Pick Your Hard

 

I fast once a month. It’s hard. Even though I’ve been doing it for years, I start dreading my fast day the night before; fretting about how I’m going to be able to pass through the discomfort. And where I’m typically not hungry until around 11am, on a fasting day, I wake up hungry. Then, I stumble through what I need to get done as best as I can given how I’m feeling. Even though I know what to expect, it never seems to get easier.

This week, I heard someone say that whether you choose to take care of yourself or not, both are hard. So pick your hard. This flies in the face of the world we inhabit where we are constantly being steered towards doing what’s easy, what’s fast and what’s convenient. More to the point, we’ve been educated to believe that nothing has to be hard. We’re all supposed to feel good all the time. We’re all supposed to be winners.

Everyone gets a medal. Everyone finds a four leaf clover at Disney World. Everyone’s everything gets a pass these days because we don’t want anyone to feel excluded.

But here’s the thing, experiences in life that are difficult and that we find a way to meet and be strengthened by, give us something to be proud of. Give us a sense of who we are and what we are capable of. Give us an inner strength and grit to cleave to our values and what matters most in a world at a loss for both.

And that’s why I fast. Because it strengthens my resolve and my determination to remember and honor the preciousness of food. Because it serves as a counterbalance to all the excesses we are constantly being force-fed to indulge in. Because it reminds me of what I will do to keep myself in health.

It’s hard to have a long overdue conversation, and it’s hard to carry what is unresolved.

It’s hard to make changes in your life, and it’s hard to not feel good. 

It’s hard to take the time to discover what your offer to the world is, and it’s hard to work at a job you hate.

It’s hard to admit to the limitations of what you can and cannot influence, and it’s hard to try and control what you cannot control.

It’s hard to learn about who you are and what makes you tick, and it’s hard to live believing the wrong things about yourself. 

Pick your hard.

 

 

Meaning & Purpose

 

I’m reading a book where the author has just finished describing a study where more than half of us feel the work we do has no meaning. No purpose. That many of us believe what we do has no real use. With this comes all kinds of things from depression to disease to a sense of despair and worthlessness. And with all of this comes greater levels of unhappiness, addiction and vulnerability to looking for meaning in all the wrong places. To being prey for ways of coming together with others that offer purpose through harm. Like the KKK and other hate groups, getting into dangerous social media challenges, or being part of social trends based on peer pressure and the narrative du jour.

Right down the road we have a neighbor who when we first moved out here knocked on our door and asked if it would be okay to pick up the apples on the side of the road by our home. He went on to tell us that the tree the apples came from, a Baldwin, was an heirloom and likely over 100 years old. He waxed poetic about this being the best tasting and cooking apple there was.

At the time, I had no appreciation for any of this. Not only was I in over my head due to the big move we had just made, it didn’t feel natural to me to consider eating food off the land I was living on. I indulged him in the moment, and forgot about it all pretty quickly after he left.

Cut to twenty years later when that same tree died, leaving me grief-stricken over the loss. Over the years, I had come to anticipate and cherish its bloom that only came every other year. It was the apple of my children’s childhood, and a precious offering we shared with others.

For many years my neighbor tried grafting so he could propagate offspring from this ancient tree. It never took. Then I didn’t hear from him for a handful of years until the day I got a letter in the mail. He wrote that he had found other Baldwins and had successfully grafted them onto root stock, and was wondering if my husband and I would be willing to plant some of these tress on our land.

Besides our answer being a resounding yes, when he came up to bring the trees, it almost felt like we were adopting a baby from him. Not only did he have very clear conditions and instructions for the trees, he was very concerned about where they would go to insure they had a chance to survive the modernization of our world. At one point in the conversation, he told my husband he believed this was his purpose in life: To protect and continue the survival of this great tree.

This man is an exemplar of what it means to live with meaning and purpose. His actions were never based on what he was going to get out of all his efforts. His only drive being to answer a deep call from within. He is a wonderful living demonstration of how unique the expression of meaning and purpose can be in a person’s life. And my relationship to him and what I gained points to the unknowable and uncontrivable ripple effects our actions have on others when we find what we truly care about and live it all the way through.

None of this looks like, or “measures up to,” the criteria of our modern world where we have come to believe that for your life to have meaning and purpose, it must be about you and what you get. That you must have a million followers, that your efforts must be splashy, and that you must be ridiculously paid for what you offer to the world.

