There are a lot of good people…but they keep quiet about it. It’s the bad ones who make a lot of noise and that’s why they get noticed.
-Isabel Allende, from “The Japanese Lover”
I sometimes feel like the bad ones are winning, that it’s a done deal and I should just give up. And then someone gives me the right of way on the freeway, or a stranger smiles at me at the grocery store, or someone I say hi to at the gym but secretly think hates me, surprises me by chatting about her daughter in college who is trying to figure out whether to major in government or biology. And I think maybe, as Isabel Allende’s character Alma declares, there are a lot of good people.
So why not start making some good noise? Maybe it’s time for the good people to step out of the shadows and make some good noise and remind us that there are a lot of us out there. We have so much power to influence one another—for good! And this reminds me of a beautiful passage from Rumi: I like it when the music happens like this: something in His eye grabs hold of a tambourine in me, then I turn and lift a violin in someone else, and they turn, and this turning continues; it has reached you now. Isn’t that something?
Yes, it is something—let’s make some beautiful noise!
In any situation and in whatever you do your state of consciousness is the primary factor. The situation and what you do is secondary.
It has been a rough week on the world scene. And here in America, we have mid-term elections next week. Many of us, sensitive to the changes in our midst, feel jittery, sad, anxious, at times hopeful and at times despairing. And we ask ourselves, what should I do?
As Eckhart Tolle beautifully and clearly explains, of primary importance is our state of consciousness. This is our foundation, our center; it is where we find our faith, our deepest beliefs, and love. It’s easy, especially with all that is happening right now, to lose our foundation and get swept away by slogans that feed anger and fear. But anger and fear don’t serve us, and they don’t serve humanity as a whole.
When action is required, let it come from a place of wisdom, intelligence, and love. And we stay connected to that place by regularly checking-in—to explore our motivations, to find our anger and sadness and frustration and honor it, and to spend time alone breathing and getting grounded and clear. And with this clarity and connection to our consciousness we can—hopefully—spread more light and love in the world.
When I returned from Rome
A bird took flight.
And a flower in a field whistled at me
As I passed.
From a stream of clear water
And at night the sky untied her hair and I fell
Clutching a tress
When I returned from Rome, all said
“Tell us the great news”,
And with great excitement I did: “ flower in a field whistled,
And at night the sky untied her hair and
I fell asleep clutching a sacred tress…”
-St. Francis of Assisi
It’s easy to become so consumed with the details of our busy lives that we fail to notice the whistling flowers and the sacred tress in the night sky.
Yet, what about the moments that are not so beautiful or picturesque? In these moments, we can struggle just to stay above water, let alone notice the whistling flowers. Sometimes life is heavy and dark and confusing. And no book or pithy quote or spiritual poem can pull us out of our experience.
So maybe that is where we have to go—back into the experience of the body. We go right to the breath—we take in the reality of our experience; we hold it, and then we let it go. We don’t talk ourselves out of our sadness or difficulty. We don’t tell ourselves we should only be seeing whistling flowers. We see what we see. We feel what we feel.
And actually by being present with the reality of our experience, we can fully integrate all that is happening. We aren’t denying pain, hiding secrets or telling ourselves lies. And then the wisdom of our being guides us; it tells us how to mourn and how to heal and how to embrace the truth of our lives.
I love these words by St. Francis of Assisi, but let us remember that they reflect only part of the experience. There are moments of rapture and moments of sadness, and both should be held and honored.
I am thinking of the moment something dies, and how we instinctively know it, and of how we try not to know what we know, because we do not yet understand how we are to negotiate change.
-From Alice Walker’s, Now is the Time to Open Your Heart
Here, the main character from Walker’s novel is speaking with her friend and reflecting on the end of her first marriage. This begins a larger discussion—which Walker explores throughout her book—of the peace of connecting to our wholeness and the pain of being disconnected from it.
I have a friend who is a psychotherapist, and she begins each session by asking her clients where in the body they feel their emotions. What a beautiful way of connecting with our felt experience. But so often, although we know the truth instinctively, and we feel it in our bodies—we deny it, because as Walker’s character says we do not yet understand how we are to negotiate change. We fear the unknown, and we ask ourselves—how will I cope if this thing happens?
But here’s another question—how much longer can I live disconnected from my wholeness?
Wholeness is; it does not have to be created cultivated. Our loved ones, our lives, our environment, our bodies are speaking to us all the time and inviting us into a direct relationship with reality—that is wholeness.
If there is anything to do, it is to be better listeners—to ourselves, to our bodies, to others, to our environment and to begin to dialogue with and honor what arises. No judgment; no shame—just acknowledgement. And this is the best gift we could give ourselves and others—the gift of acknowledging the truth of our whole experience.
