Guarantees

 

My husband was recently recounting a conversation he had with a practitioner, who in anticipation of re-opening their office had asked, “Would you like me to tell you how we are going to keep you safe?” To which my husband responded, “I do not require you to keep me safe.” To which I would add, “Nor is that something you could ever guarantee me.”

Safety. We all want to feel safe. It is in fact perhaps our most basic of all needs. And at its very best, it is something we cultivate within and offer without.

Being safe and feeling safe are a major source of conversation in the culture at the moment. As a matter of fact, it is something that has been brewing beneath the surface for many of us for what seems like forever. Given that, and all that is being revealed around what this means in practice (not words) it is incumbent upon all of us to understand what we are asking for, what we are being promised, and what is being justified in the name of safety.

Spoiler alert: No one can guarantee your safety. Not a parent. Not your spouse. Not the government. Not a mask, hand washing, tracing or vaccines. But by God how we want it. And who wouldn’t? This most primary of needs for safety and protection harkens back to childhood when you believed that it was possible that someone else could promise and deliver a guarantee of safety to you. And how well your safety needs were or were not met in childhood sets the stage for how you will perceive the world. For your capacity to determine what is safe, what is a threat, and what is real and imagined around both.

The first time I ever heard anyone talk on this was years ago while I was in the midst of a very intense emotional. physical and spiritually challenging training. At some point, as things were breaking down and people’s fears and woundings were being revealed, in their terror they began to find fault with the training. In their inability to be with what they were experiencing, they began to accuse the program director and staff of creating an unsafe environment. It was a deeply heated and emotional group exchange, as well as something we were all feeling and navigating in our own ways.

Much to my surprise and ultimate deep gratitude, instead of the director going into self-blame and acquiescing because someone had thrown down the safety card, she navigated a brilliant truth: That being, that no one else can guarantee your safety. That being, that when we are afraid and rattled, we will default to that child-like expectation. Instead, she let us know that what she was offering was a sacred container for people to come together, and that what you did within that space was up to you.

The root of “safe” from the Greek means “whole,” with the definition being “free from risk, danger, harm or injury.” And while there are certain practices and ways of being that we agree upon for the well-being of all, a guarantee of life without risk, danger, harm or injury can never be proffered. Nor should it be expected. For to wholly live is to live with the risk of being alive. And to demand safety, to use safety as a protocol in the ways we are using it, is to set us all up for not only failure, but to set in motion the justification of all manner of things that have absolutely nothing to do with safety, and everything to do with a lie.

Safety can be an intention. It can be honored and it can be protected. It can be respected and agreed upon. And when it comes to re-imagining the long-standing and often outdated beliefs we hold around this, I will leave you with something my husband is talking about at work. 

“Safety is a shared responsibility.”

In practice: If you would like to see how this works in your world, do not go to the adult mind that would say, “Of course I know there are no guarantees.” Instead, go below the surface, to the child, to the unconscious, to the place that gets scared. Can you sit with that? Can you feel the need, the vulnerability and the desperation for someone to pledge a certainty for you? Can you open to all of that without trying to have someone take that away for you?

And if you would like to take a deeper look around the maps of safety and danger we create in childhood, the very same ones that continue to inform or drive us as adults, I recommend a book called “Nurturing Resilience” by Kathy Kain.

Sanctuary Living

 

Not long ago, I was having a conversation with an astrologer I work with, and we were comparing notes about how we were doing in these times; what it was that was serving as a sacred and healthy foundation for staying steady in the midst of so much upheaval. So much fear. So much uncertainty.

He summed it all up in two words. Sanctuary Living. The phrase literally caught my breath. In the moment it felt like I had never heard anything so beautiful. So poignant. So hopeful. And so very, very needed. By all of us. Everywhere.

Sanctuary is defined as a consecrated place. As a place of refuge and protection. Living is defined as having life. Being full of vigor. True to life. When we put these two glorious words together they offer us us an image, a model, a possibility.

