Friday, July 6, 2012

7/7/12-7/8/12—Acknowledging Your Progress

Weekend Reading: Nine of Pentacles from the Mythic Tarot. This weekend do something to acknowledge all your hard work. Whether personally, professionally, domestically or some such way, you've accomplished a lot and grown. Sometimes we just keep forging ahead and forging ahead and forget to stop, take a breath and look back on how far we've come. So this is your cue. Take stock of yourself this weekend and do something to pat yourself on the back. Maybe it's something symbolic like planting a flower in your own honor. Or maybe you could celebrate with a nice dinner. Or a luxurious bath. Or a nice hike in the mountains. Whatever you do, though, make it something more than just thinking to yourself "yay me" as you forge forward. Commemorate your progress like the special event it is!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Living in the Spirit of WWJD and WWBD

Today's Draw: Forgiveness from the William Blake Tarot. Do you think Christ's/Buddha's lessons are a good ideal for us to live up to? Are they ideals you consciously pursue in your own life? How good of a job do you think you do at it?

Any tarot reader will tell you that the tarot can seem to take on a personality of its own. It can be funny, stubborn, frank, name it. So I go to choose lesson five of Five Lessons to Learn Before You DIE!!! and I come up with Forgiveness, which we discussed on Tuesday. Traditionally that card is Temperance in the tarot, which is about balance, which hearkens back to Wednesday's lesson. So I throw it back into the deck, shuffle again and get the 10 of Music which basically says to raise your life to that of a sublime art. Which is pretty much what we discussed yesterday. It also speaks of peace, which was our entire last week!

*throws hands up in exasperation*

So I grab the Forgiveness card back and give it another look. And from that look, I came up with today's lesson, which is living in the spirit of Christ. Yeah, I know. Not what some of you would expect from me. But the thing is, whether or not you take Bible stories literally or have a Christian, Semitic or non-Christian take on Jesus, the lessons attached to his name hold value. In fact, if it makes you more comfortable, consider instead what Buddha would do. Or Allah. Or whatever ideal of love and acceptance you believe in.

So, Christ embodies forgiveness, which we've already discussed. That lesson, by the way, stirred up a lot in people and resulted in a great conversation on my Facebook page. But here are few other things Christ would do that we seem to lose sight of:
     •  Live in acceptance and non-judgment
     •  Love your enemies
     •  Heal with/through your heart
     •  Give to those less fortunate
     •  Be humble
     •  Walk in faith and grace
     •  Live genuinely and not in hypocrisy

In essence, living as Christ would requires living in love. If you had to boil it down to one thing, love would be it. So that brings yesterday's message of service and living life as a sacred act to mind. Love is how you do it. Did you just drive to work in love? Did you cook dinner in love? Did you interact with that stranger in love? 

This is the second card I chose for today.
Chances are, somewhere in word, thought or deed, you fell short of the mark somewhere along the line. We all do. But the more we try, the closer we get to another part of Monday's lesson of the Hermit. (Bet you were wondering how Monday escaped being covered by this card.) Part of the Hermit's pursuit is to find a way align and blend with evolve into a divine state of consciousness known as Christ Consciousness

You don't have to believe in Christ to live your life in Christ Consciousness. It's just a term for that place that everyone on a spiritual path journeys to reach....the state of enlightenment that Buddha found...a union of oneness with your god...ultimate surrender. 

Let's face it. Many of us will never achieve this state permanently here on earth. But we can all catch glimpses of it in our own lives. And we can make those glimpses last longer and longer, along with the joy and freedom they bring. So while the WWJD thing has long become trite and eye-roll worthy, the spirit behind it is really the ultimate lesson we should all learn before we die—a master lesson that encompasses all others. Best thing is, you can start today.

PS: For those who are only marginally familiar with tarot, this week's draws give a good idea of how tarot can examine and answer a question. I think all five draws revealed lessons that any spiritual teacher would agree are not just worthy of learning in this lifetime, but also key to our spiritual evolution.So while many consider tarot to be woo-woo or fortune telling, it's more of way of gaining unique and revealing insights into our personal situations—insights we and our friends are too close to the situation to see ourselves.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

7/5/12—Living a Remarkable Life

Today's Draw: Eight of Pentacles from Samantha's Tarot. Are your remarkable in your job or in your life? Are you looking for a way to find more purpose in your life? Would you characterize the way you live your life as "sacred"?

