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!

Determination revisited – the Hero’s Journey

This is a hot topic for me right now.  What has made the difference in my successes and completions?  What has provided the fuel for those endeavors?  Some contemplation led me to this realization:  The most important factor in success, the very most important ingredient is ….. (drumroll, please)  self-love.

For us to believe in ourselves, we do need to love our very own self.  Unconditionally.  Absolutely.  Completely.  Believe in ourselves, nurture ourselves and trust our own guidance and intuition.  Self-trust is born of self love, just as trust of other is born of love.

If I love myself, I’ll follow through on healthy eating, regular exercise and self care.  I can’t put the cart before the horse, that is the piece called will or discipline, which can be inflicted in various ways upon ourselves but isn’t successful in the long run. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that discipline, as in the military, creates defeat, since the will or commitment comes from outside influences, not our own desires, stirring from the cauldron of self love.

How do we nurture this all-important self love?  That sounds so easy, but as part of the game of life it seems many of us were implanted with a bug that creates havoc in our operating system.  This “bug” has created self-doubt, shame and guilt.  These low vibration emotions can defeat us – they render us incapable of self care, of taking powerful steps in the right direction and are self-limiting.

Learning to love ourselves from the inside is a hero’s journey.  It’s a full time job, it’s the Big Work.  Don’t delay, just take a step or two in the direction of self love, as often as you can.  Become your own cheering section – find reasons to believe in your own worth.  It’s really a matter of realization, awareness and choice.  How do you treat the people and animals in your life that you love?  How can  you give yourself some of that same loving care, in your mind and in your actions?  How are ways self love might express?  This takes some mighty pondering!  Ponder away, the benefits are fantastic.

The successful times of my life have had this important thing in common – I believed in myself.  I used to think this way:  “if it’s possible for a human to do it, I can do it”… taking into account my own limitations, of course, but applying that thought and confidence to a potential outcome, I always experienced success.  We believe in the ones we love (including ourselves).  This applies once again to  the “law of attraction” – a  principle that states that when we are in alignment with our goal then we can achieve it.

Here’s a possible affirmation:  In this moment, I choose to love myself.  I love my life, I love my little ways and foibles and I am completely confident of my success in whatever I choose to do. And if I do fail, I will learn as much as I can from that failure, pick myself up, dust myself off and try again.   I release all shame and guilt and recognize myself as a piece of perfection, an integral part of the Great Mystery – a beloved being, perfect in my own eyes, the only ones that really matter….And so it is!

Determination – part 1

“the obstacle is the path” – excerpt from Zen teaching

What holds us back from living our dreams? How do we cultivate the qualities that bring us success? One of the most important qualities that walks hand-in-hand with success is determination.  A close relative of commitment, determination is the driving force that compels us to the finish line.  Apathy would appear to be its counterpart – always lurking at the shadows, beckoning our will to concede defeat.  Ha!

What nurtures determination?  A kissing cousin of discipline as well as commitment, determination can also be called will.   Sometimes  it seems to take a whopping share of suffering to urge our being to take the steps we need to take.  Most of us would prefer to skip the suffering and move directly on to the successful outcome in our lives but this doesn’t seem to fulfill the purpose of life.  It seems to me that one of the main purposes of life is the experiencing of challenges.  The obstacle IS the path, in other words.  And each obstacle, somehow perfectly placed by the Great Mystery detours us to the perfect destination, teaching us along the way the great lessons of life.

Relaxation may seem antithetical to determination but I don’t think it is.  Stress derails most things, a tight grip on the steering wheel doesn’t allow for fluid movement on the road, and that analogy flows straight into real life, where approaching life as a dance is just so much more fun than marching in military formation.  So, relaxed determination leaves space for commitment and flexibility – a strong will doesn’t need to reside in a tense body.   Keep breathing!

Allowing the Divine currents to flow – to inspire and to direct – creates a path for great determination to provide the energy to complete projects, to create and manifest.  Allowing happens in a state of relaxation, but also allows for the greatest source energy to come through us.  Letting go in order to hold on…another powerful paradox reveals itself.

