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Finding Our Way Out Of The Tunnel

I woke up this morning in what I call my Black Funk. There is usually no rhyme or reason to it that I can identify right away, although I realize there certainly must be one or else I would not wake up in this state. It feels like the dead of winter when it has been grey, dark and cold for ten days straight and you think you’ll never see the sun again. It’s like walking down a long, dark tunnel and you can see a pinpoint of light way off in the distance, but not matter how long you walk, you feel as if you’ll never get there. Perhaps it was something that someone said or did the day before that I failed to process and let go of on a conscious level that came back to torture me while I slept. Perhaps it is some situation I have to deal with that I put on the back burner while I was awake, but which my inner goblin (who I have named Gladys – she who looks like a Jim Henson creation in rags from the movie Labyrinth) has decided to push back on to the front burner to boil. Whatever the reason, I have come to understand that if I don’t take the bull by the horns and deal with it first thing, my entire day will be spent trying to find my way out of that tunnel. That’s where writing comes in.

I pull out a notebook and write a question across the top of the page: ” What’s up? What are you feeling?” After I write the response, which is usually something like: ” I feel hurt, disappointed, disillusioned and generally depressed.” Then I ask another question: “Why?” My first reaction is to blame the world, my family, my neighbors, the internet interruption that ruined my Netflix watching last night, anything and anyone but myself. Third question: “Really? Try again.” This one takes some time but eventually, after a few pages of ranting when I am starting to run out of steam, the real reason will surface which usually has to do with having my feelings hurt, or not having my needs met in some way. Once I get to that stage, the healing can begin. “How do you want to feel? What can you do, right now, to get moving in that direction?” Once I identify how I’d really like to feel, I will usually turn to a list of tried and true things I know will make me feel better, pick one, and have at it.

Today’s pick was a nice, long walk in the sunshine. I wasn’t even halfway down the block when a large, chubby robin hopped across my path. As soon as I got home, I logged on to my favorite website for messages from our spirit animals and looked up robin. This is what it said:

     “The correct path has been revealed to you. You know which direction to go. Just go and

      all will fall into place.”

It’s hard to argue with your spirit guides.

We all get stuck in a dark tunnel sometimes. Writing is one way to help us find our way out. Instead of sitting there racking our brains or blaming the entire Universe, pull out a notebook or pull up a blank screen and start asking questions. Sure, you’ll need to vent for a while (for me it’s at least 3 pages), but once you’ve gotten that out of your system, there is now room to fill it back up with light, love, joy and gratitude … the lights that will lead you out. Your true self, your inner Wise One, knows the answers that will guide you home. So the next time you wake up and want to pull the covers back over your head, pull out your notebook instead and write your way home.

Peace and blessings.

P.S. The assignment for this week over on the Home Page is a way to practice finding our way out of the tunnel before it happens. Have fun, and keep that hand writing!

 

Who Are You Pointing At?

I was watching an interesting TED Talk on YouTube the other day. The presenter, a behavioral psychologist, asked the audience to quickly, without thinking, point to themselves and hold the pose. Then he asked them which part of their body they were pointing at. It turned out that just about the entire audience was pointing at their hearts.  The idea was to show that most people believe that who they are resides in their heart – we feel our way to ourselves, we don’t think our way to ourselves.

A few months ago we did a practice around the three Soul Questions: Who Am I? What do I want? What is my Dharma? I think we did a pretty good job on the first question : Who Am I? We dove really deep, connecting with our authentic selves and shedding our beliefs about who we are on a cultural level. However, there is another way to get to know the You that you are.  I call it the “Finding My Best Self” questionnaire.

Pretend you are filling out one of those online dating service surveys. You want that perfect person out there to know all about you, so you tell them everything you know about yourself … so, what DO you know about yourself? What’s your favorite color? Your favorite food? Your favorite song or singer? Do you like sports? Which ones? What’s your favorite team? Do you like to be outdoors? Beach or cabin in the woods? What is your favorite season? Why? Who is your favorite author? Do you like to make things? What? Why?

Do you see where I’m going with this? How often have you ever taken a step back and really gotten to know yourself? You are the one person you will be spending your entire life with. Get to know your true BFF and see if the answers to those questions shine a brighter light on the answer to the Soul Question: “Who Am I?” I’ll bet you find out that you are a more interesting and talented person than you gave yourself credit for. Who knows? Maybe you’ll remember that you really do like baseball … so why not treat yourself to a game? Sit in the stands and cheer for your team! When was the last time you went to the beach? Have a BFF day and go dig  your toes in the sand.

