Trapped in an Infinite Loop

The whole universe is based on rhythms. Everything happens in circles, in spirals.
~John Hartford~

You’ve heard I am sure, of the circle of life. Anyone who has watched Disney’s “The Lion King” has found their eyes misting over at the beauty of that opening number. And while the concept of life renewing itself is a beautiful and moving one, there is another kind of circle that is far less pleasant to contemplate and far more commonplace and definitely a lot more frustrating. You see, I’m betting that you are far better acquainted with that insidious circle that is also known as an infinite loop.

Seriously, doesn’t it feel that way to you sometimes? Don’t you feel as if you keep coming back to the same point in your life; that the universe keeps presenting you with the same situations over and over and over again?

If you are like most people you also find yourself reacting to these repeating patterns in the same way; time after time after time. And each time when you realize that once more you’ve “done it again” you feel like kicking yourself for not having seen what was happening. Well, you don’t have to keep knocking yourself out for repeatedly making the same silly (and sometimes not so silly) mistakes.

And really, though it may seem ridiculous, there actually is a reason that you keep making these same mistakes. There really is a reason why the same situations keep repeating themselves over and over again in your life. It is because there is something you have yet to learn and, obviously, if you keep reacting to the situation in the same way that you have before, you’re never going to get past this point.

There are some people who go an entire lifetime repeating patterns over and over again; falling in love with the same kind of guy (or girl), getting fired from (or quitting) the same kinds of jobs or even sabotaging themselves with the same kind of negative behaviors. The more often they repeat the same series of actions, the deeper the programmed response becomes. Lucky for everyone, there is a way to break out of these repeated patterns.

Believe it or not, repeating patterns and reactions is one area where practicing everyday mindfulness and mastering emotional mindfulness can be put to some seriously practical use.

By becoming aware of your own emotions; of those people and situations that push your buttons and cause you to react, you can step back from the pre-programmed automatic responses that spring into action without you even having to think about them. You can step back from these unwanted emotions and think before you choose to act; take a moment to listen to what your heart has to say instead of simply acting on instinct.

By practicing everyday mindfulness and becoming aware of your surroundings you can also prevent yourself from coming into contact with those things that trigger your negative responses or, if you can’t prevent the actual interaction, at least be aware that you are walking into a situation where you have screwed up in the past.

It is by using your newfound skills in mindfulness that you can break the habit of these repeating patterns and learn the lesson that they have been trying to teach you. Then and only then can you step out of the never-ending circle and take you place on that great spiral that is the road of spiritual evolution.

The Pain of Being Alive

It has been said that pain is simply a part of what it means to be alive; an affirmation that we are living and breathing, for pain it seems comes with every change and change is the one constant in the universe.

Does that sound too morbid? That life IS pain?

Yes, there is plenty of pain in life that any sane person would choose to avoid if possible; the pain of a body broken in an accident; the pain of a long term illness; of starvation; the pain of exposure to the elements.  It is our nature to avoid these kinds of pain; to take steps to ensure that we don’t have to be subjected to them because, quite frankly, the pain is unpleasant. But not all physical pain is bad.

Indeed, physical pain can be an indication of growth; such as the growing pains experienced by children or the burning pain of muscles that are being built up through rigorous exercise.  Pain can also go hand in hand with extreme pleasure, as experienced during orgasm, or as the beginning of life itself, as experienced in childbirth.

But there are other kinds of pain.  There are pains that run deeper than the physical; pains that originate in the mind and that are not as easily healed as physical injuries and illnesses.  These pains can have their origins in betrayed trust, in unrequited love, in guilt, in dashed hopes and failed expectations.

We know, logically, that these kinds of pains tend to be the catalysts for profound change; but we find ourselves cringing away from this kind of pain because sometimes it seems as if these kinds of wounds are more painful than physical pain ever dreamt of being; primarily because we don’t allow ourselves to heal.  Unlike physical injuries, we can’t seem to be able to process mental and emotional trauma that can lead to healing and growth.

In fact, we tend to cling to our pain; especially our mental pain; to embrace it as if it were a treasured possession.  Perhaps it is because the pain reminds us of what we had and what we had; of the life we once lived and of everything that we have lost.  Perhaps it is our way of making ourselves pay for something that we consider to be our fault; our way of making atonement for our mistakes.  We cling to it in spite of our feeble attempts to mask it; to ease it with painkillers and narcotics; with shopping and sex and alcohol.

We don’t want the pain, but we don’t seem to know how to let go of it. It is as if on a very fundamental level we understand that even though pain hurts us – it is a catalyst for growth; for becoming the person that we were always meant to be.  The disconnect is in knowing how to recognize it for what it is and process it in such a way that it becomes a blessing and not a curse.

