Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Miracle We Give Ourselves



I notice there's a tendency in me and in society to avoid the deep and dark places. We are uncomfortable with displays of depression and despair.

The other day, a friend posted on facebook that she felt depressed and the majority of her friends said, “Are you getting help? Are you taking medication?” I'm not saying people shouldn't take meds and shouldn't seek help, but it's interesting to notice their reactions. How quickly people turned to solutions instead of saying, “I hear you,” or “Me too.”

I understand the rush toward solutions. I know in myself, the minute I feel depressed or hopeless, I want to leave those states as quickly as possible. I don't want to sit with the feelings, I don't want to acknowledge them, I don't want to give them air time. If I could bypass all the uncomfortable feelings, that would be great, thanks.

Even small acts of love can have great effects.

As my therapist reminds me, it doesn't work that way. I can't pretend certain feelings don't exist just because I'd rather they didn't. The only way to move through the feelings is to first have awareness of them, and second to feel them. In thinking of my spiritual practices, I'd like to add a third step.

I am reminded of the work crafted by a monk I knew. He used to say every cell of our body is longing for liberation, is longing for oneness with something greater than ourselves. Not only the parts we acknowledge, but the parts we push away as well. He went to graduate school for psychology and developed a mantra therapy technique combining what he learned there with the principles of our yoga and meditation group. In these heart circles, as he called them, people would sit in a circle. One person would sit in the center of the circle and think about an emotion or belief they wanted release from. Then everyone on the perimeter sang to the person in the center. They verbally bathed the person with a Sanskrit mantra, sending them love. They imagined love coming through them and directed it to the person in the center of the circle.

I've been in many a circle, and people often weep or their expression softens or they start beaming. Something happens. Something happens because all parts of us want love. All parts want acknowledgment. All parts want us to say, “I see you, I hear you, and I love you.”

This week as I've sat with my own hard feelings, I've directed love their way. Not to drown them out, but in an act of tenderness and care. As Doreen Virtue says, “Love is the miracle that heals all things,” and that includes me. Instead of hating certain emotions, instead of pushing them away, instead of pretending they don't exist, instead of skipping over them, I'm sending them love. I'm going to the deepest, darkest places within me and saying, “I'm here and I love you,” because that's ultimately what I want. And what we all want.

I dream of a world where we give all parts of ourselves air time. A world where we embrace all parts of ourselves and say, “I'm here and I love you.” A world where we recognize love is the miracle that heals all things and it's a miracle we can give to ourselves.

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

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Deep Question


It's been a rough week. I found out a friend of mine committed suicide and it sent me reeling. Not only am I grieving the loss of my friend, but I'm also questioning the meaning of life, what my priorities are, how I'm spending my days, etc. The inconsequential questions, in other words.

Primarily what her death brought up in me is nihilism. What's the point of it all? What am I doing here? In our capitalistic culture I see an emphasis on pleasure. On squeezing every last drop of joy out of life that we possibly can. Of doing cool and unusual things – swimming with dolphins in Maui, hiking up Mt. Everest, and then snapping an instagram photo so everyone knows about it. I'm not saying these are inherently bad things, but should they be the point of life? Our entire focus? What about acquiring wealth and power? Is that the point of life? Should we all be aiming to buy a Tesla and run a Fortune 500 company?

Let's dive deep like this sea turtle. 

My friend's death reminds me we can't take any of these things with us when we go. When we leave the material world, we leave everything behind. Considering all this put me in a funk. In times like these, I turn to the things I know work: sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Just kidding. I turned to my spiritual practices and reached out to friends.

Looking at my spiritual practices, the point of life is not to suck every ounce of pleasure that we can from it. The point of life is to realize the beloved. To move closer to our nearest and dearest, our most precious entity. A friend reminded me this happens not through withdrawing from life to sit on a mountaintop in meditation. It happens by being here, being present, engaging. I know some spiritual paths expound complete renunciation, but mine is not one of them.

My spiritual path advocates subjective approach and objective adjustment, which as I've mentioned before, makes zero sense to me. Until now. Now I understand. It means, “Keep your eyes trained on the divine and adjust how you do that based on circumstances.” For instance, if I broke my leg and couldn't sit in a proper meditation position, that's OK, I can meditate lying down. The point is, don't stop. Keep going. I don't have to do things perfectly or follow every rule set forth by a spiritual adviser. The important thing is to keep moving.

