Sunday, June 18, 2017

Grace in the Gunk



I'm reminded even when life doesn't look the way we want it to, grace can still be found. On a macro level, there are some aspects of my life that are not how I'd pictured them, and it's easy to sink into woe. At the same time, there can be grace in the gunk.

I'm not saying to avoid feeling woeful – everyone needs a good cry now and again – but it's interesting for me to note in the midst of not-fun things I can experience wonder and delight. Life is complicated like that.

Last weekend I traveled to Philadelphia for a wedding of a dear friend of mine. It was beautiful and touching and sweet, but I anticipated that. What I didn't anticipate were the other moments of grace that remind me there is a divine intelligence in the world, and that it cares about me.

Grace can be found everywhere.

Following the last dance at the wedding, the brides (it was a lesbian wedding) rushed out the door under a canopy of rustling wands that we, the guests, held above their heads. Therefore, I didn't get to say a proper goodbye, which saddened me. The next day, while in the lobby, the elevator door pinged open and there stood one of the brides. I was able to say a few words before the door shut again and we went our separate ways. Quite literally in this case because she descended to the ground floor while I ascended to the fifth. An hour later, I took the elevator to the ground floor and ran into the other bride, my friend, while she waited for her elevator. We had a longer conversation and a proper hug goodbye. If I had left a few moments earlier or later, I would have missed her.

The same day, I trundled around Philadelphia with my rolling luggage, soaking up the sights. Due to losing my way, I arrived at the train station at 4:25, the exact time my train was scheduled to depart. I purchased my ticket and was informed the train was running two minutes late, which meant I just barely caught my train. And I do mean just barely. The train doors had already closed by the time I arrived, but the train conductor reopened them for me.

A few more things happened, like my flight arriving half an hour early even though we left later than our departure time. They aren't huge things, and they don't fix the macro issues in my life like my health or my finances, but they're enough to remind me grace is here, too. I can have poor health and poor finances and still be taken care of. Furthermore, I didn't orchestrate any of the things I experienced. I didn't manifest it or attract it or visualize it or have any control in the matter whatsoever.

And that's the thing about grace – it's not rational, it doesn't follow a formula. It just comes. My spiritual teacher says God's grace is for all – both the virtuous and nonvirtuous. Nobody is unimportant or insignificant. Everyone is a divine child and grace is always with us, even in the gunk.

I dream of a world where we all feel graced. A world where we feel the love that surrounds us. A world where we know grace is not a reward for good behavior, it's given regardless. A world where we find grace in the gunk.

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

You're Worth More Than Your Relationship Status



I found out recently in China if a woman is unmarried by age 27, she's called “sheng nu,” or “leftover woman.” And if you're 30 and unmarried? Forget it. Life's over. That's literally what these women are told. The whole thing makes my blood boil.

I think what pisses me off most of all is the notion that if a woman has a Master's degree, or is successful in her field, or if she's helping others and just generally being a good human, she's still considered “less than” all because she doesn't have a ring on her finger. Are you kidding me? When did our worth become defined by our relationship status? When did getting married become the most important metric?

It should be noted here I'm not anti-marriage. I've been to about 20 weddings in the past 10 years and am currently at one this weekend. I love weddings. I love marriage. But I do not love the idea that somehow a person is “left over” if they're still single by a certain age. I say this to myself, too. There's a part of me that asks, “What's wrong with me that I'm still single?” I have imagined conversations with people justifying why I'm not married because even internally, I feel a twinge of shame that at my age, 32.5, I'm unmarried. However, hearing about these women in China who are harassed and shamed by their families on a regular basis for being single put me over the edge.

Some of us may never get here, or not get here by a certain age, and that's OK.

This is not a post where I say there's nothing wrong with being single, or that there's a pot for every lid, that eventually we all meet our match. No. This is a post where I fume at patriarchy, which is the precise system that dictates a woman is worthless if she isn't married. I realize some men feel this way too, but in articles about unmarried Chinese men, it's couched as a supply issue – too few women – whereas in articles about Chinese women, it's couched as some unfortunate mystery. That somehow it's the woman's fault she's still single. That my friends, is patriarchy.

