A NEW YEAR: WAIT A MINUTE

Have you got started on your New Year’s resolutions yet?

You know the list is usually the same every year for most folks.  To the gym, diet, no gossiping, budget better.

For me, it’s less sugar and alcohol.  It’s been 5 days already and I’m feeling great!  (I was being facetious right there!)  photo_3664_20090119

But have you noticed that we often start off these self improvement projects with great enthusiasm and that enthusiasm dwindles as daily life takes over and so do our habitual reactions to stress, coupled with the real hard work of substantive change sets in?

Maybe it’s because we set ourselves up to fail by announcing these sweeping changes without getting ourselves ready, really ready, in this very moment.

For instance, If we don’t like our weight and we don’t feel OK about ourselves in the body that’s here right now, we already have a level of tension in the body and mind that we are carrying around with us.  This seems like a solid impetus for change.  But actually it makes change harder.

cartoon runningWe are beginning our journey with an assumption that who and where we are right now is not acceptable.  Yet acceptance is the key.  I am not saying that you don’t have goals of better health and weight loss and work towards them.  But bring a kindness to yourself as you would to a loved one.  Being aware of what is here and accepting things as they are, because that is what is actually happening.

Then, we can begin our resolution with an open awareness and perhaps a bit more ease. If our usual course of action  when we have had a difficult day is to relieve those uncomfortable feelings by eating “comfort food,” the pull to do so will be strong.  If we “give in,” often times comes the barrage of harsh judgments (worst enemy kind of stuff), “we are weak”, “this is hopeless”, fill in the blanks, basically I am talking about unhelpful self-loathing.

But with being mindful in the moment of accepting ourselves, we go a little more gently.  We forgive ourselves and begin again.  Maybe we ask ourselves if we could see the triggers and perhaps see if we can bring a little more ease into our day and our responses so that we can make better choices towards our goal.  We make more progress with a little patience than with a boat load of enthusiasm.  At least, that’s been my experience.  Check it our for yourself.spring sunset

I included this poem as it’s apropos to this post:

BE STILL IN HASTE          BY WENDELL BERRY (1962)

How quietly I begin again

from this moment looking at the clock, I start over

so much time has passed, and is equaled by whatever split-second is present

from this moment this moment is the first

PUTTING YOUR STORY DOWN

For some time now, my three children (20-somethings) share this little mantra with me, often accompanied by a big grin. It goes like this: “Just do you, Mom!”

Whether that means wearing a funky flowered hat, leading a guided meditation on the quad of a local campus, or making friends in line at the RMV, I find this call to just be myself a lovely affirmation every time I hear it.

I believe their call to me is an echo back from my daily attempts to encourage their discoveries about themselves ever since they began that discernment process.  Of course, like all of us, they have shifted and morphed as they “tried on” various versions of jock, artist, rock star, philanthropist, hipster, and general badass.  Some they have tossed out of hand.  While others have become integral pieces of who they are.


be yourself

And of course, like all of us, they have suffered. There have been grave losses, illness, dark times, and broken dreams.  Yet, I have seen these unwanted crucibles, time and again, transform them and others in miraculous ways to live life fully present.  There seems to be no profound personal or spiritual advancement without them.

However, these are the places where we can get stuck.

The journey of who we are and why we are is a life-long one. The task is made more difficult when we hold on to identities about ourselves that don’t tell the whole story.

Often, in my classes, when I ask people what they would like us to know about them, their first identifier may be, “I am a recovering alcoholic” or “I am a survivor of abuse.” These are hugely important facts.  It is vital to share these parts of ourselves. They demonstrate strength, resilience, and a tenacity to rise above.  They are living proof to yourself and others that you have been through the worst and have come out the other side.

These experiences help to shape us, AND THEY ARE NOT US. Each of us is much more than even the sum of all our stories.

Clinging to your personal history as it is you, is still living in the past.    121

Transforming your past into a happier today includes sharing your experiences with others, whether they be hard tales of abuse, addiction, neglect, or poverty. Both speaker and listener heal, grow, and connect deeply with one other.

Embracing your past from this perspective, you can honor and accept where you have been, utilizing it in the present where need be. But releasing the attachment to these stories.  They will not disappear. Nothing gets lost.

Just doing you is a call to the present…

In fact, this release allows us to live in the only time there is: now.

