The Banner of Busyness

For once she allowed herself the luxury of doing absolutely nothing. And when she was done, she apologized to herself for the misunderstanding. It hadn’t been doing nothing after all, she had been resting her heart and feeding her soul”.

~JustSteph

Our society has a thing about being busy. We all complain about it, but simultaneously most of us take a weird, twisted sort of pride in it, as if, once we die, we will be able to wave the banner of busyness at the pearly gates and be guaranteed immediate entrance.

We all know the refrain; “I am so sorry, I’d really love to be able to help/go to/ see you with/at (fill in the blank) but I am really so busy, there is just no way to fit it in right now. Maybe next time?”

Most of us don’t take offense if someone uses the busy card. After all, we’ve all said it. We’ve all heard it. We all understand what it means. We know exactly what is going through someone’s head when they say it in a certain tone of voice. We might be a little hurt that they are too busy for us but really, we totally understand.

Yes, we all know what it feels like to be crazy busy; so busy that we hardly have time to brush our teeth, let alone floss. So busy that instead of sitting down for breakfast, we grab a muffin or bagel on our way out the door so as not to be late to work and then curse at the crumbs or coffee stains that get dribbled down our front. We spend out lunch break scarfing down something from a vending machine while making three different phone calls and checking our personal emails and bank deposits. We combine six errands on our way home from work, and, after eating a quick fix supper that we eat balanced on our knees while watching the evening news, we drop exhausted into bed at night with a whole list of things we wanted to do and never got to and feeling slightly guilty that we have to actually take time to sleep at all.

Weekends aren’t much better, especially for parents. Most times Saturday mornings are full of karate, dance or music lessons, afternoons are for soccer or football practices or games, Saturday nights are spent ferrying kids to parties, picking them up or dropping them off at movies or friends houses or hosting said parties and get togethers. Even those without kids end up most Saturdays running all the errands that couldn’t be done during the week and cursing out any business that doesn’t have Saturday hours because how on earth are we supposed to contact them when their business hours are the same as our working hours? (I’m looking at you doctor’s offices!)

And then there are Sundays. For those so inclined, Sundays may include Sunday School and/or church, which precludes any sleeping in and may go so far as to include pot lucks or afternoon services, and there goes your day.

For those not so inclined, it may be the one day of the week we get to actually sleep in, unless of course you have kids, or cats, in which case you will be getting up at the same time of day as the rest of the week unless you want to be jumped on or poked awake with carefully calculated claws. Maybe, just maybe you will have time to actually get some housecleaning done, or run the car through the car wash, do some yard work, or maybe get a start on cleaning out that closet. Or maybe not. Maybe you will just spend Sunday afternoon in your pajamas, binge watching some show that takes you away from all the stresses and ridiculousness of the week. But sooner or later on Sunday, usually just after 3 p.m., you will get that sinking feeling that tells you that you only have a few precious hours left until it is time to get ready for the new week and start the whole routine over again.

Why do we do it?

Why do we insist on keeping ourselves so busy that we never seem to have time for anything that truly rests or refreshes us? When did we forget what it is like to simply take time for ourselves to rest and recharge our batteries? Why is self-care so rarely on our list of priorities?

It is easy enough to say that we are too busy to take time for ourselves. We can even justify it by saying that our obligations to our work, our families, our church or whatever other groups we are involved in, preclude us from spending any time on frivolous self-indulgences.

The real problem is in our determination to insist to ourselves that any time spent on self-care is “self-indulgence.” Oh sure, we might find that we can justify a daily trip to the gym (have to be able to fit into those pants!) or a once-a-month trip to a hair salon (can’t be looking shaggy/have my roots showing at work!) But how long has it been since you truly did anything for yourself; anything that can in no way be justified as necessary, but which makes you feel absolutely amazing?

It is said that the Italians have a saying; “Il dolce far niente”, which can be translated as “the sweetness of doing nothing”. While there is some argument as to whether it is actually an Italian term or if it was devised by English speakers of the 1800’s in describing what they saw as Italians’ laid-back approach to life, the fact remains that the idea of “doing nothing” or, more accurately, taking time to unwind and recharge, has a distinct appeal, an appeal that is backed up by psychology.

“Taking care of yourself means compassionately accepting yourself for who you are instead of burning yourself out trying to be everything to everyone all the time. It’s living your life in a way that doesn’t leave you needing to check out or take a break just so you can have a bath, read a book, or sip tea.”

Psychology Today, April 23, 2021

The problem is, our society is so focused on busyness and accomplishment that if we purposefully slow down our pace (let alone taking time out altogether) we get hit with a wave of guilt over all of the things that we could have been doing; of all the time ‘wasted.’

But time spent on recharging your personal batteries is never time wasted. After all, you can’t get any mileage out of a car that has no fuel, and you feel no guilt over spending the time to pull into a gas station or hook up to a recharging station. Neither should you feel guilty over taking the time to refill your own inner battery. In fact, if it feels better, tell yourself that by taking time every day to recharge you are being proactive, because it is a known fact that if you refuse to take time to rest and regroup, eventually your body will break down and force you to rest. It will give you no choice.

So don’t wait to be forced into taking care of yourself. Find the time now to recharge. Do it today. Do whatever it takes to replenish your battery; Stop and smell the roses. Take a walk in the forest. Sit on the beach and watch the waves come in. Plant a garden. Go cloud watching. Splash in the mud puddles. Dance in the rain. Stare into the eyes of your cat. Whatever makes you happy; whatever makes your soul smile and fills you with awe and wonder, make time to do that. You will be happy that you did.

Toothpaste and Mud Puddles

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Have you ever had a moment of such incredible happiness that you found yourself wondering “what did I do to deserve this?”  I have.  And that one question my friends, is a clear cut example of what a twisted culture we live in. You see, happiness is not something that you deserve.  It is not something that you can earn or that you acquire either by earning enough brownie points with a qualified deity or by collecting the appropriate number of box tops.  Happiness is something we are.  In fact, it is our default state.

Don’t believe me?  Spend some time around small children some time.  I’m not talking about school aged kids who are already knee deep in learning how to envy those around them for the things that they don’t have or for getting the ‘good’ seat on the bus.  I mean small children; babies and toddlers.

The average toddler has a better grasp on happiness than most adults on this planet.  Of course they haven’t yet developed reasoning or social skills and have more energy than the average power plant on a high production day and sometimes still have to wear diapers, but if you spend any length of time around them you will notice that when it comes to happiness, they’ve got it nailed down.  Their whole being radiates with happiness because they are entirely focused on whatever it is that they are doing; watching a caterpillar balance on a twig, jumping into mud puddles, watching a kitten play, squeezing all of the toothpaste out of the tube.

We have forgotten how to do this.  We have forgotten how to be happy.  We have forgotten how to radiate happiness with every particle of our being.  We have forgotten the joy of watching all that toothpaste curl out onto the counter.

We go along, day after day, year after year focused on our education, on our work, on providing for our families and on juggling bills.  And while that, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, when we begin putting aside our own happiness in order to better focus on these “more important” things we lose the knowledge of what it means to be completely and blissfully happy.

Humans are social animals.  They want to fit in.  They want to belong.  For millennia like-minded individuals have created villages and towns and cities and religions. They have created clubs and teams and organizations so that they could come together and socialize; interact; share their experiences as humans.

In a world that is marked by suburban sprawl and almost wholly bereft of any sort of social or cultural opportunities that you used to find regularly wherever there were large groups of people. This is why the concept of social media is so very addictive; it allows individuals all over the world to “belong” and to interact with other individuals.

While the concepts of “belonging” and “fitting in” are natural and part of the nature of things, it comes at a price.  The price can be steep, for many times a group or religion or organization has strict rules and regulations, things that you have to or cannot do in order to belong.  And so, in order to be accepted we give up pieces of ourselves; our individuality; pieces of who and what we truly are in order to conform to the acceptable standards of the group or organization.  Many times we give up the things that made us happy in order to be accepted by others.  We then have to spend years – sometimes entire lifetimes attempting to understand why it is that we are so unhappy and attempting to find happiness again, albeit within the structures of our adopted social group, which of course means that many people have and will continue to die unhappy and unfulfilled.

