How Capitalist Spirituality and Self-Help Will Warp Your Thinking

Speaking as a spiritual person who regularly converses with angels, I appreciate the vast quantity of spiritual information that is now generally available to seekers. That’s not a bad thing. Nor do I doubt the good intentions of many spiritual and self-help advisers in the world. Most of them are doing good work; some, no doubt, are not. But in general, I think most of them, including myself, are trying to be “Helpers.” I don’t have a problem with that, or charging money for a service.

The problem that I see, which arises from our current system, is that Helpers often end up commodifying spirituality. I’m not complaining about Doreen Virtue or Tony Robbins selling a book or a seminar, but rather the reduction of spirituality to commercially viable memes and pithy slogans. You know what I mean. You can’t swing a dead transcendentalist without hitting a million of these, arranged with curly fonts on heavenly backgrounds, all over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…

 

The problem is not with the Buddha’s words, Jesus’ words, or Deepak’s words, or whoever’s words. The problem is that the words have become a soundbite, and the soundbite creates a false sense of spirituality that has no meaning. The mind reads it, acknowledges it (“So true!”), and then promptly discards it to the dustbin. Memes and quotes of the day never change behavior. I would argue that using a quote as a mantra is also unlikely to change behavior because the quote is operating at a mental level, not a spiritual one. The ego brain is never going to make you more spiritual.

My mother is extremely good at memorizing pithy sayings, but as a clinical narcissist, she uses them to clobber other people over the head with, much like Evangelicals use the words of the Bible to clobber everyone else. Nothing spiritual about that. But for people who don’t have personality disorders, that “spiritual/self-help” quote often becomes a means of clobbering themselves over the head, because they can’t “get it right.” In both of these cases, the soundbite is operating in the mental sphere.

When I wrote my book, Discovering Your Inner Child: Transforming Toxic Patterns and Finding Your Joy, I was aware that my words would either a) be meaningless for some people, much like the soundbite, or b) guide them on their own, individual spiritual quest of self-discovery. Because the truth about spirituality, self-help, or emotional healing is that it cannot be done at an intellectual/mental level. In order for the miracle to occur, the individual must allow themselves to be present with their emotions and open themselves to a spiritual awakening that is uniquely their own. Emotional awakening, for many, means allowing themselves to feel things that they have avoided for a long time: sadness, grief, anxiety, fear, and anger, to name a few. At this level, true spirituality and true healing can become a scary and intimidating process.

Repeating soundbites, reading countless books (w0rds), no matter how wise, can produce the opposite effect of what is intended: self-reproach and feelings of failure. The message of “positive thinking will heal your life” is overly simplistic and doomed to fail, because in order to slog through your emotions, you must experience the negative thoughts and feelings you have avoided. No one, no matter how evolved, has avoided negative thinking. Negative thoughts happen, but when the soundbite echoes in your ears, you conclude that you have failed, yet again, to be “positive.” Positive thinking in itself, then, is a bad goal.

My primary advice to anyone who is seeking to heal themselves or find their spirituality is to meditate daily. There is nothing that I or the greatest yogis can say to you that will impact your life the way your own spiritual experience can. It is your spirituality, and you must seek it out. You must experience it, and in the end, you must become your own teacher. When it happens for you, it will be very emotional, very spiritual, and your intellect and ego will have nothing to do with it. But once you have experienced it, you will never again be the same, and you will find that your words are inadequate for the task of trying to describe it. Welcome to the club.

Burying Abigail and Learning to Reconnect

My daughter and Abigail, back in healthier days

We had to put a beloved cat to sleep this week. This was painful and difficult, but as with all things, it came with its own set of profound lessons.

Abigail came to us as a middle-aged cat, and we enjoyed her for five years. For the past year, we knew that she was ill—likely some form of cancer—so we watched to make sure she wasn’t suffering too much. This past week, we could tell that she was suffering, and she hadn’t been able to eat in at least two weeks. It was time.

We don’t believe in spending hundreds or thousands of dollars that we don’t really have to try to prolong the life of an animal with a terminal illness who will probably just be made more miserable by the process. Death is another part of life, and we will probably see Abigail again in a new, healthy kitten body one day. But parting is still painful.

When I had her put to sleep, we didn’t really have the money for the cremation, too, so I opted to take her body back home for burial. At the time, I wasn’t very happy about it, because I was already so upset, and dealing with her mortal shell seemed overwhelming to me. But in retrospect, I’m so very glad that I did. I learned something important, and so did the entire family.

When we told the children to say goodbye to Abigail, they did so almost casually, as though she’d be back again in an hour. They are 6 and 8, and death did not seem real to them. They couldn’t really grasp it, although we had lost other cats before. But when I returned home at dusk with Abigail’s lifeless body, they began to understand.

I asked our dear friend Jonathan to help me bury her, in the dark and the rain, out underneath our “Christmas tree,” a large, tall fir tree in the corner of our yard. The children came out in their coats and galoshes to see what was up. I handed the flashlight to Wren, so Jonathan could keep digging, and then I went to the car to get Abigail.

She was still warm and heavy, and I petted her and invited the children to do the same. This was their first visceral experience with death:  here was the lifeless body of their old friend. This is what death looked like.

