Life demands action

When I was in my pre-teen years, the powers that be in my family decided to enroll me in a beauty pageant. I will leave the debate about the wisdom of this decision for another post; suffice it to say it got me off the couch, away from the television, and taught me some amazing lessons. In true “tiger mom” fashion, we proceeded full force ahead; no expense was spared. For the talent portion of the competition, my mother choreographed a beautiful ballet, that conceptually involved me emerging from an imaginary oyster shell as a newly formed pearl. This particular choreography required me to dance on my toes (“en pointe” as it’s called).

Image courtesy of www.freeimages.com

Image courtesy of www.freeimages.com

The problem was that I was an amateur ballet dancer with nowhere near the technical mastery required for that caliber performance. “No problem. You can do it. I believe in you. We will find a way. We have six months to get you there.” For better or worse, my mother’s faith in my ability to do just about anything is infinite.

And with that, my parents hired a retired ballerina from the Kiev ballet, moved her into our house, and turned one of the spare bedrooms into a complete ballet studio (installing a full wall of mirrors and regulation height ballet bar). If memory serves, Ludmilla was the name of my new slave-driver. She kept me in that studio for hours upon hours every single day. It was all the benefits of soviet-style training in the comfort of my childhood home in Brooklyn. Awesome, right?

I can’t say that I hated all of it, but this training coincided with summer vacation, and while all of my friends came over to swim in our pool, I was trapped with Ludmilla, in my new studio, endlessly practicing my pirouettes, as the sounds of laughter and splashing water wafted in through the open window.

Ludmilla was intense. People who know me well think I’m pretty intense, so believe me when I tell you that Ludmilla was really really intense. I was afraid of her most of the time. She rarely smiled, and seemed preternaturally to lack any ability to display warm human emotions. (Occupational hazard, I suppose. Being a professional ballerina is not typically a warm and fuzzy sort of profession). When the floor of the studio got slippery, from all the polishing my toes had done, Ludmilla would sip from a glass of water, and spit spray the water on the floor to create traction. You get the idea…

She was a fierce teacher, and I was a less than enthusiastic student. I was lazy, indolent, and performed what was required of me as if I were doing her a favor. Looking back, I don’t envy her at all, having to spend those months training me. I was a pain in her ass, for sure. To her credit though, she never yelled or displayed any abusive qualities. The only validation I got from her were somber nods when I finally mastered each movement to her satisfaction. Over time, I actually started to enjoy our training, and really saw the results of all of that work (or maybe it was Stockholm syndrome, who knows).

One particular day, I remember it like it was yesterday, I decided that I wanted a break. I was tired, bored, and wanted nothing more than to just spend the day playing in the pool. Ludmilla got me out of bed, and I decided to use my trusty “I don’t feel well” excuse to get out of practice. I hadn’t used this one before, so I was sure it would work. She asked me what was wrong, and with my best puppy dog eyes, I lied that I had a stomachache. I doubled over a little, for effect.

She left the room (and just as I began to celebrate my freedom), Ludmilla returned with some pills. “Take these. You’ll feel better. Then we can get to work.” I looked down at the pills in horror, and realized that I’d been caught. What now? Take pills for a stomachache I didn’t have? That seemed, to my eleven year old self, like a dangerous thing to do. I couldn’t believe her heartlessness. No one had ever denied my suffering like this before. I’m sick and she wants me to take pills to feel better? What?? She won’t let me suffer in my (pretend) pain? She thinks practice is more important than my (fake) stomachache? She doesn’t care about me at all. What a bitch!

I tried to finagle my way out of taking the pills, desperately attempting to elicit some kind of human emotion from Ludmilla; pity, sympathy, compassion, something. I was met with a cold hard stare. “No,” she shook her head at me. “This will not work with me. I don’t care that you don’t feel well. Unless you need to go to the doctor, we are going to the studio to practice today. You can have your stomachache later.

I realized in that moment that my malingering and pity-party tactics don’t really work. I had no choice but to comply with Ludmilla’s demands. Begrudgingly, I did. But what I learned that fateful day was that using pain, real or imagined, to avoid responsibility doesn’t work. At some point you will get caught. You can try to avoid difficult things, things you don’t want to do, by wallowing in your pain or creating victim stories (helpless disempowerment stories about how you can’t, or you’re just not strong enough, or you don’t have what it takes, or you can’t make it on your own), but sooner or later those things catch up with you anyway, and then it’s worse.

Lots of people use pain, suffering, victimhood, or martyrdom to avoid dealing with the real difficult situations in their lives. It’s really common. The thing is, as Ludmilla (God bless her) taught me years ago, you will have to do that difficult thing at some point anyway. At some point in your life, someone (your best friend, your partner, your child) will see through your crap and will call bullshit. That won’t be fun for you. That moment with Ludmilla was awful for me. You might as well get it over with, and save yourself all that internal drama. Save yourself the emotional cost of the avoidance – it’s not making you happier anyway. Confront whatever you need to do, and then when it’s done, you can go play in the pool (or have your fake stomachache, as it were).

Gaya always told me “life demands action.” There are no excuses. You are here now, to live this life, so live it fully. Doing things to avoid life, because of fear or any of these other habits, is not the way. It will not lead you to happiness.

 

We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.

This is such a beautiful quote by Anais Nin. Do you have any idea what it means? This quote distills the essence of projection into thirteen simple words. It is one of the most brilliant pieces of wisdom that, when understood completely, can liberate us from so much of our suffering.

We see the world through a sort of filter made up of all of the ideas and beliefs we created in childhood. When we started to observe the world as children, we learned how to earn love, acceptance, safety, and how to avoid pain. The beliefs we formed in childhood, created in innocence, are often very very false. If you dig into your psyche and root some of them out, you will see just how silly and ridiculous they are. It’s a kind of rule-book or belief system you created for yourself when you were four, five, six years old… These beliefs make up our ego structure which then guides the rest of our lives. You live your life today ruled by decisions you made about the world, and who you have to be, when you were a little kid. Sounds absurd right? 

When we look at an inkblot or a piece of art, let’s say, what we see, how we interpret the object, comes from deep within our subconscious minds. That’s why people see different things and react in different ways to art. When you look at an interpersonal situation that triggers an emotional reaction for you, you are seeing something in the situation that is reflecting for you an issue in your subconscious belief system.

The reason the situation happened to you, the reason you are having a reaction to it, is because it is asking for awareness. The universe is offering you a gift, of sorts. (I’m not a masochist, I promise. This is really what’s happening at the spiritual level.). This issue, this emotional thing, is being triggered for you so you can investigate what’s going on inside of you. By bringing awareness to the internal emotional wound, or false set of beliefs (about who you have to be to earn love or avoid pain) you are healing aspects of yourself and bringing more light and more access to love.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the drama of romantic relationships. The people that you chose to be your romantic partners, the reasons you are attracted to them, have nothing to do with conscious decision-making. You can’t make yourself be attracted to someone, and often you are even surprised at why you are attracted to particular people. You attract them into your life because they will demonstrate for you the very things you need to see. The lessons your soul is asking to learn. They will trigger every one of your subconscious false beliefs – that’s what they are designed to do. (When you see how this works on the energetic level, it’s amazingly magical. No one is in your life by mistake). Everything that bothers you about your partner, your significant other, you closest friends, is something inside of you that is asking for attention.

