Category Archives: Mind

The Touchable Ones are the Healed Ones

the-touchable-onesThis post is to highlight the work of Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr, who inspires me so much. His teachings function as a bridge for me between the Christian religion I was raised in and the broader, deeper spirituality I now embrace. His interpretation of Christian scripture moves way beyond what can feel like dogma to the timeless and timely profundity of Jesus’ teachings.  I want to share a blog piece of his with you verbatim, (below), with my brief comments about it.

I had an “aha” moment this morning, during my meditation and journaling time, when this paradox came alive: Surrendering mental control and/or understanding of an outcome (in this case, I was praying for a specific healing), while simultaneously fanning the flames of desire for healing is…vulnerable!

Vulnerability is the buzz word in spiritual circles lately. So much so, that it has already lost some of its vulnerability! And yet, I am experiencing a big dose of its depths as I realize what it means to LET GO. I think I had some hidden belief that letting go of the “how” somehow meant letting go of the wanting, too.

But the wanting without needing to understand the how, is what makes us vulnerable. And in our vulnerability we are touchable! By Grace. By the Miraculous. By God.

Here is Friar Richard’s blog piece. He says it so much better! If you like his work, you can follow him here.

Did you ever imagine that what we call “vulnerability” might just be the key to ongoing growth? In my experience, healthily vulnerable people use every occasion to expand, change, and grow. Yet it is a risky position to live undefended, in a kind of constant openness to the other—because it means others could sometimes actually wound us. Indeed, vulnera comes from the Latin for “to wound.” But only if we take this risk do we also allow the opposite possibility: the other might also gift us, free us, and even love us.

If and when we can live an honestly vulnerable life—the life we see mirrored in a God who is described as three persons perfectly handing themselves over, emptying themselves out, and then fully receiving what has been handed over—there will always be a centrifugal force flowing through, out, and beyond us. Then our spiritual life simply becomes “the imitation of God” (see Ephesians 5:1), as impossible as this sounds to our ordinary ears.

This, then, seems to be the work of the Spirit: to keep you vulnerable to life and love itself and to resist all that destroys the Life Flow. Notice that the major metaphors for the Spirit are always dynamic, energetic, and moving: elusive wind, descending dove, falling fire, and flowing water. Spirit-led people never stop growing and changing and recognizing the new moment of opportunity. How strange to think that so much of religion became worship of the status quo and a neurotic fear of failure. It does make sense, though, when we consider that the ego hates and fears change and failure.

What, then, is the path to holiness? It’s the same as the path to wholeness. And we are never “there” yet. We are always just in the river. Don’t try to push the river or make the river happen; it is already happening, and you cannot stop it. All you can do is recognize it, enjoy it, and ever more fully allow it to carry you.

As John O’Donohue put it:

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding. [1]

This is the great surprise, and for some a disappointment: this divine Flow has very little to do with you. The Flow doesn’t have to do with you being perfect, right, belonging to the right group, or even understanding the Flow. Jesus never has any such checklist test before he heals someone. He just says, as it were, “Are you going to ask for or allow yourself to be touched? If so, let’s go!”

The touchable ones are the healed ones; it’s pretty much that simple. There’s no doctrinal or moral test whatsoever. Jesus doesn’t check if the people he heals are Jewish, gay, baptized, or in their first marriage. There’s only the one question, which he asks in various ways:

Do you want to be healed?

If the answer is a vulnerable, trusting one, the Flow always happens, and the person is always healed, usually on several levels. That is the real New Testament message, much more than miraculous medical cures.

Isn’t that great?  Have a blessed day, everyone. <3

The Reverie of Lack

Sorry

I love it when a turn of phrase flips my thinking on its ear. The Reverie of Lack does that for me. It is from Lynne Twist, in her book The Soul of Money. Here is the passage:

“For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is, “I didn’t get enough sleep.” The next one is, “I don’t have enough time.” Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of…We don’t have enough exercise. We don’t have enough work. We don’t have enough profits. We don’t have enough power. We don’t have enough wilderness. We don’t have enough weekends. Of course, we don’t have enough money – ever.

We’re not thin enough, we’re not smart enough, we’re not pretty enough or fit enough or educated or successful enough, or rich enough – ever. Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night our minds race with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to the reverie of lack…What begins as a simple expression of the hurried life, or even the challenged life, grows into the great justification for an unfulfilled life.”

I am guilty of this and have always been. I could be ashamed of admitting it, but I’ve come to learn that I am far from alone in this mindset,….that indeed we are all being programmed daily to believe in our lack, else what would commerce have to sell us? We NEED the new phone, car, shampoo, teeth whitener, food, drink, drug, diet, lottery ticket, injury attorney…to be happier, to be okay, to be competitive, to be desirable. Our lack is being drilled into us daily, so of course we are in a state of hypnosis or reverie. To the degree that we refuse to admit it and wrestle with it, is the degree to which the reverie has taken hold!

