Spirituality

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 a universal understanding that all of our feelings, reactions, and judgments have absolutely nothing to do with the other person. No one can make us feel anything unilaterally. It is the ideas, stories, unhealed pain and interpretations we make, about what was said or done, that cause us to feel whatever we feel. Something within us is in fact reacting, but that is our work to do. 

This is why one person’s joke is another person’s insult. It is the insulted person’s internal pain and interpretations that make the joke offensive. The less pain we carry, the less reactive we are to others, no matter what they say. Their provocations, even if malicious, even if ill-intentioned, are an opportunity to go within and see what is reacting to their words.

Recognizing this, we see that there is no reason to retaliate for harsh words, no reason to get defensive, no reason to send our emotional poison (as don Miguel terms it) to anyone else. When we 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. It’s not the time to heap an avalanche of insults at them, trying to destroy them entirely.

Instead, it is the time to take a pause, a “sacred pause” as one of my friends calls it, and to 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?

Internally, you must first figure out what your upset is about, whether it really has to do with the other person, what you would honestly and truly like to be done about it going forward, and whether you still feel the same way after your mind and body have returned to a peaceful state.

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. Calmly, without lashing out. Otherwise, if you don’t know the real reason you’re so upset, and you don’t know what you want done about it with certainty, then attacking another person, discharging your negative feelings, and expecting the other person to address it in any satisfactory way is foolishness. They can’t possibly address the turmoil inside of you, if you haven’t addressed it and understood it yourself. 

There is a very special woman in my life; someone I am blessed to call my dear friend, who has worked as 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 once you’ve verbally attacked another. 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. Take an honest look. 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 or reckless confrontation; but that is not at all the proper understanding of this concept.

Really living your truth is about getting still enough, and courageous enough, to admit to yourself what you want, and what you don’t want. It’s tuning in to the pit-of-your-stomach feelings, and figuring stuff out from there. It’s about standing in your integrity, and following your internal guidance, especially when it goes against social norms, or the mores of your specific community. This is terrifying. It just is.

It’s not about being rebellious, for its own sake. Rather, it’s about the moment when you realize that you don’t fit in with “normal,” and no longer want to fake it. It’s when you can’t bear to pretend for a moment longer. It’s the moment when you actually have to honestly and directly say “no” to someone (when they’ve asked you to do something you don’t want to do), knowing that your no will hurt them deeply. It’s the earth shattering moment when your integrity pulls you onto a path that is considered crazy by everyone you know. It can turn your stomach with anxiety and shame to acknowledge what you really really want, and to make a commitment to go after that specific thing. But that’s what living your truth, speaking your truth, and being impeccable with your word means. Authenticity. The real you, warts and all. My friend Will published a new post about this sort of truth telling (in the dating arena) earlier today. (I loved it. You will too).

It takes courage, real courage, to live/speak your truth. Courage isn’t about jumping out of airplanes or diving with sharks. It’s not about physical activities that get the adrenaline pumping. Real courage happens in very quiet and subtle moments. In those intimate, vulnerable exchanges when you’re afraid to speak the truth. When you’re afraid to honor your own feelings. When you’re afraid that if you say or do what your heart is asking of you, that you will be dismissed, shamed, ridiculed, or rejected. Or that the truth of your feelings will hurt the feelings of another. Or that saying “no,” will make someone not like you anymore. (This last one sounds like school-yard stuff, but believe me, it’s everywhere!)

In my work with people, I’ve come to learn that it isn’t death that scares people most – it’s being rejected, unloved, and left all alone; that is the biggest fear. If you investigate any fear, at its core you will find that – “I will lose people’s love and admiration. I will lose their respect. I will lose my social standing. I will lose my reputation. No one will want to be my friend. No one will love me. My family will reject me. My wife/husband will leave me…” This is what’s at the core of everything. But your truth doesn’t care. Your truth asks you to stand up, look this fear in the face, learn to be really comfortable and happy being alone, and do what your heart is telling you to do anyway. There is nothing scarier or more empowering than that.

Over the last few years (and especially throughout the last six months) I’ve had some deeply mystical, sacred, and highly unusual experiences. I was more than certain that if I shared the details of those experiences (even very privately, selectively, and discretely) I would be ridiculed at best, or referred to a psychiatrist at worst. But none of those things happened.