Can you imagine your life, your home, your schedule being imbued with the energy of consecration? A kind of refuge that honors what is true to the needs of your life. A protection placed on the value of your life, all of Life, that is filled with the vigor of respect.

On one level, it’s so basic. So obvious. On another level, it is so complicated and confusing. And yet, beneath it all, it is something we all yearn for. That being, a life where we feel valued. A life where our outer circumstances hold and nourish how sacred and precious we are.

What if we imagined ourselves and the lives we create as churches, temples, mosques, alters, sacred groves of trees, ancient hermitages? What things would we allow into our sacred space? What things would never be allowed in?

And what if more of us began to see ourselves and our lives through this lens?

Everything

 

Everything. Absolutely everything is included. The stuff we want. The stuff we don’t want. What’s easy. What’s difficult. What’s known. What’s unknown. All of it.

Can you imagine it? Can you imagine claiming all of it? Giving space and recognition, voice and comfort to it all. That “All” being, everything that you experience in Life. Nothing omitted. Nothing to get past. Instead, a big, wild, effervescent, sometimes stinky, tapestry that you can call your own. Every single moment of every single day. All of what it is that makes up your Life.

Right from this moment on, right down to, and including, the last moment.

What if that actually was the choice (by the way, it is) that was before us at any given moment? The knowing that, as Tara Brach would say, “This too belongs.” This too belongs. As in, it all belongs. All of it. Every single bit of it. Nothing too ugly, shameful, painful, unwanted, difficult or disgusting to be here. And nothing too outrageous, wild, unkempt, fanciful or impossibly brilliant to be here.

But of course, this would take a commitment, and a kind of determination to no longer play the victim to your Life circumstances. To no longer believe and act as if you have no choice. To no longer leave your Life in the hands of something or someone else. To no longer abandon yourself because you do not like how you are feeling. Or what it is that is showing up.

Can you do it? Of course you can. Interestingly enough though, that is not the question. The question is, will you do it? Will you claim the totality of your Life? Beginning with, will you take ownership of, and responsibility for, what you are experiencing?

This is a tall order. This is something most of us have not been schooled in. Something most of us have not been given the skills to be with. Therefore, where to begin?

Begin at the beginning. Begin with one simple statement: “I commit to seeing everything I experience today as a necessary, loving and legitimate part of my life.” Knowing this then, the only sane response is to say “Yes” to what is here. Not to say I like it or want it, but instead to say out loud that I recognize this is, in fact, here. It is to say there must be a reason for whatever is here to be here, and I am open to knowing that reason.

Getting even more up close and personal: Instead of pushing you away, I am open to knowing why you are here for me. And I am committed to not succumbing to the belief that Life is against me, and you are opposed to me. That I am open to discovering what gifts you bring for my Life that I might not recognize as such unless I am willing to look differently. Gifts that I will never recognize when I am committed to being victimized by you. Gifts that I open to because that is what is here, and because there is a valid and good reason for it. Gifts I open to with no guarantees offered or expected.

Can we do it? Yes. Will we do it? Only you can say.

Masks

 

My husband and I are discussing the latest CDC recommendation to wear masks when out in public. It prompts a philosophical conversation around individual choice and belonging. In the end, my husband determines, that while personally he does not feel called to wear a mask, he would do it to “blend in.” 

Blending in.

Is this not the catch phrase for all of the things we as human beings do to not stick out, disturb or generate the “wrong” optics? Might this be precisely the most difficult of all dilemmas anyone of us will ever face who chooses to know themselves unto themselves?

To be clear, this is not a debate on the rightness or the wrongness of masks. Instead, it is an exploration around the nature of being an individual, a true and authentic individual, and what it means to belong from that place. As opposed to all of the shaving and distorting and acquiescing we do out of deep-seated fears around being shunned, shamed or left out. It is a hard look at all of the things each and every one of us does, every single day, to fit in. To avoid rocking the boat; garnering the disapproval of those around us.

