Sunday, November 19, 2017

Allowing Anger in Spirituality



I've burned with anger this week, both from occurrences in my personal world and in our society. Anger shows up to say, “This is not OK,” and there are many things I'm not OK with. I know every spiritual teacher, including mine, says it's important to cultivate non-anger, that we shouldn't allow anger to overtake us, and on one level I agree. On another, I don't.

I am a human being, not a robot, and that means every feeling under the sun I've felt, including anger. For me to not feel angry would be an act of suppression and repression. It wouldn't be real. If I pretended anger never coursed through me, I'd become a passive doormat OK with anything and everything that happened to me. Anger gives me agency. It demonstrates in a visceral way what's important to me. Anger, like all emotions, acts as a messenger.

Fiery anger is also allowed. Photo by raquel raclette on Unsplash.

I also think about how my spiritual teacher behaved, not only what he said. In practice, he became angry when someone lied, cheated, stole, or disregarded a directive. At the same time, someone else could lie, cheat, steal, or disobey, and he would smile and laugh. Spiritual teachers are complicated and obviously understand every person and situation is different and requires a different response. However, his behavior demonstrates to me he wasn't attached to anger. Anger could flare up but it could also dissipate easily. One minute he could rage against someone and as soon as they showed contrition, he would soften and shower the person with love. He wasn't attached to anger, but it still showed up. I mention all this because it's clear to me anger is a tool that everyone uses.

When I think of my spiritual teacher, I see he used anger with finesse, which is also something I'm learning. If I keep anger locked away in a drawer somewhere, when it comes time to use it, I may hurt myself or those around me because I'm clumsy and inexperienced. I wouldn't let a toddler handle a knife until they developed more dexterity, and that's what I think is happening with me right now. I'm becoming more dexterous with anger so I may wield it appropriately as the situation allows.

I also want to express I have a theory as to why spiritual teachers talk about cultivating peace instead of anger. It's easy to get stuck in a rageful place, to hold a grudge. People become angry, spiteful, and bitter all the time. By not fanning the flames of anger on a macro level, spiritual teachers are pointing us toward subtler emotions, such as love. I'm reminded though, you can be angry at someone you love. That love is big enough to hold anger as well. And expressing anger is sometimes the most loving thing a person can do.

I dream of a world where we allow the expression of anger in a healthy way, even in spiritual circles. A world where we understand anger is a tool in our toolbox and it's important for us to learn how to use it. A world where we express anger to the degree a situation calls for, and then let it go when it's time.

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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

There Are (Still) No Coincidences

It's been a busy and stressful week. Lots of traveling, lots of activity. The only thing on my mind is synchronicity. I'm resharing this post on the topic from more than a year ago. Enjoy. 



The other week, I ended early with my writing coaching client (which never happens) and conducted my usual grocery shopping. As I walked out of the grocery store, I ran into someone I literally haven't seen or talked to in close to five years. It turns out, a few days prior he mentioned me to his girlfriend and voila, we ran into each other.

Even better, during the course of our conversation I said some things it seemed he needed to hear so in many ways I felt like a messenger. I walked away from our encounter on a high, marveling at the magic and the mystery of the universe.

There are no coincidences.

Some people would say that interaction was a coincidence, a happy accident. I don't view it that way at all. My spiritual teacher says everything is incidental. “For each and every incident there is some cause,” he says. We may or may not know the cause, but that doesn't mean there isn't one.

He gives the example of an earthquake saying perhaps a huge stone took 10 million years to move from one place to another, but when it fell, the action took only a few seconds and caused the earth to shake. The cause took 10 million years to come to fruition but there was a cause for the earthquake, it didn't just “happen.”

When I look at the synchronistic turn of events from the other week, I am reminded there is a divine intelligence in place. There is some force at work that configured things just so, allowing me to meet this friend. If I hadn't left my coaching session early, if my friend walked into the grocery store five minutes later, etc. our meeting wouldn't have occurred. I am truly in awe of all the moving parts that needed to align in order for us to run into each other.

This story comforts me because at the moment there are a few areas of my life where I feel stuck and hopeless. Where I don't see how they can or will change. I am convinced they will stay in their current state for the rest of my days. But then I think about this “chance” encounter with my friend and am reminded things can and do change unexpectedly. And not only that, there is also a guiding presence in my life, overseeing everything.

