Sunday, January 20, 2019

Wild and Precious Life

As you likely know, famed poet Mary Oliver died recently. Oliver wrote many poems and one, “The Summer Day,” gets quoted frequently. The last two lines are: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?”

People regularly use that quote as an aspiration to live life to the fullest, but in the context of the poem, Oliver writes of a person who kneels in the grass and strolls through fields enjoying the summer day, asking, “Tell me, what else should I have done?”

All the poems I've read of hers have a certain poignancy as she reflects on the transience of life. But instead of lamenting this fact, she revels in it. I've been thinking about the transience of life, not only my own, but also as it relates to climate change.

Love this image. Photo by Michele Bergami on Unsplash.

As I write this, rain streaks down from the sky prompting coastal flood and high-surf warnings. Ice caps are melting. Scientists predict we're hurtling toward another extinction. It raises fear, anxiety, and nihilism within me. I think about my nieces and nephews and feel sad they won't experience the Earth the way I have. That they won't know the wonder of witnessing countless fireflies lighting up a summer night. And yet the time we do have left, the fireflies that are still around, are worth enjoying.

I realize it's always been true that people die, that one generation experiences something the next does not. But right now I think we're experiencing a collective grief because we're all undergoing the same loss at the same time. (However, I have to say some of us are getting hit harder than others.) Our grief is no longer solely personal because the world we live in is going through a metamorphosis. And that metamorphosis makes our lives wild and precious. Our lives are wild and precious because everything matters.

A monk friend of mine describes our spiritual philosophy as exactly that: Everything matters. In materialism, only matter matters. In idealism, nothing matters. But in tantra everything matters. It seems to me more and more of us are taking on that perspective, that everything matters. That everything is important. That everything is valuable and sacred. I've used this quote many times before but my spiritual teacher said, “If one ant meets a premature death, it will disturb the balance of the entire cosmos. Therefore, nothing here is unimportant, not even an ant.”

Even a tiny ant matters. From the smallest creature to the largest one, they all matter. And every moment matters as well. Not in a heavy, weighty sense, but rather each moment contributes to our life. The boring ones, the sad ones, the relaxing ones, the adventurous ones. They all make up our existence. They all make up our wild and precious life. If we have a little time left or a lot of time left, we can savor all of it as the beautiful and rare thing it is.

I dream of a world where we realize everything matters. A world where we remember the tiniest creature to the largest one matters. A world where we remember life is fleeting and we do our best to be present to it all. A world where we maintain perspective about our wild and precious lives.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Holy Perfection

I have a confession: I make mistakes. I know, that doesn't seem like much of a confession because everybody makes mistakes, but with the amount of shame and fear that comes up from admitting it, you'd think I killed a man and buried his body in the backyard.

I notice the intensity of shame and fear shifts according to my perception of safety around making a mistake. If I make a mistake and the only person affected is me, for instance, the shame and fear levels are low. If I make a mistake at work, the shame and fear levels are high. The levels spike because my brain starts telling me the story, “I'm going to get fired! I'll be destitute!” In my mind, the only way to stay safe at work or in my relationships is to be perfect. If I'm not perfect, something bad will happen. It's not entirely logical but when are emotions ever logical?

When I typed in "perfection" this is what came up. Photo by Bill Williams on Unsplash.

This week when I made mistakes, I gave myself the basic mothering and fathering messages I learned in therapy: “I'm here. I'm not going anywhere. I'm not ever going anywhere. I'll protect you. I'll meet all your needs. Nothing about you will keep me from meeting your needs.” It helped. It also helped reminding myself security doesn't come from other people or an external source. Security comes from me and from higher power. Money for instance doesn't come solely from a job. It can come from an inheritance or the government or whatever. If I lost my job tomorrow, I could borrow money or start a GoFundMe campaign or any number of things.

When I'm stuck in perfectionism, my perspective shrinks and I think in black and white. However, the world is in color and much more nuanced than I remember. When thinking about perfectionism, I was reminded an early definition of perfect is, “Brought to consummation or completeness.” That’s coming from the 1913 Webster’s Writers’ Dictionary. As a one on the Enneagram, I’m all about finding holy perfection, and the practice for me is to remember “perfect” doesn't mean without mistakes, rather, it means completeness.

