Search This Blog

Friday, December 27, 2013

Truth

“Truth does not become more true by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, nor less so even if the whole world disagrees with it.”
― Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed


Truth doesn't easily fit into the container of words. It is the thing into which everything else fits. Whatever words you use to wrap around Truth, it is certain that you have left off and left out so much more of the Truth for which words are totally insufficient. Like love, Truth can be expressed through words, but never fully. We know how important experience is to love - a touch, a look, the simple presence of someone we love. Truth also requires experience, or all we have are ideas about it, but not Truth itself.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Winners and Losers

If you think only in terms of two choices (good or bad, winning or losing, success or failure), then you see people in those terms too. You're either a winner or loser, a success or a failure. But this is not how we are or even who we are.

We are faced with challenges and opportunities and we meet them sometimes well and sometimes not so well, and at every turn, we have the chance to do better, to be better, to express through our words, actions and in relationships, the best of who we truly are. Don't settle for black and white when the whole rainbow is available.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Like Yourself

There is endless power in simply liking yourself well enough that nothing diminishes your contentment.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Know Thyself

When you don't know your own value, you settle for a life that us less than worthy of you. You will feel the lack, the disconnect between who you are and the quality of your life, but it is only when you recognize who you are that you will see why and know what to do to change it.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

At Every Second

You have the power AT EVERY SECOND to be different. It's not easy, and it's not maybe fun, but it is possible, and you must never forget that you were made for this, for refining your character and nature and becoming more truly the human being you have the potential to be. The world is waiting for you to show up and participate and share what you have, and your own weaknesses and limitations are the worst excuses for not doing just that.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Standing Together

There are so many among us who need help - an extra hand or a smile or a caring touch or the healing that we can offer each other in so many ways. And there is a notion going around that we shouldn't need this, that we should be able to stand on our own and overcome whatever faces us with the sheer will and strength of our own resources.

But we are not made to stand alone. The saying that we come into this world alone and leave it alone simply isn't true. None of us gets here alone, and none of us makes it if alone is all we have. For so many of us, the greatest meaning in our lives comes from the moments where we connect to help others or let ourselves be helped.

The generosity and humanity required to live openly and lovingly and kindly is what we all need. It is what we most need to receive, and what we most need to give. And it's this big, messy, endless cycle, and it just feels better and works better to be in the middle of it than standing off to the side, too scared to receive, and too shut-off to give, substituting judgement and condemnation for caring and compassion.

Even those who have the fiscal equation all figured out, what it costs to help and care and how else we could spend that money, still need to give and receive at the level not of their wallet, but their heart and their humanity.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Right Choices

To know if you are making the right choices, look at who you are, not what others have done.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Wanting to Help

Wanting the help, especially those you care most about, is the most natural human instinct. We see someone suffering and we want to offer relief of that suffering. We want to step in and offer whatever resources we have to change the circumstances and make things better.

And there are few things more devastating than knowing that you can't fix something, you can't make things better no matter how much you love someone or care for them. The frustration of knowing that you should be able to make things better, but can't, is its own unique version of hell. For those of especially who are used to being effective at getting things done, not being able to help feel incomprehensible. How can we be so able and willing and yet our efforts yield no results.

I remember the first time I visited India and was faced with a level of poverty that simply doesn't exist in America, and over the next few weeks came to understand that all the solutions that work in my world don't begin to make an impact in that world. And it is often the same with the struggles of those we love. We can see the problem, understand it and be fully willing to help, but the help we offer may simply not be what is required to fix the problem.

There is a saying from my yogic practice that those who need the help are sometimes simply too weak to take it. What do you do with a soul who is suffering and struggling that you want to help, but they cannot take the benefit of your input, advice, ideas, resources, etc?  Maybe they reject the help, or waste it, or abuse it, or are simply unreceptive?

On the spiritual journey, there is always a way to help, there is always something you can do to make a difference, even when the one who needs help is too weak to receive it, and that is simply this: offer your prayers and love and good wishes to that soul, unconditionally and generously. If you cannot help in any other way, you can always offer your best wishes to that soul with purity of intention for their healing and well-being. It may be all you can offer, but it is not the least of what you can offer.

Each one of us needs the invisible support and protection of the blessings of good wishes from those who know and love us. There is no downside to offering this support, and the soul feels and experiences the benefit of it even if they don't know it's being offered. It might not fix a specific problem but it gives the one you care about power and energy so that they may become strong enough to make a difference themselves.

So when someone you love is out of reach, beyond your ability to help, you can still offer hope to them on that subtle, invisible and ever-so-meaningful level. All of G*d's children need the net of love and good wishes to support them, and you can make all the difference by sending it their way.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Spiritual Consumerism

We are so groomed by the omnipresent media to be consumers, but the spiritual journey asks us to go further.  Don't just be a consumer.  Don't be content with finding the right book to buy, the right teacher to follow, the right class to take.  Even with religion it's easy to sit back and let others do the work. But being a consumer means defining yourself by what you can take and buy and own.  The spiritual journey invites you to define yourself by what you give and create and become.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Unlimited

I love the idea that we are capable of unlimited love, of unlimited compassion, of unlimited understanding, but as a human being myself, I haven't ever been able to offer that. My love and compassion and understanding all have their own limitations. They end when I'm tired, or distracted with busy-ness, or irritable...all sorts of reasons that my unending virtue ends.

The best I can do is hook into the truly unending love and compassion that G*d offers, and fill myself with as much as I can, and then share as much as I can, but even then, I have my limits. G*d's love is unlimited, but ours isn't.  That's why being loving and compassionate and understanding are such profound virtues. Because they require something extraordinary.  

Because they require that you tap into something beyond yourself to fill up with these qualities, and to tap into something beyond yourself to share them.  If you depend only on your own strength and power to get beyond your limitations, you almost never get there. Sometimes you do. Sometimes you overcome your limitations, but mostly you wear out and get tired before that happens.

It's not so hard to fall in love, to experience the intoxication of something new and exciting, of someone new and exciting. But the kind of love that's a virtue isn't felt or expressed in the intoxication of romantic bliss.  It's felt and expressed in everyday, ordinary life, in trying times and in the midst of difficulty.  And that's why it's so hard, because summoning up that loving energy when the only requirement is need takes more than what so many of us have to give and to give over time.

Because we're human. Because we don't have an unlimited capacity for anything. Because we all get tired. And that's why G*d is such a comfort, because not having to do this all on our own is the hope we need,the hope that love and compassion and understanding can make a difference.







Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Cardinal Sin

A cardinal sin on the spiritual journey is becoming uninterested.  Boredom means you're off-center, you're disconnected from the place of growth and movement and creativity.  Because the spiritual journey is essentially a creative journey, playing itself out in a million ways in your life, but only if you are curious and engaged with your own experience.

When your story stops being interesting even to you, when routine overtakes exploration, then you know you've stayed in one place too long. Maybe it's one place in your mind, thinking and re-thinking until there's nothing left to know. Or maybe it's an emotional trigger that gets triggered over and over until you're just exhausted from the endless repetition.  But you know when you've reached that ending place, when something has become old and tired, and even its familiarity isn't a comfort.

Step out into something new, or step within into something new, but when you feel bored and your creative energy is gone, stop pumping the same dry well for more of what it offered up before. Feed your soul, your mind and your heart with newness and inspiration.  Sometimes you need to stop thinking and go for a walk. Sometimes you need to talk with an old friend and sometimes you need to make a new friend. Sometimes you need to change your medium, to use pictures instead of words, or feel instead of think.