Power of Scarcity

And now, in this nasty political season, and in this righteously-commentative media chapter of our technological evolution, our LACK is all we hear about, not to mention the darkness of TV programming. We like to believe this is being thrust down our throats, but we hold the remotes, people! We watch because it is a match to something deep in our psyches that is starving.

I am something of a one-trick-pony in the topics I write about here, I realize. I write about waking up, and waking up more, and waking up more.  It is hard work and daily practice to wake up to our perceptions, to see the hypnosis into which we keep falling.

Several years ago, I wrote a poem about my own struggle with the hypnotic mindset of lack. Here it is:

THIRSTY IN A WATERFALL

Teeth clenched tight,
armpits leaking resentment,
I slog the dark rapids,
flawless, opiate.

The machinery has invested
all the way up to my throat:
a gas pump, a pipeline,
a shrewd refinery.

Faint in the downpour
I hear jubilance, joy;
the tinkling existence
of an alternate world,

and I finally go rabid,
mad hatter, bell tower,
a writhing wildling,
an implosion of spew.

Surely this must be hell,
the utter dark night,
walking in water
and thirsting to death.

So ultimately, this blog post is about gratitude – the practice of gratitude. We talk about it a lot, of course. We have talked about it so much that, like many profound ideas, it has lost its profundity. We say, “yeah, yeah,” and slough it off. You might be feeling that inwardly right this moment. I can feel it in myself. But what I know from past experience, and what I need to re-engage in a fierce way these days of dark hypnosis, is that gratitude practice is a reverie-buster, a hypnosis awakener. And it must be a practice, something we deliberately do every day, to create new neural pathways, a new way of thinking.

Here’s another passage from The Soul of Money:

“We each have the choice in any setting to step back and let go of the mind-set of scarcity. Once we let go of scarcity, we discover the surprising truth of sufficiency. By sufficiency, I don’t mean a quantity of anything. Sufficiency isn’t two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. It isn’t a measure of barely enough or more than enough. Sufficiency isn’t an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough.

Sufficiency resides inside of each of us, and we can call it forward. It is a consciousness, an attention, an intentional choosing of the way we think about our circumstances.”

So today, this holiday weekend, I choose again to wake myself up from the dark, apocalyptic marathon. It feels like a crowbar is necessary sometimes to pry the lid off that trance, but we can do this!

I will leave you with this last thought from my friend Mimi Peak, who is a world-class Life Coach of Anthony Robbins’ inner circle. She said to me recently:

“People begin to decline when they no longer have a compelling future.”

I think that is just so profoundly true.  And here’s the thing: a compelling future can not be imagined from the dark reverie of lack.

Much love, everyone. I wish you joy this weekend, and as many moments of gratitude as you can touch.

 

Learning to Smile Inside

Smiling Inside

Some of the most profound lessons in life are the simplest, and thus, the most often overlooked. We humans like to make things complicated, don’t we?

Quite a while back I read this quote from the very wise yet humble Vietnamese teacher Thich Nhat Hanh:

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile,
but sometimes your smile
can be the source of your joy.”

Smiling inside is a profound form of nourishment available in an instant, and completely free, but it seems so trite on the surface that we toss the concept away without giving it the chance to do its magic. I’m learning, though, that there is nothing trite about it.

For the past several weeks I’ve been wrestling with what felt like a river of dark emotions, with anger at the top of the flow, but with feelings of sadness, fear, and doubt gurgling underneath. As a sensitive and passionate person, I feel all emotion, both delicious and detrimental, pretty intensely. So when emotional storms arise, as they inevitably do in all of us, I go for quite a ride. But I’m a spiritual student, too, and I recognize emotional storms as great opportunities to learn and grow.

One of the many lessons that negative emotions offer is the opportunity to increase our compassion, both for others and for ourselves. We learn the importance of not becoming impulsively reactive and striking out, and we learn the value of not burying or denying what we feel, as a way to escape it. We come to understand that striking out and denying DO provide temporary relief from the painful emotion, but at the cost of reinforcing aggression and unconsciousness within ourselves. So we are taught to lean in to compassion instead.

What is that saying, though? “The distance between the head and the heart is a million miles,” or something like that. And in this case, the distance between the intellectual understanding of compassion and the ability to actually experience it in the midst of a locust swarm of negative thinking and feeling….well… that distance can feel galaxies apart.

So, how do we span the chasm? How do we move our focus from the sharp, spiky pain and reactivity of fight/flight…to a higher vibration of kindness and patience? There are many esoteric teachings on this, and I’ve been working with lots of them of late, but the one I’ve been experiencing over the past few days is Thich Nhat Hanh’s simple lesson.