I was born when all I once feared—I could love.
What are we afraid of? It varies from person to person. We have our own personal stories and trauma and regrets and aspirations. And there are archetypal fears and existential and psychological fears. But what seems to be at the root of most fears is the desire to be in control—of one’s life, of others’ lives, of the political climate or environment. And, while we can do our part—and we must do our part to effect change and progress in the world—we have far less control that we realize. It seems, then, that it would be wise to direct our efforts to being aware of and in sync with the reality of the moment. If I accept the moment—with all of its joys and sorrows and ups and downs—my fear of not having the outcome I want will be transformed into love of what is. So we breathe deeply and start small, and with time and practice the love will grow and grow and grow…
How wonderful it would be if one could only be worthy of hearing the song of the grass. Each blade of grass sings out to God without any ulterior motive and without expecting reward. …One should meditate in a grassy field, for grass will awaken the heart.
-Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
I love walking my dog, especially in the quiet hours of the morning, before the city has awakened. Long before the streets are filled with honking horns and disposable coffee cups, I can commune with the singing birds and rustling leaves.
And something magical always happens! I am reminded that each blade of grass sings out to God. And not only each blade of grass—but the trees and leaves and puddles of rain! And I am gently and lovingly reminded of the holiness of all things and all beings.
Sometimes in the busy-ness of our lives, we forget the song of the grass. Let us take Rabbi Nachman’s advice and find our own metaphorical grassy field to awaken the heart and remember the sanctity of all beings.
The art of meditation is to let go of the meditator.
Being aware without judgment is not easy. Instinctively, our mind perceives and labels things as good and bad, necessary and unnecessary, should and shouldn’t, and sometimes we even get to the point where we wish we were in charge! And the result, as most spiritual paths explain, is the root cause of our suffering—our inability to accept what is.
This is what Adyashanti is referring to here. The meditator is the egoic controlling mind that manipulates its experience, that thinks it knows best, that blames, that is motivated by fear and shame, and that struggles to see the big picture. And meditation, for Adyashanti, isn’t something we do twenty minutes a day on the mat; meditation is a radical shift in how we see ourselves and our relationship to our world–every moment of the day!
By letting go of the meditator, we are able to soften and open to deep and powerful energies that bring clarity, wisdom, perspective and healing and love. It’s not easy, so we trust the process and we take baby steps and we go slowly—one breath at a time.
Where you stumble there lies your treasure. The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you were looking for. The damned thing in the cave that was so dreaded has become the center.
We spend a lot of time trying to avoid hardship, uncomfortable feelings, pain and struggle. But, what if those things we consciously or unconsciously avoid are actually the means for our growth and healing?
It’s sounds counter-intuitive. And somewhat crazy. It’s scary to face our shadows. We usually lock them away and pretend they don’t exist. We blame our problems on other people and life situations—believing that if only circumstances were different we would be at peace.
But that only works for so long, and usually we come to a point in our lives when we grow tired of running away and we decide to turn toward. And, it is in that moment that we understand, as Joseph Campbell writes, that the damned thing in the cave that was so dreaded has become the center.
And we begin to discover so many layers of protection that we’ve created for ourselves—simply so that we would not have to feel discomfort. But, when we begin to face these big feelings—one baby step at a time—the power they have held over us begins to wane, and we become more comfortable with the questions, the uncertainty, the moments of beauty and the moments of sadness.
But go slowly—with compassion and love for yourself, as you venture into the uncharted territory of your internal cave, and maybe there—you will find the peace you have been seeking.
And I said to him:
Are there answers to all of this?
And he said:
The answer is in a story
And the story is being told.
And I said:
But there is so much pain
And she answered, plainly:
Pain will happen.
Then I said:
Will I ever find meaning?
And they said:
You will find meaning
Where you give meaning.
The answer is in a story
And the story isn’t finished.
-Pádraig Ó Tuama, “Narrative theology #1”
Sometimes we struggle to find meaning—especially in times of pain or in periods of transition. And we can feel so burdened by life that we can hardly bring ourselves to ask the big questions.
In such times there is great comfort to be found in stories—in sharing our stories and hearing the stories of others. In doing so, we connect to the collective consciousness. We see that our story is one of so many stories that have known joy and loss and confusion and growth.
And maybe we recognize that meaning isn’t always found in answers; maybe it is found in living our stories, being present in our stories, and remembering that each new breath brings freshness, because as Pádraig Ó Tuama writes, the story isn’t finished.
Guys like us are the loneliest guys in the world.
-John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men
Loneliness is one of the most profound and shared of human experiences. We can feel lonely when we are physically alone, but we can feel an even deeper sense of isolation in a crowd of people or despite having hundreds of Facebook “friends” or Instagram followers.
