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!

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….

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…