Archive | October, 2013

The Poetry of Pausing

29 Oct

This evening while talking with a colleague before our dinner arrived, I suddenly felt flooded with exhaustion. Jet lag and the demands of my current schedule had caught up with me. As our waiter set down our plates and stepped away, I turned to my companion and asked, “Do you mind if I say grace?” I never want to impose my religious beliefs on anyone but in that moment I just needed to pause and center. “Of course not,” she replied. So I closed my eyes and for a minute said, “Thank you.” As soon as I did I felt peace start to flow through my cells again.

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We live in a world that operates at an ever increasing pace. If we’re not careful, we can feel like we’re running a race every minute of the day.

Something about honing in on gratitude helps moderate imbalance. How could I have not stopped and expressed thanks for the beautiful meal we were served? How could I not have acknowledged the blessing when others are starving and here was bounty?

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Religion has become such a point of contention amongst people that we as a society no longer really say grace. But one doesn’t have to be of a particular religion to realize that some have abundance where others have none.

I had momentarily forgotten the poetry of pausing. The peace that passes beyond understanding. And how much saying, “Thank you,” out loud brings me back to matters of primary importance. May I never get so caught up in my own ridiculousness that I lose clarity of vision and forget to express my gratitude.

Embracing Complexity

25 Oct

When I was a young girl I read a book called The Mists of Avalon that described the island associated with mystical practices in the Arthurian legend. In the story I was struck by the fact that in order to get to Avalon, one had to part through a veil of mist that kept Avalon hidden from the day-to-day world. To lift the mist, a person had to have the ability to navigate between various physical and spiritual realms. Without a doubt this stirred my imagination about what might be on the other side of reality in the realm of the subliminal, supernatural and/or spiritual.

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Regardless of one’s beliefs (or lack of), there is so much about the Universe we don’t understand. What is happening in the galaxies or when cells divide or when a flower’s petals fall to the ground and new blossoms appear in their place? And how is one to make sense of all of this? These questions are not unusual when we witness death in our lives. Thus for me, one of the surprising blessings that came after my mom died was a budding awareness that life may very well extend beyond what I perceive in my day-to-day reality.

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I was not raised seeped in religion. I didn’t necessarily perceive heaven as a place one would travel to after death, yet I didn’t dismiss this idea either. What I sensed prior to my mom’s death was that multiple dimensions of spiritual reality co-exist with our day-to-day experience but that we are often grossly out of touch with these realms. When meditating or during highly lucid moments of concentration, I sometimes sensed a type of Avalon existing side by side our world. And if we but opened ourselves to this other sphere, the veil separating us would lift.

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When my mom died, it felt like that very veil was lifted for a few weeks. My perception of God seemed illuminated, which surprised me greatly as I was not looking for religious solace to heal my wounds. And yet despite this, the spiritual world felt deeply palpable to me. The peace and beauty I perceived intermittently while grieving my mom’s death felt like glimpses of Eden here on earth despite the fact that I had just lost my mother. Death seemed to heighten this spiritual awareness. Transformation took on vast implications.

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The world is vastly mysterious. When I focus my mind on this the petty worries of the here and now shrink in size as I conceptualize something far greater than me operating behind the scenes. It’s not that my life is meaningless in this larger schema. Rather, it’s a part of it and I don’t have to understand all the minute details.

I have come to believe that heaven and earth co-exist. While we are definitely not living in Eden for the world is fraught with pain and evil, fragments of the Kingdom are here now, being inaugurated. Where there is love, God exists. Each time I witness an act of human kindness, I see fragments of heaven.

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Years ago I had an art teacher from Europe who used to say in his thick accent, “If you analyze a painting, you kill it. You take its beauty and power away. Sometimes you have to just let it be.” The same could be said of life’s enormous complexity. As much as we want to nail down our understanding of it, this is impossible. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I don’t want a simple God and I don’t want concrete answers. Instead I want to ponder the beauty and mystery inherent in all life forms. I want to hear the echo of transformation, a refrain playing through the caverns of my soul like a saxophonist’s music bouncing off the subway walls.

