First Things First

 

Many years ago, I heard the expression “spiritual bypass.” If you’re not familiar with this phrase, it can be defined as “…a tendency to use spiritual explanations to avoid complex psychological issues.” In other words, instead of meeting head on and working through difficult and unresolved issues, we leap over what is too hard, while trying to land in a place we would rather be. Somewhere that feels better to us than here.

Wherever that here is, and whatever it takes to get us there. Delusion and denial included.

While this phrase has always been used in relation to how we see ourselves spiritually, the same underlying avoidance is being played out all around us, and on every, single level of our humanity. We want more ease in our minds, but because it feels too difficult, we bypass to “serenity” through drugs, alcohol, shopping, and scrolling. We want to feel at home in our bodies, but because we do not know how, we bypass to “safety and security” by abdicating our bodily autonomy, authority and sovereignty over to a doctor, the marketers and corporations selling us things, and now, our very own government. We want more closeness in our relationships, but because we have grown accustomed to screen-mediated interactions, we bypass to “intimacy” by believing that social media is the pinnacle of satisfying modern day connections.

Whether you look to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the yogic chakra system, childhood development, or building a house, every system worth its salt includes the same principle: First Things First.

Meaning, that before we can experience peace of mind, we must do a study of what it is that disturbs the mind, and what it is that calms it. Before we can feel at home in our bodies, we must learn how to take responsibility for what it means to care for them. And before we can have meaningful relationships, we must put the time in, in real time, day after day, that they deserve and require.

Somehow though, we don’t want to know this. We don’t want to know that things take time and our effort. For ours is a culture of bypass, leaving us more at home with the illusion that things can be got without cost, consequences or hard work, than with us doing what actually needs doing. We believe we are just supposed to be able to have it. Or easily get it. That someone else should do it for us, or at least tell us how to do it.

These are the thoughts of a child. But if you are ready to see things not as you wish them or expect them to be, but as they actually are, and are willing to use that reality check as a starting point, you are now in a position to leave bypass behind in the service of the life you most want.

What might that look like?

Find something in your life that is not working. Make a list of all the related things you think you are supposed to have or be in this department. For instance, if you are not well, that would include everything around the end game of feeling better that you currently do not have. Keep stripping it all away (this takes time and effort) until you can let yourself be where you are, feeling what you are feeling, and experiencing what you are experiencing.

Then, ask yourself, what is the very first thing I must do now? The thing that must come before all else? The thing upon which everything else relies?

And then, stay with that very first thing until it feels totally sated. This will be longer than you want or can imagine. But just like building a house, if you can put the care and the patience of creating a solid foundation into the service of what you most want, everything, everything, that comes after that will be true.

P.S. Often the first thing that most needs doing is exactly the thing we most want to avoid. So, if you can find out what that is, you will be well on your way.

To Be Of Service

 

Not long ago I had a Vedic astrological reading. This system has some similarities to Western astrology, but is also very different in some fundamental ways. So while I have experience with Western astrology, working in a new system allowed me to see and understand aspects of myself that sometimes elude me.

One of those elusive aspects being my relationship to service in the world. My concern for the welfare of All that has been with me since I can remember. It has been a source of great joy for me at times. As well as a place of pain, confusion, distortion, and overwhelm. You would think helping others would be straightforward. It is anything but. For when you really begin to wonder what it actually means, looks like, and takes, to be of genuine and authentic service in the world, it gets a little, or a lot, murky, sticky, and oh so very tangled.

Personally, this exploration has been the single greatest, and most arduous endeavor I have ever taken on. Ever.

I use the phrase “taken on” intentionally. For to contribute in a healthy and meaningful way is to first and foremost choose to do the work of getting to know yourself inside and out. It is to come to understand why it is that you do what you do “in the service of others.” It is, paradoxically, to begin with yourself, not the other.

It is to seek out the dark and distorted places that look like help, but that are really masking your own personal gratification, neediness, and desperations around safety, belonging, and being seen and approved of. Ouch. And it is to recognize that much of what we do for others that looks so noteworthy, newsworthy and post-worthy, are in all actuality, about us. Basically, our attempts to look like a good person. To insinuate ourselves into the lives of others so that they need us. Cannot do without us, and think well of us.