So how can we be happy again?  How can we possibly regain that selfless joy, that innate wonder of the world around us; the supreme happiness of jumping in the mud puddles; the sheer bliss of watching that toothpaste curl out onto the bathroom counter?

The first order of business is to accept that happiness is not an “earned” condition.  You are happiness.1

The second order is to remember what it is that makes you happy and do it.  Have you always loved the color and texture of paintings?  Pick up some small canvases and paints at a craft shop and try your hand at putting images on paper.  Playing in the dirt?  Try digging up a small square of yard for a garden, or plant flowers or vegetables in a pot if you live in an apartment.  Playing in tidal pools?  Try setting up a small aquarium.  Rainbows?  Hang prisms in any window that gets direct sunlight.

Thirdly; don’t apologize for being yourself.  Don’t beat yourself up if others laugh at you for going out in the rain without an umbrella, for blowing bubbles on the bridge during rush hour, for dancing madly to your favorite song when it comes on the radio, or laying out on the hillside to see the shapes in the clouds.

And finally, if you find someone with whom you can be completely and totally yourself, who not only enjoys your myriad facets but is aware of their own and who is not afraid to be themselves, cherish them, they are a rare gift, and believe me, the happiness that you will take in seeing each other’s total authenticity will be so incandescent that whenever you are tempted to think “what did I do to deserve this” you will instead find yourself thinking “what on earth took me so long to realize the truth?”

Waiting for Home

images13N17I32Barefoot, she stands, waiting. A restless breeze tugs at her hair before moving on, leaving behind the faint scent of the ocean; a scent that fills her simultaneously with a soothing calm and an unquenchable restless.

Head thrown back, she stands, waiting. Her eyes search the evening sky, watching as the stars wink into existence, as the golds and plumbs of sunset fade into a black velvet background worthy of a sky full of glittering jewels.

As the light fades in the west a silence falls across the yard; a pregnant pause as if a cosmic conductor has raised his baton and all of his musicians have paused, instruments raised in anticipation of the downbeat. A moment later, with a single croak from a large frog of advanced years, the evening chorus begins; frogs from the riverbank, crickets from the meadow, a low throaty hoot from the owl that lives in the forest behind her house.

And still she waits.

As if on cue a crescent moon rises over the tree tops, casting faint shadows across the darkling yard and glimmering silver off of the tears that flow freely down her face, dribbling onto the ghostly white of her shirt dampening the grass at her toes.

She does not cry for the gloriousness of the vast array of glittering stars or the spectacular evening chorus or for the lingering scent of the restless sea. She cries for many reasons, few of which she can put into words and most of which she knows she will never understand. But mostly she cries because she waits.

She is not even sure what it is that she is waiting for. Perhaps it is love. Perhaps it is hope. Perhaps it is a sense of peace, of belonging. She does not know what she waits for, only that when it appears she will know that her waiting is over. She will know that finally, she is home.

She waits, barefoot, gazing at the stars, kissed by the moonlight, caressed by the whisper of an ocean breeze and serenaded by a chorus written expressly to touch her heart. And as she waits, slowly the tears dry and the competing peace and restlessness combine into an expansive duet whose rhythm counterpoints the beating of her heart. Slowly the stars expand until they fill not just her eyes, but her very soul. Slowly the sound of the nighttime creatures fill her head to bursting and it is then, only then, that she ceases to wait.

At last she has become.

Finally, inside of her own skin, she is home.

All Beginnings Are Hard

butterfly“All Beginnings are hard. . . . Especially a beginning that you make for yourself. That’s the hardest beginning of all.” ~Chiam Potok

 

It is not unusual at this time of the year to see dozens of posts touting an individual’s New Year’s Resolutions; posts about losing weight, finding love, getting their dream job.  The list is endless. And while I know plenty of people who scoff at the idea; people who say that making New Year’s Resolutions is pointless and meaningless, the concept behind it is really quite lovely; you are promising yourself a new beginning; choosing the turning of the New Year as a convenient marking point for tracking their progress.

The sad part of course is that most people renege on their promise to themselves fairly quickly.  In fact, the same people who will move heaven and earth to keep a promise to a spouse or a child; a parent, an employer or a friend will dismiss their promise to themselves with no more than a shrug and an amused chuckle.

Do we really have so little respect for ourselves that we can shrug away our chance to finally create the life we have always imagined?  Because when we fail to keep our promises to ourselves that is exactly what we are doing.  We are trading in those things we desire most in the whole world in exchange for convenience, or security or acceptance by those who don’t understand what achieving our goals would mean for our authentic selves.

I have no room to judge the person who gives in to those around them; who gives in to the demands of convention or of society and gives up their dream, for I am guilty of the same thing.  In fact, I am more guilty than most.  I gave up my dream.  I gave up my dreams willingly in the hopes that by doing so I could forget who I was; that I could bury my true self in normality and create a life for myself where I would not only not be hurt any more, but one where I would no longer hurt anyone else.

For a few precious years it seemed to work.  I was happy, or at the very least I was content.  But it didn’t last.

It was inevitable that one day I would wake up to the fact that burying my authentic self was the biggest mistake that I ever made.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret the life I lived; it gave me two beautiful daughters and hundreds of lovely memories that I will cherish forever.  What I do regret is that I gave up my true self for the illusion of security and belonging.

It has taken me a quarter of a century to come around to acknowledging my mistake and in taking steps to rectify it; to unearth the true me that has been buried for so very long.  Unfortunately she has been kept under wraps for so long that no one recognizes her.  Well, no one except those who knew me before I buried her alive.  Her resurrection has resulted in any number of problems as I try to explain to those around me that this is who I am.  That the person they thought I was all this time was nothing more than a façade; a mask worn to prevent those around me from see who and what I truly am; a choice I made because I was afraid of hurting or being hurt ever again.

Some have supported me in this excavation.  Others have fought it at every turn, trying their hardest to convince me that going back to the self they always knew is in everyone’s best interest; especially their own since that person was the one they were comfortable with.  But going back to the person I was pretending to be is something I will not do.  And if becoming myself means turning their world upside down, well then, so be it.  I have kept myself buried for far too long.  It is time.

And so it is that I make my own New Year’s Resolution.  This year I make a new beginning for myself – for my true self.  I will take the steps necessary to free myself from those people and situations that would keep me from being who and what I truly am.

Of course this means that there will be some tough decisions to be made over the next 12 months; some very difficult choices and overall upheaval for myself and those closest to me.  But like childbirth, once the process has begun, there really is no turning back.  I have made myself the promise of a new beginning, and it is a promise that I intend to keep.

Always In Joy

Do you remember when you were a teenager; when there was a guy (or girl) that you really liked and who you wanted to notice you. Do you remember how you reacted?  Do you remember what you did?  Do you remember finding out everything you could about them and then getting interested in it yourself?  Sometimes you’d give up your own interests in order to pursue theirs in the hopes that by insinuating yourself into their world; by showing an interest in their interests, they’d be more likely to notice you.

Maybe it even worked.  Maybe they did notice you.  Maybe you hooked up and had an awesome time of it.  Perhaps for a while you felt like true soul mates; perfect for each other in every way.  But chances are that somewhere along the line something went horribly wrong.  There came a point when you realized that it was all about them.  Everything was about them; all of it; everything that you did together; everything that you talk about; everything that you ‘share’ is really all about them.  Well, of course it is.  You created it that way.   And chances are that you started to feel shorted; slighted even.  You may have even attempted to start introducing your own interests into the relationship in the hopes to correct the imbalance.

Then of course there were probably misunderstandings and miscommunications due to the fact that the other person simply could not comprehend what was happening.  Weren’t the pair of you happy?  Didn’t you both enjoy the same things; enjoy talking about them and spending time together doing them?  Weren’t they the same as they had always been?  Why was it suddenly that what they were giving you was no longer enough?  Why have you suddenly become so demanding and dissatisfied?

