The Battle of the Bagel

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I chopped off my finger.

Well, ok, I didn’t quite chop it off though at the time it certainly felt like it. I did slice it up pretty good though and deep enough that should probably have stitches, but having just enough frugal Mainer in my bloodstream I couldn’t bring myself to go into the walk-in-clinic with its $50 co-pay or heaven forbid the $100 co-pay they milk you for at the Emergency Room just to have someone stick some skin glue on and send me home.

So, there I was, swearing profusely as I dripped bright red blood onto the kitchen cupboard, the floor, my shirt, the cat and my unsuccessfully cut Asiago bagel from Panera. Yeah, I know, I should have gotten it pre-sliced, but it tends to dry out if you do that and don’t eat it right away, so there is that.

My first instinct was to rinse it off under the faucet (my finger, not the bagel). Wrong move, that just made it bleed more freely and now there was blood all over the kitchen sink and not a few of the dishes drying in the drainer.

I kid you not with this bleeding thing. I never knew that a finger had so much blood in its tip! What does the body do, store extra blood in the extremities or something? Is this what the old stories meant when they told someone to sign in blood? Except that it wouldn’t do too well for precision penmanship, more like “blot marks the spot.”

I finally got my wits in some semblance of order and wrapped the dripping digit tight in paper towel, which of course immediately soaked through, which surprised me. This was Viva, the cloth version not that “multi surface” variety they keep putting on sale in the hopes that it will sell.

Viva is amazing, my daughter did a science project years ago determining which paper towel was the strongest. The project involved like eight kinds of paper towels (both wet and dry) and a number of DD batteries dropped onto the towels from a distance of like three feet. I don’t remember if she won any awards for her project but it did convince me that Viva was where it was at, strength wise, and I’ve used it ever since, even though it costs more than the average household paper towel. It also soaks up fluid like a son-of-a-gun, so seeing the blood soak through almost immediately almost sent me into a panic. Just how much blood was losing, anyway?

So, I wrapped it again in a double dose of fresh paper towels and sat on the kitchen chair for a full twenty minutes glaring at the crimson splashes all over the floors and cupboards and (so sorry dude!) the cat. What a mess! I also glared at my phone, which I can work one handed when it comes to scrolling, but have not been able to figure out how to text one-handed yet. Even the damned phone had crimson streaks across the screen. I swear, the props set for a Stephen King horror story couldn’t have done a better job in creating a more realistic “crazy person goes on a hacking spree” movie set. Well, maybe a Stephen King would have contained more body parts, or at least a few credible monsters. Come to think of it, with the blood in his whiskers the cat could definitely have passed himself off as a blood drinking monster of some sort. When two more swatches of paper towel remained blood-free I finally took myself into the bathroom to assess the damage.

Yep, it was a nasty cut. It started at the outside edge of my finger and had sliced straight down to the fingernail. In fact, it was most likely the fingernail that kept it from actually slicing the entire tip off my finger altogether. Poking at it a bit I could see that it had a nice flap that opens up to…no, I don’t want to look too deep. Seeing inside of my own skin gives me the creeps. I mean, I’ve always known that there is stuff inside of the skin, but any time that the skin barrier is breached and the insides start poking out, I am so done. On the bright side, my fingernails must be pretty tough. That was a sharp knife from a new set we just bought a month ago. Now I can revel in feeling justified in believing that fingernails are good for more than painting red and sharpening into pseudo claws for spontaneous cat fights in office coffee break rooms.

A goodly splash of hydrogen peroxide caused Mt. Vesuvius to explode, bubble and froth from my finger (cue more Viva) and then a healthy smear of antibiotic ointment and two Band-Aids overlapping to keep everything together. The first pair bled through in about five minutes. But after that, things slowed down. Finally. I must say, I must have a goodly dose of blood in me, because in spite of the splashes and droplets everywhere I didn’t feel in the least woozy.

Of course, getting the kitchen cleaned up was a chore unto itself. I won’t even begin to discuss the issues with getting the blood off of the cat’s head and back. I did catch him licking it out of his whiskers with seeming relish, so now I’ll have to keep one eye open when I sleep to make sure that he doesn’t become a maneater now that he’s tasted human blood. Maybe that only applies to big cats in the wild, but I’m taking no chances.

I’m also taking no chances in cutting a bagel with just my hands and a knife anymore. I’m picking up a bagel slicer today. And more Viva, because I’m pretty sure I used up most of a roll.

In case you were waiting for a moral for this incident. Sorry to disappoint, for there isn’t one, unless it is to keep your wits about you when attempting to slice round objects with sharp pointy things. Or invest in a bagel slicer. Or maybe just avoid the little devils altogether or have the cashier at Panera slice them up for you.

Anyway, thanks for listening to this random note from the life of JustSteph, watch out for random bagels, sharp knives, blood-thirsty cats, and enjoy your weekend if you can!

Making Friends With the Fog

We woke up this morning deep in a fog bank. It was surreal. Tendrils of mist crept into the room when I opened the balcony door and quested into corners seeking out whatever it is that fog searches for. So we made cups of hot chocolate and coffee, donned sweatshirts and sat out on the balcony, making friends with the fog instead of shutting it out. Letting our eyes adapt to the swirling,, changing patterns and listening to the deafening dawn chorus of birds and the gentle, underlying shushing of the sea.

There are times when, as a nation, as a society, our vision is clouded. We see the billowing clouds of anger and the fogs of discontent rolling towards us and our first thought is to protect ourselves, to shut them out, to focus inward and ignore what is happening around us, to turn on the TV and binge watch something that takes your mind off things. We close the doors and flip on the electric lights and crank up the heat until it all goes away and we are comfortable once more.

But maybe, just maybe, the sooner we open the balcony door of our minds and allow ourselves to truly SEE what we have become, what is generating the storms, to invite the fog in so that we can come to understand what it searches for and what we can do to help it in it’s quest, the sooner the storms will pass and the fogs will dissipate and allow us all to bask in the healing rays of the sun.

-JustSteph, 6/6/20

The White Knight Complex

“Don’t get dependent on that Knight in Shining Armor.  All being rescued does is remove you from your immediate circumstances.  It does nothing to address the question of how the devil you ended up in that situation to begin with.”  ~SSHenry

Why is it that in every fairy tale that features a princess there is always a knight in shining armor (or sometimes tarnished armor, black leather or blue jeans and a cowboy hat) waiting right around the corner to rescue her?

God I find the princesses annoying; all perfect hair and fluffy dresses (usually long to inhibit freedom of movement) and more often than not under some sort of a spell that keeps them from escaping on their own or even realizing that they are just a pawn in some dark and evil chess game.

Yes, yes, I know, the princess is symbolic of innocence and purity and the knight is supposed to symbolize the noble instinct to protect and preserve those qualities.  But honestly, as a culture we’ve taken this to heart so deeply that we’ve ingrained the idea of the noble knight; the belief in there being someone or something out there that will “save” the princess (or the innocent child, or the weak and willful sinner) into our collective unconscious.