If I can run into a friend out of the blue, is there also a chance these areas of life can also change? That things won't stay the same? That something else unexpected will show up in my life to shake things up? Like the stone that took 10 million years to fall, maybe there are events slowly, slowly unfolding and when they drop will shake the ground beneath my feet. I find that both terrifying and exciting. I cling to the notion though the universe is working for my benefit, that it ultimately wants to see me succeed.

I dream of a world where we realize everything is incidental. A world where we realize we may not know the initial cause but that doesn't mean there isn't one. A world were we remember there is a guiding force in our life that arranges circumstances and events for our benefit.

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

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Internal Spaciousness


In the more than nine years since I started this blog, I've written about impatience approximately a million times. Just kidding, but it does come up a lot. In fact, I wrote about impatience a month ago. What's interesting is I'm noticing how I'm impatient not only about external factors like my career, but also with my internal states. When I'm sad, I want to be over the sadness as quickly as possible. When I'm afraid, I want to skip to serene as soon as I can.

This week my therapist told me, “You can feel sad as long as you need to feel sad. Take as much time as you need.” In that moment I realized even though I've recently starting allowing myself to feel all my feelings, I've still added in a time element. I want to move through them as quickly as possible, and that often means I don't feel them fully because it's a rush job. If you're painting a house and slap on some paint as quick as can be, it's bound to happen that you miss a few spots. A thorough job takes time and that's precisely what I haven't been giving myself. Instead, I've been giving myself a whole lot of judgment.

We can give ourselves space internally and externally. Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash.
I watched a television sitcom the other day that had a funeral scene, and I started crying because it reminded me of my co-worker. My first response was, “Really? It's been four months. You're still sad? You didn't even know him all that well.” And my next response was, “OK, go ahead and cry,” but it held a tinge of someone standing next to me, tapping her foot, waiting for me to finish. So much of my life is like that right now, tapping my foot, waiting for the next thing on a small scale as well as a large one. I'm counting down the hours until I have to take my next pill, or have to leave to catch the bus, or when my health will improve, or when my dreams will come true.

I could easily veer into the beauty of staying present, of being where my feet are, but while related, instead I'm valuing spaciousness and ease. I'm starting to give myself permission to take all the time I need. To not rush my internal process. To stop giving myself self-imposed deadlines of when I should feel better or my life should look different than it does. Deadlines are helpful for some things, but in others they're detrimental.

My spiritual teacher says, “Suppose, immediately after planting some saplings and seeds, someone digs them up to find out if they have taken root or sprouted. That would not be considered wise.” I always thought he meant literal saplings and seeds, and he likely did, but now I'm understanding we have internal saplings and seeds too. And for those as well, I have to wait for them to take root and sprout.

I dream of a world where we give ourselves the time and space we need. A world where we no longer rush our internal processes or judge ourselves harshly about where we think we're supposed to be or how we're supposed to feel. A world where we recognize the value of internal spaciousness.

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

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Love Me, Too



The other week I wrote that all any part of me wants is love and presence. Ever since I said, “I love you” to my fearful part, it's as if I triggered a rock slide, and now other parts are popping up and saying, “What about me? Do you love me, too?”

The practice is a difficult one because so much of my life has been geared toward fighting, toward struggling, to talking back. For instance, if I think I'm fat, my response will be, “No you're not.” I don't allow for the thought to even exist. Since the other week though and learning to love a part I previously only pushed away, instead of fighting back, I'm saying, “OK Rebekah. So what if you are? I love your body no matter what. If it's fat, if it's thin, if it's not functioning the way you want it to, I love it, and you anyway.”

I feel vulnerable even typing that because it's true, what I long for is unconditional love and I've withheld it from myself in a never-ending quest toward an unattainable ideal. I think there's also a fear if I shower myself with unconditional love that I'll become an inert blob, but the truth is, love doesn't mean constant indulgence. Love means compassion, understanding, acceptance, allowance. It means saying to myself, “I see you as you are, right now, and I love you anyway.” From that place, real change and transformation occurs. Loving my fearful part didn't make me more afraid, quite the opposite. Loving my fearful part gave me a sense of relief and peace unlike any I've experienced before.

Can I love it all? I'm working on it. Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash.

My spiritual practice promotes the cultivation of love. Of viewing everything as an expression of an infinite loving consciousness, of trying to grow the internal feeling of love. Our goal is to love all living beings and to merge ourselves in the source of that feeling. To swim in an ocean of love. The thing is though, if I keep believing some parts of me are not worthy and deserving of love, there's no way I can give myself over to that ocean. It's like saying, “Your legs are allowed to wade into the water, but your arms have to stay dry.” I can't experience complete merger until I'm completely submerged.