And that of course made things worse didn’t it?  Because how do you tell someone that your entire relationship was based on your desire to get them into your life in whatever way possible?  How do you explain that you were never entirely open with them; that when you met it wasn’t on equal terms because you didn’t want them to get scared off or to lose interest?  How do you explain that what you really wanted, more than anything – what you still want – was and is to have a relationship of equals; where both of you were interested in what made the other person tick, even if you didn’t necessarily share all of the same interests?

I know, I know, it seemed like the natural thing to do at the time.  After all, how could you possibly have known that you were selling yourself short in order to get their attention and bring them into your life?  It’s a very easy trap to slip into.  In fact, it’s so easy that chances are, if you stop and take a good hard look at your life right now and at the people in it, you will find that one or more of the relationships that you are currently in are based on the exact same principles as those high school relationships.

It doesn’t matter which side of the equation that you are on; whether you are one of those people who gave up their own interests in order to capture the attention of another person, or whether you were the one who was enamored by the person who seemed to fit your life so perfectly in every way.  Be honest with yourself – is this truly a relationship of equals?  Is it?  Because if it is not, a relationship of equals you need to brace yourself; you see, there will come a time when one or both of you will realize that the relationship is lopsided and will want to correct that imbalance.

Better to take the time now to find out what makes the other person tick; to make sure that you are giving – and receiving – equally then to wait for things to fall apart.  Hopefully you will find that openness and honesty with your partner are enough to clear things up and to recreate your relationship as a partnership of equals; individuals who are truly interested in each other and in where your personal and spiritual journeys are taking you.  If not, well, it is never too late to become the person that you were always meant to be; to take the steps you need to put yourself firmly on your own path to authenticity.

If your significant other chooses to join you, or at least support you in becoming that authentic self, fine and good, you have nothing to worry about and the journey will be a joyful one because you will have the support and company of the one with which you share your life; a choice that true soul mates (or soul mates destined to work together for long periods of time) will do.

If they are not interested in joining or supporting you, do not allow their incredulity or anger with the changes in you to halt your own development.  Do not force them.  Do not feel that you have to hold onto them.  If it makes them too uncomfortable, they will leave (physically or emotionally).  This is not a reflection on you, and it is not your fault if the relationship disintegrates.  It is their decision whether or not they wish to include the person you are becoming;  your authentic self;  in their own view of reality.

Who knows, your authentic self, your path, may not be the one that is right for them and they may feel that to join you or even support you is undermining their own integrity.  Do not fight this if it happens, and do not allow it to influence your own becoming.  If another person’s path leads them in a way that does not bring you joy you do not have to follow out of loyalty for the joy and purpose that you once shared.

Move forward in joy.  Always in joy, and always in the direction that makes your heart smile.

One Perfect Life

There is no ‘one perfect life’ out there waiting to be lived.  What there is are a series of moments, each one complete and perfect in and of itself no matter if it contains joy and wonder or sadness and sorrow; each one lived fully and completely and in total awareness.  That is the definition of a perfect life, and that is the life that I am living.”  ~SSHenry

I don’t know about you, but there are definitely days when I feel as if I am spinning my wheels.  I’m not just talking about not being able to get anything done (though that may be a symptom of the larger issue).  What I’m talking about is the feeling that there is something I should be doing in order to bring the life that I was meant to live into my reality besides just visualizing the life that I want to have.

Oh come on, don’t tell me that you haven’t considered how your life could be better!  Most everyone has a picture in their heads; a picture of the ‘perfect life,’ the one they would be living if only things were just a little different.

When I close my eyes and focus I can actually see that life.  I can see the house that would perfectly suit me.  I can walk around and touch the things I’d have in it.  I can see the people that I would be sharing my life with.  I can laugh at the conversations and the experiences and the humor that fill our days.  I see myself in a position of being able to make the world a better place through my words and my example and the feeling of knowing that I am living my life to the fullest.  I can feel the peace that is in my heart and the love that weaves itself through every moment of this life like a bright and glittering gold thread unobstructed and unimpeded and stretching off into an infinity of tomorrows.

I’ll be honest.  The picture of that perfect life is seductive.   It calls to me at the oddest times; tangling me in a lover’s embrace; whispering words of undying devotion in my ear.  It is what I want most; my heart’s desire; and there are days when my heart cries at the thought of having to do without it for even one more minute and when I look around at the life I have and see just how far from perfect it is.

I told this to a friend of mine once, and they said “okay, so now you know what you want, so go out and GET it! Make it happen!”  And I tried to explain it to them – at the time I failed miserably.  Maybe I’ll do better with the explanation today.

You see, while my heart has set its goals; while it knows where it belongs and what sort of a life it would best be suited to, there are still aspects of my reality that I have to deal with right here and now due to decisions that I made yesterday (or years ago) that were not in alignment with that vision for my perfect life.   Those decisions have created situations and have brought people and circumstances into my life that may not be part of that picture of perfection, but they cannot simply be tossed aside either.

Yes, there are some people, who would drop everything to pursue their heart’s desire; who would drop all of their responsibilities and obligations to pursue that perfect but elusive life.  But that is not something I can do.  Not yet.  You see if I did that; if I dropped everything and went out looking for it; once I found my ‘perfect life’, it wouldn’t be perfect any more due to all of the pain and drama I had to go through and that I put other people through in order to get there.

What I can do is to stop being something that I am not.  I choose to be exactly who and what I am at every moment of every day.

This is perhaps one of the hardest things to do; ever.

Go ahead, try it.  Close your eyes and picture that perfect life.  Feel the love and the joy that course through you when you imagine yourself immersed in that life; the places, the people, the experiences that fill you up.  Imagine how you respond to the people and things around you.  Now open your eyes and take a good hard look at the life you are living.  My guess is that most of it doesn’t match up at all.

Now, instead of moping about what you don’t have in your life; about what you are missing, instead of sighing and saying “I’ll just have to wait for heaven,” there is, as I said, just one thing that you can do to change it right here and now; one thing that you can do to bring that life that you were meant to live into existence and that is to change the one thing that you do have control over; yourself.

How?  That’s easy. Stop trying to be something that you are not.

You’ve seen who you really are; that person that occupies that perfect life.  You’ve felt how passionate and enthusiastic they are about life.  You’ve experienced (if only in your heart and mind) the fullness and richness of the life that they lead.  Now stop pretending that you are not capable of living that kind of a life right here and now and start making the kinds of decisions and taking the kinds of actions that they would take in the same situation; actions and decisions that would support and encourage that perfect life and not a continuation of the life that you are currently living with all of its drama and angst.

It’s really not as difficult as you may think.  Actually, it only requires one thing; Attention.

Start paying attention to yourself; to your thoughts; to the beliefs that you incorporate into your life as a result of those thoughts, of the decisions that you make because of the beliefs that you hold and the actions that you take as a result of those decisions.  Are these the thoughts and beliefs and decisions and actions of the person in your perfect life?  Is this how your higher self would act in this situation?  Is this a belief that would support that life that your heart yearns for?  Is that a decision or an action that the person living that perfect life would make?

If yes, then go ahead; entertain the thought, accept the belief; make the decision and take the action.  If no, then slam on the breaks.  Do a 360 if need be and choose something entirely different.

Yes, you may get some astonished looks and some frustrated people who expected you to behave in the same way that you always have.  But remember, this isn’t about them.  This isn’t about fitting into their expectations or about maintaining the guise of you as the person they always thought you were.  This is about being exactly who and what you are in order to manifest your perfect life.

It will not be an overnight transformation.  Most of us (myself included) have far too much baggage stored up to be able to simply change things overnight.  It is going to take time; time and infinite patience and the ability to see that baggage drop to the side of the road and not do the instinctive thing and pick it back up again but to let it go.

As you become more and more yourself you are going to lose things.  You will lose the respect of individuals that you thought were your friends (but who obviously aren’t).  You will lose influence with people who liked the fake you; that persona that you cultivated and who find your authentic self to be absurd or irresponsible.  You may even find that relationships with people close to you crumbling because you are no longer living up to their expectations.

