Sunday, March 30, 2014

Letting Go of Something Old and Growing Something New

Today is Monday, March 31, 2014.

If you've ever had one of those times when you've clutched a pen or something else in your hand for a long time, only to look down and be surprised that you are still holding it long after your need for it had passed, you'll understand sometimes we get so used to holding things that we forget to let go.  –Anonymous

If you want fresh water in your cup, you have to pour out the old water.  If you want to make changes, you have to let go of some things in your life, in order to make room for the changes.  


Why do we fight so hard to hang onto things that no longer serve our needs?  For most of us, it's because we find security in the known and we fear the uncertainty of the unknown.  At some point, however, it becomes uncomfortable to stay where we are, and we know we need to move on.  We realize that holding onto the things of the past is like holding onto a bomb with a lit fuse.  Sooner or later, it will explode in our faces.

What kinds of things should we let go of?  

Some things have to be let go again and again, every day.  These include negative emotions such as anger, fear, worry, resentment, jealousy, guilt, or the need for revenge.  

Some things have to be let go of at intervals.  These might include a job that no longer challenges you, a friendship or intimate  relationship that is not working out, a child who is ready to leave the nest, or a dream that is just not going to happen, no matter what. 

Occasionally, we need to let go of material things and the needs that drove us to acquire those material things.  We might have to let go of money and the illusion of power.  We might have to let go of our home, our car, or our fashionable wardrobe and our illusion of security, respectability, popularity, or success.


Sometimes, we need to let go of inner things, such as our beliefs, our old values, our opinions, our self-image, or our limitations.  These are harder to let go, because they are so deeply buried in our psyche.  In order to let these go, we have to identify them first.  Sometimes it is necessary to figure out how we got them in the first place before we can let them go.  We definitely have to have something to put in their place, so we have to figure out what we want before we let go of what we don't want.

Overall, in order to make changes in our lives, we must let go of who we thought we were so that we can become different people, and we need to let go of our current vision of the future, so that we can create a different, brighter future.   Leon Brown, a religious leader in the UK, wrote, "By letting go, you allow everything to find its rightful place.  Once free, everything finds its way home." 

When we let go, we realize that we have been using up a lot of energy just holding onto things and ideas that no longer serve us.  We can use that energy to nurture our new dreams.  

On the web, I found a great worksheet created by Britt Bravo.  It is a chart you can print and fill out for yourself.  On the left are some "flowers" labeled "Ideas to Grow."  On the right are some clouds that will float away on the wind.  They are labeled "Ideas to Let Go."  Even if you don't print out the photo, you can make your own chart of flowers and clouds.  I like the visual, because it reminds me that whatever I "grow" will require care and nurturing on our part, just as I plant flowers in my garden so they will get the sunlight they need, water the flowers every day, and protect them from wild animals or too much wind.  I like the clouds, too, because they remind me that I can let my old ideas go gradually and gracefully.  They will float away on the wind of change without much effort on my part.

When I filled out my chart, I tried to make sure that for every idea to grow I had one to let go.  A couple of ideas to grow are very long-term plans, so I illustrated those as buds, rather than full flowers.  The ideas that I have been working on for a while are depicted as flowers in full bloom.  I ended up being a little surprised at what I will need to let go of in order to grow a new idea.  For example, if I want to get into a relationship with someone, I will have to give up my self-image as a totally self-sufficient woman.  (I can be self-reliant, but there's no need to be self-sufficient.  There are other people out there, and they are meant to be interacted with. That was the point of coming here, remember?)   Another example: If I want to move to a warmer climate, I will have to give up the security of living in a familiar place near family.  I have to remember that I'm not just letting go until I'm empty.  There will be trade-offs.  There will be benefits. 

Here is your Ideas to Grow - Ideas to Let Go visual.  Have fun with this.  :-)


Friday, March 28, 2014

Smoke Free At Last

Today is Friday, March 28, 2014.

This afternoon I got a notice shoved under my door by the apartment management, announcing that the apartment building where I live will become a smoke-free facility beginning on June 1, 2014. I was never so glad to see an announcement from the management in my life!  

When I moved into this place, the unit had been empty for over one year, and the gal who was managing had no idea who had lived in it before, but the other residents told me he smoked like a fiend.  I could tell.  The place definitely smelled like smoke, and it was noticeable to others, as well.  

I opened windows and filled decorative vases with charcoal to get rid of the smoke smell, and eventually, the place started to smell a little sweeter.  Unfortunately, there was still one person who lives two doors down from me who smokes so much that there is an air-freshener machine out in the hall just outside his door.  It doesn't help, though.  You can still smell his cigarettes as you pass his door in the hall.

When I realized that some of the residents are on oxygen, I kind of freaked out, realizing that if the smoker were careless and a fire was started that spread to the oxygen tanks, there would be an especially dangerous situation.  Fortunately, the apartment of the person on oxygen is on a different floor, and not right underneath the smoker.  Still... 

Maybe the smoker has given notice that he intends to move, or maybe the management just decided to get tough and ban smoking.  Whatever the situation, I am so glad that they have taken the bull by the horns and made a declaration in favor of non-smoking.  The new rules ban not only traditional cigarettes, cigars and pipes, but also e-cigarettes.  Good!  They didn't ban chewing tobacco, but I guess you have to take it one step at a time.  

Next week I intend to call my renter's insurance company and ask if there will be extra discounts available for a non-smoking residence.  (There were discounts for a sprinkler system, and I am still glad I followed up on that one.)

