Spiritual Fruits or Just Nuts?


Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down the dulcimer. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground. Let the beauty we love be what we do.   ~~Rumi

I love this picture, taken when the Christ the Redeemer statue was under construction.   One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, it was built in Rio di Janiero in the 1920’s and is huge, overlooking the whole city.  It captures how I so often feel on the path and I look at it from time to time to remind me of what it symbolizes to me in my own life….I often think of the words of Jesus telling me that the kingdom of heaven is within, that all is One, that we are safe and all is well.  We are not abandoned here, we are not alone here, all we have to do is plug into that larger place within us that is unobstructed, open, free, full of peace and love.  Pretty easy to say,  much harder to really practice.

A lot of times I feel like that picture…there might be a Christ within, but it is under construction most of the time.  My Buddha Nature is always available to me, say the teachers of the dharma, but I have to practice skillfulness in cultivating those seeds in order to really taste the fruit they bear.   Anyone who has ever really tried to work with this knows there is a reason they call it a practice 😉

I have had enough training from teachers of many paths to have a certain perspective on things, a certain approach, my own beliefs and so on.  I work with a lot of people on a lot of issues; there are a variety of reasons people seek out a coach or healer.  But underneath the presenting reason, I  believe we are all seeking healing which leads to union with God, with our true nature, with our essence.  I wrote about some of this in a few posts on the Blessings Blog, about distance healing and how that works, spiritually and physically.   True healing has evidence of the spiritual fruits and I believe taking daily bites  of our intended fruit just scatters those seeds out into the collective to benefit all.  But we have to be intentional about it in order to fully experience it.

It is my belief that how I feel or remember an experience has little to do with the qualities of the experience itself.  Some people leave our sessions feelings relaxed or energized, feeling happy or crying as grief releases.  I don’t see any of those as good or bad or right or wrong.  It’s just how you feel in the moment.  Healing and growth aren’t always comfortable, but they are always optional and not everyone chooses it.  So how an experience feels in the moment doesn’t tell me a lot about the experience itself–not everything that feels good is good.  Cocaine feels good in the moment and crying often doesn’t.  But that doesn’t mean snorting coke is good and crying is bad.  So we have to look for the fruits of an experience over time.

Buddhism and Christianity approach this in different ways, but work with the same qualities of discernment and fruition over time.  You really can tell a tree by its fruits and pear seeds  won’t grow into apple trees.  Both traditions tell us that if we practice prayer and meditation, working with our own process around seeking that Light, that heaven within, your Buddha Nature, or whatever else you may choose to call it, then you can predict certain fruits.

The Fruits of the Spirit are Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control…

~~ Galatians 5: 22-23

The limitless qualities of loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity are your deep-down, ultimate reality,  and those are qualities that can’t be improved upon. If you’re not feeling particularly kind, compassionate, joyful, or equanimous at the moment, take heart: the Four Limitless Ones are there like seeds, waiting to be cultivated through practice—and, being limitless, they’re rich enough to be worked with for a lifetime.

~~Pema Chodron, Dharma Teacher

I find this incredibly encouraging.  I love that in every tradition, the teachers or prophets tell us we are good.  People or bad theology  may try to tell you something different, but that’s their own stuff–take it all with a grain of salt and look for the fruits.   This is why having community and teachers or spiritual directors is so important, why we are meant to grow together in community, rather than just try to figure this all out alone–sometimes our own stuff gets in the way and we either don’t hear valuable feedback to help us grow, we have our own blinds spots,  we can misunderstand something and turn it into a shame spiral.  Other people can provide valuable feedback,  but  it is important to be discerning about those fruits as well.  Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what someone else says or does, what matters is how I respond to that and what I choose to believe about myself as a result.

Healthy spiritual traditions and practices  tell me that if I am truly on the path, my love and compassion toward myself and others will grow, not diminish.  So how it feels in the moment may be uncomfortable or make me face my deepest fears– and that can be a good thing.  But pay attention to the fruits, because what I’m working with and looking for to discern if choices and experiences are good for me are the spiritual fruits.   I am seeking to cultivate the seeds of spiritual fruits, but honestly sometimes I’m just nuts.  So cocaine may feel good in the moment, but the fruits won’t be sweet over time.  Crying, looking at my own reactions to things or facing some hard truths in life  may be challenging and bring up a lot of grief or old feelings, but over time that can yield a lot of compassion, inner peace and joy.  These things are predictable and proven methods of discernment.

It’s nice to know that on this journey so many have come before me and will come after me.  It’s nice to know there are teachers, books, communities and practices to help me develop skillfulness, cultivate the fruits of the spirit and share that with others.   It’s so nice to know every tradition tells us we are already good and really just expected to be nice, to love, to extend love and kindness, mercy and forgiveness.  The Prophet Micah tells us,

He has showed you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God…

Yogi Bhajan reminds us,

Never compete, never compare and never confuse yourself with everything here. You have come from God. Be with your God and see the glory of God in all, big and small. God shall be with you.

Pema Chodron teaches on the Four Limitless Qualities,  reminding us that our basic goodness, our Buddha Nature, what others might call that Christ within, is always available to us because we already have those seeds planted within, we only have to nourish them.   I have a sign on my desk that reminds me, “Divine Peace and Love surround me and dwell in me.  I am safe and trust the process of  Life.”  I find that when I plug into the Divine Peace which always surrounds me and dwells within me, that I feel safe and can indeed trust the process of life.  But I have to practice it.  I have to decide which fruits I will choose to eat from today, which seeds I will nourish and cultivate over time.