But remember, it is all a part of the process.  And in truth, when it comes right down to it, it’s all about the process – all of it.  Because even though your heart feels the pull of that perfect life, even once you find it, it is not something you simply have.  It is something that you do; something that you are; something that you continue to be, voluntarily, on a day to day basis.

Yes, there are days when I become impatient; when I think that the life I was meant to live will never become a reality.  Then I have to laugh, because I am LIVING the life I was meant to live.  Each moment – including the impatient ones – is part of the process.

Each desire for something more; each longing, each yearning that spurs me on to thoughts and beliefs and decisions and actions that lead to change to bring those things into my life, each new person and experience that brings me another moment (or series of moments) to savor- it’s all a part of the life I was meant to live; the life I AM living.  There is no ‘one perfect life’ out there waiting to be lived.  What there is are a series of moments, each one complete and perfect in and of itself no matter if it contains joy and wonder or sadness and sorrow; each one lived fully and completely and in total awareness.  THAT is the definition of a perfect life, and THAT is the life that I am living.

The Empty Shell

“You can’t ask a butterfly to scrunch herself back into her chrysalis or to go back to being a caterpillar just because you’d gotten used to her like that.  What’s worse is when you try to get her to go back because you fear the freedom given to her by her wings.”  ~SSHenry

There are some experiences; some moments in time; that change your life forever.  Perhaps for you it was a major life event such as the birth of a child, the death of a loved one or a close call that shook you right down to the foundations of your soul.  Or maybe it wasn’t a large event at all.  Maybe it was something much more subtle such as a kind word spoken when it was most needed; the touch of a lover’s hand or a breeze that not only ruffled your hair but stirred up something deep down inside you that simply could not be contained.

I’ve had many life-changing moments.  All of us have.  Sometimes it seems as if these moments come so thick and fast that they threaten to overwhelm you.  At other times you feel as if your entire life is on “pause” and all of the moments having stepped out for a drink or something.   At some points in your life it is as if the moments of realization and wonder and change are so few and far between that you’ve pretty much forgotten what they are like before the next one begins to play itself out and have to remind yourself what exactly it is that you are dealing with each time you encounter it.

My most recent (and not surprisingly most profound) life-changing moment to date came the moment that I walked into my house after a two month absence and realized that there was no way that I could go back to being the person I had been when I walked out that door eight weeks earlier.

The details as to why I ended up gone for two months (illness in the family) or what happened while I was gone are not important.  Yes, I had some interesting experiences while I was off on my own for two months dealing with unexpected issues and meeting people I might not otherwise have encountered. But what really matters is that for two solid months I was detached from the life that I had been living up until that moment.

For two months I was separated from all of the small niggling everyday details that we label “reality” and which demand our attention and catch us up in layers upon layers of drama and expectation; layers that we gladly pull around us like a cloak and call “life.”

For two months I was free of those layers.  Getting rid of them was not pleasant. They got stripped away from me rudely leaving me rather raw and feeling as if I had been flayed alive and then washed down in salt water and I felt as if was being completely inundated with issues and problems and responsibilities that I really didn’t want to deal with at that moment in time.

But the point is that for two months I was not just a wife.  Nor was I just a mother or a daughter taking care of her own mother.  For two solid months – I was me.

Just me.

I was not free of obligations or responsibilities (caring for a sick family member brings with it its own responsibilities and expectations).  But for two months I was free of the obligations and responsibilities and expectations in which I had wrapped myself up for the last 22 years; those responsibilities and expectations that come from being a wife and mother and homemaker extraordinaire.

For two solid months was completely and totally myself.

It dawned on me as I was driving home, to wonder just how I would ever be able to go back to living my old life.  But when I pulled into the driveway and saw my house for the first time in eight weeks; when I walked through the door and took one look around me, I knew that it was patently impossible.

I can’t go back to the way things were; ever.  The person who lived that life is gone.

I could feel the shell of her; that old me; waiting for me around every corner.  “Come on” she whispered, holding out the old life as if it were a soft but comfortable pair of sweat pants. “Don’t you want to slip back into this?  This is where you are comfortable.  This is where you belong.  Life doesn’t get any better than this.”

“Oh yes it does sweetheart” I whispered back “you have NO idea!”

You see, the old life has a lot going for it.  There are many things that I would like to keep and incorporate into my new reality, but not if it means having to go back to being the person that I was.  The person I have become cannot possibly fit into that old skin. Not without giving up who and what I have become.

It would be like asking a butterfly to scrunch back into her chrysalis.  Or better yet, to turn back time and become a caterpillar again.  It’s not going to happen.  I could pretend, but I’m tired of pretending.

I am simply going to be myself.

My whole self.

I will start again.  Here.  Now.  As myself.  If that is not enough, or more likely if that is too much, then so be it.  I have wings now baby. There’s no reason for me to go back to crawling when I can fly.

The Price of Love

As strange as it may seem, it is possible to love without attachment.  I’ll grant you, that is an alien concept in a day and age when the concept of love has been watered down to the point where it is used in regards to your like of soft drinks and computer games.  But it IS possible.

Love without attachment is also love without expectation.  The object of your love is not required to do or be anything other than exactly what it is.  If it should change from one moment to the next; if, like a rabid dog, they suddenly turn on you and attack for no reason other than the fact that you are there, it won’t change the fact that you still love them.

Most people can get to the point of wrapping their brains around the idea of unconditional love; of love without expectation and attachment when it comes to a parent’s love for their child, but what about love for a perfect stranger?

For love to be truly unconditional it has to be based on more than what the person (or object) can do for you (give you love back in return, provide you with financial or emotional support, give you validation for your choices or provide you with a justification for being alive).

Truly unconditional love comes from a realization that all of us; you, me, the person standing next to you, the homeless man on the corner, the obnoxious politician – all of us; that each and every one of us is instrumental to the well being of the universe and of life on this planet.  It comes from an acknowledgement that even though we may each seem completely different, at our deepest core WE ARE ONE.

The True Price of Love

 

True love comes with a price – the price of pain;

 Of giving up a tiny bit of yourself to the one you love,

Knowing full well that you will never get that piece back;

Of knowing that as long as they live they will hold a tiny piece of your heart and soul.

 

And the true cost of living a life of love – whether it is the one love of a lifetime

Or many loves throughout your life – is that by the time you are done;

By the time your heart stops beating; there is nothing left of your heart.

It has been spread across the world – across the universe.

 

It has become a part of everyone and everything you have ever interacted with.

No matter how large or how small a part they played in your life,

You loved them; and in loving them you gave them a bit of your heart;

And in them your heart beats on and loves forever.

~SSHenry

The Vanilla Man

I don’t know about you, but I’m a chocolate kind of girl.   From the time I was little I would bypass the pretty pink ice creams (strawberry mostly) that other girls my age seemed so fond of (I honestly think it had something to do with the popularity of Strawberry Shortcake at the time) and went straight for the Double Dutch Chocolate or Swiss Chocolate Almond.

In shops that had multiplicities of flavors I’d ignore the pistachio and lemon balm and caramel crunch; preferring to zero in on the Fudge Stripe and Mayan Chocolate, with an occasional nod to Oreo Cookie Crunch or Chocolate Chip.  When people would ask me why I didn’t try and mix it up a bit I would shrug and say I didn’t know, but what it was, was that I didn’t know how to explain it.

You see, I didn’t understand why I should muck around with the more fruity or bland flavors, even if they were unusual.  What I wanted – what I craved – was the full-bodied experience of chocolate; the way that it completely overwhelmed my senses and bombarded me with an intoxicating richness that went straight to my head.

