Thursday, May 22, 2014

5/23/14—Being the Turtle

I saw a post on Facebook today with a picture of a turtle and the message read, "help a turtle cross the road, but don't try to relocate him or steer him away from the direction he's going. Helping him find a "better place" could endanger his life." I've never seen a turtle cross the road in my life, so I thought "OK" and went on with my day. 

Not a half hour later, I left to run some errands and guess what I saw? A turtle crossing the road! I pulled my car over and tried to deflect traffic. It was a pretty sleepy road, but I'm standing in the middle of the road, waving my arms and pointing and some dude just aims his car right at the turtle! The turtle's pace quickened and the car's tires ended up straddling him. I screamed and covered my eyes, but the turtle was safe. He made it across the rest of the way without incident. A couple of ladies who had witnessed everything helped the turtle up on the curb and it went on its merry way. 

I believe everything happens for a reason and I tend to pay attention to intuition, synchronicities and the messages we receive along the way. The more you pay attention to things people call "coincidence", the more of those "coincidences" you see and the less likely it is that they can possibly be coincidences because they happen so frequently. 

God, Spirit, the Universe—whatever—speaks to us in that way multiple times a day. Sometimes the message is one that is beneficial to you. And sometimes you get the message to benefit another. Today I was given the message to help the little turtle dude. And I spread that message to people driving by and to observers today. There's no telling how many turtles might be saved. 

But let's not forget about the turtle's role. His job was just to go about his day and trust his instincts....the instincts that told him to cross when and where he did, the instincts that told him to quicken his pace at just the right time and the instincts that told him he'd be ok if he just stayed the course. 

Spiritually speaking, life is a dance of listening and trust. We live consciously, paying attention to the signposts along the way. We trust our intuition. We trust we're being watched over. And we listen for clues on how to course correct along the way, if needed. If we manage to live within this recipe of ease, like my turtle friend does, then miracles will pop up to ensure the safety of your course. 

The turtle seemed to know where he was going, but that's not always the case in life. Again, listening and trust are your best allies. If you stay the course, the right pathways will open at the right time. 

For the curious, I learned a little about the Eastern Box Turtle today, which is the guy pictured above and the same turtle I help across the road today. To give you an idea of size, he was about the size of a half cantaloupe. Apparently turtles commonly live in water and tortoises are land animals. But the Eastern Box Turtle is a land animal. Virginia has no native tortoises. 

The reason you don't want to divert them is because they have a very small territory they consider "home". If you drive them 5 miles down the road, they will relentlessly search to find their "home" and will face greater dangers finding their way back. (Wincing as I remember a massive, 10-15 lb turtle I found in my back yard once. I drove it to the creek, thinking that's where he wandered from. Some kid there who had a pond in his back yard wanted it as a pet. He'd had turtles before, so I handed it to him. That was pretty ignorant of me. I've thought of that turtle many times since.)

Another turtle thing I didn't realize (I clearly know nothing about turtles) is that they hibernate  until early May, then they go out searching for a mate and places to lay their eggs. So it's an active time for them, which is why you'll see more this time of year. Likewise, late summer to fall is also active as they go about readying for hibernation. I got much of this information from the Wildlife Center of Virginia

Just one more quick thing. The picture represents the guy I saw well, but he was so much more magnificent in person. His quick little shuffle when he was about to get run over was the only thing that broke a profound stillness in him. That's what listening and trust quiets the fears and debates in the head and makes the head more accessible to instinct and listening and trust. The more you practice it, the stronger you get! While I've gotten a lot of mileage in my career for helping originate and shape the "Fear The Turtle" campaign for the University of Maryland, today I'm changing my tune. BE the Turtle, my friends, and you will have nothing to fear.  

(Edited to Add: Another "coincidence"...if you're reading this on Friday, May 23rd, it's World Turtle Day. So I somehow unknowingly scheduled this post to mail on World Turtle Day!)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

5/21/14—Crossing the Chasm

By means of celebration and patting myself on the back, this is my 1000th blog post. That's a whole lot. And I wrote them all in the past four years or so. Thank you for being here for that. And I'm glad this is the 1000th because I didn't realize until after I wrote it and it's something important to me in my journey as a spiritual "teacher"...helping people make bigger leaps. So without further ado...