Some of us are fine with routine and sameness. Some of us are comforted by things staying the same. But those of us who chose the spiritual journey have a spirit of adventure that must be honored or we begin to wither. The muscle of personal growth demands to be lithe and limber and strong.  It demands not simply that we create but that our lives are an ongoing work of creation.  And it is in this ongoing work of creation that we are closest to G*d, that we are participating in the most fundamental and divine activity of them all..


Sunday, November 10, 2013

New Start

We are habit-forming creatures, and the habits we develop out of self-protection form early and hold on tight.  And when we can't control our circumstances, we learn how to shield ourselves from the impact of the people and things that can hurt us.  

And we can hold onto the hurt and hold onto the fear that we're going to be hurt long after the danger itself might be gone.  The memories and experiences of our past, even the long-ago past, can hold us in their grip, making us feel like victims, defined by our suffering.

But the spiritual journey gives us back options.  Instead of holding onto the past, it invites us to reach up and out of habits, up and out of the past, and to move past those old limitations.  The spiritual journey calls us to step into ourselves fully, not holding back any part of who we are from fear, or uncertainty or a feeling of powerlessness.

Instead of trying to control our circumstances, we have words and the ability to express ourselves and the capacity to make decisions that honor who we know we are now. There's no promise it will be easy, but it will never be harder than living with a sense of being a victim of the past.  

It helps to stay calm and clear and centered to face yourself and your fears as much as you possibly can. And the more you do it, the more confident you become and the more you develop the habit of taking care of yourself.  And it is this - the certainty of knowing that you can be trusted to take care of yourself - that shows you how far you've come.


You're not depending on others to make things okay. You're not afraid of becoming a victim again of the same things in the same way, because you are no longer the same.  You're not waiting for things to change, because you yourself are changing. It is never too late to give yourself a new start.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Honor Yourself

Do you know how to honor yourself?  Do you know how to make decisions and take actions that reflect who you want to be, who you intend to be, who you hope to be? Because if you don't, then you undermine the possibilities that exist for you.

When you yourself are the obstacle you must overcome, self-doubt creeps into everything... you doubt your own power, your own potential, your own ability, and you doubt that what you dream of, what you hope for, what you long to become, can ever be.  And that doubt separates you - from your power, from others, and from G*d, because doubt comes with shame and sorrow, and shame and sorrow love darkness and isolation.

What does it mean for you to honor yourself?  What would it look like to show up the way you intend, the way you mean, the way you hope?  What would be different about your communication, your relationships, your daily life?  What keeps you from honoring yourself, and what helps you?


There is no magical law of attraction - there is no 'secret' to all of this. It's simple and profound and ordinary and deep, and it is this: you have to become the person you want to be in your thoughts, words, actions and relationships.  And you have to do this step-by-step, minute-by-minute.

You don't need a 5-year plan; most of us need a 5-minute plan or a 5-hour plan or a 5-day plan about the actual stuff we're going to say and do. Beyond that we are just crossing our fingers and hoping for the best. As anyone who has worked to overcome the force of destructive habits knows, all the real work happens between one second and the next.

The benefit of the spiritual journey is that it supports us as we move from second-to-second, encouraging us to move slowly and thoughtfully.  Open your heart up and take strength from G*d's grace. Use the divine love given so freely, wisely and well.  Let G*d's power be your power so you don't have to keep trying so hard.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Anxiety

What do you do when your emotional state overwhelms your spiritual intention?  What do you do when everything you know and have practiced drowns in a flood of uncontrollable emotion?  What do you do when the fears and concerns that you have patiently soothed with meditation and mindfulness erupt with a ferocity that threatens to destroy all your effort?

You breathe.  Slowly and deeply.  And you let the feeling wash over you, and do everything you can to just keep breathing, to let the energy of that experience move and keep moving.  You feel whatever there is to feel, and don't try to grab hold of it, manipulate or control it.  Because that fear is energy. It is energy that got stuck somewhere, somehow, and is trying to move, to get unstuck, and in whatever way you seek to control it, it will get stuck again.

The spiritual journey doesn't protect you from yourself.  It doesn't protect you from the reality of what you have lived through or what lives inside of you.  But regular spiritual practice gives you internal strength, and a sense of self bigger and more real than emotional upheaval and the havoc it might wreak.

The spiritual journey reminds you that the challenges along the way are very real, that the journey isn't an escape from yourself or your circumstances.  It reminds you that spirituality isn't a tool for manipulating the things we want to change, but a tool that gives us the courage to face what must be faced.  It doesn't change what's around you; it changes what's in you.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Trauma

Maybe the most devastating consequence of the traumas we endure is this: "Sense of a limited future."  So many of us are damaged, traumatized by the things that happened or the things that didn't, all the ways we were hurt or wounded, our sense of self altered by circumstances and experiences beyond our control.


With trauma, there's a moment of shock when the world and the people in it are suddenly different than what you expected or knew was possible, a moment that leaves you overwhelmed, overcome, overtaken by fear and anxiety.  In that moment it's impossible to focus or connect or even breathe. In that moment it becomes almost impossible to remember who you are and who you want to be, and everything is erased but the panic.

And if that fear doesn't subside, if that panic doesn't diminish, if that overwhelm continues, then the full sense of yourself doesn't return either.  The potential you have within is crowded out by all the thoughts and feelings you can't control, and the inner light that used to shine dims in the shadows.

We're not all suffering from the same trauma, from the same wounds or neglect or whatever has stopped us in important ways, but it's worth asking if there's something that's stopping you from imagining yourself, your future, your life as fully as it could be. And more than just stopping your imagination, maybe stopping you from living your way into the potential that resides within.

You might be there, but you don't have to stay there.  And if there's any path worth taking on the spiritual journey, the one back to yourself is the most worthwhile.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Demons

Sometimes the hardest part of the spiritual journey is turning toward the very thing you've spent all your time avoiding, all your time turning away from.  The very thing you're hiding from is the very thing you most need to face, to acknowledge and to accept.

This isn't about confrontation or fighting your demons.  It's about recognizing that those demons are in all the places that fear and anger and injury dwell, thriving in the darkness of secrets and untold stories.  But if you stand before them, with the light of courage and the peace of acceptance, you can begin to dispel the darkness inside of you, the places that gives them refuge.





Friday, October 11, 2013

Resilient and Fragile

The spiritual journey requires an absolute commitment to honesty.  It requires that you strive to be as honest with yourself as you possibly can be, and to see yourself and your circumstances as clearly as you possibly can see.  Which is easier than it sounds, and it doesn't really sound so easy to begin with.

Because the thing about our own experience is that we see it first, and sometimes only, through the lens of our own understanding.  But that doesn't mean that we're seeing it in its entirety, and even very well.  How do you know you're not seeing things clearly?  When you suffer and struggle with the same thing over and over and over, beset again and again with the same feelings and frustration.  That's how you know.

It doesn't mean something is wrong with you.  It means you're missing a piece of insight or understanding or information, and the thing that's missing may be missing because seeing it, acknowledging it, accepting it, might be more painful than the suffering you're already in the middle of.

We are simultaneously resilient and fragile, and the wounds we suffer can fester deep below the surface for a long time, causing pain and weakness.  But there is a cost to living with pain, to struggling, even if we don't know that's what's happening. Like an undiagnosed illness, the impact is felt even if the cause isn't understood.

Being honest with yourself about whatever is there - the symptoms, the underlying cause, the suffering - is not just about being honest.  It's about becoming free. Because the spiritual journey is, more than anything, about harnessing your energy - spiritual, emotional, mental, physical - all of it, and using it to become the person you were born to be.  And wherever that energy is stuck or perverted or thwarted is where pain and shame and sorrow thrive.

