Advent, Christmas, Consciousness

Creeping around in the early evening gloom. Fumbling for cords. Flipping antique switches.

Bringing light to the darkness. Filling the house with the glow of hope.dsc01481

This is one of those epiphanies so obvious, I cannot believe I never realized its significance before.

It’s got to the be combination of a new house of our own and my own expanding awareness. I have fallen in love with the ritual of switching on these Christmas sparkles when I get home each night.

So pedestrian, the twinkling of colorful bulbs each December, and yet stringing these lights connects us to an amazing deeper consciousness. This tradition of decking the halls can be so much more than doing what’s expected and decorating as soon as Thanksgiving has passed.

Isn’t one of the best ways to really integrate changes into your life to introduce new habits? This habit, formed when there are a few extra, lovely tasks to do every day as we cast our homes in a precious, brief kaleidoscope of color can be the sort of thing that changes our whole outlook.

Spending those moments to consciously fill my house with beauty reminds me that it can be so simple to let a similar glow fall upon the rest of my life.

We light the Advent candles to prepare for a coming birth. We bring trees and boughs into our homes to spin some sympathetic magic, in hopes that the green will return once again to the earth. We fill our lives with all this light, both secular and holy, because we need it to guide us through this darkest time of year.

I have created my own sacred circle of candles to further help me remember that the sun will own the sky once more and that there is always promise on the bleakest of nights. I gaze into each flame and ask that I may always remember the sacredness of fire, the divinity of inspiration, the blessings that dance around my well lit path.

Oh, and check out a wonderful piece on the Winter Solstice at the Huffington Post by Judith Rich!

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Life, A Constant Process of Remembering

Going through my notes from my healing class from a week ago, I came across another little sip of wisdom that is opening up a new universe of thought for me:

Life is a constant process of remembering.

Anna's shot, the lawn

Either you look at this idea with a belief in reincarnation – that we gathered this wisdom in past lives and are trying to re-collect our thoughts in this next spin through life. Or, it has nothing to do with how many times you might have walked the earth. If we all came from the Great Source, then we once sat beside God and had access to all transcendence. To live is to try to get back to that place of Oneness.

Striking out on a spiritual path can be frightening. We are shaken from our slumber when we leave behind the malaise of daily life and look at the world with wide, fresh eyes that seek the sacred in everything.

It may have been a restless sleep, full of nightmares and cold sweats, but the bad dream of an unexamined life is at least a familiar one. To abandon those chilly, but accustomed nights can be nearly impossible when the alternative is a lonely walk into the undiscovered country of the spirit.

We know that leaving behind our ties to the pedestrian and the limiting have to be dissolved, however, if we want to free ourselves an experience a new way of being. The routines that bind us to stunted dreams and unrealized potential have to be dissolved.

How might we open ourselves to the possibilities of a journey into consciousness if we think of it not as a rush of brand new spiritual revelation, but as a process of recalling that which our souls already know? What if it is not a leap into the unknown, but a gentle process of sinking gently into the loving embrace of the Mother?

Suddenly, a thought strikes me:

We go through the process of being human so that we can learn to be more divine.

A Smooth Landing Back in the “Real World”

When we stepped from the cozy den of our teacher’s home, with its great bellied wood stove and the incense flavoring the air, the coldest winter wind of the season tried to steal the breath from our throats. Naked trees shivered and swayed in the frosty air and the taste of December settled on our lips.

One of my classmates sighed and said, “Back to the real world.”

Buddha in the snow

I swear I spoke from a place of truth deep inside of me, and not from any false optimism when I replied, “But that was the real world.” I meant that though our three day healing artists’ class had been transformational and downright otherworldly, it had actually happened and it was part of the reality our group has been blessed enough to know on this earth.

This feeling carried me through to the moment, a little over twelve hours later, when I walked into my office and managed to still wear a gentle smile. My previous weekend-long classes had spat me into Monday mornings with a sense of dread and discombobulation. Meditation and healing work had nothing to do with balancing budgets and book shifting projects and I had felt lost between the two worlds.

Today, however, I was amazed by the blissful sense of integration that bore me through the day.  I had managed to bring the healer that I know myself to be through the doors of the workplace. At last, I felt a sense of wholeness that was almost always lacking when I sat down at my desk and interacted with colleagues.  I’d had enough of leading a life that was disconnected with itself.

It is time to stop believing that we are more than one person, that we can effectively slice ourselves up into little pieces and give our spirits to God, and our love to our families, and our practicality to our work. We are all complex, multifaceted creatures with our fingers dripping with all different colors of finger paint, but that rainbow is all unified by one hand, one arm, one being who dances in many different worlds.