Through it all, we deny our own needs and what is best for us in the name of sacrifice. The world loves this. It rewards and elevates those of us who do more than our share. Those of us who do not consider ourselves. Those of us who look “good” according to some cultural definition. Sadly, “rewarding” those of us who contribute in ways that allow others to not have to take responsibility for their own lives.

Enter 2020, and all of this takes on a deeper, darker, and more dangerous tone through the seemingly world-wide agreement to signal our virtue to one another based on whether or not we follow mandates that ask us to deny basic human needs. Based on whether or not we choose an experimental drug. Based supposedly on us doing all of this not for ourselves, but for others. Effectively separating us from our truest needs and the absolute, God-given right to bodily sovereignty.

To choose an action that leaves you out of the equation, that asks you to give up control over your own body, is to cause great harm to not only yourself, but to the people you say you are helping. For the Truth is, our collective is only as healthy as the individuals who make it up. Which begs the question: Why would we ever ask any individual to sacrifice their health and well-being for the good of all?

If this makes any sense to you, begin to get into the habit of asking yourself, “Why am I really doing this?” whenever you see yourself as helping the cause. Whenever you hear that voice, inside or out, that says “Do this, not for yourself, but for others.”

The Mind

“How does imagining new possibilities affect realities in the present?”

I read this and weep. It saddens to me want something so much at times but still be ensnared by the ping pong match in my own mind. The back and forth between what I know is possible for all of us, and the old conditioned need to focus on, and fight against, what is not working. What I do not want. What lacks any possibility whatsoever; standing purely in the service of what came before.

It takes energy and determination to be the author of your own Life. To draw a line in the sand that says “I will no longer be party to what is broken.” Not in my own mind. And not in connection with others and the world. Sound straightforward? It is. But oh my goodness how hard it is to put into action. To untangle from all of the beliefs and the societal pressures that say “This is how it must be.” This is all you can expect. Nothing else is possible.

Even though I forget every day, there is one thing that I know to be true. It takes a decision. A big one. A hard and fast commitment to learning the ins and outs of your own mind. To challenge what you take for granted, and to be open to new perspectives. For starters, what is it that you are agreeing to that you would best not agree to? Either with yourself or with the world. This is so worth your time. For what you agree to in any domain of your life is the place from which all else flows. Your happiness. Your health. Your very own birthing of something you think you cannot be, but must. And it all comes down to a choice.

To decide your own mind is to choose to be with yourself and with Life through it all, while simultaneously recognizing that you do not have to believe everything you think. Or are told. That in any moment you can make another choice. You can step out of who you have been and into the possibility of who you are becoming. Into a present moment reality that says “Yes, this is where I most belong. This is where Truth lives.”

But to come to know this place, in effect, to be the author of your own mind, is to ask yourself over and over and over again, “Why am I doing/choosing/believing this?” And then, when you get your answer, the obvious, what-you-would-say-to-anyone response, try it again. This time, set aside all the socially condoned responses, the need to please, the fears around how this makes you look, while asking again, “Why am I really doing this?”

To open to new realities requires the possibility that you got it all wrong. Can you live with that? 

Transitions

 

Like all of us, this past year plus has been a daily and even moment to moment exercise in trying to catch up to the reality that stands before me. Sometimes I am graceful, accepting, and even grateful. At other times I am tense, striving, angry and frustrated. In those times, the Buddha would tell me I am suffering because I am unwilling/unable to be with what stands before me without wishing or needing it to be different. Without grabbing, pushing away, or trying to manage what is most decidedly beyond my sphere of influence.

But in this day and age, what exactly would that reality be? The old, broken down dying systems crumbling (thank god) before my very eyes? Or would it be the gathering voices and movements saying there is another way? It is both, and it is neither. And that is maddening. We are not where we once were. But neither are we where we most want to be. Instead, we are in a place unto itself. A place that is neither here nor there. A place that does not feel like a place as much as it feels like something to get away from.

