Sunday, August 12, 2018

8/13/18—Getting Back to the Silence

I've been avoiding silence lately. 

I tell myself that I meditate and spend a lot of time in silence, but that is not currently the truth. It hasn't been that way for a while. I'm used to spending a lot of time in my head, but clear, constructive head space was overtaken by worry, fear and non-constructive chatter a while ago. 

What's more, I find myself restless when I do sit in silence these days. If I'm outside, I go in the house where the TV is on. If I'm inside, I turn on the TV, peruse the internet or otherwise put noise in my head. Or I'll nap. Reading, radio, whatever...it's all noise that may make you think, but it distracts you from inner work. 

The thing is, when I'm able to get a big dose of nothingness, I feel great. I feel more powerful. More connected to the universe and its flow. When I transcend earthly concerns—even for a few minutes—I get hours of relief from the list making or worrying or dreaming or self-flagellation or whatever else that's making my head chatter and keep me both out of the moment and out of constructive thought. So what am I avoiding confronting? And why am I choosing a noisy head over relief?

Some of it may be part of a gestation within me. Sometimes I feel like I process things unconsciously while being distracted, yielding passive growth. But some of it, I know, is self sabotage, holding myself in an outdated place because it's comfortable. 

When I was sick, few things past survival were possible. I lived in that reality for years, frustrated by my limitations. Now I have possibilities again but I'm not doing anything about it! I'm not even sure if what I wanted before is what I want now. Is it big enough or right enough to be worthy of a second chance at life? 

In some ways, I have to reassess who I am, what I want and how best to serve. Which, of course, is a cycle we go through over and over again—catch up to our current self, move forward in our new shoes, coast, realize we've changed, catch up to our current self again. I'm just not sure I've ever felt it so heavily before. 

So that's where my head is at. Right now I just want to escape and, for some reason, I think that's not OK. Maybe I fear I'm just procrastinating or I'll never make certain changes. But maybe I have to learn to give myself permission to just rebalance, reassess, figure out where I'm going and chart a course. For me, there's a thin line between the two. But I do feel a calling back to the silence, regardless. Hopefully I'll get there soon.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

8/6/18—Stopping The World

Stop the world: I want to get off.

That was the name of a musical that came out a few years after I was born. I remember hearing the phrase as a toddler and not knowing what it meant. But I found it a very interesting premise.

Maybe five years after that, I remember watching a merry-go-round spin and contemplating the idea again. I still didn't understand what it meant. But I wondered why anyone would want the world to stop just for them.

As I meandered through adulthood, I came to understand. Sometimes life moves too fast. Too much is happening. You can't catch your breath. Maybe you're dreading some form of adulting you have to do. Or maybe you've had too much of humanity for a while. 

Most of my world-stopping fits into that last category. I went through a protracted phase about a decade ago where I just really felt I didn't fit in with humanity. Recently, however, I've been struggling with all the other motivations. I've been through A LOT the last few years. And I just want to walk away from life. I want to drop all my worries and woes and never look back. But I can't afford to do that monetarily and, frankly, I think if I ever did just take off for a month or two, I would never come back. I might be lost to society forever. I'm just hermity and bohemian enough for that. Not that that would be a bad thing...

In the musical, the main character takes issue with everything in his life. His wife isn't good enough. His job isn't good enough. His children are girls, not boys. 

He has affairs. He attains wealth and status. Yet he continues searching for what's better. Then, one day, his wife dies and he realizes that he always had plenty of love in his life, but he never stopped searching for more long enough to appreciate it. With this, he is a changed man. He is no longer "selfish". He learns to put others first.

I have a lot to be grateful for. When this year began, I was close to death. I had fought a years-long battle with some "mysterious illness" and it was taking my life while my doctors watched and dragged their heels. All of that is over now. I should be elated. And I am. I feel like I have conscious gratitude for that on a daily basis. I have a second chance and I truly appreciate that. 

My complaint is that that struggle has moved on to another struggle—albeit a rosier one—without giving me time to take a breath in between. I only stopped working for two weeks after my heart surgery, ferchrissakes, and I spent all that time drugged and institutionalized. 

