Sunday, April 24, 2016

Why It's All Good

Right now I'm contemplating liberation and obstacles and the nature of the universe in part because it's Passover. But even people who are not Jewish will relate to this post because we all experience hardships and wish for escape.

Passover continues to be a relevant holiday for me because it's not just about celebrating the Jews' liberation from the land of Egypt, it's also about personal liberation. The Hebrew word for Egypt, “Mitzrayim,” also means narrow spaces. That means the escape from Egypt was also an escape from a narrow space, a constricting spot, something I, too, have escaped from.

I love this picture as a symbol of things being all good.
I love this picture as a symbol of things being all good.

When I think of narrow spaces, constricting spots, I think of obstacles. I associate obstacles with suffering, with pain, and with punishment. I don't know where this came from, maybe growing up in the U.S. where there's a lot of talk of hellfire and brimstone, but whenever I experience an obstacle, I think it's because there's a vengeful God out to get me who wants me to suffer, who wants to punish me. Or the terrible things that happen to me are as a result of previous actions, possibly from a past life, but also serve as a punishment. I see a watered-down version of this reflected in the New Age community too where the “bad” things that happen to people are a punishment of sorts for their “bad” thoughts.

The bottom line is lots of punishment. Lots of black and white thinking. Lots of cause and effect, but in a judgmental way. However, I came across a few discourses and attended a lecture with a friend this week that reminded me obstacles are not punishments. They don't come about because God wants to punish us for our misdeeds. They come about for other reasons, which I may discuss at another time, but the main point for this post is God loves us tremendously and only wants to see us emancipated. The world is ultimately a benevolent one and the divine is seeking to liberate us, will do whatever it can to aid that, something aptly demonstrated not only in the Passover story, but in my own personal experience.

For every terrible thing that's happened to me, there has also been some grace, some assistance. One small example that comes to mind is a few years ago, my neighbor decided a Wednesday night would be a brilliant time to get drunk and high and talk loudly outside. I previously asked for that Thursday off so instead of fretting about not getting any sleep and being unable to function for work, I calmed down understanding I was taken care of, that it was all good.

The universe ultimately wants to see us succeed. There will be obstacles along the way, that's inevitable, but we will also be given tools to overcome those obstacles. Eventually we will all escape from our own narrow spaces, but maybe not in the way we think.

I dream of a world where we remember we live in a loving universe where the divine wants to see us liberated. A world where we understand there will always be obstacles but we will also experience grace. A world where we understand ultimately, it's all good.

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

Sunday, April 17, 2016

We are What We Seek

It's been a rough week for my health condition. What that means is this week I've been more bothered by noise and other stimuli. I've found myself fantasizing about going somewhere else. Some place quiet, removed from people, and idyllic in every way. However, as I've learned over and over again, such a place does not exist. Every time I go somewhere I think will be quiet and peaceful, during the period I'm there, unplanned construction takes place, or the refrigerator is exceedingly loud, or there's a fluke something or other. In short, there is no escape.

When I ask myself what's up with that, I realize what's underneath my desire to go someplace different is I don't want to engage. I don't want to stand up for myself with a noisy neighbor, I don't want to assert my boundaries, I don't want any conflict. If I dig even further, really I want someone else to do those things for me. I want someone else to take care of me and my needs. I want someone else to be the hero, to stand up for me, to put rude people in their place, so I can continue being a soft gooey glob. It should be no surprise then that I surround myself with strong personalities.

We are what we seek.
We are what we seek. 

My higher power though wants me to be a whole and complete person and doesn't let me get away with that sort of thing. I've come to believe that all the trials I've been put through regarding boundaries have been so I can do those things for myself. I've come to believe my higher power wants me to become my own hero, to stand up for myself, and to put rude people in their place so I can continue being a soft gooey glob inside.

I'm crying as I type that because I know it to be true. I know I've been seeking other people to do the things that I must learn to do for myself. I've been looking externally when I could have been looking internally. This week it became clear to me, I am the person I seek. I'm not sure I can express the magnitude of that realization for me. To realize all the things I've wanted someone else to do for me, I can do for myself. It has been deeply empowering and also very sweet to realize I am the person I've been looking for.

There are two quotes from my spiritual teacher that come to mind as pertinent for this topic. The first is, “The sweetest part of God's play is that He is hidden in everyone and everyone is searching for Him.” The second is, “One who looks for Shiva in the external world, ignoring the Shiva of the internal world, is like one who throws away the rice that is in one's hand and wanders from door to door in search of one's livelihood.”

I have been the person throwing away the rice in my hand and then asking why I'm hungry. I've been hungry because I've been disowning parts of myself, important parts that are crucial for my existence. And interestingly, the universe will keep putting me in situations that require me to become what I'm looking for until I understand the lesson. Just like I don't have to go to India to find God, I don't have to go to someone else to find many of the things I seek because they already exist inside of me.