The place we are in, is Transition with a capital “T.” The territory of where the old still stakes its claim while meeting up with what is yet to be born. Where hardest of all, the old must die to give way for what is coming. A space I remember well when I was delivering my first baby. For when I got to the moment I am describing, I experienced a felt sense of annihilation of what had been, without knowing what would come. In that moment, I left my body. It felt easier to leave then to be with such a Great Unknown. It’s funny to think back on that moment, and how I uttered “I am out of here” inside my own mind. Thankfully, my midwife felt the leaving and called me back, saying “Susan, we need you here.”

Yes. We need all of us here now. Every day. In every way that we can muster. Every one of us choosing to be here as fully and authentically as we can. Feeling all that we are feeling, while being open to being broken open in preparation for some possibility we cannot even name, yet somehow yearn for. A time way past due. A time not tied to our limitations, fears or habits. Instead, a place of pure potential and possibility. Not yet here, but arriving.

This is not easy to do. It would be so much easier to leave. So much easier to choose “I am out of here.” This is exactly where we need our midwives; those people and perspectives to remind us of both the reality that stands before us, and the one to come. To remind us that we are needed. Here. Now. To remind us that yes, we can do this. That in reality, there is no other choice.

While we continue to labor, not yet with what is wanting to be born, who and what are your midwives? What keeps you here, and open to what is coming?

 

It’s All Here

 

Just before I step into morning practice, I poke my head out the front door to greet the carpenter who is here doing some work on the house for us. “Have everything you need,” I ask? To which he responds, “I always have everything I need.” A long pause ensues during which the profound Truth of his statement hovers in the space between us. And then, it gets even better. As he walks away, he adds, “Of course, it’s really about whether I know that or not.”

Whoosh. Again Something passes over and between us. So stunning in its clarity that no more words are needed. Except, for me to thank him for blowing my mind.

Beyond a practice. Beyond reading something. Beyond the news, the fears, and the conjured complications of it all, can we quiet ourselves down long enough to lay back into that knowing? Can we choose to do that whether things are going our way or not? Whether we understand the comings and goings of others or not? Whether the world is of our making or not?

Like so many of us who are just beginning to pick our heads up, I have found these times honing me. Ever refining and chiseling me down, and down and down into depths I did not know I possessed. Into fears I did not know owned me. Into gratitude I did not know was available to me. Into abundance beyond belief. I have gone easily, and I have gone kicking and screaming. I have accepted, and I have refused. I have taken responsibility, and I have blamed. I have been a champion, and I have been a victim.

I have been it All.

And while at times I have believed one state preferable to another, at least in this moment, on this particular day, I can tell you that these times have required it all. Continue to require it all. From all of us. Whether messy or clean. Clear or obscured. Calm or tumultuous. Sane or insane. Courageous or fearful. Everything has been required so that we can say we left nothing on the table. So that we can sort through it all; deciding what to step forward with, and what to leave behind.

To do this though requires a willingness to imagine that things could be different. Need to be different. Not different out there, but different, in here. That it is not about enduring or acquiescing until we can get back to the way things were. That is not only impossible, it is not desirable. We are not here to expect some lesser version of life because that is all we can expect now given what we have been through. No. What is required is to rise up from within the very Life inside of you. Sourced from the place that knows you have everything you need. Sourced from the place that knows a lot has to fall apart and be chaotic and confusing. Sourced from the place wise enough to engage with it all; trusting that once the dust settles what is wanting to be born will be revealed. And that it has been worth waiting for.

Everything we need is already here. The question is, will we see that? Will we use that knowing to disrupt old patterns, old ways of being that keep the wrong things alive? Or will we settle for a less than alive version of our lives here? That choice always is, always has been, and always will be, ours alone to make. Difficult? Yes. Arduous? Absolutely. But always, and in all ways, a way back to the knowing that we have everything we need, that how we use that, or not, is always up to us, and that how it all shows up is not within our control.

Therefore, perhaps the wisest course of action is to do what we do, feel what we feel, and see what we see through the lens that it is All Here For Us.

What If…

 

Every thought was a prayer, and every prayer was answered?

Your thoughts really did create your reality?

You knew that what you thought, said, and did mattered?

You knew that you mattered?

The state of the world was not separate from your state?

Your happiness really was in your own hands?

It really was possible to break with a past that no longer served?

You got exactly what you thought about, whether you wanted it or not?

What then?