I came across this article yesterday that shows you how this works in the mother/son dynamic, and how it’s projected onto the son’s romantic partner. It offers some great insights.

No matter how good, or loving, or well-intentioned our parents or caretakers were (they were only doing the best they knew how), they saddled us with their own patterns and fears. Living with them, we saw what was happening emotionally, and we made decisions and conclusions, as children, based on all the different relationships at home. We grow up and choose romantic partners who then seem to replay those dynamics for us.

If you had a sweet, loving, caring mother who used guilt and shame to control you, then you end up picking a partner who seems to do the same thing to you. It’s not always so obvious on the surface, but when you look closely at what triggers you about your partner, you will find the same feelings you felt about your mother as a child (and perhaps still feel today), in this example. It’s not really your partner’s actions that are the problem, it’s how they make you feel that is asking for attention. Your partner’s actions are the inkblot, and your interpretations of them come from within your subconscious mind.

If you had a mother, for instance, who was submissive in relation to your father, (or a father who was submissive to your mother) you may have decided as a child to never allow yourself to be controlled, or to be seemingly powerless, like she was. So you become the subtly controlling, defiant, resist one in your romantic dynamic. In small ways, you will keep trying to let your partner know that you are in charge, you will not be controlled. But often what you perceive as attempts at control from your partner aren’t that at all. It’s your own filter, your own psychological patterning or conditioning, that interprets your partner’s actions that way. You end up reacting to an illusion. Your partner may be offering you helpful suggestions, or may be lovingly showing you a difficult truth, but your super-sensitivity to being controlled makes you push back and blame them for being just like your father.

The relationships that are most difficult, most trying, most emotionally painful, are the ones that are your greatest teachers. This is not to say that we should tolerate any sort of abuse or disrespect. But rather, instead of blaming “them,” the wiser thing to do is to go inside and investigate what inside of us is reacting to them. What patterns or dynamics (always from childhood) are they bringing to the surface for us to see. This is what Ram Das means when he says we are all just walking each other home. We are all triggering each other so we can work on our own healing, and get closer and closer to love.

 

If you can’t joke about it, you have some work to do.

Have you ever found yourself in a social situation where someone makes an off-hand comment, a vaguely critical observation, that is so hurtful to you that you feel instantly shattered? One stupid sentence, and it feels like someone knocked all the wind out of you? Of course you have, we all have. It’s been happening since the dawn of time.

Portrait of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (commons.wikimedia.org)

Portrait of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (commons.wikimedia.org)

In the Stoic school of philosophy, the masters taught that the best way to handle a specific criticism in a social setting, is to accept it, and respond by turning it into a self-deprecating joke. Like this:

Criticism: “Boy, you’ve really gained a few pounds since I last saw you.

Response: “You have no idea, I’ve been eating everything in sight. If you think this is bad, you should see the nightmare happening on my thighs.”

By taking in the seemingly negative comment, and turning it into a joke, said the masters, you’ve taken back power over your own emotional state (from “insulted victim” to “in on the joke”), and subtly let the other person know their negative comment doesn’t affect you.

While on the surface this seems like a silly social power play, under the surface, it’s so much more. But it can be really hard to joke about something, when you feel victimized by it. The trick here is to actually go in and “do the work,” so to speak, on the negative judgment. Take the criticism, and investigate for yourself why it affects you. Why do you have an emotional reaction to such a statement? Why is gaining weight a negative thing?

Because we all need to be thin and beautiful? Because if you’ve gained weight, you’re not attractive or loveable? Because your physical appearance determines your self-worth, and how much love and acceptance you get from others? These are the typical false beliefs that get triggered by weight issues. But that’s all they are, false beliefs. They aren’t really true. So go in and turn those things around. Question those false beliefs. Recognize that they aren’t true; they are just part of your conditioning.

And then (this is the best part!) come up with real reasons why the weight you’ve gained is a good thing. Perhaps you’ve allowed yourself to eat and enjoy delicious things, and savor food without feeling guilty. Perhaps you’ve stopped dieting and feeling hungry (and angry) all the time. Perhaps you had a difficult time, and the food you ate was really comforting and necessary. Perhaps the people in your life continue to love you just the same, even with those extra pounds. Perhaps you’ve avoided attracting people into your life who objectify you, and only want to be friends with you if you’re thin and beautiful. This list of positives is really endless… Come up with as many as you can!

And when you do this process, when you turn around those negative judgments inside yourself, what happens is that you actually become immune to the external criticism. It really doesn’t trigger you. You aren’t insulted by other people’s judgments. You don’t need to internalize what they’ve said. You recognize it’s just their own projected negative opinions. And then you feel lighter and freer, and you have the emotional resilience to make light of someone else’s negativity (and perhaps even encourage them to drop their silly judgments), exactly like the Stoics suggested. I teach this to my clients all the time. It’s an incredibly empowering technique! Try it, and see how it feels for you. 

 

Taking a sacred pause

In order to truly practice and live a spiritual (or “conscious,” if you like that term better) way of life, you must be willing to take a kind of personal responsibility for whatever is happening inside you at any given time. It is the fundamental understanding that all of your feelings, reactions, and judgments have absolutely nothing to do with the other person. No one can make you feel anything. It is the ideas, stories, and interpretations you make, about what was said or done, that cause you to feel whatever you feel. (This is why one person’s joke is another person’s insult. It is the insulted person’s internal interpretations that make the joke offensive).

Recognizing this, you see that there is no reason to retaliate for harsh words, no reason to get defensive, no reason to send your emotional poison (as don Miguel terms it) to anyone else. When you feel upset, or emotionally reactive, or “triggered” (as the cool kids now call it) by something, it is not the time to lash out. It’s not the time to create new rules of conduct. It’s not the time to get righteous, or set boundaries, or hit them back. Instead, it is the time to take a pause (a “sacred pause” as one of my friends calls it), and figure out what you feel and why. What are you really reacting to? Start with the assumption that anger is fear, and ask yourself in that moment “what am I afraid of here?” When you have done your internal work, when you have reached your emotional neutral, that is the time to discuss your feelings with the other person. If you don’t know the real reason you’re so upset, how do you expect the other person to address it in any satisfactory way?

There is a very very special woman in my life; someone I am blessed to call my dear friend. She was an ER nurse for forty years. As I’m sure you can imagine, she has seen it all and heard it all. She’s not quite Mother Teresa (given her wicked sense of humor and sarcastic tongue), but she’s pretty close. She is the master of the sacred pause. She believes that words cut like knives, and no matter how many times you apologize later, you can never undo the pain you caused. She is thus very careful with her words; a character trait I greatly respect.

When she feels upset, or angry, she puts up her hand, closes her eyes, purses her lips, and shakes her head no. This is a signal to everyone around her that it is time to slowly back away. And they do! It’s wonderful. She doesn’t send her angry feelings to another. She doesn’t explode. She doesn’t carelessly fling insults around. She has the internal composure of a zen monk. She then takes the time to process whatever she is feeling, and decides rationally on the best course of action. It’s truly admirable.