Smoke-free workplaces are a fairly new concept here in South Dakota.  The Smoke Free Law went into effect in 2009.  Opponents forced a referendum vote onto the ballot in 2010, obviously hoping to have the law struck down.   Instead, the voters approved the smoking ban, 64 to 36 percent. 

Part of the opposition was economic, and some of those fears have been realized.  South Dakota is a no-income-tax state, so they get revenue from gambling, which is a source of frustration for residents like me.  The smoking ban affected all bars, restaurants, and other public spaces, including state-run (but not tribal-run) casinos.  It appears, as of November 2013, that revenues are down for video lottery places.  Revenue for 2008 for the video lottery industry was $224.7 million.  In 2013 it was $176.6 million.  I can't say that I'm terribly upset about this.

The Sioux Falls chief of police said that as of November 2013, only five citations had been written for people smoking indoors in public places.  City planners say that opposition to the ban no longer comes up during planning for future city projects.   According to state demographics, only 15.4% of the residents of the state are smokers.  Dare I say they are a "dying" breed?  One thing is clear: they are no longer in control of public spaces, and soon they will no longer have any control in my private living space, either.

Is it legal for landlords to ban smoking in private apartments?  According to Change Lab website, which discusses "law and policy innovation for the common good," the answer is, "Yes. Landlords, condo associations, and local governments may legally restrict smoking in multi-unit housing. These restrictions do not discriminate against smokers or violate their right to privacy. For a more detailed discussion of this issue, see “There Is No Constitutional Right to Smoke."

It will take a while for the change to take effect, but I feel that it is a step in the right direction.  :-) 

 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

To Boost Your Creativity, Do What the Creative People Do

Today is Wednesday, March 26, 2014. 

The other day, Daily Good presented a list of things that creative people do that most of the rest of us apparently don't do, at least not regularly.  Here's the list, with a few comments from me. 

1)  They take time to daydream.  Daydreaming is a process of "creative incubation" where ideas hatch and the mind makes connections that we sometimes miss during the day when a lot of other things are going on.  I have always been accused of daydreaming too much.  Now they say it's a good thing.  Who knew?

2)  They observe everything closely.  They seem to notice details and are able to recall them later. This is not necessarily one of my own strong points, but I have heard people say that learning to observe things in daily waking life can increase our recall of dreams when we wake up in the morning.  Dream information is definitely a part of creativity.

3)  They work hours that are best for them, which may be very early in the morning or very late at night.  I can attest to this, as I generally get my best writing done during my night-owl time.

4)  They take time for solitude.  That's when you can think clearly without interruptions.  You can also let your mind wander a bit without having to focus on anything in particular.  I've realized in recent years how important solitude is for me.  I crave it daily.  If I ever get into a relationship again, I'm definitely going to allow time for solitude for my own peace of mind.

5)  They overcome obstacles by finding the silver lining.  When you do this, you can strengthen your own sense of self-worth, improve your relationships with others, and deepen your spiritual beliefs.  Once you have a track record of overcoming obstacles, it's always a little easier to believe that the current problem will in time be solved, and sometimes that makes all the difference.

6)  They seek out new experiences.  Not only that, but they are open to them.  They accept new things without immediate judgment.  They are willing to explore new ways of thinking, perceiving and feeling.  They don't get stuck in a rut. 

7)  They "fall up."   In other words, they are not afraid to fail, and they tend to be very resilient.  In other words, they manage to find a way past the failure to achieve success.  They learn from their mistakes. 

8)  They ask "big questions."  They maintain their sense of curiosity about how things work, and what makes people tick.  They ask "what if?" and "why?"

9)  They observe people.  They watch their actions and reactions to situations.  They listen to conversations.  They observe and identify patterns.  Writers and painters are especially good at this.  Songwriters, too. 

10) They take risks.  They try things that have not been tried before.  Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't.  When they don't, the creative people learn from that. 

11) They view life as an opportunity for self-expression.  They do things that they want to do, rather than things that they have to do.  They do things their way, even if others don't understand or approve.

12) They follow their true passion.  They do things they are highly interested in, rather than things that will net them some sort of reward, such as money, power, or fame.  

13) They get out of their own heads.  They walk in others' moccasins.  They try to look at things from the perspective of other people.  

14) They lose track of time.  They are able to focus on something to the point where they are in a state known as a "flow state," a state of concentration and calm that seems effortless.  You can get into this state whenever you do something that you love, something that you are good at, and something that challenges you in some way. 

15) They surround themselves with beauty.  I suspect that one reason they do this is to keep out negativity, which can stop creative thinking cold.

16) They connect the dots.  This is the basis of the higher-order mental activity called "synthesis," or making new things out of a combination of things you already know, or taking known concepts to a new level.

17) They shake things up.  They certainly aren't interested in getting into any ruts.  "Diversity of experience," is the opposite of living life as a series of habits.  They seek out new experiences and new ways of doing things, even if these seem outrageous or even taboo. 

18) They make time more mindfulness.  In other words, they meditate or go into contemplation.  They experience improved memory, better focus, better mental clarity, and reduced stress.  

How many of these things do you do?  What one thing could you add to your life to boost your own creativity?  :-)


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Once the Storm Is Over...

Today is Monday, March 24, 2014.


