We’re All In This Together

As our world has turned in an unfathomable direction I  am certain that one of the most important things to remember is this – We’re All in This Together….

Living a life of heart, from the heart, with an open heart means learning to listen deeply to the highest wisdom that resides within.  There is no reason to take my word for it, this is a voyage of discovery, a worthy pilgrimage, which may support movement towards living a life of more joy, more love and more fulfillment. It takes a courageous leap of faith in life is to choose this quest.  If this is the right choice, the heart will be clear, as the mind’s apparent full time task is to muddy things quite a bit.

The heart’s whispers are also called “that small still voice within”.  For me it’s not really a voice, my hearts language is feelings, which are sometimes subtle and other times boisterous.  The quest is for discernment – it could be seen as an interesting challenge and like all adventures it is best embraced as a wondrous destination, a bucket list item, and exciting as can be.  If you can’t find those feelings in yourself, progress will be slow.  Sometimes, as we all know, slow and deliberate pacing reaches the finish line more quickly than the enthusiastic participant with a short attention span.

If you have said “yes” to this quest or are on the cusp of this journey, I have some pointers to offer, distilled from the teachings of the mystic masters, and from my own experiences in life.  I hope they lend you a helping hand for that is my truest intention.

Let’s begin: at the top of the list is appreciation.  It is magical, powerful and is virtual rocket fuel for grace.  The yoga of the mind is mainly defined as a kind of mental stretching towards the positive and appreciative viewpoint.  It’s instantly beneficial and though a sour mood or negative viewpoint will trickily try and hold its place in the mind, it’s ok to let it go, just drop it and return to love and joy.  Sometimes I snap my fingers, for the reminder and effect.  There is a lot of talk about gratitude these days, which is wonderful and once again, don’t take my word for it, give it a try and see what happens.  Mary Poppins said it best “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”.

Next step: Imagine feeling good about yourself, really feeling good.  Find the feeling in your body, where is it?  It may take some time to learn how to do this, but it is time well spent.  Every emotion has its place in the body and finding that connection is opening the way to a richer, more fulfilling life.

Other tools that absolutely help us move more deeply into a loving place which is well known to our hearts include meditation, music, nature, wise conversation and spending time with plants and animals.  Enjoyable hobbies, and passions contribute to our well being and also work well to elevate our mood.

There is always the enormous challenge of recognizing our reactivities and triggers.  What do we do when overtaken by a mental storm of emotion?  It can completely drown out our heart’s wisdom in an instant, and seems to grab our being by its horns and brutally shake us.  Who among us doesn’t know the feeling of shame that can stir us to irrational acts?  What then?  The first big step is learning ourselves.  Learning to recognize when we have been overtaken, so that we can use our mind yoga to guide our being back into the soft loving place of heart.  Letting the uncomfortable feelings burn can work to uncover the hidden triggers in our psyche, and so meditation is important and keeps us from causing harm to our loved ones.  Sitting still with uncomfortable feelings is the work of a Buddha.  It is challenging, difficult and most of us will find any way we can to wiggle out of those feelings.  Shouting at another, blaming another for our feelings, descending into howling victimhood – all these “coping mechanisms” take us away from the hard work of mental asana (yoga pose, fyi) which is infinitely more challenging than stretching our bodies.

Simply sitting in nature or a comfortable spot indoors in silence or with calming music playing just letting emotions penetrate and expand is a practice that will reap huge benefits.  Don’t just take my word for it, please give it a try and then we can talk!  Before talk therapy, there are feelings to be felt.

Disappointment and stress

They stroll through life, hand in hand – disappointment and stress, stress and disappointment.  Unmet expectations lead to misery, unfulfilled ambitions cause pain.  This isn’t a given, it is a habitual pattern of humanity – one that can cause us to sit up and beg for change.  It certainly causes a lot of  uncomfortable feelings and outcomes.  I can accept that uncomfortable feelings are the harbingers of growth, loud messengers from our inner selves that there is some part that needs attention.  Our inner lives are a deep well!

Disappointment is the uncomfortable result of unmet expectations and unfulfilled attachments.  It can be extremely painful and clearly has the power to cause enormous suffering, especially when the disappointment is connected to an important relationship or outcome.  Disappointment can cause resentment, and its regular companion – anger. It’s easy to say that  least some of the time things don’t turn out the way we want them to,  and understanding a more compassionate way to meet this occurrence is one of the compelling reasons to engage in a life of inner growth and inquiry.