To question your place in the scheme of things. To wonder what it means to be true to yourself. And then, to go on to do it all while remaining desirous of belonging is the making of not only a genuine and satisfying life, but it is absolutely the most essential stuff required for the making of a healthy, vibrant and flourishing community. For the truth is, there must be a challenge to the status quo. Otherwise our institutions, families, groups and communities wind up stale to fresh ideas, suffocating of individual expression and tyrannical and narrow-minded in structure and expectation.

Think for a moment. Who are your heroes? Your thought leaders? What would our world be like had even one of them not allowed their ideas and sensibilities to see the light of day? What would have been lost had any one of these true and unique individuals allowed the prevailing attitudes and customs of the times to squash what was unpopular, heretical or unfamiliar?

The challenging part here is that this is not a one-time choice. And there is no definitive response or line to be drawn that will hold true for all times and for all situations. This can leave it looking like there are no rules, and that therefore, the ways of the individual are undermining of the public good. This could not be further from the truth. For although the journey of the individual choosing authenticity may not always be recognizable to the group, or will not always look the same for everyone, there is one irrefutable truth you can count on.That being, that when an individual is truly choosing for their highest and best good, it will always, always, be in the highest and best good of all.

But for the group mind, the mind based on fear, consensus thinking and safety in numbers mentality, this can feel feel too unknown, too uncertain, too chaotic, too uncontrollable, and therefore too dangerous to consider. 

Why? Because we are talking about nothing less than people deciding their own minds. Nothing less than being unable to control or distort what is new, different, unfamiliar or downright opposed to how things are currently being done. Nothing less than getting comfortable with other people doing things differently than us and seeing it as a value. Nothing less than trusting our own process, along with the processes of those around us. Nothing less than full on faith and the recognition that when we support ourselves in our highest expression, while doing the same for those around us, ultimately, ultimately, we will get to the very best of who we are both individually and collectively.

But this will take time. And effort. And faith. And courage. And support. And it can only actually begin within and around us when we come to value our unique expressions right alongside our deep yearning and need to belong from that place, and that place only.

To wear a mask or not. On some deeply personal and communal level, is this not the question we are all faced with? And is this not an answer that each and every one of us must come to on our own?

The Herd

 

The herd has been spooked, and we are becoming ever-more afraid by the moment. More distrustful of others and what they may bring. More wary of contact. More suspicious of the benign.

As mammals, our herding behavior is built to insulate us against the dangers and stresses of Life. We are built by and for one another. To hold, nurture and protect each other during times of distress. It is our relationships with one another that heals the traumas of the past, bridges the terrors of the moment, and gives hope for the future.

Be very, very careful of where you let your mind go in these times for it can be felt and known by all of us. And like a barrel filled to the brink, it takes only one more drop to tip the barrel to overflowing. Therefore, choose the barrel you are filling carefully and wisely. For you may very well be the deciding drop to a world awash in fear. Or you may very well be the deciding drop for a world born anew with hope,Truth and possibility.

Never discount the role you play when it comes to the larger issues of the world. Just as one drop of ocean water contains, and is, the ocean itself, each and every one of us is the greater body of the world. Of the collective us. Of the direction our world will tip towards. Know the power of the part you play and choose your words, actions, thoughts and emotions accordingly. Nothing you do is insignificant. Nothing you do is separate from what is happening all around you.

Choose for hope, and then choose again. Choose for sanity, and then choose again. Choose for faith, and then choose again. Choose and choose and choose. Again and again. Ever-mindful of what you are choosing, and in all of the ways that your choices are rippling out, shaping and filling the mind of the one-bodied herd, and therefore our shared and collective reality.

What if just one thought by one of us could be the deciding vote? And what if that vote was yours, and yours alone?

True

 

Recently I read an article on Tara Brach, a well-known meditation teacher, where she told the story of a woman who works doing palliative care. It seems that the most common thing this woman hears as people are dying is that they were not true to themselves.