The things we like and the things we do evoke certain feelings. That’s why we like or do them. We feel our way to ourselves, we don’t think our way to ourselves. So the next time someone asks you, “Who are you,” you can smile and tell them: “Oh, I am the most interesting and wonderful person you will ever meet!”

You guessed it! Our writing assignment on the Home Page could be called: “Getting To Know You,” just like the title of the song. As always have fun with it!

Peace and blessings.

 

 

 

Earning a Ph.D In Living

I was fortunate enough to be able to return to school in my 30’s and receive my BA in Comparative Religion. I had plans to go on for my Masters and even, by some miracle, my Ph.D. Alas, that was not in the cards for me at the time, but I have since come to believe that I have more than earned those degrees in a different kind of school: The School of Life.

Classes and books are wonderful ways to learn, and I would be the last one to discount their value. Heck, the minute I become curious about anything, my first impulse is to ask: “Is there a book about that?” Old habits are hard to break and now with the miracle of the internet, I can find out anything about anything, order books, attend online classes, and even go back to graduate school. There is only one subject that they can’t teach me, though. You won’t find it in any book or in any blog. They can’t give me actual experiences. They can’t live my life for me.

My Dad used to refer to it as the School of Hard Knocks. One of my Mom’s favorite sayings was: “Live and Learn.” Both of them were correct. Life can be a series of hard knocks, but once you’ve lived through it, you’ve learned something, and if you’re lucky, you’ve learned how not to get knocked down again. If you’re really lucky, you’ve learned how to grow from it.

We could all probably fill a notebook with all of the mistakes and knock downs we’ve experienced in life. The real test is whether we can also fill one with what we learned from it all and how we’ve grown as a result … or haven’t grown. If we can pass the Growth Test, and learn to live a happy, authentic life, then we should be awarded our Ph.D in Living! It’s the least we deserve and it doesn’t require a cap and gown or a big ceremony (although for some of us just having survived this long deserves a party).

There is no secret here as to what this week’s assignment over on the home page is going to be about. I won’t ask you to fill a notebook, but I will ask you to pat yourself on the back and reward yourself for having come through with flying colors! It’s the least we can do for ourselves!

Peace and blessings.

Let’s Live To Be 120!

I recently read an article by Ilchi Lee, New York Times Best Selling Author, passionate advocate for sustainability, and a leader in human brain potential development. The title of the article was: “Let’s Live To Be 120!” According to Lee, scientists have discovered that the human body has the potential to live 120 years. Advances in technology and medicine aside, Lee suggests that how we view our lives, our determination and, as he puts it, “living from the offensive instead of the defensive,” can help us to live way beyond current expectations. The question I would ask is: “Why?”

Lee explains that there is so much more he wants to accomplish in life and that, having made the conscious decision to live to 120, he sees many more years ahead of him to learn, grow, create, and give back to the world. That is indeed a noble ideal and one we can all get behind, I’m sure. Imagine what new discoveries and adventures we can witness with that kind of longevity! It reminded me of all the things I have witnessed in my own lifetime, things I never would have imagined when I was a kid: space exploration, a man walking on the moon, the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Liberation, the first black president, to name a few. Here’s a funny side story about all of that:

I returned to college in my 30’s, graduating in 1986 at the age of 36 with a B.A. in Religious Studies. One of our Cultural Studies classes involved interviewing someone who had been around a while (a.k.a. old) about significant moments in history. As the average age of my classmates was 20, I, of course, senior citizen that I was in their eyes, was sought after for an interview. They asked me questions about Viet Nam, President Kennedy’s assignation, the moon landing, and Martin Luther King, Jr. It just stuck me as hysterical that they thought that, in my mid 30’s, I was a walking museum. Can you imagine what they would have thought if I was 120? “

The flip side of this coin, however, is the fear that along with the great strides in knowledge, we will also see the same in terms of war, hatred, and separation. If the world has not learned their lesson after all of these centuries since Cain and Able, what hope do we have for the future? Maybe, just maybe, a lot. As long as hope is alive, anything is possible. I’d love to be able to sit in front of a room full of college students 50 years from now and share with them how my generation was the one who brought lasting peace and love to the whole world. How’s that for a reason to live to 120?

Peace and blessings.

P.S. Get ready to let your imagination soar with this week’s writing assignment located on the home page. Have a blast!