(The book I referenced is called The Psychology of Totalitarianism by Mattias Desmet)

The Way Of The Visionary

 

I am getting close to finishing an Energy Medicine training with The Four Winds Society, and while there has been so much I have learned, there have been a couple of teachings that have really stood out for me. One of which I would like to share here with you. That being, the power behind cultivating an orientation to Life that understands that we dream our world into being with what we think about, the quality of our emotions, and what it is that we repeat over and over again in our lives through what we say and do.

From the perspective of this tradition, dreaming the world into being is the way of the Visionary: The one who understands that the world is always showing us, always a reflection of, the quality and integrity of our internal states. Always mirroring to us the condition of our love and of our deepest intentions. As you can see, this has got nothing to do with what is “out there,” and everything to do with what is “in here.”

This is the opposite of the prevailing cultural attitudes and mandates that would say we have to go out there to make the changes we believe are necessary. The current paradigm would say we have to manage and control the behavior of others for us to feel safe. That we have to interfere with the ways of the natural world and other sovereign nations to make them come in line with our needs and ideologies. We can see this in the technologies being created to block the sun to avert climate disaster, the ways that we now believe we have a right to know other people’s health and medical choices so that we feel safe, along with all the ways that we interfere with other countries under the auspices of humanitarian involvement masking our less than agenda-free interests.

And while we would say that we must go outside of ourselves to fix, correct and change what we do not want, are afraid of, are not in line with our politics or are challenged by, is this the wisest course of action? Is it actually true that if we don’t do something “out there” that it will all fall into disarray? Or is this a mere projection out onto the world keeping us from dealing with what really needs to be dealt with? In other words, us, and the state of our own being.

With our focus on what needs to change “out there,” do we even know whether or not our actions are good and necessary ones? How could we even know the answer to this question if we are out of touch with our own inner workings around why we want what we want, or are afraid of what we are afraid of?

To have vision when it comes to what the world needs and would benefit from, is to first and foremost know yourself. What it is that makes you tick. What it is that you fear and fall victim to, and then project out onto the world at large. Basically, why it is that you do what you do, and want what you want. Why it is that you must have the world be a certain way.

If this make sense to you, try this: The next time you find yourself demanding that others, or the world at large, be a certain way, ask yourself, “Why do I need this to be so?” Repeat this question to yourself three times, giving yourself lots of space between each asking to feel into the answer. Let this question work on you in a deep way and watch how your first answer may be very different then your last one.

The world is in great need of visionaries at this time. Those of us clear enough and brave enough to recognize that everything we want in the world begins with a close and committed intimacy with our own thoughts, emotions, actions and beliefs. A dedicated and devoted practice to changing the one thing in life you actually have dominion over. Yourself.

Retreat

 

I am heading out for retreat on the day I am writing this, and it has got me thinking about a quote from Joseph Campbell. Years ago his words gave me permission to retreat; well before I could articulate what I was doing and why. The quote goes like this:

“This is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”

This is why I go away, and this is why I maintain a daily practice. Exactly because of what he wrote. The experience is not something you can read about, watch on Netflix or hear about from another. It is not always easy. It is not always popular. You run the risk of being labelled selfish or indulgent.

Most of all, you run the risk of discovering aspects of yourself that you may not want to know about. Qualities, thoughts and emotions that you have kept hidden from the world. Interestingly enough, at first it will seem like there are only dark things you keep hidden, but if you stick with it long enough, you come to see how you also hide your light, your gifts, your superpowers.

True retreat is not about distracting or indulging yourself. It is about one thing, and one thing only: Being with yourself through it all. Discovering the Truth of who and what you are. From this place, you are in a position to truly live. From this place, you are in a position to truly contribute.

Anything less is just a continuation of the same old, same old conditioning that has created the endless loop of suffering and misery we all struggle with. So why not take the chance of going off by yourself to see what there is to be discovered?

Little Deaths

 

As I write this, we are upon a full moon lunar eclipse. An astrologer I love talks about how all full moons are chances for deep release, and that an eclipse amplifies this opportunity. This eclipse though is even more powerful because it is in a house where the Lord of The Underworld (the planet Pluto) rules. Meaning, we can think of this astrological moment in time as an even greater chance for release. A little death, if you will.

Now death is not something most of us want to think about, never mind read or talk about. Many of us even going so far as to act as if it won’t happen if we just don’t admit it. And yet, it is an experience we will all have. It is an experience that everyone we know will have. So why not get more skilled at it? Why not choose to meet it, as opposed to fearing it?

