Spirituality is definitely transcendental, but to soar we must first be grounded.
When my kids were very little, a friend gave me a DVD about “stranger danger”. The approach was great; it broke adults into three categories (safe people, people you kind of know and complete strangers) and explained that ONLY the safe people were safe. And in the best of all possible worlds, these safe people would provide the foundation and framework for a child’s security and sense of well-being.
But, some of us did not feel safe growing up. Maybe we had unsafe parents or an unsafe home or we moved a lot or experienced trauma or tragedy at a young age, and what happened was that the very important and primal need for safety was never really met.
So we grew up and went out in the world seeking safety. But without a clear idea of what that really looks like or feels like, many of us wandered through many unsafe jobs and relationships and moves before we began to touch upon what safety really feels like.
Safety is the ground beneath our feet. And safety is different for every person. A good friend recently used the term “touch points” to describe those things in our life that ground us: our kitchen, our favorite place to buy bananas, that café that sells the coffee we love, that friend we connect to instantly and we can be raw with. We cannot underestimate the need for these touch points. Without them, we are free-falling.
Yet, life is constantly changing so it means that we have to be open to our touch points also changing. This is hard, but as we go through the inevitable changes of life—aging, children leaving home, retirement, moving, changing jobs—we need to be very loving with ourselves and honest with ourselves about what really brings us pleasure, what makes us feel safe and makes us feel grounded. And this, in the end, is what enables us to connect to the Divine. So, I encourage you to explore what makes you feel safe.
I need to re-learn this very simple truth every day!
Because…despite all the hours of meditation and books read and therapy and deep and life-changing conversations—we are human and we love and care and we easily get caught. We get caught by pain from our childhood, ideas of who we think we are supposed to be, by physical pain and emotional pain, by lack of sleep and too much chocolate or wine the night before, by our children, our spouses, our furry friends….The list is endless.
Living a mindful life is not about never getting caught; it’s about returning over and over and over again. We can’t avoid difficulty—even if we escape to a cave we will still have our thoughts—which are probably the greatest of our challenges!
So, Happy 2020—a new year, a time for creating new habits and starting over. And, I think maybe one of these new habits we should cultivate actually has two parts: the first part involves making the intention to be present (i.e. not resistant to reality!) and the second part involves having compassion for ourselves when we do resist, and maybe actually the third part would be to recognize that this cycle will probably repeat itself several times throughout the day.
It’s that wonderful time of year again—when we get the opportunity to rid ourselves of unwanted habits and create new and healthy ones!
And what better way to embark on these resolutions, or intentions as I like to call them, than with a reminder that most goals are well within our reach and all they require is repetition, repetition, repetition. This year, I have decided to write down my intentions for the year and make them into monthly realizable to do lists. And, I’ve vowed to begin every morning meditation with a reminder of some of these intentions—so that I can remember what I’m dedicating my year to!
And while we work with our intentions, we must steer clear of shame! Let’s remember to motivate ourselves with loving encouragement and patience and compassion.
I wish you a beautiful and blessed 2020!
You may be thinking…hardly a festive post for Hannukah Christmas Eve! But, actually there is nothing more relevant when ‘tis the season for family togetherness.
For those particularly challenging relationships, we may think that avoidance is the best course of action. And in some cases, especially when it is clear that your thoughts and feelings will be maligned, it is the best course of action. But, where there is a genuine mutual desire to have a healthy relationship, avoidance is definitely not the best course of action.
Let’s be honest—we can only ignore the elephant in the room for so long. So while we’re sipping our egg nog and mulled wine, maybe we can consider that the best gift we can give our loved ones is a dedication to honesty, clearing the heart of resentments, and risking some challenging conversations. A few minutes of discomfort for will give you and your family decades of peace and good will.
Happy Hannukah and Merry Christmas!
It is easy to convince ourselves of our rightness. There is confirmation bias, the echo chamber, memories and tribes and self-fulfilling prophesies—all which lock us in mental prison.
And these mental prisons are dangerous! They fill us with passionate vitriol that inhibit our ability to question ourselves or converse with those who have differing opinions. Just turn on the news in the morning and you’ll witness a plethora of mental prisons!
I’m not saying that we should deny our feelings. What I am saying is that we should question our feelings, investigate our convictions, read and read and read more. Read everything. And talk to so many types of people. And be open to the fact that you just might be wrong. Humility. Goodness, we could use some of that right now.
So as we head into the new year, explore your ideas and feelings, question, and seek mental freedom.
Our true nature is more than all the details of our lives or the particulars of our personhood. We are, as they said in Kabbalah, a spark of the Divine. And, while we are more than the ups and downs of our daily lives, it is precisely through these ups and downs that we access the Divine within.
And this means both ups and downs.
Our joys give us opportunities for gratitude, for love, and pleasure. And our sorrows connect us to the collective sorrow, to deeper parts within ourselves, to compassion and even forgiveness. Our true nature is our entire experience. Our true nature is able to step back and observe without judgment and simultaneously to feel the pangs of sorrow and rush of happiness.