I have a friend I lunch with every few months or so. Our lunches easily last four hours or more. We have a lot we can talk to each other about—personally, professionally, philosophically. And even though we talk for hours on end, I always think, "oh, we should have talked about X, Y and Z, but didn't." There's always more to say. 

Today was one of those lunches. 

Early on in our conversation, we were talking about something in her life and she said "of course I know that in my head, but not..." and she motioned to her heart...her soul...her being. I knew exactly what she was talking about because I've been thinking a lot about the stuff we know in our head, but don't incorporate into our being myself lately. 

I think there are times in our personal or spiritual development when we have to take a leap between what we know intellectually and what we embody as a human being. If we don't take the leap, we remain stagnant, forever in a cycle of knowing something intellectually, but somehow being able to incorporate it into our lives. If we do take the leap, we have to leave something—sometimes something we consider valuable—on the other side of the chasm. That's why we often don't take the leap. But if we do take the leap, we can end up with a whole other level of growth compared to some of the baby steps we make. 

Let's use forgiveness as an example. Intellectually you know that holding a grudge is toxic. You know your anger isn't doing anything to elicit regret from the other party. You fully agree with the saying "holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." But you Just. Can't. Let. Go. 

Part of your inability to let go stems from not acknowledging whatever role you played in the situation (and I'm not talking about people being mugged or raped in regard to taking responsibility, but everything needs to be forgiven if you want to be free of it.) In order to hold on to the anger, it has to be their fault and you have to be the victim. So in order to forgive, you have to let go of the anger, acknowledge the role you played in the development of the situation, and let go of your victimhood. You have to lay all that down and walk away from it. In return, you gain enormous freedom. 

But most of us do forgiveness on a case-by-case basis, right? We can forgive our child's rudeness, but can't forgive a friend's rudeness. Or we can forgive that lying, cheating, arse of a husband, but we can't forgive the checker at the Safeway for giving us the wrong change...haha. So letting go of an individual situation is a baby step along the way to forgiveness. But the big leap comes when you stop withholding forgiveness altogether....when you adopt a forgiveness mindset. 

This is where people become stuck in their spiritual and personal journeys. They adopt a practice, but only conditionally. And most of us are content to stay there. I mean, why not? We've done most of the work, right? The thing is that the only way to silence the recurring, "I know it intellectually, but can't incorporate it into my heart" frustration that we all feel when we hang on to stuff too long is to let go entirely. To just give up the fight altogether, leave our need for victimhood, our need to be right, our need for an apology, our need to be angry....leave it all on side of the chasm and make the leap, never to encounter it again. Everyone and everything is forgiven before it ever enters your life. 

We like to consider ourselves as forgiving people, but the truth is we're people who are capable of forgiving. A forgiving person does it unconditionally. And I think many people WANT to be forgiving, but don't want to lay down their arms and move forward in the "vulnerable" state of forgiveness. I put "vulnerable" in quotes, because forgiveness is really the power position. As long as you fail to forgive, the other person or situation holds the power in your head. 

Forgiveness is just one spiritual lesson that requires a leap. In reality, they all do—faith, trust, acceptance, unconditional love, oneness, personal responsibility, conscious action—all of them. And most of us are probably at 50% to 90% completion of any spiritual lesson at any given time, meaning we can forgive half the time. Or 3/4 of the time. Or most of the time. But not all the time. So have we really learned that lesson? Or just part of it? 

The leaps come when we abandon our ego needs and leave them across the chasm. Which doesn't mean that things won't still come up. But as West Side Story puts it, "when you're a jet, you're a jet all the way, from your first cigarette to your last dying day." You surrender to the lesson. And it is HARD. Because when you surrender to the lesson, your life changes. The people around you change. The circumstances that come into your life change. You have to be prepared to leave all of that on the other side. 