And so, I encourage you, the next time you’re feeling some negative emotional thing, take a sacred pause. Before yelling back, before hurling profanities or even just judgmental words, before clicking reply and moving full steam ahead in order to “let’em have it;” just take a moment and figure out what’s really happening. Blaming “them” is easy, but it’s not the truth. It’s not what’s really going on. Your anger or reactivity is coming from within you – the mistake, misunderstanding, misinterpretation is yours, not theirs. You’ll thank me later. 🙂

Living your truth

“Living one’s truth” or “speaking one’s truth” has become a little bit of a cliche in personal development and/or spiritual circles. It’s often mis-used as a justification for selfishness and reckless confrontation; but that is not at all the proper understanding of this beautiful concept. (more…)

Some more thoughts on love…

 

Love is kindness, complete acceptance, authentic vulnerable communication, freedom, empathy/compassion, and respect. It is only when you give yourself these things, that you can begin giving them to another.

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Love doesn’t mean compromising away your own happiness or comfort.
Love doesn’t ask for sacrifices or obligations to keep another happy.
Love doesn’t require selflessness; it doesn’t ask you to put the needs/desires of others above your own.
Love doesn’t mean never saying you’re sorry.
Love doesn’t mean you can take your stress and bad moods out on another.
Love doesn’t mean you make the other your enemy.
Love doesn’t have defensiveness.
Love doesn’t ask for pity.
Love doesn’t use guilt trips or threats of punishment.
Love doesn’t mean you owe anything, or that anything is owed to you.
Love doesn’t mean worrying or keeping track of the other.
Love doesn’t require obedience or rules.
Love doesn’t hurt another in retaliation when you feel hurt.
Love doesn’t require pain.
Love doesn’t make ultimatums.
Love doesn’t ask you to give up your life’s dreams.
Love doesn’t put your happiness, security, or confidence in another’s hands.
Love doesn’t ask you to be different.
Love doesn’t make you hide aspects of yourself because they are uncomfortable or unpopular.
Love isn’t mean, critical, or sarcastic; it doesn’t use humor to put you down, and it doesn’t make jokes at your expense.
Love doesn’t make you feel small and powerless.
Love doesn’t try to fix you or make you “better.”
Love doesn’t have conditions (“I will love you if…”)
Love has solid boundaries, not selfishness.
Love is not anxious or uncertain.
Love doesn’t seek validation or worthiness in another.
Love doesn’t have expectations or demands.
Love doesn’t keep score.
Love can be ruthless, but when done truthfully and with complete integrity, it’s the most beautiful thing in the world.

The Vine of the Soul

(A small disclaimer for all the devotees who say that reading and writing about it is pointless without having experienced it – I hear you. I haven’t experienced it, but I’m going to write about it anyway. I hope she takes it as a sign of my respect and reverence that I won’t agree to drink Ayahuasca until the time feels right for me.)

I promised to write about Ayahuasca quite some time ago, but just never got around to it. My only attempt here is to collect and offer some of the wonderful resources I’ve encountered, so you can investigate further, if you’re interested.  (more…)

Your life is your teacher

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Yes. That’s broccoli. Linda loves broccoli.

So this is my dog Linda (also affectionately known as Bubba. I’m not sure why, she just looks like a Bubba to me). Although if you ask her, Linda would probably correct you that more accurately, I am her human; that I belong to her. She owns me, and not the other way around.

I rescued Linda a few years ago after she was surrendered by her previous humans. I’m not entirely sure about the circumstances of her home of origin, but it took lots of love, and patience, and many months to get her to really open up, and overcome her inexplicable fear of men and the doorbell.

(more…)

Living with mindfulness

savorA few weeks ago, I was out walking the dog along the waterfront, where a new pier is being constructed for a residential high-rise. It’s been a little noisy in the neighborhood for the last few months, but nothing really disturbing; just a constant sort of background hum.

This particular day however, as we got closer to the site, I could really hear it. I mean really. You want to know how loud it was? It was louder than the loudest setting on my phone’s music app! I know, right? Immediately, the yenta complainer voice that lives in my head chimed in: “Ugh. It’s so loud. I wish it would stop. Why does this need to be happening now? Why can’t I just go for a quiet peaceful walk on a beautiful warm day without something like this ruining it? Why does this always happen to me?” She’s a real gem…

(more…)

What is the practice of self-love?

Self-love is not about affirmations or proclamations. It’s not about pretending to be happy, going to the gym, doing yoga, or eating a vegan diet. It is a practice; a difficult, often scary, daily mental exercise that you can do sitting on your couch. It’s more important than anything else you do, any day of the week. If you don’t practice self-love, then you don’t have any love to give anyone else in your life.

It’s about looking inward and getting in touch with your vulnerabilities; your darkest, most terrifying thoughts. It’s about being gentle and compassionate with your screaming inner child. It’s honoring your authentic self, and listening for the divine wisdom of your intuition. It’s learning to say yes to what your heart asks of you; and learning to say no to anything that goes against your truth.

The relationship you build with yourself through this practice is the most important relationship you will ever have. Cherish it.

I am responsible for what I say. But I am not responsible for what you hear.

This is one of my favorite quotes by don Miguel Ruiz. It is such a profound piece of wisdom. When you “get” what this really means, it has the power to transform your life entirely. I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot lately.

Try as we might, we cannot control what other people think of us. We all want to be thought of as “good” people, but the reality is that everyone hears, sees, and judges others through their own filters in the mind. People make assumptions and judgments based on what they believe about themselves and their own realities. There is very little you can do about that in relation to another person.

When you realize this, you stop trying so hard to affect what others think of you. You just do and say whatever is in your own integrity, guided by your own truths. And how people react is entirely their business. Let them have their reactions. When you stop seeking love and approval outside yourself, you can experience the incredible joy of real freedom.

Letting go…

shutterstock_83671309Letting go of your past can be very scary; not just to your own mind, but to those around you as well. You’ve come to rely deeply on the stories you tell yourself about who you are, what you’ve done, and what’s been done to you.

Making the choice to set down all the baggage, and look with fresh eyes, loving, honest, and compassionate eyes, can be daunting.

The ego won’t like it; I can assure you of that. But when you decide that the time has come, you will see how quickly and easily all those stories dissolve. A tiny little crack is all it takes to let the light come rushing in.

Set down the stories, release yourself of all those burdens and misunderstandings, and let your love shine again.

(photo courtesy of shutterstock)

Stop sacrificing yourself in the name of love

We live in a society that keeps telling us to do more, be more, achieve more. “Lean in.” says Sheryl Sandberg. “Just do it.” says Nike. Push yourself harder. Get into better shape. Make more money. Get that promotion. Run faster, sleep less, eat less, work more. Worry constantly that you’re not doing enough. No excuses. Don’t be lazy. Why? What for? Why are you stuck in this hamster wheel, exactly? Have you ever stopped for a second to ask yourself what you’re doing all of this for? Is it so that you can be loved? Admired? Respected? Envied perhaps? So that you can afford more stuff? So that you can feel better about yourself? So that years from now, when you’re old and sick, you can actually enjoy your life?