There is no need to put labels on who we are.  Living unencumbered by our own or other’s definition of who we are: we see things with fresh eyes.

nompondo dp“Just do you” is the vibrancy of noticing what’s around you right now: a smooth pottery coffee mug, cloud formations or rain at the windows.  People and creatures, landscape and cityscape, offering themselves for enjoyment.  The authentic you arises naturally from this place.

There is a lightness and rightness about being you in this moment.

SCIENCE AS A SPIRITUAL PRACTICE

dreamstime_13267733It is human to crave certainty.  Especially as people find themselves feeling less and less safe in a world where senseless violence occurs randomly, indiscriminately. People seek out messages that promise salvation, that give unwavering answers to their ultimate questions of the whys and hows and meanings of life.  With underlying fear serving as a primary motivator, it is any wonder that many major faiths perceive any conflicting idea as a threat to their “proclaimed truth” that must be squelched?

And yet the world is an uncertain place.  Immature religion makes specific promises to those who follow blindly and there are many takers.  But a faith that believes that our current knowledge is not complete, but is continually being revealed, takes the greatest leap and reaps the greatest reward.   It is Religion that knows that Science is not at odds with its practice. Instead of a penchant for polarizing, splitting our thoughts into atoms of absolute truth or fervent absolutism, we can know that we all hold only partial truth and we all but “see in a mirror darkly”.  Instead of a world view that smacks of self-righteousness, forming our views of what is right and what is wrong on either the most rigid religious beliefs or the latest scientific discovery, we can find God in science and science in God.

Full MoonAmong the many discoveries made by the Hubble telescope in the last decade is that there is considerably “more” to the universe than scientists had previously believed.  I mean a lot more.  It is expanding.  And this expansion is happening at increasingly faster rates as time passes.  Twenty years ago, scientists posited that there were two galaxies for everyone alive. Now, that figure is closer to nine galaxies for each of us or about eighty billion galaxies total.  Each of these  galaxies harbors at least one hundred billion suns.  In our galaxy, the Milky way, there are four hundred billion suns-give or take 50 percent-or sixty-nine suns- for each person alive.planetearth

One more mind bender: according to the Hubble European Space Agency, cosmologists estimate that what we can “see” in our universe accounts for only about 15 to 20 percent of the “matter” that is actually out there.

These astronomical statistics affirm a spiritual sense of awe in the vastness and mystery in which we live, direct my daily personal concerns with a backdrop of perspective, and strengthens my firm belief in the perpetual power of creativity from the single cell organism to the complexity of several billion galaxies.

I don’t know about creating the universe in 6 days and resting on the 7th, literally speaking.  I do know that it has provided structure for thousands of years to millions of Jews and Christians, satisfying the human need to know how we began and ingeniously giving a rhythm to life.  When Darwin shook up this notion of our origins, what remained was still the hand of order and amazing adaption.

I have a dear friend who believes that the scientists today are the true theologians.  That those devoting their lives to finding out when life as we know it exactly began, that singular occurrence, and how it happened, they are trying to solve the mystery of why we are here, how we came to be here.  How come something, rather than nothing?

This is no dichotomy of science and religion, but a thinking, open-hearted spirituality. Both are true.  “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light‐years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual. So are our emotions in the presence of great art or music or literature, or acts of exemplary selfless courage such as those of Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.”― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

 

 

MORE PETER PAN PLEASE

In this summer of Batman and Spiderman, of taking down the bad guys while sporting a costume with coordinating tights; I’m putting in my two cents for Peter Pan.

No, it’s not his leafy green tunic and tights, his Robin Hood cap, or devil-may care attitude. If this were a fashion contest, Peter definitely would have been ‘voted off the island’.

He’s not even a super hero. 

But he can fly.  And the ability lies not in his costume or a molecular mutation in his DNA, but in the power of his imagination.  Peter Pan can fly because he believes he can.  And this power is not limited to him.  Beyond the magic of Neverland, in a REAL children’s nursery in London, he demonstrates to Wendy, John, and Michael Darling how they can fly. He teaches them to think “lovely, wonderful thoughts.”

This notion lies deeper than sheer willpower and the strength of positive thinking. What children so often have in abundance is unfettered faith combined with unencumbered creative impulses. They can hitch their wagon to a star, make castles out of sand, and a feast of bread and butter.