When you are given a second chance, all sorts of considerations arise, including "why was I saved...what was I kept alive to accomplish?" Then on top of that, you need to earn money to survive. You may have obligations to others. We are truly on a hamster wheel that never stops spinning. And while you hear stories of people dropping all worldly responsibilities and trekking across the US on a shoestring budget in search of meaning, I don't have the balls to do that. 

It's not just me, though. I see others all around me struggling with that same thing. When my brother died, my sister in law didn't have the luxury of having a proper nervous breakdown because she had four kids to raise. When people have children, they don't get a breather in between. In fact, for most of us, life changes of any sort catapult us immediately onto another game board that we have to learn to maneuver. 

Fact is, if I had a month—or a year—of grace from life, I would do nothing and accomplish nothing. I wouldn't properly take advantage of the opportunity. I'd spend all my time in my head (and I can do that without a roadtrip!) Then I would bemoan the "waste" of a month or year of my life, even if doing nothing was my entire objective. Besides, even if you do stop the world for a little, you'll have to return sooner or later...or end up half crazy in some remote cabin in the woods. 

It seems like the only way to win is to accept and find the gifts within the hamster wheel. The gifts for me lately have included being a little more social, a little less fearful and a slow return to the enjoyment of wandering around in nature. There is some excitement and growth unfolding for me now. Focusing on that, rather than the ways the world is either too overwhelming, too crazy or not enough for me, makes me long for escape a little less. And let's face it, even if you did stop the world, there would still be adulting to do—gotta feed the dogs, cook food, keep your space clean, etc. 

If I had enough money not to worry, I'd take that sabbatical. But I don't. So instead, I'm going to take life. I've already had the alternative. I'm happy to just be alive. I may not be alive on some meditative spa retreat or on a roadtrip to National Parks with my pups, but I'll take it.


Sunday, July 29, 2018

7/30/18—Seeing The Light

I apologize in advance if today's post gets a little gloomy. It was inspired partly by someone I thought I knew, but didn't, and partly by the recent death of Philip Seymour Hoffman (this post is from 2014). What the two things have in common is something we all have in common—a dark side. 

Beneath the addictions, obsessions, bullying, lying, anger, abuse, excesses and other unhealthy behaviors lies pain and fear. And no matter how beautiful, rich, famous, talented or loved you are, you're not immune. Nobody is immune. 

We hurt ourselves and others because WE are in pain and can't always pinpoint the source. Maybe we had something tragic happen to us, but really that's just an excuse. What's really at the bottom of this, I believe, is something we forgot before we were even born. 

Before we come here and after we leave, we are without ego. Ego in the way I use the word is a self awareness that separates ourselves from others. So it manifests in us feeling "more than" or "less than" others. It seeks approval. Yearns for status. Desires recognition and understanding. Speaks in terms of us and them. Wherever you find ego, you also find a forgetting of our true nature...the one we'll return to when we die.

Our true nature is oneness. Universal love. It is inclusion. There is no separateness or self awareness because there is no individuality. All is one. If god indeed said "I am that I am", what that means is that we are everything we see. We are. There is no separation between you and the most vile entity on earth. No separation between you and the most beloved on earth. There can be no separation, because everything is one. And everything is an expression of love.

But, see, we come here to be individuals. And as long as we're individuals there will always be a pained, lonely, frightened place within that seeks the universal love we love we left behind. We may not remember, but the soul never forgets. There are times when we are so filled with light (or delusion...haha) that we drift far enough away from this place that it seems to disappear, but that is just an illusion. It is always there. This pain, loneliness and fear comes from believing we're separate from source. And it's the price of being human.

There are times that the experiences of life and the attachment to ego build upon our souls like so many magnetized barnacles that we draw ever closer into the gravitational field of this painful empty place. If we don't reach this place by our own volition, we may be pulled into it by a loved one. We may even be wired to explore this place through depression or mental illness. Sometimes it is all we can see. And the closer we get, the more pain we feel and the more pain we cause. We try to keep it at bay with drugs or purchases, anger or violence, lying or bullying. But that just makes it worse. 