Day Four of Five Lessons to Learn Before You DIE!!! is, in many ways, about service and reverence. It's also about becoming remarkable in your craft.

All of us have, within us, the ability to be remarkable at something. It's not always about how well you do it. Sometimes it's about the way you do it. That's where the part about service and reverence come in.

Whatever you do for a living, whether it's working at McDonald's, being a homemaker, being a doctor or dancing nude, you're serving others. I've always believed that when you can look at the work you do every day as service, you get more out of it. It becomes less of a drudgery when you approach it as "I'm serving my customers...or my family...or myself."

Fact is, people need what you do or you wouldn't have a job. There is a higher good you're serving, whether you've ever considered it that way or not. And when you can elevate your work to the level of service to the higher good, you can then go further and serve with reverence. When you serve with reverence, you serve in a way that is remarkable.

You've seen it before. It's the guy in the copy center at Staples who treats your job like it's a work of art. Or the vendor at the farmer's market who takes a lot of pride in the herbs he grows. Or the teenage drive-thru chick at the Taco Bell finds Zen in her job.

Then there are people who are just plain unique in the way they do things. Dee works at our local variety store. I knew her first when she was working at the health food store. There, she would always wear a vest covered with 100 "I love Jesus" type pins. And her personality was always loud, enthusiastic, happy and wacky. Then I knew her at the pastry shop. Loud, enthusiastic, happy and wacky, sans the pins. Now she works at the variety store and she's still loud, enthusiastic, happy and wacky. I'm sure she's a good employee and all, but she's remarkable because of her personality and the joy she spreads.

I don't know that any of these people are world-class at every aspect of their jobs, but they add something extra to what they do, be it pride, passion, personality or focus. Those qualities are remarkable, just as doing a job well is remarkable. Meryl Streep, Oprah, Bill Gates...all are remarkable for being extraordinarily good at what they do. People like Steve Jobs are remarkable for the original way they approach their jobs. So there are many ways to be remarkable at what you do, even when someone else has greater skills.

What can—or do—you do to be remarkable in your job? Have you ever considered how much your attitude could change about your job if you saw it as service? So many people slog through their professional lives, or for that matter, their personal lives, when they could raise the whole darned kit and kaboodle to the level of service and reverence, thereby making their lives a sacred act. Doesn't that sound like the life you want? 

The Eight of Pentacles comes to tell us that we should all find the remarkable within us and share it with the world in service. As I've written about before, just making the one change of seeing my job as service changed my entire attitude about my career a number of years back. Bringing purpose to your work brings the sacred into the everyday and gives your life more meaning and depth. That experience is your birthright and, if you haven't already claimed it, you shouldn't waste another day.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

7/4/12—Claiming Your Independence

Today's Draw: Strength from the Oracle Tarot by Lisa Chow. Are you in control of your emotions and actions or are they in control of you? What are your experiences with addictive, compulsive or unhealthy behaviors? What really rules over your life?

The third of the Five Lessons to Learn Before You DIE!!! is self control. I've never met anyone in all my 49 years and four months who didn't have some sort of addictive behavior that's dogged them at one time or another in their lives. 

Before I proceed, I should say that I probably have a broader definition of addictive behavior than some people. What I'm talking about here is behavior that's compulsive, excessive, unhealthy and/or causes problems in your life. So while many are thinking "huffing glue", what I'm talking about is perfectionism, anger issues, obsessive thinking, overeating/working/excercising, germaphobia, compulsive cleanliness, hoarding, smoking and, yes, drug dependence of any kind. 

Some of these things like perfectionism, compulsive cleaning, overworking, etc. are, in a way, socially acceptable. We make excuses for them, "her cakes are perfect," "her home is like something from a magazine," "she works hard for her money." But that doesn't make these behaviors any healthier than huffing glue. If you're one of those people, you know the toll those behaviors take. It's hard to say whether it's easier being out of control in a way everyone can see or in a way that's somewhat hidden. 