What I'm coming to here is recognizing, again, all parts of me want love. My body wants love, my mind wants love, my emotions want love. The cool thing is I can give that to myself. I don't have to wait for some imagined future that may never come. I don't have to wait for someone else to come along and say, “I love all parts of you unconditionally.”

If you had asked me five years ago whether I loved myself, I would have said yes because I said affirmations and treated myself with kindness. I checked all the boxes people listed when they spoke of self-love. Now though I've reached a new level of love because it's not just looking in the mirror and saying I love you. It's saying I love you to the part of me that says mean things. It's saying I love you to the part of me that's disappointed. It's saying I love you to everything, regardless of my judgment of the part. Now the answer to the question, “Do you love me, too?” is “Yes.”

I dream of a world where we love all parts of ourselves, even the parts we don't particularly like. A world where we recognize every part is worthy and deserving of love. A world where we work toward loving ourselves unconditionally.

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

Sunday, October 22, 2017

How to Be Fearless



Fear is an interesting emotion. In our society, we treat it like a plague – something to cure, attack, avoid. We say, “Screw fear,” or, “Don't let fear get in the way.” Oftentimes our message about fear is simpler: “Don't be scared,” as if telling someone to stop being scared could stop them.

In my own relationship with fear, I've also treated it like an annoying inconvenience, or an enemy to defeat. For many years I used food to anesthetize myself. Or I escaped into fantasy, books, movies, television. When I realized none of those things would fix my fear, I started using other methods like affirmations, tapping, visualization, etc. Basically, whatever I could do to not feel afraid, I did. And every time I realized fear hadn't left, I felt discouraged, disappointed, as if I'd failed. As if fear had won and thus I'd lost.

We must enter the cave we fear. Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

The other week, intense fear reared its head in response to the fires north of me. I could see smoke drifting into San Francisco and some days it wafted into Oakland as well, creating a preternatural calm, a sun so hazy and orange I could look at it directly. Fear came up for many reasons, one of them an acute sense of powerlessness. I bought a mask to protect my lungs from the smoke, but I couldn't control whether the air remained smoky.

In my therapy session, I noticed I wanted my therapist to fix and solve my fear. I wanted him to take it away from me, to make it better. Instead he suggested I sit with it. I'm not sure what happened in the session because days prior I tried the same thing and just couldn't, but during the session I finally stayed still. I let fear wash over me saying, “It's OK. It's OK that you feel afraid. It makes sense. It's understandable.” For two days, fear erupted from me like a volcano, not due to any thoughts in particular, rather the feeling of fear itself. My heart palpitated, my breathing quickened. I tried all my usual tricks to no avail until I again said, “OK. I'm here with you. I won't leave you alone with your fear.” And then at group meditation last week I said to my fearful part, “Not only is it OK that you're here, but also, I love you,” and that brought on the tears.

All every part of me wants is love and presence. I can't ditch fear and anxiety. As a human being I will inevitably feel scared and anxious again, but since I said, “I love you” to my fearful part, I feel fearless. Not because I'm without fear, but rather because I know when fear pops up again, I'll allow it, I'll sit with it, and I'll say I love you. And then the fear will pass like a storm cloud.

My spiritual teacher says if a person takes shelter in the divine, one need not be afraid of anything. He says, “[F]ear requires two entities for its expression – the one who fears and the cause of fear. Where there is only One entity, because there can be no cause, fear cannot exist.”

In the past, I would have taken that to mean I'm not meditating enough because I still have fears. For today at least, I'm recognizing by loving my fearful self, I am taking shelter in the Cosmic Consciousness. I'm recognizing this fear, too, is a part of me, a part of God, and the way to dissolve fear is by showering it with love.

I dream of a world where we treat our fearful selves with love. A world where we recognize we are not at war with fear, but rather fear is like a small child, begging for affection. A world where we embrace our fearful parts, give it as much love as possible, and in that way become fearless.

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

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Power of Humility



Recently I watched an interview with Megan Phelps-Roper, formerly of the Westboro Baptist Church. Westboro Baptist Church is the one that protests funerals, that proclaims Jesus hates gay people, that calls Jews, Jesus killers. Megan's grandpa founded the church so you could say she was steeped in indoctrination. Through interactions over Twitter, she completely reversed her opinions and now spends time with people she used to hate.