 

 

Staying Small

I recently spent some time visiting my granddaughter at her apartment. It was her husband’s birthday and we were all gathered to help him celebrate. My 3-year-old great-grandson, my very first great-grandchild, was showing me his picture books of dinosaurs, his favorite new friends at the moment. I looked at him, all animated and in awe of these great creatures, and marveled at how it was possible that my very first grandchild was now already old enough to present me with my very first great-grandchild, and 3 years old at that!

My granddaughter was not only my first grandchild, but she was the one who taught me how to be a grandma. She called me Grammy, and we did everything together. She adopted gardening when I did and was my constant companion and helper in the garden. Driving around on her big yellow motorized dump truck, a gift from her aunt, she would haul plants and dirt around, and kept my compost pile constantly filled with grass, twigs, weeds, leaves and all manner of debris. She sat with me on the river bank, the two of us so much like Mole and Rat from the Wind in the Willows, and contemplated the wonders of nature. She was a natural student, a wonderfully creative soul, and my best friend. I never wanted her to grow up. I wanted her to stay 4 years old and hang out with me forever. I used to tease her: “I wish you could put something on top of our head to keep the little you inside so you don’t have to grow up.”

I thought about that at the birthday party as I marveled at how big my great-grandson had gotten over the winter. I told my granddaughter what I had been thinking and she smiled. “You know,” she said, “that whenever you said that to me, even though I knew you were teasing, I used to go home and crunch myself down inside, trying to hold the big me inside and not let her out. I wanted to stay small, too, and play in the garden forever.” I was moved to tears by what she said. On the one hand, I never knew that she had done that and it spoke to the influence we adults have over children. On the other hand, I realized that as much as I wanted her to stay little forever, I was doing her a grave injustice by saying so.

We serve no one by staying small, least of all ourselves. We cannot halt the passage of time any more than we can change the weather to suit us. The same holds true for how we live our lives. When we “live small,” we do not live authentically, because living authentically requires that we reach inside ourselves and stand tall, fill in all the dark spaces with light, and reach for the stars. While living small seems safe, it is actually life threatening. It robs us of the richness of experience and wonder that is out there in the great, big world, a world in which we need to be open to growing and receiving all the blessings that await us. We will never know such joy and richness if we crunch ourselves down and keep holding the “big me” inside.

We all have our moments of wanting to stay small to avoid the pain and anxiety that come with growing up, but we will never know how wonderful an authentic life can be unless we get out there and make one. So the next time you are tempted to stay small, think of a little girl driving a yellow dump truck and conquering a garden with the courage of an adult and get out there. There’s a yellow truck waiting for all of us to get on board and conquer the world!

Over on the home page, our assignment for this week is asking you to dig deep. See you there.

Peace and blessings.

Choosing Our Path

Authentic: Something that is real or genuine; not copied or false.

Of all the things that we can do in order to create an authentic life, probably the most important one is seeking the answer to the question: “Where did I come from?” In most cases, finding the answer puts us on a path some call “Spirituality.” Notice, please, that I did not say “Religion.” While the practice of certain religions do revolve around ideas about spiritual concepts, they are, for the most part, a set of ideas and understandings experienced by others that are held to be true. If you are a member of that particular religion, you may very well hold them to be true yourself. Or, you may not. Your inability to just accept these ideas and teachings because you were raised as a child in that tradition may be the impetus to set you on your journey to find your own answer to the question: “where did I come from,” and not simply accept someone else’s answer.

Why am I bringing this up on a website about writing as a tool to creating an authentic life? Because coming to terms with our understanding of “whatever is out there,” or, if there is even anything out there at all, sets the stage for everything else we will do with our lives. If we believe one answer, we will live our lives in joy, excitement, love, compassion and contribution. If we believe another, then nothing matters except staying alive and going through the motions. In either case, the quality of our lives, the authenticity of our lives, is directly affected.

What I love about this journey of exploration and seeking that we call life is that there are as many possible, and acceptable, answers as there are people in the world. The beautiful part is that one does not have to choose one over another, or claim that one is the right way and all of the others are the wrong ways. We have the freedom to find those things that work for us, that give our lives meaning, and provides us with an answer that we can embrace, from many different paths, and find that they are compatible. Once you take the time to research the basic concepts and truths about one way, and then another, and another, you begin to see a commonality between all of them: a sense that we are not alone in this world, that there is something greater than us at work, and that we can experience that in ways as majestic as a blazing sunset, or as tiny and heart-melting as a new puppy. Whatever makes us “feel something, feel IT,” is the right path regardless of what tradition claims it.