More disturbing to me than the idea of a savior, however, is the thought that so many people who are capable of saving themselves believe that they need someone to do it for them.  Why is that?  Why can’t they see that they have the power within themselves to not only to take care of the problem at hand but to take responsibility for themselves; for today’s thoughts and beliefs; these choices and actions that will become tomorrow’s reality?

That is how it works you know.  It is the thoughts we entertained yesterday; the beliefs we held to be true; the choices we made and the actions that we took that determine where we find ourselves today.

Every thought that enters your head (and more importantly, those thoughts that you tend to dwell on) impacts the beliefs that you hold to be true.  These beliefs in turn affect the choices that we make on a day-to-day basis.  And, just as one domino is responsible for knocking down the next in the line; the choices that we make directly impact our actions; actions which determine the look, feel and flavor of the reality that we will find ourselves in tomorrow.

Ah yes, I know there will be some of you that say that this is far too simplistic of a view; that it can’t possibly be this easy.  It can’t possibly be that all a person has to do is to pay attention to the thoughts that are passing through their minds and to select those that they want to bring into their reality (this is called mindfulness by the way).  I can hear the questions now; “What about the bad things that happen to us; those things that we have no choice in?” or maybe “What about the influence of god or the devil; of good or evil?”

It is true that we do not get to choose all of yesterday’s circumstances (well, true that is unless you believe in reincarnation and soul destiny, but without going into all of that we can still address the issue).  There are things that happen to us that we have no direct control over.  But even so, this does not mean that choices we made in the distant (or not so distant) past may not have some impact on whether or not we put ourselves in a position to have those particular experiences.

And yes, there are some things that are done to you; things over which you have absolutely no control.  But what we do have control over (at least outside of those extreme situations where the trauma is so extreme that the mind disconnects from reality altogether and makes it impossible for the person to change their thought patterns) is how we choose to react and respond to those experiences that we did not consciously choose to participate in.

We can choose to react from fear; allowing those circumstances to control our lives and seeing them as obstacles on our path to happiness, or we can change our perspective and choose to see those circumstances as opportunities to prove that we are in control of our own destinies.

Of course if we do not acknowledge the fact that it is our thoughts as well as the beliefs that are spawned by our thoughts, the decisions we make due to these beliefs and the actions that we take that even in regard to those circumstances that are beyond our control, then it is perfectly understandable that we would look around desperately for someone or something that will rescue us from the tangle our lives have become; a white knight in shining armor who will cut through the crap and free us from the mess that we have gotten ourselves into through our thoughts and words and actions.

Of course relying on these knights opens up its own can of worms; like dealing with the fact that until we learn how to take responsibility for our own lives we will continue to revert back to those thoughts and beliefs and actions that got us into trouble in the first place (and we’ll have to call on the white knight once again to work his magic).

How much simpler to simply acknowledge the fact that it is ourselves and ourselves alone that have the power to change our lives for the better; that by accepting responsibility for everything our lives are right now at this moment in time that we can take positive action to ensure that today’s thoughts, beliefs and actions will work together to create a tomorrow that is everything we could have hoped for.

Living in the Moment

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.  ~Buddha

When I first heard the phrase “living in the moment” I found myself laughing sadly and shaking my head at the gullible fools who would buy into something so inane.  Live in the moment?  What fool would settle for living in the moment?  Man oh man, talk about boring!

I didn’t want to live in the moment.  What I wanted was to live my dreams, to achieve my goals; to make something of myself so that when I died the world would remember me!  Forget about this living in the moment stuff. Obviously it was a cop out by those who hadn’t done anything with their lives; people who perhaps had once dreamed big but who had failed to follow through and were now regretting it; something to fall back on in order to make themselves feel better.

I knew better.  I knew that if you wanted to be anything in life; if you wanted to make something of yourself, you had to remain in control; not only of yourself but of everyone and everything around you.  Leaving anything up to chance was just plain foolishness.

If you wanted to get anywhere in life you needed to focus on your goals and break your projects down into small steps that you could accomplish and then, when all of the steps were completed, presto, your goal would be achieved.  Well, that was the plan.  And hey, it worked for businesses, why not for me?

There was just one problem. The goals that I had set for myself were not in alignment with my soul purpose.  Hell, I didn’t even know what my soul purpose was.  I had created a nice neat fiction for my life; a belief that when I attained a specific level of financial security or professional achievement that I would, at last, be happy. Well, that was the plan anyway.

And so it was that even when I had achieved each goal there was always something missing.  It was like baking a cake.  I’d followed the steps – added all of the ingredients in the proper order – and had a perfect cake sitting in front of me, but even though it looked perfect, it didn’t taste quite right.  What had I done wrong?

Over time, however, I have discovered something; I found out what was missing, and it was far simpler than I could have imagined and all the more difficult because of that to implement.  What I was missing was living (dare I say it?) in the moment; enjoying what I had already achieved without the expectation of what came next; of what I could do better next time around.

For all of my lists and my schedules; for all of my hopes and dreams and plans; for all of my visualization and projection; without being able to step aside and get out of my own way I ended up with a picture perfect cake that had little if any flavor.

This isn’t to say that we can’t dream.

This isn’t to say that visualization will not bring you your heart’s desire.

All this means is that we need to take the time – right now – to enjoy the moment that we spent all of our yesterday’s dreaming of and visualizing.  It is the enjoyment of the moment that we have created that brings us the flavor of our days. And it is here, in the quiet of appreciation and the letting go of expectation where we will find that happiness has been waiting patiently for us all along.

 

 

Living In The Moment

To take each day as it comes

To live each moment as it arrives

To hope for nothing

To fear nothing

To expect nothing

Makes each moment a priceless gift;

A gift from the universe

Straight to your heart

A gift to be treasured and adored

A gift to be enjoyed, experienced

And then released.

~SSHenry

 

Swish and Flick

THE MAGIC OF MANIFESTATION

Wouldn’t it be marvelous if you had a magic wand?  Some sort of device that – if used properly – would bring you exactly what you want a la Harry Potter?  Just swish and flick and bingo, it’s yours!  Did you know that you actually possess the ability to do just that?

Yeah, I know it sounds crazy, especially when things seem to pile up around you and circumstances (like a broken down car and a crumbling relationship and a pile of bills) tell you otherwise. But what if I were to tell you that you have the ability to control every aspect of your reality; that you have the power to swish and flick that metaphorical wand and create the kind of life that you have always wanted instead of being controlled by circumstances and by those around you?

I still remember the absolute freedom that came the day that I realized that every aspect of my reality was under my control.  That I and I alone was responsible for the reality that I was living.  That there was not some unknown quantity determining whether I would be rewarded or punished for the things I do or thought or said and that everything I was experiencing was the result of those thoughts, feelings and emotions that I had been entertaining.

I’m not going to go into details, not here and now, not yet.  But to suffice it to say that it happened.  After years of searching; after years of attempting to understand how things worked and how some people always seemed to get what they wanted no matter what while others while were always dreaming about it; after reading piles of books and listening to hours and hours of sermons and self-help books and praying to God and charging the Goddess and drawing down the moon, I woke up one morning and suddenly knew.

Talk about totally liberating!  The realization that there is no one that I am required to appease or avoid in order to create the life I had always dreamed of; no one and nothing (but myself) standing in my way; I literally sat down and cried for about a week.  Amazing!  I felt totally liberated.  Simultaneously I had never felt more afraid in all my life.