In her book, the Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown describes the dig-deep button: “You know the dig-deep button, right? It’s the button that you rely on when you’re too bone-tired to get up one more time in the middle of the night[,] or to do one more load of throw-up-diarrhea laundry[,] or to catch one more plane[,] or to return one more call[,] or to please/perform/perfect the way you normally do even when you just want to flip someone off and hide under the covers. The dig-deep button is a secret level of pushing through when we’re exhausted and overwhelmed, and when there’s too much to do and too little time for self-care.” 

One of the pearls of wisdom Gaya shared with me was “listen to your body.” (This is another one of those super simple sounding lessons that takes a lot of time to really sink in – you have to live the experience of it before you can understand it truly). Listen to your body is the polar opposite of the dig-deep button. Whether you believe in spirit or not, assume for a moment that your body (your emotions, your feelings, your sensations) are the way your soul, or your higher self, communicates with you. It lets you know when you’ve reached your limits and where you are pushing past boundaries when you shouldn’t be. Those messages deserve your attention. They actually exist to serve your highest good.

(more…)

The Erotic Mind. By Jack Morin, Ph.D. (It’s not what you think…)

Okay. It’s exactly what you think. It’s about sex, and fantasy, and pleasure, and the things that turn people on. It’s about eroticism, and emotions, and fear, and shame, and orgasms. But it’s so good (obviously); I don’t care what you think. If you’re interested in furthering awareness into the arena of the erotic, this book will open your mind in unexpected ways.

erotic mind“When you recognize and accept what you feel, without judging your emotions by logical standards, you will notice that the natural life of most feelings is remarkably short and fluid.

If you are able to feel anger when you are threatened or when someone treats you unjustly, and if circumstances allow you to express yourself assertively, your anger will yield to a calm self-assurance. Likewise, if you’re not ashamed to feel anxious when you perceive danger, chances are that you will take whatever steps are necessary to protect yourself, thereby demonstrating just how courageous you can be.

Feelings that are attended to and honored move along, sometimes veering off in unexpected directions. It’s the feelings that fester and won’t let go that cause us distress. People who ignore or resist their feelings often end up obsessed with them.”

(I would say “enjoy,” but that seems unnecessary somehow…)

 

Always do your best.

One of the most famous books encapsulating ancient Toltec wisdom is don Miguel’s The Four Agreements. I’ve been studying and working with the agreements almost every day, and while on the surface they are just four simple sentences;

  1. Be impeccable with your word,
  2. Don’t take anything personally,
  3. Don’t make assumptions,
  4. Always do your best;

below the surface, they are really huge pillars of an entire philosophy of life. They are an entirely different way of living in the world. What I love about them is that every day, as I discover more of myself, I find deeper and deeper interpretations of the agreements. New situations and experiences keep teaching me new lessons, bringing me back to these four sentences. It’s an incredible transformative practice.  (more…)

Love, commitment, sex, and desire (part 2)

 

As I was reading (and loving) Esther Perel’s book, which I told you about in Part 1, a question kept nagging at me. The process of self discovery (whether through spiritual tradition or in psychotherapy) leads to ever-deepening levels of awareness. Awareness leads to authenticity, with the self and with the other. And in relationship, when we show our authentic self to another, we call this intimacy. In my own experience, as I’ve gotten close and closer to my own authentic self, what arises is incredible desire and passion. A new ecstatic energy; not just in a sexual context, but in a creative context too. (My hypothesis here is that creative energy is the same as erotic energy, but that’s a different post). So how do I reconcile my experience with Esther’s seemingly sound position that intimacy kills desire? Is it true that if we cultivate “intimacy,” that desire necessarily dies?

I think that the answer requires taking a small step further into what we mean by intimacy, and then drawing a distinction. (I think Esther taps into this, but without a proper framework. I humbly offer my own reconciliation for your enjoyment).

The kind of intimacy discussed in Mating in Captivity is what I’ll call egoic intimacy. This is the merging of two into one. It is emotional safety and enmeshment, care-taking, clinging, and a loss of self into the relationship. A coping mechanism for the inherent anxiety of love. (“Please love me. Please promise you’ll never leave me.”). It feels safe and secure, but comes with a price. It is a fusion or a collapse of personal boundaries. In it’s most negative experience, it can feel like obligation, responsibility, control, and manipulation. The communication that manifests sounds sort of like surveillance masked as concern (“where were you? and what were you doing there so long? I was worried about you.”). The relationship engulfs the partners and threatens their individuality. This, says Esther, kills sexual desire. To reawaken the desire, partners must create psychological distance, separateness, emotional privacy, and a reclaiming of a sense of self.  (more…)

The Invitation

By Oriah Mountain Dreamer, Indian Elder

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know  if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon…
I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow

if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain mine or your own without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

                                                     I want to know if you can be with joy mine or your own,                                                     if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you
                                            to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful,                                 to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true.
I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day.
And if you can source your own life from its presence.

                                                    I want to know if you can live with failure yours and mine                                                       and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes.”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

                                                            I want to know if you can be alone with yourself                                                         and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

A quick foray into Kabbalah

I’ve been vaguely interested in Kabbalah for a while now, (Madonna notwithstanding) but every time I touched it, it felt too esoteric and incomprehensible. Maybe I’ve matured in my spiritual understandings, or maybe I just never found the proper teachings. Anyway, yesterday I took a quick dip into what it is, and what it does. And I finally get it!

Tree of Life. Image source: wikipedia

Tree of Life. Image source: wikipedia

Here’s what I found:

1. The Kabbalah is not a book per se, but a tradition of mystical practices. The Zohar, the primary text, was written (or received, you can say) in 13th century Spain.

 

2. The Zohar offers many different things – it’s a huge compendium of stuff. It changes some large primary assumptions and reinterprets the whole Torah under this new light.

 

3. It introduces Ein Sof (the infinite) as the real supreme being, the creator of what we know as God.

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What are your true desires?

 

Adultery

 

“We aren’t who we want to be. We are what society demands. We are what our parents choose. We don’t want to disappoint anyone; we have a great need to be loved. So we smother the best in us. Gradually, the light of our dreams turns into the monster of our nightmares. They become things not done, possibilities not lived.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is this it? Is this all there is to life?

 

Just under the surface of our conscious minds, while embroiled in the busyness of our modern lives, we are all harboring a vague discomfort premised on a terrifying possibility – that we will one day be standing at death’s door, where we will realize that we’ve squandered our one chance at living. That we have sacrificed our time and energy in pursuit of distractions, rather than the pursuit of our true passions. That we have mis-lived in a sense, by failing to live fully. That we have focused on doing what was expected of us (what we expected of ourselves), rather than what we truly wanted, thereby wasting this magnificent opportunity. This discomfort often culminates in what we call, colloquially, a mid-life crisis, although it arises at other times as well, often following a death, a loss, or betrayal of some kind. It bubbles up in the form of a question:

Is this it? Is this all there is to life? 

This question nags at us frequently, especially during bouts of insomnia, or after the high of attaining some milestone has subsided. But the fear of change, and the uncertainty of where to seek that change, keep us locked in place most of the time. If, however, the grief or pain of loss is acute enough, such that the fears become relatively insignificant by comparison, then the real search begins for the more. That’s when we develop the capacity to ask the really hard, scary, existential questions, to look inward with honest eyes, and find the transcendentally meaningful answers.