I'm tearing up writing this because I'm thinking of my friend who felt so hopeless, so despairing, she took her life. I'm tearing up writing this because I, too, know what it's like to want to stop. To feel hopeless and despairing. To believe nothing will change and to ask, “What's the point?” I sympathize with my friend because sometimes to continue moving feels like the hardest possible thing. But I also know for me there is no other choice. Death is like changing a t-shirt, according to my spiritual teacher, so that means I'll reincarnate in another body and trade one set of circumstances for another.

If the point of life is sacred union with something greater than myself, I have to live in such a way that I experience the sacred and holy beyond when I'm meditating. I am not the Buddha. I don't have the patience to sit in endless meditation day after day, night after night. I have to engage in the world, and to engage in the world in a way that doesn't feel pointless, means I must feel the touch of the eternal even in the ephemeral.

I dream of a world where we see the divine in all things. A world where we keep going even when times are tough. A world where we feel our feelings and keep in mind feelings are not facts.

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

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Great Equalizer


Maybe I'm off base, but it seems to me in the West there's a notion spirituality is for the privileged. For people who don't have to worry so much about the mundane necessities of life. For people who have time and space to contemplate why they're here and what their purpose is. But that's not true; spirituality is for all. It's everyone's birthright.

I understand why someone would tell me otherwise, because when you don't have a place to live, it's hard to ruminate on the sacred. I'm nothing if not practical. Our basic needs must be met, yet at the same time we keep chasing after the next thing and then the next. If not something we desire, then something we have to get done. However, there's always something on the to-do list. When does it end?

Mmmm, equality, symmetry.

Paraphrasing my spiritual teacher, there is in the living being a thirst for limitlessness. Knowingly or unknowingly, human beings are running after limitlessness. However, it is not possible for limited objects to quench one's thirst. That means it doesn't matter how much money I have or how good I look in a bathing suit or who is by my side. There will always be a longing and a yearning for something more, something greater.

That longing, that yearning, is not confined to a privileged few. Nor is it a luxury. From my perspective, it's not a luxury because without it, we have people and leaders who are interested only in satisfying their own desires. Without it, we have people who feel separate from each other and treat each other as such. Without it, the environment becomes a resource we pillage instead of a sacred entity.

Look, I realize all the world's problems can't be solved by meditating. We are human beings living in a world of matter. That means action is necessary. Meditating on ending world hunger doesn't end world hunger. But how do you convince people ending world hunger is a good idea? In my mind, that comes from spirituality. From opening up their hearts. The meditation I practice connects me to all living beings and doing so means I'm not OK with them coming to harm. I recognize myself in others as opposed to seeing them as strangers, and that comes directly from my spiritual practice.

Spirituality is the great equalizer because it's a reminder we all want the same things and we all belong to each other. It's a reminder we're all in this together. Not only that, spirituality is the only thing that will satisfy our ultimate longing because material goods never will. That's true not only for some, but for all.

I dream of a world where we realize what we hunger for exists on the spiritual plane. A world where we realize we all want the same things. A world where we view spirituality as a necessity rather than a luxury because we are all striving for eternal bliss.

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

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Circle of Life



Doesn't the title of this post make you want to break into song? If I felt more confident in my singing voice I'd serenade you. Ahem, anyway, all this week I've contemplated the circle of life. Within the span of 24 hours I found out two people I know are pregnant and another lost her mother. The juxtaposition of the two was enough to give me emotional whiplash.

In Sanskrit, the term for this is saḿsára, which means the entity that constantly keeps moving. As we all know, that's what life does. It keeps moving even when we want it to stop, even when it seems like the world should stand still, it keeps spinning. It's both a blessing and a curse. I don't have any particular great insights. The whole thing sounds exhausting, and feels that way too. I'd like a break, but maybe that's also particularly true for me because for a full week I've had a nightmare every night.

Isn't this a great photo?

The “break” though doesn't come from shuffling off this mortal coil, at least according to the spiritual philosophy I ascribe to. Because I believe in reincarnation, once I die, I'll be reborn. The circle of life continues not only in general, but for me as well. Death and birth, death and birth. When does it end?