“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in.  That’s what this storm’s all about."  ~Haruki Murakami

There have been several storms in my life, but Murakami's words are true of each and every one of my storms.  When I was 29 years old, I divorced my Japanese husband while I was living in Japan and moved to a different city to live all by myself.  When I was 39, I was in a horrible teaching situation from which I had to get away very suddenly during the schohol year.  When I was 41, I had a benign tumor that ended any chance I might have to bear a child of my own.  When I was 55, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

In each case, I managed to get through the storm, although – when I think about it – I have no idea how I did it.  All I can remember was that I got through each situation from day to day without any kind of Big Plan.  It was a daily grind, and a lot of times, I just tried not to think too hard about the whole thing. 

It's true that I wasn't always aware of when the storm was officially "over," just as Murakami says.  The divorce itself was one thing, but learning to live by myself was an ongoing experience that continues to this day. I no longer feel that I am living in a storm, however.  

Leaving the teaching job was hard, too, and it took a few months to get back on my feet, but I managed to get hired by a school district in the middle of the school year and keep that job until I retired.  Once I began to get settled in that job, I no longer felt that I was in a storm, but I can't remember any particular day when I was aware of this.

The tumor generated a storm for a long time, after the surgery, as I came to terms with the reality of not being able to have a child, even though I was not married and couldn't have afforded to raise a child on my own, even if I had been able to conceive.  At some point, I accepted the situation, but I can't pinpoint a day on the calendar when I noticed the sun had come out.  

It's been over five years since the cancer diagnosis, and although I no longer feel like a "cancer patient," I still carry some of the burden of the treatment: disfigurement, osteoporosis, hearing loss, vascular problems and blood clotting issues, not to mention a touch of "chemo brain" that dogs me every so often.  Still, I have realized that I've left the storm behind, and it's just the effects of the storm I am still feeling  I'm fine, and I need to move on from that stormy scenario. 

I definitely feel that I became a different person each time I weathered a major storm.  From my divorce, I learned what it meant to stand on my own two feet and face my own  problems.  I also learned to ask for help when I needed it.  From the job situation, I learned that there are some situations that are just not worth staying in, karmically speaking.  No matter how good a teacher I was, I couldn't possibly have made the situation better because the school district itself was rotten.  (That's not just my opinion.  This particular district was handed over to a judge to rule - that's how bad it was! Unfortunately, the judge made a mess of things, too.)  I did the right thing by walking away.  (The same goes for my failed marriage.) 

From the tumor situation, I learned that it was not in my life plan to have children, and I learned that I had agreed to this restriction when I entered this life, for karmic reasons.  From the cancer journey, I learned many things.  I learned that I had to take better care of my body or I would lose the right to finish out my allotted lifespan and complete my purpose in this lifetime.  I learned the value of true friends.  I learned that people are not very good at facing death, and that it is not something you can reasonably expect of people.  I learned to accept what people can give and not expect what they are unable or unwilling to give.  In that sense, I learned to forgive myself and others. 

One always hopes that there won't be any more storms, but I guess that's not something I can control.  Like tempered steel, made stronger by the fire, I am now a much stronger individual because of my storms.  I know I can get through whatever comes next.  :-)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Seven Qualities of a Good Friend

Today is Friday, March 21, 2014.

The actual discourses given by Siddhārtha Gautama, the historical figure who is now known as Gautama Buddha, are given in a document called the Pāli Canon, written in the ancient Pāli language.  The Cannon was actually kept alive in the oral tradition for 450 years after the Buddha's death before it was written down during the Fourth Buddhist Council in Sri Lanka in 29 B.C.E.  (This makes scriptures such as the Christian Bible and the Muslim Quoran seem like new kids on the block.) One text, called the Pathama Mitta Sutta, gives seven qualities to look for in a friend.  Here's the text in translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Monks, a friend endowed with seven qualities is worth associating with. Which seven? He gives what is hard to give. He does what is hard to do. He endures what is hard to endure. He reveals his secrets to you. He keeps your secrets. When misfortunes strike, he doesn’t abandon you. When you’re down & out, he doesn’t look down on you. A friend endowed with these seven qualities is worth associating with.
He gives what is beautiful,
     hard to give,
does what is hard to do,
endures painful, ill-spoken words.

His secrets he tells you,
your secrets he keeps.

When misfortunes strike,
     he doesn’t abandon you;
when you’re down & out,
     doesn’t look down on you.

A person in whom these traits are found,
is a friend to be cultivated
by anyone wanting a friend.
It's been said that if you want to have a friend, you need to be a friend, so with that in mind, let's look at the Buddha's advice.

1.  Give what is beautiful.

Given that Buddhist philosophy is the antithesis of materialism, it goes without saying (although I'm saying it anyway, to be clear), that the Buddha was not talking about material things.  To me, the most beautiful things friends can give one another are their time and their support.  When you spend time with a friend, you are saying, "I value your company.  Time spent with you enriches my life."  This is just as true when you spend time together in person as it is when you talk on the phone or chat by Skype or text message.  I try to take the time to be with friends whenever I can, and I strive to allow my friends the time they need to say what's on their mind without rushing them, even if I am a little pressed for time.  If I have to rush off, I try to let them know that our conversation can be continued at a later time, if they wish.

I also appreciate my friends' support when I am sad and when I'm trying to solve a problem.  My friends come from all corners of the globe, so they can't always be with me physically, but they find ways to let me know that they love me, they care about me, and they wish me well.  When I'm having problems, they may offer some advice, but they are gracious about it if I decide not to take it.  The commiserate with me rather than telling me that I shouldn't feel the way I do, and they support my decision-making process, even if they don't agree with my solutions.  I try to support my friends in their challenges, as well.  It's often hard for me to step back and let things happen when I have opinions about how to solve a particular problem, but it's something that I'm working on.