When the hole was ready, I laid her in it gently and made her “comfortable.” “She looks like she’s sleeping,” said my son Harry. I said a few words and sobbed, and then she was covered in dirt. This had a profound effect on my son, who worried that she would not be okay beneath the dirt. “Her soul is gone, Harry,” we told him. “Her body is like an old coat that she outgrew. She doesn’t need it anymore.”

My son, who had so nonchalantly yelled “Goodbye!” to Abigail, now understood. He went to his room and cried. My daughter, seeing my distress, was sad and subdued. Death was now real.

I don’t believe in hiding “the real world” from my children, and death is an important experience that happens to us all. I was thankful that we buried Abigail, and for the lessons that this brought to us. But even more than that, I began to realize—viscerally—how disconnected we have become.

Our society has become so specialized that the bodies of our loved ones disappear out the back door, are “prettied up,” and laid in the ground (possibly sight unseen) or cremated without our direct involvement. Most of us in the west have no idea how to produce—much less prepare—our own food. We have no idea how to make our clothes, build a dwelling, or teach our children about the trees and the stars. We are isolated from one another in little boxes, performing specialized functions while others take care of our dirty work for us. And it’s precisely our “dirty work”—the stuff of life—that connects us to one another and to the planet itself.

We no longer gather around the fire as a community and sing and dance. We have “talented” professionals whom we pay to watch instead. We no longer gather in a circle and participate in our own unique spiritual experience. We have “professional” religious people who tell us what our experience should be instead. We no longer participate in the cycle of the moon and the seasons and its impact on our world and spirit. Instead, we shop for certain holidays and curse the winter snows or the summer heat, confident that Safeway’s shelves will continue to magically fill. We no longer mark the passage of time by the stars or retell the stories that they illustrate and wonder why they matter to us as human beings in this plane of existence. We no longer see the stars, and we don’t notice their absence.

We are suffering from a profound spiritual malaise because we are disconnected from the source of our spirits:  the Earth, the trees and plants, the waters, the stars, the entire cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth. We have forgotten the ways of our ancestors, whom we dismiss as “primitive” and “superstitious.” We believe that we can control nature and bend it to our will. Our hubris and arrogance are precisely what is killing the planet we depend on for survival.

There is a cure, of course. We can reconnect to the earth and with each other. We can reconnect with our inner divine spirit. We can see it everywhere we look in the world. The trees have a spirit. The waters have a spirit. Everything is alive and One, and we are a part of that. I miss Abigail terribly, but I’m so grateful for her final lesson to us. Bury me, experience me, honor me, remember me, and then look for me again! Love is eternal.

You’re Not in Control

June 17, 2009 protest on Krimkhan Street in Tehran

June 17, 2009 protest on Krimkhan Street in Tehran

Most people try to control their world to some degree. We do whatever we think will make us feel secure, safe, and happy. Driven by the allure of safety and order, we believe that we can control our environment, our jobs, the people around us, and even society or the world at large. This belief, however, is an illusion that only serves to mask inner pain, constant worry, low self-esteem, and a deep-seated unhappiness in ourselves.

Control is an illusion for all of us, because of course we have control over practically nothing. It’s worth repeating:  we are not in control. Our egos will attempt to argue the point, but it’s useless. The only things we can control are the choices we make and how we react to situations. That’s it.

We are not in control of the other drivers on the road. We are not in control of whether our boss likes us. We are not in control of who our children are; we can’t even control whether they take a nap or not. We can provide guidelines and discipline, but our kids will be who they are and make their own choices, ultimately. And we cannot “prevent” so-called bad experiences from happening to us because, in the divine order of things, we need these experiences to learn and grow. However, we do have control over how we react to these experiences and deal with them.

For example, we can decide to be so irked with that guy who cut us off on the turnpike that it ruins our day. Which only hurts…us. Or we can shrug it off and let it go. We can decide that a medical challenge means that our life is over. Or we can find the gift in the experience and choose to live each moment to its fullest, regardless of the outcome. We can choose to worry and be upset, or we can choose to be positive and make the most of what’s been given to us.

Governments around the world are realizing how little control they have, as the people—awake at last—take to the streets and demand their rights. This doesn’t prevent any government from trying to maintain control, however. Many governments throughout history have used violence in an attempt to maintain power and control. Tiananmen Square, the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in India, Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland.  It can happen anywhere, including the U.S.:  the National Guard killed four peaceful protesters and wounded nine others in the Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970. In the summer of 1921, coal miners attempting to unionize fought the Battle of Blair Mountain against not only company men, but also area deputies and federal troops. President Warren G. Harding authorized the use of Army bombers, and World War I era gas and explosive bombs were used against the miners. Ultimately, however, the government failed to maintain the status quo, and this tragedy, along with others from the same era, eventually led to the enactment of reasonable labor laws in the U.S. Modern governments, no doubt, will also learn—again—how little they control.

Governments cannot control people when they choose to take their power. Nor can it control the economy or the markets. The most brilliant Ivy League financial mind cannot even predict with any real certainty what the markets will do, and all attempts at controlling it are feeble manipulations of what is, in truth, a chaotic system that responds to the emotional states of human beings. You might as well herd cats instead.

And of course, we can never control another human being. You can’t “force” democracy onto someone, even if you think it will make them happier in the end. We can create a temporary illusion of control at gunpoint, but most people will say anything when a gun is pointing at their head. To win the mind, one must win the heart, and even then, each person makes their own sovereign choices at the end of the day. You may earn some influence, but you will never have control.