I have a variety of Questions I ask the Blessings Coaching clients.  Here is a set related to these things….

Humans get angry or upset about a variety of things. What is upsetting to me may not be upsetting to you. What’s important to your spouse, boss, friends or family may not be important to you, or you may find a situation presents itself as the other way around.  Hurt feelings and reactions often result from unmet expectations and the fruits can be sweet or bitter.   Getting upset about certain things is human and normal—a full range of emotions is normal and healthy.  It’s when we get triggered and go to extremes in our unmindful reactions that it creates problems for self and others. So as I sit with these Q’s, what comes up in me?

1.  When I’m angry or upset, what do I do? Do I blow up or shut down? Do I just check out and run away—physically or emotionally leave?    Do I make choices or behave in ways I later regret?  Am I willing to take responsibility for this and change?

2. When I experience “negative” emotions about something or someone…anger, envy, jealousy, resentment, and so on, what do I do? Do I injure or harm myself or others?  Do I punish them physically, emotionally or spiritually?   Do I make it all about them? Do I spread gossip about them that is untrue? Do I slander them? Do I suddenly begin to speak ill of or blame someone I once praised? Do I ignore them?   Make snide remarks?  Engage in retaliation with destruction of property or something dear to them?  Do I retaliate with destruction of their reputation?  Do I lie to them in order to avoid them or my feelings about it?  If in a committed relationship, do I run up debt or spend money we don’t have to get even?   Am I willing to take responsibility for this and change?

3. If the uncomfortable feelings or negative emotions come into play and I am around children or animals, do I take it out on them? What about elders, children or people under my care or responsibility—do I abuse my authority and take it out on employees, helpless patients in a nursing home,  students in a classroom or the clerk at the gas station? Do I manage my own energy and emotions well, or does everyone feel my moods change and take cover from the storm?  Am I willing to take responsibility for this and change?

4. When I feel positive emotions like joy, for myself or others, can I celebrate that?  Can I celebrate the good fortunes of another, or does it turn into envy or resentment?  Can I celebrate my own good fortunes and my own life, or do I feel like I don’t deserve it and have to work harder than ever now?  Do I have balance between my ups and downs, or am I dependent on external circumstances for my own moods?  Am I willing to take responsibility for this and change?

5.  What do I do with myself when these things come up in me?   Do I run away, work more, drink more, eat more or less, hide in retail therapy or other addictions?  Can I just sit with the uncomfortable feelings without lashing out or shutting down?  Are the fruits of my experience bringing me to greater wholeness, or do they disintegrate me and create bitter fruit?  Do my reactions and behaviors when I am stressed create problems in my relationships, at work, and result in self-hatred, guilt or  shame for me later?  Am I willing to take responsibility for this and change?

6.  Am I willing to work on this, to take responsibility for myself and my life force?  Am I willing to grow and change?  If so, how?  When?  If not now, when?

These can be frightening questions, and are not meant to be worked through alone.  Find a teacher, a coach, a spiritual director, good therapist or community as you try to work through these things.  We are not meant to be here all alone, just working on these things for ourselves.  We are born into communities and what impacts one impacts all.  So know that working on these things and cultivating sweet fruit in life benefits not just you, but everyone.   If you have questions or would like more info,  feel free to make a comment or contact me directly.

Peace and blessings, have a great day!

🙂





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The Mountain Remains…


I am always with all beings, I abandon no one.  And however great your inner darkness, you are never separate from Me.   Let your thoughts flow past you calmly.  Keep Me near, at every moment.  Trust Me with your life, because I Am you, more than you yourself are…

~~~Bhagavad Gita

Hello all!  Blogger Slacker returns like a thief in the night, surprise!  A lot has been happening, and the truth is I’ve been living this life instead of blogging about it.  But I wanted to come by so the Spirituality blog and our dear readers don’t get too lonely 🙂

We signed my mom into hospice last week and I’ve been coming and going a lot.  I was thinking about all of this stuff the last time I was down there, and this post was the favorite of many, so I’m going to re-run it.  I wrote this post last summer and the funny thing is that not much has changed, but everything has changed.  Not much is different, but it’s all so different.  And such is the nature of life.  And so the mountain still remains…Enjoy 🙂

~~~

I spent the last few days with my parental units, in a little town in Southeast Missouri.  This is an area I blogged about last week when I was thinking of my grandmother and my memories of smells, heaven and so on.  Lest I sound too romantic, the other reality is that this area located in the buckle of the bible belt boasts some pretty startling stats:  Highest illiteracy rates in the state.  Nearly 30% of children and seniors live below the poverty line.  A neighboring county claims the state prize for the most arrests for operating meth labs  and is rampant with child abuse and domestic violence, drug abuse and alcoholism.  It is literally in the middle of nowhere, a dot on a state road map  in the foothills of the Ozark mountains.  My cell phone doesn’t work because it is so far from civilization and if there is ever an emergency, there is no ambulance service.  You buy into a 911 package that allows a helicopter to transport you to a hospital about 50 miles away.