Strangely enough, this was a theme that would follow me for my entire life; always having to go straight for the people and places, the situations and experiences that would provide me with the most stimulation; the most intensity; the most flavor and it amazed me that there were people who actually went out of their way to avoid these kinds of stimulation.  For the longest time I thought that there had to be something wrong with them.  Indeed, many of them seemed rather ashamed of the fact that they didn’t try more or do more, as if they felt they had let themselves down somehow by choosing safety and security over adventure and really wild things.  But it was my encounter with the Vanilla Man that would forever change the way I viewed my life and the way those around me had chosen to live.

The Vanilla Man was something entirely new to my experience; a person who not only avoided excess stimulation of any kind (shunning those experiences and situations and experiences that I found so attractive) but who took pride in being predictable and I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out why anyone would prefer this kind of a life.  It was an intriguing concept, and one I had never encountered before.

Even then, those many years ago, the Vanilla Man was predictable.  Even as a young man you could set your clock by his routine.  At any time of the day or night you knew where he would be and what he would be doing.  And in spite of my own personal preferences and inclinations, I found him anything but boring.  He had an awesome sense of humor and we could converse on a wide variety of topics even seeing things from different perspectives as we did.  In fact, I found his predictability and complete confidence in himself to be entirely refreshing; a way of looking at the world around him that I had never considered before to be valid.   He found my spontaneity and unfiltered view of the world just as intriguing, and it made for a rather tempestuous relationship.

Like night and day, however, we eventually went our separate ways, unable to reconcile our opposite views and lifestyles (though we remain fast friends) and there are times when I have to wonder what would have happened if we had given that mixing of vanilla and chocolate a go.  Would it have resulted in a block of striped ice cream with neither budging to give the other space?  Would we have been like a hot fudge sundae with one of us overpowering or smothering the other? Or would we have mixed ourselves so thoroughly that we would have each become something less (and more) than we had been on our own; giving up our own chocolate and vanilla personalities and preferences to become something like chocolate mouse or vanilla swirl?

Many years have gone by since then, but I have never forgotten what the Vanilla Man had to teach me; that just because there are those who don’t see the world in quite the same way that you do does not mean that their perspective is invalid, and that not everyone has to approach life in the same way that you do in order to be truly and fully alive.

In truth, the world needs vanilla.  Without vanilla men (and women) the chocolates and coconut cherry chunks and rocky roads would run rampant and there would never be any continuity; nothing would get done.  The world would dissolve into complete and total chaos and anarchy.  Besides being soothing and creamy, vanilla tones down the bitterness of more aggressive flavors and makes the sickly sweet tolerable and goes well with almost everything, and while there are those who would downplay its importance or who would say that it dilutes the more exotic flavors, the truth is that without vanilla, we would run into some serious problems.

Even today, every now and then I’ll find myself opting for a dish of vanilla ice cream as opposed to chocolate; a reminder of what could have been, yes, but also to what is, and the incredible variety that makes up humanity; that makes up life and how each and every one of us, regardless of our preferences has a place and a purpose in that great big ice cream parlor that makes up our universe.

A Sea of Ones

All differences in this world are of degree, and not of kind, because oneness is the secret of everything.
~ Swami Vivekanada

Go on, say the word out loud.  Whisper it if it makes you feel better: Oneness.

Did you shudder?  Did your stomach turn over and give you a vague sense of queasiness?  Were you forcibly reminded of the various cults whose members followed their charismatic leaders to untimely deaths? Did you suddenly get a vision of new age self-help gurus descending on you while waving copies of their books and tapes for you to purchase like a hoard of invading Visigoths?

It is strange; the very concept of merging one’s identity with another person or group has become an anathema to humanity.  We fight it tooth and nail and create stories and legends which we turn into books and movies to remind us just how frightening of a concept it is.  Hollywood is full of them.  They make for excellent science fiction and horror thrillers.

What’s really strange is while we hold up individuality as the end all be all of existence, we only live that way in our spare time.  When it comes to work, any business person will tell you that the collective or hive mindset is far more profitable to a company than having each employee thinking (and acting) for themselves.

But overall as a society we are obsessed with individualism; with the belief that the interests of the individual are ethically paramount and that we are better off acting in our own self interest than in considering the needs of humanity as a whole.  And this belief tends to spill over into the way that we view others and their place in the world.

Whether it is our employees or our significant others, our friends or our acquaintances, the result is the same, most of us are focused on ourselves and on how those around us can make our lives better.  How can you increase my quarterly earnings?  How can you make my life more interesting?  What can you do for me?

It is this attitude that will be our undoing.

Oh yes, I know, individualism is the cornerstone of capitalism.  Every marketing executive and advertising specialist on the planet knows that appealing to one’s individuality and uniqueness sells products and creates a desire for more things that will set you apart from the crowd and mark you as one of a kind.  But when it comes right down to it, it’s not a very cohesive way to live.

When applied to countries as a whole, the attitudes and beliefs embraced by individualism become nationalism (the belief that nations are better off acting in their own self interest than collectively and with international or global goals and/or ideals) with each country promoting its own self interests regardless of what it means for those around them.

While both individualism and nationalism may seem like logical choices on the surface, the fact is that we do not live in a bubble, either as people or as nations. What we do impacts those around us and the impact we have on them in turn rebounds on us.  There is a reason for this, though most people don’t like to think about it.  It is because we are all connected.  We are all one.

No, I’m not talking about some sort of all-inclusive mish-mash of thought and belief and personality where everyone gives up who they are in order to pursue some sort of hive mentality.  I’m talking about the kind of oneness you get when you have billions of drops of water coming together to form an ocean; an ocean where millions of cresting waves carve themselves out of the oneness that binds them all together and gives them their coherence and purpose.

Each wave, each drop of water is individual and unique.  Each drop of water contains a universe unto itself.  Each wave is formed just a bit differently than each of its brothers, and yet they share an underlying cohesion; a sense of unity and of oneness that create the concept of an ocean; that endless sea of possibilities and potential; a world where you can become one without having to give up yourself; where you can stand on your own but where you never have to stand alone.

The Magic Web

We live in a magical world.  If you don’t think so, just look around you; look at the intricacies of a spider’s web (Her mother dies giving birth to her – so how does she know how to create that? Where do the designs come from?) Look at the glory of a sunrise; at the intimate dance of sunlight and shadow across the surface of a pond; at the delicate ecological balance of life taking place just beneath the surface of that water.

Truly, mysteries abound.  The secrets of fierce nuclear fusion that give birth to the life-giving warmth of our sun, the cycling of our stars and the complex combination of interlocking chemical and biological systems that make up the human body.

But probably one of the most amazingly mysterious and magical concepts is the fact that each of these mysteries; each of these intricate layers of creation is connected to everything else around it.  Like the spider dancing across the strings of her web; we too are connected to everything around us.  We share our energy with that spider.  We dance to the sinuous music of the wind in the trees and in our hearts burns the same fierce brightness that fuels the sun itself.

You don’t believe me?  Go out into your yard before dawn some morning; go out in your bare feet and feel the dew on the grass beneath your toes; close your eyes and let the silence soak into your skin; feel the stirring of the wind; feel the power of the earth soaking into the soles of your feet.  Listen as the birds begin to welcome the first rays of sunlight; then open your eyes and watch as morning breaks and then tell me that you are not connected to everything around you.

It’s just that sometimes there is so much to take in.  Sometimes it is too much to take in.  Sometimes it feels that if we try to take it all in our hearts will burst with the sheer beauty of it.  In fact, chances are that the last time you truly took the time to let yourself connect to everything and everyone around you was when you were a child; when you could still comprehend the vastness and the mystery of it without needing to understand why.

No, for most of us there comes a time when our openness and willingness to accept our connection to everyone and everything becomes too much to bear.  Usually this occurs when someone or something within our web lets us down; when we can no longer see the beauty of the connection because of the pain of disappointment and dashed hopes; when even trying to see this connection hurts us too much and we withdraw to a safer, less vibrant level of reality where it won’t hurt so bad because we are no longer as open to life.