I’m practicing smiling inside. Seriously!

Remember that old adage that it takes fewer muscles to smile than to frown? I don’t know whether or not it is true, but the idea of it popped into my head during a yoga class a few days ago. We were being guided into relaxation, but my clenched jaw just would not let go. Smiling, though, became a way through my resistance. It was an action I could take, as opposed to a ceasing of action, sort of like massaging a cramped leg instead of telling it to stop cramping!

So I began to smile inside…to bring a smile to life in my mouth and cheeks and eyes. Wow. In the eyes I really felt it. And then I focused on letting the smile lift up into my beleaguered mind, and then down into my neck and shoulders and chest and tender heart. I carried it into all my organs and down my legs into my feet. My breath and my focus became a smile. And the more I physically smiled, the more the emotion of it grew.

The sensation was very subtle but palpable: a tiny sweetness, a softening. I didn’t experience it as a “lesson,” though, of course, it was. It was a small friendliness, not a cosmic, earth-shattering, orgasmic transformation, like we addictively seek. It was a few drops of rain on dry ground. But I felt it. And I knew I could develop this. I could make smiling inside into a drip system that could be sustenance.

Thich Nhat Hanh talks about “mothering” our anger, the way a mother soothes a crying child. A wise mother does not hand the crying child a brick and tell her to hit someone with it. Nor does she say, “Stop your damn crying. You have nothing to cry about.” A wise mother smiles at her child, soothes her, and helps her come back to herself.

A smile inside is like that. It is kindness in action, a simple, humble, instantaneous, small but significant action. Give it a try. If you can’t muster it toward yourself yet, or toward the person you think has made you angry (that’s a bigger leap than I’m suggesting as a starter)…find ANYTHING that makes you smile, (like the image of this precious baby, above) and let it. Then notice the mini-shift, the contrast, in your body, mind and spirit.

And I’ll be right there with you, practicing, practicing!

Sending each of you blessings from my heart!

 

 

 

Vlog 3 – Gratitude

Here is my third vlog, y’all.  Its’ raining in LA, and I’m feeling gratitude! I’m also dealing with some clogged drains, some window leaks, and  cold! But that’s life, isn’t it?  We get a sprinkling of the “good” and a sprinkling of the “bad.” But where do we put our focus?  I’m choosing gratitude today!

Blessings!

Urgent? Or Important?

Urgency
“The Principle of Priority states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.” – Stephen Pressfield

When I first read that quote I could feel a little bit of stress drain from my shoulder blades. Can you? As the world speeds up, and as our minds and bodies try to keep up, there is a growing urgency in the air, causing all kinds of reactivity in us and around us. Can you feel that, too?

I’ve written about this sensation before, calling it pressure, and it certainly is that. It’s also a free floating anxiety, a non-specific urgency…like the clock is ticking and the time is now. Now! But for what? What is the urgency? What is the pressure? If we don’t know what the urgency is about, how can we distinguish it from what is important?

Obviously on the social, political, economic, and environmental fronts, the clock IS ticking, and the clock feels like a time-bomb. The pulsing question so many of us are feeling, while the Talking Heads continue to rant back and forth is: what can we do? How do we keep our heads up, our hearts open, our optimism in place? What is our personal role in this brink? The energy is so thick lately, it seems hard to even place one foot in front of the other, to accomplish the most mundane things like emptying the dishwasher or getting bills paid on time. Overwhelm is the current lay of the land.

I do know what is important, though. And so do you. I wish there was a new word for it, a word that conveys the vast, penetrative feeling of positive possibility, the ever-fresh, alive, magical solution; a word that isn’t overused and misused so much that it has lost its potency…but the truth is the only word we have to describe the force within us that can drain away our reactivity… our radioactivity, our overwhelm…and diffuse the ticking bomb…is LOVE.

LOVE IS WHAT IS IMPORTANT. We know it. But we are in such a hurry, skittering across the volatile surface of life, that the depth and breadth and richness and calm within the experience of Love is dismissed or pushed aside, because we are in the trance of urgency. And we know that, too.

So let’s just take a minute to breathe, right here, right now. LOVE IS ALL WE NEED. From the surface hypnosis, it sounds like trite, Pollyannish pablum, I know. I’ve felt that feeling many times myself. But when the force of Love comes alive, and we get a glimpse through Love’s eyes, everything is possible. Nothing is impossible. Answers arrive. Magic appears. Energy is released. We just can’t hold it yet, that’s all. We lose our vision over and over again. Maybe that is the urgency we seekers feel. The urgency to stay plugged in.

So this is my prayer for us all today.  May we relax as best we can into the new rhythm of this consciousness evolution. May we trust the unfolding. May we allow ourselves to be rewired in love. May we remember what is important… and do that first.

 

Pressure!