2.  Do what is hard to do.

In other words, go out of your way for your friends.  Being a friend is not always convenient.  Here in the United States, our lives are ordered by the measure of convenience.  We wear convenient clothes that can be washed and worn with very little extra care.  We eat convenient foods that take almost no preparation time or cooking skill to make.  We use whatever mode of transportation is the most convenient.  In most of the country, that's a private car, and even our teenagers have their own cars these days, as evidenced by the huge (and very full) student parking lots at high schools across the nation.  In the cities, that might be a train, subway, or bus, since parking a car at work is either a hassle, horrendously expensive, or both.  When we travel long-distance, it's air travel, because the extra time it would take to travel by car, bus or train is inconvenient.

When we do things for our friends, we only do them if it is convenient.  You may beg to differ, but when I didn't have a car, I asked an awful lot of people for a ride and was told no an awful lot of times.  It got to the point where I didn't even want to know the reason, because people never really told me the real reason, no matter what excuse they gave.  I quickly learned that unless my American friends were planning to go there anyway, they were not willing to go out of their way to give me a ride.  They were never interested in when I wanted to arrive or leave.  I had to match their schedule.  I waited around for them to take me, and I often waited around for them to decide to leave.  Or I cut short whatever I was doing in order to catch a ride.

When is the last time you went out of your way to do something for a friend, something that was not particularly convenient, something that took a bit of time out of your day?  When was the last time you did a kindness for a friend that made you physically tired?  When did you last do something that was a little expensive for a friend?  Have you ever given a friend something of yours that was valuable and irreplaceable?  Have you ever suffered an indignity, been bullied, or put yourself in danger for a friend?  I'm not saying we have to do this all the time, but, seriously, have you ever done anything like this?  Just asking.  I have actually had a few friends who did some of these things for me, and I have to tell you that those friends were not Americans, or they were not born in the United States, even though they live here now.  Just saying.   No matter how I may have tried to thank them, I doubt that any of them realized just how much I appreciated what they did for me.  All I can do is try to pass on the favor to others.

3.  Endure painful, ill-spoken words.

This is another thing that few of us wish to do.  It's a fact, though, that all of us have said things that are hurtful or ill-advised at one time or another in our lives.  I know I have.  And I certainly appreciated those friends who gave me the opportunity to apologize and ask for forgiveness.  It sometimes takes me a while to bring myself to the point where I can summon the requisite humility to apologize, and I appreciate those friends who are willing to allow me to go through that process before unilaterally shutting me out of their lives.  Remembering this, I try hard not to take my friends' painful words personally.  It's a challenge.

4.  Confide in your friend.

Not every friend an be trusted with a secret, so it's a wonderful thing when we find people who can listen to our deepest secrets without revealing them to others.  I think, though, that it's also a good idea not to overburden friends with too many secrets.  

5.  Keep your friend's secrets. 

This is one that has been hard for me in the past.  I'm getting better at keeping secrets.  I think it's true that a lot of times, when we tell other people's secrets, it's because we just enjoy the attention we get when we drop a bombshell of information.  It's an ego-stroke thing.


6.  Don't abandon your friend when misfortune strikes.

This one works as a two-edged sword sometimes.  We can always offer advice or help, but if our friend decides not to take the advice or accept the help we offer, we have to accept that situation.  If the friend is mired in an addiction, we can be there to help if necessary, but we have to be careful not to enable the person to continue his or her addictive behavior.  We can console a grieving friend or commiserate with someone who is bummed out, but that doesn't mean we have to experience the same grief or misery as our friend.  The point is to be a friend without getting caught up in their drama.  Sometimes all we can do is wait out a situation on the sidelines and send our friend thoughts of love and goodwill

7.  Don't look down on your friend when he or she is down and out.

When you lose money or get fired from a job, when you get a divorce or break up with someone, when you get really sick or become disabled, that's when you see exactly who your real friends are.  People who aren't afraid to be seen with you, who don't forget to check in on you, and who don't become impatient with you are like silver and gold.

Sometimes the only thing we can do for our friend is refrain from being judgmental.  We don't have to condone what our friend has done if it is illegal, immoral, or unacceptable, but we can let them know that we still love them, no matter what they have done.