Yes, it was frightening.

Think about it.  Instead of being able to go ask mommy or daddy or the spirits of the earth or air (depending on your particular religious beliefs) to help make things better or to give you what you want, you suddenly realize that you are both the one doing the wanting and the one who is passing out both the rewards and the punishments.  You are the one who is giving out the gifts and the one who is receiving them.  You are the individual that is dependent on specific needs– and you are the universe that has an unlimited supply of everything and will give to whoever asks you.

This is not to say that there may not be gods or goddesses or elementals; beings that will bring you what you ask for if you ask in the right way or if you do something for them.  Plenty of people believe in them.  My point is that there is something far bigger than any of them; something much larger that contains us all and that we are all equally a part of.

This largeness; this bigness that contains us all is not one entity with a personality and an ego that has to be appeased before it will grant our requests.  It is the power, the source that binds us all together; that gives us life and animation.  It is also the source of creation; all of creation, not just the light and love and purity or innocence, it is also the source of anger and fear and darkness as well and it is readily available for anyone that knows how to tap into it regardless of what they are planning on using it for.  There is just one catch; this power is magnetic.  That is, whatever you create out of it will attract more of itself to you.

Call it Karma; call it ‘cause and effect’; call it the law of attraction; the result is the same.

If I (the individual) dwell on the negative; on the worst things that could happen, then I am going to draw those things to me.  The more I focus on the dark and the negative, the more dark and negative things will be drawn to me. If I dwell on love and light, or on the highest definition of who and what I really am and strive to bring that into my existence, then it will come, bringing more of itself with it; drawing more of the same energy to it.  There’s just one problem.  This source of creation that you or I tap into in order to bring these things into our physical reality, it knows what we are really thinking.

I can’t trick the source (which includes my higher self).  I can talk love and light and happy chirpy birds until I am blue in the face (or until I manifest Snow White, whichever comes first though I know which would send my sanity over the edge) but if in my heart of hearts I don’t believe that it will happen; if I think that it is all a crock; if I am reserving judgment until I see proof, or if (most importantly) I feel that I somehow don’t deserve what it is that I am asking for, then the source, the universe (a.k.a. my higher self) knows it, and since it doesn’t know the difference between expressed thought and unexpressed thought, it will simply give me what it is that I am focusing on the most (either consciously or unconsciously).

This is why mastering everyday mindfulness as well as emotional mindfulness is so very important, because it isn’t just enough to realize that you have the power to control your reality, you have to be constantly aware of your thoughts and feelings and emotions and beliefs in order to bring them into alignment with who and what you really are.

Without awareness you are not in control of your life, but you are being controlled (though not by an outside entity, but by your own beliefs and limitations).  You are not creating situations that will serve you and that will help you to achieve your highest potential and to be a benefit to those around you, you are reacting to things that are happening around you; knee jerk reactions that make you feel overwhelmed and powerless and victimized to the point that you are desperate for someone or something to take the reins and to make sense out of it all.

There is no question about the universe (a.k.a. your higher self) bringing you those things that you are most focused on (whether consciously or unconsciously).  Seriously, take a look around yourself right now.  Take a long hard look at your life, at the people that are in it; your job, your house, your car, your beliefs, your attitude; everything.  Right there at your fingertips you have a snapshot of what you were focused most intently on yesterday, last week, last year or even ten years ago.

If you think carefully about where you were and what you were thinking, you’ll see that I’m right.  You created this reality.  Every aspect of it reflects yesterdays (or last week’s or last year’s) views and hopes and dreams and, yes, fears.

No, I’m not saying that every genetic defect and every illness were called into being by your higher self. We are human animals after all; inhabited by spirits, (souls if you will) but still subject to the laws of physics, of thermodynamics and the impulsive squirts of hormones that our brains get doused in on a regular basis as they respond to physical stimuli.  It comes with the territory and those are things that we do not have any control over but which we have to learn to live with and to understand.

Where we do have the control, however, is in how we perceive the life that we are living and in what we consciously and intentionally choose to experience and those people and situations that we choose to let into our lives.

Yes, I know, it sounds like some kind of new age mumbo jumbo; some sort of psychobabble or, at the worst, like some kind of magic, though in a way it is magic, just not the kind of magic you might think.

This isn’t the kind of magic where you wave a wand and something suddenly “appears” in your life because you said the right words or mixed up the right ingredients in your cauldron.  This is the kind of magic that works on a far more subtle basis.  This magic is the magic of belief; a magic that works its spell on your mind and, through your mind, makes its impact on your surroundings; aligning things and people and circumstances in such a way that a year from now, or a week from now, or maybe even tomorrow, you will find that what you have been focused on has indeed become your reality.

And if you do look around yourself and you don’t like where your focused thoughts have brought you there is a simple solution; change your focus.  It’s that simple.  Mind you, it requires that you be aware of your thoughts and emotions until they become focused on what you want to create in your life, but once the technique clicks into place you’ll find yourself laughing uncontrollably at how simple it actually is.

So much for magic wands!

Swish and flick baby!

Bringing Your Reality Into Focus

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” ~ Lewis Carroll

If you don’t know what it is that you want, then how can you expect to ever get it?

Think about it; how many times have you felt that your life is not living up to your expectations; like there is something missing; something that you should be doing or that you should have and you can’t quite seem to put your finger on what, exactly, it is? How many times have you gotten the distinct impression that you are ‘settling’ for a life that contains less that you are capable of containing?

Like everyone else, I’d had this feeling myself; this vague, unfocused impression of a larger life; a template of my life if you will that existed just under the surface of reality; the life that I was always meant to live and that I could be living if only I knew how to bring it into my reality.

I’d daydreamed about the kind of life I wanted to have; the people and things that I wanted to be in it; but it always seemed like no more than a dream; wishful thinking all vague and unfocused; unfocused that is until the day that suddenly it all made sense.  In a blink I understood what it was that I’d been missing.

I still remember the moment vividly;   I was sitting at a coffee shop, across the table from a woman that I had just met. A complete stranger until fifteen minutes earlier, she’d been pouring her problems out to me for the last quarter of an hour and I’d been listening; curious as to usual about what it is that seems to inspire people to just start laying their problems out for me, when something she said snapped my consciousness into focus;

“I keep waiting for something to interesting to happen to me but nothing ever does,” she said, sounding rather forlorn.  “I keep getting the impression that I’ve, you know, just settled for something less than I should have.  That there really should be more to my life – I just don’t know what, and if only I could figure out what it is, then everything would fall into place.”  She sighed and took a sip of her coffee and went on to talk about other things, none of which I remember because my mind was busy being astounded.

Heaven only knows that it wasn’t the first time I’d heard someone say this.  In fact, I’d thought this myself on more than one occasion, but for some reason when that woman said it that morning in that coffee shop with the sun falling across our table at that exact angle, everything snapped into place with a crystalline clarity that took my breath away.

Having a vague idea of what I wanted was not enough you see.  Simply knowing that there was something bigger that I was supposed to be doing with my life wasn’t enough to bring that purpose to the surface.  Simply wanting my life to be better was not enough to make it so.

