Sunday, August 13, 2017

How Progress is Made



A friend of mine shared a meme on facebook the other day that said we're reliving the 60s: high-waisted pants, A-line dresses, and skinny ties are in style, along with, oh yeah, the threat of nuclear war. Many people are shocked and surprised, saying things like, “I can't believe this is happening in 2017.” Until about a year ago, I would have been one of those people, but today, current events do not surprise me.

Part of the reason current events do not surprise me is due to astrology. At the moment, we are undergoing similar transits to the ones of the 60s, meaning we're seeing similar issues resurface: feminism, civil rights, the threat of nuclear war, and also the fashion. As if to confirm this, on Saturday, a man boarded my bus sporting a beard, longer hair, and a tie-dye t-shirt. The whole day I kept seeing references to the 60s – an ad celebrating the 50th anniversary of the summer of love, another using the word “groovy” with the image of a person wearing round, red-colored glasses. History repeats itself.

Progress is like a mountain range with peaks and valleys. Photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash.

I've heard the expression “history repeats itself” approximately a billion times, yet whenever history repeats itself, I used to meet the circumstance with disbelief. “What? No! How could this be?” These days I recognize not only does history repeat itself, but this is how progress is made – it's not a straight line, it's not an elegant steady slope, it's more like a mountain range with peaks and valleys. We ascend the mountaintop and then we descend into the valley, and just because we're back in the valley doesn't mean we aren't marching forward.

I have to keep this in mind not only on a societal level but a personal one. A common complaint of mine recently is some areas of my life are not better than a year ago, in fact, they're worse. I'm not scaling the mountain, I'm sliding into the valley. My brain interprets this to mean I'm not progressing, I'm not advancing, and instead I can expect parts of my life to stay crappy forever and always, which is of course not true – something my spiritual teacher substantiates.

He said motion is never linear, rather it is always systoltic, or pulsative. “All kinds of movement in this expressed universe are linked with the state of pause … Pause is only a temporary state of inertness,” he said. “Full expression of action occurs only after attaining momentum for movement from the state of inertness. No action is possible without momentum attained from the state of inertness, and thus every action (also called movement) must be systoltic, or pulsative, by nature.”

Perhaps then my slide into the valley is my pause to gather strength, to regain my energy before climbing the next mountain. Also, perhaps this period we're undergoing as a society is a pause of sorts that allows us to ferret out injustice, examine the unexamined, and clear out the cobwebs in order for us to keep moving forward. Instead of viewing our societal events as regression, maybe they're important, albeit terrifying and horrific, milestones on our path to progress.

I dream of a world where we recognize progress on a personal and societal level takes the shape of a mountain range with peaks and valleys. A world where we understand descent is an important part of moving forward. A world where we remember motion is pulsative – it starts and stops with a pause in between. A world where we keep in mind how progress is made.

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

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Forever One


The unexpected death of my colleague nearly a month ago unsettled me. I have a need for security and stability (we all do), and his death reminded me the world is not stable; it's always changing. I want to know the people in my life will always be around, and if they're dying, I want advanced notice so I can say a proper goodbye. But life doesn't work like that, and Eric's death reminds me a person can die at any time.

Goodness, even writing that I feel my anxiety levels rising. Let's talk about solutions. Some of the messages I say to myself are, “I'm here. I'm not going anywhere. I'm not ever going anywhere.” On Saturday, I reminded myself those messages are true. I'm not going anywhere because when I die, all parts of me die. We'll die together – my inner child, my inner parent, my higher self. I'm not ever going anywhere because every part of me is inextricably linked.

I like to think of our eternal companion as an audience member. Photo by Jake Hills on Unsplash. 

I talk about “parts” a lot, but this is not New Age mumbo jumbo. In yoga philosophy, there are three parts of the mind. One of the parts, the mahatattva, is the observer. This is the part that's like an audience member of a play – they see everything transpiring on the stage, but they're not actively doing anything. That audience member, that eternal observer, if you will, is the one who has the best perspective because they literally see more than the actor on the stage.

When I self-soothe, when I remind myself I'm here and I'm not going anywhere, I connect with my observer self, which is where security and stability lies. That which is eternal is beyond spatial, temporal, and personal factors; it never changes and is always there.

My spiritual teacher says, “The unchangeable witnessing consciousness that lies behind the manifested, externalized states of consciousness, or behind these apparently conscious entities is Puruśa.” Puruśa is how I define God. Puruśa is the forever entity, the forever one who is inside of me, watching my every act. The point of my meditation practice is to realize Puruśa and I are the same. That I am it and it is me.