The Zen masters understood this, which is why they said that the only solution to pain and suffering in this world was to become one with it – to allow yourself to feel the pain completely and totally; to let it fill you up until there is absolutely nothing else that exists in your universe. In doing this you receive everything that the pain is offering you.  You accept it freely.  You allow yourself to experience it fully.  Then and only then are you ready to let go of the pain in order to make room for something new in your life.

The End of Your Comfort Zone

 “Life Begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

Neil Donald Walsch.

In spite of what every teenager on the planet thinks, it is really almost too easy to find yourself a niche.  It may not be the niche that you thought you would fill when you were 18 and the world was your oyster.  But most of us eventually get tired of going against the grain; of being the only ones who don’t belong somewhere; of being the odd man out, and we end up settling.

We find ourselves a job, a career, a neighborhood, a spouse, a home church or a circle of friends that we feel comfortable with and we allow ourselves to settle for “good enough” or “not that bad” even though the thought of settling for anything but our highest dreams and expectations would have given us the screaming heebie jeebies just a decade earlier. And then we wonder why it is that we become bitter?

Look around you.  People you knew in high school and college; people that had high hopes and brilliant dreams and plans to change the world are now working dead end jobs to pay for the mortgage, their kids’ braces, car payments, a new roof and maybe a once-a-year trip to Orlando or Vegas where they can pretend that they are someone else for a few days; someone who has actually made it.  Someone who didn’t give into the system, who still sees the wonder and the mystery in life; someone who made their dreams come true.

“Oh now, it’s not that bad” I had a friend tell me once.  “My job pays the bills. Our family goes out to eat once a week.  We go on vacation once a year. It’s not a bad life.”

Well, it’s not necessarily a good life either.

Don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing bad about having a home, two cars, three kids, two dogs and a guinea pig named Munch.  There is nothing wrong with being able to afford to go on vacation and being able to pay the mortgage and the car payments.  There is nothing wrong with working 40 hours a week and saving up vacation days so that you can go to Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

It may not be a bad life, but that doesn’t mean that you are living.

At its most basic and fundamental level the term “living” means to be alive, not dead; to have an existence.  But there is more to it than that.  To be considered truly living you must also be active, thriving and vigorous, and not just (or necessarily) in body, but in mind and spirit as well.

Are you?

Are you thriving and vigorous in mind and spirit?

Does your work stimulate you?  What about the company that you keep, the books you read, the shows you watch; do they stretch the boundaries of your imagination and challenge your intellect? Do you find yourself waking up each morning with a thrill of anticipation as to what new adventures the day will bring?

If you are like most people, the answer will be no. It’s not because you’re a bad person.  It’s not even because you’re living a bad life.  It’s because you are living within your comfort zone. You’ve found your niche; your space where you can exist and are following Zipf’s law; the principle of least effort that almost all living systems fall into unless they are stimulated by something outside of themselves.

You’ve found a space where you don’t have to struggle or strive, where you don’t have to challenge yourself, where you can watch Monday night football and have enough money after your bills to go out on the weekends and maybe take the kids out for an occasional swim at the lake.

Perhaps in the back of your mind you realize that there is something missing; that there should be more to your life than this; that somewhere along the way you went from dreaming and planning your future to daydreaming about what might have been.

You know what the answer is, don’t you? Yes, you do, but you probably won’t like it.

The answer is to stop living within your comfort zone.

Life – real life – begins at the end of our comfort zone.  It begins at the edge of reasonableness; where the mundane becomes the fantastic; where the accepted and the traditional scoot over to make room for possibilities.

You see, in order to truly live.  In order to grow; in order to become something more than we are; in order to thrive we need to be shaken up.  We need to have our limitations tested; our boundaries breached; our beliefs challenged, and if life doesn’t present us with these challenges, it is up to us to challenge ourselves so that we won’t slip into complacence.

We need to put ourselves in situations where we have to learn new skills; meet new people; come in contact with new ideas and ways of viewing the world and our place within it.

You see, the one constant in the universe is change, and if we refuse to change; if we find that comfortable little niche and tuck ourselves away in it, change will pass us by and we will slowly stagnate until we become everything that we ever hated and never wanted to be.

William Blake once said that “the man who never alters his opinions is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.”  But it isn’t just our opinions that need to be altered; it is the very way that we view life – the very way we view living.

Go ahead – take that first step outside of your comfort zone to where the real living begins – and see just how truly wonderful life can be.