And it doesn’t end with our first step away from openness.  Most of us spend our lives narrowing our connection.  For most of us, our webs of connection to the world around us get smaller and smaller over the years; our connections fewer as people and circumstances fail to live up to our expectations.  And instead of dealing with the pain we simply narrow our focus; spinning smaller and smaller webs until finally the last filaments of our once glorious web drift away in the evening breeze because of our neglect and we sit forlorn on the fencepost; alone and unconnected and waiting for the end.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

That talented spider with her delicately spun web does not let a little thing like a disappointment or discouragement –or even failed expectations keep her from maintaining her glorious web.  She spins and spins and spins and spins again.  And even when her web is broken by struggling insects; by gales of disappointment; by the careless actions of others; she quickly re-creates her web, continually opening herself back up – yes, to the pain and the disappointments – but also to the beauty and the wonder that caused her to choose that particular place to spin a web in to begin with.

So what is keeping you?

What is keeping you from re-spinning that web; those connections that you had in childhood; those connections that bound you with awe and reverence to the wonder and the mystery that surrounds you?

The only thing that is keeping you from once more opening yourself up to the joy and beauty that could be yours is your fear; the fear of disappointment; the fear pain; the fear that once your web has been torn apart you won’t have the strength to spin it out again.

Funny thing that, because the spider doesn’t even question whether or not she has the strength; she simply chooses to spin; stretching herself out to catch every subtle drop of beauty and possibility that is her birthright and accepting the pain as part of what it means to be alive.

Authentic Living 201: Living Intentionally

There is a difference between living and living an intentional life.

No, seriously, everybody lives.  Unless you’ve been in a serious accident and are fighting for every breath you take, living is not something you actually have to think about.  It simply happens, usually when you aren’t paying attention.  In fact, one day you look up and realize that half your life has gone by and wonder where the devil it’s gone.  It was just here for pity’s sakes.

Suddenly you realize that you’ve slipped so far into routine that you’re drowning in it.  For whatever reason your life has become mundane – each day just like the one before, and it doesn’t matter how good your life actually is.  It doesn’t matter how nice your house is, or your car.  It doesn’t matter how much (or how little) money you have in the bank – your life is being lived – you’re not living an intentional life.  So, what is the difference? What does it mean to live intentionally?

What is Intentional Living?

Intentional living is not about turning your life upside down.  It is not even about manifesting change in your life.  Intentional living is about being here – now; it is about doing everything you do with complete and total awareness of what it is that you are doing and why it is that you are doing it.

From eating your breakfast to sitting through that aptly named board meeting; from playing Frisbee with your kids to walking the dog; you need to pay attention to what it is that you are doing.  You need to use your mastery of everyday mindfulness to pay attention to what is happening in your life and to be totally in the moment as you do it; paying attention to all the details and being open to all the nuances.  And yes, I’ll tell you right now, it’s harder than it seems.

You see, we have this sense of urgency that surrounds everything that we do.  I’m sure you’ve noticed it.  When you are doing something mundane or boring your mind tends to either shut off or to race ahead to what needs to be done next or sometimes berate us over past mistakes and things that we could have done better.  Very rarely are we actually fully in the moment.  Well, it’s time to change all of that.

Living the Intentional Life

Using your mastery of mindfulness to pay attention to what is happening here and now, you’re going to make some interesting discoveries.  You are going to find that there are things that are a part of your life that no longer serve you.  You may have gone years – or even decades without realizing what you were doing; the time you were wasting on something that you really have absolutely no interest in whatsoever; things in your life that are just taking up space.

So, why are you still doing them?  Why have you kept them all these years?  What is keeping you from letting go of those things that no longer serve you so that you can make room in your life for something that actually makes a difference?  Yes, I’m sure that if you think hard enough you can find a reason to keep them in your life.  But is it worth it?  Is the time, effort and energy that you spend on them worth what is given back to you in the satisfaction of possession or in the completion of the action itself? If you were fully present every time you did this – used this – would you still want it in your life?

And it won’t just be physical objects or routines that you find cluttering up your life.  You’re going to run into friendships, acquaintances, even romantic relationships that are called into question, especially if – once you start actually paying attention to them – you find that neither of you is getting anything out of it; or if the relationship is unbalanced.  Just like physical objects and everyday routines, sometimes there are relationships that have run their course; that we hold onto out of habit, but that would serve everyone better if we simply let them go.

But it isn’t just about getting rid of the excess; of the mundane; of those things that no longer serve you or that have run their course.  Living intentionally is also about coming to a realization of those things that you are missing; those things that you really want to be a part of your life but didn’t realize were missing until you started paying attention to what you actually had.   Only once you realize what it is that you really want can you go about taking the necessary steps to bring it into your life.

So go ahead – start today!  Start paying attention to the life that you are living.  Start living your life intentionally.  Stop living on autopilot; never fully engaged in what it is that you are doing, and start putting a part of yourself; a part of your energy; into everything that you do.  Start being fully present in every relationship you are a part of and not just because you have to; not just because you feel obligated; but because you want to; because at that particular moment in time there is nothing you would rather be doing, for in the end that is the only way to really be alive.

 

 

The Magic Word

THE ARTIST

I am the artist and the art.

My life is a canvass

And I stand before it, tools in hand

Creating a world within a world within a life

Wielding the brushes of belief and intention

Brushes dipped in the pigments of emotion and experience

Smoothing in highlights of happiness and love

And shadowed depths of fear and anger

Until the creation becomes the creator

Becomes a life complete.

~SSHenry

The Magic Word

Have you ever read a story or watched a movie where magic was being used; was a part of their world and felt a deep yearning stirred up inside you?  To be able to simply wave a wand or staff and say a few words and watch the world around you change; watch as your dreams become reality.  Seems like a pipe dream, doesn’t it?

Well, what if I told you that magic was real?  What if I told you that there is one word with which you can change your entire world?

You’d laugh, wouldn’t you?  Oh sure, there would be a tiny spark in your heart; a part of you (a part you probably associate with your eight-year-old self) that says “that would be SO cool,” but the practical you – the grown up you – would pretty much dismiss it out of hand.  After all, that’s just not the way it works in real life.

At least that is what we’ve been led to believe.

Because the truth is, there IS a magic word; one word that can transform your entire life.  This one word and its usage has been taught by the mystery schools and passed down through centuries of mystical traditions and shamanic lineages and which has been closely guarded because of its power and the ability it has to completely transform the world around you.

It is a word whose meaning has been closely guarded because it strikes fear into those who wield the power; it causes people to question the right of someone else to decide their lives for them.  Think it through.  There is a reason that most of the mystery schools and metaphysical traditions have been suppressed throughout history, for if people knew that they have the power to manifest the life that they truly want; those things that they desire most without having to conform to a certain set of rules or regulations or without adhering to specific belief system, there would be no need for the governmental or religious control systems, and those systems have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.  They’ve got a lot to lose.

No, I’m not going to drag this out and make you wait for days before I tell you.  And no, I’m not going to charge you money to find out this life-changing secret.  You already know the answer.  But just in case you’ve forgotten, I’ll tell you again.

The word is:  Intention.

Just as the artist brings his art into being through his intent to capture it in its selected form (paint, charcoal, photography, sculpture, carving, music, writing etc) so too can anyone on this planet bring into being the life that they have always wanted by focusing their intention on bringing it into being.

The scariest thing is that most people – not being aware of the power of intention – sign this power over to another; to a person or a society, a religion or a government; accepting the laid out specifications for an “acceptable” or “desirable” life as their own; allowing these others to decide what their life is going to be like; what they should want (or not want); their place in society; what they should be doing (or not doing).  But the good news is; you can reclaim your power.  You can still have the life you always wanted; you just have to learn how to breathe life into your intention.

Breathing Life Into Intention

Breathing life into your intention requires a clear picture of what it is you are aspiring to.  It requires focus.

When I say focus I don’t just mean having a general idea of what it is that you want (such as I want to be healthy).  You need to be able to imagine every detail of what a healthy life entails; what you would look like, how you would act, talk, react.  What you would do.  How you would maintain that healthy body.  You need to be able to close your eyes and slip yourself into a scene that explicitly portrays you in the best of health, where everything around you supports that.