The word “pressure” has been bubbling around in my thoughts for the last few weeks. Have you ever had that happen? A concept will invade your psyche and then show up everywhere, light bulbs popping right and left?

It feels to me as if pressure is the descriptor for the times, as if the world is ramping up exponentially, and we’re all feeling it in our bodies and psyches. Not all pressure is a bad thing, of course. It takes a certain amount of force to propel us through our resistance, and that is exactly what so many of us are doing…forging ahead through layers and layers of emotional muck we didn’t even know we had. Great things, magical things, are happening as a result, too.

But unexamined pressure creates anger, and this is what I want to talk about. I suppose this isn’t really new news, although something about that combination of words – pressure creates anger – literally leapt off the page at me when I recently read The Mindbody Prescription, Dr. John Sarno’s bestseller from many years ago. Anger is an emotion I, like many, struggle to consciously experience, because I’m so afraid of it. I don’t want to experience it, so I push it away. According to Sarno, anger that’s pushed away builds to become suppressed rage. And suppressed rage becomes physical illness…from back, neck and shoulder pain, to inflammation of all kinds, as well as digestive disorders, anxiety and depression. Pretty much any illness can be traced back, from Sarno’s perspective, to the unacknowledged pressure of being human…pressure placed upon us from without and from within.

Pressures from without seem more enormous than ever before. Worldwide economic, ecological, societal and political pressures are being pounded into our consciousness on a 24-hour news cycle, not to mention our own overwhelming personal challenges. How do we possibly examine all that? And then, of course, there are the subconscious, anger-inducing pressures from within: worry, self-criticism, guilt, fear, perfectionism, blame, and all kinds of stressful, negative thinking.

Early Sunday morning I got up and drove to the beach, with an aching back, a sore jaw from clenching my teeth during my sleep, and a mind overrun with thoughts, but determined to do something good for myself. As I made my way through the breathtaking, dawn-lit vistas of Malibu Canyon, the now iconic image of that little Syrian boy lying face down dead on another beach on the other side of the world flooded my psyche… and broke me in two. The juxtaposition of the agony and the ecstasy of this world, and the huge question of my responsibility to it, became so overwhelming in my heart that I just cried my eyes out all the way to the ocean. I can still feel it as I write this…the emotional surge that rises up in my throat, and the knee-jerk, intellectual tamping down of that feeling with all kinds of thinking instead – political thinking, blaming thinking, numbing thinking, even big-picture-wisdom thinking. That day, though, thinking of every stripe was washed out by the tidal wave of feeling that needed to happen.

I wonder if that is what we all need right now? Maybe what is trying to happen, what the pressure is all about is that our hearts are under pressure to break wide open, and we are scared to death to let them.

The Big SqueezeOne of my favorite Pema Chodron teachings is called The Big Squeeze: that realization on the spiritual path of the large gap between our spiritual ideals and the far less than ideal reality of our daily lives. It’s breakdown time, examination time, transmutation time. We look at ourselves, not with finger-pointing or throwing in the towel, but with great curiosity and compassion. We feel ourselves, including all the previously hidden parts, both ugly and beautiful. Who am I really? Not who I project myself to be, nor who I am striving to be, but who am I, right this minute? Am I worthy, just as I am? Can I stand in this squeeze, fall down and get up again, each time a little more fully awake and in love with this rich and raw human experience? Can I give over to the forging?

“It’s the rub between those two things – the squeeze between reality and vision – that causes us to grow up, to wake up to be 100 percent decent, alive, and compassionate. The big squeeze is one of the most productive places on the spiritual path and in particular on this journey of awakening the heart.” Pema Chodron, Comfortable with Uncertainty.

Blessings, my friends. We are in this together. Let us hold each other tight.

 

 

Fierce Love

Fierce LoveLast week, at a meditation led by my friend and spiritual mentor Diana Lang, she talked with those of us gathered at her home about her favorite subject and ours – Love. Diana is an Energy-Sensitive, among her many gifts, and she could feel the shielding most of us had up that evening…subtle self-consciousness and/or judgments in one form or another. When we’re in a state of judgment (whether it is toward others or toward ourselves) we’re not aligned with Love; but as communal human beings we’re habituated to unconsciously evaluate ourselves along a comparative continuum (better than/less than those around us). Those judgments block the heart, and thus, the flow of Love.

So Diana talked to us about Love, fierce Love, which I would like to talk about, too. Fierce Love is the force that lights the universe, that keeps this world on axis, that can move mountains, that can move us! And God knows, we need that force now more than ever. But Fierce Love operates through an open heart, which means a vulnerable one, one that can get hurt again and again. Fierce Love is fired through the heart that is willing to stand exposed in the face of all that can come at it, all that will come at it. This was the heart of Jesus, and the heart he instructed us to have. It was also the heart of the Buddha, of Gandhi, of Martin Luther King. It is the heart of the Mother.