Acceptance is the flip side of disappointment.  Continued acceptance is dependent on a sturdy foundation of open hearted, non-judgmental self love.  It is a destination that isn’t found in travel magazines, or anywhere but within. As usual, recognition is the first big step towards releasing the uncomfortable mind traps that are the creators of a suffering. The greater the expectation the greater the disappointment when it is not met.  Is it possible to live a life without expectations, hopes and dreams?  I have experienced  travel as a good training ground for shifting harmful expectation since the only way to be comfortable while traveling is to release expectation and confront the present moment.  And facing this challenge necessarily brings a heaping glory of insight and clarity.

But life isn’t always happening in special situations and it is the everyday, the ordinary where many of the usual mind traps find fertile ground and take root.  It’s time to learn how to celebrate all the everyday wonders with joy, with a fresh perspective and with a relaxed mind and open heart.  Ahhhh it sounds so easy!   And yet, at this time in history as we are in “lockdown”, where free movement around the world isn’t possible,  what is another way to gain insight from our feelings?  It’s possible that there is more disappointment and stress now than before the lockdown.  We have been forcibly pressed to re-consider many things that were once taken for granted in life and re-orient as quickly as possible.

These times have generated a profound sense of stress for many.  Stress is a direct result of the fear of  disappointment.  Stress is a foreshadowing of the emotional pain of disappointment, in fact it is a share of the disappointment already being felt. What is the antidote for this?  Once again it points directly to relaxation, acceptance and bringing the complete self into the present moment.  None of us can foretell the future – one of the reasons so many keep trying is that future-telling or “forecasting” cannot be verified, and there is a kind of relief in hearing what may be happening before it happens… but truly there is no way to accurately foretell the future.   Just watch what happens when reassurance promises a good outcome.  The mind relaxes, the emotional body relaxes and just assuming a good outcome changes the present moment into something less stressful.  There you have it!  Once again, recognizing the mind as the generator of emotion turns us within to put more energy and effort into teaching our mind what we want it to know.  Deep breathing is so effective because it redirects our attention back to our body, to its momentary movements.

Here’s another quick and effective practice some years ago:  to come more fully into the present moment, try to be aware of all 5 senses at the same time… just try…

Let me know how it goes!

Grief and Guilt

“Every feeling fully felt leads to Love” — Grace of Mt. Shasta

I lost my Mother last week, which as everyone knows is a huge transition, and even though I know it was her time, I still feel grief arising, in waves that sometimes build and sometimes ebb quietly away.  Occasionally the grief has a quality of extreme pain, other times it is soft and warm.  I can still hear my Mom’s voice, speaking my name and wonder how long that will last.  I saved her final voice message to me on my computer, but alas that computer died and with it – the message… letting go is the message, while remembering to give thanks for her long life, and for the time we had to mend our fences and open our hearts to each other.

What is the pain of grief?  My experience is that when grief is allowed, invited, even welcomed that it is a portal to exaltation, to the rainbow realm, the living grace of this world.  I have experienced this and so speak from there.  But why then is grief sometimes so crippling and painful?  The difference, I believe, is guilt.  When guilt sneakily attaches itself to grief, huge pain erupts.  Thoughts such as   “If only I had….” or “why didn’t I…” begin to surface and with them comes enormous pain.

I once read a really interesting book – Power vs. Force and the statement made in that book is that our feelings have vibrations.  Guilt and shame, say the author, are the lowest vibration.  Lower vibrations (below love) are uncomfortable and make us sick, they bring “dis-ease”.  That means that feelings of guilt are necessarily unhealthy for us and our close ones.  How do we let them go?  Ahhhhh, this is the big work!

I love the word “awareness” and perhaps I overuse it these days – but it does seem that awareness is the first step towards change.  After all it is impossible to make a conscious change from an unconscious place.  That seems obvious but is truly worth consideration, since taking the first big step of awareness often brings pain.  In order to face our uncomfortable habits, thought patterns and neuroses takes courage.  Heaps of courage.  I for one have a hard time pricking my finger for a little blood sample, why should I want to poke at the demons of my unconscious wounding?  Well, awakening the sleeping demons means we will need to tussle with them but let’s for one moment feel confident that we have tools to overcome the challenges of our inner lives.  I know we do!  You got this!  Let’s do it!