I dream of a world where we realize we are what we seek. A world where we turn internally first to find what we're looking for. A world where we understand the universe is working in tandem with us to ensure we become the best version of ourselves.

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

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Squirrel and the Monkey

I've been struggling a lot this week with “not enough” syndrome. I don't feel like I'm doing enough in the world, that I'm not helping others according to my capacity, and furthermore, what work I am doing, I pooh pooh as insignificant.

As you know, my skill and talent is writing, but when I look around at me at all the work that needs to be done in the world, it feels like being a writer is useless. I'm not a policymaker or a politician or a doctor. I'm not doing anything concrete to end poverty, for instance, and I hate it.

I spoke with a friend about all this and he reminded me the gifts I've been given are gifts. I have them for a reason and it's important to use what I have. So no, I'm not a doctor or a politician or social worker, and that's OK. We all have a part to play to contribute to the whole.

Some people are squirrels and some people are monkeys: both are OK.
Some people are squirrels and some are monkeys: both are OK.

I'm reminded of the Indian epic the Rámáyańa, but there are stories like it all over sacred texts. During construction of a bridge, the big monkeys carried large stones while the small squirrels brought only tiny grains of sand. My spiritual teacher says, “Is there any difference between the carrying of tiny grains of sand by the squirrels on the one hand and the carrying of a whole mountain by [the God] Hanumán on the other? Both are equally valuable. You may be a small entity like a squirrel, but your existence is in no way insignificant.”

I think I need to tattoo that to my face. I get so caught up in the comparison game, often called “compare and despair” by my recovery friends. I compare myself to what other people are doing and always come up short. I am the squirrel looking at the monkeys saying, “Look at the big rocks they're carrying! Ugh. I wish I could carry big rocks.” I'm not honoring my contribution of small grains of sand and that's what's important – not how large my contribution is, but whether I'm contributing at all. It's so hard for me to say that because, as I said earlier, I suffer from “not enough syndrome.” I feel like I could be contributing more, and maybe that's true, but in the moment, my capacity is not all that large. My health isn't amazing, so no, I can't do as much as I could before, but maybe that's OK.

What I'm getting at here, what I'm trying to convince myself of really, is that the important thing is I'm doing something at all. Am I working to my capacity? If so, then I can let myself off the hook for not carrying the big rocks. Because again, a squirrel is just as important as a monkey in the construction of a bridge.

I dream of a world where we work according to our capacity. A world where we understand it's not important whether we're contributing a little bit or a large bit, what matters is that we're contributing at all.

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

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Rethinking Suffering

I have a confession to make: I want everything to be easy. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this. I think we all want a life of ease and comfort, but I had a conversation recently that irrevocably shifted my perspective.

My dear friend Amal is super into astrology. I don't mean the “Now is a good time to ask for a raise” kind of astrology that you find at the back of Cosmo magazine. I mean the highly accurate, “Here are the overarching themes and archetypes of your life,” kind of astrology. He recently gave me an impromptu reading (over text message no less!) that rocked my world. He told me if he were to characterize my life as a movie, it would be about a woman who wants to make it in the world, concretely, in her career or in a way that gets her recognition. And furthermore, because of other planetary placements, my career, vocation, and recognition in the world are also where I'll feel the most blocked.

Our greatest struggle could become our greatest asset.
Our greatest struggle could become our greatest asset.

Ding, ding, ding. Right on the money. When he said that to me, I wanted to burrow under the covers because it was in that moment I realized this is going to be a life-long struggle. As I wrote about in my last post, succeeding in my career will not be as easy as tuning into a 90-minute webinar, as much as I'd like to believe it would. That's not the movie I'm in. Cue the gun emoji.

He said to me, “Listen, your challenges are what set you up for your greatest potential. If you look at the chart of a famous or accomplished person, it's not their 'easy' or 'harmonious' aspects that they express so powerfully. The easy stuff comes automatically; you get lazy about it. No, you look to the hard aspects, the challenges. The challenges are the blueprints of your greatest possible destiny.”

He then proceeded to give me several examples of people with hard aspects who have done something incredible, such as Pope Francis, William Blake, and Bach. It was then I realized my struggles, the places where I suffer, are where power and metamorphosis rest.

My spiritual teacher wrote a letter to his followers and one line of it, which I'm paraphrasing, is “Suffering will be your asset.” I used to think he meant suffering will be our asset because suffering is what builds character, or encourages people to turn to spirituality, or to make changes in the world – and all of that is true – but I'm also starting to think he meant suffering is what forces us, personally, to achieve greatness. It's when we can work with the hard parts of our lives, when we integrate the things we disown, that we radically transform ourselves and the world.

I dream of a world where we use the hard parts of our lives, the places where we struggle and suffer, to spur us forward. A world where we turn those challenges into our assets. A world where we work with those energies to accomplish something truly great and long-lasting.

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