This is an area about an hour from a hospital, an hour from a major grocery store or movie theater, an area settled centuries ago by native mound builders and which later experienced some fierce fighting and plundering during the Civil War.  The Trail of Tears was prominent all through this area and various Indian tribes lived there for centuries before the Europeans arrived.  Much of my ancestry can be traced to the Irish  who settled there then married Cherokees who managed to escape from the Trail and find a new life in those rugged hills.  An old Civil War road runs along a ridge toward the back of their property, a heavily wooded area full of deer and other game, birds and bugs and snakes of all stripes.  In the cemetery where my father’s mother is buried, about two miles back on a dirt road, there is a large hand carved stone, noting only that it is at the head of a mass grave of slaves and Indian mound builders.  No one seems to have other information, but it has always fascinated me.  So it’s not exactly Heaven on paper, but I actually believe Heaven is within, regardless of where I may or may not be.  And besides– God I love it there.  It’s nature at its best;  the people, landscape and its inhabitants wild and untamed, with rolling hills and valleys, which in this part of the world are referred to as “hollers.”

During this trip, we made pickles and tomato juice with ingredients straight from the garden, ran a few errands and I worked in the yard some.  This is my favorite part, the garden and cutting acres of grass.  My father has some big lawn mower things that are nicer than one of the cars I owned in college, a ratty old 4-speed copper colored Datsun  my friend Tom affectionately referred to as “The Turd.”   I learned pretty quickly as a child that if you are cutting grass or doing dishes, people just leave you alone to do your own thing.  This remains true even now. So I like to cut the grass.

Going to their place is always an adventure.  The drive down takes close to 3 hours and rolls through some gorgeous country, through little towns and hamlets named after characters and areas from the Bible, after people long forgotten other than a passing through their creeks or farms.   Yet these mountains and valleys remain, solid witnesses to the passage of time.   I thought of my grandmother a lot on the way down and her uncanny ability to predict the weather, among other things.  She swore that if the cows were laying down (which they were on Thursday) it was a sign of  “falling weather,” and to expect rain or snow or whatever seasonal precipitation falls that time of year.  For the record, the cattle were all sprawled out like college kids after a drinking binge, but the skies were sunny and  earth-bound blue, with no rain in sight.

So these are things you can’t help but notice on the way down.  Part of what I like about going is that I’m never sure what I might end up doing while I’m there.  My mother is not in good health  but is in this Energizer Bunny Holding Pattern, just sort of plugging along.  My clinical brain knows that one of these days, probably sooner rather than later, the batteries in the Bunny will stop working and she’ll sign into hospice.  When that time comes, I’ll go down there for the duration, but for now I just come and go and do what I can.   And when I can, I cut the grass and admire the rolling hills, these foothills of the Ozark mountains.

So I tooled around on the Cadillac of lawn mowers, very Zen-like.  Well, Zen-like other than being lost in thought.   But at least Buddhist in the sense of mostly being really present to the moment.  I love watching the birds dive into areas I just cut, scooping up the bugs that bounce around like kids in bumper cars, scattering wildly to escape the whirring blades.  I love watching the clouds come and go, love hearing the cicadas sing their bluesy summer songs, love the heat and sun, love the ways the earth seems to stand still and move so  steadily at the same time.  The snakes really will leave you alone if you return the same courtesy and they provide the valuable service of keeping the mice and bugs away, so there is a general sense of “live and let live,” which is fine with me.

So I cut grass and soak up sun and sometimes I’m so present to the moment that it aches.  So many people I know are feeling apart from the Divine right now, so apart from who they believe themselves to be, so soul-weary.  I watch my own mother and remember the hundreds of people I worked with in hospice, knowing that you can hold onto life for a long time, but eventually you just become a weary traveler wanting to get home.   I was thinking of the verse from the Gita I listed above and many others, just letting the blades whir around and letting the sun melt some of my own thoughts away.  The Gita is part of the Hindu Scriptures and translates as “The Song of God.”  I love the passage that says God is more me than I am.   I love thinking that I am One with the Divine and those mountains, with all that is happening, all that is so big and small, so real and so surreal.

Later, as one storm after another brought the most ominous looking clouds and dark skies, pounding rain, thunder and lightening vibrating the house and illuminating the mouth of the George Ward Holler (I have no idea who George Ward was, but the storms always come through the valley of his old farm) near their home,  I thought of my grandmother and of how the storms in our own lives just roll through like that.  Some sun, some rain, and usually some warnings for dark skies if we are paying attention, even if that is cows laying down on a hot afternoon.   But then that passes through too, dripping with much needed nourishment for the soils of our souls, lit up, maybe even shaken or stirred a bit. This weekend reminded me of all of these things, and I thought about it a lot.   Mostly the skies in this life are clear, but clouds pass through, that’s just part of it too.  But doing this inner process in deep communion with the Earth makes it more do-able for me and reminds me of a passage from the Prophet Isaiah,

You shall go out in joy, and be led forward in peace; the mountains and hills will break forth before you in singing, and all the trees of the fields will clap their hands…

So I thought about all of that while I mowed and cleaned and made sweet pickles and tomato juice, trying to soak up time like a sponge, feeling it slipping through the hourglass, knowing you can’t hold onto anything or it just cuts as you try to grasp it, feeling time pass with a sense of Amazing Grace.  I find the only way to do this time (or any time, for that matter) is to be present as much as possible– so present that it aches a little…but there is also so much joy there, and that grabs you too.  The Buddhist word for that place is Bodhicitta, which the Dharma teacher Pema Chodron describes as “the soft spot.”   Volumes have been written about this, but it’s basically that soft place inside all of us that holds some pain, some joy, some tenderness, like an old scar that never fully heals.  And all you can do is touch it lightly, like painting a prayer on a cobweb, holding it all in the tenderness of a mother with a sick child, knowing that you are the mother and child all at once.