And the further into the hole we travel, the more it hurts and the lonelier it feels. And then even the most brilliant and fortunate among us end up dead of an overdose with the hypodermic still in our arm. And we think, "what a waste of such a gifted life." But see, that's just our ego talking. There are no adjectives or superlatives in oneness, only in our separation. Interestingly, however, even in our separateness, we are still the same. Because we all have this place inside. 

But this empty, lonely place can be filled. The only thing that can fill it is universal love. And the path to universal love is the recognition of oneness. When we see an angry person, we recognize them as ourself and we love them...not from a place of being better off, but from a place of recognition of self. There is no human atrocity we can deny being within us (albeit dormant, perhaps), just as there is no human grace. We are all of that. We are. 

And while there are many paths that can lead us there, regular communion with god or source or light or whatever you want to call it, is key to spending as much time as possible in a place where the gravity of the empty place is the weakest. This is why we seek to raise ourselves and grow...so we can  balance our humanness with what we've forgotten. Not so we can forget we're human, because that's why we're here. But to remember we're so much more.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

7/23/18—Forgetting Stuff

I'm forgetting things in my old age. 

I'd be afraid it was Altzheimers, but I googled the warning signs and I don't have them. What I have is normal memory loss due to aging. Unless I forgot some incidents of forgetfulness, that is.

Since it's a normal symptom of aging and post-menopausal life, I imagine most of the people I know experience this—male and female. For me, it has manifested as spelling issues I've never had before and "difficulty thinking of the word I'm thinking of," as well as forgetting was I thinking to say in the midst of saying it. Yet those who know me agree that I know and remember where everything is in my house, so I don't lose things. However, I may go into a room looking for something, then forget why I went in there in the first place. For me, it seems my memory loss is more verbally than visually related. 

When it happens, it drives home the fact that I'm getting older. How did I get here so quickly? I remember thinking that there's no way I'd ever be as old as 36...the age I'd be in the year 2000. That seemed REALLY old. And here I am at 55. I don't even think that qualifies as middle-aged anymore. In fact, it's old enough to live in a retirement community. 

How the eff did that happen? It feels like I just left my 30s. I'm willing to get old because there is no point fighting it. But my god, does it have to happen so soon? Can't it all wait until a few moments before I die of old age? :D

The good thing about recently "escaping death" is that you know the universe isn't done with you yet. I clearly have unfinished business. And I trust the universe gave me long enough to finish it, whatever it is. And while my memory loss is annoying sometimes, it doesn't get in my way.

My surgery gave me the opportunity to grow old. That is not lost on me. But you don't need to crack your chest open to get the gift of growing old. As long as you are alive, you've got that gift. We all know someone who didn't get that opportunity. So I forget and feel stupid sometimes. It's a small price to pay, considering the alternative.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

7/16/18—Discovering Myself

Sometimes it feels like I woke up from a long sleep to discover that somebody new was driving the bus.

All those years I was sick, it didn't just affect my body. It affected my mind, too. The combination of sleep apnea, asthma and a bad heart valve limited the amount of rest—and oxygen—I got. The asthma diagnosis improved things. And getting sleep improved things. But while they were improving, that heart valve was deteriorating. I sometimes don't know how I managed it. It sounds dramatic, but I wouldn't have lived much longer without open heart surgery. Things got really bad last winter.

But even though I spent years in some degree of haze or exhaustion, I still grew and matured. I put most of my energy and clarity toward work during those years. Then after my deadlines were met, I shut down. There were years where all I could do was sleep, work and feed myself. But apparently something was happening beneath the surface in regard to my soul. Add to that the sobering and transformative effect of coming close to death—then recovering from having my sternum sawed open—I'm no longer the person I used to be. I won't ever be that person again.

After I emerged from the trauma of all that, it was as if a new me moved in while I was gone. And she's better in pretty much every way, except for maybe one or two things. It's strange. I'm still getting to know her, but she surprises me in many ways. Like she chats up strangers—primarily male ones—much more than ever before. And she has a greater sense of adventure. And ambition. She walks away from drama much more often. She cares less about whether or not people like or approve of her. And she's much more energetic and alive. In short, she's a much more dynamic version of the me I was before.