Peter Pan symbolizes this childlike wonder, its power and draw. Peter embodies, literally embodies, eternal youth. 

  

And it is not a world without peril.  Dangers lurk in many corners and take many forms. Peter and the Lost Boys are able to stave off many a doom by using their wits and imagination.  Evil is personified in the ever pursuing angry and vengeful Captain Hook. His long metal claw for an arm and his booming commands to “walk the plank” left me petrified as a kid.

 I can remember a recurring nightmare from which upon waking, I was certain that I still saw Captain Hook leering at me from the hallway in his full pirate regalia. It was even more frightening as I couldn’t get up and get past him to awaken my parents in their room to alert them, in case I were to be taken away, never to be seen or heard from again.    

Luckily, I grew out of that dream.

Of course, with the wisdom of years, we all come to know (hopefully), the limitations of never growing up. But Peter Pan reminds us to not give up our child’s eye in the process.  Children keep wide their vision of what’s possible, adventure can be found in a backyard and dreams can be solid fodder.  The darkness doesn’t overwhelm forever.  Peter Pan, unlike our favorite super heroes, it not a savior.  He is not rescuing us from the dark night.  He rather provides a way of seeing, a way to pierce through and around the darkness.           

Quote for the day: “I tell you the truth; anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” – Mark 10:15 and Luke 18:17

AN ELYSIAN LIFE

There are moments in mid summer, with senses fully engaged, with nature profligate, that my heart lifts to heaven, being right here and right now.    

Having just trod the trails around Walden Pond with my eldest daughter, I felt a kindred spirit with that guest of Walden (1854), Henry David Thoreau, who said, “The summer, in some climates, makes possible to man some sort of Elysian Life.”

Elysium or the Elysian Fields was a glorious playing ground in the afterlife.  This special heaven, envisioned by the ancient Greeks, evolved through oral legend and was  mapped out specifically in poems and stories from Pindar to  Homer’s Odyssey

Pindar described it as a place with many shaded parks, where people could enjoy their favorite musical and athletic activities, without striving.  An Endless Summer.

Known to Homer, Elysium was located on the Islands of the Blessed, located at the far west of the end of the earth, those related to the gods or chosen by them, the heroic, and the righteous would live a happy and carefree life surrounded by nature, enjoying many of the things they enjoyed in their past life. No storms, bitter cold, or heavy toil.

Thoreau in Walden, pleads his case for simplicity and less striving for enjoying a bit of Elysium right where you are.  It is no coincidence that in the same passage he speaks of an Elysian life, he also points to the observation that  “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with their song still in them”.  

There are many who have said that he was an eccentric elitist, with a bachelor’s ability to philosophize and experiment.  But that would not be the whole story.  He knows that some that are reading his arguments are factory workers and those barely scraping by, and to these, he offers words of encouragement.

Rather his wrath, as it were, was saved for the middle and upper classes of Boston and Concord societies, who continue to need more and more luxuries and extravagances and in order to get them , have less and less time to enjoy the birds on the water in the early morning or the loveliness of the woods.  Essentially, he was the town prophet living on the outside of town, declaring the delusion of need. 

If possible, for perhaps a half hour or so even, you could step outside and walk or sit or notice.  You can be a master of industry in the morning. 

Quote for today: “I thank you God for this amazing day, the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.” – e.e. cummings

MIDDLE OF THE ROAD

I’ve gone beyond caring about Democrat and Republican, about laying blame with one party and spouting phrases that in the end “signify nothing.”  Really I have; and it’s seems as a nation, as a world, there might be some sanity in this chosen, but not resigned, approach.  Election year notwithstanding. What is at risk with an aversion to identifying solely with any one belief system?   

It’s not that I’ve gotten complacent about matters of human injustice, environmental concerns, or the sadistic powers that lead to horrific crimes against humanity. 

It is more that I would prefer to plead the case of the adoption in our culture of (what may be classically deemed an Eastern culture school of thought), the middle way.  Incumbent upon us at this juncture of our nation and the world’s history is to find the in-between space between rapid dogma and the insipid and weak refusal to stand up for anything.  Herein lies change, herein lies greatness

From our ominpresent consumer perspective, this is a hard concept to sell. So instead what is being peddled year after year, is division, is separateness. What is continually wiped from our memory is the fact that we have been and are a pluralistic nation with many truths, just as the world in which we live has always been. Embracing a multiplicity of ideas can be daunting, and the “hegemonic imagination” (i.e., those in power) are continually thwarting any efforts by those who are attempting to undertake this task (consciously and unconsciously).