Living an authentic life is living in the light of what is true for us. It is walking the path that takes us from one experience to another, from one idea to another, and having them all end up in the same place with the same view, one that answers our question and points us in the next right direction to go.

As you can imagine, this week’s writing assignment is going to be a bit heavy, so allow yourself plenty of time to complete it. Remember that there is no right or wrong answer. There is only the one that is true for you.

Peace and blessings.

To Be, Or Not To Be

If someone asked me to name the single hardest thing I ever had to learn to do, it would be this: To sit in a room, all by myself, with no phone, TV, tablet or any diversion of any kind, and learn to just “be.” I’m not talking about meditation. When we meditate, we are asked to focus on a single thing, like a mantra, our breath, a candle flame, or a sound, in order to clear our minds of the constant chatter and 60, 000 to 80,000 thoughts a day that go flying through our heads. No, I’m talking about sitting with yourself and doing absolutely nothing for absolutely no reason. I’m talking about learning to like your own company.

I can hear all of the gasps right about now: “What? Sit and do nothing at all, for no reason? All by myself?” Yep. You heard me. When I suggest this to someone, you’d think I was asking them to throw away their entire lives and lock themselves in a room with a mass murderer . Maybe what they are really afraid of is this: the idea of being totally alone suggests the idea of being lonely. Nothing could be further from the truth. As the late Dr. Wayne Dyer told us: “You’re always alone, but you’re only lonely if you don’t like the person you’re alone with.” Ah Ha! Here lies the problem. What could be worse than being cooped up with someone you don’t like? So what’s the solution? You guessed it: learning to like yourself.

Louise Hay once said that the longest relationship you will ever have is the one you have with yourself, so you might as well make it a good one. It is also true that it’s hard to get other people to like you if you don’t like yourself first. One of the very first steps in creating an authentic life is learning to become your own BFF. Who else understands you better than you? Who else will always have your back and will never leave you? Who else likes the same music, the same books, laughs or cries at the same movies and is absolutely the only one who is allowed to read your diary? Who else keeps your secrets and knows your heart’s desires? This is the authentic you, and you’ve known each other since the beginning of time and even before. Isn’t it time to start treating her like the BFF she truly is? It doesn’t matter what has happened in the past. Your BFF never sits in judgement of you. You were always doing the best you could with the knowledge and experience you had at that time. No one can ask any more of anyone. Maybe it’s time to forgive yourself and treat yourself the way you’d like a BFF to treat you.

The wonderful Julia Cameron, in her groundbreaking book, The Artists’ Way,” created the tool known as the Artist Date. This is a special time that is set aside to take yourself out to do something you enjoy, by yourself. It could be anything from taking in a movie, to visiting a craft store, to a stroll in the park, or anything that one might do on a date. You are not only creating a beautiful relationship with yourself, but you are also creating beautiful memories, and you find out how lovely it is to hang out with someone you truly enjoy being with.

So why not give it a try? Take your BFF out on a date. If the weather is nice, go for a walk in nature, or take in that art exhibit you’ve been meaning to see. If the weather isn’t so nice, curl up in a quiet room and enjoy that wonderful feeling  you get when you are so comfortable with the person you’re with, words aren’t necessary. Feeling the love is enough.

Peace and Blessings!

Don’t forget to check out this week’s writing assignment on the home page. Your new BFF can help you with it!

 

 

 

Coming Home To Ourselves

In our search for an authentic life, we tend to spend most of our time “out there,” sure that if we just find the right teacher, the right philosophy, the right mindset, we will have what we need to build the life we so richly deserve. For all of our searching, we always forget to keep coming back to that place where we started and, as T.S. Eliot told us, “and to know it for the first time.” We keep forgetting to come home to ourselves, to the day-to-day reality of who we are without all the bells and whistles. Just us, and the quiet, reassuring actions of our lives that build a strong foundation on the one hand, yet still provides a safe place to fall on the other.

My favorite Zen teachings revolve around this idea: Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. Part of living an authentic life is to acknowledge and, yes, even come to love the simple, every day things that are required to get through a day: cooking a meal, washing the dishes, doing the laundry, taking a shower, walking the dog, scrubbing the floor. All of these things are who we are as much as our careers, our passions and our pain. When we embrace these simple tasks with attention, mindfulness and appreciation, everything else in our life becomes an exercise in mindfulness and appreciation as well.