My spiritual teacher says, in society the value of a woman is not an iota less than that of a man. And furthermore, every human being is a divine child of God – both the unmarried and the married. That means I could be single until my dying days and my value would not be any less. That means I could be single forever and still do great and worthwhile things. My worth does not go up and down depending on my relationship status, and neither does yours.

I realize some people will still look at me and ask, “Why is she still single? What's wrong with her?” I can't do anything about that, but I can do something about my internal dialogue. I can remind myself I'm amazing with or without a partner. And I can do my part to extricate myself from a system that works to make me feel inferior because I'm single. I'm not inferior and neither is anyone else, regardless of their romantic situation.

I dream of a world where we realize our relationship status doesn't define our value. A world where we recognize shaming people for being single is just another form of oppression, of subtly saying they're only worth something if they're attached to someone else. A world where we realize we are fantastic and amazing human beings whether we're in a relationship or not.

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

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Awakening of Women



This weekend I saw Wonder Woman and loved it. Something about watching a female superhero really got to me in a way I didn't expect. I started tearing up. As I teared up, I was reminded this has been a long time coming. Not only the movie, which it has, but more importantly, equality for women, which we're still working on.

Last year I would have told you things aren't perfect, but we as a society have progressed far in terms of equal rights for women. This year I can say that statement is both true and not true. It's true women no longer need a husband to open up a credit card account (which wasn't the case until 1974, by the way), but at the same time, we also earn less than men. And the amount is far less for women of color. Also, I can't pretend women are treated fairly in the U.S. when our current president was recorded as saying as a star, he can do anything, he can grab women by the pussy. Neither can I pretend women are treated fairly in the U.S. when the penalty for sexual assault is so lenient. It's obvious many in power think of women as inferior beings.

I look forward to the day everyone can shine like they're meant to.

At the same time, I have to admit not everyone in power thinks of women as inferior, and we have more women in positions of power not only in politics, such as Prime Minister Theresa May and Angela Merkel, but business as well, such as Sheryl Sandberg and Arianna Huffington. What I find baffling is what many don't seem to grasp, is the better life is for women, the better life is for everyone. I don't mean that in the sense, “Happy wife, happy life.” I mean, when women are educated, society flourishes.

My spiritual teacher says, “Ideally, women should also move with their own strength and with the same speed as their male counterparts. In the process of movement, if they feel pain in their legs, if they fall on their faces, they should be physically lifted up. The fact is that we must move together in unison with all.” Moving together in unison with all means we all go far. If men are allowed to dominate and demean, we as a society are like a bird flying with one wing.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying women should have equal rights only because it means we all benefit. All human beings should have equal rights. I don't understand why it's even a question. My teacher also says, “Women should have as much unbarred liberty to enjoy the light, air, earth, and water like children of nature as men have. In fact, it is not a case of granting rights to women, it is a case of recognizing their rights.”

We already have rights that are not recognized. What will it take for those rights to be recognized? I'm not sure, but I am confident the old ways of thinking will crumble into dust. Just as the Wonder Woman movie was finally made, eventually all women will have equal rights. It will take time, but it will happen. One more quote to end on: “Let women be the vanguard of a new revolution which humanity must achieve for a glorious tomorrow.”

I dream of a world where women lead a revolution that achieves a glorious tomorrow. A world where women's inherent rights are recognized. A world where all women everywhere shake off the slumber of dogma and inferiority, breaking the shackles that chain them. A world where women wake up to the true magnificence of who they are.

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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Power of Language


Lately I've been thinking about the power of language. The way it builds bridges or constructs walls. And how it shapes our perspective, often in subtle ways. For instance, there is a huge difference in calling someone a rape victim versus a rape survivor. One is more passive, connoting power over, whereas the other connotes someone who endured hardship and continues to live.

Part of my musings were inspired by this article about George Lakoff. He suggests people vote with their values and thus words matter. For instance, there's a different connotation between “federal regulations” and “federal protections.” Regardless of where a person falls on the political spectrum, it's obvious to me words are powerful and shape the direction of a conversation and often the outcome.