*****

I can't say that I've been a perfect friend to everyone, but I do my best.  I think this is a great checklist of points to consider about being a friend to others, and I intend to use it in the future as a gauge of my own behavior toward my friends.  :-)
Via the Mitta Sutta, a text in the original Pali canon of discourses directly attributed to the historical Buddha (by way of /r/Buddhism), check out this list of seven qualities the Buddha says you should look for in a friend.
Monks, a friend endowed with seven qualities
Is worth associating with.
Which seven?
He gives what is hard to give.
He does what is hard to do.
He endures what is hard to endure.
He reveals his secrets to you.
He keeps your secrets.
When misfortunes strike,
He doesn’t abandon you.
When you’re down & out,
He doesn’t look down on you.
A friend endowed with these seven qualities
Is worth associating with.
He gives what is beautiful,
hard to give,
does what is hard to do,
endures painful,
ill-spoken words.
His secrets he tells you,
your secrets he keeps.
When misfortunes strike,
he doesn’t abandon you;
when you’re down & out,
doesn’t look down on you.
A person in whom
these traits are found,
is a friend to be cultivated
by anyone wanting a friend.
For more, check out In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon (Teachings of the Buddha), edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi, with a foreward by the Dalai Lama.
- See more at: http://ultraculture.org/blog/2014/01/07/7-qualities-look-friend-according-buddha/#sthash.vIBjdOrQ.dpuf
Via the Mitta Sutta, a text in the original Pali canon of discourses directly attributed to the historical Buddha (by way of /r/Buddhism), check out this list of seven qualities the Buddha says you should look for in a friend.
Monks, a friend endowed with seven qualities
Is worth associating with.
Which seven?
He gives what is hard to give.
He does what is hard to do.
He endures what is hard to endure.
He reveals his secrets to you.
He keeps your secrets.
When misfortunes strike,
He doesn’t abandon you.
When you’re down & out,
He doesn’t look down on you.
A friend endowed with these seven qualities
Is worth associating with.
He gives what is beautiful,
hard to give,
does what is hard to do,
endures painful,
ill-spoken words.
His secrets he tells you,
your secrets he keeps.
When misfortunes strike,
he doesn’t abandon you;
when you’re down & out,
doesn’t look down on you.
A person in whom
these traits are found,
is a friend to be cultivated
by anyone wanting a friend.
For more, check out In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon (Teachings of the Buddha), edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi, with a foreward by the Dalai Lama.
- See more at: http://ultraculture.org/blog/2014/01/07/7-qualities-look-friend-according-buddha/#sthash.CBu32Z84.dpuf
Via the Mitta Sutta, a text in the original Pali canon of discourses directly attributed to the historical Buddha (by way of /r/Buddhism), check out this list of seven qualities the Buddha says you should look for in a friend.
Monks, a friend endowed with seven qualities
Is worth associating with.
Which seven?
He gives what is hard to give.
He does what is hard to do.
He endures what is hard to endure.
He reveals his secrets to you.
He keeps your secrets.
When misfortunes strike,
He doesn’t abandon you.
When you’re down & out,
He doesn’t look down on you.
A friend endowed with these seven qualities
Is worth associating with.
He gives what is beautiful,
hard to give,
does what is hard to do,
endures painful,
ill-spoken words.
His secrets he tells you,
your secrets he keeps.
When misfortunes strike,
he doesn’t abandon you;
when you’re down & out,
doesn’t look down on you.
A person in whom
these traits are found,
is a friend to be cultivated
by anyone wanting a friend.
For more, check out In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon (Teachings of the Buddha), edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi, with a foreward by the Dalai Lama.
- See more at: http://ultraculture.org/blog/2014/01/07/7-qualities-look-friend-according-buddha/#sthash.CBu32Z84.dpuf

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Seeing the Light in Others

Today is Wednesday, March 19, 2014.

For an entire day, practice seeing the light in all people, no matter how they behave.
–Sonia Choquette

What a challenge!  The world is full of people who are behaving badly, and – let's face it – you and I are among them at times.  It's one thing to know intellectually that we are all children of God, Children of the Light, but it's quite another thing to be able to acknowledge this in everyday life.  

Last April I wrote a blog post on the topic of grace. The quote I used for that post was, "Grace is the face love wears when it meets imperfection."  This is exactly the quality you and I will need to meet Sonia Choquette's challenge.  

We are all the recipients of divine grace in that we are all showered with God's unconditional love, regardless of who we are and how we are behaving at the moment.  The challenge for us is to extend that same unconditional love to others.  

What does this mean?  What does unconditional love look like?  Well, it doesn't mean that we have to condone the other person's actions.  It doesn't mean we have to agree with them.  It simply means that we don't allow ourselves to become judge and jury with respect to their actions.  If the other person is behaving badly, we know they will eventually run into some karmic backlash for it, whether or not they recognize the connection between the cause (their own actions) and the effect (a negative situation that they get into later.) We may wish we could save them from the negative consequences, but that would only be taking away their right to learn at their own pace, or it would simply delay the lesson for a little while.  

Of course, there's some compassion involved, as well.  We don't necessarily just want to stand by and let the other person suffer through the consequence unnecessarily.  There's a fine line between offering help and enabling people to do certain things over and over without learning from the consequences.  That calls for discernment on our part.  Our help can be offered but it should never be forced onto anyone. And if our help is accepted but then ignored, we must take the outcome in stride and simply leave the person to deal with his or her karma as they will.

This brings up another quality we will need: detachment, the ability to allow things to happen without taking them personally or feeling that we have to mount some kind of defense.  Detachment is a way of consciously disconnecting ourselves emotionally so that we don't react to what the person has done or said on the basis of our own fear or anger.  It doesn't mean that we don't have feelings.  It just means that we don't let our feelings dictate what we will do or say next.  If we take personally what others have said or done, we are as lacking in detachment as they are, and how does that make us any better?  Allowing ourselves to act in anger and fear is the vicious cycle that begets karma for all concerned.    

Putting it all together, then, in order to see the Light of God in everyone we encounter throughout the day, we will need to behave with grace, compassion, discernment and unconditional love.  This is a tall order, but we can do it.  Know why?  Because we are all Children of God.  :-)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Some Thoughts About Spiritual Partnerships

Today is Monday, March 17, 2014.

When I read Gary Zukav's book, The Seat of the Soul, back in 1990, I realized that I had been coming to some of the same conclusions as Zukav, over the years, about the purpose of life and about relationships in general.  What I was missing was a way to express my thoughts in words. 