Personally, I've lived my life as a walking/talking, easy-to-see addictive behavior...haha. I've regained my control over many of those issues. If you're a regular reader, you already know I'm a former smoker. But what you may not realize is that this mild-mannered sweetheart of a blogger used to have some significant anger issues. 

I tell you about that, because having experienced both compulsive anger and nicotine addiction (among other issues I'm still working on...haha), I feel both compulsive behavior and addiction exist on the same spectrum. Both screw with your brain chemistry and your sense of reality. And both exert more control over you than you exert over them. 

BUT, from experience I'll tell you this, addictions are a LOT harder to regain control over and don't bear just an emotional dependence, but a physical and chemical one, too. With addiction, there's also a little monster inside you that, if you ever feed it again, will take back their control. Right now my nicotine monster is asleep. If I ever take a puff of a cigarette again, I will wake it up and it will be hungry. On the other hand, I can be a bitch to the Safeway checker next week and it will be an isolated incident. In short, becoming a mild-mannered blogger is a hell of a lot easier than becoming a non-smoking blogger. But both require Strength to achieve. 

So Strength is about resisting temptation and never saying "yes" in the first place. Strength is about acknowledging there's a monster that exists within you that's just waiting for you to open the door. Strength is about about taming the monster inside you once you've woken it up. Strength is about taking personal responsibility for these behaviors, whether you currently have control over them or not. Strength is about understanding that change and the unlearning of behaviors doesn't happen overnight. Strength is about learning and being gentle with yourself if/when you stumble and fall. And Strength is about seeking help when you want to take control back and can't do so on your own. 

Honestly, this card surprised me when I first chose it, but now I understand why this is one of the five lessons the universe wants us to learn before we die. As long as we allow these kinds of compulstive and addictive behaviors—whether drinking, creating drama, being an adrenaline junkie, compulsive shopping or wallowing in victimhood—we are not free (a fitting message to receive on July 4th.) Something else is making our choices and steering our relationships for us. If nothing else, before we die, we should all seize the crown of control over our actions/emotions and truly be the star of our own lives. 

PS: While we're talking addiction, for tarot junkies, Lisa Chow's Oracle Tarot is available on Etsy. It's a full 78-card deck with no lwb. I JUST got it today and didn't have a chance to look it over before I shuffled and chose, but from what I've seen it's based on RWS meanings, but has non-traditional imagery and some inspired, yet simple, visual interpretations. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

7/3/12—Coming Around to Forgiveness

Today's Draw: Rhodochrosite from the Crystal Guidance oracle deck. How do you define forgiveness? Is there someone in your life you say you've forgiven, but really haven't? Who do you suppose suffers most when you refuse to forgive?

This week's topic is Five Lessons to Learn Before You Die. And I can't imagine any such list being complete without today's topic: Forgiveness. 

Forgiveness is a tough topic, primarily because people have so many different definitions of it. You look in the dictionary and see words like "pardon" and "absolve" and say "hells to the no! I ain't doing THAT!" And I agree. That's tantamount to saying "I wipe your indiscretion clean" in my book. That's not going to happen. 

Oprah's favorite definition of forgiveness is "giving up the hope that the past could ever be different." That makes a lot of sense. Because that's what we push up against...we want things a) to be made right or b) to have never happened in the first place. Neither of those things will ever happen. So when we let go of the desire for the past to be different, the bad feelings we hold go with it. I get that and it all sounds really reasonable and nice, but it's a little soft for what I'm really feeling in the moment of anger.

So I came up with a different definition befitting the drama I feel at the time, and that is: "I will no longer stew in toxins over what you did". I personally believe I was born uniquely qualified to stew in toxins, so forgiveness means setting aside my playtime with my "special gift". Most of the time forgiveness also means that I "get" it...I get why you did whatever you did and while I don't agree with it, I do get it. In short, I come to peace with what happened.

That doesn't mean, however, I'll ever talk to you again. It just means that I'll stop ramming pins into the poppet I made in your likeness and I'll move my anger down to a simmer. And then I'll let it cool and evaporate. Some people, like family, will remain in my life and our relationship will carry on. Others, depending upon the crime and the amount of personal responsibility acknowledged, may not. 