It was like I’d been spending my life creating an impressionist painting; a series of lines and dots and splotches of color; people and places and situations and experiences all randomly splashed onto my canvass; adhering only to the vaguest of outlines and without any but the vaguest impression of what it was that I was painting.

I’d been missing focus.

In those few minutes; the handful of minutes between the words spoken by this virtual stranger and the time she and her extra large mocha latte walked out of the shop to go on about her life, everything I’d ever read about visualization; about manifestation; about creating your own reality all of it finally made sense.  In order to live the life you were always meant to live there is one thing that you have to do; bring that life into the forefront of your awareness and bring all of your focus to bear on it.

Of course this is easier said than done; you have to be able to determine what, exactly, constitutes the kind of life that you want to be living and then be able to hold it in the forefront of your awareness, but once you have gotten to the point where you can keep your focus on what it is that you want to manifest in your life, you’ll be amazed at how quickly things will start falling into place for you and just how quickly the life you were meant to live becomes a reality.  There is just one important thing to remember – don’t focus on what it is that is missing and treat it as if it is missing.  Focus on it as if you already have it in your life; give thanks for it.  Tell yourself how glad you are that you have this particular thing in your life, then watch as it becomes a living breathing part of your reality.

Curious as to some ways to bring your own dreams into focus in your reality?  Try some of the following ideas, you just might be surprised at how well they work:

 

 

 

 

                       

 

 

 

X Marks the Spot

YOU ARE HERE.

How many times have we seen those words – usually on maps – and almost always accompanied by a large red X (with or without an arrow pointing to it) so that you know that THIS X, not some other random X, is the one you need to be paying attention to?

But be honest here, how much attention do you actually ever pay to the X?

I know exactly what happens because I’ve done it myself.

You pull into the rest area and run up to the map. “Okay, we’re here” you say, pointing to the X “and this is where we need to go,” you add, pointing to a place that is where the X is not. “So if we turn left…” and off you go, determined to get to your location to “do” whatever it is that you’re supposed to be doing or to get to where it is that you think you should be going.

The poor X never stands a chance.

But do you want to hear the really sad thing? Once you get to your destination, most people don’t pay any attention to it either – even though it’s a completely different X! Once they get to where it is they think they should be going, they are so busy doing what they think they should be doing; or planning out another leg of the journey, that they never stop to look around them and see just where it is that they ARE.

I still remember the first time I actually paid attention to the X.

We’d stopped at a roadside rest area (the kind with the lean-to of snack and soda machines and the big area map standing alone with its own small roof and helpful spotlights so that you can’t miss it – and a BIG RED X – with an arrow pointing to it.

In bold black words written beside it, this one said: YOU ARE HERE

and underneath, scribbled in messy black marker was one additional word: WHY?

It made me chuckle, but it also made me think.

You ARE here. Now. For good or bad, for better or worse. THIS is where you are at this present moment in time. I don’t care if the place where you currently are is a good place and everything seems to be going swimmingly, or a bad place where one more day is going to send you over the edge, or a place that is non-descript and really rather boring. The point is, YOU ARE HERE, and I bet you haven’t even taken the time to really look around you and appreciate the view much less to see if there is anything interesting going on.

Why?

Perhaps it IS just a stopping point, a rest area; a red X on the map of your soul journey, but it is still a part of your journey, and if you’re going make the trip, you might as well enjoy the scenery, because who knows, maybe there IS no destination.
For all we know, experiencing each moment of now; each moment in which we find ourselves; may be all the purpose there is.

If so, we’re messing it up big time.

So the next time you find yourself looking at that big map comparing how far you’ve come and how far there is yet to go, take a moment to stop and look around you. Are there other people at your rest area? What are they doing? How’s the view? Is that maharachi music coming from the other side of the kiosk?
Yes, I know, you don’t want to linger too long. After all, you have a journey to undertake and you want to get there as soon as possible, but take a few moments to appreciate where you are; the HERE that you are currently standing at, and the churros at that little stand on the other side of the map.

So….are we there yet?

The Lesson of the Red Rain Boots

“Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby”

~ Langston Hughes

When my daughters were small, I remember a day when I had taken them out for lunch.  While we were inside eating it started to rain.  This wasn’t just a pleasant summer afternoon rain shower, but a full-on wash-the-skies-clean kind of torrential rain; the kind that leaves everything soggy for hours afterwards; even the air.

It was still raining (though not quite so hard) by the time we left the restaurant and both of my girls were squealing in delight at the sheer number of puddles in the parking lot.  Some of the puddles, I noticed, were as large as small ponds, and probably just as deep.

Pausing to open my umbrella after a warning to both of the girls about keeping their feet dry, I let go of my youngest daughter’s hand for an instant, and a moment later she was knee deep in a puddle, giggling madly and splashing like a duck.  With a cry of warning I snatched her out; wrung out her dress as you would a washcloth and, after admonishing both of them (again) to stay out of the puddles because we had a long ride in the car ahead of us, we slowly made our way to the car; navigating around puddles and trying for the dry spots. Or rather I was trying for the dry spots.  Both of my daughters were angling for the puddles and my shoulders were starting to get sore from pulling them back.

We were about halfway across the parking lot when I noticed a brightly colored figure headed in our direction.  It was a woman; an old woman.  With her pure white nimbus of hair and a face lined in a thousand wrinkles, she looked like one of those dried apple head dolls that the pioneers used to make.  But it wasn’t her age that caught my attention, nor was it her attire (she was dressed in a bright yellow rain slicker, red rain boots, a purple rain hat).  What caught my attention was that she was making a point not to avoid the puddles, but to jump in them.

I stood there – stunned; unable to tear my eyes away, though I could see from the corner of my eye that both of my girls were watching her with absolute awe and rapture.

Finally, when her puddle jumping brought her to within a few feet of where I stood, she realized that there was someone in front of her and paused in her puddle jumping long enough to look up and meet my eye.  The stunned expression on my face must have amused her, because she grinned from ear to ear and then threw her head back and laughed like a loon.

“Aw sweetie,” she said to me finally – a grin still in her voice – it’s not as bad as all that.  Really, I’ve been waiting all my life to do this!  You’ll see.  One day you’ll jump in the puddles too.”  And then, with another grin for me and a wave for the girls, she had passed us, and life went back to normal. Well, almost normal.  I didn’t have the heart to keep the girls out of the puddles after that, and it was a long and soggy trip home.

But even now, years later I can’t get that woman and her bright red rain boots out of my mind, for how far do most of us go to avoid what we perceive as the negative things in our lives?

Honestly, I know that dealing with negative people and negative situations is unpleasant – and something most of us will avoid like the plague if given the chance, but how do we know that those puddles of negativity haven’t been put in our way for a reason? How do we know that we aren’t supposed to go through them instead of around them?

Who knows, those puddles might not even have been put in our way for our own experience.  Maybe, just maybe, someone on the other side of the parking lot is watching us; someone who has been avoiding negative situations of their own because they don’t have the courage to face them.

And maybe, just maybe, when they see you splashing through those problems in your red rain boots and laughing like a loon, they’ll find the courage to do something that they’ve never thought possible.