In order to understand where Zukav is coming from, you have to understand that his central premise is that human beings are not just the body or the intellect, but Soul, and that Souls come to this physical world for a reason – probably not just one reason, but a number of reasons, combined.  We come here to learn, grow, and serve.  Interacting with one another in relationships is how we accomplish our growth and service.  Zukav's idea was that if people could learn to identify their reason for being here, as Soul, they could enter into relationships with a clearer idea of what they could accomplish in the relationship.  He contrasted a traditional marriage, bound by gender-based social roles, and contracted for reasons of physical survival and procreation, emotional stability, and social convenience, with a spiritual partnership, contracted between two Souls who understand why they came and what they agreed to learn.  The Souls recognize how their partnership can benefit each of them, and they agree to do whatever it takes to assist each other in their mutual growth, regardless of gender-based social roles.  Zukav recently wrote, "When two people in an intimate-couple relationship look at their interactions as opportunities to learn about themselves instead of change each other, they are infusing their relationship with the energy of spiritual partnership."  Basically, we enter into relationships as a means of promoting our own spiritual growth, knowing that when we do so, the other person will benefit spiritually, as well.  Zukav says, "A spiritual partnership is between people who promise themselves to use all of their experiences to grow spiritually."

I read and re-read Seat of the Soul many times, getting something new out of it each time as my own consciousness expanded. I have enjoyed reading Zukav's other books, as well, and I have especially appreciated his process of refining ideas over time.  That's why, when I read his book, Spiritual Partnership, The Journey to Authentic Power, I was pleased to see that his definition of the term "spiritual partners" had expanded, because my own definition of the concept had expanded, as well.

The idea of "soul mates" has been around for a long time, but the term has been overused and misused.  A lot of people think a soul mate is one single person you are fated to meet, that you are supposed to marry your soul mate, and that your soul mate is supposed to "complete" you somehow.  That's very romantic, but it's all bullshit. I like Zukav's term, "spiritual partners," a lot better, because it gets away from the idea that two people have to be spouses or lovers in order to be partners. In his book about spiritual partnerships, Zukav specifically says that spiritual partners are not always marriage partners.  They are simply Souls who have, for one reason or another, agreed to meet in this lifetime to work on issues for their mutual benefit.  In a social context, spiritual partners can be friends, business partners, or people with whom we work to complete any kind of project.  We can enter into spiritual partnership with more than one person at any given time. 

Dr. Michael Newton's books, Journey of Souls and Destiny of Souls have also contributed to my ideas of what spiritual partners are, because in his books he talked about Soul circles, groups of Souls who tend to incarnate together in order to learn. The groups are flexible, with some Souls exiting the group and others entering, based loosely on their level of consciousness and their common learning curve.  In the past couple of decades I have identified a few Souls who seem to be in my Soul circle. 

Zukav says that spiritual partnerships have four main qualities — commitment, compassion, courage and conscious communication.  

Commitment

Unlike a traditional marriage, where the commitment is actually to a social role  (I promise to be your wife/husband), a spiritual partnership involves a commitment to our own spiritual growth, because if we are not growing spiritually, we are not in any position to assist others.  The commitment is also to assist, in any way possible, the growth of the partner.  This is a vow you can keep, even if the relationship ends, because if you see that your growth and the other person's growth are at a standstill within the relationship, you can let the other person go, knowing that in doing so, you are releasing the person so that he or she can continue to grow elsewhere.   

If the partnership is not a marital relaitonship, the same idea applies.  Friendships, business partnerships, and other types of group partnerships can be contracted not simply for social reasons, but also with the knowledge that whatever process the relationship involves will result in spiritual growth for all concerned.

Compassion

Spiritual partners recognize that nobody is perfect, and they see themselves and others as Souls, children of God, who are doing their best to grow under trying circumstances.  Rather than seeing imperfections as something to avoid, spiritual partners realize that relationships are opportunities for themselves and their partner to grow and choose to change themselves, often in very uncomfortable ways. 

Courage

It takes courage to stretch ourselves beyond limitations imposed by ourselves and our society, and to take our relationships into new, uncharted territory.

Conscious Communication

Spiritual partners strive to avoid reacting to situations in unconscious ways in which fear and anger are in control.  Instead, spiritual partners identify as Soul and allow their higher perspective to frame their words and actions.  Spiritual partners don't make assumptions about others; they speak only for themselves.  They trust that the process they are in will result in the best outcome for themselves and their partner, whether or not it is a pleasant experience.

The format of traditional marriages, friendships and partnerships will be with us for a long time to come, but the old social formats can be infused with the new energy of spiritual partnerships.  More and more, people are waking up to the fact that they are more than just the body, and that they came into physical life to grow, spiritually.  When we consciously enter into relationships as spiritual partnerships, our lives take on a depth of meaning and a clarity that will allow us to grow spiritually in a more focused way.  Who knows what we could accomplish if we all did this?   :-)
 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Who's Really to Blame for Our Economic Imbalance?

Today is Friday, March 14, 2014.

If a man has an apartment stacked to the ceiling with newspapers, we call him crazy.  If a woman has a trailer house full of cats, we call her nuts. But when people pathologically hoard so much cash that they impoverish the entire nation, we put them on the cover of Fortune magazine and pretend that they are role models.  –Anonymous

The dictionary definition of greed is an "intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power or food."  Sometimes, however, we can learn more about a word by looking at its antonyms, or opposites, than we can by looking at synonyms. 