Completeness ultimately means unification with a power greater than myself, according to my spiritual tradition. I meditate and live my life in such a way that I'm moving closer and closer to a divine entity. I'm trying to unite and merge with something much subtler than I am. When I'm stuck in perfectionism, I lose sight of my journey and instead focus on a snapshot in time. I forget I'm learning and growing. I forget mistakes are an integral part of the process.

Will I still make mistakes? Yes. Will I still beat myself up about them? Probably. But more and more I'm using tools to come out of it, to love myself, and to be in the space of seeing holy perfection.

I dream of a world where we remember in our quest to be perfect, really we want safety, peace of mind, and completeness. A world where we realize we are all moving toward something whole and unified. A world where we remember it's OK to mess up and even perfect in its own way.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Something Old and Something New

For the past two weeks family surrounded me. First in Seattle visiting my immediate family (minus my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew) and then in Ojai visiting my spiritual family. I loved it. I felt warm and cozy, filled to the brim with care and affection. And at the same time, I dreamed of going home, being alone, and eating cookies while watching Netflix.

This weekend I did just that. And while eating cookies and watching Netflix, I felt an ache in my heart for last week when family surrounded me. I can't win. I suspect it's similar to being a parent. I'm not a parent, but as an auntie, I want my nephews and nieces to stay the age they are now and also get older so I can relate to them as adults. I want something old and something new at the same time. Humans are funny like that.

Loved the juxtaposition here. Photo by Milivoj Kuhar on Unsplash.

Will I ever be satisfied? Probably not. In my spiritual tradition we say human beings have a thirst for limitlessness. We want unlimited happiness, we want unlimited love, we want unlimited satisfaction. We are all seeking this. It's the very nature of what it means to be human. To use a Sanskrit term, it is our dharma, or the essential characteristic of human beings. Pretty sure that means I'm screwed then because I'm never completely satisfied. Just kidding.

The only way to quench the thirst for limitlessness is to drink something infinite, so to speak. For me, that means Cosmic Consciousness, or God, or Infinite Love, or Source. When I touch that Cosmic Entity through meditation, I feel satiated. Full disclosure though, it was during a yoga and meditation retreat I wanted to eat cookies and watch Netflix. So. Just in case you thought every time I sit down for meditation I fall into a state of rapture and deep peace, I want to disabuse you of that notion.

However, I've fallen into a state of rapture and deep peace often enough to convince me meditation is my answer to the question, “How can I feel satisfied?” Thus far it's the solution I've found to wanting something old and something new at the same time because Cosmic Consciousness is both very, very old, and very, very new. And also because I'm human I know I'll remember and then I'll forget and then I'll remember again. But I keep trying and I think that's the important thing.

I dream of a world where we realize ultimate satisfaction doesn't come from material objects but rather from something infinite and unlimited. A world where we realize we can have something old and something new at the same time if we turn to spirituality. A world where we realize we won't engage “perfectly” but as long as we keep trying, that's what is most important.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Sea Wall

When I thought about what to write this week, the image that kept coming to mind was a sea wall battered by waves. That's a lot of what 2018 felt like to me – ceaselessly buffeting an immovable object until finally the object disintegrated. That's what happens to sea walls – they must be replaced every 30 years or so depending on how well they're constructed.

I haven't fully processed everything that happened to me this year. It still feels surreal that issues I battled for so long are suddenly gone. It's strange to no longer feel the weight of them like an anchor around my neck. But obstacles are like that – if we keep battling them, eventually they evaporate. When people said that to me at the beginning of the year, I didn't believe them. Instead I rolled my eyes because it felt like my obstacles were insurmountable, that I'd be dealing with the same things for years to come.

Eventually all walls come down. Photo by Alfred Leung on Unsplash

And now here I am at the end of the year and I no longer wake up feeling like a zombie. That probably doesn't like a big obstacle, just go to sleep at a decent hour, right? Except as I wrote in Minor Miracles, sleep wasn't so easy. I consulted Eastern and Western medicine seeking help for sleep and it wasn't until late August I found out I have upper airway resistance syndrome. I spent seven solid years with brain fog, low energy, and dread about going to bed. Now, the brain fog is gone, my energy levels are steadily increasing, and going to bed doesn't fill me with as much trepidation. The obstacle I thought I'd be dealing with until I died is suddenly gone.