Really, really take that one in. Let it penetrate so deeply that you cannot possibly ignore its impact. Let it disturb you enough to make a change. For if you can imagine what it would feel like to be at the end of your life, and realize that you had not been true to who and what you are, you are in a position to change that fate. So, imagine the personal regret. The devastation. The heartbreak. And then, take it further by imagining the loss as not only being your own, but being the loss of everyone you ever met or were in relation to. And imagine how that loss would keep rippling out; emanating from a center point of falseness, while reaching further and further and further into the world.

Devastating is not nearly big enough, not even close, to capture what we are talking about here. For what we are talking about here is missing, due to mislabeling, THE VERY MOST IMPORTANT THING OF YOUR WHOLE ENTIRE LIFE. In Truth, there is nothing else you are meant to be doing here other than to figure out who and what you are, and to find ways, large and small, to be true to that. And only that.

And yet, we find endless ways to chip away at holding true to who we really are. We find numerous avenues to get so sidetracked that we no longer even know what it would mean to be true to ourselves. We take on versions of who we are, lacking in truth and resonance, because that is what we were told, or because we find it far too arduous to dig in and commit to throwing off the lies: all of what it is, that is not us. We then go on to not only accept, but to defend with all our might, what is false. And we then go on to call it who we are.

Regularly we forget that this most sacred and time-honored endeavor is far more important than how much money we make. Whether or not others agree with us, or even how much they like us. It is more important than where we live, what our job is, or how much we weigh. It matters more than where our kids go to college, the ring on our finger, or the car we drive. Whether we had good luck or bad luck, whether others got us or not, and whether or not we were famous. It is more important then the latest iPhone, putting someone in their place, or keeping up with the news or latest must-see episode.

We “sell out” all the time and for all kinds of reasons. We then go on to legitimize why it is OK to diminish, hide and falsify who we are. And we act as if all of the diminishments and dings we submit ourselves to are not that important. Are no big deal. Are worth the cost of belonging, safety, and other worldly measures. But a day of reckoning is surely coming for each and every one of us.

Will you be ready? Will you be able to measure up to the unwavering, the unapologetic and the unforgiving clarity of death in terms of who and what you have been? For what we all know, deep down inside, but somehow choose to ignore, is that there is no clearer lens, no truer test of how we have done in this regard than being at the end of it all.

But being at the end of it all leaves no time. So what do you say? How about now? How about not letting another moment go by where you leave being untrue to yourself, unchecked.

Taking Hold

“Take hold of what is being offered and work with it.”  I come across this gem as I am re-reading my notes from an Ayurvedic training I did last Fall. Seeing this on the page before me, stops me. Suddenly, I have no interest in plowing through with self-study; recognizing how far superior these words are to any specific information I might glean about the particulars of Ayurveda.

Take hold of what is being offered and work with it.

Can you imagine? Can you imagine turning what comes your way into something you work with? One that instead of deciding that you do not want, you nod “yes” to, recognizing the offering before you? The counsel here being not to push away, ignore or deny what you do not want or wish was not happening. But instead “take hold of.” Like shaping yourself willingly and comfortably into a big bear hug around what Life presents.

And what of that phrase “being offered?” When I hear that, it feels holy, vital, rich and essential. It feels like a gesture that I want to receive. One that I want to pull in close. And then, “work with it,” in an open, appreciative and meaningful way. Seeing it as an abundant opportunity to transmute, grow and heal. This as opposed to resisting, refusing and returning (or at least trying to) all the things that come my way each and every day that I want no part of.

Take yesterday:

I don’t want the logging trucks ripping up the dirt road.

I don’t want another gloomy, overcast, rainy day.

I don’t want to be teaching in front of tired and checked-out students.

I don’t want any part of the college’s new system for tracking students.

I don’t want to keep being run by old survival patterns of the past.

I don’t want, I don’t want, I don’t want…

I want it to be different.