There’s an old country song entitled Love or Something Like It. We live a whole lot of our lives in the Something Like It category, because we love, but we cling to our judgments, and we protect our hearts. This is human nature. But our human evolution is now a spiritual one, an evolution of consciousness, and the force, the pulse of Love is calling us to become more courageously vulnerable, to be fierce in our commitment to first and foremost know that kind of Love, to receive that kind of Love.

Another wonderful song from a few decades ago is I Wanna Know What Love Is, sung with great passion by Lou Gramm and the band Foreigner. We’ve heard it a million times, maybe to the point that it feels corny, but I have it on my music playlist, and I listen to it as a prayer:

I wanna know what Love is!
I want you to show me!
I wanna feel what Love is!
I know you can show me!

Our egos are so clever in their defensive trickery. But we’re learning more and more to feel our way past the ego. When I start feeling a dryness in my heart, and I doubt my capacity to move even a molehill, much less a mountain, then I know I’m not in Love, not all the way in. There is more. There is always more to surrender.

So this is my prayer for myself and for you, too.  May we know what Love is!  May we open to its fierce flow so that we lead our lives chest out, wide open, expecting, witnessing, and wielding miracles! May we recognize and reject all the self-abusive, non-Love whispers of too old, too young, too tired, too unqualified, too cool, too whatever that block the channel. May the strength and the humility of Love comingle to deepen and enrich our understanding and expression. May we take in stride the pain of an open heart and grow in courage to keep it open anyway.  May we forgive everyone for everything, most especially ourselves.

Blessings, my friends.

Riding the Phoenix

PhoenixThe Phoenix symbol has been on my mind for the past couple of weeks. Several years ago, I had a vision, while working with a wonderful healer, of a great guardian angel who appeared like the Phoenix – a fierce and beautiful bird-woman, who stretched her bright wings out over my prone body. Her majestic presence in my imagination on that day helped me rise above a smallness I was wrestling with, and I have never forgotten her. She spoke not a word, but her being exuded a regal strength and a tender recognition of the fires we humans go through…of the fire I was in that particular day. Together, we burned something up, an old and decrepit wound.

The Phoenix is appearing in my inner world again these days, and I feel her fire. Perhaps you feel her, too…the sweeping energy of cleansing, the pockets of hardwood, charred but still resisting, or maybe you are standing knee deep in wasteland, uncertain, even hopeless that rebirth will come. My own experience in the last couple of weeks has been one of malaise, a thick, mental fog, which I now imagine was the smoke from months of burning.

But I am getting glimpses of a gangly little bird, half-hatched, and I’m catching an occasional breath of fresh air. My Phoenix is on the rise, thank God.

In the myth, Phoenix lives for 500 years or more before descending. My own experience of her life and death cycle is much more often, like great waves, and yet I forget again and again that whichever phase I’m in – the burning, the rising, the soaring – is only a phase; that it will not last, and I’ve not failed somehow by experiencing the flux.

So if you can relate to this metaphor and your Phoenix is on fire, do your best, my friend, to surrender. Let the burning in. If you’re lying prostrate in ash but can see a wobbly hatchling, reach out and nourish, cherish this precious thing. And if your Phoenix is full and flying, if you are strong and supple and soaring above the clouds… enjoy, dear one, enjoy, enjoy, enjoy the ride!

 

Hello, Darkness

Real BeautyHello darkness my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted
In my brain still remains
Within the sound of silence
             – Paul Simon, The Sound of Silence

This song has been in my head for the last couple of days. I read that Paul Simon wrote these opening lines in his bathroom with the lights off. He liked the acoustics the tiled walls created, and he composed in the dark because it helped him to focus, to reach in and call up what was wanting to come out.

This verse feels like a metaphor for the times right now. Both inwardly and outwardly, the dark is presenting itself in strong force, and we are being called to engage with it.

Hello darkness my old friend…

Often we push aside our own darkness by focusing on it in others. Just as often, we sense our shadows but are so terrified of them, that we become obsessively active in the outer world to avoid them. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” But we can’t truly be the light if we remain terrified of the dark.

I’ve come to talk with you again…

Looking inward can bring us to our knees sometimes. The inner world is a dark space that we bring the light of our consciousness to. If we are feeling low in light (the world has a way of making us question just  how bright we are) then the inner terrain can feel dark indeed. But it is in those bleak spaces that our light can awaken.

Celtic priest and poet John O’Donohue says,

“In the neglected crevices and corners of your evaded solitude, you will find the treasure that you have always sought elsewhere.”

