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….

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!

 

 

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!