I’ve started to really enjoy washing the dishes, a task I was never very fond of even from childhood when I had to take turns with my sisters doing the dinner dishes every night. Now I pay attention to how good the warm water and suds feel on my hands, the smell of the dish soap (I’m fond of citrus), the feel of the dirt washing off and leaving a clean, smooth surface behind. I appreciate the fact that I have warm water and indoor plumbing. When I’m done wiping down the counter, I stand back to appreciate the stacks of clean dishes, glasses and silverware, all shiny and drying in the dish rack. Now I am taking that same mindfulness to making the bed, washing and folding the laundry, cooking my meals and whatever else needs doing. These are no longer chores. They are part of who I am at my core. They are part of coming home to myself. How much more authentic and open I am when I sit down to write after having completed my daily chores. What comes out of my inspiration and on to the page originates from the same place that washing the dishes comes from: from my true, authentic self.

Peace and blessings.

 

Making A Myth Of It

“In order to be authentic, we have to tell the truth.”

Susan Wittig Albert, Writing From Life

If we want to create an authentic life, then we have to be honest about facing the facts of the life we’ve lived up until now, and pull out of it those things that are true about it, good or bad. We have to take them out of the dark places where we’ve hidden them and shine a bright light on them, show them up for what they are, and let them go. What will be left are the things about us that will be the foundation upon which we will build our new authentic life, a foundation that is sure to hold up strong and true for the rest of our lives regardless of what storms may lie ahead.

Having to shine that light on our shadow selves, as Carl Jung called it, and the dark experiences of our past, whether in childhood or as an adult, isn’t easy. It takes courage and strength to slay the dragon. So why not use the tool of writing as a way to truly “slay a dragon?” Take the darkness and make a myth of it.

Myths and legends have been used since the beginning of humanity as a way to teach important lessons to the next generation, and as a means of passing down the history and traditions of a race of people. Many indigenous tribes today, including our own Native American brothers and sisters, continue this practice with stories of the animals and spirit guides that were told to them by their grandmothers and theirs before them. Myths are also a way to explain the human condition, find it’s flaws, and come out of it a hero, as Joseph Campbell taught in his pivotal work on the hero’s journey.

You may think that taking your unhappy or traumatic experience and making a story out of it is a way of not facing reality. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Story is a way to separate the pain of reliving the experience with the chance to finally tell it  all in a way that gives us enough distance to look at it, release it, and live the rest of our lives truthfully. The most important part is to make yourself the hero of your story, not the victim. You and only you can slay that dragon. If not, then it is a story with no real ending, because unless the hero keeps coming back again and again to protect you, you are helpless to stop the torment. When you know that the hero is you, the dragon will not dare to darken your door again!

As you can imagine, this week’s assignment, over on the home page, is going to be about writing your own myth. Be brave, be truthful and, above all, be free.

Peace and blessings.

Claiming Your Power

July 8, 1978. I was in Washington, D.C. with over 100,000 other women, all of us dressed in white, all of us marching for passage of the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment). As we held hands and marched up the street to the Capitol, I felt a surge of power and confidence I had never felt before in my entire 30 years. I had taken ownership of my life. I had claimed my power. When I watched the March on Washington last month on TV, I felt that same surge come over me again and knew exactly what those women and men were feeling. They, too, had claimed their power.

Nearly everyone has a story of that one moment when they realized that they actually had power over their own lives. Some people can recall a moment in childhood or as a young adult when they were faced with a situation and, with sudden clarity, recognized that they had a choice, and with that choice they claimed their power. For other people, it took a personal crisis of some sort for this to happen. However it took place, if asked, they know without hesitation the exact moment when they knew that they were more powerful than they realized.

Alas, as the years go by, many of us forget that realization. The pressures of living, the reality of  work, family and economics, pull a veil over our memories so that the only things we see on our inner movie screens are the bills, the problems, the health issues, the kids, and so much more. Sometimes we need a way to pull that veil down and go back to seeing with clarity the truth of who we are.

Writing is the tool that can rip that veil away and let the light shine on who we really are and what we can do when we claim our power and take responsibility for our lives. When we sit down and write out our moment of enlightenment, and describe the feelings, sights and sounds that went with it, we re-charge our personal battery. We are armed with our truth, and the infinite possibilities and choices we are given each and every day. The sight of those words looking back at us on that page are the battery cables we plug into.

Plug in, my friends. Plug in.

Peace and blessings.