For me, forgiveness also does not include forgetting. I will never forget. Come crawling back five or ten years later thinking I forgot, and you will find that I have not. I will likely be kind to you because I am a kind person. But I will not forget. I will not invite you in for tea. We will not laugh about "old times". I will not inquire about your pet rabbit. And I will not encourage our conversation to linger. Remembering is my prize in the Cracker Jack box of forgiveness. You can make me eat the sugary, stale brown popcorn of letting go, but the prize is mine to keep, dammit!

Forgiveness isn't something you do for anyone other than yourself. I've been making light of this to a certain degree, but forgiveness really is something you do to release the toxic effects of anger, pain and hurt from your body, mind and soul. 

Carrying stuff like that gives you cancer. It keeps you chained to the past. It keeps you from creating better situations in your life. And it closes off your heart to others. This deck's creator linked forgiveness to the heart chakra for precisely those reasons. Forgiveness reopens your heart to others—maybe not to the offender, but to yourself and others you care about. The energy of bitterness toward one person pervades every other relationship you have as long as you hold on to it. Don't fool yourself that it doesn't.

Every one of us will be in two positions in our lives—we will be the forgiver, as I've already discussed. And we will be the one who needs to be forgiven. The crime we committed may be one perpetrated against someone else or against ourselves. In each case, we will not find forgiveness anywhere outside of ourselves. 

"What?" you say? Yeah, you heard me. No one can forgive you but yourself. You don't need anyone else's forgiveness to be forgiven. Their forgiveness is for them, remember? So all that time you spend thinking, "I really wish Tommy would forgive me" is really just you saying "I wish I could get to a place where I forgive myself for what I did to Tommy". Tommy's forgiveness means nothing if you can't forgive yourself. And if you forgive yourself, you don't really need Tommy's forgiveness to move forward. Do the math and you'll see Tommy's forgiveness is irrelevant. Sure, it would be nice to know he "gets it", but you don't need it. 

On a final note, I have never, to my recollection, ever purposely done anything to anyone to get revenge. If that's your thing, you're just creating bad karma for yourself. The universe makes all scores even and, from my observation, is much better at it than I am. It's actually possible that whatever was done to you was something you had coming from some "crime" you committed years ago against someone else. So get off your high horse and stop thinking you get to be god because someone "done you wrong". It's not your job to judge, convict and sentence others. Do that and you'll just continue the cycle of nastiness in your life. Because all scores are made even, including the ones you commit against the natural order. 

Listen, in the end, we all screw up. And sometimes the offending act is actually a gift waking us up to a relationship that's gone past its sell-by date. Sometimes its waking us up to something that needs to change in a treasured dynamic. Sometimes it's telling us something we didn't previously know or acknowledge about someone we care about, thereby giving us the opportunity to know them deeper, whether we continue with the relationship or not. And sometimes it's telling us something we didn't know about ourselves and our choices in life. 

The gifts of these situations can be lost in the anger. So always remember to ask yourself, "what did this betrayal (or whatever) come here to show me?" While forgiveness truly is a gift you give yourself, many times that gift is just the cherry on top of a much bigger one. Don't let your anger blind you to that.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

7/2/12—Being Enough

Today's Draw: The Hermit from the Infinite Visions. When was the last time you spent a weekend all to yourself? When was the last time you were your top priority? If you routinely put your needs aside for others, what do you suppose you're teaching them about how to treat you...and how to be themselves?

This week's topic is Five Lessons to Learn Before You Die. I added the "before you die" part because, if you haven't noticed, I'm a little dramatic. :D BTW, if anyone would like to suggest a topic that we could spend an entire week on (like last week's "How to Create More Peace in Your Life"), feel free to let me know.

Today's lesson of The Hermit is about solitude. I really like what the book says, so I'll repeat it here: "You must first know who you are and how to help yourself before you can help others. By seeking solitude, you can collect and organize your thoughts without distractions. Teaching others what you have learned is one of the best roads to self discovery."

No one is better qualified to teach others about solitude than I...haha. For the past 20+ years, I've lived alone. For 15 of those years, I've worked alone. And only for about, say, 3 of those years have I had a man of one kind or another in my life. And by "one kind or another" I mean someone who distracts me from my own little world. That said, I do have dogs and have for the past 13 years. Two dogs for the past 8 years. So I do know how to share my life, albeit with creatures that are easy to communicate with and pretty much always do what I say...haha.