Use honesty not as a weapon, but an instrument of healing.  Because if you've embarked on the spiritual journey, if you've undertaken this adventure, you already know you want to cultivate your potential, you want something more, for yourself, for the planet, for humanity...

Let yourself see.  Really see.  All of what's inside of you and how it has shaped you and what you have to let go of to keep moving forward.  And even if it's the hardest thing you've ever done, which it very well might be, it's the key to the next step on the journey.  The honesty - no matter how hard - lights the way on what might otherwise be a dark path.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Every Day

Start every day with a fresh idea, inspiration, or thought. We cannot satisfy hunger without food, and we cannot nourish the soul without the sustenance of truth, wisdom and insight.


Monday, September 30, 2013

Beware

Years ago, when my father passed away, a friend called, and instead of offering sympathy or comfort, she said she knew I would be fine because I knew about detachment and the eternal nature of the soul. I was not comforted by her words. Beware using the wisdom of spirituality as a weapon against others, couching useless advice in helpful terms.  The cruelty of telling someone to 'just get over it, no matter how lovely the language used, is a violation of the sacred trust of relationship. If you are offering advice, make sure it has been asked for, and then offer it only if you have lived your way fully to the heart of it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Having It All

We do such a disservice to ourselves and others by continuing to have the conversation about whether it's possible to have it all.  It is such a distraction to the more important question of whether what I cultivate, create, nurture and sustain are imbued with meaning and purpose, and reflect the sort of person I am and the life I intended.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Climbing...

The hope of the spiritual journey is not that you will be free from suffering or magically freed from facing the very real challenges of your life.  The hope is that your spiritual practice and approach will strengthen you and make you better able to face the challenges that cross your path.

Just like a climber going up a mountain doesn't expect that their training or equipment makes the climb less of a challenge, so it is on the spiritual journey.  The better a climber you are, the better your tools and equipment, the more rigorous your past climbs, the better you are able to manage what lies ahead.  And, like any practiced climber knows, after you have seen what is possible by scaling the mountain, an easy stroll on the sidewalk seems less interesting.

There is no need to go thrill seeking on the spiritual path, no need to seek the emotional and spiritual and psychological challenges that push us to the limit or test us the most.  Life itself provides an endless array of challenges.  We might be faced with unexpected loss, or change we didn't want, or the fulfilment of every dream only to find the dream empty, or the isolation of feeling stuck in our own creation, living with fear or uncertainty or boredom.  There are 10,000 ways that life challenges us.

Today, a father told me about the death of his 13-year old son by suicide, and how real the pain is all these years later; his son would be 30 today were he still alive.  And how the most helpful thing at the time was a friend who came to the visitation, didn't say a word, but embraced this man for many minutes, just holding his friend and crying with him and then letting go without ever saying a word.

And this man understood from the hug everything that words could never say: that his friend was there for him, without judgement, wanting to help but knowing that no words could help in that moment, and that he would show up and be available no matter how hard it all got.

You don't have to look far for the biggest mountain you'll ever climb....

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Suffering

The spiritual journey doesn't magically free you from suffering.  It doesn't liberate you from struggling.  You could be one of those who choose to put all their energy into transcending suffering, cultivating detachment and freedom from the complications of human existence.  But it still doesn't free you from yourself.

Even if you step away from the kind of entanglements with others that seem to obviously lead to suffering, you still have yourself to contend with at the end of the day.  You still have to wrestle with who you are and what you're about, and those answers aren't always easy or obvious or pain-free.

Sometimes the best the spiritual journey offers is the courage to honestly face yourself and accept what you encounter with as much grace as you can muster.  We have deficits, each one of us, parts of ourselves that are undernourished, underdeveloped, neglected and ignored, and we suffer ourselves, and inflict suffering on others, in so many way, large and small, because of it.  

Even when we have a clear sense of ourselves at our best, our ability to honor that best self in thoughts, words, actions and relationships, especially when circumstances are difficult, can be almost impossibly disappointing.  Disappointment that the potential that exists in ourselves and those we love can so often be betrayed by the most ordinary, mundane failings.

Anyone who tells you that suffering is illusion, that it is not real, is ignoring the reality of their own experience. There is nothing so tangibly real, nothing that roots you so completely in your own humanity, your own frailty and weakness, as suffering.  There is nothing that binds you so tightly to your humanity and nothing that can isolate you so fully as suffering.  

It is not the whole picture, but when the suffering is yours, it fills up reality with its vast presence, defining everything else in relationship to it.  And you don't walk away from it by dismissing it with spiritual philosophy.  You have to go through it.  You have to walk through the middle of it and come to terms with it and accept that suffering is part of your humanity, not the obstacle to your humanity. 

No reason that suffering has to be permanent, but it carves space into our hearts and minds and lives and demands attention, and we ignore it at our own peril.

Accept what is in front of you.  Don't embrace or hold on to it longer than necessary, but accept what is there, ask it why it has come, what it has brought, and what is now required of you.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Which Story?


The real trick in life is knowing which version of your story to believe in, to keep and to tell.  Because there's never just one version of who you are, how you got to be yourself, and how you want to share that with others.

Sometimes you reach a point where the story you were so certain reflected you the best stops working altogether.  And there's nothing to do but re-write that story, understand how events and your experience of them are knit together, unravel them, and reassemble them in a way that serves you better.

Like an old sweater made from a pattern once trendy, but now hopelessly out of date, you can re-use the yarn but re-imagine the design.  Maybe an old knit tunic becomes a scarf and hat. Maybe a vest becomes a cardigan.  Same basic elements but a completely new outcome.

What is the story from your past that has lived on past its usefulness?  What is the way you have understood yourself that keeps you feeling bad or powerless?  Who have you dismissed or included that doesn't belong in the story of your life anymore, or at least not with a starring role?  

You are not just a victim of circumstances, and no matter how influenced you are by your past, your future holds within it what you nourish and encourage and make a home for.  It's up to you, maybe more than you realize.  


Starting Anew

You don't get over a broken heart any more than you get over a broken arm. Healing comes from the inside out, and it takes time and rest and the energy of something new to begin. The break has to mend, the cells have to repair at the most minute level, with progress invisible as bones knit back together, as a solid connection forms between the broken parts, and strength starts to return.  But it is a slow process, and impatience doesn't change the pace of healing.

And so it is with the heart. Seemingly invisible healing starts to happen, the spaces opened up willingly in love, and then torn open wider in pain, begin to mend, with the heart becoming stronger, no longer just wounded and bleeding, with hope returning where there was only despair.

But - broken heart or broken arm - healing cannot be rushed, and wisdom lies in knowing that is takes the power of time to transform.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Best Thing...

Sometimes the best thing about new beginnings is beginning anew. Sounds obvious, but so often we mean to make changes, we mean for things to be different, we mean to move forward, but we get stuck trying to fix what isn't working instead.

We think about what went wrong, what didn't work, what should be instead of what is. And it's the most natural inclination in the world.  Not one to be dismissed, but also not one to be indulged until the putrefying remains of the past pollute the possibility of a fresh start.

Knowing where to leave off from the past and begin anew takes some paying attention. When sorrow outweighs joy, when tiredness outweighs energy, when confusion outweighs clarity, then you know.  You know you've used up what was there and it's time to move on, to move forward, to create something new.

And the end of what doesn't work can be the most liberating place. It frees you from holding on and trying so hard to fix what is irretrievably broken, and allows you to put all that energy into whatever is next. Because as long as you're breathing, there is a next, another chance, more possibilities ahead.

I hope your new year is full of newness, that your mind and heart are filled with lightness and joy, that the hope that was born in you finds fulfillment, and that you feel the blessing of G*d's loving presence with you at every step of your journey.