There is just one trick involved.  You not only have to be able to be able to imagine this life in complete and total detail, you have to be able to live as if it already exists – as if you believe that it is real.  Then, and only then, will you see it start to manifest around you as the universe begins pulling things into alignment in your life in order to pave the way for its manifestation because it sees that your intention is not just half-hearted, you really mean it.  When you can believe that your intended life exists; when you can have faith that it is there even if you can’t yet see it, then you remove the doubt and negativity that prevent it from entering your life.

Of course you’re going to want to start small; keep it simple until you get the hang of it.  And keep in mind that it is going to take patience, because believe it or not, even those with the best imaginations seem to have difficulty realizing that they can have exactly what they intend (that’s another reason to start small). But once you have the hang of it you’ll find that your life begins to slowly transform as those the life that you intend for yourself slowly becomes your reality.

Through purposeful control and focus of your intention you not only become the artist of your own creation, you become the art; a three dimensional piece of artwork that is continually being refined and shaped according to your beliefs and intentions; a life complete; the authentic life that you have always known that you were supposed to be living.

Five Tips for Mastering Mindfulness

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
~ William Blake

Learning to listen to that still small voice inside your head; that prompting that tells you whether or not the decision you are about to make is the right choice for you is at the very core of living authentically, but learning to listen takes time and patience and, most of all, it requires that you are not only aware that it is speaking to you, but mindfulness of what it is that is being said. But what exactly is mindfulness?

Defining Mindfulness

“Mindfulness” says Jon Kabat-Zinn, “means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, In the present moment and non judgmentally.”

While these are simple enough words, putting them into practice in one’s everyday life can be another story altogether. Think about it – how often to you pay attention to something that is happening around you – right here and now – purposefully –and without judging it?

In order to understand mindfulness, let’s take the simple concept of eating. Everyone eats. But how many of us eat mindfully? That is to say, how many people pay complete and total attention to the food that they are putting into their mouths as they are putting it in? Are you noticing the flavor and texture of each mouthful? Or are you scarfing down your sandwich while you sit at the computer scrolling through your emails and simultaneously making a grocery list of things you need to pick up on your way home from work? Better yet, if you DO pay attention to the food that you are eating, chances are that you are judging it (this is wonderful/horrible/disgusting/too salty/too sweet/delicious etc.). It is not until you can purposefully sit down to a meal and focus entirely on your eating; every aspect of your eating (the look, the scent, the flavor, the chewing etc.) and not make any judgments on it (too hot, too cold, too sweet or sour) that you can say that you have experienced mindful eating. So too it is with every other aspect of our life.

It is as if we are continually going through life with those red correcting pens that teacher’s use and giving every experience a grade: A+ for great sex, D- for vindictive co-worker B- for interesting (if long) sermon etc. We can’t seem to keep our own opinions out of the mix and simply enjoy the things around us; the experiences, the people even, for whom and what they really are. Not only that, it is as if we feel that we can’t really be living unless we pack as much “doing” into any one time frame as is humanly possible.

Perhaps this is some sort of residual fallout from the corporate obsession with the increasing of productivity through time management, or maybe it has something to do with the old Puritanistic adage that ‘idle hands are the devil’s playground.’ But in western societies it is rare to find those who appreciate the wisdom in holding our minds still enough – long enough – to observe those things that are happening around us and to us for exactly who and what they are without attaching expectations to them, but mindfulness (as well as its sister meditation and it’s cousin awareness) are looked down on and even ridiculed throughout much of western civilization as being practices that are unproductive and without any real purpose.

The Purpose of Mindfulness

But there IS a purpose to mindfulness, and that is to bring your mind to a level where it can actually hear the voice of intuition; the guidance of that higher self/higher power that will help you to make the decisions that will bring your life into alignment with your soul purpose.

Think of mindfulness as a sort of practical meditation. Instead of sitting still in one place and attempting to quiet our minds we focus our attention on experiencing what is happening to us – and around us – in this exact moment in time; seeing it all, feeling it all, experiencing it all without attaching any sort of expectations, and in spite of what you might think, practicing mindfulness really isn’t as difficult to master as you might think.

Five Tips for Mastering Mindfulness

Like any other skill that you acquire, mastering mindfulness takes time and patience. But most of all, it takes patience with yourself; with realizing that you are not going to shed the conditioning of a lifetime in just a few days or weeks. But there are some tips that might help you to learn to focus.

  1. The One Minute Rule. When you are just starting to learn to be mindful, there is a great technique that can help you learn to focus, and that is called The One Minute Rule. If you have a cell phone alarm, set your alarm to go off hourly. If you work at your computer, have an alert message set to draw your attention on an hourly basis. When the alarm rings turn it off and spend one minute (sixty entire seconds) focusing on what you are doing right here and now. If you are sitting at your desk, bring your attention to your body. Can you feel the chair you are sitting in? Can you feel the cloth against your legs? Are you aware of your body posture? Try closing your eyes and doing a slow scan of your body from top to bottom taking note of how your body feels, then focus on the scents you are smelling, the sounds you are hearing, the piece of paper you are holding in your hand. Note all of it. Don’t judge it; don’t get caught up in it. Just take note of all of the sensory input that is coming in right here and now. Doing this one minute out of every hour will help steer you towards being able to practice every day mindfulness.
  2. The Rubber Band Reminder. Another great technique in learning mindfulness is to wear a rubber band on the wrist of your dominate. This can either be a plain old rubber band or a hair band, as long as it is elastic. Make sure that it’s not too tight (you don’t want to cut off circulation. Now, every time you see the rubber band, give it a snap; and every time you snap the rubber band let the snap bring you to the here and now. Take a deep breath and note what is happening right here and now. How you are feeling, what you are hearing etc. You can use this technique in addition to the One Minute Rule, because the goal is eventually to be entirely aware of where you are and what is going on around you at every moment in time.
  3. Food Focus. One of the best times of the day to practice mindfulness is (big surprise) when you are eating. It is a fact that most people in western society do not take the time to eat their food mindfully, so why not devote one meal a day to mindful eating? No matter which meal you choose, sit down at a table or desk or bench where you will not be interrupted either by a phone, people, incoming emails or anything else. Do not use this time to read or write or chat. Instead, focus entirely on the food that you are eating. See the food. Feel the food. Taste the food. Chew it thoroughly. Learn what it means to savor your meal.
  4. Full Body Focus. Once a day find a quiet place where you can stretch out full length on the floor. Not your bed – the floor. Settle yourself onto your back, close your eyes, then start at your feet and work your way up, consciously relaxing each muscle group as you come to it. First relax your toes, then your ankles, your calves, your thighs, pelvis, stomach, solar plexus, hands, arms shoulders, neck and head, working your way all the way up. Once you are completely relaxed, let yourself ‘melt’ into the floor and feel the carpeting or flooring beneath you. Feel the slight breeze in your hair as the cat walks by; hear the creak in the floorboards, the gurgle of the water in the pipes. Doing this once a day can really put you in touch with your body and teach you things about yourself then you could possibly imagine.
  5. Object Focus. If possible, once a day focus on a single object for a full five minutes. This works best if you use an object from nature as there tends to be more depth than the manmade (though there are, of course, exceptions). So pick your object. Let’s use William Blake’s wildflower. Make yourself comfortable, and then narrow your entire focus to the flower in front of you. See it, feel it, let your gaze fall into it. Note how the petals fold back, how the edges turn under, how the pollen has formed on the stamen, how the leaves curl around the blossom. Note everything about it. Try not to judge it. Try not to form an opinion about it. Simply experience it exactly as it is. Let it be.

While there are other techniques, these five can get you started on your way to mastering mindfulness. And remember, by practicing everyday mindfulness we can slow our minds down long enough to not only be able to appreciate the world around us, but to actually be able to hear our intuition; that still small voice whose guidance will bring our lives into alignment with our soul purpose and will set our feet on the road to true authentic living.

Authentic Living 103: the Secret of Syncronicity

Are You Looking for Answers?

