Cultivate kindness

Taming an unruly mind is not unlike training an unruly dog.  Patience, persistence, determination, intention and love are all included.  It’s most effective to leave behind the all-too-human propensity towards self-criticism, which doesn’t contribute anything valuable to the process of gaining mastery over our minds.  The instructions have been available for eons –   the ancients (think Buddha and Padmasambhava) codified a system for inner peace that has proven to be challenging to us modern humans.

In this universe of polarities, right and wrong, good and bad, up and down mour surface situations continue to change dramatically sometimes from one day to the next.  Technological “advances” seem to have had the opposite effect on the human spirit.  Addicted to “devices” many people do not seem to be aware of the world around them, bringing it all down to a tiny screen on a tiny electronic box, called a “Smart Phone”.  Those nuggets of magnetism are miraculous, no doubt, and become more so every day.  How is this possible?  The human mind is also miraculous,  unrelentingly imagining then creating improvements, modifications and changes to the way things function.

The down side of all this activity is the need for a busy mind.  It has come to be called ADD, attention deficit disorder, which is replicating mightily these days – and is perhaps the siren song of our civilization.  It seems that most of us have forgotten how to sit quietly and contemplate.  Here is the challenge!  There is a lot of evidence that a wealth of material possessions does not bring happiness or deep peace.  In fact, clearing clutter has become a best selling idea, only made possible by the overabundance of non-essential items that tend to collect when we have expendable income.  Clearing our homes of excess things doesn’t necessary clear our minds, but interestingly the processes can be parallel in their unfolding.  What this means to me is – clearing mental clutter is a process of examining thoughts and choosing whether to turn the volume up or down on them.  Recycle, compost or just donate to the landfill, but get rid of unhelpful thoughts!

It’s a good start to simply ask yourself these basic questions:  is this thought helpful and supportive, is it relevant and useful, and does it make me feel good?  The best test of a thought is how our body responds when we think it. We all know what it feels like to have the white hot heat of anger, or some other uncomfortable feeling grab us and wrestle us to the symbolic mat.  In our discomfort it is easy to lash out – causing harm to those we love.  It is a sign of maturity and the  wondrous benefit of effective inner work to be able to choose wisely under emotional duress.  It’s a work in progress for sure, it’s certainly more desirable to my mind than remaining are willing mired in old ways of conflict and abuse.

Taking a stand in our lives to shift our relations and learn to truly love is, in my belief, the one true path in life.  Other things matter little in comparison, and the I’m sure that at the end of our lives what really matters is how much love we shared.  There was a bumper sticker going around “he who dies with the most toys wins”.  Nothing, to my mind could be farther from the truth.  Choose love, dear ones.

 

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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Exiting the Chrysalis

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I have spent countless hours observing caterpillars, chrysalis and butterflies.  I have witnessed the challenge, the risk and the glory of metamorphosis.  Each transition is difficult – when the caterpillar hatches it is fine food for birds, lizards and other critters.  As they grow into adulthood, the caterpillar needs to find a safe place to cocoon.  This is not an easy search for such a small being, and there are many hazards on the way.  Once again, they can be eaten by birds, or other creatures, crushed by man or animal or run out of time in their quest.

When the caterpillar finds a suitable place (or unsuitable, time will tell, a Monarch caterpillar once made its chrysalis on a hinge and almost made it until an unwitting guest closed the door… sadly…) I digress – It attaches to the wall.  It needs to hold on in order to let go. That always tickles me to say, paradoxes are my thing!  Then comes the intense part as the caterpillar’s body seems to dissolve.  Sometimes they just don’t make it through this process, it can’t be easy.  If they do make it then they become another kind of being.  A being stopped in time.  Some of them have little faces, others look like dangly jade earrings but all of them are specialized and precise.  For in some period of time, from a couple of weeks to a couple of years, the butterfly will emerge.

The monarch butterfly emerging is a miracle of nature I’m overawed to have witnessed many times.  As the jade green chrysalis approaches hatching time, the skin begins to become transparent and the butterfly inside is seen as a kind of origami puzzle.  When it breaks out of the cocoon it is a fragile being.  It takes time to dry off its wings and is very vulnerable for even a gust of wind can knock it to the ground and its wings will deform.  They can’t take off yet so are at the mercy of any nearby bird.  And yet, many of them flutter happily (I project) into the sunlight.  Butterflies can’t fly in cold weather so they are always beacons of springtime.

Once they are aloft they have two activities to fulfill.  They sip nectar and aid in pollination as a side effect.  They make love and procreate.  I once watched a monarch butterfly couple do their coupling for almost an hour.  When it was complete, he (I imagine, perhaps wrongly) lifted her up and flew her up to a branch where they rested for a while.  It’s a short life, but valuable for sure.