 

 

Love, commitment, desire, and sex

I just returned from a week in the land of wine and pasta, where I was honored to officiate (symbolically) the wedding of my brother and sister-in-law. I suppose it’s only fitting that I spent the entire week contemplating love, marriage, commitment, desire, and sex.

It all started before I left… I signed up for Psychotherapy 2.0 – a two week online summit of brilliant minds sharing their fascinating work. Regrettably, I only caught a few sessions, but I did get to hear the one I was most excited about: Esther Perel, The Double Flame: Reconciling Intimacy and Sexuality. The talk focused on:

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There’s no one out there, revisited

I posted some time ago (here) about Gaya’s famous teaching: “there’s no one out there, just a bunch of mirrors reflecting you back to yourself.” It took me nearly a year to really grasp the magnitude of how this principle actually operates. In short, there are many different ways to think about this idea.

One is that every time you are emotionally triggered by something, it’s an invitation to go inside and discover more about yourself. The trigger is a gift; a clue, of sorts, letting you know that there is some negative self-judgment hanging out in your subconscious, waiting to be healed. Another way to think about this is that the external world is just a reflection of what’s going on inside of you. If you have chaos, or drama, or negativity in the world around you, look inward and you’ll see that that is precisely what’s happening inside your mind. If someone is mistreating you on the outside, I’d bet you are mistreating yourself on the inside. (No blame or judgement – just food for thought). A third perspective is that all the judgments you hold about other people, are really all about you. They have nothing to do with the behavior or appearance of another person. This last perspective was the subject of my previous post.

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Confession: I don’t know how to tell you that you’ve hurt my feelings.

Life Lesson – Conflict

Some time ago, along the path of intense self-discovery, I realized that I’m not good at conflict, neither the confrontation, nor the resolution. Ironic, for a litigator, yes? (You’d be surprised how many lawyers have a problem with conflict). But conflict happens in every relationship, and if you don’t know how to handle conflict in a healthy constructive way, you’re in real trouble.

 

What I mean, in a practical sense, is that when my feelings are hurt; when I am mistreated in some way; when a friend or loved one oversteps a boundary – I don’t say anything. I just pretend it didn’t happen. I ignore it. I shove it down, deeper and deeper. I will push it down as far as possible, and will let it rot in the depths of my psyche. I always assumed this was normal, and called it “forgiveness.” Boy, was I wrong!

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Here’s what’s coming next

Things are blissfully busy here, as usual, but I wanted to share some ideas and posts that are in the works:

1. I’ve been noticing an interesting trend lately, and I’d like to propose a theory. Maybe this is already common knowledge somewhere, but I haven’t yet found any articles or books on it. Here it is: Addiction to anxiety (among successful professionals). Technically, it’s an addiction to the adrenaline, cortisol, etc. that is present in the body during stressful times. We already colloquially call someone like this an “adrenaline junkie.” But I’m seeing this in the context of successful professional people in corporate jobs: lawyers, accountants, management consultants, bankers (even doctors, at times). I think this is distinct from workaholics, because it bleeds out into their lives, outside the office. It’s not an addiction to work, per se. It’s an addiction to stress. What’s interesting to me is the down time, or low stress points, in someone who is constantly busy, overcommitted, stressed out, and exhausted. They report experiencing a kind of boredom, restlessness, and mild anxiety. I think of this as a withdrawl symptom of the addiction. They cannot handle the discomfort of doing nothing, so they keep flinging themselves into high stress jobs, situations, environments, in order to keep the withdrawl symptoms at bay. Still thinking this through…

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What do you do about anxiety?

One of my favorite teachings on handling negative emotions comes from Pema Chodron’s book, Getting Unstuck: Breaking Your Habitual Patterns and Encountering Naked Reality. Pema (I’ve spent so much time with her teachings, that we’re on a first name basis) describes an experience, on a particular retreat, of unabating anxiety every time she sat down to meditate. Struggling with it for days, unable to find its source, or make it subside, she visited her teacher looking for guidance. After listening to her describe the experience, Dzigar Kontrul Rinpoche said “Oh, that’s the Daikini’s Bliss! That’s a high level of spiritual bliss.” Hearing this, Pema became excited about her next meditation practice. After Rinpoche left, she sat down on her cushion, ready to experience it again, however the feelings were gone.

When he said that, that was melting it, or space coming into it, or warmth coming into it. You change the way you look at it.”

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What is compassion?

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. -Rumi

I was out walking Linda recently when a man approached us, and struck up a conversation (with me, not with her). He said that he was thinking of getting a dog, but wasn’t sure it was the right thing for him. He asked a bunch of questions about the responsibilities and commitment required.

This is Linda!

As we got to talking, I shared some of the experiences of having Linda in my life (lots of love and affection, but also lots of poop, vomit, allergies, and shedding). At the end, he said “you sound like a very compassionate person. I don’t really understand compassion. I try to be caring, but I just don’t feel anything. I don’t really care about other people the way I think I’m supposed to.” The old me would have been shocked at such an admission, but the new me seems to bring out this kind of thing in people. I took the opportunity to thank him for sharing his honesty with me, and I shared what I know to be true with him.

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Is meditation the new black?

I came across this article, by John Horgan, questioning the benefits of the new meditation craze. I thought he made some interesting observations, and on some level I agree with him. I sent him the following email; probably worthwhile to share here as well.

I think that one of the issues with meditation is that proper instructions are not included. Sitting still and trying to “not meditating-buddha-1542957think” is not what it’s about. You are correct that meditation, in and of itself, does very little. Just having a meditation practice doesn’t make you happier, or more peaceful, or nicer. It’s what one does during meditation that leads to awakening (or doesn’t, as the case may be for most people). What’s missing in most traditions (as they are presented in the mainstream), is the method of self-inquiry. (It’s what you’re actually supposed to “do” during meditation).

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When you look within…

This is a beautiful excerpt from The Art of Sexual Magic, by Margo Anand.51fXQLsEE4L._SX405_BO1,204,203,200_

When I put aside my prejudices and looked at my deepest motivations and fears, I was surprised to be confronted by a rather sorry-looking individual, covered with bandages, limping along on a crutch, incapable of hurting anyone.

I immediately recognized him. It was me. It was my wounded self, a symbolic representation of all those doubts and fears about myself that I had so carefully hidden from public view for so many years. And when I looked a little closer at this injured being, my heart was deeply touched. I wanted to reach out and help him to heal, because I could see, beneath the bandages, that he was only a small boy, a helpless, wounded child.

There’s no one out there, just a bunch of mirrors

Throughout the last few months of my work with Gaya, we’ve been talking a lot about the people in my life, and how I’m relating to them. Gaya keeps repeating to me that there’s no one “out there;” everyone is really just a mirror reflecting back at me.

black-and-white-forest-trees-branchesAt first this was difficult to grasp. Surely, the people in my life are real humans – I can touch them, see them, hear them (even smell them sometimes). I accepted what she was telling me, but it didn’t really sink in until much later. What she meant is that who they are to us, how we see them, how they make us feel, is nothing more than a reflection of how we see ourselves.