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 First Day of Forever

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams!  Live the life you’ve imagined.  

~ Thoreau

It’s going to happen.  One morning you are going to wake up and realize that today is the first day of forever.  It will happen when you are ready for it to; this first day of forever.

It will happen when you have decided to stop looking for happiness as you would an object you have lost and instead choose to be happy.

It will happen when you stop looking for wonder and mystery long enough to open your eyes and see the wondrous and mysterious things that surround you in every moment of the day.

It will happen when you stop looking for someone outside of yourself to blame for everything in your life that you have seen as evil or negative and finally realize that everything that happens to you is a result of decisions that you have made in the past.

It will happen when you finally realize that the only one who has the power to change your present circumstances – is you.

You see, there comes a point when it becomes clear that there is no one else that you can blame for the situations in which you find yourself.  I don’t care how dysfunctional your childhood family was or what negative circumstances you had to deal with as you were growing up or how many of your relationships have failed.  It’s still your fault. You brought this on yourself.  If you had been paying attention, you would never be in the situation that you are in now.

Oh, I’m sorry, is that too harsh?  Would you rather hear that it is all “their” fault?  That you can put the blame for the person that you have become on your parents or on the partners of failed relationships or on the seemingly random and chance events that have created the life that you are currently living? Or maybe you’d prefer the concept of a random and chance universe where bad things happen to good people for absolutely no reason.

It would be easier if I did that, wouldn’t it? It would be easier to be able to point fingers and place blame and sigh about how much better your life would be if only this or that hadn’t happened or if only this or that would.  Ah yes, much easier than actually getting out there and doing something about it.

You see it is your fault; all of it.  The circumstances you have found yourself in, the problems that you are being faced with, the seemingly random events that make no logical sense; they are all of them the result of your past focus and actions.  These are not tests by a divinity or temptations by an evil being.  You have drawn them to you by the focus of yesterday’s thoughts; the focus of yesterday’s energy.

And what about the seeming randomness of so many events and circumstances?  Well here’s the thing, chances are that you didn’t realize yesterday that your current attitude was going to have an effect on tomorrow’s events.  You probably weren’t paying attention to what you were thinking about; to the direction that your chaotic emotions were pointing you in.  You simply went with it.  You let your emotions control your thoughts and you let your thoughts control the focus of your energy.  And so it was that your energy was focused – unintentionally mind you – but focused nonetheless.  And what you were focused on is what you brought into your life today.

And yes, there are random circumstances that are not the result of your intentional (or unintentional) focus of energy but which are in fact the result of someone else’s intentional (or unintentional) focus of energy.  But here’s the thing, it is still up to you as to how you react or respond to these circumstances.

The random traffic accident that is not caused by anything you did wrong but rather by someone else being in too big of a hurry to stop at the light.  That accident may in no way be your fault, or even the result of your previous actions.  There may have been absolutely nothing you could have done to prevent it.  But first, that does not mean that you didn’t bring the event into your life.  Secondly, it does not mean that you have to allow your emotions to control how you react to that event.

You can choose to get upset and let it ruin your entire day, or you can calmly and coolly exchange insurance information and go on about your business knowing that while it may have seemed to be a random accident may instead have been your higher self’s way of ensuring that you’ve learned what you need to know about controlling your temper or about letting your emotions control your reactions.

And it doesn’t matter how big or small the circumstance.  It doesn’t matter how mundane an action or how life changing of an event you are faced with.  The truth of the matter still remains; you can control tomorrow’s reality by how you choose to react and respond to today’s events and circumstances.

You can stop letting your body-generated emotions dictate tomorrow’s reality and instead take the necessary steps to ensuring that tomorrow you will be living the life you always imagined.  And when you have done this for long enough there will come that morning when you wake up to realize that tomorrow is today, and that today is, finally, the first day of forever.

The Great Spiral of Spiritual Evolution

“A circle is the reflection of eternity. It has no beginning and it has no end – and if you put several circles over each other, then you get a spiral”

~ Maynard James Keenan

You have heard, I am sure, of the circle of life.  Anyone who has watched the Disney Classic “The Lion King” has felt themselves tearing up (or at least in awe) while sitting through that opening number where the interconnectedness of all of nature is emphasized (and with a phenomenal musical score nonetheless).  But when it comes to the concept of spiritual evolution, it isn’t so much a circle as it is a spiral.

Circles are perfect.  Just ask the Zen masters who saw the circle as the embodiment of absolute enlightenment.  Called the ensō, this circle represented strength as well as elegance.  It was used to represent both the void and the universe in all its wild complexity and, more recently, has come to be seen as an expression of the moment and the perfect completeness of “now.”

This is all fine and good for representing the perfection of enlightenment.  But what about what comes before?  Better yet – what about that which comes after?

Enlightenment, you see, isn’t the end.

Wait, what?  Isn’t that what this is all about?  Isn’t enlightenment the whole purpose of spiritual evolution?  Isn’t the prospect of enlightenment all about the perfectness of the moment, of that instant when everything becomes clear to you and you finally realize the true nature of reality and the reason that you have been put on this earth?

Of course it is.  But that doesn’t mean that enlightenment is the end.  Becoming enlightened does not mean that you instantaneously become perfect; never have a bad thought or speak a bad word ever again.  In fact, enlightenment is, if you will, simply the beginning, for it isn’t enough to know the true nature of reality; to know the reason that you have been put on this earth and how everything fits into place.  Now that you know it, you have to live it. You have to live your truth and that, quite frankly, can take some doing.

In fact, living your truth and the progression that comes after enlightenment can actually be more confusing than what came before, and that is because you are no longer on a journey.  You are no longer following a path to actually get somewhere.  Now that you have got to where you are going you have to create an entirely new life; a new existence; a new reality for yourself, like the pioneers who traveled out west in their covered wagons.  They didn’t always know where they would end up, but once they got to where they were going, it was time to get started on the real work; on creating a life for themselves out of the wilderness they had discovered.  It is the same with enlightenment.

Once you have awakened; once you have become aware of the true nature of reality and of your real reason for existence, you stop searching and begin creating a life based on your new realizations, and that isn’t so much a circle as it is a spiral.

Imagine if you will a giant slinky.  A slinky is not much more than a flexible coiled spring whose individual spirals are all part of a much larger whole.  Now, when you condense the spring into its smallest form you see it for what it really is; a slinky.  But when you pull the spirals apart – stretch that flexible spring out to its maximum length, it almost appears that the slinky is made up of individual spirals.

In fact, if you were small enough (and if you turned the slinky on end) you could start at the bottom end of the slinky and slowly but surely walk your way up; spiral after spiral; to the very top.

Congratulations!  You’ve just made a visual picture of the evolution of the soul.

That’s right.  Once you’ve broken free from the infinite loop of habit; of years and lifetimes’ worth of repeating patterns and conditioned responses; once you’ve attained enlightenment as to the real nature of reality and of your place in the universe, then and only then can you start your real journey, the journey that will take you up the spirals of your soul’s spiritual evolution as you create for yourself a life based on those things that you have come to hold dear.