We evade that deep solitude (the kind that isn’t just removing ourselves from social interaction for awhile, but turning inward to the profound unknown) out of fear. So it takes great courage to go into the dark, for we don’t want to face what is waiting there. We find in those “crevices and corners” beastly buried fears, shames and wounds. This is hard to look at! But the more we train ourselves to look with light, those creatures morph right before our eyes. Frogs become princes. Demons become angels. And we discover the true treasure down there: our own divinity, our own light, our own beating heart of love.

Here is a poem I wrote several years ago, when the darkness pulled at me so strongly and taught me its beauty.

THE DOG ATE MY HOMEWORK
…and other such excuses
just won’t cut it today.Jellyfish
Today, there is a window into deeper worlds
cocooned in the fog,
and I don’t want to miss it
quibbling over trivia
or splashing about in shallow waters.
I don’t want to get snagged by duty right now.
 
I want to dive down,
be carried down,
down with the currents
into the black dark grappling
where creatures who’ve learned self-luminescence
will teach me, touch me,
call forth my brilliance.
 
In the dark I can see my light.
I can grow to own it.
I can practice sustaining it,
so that back up top where a different light shines
I can trust it.
I can beam it.
I can see it winking
in every eye.

Copyright © 2011 Angela Hite

Neon Consciousness, Candlelight Consciousness

Neon and CandleJohn O’Donohue, in his book Anam Cara, A Celtic Book of Wisdom, talks about the dangers of “neon vision,” which he describes as the harsh, analytical light we often apply to ourselves when we follow the call of our spiritual hunger. I have mistakenly done this for years. While the self-awareness gained through mindfulness has been extremely fruitful, and while I have developed a rather eagle-eye in the world of inner-looking, that eye has a fierceness to it that can leave my skin feeling raw! I know I am not alone in this. Self-compassion is a big lesson for almost every serious seeker I know.

O’Donohue offers up “candlelight consciousness” as the alternative light within which to seek. I truly love this metaphor! He says, “Candlelight perception is the most respectful and appropriate form of light with which to approach the inner world.” Can you feel this? The softness, the romance, the “beloved” within that phraseology?

This morning, as I sat on the patio with my journal and tea, a squirrel skittered down the overhanging branch of a tree a few feet away and began to chatter loudly, insistently. Eventually, I realized he was talking to me, so I walked over to the tree limb, and said, “Hello!” He looked me squarely in the eye and responded in squirrel language. I said “Hello,” again. He responded again. I asked, “How are you?” He said whatever it was that he said. (I don’t speak squirrel, but I felt like he said, “It is important that you pay attention to me!”) This went on for 2-3 minutes, until I pulled out my phone from my robe pocket to take a picture, and of course, then he scampered away.

I relate this a bit to “neon consciousness, candlelight consciousness.” When I just enjoyed the moment for what it was, we communicated. The minute I tried to capture and substantiate it with the photograph, turn it into something, it was if the doorway into that other dimension closed. I don’t know. I could be making great leaps here. 🙂

But I googled the Native-American symbolism for squirrel and though there was the obvious imagery about “gathering,” the thing that jumped out at me was the message of “play.” I definitely need more play in my life. That feels like candlelight consciousness, too, doesn’t it? It is time to soften up. Yes, do our gathering for the changes ahead, but don’t go nuts with it! Yes, keep being watchful, but do so in the warmly lit landscape of kindness, of enjoyment. We are on a grand adventure, not stuck in an endless curriculum.

I think this could become a mantra for me – “Candlelight consciousness.” What do you think?

Blessings!

Sending and Receiving Love

Sending LoveYesterday I read an article by Ram Dass entitled “I am Loving Awareness,” in which he talked about a meditation practice that can break the spell of ego’s perceptions. There are many such practices, but this one called to me.  I am going through a bit of a physical challenge (another bout of vertigo) and I have also felt a lot of stress lately (I am a world-class stresser), so as I went to bed last night feeling dizzy and trying to relax my tight muscles, I took his instructions to heart:

“I focus my attention in the middle of my chest, on the heart-mind.  I take a few deep breaths into my diaphragm to help me identify with it.  I breathe in love and breathe out love.  I watch all of the thoughts that create the stuff of my mind, and I love everything, love everything I can be aware of.  I just love, just love, just love…I am loving awareness… “

I closed my eyes, felt the slight tremor of dizziness and said, “I love you,” to my uncomfortable self. I paid attention to my breath and said “I love you” to my breath.  I felt my exhale hit bottom, which always feels abrupt when I pay attention to it…the space before breathing in again. I felt the urge to inhale quickly, the moment of brief panic that I sometimes feel when I pay attention to the spaces between breaths, and I sent love into that tiny panic. I felt my neck muscles, shoulder muscles and spine, and breathed love into them. I caught my mind skittering into thoughts, all kinds of thoughts, too many and too fleeting to name, and I sent love to the thoughts.