To quote an Indian sage, “Those of calm intellect who see Him within themselves alone attain eternal bliss. To them alone belongs abiding peace.” Over and over again I learn true security, stability, bliss, and peace cannot be found in the external world. It can only be found internally. My anxious self will never be satisfied with the constant presence of a person because people die or leave unexpectedly. They cannot be my eternal companions, but that doesn't mean I don't have one. Because I do. We all do. Our eternal companion, our forever one, is the witnessing entity within us and around us. The more I remember that, the better off I'll be.

I dream of a world where we realize true security, stability, bliss, and peace comes from within. A world where we recognize we each have an internal observer, watching the drama of life unfold objectively. An observer who is with us always. A witness who is our forever companion.

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

Sunday, July 30, 2017

What is Reality?



The adjective I'd use to describe life right now is “surreal,” both on a personal level and a societal level. I'm still grappling with the death of my colleague, it seems strange he no longer exists on this earthly plane, and in addition, I'm reintegrating into normal life after having gone on vacation. I have a giant blue poncho that says, “I heart Denmark” on the back of it, and yet, the entire experience feels like a dream. Did I really go there? Did I really see all the things I saw? I have the pictures to prove it, but somehow that doesn't seem adequate right now. As a bit of a disclaimer, I'm sick so my rational brain is offline, giving everything a dreamy quality.

Even if everything wasn't dreamy though, even if my brain was operating normally, some things I'd still classify as surreal. Our political situation, for instance. Regularly there's a news story surfacing worthy of the Onion, a satirical publication, but instead the story is legitimate. How is this real life? Furthermore, what is real life?

Eventually this, too, will stop being "real." Photo by Damian Zaleski on Unsplash.

I'm not a philosopher, but the question has me curious. Some people say the entire world is an illusion, or máyá. Are they right? In short, no. Is my cough an illusion? Is the chair I'm sitting on fake? No. The world exists, it's real, but also the world is a relative truth, according to my spiritual teacher.

“No worldly form remains unchanged for a long period of time,” he said. “The world always undergoes metamorphosis; this is how it maintains its existence – through evolution, through transformation.” That means what's true today may not be true tomorrow. For instance, I'm sick today but I won't be sick next month, I hope. My chair exists today, but 200 years from now it will not. It's kind of a scary thing for me to contemplate, that we live in a world where everything is temporary and reality is changeable, but the evidence proves this over and over again. For instance, it wasn't all that long ago that people thought germs were mythical.

Some people say reality is that which can be measured and proven scientifically, but as was once the case with germs, there are things in existence our instruments are not sensitive enough to measure yet. Does that make them any less real? As much as I'd like to define reality, I'm discovering I can't because reality is always changing. I'm going to cop out here and circle back to my perennial topic: spirituality.

According to my spiritual treatise, the world is relative, but there is something absolute. There is something unchangeable and eternal, a solid foundation, a rock to which I may cling. There is an eternal, formless, unchangeable entity that pervades all of existence. It is to that entity, which exists both inside of me and outside of me, to whom I'm moving closer. It is to that entity I pay my salutations when I meditate. It is that entity who helps me unearth an absolute reality, which is something I wish for all of us.

I dream of a world where we remember the world is not an illusion, the world is real, but it's constantly changing. A world where we let this fact fill us with hope because we realize that means things will never stay the same, and thus can always become better. A world where we live in our relative reality while also working toward that which is absolute.

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

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Connected at the Core



The other week I read an interesting philosophical treatise about the structure of our universe, which is an oval. We are made up of atoms with electrons moving around a nucleus. On a larger scale, the Earth is the nucleus and the moon is moving around it. In our solar system, the sun is the nucleus and all the planets are moving around it. According to my spiritual philosophy, there is a Supreme nucleus and we are all moving around it.

Is that Supreme hub a place we can get to? Can I jump into a rocketship and go see it? Is the Supreme nucleus instead a metaphor? I do not know the answers to these questions, but a friend commented on this discourse and said we are all emanating out from the same nucleus. We all have the same center, the same core.

We are all spiraling around the same nucleus.