Say, for example, that you surrender to divine trust. You're probably going to look like a fool to the people you care about, because you take chances with blind faith that you will land on your feet. And to some, that looks reckless. And immature. You're no longer able to wallow in fear or put things off because of it. People might reject you as a flake...or they might reject you because you're less easy to manipulate. But when you leap to divine trust, you leave doubt and fear behind. And you'll eventually meet people who really dig your ability to trust and who don't take advantage of it. That's a pretty good payoff. 

There are a lot of spiritual hobbyists out there. There are a lot of spiritual pursuers out there. But only a spiritual warrior is capable of making these leaps from 90% to 100%. At one time or another we may be faced with situations where we see all we have to lose in order to make a leap and we choose to stay put. The same person may come across another opportunity to leap in a different area of their life and make the leap. We're all snowflakes in that regard. And nobody makes every leap, except maybe the Dalai Lama. Who knows?

I write about this today because I think a lot of people, myself included, feel like we've done our work and still eat crap sandwiches in our lives. Not even the Dalai Lama's life is without crap's not like his country has been taken away from him, his people savagely killed and he's been forced into exile or anything. ;) But the thing is, when you've really done your work and made the leaps, crap sandwiches no longer have power over you. They don't muddle your head. They don't control your mind. They don't compromise your happiness. You think clearer and see life above the din. And you learn things about life and yourself that you can't learn or embody until you make the leap. 

So I encourage you and I encourage me to look for places where we can cross a chasm and be done with a certain lesson forever. We see the toxicity of the lesson. We see the role we've played in it. And we've laid down our need for whatever payoff comes from it. Once across the chasm, you need only remind yourself that you've crossed the chasm and can't go back. In fact, you won't even have to look for an opportunity to do this. Chances are you were faced with one today. Or this week. Put it to bed once and for all. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

5/19/14—Realizing You're Special

When my niece was young—I'm going to say around the age of 9-11—she asked me to take her around the neighborhood in my convertible.

She had a very set course in mind. There was a boy, you see. And she wanted him to see her riding in a convertible. She was probably going to marry him.

I'll be the first to tell you I suck as an aunt. I'm just not interested in kids and I can't fake it. I was born without whatever gene that takes. They're cute in short doses while they're being cute, but then I lose interest. It's not a flattering admission, but it's true.

Anyway, on this occasion, I really enjoyed doing laps around the neighborhood so that this boy could see my adorable little pistol of a niece looking cute and carefree in a convertible. And I'll never forget asking her during this ride what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her answer, to this day, is the one of the funniest things I've ever heard. She said that when she grew up, she wanted to be popular.

For years,  I've thought about her answer. There's a certain honesty to it. A certain shallowness to it. And a definite sense of humor to it. But more recently, I've begun to see the utter wisdom in it. When I grew up, I wanted to be a veterinarian. An actress. A writer. Famous. But beneath the careers and labels, what I really wanted to be was special. I think if most of us looked inside, we'd find something similar. Popular. Special. Famous. To somehow stand out. To matter. To be something worth remembering.

Intellectually I already know I'm special. You know you're special, too. Each of us has a combination of gifts that others admire in us. Maybe you're extra pretty. Or extra smart. Or a talented artist. Or gifted mathematically. And there are the capabilities that make us notable. Maybe you can roll your tongue. Move one eye separately from the other. Speak multiple languages. Talk to the dead. Or like one reader here, make a menacing fist out of your toes. :D When you add up all the gifts, skills, limitations and oddities—physical, mental, emotional or otherwise—there is nobody else with the combination of traits you have. And that's pretty much the definition of special. It also makes you uniquely qualified for your life and your journey here.

In one way or another, we all think we're special *enough*....special enough to fall in love, get married, be a parent, get promoted at work, hone our skills. I had to think I was a "special enough" writer to do it as a freelancer, for example. And that's not just saying that I had to think I had talent worthy of a high hourly rate, but I also had to believe I was special enough in the right ways to deal with the other 5000 challenges of being self employed. So we all have to believe we're special enough in whatever ways to be where we are in life, wherever that is. But there's a whole greater level of specialness we have to believe in to attain our full potential.