Our true nature is both transcendent and personal, and perhaps—as we skip through the mysteries of life—we are best served by slowing down and connecting to the complexities of our entire experience.
Throughout our lives we experience many moments of chaos, which in turn give rise to order, until it is again time to let go, restructure and rebuild.
Yet all too often we see chaos as bad, as an unwelcomed force that disturbs the peace of our lives. We are convinced that everything is exactly as it should be, and then we are hit with chaos. The chaos I am referring to here is not the chaos of tragic loss—the death of a loved one or a serious illness. Rather I am speaking about the chaos of change, old age, the empty nest, leaving home, wrinkles, and relationships that shift or end.
And it is these types of chaos that invite us into deeper growth. They take us unwillingly into Hades, into the deepest recesses of our psyche, our untouched Shadow, and they show us what we must now discard—that is, if we are eager to venture into uncharted territory. We know we want to. We desperately seek such freedom, but chaos is frightening.
Maybe it’s time to reframe how we see chaos. Maybe we could see chaos as a loving friend, the kind that encourages us to eat our vegetables and let go of that loser boyfriend. Chaos hurts because the new hurts. But deep down this is what we crave—a new order, for a while, until chaos comes knocking again, inviting us into the next chapter of our adventure.
We carry countless untold stories within us. And kept secret, some of these stories can feel like a burden. They can reinforce feelings of shame and fear. And they can make us feel terribly alone.
While it is unwise to be an open book to all, it is important—and even necessary—that we have safe and supportive and loving relationships where we can share these stories. And by sharing our stories, we learn to receive love and compassion, we learn that others can learn from our experiences, and we experience the power of our vulnerability.
By opening our hearts and sharing our stories, we can begin our healing process, and simultaneously we create an atmosphere where vulnerability and honesty encourage the healing process of others.
Many of us carry a false belief that we are broken.
And we respond either by trying to fix the brokenness or—when we are overwhelmed—by avoiding whatever upsetting emotion or situation that is triggering us.
But this premise is wrong! We are not broken. We are human beings navigating our way through this mysterious journey, and we are figuring it out as we go along.
And the way we figure it out is by staying present with our felt experience. We don’t numb out or disassociate when things upset us. We go inward and seek to discover our unhealthy patterns.
But see—I say unhealthy pattern, not problem, because there is a difference. You are not broken. You are not a problem. You are a beautiful creation of the universe, a work in progress, a life evolving.
A beautiful and powerful metaphor we experience in autumn is watching leaves transform from bright and shiny and green to rich yellows and oranges and reds. And then, we watch them fall, shrivel up, and be washed away by rain or snow.
Birth and death. Beginning and end. And we are equally multidimensional. We are beautiful and generous and loving; we can also be selfish, angry and cruel.
And I am convinced that denying our complex nature is the source of so much sadness and anxiety and stress. Striving to be perfect, denying our past, pretending to be something we are not—this is the great tragedy of our life experience! So, what is to be done?
Using Jung’s tree metaphor, our life’s work is to accept the totality of our being—to reach our branches upward, striving toward all that is good and honorable for ourselves and others, and at the same time to acknowledge and continually investigate our darker and often suppressed side, or shadow, as Jung called it.
Accepting life means accepting death; accepting our goodness means accepting our challenges. And this is what makes life so rich and beautiful and mysterious.
Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.
When we are hurting, it’s hard to imagine how others can’t also be hurting. And when we are joyful, we can be oblivious to the pain of others. But, in reality, we are all universes unto ourselves. We all carry pain and trauma and petty annoyances and blessings.
Often, we are so internally focused that we fail to recognize all these universes, and sometimes we can very reasonably get frustrated and even angry. But, maybe the driver who cut you off just lost his job. Maybe the checker at the supermarket had a fight with her child. Maybe someone is sick. Maybe someone is just in a bad mood and needs a little forbearance. Wouldn’t we want someone to cut us some slack too?
The old forget what it was like to be young and the young think the old are irrelevant. This group criticizes that group, marriages dissolve, and nations and religions go to war over disagreements.
We can’t fix all relationships and international disputes today, but maybe we can be kinder to the people we encounter. Maybe we can give someone the benefit of the doubt. Maybe we can send some love and good wishes and let go of some of our self-righteousness. And be kinder. Always.
This being human is a guest house. Every morning is a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor…Welcome and entertain them all. Treat each guest honorably. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
We usually measure how well we are doing by the details of our lives—our health, relationships, our mood even. But, as Rumi reminds us in this beautiful poem, everything and everyone that appears in our lives is a guide from beyond come to teach us something. Yes—whether it is a backache or that annoying family member or even our own resistance to what is happening, it is possible, as Pema Chodron says in her new book, to welcome the unwelcomed.
The practice is simple, but not easy. It involves observing all that arises—externally and internally—and with non-judgmental awareness, seeing it as it is. By softening to our experience and our reaction to it, we can slowly transition to a more mindful and reflective, rather than reactive, approach to our experience. And then we can unravel all the stories and habitual programing and feel the blessings of being a guest house.