His comment struck me because regardless of whether or not a person believes in a Cosmic Consciousness, or subscribes to my spiritual philosophy, we do have the same core. It is a fact we are all made up of atoms. It is a fact we are all made up of stardust, to paraphrase Carl Sagan. To quote an article on the subject:
“The carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen atoms in our bodies, as well as atoms of all other heavy elements, were created in previous generations of stars over 4.5 billion years ago. Because humans and every other animal as well as most of the matter on Earth contain these elements, we are literally made of star stuff.”
I've been hearing about this concept for many years so it's easy for me to gloss over it, but something about thinking how we all have the same core got to me. It allows me to connect with you even deeper because inside we are the same, and knowingly or unknowingly, we are moving together. Some people are moving closer to the Supreme hub. I would say the Dalai Lama or Pope Francis are great examples of people who are moving closer to Cosmic Consciousness because they have a universal outlook. They seem to look upon others with a sense of oneness, that we are all connected, that there is no difference between them and someone else.

My spiritual teacher says, “Each and every aspirant, each and every artist, each and every scientist, and each and every philosopher must be ensconced in this supreme veracity – that they will have to be one with the Supreme, that each will have to coincide his or her microcosmic nucleus with the macrocosmic one.”

The speed with which this happens varies, and some people move further away from the nucleus, but no one can move beyond its scope. Even the most terrible person, even the most despised people are still circling the nucleus. They may be at the periphery, but they still have the same nucleus, and that means I can recognize those people, too, are my brothers and sisters. They, too, are on the spiritual journey with me and that means I can soften my heart toward them. Because we are all connected at the core.

I dream of a world where we recognize we are all made of the same things. A world where we recognize we all emanate from the same source. A world where we remember we are all connected at the core.

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

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Intimacy Begins with Me



Last week, I wrote about the death of a colleague. In addition to grieving, I'm learning a lot about intimacy.

So often when I think about intimacy, it's in the context of a romantic relationship, but the truth is, intimacy is not confined to a romantic partner. Real intimacy is like unzipping yourself and displaying your insides, and that can be done with anyone, something I've witnessed in this process.

As I share the news about my co-worker's death, people react in different ways. Some people allow me to cry without offering a diversion or attempting to fix it. Other people become discomfited and say a quick, “I'm sorry,” before moving on to another topic. I'm not deriding people for their reactions – people are where they're at and will respond how they do. What I notice though is in order to share my feelings with someone else, to be intimate with them, I have to acknowledge my feelings first. If I'm uncomfortable feeling sad, there's no way I can share that with someone else because I'm shutting the feelings down internally. Someone else may be more than willing to share and connect with me, but if I'm not connected to myself, no one else can connect with me either.

As with most things, intimacy is an inside job.

We hear often, “You can't give what you don't have,” but I'm a concrete gal and I like examples. As an example, if someone asked me for oranges right now, I'd have to shake my head and say, “Sorry, I don't have any.” Similarly, I can't give intimacy if I don't have it internally.

We think of intimacy and love as “out there,” something to find or force. I can't tell you how many times I've complained about certain men in my life, lamenting that they're not opening up, as if they were clams I could pry open. I've craved intimacy, but it's only been within recent years I've created it internally by embracing all of my emotions. By giving myself space to feel.

Love and intimacy get presented as if we could walk into a store and buy them. We don't realize intimacy is something we create, something we work on internally. I could be in relationship with the most amazing person, someone who loves intimacy, but if I'm not in touch with my own feelings, if I'm not allowing myself to feel them, we won't have intimacy. It will be like talking to a brick wall. I say this because that's also been my experience in grieving. When I share my insides with people who are discomfited, it's like I threw an egg against a brick wall – my insides are smeared, on display. There's no reciprocity, only impact. When I share my insides with people who are comfortable with emotion, it's like I threw an egg at a cloud of cotton – I feel held, comforted, and supported.

Matt Licata, a psychotherapist I follow, synthesizes this concept well:
When all is said and done, perhaps there is no secret to co-creating a fulfilling, supportive, mutually beneficial intimate relationship, as it is always in the end a movement of the unknown. Healthy intimacy is not something you will figure out one day by way of some checklist or magical formula, but something you are asked to live in each moment, in all its chaotic glory. By learning to take care of yourself, you are creating a foundation upon which the mysteries of intimacy can come alive within and around you, providing a crucible like no other for the great work of aliveness that you have come here to embody.
I dream of a world where we embody our emotions. A world where we understand intimacy is not something “out there,” but rather “in here.” A world where we recognize intimacy is not something we find, but rather something we create. A world where we realize intimacy beings with us.

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

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Out, Out, Brief Candle



I found out on Thursday a work colleague of mine died unexpectedly. No warning, no known life-threatening health issues, just gone. Out like a candle. It reminds me of that passage from Macbeth:
Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.
I'm still in shock to be honest. Here one minute, gone the next. It doesn't seem real. I know some people experience a shift in perspective at times like these. It reminds them life is short and not to waste a minute of it. This it not that sort of blogpost. I will not suddenly seize the day or live like I'll die tomorrow, because for me, that sort of pace will kill me. I know this because living with that mindset has wrecked my body. Instead, this post is a meditation on transience.