The wonderfully loving people that I’m blessed to have in my life accepted those truths without so much as batting an eyelash. (There were those, of course, who weren’t so accepting, and we’ve now amicably gone our separate ways; and that’s a really good thing!). This is what actually happens when you share your scary truths – you aren’t going to be rejected in the ways you worry about. You will instead separate out the people who love and accept the real you, from those who only conditionally accept you (if you fit in to the image of who they want you to be).

If you are brave enough to be the real you, you will find lots of love and companionship from others who are just like you. I hope you find the courage to try it. Being the real you (whatever that means), out in the open, is a delicious experience! 🙂

 

The dog is your teacher

This is my pup 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 tell you that, more accurately, I am her human; I belong to her, she owns me, 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 I suspect some serious abuse and mistreatment, which took lots of love, and patience, and many months to overcome.

Linda and I must be soul mates, because almost immediately upon meeting we settled into a really nice groove, as if we’ve been doing the human/dog thing together forever. Linda tells me when she’s hungry (all the time!), in need of a walk (once a day when it’s cold, and six times a day when it’s nice out), or feeling insanely maniacally playful (about ten minutes a day). The rest of the time she sleeps, snoring loudly, basically oblivious to my existence. 

She purrs like a cat when she’s happy, which sounds more like a slow rumbling snort, and loves curling up next to me (or on top of me) on pretty much any comfortable surface I happen to occupy. If no space is available, she’ll gladly plop all 25lbs of doggie goodness on my lap, and bury her face in my stomach. As I said, I belong to her, and everyone knows it. I talk to her all the time, and try to be responsive to her whenever she asks for my attention.

She is a ball of love and affection; who is always in a good mood despite her sad eyes and wrinkled face. She also has tons of weird medical issues, about which she is mostly a good sport.

The thing about Linda is that she is unapologetically stubborn, and in this house she gets away with it every single time. Whenever we go for walks, it’s her chosen path or nothing. We walk at her pace, zig zagging from side to side, making sure to sniff everything available for sniffing, or else she will sit down in protest. She categorically refuses to go out in rain or snow, and if she gets even the smallest whiff of moisture from the safety of the lobby, she turns around immediately to go back upstairs. She will then hold her bowels for a scary long time if necessary.

Out of spite, she will not come when I call her (unless food is being offered, and even that is not always a certainty). She will not perform a single command, unless of course she feels like it, but not without letting me know how offended she is that I would dare command her to do something. She gets pretty much anything she wants, on account of irresistible cuteness. I’d take responsibility and admit that she’s spoiled, except she’s been this way from day one. I didn’t really have much choice but to comply. I think she accurately senses that I have zero boundaries and 100% sacrificing when it comes to her, and she is more than happy to take advantage of that unfortunate situation. 

If you can’t tell thus far, I’m head over heels in love with her (and very very attached to her). I am that person, you know the one I mean, the weirdo who, at the mere mention of dogs at a social function, will whip out her phone, and hold you captive for ten minutes showing you a million pictures of adorable little Linda. I know I have a problem, but I love and accept myself this way. If you don’t love and accept this about me, then that’s your problem. 🙂

Some time ago, after a particularly difficult day, Linda and I climbed into bed. She usually gets first pick of which side of the bed she’s going to sleep on, and I’m left to contort myself around her. If I’m lucky, I get half the blanket and just enough room to stretch one leg out fully…

On this night though, she waited for me to lie down, and she just nestled by my side with her head in my armpit. Within a few minutes I was lost in thought, and Linda was sound asleep, snoring sweetly.

I was going over some of the more stressful events of the day, and before I knew what was happening, my thoughts dragged me unaware into deep dark fear territory. I fell helplessly down some kind of rabbit-hole into a terrible anxiety producing spiral of what-ifs. I am very very good at imagining the worst kinds of what-ifs, and completely scaring the crap out of myself, and anyone else who is privy to the madness. I’ve learned how to stop doing this to myself, and not to go down those vicious spirals anymore. But this one seemed to catch me off guard, and I was hooked in. Once that happens, extracting myself can be very difficult. 

As the scenarios in my head got worse and worse, Linda’s snoring got louder and louder. At one point I thought to myself, “Ugh. Her snoring is really distracting me…,” but she wouldn’t stop. In fact, it just kept getting louder. Then, feeling myself getting slightly annoyed, I looked at her and thought “Seriously? Is that really necessary? At this rate, you’re gonna wake the neighbors.

Then… a moment of clarity!

Linda was unwittingly trying to bring me back to the present. She was interrupting my madness on purpose. She was reminding me that I’m here, in this moment, and I’m just fine. No need to create terrifying stories right now. She was pulling me out of the rabbit-hole and back to now. Now. Now. Now. The magical beautiful present moment. The only reality we ever really have.