Monday, August 19, 2013

Trite Cliches

It's easy to face difficulty with cliches and trite aphorisms, like 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" or "G*d never gives us more than we can handle."  The problem is that only the barest hint of truth lies within these comforting cliches, but it's just enough to stop us from going deeper into real understanding, useful compassion.

Never be quick to dismiss the suffering of others, not with cliches or sympathy or anything really.  Because suffering is real.  It is not the only thing.  It is maybe not the most important thing.  But it is real.  And dismissing the sorrow, the loss, the grief, the struggle, the suffering of another isn't actually helpful.  It doesn't take it away or cheer someone up; it simply separates you from them, puts you on the outside of what they know to be true.

If you care for someone who is suffering, if you yourself are suffering, simply acknowledging that suffering, that struggle, that pain, can be the most compassionate act you might ever offer.  You don't have to weep or suffer along with your friend.  You don't have to feel the same pain as your loved one feels.  You don't have to pretend that you know what they're going through.  Just simply acknowledge that the pain, the suffering, the struggle is real.

No need to think it must last forever, that what is happening today is what will happen every day from now on.  But don't dismiss it.  Because maybe it will. And regardless, maybe you can't do anything to take away their sorrow, but even in the midst of their sorrow you can build a bridge to the person you care about with your love, your compassion, your understanding and your patience.

We can't always help in the lives of those we love. We can't always fix their world in the ways we might want to. We can't overcome obstacles for them.  But we can always be true to the love we feel with our honesty and our presence. And sometimes that's the only thing.


Monday, August 12, 2013

Patience is a Virtue

Why is patience such a virtue?  Because the passage of time has the potential to do what nothing else can, which is give us distance from the impact of the moments that define us for better or for worse.  It is with distance that we gain perspective, wisdom, insight and understanding.  The newness and rawness of experience need time to deepen and mellow for us to see the meaning created by experience.  Without patience and reflection, we simply lose ourselves in an endless cycle of action and reaction.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Reckoning

It is not easy to be human.  It is not easy to come to terms with our weaknesses and limitations, and the sorrow we create and inflict.  It's not easy to acknowledge the ways we do this to ourselves and to those important to us, and horrifying when we see it on a massive scale, when we learn about the ways that human beings hurt each other all over the planet in ways big and small.

You know the sorrow and suffering of your own heart, of the ways you've failed yourself or the ones you love even for understandable reasons - the ways you were failed, or neglected, the hurt and suffering inflicted on your and now passed on to others.  It's so predictable and so eternally true, that we share what we know, even when we don't want to.

But if you want that to end, if you want that cycle to stop, it's possible to change.  It's not easy.  But it's possible.  And continuing to suffer and cause suffering isn't easy either, so that's something to take into consideration.

I don't think you can do it on your own.  Or all on your own.  And the first step is a reckoning, a willingness to see the full truth of you are, who you have become, who you can be, and what you have done, however much discomfort, fear, shame or uncertainly you may feel.  The reckoning, the full tally of all of it can be overwhelming.

But pretending isn't a better alternative.  We pretend a lot.  We hope and imagine and project and dream and wait.  We want the life we can imagine, we want the dreams we've invested in.  But sometimes, real life stands in front of us and requires that we simply pay attention to what is, what exists, and what we have created, not what we wish for.

On the spiritual journey, there is really only one possible response to this reckoning, to being faced with what we hoped to avoid, and that is to embrace what is before us.  Not to equivocate or defend or explain or wish away.  It is to stand naked before it and embrace it as my own creation, and to love it, even if I know I want to change everything about it.

Because my life is my creation, even the aspects I judge and despise and reject.  It's still what I have before me and what I have to work with, and the only place I can actually start making change.

It's ok to ask for help.  I would suggest it strongly.  Start with asking G*d for that help, for humbling yourself before a Divine presence, even if you don't know what you believe about G*d.  You don't have to have a belief system or a religious tradition to know that undending and divine love, acceptance and forgiveness can help heal and restore your bruised and broken heart and your bruised and broken life and your bruised and broken relationship.  It's worth a try for sure...


Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Cost of Integrity

The price of integrity is honesty, the kind of truth and honesty that require you to dig down underneath what you think you know about yourself, and bring that essence up into your daily life, and live according to it.

Wherever you don't, wherever there is omission, denial, secrecy, or deceit, ask yourself why.  Who or what are you trying to protect?  Because we create a lot of deception in the name of protecting those we love, but really we are just protecting ourselves - protecting something or someone we don't want to lose from the fallout of telling the truth because we know that truth could equal loss.

But anything that you are maintaining at the expense of honesty is also at the expense of yourself.  Because where there is deception, there is an energetic suck, a place where your intention and your thoughts, words or actions are out of line.  And wholeness, integrity, depends on alignment between these aspects of the self.

It's like plumbing pipes.  Even if most of the pipe connections are solid and strong, just one small leak will compromise the entire system.  One small joint where two ends are out of alignment is enough to wreak havoc on otherwise well-functioning plumbing.  But any homeowner can tell you that even one small little leak, one small break, one small fitting out of alignment, can cost everything.

You can convince yourself all of the good and helpful reasons for not being honest, or completely honest, but with every instance of deceit, you are simply creating more unsustainable structures in your life, more places of potential sorrow, because you know what can happen if the secret is revealed.  And if it is, it will be so much worse for having made it a secret in the first place.

I'm not saying it's easy. And some times are harder than others. And sometimes the cost of honesty is high. But so is the cost of deceit. But at the end of the day, all you have is who you are, and if you're serious about the spiritual journey, of facing and confronting the challenges of being human, this is one challenge you simply can't shy away from.

Use discretion and sensitivity. Honesty isn't a license to hurt people.  And even AA says apologize and make amends except where to do so would cause more harm. But take an unflinching look at yourself.  Who have you lied to, about what, and why?  And is this how you want to continue? Or do you want to be a person of integrity and wholeness, someone who is honest because that's simply the kind of human being you choose to be.

And if you find there are lies in your life that you don't want, even if you can't fix them right away, ask yourself why you're willing to live a life that requires dishonesty.  Why are you willing to deceive to get someone or something you want, and what does that say about you?  That kind of dishonesty is just selfishness or immaturity, or a combination of both, no?.  Lying to the Nazis to hide Anne Frank?  Different kind of lie for a different reason.  But you know the difference, don't you? The good news? It's always the right time to do the right thing.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Habit, Part 3

I don't have a scientific study with statistics to prove this, but using my own experience as a guide, the biggest obstacle and the most critical step in changing habit is thinking differently.  It's the slight change in thinking that says to take a second longer than I'm used to, a second longer than my habitual approach to whatever I'm struggling with, and in that one second, change can happen.

The one second isn't just breaking the old habit; it's the new habit that I'm starting.  That one second, or 5 or 10, disrupts the pattern that happens now without any thinking whatsoever, and all I need is a little hint, a little reminder, to get started.

What's that little reminder for you that says take just a second and think about what you're doing before you do it?  For me, it is literally reminding myself that habit requires change, and that if I'm unhappy with my habit, if my habit isn't serving me, no matter what kind of habit, this one second is the most important action I can take to begin and sustain that change.

I remind myself that no matter how hard it is at this moment, it's going to get easier and easier each time I honor that change.  And in the middle of struggle, remembering that things can actually get easier matters -hugely.  It matters that I'm moving closer to being the person I envision, that I'm proud of and content with how I'm behaving, and that I don't have shame or disappointment shadowing me.

It's not always easy, and I'm not always successful, but moving ever closer toward real and sustained change satisfies deeply.  There's such liberation in knowing that I'm more than a victim of deep, old habits, especially those created in response to my environment from even before I could make clear decisions.