We are all candles, here for a brief period.

My colleague's death reminds me that everything – my thoughts, my feelings, even my life – has an end. I trick myself otherwise, convinced every feeling and situation is interminable, but in truth, it's not. We often say, “This, too, shall pass,” forgetting “this” also includes life itself.

I'm still coming out of shock and into grief, yet I feel at peace, not about my colleague's death, but about the nature of life itself. I'm in deep acceptance that I don't have as much agency as I think I do. That I can eat well, exercise, wear sunscreen, but when I die is not up to me. I will be here as long as I am here.

In my spiritual tradition, we say a person will merge in Cosmic Consciousness only after completing the duty assigned to him or her by Cosmic Consciousness. The trouble is, there's no sand timer in the sky letting us know when the sand has run out. And what's interesting is the older I get, the more I understand what people mean when they say life goes by quickly. With that in mind, I have no trouble believing I could live until I was 120 and it would still feel too short. It would still feel like a flash in the pan. In truth, no matter how long we live, it will always be a brief moment in time, a period when for a short while we walked the Earth.

My spiritual teacher says, “This expressed universe is nothing but a collection of temporary entities which are undergoing constant metamorphosis according to the sweet will of nature.” We are all temporary entities and we are all constantly undergoing change. Nothing stays the same. Nothing. I can't help but wonder if I kept this thought at the forefront of my mind how my life would be different. If I would experience more ease and peace as well as joy knowing my life is like a candle that can be blown out at any moment.

This post is a somber one, I know, but I hope it will also be a reassuring one. For those of you undergoing hardship, remember it will end. And for those of you undergoing ecstasy, enjoy it while you can, because it, too, will end.

I dream of a world where we remember all things are temporary. A world where we realize we're not in control of everything. A world where we practice acceptance of what is because we recognize like everything else, this, too, shall pass.

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

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Accepting Uncertainty



Historically, one of the ways I've dealt with uncertainty and ambiguity is to become controlling. If I didn't know what was going on, I'd make a plan or force a decision so that I did, because then at least I'd know, and knowing was more comfortable than not knowing.

It should come as no surprise I was a stage manager in high school, and for a couple of years in college. For those unaware, the stage manager is the person behind the scenes of a show who is calling all the lighting and sound cues, the person who makes sure the sets are moving when they should, the person who determines when the show starts, even. This is not done without input or help, but the ultimate responsibility is the stage manager's. I loved stage managing. At last my character traits of controlling and perfectionism were put to good use. Instead of being disparaged for them, I was lauded.

Will this person hitch a ride or not? 

Unfortunately, while all the world's a stage, I'm not the stage manager. Nor did I get the script in advance. For someone prone to anxiety, and who likes to know what's happening beforehand, this is not a good combination. To manage this, I could have become the type of person who does the same thing every day, who sticks to a schedule rigidly, who never tries anything new, who lives in a safe container of the known and the familiar, but I get bored and restless. Well shucks. What's a gal to do then?

Lately, instead of defaulting to controlling, I'm allowing all of my feelings. I'm letting it be OK that I'm scared. I'm letting it be OK that I think things should be this way or that. I'm also letting it be OK that there's a part of me itching to decide one way or another. These days I'm letting all my parts co-exist and that means accepting uncertainty. The truth is, for all my planning, nothing ever happened the way I thought it would anyway. That doesn't mean I'll stop planning altogether – I will never be a person who's comfortable flying into a foreign city without knowing where she's sleeping that night – but it also means I'm allowing for flexibility.

According to my spiritual teacher, and many teachers, adjustment and flexibility are essentials for human progress. My teacher says, “Intelligent people will not cling to old, outdated ideas. Rather they will wholeheartedly embrace that theory which adjusts with time, space, and person, and will continue to exist forever.”

He's speaking about societal theories here, but I think the same principle applies on an individual level. I must discard old and outdated ways of being in the world. Handling uncertainty by clinging to a fixed plan no longer serves me. Dealing with ambiguity by forcing a decision before the answer is clear no longer works for me. The only person I have any agency over is me, and treating myself with gentleness, humor, love, and respect sounds like the best plan to deal with uncertainty that I could ever concoct.

I dream of a world where we accept uncertainty. A world where we realize nothing will ever go exactly the way we planned. A world where we embrace flexibility and adjustment while we move ahead on the path of our lives. A world where we allow all parts of ourselves to exist in peaceful harmony.

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