Why am I rambling about this right now?  We’re quarantined to be safe from the corona virus, we’re watching our world come to a standstill.  We are cocooned.  It is a challenge perhaps the biggest challenge of our short lives.  Life, as we imagined it was, has ceased to be.  We have let go, collectively and individually.  We have let go of activity for the most part.  We’re not allowed to gather or recreate together.  It’s very strange.  It seems unnatural.  For those of us who have meditated and vision quested it is not difficult but most people have spent their lives avoiding being alone and quiet and listening to their inner voice.

What’s next?  I imagine us, like the butterfly, emerging slowly from this cocoon.  Taking it one tiny step at a time, into the sunlight.  Everything has shifted and I hope that we can collectively make more loving choices as we recreate our systems to better serve humanity and our ecosystem.  There are some important things each of us can do to contribute and “be the change”.  We can get comfortable with ourselves, honest and true and be clear on what we stand for.  I stand for love, for caring, for holding each other up with nobody left behind.  I think a basic universal income and guaranteed housing would be a fantastic place to start.  All the money spent on the war machine can be turned to providing that and health care, education and funding for the arts.  Animal agriculture should be ended and hemp and cannabis farms allowed to prosper and provide.

The sky is the limit!  What kind of world do you want to live in?  Keep marinating in your cocoon and we can discover that together….I love you!

The Jewel in the Virus

A very well known Tibetan mantra is” Om mani padme hum” which translates roughly to “the jewel within the lotus” and is a message to let the “mud” of life feed and nurture the beautiful sacred flower – the lotus.  There are many ways to translate this mantra, but I am uplifted by this interpretation.  Scholars, beware I’m not here to debate, and am not clinging to my perspective either, I may well be getting this wrong. Still, on the path of higher truth, being wrong is also good – it leads to humility, which circles right back to the meaning of the mantra.

A couple of weeks ago I was sick in bed for 3 full weeks.  One day I was up, the next, flat as a pancake burning with fever. Interestingly it’s quite big news right now as the media is using the latest viral infection as a huge fear tactic (everyone has heard of the Corona virus by now, I’m sure).  I decided to consider this a time to purge, physically and emotionally from the pressures of the last year.  It was a year of big challenges, lots of loss and transformation, most of it seemingly unwanted.  Ahhhh, surrender, accept, let go…. I know all the words, I’ve said them many times, but wow I was in the big shredder and coping was sometimes out of my range.  (there’s the humility!)

Just as some of the bigger issues in my life were working out and things were resolving better than I hoped — it hit, the waves of nausea, a high fever and complete fatigue.  I was grounded.  The timing was so perfect, I could acknowledge that, I had no pressing projects or even engagements on my calendar so I just coped.  I took my temperature a lot, and watched the fever just linger and linger. I let shows just run on Netflix, which gave me some comfort and a bit of false companionship.  Nobody wanted to visit, friends and neighbors dropped supplies on the porch, and who could blame them, I didn’t want to pass this along.  Still, more than a little bit of self-pity crept in.  I remembered my two year illness of 2002 and worked to keep myself from falling into despair.

Then, as it started easing up I felt some new lightness.  I noticed that old joint pains were gone which felt fantastic, and imagined that I was letting go of  old emotions and ideas that had lingered in my body for too long.  That felt good, I know how to meditate, I know how to be with my feelings, or so I told myself. As the healing screeched to a standstill I groggily recognized the opportunity to witness some inner dialog that I just don’t want to have anymore, which is the main purpose of a vision quest.  It’s a conscious decision to stand still and take a good look around in our often neglected inner landscape.  It is so easy to be distracted from ourselves, there is always something apparently more compelling to do besides roto-rooter our emotional and spiritual bodies.  My being wasn’t having that.  Once again there were no distractions possible.  I didn’t have the energy to even read a book.  What is the message?  Standing still calls for a lot of things including listening to the “small, still voice within”.   I generally experience this as a loud voice but apparently there has always been more, beneath and beyond the title pages.  This is where I reached.

Wallowing in self pity doesn’t do much for the spirit, or indeed the body’s immune system.  Healthy mind, healthy body, right?  Having the body rendered useless does send a message of surrender, and seems to force negative emotions to the surface to be recognized, processed and ultimately accepted.  Loved?  Appreciated?  This is the holy grail, and PhD of spiritual work. As this flu experience has subsided and my life has returned to a semblance of its “normal” routines I want to hold on to the precious jewels in the lotus of the illness.  Being in the middle of it is painfully challenging even staying positive and grateful, and sending love to my shadow it was all I could do to just get through the day.  Nighttime was worse since sleep was almost impossible until I propped myself and slept in a more upright position.  This virus wasn’t going to let go until I learned what I needed to learn.

I’ve been known to say “no mud, no lotus” from time to time.  The darkness is a rich place, so my latest mission is to enjoy it, or at the very least to drop some of my resistance to it.  To be really clear, that doesn’t relieve us of the commitment to honor our body and build our immune systems to stay healthy, so my higher self says…. healthy mud makes for a bigger lotus!  Be well, stay grateful and drink your green juice…. I love you!