 

Our Collective Past

 

I am just now making my way back from a very emotional and psychologically painful week. One that plunged me into the darkest recesses of my own past, along with that of our collective past. It all began innocently enough while I was doing my weekly shop at the Co-Op I belong to. The story goes like this.

As I was shopping, an employee approached me from behind, brusquely saying “Your mask isn’t covering your nose.” Caught off guard, I turned around to face him, pausing for a moment to catch up with what was happening. At which point he said “Are you going to do something about it?” Pause. Pause. Pause. “Sure,” was my reply.

As he walked away, saying loud enough for all in the general area to hear, he declared, “Someone’s gotta do it.” And then went on to rip into me with a fellow employee, the likes of which I did not stay to listen to. But as I walked away, like a bolt from beyond, the word “vigilantism,” dropped into my mind, and I began to get what I will call overlays of past times. I saw lynchings of black men. I saw women being raped. I saw Jews being driven out of their homes and annihilated. Through it all I could feel the righteous indignation of those bringing the harm as they justified to themselves and to the world, “These people deserve it.”

Now, I recognize that this is very, very far out there. But is it? For modern science is finally catching up to what people have always known. That being, we carry the traumas of our past encoded directly into our DNA. As a matter of fact, recent research is saying we carry the trauma of our ancestors for fourteen generations. Fourteen generations. This means we all carry a past of harm. And, this means we all have access to learning and healing from our collective histories.

Why am I telling you all of this? Partly because I am trying to be with the undercurrent that is building. A kind of undertow that carries with it atrocities large and small if we do not intervene. I am trying to understand my role in all of this. And partly I am telling you this because I want to start a conversation based on respect and the inclusion of differing view points. This is how that conversation would go.

Should my mask have been up over my nose? According to the current mandates, yes. But not according to the wiser and deeper part of me that says I need to breathe freely in order to remain healthy, and that my health is the greatest contribution I will ever make to the common good. Was that man within his jurisdiction as an employee of the Co-Op to say something to me? Sure. But his thinly veiled hostility and dangerous self-righteousness smacks of past atrocities. Ones where we were so very certain that we had the fix on the truth, and that because of that, any and all words or actions were therefore, justified.

I keep wondering how history will judge this time period. My bet is that it will not be favorable. My bet is that people will shake their heads at how we have allowed fear to drive us, dehumanize us, and separate us. So whether you believe I “deserved” it or not, how much are you willing to sacrifice of our shared humanity? How much dignity are you willing to strip from another? How many edicts will you agree to in the name of this?

 

Why Not?

 

I was co-leading a series on women’s health and their journey into healing when unexpectedly, the woman I am facilitating with began what felt like a very channeled outpouring. All of which fell under the heading of, “Why Not?”

As in, why not be better to yourself? Why not take charge of your life and your health in a way that makes sense to you? Why not claim this one life of yours? Not only was the question unexpected, it was downright inspiring. Exactly where I most want to be in my life and in the company of others; exploring what is possible while blowing up false and distorted limitations.

The way this question was posed sat on the other end of the spectrum of a conversation that I had had earlier in the day. One where I was listening to a long list of “why nots.” Not in the inspiring sense, but as in why it could not happen. (Interesting that the same phrase can work in both directions.) Why they could not find a job. Why they could not do what they really wanted to do. Why it was not possible to be OK given what is going on in the world.

My goodness how easy it is to feel that way right now. So easy to fall into the mindset that what we really want cannot, or will not, happen. Given the state of affairs, who could argue? You would have to be a mad woman, beyond naive, or living in a bubble to believe anything else. Right? It seems so logical to go with gloom and doom and everything that could not possibly happen. So very, very justifiable. So realistic.

How foolhardy, foolish, risky, dangerous even to believe in the why not? of possibility and no-holds-barred. So, instead, we go along with a program that none of us actually wants; believing we have no other options. And while it may be true that the times are especially challenging, don’t we do this regardless of the times? That being, focus on why not, and not in the open and curious way, but in all of the ways that it will not happen.