Each level of the spiral is a circle complete and contains within it that reflection of eternity attributed to the ensō.  And yet, as the Zen ensō leaves a small space at the end of the brush stroke completing the circle, so too does a spiral leave a space for the one walking the circle to move up to the next level, completing the circle while transcending it at the same time and integrating everything that was learned in transitioning the circle below into the creation of the life currently being lived.

The Earthworms Have Landed!

Once again its spring and I’m getting my front garden ready for planting.  It’s not a big patch, but I always like to take the time to make something unique and unusual out of it; something unexpected.  But even the simplest of changes requires some hours of work turning over dirt, removing weeds and getting the patch ready for the seeds or bulbs or plantings that I’m going to add.

The earthworms are out!  I giggle quietly as I turn over a large chunk of dirt and expose the roots of the grass to the sun and turn half a dozen of them out of their homes. There is even one on my shovel!  The worm on my hand spade quickly wriggles off and burrows back into the dirt, anxious to be out of the direct sunlight.

Even more amazing to me than the worms (And why is it that worms seem to hate direct sunlight so, anyway, are they really vampires in disguise?  Does the sun dry them out too fast?  Are they afraid of robins?) is the complex world that I find just below the surface of the earth.

Think about it.  We tend to take what we see in our world for granted.  Even in pastoral settings (come to think of it particularly in pastoral settings) the grass, the trees, the flowers – they all tend to mix together into an impression of “countryside” or “garden” and as lovely as any one scene is to the eye, how often do we really think about just how much is going on just out of our sight?

I still remember a child’s book that I stumbled across once that showed cross sections of a city street; everything that was beneath a city street’s paved surface.  It showed the layers of the road itself (packed dirt and gravel and pavement) as well as water pipes, sewer pipes, drainage systems, electrical work.  I stood there, amazed, flipping through the brightly colored pictures and thinking “who would have thought?”  I mean, I always knew that they were there – those layers – but I never really thought about it.

But as complex and layered as a man made city street may be the world beneath the level of an acre of countryside is ten times more amazing to me for one very important reason; it’s alive!

All of it is alive.  The roots of the grass, the roots of the trees, the roots of those damned pesky weeds, and man do those have some amazingly complex root systems!  But it isn’t just the roots, it’s what lives within the roots; the wriggling earthworms and the ants and the burrowing mice, the moles, the rabbits, the chipmunks (did you know that chipmunks build underground nests?) the bees.  Yeah, I found out about the bees the hard way; stepping into an underground nest when I went to clip my hedge a couple of years back.  It wasn’t pleasant.

But it goes far deeper than the roots and the nests and the burrows.  Dig down deeper and you’ll find underground rivers and reservoirs that feed the roots of all the growing things.  Dig even deeper and you will find the coal and the oil that we use to heat our homes and run our vehicles; the iron ore on which so much of our industry is based; the gold and silver and gems that so many people hold in such high regard.

It’s very much like our lives, isn’t it; like reality in general if you think about it.  So often we get caught up in the pretty packaging; in the colorful flowering things and the way the greens contrast against each other, when all the time everything that makes this color fest possible is actively getting on with its business right below our feet; a whole world that we tend to not even think about.

How many times a day do we stop to actually pay attention to the thoughts that are generating our actions?  How many times a day do we actively consider why we are saying what we are saying and doing what we are doing?  How many times a day do we voluntarily and consciously touch that deep inner core from which our true strength and beauty comes and express our gratitude for everything that makes us who we are?

Does it make us better people – to pay attention to our inner workings and the source of our strength?  Of course not; we are still exactly who we were before; exactly who we are when we are not paying attention.  The only difference is that when we are paying attention; when we allow ourselves to be consciously aware of those multitudes of layers; those complexities that make us who we are; we open ourselves to a depth of reality that can lend richness to our lives that most people lack.

In fact, most people go through their lives feeling as if there is something missing; something that they can’t quite put a finger on; something that should be there; something that they should be aware of.  Just like the active world beneath our feet, everything they are looking for is just under the surface – if only they would take the time to get their hands dirty and do a little digging…

I sit back on my heels and grin as the earthworm wriggles frantically off of my spade and dives for cover in the cool, smooth earth.  He’s desperate to get below the surface of things; down to where things cease to simply look pretty and start to get real in earnest.  Can I blame him?  Maybe I can join him.  Maybe we all can.

 

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.

Something More; Seven Steps to Creating a Spiritual Life

Seven Steps to Creating a Spiritual Life

Do you sometimes feel that you are living someone else’s life?  A life that is not genuine or authentic?  Do you yearn for something more than what you have?   Do you find yourself longing for a life that is full of purpose, of meaning; a life where you feel as if your physical existence and soul purpose are in alignment; where you are living the sort of life that you were meant to live?

Many people do.  And many people try to fill that gap in their life; that need for meaning and purpose with whatever it is that has made them feel good in the past.  This could be anything from food, alcohol, excessive exercise and nicotine to sex, marijuana, extreme sports or hard drugs.  It doesn’t matter for it’s all the same. That is to say that there is nothing wrong with most of these things in the right place or time, but when you begin to use them as a means of filling that gap; that is when those things become a problem. The thing is that there is a better way.

You can create that purpose and meaning in your life by living a spiritual life.

No, living a spiritual life does not mean that you have to go get yourself a religion.  It does not even mean that you have to pick a particular tradition and stick with it.  No.  What living a spiritual life means is that you are taking those things that you instinctively know in the deepest part of your soul to be right and true; and are incorporating them into your everyday reality.

You are finally living from your heart.

It is not an easy thing to live from your heart.  In fact, sometimes it can take all of your strength and test your resolve to the point that you wonder if it is really worth it or if it wouldn’t by far be easier to go back to living the way that you were; the life that you had.

But if you are truly committed to living a more fulfilling and authentic life; to bringing your reality into alignment with your soul purpose, then below you will find seven steps that should help you in putting together more spiritual life; one where you are living your beliefs so that you can become the person you were truly meant to be.

Seven Steps to Creating a Spiritual Life

Step #1:  Practice Everyday Mindfulness.  In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness “means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and non judgmentally.”  This can be an extremely difficult (though not impossible) thing to do.  And there are a number of ways to bring your attention to the here and now; to what is happening at this particular point in time.    (For more information on mastering everyday mindfulness, click HERE).

Step #2:  Practice Emotional Mindfulness.  Emotional mindfulness is different than everyday mindfulness.  In practicing everyday mindfulness you are paying attention to what is happening around you without; allowing it to be exactly what it is without judgment and without trying to change it.  Emotional mindfulness is a tad more difficult.  Emotional mindfulness is learning to pay attention to your thoughts.  Emotional mindfulness is learning to screen your thoughts and beliefs for any self-sabotaging patterns and replacing them with those that will bring your thoughts into alignment with who and what you really are.  (For more information on mastering emotional mindfulness, click HERE).

Step #3:  Take Time to Pray.  It has been said that prayer is the art of communication; of speaking to creation. Whether you believe that you are speaking to God, the Universe or your higher self, know that it is the presence with whom you converse that brings to you all of the circumstances and experiences that make you your life. If you want to bring certain things into your life, then it is important to be very clear on what it is that you want so that this presence knows exactly what to bring to you. Unclear or unspecific requests will bring unclear results.  If you are grateful for those things that you already have, don’t be afraid to say it!  In fact, expressing gratitude actually opens you up for more blessings as you make yourself into a magnet for everything that you want by BEING what it is that you are looking for.