Return it all something inside of me demands. Give me something else. Something better. I don’t want to hold what is being offered, I want it to go away.

My God, the effort. The effort of pitting one’s will against The Great & Undeniable Reality.

 

What If?

 

What if the things you struggle with most, the personal issues, feelings, challenges, foibles, problems, habits, downfalls, etc., are not actually yours?

This past year I have had the great and good fortune to be working with someone who has helped me to see that many of the longstanding struggles, the things that have made me feel the worst about myself, the very things I have been working on for decades, were never mine to begin with. Instead, they were something that I took on as mine from another, a kind of mistaken identity if you will. Therefore, no matter how diligent, committed and widespread I was in my attempts to heal, because it was not mine and did not in fact belong to me, I had no power to effect real and lasting change. Further, it all gave rise to a kind of confusion, frustration and self-criticism around why things were not different given how hard I was working.

It was the equivalent of trying to clean out or rehab my own home by going across the street and working on my neighbor’s house. No matter how hard I worked, it was never going to happen.

It puts me in mind of something I once heard about the generations that followed Holocaust survivors. It seems that the children, and at least the children’s children of those who lived the horror of concentration camp life somehow bear that mark in their DNA; even though they themselves did not go through the experience. That somehow their wiring in terms of how they feel about themselves and the world got altered by an experience they themselves never had.

No baby comes into the world with self-esteem issues, a sense of wrongness, or not enough-ness.That is something we all learned. More to the point, something we all absorbed from those around us when we were more one than two. Growing in utero and as babies and children we did not experience what those around us were going through or how they felt about themselves and the world, as separate from us. Instead, we experienced what was happening for them, as happening for us. This is far more than a case of adult modeling, or even about the things that got said or done to us, and everything to do with us experiencing what they were experiencing. Believing it was ours. Their frustrations were our frustrations. Their sorrows were our sorrows.Their self-criticisms and resentments were our criticisms and resentments. Their fears were our fears. And their dysfunctions were our dysfunctions. On and on it goes. Pick anything, and watch where it leads.

Understanding it in this way gives rise to a whole new way of understanding yourself; particularly around those things you struggle with most. Those things you have put so much time and energy into. Those things that you know intellectually should be different, but never seem to change. Never is this about blame or abdication of our own free will, but instead it is a kind of redistribution where we carefully, lovingly and mindfully put things back where they belong. Just like we were taught growing up when we were done playing with something.

If you feel as though you have been at something about yourself for a very long time, with limited success, could it be a matter of properly identifying where it belongs? Could it be a matter of returning it to whoever it belongs to? As simple as asking, “Whose is this anyway?” Not with anger or animosity, but more like “Oh, sorry I got confused about who this belongs to.”

Now, of course this all happened before we had words or grown-up ways of looking at things which means that now, to really be with this, we will need to see beneath the words. We will need to listen for the echo or the shadow of the ways we are not good to ourselves. Maybe it will show up in not taking our share, or the subtle ways we diminish ourselves. Maybe it will show up in how we eat, sleep or relate. Maybe it will show up in what we believe we can expect from Life. Listen and feel deeply for what is below the surface. Just like an animal would. And when you get a whiff of something that smells off, something that leaves you feeling less than, ask with great curiosity and gentleness “Is what I am feeling right now even mine?” .

 

(Deep gratitude to Gabrielli and Infinity Healing)

“Just Because”

 

Do you ever do anything just because? We used to. As a matter of fact, many of us used to do it regularly when we were children. As in, just because it felt good. Just because the urge arose. Just because something bubbled straight up out of us in the moment. No reason. No explanation.

Everything does not require a reason. An agenda. A goal. Not everything is an opportunity to get ahead or to spin ourselves in a certain way. Take giving for instance. Do you ever give just because? Not in order to receive anything in return. Not because you have to, or because you think you should. Not because you are expected to or because it makes you a good person in your eyes, or in the eyes of another.