I can imagine my spiritual teacher giving me a knowing smile. He is a Pollyanna type and says difficulties can never be greater than our capacity to overcome them, and that we'll overcome all obstacles. He doesn't allow for any possibility of defeat, even if it takes lifetimes. When I consider a sea wall, I wonder if perhaps his view is more realistic. There's no way a sea wall can withstand the constant pressure from the sea, the wear and tear of salt, sand, and sun. There are too many elements at play.

Maybe we human beings are like that. Maybe there are multiple unseen forces at work in our lives, acting like the salt, sand, and sun that mean we, too, will be victorious. I don't want to make it seem like overcoming obstacles is easy, because it's not. But this year has given me new appreciation and a new understanding for scaling them. When we do the slow and steady work, eventually the obstacle must collapse.

This is likely my last post of 2018 and as we come into the new year with many challenges ahead of us, I'd like to offer and maintain that perspective. Sometimes we think things won't change, or that impediments are too vast, but if we keep doing the work, if we keep putting one foot in front of the other, eventually the sea walls come down. May we all remember the power of persistence and carry it with us in the months to come.

I dream of a world where we recognize the power we all have. A world where we understand the truth about obstacles. A world where we remember if we keep chipping away at whatever is before us, eventually it will crumble and vanish into the ether.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Paying Attention

I'm a big believer that the universe is always communicating with us, but it's up to us to pay attention. A perfect example is with my driver's license. On Wednesday, I renewed my driver's license and the only reason I had all the items I required is because of a “coincidental” conversation with someone.

Days before my DMV appointment, a parent came into my office and told me about her DMV woes – how she forgot to bring her social security card and the DMV almost didn't issue her a new driver's license. California recently passed a new law requiring people to get a REAL ID for travel within the U.S. by October 2020, which necessitates showing a social security card or similar document. I had no idea a social security card was required and would have waltzed into the DMV with just my passport, thinking I was all set.

The universe is speaking. Are we listening? Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

The universe is conspiring with us, communicating with us, but are we noticing? Are we paying attention when a random stranger shares information we might need? Are we observing the book titles people keep recommending to us, or the locations people keep mentioning?

Some people brush that off as a mere coincidence but I don't believe in coincidences. My spiritual teacher says nothing is coincidental, rather everything is incidental. But why would the universe communicate with me or care? I choose to believe in a loving world where I am co-creating with the universe. Where we are partnering together to create something that otherwise would not have been birthed. If that's true, then of course I would receive signs and communications.

I also want to acknowledge here things are not always sunshine and roses. That sometimes life throws painful things our way and then the question becomes, is the universe still a loving one? If I'm in pain, how can the universe be beneficent? What I've shared with people recently is sometimes we have to step into darkness to confront our demons and sweep them out. I know for me, the painful experiences in my life forced me to deal with things I would have kept bypassing. I very easily could have continued to skirt around issues and pretend they weren't there. Instead the universe said, “No. You need to deal with this.” And now, being on the other side, I see how true that is.

I think I'm going on a tangent but my point is the universe cares about us, loves us, and communicates with us. It's not always pleasant and it's not always easy, but if we're paying attention, the path will be smoother.

I dream of a world where we realize the universe is always communicating with us. A world where we understand things come into our lives for a reason. A world where we realize even when circumstances challenge us, they're still ultimately for our benefit.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Weathering Any Storm

I am thoroughly exhausted. Almost overnight, my entire schedule changed – when I go to bed, when I eat, when I go grocery shopping, when I do laundry. Everything has been upended and I'm working to recalibrate. Starting a new job is no joke. And even though I'm so tired I could double as a zombie, wisps of inspiration are floating around in my brain that I feel like blogging about.

For many years, a good friend of mine spoke to me about resilience and the ability to bounce back from hardship. Another good friend of mine mentioned the book Grit by Angela Duckworth who writes about the power of persistence. Something happened to me in the past month to solidify both adjectives in my life. I have a new sense of confidence in my ability to handle whatever life throws at me. I truly feel I can weather any storm. Even saying that I start to get choked up.