Snow White and the New Age Fluff Bunnies

Redefining the Misperception of Love and Light

I suppose that I should apologize for not being one of those kooky new age fluff bunnies who skulks around under random pieces of furniture collecting negative energies and dispelling them with love and light and a trilling song to small animals  a’ la Snow White.

I’m sorry, but Snow White has always annoyed me to no end.  Forget all of the quips about her living with seven men and still acting like she’s all sweet and innocent, it’s her voice (in the animated Disney version) that drives me absolutely batty; all high and squeaky.  But more than that, it’s her naive attitude towards life in general that leaves me shaking my head.  Come on already, who actually takes (and eats!) apples from withered old hags who appear at the door of your cottage; a cottage that is in the middle of nowhere nonetheless?  Not to mention falling hopelessly in love with a man you’ve only met once!

I actually met Snow White once.  Well okay, it wasn’t Snow White.  It wasn’t even the actress that played Snow White (actually I think she died back in 1997). She didn’t even have a squeaking voice.  Actually the woman I met had an attitude that reminded me of Snow White

I was visiting a New Age psychic fair with some friends and the woman was running a stall where she sold lovely little crystals that she had strung together with colorful beads to make “power prisms” that you could hang in your living room window.  There was nothing wrong with her stall.  The beads were very lovely and she seemed like a really nice person, but when she criticized me for “not being positive enough” when I mentioned a news article that I had recently read (and which tied in with the conversation we were having) I was, quite literally, flabbergasted.

“You really shouldn’t talk about things like that” she said, putting one hand over her heart.  “You’re not going to get anywhere if you think about or mention negative things!”

I admit that I had to blink at her.  There was really nothing to say.  She was totally sincere in her reaction and seemed genuinely aghast that I could call myself a lightworker and still mention something negative.

What I wanted to tell her is that she clearly misunderstands the concept of a lightworker.  There is nothing written anywhere that says that a lightworker has to be all light and love.  There is not even anything that says that a lightworker has to be continually positive and upbeat.  A lightworker is any being dedicated to the cultivation of inner presence as well as the elevation of awareness not only in yourself but in others as well.

Come to think of it, like so many others out there, she probably also misunderstands the concept of light.

Anyone who thinks of light as being all love and etheric gentleness has obviously been standing too long gazing at the moon and has probably never stood too close to an open fire when the sparks are flying or has gotten a serious sunburn while lying on the beach.

Think about it, what is the source of light (and life for that matter) on this planet?  The sun of course; and the sun is no gentle etheric light that soothes and calms the soul.  The sun is powerful. It brooks no argument.  You can’t hide from it.  It cuts through the darkness like a knife through butter and has the power to transform whatever it touches. There’s just one problem, the touch of the sun is not always gentle.  In fact, while it can be soothing and nurturing, it can also be downright painful.

The caress of sunlight is what encourages a seed to crack itself open, put down roots and become a plant.  Its gentle touch coaxes the leaves into unfurling and the flowers into bloom.  But it can also destroy.  When exposed to direct sunlight bacteria tend to die in hoards, as do many fungi, molds and mildews, and too much direct sunlight can turn a verdant meadow into a dry and barren place.  In fact, our planet cannot handle true direct sunlight and still be hospitable to life.

Much of the sun’s power is filtered through our atmosphere where the dangerous rays such as X-Rays, UVC, UVB and UVA (all of which can be damaging to DNA) lose much of their destructive force as they pass through the ozone layer and atmosphere.  But even these rays can be used discriminately to fight everything from the spread of skin fungi by using germicidal lamps to PUVA therapy for psoriasis. But then there are also lasers that concentrate light for precision work in eye surgeries and the treatment of cancers. You just have to know when it is the right time to use the light for gentle healing, and when it is more important to cut right down to the heart of the mater.

Have you ever seen a picture painted by an artist who didn’t use shadows?  There is no depth, no perception, no way to gauge distance or to orient yourself in relation to your location in space and time. By using shade and shadow an artist breathes life into their work.  It becomes alive.  It is the balance you see that makes all the difference.  Knowing when to use the light, and when to let the light speak for itself, and when to make room for the shade and shadows that will put it all into perspective.

You see, aside from the light, discernment is the true lightworker’s most important tool.  You have to be able to understand just how much (and what kind) of light is needed.  In order to understand this you also have to be able to discern the usefulness of shade and shadow (when appropriate), especially when it casts what the light illuminates into sharp relief or brings it into clearer focus.  Without it the light would go unnoticed and unappreciated, and awareness, after all, is what being a lightworker it is all about.


©Stephanie S. Henry 2012