If we're lucky, we have wise, understanding adults guiding us through the challenges of growing up.  But so much of the time, we are shaped by moments that we experience and process alone, and we are left to figure out how to care for ourselves, how to interact in ways that feel safe and secure. But those coping skills I developed as a child fail in the more nuanced world of adults.  I'm not a small child, and I'm not dealing with childhood circumstances.  So if my habits are that old, that unconscious, then for sure it's time to make some real changes, time to overcome some old habits.

So I'm trying to stay wide awake, to notice what is right in front of my face, and the obvious meaning in the obvious things..  There is subtle and hidden meaning, but there is also so much that is so obvious that we miss its meaning because we're so used to seeing it.  Sometimes the most invisible thing is the one you're so used to seeing that you don't even notice it's there. Pay attention.  I am.  And it's making a difference.







Monday, July 15, 2013

How Many Steps Does It Take?

Coming to the end of yourself can be an incredible blessing.  As long as you rely on your own limited resources - your own knowledge, experience, talents, skills, understanding, expertise - your capacity is defined by those things.  And they may take you far, as far as you want to go.

But sometimes they don't.  Sometimes you reach the absolute limits of your capacity, of your ability to manage your own creation, and it's unsustainable, shaking at its foundation and either falling down around you, or just waiting to.  I don't know which is scarier: impending destruction or its aftermath.

I do know that reaching the end of your own capacity, your own answers, your own ability to manage what you've created, is the beginning of liberation, of freeing yourself from your shortcomings, your weaknesses, your mistakes. It doesn't mean you don't have to face the consequences of your creation, or that you are somehow free from the responsibility for what you've done, but it's a great starting point for building something new.

You don't try to re-build a burning house while it's still burning.  You wait until the fire is out and the destruction and damage are done, and then you begin to re-build.  So if your life is in ruins, if you are standing among the ashes, understand where you are, that you have lost what was unsustainable, and now it's time to consider who you are and what you want in its place.

This is no way diminishes the reality of the loss, the pain of destruction, the toll of everything that is gone. Some say that suffering is an illusion, but what is more real and more immediate than pain?  We are so motivated by pain - escaping it, avoiding it, numbing it, working around it....  And especially in the moment, saying that devastation is a blessing may seem cavalier and insensitive.  But please know that the end of what you know isn't the end of everything that is.

If you're reading this, maybe you've reached the end - of yourself, of some situation, of a relationship, of something that you had invested in but never did belong to you.  Maybe you've reached the end of something you never wanted to end or has ended unfairly or unjustly or incomprehensibly.  Or maybe you want a new beginning, but don't know how to find the end.  However you've gotten here though - here you are.

So many of us have come to the end or ourselves, and thankfully, those who have come before us left a trail of crumbs to help us find our way to the next place.  I haven't dealt with addiction personally, but the 12 Steps from Alcoholics Anonymous are 12 very good steps, starting with surrender, with admitting, acknowledging and accepting that you've gotten to the end of yourself.  And then taking some steps to go beyond yourself and into something bigger - much bigger - than just yourself.  I've listed them below, with a couple of modifications:

1. Admit you are powerless—that your life has become unmanageable.
2. Believe that a Power greater than yourself could restore you.
3. Make a decision to turn your will and your life over to the care of God as you understand Him.
4. Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself.
5. Admit to God, to yourself, and to another human being the exact nature of your situation/wrongs.
6. Be entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly ask Him to remove your shortcomings.
8. Make a list of all persons you have harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continue to take personal inventory and when wrong, promptly admit it.
11. Seek through prayer and meditation to improve your conscious contact with God, as you understand Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for you and the power to carry that out.
12. Have a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, try to practice these principles in all our affairs.
You don't have to be dealing with addiction or abuse for these to be helpful. Many of these steps are identical ones I've taken in my own life leading to the most important and profound transformations I've experienced.  Turning within and taking full responsibility for your life alters the way you understand yourself and especially yourself in relation to your circumstances and relationships. Admitting that you don't have unlimited power, and that you need help from something beyond yourself is both scary and simultaneously liberating.  And you may be sad and in pain as you go through this process, but you will never be sorry for it.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Habit, Part 2

Here's what I know for sure.  Habits, and the mechanism that creates habits, is very real and very powerful.  And while habits may define aspects of your life, of your thoughts, words, and actions, they are not you.  You are so much more than that.  You are an amazing soul with great potential, who maybe has developed some bad habits, but those habits aren't your destiny.

Old, deep habits are hard to break.  The older they are, the harder they are to change, and I'm not sure if the pull of old habits ever really goes away all together.  But when you fill yourself with power - your essential, pure self - through meditation or prayer or another spiritual practice, then you can see how much easier it is to change, and especially to create new habits that better honor who you truly are.

If you spend all your time trying to break habits, all your time trying to fix the old stuff, you don't have enough energy to build the new. And building the new...new habits, new attitudes, new understanding...all that is the key to real change.  Real change doesn't come from fighting the old; it comes from creating something new.

I can see for myself all the ways that habits developed from times in my life when I was reacting to my environment as best I could, but not very well.  And these habits have a very deep hold in my life. They aren't the best habits, and they don't serve me so well now, but I can see how strongly embedded in me they are.  The more clearly I see them, the less power they have.  Not because I'm spending time fighting them, but because I'm spending a lot of time getting to know what I want instead and taking steps to build that.

Connect to G*d, to the source of all virtue and spiritual quality, and let that strength become your own. Turn within, even if just for a moment, and notice what's inside of you, away from the roles you play and the distractions of your life. Let that strength lift and inspire you right out of the rut of old habits. Stop trying to do the impossible, which is dig yourself out of a hole.  Harness all your enthusiasm and creativity to begin forming the kind of habits that are the basis for the life you want.

It takes some time and some focus and some energy, but it's so worth the effort.  Plant the seed of new habits now.  They will grow and bear such sweet and succulent fruit in your life.  What takes real effort now will become second nature soon enough.  So instead of feeling bad about everything you're not, spend some time, starting right now, paying attention to all that you are, all your good qualities and your endless potential.

Then pick one thing, and build on that,  And if you can't find one thing on your own, then ask someone who loves you to tell you at least one thing about yourself.  And if you can't find that person, then ask someone who knows you well.  And if you can't find that person, then just sit with an open mind and an open heart, and ask G*d to show you who you are and all the amazing gifts with which you've been entrusted.  Because He will.  G*d will reveal your own beauty and value to you in ways you maybe only hoped for.  And that's the start of something amazing, something you can really begin to build on.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Circadian Rhythms

The body moves in rhythmic cycles, physical energy ebbing and flowing, like the tide, raising and lowering according to time and temperature and light and all sorts of indicators that cause us to respond to our environment.  We respond with hunger or sleepiness or alertness or emotion.  Every day our circadian rhythms, the biological and physiological cycle,  informs and influences how we engage with the world.

And there are spiritual rhythms - spiritual cycles - as well.  As Ecclesiastes/Koheleth so well puts it, "Everything has an appointed season, and there is a time for every matter under heaven."  A time to be born and a time to die; a time to sow and a time to reap; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to be silent and a time to speak.

We can each feel our own internal physical rhythms, but how aware are we of the spiritual rhythms?  Of the pull into silence and solitude and contemplation?  Of the pull inviting exploration to develop the gifts with which G*d has entrusted us?  Of the pull seeking a new way to understand old problems?  The soul pulls us toward the places needing attention, just like sleepiness pulls us toward rest each night.  And we ignore the pull of either sleepiness or spiritual renewal at our own peril.