There is something powerful about that soft spot, knowing it is as eternal as the mountains and valleys, knowing that mountain remains in spite of its own soft spots and pounding rains.  There is something really comforting about the eternal yet so very temporal nature of time and the passage of it, something so very comforting about the deeply personal nature of this time and the universal nature of it as well.    At some point we all experience death–hopefully we all experience a life.  That’s really my primary aspiration with all of this, to be so present to all of my life that it aches, but to take this life, as shaken and stirred as it may feel at times, and really live it.

The poet Li Po pondered these same things, as we all have throughout lifetimes and the ages.  Yet the mountains remain, a witness to our grief and joys, to knowing no matter how dark it feels, we are One.  Nearly 1300 years ago in China Li Po wrote, possibly on a weekend like this one,

The birds have vanished into the sky

And now the last cloud drains away.

We sit together, the mountain and me,

Until only the mountain remains…

So tonight I sit, honoring mountains and time, watching the clouds drain away.  And like clouds in the sky,  we all  pass through, changing forms and moods like the weather, always changing, always eternal, always One with All That Is.   And the mountain remains.

Night moon.

Night stars.

Peace 🙂






What Love Is


Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres….And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

~~1 Corinthians 13

 

Today’s post is a direct cut and paste from What Love Is, by Ayya Khema, a Dharma Teacher.  Born in Berlin of Jewish parents in 1923, Ayya Khema escaped Nazi Germany in 1938  to Glasgow. She joined her parents two years later in Shanghai, where the family was put into a Japanese POW camp  in which her father died.  Four years after her camp was liberated, Ayya Khema emigrated to the United States where she married and had two children. While traveling in Asia from 1960 to 1964, she learned meditation and in 1975, began to teach. Three years later she established Wat Buddha Dhamma, a forest monastery in the Theravada tradition near Sydney, Australia. In 1979 she was ordained as a Buddhist nun in Sri Lanka. She is currently the spiritual director of BuddhaHaus in Oy-Mittleberg, Germany, which she established. She has written numerous books in English and German, including Being Nobody, Going Nowhere and When the Iron Eagle Flies.