Why do we have the need to control things we can’t? The issue is largely one of TRUST—the lack of it. A control freak does not trust anyone. Some people are so distrustful of even their spouse and children that they feel like they have to do everything themselves—because no one else in the family “does it right.” The result? A person who has overburdened themselves to the breaking point and can’t accept help—because they don’t trust that anyone else will perform the tasks to their satisfaction.

For people in power, of course, they don’t trust their own power. In fact, they have given it away:  they rely on others to validate their power by doing what they say. In short, they have given their power to the things they wish to control, and they become controlled instead. Let’s take the late Kim Jong-Il, for example. He had no self-esteem, no real self-worth. The only way he has figured out how to feel better about himself is to exercise power over other people, so he did that. He told people what to do, and he felt better. But then he worried about his power. Was it enough? As he squeezed more tightly, he increased his attempts to control the people whose sole purpose was to validate him. But the main issue was still there:  inside, he didn’t really like himself much. He worried that other people didn’t like him, either. He didn’t trust himself to be enough. So he kept looking for external validation. He needed it, just like a drug. And he was controlled by it.

So what should you trust? Yourself, for one. And your own power. Your power has nothing to do with how many people agree with you or jump to attention when you enter the room. Your power is independent of other people and situations. Your power comes from the one Source:  the Universe, God, the Divine, whatever you want to call it.

If you are trying to control your world, then you do not trust this Source. God has our best interests at heart, and always will. God will handle things for our highest good, all the time. The only thing we have to do is actually listen to that small, quiet voice in our hearts that will lead us to our true happiness. The voice of the mind, the ego, shouts down the voice in the heart whenever it can, and most people listen to the ego instead of the heart. They take the safe job that provides security and “pays well” instead of pursuing their dream. Maybe they marry a person of the opposite sex, even though their heart points in another direction. Whatever it is that our heart tells us, that is God saying, “Trust me. Your heart’s desire, your soul’s purpose, lies on this path. Trust me to fulfill your dreams. Trust me to take care of you.”

If you listen to this voice, and if you trust this voice, you will have everything your heart desires, you will make it through any challenge, and you will find your happiness. And when you relinquish control, you will find your freedom as well.

How to Overcome Victim Mentality and Become a Powerful Creator

overcome victim mentality and become a powerful creatorDo you want to be happy? Do you want to feel at peace? Are you tired of struggling? Do you believe that the perfect set of circumstances must appear before any of this is possible? Maybe you’re waiting for a certain time. Maybe you’re waiting for enlightenment to reveal itself to you. Maybe you’re just waiting for the right partner or the right job or the right amount of money in your bank account. Or maybe you’re waiting for the people around you to change. But if you’re waiting for anything, you are living as a victim instead of a powerful creator.

Most people do not believe that they are living as victims, yet they are quick to blame other sources for their problems:  the government, the banks, political parties, “mean people,” the boss, the in-laws, the spouse, or even a physical or mental disability. When you blame your problems on anything, you are choosing the role of victim. You will never be able to change these things, so if you decide that these are the things that must be “fixed” in order to be happy or at peace in your life, then you will always be a long-suffering victim.

You do have another option, however. You can take your power. You can be the Powerful Creator that you already are. But what does this mean?

Being a Powerful Creator doesn’t mean that you can control the Universe. That still won’t work. But you can control your thoughts, choices, and reactions, and those are very powerful creative tools.

When you came into your human body, Victim Mode was the default setting. This was done by design. You came here to pretend for awhile to be everything you ARE NOT:   powerless, weak, separate, you name it. But when you begin to take your power, you are moving back into the consciousness of what you ARE:  a divine, powerful creator, made in the image of God.

To move from Victim to Creator doesn’t require a special date or event. It doesn’t require everyone else to “wake up” at the same moment. All that is needed is for you to shift your consciousness. Don’t wait for an event to live in an ascended world. That world is here NOW. It is available NOW. You can live in it NOW. But you have to take your power to get there.

When you take your power and shift your consciousness, that doesn’t mean that “bad” things will never happen to you. You are still going to face challenges in your life, possibly some very difficult ones. But when you are in your power, you will view them through a different lens and you will choose to handle them differently. Instead of blaming and becoming a victim of circumstance, take a deep breath and ask what Spirit needs of you next. Know that everything happens for a reason, even if that reason is hard to see in the moment. You may never know exactly why some things happen the way they do, but in order to live in your power you must also exercise your Trust in Spirit—or Faith, if you prefer.

Victims blame and react defensively, but Powerful Creators look within for their answers and cultivate Trust—knowing that they will always be led to make the perfect choice if they listen and stop blaming. If you are going to be a Powerful Creator, then you must start living in the moment NOW. Spirit doesn’t guide you yesterday or tomorrow. Spirit is guiding you right now, and in every moment. Stop and listen.

It is a paradox that to be a Powerful Creator you must surrender control. But when you are a Powerful Creator, you take control of yourself and surrender control of everything else. Victims try to control the world around them. They want to change people so that they behave a certain way. They want to change the way the world is. Powerful Creators know that by changing themselves, they ultimately do change the world—but not by force, and not in the way that they may think. The more Powerful Creators there are in the world, the more awakened people there are. And this is how the great shift in consciousness is occurring now.