Next time you feel the internal pull, give it a try.  Disengage, even for a little while, from everything that seems so pressing, and see what that pull is pulling you toward.  Like our circadian rhythms that give us cues and clues about how to successfully navigate our physical world., the spiritual rhythms tell us when to start or when to stop; when to face or when to withdraw; when to engage or when to detach; when to push forward and when to retreat.

In the ocean of life, these rhythms are the waves, carrying on them and between them and below them the meaning and wisdom that we need.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Habit: Part 1

The one absolute truism that no belief system can change, that no amount of desire or discipline can change, is that humans are habit-forming creatures.  The question is never if you will form habits, it's only a matter of which thoughts and behaviors will become habits, and how and what to do about the ones you already have.


Habit is a beautiful thing.  This internal mechanism guarantees that our thoughts and behaviors will become second-nature.  That is, we only have to exert conscious influence about something for a short period of time before our subconscious and unconscious take over.  Hold a thought, or perform an action enough times, and all decision-making disappears.  You begin to think the thought or perform the action quite literally without thinking about it.

Like your morning routine.  How much thought do give to what happens after awaking in the morning?  For most of us, not much.  Get up, have coffee, take a shower...  And the more thought we have to give, the more complex the activity and routine, the more stress we feel because we have to engage our conscious mind to make decisions around routines that we typically rely on habit to complete.  

If you add checking email to that routine, or getting the kids ready for school, or making lunch before you leave for work, you begin to add decision-making into the mix, and what was simple habit becomes more complex.  Instead of simple acting out of habit, you have to think, decide and execute.  

Staying consciously engaged can be exhausting, and we human beings have a finite capacity for that kind of engagement.  We have a certain amount of energy available for thinking about decisions, and most of that energy is used in pretty routine ways, so an added burden to that energetic load is significant.  It's why we forget to do easy things, like pick up milk, or deposit the check, or anything else that might be out of the ordinary.  Because if it's not a habit, if we have to think about it, we just might not have the extra energy for one more thing that day.

Human beings succeed in simplicity, and we fail in complexity.  And it's simple math that we do.  This isn't  about intelligence or mental capacity or intellectual complexity.  This is about how human beings use energy.  And the more we can rely on this marvelous mechanism of habit to steer us positively, the fewer choices we have to make about how to think, act, and behave, so the greater the chance that we'll succeed at being the kind of person we want to be.

There is no secret to long-term success at any endeavor.  It's simply this: make it a habit.  Whatever it is, make it a habit, or you will not be able to sustain your effort.  If you want to have more peace of mind, make your spiritual practice a habit.  If you want to lose weight, make your new eating plan a habit.  If you want to read more and watch less TV, make it a habit.

You can try every other kind of approach; you can try overcoming bad habits with the sheer force of your willpower, but whatever success you have doing that will end the minute you face one more decision in your day, a little bit of tiredness, or a change in routine that throws you off your game.  Success depends on most of your decisions being simple and habitual so you have enough energy to think about the big stuff when it comes along, and make good decisions when you have to.

If you are using all that decision-making energy just to figure out what to have for dinner, or what to wear to work, then you've got nothing left when you really need it.  And that's why we fail in complexity.  Because daily life demands a lot of us, and always more than we're expecting, and multiple demands overwhelm our capacity.  It's not a human failing.  It's just how it goes.

Stay tuned for the next installment about habit, when we explore how spiritual practice enhances our habit-forming capacity and enables it to really work on our behalf.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Conversation About G*d

The conversation about G*d is not the same as relationship with G*d.  The conversation about meaning is not the same as meaning.  The conversation about purpose and significance is not the same thing as purpose and significance.  The conversation about love is not love.

Words are important.  They can get us to agreed upon meaning.  They can open up symbols and ideas that we have no access to otherwise.  But they can also be barriers.  They can also be walls.  The loudness of the words, the power and strength of the stories we're so convinced are truth, can stand in the way of the real truth revealed only through silence or love or relationship.

The conversation about a thing is not the thing itself.  No matter how smart the conversation is.  A review of a movie isn't a movie.  A recipe isn't a meal.  A romance novel isn't a relationship.  Beware the very human temptation to conflate words and ideas with the thing itself.  

Go beyond words and into the depth of real meaning, to the place of pure soundless energy, to the experience itself, not the description of the experience.  It might take some time to get used to this approach, but we're actually pretty well designed for it.  The need for constant distraction is mostly habit anyway.  Give yourself some time and see if it doesn't start getting easier.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Waking Up...

Have the feeling of waking up from a dream after a very long time...and that sense that everything that was very real in the dream is receding faster than my memory can hold on to it.

Hitting the Wall

There are moments along the spiritual journey when you feel you've hit an absolute wall,  you're certain you can go no further, and that perhaps your journey so far has been in vain.  It's that moment when your energy reserves are non-existent, and you are tired and discouraged and your heart and mind and body hurt, and you simply want to stop and rest and find a way out.

But it's right at this point that you have to keep moving forward, that you can't simply stop and rest and put aside all the work you've done.  Because it is right at that moment, when the old isn't working but you haven't yet discovered the new, that the very thing you need most becomes available.

There is something sort of chemical about the change that we encounter at certain critical junctures.  We have to immerse ourselves in experience and stay there until, like a good soup, the ingredients come together with depth and richness and flavor.  If you stop the cooking early, the goodness you were working towards cannot be reached.  And, on the spiritual journey, if you halt the process because you're gotten to a place of discomfort, and you let the discomfort define you, then you've just missed the opportunity to move through and then beyond that discomfort.

Don't overestimate discomfort as an indicator of success or failure.  Don't get stuck on discomfort as the only measure of progress.  Go deeper, beneath and below the discomfort, and see if the seeds of newness haven't begun to take root, if there isn't something new and wonderful emerging in the midst of the overwhelm.  

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Arrogance of Being Humble

It's easy to get arrogant on the spiritual journey, to think that your efforts and attempts at self-improvement and intentional growth put you in some special category, and confer upon you some special wisdom.

It's easy to think that the humility you've acquired makes you more special than those paying no attention, that those with no personal insight or value for self-reflection aren't working hard enough.  It's easy to set yourself apart, to see your work as worth more than the mundane stuff others are doing all around you.

But you can be absolutely certain that if you feel this kind of self-satisfaction, that you have been waylaid upon the spiritual journey, and taken an alluring but deceptive detour.  Because real satisfaction on the spiritual journey doesn't come from comparing yourself to anyone else.  It comes from contentment, the internal sense of being satisfied, not with your efforts, but with yourself, not with how you are trying to change, but with how you are.

Work hard on your journey.  Don't get lazy and complacent.  But if your spiritual journey is as full of ambition and competition and judgement as your daily life, then you're just pretending at being on the spiritual journey.  The rewards of the spiritual journey are invisible, at least for a while, and almost always impossible to describe until you get some maturity around them.  The rewards that you want to scream and shout about aren't the true rewards; the significance of the spiritual journey is better communicated in silence than screaming.

So relax and recognize who you are - who you really are - and stop fighting it all the time.  Judgement, anger, contempt, irritation, disgust, sorrow - so much of this is the shadow of us rejecting ourselves, wishing we were someone or something else, using the spiritual journey as a way to gain peace at the expense of self-acceptance.  

Monday, May 27, 2013

I Have to do What?!?

On the spiritual journey, positive thinking isn't nearly enough.  Positive thinking is a good place to start, but it's just that - a starting place.  The people who tell you to think positively and that everything will come your way have done precious little observing reality.

How many people do you know who wanted the right job, the right gig, the right partner, and had an incredibly positive attitude, and even worked hard - really hard - to make their dreams come true?  And the dream didn't come true?  Because it doesn't work that way, that you just hold an idea in your mind and it comes true. Life isn't like that.