I’ve thought a lot about “love” lately and what it means to really love and love well.  I wrote some thoughts on this a few months ago in a post entitled Love is Kind.  You can find that here if you are interested.  More and more I realize it is only middle and upper class people who demand to pray or meditate in clean, “spiritual” places.  People have prayed and felt love in concentration camps, mine shafts, wide open prairies, ghettos and slums since the beginning of time.  Love has always been with us and can always be if we choose it.  I find a great deal of inspiration from Jesus, Buddha, Mother Theresa and many other teachers, but honestly at times they seem very removed from my daily life, perhaps “not understanding” what I might be up against.   Reading teachings by Ayya Khema and others who have come through experiences like hers somehow makes distant teachings seem more present, accessible and real.  There is no real new information here…all of the great teachers and sages tell us the same things again and again.  But today, when our country spends millions of dollars on cheap chocolate and Hallmark, I thought I might pass along a wonderful reading on What Love Is.  Enjoy!

~~~~~

MOST PEOPLE are under the impression that they can think out their lives. But that’s a misconception. We are subject to our emotions and think in ways based on our emotions. So it’s extremely important to do something about our emotions. In the same way as the Buddha gave us the Four Supreme Efforts for the mind, he also outlined the Four Emotions for the heart.  The Four Emotions–lovingkindness (metta), compassion (karuna), joy with others (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha)–are called the “divine abodes.” When we have perfected these four, we have heaven on earth, paradise in our own heart.

I think everybody knows that above us is the sky and not heaven. We have heaven and hell within us and can experience this quite easily. So even without having complete concentration in meditation and profound insights, the Four Divine Abodes enable us to live on a level of truth and lovingness, security, and certainty, which gives life a totally different quality. When we are able to arouse love in our hearts without any cause, just because love is the heart’s quality, we feel secure. It is impossible to buy security, even though many people would like to do so. Insurance companies have the largest buildings because people try to buy security. But when we create certainty within, through a loving heart, we feel assured that our reactions and feelings are not going to be detrimental to our own or other people’s happiness. Many fears will vanish.

Metta–the first of the Supreme Emotions–is usually translated as “loving kindness.” But loving-kindness doesn’t have the same impact in English that the word love has, which carries a lot of meaning for us. We have many ideas about love. The most profound thought we have about love, which is propagated in novels, movies, and billboards, is the idea that love exists between two people who are utterly compatible, usually young and pretty, and who for some odd reason have a chemical attraction toward each other-none of which can last. Most people find out during the course of their lifetime that this is a myth, that it doesn’t work that way. Most people then think it’s their own fault or the other person’s fault or the fault of both, and they try a new relationship. After the third, fourth, or fifth try, they might know better; but a lot of people are still trying. That’s usually what’s called love in our society.

In reality, love is a quality of our heart. The heart has no other function. If we were aware that we all contain love within us, and that we can foster and develop it, we would certainly give that far more attention than we do. In all developed societies there are institutions to foster the expansion of the mind, from the age of three until death. But we don’t have any institutions to develop the heart, so we have to do it ourselves. Most people are either waiting for or relating to the one person who makes it possible for them to feel love at last. But that kind of love is beset with fear, and fear is part of hate. What we hate is the idea that this special person may die, walk away, have other feelings and thoughts-in other words, the fear that love may end, because we believe that love is situated strictly in that one person. Since there are six billion people on this planet, this is rather absurd. Yet most people think that our love-ability is dependent upon one person and having that one person near us. That creates the fear of loss, and love beset by fear cannot be pure. We create a dependency upon that person, and on his or her ideas and emotions. There is no freedom in that, no freedom to love.

If we see quite clearly that love is a quality that we all have, then we can start developing that ability. Any skill that we have, we have developed through practice. If we’ve learned to type, we’ve had to practice. We can practice love and eventually we’ll have that skill. Love has nothing to do with finding somebody who is worth loving, or checking out people to see whether they are truly lovable. If we investigate ourselves honestly enough, we find that we’re not all that lovable either, so why do we expect somebody else to be totally lovable? It has nothing to do with the qualities of the other person, or whether he or she wants to be loved, is going to love us back, or needs love. Everyone needs love. Because we know our own faults, when somebody loves us we think, Oh, that’s great, this person loves me and doesn’t even know I have all these problems. We’re looking for somebody to love us to support a certain image of ourselves. If we can’t find anybody, we feel bereft. People even get depressed or search for escape routes. These are wrong ways of going at it.

IN THE spiritual path, there’s nothing to get, and everything to get rid of. The  first thing to let go of is trying to “get” love, and instead to give it. That’s the secret of the spiritual path. One has to give oneself wholeheartedly. Whatever we do half heartedly, brings halfhearted results. How can we give ourselves? By not holding back.  By not wanting for ourselves. If we want to be loved, we are looking for a support system. If we want to love, we are looking for spiritual growth.  Disliking others is far too easy. Anybody can do it and justify it because, of course, people are often not very bright and don’t act the way we’d like them to act. Disliking makes grooves in the heart, and it becomes easier and easier to fall into these grooves. We not only dislike others, but also ourselves. If one likes or loves oneself, it’s easier to love others, which is why we always start loving-kindness meditations with the focus on ourselves. That’s not egocentricity. If we don’t like ourselves because we have faults, or have made mistakes, we will transfer that dislike to others and judge them accordingly. We are not here to be judge and jury. First of all, we don’t even have the qualifications. It’s also a very unsatisfactory job, doesn’t pay, and just makes people unhappy.

PEOPLE OFTEN feel that it’s necessary to be that way to protect themselves. But what do we need to protect ourselves from? We have to protect our bodies from injury. Do we have to protect ourselves from love? We are all in this together, living on this planet at the same time, breathing the same air. We all have the same limbs, thoughts, and emotions. The idea that we are separate beings is an illusion. If we practice meditation diligently with perseverance, then one day we’ll get over this illusion of separation. Meditation makes it possible to see the totality of all manifestation. There is one creation and we are all part of it. What can we be afraid of? We are afraid to love ourselves, afraid to love creation, afraid to love others because we know negative things about ourselves. Knowing that we do things wrong, that we have unhappy or unwholesome thoughts, is no reason not to love. A mother who loves her children doesn’t stop loving them when they act silly or unpleasant. Small children have hundreds of unwholesome thoughts a day and give voice to them quite loudly. We have them too, but we do not express them all.

So, if a mother can love a child who is making difficulties for her, why can’t we love ourselves? Loving oneself and knowing oneself are not the same thing. Love is the warmth of the heart, the connectedness, the protection, the caring, the concern, the embrace that comes from acceptance and understanding for oneself. Having practiced that, we are in a much better position to practice love toward others. They are just as unlovable as we are, and they have just as many unwholesome thoughts. But that doesn’t matter. We are not judge and jury. When we realize that we can actually love ourselves, there is a feeling of being at ease. We don’t constantly have to become or pretend, or strive to be somebody. We can just be. It’s nice to just be, and not be “somebody.” Love makes that possible. By the same token, when we relate to other people, we can let them just be and love them. We all have daily opportunities to practice this. It’s a skill, like any other.

….I hope this finds everyone resting in Big Love today!!!! 🙂

 

Smile at Fear


Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves – regret for the past and fear of the future…

~~~Fulton Oursler

Because we are afraid, we develop all kinds of habits which over time lead to addictions.  Human beings are funny like that–We look for strength in the things that weaken us…

~~Pema Chodron,  Dharma Teacher

I took this picture over Labor Day weekend while hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in New Mexico.  For those of you with eyes over 40, that is a cow patty with flowers growing out of it. Lovely, isn’t it? 🙂

You have to understand the enormity of the canyon and the area in which we were hiking to fully appreciate this image–ginormous doesn’t begin to capture it.  The CDT runs from Mexico to Canada, it’s hundreds of miles long.  We were in the Rio Chamas Wilderness section, just a few miles from the CDT trail head in New Mexico.  There are countless acres and square miles in which this flower could have planted itself, but it chose to land in cow poo and stay there, to use the inherent qualities of the excrement for fertilizer and grow just a bit taller and stronger than the surrounding flowers.  Let us take some instruction from this brave little wildflower– it was not afraid to get down in the muck and take root in order to grow and thrive in an otherwise harsh desert environment.

This is the area in which we were hiking…gorgeous, yes.  But fully sunny, hot and dry during the day, chilly at night.  Deep in canyons surrounded by mountains in the Chamas River Wilderness Area, about an hour outside of Santa Fe, 13 miles back on a red dirt road then walking toward Ojitos Canyon on the CDT…Desolate but full of Life, a blank slate on which nature and Life can assert itself to grow and thrive.