I'm with you kid. Books are amazing. 

It's not only the words we use to describe something, its names too. Names mean something and the more we call a person their name, the more they embody it. For instance, in Sanskrit, if a person is named “Madhu,” which means “honey,” or “sweet,” they start to become more sweet. They develop the qualities of the name. Names are powerful, as we know, but often forget. What we call people matters. How we describe people matters. Both for the person and for us, because it determines the lens through which we view the person. For instance, I could look at a person and think “criminal” or I could think “disadvantaged.” Each will lead me down a different path. For the criminal, throw them in jail, make 'em pay. For the disadvantaged, provide help and resources.

It's important to choose with care our words. I'm reminded of a yogic concept I've written about before: satya. It implies proper action of mind and the right use of words with the spirit of welfare.

My spiritual teacher says, “Humans are rational beings: They possess in varying degrees the capability to do what is necessary or good for humanity. In the realm of spirituality, such thought, word, or action has been defined as satya.”

I guess to me that means it is our responsibility to use language in such a way that it engenders the all-around welfare for everyone. It is our responsibility to use language so that we start moving together in a direction that means everyone is living better. Because language is powerful and the more we recognize that and utilize it for the benefit of all, the better off we'll all be.

I dream of a world where we recognize the power of language and we use it to make lives better for everyone. A world where we use language to unite rather than divide. A world where we choose our words with care.

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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

We are Kaleidoscopes



I detest the saying, “There's no such thing as an original idea. Every idea worth having has been had thousands of times already.” Funnily enough, I can't find who to attribute that statement to. Does that make the notion itself unoriginal because it doesn't belong to one person? Moving on. . .

I loathe the concept there are no original ideas because I long for recognition and credit. If I have an idea, I want people to attribute it to me, and I get upset if someone else has the same idea independent of me. Childish, I know, but there we are. When I think about my spiritual philosophy though, things make more sense.

We are all kaleidoscopes making unique combinations.

One metaphor that's been used in my spiritual philosophy is God is like the moon and each of us are like mirrors, reflecting the moon. We all have the same original image, but how it shows up on our mirrors is different. Some mirrors are speckled or cracked. Some mirrors are cloudy or clear. The originality, the origin, if you will, is the moon, but the way the moon is reflected in the mirror is unique.

When looking up the attribution for the no-original-ideas concept, I stumbled across a quote from Mark Twain that fits. He wrote:
There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.
We human beings are like that – we keep making new and curious combinations. My work is to understand just because we keep using the same old pieces of colored glass, doesn't mean the new combination is any less valuable or beautiful or worthy.

Someone told me once, “There may be a thousand youtube videos out there about how to make a green smoothie, but mine may be the one a particular person sees that encourages them to actually make it.”

Bottom line for me is it's likely I'll say the same thing someone else says or vice versa, but it doesn't mean I should stop saying it because I am a unique and special, individually crafted mirror full of interesting speckles and discolorations reflecting the moon in a certain way. I am a kaleidoscope of colors. We all are.

I dream of a world where we understand we may never be the first or last person to say or do something, but that doesn't mean our contribution is any less valuable. A world where we understand we are reflecting the same thing, but the way the reflection appears is unique. A world where we embrace we are all kaleidoscopes.

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

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Embrace it All


Lately I find myself wading deeper and deeper into the realm of emotion. That may sound funny because people often describe me as “emotional,” but what I mean is instead of flirting with an emotion, I'm embracing it. The despair, the anger, the disappointment. All of it. Not only am I embracing my feelings, I'm also no longer trying to fix them.

For me, whenever I felt really down, or lonely, for instance, I turned to something to make myself feel better: I called a friend, turned on the TV, picked up a book. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with those activities, but they became compulsions, ways for me to avoid diving deep. To avoid the emotional pain of fully embodying my emotions. These days I'm learning to sit with my feelings, no matter what they are.