Conceptually, what we choose to see in others, the way we see them, and the judgments we have about them, are nothing more than judgments we hold about ourselves, and how we think we ought to be or not be. In clinical terms, this is called projection. In other spiritual traditions, this is called shadow work.

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When you set aside your judgments…

judgments

Original image copyright S.R.Lee Photo Traveller

I came across a movie recently that challenged all of my old beliefs and judgments about who or what I ought to be. In watching the movie, I discovered that I could be happy living in many different ways – a possibility that never existed before. Then I found a news article about a little communist nirvana in Southern Spain, and my heart sang with delight. Me? Communal living? No way. I almost couldn’t believe my own reaction. So dear friends, set aside your judgments and beliefs of who you ought to be, and give yourself the chance to really live!

 

Book Review: Women and Desire, Beyond Wanting to be Wanted, by Polly Young-Eisendrath

While everyone was out drinking and barbecuing this weekend, I spent most of it on 41Q9R4GC2VLthe couch with this book (the actual physical book). It was so powerful in so many ways that I’m adding it to my “books that will change your life” list. If you’re unfamiliar with the canon of feminist writing (I was), Polly is a prominent and powerful voice among many amazing leaders. You can read more about her work here.

I want to share some excerpts with you from Beyond Wanting to be Wanted. If I’m being honest, I underlined, highlighted, and scribbled notes on most pages, so picking out excerpts was its own challenge.

In my opinion, Polly has brilliantly distilled a lot of ancient wisdom into a practical modern way of life (primarily for women, but also often applicable to men). She encourages her audience to get really honest and really clear about their desires; to bring their truths into the light, so to speak. Because it is only when we are aware of what we feel and what we want, that we have true freedom to choose how we live in the world. She has also articulated a very subtle phenomenon that resonates profoundly for me – the idea that women often focus on being the object of someone else’s desire, instead of the subject of their own. It is when you stop seeking approval of others, you stop trying to be the person you think you should be, that you can really live authentically, vulnerably, and with integrity.

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Honesty, instead of eggshells.

This is a difficult one. It sounds easy, but it’s really not. Just be honest. Just tell the truth. The truth will set you free. How many times have you heard these words? And yet, it’s such a struggle for so many people. This lesson has appeared several times in the last few weeks. It has tested my strength and courage; but when I stepped up to meet the challenge instead of hiding from the truth, it left me feeling absolutely magical.

broken-eggshell-1320153

To look for truth, and to be honest, is terrifying. Forget big universal truths; I’m talking about little truths, personal truths. We are afraid to look inward, and to be honest with ourselves. And even if we are courageous enough to do that, then we are so concerned with the feelings of others, that we are afraid to share our truths with them. We punish ourselves with all sorts of guilt for causing someone emotional pain, when we really have no idea how they will feel if we’re honest. We jump through crazy ridiculous hoops, all because we want to avoid the turmoil of emotional pain (theirs and ours). Being honest and being kind are not mutually exclusive. You can and should deliver your truth without blame or judgment, but definitely with kindness. It just takes a little practice.

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You have arrived!

Some time ago I took a short business trip to Ohio. I picked up my rental car, and found that the agent had thrown in a GPS for free. (I usually opt out of the GPS because of a traumatic experience in Albany, but that’s a different story).

Anyway, I plugged in the address of my destination, and when I pulled up to the building, the GPS announced “You have arrived!” How nice, I thought. I have arrived. Let’s take a moment to celebrate that.

cherishthejourneyAfter my meeting, I returned to the car, and plugged in the address of my next destination. When I got there, the GPS again announced “You have arrived!” Again, I took a moment to savor my arrival and settle my thoughts.

As I got out of the car, I felt great. I could stop worrying about the traffic, or the weird sound the car was making, or being late for my meeting. All those worry thoughts were no longer relevant in that moment. Just taking that small second to recalibrate and calm my thoughts before moving forward made such a difference!

What a lovely mantra that would be – with every step, at different points throughout the day (no matter what you’re doing), you stop for a moment and think “I have arrived.” In this way, you get to really cherish the journey.

 

 

What does it really mean to love yourself?

How much we know and understand ourselves is critically important, but there is something that is even more essential to living a Wholehearted life: loving ourselves.

Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Every article, every self help guide, every book on relationships, tells us the same thing – learn to love yourself first! But what does that really mean? How do you actually love yourself? How do you get to that place where you’re not just repeating silly affirmations, but you genuinely feel feelings of love for you, within your body?

It’s a three step process.  (more…)

Forgiveness, a labyrinth in the Toltec Tradition

I’ve been working my way through the Five Levels of Attachment by don Miguel Ruiz Jr. Although you can probably get through the book in one sitting, I’m taking my time with it. I will read a few pages, and then take some time to digest what it means. When I go back, I will re-read a few pages, and find a new deeper understanding. The words resonate in very interesting ways. The Ruiz family seems to have a knack for that kind of writing.labyrinth_4

I came upon an exercise in the book that I find very profound – The Labyrinth in the Toltec Tradition. The instructions are pretty simple, the results however are very powerful. The focus of the exercise is a taking of responsibility for our own lives, a letting go of egoic conditioning and limiting beliefs, and a healing method of forgiveness.

And so without further ado, imagine yourself standing at the entrance to a large life-size labyrinth…

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Book Review: You Are Not Your Brain: The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life

This is a review I’ve been meaning to share with you for weeks. You’ll want to file this one under “science-catches-up-with-spiritual-truths.” Here is a link to the amazon page. If you’re naturally skeptical, or you’d like some assurance from the medical community that all this self-love and don’t-believe-your-thoughts stuff is safe and healthy, this is the book for you!!

51aj9EPHlXL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_The book is written in really practical tone, almost like a manual to healing. The concepts and approaches suggested in the book are very similar to the self-inquiry and neutral observation we learn in meditation and spiritual tradition generally. The authors use, what I consider, platonic names for the mushy spiritual things that don’t seem to fit in with science.

For instance, we often talk about intuition, and how we ought to learn to listen to it, and allow it to guide our decision-making. In the book, this concept is called your “wise advocate.” The authors suggest that when your brain is sending you conditioned responses or compelling you to behave in certain ways, you ought to listen closely for your wise advocate, who will guide you in healthier, more loving ways.

The authors do stop short at one point in the discussion of mindfulness, to assert that their view doesn’t endorse the non-judgement standard we’re used to talking about here. But that’s fine; to each their own, right?

All in all, as my awareness grows, this book helped me take it a step further. It helped to understand myself from a clinical perspective and to see my spiritual practice from a scientific point of view. I would highly recommend it.

 

 

 

I am no longer the victim of any of my stories

There is life. And then there is the story you tell about it.

blur-old-antique-book

One of the most important steps in the shamanic tradition of the Toltecs, is a taking of responsibility. While I’ve always considered myself a very responsible person, this is a different kind of responsibility. The tradition teaches that we must take ownership of our lives, of all the bad things that happened to us, of the stories we tell ourselves about those things, of the pain, and of the emotional wounds. This is the only path to true freedom and happiness.