So that little flower could have inserted herself anywhere.  But Life doesn’t necessarily choose what is easy, Life chooses what is Life-Giving.  And let’s face it: sometimes Life acknowledges that shit makes great fertilizer.  But the truth is that as humans, we fear the pain, the stink, the stickiness, appearances of “how this will look,”  so we go for what seems easy in the moment, rather than what might actually feed us and give us more life.  But choosing the easier, softer way may not always be life-affirming; if we are not discerning, it can also lead to addictions and much more pain.  Fear can make us choose things  which in the moment seem easier–it seems easier in the moment to avoid tears and pain.  But in doing so, we often strengthen habits which just lead to more pain and fear and so on and on the cycle goes.  The biggest obstacle to true healing is our fear, because what usually happens in the middle of big healing experiences is that our fear arises and we shut down or check out.  Yet we can also use that same fear to move us forward or feed us, to strengthen us and lead us to seeking out a new way of being.  Discernment is the key here.   (I  wrote a more in-depth post on this concept called Spiritual Fruits or Just Nuts? You can read that here if you are interested. )

There is something really powerful and encouraging about knowing that since the beginning of time, humans have felt fear and elation, grief and joy, happiness and sadness, compassion and rage, resentment and forgiveness, hope and despair.  The list of feelings and their opposites could go on and on, but the truth is we are not so different than our ancestors.  All of the Religions of the Book and all of the sacred scriptures of each religion address this…each time the Angel of God comes to a prophet or recipient of Divine Love or Intervention, the first thing the Angel says is, “Be not afraid.”  Not, “Hey Joe, it’s your lucky day!”  But, “Fear not!”  Fear is natural and human, but so is love.  So is compassion.  So is forgiveness and grace.  It’s all true at once, and so we have to choose.  We have to choose to heal.  We have to choose to love.  We have to choose to move forward in our fear, which of course  is the hardest time to choose something.  But it can be done and you don’t have to do it alone.

Humans have always divided off into groups or tribes and have always liked to talk about how civilized we are and how that group over there is so wrong or bad…you can see it now between Christians and Muslims, Muslims and Jews, Republicans and Democrats and on and on.  But the real enemy, if there is an enemy at all, is our fear.  Our fear of change, our fear of loss, our fear of success, our fear of failure, our fear of abandonment, our fear of getting what we want or not getting what we want, fear of really living, fear of what “they” will think, fear of how it will look if we ask for help or tell the truth of our lives, and on and on it goes.  But if we get down to the basics of life, a Muslim parent in Afghanistan wants the same health and safety for his children that an American Baptist parent wants for his kids.  We all want to be loved, to be nourished and to have happiness and freedom from want or suffering.  We all want to be free of the things that bind us, we all want to feel safe and happy and know those whom we love are  safe and happy as well.

There is always something in the press about 9/11 and our fear based reactions to that date, to that event.  What people fail to remember is that Iran was the first country to send condolences to the United States after the Twin Towers fell.  Yes, Iran.  Not Great Britain or Israel, but Iran.  They were the first country to hold a prayer gathering and other Muslim countries quickly followed suit, because in that moment we were not enemies without official relations, we were all just human beings, all feeling the horror of the enormity of that loss.  Human compassion was able to override fear and mistrust and bring forth compassion and prayer.  Mistrust reigns again, but in the deepest moments of need, compassion can always take root.  Like that flower, Life can always find a way to grow through the pain, through the fear, through what looks like shit, and come out smelling like a rose on the other side.  Life just does that, because Life is rooted in Love, in our Oneness, in our connection.

The danger comes when we decide to root into our fears and just create more fertilizer in our life without ever really planting good seeds of compassion, growth, love or humility.  The seeds we plant will always grow–of this there is no doubt.  And poo makes great fertilizer regardless of the seeds, but as any gardener knows, too much fertilizer can also kill the plant.  So when in fear, I have some choices…Will I ask for help?  Will I be discerning about which seeds I am sowing?  Resentment seeds seem to germinate faster than seeds of compassion, but both need fertilizer to grow.  So which seeds am I planting today, which seeds am I feeding? What do I want this garden of my life to look like in a few months?  Because have no doubt–the seeds you plant today will be harvested tomorrow. You can call it karma or what comes around goes around, you can call it fair or unfair, you can call it what you want and what you call it won’t change what it is:  your responsibility.  It us up to each of us to choose which seeds we will nurture and feed, because we all carry the seeds of hate and love, fear and faith, hope and despair within us.  We can choose.  I can choose.  You can choose.  It is not always easy, but it is always possible.  This does not mean shutting off feelings, but really honoring them, inviting them in like a wise guest and accepting the gifts they offer us.  It means we can choose which seeds we will cultivate over time, what we will feed, what we will harvest in the future.  If you plant apple seeds you are not going to get pear trees, that’s just a fact.

The Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron speaks of smiling at our fear and of embracing it, and speaks of the Buddhist saying,

Place your fearful mind in the cradle of loving-kindness…

It is a beautiful image of holding our own pain and fear with the same gentle loving-kindness we would extend to a beloved child.  Fear is not the enemy.  The “other” is not the enemy.  What we truly wrestle with is our own inner demons, our own fears, our own sense of inadequacy.  Our fear of not having enough makes us cheat or lie, steal or withhold, go too far or not far enough, hold back or shut down, hurt ourselves and others.  Interestingly, the definition of a fully enlightened being is one who is fearless because they are intimate with their fear.  Not that they don’t have fear, but that they have smiled at it, befriended it, invited it in like a wise teacher and discussed its gifts over a cup of tea.  The enlightened ones are fearless because they know the nature of fear and no longer fear their fear, not because they have managed to shut it down or off permanently.  This I like very much, this I find tremendously encouraging.