That was the most challenging part of the exercise for me. Catching my thoughts and actually blessing them, instead of trying to get rid of them, just loving my thoughts no matter how stressed they were, how quickly negative or judgmental they could turn. But I blessed my efforts at blessing my thoughts! I went to sleep in that mindset.

It may sound strange to say, “I love you,” to yourself, but I see that it is a wonderful practice.  It points up, first and foremost, just how much we DON’T love ourselves, because there is such an effort at first in being able to say it authentically. The idea of SENDING love to ourselves, though, gets us in touch with the One who is sending us love every moment of the day. And the idea of then RECEIVING our own love, gets us in touch with receiving God’s love.

In my spiritual community we have been working a lot with the vulnerability, the innocence of receiving. Can we receive our own unconditional love? Can we receive God’s unconditional love? Can we receive healing? Can we receive answers that are beyond our mental conceptions? Can we receive the beauty of this world?

Sending and receiving love. It is a huge, mind-blowing practice!

Blessings!

Freedom of Thought

FreedomThroughout the holiday weekend, in the midst of preparations and celebrations, I pondered the subject of freedom, as we do on the 4th of July. We are blessed with so many liberties here in the United States, but there is one that is universal, no matter what country or political landscape we are in: our freedom of thought, to which we are often blind. We are free to think as we please, and our perception of the world (and thus our experience of the world) is the outcome of that thinking. Granted, the societies we live in try to influence our thinking in various ways and through various mediums, but ultimately it is up to us whether to believe all that input or not. This is what I think it means to spiritually grow up, or awaken. We learn to witness our own thoughts, and choose whether or not they are indeed true and valuable, or whether they are causing us unnecessary suffering and divisiveness. As we do this, through meditation, prayer and contemplation, we start to see the barrage of thought, the barrage of input upon our thought.

How many days have I spent lost in worry? How many hours have I spent held captive by blame turned inwardly or outwardly, held captive by anger, greed, small-mindedness, jealousy, self-righteousness, victimhood? These subtle but big-blanket thoughts are usually running underneath our consciousness, influencing our words and actions without our awareness. They appear less as actual thoughts and more like feeling-tones, inner landscapes. They are like tinted glasses we wear and forget we are wearing them.

We often think that meditation is all about having a peaceful experience, but I’ve learned that this is not true. We may be moving toward peace, but much of the meditative process is coming face to face with our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations, and then witnessing just how much these experiences are calling the shots in our life. This can be painful, but it is a cleansing pain, a liberating pain, if it is done with compassion.

Freedom of thought is our greatest gift and our greatest responsibility.  It is the work of our lifetime.

Here is an excerpt from Pema Chodron’s book The Places That Scare You, that illustrates the basic choice we make in our thinking each day:

“When I was about six years old I received the essential bodhichitta [open-heart] teaching from an old woman sitting in the sun. I was walking by her house one day feeling lonely, unloved, and mad, kicking anything I could find. Laughing, she said to me, ‘Little girl, don’t you go letting life harden your heart.’ Right there I received this pith instruction: we can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice.”

It takes courage and tenacity to look inward.  As human beings, we naturally resist what might hurt, and it can definitely hurt to see ourselves clearly. It can be quite challenging to let go of a thought, too, even though we know it is causing us harm.  Some, like greed, revenge, or even worry have an addictive quality, a magnetic quality. I can’t tell you how difficult I find it to let go of worry! It seems on the surface like a loving thing to do! But I know this isn’t true. Worry benefits no one and causes great harm.

As  you move into the second half of 2015 (I tend to think of July 4 as the dividing line), and as you catch yourself thinking thoughts that are not lifting you up, be kind with yourself, be forgiving. But right there, on the spot, to the best of your ability, liberate yourself. CHOOSE AGAIN! I promise to do this to the best of my ability, too. We are in this together!

Blessings.

Why I Love Pema Chodron

Pema Chodron 2A friend suggested I write a post on what it is about Pema Chodron’s work that I love so much.  I have read all her books, and as you can see from the photo attached, I don’t just read them, I dig in!  I have learned from many wonderful teachers, but there is something about Pema’s communication style that cuts through my resistance. The question my friend asked was, “Why Pema?”Taking the Leap pages

My answer is a two-parter, I guess.  The first part is about Buddhism itself.  The second part is Pema’s personal style.

That old adage, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come,” is certainly true, in this case.  Though I am not a Buddhist, I became deeply immersed in the teachings of Buddhism through Pema’s eyes, and one of the first things I came to see was that through meditation and Buddhist teachings I was becoming more deeply attuned to the teachings of Jesus as well.

Love is ultimately the main message in Buddhism, as in Christianity.  The thing that makes Buddhism so valuable to me, though, is that it teaches HOW to love when love doesn’t simply bubble up, or when love is blocked by anger, judgment, fear, etc.  Buddhism is a methodology, a deep and detailed methodology on how to open ourselves to love.