For those who are feeling the urge to begin living an authentic life, chances are that you are feeling a bit frustrated.  After all, you know that you want something more.  You know that you are ready for the next step in your journey; for your soul’s next big adventure.  There’s just one problem; you haven’t got a clue as to what comes next.

You’ve prayed.  You’ve meditated.  You’ve read book after book about spiritual awakenings; kept journals; taken up yoga, maybe even joined a book or discussion group, all to no avail.  Don’t get me wrong, you’ve learned a lot, but nothing has really changed.  In fact, everything around you just keeps on keeping on.  Day after day; PTA meeting after board meeting after little league soccer game until you’re ready to throw your hands up in frustration and scream up at the sky:  “I’m ready!  What are you waiting for?”

You can rant and rave about not knowing what you are supposed to be doing with your life; about god, the universe, our higher selves or the great flying spaghetti monster not dropping the answers, the clues or the GPS coordinates to where we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do next into our laps, but the thing is, we already have the answers that we’ve been looking for.  In fact, we’ve probably had them for quite some time and haven’t even realized it.

You see, Spirit speaks to us all the time; every day.  Mind you it doesn’t usually come with a big red stamp on the front saying “message from the universe” or “marching instructions from god.”  No, it’s far more subtle than that.  How spirit speaks to us is through the use of synchronicities.

What is Synchronicity?

For those who haven’t heard the term before, a synchronicity is technically the coincidence of events that seem related but which cannot be plausibly explained as being caused by each other.  For example, let’s say that you start off the day in meditation by asking the universe for a sign as to whether or not you should quit your job in order to run away with the circus.  (I know, I know, this isn’t necessarily a reasonable example, but bear with me, it will serve the purpose!).

So you get dressed and go to pour yourself a bowl of cereal only to be caught by the picture of the circus elephant on the back of the box.  “Ha!” you think to yourself as you gather your things together and get into the car, “that was a cool coincidence!”  Except as you are driving to work you notice that there is a billboard by the side of the road advertising that the circus will be in town this very next weekend.  You get to work and your boss rakes you across the coals and asks you who you think you’re working for – the circus?  To add to the coincidence you get home to put your feet up and the first movie that you pull off the shelf is your old copy of Dumbo (you’d forgotten you even still owned that!).  Then you get ready for bed only to find yourself unable to sleep, so you flip on the TV and what should be playing but Charlie Chan at the Circus.  Then you finally fall asleep discouraged because you still don’t have an answer to that morning’s question.

Guess what?  You have your answer.  The universe all but handed it to you on a silver platter and you patently ignored it.

The key of course is to learn how to recognize synchronistic events for what they are; not random coincidences; not interesting chance encounters, but messages direct from your higher self to you; clear guidance on what you feel like you should be doing next, and the first order of business is to become aware of them at all.

Learning to Listen

You see, unfortunately, most of us go through life barely aware of what we are planning to do next, let alone pausing to recognize the synchronistic connection between our thinking of our best friend from college who we haven’t spoken to in 15 years and suddenly finding that they have sent you a friend request on Facebook; or being concerned over being able to make ends meet this month only to have your neighbor call you up and offer to share a table with you at the upcoming community yard sale, followed by a reminder from your mother-in-law to file the insurance claim for the roof damaged caused by last month’s wind storm; both ways that extra money could be brought into your life.

I see you wrinkling your nose up at me.  You don’t believe me, do you?  Well, try it for yourself.  Seriously!  Pick up a small spiral bound notebook at your local pharmacy and stick it in your pocket or purse along with a pen.  Now, every time that something synchronistic happens to you; every time you find the same word cropping up during the day; the same phrase pops out at you; the same references being made.  Write them down.  Don’t worry, you don’t have to do anything with them yet, just write them down.  Take out your notebook.  Write down the time and the date and the coincidence, and then move on.  Now, at the end of the day, take a look through your notebook and see if anything stands out.

I’m betting you’ll find that more often than not seeming coincidences prove to have been gentle warnings, reminders, or guidance that you simply ignored; brushed aside as just a matter of chance.  Or, as in the case of the circus example, direct answers to the questions you asked the GPS coordinates straight from the source to you.  You just have to know how to operate the machine and interpret the results that it is giving you.

2012; The End of the World as You Know It

Welcome to 2012!

Did you stay up to welcome in the New Year?  Did you celebrate with champagne and kisses?  Did you throw confetti and drink toasts to everyone’s good health?  Did you stay up creating your New Year’s Resolutions?  My guess is that no matter who you are and no matter how you choose to celebrate the New Year, it probably crossed your mind to wonder if there is something to all the hoopla about 2012; you know, about 2012 being the end of the Mayan great count calendar and the rumors that the world could possibly come to an end on the winter solstice.

I’m not here to speculate as to the accuracy of the claims made by others or to address the metaphysical symbolism behind the calendar itself.  I’m here to ask a question.

While there is plenty of speculation as to whether or not this year will mark the end of the world (or at least the end of the world as we know it) I have a question for you; if it DOES mark the end of the world, what are you afraid of?

I don’t care if you believe in a Christian God or in reincarnation or in the Great Flying Spaghetti Monster, there should be no fear involved in contemplating the end of physical existence.  In fact, the ONLY reasons that you should be afraid of the end of the world (if this IS the end of the world) would be either if you don’t believe in anything outside of the here and now, or if you are not living up to the expectations of your belief system and are afraid of being punished by your god or belief system.

If it is the first – then there is nothing I can do for you, I’m sorry.  By choosing to believe that there is nothing  bigger than yourself– nothing more than this life – you have chosen to live a life of quiet desperation; a life where you have to get all your living in now because there is nothing more than this life so you may as well enjoy yourself in the time that you have, and I understand your frustration, for what is the point of enjoying yourself; getting all of those experiences in if, when you die, they are all gone and there is nothing left?

If it is the second, then there is a question that you need to ask yourself, and it is this; what is keeping you from living up to the expectations of your belief system?  If you are afraid that the world will end and that you are not “ready” then there must be something that is keeping you from following through; something preventing you from giving yourself over fully to what is required of you, and if your belief system is important to you, this would definitely be a good time to work through your blocks in that particular area.

Then there are those who believe in a third way of being; one that does not involve the hopelessness and pointlessness of a chance existence or of living up to the expectations imposed on you by an outside deity or belief system.  Those who adhere to this particular perspective see their life not as a chance product of evolution, nor as something controlled by and under the influence of an outside deity, but who see themselves as manifestations the divine itself; life as the reflection of the creator; who see themselves, indeed who see every living thing as containing a soul, and the soul as being a direct spark of that eternal oneness that IS divinity; who see each and every living thing as having a direct connection to the divine Source.

For those that adhere to this way of being, the end of the world holds no fear, for they understand that this physical existence is NOT all that there is, that they are a part of something far bigger.  As aspects of the divine, they accept responsibility for their actions instead of trying to claim that they are victims of circumstance or cosmic design.  They also accept responsibility for creating the life that they are living and realize that if something about it is not living up to their expectations that they are perfectly free to re-create it by choosing to focus on those things that they want to bring into their life.

It may not be a comforting life, for there is no one and nothing who you can blame for any of the bad decisions that you have made and no miracle quick fix that will make everything perfect for you; you have to accept the responsibility for those but there is always the option of being able to change your life by changing the focus of your thoughts.

There is also the knowledge that as an aspect – a manifestation of the divine – that you are here for a specific purpose; to live in a specific way in order to accomplish that which you came here to do, and that by choosing to live an authentic life; a genuine life – one that is not false, not copied, not the life that someone else wants from you or expects from you, but a life where your physical life and your soul purpose are in alignment; a life in which you can reach a state of enlightened purposefulness; a state of being where you are LIVING your purpose 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What does it mean to live an authentic life?  That, my friends, is something that we will work on discovering over the next few days so that as we begin the New Year by destroying the world that we have accepted or created for ourselves; the world that is based on others fears, beliefs or expectations.  That we can begin 2012 by living an authentic life; our original life; the life that we were meant to live.