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Prioritizing Our Moments

24 Oct

There is a poignant story in the Gospel about two sisters, Martha and Mary who invite Jesus to their home. While busy preparing food for Jesus and his disciples, Martha becomes frustrated with her sister Mary who is not helping in the kitchen. Instead, she sits at the Lord’s feet listening to him. Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But Jesus answers saying, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

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I find these words so piercing yet compassionate as Jesus basically tells Martha to slow down and breathe. How many of us need to hear this as a reminder that we’re losing perspective on what really matters? I remember a moment in my life when it seemed a similar message was telegraphed to me. I was working as a nanny for three boys in Marin California right across the Golden Gate Bridge. I had just graduated college and balanced caring for the boys with cooking and light housekeeping duties. One day the kids were just dying to show me something but I was caught up with dinner preparations. As they approached me asking if I could come look at whatever it was they were doing, my knee jerk response was, “Not now.” Yet as I looked into their eager faces so full of excitement to share with me, I checked myself. What was I doing that was so urgent? “Only one thing is necessary…”

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In a society that puts great value on work and productivity, it can be easy to lose sight of what really matters. We wear our busy schedules like badges of honor and almost seem to boast when we don’t have time to eat lunch or spend time with loved ones. But for those of us who have experienced great loss, part of the healing process is to realize that these things matter. A child looking up expectantly at us, an animal longing to be petted, or a flower begging to be admired are all things that can bring us great joy, if we take the time to embrace what is right in front of us.

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Be Here Now

23 Oct

One of the greatest impediments to connection is not being in the moment. To be intimate with our life experience, we have to be present. Yet in today’s hectic world, stress and concern over the past and future can pull us away from the here and now leaving us disembodied and checked out on some level.

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When my best friend’s baby, Nils was learning to eat, each day we slowly introduced him to different solid foods. One day, we put a few raspberries on his high chair tray for him to consume. As he crammed a raspberry into his mouth with his little fingers, a smile suddenly came over his face as he experienced the taste for the first time in his life. He gave us a huge grin as if to say, “Thanks, guys,” and then started to clap his hands. For weeks, he clapped every time he ate a raspberry or a strawberry. When eating these fruits, his ecstasy was palpable.

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This experience had a profound impact on me. Nils, having just come into the world didn’t have any notions about how to behave other than to just be. One could make the argument that the childlike freedom Nils experienced would eventually erode once he grew older and began to face responsibilities. And indeed, as we mature, more and more things can rob of us the present. The challenge then is to live fully regardless of the demands and stresses pulling on our energies.

Being in the moment opens us up to a variety of emotions including joy. I noticed this when I was taking care of Nils. Whether observing his delight upon seeing a bird or a flower, or noting the smile on his face when I walked into his room to pick him up from his crib after taking a nap, Nil’s exuberance moved me deeply. I was also struck by the pleasant rhythm of existence we fell into whenever I babysat for him. I’d arrive and we’d have breakfast. Then I’d sit on the couch and read while he sat on the floor and each day made new discoveries; how to grasp an object; how to roll over, how to make a sound. After about an hour of that, we’d get out the stroller and go for a walk. Then it would be about time for lunch. After lunch, he’d fall asleep in my arms as I rocked him to sleep. When I spent time with him, my worries and struggles seemed to melt away as he taught me how to focus on the here and now.

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Sacred Ground

17 Oct

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So often sacred ground is thought of as somewhere geographically and spiritually extraordinary. And indeed, I have been to some of those places where a vortex of energy seems to exude dimensions of heaven here on earth.

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And yet sacred ground can be found in ordinary places as well. Our kitchens, our writing desks, our workplace.

Lately I’ve been thinking I’m on sacred ground most when I’m engaged in work I truly love. When heaven and earth seem to meet in one single point in time that suddenly transcends all notions of physical space and geography. I can think of nothing better than kicking off my shoes and realizing I am here, where the shore meets the sand and God graces us.