I mean, you and I have no idea of what Oprah's private life is like...what goes in on her private mind. But there's an element of "who the hell am I to have fame, an extraordinary career, billions of dollars, the world's best best friend and a long-term relationship with a handsome man who, despite his own successes, is not crushed by the idea that he'll never be Oprah?"...there's an element of that that can cripple you. Unless you have the esteem to say, "who the hell am I to NOT have those things?" Not to go off on an Oprah love rant, but she never seems to let fear of failure or inadequacy hold her back. She knows she's "special enough". Despite her upbringing. Despite racism. Despite her weight issues.  And that's just it.

We have a thing in society where we don't want anyone thinking they're too special. People who think they're special are egocentric and full of themselves. We consider it a bad thing. In fact, pride is one of the seven deadly sins, right? So all around us we get messages not to think too much of ourselves. Don't go thinking you're too special....especially if you're short. Or unattractive. Or not book smart. Conversely, we're often reminded to remember our limitations. And that serves to keep us down. So we're socialized, in many ways, to view our strengths through the lens of our weakest link. Oprah has even talked about the times her weight *almost* held her back, but she pushed on despite it. I'm just projecting here, but I believe that's because something inside her knew she was special.

Like I said before, we're all special. We should all have that thing inside us that makes us apply our strengths and abilities with such determination and vigor that we utilize the full breadth of our possibility in this world. But most of us don't. Most of us are either happy enough feeling "special enough" that we don't dare aspire to more. Or we suspect we have so much more to give, but who are we to think that when we can't even balance a budget, lose weight, etc.? Maybe what Oprah realized early on is that her shortcomings have absolutely no bearing on whether or not she can interview people...or if they do have a bearing, they can be used to interview with compassion, for example.

I've been thinking a lot about this, lately. Somehow, I got to be 50-freaking-1 years of age and I'm having some health struggles right now. It has hit me that, regardless of how I feel inside, I'm not in my 30s anymore. And most of my life, something inside me knew, at the very least, I *could* be special...that there was more specialness inside me than I put out into the world. And while, in my case, that might translate to reaching more people with my words, it doesn't have to be about that. It could really just be about being a kinder, more thoughtful person, creating more art...whatever it is that keeps you from being the person you always suspected you could be.

And it's not something anyone else can do for you. I get so much encouragement to write books and take my show on the road. But I continue to hesitate. You have to believe within yourself that you're worthy of whatever level it is that you hope to attain. I have to believe I'm special enough to make a difference in peoples' lives on a large scale. I know there are many out there who need to believe they're special enough to have a man love them despite figure flaws or whatever. And the thing is, we all ARE. We just have to get all the voices inside our head out of the way, whether they stem from our insecurities or from society or from someone important who didn't believe in us long ago.

Anyway, long story short, I've been feeling more special lately. Maybe that's the gift of 51. I do think if I died tomorrow, I could do so without regrets. I've done a lot with my life. But I do feel the desire to do more. I wouldn't regret not doing more, because I know I did all I was capable of. But I'm getting more and more motivated and excited about stepping into my "extra special" suit in the coming years. There's a saying, "it's never too late to become who you might have been." The quote is attributed to George Eliot, a woman who knew she was special enough to write fiction that mattered, even if she had to take a male pen name to do it.

So that's today's story. I'm special. You're special. Where are we falling short of fully expressing that? And what is it that needs to shift within us in order for us to do something about it? The answer will be different for each of us. All of us reach a point where we just have to put our insecurities and the voices of society and others down and say "I've lived for you long enough. Now it's time to live for what's beautiful and unique about me." Either that or we die without ever known what we're capable of being. I think 2014 and my 51st year is my year to finally get it. I think I'm ready lay down the fears and insecurities I've been dragging around for so long. Or at least transmute some of them into something helpful. They're just too exhausting. They no longer make sense in the context of my bigger plan. It's time.

I'd be remiss not to mention that my niece is now in college. She hasn't married that boy from the neighborhood. But she is popular. She's special that way. She's also smart and funny and thoughtful and a bunch of things she might not even realize yet. My hope for her and all of you is that she's not afraid to claim all that's special about her and that she navigates through life through the lens of her gifts.