In short, I'm a lone wolf. I actually prefer being alone. Which isn't to say I don't mind having some male interaction, but I don't place it as a priority. If anything, my personal lesson in life would be the opposite of today's...I could use to learn how to live contentedly with another person in my life. So consider that my curriculum vitae for teaching you about solitude. :D

I wouldn't necessarily suggest that anyone live my solo lifestyle. It's a bit far to that end of the spectrum and, as such, not entirely healthy. And it's not healthy because, like I said, I'm not learning the lessons that come with tolerating others in your day-to-day life. (Notice my use of the word "tolerate"? That speaks volumes of my capacity for being around others.) That said, the same, but opposite thing could be said for anyone who hasn't been alone for any significant amount of time in their adult life.

I have many friends who have never been alone in their lives...have never had to fly solo financially, socially, emotionally or any which way. I also have a lot of friends who can't seem to stay uncoupled for any length of time...they need the affirmation of another in their life to feel "right". I think it's important for all of us to find out who we are when we aren't with someone, and to feel "right", if not joyful, in that journey. I also think it's important to do that at different times in your life.

Now, obviously, that's difficult if you are in a marriage or a long-term relationship. But carving out your own identity and taking retreats on your own is essential. Even if you have kids. You need the experience of being free of everyone else's agendas in order to really discover your own. You need to be free of all the labels...professional, mother, wife, friend, get to the essence of who you are. Sure, all of those things are part of who you are. But there's another you underneath all of that and it's too easy to lose sight of that when your life is busy with so many other priorities. 

And that's what it comes down—priorities. When everyone else's priorities take precedence...when your interests center around the interests of someone else...when you can't make time to do the things you dream of...when you'd rather die than live without any one person in your life...when having someone else love you is a higher priority than loving yourself...that's when you've lost yourself. 

And people always come back with "but I have kids and it's selfish to just pick up and leave them to go off on an artist's retreat (or whatever)", but that's a bunch of BS. You're teaching those kids that their lives are not as important as the life of anyone else who may come into their lives. Or you're teaching them that everyone else's lives should stop when they have needs. If you don't want that fate for them, why are you imposing it on yourself? Why not, instead, teach them that self-love, solitude and independence are important parts of life?

Unfortunately, I could probably write a book on this topic, but I only have a single entry here. The bottom line is that people have a tendency to fill their lives with activities, noise and other people so they never have to face the most dreaded state at all—being alone with themselves. And the thing is, as long as you're avoiding it, dreading it or labeling it a bad or selfish thing, you're saying that you are not enough. You, alone, are not enough. And that one core belief..that you alone are not enough...will toxify every choice and every relationship you have.

You can say you know you're enough all you want, but until you've lived it and been right with it, you will always spend your life searching for the missing piece in your life—your own loving relationship with yourself. If you really DID know that you, alone, are enough, you'd be hungry to get away from the world to nurture that relationship every now and again. 

Simply put, there is no relationship more important than your relationship with yourself. And there is no relationship more important to the health of your relationships with others than your relationship with yourself. And if others can't hold that space for you, it's a clue you've been neglecting your relationship with self too long. You're the one that taught them you're not important.

I can tell you from experience that living alone, in and of itself, will not get you there. Likewise, you can get there even if you're married to your high school sweetheart. But in order to really know that you, alone, are enough, you do have to risk being alone. You need to enter it into your priorities and use the time in such a way that nourishes your relationship with yourself. Do something you like to do just for you. And if you don't know what that is, figure it out.

The Hermit comes to us to tell us that not only are we, alone, enough, but that the most enduring relationship we will ever have is with ourselves. Unfortunately, for many of us, husbands come and go. Children grow up. Our parents die. Our siblings go on to their own lives. The only relationship that's there forever is the one we have with ourselves. Having a good relationship with yourself is vital to making the right and healthy choices for your life. It's critical to having the kind of life you want. Yet it's the first relationship many of us dump the second someone comes into our lives or has needs...even when they can fulfill their needs themselves. It's disrespectful to the dream our parents had for us. It disrespects the possibilities God gave to us. And it disrespects ourselves. And that's just wrong.