Step #4:  Take Time for Meditation.  Whereas prayer is the art of communication with the divine, meditation is the art of listening.  Think about it, it does absolutely no good to ask a question if you aren’t willing to listen for an answer.  All the prayer in the world isn’t going to help if you aren’t open and ready for the answers that you are given. Meditation does not necessarily mean that you have to sit in a full-lotus position for hours every day.  Meditation takes many forms, but the most important thing to remember is that the true nature of meditation is the art of learning how to LISTEN; to your thoughts, your mind, your soul, your body.  You can meditate sitting down, standing up, lying in bed or even walking down the street.  (For more information on how to meditate, click HERE).

Step #5:  Learn to Trust and Act on Your Intuition.  It is not enough to tell the Universe or higher self what it is that you want and then to listen to your heart and what it is telling you should do to achieve it.  You must also learn to act on the promptings of that inner voice; to trust what it is telling you enough to take the steps it suggests when it suggests taking them.  You may receive confirmation by the arrival of synchronistic events in your life.  Don’t ignore them!  (For more on the importance of synchronicity, click HERE).

Step #6:  Body Awareness.  Being in touch with your spiritual nature does you little good if you cannot live out your intentions.  For this reason it is important to pay attention not only to your diet and exercise, but to your body itself; its needs and wants and desires.  The body is what we have to work with in this physical reality and too many of us take it for granted.  Learn how to communicate with your body.  Learn how to listen to what it is trying to tell you.  Learn how to eat and exercise with awareness and intent.

Step #7:  Live Intentionally and Joyfully.  Living with intent and living joyfully are probably two of the most challenging – and rewarding things that you can do.  Unfortunately we live in a society where most of us live and exist on autopilot, rarely thinking about how what we are doing and how we are doing it is impacting our lives.  Most people are completely unaware of how the power of intent and the transforming energy of joy can change even the most mundane of tasks into a powerful affirmation of who and what we really are.  By using the art of mindfulness to focus on each task that we undertake and to bring our whole selves into the moment sanctifies what we are doing and makes it special; sacred even.  By taking joy in everything that we undertake we put all of life into a sharper focus.  And even the most mundane of activities suddenly takes on new purpose and meaning and becomes a part of a life lived from the heart.

The trick, you see, to creating a truly spiritual life is not to do – but to be.  By choosing to engage all of our senses; our mind, our body even in every task that we undertake from eating breakfast to our evening’s meditation and doing the dishes, by focusing our intent on every aspect of our lives; on bringing our everyday life into alignment with our soul purpose, by living joyfully and by putting all of this together we choose to live in accordance to our highest vision of who and what we really are and we can finally step forward knowing that our lives will finally reflect our true nature and purpose in life.

 

©Stephanie S. Henry 2012

Mastering Emotional Mindfulness

Mastering the Emotional Storm Surge:  Five Steps to Emotional Mindfulness

There are moments in everyone’s life when, no matter how mindful you are of your surroundings; no matter how determined you are to be rational; a passionate wave of emotion seems to sweep you away.  Anger; fear; lust bitterness; the emotion itself is not important.  What is disturbing is how it seems, against all reason and against all odds, to take over your entire existence until you live and breathe it; until your very vision is filled with the miasma of its presence; until nothing else in the world exists.

It is usually during this time; the time when reason has abandoned you; when clarity has hidden itself in the closet of your sanity refuses to come out; it is then that there are things that are said and done that you regret for the rest of your life.

Think about it.  How many times have you said or done something in a fit of anger or a jealous rage that you would never have said or done in your right mind?  How many people have you hurt with your words or actions?  How many times have you sat there afterwards, shaking, wondering what on earth had possessed you to say or do something so hurtful?  How many hours have you spent berating yourself for not being able to control yourself and your emotions?  Have you ever wondered if there is a cure for this?  If there is a way to make sure that you can learn to control your emotions and think before you lash out?

Interestingly enough, control isn’t the answer to your problem.  Instead, it is the attempt to control your emotions that leads to these irrational outbreaks.

Does that sound ridiculous?  I mean, come on, we’re taught from the time we’re small children to “control your temper,” to “think before you speak,” to remember that “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  By the time we’re teenagers we’ve been told so many times that we’re doing things wrong; saying things wrong that we sit there, stewing in our anger and hatred; pissed at the world and glowering at everyone around us because if we say what’s really on our minds we’ll get in SO much trouble.

By the time we’re adults we’ve got it down pat.  We smile and nod and agree with our boss though we’d really like to be telling them off and assure our spouse that “no dear, everything’s okay” when we’re really annoyed with them for being so inconsiderate and soothe our children with “no baby, mommy doesn’t mind reading another story” when we’re really so tired of Dr. Seuss that if we hear about one more wocket we might snap.

But nothing’s changed.  Not really.

Just because we’ve learned to control our emotions and wear a happy face doesn’t mean that the emotions aren’t there.  And no amount of wishful thinking or repetitions of affirmations will change the fact that just under the surface of our pleasant façade there is a roiling cauldron of repressed emotions that is just waiting for the least provocation to burst through our tentative crust of rationality and spew emotional poison over everyone that happens to be in our path.

Does this mean that we should, as some people and even some therapists suggest, give a voice to our emotions or that we learn to “vent” them through various activities?

Well, as good as venting is (and it’s far better to vent your frustrations on your spouse by heading to the gym and taking it out on a punching bag than by waiting till you snap and hitting the person that you love) that is not the answer either, for you have really done nothing more than momentarily quench the fire that has erupted from beneath the surface.  And as reasonable as ‘giving voice to our emotions’ sounds, telling someone you have a problem with them doesn’t fix the issue either.  In fact, it transfers the blame from yourself – to the other person – because now that they know that you really don’t like certain things they do or say or the way that they act you expect that they will take the hint and change for your benefit. Luckily, there is a solution.

So What Is The Solution? 

Would you believe me if I said mindfulness? And no, we’re not just talking about your everyday mindfulness here (though having a grip on everyday mindfulness can help).

When it comes to dealing with those emotions that overwhelm you; those inexplicable and uncontrollable emotions that rise up out of (seemingly) nowhere and take over your life; the answer is in learning to identify those things that trigger the emotions to begin with, those things that start the chain reaction that leads to your emotional outburst.  This is where the concept of emotional mindfulness comes into play.

You see, it is not enough to simply be mindful of the world around you in order to live authentically.   While being aware of the here and now is important, especially for stilling your mind long enough that you can hear your intuition; for giving you the clarity to be able to recognize the voice of your intuition; it isn’t until you’ve mastered emotional mindfulness and are able to recognize the trigger points of those emotional surges; to recognize them and acknowledge them and to choose not to react to them that you will truly start to see big changes in your life.  Indeed, by following these five steps, you can be well on your way to mastering Emotional Mindfulness.

Five Steps to Mastering Emotional Mindfulness.