I have been struggling with a sense of desperation because I felt like a fraud in every part of my life, especially as I tried to reconcile my professional/working self and my healer/writer/seeker self. No piece of me could get my full attention or dedication because I was so busy slicing myself up into discrete portions.

Many months ago, a dear friend counseled me that all of my worlds did have a sense of harmony and did make sense because they all had one essential element in common: ME.

Her wisdom did not take root in my heart until I walked through this workday and realized that my true self really was the fulcrum that balanced my two worlds.

I cannot manage people and projects if I do not come to everyone with an open heart and a belief in the interconnectedness of all beings. I cannot thrive as a writer and a healer if I do not use the organized, disciplined parts of my brain. My different identities have always colored the others in my closet of characters. The diversity of my experiences and abilities have always been a source of power for me, however untapped and unrecognized.

We all carry around an entire universe of possibility. How many of us have trouble finding the compatibility that truly does exists between the different corners of that universe? How much more powerful can we be if we stop drawing lines in the sand of our consciousness and embrace true integration?

What new forms of harmony and understanding might thrive in this world if we can first find a way to create such a sense of balance within?

A Moment to Experience Stillness

Cat, East German Castle

I’m overloaded with knowledge and weariness and unbelievable energy from my healing arts class, but I wanted to share just one slip of wisdom that I gathered today.

Without stillness, we cannot reap what we sow.

Maybe this is just stating the obvious, but when my teacher said it I found my pen scratching furiously across the page.

It is only by resting between yoga postures or during final savasana that we integrate the work performed by the moving body. The slumber of winter is necessary to rest the fields so that all of that reaping and sowing is possible. Only a quiet mind can make sense of the barrage of information that assaults it every day.

Stillness is one of those precious paradoxes. We know that we need it, but as soon as we give in to our desire to describe it, it vanishes like an unrealized, unrealizable dream. So many people skip though the years without ever pausing to assimilate the stuff that makes up their lives. It is more than possible to tumult through time at breakneck speed indefinitely, but what sort of shape are they in – mind, body, and soul – when they finally reach the end of their frantic race?

How do we cultivate stillness so that all the work we do as spiritual seekers, as healers, as people of compassion actually roots into the deepest levels of our true selves? Where do we find the space for stillness between doing our jobs and loving our families and recording our thoughts in all of these glorious words?

Before we can tackle the daily “how” it is important to first to come to terms with the fact that stillness is necessary at all. I do not believe that anyone else can convince you of that, but experiencing it just might give you an idea of why this crazy idea of doing nothing may just work.

  • Try to sit and listen to that every day symphony and cacophony that dances inside your head .
  • Give it time to play for a few maddened minutes, and then just let all of the extraneous sounds fall away. Focus on your breath, on the way you are settled into your seat, on the dark infinity behind your own eyelids.
  • When all that noise fades, notice what it is like to sit in peace, just for a moment.

Letting things just fall away may not be easy at first, and it may be scary if you think that silence in your mind means that you are sitting in some sort of void, but when you are really still, the mind is the safest place you will ever know.

I am hoping that a glimpse of the bliss that is stillness will be enough to convince us all that we just might be able to consider finding a few moments each day during which we can simply stop, we can simply be.

I just need to quit typing long enough to find it!

Softness and Strength, In the Soul and On the Job

Hanging up the phone, I stretched and sighed and immediately got up to fill the office teapot. I had to get back into my body and find peace in my rapidly beating heart. It had been a success – I had just convinced a vendor whose faulty service had disturbed the smooth flow of a conference I had organized to cut our bill in half. Mixing firmness with resignation, verbal gymnastics with pregnant pauses, I had gotten my way and saved some of the grant money that I badly needed to apply to other causes.

This is one of the things I am good at – making the person on the other end of the phone realize that he is dealing with a redhead who knows what she wants and what her organization needs and refuses be denied. It is a valuable skill in my professional life and was essential when we bought our house, but sometimes I wonder if it is a liability as I search for a deeper connection with my soul.

Swagger and confidence are treasured commodities in so much of the world, and I know that I have cultivated more than my share. These qualities have been a fine shield that have insulated me from that dreaded vulnerability. Thing is, such a shield blocks a lot more than just a few guys who seek to swindle a poor defenseless maiden. Walking around with an acquired tough girl attitude has made too many people believe in my callousness and irreverence. It is awfully hard to convince someone that you are a healer interested in affairs of the spirit when you just threatened (oh-so-hollowly) to make somebody come to the library to fix the leaking pipes.