Not meeting death on its own terms will always come with a cost. Much of which we may never realize until the actual moment of our death. A moment where we will no longer have the opportunity to make course-corrections to our lives. So while the moment of death may be a powerful learning indeed as some door swings open, wouldn’t it be “better” to open that door all along the way as you live your life?

Swami Kripalu, the namesake of the yoga tradition that I teach from once said, “The ordinary person dies just once, and for them, death is painful. But the yogi dies a little bit each day, and for them, death is just the next thing.” Can you imagine that? Can you imagine physical death just being the next thing? Can you taste the freedom in that? The zest for life that would originate out of that attitude?

Of course, this would mean a lot of preparation. An intentional way of being with your life where you willingly let go of things over and over and over again. Releasing that grudge. Dropping that old and harmful belief about yourself. Putting down that habit that you know is hurting you and those around you. Honing in on all the things, large and small, that don’t matter a single bit when you hold them up to the light of your own death.

Today could be a start. Use the power of the eclipse to think of something that plagues you. Run it by Death to get some clarity about how valid it is. Then take whatever it is, write it on a piece of paper, and burn it. Let it die with the flame. Let this little death be the start of learning how to meet Death on Death’s terms, and watch how your life lights up because of it.

The Ancestors

 

Whether we think about it consciously or not, on some level we all know how our past can influence our present. Whether it is the childhood we got and how it continues to impact us, a health issue that runs in the family, a family secret, wealth passed on, being a college legacy, or carrying the hopes and dreams of those who came before you. In whatever the form, the truth is, what came before us, is in us. A part of us. That doesn’t change. But what can change is how we choose to be with what came before.

In the Energy Medicine training I am in, there is a lot of focus on the ancestors and it has gotten me to think in different ways about the people who came before me. Ways that are taking me beyond the stories I was told, as well as the ones I have told myself. A new light being shed on things I took for granted, didn’t recognize or believed were set in stone.

This week I decided to make space on my alter for my ancestors. I had no idea what I was going to do. I had nothing to place on my alter to represent them. But I didn’t let that stop me. Instead, I decided to begin by cleaning things up. Which in hindsight seems like the very place to start when working with our past; a desire from within to clean things up. One that says, things can be different.

So I began by taking everything off the alter. A kind of clean slate for myself and my ancestors. This turned on another truism for me; once we open to cleaning things up, we actually have to do something with that intention. We can’t just think about it and expect things to change. We can’t just wallow in the blame or the bad luck of the bloodline and expect that our lives will be any different.

As I cleared each item I was tuning into what I wanted to keep, and what I didn’t. This is the discernment phase that says, “I get to choose. Things are not chosen for me based on what came before.” I get to decide how to move these things through my life; what to keep, what to let go of. I found myself with four possibilities in this very tangible process of discernment: What to Keep. What to Repurpose. What to Pass on. What to Let Go of.

That about sums it up. What is it that got passed on to us that we actually and truly want to keep? Not because we are supposed to, but because we have done our due diligence to determine its importance in our lives. What is it that we got that doesn’t quite work in its current form, but could be rearranged to suit us? What is it that we have that no longer serves us, but could be offered to another in a way that serves them? And finally, what just absolutely needs to go?

To know ourselves is to know who came before us. But it doesn’t stop there. It is also to own the sacred responsibility that what we choose to carry forward, and how, is always ours to decide.

Readiness

 

One of the things I am always wondering about is how can we make the changes in our lives that are not only necessary for some specific reason, but that would actually bring us closer to who we truly are, and what it is that we most desire. While I have explored with myself and others many, many reasons for resisting what we most need to do, it still confounds me. And while there are those who have laid out clear maps to what stops us and how we can change, more often than not, we don’t.

What’s going on?

I just can’t seem to accept that we would work so thoroughly against ourselves. Sure, maybe we don’t feel like we deserve it. Maybe we don’t know any other way. Maybe, as Freud would have said, we have a death wish. But still…Something continues to nag at me. It feels like there is something that is so much Greater than all the roadblocks we put up, that is just bursting to get out.

This past week I had a mundane experience around all of this that felt anything but mundane. I take a weekly yoga class that has been bringing me through road construction that is slated to last for four years. Right at the beginning of this, my husband gave me an alternative route to take. But the first time I tried it, I overshot where I was supposed to turn off and had to spend time trying to figure out how to get back to where I was going.

Since I don’t have GPS or a cell phone, it truly was me trying to figure it out. It created some tension over being late for class, so I never tried it again. Only, the delays have been getting worse; in response to which, I have been leaving earlier and earlier.