So today, like that little flower, we can choose to plant seeds of growth and abundance, of rooting down into the people, places and things which help us grow, regardless of how it might look from the outside.  Today we can choose to plant seeds of compassion and love, of forgiveness and loving-kindness and just stay with it, even if it feels or smells like shit in the moment.  Today we can smile at fear.

If you would like to watch Ani Pema Chodron talk about Smiling at Fear, you can see a snippet of that video below.

Wishing everyone peace and blessings and the peace and joy that comes from knowing we are all One, even in our fears.  Have a great day.

The Most Important Thing


Death is certain.  The time of death is uncertain.  Knowing this, what is the most important thing?

~~Buddhist wisdom

I’ve thought about that question a lot lately.  My mom spent several days in the hospital recently, which means I’ve spent a lot of time at a hospital as well.   She is home now, sleeping soundly, and I write this from their house. Today was more doctors, more tests, more of walking the path that comes at this stage of the disease she is living with and dying from.  It is an interesting path and an interesting time.

While that is a personal thing, I also have been reflecting on how universal it is as well.  There has been recent tragedy in our country with the situation in Arizona, but there were also many people who risked their own lives to help others that day.   I talked to several folks this week who have lost friends or family members recently to some form of illness or calamity…deaths, fires, suicides, disease…lots of  broken glass,  broke and hungry,  broken hearts,  broken dreams, broken bones.  Yet nearly everyone I spoke with has already found some good that arose from the hardship.   I think of that question from Buddhism a lot in times like these.  But the truth is, it’s always times like these.  Mostly good, some pain, always something noble and beautiful to find in the ashes.  I was thinking that in all of life, pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.   It’s very much about what we deem “the most important thing.”

As usual, thinking about that led me to thinking about something else and then down the path of convoluted thoughts my mind goes.  And lucky you, Dear Reader, to stop by this blog and get sucked into that wacky mess, so here we go together 😉

My mother is very sick and someday, probably sooner rather than later,  she will die.  I am not  sick, but someday I too will die.  Now, while my personality and activity level are  geared more toward the likelihood of being eaten by a bear in some remote woods than towards getting cancer, the truth is that someday I will leave this body.  I feel very okay with that knowing in this moment.  I suppose if I was gasping for air in an ER I might feel differently about it.  But when thinking about it in the abstract, it feels very much okay in this moment.

So, following the convuluted thoughts of the mind, this led me to thinking about Ram Das and his wisdom.  He has often said,

Our journey is about being more deeply involved in life and yet less attached to it.

As usual, that thought led me to thinking about my attachments and aversions, about the places I want to be more deeply involved but less attached, to love more but cling less.  I watch my mother sleep, watch the sands of time pass through this particular hourglass, watch her breath rise and fall and know someday that will cease.  I have a deep desire to be deeply involved in this process and a deep desire to be less attached to it.  I have a deep desire to be very mindful of my own process in this time, to always be mindful that being self-conscious is not the same thing as attaining self-knowledge.

I find a practice of striving for self-knowledge is more fruitful when I look for the good in any experience or situation, when I look for the most important things in complex situations.  What I often find is that the most important things are usually simple… relationships, love, gratitude, curiosity and a sense of humor.  This does not mean denying there is pain, but it does mean acknowledging great gifts often come  from painful experiences.  When I find the good in a situation, I find it often comes from good people, which leads me to believe the Divine and the Universe are good as well.  Because All is One, that means I am good as well, and all shall be well.  Granted, sometimes that process takes a minute.  But in knowing all shall be well, I can relax and again rest into the most important things.  Thomas Merton said that the more we try to avoid suffering, the more we suffer, and I think he was right. A Chinese proverb says,

Tension is who you think you should be.  Relaxation is who you are.

So, in this time of watching, waiting, living and being with all that is, I think the most important thing is to relax, take some deep breaths, try to let go of the tension that comes from painful experiences and just be. This led me to thinking about Chapter 4 of Philippians, one of my favorite verses in the Bible…

Rejoice  always…Let your gentleness be evident to all. God is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Peace.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things…And the God of peace will be with you.

So tonight, I’m sitting with knowing that just being here, present to this moment,  is the most important thing.   I’m sitting with remembering that this very moment is the best teacher, and she is always with us.  I’m sitting with knowing that the most important thing is to just be here now, to focus on what is lovely and joyful.  The most important thing is to love well, to live fully and openly, peacefully and with thanksgiving.

So tonight, may you find whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable and praiseworthy.  In that and in all things, may you find a peace which passes all understanding, and may you find rest and joy in the most important things.

Night moon 😉





Distance Healing


“And God declares,  I will restore you to health and heal your wounds…”
~~Jeremiah 30:17

A few months ago on the Blessings Blog, I started a conversation about distance healing.  In the first post, I talked about science and research regarding distance healing. If you are interested, you can find that information in a post here.

Several people have asked me about distance healing lately, so I wanted to post that article again here.   If you would like to learn more about healing in general, I wrote an article for The Heroic Journal about the difference in healing vs. curing, which can also be found here, in the July 11 archives of the Blessings Blog.

About half of my Blessings Enterprises practice involves distance healing. I have clients of all ages, all seeking a healer for different reasons on the surface…depression, anxiety,  childhood illness, cancer and a myriad of other things.  I  have a lot of clients who feel good but want to feel great, who want to grow by working with a life coach or spiritual director, who want to develop a spiritual practice or just move through some challenging times.  Everyone is welcome and everyone comes for a different surface reason, but all seek the same underlying thing–everyone is seeking healing. The people who come to me all have a certain level of faith that healing is possible, or they wouldn’t come to someone like me at all.  Children often don’t know they are being worked on, but their parents have faith—or at least hope—and so they come seeking relief for whatever plagues the ones whom they love.

