings us together, unites us in a common energy field, which usually also feels really good.  Just right, comfortable, and fully present.

To recap I am working to feel my emotions more deeply, to understand when I’m acting from unconscious wounds, to reprogram my subconscious with affirmation, repetition infused with emotion all the while in a state of joy and love.  Let’s get started!

 

Heart medicine – a poem

 

letting the raw parts be heard

finding expression for the inexpressible

tears for words

words for tears, cried through my mind

 

The discomfort of some feelings

certain sizzlers like charcoals

yearning to burn

cannot be contained in this body

nor understood in this mind

or felt in this heart

where do they go

how can they be handled

how do I surrender to the flame

 

jumping jacks

Buddhist chants

Primal scream

or Lou Reed

temporary respite

cushion the blows

that rain upon my shattered soul

 

How did this happen to me?

What detours did I have to take

to reach my destination?

Where is the map?

wisdom knows

still,  letting her lead is an

unaccustomed kind of sensation

like breaking in a pair of shoes

or traveling to a foreign land

at first, everything is different,

unfamiliar, uncomfortable

then, gradually a learning

a relaxation and trust emerges

the way is shown

 

 

 

Love and Devastation

When a love relationship turns to hate, or dislike or disharmony – what is that about?  This is one of the most troubling, painful and challenging situations in life for me.  I imagine it is the same for others.  One of my spiritual mentors said it this way: “In order to love you must be willing to face the devastation”.  A Buddhist friend and I were pondering this turn of events and he relates it to the idea that in the light there is also the dark, in happiness there is sorrow – it is the yin/yang truth of life.  Absolute duality.  In the emotional realm it makes sense that once again the idea of attachment and aversion is where the suffering lies.  Attached to “good” feelings and afraid of “bad” feelings – there is also an unconscious awareness of the pain embedded in the pleasure.  True freedom is acceptance, but that is not a Pollyanna-ish idea.  Acceptance includes everything.  Leave anything out and it is not acceptance.

These spiritual “basics” are bandied about frequently in my world.  The basics don’t change but my relationship to them and understanding of them does continue to deepen and expand.  Contemplation and experience, rinse and repeat.  The cycle becomes a spiral…unwinding towards understanding, and then acceptance.

There was a time when I mourned my lover’s death while he was alive.  Deeply entwined in a long term relationship I feared its ending – and sometimes felt I should leave before he left me or died.  I imagine this is not an uncommon way to react to intimacy and love.  If I push it away then i can save myself from the pain of loss.  Well – that is a losing game!  It is not win-win, it is lose-lose.  Perhaps it is easier to avoid intimacy and love altogether, and so avoid the pain of loss.  Pondering that it is easy to see that life then collapses into pain, loneliness and depression.  There is no the easy way out.

So, what is the way out?  My experience is this – the way out is through.  Through the pain, through the difficult emotions, through the grief and through the loss.  Remembering all those I have loved and lost, the grief remains but the love, wow, the love was so good.  My life was so enriched by the loss, by the love and continues to be enriched with the memories.  Happy, happy memories.  Ironically it seems that happiness is easier to remember than pain.  Is that true for you, too?

Emotions are tricky turf.  Our coping mechanisms and addictions seem to be born from the desire and need to suppress what we are afraid to feel.  The British culture was molded from the idea of “stiff upper lip” which is shorthand for “show no emotion”.  What happens to feelings that want to be felt but aren’t?  Where do they go?  One theory is that they turn into themselves and cause disease (dis-ease, duh). I see the possibility here.  The psychiatric diseases are clearly seen as suppressed emotion and energy.

How, then do we feel emotions?  It takes so much courage to let the painful feelings be felt and pass through.  The more deeply and completely they are felt, the more quickly they pass through, at least that’s true for me.  I consider this process to be the sacred fire, as the allowing of intense emotion seems to burn something – and there is a purification that completes when a feeling is fully felt.

A wise person once said to me “Every feeling fully felt leads to love”.  I have experienced the truth of this – the complete and utter bliss that lies on the other side of grief.  The Tibetan Buddhists belief is that we have the possibility to attain a “rainbow body” – and the process of burning off all that is not true, all this is not love, leads to this illumined state.  Bring it on!

