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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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 – !

 

 

 

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!

 

Creativity….a radical choice

Joy, delight, laughter, friendliness, fun — the results of an optimistic and positive outlook…are we born this way or can we nurture optimism? Some imagine it to be biochemical, and while the surfeit of pharmaceutical remedies is mind-boggling as well as mind altering…prividng temporary relief…what is actually needed is something more durable and long lasting.  I’m not necessarily advocating ditching the pills – but to encourage the search for true solutions – to reach deeper and find out what is really holding you back from joy, back from living fully, back from your heart’s desire…

A wise person said “creativity is the antidote to depression”.  Depression is a lack of engagement, it contains apathy, hopelessness and despair.  Creativity means engaging with the universe with energy, excitement and open ended possibilities.  If it’s true that insanity is repeating the same action hoping for different results, then creativity is the antidote for that, too.  For in the act of creation there is no “same” action – by definition it means new and different.  Creativity is the powerful force of this world – artistic creation culminating in manifestation as a result of intention and action.

Sometimes inspiration comes  with complete clarity.  Bells clanging, trumpets blaring –  I know exactly what I want to create, and along with inspiration comes energy – lots of energy.  I recently reminded myself that by relaxing and taking a vacation, my energy is renewed and refreshed and clarity comes in a bit of a whisper, instead of a roar.  And still the information penetrates and opens, like the thousand petalled lotus, the world unfolds in unexpectedly magical ways, guiding me along to places I didn’t know were available to me.

Creativity isn’t just for artists.  Engaging with life in a creative way is possible in each moment.  Sitting  on a park bench, observing the flow of humanity it strikes me how much individual creativity has gone into each person’s creating of themselves – even the simple act of choosing a set of clothes for the day has an impact on how life unfolds.  Who doesn’t love putting on a pair of flip flops for the feeling of “life’s a beach”… or wearing something elegant and special for that kind of event.

Judgement is the death of creativity – it can stop us in our tracks – subvert the process and send us spiraling back down where we came from.  Learning to kick judgement to the curb is an important step in fully engaging in the creative process.  Unleashing our heart’s capacity to groove gets easier and easier – like a flower unfolding or a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis.  Gazing outward with an attitude of gratitude is more powerful than even one teeny tiny criticism – which can completely deflate the unprepared and make a dent in the joy of creation.  Disregarding all those impulses is great practice for any activity of life – courage is the act of defying all contraindications and boldly stepping forth to our own personal calling.  Summon courage!  It gets easier and easier, and sometimes the outer world reflects positively on our creations and sometimes it doesn’t – but letting go of the need for the world’s approbation is true freedom.  Spread your wings and fly!

Everyone has talent – it is not reserved for a special few.  Sure, most of us will never shred on a guitar like Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton and we may not paint like Van Gogh, but the value of our own participation in creation is immense.  Recognizing our calling to create, beneath the insecurities, the timidity and the fear lies pure joy.  Imagine yourself as a 3 year old coloring outside the lines – bring laughter and enjoyment along for the ride and start experimenting with your own special magic.  Everything is art – making a cup of chai, potting a petunia, rearranging the furniture – all these simple everyday acts can engage our creativity.  Oh yeah!

 

Crisis = Opportunity

Life as a human is confounding, demanding, intensely challenging and ultimately a complete mystery.  It doesn’t matter how many drops of wisdom have rained upon my head, there are simply always ways to get it wrong.  To be messy.  To trigger and be triggered by others actions.  To be misunderstood.  To lose track of how to do it right – if there really is any doing it right!  Or perhaps we just keep picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off and trying again.  That seems to be a more realistic way to understand life and  how it actually works.  The never ending challenges that are presented as the pilgrimage, the path, life itself – are ways we grow and learn and simply experience.

How do we reach for humility?  Or does it sometimes just come and slam us to the ground, in an unexpected moment? Is there hope of perfection?  It’s possible that humility is the complete realization that perfection is unattainable…that our foibles are part of us, that finding others whose quirks and crazinesses coincide and resonate with ours is the most effective way to enjoy ourselves. Even then, the stumbling blocks just keep coming.  They trip us, we fall, sometimes break a bone, or sprain an ankle, other times just pick ourselves up and continue on.   Perhaps we dance to reggae music all day just to scare the blues away.  The so-called higher path would have us see each stumbling block as a gift as a messenger as an opportunity.  What gold is the dragon guarding? The dragon of course symbolizing the challenge.  A tangible result of living in humility is to see everything as a gift from the divine – and to be able to genuinely ask the question “how is this situation helping me be the person I strive to be” and fully facing that recognition with confidence in its positive outcome.

I once tripped over a broken concrete slab, fell to my knees and was unable to walk for about 5 years.  Walking was then (and still is) one of my favorite activities.  It seemed possible that my injuries would require me to be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of my life. This seemed unimaginably painful, truly agonizing and utterly terrifying.  I sobbed, I wept, I sat around a lot and gained a lot of weight.  Yikes!  Then, somehow a miracle occurred and a talented physical therapist tweaked my knee back into place so that true healing was catalyzed.  Today I can go days without any pain at all and walk miles in the sand.  I am so grateful for each step, each stroll, each meander – so much more grateful than if the possibility hadn’t gone missing.

It is also humbling to find a close friend or companion preferring the company of another.  One of the most difficult life challenges to navigate is the loss of love, or the seeming loss of love.  And then, the resistance to it actually drives it farther away.  All the teachings about acceptance and surrender are called upon to no avail.  It’s hard not to feel forsaken again, alone – not friendless but without that special friend or soul mate.  Humility and love say – celebrate your friend’s happiness with their new friend.   The demon ego says all kinds of other unhelpful things, which I’d rather not repeat.  Often anger arises – which is of course masking the deep pain of loneliness and rejection.  And yet, what if we are never actually being rejected. What if the universe is giving us exactly what we want and need, but we have a lag time in recognizing that.  In that lag time, humility comes in handy to keep us balanced and joyous.  Saying thank you to everything is truly the path of love.

And yet – as we are continually evolving, ever-changing ephemeral beings made from a lot of empty space with some molecules floating around in it (!) perhaps change really is always good.  My inner Pollyanna knows this – it is one of the superpower wisdom bits of life.  See challenges as opportunities.  The Chinese character for change also means opportunity.  Emptiness leaves room for something new to arise.  Looking back at my own life, and its stages, when one person leaves, another arrives, or another dozen arrive.  Net gain, for sure. Being able to find this truth in the harder moments is another benefit of humility, which in my opinion means living in acceptance and surrender to the conditions of this moment.  The truly deeply unbelievably profound mystery of manifestation and life seems to demand a recognition of its magnitude.  In Sanskrit it’s “Jai Ma” – or “Celebrate the Mother of Us All”… It’s not humility if it doesn’t feel fantastic!