Added to this paradigm, much of our religious identity in the United States has stemmed from the Enlightenment conception of self. The main idea being that “each person is an independent unit that is an autonomous, self-determining ego”. Key, here, is the notion of autonomy. This has unleashed an unrestrained individualism in many of our private and public beliefs and practices that stress personal responsibility and despise any hint of or the reality of dependency.

Richard Niebuhr, along with other modern theologians, have cautioned against this tendency which focuses excessively on me, blindly on us, and divided from them. The underlying flaw in this logic is that it limits our sphere of responsibility to some degree, instead of widening the scope to humanity and the Universe. What emerges is that “I must find my center of valuation in myself, or in my nation, or in my science, etc. Good and evil in this view mean what is good for me and bad for me; or good and evil for my nation”, etc…but not that what is good in a more broad sense of looking toward sources of creativity or social solidarity.

For any ongoing process of transformation to take place, we need to put boundaries around our own needs or desires and make room for the legacies of others to penetrate our awareness. This means being able to sit in the discomfort of another’s painful story, a piece of our collective memory.

It takes conscious effort and continued discipline to form a nuanced and educated opinion.  It takes work and discipline to stay engaged in the complex issues that change and morph daily.
 
The commitment to these ideals will turn the tide of our daunting nation’s issues and not who wins any election, no matter what they try to tell/sell us.                

I DON’T KNOW

All faiths, organized and organic, are getting you ready for a leap. Even well outside what most folks define as the constructs of religion, those seeking personal or spiritual growth must be willing to release what may be a long-held truth.

It’s being asked to surrender your ego. This is no easy feat.  The ego, bossy and brazen, demanding and full of expectations, is our fortress of defense mechanisms against the many-headed monster aka the sum of our fears.  And it’s a tenacious part of who we are.

Yet it’s helpful to understand that the ego is best understood as a “child king”, one who wields great power but has little in the way of wisdom or maturity. Lacking these vital tools, it does little to serve us in making the best decisions for ourselves, in terms of love and happiness, in the ways of growing into our best self.

That’s because, like any child, it only knows what it has been taught by influential others in its life. Most of our ego was developed during our formative years, and much of that was influenced by outside forces-our parents, family, and the environment in which we were raised. Unfortunately, this was also when we were least able to decide between helpful and harmful information, between truth and mere opinion.

To always want our way, to always need to be right, is born of the ego.  It is born of fear.  It blocks the Love that is Always there, already seeing us as worthy of love, as lovable. You move away that stone and the Life Force is there, God is present.

In my life, I have believed many things and some of them quite passionately. Most have proved themselves to be wrong. And those that may be right, does it make a difference to the quality of my relationships, to the healing of the planet’s ills? I dare say, no. In fact, my precious opinions have never made anyone happy, least of all me.

There is a bliss in knowing that I am not my opinions. There is a bliss in not knowing.

Why is it that all the wisdom traditions point to the humble and the lowly, the poor in spirit, that they are the ones that are closest to God?  It is because they are humble.They are honest and vulnerable.

Growing in the spiritual life is the opposite of an egoist venture.  It takes place not by acquisition of something new.  Growth is accomplished not by knowing things, by gathering more information, but by releasing our current defense postures.  It is only in the letting go of fear and our attachment to self-image, that the soil of our non-knowing can be a fertile one.  “I know” doesn’t get us anywhere but separate and lonely.  Non-knowing, giving up expectations in relationships, reaps a harvest of love and a simple peace.

We still get to choose what we believe,  we can still have discussion about our thoughts.  But we no longer feel compelled to defend our opinions so ardently.  We realize that we are not, in fact, our opinions.

Quote for the day: “Look at how many rigid stands I’ve taken in the past that now I see were mistaken.  So how is this new stand different?  When I take a stand against another child of God, I split my mind.  That doesn’t mean, never write a letter to the newspaper, or keep taking the car to an incompetent mechanic.  But it does mean, take no stand against that mechanic in my heart.” – Hugh Prather