I think in order to have faith, you have to have hope.  Yet many who come to me suffer from a true crisis of faith, a loss of hope or both.  But I  believe that buried under the fear or grief that makes a person feel as though there is no hope, there is a spark of life that remains, a soft spot that is open and receptive to healing.  This is what opens us to even greater healing and often into a whole new way of being.

Distance healing is a different experience for the person on the receiving end only in the sense that you are not physically here.  But that doesn’t mean we aren’t together. Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and most traditions incorporate distance healing into their repertoire of health and healing practices because it works and has worked for centuries.  Because I believe All Is One and we are all connected at a deep collective and energetic level,  I believe all healing is possible.

The Buddhist practice of Tonglen, Hindu and Buddhist practices of pujas or other ceremonies, Shamanic journeys in many traditions and intercessory prayer in the Christian tradition are just a few examples of distance healing practices.  There are several Biblical examples of healing, but my favorite is the Healing of the Centurion’s Servant, found in the books of Matthew and Luke.  A few things to keep in mind about this story…Let’s just say for the sake of argument that this all happened the way it is written.  I’m not as concerned about the details as about the story and the events that unfold here.

A Centurion was a Roman soldier, sort of like an Army Captain.  He had 100 men under him and was part of an occupying force in the city.  Technically, since Jesus was a Jew, this man had authority over Jesus, the Centurion was an oppressor.  But he recognizes the authority of Jesus to heal someone he loves, and because he understands authority—even when he isn’t present—he has faith that Jesus can heal his servant at a distance.  The book of Luke says that the centurion’s other servants came to Jesus, not the centurion himself.  While there have been some arguments over the two versions of this story, to me it remains the same, because I understand representatives and authority.  Put another way, if I have authority over you and send you as my representative, it is as if I came myself.  It’s no different than us expecting our elected representatives to really represent us, or knowing the Secretary of State represents the President and entire U.S. when she travels abroad.

The Faith of the Centurion (Matthew 8:5-13)

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.”

Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.”

The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. …Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour…

This is the essence of what distance healing is all about.  Someone we love needs healing, and so we seek that out, even if the “someone” is us.  So many people show up at my door saying they cannot believe, saying they cannot love themselves, full of self-hatred or fear, depression or anxiety.  But the truth is that’s not who you are.  The truth is that another thing Jesus says in the book of Matthew is true and that is,

You are the Light of the World.

Because you are the Light, and I am the Light, and we are all in that Light together as One, this allows distance healing to be possible.  The Centurion understood this in a way even the followers of Jesus did not.  He understood that when we use the gifts we’ve been given, it plugs us into the reality and understanding of that Light.  He understood that to ask in faith and to really be in our own authority as the giver and as the receiver opens the door for healing.  He understood that the healing he sought for his loved one was physical, but the true healing taking place was spiritual.  The Centurion didn’t have to ask for this—the man for whom he sought healing was a slave.  But he loved him.  And that love opens him up to asking, which opens him up to receiving, which opens everyone up to healing.

In a previous Blessings Blog Post,  I spoke of the science of healing.  But there is an aspect of healing that is so personal, yet so universal, that science may never capture it–the art of love.  Love makes us do things for others  society tells us we shouldn’t, like a Roman military officer approaching an oppressed subject seeking healing for a slave.  Distance healing is outside the mainstream western understanding of curing.  But healing can take place at any time, any place, in many ways.

Just as you can love someone at a distance, pray for them or remember them fondly at a distance, you can heal at a distance.  Just as you can feel the agony over the suffering of the pains of the world and of loved ones and seek out a cure, you can look for that at a distance.  All of the religions and spiritual traditions have practices and beliefs about this and in their most pure form teach this concept.  The religions are not the same, yet the mystics of each tradition share similar experiences and tell us over and over that we are One with the Divine.  Separation is illusion.  Because you are One with all that is, healing at a distance is possible, because the distance truly is only in your mind–it is an illusion.

I believe it is our Divine right to be happy, healthy, whole and free.  This does not mean that we won’t have struggles or get sick, need healing or have a full range of emotions.  That is your direct experience so be with it and really see what it can offer you, whatever it is.  The great mystics, shamans, teachers and healers all got sick, all had severe illnesses and pain and all said it made them better healers and teachers.  As the saying goes in Zen,

The obstacle is the path.  No pain, no compassion.

Needing a healer isn’t failure or evidence of some terrible spiritual malady.  It just means you are at a place in your journey in which you can come more deeply into who you are and who you were created to be.  I believe by doing so, regardless of your beliefs about God or any particular faith tradition, that you can find a depth you may not have experienced before.  You can call this God or your soul, your Buddha nature, your karma, your prana or any number of other things.  What you call it won’t change what it is—pure essence, pure energy, pure Light.  And you share that essence with every living being, science proves that over and over, and the mystics teach it again and again.

As the saying goes, we are not promised a quiet journey, just a safe arrival.  Sometimes we need another person to help us with the journey, a guide and a witness to help us honor our path.  Healing is part of that and just like love, healing comes in many people, places and things. And just like with love, distance is irrelevant.

If you have questions about distance healing, or healing in general, or would like to ask a question or make a comment, feel free to do so on the blog or contact me directly.

Peace and blessings.

Happy Merry all you may celebrate this time of year!

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