But the truth is, we always have options. And somewhere deep down we know this, which is why we are so enamored with heroes and heroines across history. And do you know why we love them? Not because they were guaranteed an outcome or had all the answers. Not because they were being realistic or level-headed, but because, against all odds, they said why not? in a big and brave way. Because they decided on something and went for it. Stood by it. Lived and breathed it in ways large and small. Whether it was easy, difficult or approved of by consensus reality. Or not.

I do not think anyone has said it better than Abraham Lincoln when he stated, “Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way.”

And that is precisely how it works. Something must be determined, first. And then the way reveals itself. Not, the other way around, as many of us would demand. Want in on something that links you to the greatest among us? What can you determine today? Something that you can hold to long enough to be shown the way. Because truly, why not?

Out of The Box

 

I often work with imagery, visualizations, when trying to understand myself better, or when confronting an issue that confounds me. This practice has long helped me to get another perspective. One where solutions and healings that had been eluding me are suddenly, boldly, and easily, forthcoming and available.

I recently got an image that has been powerfully working on me. One that has universal applications around what it means to be alive; especially when we find ourselves stuck or “attacking” who we are or life’s demands in repetitive ways.

I saw myself as a bird. There were lots and lots of other birds around me. We were all trying to fly, but kept banging up against a glass box. I could not see my way out. I could not see behind me. I could only see the sides right in front of me. And they were all glass. They were all impenetrable. And though I had flown higher in the box than the other birds looking for a way out, I was as trapped as they were.

I got the message to stop doing what I was doing. That though I had developed lots of skills, I was still stuck in a paradigm of my own making that did not allow me to express the truth and the freedom of who I am. That my bashing up against the box was not only fruitless, insane and harmful, it was leaving me to believe all the wrong things about what is possible in my life.

Cultures since the beginning of time have used imagery to help and to heal. Even our Western world of medicine is now beginning to recognize the powerful impact visualizing has on everything from mental health to healing diseases like cancer. Best part? You don’t need any training. Humans know how to imagine. We do it all the time.

Only problem is we usually use this powerful and life-giving capacity to imagine what we don’t want. To conjure up fears. To have fake fights with others in our minds. To tell people off. To ruminate over worst case scenarios.

But what would it be like to begin to turn towards this innate capacity in a positive and life-affirming way? This right-sided expertise of the brain that helps us to see things in new and creative ways is not to be ignored when it comes to out-of-the-box thinking. Now I don’t know what is going on in your life, but it seems easy to make the case these days that out-of-the-box thinking is, well, our only way out of the box.

Try it. Lie in bed in the morning, drowse in a chair, sit outside watching the wind blow the trees, or any similar equivalent. Let yourself focus on something you need help with. It can be absolutely anything. Then let your mind drift while you ask for an image to help you. Stay loose. Stay soft. Open up.

Write down what you saw because in the writing often more will be revealed to you. Let the image turn over and over in your mind. But do it softly. More than think, feel what you have been gifted with. Let it inform you.

 

Secret Police

 

Last week, as I was coming out of the Co-op, I saw something remarkable, telling, and quite possibly a serious harbinger of things to come if we are not careful. Something at once to be inspired by, and fearful of. Something that was encapsulated in one brief moment in time through the simplest of gestures. Human contact.

Two employees were passing one another; one coming into the store, the other going out. They did not see me watching them. As they passed one another, they connected hands with a soft, down-low high five in the most subtle of ways. An interaction that if you had not been paying attention to, you would have missed.

I watched them, mesmerized by the strength of the human spirit finding its way into flesh. Into expression. Into contact. This, despite the sterilizing restrictions mandating against such a thing. I smiled. But the employee coming into the store never saw that. Instead, when he saw me watching them, he startled back.

So much there in such a “small” instant. Do you see it? For to see this is to see what it is that is happening, along with what it is that we would never want to happen. Do you see that too?

For beyond all that we believe we need to do, or have been told we need to do, there must always be some things we would never want to lose. Or agree to. Or forget. Or become. Or do to one another.

Looking back, I wish I had done something to indicate how I felt about the hopefulness of that gesture. About the fact that I am clear I am no public shamer nor self-appointed secret police.

Given what we are up against here, all of the confusion, the fear, the uncertainty and more, could we at least agree to not turn against one another? Could we at least agree to never lose track of what it is that brings health and hope to a human being?