Greed is the opposite of generosity.  This is because greed is all about giving to ourselves rather than giving to others.  A greedy person's attention is on himself, not other people.  This is the ultimate selfishness.  Do you really think selfish people deserve to be held up as role models?  Could it be that our children seem selfish because we, ourselves, have been unwittingly teaching them to be that way?

Greed is the opposite of temperance.  This is because greed is an imbalance, whereas temperance has to do with setting boundaries and limits within which to function, for the good of the whole.  Do you really think that it's wise to put imbalanced people on a pedestal?  Could it be that our society, our economy, the structure of our political leadership and our very lives are out of balance because we have been worshiping that very quality for too long?

Greed is the opposite of indifference.  This is because greed has to do with a lack of discrimination and detachment.  A lack of discrimination means that greedy people have no idea how much is enough.  A lack of detachment means that greedy people are so attached to their money that they are afraid they can't live without it. Do you think it's a good idea to value people who are incapable of discriminating between enough and too much, incapable of setting boundaries, and incapable of living within limits for the good of the whole?  The 1% gets blamed for a lot of problems in this country, but let's look at the United States as a whole.  Doesn't our country act just like the 1% in terms of our overuse of resources, our wastefulness?  Many of us – even those of us who consider ourselves "working class" – live lives that are positively decadent when compared with the squalor in which many destitute people live in countries such as India, Zimbabwe, Haiti, or Somalia. 

Who is really at fault?  Are the ultra-rich the only ones to blame?  Shouldn't we all take some responsibility for putting people on a pedestal who shouldn't be there?  :-/
  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Rules of the Road for Your Spiritual Journey

Today is Wednesday, March 12, 2014. 

Here are some good, basic rules of the road for a spiritual journey.  

1)  Follow your own path.

Not only does this mean that we should follow the religion of our choice (if we choose to follow an organized religion at all), but it also means that each of us must learn from our own personal experiences and accept our own personal insights, without comparing ourselves to others.  It's fine to read about the spiritual experiences of a prophet such as Jesus (e.g. his experiences in the wilderness), but ultimately we should be having our own spiritual experiences that are meant just for us.  It's fine to read a holy book and use it as a guide in our lives.  But it's better to learn from experience, and to get our information directly from the Source, instead of from a book.

Everyone can learn to contemplate or meditate, and each of us is capable of having inner experiences at these times of deep relaxation.  Everyone can learn to remember dreams, as well, and dreams are a great source of spiritual insights.  The trick is not to feel that our experiences are somehow not good enough, or that maybe we're interpreting them wrong.  The point is to make an honest attempt to interpret what we learn through inner channels and bring our insights to bear on our daily lives.  That's where the rubber meets the road.  

If we are really interpreting the messages wrong, we'll find out, eventually.  Learning to interpret messages from Divine Spirit is like any other skill.  It takes practice, but if you make a mistake, you just have to pick yourself up and try again. 

2)  Let your heart lead.  

The accepted wisdom is to go with the logical choice, but that only works sometimes, as all good Star Trek fans have learned.  At some point, the heart wins out.  That's because it's harder to talk yourself out of a feeling than it is to talk yourself out of an idea.  When you get a feeling about something, you don't have to talk about it or think about it.  You know.  You either get a big positive feeling, or you get an uneasy feeling.  

The trick, here, is to hone your ability to recognize these feelings and learn to act on them.  How did you feel when you made your last big decision?  Did you feel happy, joyful, light?  Did you feel excited, expansive, energized?  What physical sensations were associated with this positive feeling?   Can you remember feeling this way before?  When you obeyed the positive feeling and went ahead with your decision, how did it turn out?   Chances are, everything went just fine, and you may not have been able to articulate why it turned out so well until much later.  

The same goes for the negative feeling.  When you start feeling uneasy, creeped out, or a little off, that generally signals that something is not quite right.  Can you remember feeling this way before?  What were the physical sensations associated with this negative feelng?  If you obeyed your feeling and decided not to do whatever-it-was, were you glad you made that choice?  If you didn't obey the uneasy feeling and went ahead, how did that work out?  Chances are, you had some problems.  Sure, you probably learned something, but you might have been able to learn that in some other way. 

Sure, it's OK to ask for confirmation once in a while, but once you begin to trust your feelings and intuition, you will find that they are right pretty consistently.  When you weigh in with your feelings, it's harder for your mind to talk yourself out of doing something you should be doing, or to talk yourself into doing something you shouldn't do. 

3)  Try not to step in anything.

On a physical trail, there are any number of things you can step in, such as an animal burrow, a nest of ants, animal scat, or a mud puddle.  You can trip over roots, branches, or rocks sticking up out of the ground.  You can wander into a wild animal's territory with unfortunate results.  These types of things happen on spiritual journeys, too.  There are all kinds of negative people and experiences out there.  Some of them we can avoid, and others we can't.  When we can't avoid them, we do the best we can.  

Like a good hiker, we can take precautions.  We can ask a hiking guide for information.  We can wear protective clothing.  We can go with a buddy.  We can use a map or a compass.  We can check the local terrain and the weather ahead of time.  For our spiritual journey, we can find a spiritual guide who can give us assistance.  We can protect ourselves from negativity with prayer and spiritually charged words.  We can benefit from the experiences of others.  We can follow a particular spiritual path that will help us establish our own personal spiritual or moral compass.  We can ask for help from Divine Spirit when we get into difficulties.

* It's more fun with friends.  