The recognition of it all made me laugh out loud as the fear and anxiety started melting away. I focused on nothing but her snoring for a few minutes, and drifted soundly off to a peaceful sleep. 

 

Savor life with mindfulness

A 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! Awful, 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…

A pile driver was mercilessly banging away at the steel beams. Bang, bang, bang, without end in sight. And I noticed that I was feeling instantly annoyed.

Normal, right? Who wouldn’t be? Well, I live in a slightly different head-space these days, so my annoyance was like an alarm, letting me know there’s some lesson to learn here (a gift from the universe, if you will).

When I feel annoyance (or any other negative emotional state), I play with it. I use it as a signal, to go inward. I go deep inside the experience, with curiosity, to find out more. I apply a version of mindfulness to it.*

If it’s an emotional reaction, I get into the core of what’s triggering me. If it’s a sensory thing that’s affecting me, I embrace the experience to see how it can be altered by observation from within. It’s an ever-present meditative focus these days (which is actually a much more interesting way to live in the world, but that’s for another post).

So I thought “Ok. Pile driver. No end in sight. I can’t wait it out. What if I didn’t resist the sound? I know it’s unpleasant, but what if I just tried to welcome the sound, and really let myself feel it? What if I treated the sound like music instead of noise?” I chose to allow the sound in, and tried to locate the experience of the sound inside of me. (Yes, that’s right, I stood there, like a crazy lady, staring at the construction site, “feeling” the sound of the pile driver.).

I did a quick body scan to see where the sound was registering inside me. I let go of that very subtle muscle contraction in the ear that tries to keep out unpleasant sounds, and what happened next really surprised me.

After about ten seconds, the sound vanished out of my perception entirely. It’s like I couldn’t even hear it. And when that happened, suddenly the visual came into sharp focus. I stood there mesmerized by the construction scene itself. You’ll forgive me, I’m not a poet, but the whole site was performing a beautiful ballet in front of me! The pile driver was rhythmically moving up and down; the cranes were swinging and swirling around; the excavator was gracefully swooping down and shuttling earth and rocks back and forth… all in some kind of beautiful harmony, as if in sync with a melody only they could hear. I couldn’t believe it. It was captivating and absolutely magical.

I don’t know how long I stood there exactly, but I just couldn’t tear myself away. It was amazing; but more importantly, I almost missed it.

Had I continued to focus on my annoyance, and not overridden my default “normal” resistance, I never would have seen it. This is exactly how we miss the exquisite beauty of everyday life; when all we focus on is the automatic un-investigated negative response. Who knew that irritating construction noise could lead to this incredible experience?

It turns out that with a little internal awareness, we can begin to really savor life completely. Every moment. Every experience. Especially the “bad” ones. As if each experience was an exotic drink you’re tasting for the first time.

The next time you find yourself in an annoying situation, see if you can drop the resistance and watch what happens instead. I bet you’ll be surprised by what you find.

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*In case you’ve been out of the loop, mindfulness is the focusing of one’s attention and awareness, with complete acceptance, without judgment, to whatever is arising in the present moment.

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!

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. (This is what most esoteric traditions do with their basic religious outcropping – they go deeper and mystically further, illuminating an entirely different, mystically universal, version of scriptural texts).

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

4. It reincorporates the divine feminine as an aspect of God, (undermining the patriarchal aspects of Judaism), and shows how the Torah and Talmud refer to her all along.

5. It explains creation (which I think can be reconciled with evolution, if you’d like), the nature of God, cosmology, the souls, and the mystical world, as well as our purpose as human here on earth. (ie Tikun Olam in relation to consciousness, not specifically “good deeds.”)

6. It offers meditations (repeating the various names of God as the mantra) to induce altered states of consciousness (trance) in order to produce mystical experience. This accomplishes the same thing in Judaism that all the other meditative traditions accomplish – the breaking of the belief structure, the dismantling of the ego, ultimate self-awareness, access to the mystical realm.

7. There are also spells, incantations, and magic (both white and black).

8. There is the explanation and glorification of the hebrew alphabet. The letters carry an incredible symbology beyond language and numbers. They are also used to explain the structure and function of the human body (each one related to certain organs or systems) which reminds me of the energetic meridians in acupuncture.

Fascinating stuff. If you’re interested in learning more, these videos (herehere, and here) are very good background and context.

Taking responsibility

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

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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