So I have described how to be a Powerful Creator in logical terms, but living it and breaking old patterns can be difficult. How do you do this? Practice makes perfect.

Pick a day, any day, and wake up and ask, “What does God/Spirit need of me today?” Wait for the answer. Do whatever you hear, and keep asking all day long. When you complete a task, ask again, then wait. The answer could be mundane: go to your dentist appointment. The answer might not make sense: do nothing and just be (a difficult directive if you feel you have 50 things that you should be doing). But do it anyway, whatever you hear. As you practice, you will discover that you are perfectly guided at all times. And when you see that your long to-do list still gets done in a more relaxed, nurturing way, then you will learn to trust what you hear. Building this trust with your inner guidance is more important than I can possibly say in this article. It is vital. It is the key to your power.

When you live in the space of the new consciousness, you may discover that many things that used to bother you no longer affect you in quite the same way. This is because you begin to realize that everything truly is perfect right now. There is a gift in all things, even if you can’t see it yet. This is beautifully illustrated by the Taoist parable of “The Farmer’s Luck,” which is included in the children’s book Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth
:

There was once an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years.

One day, his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit.

“Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning, the horse returned, bringing with it two other wild horses.

“Such good luck!” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” replied the farmer.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown off, and broke his leg.

Again, the neighbors came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Such bad luck,” they said.

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after that, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army to fight in a war. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by.

“Such good luck!” cried the neighbors.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

I Don’t Need to Understand It: My One-Week Challenge

Living in the Moment

Trillium Lake, Photo by Asha Hawkesworth

The other day, I was listening to some things that another spiritualist, Almine, had to say. One thing she said in particular struck me:  we need to relinquish our need to understand the world around us. This is another way of saying that we must live in the now, accept what happens, and go with the flow. When we begin to try to understand everything, to make sense of it, we begin to analyze and judge what is happening. This colors our reactions to everything. It allows us to become emotionally attached to what is (or what we think should be) happening. It takes us out of the now. It takes us out of the heart space of the Divine Mind, because now the Ego wants to understand it and ultimately control it. When we release the need to understand and control our world, we can then respond as children do, with acceptance and, perhaps, wonder.

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18:3

The kingdom of heaven exists in all of us. It’s right there inside of you, Dorothy. We’ve had the power all along…

Sometimes it helps when another person restates what you think you already know. The different wording—the notion of not needing to understand the world—got me to thinking. I decided to challenge myself. I wanted to go an entire week and do my very best to live without trying to understand everything that was happening around me. Those who know me know what a challenge this is. I am curious and inquisitive to an extreme. I like to understand things. I am highly analytical, and I put the “J” in “INFJ” (in the Jungian personality test system, “J” is for Judging). But what is life without a little challenge?

I began my week with an affirmation to help me through:

I don’t need to understand it; I just need to experience NOW.

Day 1 – The Boredom Connection

I took a sick day and managed to get a same-day appointment with my doctor, so my health issues were in hand. I found myself going through my morning routine, which included some Facebook and reading articles online. The first thing I realized was that the sorts of articles I liked to read were all about understanding the world in some way:  understanding how nature works, understanding what politicians are doing and why, understanding the understandings of others. It was all an attempt to understand and interpret the world in some way.

I was hosed.

I could not read these articles, because I did not want to understand anything this week. Why was this a disappointment to me? Because my mind hates to be “bored.” It loves the stimulation of thinking, thinking, thinking, and ultimately, understanding. The illusion of understanding.

I realized that my horror of “boredom” was really a distraction. If my brain wasn’t working a mile a minute, then what was my Ego supposed to do? Hush and listen to the Higher Mind, of course. Hush and be present. Hush and be here NOW.

So I read my book (fiction!), watched the birds, and played Sudoku.

This evening, I sat on the couch with a friend, who was watching his football game. I have watched many a football game over the years, and I have attempted to enjoy it. It isn’t my favorite game, but it gives my friend a lot of joy. So I started to look at the game and understand why he enjoyed it… Doh! There I go again.

I didn’t need to understand it. He loved it; I wasn’t that interested in it. It just was. So I let go of my desire to understand “what he saw in it,” and just felt his enjoyment of it. I expanded beyond myself and felt what he was feeling. He was happy and content. Yes, his mind was on the game. But I felt his affection for me, very much a presence in the room even though his attention was engaged with his hobby. And I relaxed and enjoyed it. And after awhile, I also fell asleep. Ha ha.

Day 2 – Meaning is Exhausting

A great deal of my Facebook feed is filled with understandings and interpretations. I unliked many pages that put news stories or commentary in my feed. A lot of my friends post things of this nature, too (I’ve certainly done my share), so I’m learning to scroll by and not give those any thought or energy. I really like all the pretty pictures, jokes, and personal updates, which is what makes Facebook fun to me, anyway.

By continually brushing away thoughts or ideas that deal with understanding anything, I am finding my mental space is considerably uncluttered. I find it easier to focus on any given task, such as my writing, doing the dishes, or trimming the garden. I also feel calmer and more relaxed than usual. I am normally prone to feeling the stress of juggling work, household chores, and being a mommy, and so far today, stress hasn’t been an issue.

I am coming to the conclusion that we literally wear ourselves out by continuously looking for meaning all around us. The drive to understand (and therefore control) everything is exhausting and stressful. My daily tasks are greatly simplified without this layer. I just do them.