Step #1:  Become aware of your surroundings.  Like anything else, Mindfulness is a skill that has to be developed and, just as you have to learn how to walk before you can run, mastering emotional mindfulness requires that you have a grip on everyday mindfulness before you can apply what you have learned to finding the trigger point of those emotional surges that sometimes threaten to take over your world.  In fact, the more aware you are of your surroundings – of what is going on around you – of how your body feels and is reacting to those things that are happening, the easier it will be to identify those trigger points.

Step #2: Keep an Outburst Journal.  Does keeping a record of your outbursts seem macabre?  Believe it or not, keeping an outburst journal can help tremendously when you are trying to discover just what it is that is setting you off.  The first order of business is to keep this journal on you (or within close reach) at all times.  I don’t care how ashamed you are of your outburst.  I don’t care what you said or did, as soon as you’ve calmed down enough to realize what has happened, pull out your journal and start writing.  Record everything.  What was happening just before you lost it; who you were talking to; what you were watching; how your body was feeling; what was being said or done; everything. After a while I guarantee that you will start noticing trends; certain people or situations that invariably serve as catalysts to an emotional surge. Being aware of these will be invaluable as you move on to step #3.

Step #3:  Pinpoint the Origin of the Emotion.  This is a bit step and is probably where you are going to spend the most of your time as you working on mastering Emotional Mindfulness. Once you have identified those things that tend to serve as catalysts for your outbursts and emotional surges, the next step is to shift your mindfulness to the exact moment when the emotion you are experiencing surfaces.  It is necessary that you be able to do this in order to move on to step #4.

Step #4:  Isolation. While pinpointing the origin of the emotion is probably the hardest thing to actually accomplish, it is step this next bit that is going to take the most concentration, for in order to master emotional mindfulness you are going to have to learn to isolate the emotion that you are experiencing in order to keep it from erupting spontaneously. If you will, this step is very much like what happens in your body’s own immune system.

Your immune system consists of white blood cells that are the guardians of your bloodstream.  These white blood cells have one duty and one duty only; to identify any foreign body or threat such as a virus or bacteria; and to eliminate it.  In order to do this they surround the foreign body or cell and, in effect, swallow it whole.  Once they have swallowed this threat, they then proceed to digest it using digestive enzymes, rendering it harmless.  But the point is the threat has to be isolated before it can be rendered harmless.

So too, emotional mindfulness works very much like your white blood cells.  If you can pinpoint the threat (the anger, jealousy, lust, frustration etc.) that you are feeling and isolate it; swallow it whole; you will be able to keep it from poisoning the rest of your mind.  But in order to render it harmless, you are then going to have to immerse yourself completely in the emotion.

Step #5:  Immersion. Just the white blood cells, in order to render the intruding emotion harmless you have to digest it, and in digesting it, it is going to momentarily become a part of you.  This can be one of the most painful moments of Emotional Mindfulness, and is one reason that so few people can actually follow through on the mastery.  They have no problem with the first four steps, but this last one is a step that many people just can’t face.

When a white blood cell swallows a virus or bacteria, there is a moment when the virus or bacteria is a part of the white blood cell, when the white blood cell is experiencing itself AS the virus or bacteria.  This is a necessary part of the immune system and triggers the digestive enzymes that will then digest the threat and turn it into something useful.  This is exactly what emotional mindfulness does when it immerses itself in the isolated emotion.

By experiencing the emotion completely (albeit in isolation from the rest of your mind) emotional mindfulness will, by opening itself up to the rawness of the emotion, make it understood – and render it harmless.  Indeed, by this process you not only remove the threat to your psychological well-being, you also break it down into its most fundamental level, freeing up the energy that was tied up in the destructive emotion so that it can be used for something more constructive.

What This Means for You

Mastering Emotional Mindfulness is not an easy thing to do.  In fact, it is probably one of the hardest tasks that you will ever undertake, so be patient with yourself and remember, Emotional Mindfulness does not mean that you are not going to feel the anger and pain; the fear and jealousy.  If anything, you are going to experience them move intensely than ever before.  The difference is, instead of these emotions taking over your life, you will be harnessing their energy for more constructive pursuits.

Indeed it may take months even years to master Emotional Mindfulness, but once you do the rewards are incredibly rich and you will find yourself living with a continual clarity of perception and peace of mind that you never imagined was possible.

 

 

 

 

The Heart Cricket

There was a cricket in my basement last night. I know, because I heard him singing.

There are spiders in my basement too.  In fact, there are studies that have shown that you are never more than ten feet away from a spider (some studies say three feet).  Luckily I am normally able to go through my day without thinking about that too much, primarily because unlike crickets (and not including the enchanting Charlotte of E.B. White’s famous children’s story) spiders are not a loquacious lot, and they definitely don’t sing.  In fact, unless you stumble across on (or one stumbles across you), you probably won’t even realize that there is a spider in the immediate area. Crickets, on the other hand, are a different story.

Crickets are loud.

Now mind you, crickets can’t compete with even ordinary everyday sounds such as car engines, stereos and the clattering of the trash truck as it makes its rounds through the neighborhood, but let me tell you.   When there is one in your basement in the middle of the night – singing when the rest of the house is silent and asleep – unlike spiders, you know that a cricket is in residence.

And yes, I am aware of the fact that they are not really singing but rubbing their wings together; specifically thick hardened ridges of their wings which cause the more delicate membranes of the wings to vibrate; amplifying the sound.  I also understand that they are not singing for my benefit, but that they are doing so to attract a mate, but that doesn’t detract from the simple beauty and clarity of the sound although it DID have me wondering what on earth a cricket was doing in my basement – in January since the season for crickets (at least here where I live) is long gone.

In fact, I found myself smiling as I listened; remembering one of my favorite childhood storybooks; A Cricket in Times Square by George Seldon; a story where a young boy in New York City finds a lonely cricket in the discarded papers of the Times Square subway station.  He adopts the cricket as the mascot of his family’s struggling newsstand and Chester the cricket (who is from incidentally from Connecticut) repays the family by playing a concert at their newsstand every evening; bringing in crowds of admirers and providing the family with the business that they need to survive.

In the story, Chester plays one last heart-breaking concert before he leaves to go back to his beloved meadow, and for just that moment the never ending hustle and bustle of New York’s Times Square pauses with baited breath as Chester plays his goodbye.

Just like a cricket’s song; the truth – our truth – plays constantly in our hearts. We may not pay it any attention.  In fact, with so much going on in our lives; so much drama and fear; so much angst and anger; with such a mindless chattering of our thoughts, we may rarely hear it.  In fact, the only times that we may hear it clearly is when we purposefully stop our mind’s continual chattering of thoughts; or when circumstances force us to pause long enough to listen; or when we wake up in the middle of the night and our minds are just uncluttered enough and unfocused enough that the song of our heart cricket comes through loud and clear.

And if you lay there long enough; listening; you’ll stop wondering about why it is that you are now able to hear your cricket.  You’ll stop wondering about what it means that there has been a cricket singing away inside your heart this whole time and that you’re just now hearing it.

You’ll stop – and let the sound fill up your head; let it’s sweetly poignant melody fill up your entire existence.

And the truth of it; the beauty of it; will set you free.

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.