But for some reason, unknown to me consciously, this week an impulse came over me to try the alternate route again. It was incredible! The roads took me past farms and wild life sanctuaries. The mountains in the distance stood in contrast to a clear blue sky with fluffy white clouds sailing along. I saw two hawks sitting on top of a barn overlooking their domain. It was all so magical. And it took far less time, and I was far less tense.

What the heck had I been resisting? Prior to trying the new route, like a rat in a maze, I was immersed in a myriad of traffic lights, construction, car congestion, pollution and stress. Not to mention moving through a kind of visual urban ugliness. And right next to it, this whole time, was a kind of traveller’s paradise that I had been turning my back on.

I know we can prefer the devil we know and I know there are many, many facets to why we change and why we don’t. But on that day, it felt like beyond all the specifics, all the things we do and do not know in this regard, it really does boil down to some kind of unconscious readiness. Some kind of alignment with what already exists within us, or at the very least, right next to us. And while we can know some of what allows us to be ready or not, there is also something mystical at play here. Something unknowable by our rational minds that want it all to add up so perfectly in terms of exactly what we need to do. Leaving us to believe that there is some magic formula code out there that we just need to break.

This makes sense to me. Think about all of the advice, all of the information, all of the programs and all of the degrees and theories that focus on change. You would think we would have it figured out by now. Since we don’t, there has got to be more to it. More than it’s because of our past, or because we are weak, stubborn or without willpower.

What if all the doing has us running right past something? What if instead of trying to fit ourselves into the existing models, the million dollar question we need to be asking ourselves is, “Given that I want something else, what do I need to do in order to be ready?”

Bottom line? What if instead of all the efforting and all of the failed doing, this is about accepting what is already there and already wants to happen? This then becomes an issue of timing and evolution; like a flower blossoming in the spring that has done nothing more than say “Yes” to its time. This is in no way to say we give up or make up excuses. Instead, I am proposing we wonder what it would be like to believe that there is more to what we know about change. And from there, to tap into what it is inside, beyond good and bad, that wants to change, and ask it what it needs to blossom.

Holy Rage

 

A conversation that seems to be cropping up more and more between my husband and I centers around some version of how to hold the “irritation,” the “frustration,” the “impatience,” dare I say it, the “rage,” that we are both experiencing when we look out at the world and see what is happening.

I put all of those hot button words in quotes to draw our attention to something I believe is crucial here. That being, the so-called “negative” emotions, the very ones we are most afraid of, and have been the most conditioned to suppress, are often sacred inner guidance coming to reveal something to us about what is happening. Like when a firm stand needs to be taken because the behavior or the circumstances are so off-base and out of alignment. Or because something is in violation of what should be inviolate; like when it comes to what supports Life, and what does not.

To work with such intensity is to say Yes to claiming enormous personal responsibility for how you understand and let these emotions inform you. For at their highest use, they are incredibly powerful and life-changing. But it is like learning to work with fire. Things can get burnt. Things can get out of control. Which is why so many of us are afraid to recognize and honor the message that is being conveyed to us by the fiery ones.

To be clear, this is not an excuse to go off on others, or to give you a pass because you are over tired and don’t have the bandwidth to be more patient or tolerant. Instead, it is an exercise in getting to know yourself so well that you can distinguish between a holy message and an out of balance response on your part.

To work with such charged emotions means opening up to the possibility that these seemingly troublesome feelings have a place; without indulging them or defending harm done. This requires developing a lot of self-awareness because god knows we don’t need one more of us justifying our rage as something useful and deserving in the world.

At their best, these fiery emotions can be a kind of holy rage that wells up from within. A kind of wild and transformative fire that is born of a steadfast commitment to a better way; offering up renewal and rejuvenation in its wake. But here is where practice and self-reflection comes in. For to wield fire is to know its power and its limitations. It is to get clear that this is never personal to another person, only to the behavior. And it is never about the reckless, self-indulgent “raging” driven by social media, party politics, victim mentality or a need to be right.

So, if you’re up for it, the next time you’re experiencing one of the so-called fiery, and even to many of us, dangerous emotions, wonder to yourself, “What’s this all about?” You will need to be relentlessly honest with yourself. You will need to be clear about where the emotion is coming from. And you will need to hold that however it’s used, it’s being done for the highest and best good of all.

P.S. If you catch a whiff of “they deserved it,” you’re in the wrong place. At its most balanced there is a clear and steady flame to holy rage that never feels out of control and never carries an intention to harm.