I was listening to the gas station attendants having a conversation outside of my car, and normally, I would respond by instinctively evaluating what they were saying, forming conclusions, and making judgments based on their words. It’s automatic. But today I consciously heard them without wanting to understand any of it. “For the first time, Shelly didn’t get angry with me…” “…she has a cute walk…” These are just audio fragments in my environment, completely without meaning.

Day 3 – Living in the Present Moment

I find that not trying to understand everything and being present in the NOW are intricately connected. My brain’s constant working to create sense where (let’s face it) there isn’t any is a huge distraction from what’s actually going on. When my brain starts to analyze and understand, it takes me out of the NOW and into a fictional Ego world that is an interpretation of what’s really happening, made up by my own mind. This world is a projection of my mind that filters what I see based on my own predefined beliefs, judgments, and perceived understanding. It’s all static.

Not trying to understand everything is like tuning into the most perfectly clear channel in the Universe. I appreciate and feel the warmth and beauty of this incredible sunny, autumn day. I appreciate the texture and feel of my coffee. I watch the birds fighting over the birdseed. There is no distraction from my environment because I am consciously choosing not to be distracted by my own mind.

When I spend much of my day in this place, I find myself naturally functioning in a higher vibration. Of course, life doesn’t stop, and today was one of my more stressful days because of family activities. The schedule intervenes. Dinner must be on the table by a certain time, I have to pick up the youngest from daycare, there’s a Girl Scout meeting, and laundry to be put away. My normal response to the time-compressed “to-do” list is to stress out. As I drove to pick up my son, I considered:  there was (it seemed) nothing to understand here. But I felt like I must do V, then W, then X, Y, and Z. But I remembered the space in which I’ve spent most of my day, that higher vibration. I decided to return there anyway. I looked at my to-do list again, and I decided that my family could handle X, that Y and Z could wait until tomorrow if necessary, and that simply handling V and W was enough. And I relaxed.

As it happened, I had time to handle V, W, and X, and the family handled the rest. Mission accomplished; stress greatly reduced.

Day 4 – Opinion is an Attempt to Understand

I remain aware of current events (such as the U. S. government shutdown), but since I do not want to understand them, I have been avoiding reading other people’s understandings (that’s all opinion is) of these events. I have come to realize that as technology has made our community smaller—events across the country or the world would not have impacted or necessarily even been known to people within a small geographical area—we now concern ourselves with global events in an intimate, personal way.

Let’s take the residents of fictitious Little Town, 200 years ago. The things that would concern them include local events, the weather, social happenings within their small community, the welfare of their crops and trade sources, and any laws or changes in government that would directly impact them. Now, of course, we become caught up in the intimate details of the lives of movie stars, the machinations of our government and the governments of other nations, the global economy, and events on a global scale, which is a lot of information! There is a good side to this, but it is a double-edged sword. As we attempt to understand these large-scale happenings, we involve ourselves emotionally and personally. Our need to understand all of these things, as I’ve said, is the same as needing to control all of these things. And we’ve just upped the ante from the small scale of Little Town to the entirety of humanity. No wonder we’re stressed and on edge.

I am aware that there is great suffering in the world. I am aware that many people in power are self-serving and act without integrity. I am aware that we have created a system of living that is injurious to ourselves and to the planet. Lightworkers want to create a new Golden Age. And of course, those of us who have this intention will do so. This is not a problem. I have already created the perfect life for me, and each day my only intention is to make it better for me and my family, which is the only realm that I have any control or say over.

The problem occurs when we think we must understand the people who do not want this, or who want to perpetuate the current harmful systems. There is nothing to understand. We cannot control them. We may never change their minds. But we can change ourselves and our own reality and create new choices (new systems, new methods, new ways of being, etc.) for others to make. If our choices are better, many will follow. This is what it means to be the change you want to see in the world. If others follow you, fine. If others do not, there is nothing to worry about.

In summary, I feel much better—and happier—when I’m not carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. And that is very nice.

Day 5 – Acceptance

Today was my “busy day,” my big chore day, so I spent most of it in the mindset of task completion. I didn’t feel stressed… in fact, I had fun.

I’m finding that it’s easier to accept help. I have often said that I’m a recovering control freak, and so part of my stress is feeling like I have to do everything. I’m letting go and letting the rest of the family help me more. This is good for me, and it’s good for them. Just as I don’t need to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders, I don’t need to carry the weight of the family on my shoulders, either.

There is a relationship between not understanding/controlling everything and not taking what does not belong to me. Specifically, other people’s thoughts and opinions. When my beloved or anyone else vents their frustrations, I can listen sympathetically and help sort through the issue without taking any of it too personally. Other people’s issues do not belong to me, even if they are the people I love the most. When I have an issue, though, I have to own it, too. My problems aren’t caused by other people. So far, I haven’t felt upset this week. (My beloved noticed, “You’ve been in a really good mood this week.”) I may yet have a bad moment, though, and it will be interesting to see how that goes if I do.

Day 6 – Understanding is Judging

I noticed a headline about some Boy Scout troop leaders who dislodged a rock formation in a national park and filmed themselves doing it. My first thought was that it was a dumb thing to do, and I understood why everyone was upset by it. My second thought was that Nature is not something that stands still, and natural forces would probably have dislodged that rock one day, anyway. A man-made push or a natural push, change has occurred. I decided not to judge any of it. It is what it is…

Understanding the world and judging the world are the same thing.