My spiritual teacher says, “Whichever way we look, we see only the external dynamism of everything, and as we witness this external dynamism, we feel pleasure when we get something, we feel pain when we lose something. If we try to discover the ultimate reality hidden within the apparent reality, we shall feel neither the momentary pleasure of gain in the mundane world, nor the sorrow of loss in the mundane world. The Supreme Entity which is neither to be obtained nor to be lost will remain always with us, and we shall remain absorbed in the eternal bliss of the companionship of that Supreme Entity.”

That sounds nice right now. To remain absorbed in eternal bliss. To escape the cycle of pain and pleasure, death and birth.

I write about these things because I need the reminder, and I suspect others do too. I need the reminder of what's permanent, of what I can attach to, of what's constant. Otherwise it's easy for my mood to swing from high to low in an instant and the whole thing is exhausting. All I can do, all that I try to do, is keep my mind trained on my higher power, on the divine and loving presence that's with me always so that eventually two become one.

I dream of a world where we all feel eternal bliss. A world where we train our sights on a constant, permanent entity. A world where we escape the circle of life.

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

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Love Means Saying No



When I think “love,” I think soft, gentle, and kind. I also think “permissive.” If I love someone, I want them to have everything they desire. But that's not real love. Real love also means saying “no.”

I think we all know this. We talk about it often in the context of parents and children. Children frequently want things that aren't good for them, like to eat toxic paint, and the parent has to put his or her foot down. In that case, it's easy to understand saying “no” is ultimately for the child's best interest. But what about when it comes to ourselves? Can we tell ourselves “no” when a part of us wants to say “yes?”

Love requires boundaries.

Over the years, I've come to see I have many internal parts or selves. I have multiple inner children, an inner teenager, a loving parent, a witnessing entity. There are so many internal “me's” I could easily fill up a minivan. That means sometimes I'll feel conflicted because one part of me wants something and another part does not. What to do in that situation? Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I have to be a parent to myself as well. I have to say no to myself just as I would to an external child.

It's so hard though. I love myself and want myself to have everything I desire. I want to say “yes” unequivocally. It feels good to say yes. Especially saying yes to my inner child. Somehow it's easier for me to say “no” to my adult than it is to say “no” to my inner child. But that's not love. Yes, love is soft, gentle, and kind, but it's also tough, firm, and at times harsh. My spiritual teacher talks about this. He says, “Sometimes I appear harsh to some. But that is for love. If I were indifferent, there would be no need for scolding or punishment.” He also says, “Punishment alone, without love, is not good. Love and punishment should go together, and the degree of punishment should never exceed the degree of love.”

Inherent in his statement is the notion love and punishment go hand in hand. To only shower a being with love and affection, to only say yes, to give in to everything the person wants, is not love. In fact, it's damaging, as anyone who's read or seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory knows. One of the characters, Veruca Salt, gets everything she ever wants, has never heard the word “no” in her life. In the movie, Veruca wants her father to buy her one of Wonka's golden egg-laying geese. After Wonka refuses, Veruca goes on a tirade by trashing the room and disturbing the Oompa Loompas' work in the process. She climbs onto an Eggdicator and is dropped down into the furnace holding room after being rejected as a "bad egg" by the machine. A reminder for us all that nothing good comes from being spoiled. Nothing good comes from always saying “yes.”

I dream of a world where we realize the most loving thing we can do for ourselves sometimes is to say “no,” even if a part of us wants to say “yes.” A world where we recognize love is better with boundaries. A world where we remember love is soft and gentle, but it's also tough and strong.

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

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Beloved is Me (and You)



Maybe it's because Valentine's Day is right around the corner, but I keep thinking about a post I wrote more than a year ago on being the beloved. Recognizing the beloved is me (and you). I'm sharing it again with you now.

The other day I had a conversation with my friend and neighbor about how I’m constantly seeking love from the “other.” And what I’m still learning is how to give love to myself and be OK with my own company. She reminded me while it’s true it’s important to love ourselves, it’s also important to remember we are the beloved. That we are the divine in physical form and we are already loved and cherished more than we can imagine.