The idea of practice came to life for me in studying Pema’s works.  We don’t just throw a switch and become better people.  As a child in a fundamentalist Christian culture, I was confused by this because I was taught that accepting Christ would change my heart on the spot.  But that wasn’t my experience.  I accepted Jesus, but my heart still held judgment, anger, fear, jealousy, deceit, sorrow, loneliness.

In Buddhism, though, detailed instructions are given as to how to practice changing our hearts, how to work with and accept our human characteristics, (both negative and positive aspects), without being slaves to them.  If I can recognize and accept my anger, for example, and if I develop the muscle to catch myself in a flare of anger BEFORE it has manifested into a reaction from me, then in that pause, I can choose what to do that is best for all concerned, rather than striking out in knee-jerk fashion.

So that is what drew me to Buddhism…the detailed instructions that would, with a committed practice, move me toward the person that I wanted to be in my heart…and in my case, that was to be more like Jesus!  One of the things often said in Buddhist studies is not to take any of this information at face value.  Try it out.  See how it works for you.  I have done that.  And it has indeed worked for me.  I have grown from this work.

As to Pema’s personal style (for there are lots of wonderful Buddhist teachers)…I think it is because she not only teaches the undoing of shame through compassionate self-acceptance, but she exhibits it in her own personal examples.  She is a world-renowned nun, but she makes mistakes, even to this day, and instead of hiding them or downplaying them, she highlights them as examples of the teachings she offers.  I find this incredibly helpful.  She displays non-shame! Not only does it take the theoretical and bring it into practical, every-day experience, but it also creates a human link, a way for me to relax and breathe with my own faltering “becoming.”  If Pema Chodron still has to work with anger, or depression, or aging, or any other of ego’s illusions, maybe it is okay if I still have to work with them too! I don’t have to deny them.  I don’t have to bury them under a false smile.  Nor do I have to give in to the outward aggression that ego so often tries to trigger. I can simply be with myself, without judgment. I can breathe in and out.  I can learn.  I can witness emotions, thoughts, and physical challenges shift, change and dissolve. By simply being compassionately present with ourselves, we can learn to experience the fullness, the totality of our lives.

Comfortable with UncertaintyThere is much more I could say on this subject!  I love her humor, her light-heartedness, her practicality, her succinctness, her wisdom. But the blog-gods are shouting, “Wrap it up! Not another paragraph!” So I will close with simply expressing gratitude for Ani Pema and encouraging you to read one of her many wonderful books.  See if she speaks to your soul the way she does to me!   The first of her books I read was Comfortable with Uncertainty.  The title alone pulled me in!  Check it out!

Happy reading!

Choose Life!

Freedom of ChoiceThis morning I woke up with lower back pain.  I do quite often. This is one of the challenges of getting older…managing pain, and managing our attitude about life in the midst of pain. Mine is nothing compared to so many, but it is still mine, and it still asks something of me. As I lay there in that semi-conscious state before getting up and going, I heard this choice in my mind, “Life or Death?” Hearing that question helped me reach to my better self, who instantly said, “I choose life!”

So I sat up. I put my feet on the floor. And I came straight to the computer to get this simple point down. How many times during the day do we have that very choice to make, in one of its many subtle forms? Love or hate? Courage or fear? Forgiveness or punishment? Smile or smirk? Embrace or reject? Lift up or beat down?

Seriously, how many times a day are we given the ultimate privilege of choosing the emotional quality of our existence? Thousands, at least! AWAKENING is all about that – becoming conscious of those thousands of moments… and choosing life. It’s not rocket science. It’s not new news.  But in the midst of all the conflict the world throws at us each day – innocent loss of life, obnoxious political posturing, wars, environmental disasters, sickness, financial challenges, pain, loss –  it’s so easy to forget that we have this basic premise constantly being asked of us. Life or Death?  Do we live like zombies in a state of walking death long before the body gives out?  Or do we choose the more abundant (and more demanding) path, despite the circumstances of the moment?

Free, Indeed

Free IndeedThe big spiritual lesson in these current times, I believe, is the recognition of our subjective consciousness and the practice of redirecting negative thinking. Problems in life do us in less frequently than we think. On the other hand, our thoughts about problems do us in all the time.  But here is the thing: our thoughts are 100% malleable. We have the power to choose what we think.

I know this is not news to most spiritual students.  We all know it. Yet the power of negative thinking is so insidious and pervasive, we need constant reminders to snap us awake.

“You shall be free indeed
when your days are not
without a care nor your nights
without a want and a grief,
but rather when these things
girdle your life and yet 
you rise above them
naked and unbound.”

– Kahlil Gibran