If you have ever had the opportunity to go for an extended period without constant media—whether music, TV, or just whatever—you find that when you are exposed to it again, it’s quite intense and overwhelming. Turning off my attention to the constant news/political stream has shown me just how disruptive it is. I don’t watch TV (we only view streaming content, with no commercials) or read the newspaper anymore. But a quick look at my Facebook feed, even with many of the news sources “unliked,” shows me a steady barrage of understandings (opinions) that is quite overwhelming after even a week’s diet of avoidance.

It’s not that I “no longer care” about what’s happening in the world. It’s that I’m no longer feeling invested in a particular outcome. I am learning to control what I do have control over, namely my thoughts, beliefs, and reactions to things. And I know that if I sweep my own front porch, other people probably will, too, and then the whole world will be clean, if you get my drift.

I feel so much calmer and happier at this point, that my week-long experiment is likely to become a full-time thing. I feel like my little mantra is helping me to remain focused on NOW. It’s helping me to slow down. It’s helping me to live in my higher Spirit on a more regular basis. And that’s something I definitely want to continue.

Day 7 – The Anger Trap

The best fighter is never angry.
~Lao Tzu

I saw this quote today, and I think it exemplifies my sense of (mostly) calm this past week. If you are angry, you are invested in a particular outcome. The anger comes from your frustration or inability to control what is happening. At least, this is what I understand in myself.

When I’m not invested, and I don’t need to understand/control, then I’m less likely to be angry. If I’m not angry, I’m more able to focus on what is required in the present moment. As I’ve noted, I’ve been more productive this past week, because I’ve been able to focus so clearly.

Speaking of anger, a family member hurt my feelings today. I was waiting for something to break my calm, actually. Sooner or later, misunderstandings and upsets occur…

Emotions are messengers, so I do need to identify them so that I can resolve or process them. It isn’t always easy to identify just what my feelings are, however. Feelings of frustration, anger, and upset don’t always seem to have a clear “cause,” and we don’t always know why we feel the way we do, or why we react the way we do. So it can take a little self-exploration to figure it out.

Sometimes, it can take me a day or two to figure out why I’m feeling a particular way. Sometimes, it can take weeks. So, here I am, in my week of not understanding anything, trying to understand my feelings. I do this for my own sake, and for the sake of my relationships. Once I can understand and express my feelings to my loved ones, we can resolve our issues. This is what Love does. It is, in part, a communication.

So I realized something. Just as the one thing that I can control is my own thoughts, beliefs, and reactions, the one thing I can really ever understand is… me. And since the world is, ultimately, my own projection, this is how I understand the world. And there’s my paradox. I’ve always said that where you find paradox, you find truth.

Maybe for this next week, I’ll change the game slightly. I’ll continue with not understanding the world, but I’ll look at any feelings I have about the world as an opportunity to understand myself. No doubt, that will take me down another rabbit hole.

The Picky Eater

help picky eaters

These are not picky eaters.

For my daughter’s 2nd birthday, a friend and her four-year-old daughter came to the party and stayed the night. Upon arriving for the party, the little girl—I’ll call her Beth—surveyed each of the three pizzas I had ordered and then announced she would eat none of it. “I only eat cheese pizza,” she said. I pointed out that one was, in fact, a cheese pizza. She examined it again, and proclaimed, “I don’t eat THAT kind of cheese pizza.” This routine was more or less repeated at dinner and breakfast the next day. Needless to say, Beth spent a very hungry afternoon and morning at our house.

My parents made their share of mistakes, but one thing they did right was to expect me to eat whatever they set before me. Liver and onions. It did not matter. I could eat it. I could starve. So I ate it. And nowadays, I adore well-cooked liver and onions. We raise our two children the same way. Here’s a perfectly good meal. You may choose to eat it, or you may choose to go to bed hungry. And there have been nights like that. “I’m hungry!” they cried. “I’m always hungry, too, when I don’t eat a good dinner. But there will be a good breakfast in the morning.” Hunger was a consequence of their own choice to refuse the food set before them.

Let’s face it. I have seen parents act like short-order cooks, rushing around the kitchen trying to find something their kid will eat. “I don’t want that,” the kid says, and the negotiations begin. At that point, the child is firmly and completely in charge of the parent. What an amazing power! And with what caprice do they wield it. “I’ll only eat that if you cut it into diamond shapes.” A picky eater—and a power struggle—is born.

Of course, not everyone likes all foods. “I am not fond of that,” we teach our children to say, if they are asked directly about something they don’t like. There will be things in life that we are not fond of, but picky eaters are, quite simply, a privileged first-world problem.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of those privileged first-worlders. What would you like for dinner? Wow, you get a choice. In some parts of the world, it might be gruel yesterday, gruel today, and gruel tomorrow. But you get a CHOICE. You can go to the grocery store and buy whatever appeals to you, if you have the cash. You can go out to a restaurant and sample cuisine from around the world.

Unless you’re poor, in which case you have to make your food stamps carry you until the end of the month. You have to buy the cheapest foods you can find, which will be heavily subsidized junk carbohydrates, most likely. Salad? You wish. And if you put on any extra weight eating that stuff, well, folks can judge you all the more harshly over their surf ‘n turf.