Consulting the Oracle: On Signs, Symbols and Dreams

12 Oct

Throughout time, humans have turned to signs, symbols and dreams for guidance. We study our dreams and synchronistic factors trying to determine if there is some hidden underlying meaning in it all. “Is this a coincidence?” we ask ourselves, “or is it a sign from God or the Universe telling me what to do or what is to unfold?” How then do we shuffle through the information we receive in various forms and note whether it is a legitimate form of guidance or hogwash?

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As someone who has been attuned to extra-sensory phenomenon all my life, these are questions I ask daily. In fact, if there were a prize for most prophetic and bizarre dreams, I’d be the recipient. My subconscious consults the oracle all night while I just want a few zzzzz’s. What I have discovered is that everything in our lives can be looked at as information, some of it useful and accurate and some of it not. But the only way I can sift through it is to try and empty myself of any preconceived judgments, wishes, delusions and fantasies I might have. Otherwise, what I perceive as guidance doesn’t reflect true wisdom. Instead, it’s just me projecting my own internal agenda without filtering out any distorted thoughts or maintaining integrity.

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Next, if I really want to know if something is a form of guidance or not, I sit quietly in meditation and ask God to reveal some form of confirmation. But this requires a complete surrender to the outcome or answer instead of me manipulating my thoughts to think something higher is indeed guiding me.

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I am a firm believer in prayer. When I need guidance in my life, I ask for it. I then wait for clarity, and eventually, it comes. But clarity and guidance can be perceived through other means as well, for not all of us are inclined towards the spiritual. For instance, often what we take to be “signs” come as a result of paying attention. Likewise, a good night’s sleep can do wonders for our discernment process. And during rest the subconscious often solves answers to various problems.

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In all of this, it is important to stay open to surprises. Often we are so certain that we know something but then suddenly perceive a different impulse or answer. When this occurs, it can be hard to change gears, particularly if the guidance we perceive seems strange, or counter to our rational thoughts. Yet I have learned that we are wise to consider the new information because sometimes we discover that the real solution to our problems comes from sources we never would have imagined. And this is all part of the great mystery and beauty of transformation.

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Seal Skin, Soul Skin

7 Oct

Surfing early this morning after a three week hiatus, I thought I’d re-post, “Seal Skin, Soul Skin” from April, 2012 for we all need to periodically return to the sea.

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One of my favorite mythological figures is the Selkie found in Irish and Scottish folklore. Selkies are seals who can shed their skins and become human. If they put their seal pelt back on, it allows them to return to water. Typically in the story someone steals the female Selkie’s coat which means she can never return to sea. Sometimes it is her lover. In other versions, it is her child. Yet as soon as she is able to retrieve her pelt she returns to the sea.

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I find the myth haunting and sad yet love Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ psychoanalytic analysis of it in her book “Women Who Run with the Wolves.” She discusses the myth as a lesson to all of us to never lose contact with what our soul most needs. In the case of the Selkie, the Selkie most longs for the sea. Estes talks about the myth as a reminder of all the things that can rob us from what connects us to our innermost nature and needs. In the story, the thief is reflected in the character of a lover or child but anything in life can chip away at our soul’s needs: work demands, the chaos of modern life, thinking we don’t deserve to take care of ourselves, etc.

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I used to give this story to women in my therapy practice many of whom had very loving husbands and children but who were stressed out and at risk of losing themselves. Their families weren’t maliciously stealing what was most precious and vital to them; in some ways their families were giving things most precious and vital. However, the reality is relationships (even the very best ones) require us to lose parts of ourselves at times. We invest, give, merge and devote our lives to the other. And this is a good thing; not bad. But we must also have that time at sea in order to stay balanced and true to ourselves.

The best scenario of the Selkie mythology is when she can live both on land and at sea with no one stealing her pelt (or she misplacing it). And as I literarily swam back into the sea today after a hiatus on land, I realize we all have a seal skin – a soul skin – that must be kept in a special place. Men and women alike need their seal skin/soul skin. We must protect it and can’t forget where we have placed it for the sea is a heavenly place.

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