Ok so the guilt has been brought to the surface.  What is the way to shift and change unconscious patterns?  It is remarkably similar to the way we change our bodies – it takes repetition.  But unlike building physical strength with emotional re-programming it takes repetition with emotion.  Finding the old thoughts and judgements that have created the guilt with us is a huge step, and the painful emotions that are stirred by those thoughts can shift in an instant with new more supportive thoughts.  Feeling deeply into the new thoughts creates a new way to respond and the old patterns can drop away, recycle, compost and reappear as grace.

I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it again – this is no easy task.  I have noticed that when I need to face something uncomfortable in myself that all the little things undone around the house immediately becoming compelling – the vacuum cleaner beckons, the deep cleaning of the closet must happen – on and on the procrastination continues.  It takes huge devotion to make space to sit and contemplate.  Right now, in the middle of the Shelter at Home I hope that you have found the time and space for your inner life.  The world right now is a huge metaphor for what is needed in our inner lives…just be with yourself.   Begin Within… Again…

 

Learn to Discern, Choose Love

“Love calls – everywhere and always.
We’re sky bound.
Are you coming?”

–Rumi

Learning to choose Love, is to me the most important aspect of life.  It’s an ongoing process – a spiral dance, a vision quest a grand education. And in the choosing lies the question – what exactly is this thing called love?  The English language is to me, woefully inadequate to describe Love.  Other languages have many words because there are many meanings and faces of love in its expression.  For now I’m speaking of the universal love that is the compelling energy of this world.  Romance can be delightful, but couple-love is by nature limited (only two allowed) and love with a capital “L” is unlimited, limitless and universal.

It’s not actually a choice, to love.  It is innate in us and to love we must retrain our minds to follow that track,  using our heart’s truest wisdom to guide the way.  We all have a built in tool for finding our way – it’s called our intuition.  Some call it “gut feeling”.  Our minds and deep conditioning can get in the way of this deep inner knowing and there are some big obstacles to deeper listening, but this capability exists in everyone, I’m sure of that.

During these days of the corona virus as the world has quieted, our activities are limited and we are essentially confined it is more important than ever to focus on deep inner listening. What is the feeling when we know ourselves to be acting in opposition to our own innate wisdom?  Where is it felt in the body? Noticing some physical discomfort is often a great starting point for finding the way.

Choosing love doesn’t mean allowing others to mistreat or take advantage of us.  In the face of anger or abuse there is an important need for self care.  Most times the best solution is to remove ourselves from harm’s way, verbal or physical.  The most successful strategy I have found is to use a kind of energetic aikido and relax into the truth that nothing other people say or do is really about us.  It is a reflection of their own inner state, their judgements which they believe to be true, and their conditioning and trauma.  Choosing love in intense situations can mean quietly exiting the arena of conflict, at best leaving a feeling of compassion behind.

Since we’re talking about compassion, it’s another term that calls for clarification.  Pema Chodron, a Buddhist wise woman calls certain behaviors “idiot compassion”.  She explains it this way:  “It refers to something we all do a lot of and call it compassion. In some ways, it’s what’s called enabling. It’s the general tendency to give people what they want because you can’t bear to see them suffering.”  This one is seen a lot with small children, whose parents give in to their tears and tantrums.  This doesn’t work out so well in the long run, as many adults attempt this same kind of emotional manipulation in adulthood- and it doesn’t usually work out very well on either side.

True compassion is felt in the heart.  It is warm and fuzzy and can also hold tinges of sadness for another’s suffering.  We can’t truly assuage the suffering of others, but by holding them in compassion and love we can lend emotional support which is in many ways one of the most valuable offerings we can make to each other.  These days we may be limited to reaching out by phone, and as hugging has become dangerous most of our connections are virtual, and yet that is opening a door to creativity.  How do I express my love in new ways…please let me know what you have discovered!

Circling back to the best way to be a helper in this time of confinement due to Covid-19, having compassion for ourselves and others, putting the others who are sharing our homes is at the top of the list.  Learning to deepen the ways we express our love to each other is essential and important.  Taking responsibility for our own hurtful behaviors can work wonders on our relationships and is truly the higher path.   Every time we notice ourselves veer off the path of love and compassion, healing happens and we can stand up, brush off and re-enter the realms of love and joy.  Welcome home!

 

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