At the same time, there are rings in this steely suit of chain mail that have their own spiritual purposes. Schools of thought in the world of energy healing differ about whether or not the healer can take on her client’s negative energy, but regardless, it is necessary to establish boundaries between practitioner and recipient. I know that I have an ability to say “no, I am sorry, but that is not acceptable” when I am staring down a contractor, and I can do the same if something comes up when I have someone on my table.

In the same vein, it requires a great deal of strength to be the firm hand that guides people through the places within that scare them. A healer encounters a great deal of resistance when she tries to help someone break their deepest patterns.  Even as she listens to the needs of the client, she must have the confidence to take a stand in the battle against a person’s well constructed – but essentially harmful – defenses.

I fear the extremes – weakness on one side, stridency on the other. If I become a completely spiritual being, will I lose that edge that can be so useful in the world? If I indulge the parts of me that dare someone to mess with me, am I making this endeavor for wisdom nothing more than empty rhetoric?

There has to be a way to marry these aspects of myself, to cultivate supple strength and mighty tenderness. It is a vital sort of balance, one that permits me to revel in my humanity and yet still linger with the Divine. Dancing, always dancing, with these seemingly opposite drives…

Caring for the Self: Selfish or Selfless?

“The work you are doing on the mat is a gift to everyone you love because it will make you strong and supple and allow you give the best of yourself to the world.” So many yoga teachers have offered this sort of encouragement and I have drunk it in greedily during many a long shoulder stand.

My cynical little shadow laughs that teachers who want to fill their studios at dinner time have to say such things in order to convince the class that it is better to focus on breath and form rather than whip up some pasta for the kids. The rest of me that understands the essential truth: we must nurture ourselves before we can ever offer authentic comfort to anyone we love.

Many of us have internalized this wisdom and understand its weight and worth. It brings us back to the mat and to these blogs and to countless other sweet habits that sustain us every day. To talk about these things in a space like this is just so much preaching to the converted.

At the same time, we constantly encounter those who do not make the choice to care for the body and the spirit. They don’t see that correlation between tending the self and being able to support for those we love. For me, “these people” who constantly put business and housework and the needs of others before their own are not disembodied, rhetorical devices: they are many of the people I live and work with every day.

I think it is obvious which path I believe is most effective, but I do not mean to stand in judgment over this other camp – they are doing the best that they can with the tools that seem most obvious to them. The dark circles under their eyes and their mysterious chronic pains are proof of their dedication to being all things to all people. All people except themselves, that is.

When I dodge out of work a little early to get to the chiropractor even when I know my colleagues suffer from much deeper back aches than me, I can’t help but wonder at how my choice may be perceived. Am I a self obsessed hypochondriac who puts her own spine before her career and getting dinner together? Am I judged for my weakness, for being a childless flibbity gibbet who spends her time and disposable income on new agey foolishness?

For the most part, I realize that analyzing actions that I know to be vital and necessary through such a cruel, hypothetical gaze is a useless game that serves no one. I just worry because I know my path is not the commonly accepted approach. It is often challenging to stand against the “do it for profit, do it for security, do it til it hurts, there’s no crying in baseball” American way, especially when family and friends seem to subscribe wholeheartedly to that maddened creed.

I suppose all we can do is dedicate ourselves to self healing that is free of selfishness.  I think this is only possible when such deep work is not focused strictly on the individual, but is dedicated to the good of the community and the good of the sacred within us all.

Rather than simply pitying or becoming exasperated by those who don’t understand the idea of slowing down, of investing in the power of deep stretches and even deeper breaths, perhaps we can think more about how to share the inner peace that we are cultivating. How can we figure out how to make pure-hearted attention to the Self an epidemic that everyone wants to catch?

Carrying Around Your Own Universe

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To spend much time considering the soul and the inner workings of the self is to recognize that we each carry around an entire interior universe.

It is so hard to understand the limitlessness that is inside of us, the expansive intricacies of the psyche and, even more importantly, the infinitude that is the Divine within us all. What can be even more difficult to grasp is that a similarly limitless universe exists within all people, even those we believe to be ignorant or cruel or uninspired.

I know myself to be someone who strives to be aware of every seismic shift in consciousness, of every tremor of new perspective that passes through my life. All too often I find myself baffled by the behavior of people who seem to live unexamined lives, marked by monotony and routine and something I perceive to be a lamentable narrowness.

Of course, the first problem there is that I am allowing myself to be swayed by my own perception of their stories. There are times when I decide that people who are not digging around in their own heads like they’re on some sort of archaeological are somehow getting less out of life than I am. If they do not show me immediate glimmers of their own interior universes, I start to believe that there are people out there whose stories are somehow less complex and vivid than my own.