I freely admit that I am bothered by seeing food wasted. I freely admit that I can’t stand to put good food in front of someone only to have it spurned. No doubt, I was starving in more than a few previous lives, and it just hurts my heart, particularly when so many people are hungry. According to Feeding America, 20% or more of the child population in 37 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. were “food insecure” in 2011, which is a fancy way of saying “frequently hungry.” That’s one in five kids. Given that one in five of my children’s classmates are probably hungry on any given day, it’s hard for me to have sympathy for picky eaters. There are starving kids in China… Yeah, and here at home, too.

During a visit to my mother’s home state, my uncle and his family had us over to their house for a lovely dinner. They had worked very hard to make it a nice evening. Everything was wonderful. After the meal, my aunt brought out a newly baked cake and set it on the table, at which point my mother began, “Oh, we don’t eat stuff like that. Sugar’s really bad for you…” And she went on and on. I looked at my aunt’s face. I looked at my uncle’s face. I wanted to crawl under the table and die. Oh my God, Mom, I thought, why can’t you just eat the damn cake?

Food isn’t just nourishment for your body, although that matters a lot. Food is a social contract. It is a sacrifice (literally, when meat is involved). It is a bonding. If someone puts a plate in front of you, treat whatever is on it with gratitude and respect. Eat what you can, and be as polite as you can. If you’re dining with the Maasai, you’ll probably be served raw meat, raw milk, and raw blood. Go with it. Or don’t, but you might not be as welcome if you go down that path. Food offered says, “We share ourselves with you.” Food spurned says, “I don’t want to be part of you. I reject you.”

I certainly know that I am one of these privileged picky eaters. I have my own preferred diet. It’s fairly low-carb, high-veg, unprocessed, with a reasonable dose of meats and fats. This is how I prefer to eat. Luckily, I am able to do that. Vegans, vegetarians, raw foodies, paleos, and any other dietary adherents are, too. And if you can, go for it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t. But be aware. Be flexible. If I’m a guest, or if I’m hungry because shit happens and the food supply is broken, then I’m going to eat (and share) whatever I can. Because that’s life. The reed that bends with the wind does not break.

My daughter was naturally more picky as a toddler than her brother is. But over time, our expectations have not changed. There’s your dinner. Eat it or don’t. And she has gotten very good at trying new things. I’m proud of her. She is also a gracious guest. She knows not to insult anything set before her, and if, after trying something, she genuinely does not like it, then she can avoid it without comment. However, the list of things she doesn’t like shrinks each year, and she’s discovering that she likes more and more. She’s lucky to have the choice.

If you happen to be a picky eater, be grateful that you have such problems. Somewhere, people are so hungry they’d gladly eat mud if it would do them any good. Somewhere, a mother is watching her child starve to death before her eyes. How I would love to set a plate in front of them. And really, there’s no excuse not to.

If you’d like to know more about hunger and how you can help, check out A Place at the Table.

I’ll leave you with the patron saint of all picky eaters, Sally Albright.

I Don’t Own Anything

let go possessions

A graveyard for previously “owned” stuff

Can you truly own anything? You can’t take it with you…

Our modern economy is based on the illusion of ownership. You can “own” clothing, artwork, electronics, a car, a house, the land itself. Or so we say. Or so we more or less mutually agree. Of course, the reality is that the bank still owns my house and my car, and if I don’t pay them for it, they will take them away. I suppose I “own” my clothing, furnishings, various appliances, and the food in my refrigerator. But even these things come from the earth, and one day they will return to the earth in some circuitous fashion. The shirt I wear today may have a number of “owners” before it takes another form.

I’ve written a lot about freedom lately, and it seems to me that you cannot own anything and be free. That is the reason, presumably, that so many of the most famous mystics and spiritualists owned practically nothing. For them, it was a simple shift in consciousness. Their needs were met, and they didn’t require anything else to fill them. There was no void inside to fill. They had found their own, divine internal well. What did they need with “stuff?”

Of course, I am writing this on a computer that I “own,” I have more than one set of clothes, I pay a mortgage, I drive a car, and I have furnishings that I’m fond of. I don’t have a problem with this, because I believe that Spirit is infinitely abundant, that I deserve to be infinitely abundant, and that it’s perfectly okay for me to be comfortable. Given that, how can I be free if possess all of this?

A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.
~ George Carlin

Possession, ownership, this is all a mindset. Very wealthy people can afford to have their basic needs met, and then some. No doubt, some wealthy people live extremely lavish lifestyles. There is nothing inherently wrong with living well, but again, the mindset is what matters. If you own several estates filled with stuff, you have to manage it all. More often, it probably manages you. There can be a certain paranoia to owning lots of stuff, and the majority of our laws are written for the purpose of protecting one person’s stuff from other people. The more stuff you have, the more likely you are to fear that someone, somewhere, is going to take it away from you. And that is a prison of sorts.Hoarding is an extreme expression of possession and ownership. Hoarders become so emotionally attached to their stuff that they can’t allow any of it to leave them, including their trash. They literally become imprisoned by their stuff, stacked to the ceiling around them. Sometimes, their stuff kills them when a fire starts, and help cannot get to them through their wall of stuff. There’s a lesson there.