 

After studying the basic tenets of the tradition, and learning the Toltec psychology, I embarked on the long, and sometimes scary, process of reframing my stories. As I looked at each painful experience of my past, examining my thoughts, feeling, and actions, I began dismantling the victim perspective. When I was done, I realized that I am no longer the victim of any of my stories.

 

I want to be clear that this isn’t about denying the truth of what happened, but it’s about finding the core negative beliefs that create the victim story. By removing the pity party dialogue, the right versus wrong dichotomy, and the negative judgments against ourselves and others, we are unshackled from the victim mind-frame and all the pain that comes with it. (If you’re familiar with Buddhist lingo, this is the second arrow of suffering).

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You are not your mind

The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not the thinker. 4182umpEPfL._SX343_BO1,204,203,200_The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. You then begin to realize that there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought. That thought is only a tiny aspect of that intelligence. You also realize that all the things that truly matter: beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace arise from beyond the mind. You begin to awaken.

Eckhart Tolle, Practicing the Power of Now

Are you looking for more, but not sure what exactly?

Hello Friends,

You’ll forgive me for my absence over the last few months – I’ve been continuing on my intense, thrilling, and at times terrifying, journey of spiritual discovery. For the past year, I have immersed myself, heart and soul, into the study of Buddhism, mindfulness, meditation, awareness, past-life regression therapy, and Toltec tradition. I have found, through a variety of modalities, a peace, fulfillment, love, kindness, and a passion for all of what life brings. I’ve spent the last six months doing an apprenticeship program, that first took me deeper into my own awareness and spiritual practice, and then taught me how to teach what I’ve learned.

My adventures have now brought me back here, with a new set of skills and wisdom to share with you. Over the next few weeks, I will be refocusing my work in that direction. My intention is to use what I’ve learned, and what I now know to be true, to help lead you (if you’re interested), to your discovery of yourself and what is true for you. I imagine it will take the shape of a coaching practice, but I’m still working that out in my head. (If this resonates with you, please feel free to email me at angela@fromheretolove.com and we can discuss further).

I’m also preparing a very interesting interview with Judi Cohen, which I’ll post in the coming weeks. Judi is the founder of Warrior One, whose mission is to train lawyers in mindfulness (if you don’t know what that is yet, you will soon!). I had the great pleasure and privilege of participating in the Essential Mindfulness for Lawyers course over the last few months. I can’t recommend it enough!

That’s all I have to share for now. I’ll be back soon with more fun stuff to explore.

Messages in unexpected places

The last few weeks have been a difficult time in my life. A time of growth, of transition, of healing in disguise. These weeks have been a lesson in following my intuition and doing what I know is right, even when it’s incredibly painful and scary for the ego-mind. I’ve been watching myself, my thoughts, my emotions, from an observer perspective and choosing which beliefs to hold on to and which to let go of. It has made this time a little easier than I thought it would be.

On my way to run an ordinary errand yesterday, I came upon a new dollar store in the unlikeliest of places. I love dollar stores! To me, they are like a scavenger hunt. I always feel like I’m in a real life game; my task is to sort through the junk and find those rare decent items at ridiculously low prices. So fun. (more…)

More bits and pieces for your spiritual toolbox

Here are some additional resources to consider and investigate. I’ll just give you a brief annotated list and you can look further into anything that piques your interest.

* Mooji – His website is here, but his satsang videos (available on youtube) are terrific and plentiful. I was introduced to Mooji by a friend who is much more advanced than I am in spiritual practice – and I’d say that he’s not really for beginners. Mooji is a spiritual teacher or guru with a style that he calls “the lazy man’s way to enlightenment.” In my opinion, there’s nothing lazy about it – his talks are very philosophical, abstract, and often leave me feeling quite out of my depth when listening to him. If you’re ready to be taken to the proverbial “next level,” Mooji’s a great resource. If I’m not mistaken (which I might be), I think his teachings are of a Hindu lineage, rather than a Buddhist one.

* Lao Tzu – (from wikipedia) was a philosopher and poet of ancient China. He is best known as the reputed author of the Tao Te Ching and the founder of philosophical Taoism, but he is also revered as a deity in religious Taoism and traditional Chinese religions. The Tao is full of nifty lessons, quotes, versus that align beautifully with spiritual wisdom. Here is one:

Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

As far as I know, one of the best modern interpreters of the Tao in our Western world is Dr. Wayne Dyer. His site is here. He’s a regular on the self-help circuit and is a best selling author many times over.

* A Course in Miracles – similar to how Esther Hicks receives Abraham (see my post on the law of attraction), and how Jane Roberts received the Seth Material (a future post), this guide to spiritual transformation (in my opinion, just another approach to the same universal truths) was received by Helen Schucman in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and compiled into what’s been called the New Age Bible. The most prominent teacher of this particular path is Marianne Williamson. She has a ton of books, audio courses, and interviews, if you’d like to learn more.

Spiritual Pilgrimages

The subject of pilgrimages came up yesterday as I was watching the new PBS show called Sacred Journeys. The show follows Bruce Feiler as he travels the world on six historic pilgrimages: Lourdes, Shikoku, Jerusalem, The Hajj, Kumbh Mela, Osun-Osogbo. I watched the first two yesterday and was really fascinated. You should check them out.

I really got into researching the Camino Santiago pilgrimage a few months ago, even going so far as to read Shirley Maclaine’s book, The Camino, about her experience. There’s a terrific documentary about it (the pilgrimage, not the book) here. The Camino (also known as the Way of St. James) is an 800+ mile journey from Northern France, across Spain, and all the way to the Atlantic.

[It is the route] to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried. Brazilian author Paulo Coelho wrote the book “The Diary of a Magus (Magician)” or “The Pilgrimage” based on his own experience along this way.

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The Law of Attraction

This is a touchy and controversial subject. I’m not sure that I’ve formed any solid opinions about it yet, but let me tell you what I know, and share a quick story.

Some years ago, a friend cornered me at a family function, and basically held me captive for thirty minutes, telling me about The Secret. You’ve all probably heard about it/read the book/watched the video, or been similarly cornered by a follower. Well I gave it a fair shake back then, and decided it didn’t work for me. I now realize that I didn’t fully understand it, and wasn’t going about it the right way. (more…)

On Meditation

I’d like to share two resources for meditation that I find very helpful.

Let me first say (admit) that I didn’t awaken through meditation, and I wasn’t especially drawn to it at first. Meditation is difficult. It can be boring (if you’re not entirely sure what you’re doing). It’s physically uncomfortable, if not downright painful… And that’s just on the surface!

I first believed that meditation was supposed to make me feel good and happy and peaceful, but after a few sessions, all I felt was anxiety and an odd emotional discomfort. That’s when I decided that meditation wasn’t for me.

However, as I got more and more into the spiritual teachings, I tried to force it. I tried to “make” myself meditate every day. My mind came up with thoughts like “i should do this. i should want to meditate. i should have enough discipline to actually do it and develop a daily practice because otherwise I’m not living a spiritual life.” These are all, of course, just more judgments and mind traps. Once I realized that and let go of what I “should” be doing, I suddenly found myself drawn naturally to meditation, without having to force it. (Sidenote for beginners: the anxiety and emotional discomfort is meditation gold – don’t run from it. Welcome it. Use it.)