Blessing What Is Different

A couple of years ago, a healer offered me a practice that I use on a weekly basis. It’s a personal blessing that I offer to myself whenever I feel uncertain, afraid even, of being who I truly am when it means being different than those around me. The practice has been life-changing, and is as simple as lighting a candle and saying, “Bless me when I am different.” 

Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of this. There is a deep and profound healing happening in this simple ritual when you name and acknowledge your uniqueness and ask to be blessed for it. Imagine that, your differences blessed! This can be a big departure from the experiences many of us have had where our unique ways were not received by the world. Maybe we were even ridiculed, punished, left or avoided for being divergent somehow from the expectations of those close to us.

Do you know what I’m talking about?

That place in you that says it’s not safe to be who you are? Afraid to say what’s on your mind. Afraid to walk your own path. Afraid to be different.This way of living hurts not just you, but everyone around you. For in this condemnation (and make no mistake about it, this is what you are doing) of who you are, the world misses out on you and what you bring. Not to mention that it gives the world the wrong message. That being, to be different is bad, wrong and therefore, to be denied.

Now you might be thinking, but what about all the focus on diversity now? If you take a close look, yes, there is more awareness around tolerance for the “big” differences among us like race, gender and sexuality. But we are woefully failing when it comes to many others areas; like tolerance politically, or around medical choices and freedoms, or which side you are on for hot button topics like Roe v. Wade.

As I see it, the genesis of the problem here is that we are starting in the wrong place. We are going from the outside in as opposed to the inside out. For until people can truly accept what is different about themselves and honor it, no diversity training, no legislation and certainly no public guilting and shaming will ever get people to truly accept what is different in another until they can first find it within themselves. Oh sure, you’ll get outer compliance, you’ll get people signaling to others how tolerant they are, but it won’t be a real and true thing.

Instead, it will be something people do when others are watching or when it garners them likes on social media. Believe it or not, it gets even worse. When you are doing something you don’t truly believe in, not only will you have to pretend, you will also miss when something really needs to be said that won’t be said because you fear looking like an un-inclusive person. This kind of distortion between us breeds distrust and paradoxically enough, less acceptance of the differences among us because we will resent others when their differences are included, but ours are not.

Blessing what is different begins within you in relation to yourself, and is a sacred act that once undertaken for yourself, is automatically extended to everyone and everything around you. Try it for yourself and see. All it takes is a moment, a candle and a heartfelt blessing.

Starving

 

I was talking to a friend recently and she was wondering why it had taken so long for her to recognize that some of her long-standing friendships, ones that had fallen away over the past few years, had actually, never worked for her to begin with. Had always been too much work. Had never fed her. In effect, had left her empty.

I have spent a great deal of my life thinking about this very thing. More to the point, struggling deeply with needing and wanting more out of relationships when “more” was just not available. With breaking off parts of myself to make things work. Or lending parts of myself to the relationship to make up for what was not coming in from the other side.

Historically, I would stay and believe I should just be glad for what crumbs were available. Or, I would try and get the other “up to speed” so there would be the possibility that I could get fed in a way that made sense to me. And then, of course, I could chip the edges of myself off in the misguided belief that maybe this was the fix. Just be what they seem to want you to be, and maybe you’ll get what you want.

The message always being: Just slot in. Don’t rock the boat by wanting more. There is nothing more available. Take what is here and be happy you’ve got anything at all.

When it seems that crumbs (or even toxins or junk) is all that’s available to us, we will gobble up even the most un-nourishing of relationships in our desperate attempts to fill that need-based longing inside. We will convince ourselves that it is good enough.That it is what we really want.

To be clear, I am not talking about using others to fill a void that only you can fill. Nor am I talking about this from the consumptive, modern day model that says we all need more “friends,” followers and “likes.”

What I am talking about is the real, biologically-based drive to be in good company. To be seen and honored for who you are. To be in connection where all of you gets to be there. Never has this been more assaulted or relegated to the basement than in the past several years. Never have we been more lonely, fearful, socially awkward and prone to believing in sub par, sloppy second-hand substitutes like online connection and “social” distancing, as being the cure for what ails us.

All the while, the central dilemma that each and every human being will face, how it is that I can be fully who I am and have that be met in a satisfying way, gets twisted and distorted, rendering us helpless to know what it is that actually makes for healthy and satisfying relationships.

But as always, changing this lives right here, in this moment. Lives right in the next interaction you have that leaves you hungry, sour, and craving something else. What is that something else, you might ask?

Only you can know that. The trick is, can you be courageous enough to ask the question, listen for the answer, and then actually do something about it?