There are a multitude of suggestions about how to urge myself towards determination.  Most of them start with a morning meditation practice.  Wake up with a plan – put that plan into action and then surrender into the day.  What’s a good plan for the morning?  Once awake, I reach for gratitude and positive thoughts.  It’s a lot like cleaning house – sweeping out the cobwebs, dusting the furniture and so on.  Sometimes I envision gathering all the negative energies that have come to reside in my being and gather them all up expel them in a powerful breath.  The ancient yogic breathing practices called Pranayama are well described and powerful.

So, first a daily reset/refresher.  Then, on to a meditation – generally even before I get up.  This might break all the “rules” of a Zen or other system, but what the heck, it’s ok to meditate in whatever way is most effective, says I.  Some yoga, always a good idea and the day is now heading a very good direction.  That could be enough to foster determination, which together with a “to-do” list supports me towards relaxed accomplishment.

Sometimes I’m overtaken with passion for a project, or with a deadline.  Both of those situations foster and support determination.  The aging process has brought with it a slower pace, so even in times of great passion and determination I need to accept my own limitations and practice self- care to make it over the finish line with grace.  Deep inner listening has become one of life’s most precious necessities.  Self-respect, coupled with a sense of humor brings a lot to the table – and reminds me that in some way that may even be incomprehensible – life is good, and all is well.

 

 

Paradox as Portal

Kwan Yin, one of my favorite mythical figures, is the Chinese Goddess of compassion.  In some imagery she rides a dragon to her desired destination.  Yes!  What an image, what an idea – is it possible that the terrible dragon of evil is docile and supportive when it is perceived through the heart of kindness?  I’m banking on it – striving for it – and just getting with that idea on many levels.  How can I ride my own personal dragon to my happy place?

“The Divine speaks in paradox”… if this is true then seeking the troubling paradox is a worthwhile pursuit.  What does that actually mean?  How do I use a paradoxical situation as a way out of suffering?  Here’s one of the most confusing paradoxes – if you want to get what you want, let it go.  I can only recommend trying this, as it does seem paradoxical that when we grasp desperately for something (or someone) that it (or they) remains safely out of reach until the burning desire transforms itself into something else.  Is that always true?  Perhaps, I’m not privy to that knowledge but it has shown itself to be true in my life.

Another paradox is the mind-bending idea that everything we need is within us already.  If so, then why does it seem that we need the external reality so much?

How does this jive with the well known law of attraction?  If we need to match the energy of what we seek to be able to attract it, then what happens when we have a frenzied, desperate feeling  what shows up? Usually not what we want, usually the opposite of what we want.

How has this shown itself to be true in your life… ?

Perhaps one reasons a paradox is a link to higher awareness  has to do with its ability to derail our mind.  Like a Zen koan, there doesn’t seem to be a true answer to any paradox.  There is an ugly dog contest in a  nearby town, that has grown to national proportions.  If the phrase “so ugly, it’s beautiful” comes to mind here, sink into that paradox for a bit… here’s another one:  “poor little rich child”…or this one  “I’m so tired I can’t sleep”… our lives are filled with opposites, all creating an opportunity to see beyond the conditioned expectations of our culture.  Recognizing the space between two poles creates an opening for truth, for wisdom, for expansion and joy.  Step on through!

 

 

 

Alchemy of the Heart

Our pain reveals itself to be the sacred fire of transformation – it forces change and burns through resistance.  When emotional pain becomes unbearable, there is only one effective option – healing.  When the traumas of the past are destroying our chance for happiness and peace in each moment, what is the process for transmuting that pain into love?

Taking the first step means making a commitment to the inner work that will lead us out of pain.  Humility and sincerity are potent companions for true change, and it seems that for many of us pain is one of the secret keys to those states.  “It brought me to my knees” is a description of being humbled, changed into a person who willingly steps forth into the healing process.  The depth of that humility is the power of it.  “Give everything to get everything” is a message I received at an important time of my life, and event led to an unfoldment more wonderful than my mind could have imagined (think; Hawaii).

Once we’re on our knees what next?  I recommend asking for what you want, spending time in contemplation (also known as meditation).  I began by using each bump in the road as a messenger and seeing each person I encountered during the day as a carrier of whatever message I needed to hear the most in any given time.  I gave myself permission to feel, to deeply feel all the confusing, painful, avoid-at-any-cost feelings that had been denied for so long.  “Every feeling fully felt leads to love” is a message I received early on and that teaching carried me through many hardships and still does, to this day. Like most wisdom gems, it comes to mind when it is most needed.