Why? Because I think what we are seeking is real connection. We want to see and be seen. We want to love and be loved.
But finding real connection isn’t easy. And finding that right balance of real connection and healthy alone time is also a challenge! What is important is to know what your needs are—that you spend time alone when you need to and that you find people who nurture you, rather than sap your energy.
Next week will usher in the Jewish Holiday Season, beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Sukkot, about three weeks later. And like Thanksgiving, New Years and Christmas, these holidays can be wonderful times of togetherness and also overwhelming times of togetherness.
And this is where I think loneliness can actually serve a very important purpose. That first little sensation of loneliness can serve as a wake-up call, reminding us that we need some self-care, telling us that maybe we need more time with others, or maybe we need time alone. Whatever it is, listen to it, affirm it and—to the best of your ability—care for yourself, without guilt or shame.
Whatever holidays you celebrate, loneliness is a real issue, and something we face throughout our lives. But I think we can turn the awareness of loneliness into a dynamic and loving inner-dialogue, directing us toward deeper and more fulfilling interaction.
If you realize what the real problem is – losing yourself – you realize that this itself is the ultimate trial.
I can say, from personal experience, that the worst I’ve ever felt in my life was when I felt lost. And I don’t mean the good kind of lost—that feeling of flow we get when we are painting or riding a bicycle or writing or performing surgery—when we feel connected to something bigger and powerful and meaningful. I mean the exact opposite; the feeling that comes when we feel disconnected, cut off, alone and abandoned, when we experience the dark night of the soul.
But this dark night of the soul—I believe—is actually not something to be feared or dreaded; rather I think it is a whisper reminding us to return to our truest self, as well as an invitation to go deeper into uncharted internal territory.
But getting lost is so easy! If we love another or we love our jobs or our animals or we work as caretakers, we can get lost in the needs of another. We can forget our unique goals and purpose and lose that connection and flow. It can happen in dysfunctional relationships and healthy relationships. It can happen without us realizing it and it can happen with a few or many aspects or people in our lives. But really, all these things pulling us away from ourselves—are just a distraction; they, as Joseph Campbell says, are the real problem.
And so, the ultimate trial, as he continues to say, is to stay found—to stay connected to your individual specific purpose, your joy, your bliss. Because that is why you are here! You are here to do something on this planet that ONLY you can do, and you will not feel joyful or found or content or at peace if you are not living your purpose.
So take some time—every day—and check in and ask yourself, are you living your purpose? If you feel lost, how can you get back? How can you nurture and love yourself back to remembering or discovering your truest self, your connection to something greater? Only you know the answer to this. And, maybe in the quiet moments of your day, you will feel the whisper calling you back.
Nostalgia is a luxury.
-Zadie Smith, Swing Time
I was a young and idealistic graduate student of Russian literature when I met my future husband in St. Petersburg. For our first date, we went to two museums—the Yusupov Palace and the Hermitage—and as we wandered through ornate rooms and past priceless treasures, I asked him if he was in love with Russia as much as I was. I expected this educated and cultivated man to share my romantic ideals, but he had a very different take on Russia.
He looked at me quizzically and said, “My people experienced the pogroms and fled en masse to America to escape the horrors of Russia’s secret police. No, I am not so romantic about Russia.”
I knew he was Jewish, but I hadn’t considered Russia’s treatment of the Jews when I had asked my question. I wasn’t Jewish and had no personal connection to this period of history. A few years later, I would return to Russia as a married Jewish woman, and right away I heard anti-Semitic slurs and comments—some directed at me and some at others. Why hadn’t I noticed this before?
I still love Dostoevsky and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, and clips of Nureyev dancing give me the chills, but no, I have not been nostalgic for a long time, because nostalgia, as Zadie Smith writes, is a luxury. It is a luxury of those who did not experience the pogroms or Jim Crow or torture or disenfranchisement or ridicule.
We cannot erase the periods of history that make us uncomfortable. At the same time, we can’t disentangle these challenging periods from the greats they produced: Nina Simone, Count Bassie, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Harriet Tubman, Chagall, Spinoza, Jonathan Larson and Gertrude Stein. I mourn the sorrows they experienced; I am grateful for what they produced.
I can’t assume to know another’s experience, but I can ask. In this, I am reminded of Joseph Conrad’s famous statement about his intention in writing: My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel—it is before all, to make you see. That—and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your desserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm—all you demand; and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask. Yet, asking is just the beginning. There is so much more that we can do, tangible things—getting involved in our communities, voting for policies that we believe in, and helping others.
Everyday we are given new opportunities to look honestly at our past and work toward a bright and beautiful future.