So my advice to you – don’t force it on yourself. Allow what’s there. When the time is right, you will be drawn to it naturally, without having to push yourself.

Resource #1: The insight timer app. It’s free and available on iphone and android. There are a ton of terrific guided meditations, if you’re into that. Or alternatively, there is just a timer function with beautiful bells (are they called bells? gongs? chimes? I’m not sure). Be aware though, that if you set your phone to airplane mode, in order to avoid interruptions, you will lose access to the guided meditations during that time.

Resource #2: Gary’s gratitude meditation. (it’s the first of the free sessions – you’ll need to create an account to access it, but it’s entirely free). This was one of the first meditations I ever did and continue to do almost daily. For me (as for many spiritual people), gratitude is a huge and important aspect of practice and belief structure. I think it is a crucial component of happiness, fulfillment, worthiness, and love. I downloaded the audio to my phone and listen to it (most days) while I’m walking the dog.

The Buddhist approach

Good morning internet friends! It’s cold here this morning, so with a hot cup of coffee, I’ve sat down to write some more…

Several weeks after I discovered Gary and the Toltec wisdom, I thought surely these ideas must be available in other traditions, and so my relationship with Buddhism began. Instead of following one specific sect of Buddhism (they seem to be country-specific), I cherry picked ideas and teachers from the different lineages. Here is a collection of monks and nuns and dharmas that I follow. (more…)

The Toltec approach

It is my belief that once you awaken, and you start on your own spiritual path, you begin to see that every religion and every tradition teaches almost exactly the same universal truths; they just all go about it in different ways. This is a great thing, because as I mentioned before, different modalities will resonate for different people. It is up to you to find the one that will open the door for you.

And so here are some resources that will take you along the Toltec path.

The best known modern teachings of the ancient Toltec wisdom are the Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz. 51MfVDOlEkL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

This book is a terrific quick read. The concepts are seemingly simple, but when you try to put them into practice, you’ll see that it’s really hard work.

If you haven’t done a lot of meditative inquiry, you might also find some ideas to be revolutionary. My favorite one is don’t take anything personally. At first you think “ok. sure. I can try not to take things personally.” But when you dive deep with that one, and you really try not to take anything at all personally, you start to bump up against your value system, which makes you wonder if there are some things that should be taken personally – which is exactly the point. When you’ve gotten a handle on the Four Agreements, there is the Fifth Agreement, which will take you deeper into the mastery of awareness, transformation, and intent. These are the three pillars of the Toltec tradition. (more…)

How to tell the difference between intuition and fear

I’ve come up with a series of ideas over the last few weeks, that involve making major decisions and investments of time and money. At first I felt a sense of excitement, and then some feelings of fear and doubt started to creep in. In trying to watch my thoughts from an observer perspective, I started to wonder if the fear and doubt was conditioned egoic thinking, or if it was my intuition telling me to stop and wait. A few articles and youtube videos later, I came upon one from Simone Wright – which resonated with me.

I think the main take-away from the video, and the answer to my question, is that intuition comes in an emotionally neutral way. If you’re experiencing an emotional charge, that is not the intuition speaking. It could be your own fear based thoughts or beliefs, or it could be an emotional reaction to the intuitive information itself. The key is to stop and watch what’s happening in the mind at that moment.

I also especially liked what Simone says right in the beginning: “Our intuition is the voice of our soul… who wants the highest good for us, who believes that we are capable of doing everything and anything that we set our minds to. So it’s also important to make the distinction that the voice of our intuition is going to guide us in supportive ways. It’s never going to diminish us. It’s never going to tell us that we’re a failure or we’re stupid.”

 

More happiness, please!

Happy Friday!! I came across two amazing new pieces in my spiritual journey, and since blog posts are free, I figured I’d share some more videos with you. (Also embedding videos is my new favorite thing, so yay!)

Here is a good sample of The Work by Byron Katie. Her entire message is that believing our thoughts is the cause of our suffering. Her program (which is easy and available for free) gets you to look at the roots of your beliefs, and to question them. In the questioning (or “inquiry,” as she calls it) you will find relief and peace and happiness.

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Where’s my happiness? Part 2

Will Meyerhofer, JD MSW

Will Meyerhofer, JD MSW

Last week I shared my search for happiness story with you. (The tl;dr version is – I was unhappy. Found peace. Now I’m happy.) Thank you to everyone who wrote me, for all the love, support, and internet hugs!

This week, I’m so thrilled to welcome a very special guest, Will Meyerhofer, JD MSW, to continue this conversation about self-esteem. I’ve been following (read internet stalking) Will for some time, so I’m really excited that he agreed to sit down for a chat with me.

Here’s what you need to know about Will: he is the author of “Way Worse than Being a Dentist: the Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning” which was published in the fall of 2011. He has also written a book introducing and elaborating upon the central concepts of psychotherapy, “Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy,” which was reissued as a paperback in December, 2011. Will writes regularly for Above The Law, and maintains a blog about life, the law and psychotherapy, at www.thepeoplestherapist.com.  He attended Harvard College, the NYU School of Law, and the Hunter College School of Social Work. From 1997-1999, Will worked as an associate at Sullivan & Cromwell. Since 2005 he’s been a psychotherapist with a private practice in downtown Manhattan and a somewhat inadvertent speciality in working with lawyers. Will’s new book, a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls in love with a blue alien from outer space, is called “Bad Therapist:  A Romance.”  For more information about Will and his practice, please visit www.aquietroom.com.

Now without further ado… (more…)

What is this thing called “happiness,” and where do I find mine?

I have been on a bit of a hiatus the last few months… But now I’m back, and boy do I have a story to tell you! Buckle up…

As longtime friends know, I went from BigLaw to recruiting to essentially running my own business.  I’ve had, what some people might consider, a series of professionally successful years, with my fair share of setbacks along the way. Generally though, I’ve been good at anything I tried, and even when I failed, it usually wasn’t for lack of trying.

A few months ago, running a million miles an hour, I realized that I was really unhappy. I mean really really unhappy. On paper, everything looked amazing, but in the pit of my stomach I knew something was wrong.  First, I blamed everything around me: the hours I was working, the type of work I was doing, the difficult clients, or uncooperative economy.

Then my beloved dog died, and I wrote off my unhappiness to grief.  Then when I got over that, I threw myself into one hobby after another – looking for something that would make me happy.  I learned to cook, to code, to sew. I watched everything I could find on Netflix. I read one book after another and still … nothing.

I threw myself into the self-help arena. I practiced daily affirmations and learned about the laws of attraction. I read article after article about happiness and passion and what it means and how to find it… nothing worked. Hypnosis? Tried it. Didn’t work. I let a friend drag me to some kind of seminar, which turned out to be a cult. (I’m not kidding). I tried returning to my religious upbringing, and when that didn’t work, I investigated other religions. I even went to see a shaman in New York who chanted, waved feathers at me, and then and spit-sprayed me with fire and rum. (I promise this is all true).

I watched every TED Talk available and still nothing resonated. I read Godin and Gladwell and Daniel Pink… still nothing.  (more…)