Emptying our mind so that truth can flow and peace can land is challenging.  It means sitting with discomfort, with the ongoing mindstream that is creating our reality.  Learning to get a distance from our thoughts is powerfully healing.  Realizing that we can come to a place of choice where emotions are concerned is one of the milestones I’ve come to appreciate.  Following any system that resonates as truth will bring us to the place of peace and happiness.  There’s no timeline, it takes what it takes, but trusting that we can make it through our challenges gives a stability to the process.  This is one of the deeper meanings of trust in Great Spirit, God, Creator, the Divine, the Tao, whatever name you prefer.  I choose to trust in the benevolence of this mystery, and use the appearance of what isn’t benevolent as another messenger.  How can I have compassion for even the darkest day?

 

 

Begin Within

A dear friend just passed along a beautiful piece of writing from Matt Licata – and part of the wisdom he included was profoundly illuminating about the ways we bully and judge ourselves.  Many people I know well confess to having a disarmingly well fed inner critic.   That voice is at the ready and willing to join sides with anyone who is bullying us – that is what “self-abandonment” means to me.  Yes, there is something “wrong” with me, yes  I accept your criticism and recognize my flaws…yes, I hate the same things about myself that you do…

Wait a minute!  What about love?  As soon as I kowtow to the negative, judgmental voice in my head I’ve stepped off the path of love.  It’s that simple. I feel it in my heart. And yet those voices carry on, but the way I’ve approached it is by imagining a volume knob, and imagining that I’m turning down the volume on that inner bully.  It is a lot like physical training, the mental training required to tame the wily beast we call our mind.  The workout includes gratitude, meditation and affirmations.  Preceded by realization and awareness of course…this information is as old as humanity – born and reborn into poetically nuanced truth. The Vedas, the Tao, The Dhammapada, the Bible, The Koran, The Talmud – each one has already codified a system to aid us in our quest for inner and outer peace.

Knowing that this wisdom has been available to our species for eons – might be a small clue that it is not the easy path.  There’s no quick fix.  Most if not all (I haven’t read them all) ancient texts teach that determination is a key element of success.  It can be called by other names as well – devotion, contemplation, commitment.  Making a decision and holding it forefront in our consciousness is far from being easy or simple.  Becoming a yogi or any other kind of devotee means adhering to the path of discipline and commitment.  It isn’t easy but the rewards are great.  But there is no need to believe me or any other religion or doctrine.  These suggestions are best tried for yourself.  If it’s true then it will be true for you, too…

“Begin within” is a bumpersticker I love seeing as I drive through town.   I’d like to live in a world that reflects my loving heart – and also to be part of creating a world that is free from bullying and hate crimes.  The wisdom of that nugget compels me to face the ways I bully and abandon myself – to remember the importance of training my mind to stay connected to the love in my heart.  This sounds so simple, perhaps reminiscent of a Hallmark card – and we all know that it is a heroic task.  It takes all the courage we have to turn directly towards our inner demons and face them down, deflate and disempower them.  It is an ongoing work, for all of us. I have witnessed a widespread propensity to project this accomplishment on another – a Guru or spiritual teacher. I’ve noticed that there is no way to verify that another has accomplished this wondrousness, no matter how glowing their resume and credentials.  It is the smaller challenge, in my opinion, to stay open for the duration of a workshop or satsang, and to embody open hearted lovingkindness for an hour or two.  And that is a worthy way to spend time, for sure.  One story I’ve heard (unverified, just so you know) is that it was in times past, important that one’s guru lived a two days walk from home.  In this way it was possible to keep a distance from their everyday lives, which are inevitably easy to judge.  Learning to withdraw our projections from others is also an important task on the path to open hearted living.  It means an end to comparing, to finding others superior to us (ah there is that self abandonment again) and what a relief it is, to level the field and embrace our own divine perfection.

Self-embracing is the healing for self-abandonment.  Love yourself.  No need to change anything.  Just. Love. Yourself.  End the quest for another who can do that for you.  Begin within…