Watching her interview moved me, not only because her story is touching, but also because of her humility. It oozed from her. No longer self-righteous and arrogant, Megan instead recognizes she doesn't have all the answers, and furthermore that her previous behavior was wrong.

I'm striving to be as humble as a blade of grass. Photo by Chang Qing on Unsplash.

Watching Megan I was reminded of the power of humility. She is able to touch other people, to change them on a deep level, because she doesn't walk around like a proud peacock proclaiming her glory. I have to admit, humility is a tough one for me. I want to be the best! I want to be number one! I want fame and critical acclaim. If I do something well, I want heaps of praise for it. Give me my gold medal please, thanks. However, I also recognize arrogance only serves my ego, only puffs me up, and is not in service of a power greater than myself.

When we say someone is arrogant, we'll say they're full of themselves. Exactly, full of themselves. There's no room for anyone else or anything else.

My spiritual teacher says one should be as humble as the grass because it bows before everyone and doesn't pick and choose who to bend for. Why though? Why would he say that? In my opinion, I think it's because when we're proud, when we're self-aggrandizing, we only think of ourselves, and we start setting ourselves apart from everyone else. We're better than someone else. People are winners and losers instead of fellow human beings. In that sense, pride creates disconnection from others, but I also think it creates disconnection from the divine. If I want to be an instrument for my higher power, there's no way I can do that if I constantly think I know what's best. There's no way I can be an instrument if I'm puffed up on my own self-importance because again, no room exists for anything else.

I often think in order to do anything worthwhile it must be big and grand. I need to be a bestselling author, I need to be a billionaire philanthropist, I need to cure cancer. Megan's interview reminds me it's the small actions that are the most powerful sometimes. There's a joke I heard that says, “What's the most dangerous animal to humans?” You would think it's a shark or something, but no, it's a mosquito. I know a mosquito is an insect and not really an animal, but the point is still valid. A mosquito has the potential to be far deadlier than a shark because of all the diseases it carries. Similarly, perhaps my small actions have more potential than I know.

I dream of a world where we understand the power of humility. A world where we recognize we are one among many, neither better nor worse. A world where we realize humility makes us instruments, allowing for connection among our peers and our higher power. A world where we remember small can be great.

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

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Walking Each Other Home



What a week. Lots of grief on a societal level, but also a personal one. I'm reminded of how human we are. Of how we're all in this together. As Ram Dass says, “We're all just walking each other home.”

His quote kept ringing through my head this week. In times of trauma and grief, I want to do something. Sometimes there are actions to take, but sometimes all we can do is hold each other while we cry.

With painful feelings, I've often wanted someone else to take them away. To siphon them off as they would drink the last of a milkshake. I wanted someone, anyone, to make me feel better. Speaking as someone with loads of experience trying to escape her feelings, I can say without a doubt the answer is “That's not possible.” No one else can cry my tears for me. No one else can take away my pain. Other people and things may distract me for a while, but just as with storm clouds, they darken the sky whether I acknowledge them or not.

Walk with me? Photo by Hannah Donze on Unsplash

Ram Dass' quote reminds me no one is supposed to take away my pain and sorrow because we are all humans. We are not machines. We can't write a code that says, “We will never feel sad ever.” Furthermore, it's no one's responsibility to make me feel better. We are fellow companions on this path. We are pilgrims going on a pilgrimage. There may be times I sprain my ankle and have to rely on others for help, but the responsibility for forward motion is still mine, and the responsibility to move through my emotions is still mine.

My spiritual teacher says, “[A] true society is like a group of pilgrims who attain a deep psychic affinity while traveling together, which helps them solve all the problems in their individual and social lives.”

That's us. A group of pilgrims traveling this rocky path together. I'm speaking in metaphors a lot in this post, but what I'm trying to get at is it's not my responsibility to solve or fix someone's emotional state, or vice versa. I don't have all the answers, or any of the answers, really. I can't tell a person how to live their life or what they should do to feel better. All I can do is say, “I hear you and I'm beside you. I'm walking this path with you as a companion.” And that's it. We'll address problems as they arise – blisters, sprained ankles, etc. – but the emotional states? I'll be with you during them, but the tears are still yours to cry and the steps are still yours to walk. And maybe that's enough.

I dream of a world where we recognize we are all pilgrims on a pilgrimage. A world where we sit with each other when we're in pain. A world where we realize all we can do is be there for each other. A world where we remember we're all just walking each other home.

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