Working on the development of one’s soul can make a seeker a terrible snob. I know I fall into this trap when I forget that all people are fellow journeyers through the mystery of life. When I allow myself to forget this truth I allow myself the luxury of disrespecting the people around me. My often tarnished version of who they are burns more brightly than the truth that they are fellow humans walking across this earth, doing the best with the tools that have been given to them.

One gets weary of trying to be a saint though, trying to be kind and understanding in the face of people who are set on acting out the darkest parts of their nature. I have tried the sainthood approach, and I find it just makes me nervous and repressed and worried about my own inadequate, non-canonized future prospects.

I am finding, however, that I can deal with those difficult creatures who cross my path if I remember that, just like me, they have an entire universe inside of them and all sorts of possibilities I might not be able to see. A universe goes on, well, forever. And in something the size of forever you can store a whole lot of beauty, as well as a whole lot of ugly. You can keep great vats of potential, as well as vast sink holes of worthlessness. There is light and there is shadow and there is that wide space in between that informs the way that most of us live.

And, like I said, the most important resident of these inner infinities of ours is God. I may find ways to despise the behavior of a lot of people in this world, but I am pretty sure I could never figure out a way to disregard the divinity that they all carry about.

Activism and Service, Fear and Necessity

Yesterday’s post about a renewed perspective on suffering that was illuminated during my yoga practice was a late night piece of writing about an issue that I usually push to the darker parts of my mind. It could have been four times longer and still would not have begun to encapsulate my thoughts on the tension between tending to the garden of one’s own soul and looking beyond one’s fences in hopes of effecting change in this troubled world.

The beautiful BlissChick spoke to some of the very issues that have me feeling so conflicted. I mentioned a speech that Bono gave to call attention to the neediest people in Africa, but I did not offer the usual caveats. I didn’t say I was taking with a grain of salt an address by a zillionaire superstar in love with the sound of his own voice who should clean up the streets of Dublin and downgrade his own jet fueled lifestyle. I let his wisdom stand and simply appreciated that a guy in orange sunglasses who may or may not have been wearing leather pants made me think. I spoke only of my recognition of destitution half a world away without offering myself, and perhaps my readers, the consolation of “thinking globally, act locally” with a strong emphasis on the local, be that defined as inside your own head or your own neighborhood. I let my heart bleed for the people of a distant continent without the qualifications that keep their poverty far enough away for comfort.

It is as if I am in a state of almost perpetual frustration when I stop looking into my own third eye and start seeing the man pushing a shopping cart full of his possessions through the streets of Poughkeepsie and when I let myself read about AIDS orphans. Of course, I am often trapped in a similar state of frustration when I am letting the world fall away and am diving deep within myself. The discontent I have with the state of the world is more than mirrored buy the unquiet nature of my own soul.

I thank BlissChick for sharing her experience with making a difference at a local level, and reminding me of its importance. Thing is, I have yet to be successful at finding a way to reach into the community to make that sort of a difference. There are always so many excuses: the lack of time I currently have for creative projects and soul work, family commitments, a phobia of those large busted, overly-efficient women in charge at soup kitchens who you to scrub pots with a worthless sponge even though your blouse is dry clean only (I admit, I have an inner princess who is a bit of a scaredy-cat in such situations). There is an unnameable fear that must be a sign of something unresolved in myself. And that gives me two options: continue to stay at home and work on this elusive issue or just face that fear and watch it evaporate under the light that’s generated when I help someone else.

I found what Bono had to say compelling because he freely admitted that America has its own troubles and that we could gain much by focusing our activism and resources here at home. When we are already awake to crisis, however, why not also challenge ourselves to look a little further? He said:

When America looks outside of itself, its view of itself is never clearer. Its faith in itself is never firmer. Its purpose is never stronger.

As vital as it is to work deeply on our psyches and our souls, we are also at risk of falling to narcissism and protectionism both on the individual and national scale. I can translate Bono’s rallying call into doing something as little as writing a letter to Congress on behalf of the people of Africa, but I can go further and move outside of myself and finally show up to help at that battered women’s shelter.

All of these points do not add up to a cohesive thesis, but they reveal that this inner work I am doing needs to be accompanied by a willingness to move outside of myself. I need to break the barriers I have created that were formed of a belief that my prosperity is so fragile it might shatter in the face of another’s need. I must realize that I am a hell of a lot stronger than I let myself believe, and I have to think America might just be a whole hell of a lot stronger than we are letting on.

(Heady stuff, this, but I was able to stop in the middle of this harangue because this song came on. It always reminds me of my Nanna and tells me that no matter what happens, she’s always looking over my shoulder. “The world has lost her way again, but you are here with me…”)