We all change without noticing, and we even have times where we pleasantly surprise ourselves. But this is like that on steroids. It's like I went to sleep one person and woke up another. More shocking...I kinda like this chick. And all it took was being brought to the brink.

Now that I'm on the other side of it, I'm forgetting a lot of the trauma. Some of it still revisits me. But we tend to forget pain. It's a gift the universe gave us. Forgetting emotional pain keeps us seeking relationship. And forgetting physical pain helps keep us propagating the species. Forgetting pain is integral to the survival of humanity. It's what humans do.

This new me is happy to move forward without rehashing the years I was sick. The old me still has places I need to revisit—a few traumas to work through—before I can fully catch up to the new me. Or maybe I already am the new me and I just need to let go of the old me once and for all. Both thoughts sound right to me. But even now I know that, soon, it won't matter. This unsettling struggle, too, will soon be forgotten.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

7/9/18—Confessing

I'm a mail order reverend. I sent my email address to a website and that was good enough to get ordained, though my ordination isn't recognized in my state. But I run a confessional on Friday nights for my Facebook friends anyway.

The confessional is presented in a tongue-in-cheek, somewhat-irreverent way, but it's serious business. I take it seriously. And readers and confessors respect the process. There is no judgement. Everyone gets forgiven. It's a positive thing for everyone involved.

Most things are easy to forgive. From time to time, difficult things come my way. I don't say "Forgiven!" mindlessly. I really have to believe the forgiveness. But I promise to forgive everything. So I have to forgive everything. 

There are a lot of people who just like to read the thread without commenting. But the confessional relies on those who confess in public. For some, it takes courage. For others, it's just fun. And some just need to get something off their chest. All are welcome.

Now, for the most part, nobody's confessing to a crime or anything like that (though it has happened before.) I usually start with a few confessions of my own. Recently I confessed to liking blue eye shadow. And I also confessed to lowering myself to another's level in a disagreement. Many of the confessions are along those lines...either silly stuff or things that fall into the category of personal struggles and failings. Just when you think it's all in fun, someone comes along and goes deep. It's like a sociological roller coaster ride.

Most—if not all—of the confessions reflect our shared humanity. Who doesn't know the shame and glory of consuming "sinful" portions of food? Who among us can't relate to feeling insecure? Or diverging from the path of our personal development? And, really, who hasn't farted in a public situation, either intentionally or unintentionally? Haha. 

For those who read and don't comment, I imagine they are entertained, but I also imagine they feel a little less alone when they see others struggle with the same everyday things they do. For those who comment, they usually have fun, but they also have a safe place to get things off their chest, and they get to join in a process they trust and enjoy. The reverend was, of course, gone while I was sick and people really missed having their confessional, even if they don't use it every week.

Really, I'm the one who benefits most, though. Sure, sometimes I don't feel like doing it. And sometimes the confessional sits empty with nary a confessor in sight. But having just returned after a long absence, I'm reminded of how powerful an exercise it is. Because I have to forgive everything (because what kind of reverend would I be if I didn't?) I am exercising that muscle within me. Nearly everything is easy to forgive, but there have been times I've really had to struggle with my capacity for forgiveness, suportiveness and compassion. And there are other tests I face...non-judgment is one. Grace is another.

I also become a different person when I'm the reverend. When I'm in the confessional I'm more loving, encouraging, empathetic, understanding...all kinds of good stuff. Because as much as it's tongue-in-cheek—I'm not a Christian, nor do I believe in "sin" or hell—I also take it seriously. Because if you're going to call yourself a reverend (albeit a mail order one) you should strive to be your best you while wearing your smock...or whatever they wear. It's a test. A spiritual muscle builder. And a gratifying act. 

Frequently I find I'm not sure how to respond to someone's confession. Many times I feel they need more than just a "forgiven!" Maybe I think they need to feel better about something they shouldn't have felt bad about in the first place. Maybe their confession sparks a discussion. Maybe I decide a little added wisdom might help the non-confessing readers. Or maybe I just want to feel smart and reverendy...haha.  And I'm not always sure what to say to create a win-win-win between the readers, confessors and the reverend. But what I've found is that a no-judgement, loving response is always the best answer. 