I'm feeling confident I can handle any storm. Photo by Ju On on Unsplash

How did it happen? How did I get here? The answer is I faced one of my greatest fears and I survived. I'm no stranger to facing my fears, I do so regularly, and each time my confidence grew a little more. This last fear was no different. I added another brick to the wall of self-confidence. What's interesting is I've also given up on the notion I can thwart terrible things from happening. A part of me has worked tirelessly to prevent terrible things. It's a lot of where my anxiety comes into play. If only I can control every possible outcome, if only I can plan a little bit better, I'll feel safe. Except this year demonstrated to me how laughable that really is. This year brought flood, fire, death, and destruction both close to home and far away.

I realized more deeply all I can do is take care of myself and let go of the rest. When the wildfires came, smoke billowed over the horizon. I watched it from my window, seeping across the Bay. I did the only thing I could – I wore a mask and purchased an air filter. I accepted the situation and took care of myself; I signed up for emergency alerts in case of evacuation. And then I waited for more information.

I read a piece of literature recently that said, “We have each other and we have a higher power. We're going to make it.” Reading it, I felt an internal zing radiate through my body declaring, “Yes!” It's not that terrible things cease happening, it's rather we support each other. We extend a helping hand to one another in whatever ways we can. We trust in the universe, and we let go.

Trust is a big thing for me. It doesn't come easily and it certainly doesn't come easily when it involves a non-tangible entity like Spirit. Asking me to trust is like asking a person to step out of an airplane without a parachute. And yet in the past month, that's exactly what I did. Instead of falling flat on my face, the universe lifted me up and I flew.

This is likely one of the most rambling posts I've ever written, but to sum up, I've learned I can't prevent terrible things from happening. All I can do is keep picking myself up when I fall, take care of myself, support others and vice versa, and trust in the universe. When I do that, I can weather any storm and I have that wish for everyone.

I dream of a world where we keep bouncing back when we get knocked down. A world where we practice perseverance. A world where we take care of ourselves to the best of our capacity and help others do the same. A world where we trust the universe and understand sometimes instead of falling we'll fly.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Our Dreams are Earmarked

It's been a whirlwind of a month – leaving my job, finding a new one, adding more than 42,000 words to my novel, Thanksgiving, freelance writing, catching the flu, and then December 1st was my birthday. I haven't had time to process it all. I'm still recovering so needless to say, my creative capacity right now is zilch. The only post that came to mind was this one from almost exactly a year ago. The circumstances are different but the message is still valid. Enjoy.

It doesn't happen to me often that I'm up most of the night, wide awake, unable to sleep, but it's happening as I write this in my journal. It seems only fitting for the topic of this post, dreams.

The other day I pulled an oracle card and it was called “The Retriever.” The Retriever is a fairy who retrieves that which is lost, including dreams. The Retriever will hold onto the dream until the person is ready to pick it up again. Drawing the card I felt comforted. A sense of ease washed over me. I visualized my dreams as an orb off in the hinterlands.

So often we talk about our dreams as something to pursue, to constantly work toward, like they're a marathon to train for. The Retriever reminds me my dreams are out there, ready and waiting for me, when I can attend to them. I don't have to worry about them disappearing like a soap bubble if I'm unable to focus on them – they're not going anywhere.

Each of these "dreams" is earmarked for a person. Photo by Ella Jardim on Unsplash.

Right now as you likely know, I'm unable to pursue my dreams to the degree I'd like. All I have the capacity for at this time is focusing on my health. I mean, obviously because I'm writing this post in the middle of the night instead of sleeping. While I could heap on further disappointment by telling myself my poor health is evidence my dreams will never come true, and I'll be stuck here forever and always, I'm reminding myself my dreams are out in a field somewhere, earmarked for me, waiting patiently.

My spiritual teacher says that “whatever happens in this universe of ours is nothing but an expression of Cosmic desire or Cosmic will … when a human desire and His desire coincide, then only does the human desire become fruitful, otherwise it is a sure failure.” That's a long way to talk about divine timing, but I also think it's a message that I can focus on other things, like my health, knowing one day my desire will match the Cosmic desire, and my dreams will manifest. I would say I can't wait, but that's not true. I can wait and I will, because my dreams are out there somewhere with my name on them. There's no rush. And that means I can take all the time I need.

I dream of a world where we realize our dreams are earmarked for us. A world where we realize our dreams don't disappear if we're unable to focus on them when and how we'd like. A world where we have peace of mind, recognizing when we're ready to retrieve our dreams, they'll be there waiting for us.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.