But just because. Like a child who has created something, and was thinking of you in the making.

This is not easy to do. We all have our ideas, hang-ups, and habits around what it means to give. Maybe you do it as a way to keep people close. Or keep others from rejecting you. Maybe it is how you feel good about yourself, or somehow superior to others. Maybe you do it to satisfy what you will not give to yourself. Maybe you do it in the hope that your gesture will be reciprocated. All of it creating an ends to a means where the true spirit of giving gets obscured.

In the season of the often loaded nature of gift-giving, and amidst all of the confusion and unconsciousness that can surround why we give, what would it be like to get more clear on why and how you give? Would it mean spending less? Obsessing less about the price of the gift and what it means about how you feel towards the recipient? Would it mean opting out all together, or partially, or creating a new tradition as a way to choose something more authentic?

It has long been a source of sadness to me to know that the average family will spend to such an extent at this time of year, that they will spend the next year trying to pay off the debt. Only to clear it just in time to start all over again. This does not seem like generosity or love, but instead a kind of insanity based on some very warped ideas around what giving is.

Notice yourself as you make choices around giving. What qualities are present for you? Pay attention to the feeling you are having in the purchase, the anticipation of, and then the moment of giving. The thoughts and feelings you are having are an important piece of information; giving you clues about when you are coming from the “just because” place of a child, and when you are coming from obligation, resentment, conditioning, debt and the like.

Fact-Finding

 

As part of a training I am in, a group of us shared an experience of looking at a cup and saucer; naming out loud what was factual about what was before us. On the surface, it seems like such an easy, obvious and simple exercise. As in, it was small. But small in relation to what? You would be amazed by how many of the comments made were not actual facts, but instead interpretations. Going even deeper, interpretations based on who was doing the interpreting. It was eye-opening to see the array of projections and perspectives that could be laid onto an inanimate object; one that would ostensibly have very little charge in the life of a human being. It was after all, just a cup and saucer.

It got me to thinking that if that level of “story” could be imposed on something inanimate, what are we doing with and to ourselves and others where the stakes are higher, the emotions run deeper, and where the need for things to be a certain way is a whole lot more intense. Because this so peaked my interest, at the end of the day when we had to choose something to work on for homework, this is what I chose; to fact-find in my relationships with myself and others. And as is so often the case, I had no idea how deep this one would go.

For instance, when I am fact-finding, I see that person’s face has changed expression. I feel a tightness in my gut. I notice the thought that says I have done something wrong. This is different than assuming what that other person is thinking, different than ignoring the sensation in my belly, and definitely different than jumping to “I am wrong” as opposed to I am having a thought that says“I have done something wrong.” Just a thought, and nothing more than that. No, “I am wrong.” No, “That person is awful for making me feel this way.” No needing to be in a bad mood or think less of myself when I am staying with the facts.

Try it for yourself. When something is disturbing you, can you take a step back and label what is there as plainly and directly as you could say that the cup has a chip in it? As in, “I see…I feel…I notice…” whatever is there? And then hardest of all, put a period at the end of that sentence; letting it stand as is, with the facts, versus an assumption, projection, or interpretation coloring what is actually there. Easy to say, yet so much more difficult to do in practice given how many of our interpretations are based on the past, as opposed to what is actually before us.

It has been amazing this past week to stand in front of more than 40 college students, all doing whatever they are doing, showing up however they are showing up, participating however they are participating, and to be ever more aware of the spin I will put on what they are doing. Or not doing. And how often that spin is because I want things to be different. Further yet, where I need things to be different so that I can be OK. What a terrible predicament to put myself in. Basing my life on what others are, or are not doing; based not in fact, but in my need to perceive things a certain way.

When we are established in the Truth of who and what we are, and when we are established in the Truth of the moment, everything else takes care of itself. Not only that, but everything, absolutely everything, gets to be exactly what it is, as is.

And isn’t this precisely what we all most long for? The space to be, and to be seen, for who we are? As we are.