I don't always have the patience and presence of heart to walk through life as "the reverend". But each Friday night when the confessional opens up, I'm reminded that I can.



Sunday, July 1, 2018

7/1/18—Letting Go

A. Reaves Photography
Spirituality. Personal growth. Oneness. Transcendence. All the stuff we talk about on this blog comes from one thing. Letting go. 

Now, granted, it's far more complex than that. But pretty much everything you want to achieve, can be achieved by letting go.

Say, for example, you want to become a published writer. The list of things you have to let go of could include fear, excuses, limited ideas of what you can be, a relaxed work ethic, some outdated definition of who you are, naysayers, expectations...the list could go on and on. 

If you want to change a thought, you have to let go of the old thought. If you want to open your heart, you have to let go of the fortress you've built around it. If you want to be at one with others, you have to let go of the notion you're in any way different from them. If you want to move closer to god, you have to let go of needing to "know" and just trust. 

If there is something eluding you in your life right now, ask yourself what you have to let go of. There is something you're holding on to—an attitude, dream, goal, outdated notion, belief, emotion, stubbornness, resistance, fear, concern, excuse, knee-jerk reaction, insecurity, thought pattern, paranoia—something. Of course, you have to be self aware enough—and honest enough—to recognize the things you're holding on to in the first place. Ultimately, the only thing that ever stands between us and the things we want out of life is ourselves. 

If you've ever had a massage, meditated, practiced yoga or done any sort of relaxation exercise, then you know that your body holds on to tension in places you didn't realize. And you also know how hard it can be to let go of certain muscles...or to even know if you've let go of them...or to even know those muscles are there. Then, when you're "fully relaxed", you find another level of holding on beneath that. And you loosen that. And then, eventually, you're satisfied you're fully relaxed, even if momentarily.

This is the same process that happens on our personal journeys of growth. The more you let go of the muscle of the ego, the tighter wound you realize it is and the more places you see you're holding on that you never knew existed. And then, if it's even possible to reach a place where you think you've fully let go, you become conscious of a whole other nuance of holding on that you never knew existed.

If you're angry with someone, you're holding on. If you're sad or lonely, you're holding on. If you're stressed, you're holding on. If you're pursuing a goal, you're holding on. Even if you're happy, you're holding on. In fact, if you're alive and conscious, you're holding on...haha. Even monks hold on to their practice and devotion. We get glimpses of letting go, but we can't stay there, partly because trying to stay there would be holding on and partly because our journey on earth counts on us holding on to something. Holding on is our gravity. It's what keeps us tethered to this reality. 

As you begin a practice of self awareness and letting go, you also begin to see what's working for you as far as attachments go. A wise friend once told me "move toward that which makes you feel larger" and that principle applies here. If something is keeping you stuck or making you feel small, it's time to let go. 

For a different perspective, Buddhism believes that attachment is greatest source of suffering amongst humans. They define attachment as seeing the thing you're attaching to as separate from yourself. In their way of seeing things, it's possible to transcend attachments by being united with all things. So, in that way of thinking, letting go is actually the opposite of non-attachment. In non-attachment, there is nothing to let go of because there is unity in all things. In essence, you let go of your resistance to accepting this thing into your being. So that's another perspective on the situation. It doesn't make our journey as spiritual seekers any easier, though. It's just as hard to come to a place of non-attachment with something as it is to let go of it. 

I estimate that some of my letting go is letting go and some of it is non-attachment. I know that the more I understand and embody something, the less impact it has on me. And I also know that I frequently feel like I'm fighting upstream with some struggles and I often visualize letting go and letting the current take me...surrendering to it. Two sides of the same coin, really. 

For the vast majority of us, there's never going to come a day when we'll be here on earth without having countless attachments or things to hold on to. But we can lighten our loads, which is what the spiritual journey is about. It's about being as clear a channel as possible to transcend suffering or to receive and transmit grace, God's light, universal energy, the goddess...whatever speaks to you. Whatever your beliefs, however, the path to God or happiness or whatever you're trying to reach, can never be found by reaching toward something outside of you. It can only be found by clearing a pathway toward it within.