In fact, it's impossible without others, because our relationships with others – family, partners, spouses, colleagues, and friends – give us opportunities to grow spiritually.  That's why we are here in the physical world, to interact with others. :-)

Monday, March 10, 2014

A 360-Degree View

Today is Monday, March 10, 2014.

Soul's 360-degree viewpoint enables us to see the totality of our lives.  From that mountaintop perspective we make better decisions about living a more joyous and meaningful life. –Harold Klemp, The Language of Soul

When Soul comes to the physical world and enters a body, It forgets where It came from.  This is so that each time we come here, we start with a more or less blank slate.  Sure, we can bring with us qualities that we have learned to manifest in previous lifetimes.  These are part of our personality matrix in this life.  But we forget the rest, so that we don't waste our current lifetime trying to work on unfinished business from the past.  Still, it would help to know exactly why we came so that we can make some real progress toward meeting our life goals.  

No matter what your specific reason was for coming back this time, the overriding goal for all lifetimes is always the same: to wake up and realize that we are spiritual beings who happen to be interfacing with physical bodies.  When we realize this, the personality and mind can connect with Soul, and we can bring to bear the totality of our experience so far.

The point is not to get stuck in past lives, because no matter who you were, no matter how rich, famous, powerful, or smart you were in the past, you were not as spiritually advanced as you are today, in this current lifetime.  The main things take away from any past life are:

1) What went wrong? 
2) How did I deal with it that time?  
3) If that didn't work, what can I do differently in this lifetime?  
4) What qualities did I learn in previous lives that I can bring to bear in this life? 

In general, identifying as Soul and making the connection between personality (who you are in this lifetime) and Soul (who you are in the eternal sense) gives you a 360-degree viewpoint because you can answer a lot of questions. 

1) What did I agree to learn in this lifetime?
2) With whom did I make agreements to interact in this lifetime? 
3) Is there a karmic attachment between myself and the other person that needs to be worked out? 
4) What is really going on at the Soul level in the situation I am in right now? 

Here are some examples from my own life.  

From a past-life recall, I learned that I had a negative experience with a certain Soul in France during the French Revolution, and the outcome was that I was guillotined.  I met this Soul again in this lifetime and realized that I was both attracted to and repelled by him.  I realized that if I stayed with this person, he and I would only continue to create negative karma between us.  I walked away.

In the dream state I learned that I once had a child whom I abandoned or and left to die.  I agreed to be childless in this lifetime in order to atone for that.  The bitter pill to swallow was that I really wanted to have children in this lifetime, but couldn't. (If I hadn't wanted children, there would have been no "sting" to bring the lesson home.) 

I learned that there is one Soul with whom I have always been very close.  This Soul always appears in my lives as someone whom I can never be with in any way, shape or form, even though we both love each other very much and I am always very attracted to this Soul.  (In this life, he is a gay man and I am a heterosexual woman.  In another life, he was a baby I wanted to adopt, but couldn't for reasons I won't go into.  In still another life, we were both women.  I was gay and "she" was not. There were other lives where we were of different races or social classes, etc.)  What I discovered was that this Soul agreed to try to teach me the difference between "divine love" and "human love."   In this lifetime, I "get it."  I love him dearly, but no longer feel the need to be directly part of his life.

From dreams and other inner work, I have learned that my Soul calling is teaching.  This goes way beyond being a public school teacher.  In this life, I am preparing to be a teacher of Souls.  This is what I will continue to be engaged in when I exit this physical lifetime.  :-)

Friday, March 7, 2014

Elements of Creativity

Today is Friday, March 7, 2014.

I found this piece of art on the web to illustrate the idea of creativity, and I must say it has given me some ideas.  I don't know if the artist was using symbolism on purpose or not, but I see some symbolism anyway.  

For me, the flowers are a sign of ideas blossoming, with the possibility of bearing fruit later.  The colored pencils have to do with creating color and excitement in my life, as well as with embracing the diversity of all the parts of myself.  The rainbow brings a promise of happiness and wellbeing after a storm, a sense that all is right with the world. 

The arrow is not only going up and out, but turning a corner, perhaps signifying that my life is also turning a corner.  The green/blue things in back could be leaves, or they could be water, both symbolizing new life for me.  The pink things under the arrow might be flowers, but it also looks like a pink cloud.  It reminds me that I am most creative when I have a positive attitude, when I see the world with rose colored glasses, when I see silver linings behind the clouds. 

The second face within the face reminds me that whatever appearance or qualities I may project to the outer world, I am Soul.  As Soul I am indestructible, eternal, happy and free.  I am neither male nor female, stateless, and I do not have a "personality," only qualities that combine to create a unique energy signature that is the real me.  

When I am creative, I am at my best. I am fulfilling my potential.  I am centered in God's love, and I am in the groove.  By extension, when I am not being creative, I am holding myself back, censoring myself, limiting myself  That's when I am upset, worried, and fearful.  

Each and every day, it is my job to bring myself back onto the path of creativity whenever I stray.  This is my job for the rest of my physical life, and for the rest of whatever lies beyond.

I am Soul.  I am creative.  Creative imagination is the spark of the Divine within me.  I am blooming now.  I am colorful and happy.  My bodies (physical, emotional, causal, mental, etheric, and Soul bodies) are in a process of being balanced.  I have weathered the storms and have a positive outlook on life.  I am turning a corner in my life.  I identify with life, health, and growth.  I am multi-faceted.  I am Soul. :-)