Thinking positively helps.  And acting positively is even more important. And thinking and acting powerfully is even more important than that.  And even then, even with positive thoughts, words and actions, and even with powerful thoughts, words and actions, there's no guarantee that you'll get what you're hoping for.

Because the spiritual journey isn't about setting and reaching goals, about finding the right technique to ensure that the Universe or the gods, or whatever it is that you're trying to bend to your will, will bend the way you want.  The spiritual journey is about going deeper that your own limited vision of possibilities for your life, and seeing reality beyond what you want, or desire or have imagined.

The Law of Attraction says visualize something you want so clearly that you can't help but attract it to yourself.  But there are possibilities you may never have considered awaiting you, and if you can't see beyond your own desires, you will miss the truly amazing stuff.

Stop holding on to the details of your plans, of all the ways you're certain your life is supposed to unfold, and judging yourself on the basis of these ideas.  If you're serious about the spiritual journey, the first thing you learn to let go of is certainty, and you will find incredible grace in the fear and uncertainty and vulnerability.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Theory of Not Quite Everything

The Theory of Everything seeks to reconcile and connect various constructs of theoretical physics.  I understand the impetus to create connection across borders and boundaries where connection seems inevitable, even if not obvious.

I've been reading Radical Judaism: Rethinking God and Tradition, in which Rabbi Arthur Green seeks to reconcile the Theory of Evolution with Jewish theology.  It's a massive undertaking, though I can imagine the urge to reconcile the various competing ideas that fight for the right to be called true.  But I'm not sure that's really possible.  And even more so, I'm not sure it's necessary.

As Robert Pirsig wrote in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," "Metaphysics is a restaurant where they give you a thirty thousand page menu, and no food."  In my experience, the answers are simple, not complex.  Human life, human thought, human endeavor is full of complexity, but most of our answers, most of our meaning, comes from great simplicity.

Real comfort doesn't typically come from the latest metaphysical manifestos, papers or treatises, but instead comes from the touch of a loved one, the embrace of those who know and love and accept us, the shared laughter of friends, the ancient connections of family.  When we suffer loss, we often need nothing more than companionable silence, and when we celebrate, we want to be with those who care the most.

A philosophy, an ideology, a theology won't begin to soothe the soul in either joy or sorrow, and it is in the places of joy and sorrow that we are all alike.  It is in joy and sorrow and ordinary experience that we are most alike, that our similarities transcend the complexities of over-thinking.  And I think it's in these places of ordinary human experience that we are designed to connect with G*d, where our humanity meets divinity and can be transformed.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Rhythms of Life

While the pace of life might have changed, the rhythms of life never do.  They are unchanged for thousands of years, from time immemorial, when our foremothers and forefathers began the traditions and customs and rituals that surround these rhythms, giving them meaning and purpose and context.

While we may despair of the institutions that have arisen around these traditions and customs, and while the meaning of these traditions and customs may seem buried beneath the weight of time and history, there are moments in the rhythm of life where nothing but ritual, nothing but tradition and custom and community can soothe the soul in just the way it needs.

The Jewish custom of Shiva around death offers so much comfort. Shiva is designed to acknowledge the special time that loss creates, and give it form and structure so that we know how to help and comfort when there is so little comfort to offer.  It is designed to soothe the grieving and to give those who are desperate to help a way to do so. 

It is designed to remind each of us that we don't, in fact, come into this world alone, and we don't leave alone either.  Part of the custom is that the body of the deceased is never left alone, but instead it is prayed over and watched over, and it is a sacred obligation to bury our dead with dignity and care.  And to allow the grieving to be alone with their loss, and then to be comforted in their loss. 

And there is a time limit on the grieving.  7 days, and then 30 days, and then 11 months maximum, and that's only for certain situations.  But not longer than that, because life is full of sorrow, but it is also full of joy, and we are not designed to stay in sorrow and miss the joy.  In fact, joy takes precedence over sorrow, because there will always be sorrow, but we must be sure to celebrate joy when it appears.

There is so much wisdom in these traditions, so much comfort and care woven into them.  Because when death occurs, there is a physiological reality, a shock to the mind, body and spirit, that requires ritual, a choreography of how we behave with each other, when we otherwise have no idea what to do.

The choreography can feel a little foreign if you're not used to it, but even if it feels a little foreign,  it's still comforting, and it puts you square in the middle of all of humanity who has also suffered devastating loss, and gone through the same grief, and needed the same comfort. It's a blessing to have someone explain what we do and how we do it and why we do it, when NOTHING is making sense otherwise. 

One of the greatest kinds of isolation in our very modern and fast-paced world is that we have to make our own meaning.  We have the freedom to do so, but we are not all equally good at creating customs and rituals and traditions that contain the depth of meaning we need when we need it most.  It's a lot to ask of  ourselves, to find common meaning and connection, and to have to figure out how to do this at the time of our greatest need.

I am happy to rest on the sands of time for the tried-and-true in my moment of need.  I am happy to have a community around me that moves to the rhythm of life, not just the pace of life, that understands that we need to mark time and transition and find significance in doing so.  It's one of the human essentials, to mark the passage of time, the rhythms of life, the moments of meaning, and give them their proper due.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

It's All About Relationship


We human beings, in our very flawed and ordinary humanity, have a capacity for relationship with G*d built into us, in the EXACT space of flawed and ordinary humanity.  Complexity, intellectual sophistication, and study are not prerequisites for experiencing that relationship.  The most simple-minded and unsophisticated of us are equally well designed to connect with the love and peace and comfort offered through relationship with G*d, and it is often in our over-complication of theological constructs that we distance ourselves from that relationship.

Overthink any relationship and the relationship suffers; it's not different in relationship with G*d.  The need to to reconcile competing truth claims about the nature of G*d deserves the attention it gets.   I'm just not sure if that's THE central consideration.  For example, while beliefs about love and marriage and partnership are significant, they're not what makes you actually fall in love and want to build a relationship.  They are connected, but they are not the same.  

You can believe all sorts of things about love, like you'll never fall in love or never want to get married, and then you meet someone who changes everything you believed.  Not because you have new information that changes your understanding, but because you have a new experience of love, and that experience is more powerful than a set of ideas.

In exploring the world through ideas, it is invariably the poets that speak truth to me more than the philosophers.  The philosophers offer a lot of information, ideas and approaches, but the poets reveal dimensions of truth and meaning and feeling.  I find that the philosophical approach connects me not to G*d, but to human ideas about G*d, which  is something different entirely. 

Meditative practice isn't about emptying the mind.  It is about refining our thoughts and feelings, and the frequency on which we operate, so that we can be open to receiving G*d's ongoing revelelation in our own lives.  Because it's in the place where ideas and experience meet that human life unfolds in its most meaningful way.




Monday, May 6, 2013

Face It

A contemplative approach is no substitute for taking action..  Sitting in meditation, calming the heart and mind, slowing thoughts and breath, and moving into a place of less reaction is absolutely great stuff.  It might be just exactly what you need at the moment you need it.

But if you're doing that instead of facing what must be faced, if you're trying to still your mind instead of having that difficult conversation or dealing with that situation, then you're mis-using the gift of spirituality.  The gift(s) around spirituality enable you to transform your internal landscape so that you're more effective in dealing with your circumstances and relationships, not to assist you in avoiding them.

As one of my favorite authors, Robert Pirsig, wrote, "The only Zen you find on the top of the mountain is the Zen you bring up there."  If you are retreating from a tricky situation, gird yourself with a peaceful state of mind and venture into that trickiness with your own purity and simplicity, maybe refusing to play along with the trickiness, but not refusing to engage where you need to engage.