These days I'm embracing everything, even the prickly bits.
Matt Licata, a psychotherapist, has a blog I read every couple of weeks. In one blogpost he wrote:
[T]he question during these times is: Are you going to use these reorganizing and shattering experiences as vehicles though which to befriend yourself, to attune to the unprecedented flow of feeling with you, and to weave a sanctuary for the wisdom-pieces of the broken world to be held and illuminated? Or, will you fall back into your habitual, conditioned history, attack yourself, your tenderness, and your sacred vulnerability, spinning into the habitual fight-flight urgency of shame, blame, resentment, and self-aggression?
In another he wrote:
The invitation is into intimate communion: to move closer, and even closer still, into the feelings, the emotions, and the sensations as they surge. To surround the surging material with curiosity, warmth, and most importantly with kindness, as an inner explorer of the galaxy of your own body, of which there is no temple more sacred.
Communion. Yes, that's what I long for. And communion means befriending my pain, befriending my sorrow, befriending my disappointment. Every cell of my being longs for love, and that means the pain, the sorrow, and the disappointment too. In my journey toward wholeness, toward the divine, I must embrace everything within me.

In my spiritual practices, we view everything as an expression of an infinite loving consciousness, and that means me too. Not only the me in this physical form, but the internal me as well. The one that feels pain, the one that feels lonely, the one that feels disappointment.

These days I'm practicing loving those parts too and I have that wish for others as well.

I dream of a world where we embrace all parts of ourselves. A world where we feel every emotion as it arises. A world where we sit with our pain because we recognize it, too, is divine.

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

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Human Family Includes Everyone


The other week I posted a news story on facebook with commentary that I have compassion for robbers and the robbed, and was met with so much vitriol it astounded me. People I didn't know called me a moron (and worse), told me to get off of facebook, etc. What I heard over and over again was, “I'm poor and I've never robbed anyone.” That's great! I'm glad there are poor people that don't rob others. Keep not robbing.

What strikes me is how me-centered that viewpoint is. There is an inherent expectation that we all act a certain way, but guess what? We don't. And placing so much onus on the individual doesn't work. I'm reminded here of the recently passed healthcare bill in the House of Representatives. The terms of the bill are ludicrous in my opinion. “Have you ever been sick? Are you a woman? So sorry, no healthcare insurance for you or you'll have to pay staggering premiums. Good luck with that.”

We are all part of the human family.

Indian philosopher and economist P.R. Sarkar said, “Rich people do not want to consider the needs of the poor, because if they do, they will have to make some sacrifices. Where will their luxuries and comforts come from if hunger does not burn the bellies of the poor?” Our capitalistic society encourages this mindset, encourages us to look out only for ourselves, and try to scramble to the top of the heap by declaring, “I worked hard for this so I earned it!” Yes, but that means the suffering of others continues. It's easy to dismiss, to say the people in that position just didn't work hard enough, or try hard enough, or act the right way, or whatever. There are a thousand excuses we could give.

Sarkar said, “[T]o admit that these sufferings are the result of social injustices implies that everyone is responsible.” And that's the thing, we are all responsible. We are all responsible for each other. The human family includes everyone. I've quoted this African proverb before, but it's pertinent so I'm quoting it again: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

I want to go far. I long to go far. How do we do that? What can little ole me do from her apartment here in California? It sounds cheesy as all get out, but one of the answers is love. I'll close with another quote from Sarkar:
Like any other problem, great or small, there is only one way to solve economic problems, and that is through genuine love for humanity. This love will give people guidance; it will show them what to do and what not to do. It is not necessary to study great numbers of books or to rely upon those who speculate with the future of the silent masses. The only essential requirement is to look upon humanity with genuine sympathy.
I may not be a politician, I may not be an economist or a philanthropist or a CEO, but I sure as heck can love humanity. I can have compassion and sympathy and empathy for those around me. I can keep loving people even through their missteps. I can keep spreading love and embodying love and talking about love even when people call me foolish. And I will.

I dream of a world where a genuine love for humanity is awakened in all of us. A world where we all look out for each other. A world where we understand our progress is linked to those around us. A world where we understand the human family includes everyone and we act accordingly.

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