My spiritual teacher says pretty much the same thing, but he adds in a twist and mentions the notion of subject and object. He says when we are meditating, we are thinking of God, we think of ourselves as the subject because we are the ones doing, we are the ones meditating. In actuality, God is meditating on us and we are the object. I think I’ve heard that a bajillion times and I just. don’t. get. it. Maybe it’s because I never learned grammar in elementary and middle school, but I don’t connect with the subject and object analogy.

The beloved is me, and you, and these penguins. 

I started thinking about this more, puzzling over how to feel into the notion I am the beloved, the beloved is me. I started thinking about the people I love unconditionally, the people I would do anything for, and don’t require anything in return because loving them is enough. One such person is my niece (not by blood), nicknamed Buddha. This is a girl I fell in love with at first sight. I’ve sung her to sleep, I’ve wiped her butt happily while she was potty training, I’ve kissed her, held her, and loved her even while she threw her worst temper tantrums.

It occurred to me God loves me, and us, the way I love my niece. All the love I feel for Buddha, that’s exactly how God feels about me, plus more. I am loved, cherished, and adored beyond measure. Just now I looked up from my computer to the sky outside and saw a heart in the clouds as if to remind me, “Yes, Rebekah, love is everywhere and you are loved that much.”

Take a moment with me and feel into that. Think of some entity, whether it’s a person or a pet, who you love unconditionally and now imagine all the love you feel for them directed at yourself. Feel the depth and breadth of love for you, for us.

I dream of a world where we feel how loved we are. A world where even at our most alone, we don’t feel lonely because we sense the love of something greater than ourselves. A world where we recognize we are the beloved.

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

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Mighty is Your Strength



I've been thinking a lot about strength and power and what it means to have those. I spend most of my time feeling powerless, as in my ability to act feels diminished. Particularly when I contemplate the broader society. This is where I could write about how there's strength in numbers and all of us working together have greater power than when we're alone, but you've already heard all that. Instead, what interests me more is thinking about the types of strength and power we possess.

As someone who feels like a frail wildwood flower, physical strength appeals to me. However, physical strength is not the greatest strength there is. On some level we all know this, but in times like these I think it's important to get that reminder. Psychic strength is greater than physical strength, and spiritual strength is greater than psychic strength.

It takes strength to do this.

If we look at human history, we see this progression. People could not fight a lion or tiger with their physical bodies – they had to invent weapons. Even if we pit an elephant against a human being we see an elephant driver can use their intellectual powers to direct the elephant. Physical strength can be defeated by psychic strength. In fact, my spiritual teacher says human strength is much more powerful than the strength of atom bombs. Why? Because human beings created atom bombs and that means human beings can also discover a weapon to counteract the strength of atom bombs.

What about spiritual power? For me, I believe in a higher power so it makes sense there is a power greater than myself infusing me with strength. An entity that may accomplish what I cannot. It's harder for me to think about spiritual strength triumphing over psychic strength, but when I contemplate it, it makes sense. In a competition between me and an enlightened being like the Buddha, who would win? Certainly not me. An enlightened being knows all and sees all, so of course an enlightened being is more powerful than I am.

I also think about this in my personal life. How my intuition picks up on things that my rational brain does not. That, too, is a power. If I intuit during a game of rock, paper, scissors that you're going to choose rock, who has the power in that situation? Who is at an advantage?

Ultimately what I'm driving at here is we are never as powerless or as helpless as we think we are. We all have strength and we have strength we didn't know we had when we draw on the well from the source of all creation. When I tap into an infinite loving consciousness, my strength, my power never runs dry. I've heard many amazing stories like that. For instance, Sri Chinmoy is someone who lifted airplanes and automobiles. He said:
“As an individual I am nothing and I can do nothing. For everything that I have achieved, I give 100 percent credit to God’s Grace…when I pray and meditate I feel that somebody else is helping me, whereas an ordinary man feels that he can only rely on himself. When he is under the weight, he thinks that he is lifting it all by himself. He has practiced for so many years and developed his strength and he feels that everything depends on his physical strength. But in my case, I feel I am only an instrument. There is some other power that is coming to help me. That power I call God’s Grace.”

I dream of a world where we remember we are mighty. A world where we remember we are more powerful than we think we are. A world where we tap into the reserves of a power greater than ourselves, recognizing that's where our real power lies.

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