 

Trust

Trust the Divine – surrender – accept – go with the flow – be grateful for what is received…

Many guides and teachers (including me)  have spoken these words as an offering of wise counsel.  I’m more than ever aware of the underlying fear that holds me  back from the complete expansion and trust that I seek.  The most common worries seem to be about money, health and relationship.  Worthy worries! Living in the present moment and constantly referring back to the feeling of trust means to me that I need to “go deeper”.  Deeper into myself, into the place that thoughts originate. Sometimes called the “true self” or just “the self” finding out where thoughts originate is quite an enjoyable inquiry.  Then comes the next level which in my opinion is to recognize the witness – the thoughts originate somewhere but it is “me” that is witnessing those thoughts.  I suggest that refraining from overthinking this one, which is quite a bit more important to awakening than it seems at first glance.  It comes to mind that there is an internal voice that is “thinking” thoughts, and there is the awareness that is listening to those thoughts.  Which one is “you”?

Relaxing into fear sounds like a paradox.  I start my session with a question – or an intention.  I sit up with a straight spine and begin to breathe deeply, and close my eyes. As the walls begin to crumble in my mind  I watch the time  pass while I continue breathing and relaxing.  I become aware of the depth of feeling that is opening and expanding inside.  Its a lot like diving in the ocean where what matters is breath and presence.  Then I pause to look around and settle in to wait for a kind of psychological unravelling to begin.  I have experienced this as descending down a rope, into a chasm, down down down, always referring back to my question or intention.  What is here for me?  What can I learn that will help me on my life’s journey?  What is the next step I need to take towards healing my heart, healing my body or healing my mind.

This is the purpose of meditation – to wait for the insight and guidance that resides within.  To reaffirm my commitment to learning what love is, what service is and what healing is.  Om namah Shivaya… I bow to the Creator, who also destroys.  I ponder the paradox and see the magic that has always been there, the droplets of grace that have brightened my day…

 

Nurturing Grace

Grace is the flower, the fragrance the sunlight of life.  How can we tend the thoughts in our head in order to create a fertile field that nurtures grace?

I recommend a simple experiment.  Imagine a scenario – play it out in your head from start to finish.  It can be something simple, as long as there is a desired outcome.  Here’s a possibility – you’re in line at the grocery store.  You’re in a hurry and the person in front of you is taking a long time unloading their cart.  What do you do?   One option is to get mad, frustrated, tap your toes, sigh loudly expressing frustration.  Imagine that fully.  What do you suppose that is creating in the general area?  Are others supportive or possibly disgusted at your behavior?  Ponder this.  Then, imagine the opposite.  You move up and lend a hand, helping unload the cart, and in this process discover that the person you’re helping is actually handicapped, and only has use of one arm.  Oops, in the other scenario that was overlooked, as selfish priorities completely took over.  The minute that kindness and gratitude were introduced there was a complete paradigm shift and in this instant you are living in the world as you truly wish it to be.

Now, extend this outward.  During the day the “attitude of gratitude” has an effect on others around you and a deep effect on yourself. It sounds so simple but doesn’t always prove to be easy to maintain.  It’s a work in progress!

Then there’s grace.  Is grace accidental?  Is it completely random, or is there a way we can create fertile ground for grace?  If there is, then gratitude is the bedrock, the compost, the essential nutrient for grace.  Despite circumstances, despite everything, we can be grateful and in that very feeling is opening to grace that makes life worth living.  Sometimes it seems to evade us – where does it go?  In this interactive life there are definitely ways to invite back the honored guest and offer her the seat at the head of the table.  Most religious and spiritual teachings are about this – how to nurture grace.  The ten commandments of Christianity, the Eightfold path of Buddhism, the 8 arms of Yoga… all are profound wisdom, distilled to bring the most benefit to our lives.

Once again, as in all true teachings there is no reason to just believe them, they are all possible to confirm through personal exploration and experience.  Give gratitude a try, make a charitable donation or help a person or animal in need.  The reward for selfless service (called Seva in sanskrit) is immeasurable grace.  Perhaps sainthood is elusive in this life, but living in the light of love, well that is a worthy goal.  Each step taken has the option of moving towards love or away from it.  Choosing mindfully, with conscious awareness means paying close attention, bringing awareness back over and over to the simple truths that belie their power.

It is a hard won realization for me that when I’m struggling and heading towards suffering, the best thing to do is find somebody who needs help more than I do.  That’s not hard to do in this world, there are so many down and out, or handicapped in ways I’m not or injured, or…..well the possibilities are endless.  During one of the hardest time of my life I was living in Hawaii (hmmmm) and would just get in the car and ask the universe to guide me to someone I could help.  Then it turned out that they were everywhere – the sufferers.  I know I can’t help everyone, but supporting just one person or animal is important to that one.  Making a positive difference in life – that to me is truly meaningful.  Go for it!