Spiritual practice is about filling yourself with all the power available to the human soul, and going out and spreading it around, elevating and uplifting yourself first, and then everything in your path.  Use the right tool in the right way at the right time.  Face what you must face when you must face it.  

The power to face a situation isn't the only tool we have, but often the first one we abandon in the spiritual search. We confuse facing difficulty with creating strife or conflict.  But facing difficulty is simply having the courage to acknowledge what is in front of us with sincerity and honesty, and addressing it with respect and compassion.  

It doesn't have to be bigger or smaller than that.  No extra drama or minimizing the situation is required to mitigate what really is.  And when you do finally face what's been right in front of you all the time, even if you're clumsy or awkward in doing so, you will feel the full breeze of lightness float up in you, and the release of a heaviness that you are not well designed to carry.  And you can be sure that if you are ready to confront yourself, then you are ready for the rest of it too.  

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Overthinking

You know that feeling of getting stuck on a concern and going over and over and over it again and again in your mind? The way you imagine every possible scenario and outcome associated with it, hearing every conversation in your mind, playing out every fear to its awful conclusion?  And how upset and tired and unhappy you end up?  Over-thinking like this comes from fear and anxiety, but ultimately, it creates fear and anxiety.

When you're caught up in that sort of vicious cycle, of thinking and over-thinking, of using your imagination destructively, creating negative scenarios in your mind, you're feeding the habit of over-thinking, feeding anxiety and insecurity and uncertainty.  Which is so easy to do.  They have voracious appetites, and will feed off of whatever tidbit you give them.

And then they come back, demanding more and more, and, like the parasites they are, they start feeding off your happiness, destroying your contentment  and getting you to question everything you know.  Or think you know.  They feed off uncertainty, so if the only thing you are certain about is how potentially awful everything, including yourself, might be, then you're letting your imagination run wild, and feeding into the anxiety, which feeds into the uncertainty...

How to stop it?  First, recognize the pattern.  So much of over-thinking comes from nurturing the habit. And it's easy to do.  We think so hard about ways to protect ourselves so that we don't make mistakes or get hurt.  And if we've done this before, then we're doubly concerned with making sure we don't repeat mistakes.  So we look for patterns in ourselves, in others, in our circumstances, to give us clues and signs about how we're doing and how things are going.

But rarely is life so clear, so we question what the clues and signs mean, and wonder if they are clues and signs at all, and, if they're not, then what?  Then what do we use as a guidepost for our decisions and judgments when we already know we can't rely on ourselves? And, if you're tired or hungry or grumpy on top of all this over-thinking, then there's a good chance you're making bad decisions.

After you recognize the pattern, make sure you're not hungry or tired or grumpy.  If you are, eat or rest or go for a walk.  Get yourself back to a better place in an easy way.  And then, once you see the pattern, and realize you can't just blame it on a dip in your blood sugar, take that same energy you're using to spin around in circles about someone or something, and turn its spotlight full on you.

What is the fear or anxiety or uncertainty that's fueling this spinning around in circles?  You don't have to explore every psychological component, or discover the root of every feeling you have going back to childhood.  Just ask yourself what it's about, and have the courage to answer honestly.  Are you trying to protect yourself from getting hurt?  Are you distancing yourself from someone or something that you don't have the courage to face?  Are you distracting yourself from something requiring real action?

You know the right answer.  What matters is that you are honest.  Because when you are honest, when you admit and acknowledge what's at the heart of it, what's in your heart, there is a sudden peace and quiet internally.  There is an identification of reality and an acceptance of your own responsibility for the chaos you've created in your mind.  It doesn't mean you always know what to do or how to do it, or even when, but it frees you from tying yourself up in knots about the imaginary and illusory and immaterial and gets you to pay attention to you.

Sometimes you have to do this over and over, creating a new habit to replace the old one of over-thinking.  And that's okay  Because it takes time.  If you're trying to protect yourself from getting hurt, or over-thinking some scenario because the last time you experienced something like this, it turns out you were naive and too trusting and it ended badly, then you do need to protect yourself and take care of yourself, and watch out for your safety emotionally and spiritually and maybe financially or in whatever way you need.

But you don't have to rely on anxiety and crazy-making worry and over-thinking as your protection because there is no protection in worry and over-thinking.  You just have the illusion that you are doing something, but all you are doing is wearing yourself down, and the part of you that can think and judge well, the part that you really need to count on, is weaker from all the overwork and distraction.  And the part of you that needs comfort and care is having to pick up the slack, which it isn't designed to do.

You can handle the truth.  You can handle it at least as well as what you're spinning out in your mind.  And with the truth comes clarity, even if there's some pain too.  But with over-thinking, you have all the pain without the benefit of truth or clarity.  So instead of spending so much energy spinning around, spend just a little time asking yourself the really hard questions you're been avoiding and see what answers you get.  And then, take a deep breath, and keep moving forward.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

How It Works

Here's the scenario that makes the meditative yoga I practice makes sense.  It goes like this.  Human beings are souls residing in physical bodies.  And because our spiritual energy is tethered to the physical world, like all things in the physical world, we lose power and strength over time.  We get tired, and we have to get rest and refreshment to function well.  This is true both physically and spiritually.

We know about getting a good night's sleep or eating healthy on the physical side.  On the spiritual side is meditation.  There's the kind of meditation where you let your mind rest, your thoughts slow and relax.  But there are other approaches as well.  There's the kind of meditation that not only allows you to rest, but actually connects you to a source of energy that restores you to your original positive and powerful spiritual qualities.

The idea is this: G*d is the source of all spiritual virtues and qualities, like love and peace and compassion and generosity, and connecting to that source, to G*d, enables you to fill yourself with those qualities as well.  And once you fill yourself up, these qualities become yours to share.  We know how awfully we can behave when we're hungry and tired, and we can see the impact of spiritual depletion all around us.  So many of us are drained of the energy we need to be our best, or even our good selves, and instead we act bratty and self-indulgent.

Imagine you are a light bulb, designed to shine and illuminate darkness.  You are made to radiate light, the light of the soul, but you have no energy source, no place to plug yourself in.  How bright does a light without a power source shine?  It doesn't.  Not because it can't but because it needs a connection to do so.  And we are the same.  We are designed for that connection.  It's the most natural thing in the world.  But we are used to the darkness - our own and that of others.  We are used to trying to shine, but failing, blamings our own shortcomings, but really all we need is the connection.

Spiritual work, spiritual practice, is a lot of common sense, a lot of simple effort around plugging yourself in the source, eliminating the distractions that keep you from doing that, and giving yourself a chance to fully illuminate in the way you are designed.  Your effort is just to make yourself available and capable of receiving what you actually require to shine as brightly as you were made to do.

You can complicate this.  You can question if you have the capacity to shine, or the ability to connect, or spend all your time analyzing why you haven't done that up 'till now.  Or you can just get on with this, with creating some new habits and practices around filling yourself with spiritual light, and letting it illuminate whatever darkness surrounds you.

You don't have to have it all figured out to give it a try.  Just start somewhere.  You don't have to know the science of light, or electricity or optics.  That's just another excuse to not get started, that you have to understand everything before you can move forward.  But you already know how good it feels to be at your best, to feel refreshed and capable of meeting even the toughest of life's challenges with confidence, compassion and clarity.  And if you don't, I'm sure you've imagined it, because this is what we can be.

Give yourself a chance to be your best, and see how good it feels.  Instead of fighting all the negativity, all your limitations and shortcomings and weaknesses, begin to develop your strength.  Y'know - it's like switching on a light.  You don't have to think about how to light up the room; you just have to flip the switch and the magic happens.