No one can possess the land, yet we have created the illusion of land ownership. How can anyone own the land? The land belongs to all life. It belongs to Earth herself. It is no one’s to own. How can anyone own the oil or the minerals? No one can, yet, amazingly, we have allowed that illusion to persist. And we have created a dependence upon these things that is worse than any drug. Indeed, this addiction, if untreated, will kill life as we know it. Addicts are not free…So, what’s a person to do? Have no possessions? Asceticism is attractive, in its way, but all too often it becomes an excuse for self-punishment, and that’s not helpful.

The key, I believe, is in your mindset. Shift your thinking over. Recognize that ownership is an illusion, that property is an illusion. Be abundant and have what you need, even what you like, and be happy—but know in your heart that you are simply borrowing these things. Treat them as sacred gifts. Be thankful for all of them, and enjoy them. But lose your attachment to them. Know that they may break or leave you eventually. If this happens, let them go, with your blessing. If something leaves you, it’s simply making room for something else.

It is also certainly helpful to simplify your stuff. If your garage is so full of stuff that you can’t park your car in it, then it’s time to let something go. If you haven’t used something in three years, let it go. If you don’t absolutely love it, then let it go. Reducing how much stuff you have is actually quite freeing. “Stuff” can literally weigh you down.

Unfortunately, our economic system has become dependent on us having lots of “stuff,” and the drumbeat to buy, buy, buy is steady and consistent. And you will certainly still need things. Anyone with kids certainly will need to do their share of shopping. But you can be conscious while you do it. You can be aware. You can ask yourself questions like, “But do I really need this? Do I really even like this?”

I really like the Story of Stuff Project, which is helping to educate people about where your stuff is coming from and how it affects the planet. I like anything that helps you make informed decisions, so if you feel so inclined, check them out. But the most important thing is to shift your thinking, just that little bit. The rest will take care of itself.

Namaste.

You Are Free

freedom personal choicePeople in the “West” talk an awful lot about freedom. The U.S.A. probably talks about it the most (it’s a handy thing to go to war for), but 99.99% of all this talk is just lip service. As I discussed in another article (“Fearsome Freedom”), we say all the right things but don’t really mean any of it. If we did, there would be no exceptions to freedom. But we make a lot of exceptions to it, on both sides of the political spectrum. The details vary with your point of view. And by and large, people are afraid of real freedom. Because real freedom means exceptional personal responsibility.

Now, I’m not talking about freedom in Ayn-Randian terms, wherein every man or woman is for himself. Humans are not made to live alone, and the cult of the individual can be more appropriately termed the Cult of the Ego. The problem with the Cult of the Ego is the belief that we are in control, and boy, we are NOT in control. There but for the grace of God goes anybody, so if someone’s in a bad place, compassion goes a lot further than judgment.

Humans are tribal. Humans are social. We can’t just get by living as nuclear families side by side other nuclear families without ever interacting with them. It just doesn’t work. It makes us lonely, depressed, and anxious. It means we don’t have help when we need it, and sooner or later, we ALL need it. So freedom doesn’t mean, “I’ve got mine, so you figure it out for yourself.”

What freedom does mean is that no one is above you. No one is below you, either. You are me, and I am you, and if we fail to acknowledge that, then we aren’t free—we’re afraid. And every chain and every cage in the world is based on fear. Our media wouldn’t go to so much trouble to cultivate fear otherwise. Because if you believe there’s something to be afraid of, then you will give away your freedom to anyone or anything that can claim to “save” you from it.

“The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
~Steve Biko

The irony, of course, is that you are always free, right now. You can simply choose to behave freely. You can simply take your freedom. No one can ever control your mind, your heart, or your spirit without your consent. No matter what is happening in the world at any moment, you are a Divine Creator, and freedom is a part of who you are. It is a birthright that cannot be revoked, though you may give this power away.

Freedom also means being responsible for your choices, including the choice to give away your freedom. There are always consequences for our choices. Some may be “good” and some may be “bad” depending on your perspective, but every choice defines the way your life is going to look. It doesn’t really matter if someone else doesn’t like your choices. They don’t really get a say in it, do they? They also won’t bear the fruit of your choices, either, though they may be affected by them.

There is great power in choices, and no one has the right to narrow or define which choices are available to you. In the great wide Universe, there are infinite possibilities. There are also infinite paths, and some of them may be painful. So take care with your choices. Take care with your thoughts. The more at peace you are, the more likely you are to make happier choices for yourself (which doesn’t mean that “bad” things will cease to happen to you; challenges will still come).

Undoubtedly, it is the fear of the outcome of our own choices that leads us to give up our freedom. It is so much easier to be a victim, and to blame someone else for screwing up our lives. But this, too, is a choice, and I have never known a happy victim. But I have known some happy, powerful Creators.

Every spiritual master who has walked this earth was completely free in themselves. Some were tortured, exiled, and killed. After all, our physical bodies are not necessarily free from harm. Yet, these masters were free. Their spirits, their minds, their hearts were free. They understood that they were not just a body. They understood that the people who abused them were part of them. They had love and compassion for those beings who were in so much pain that they felt the need to inflict pain on others. But they stood in their power, and a number of them changed the world. They also knew that this was available to everyone. You are a spiritual master. You are a miracle worker—if you acknowledge that power and your own freedom to be yourself.

In our world today, it is easy to see the greed and corruption that are polluting our societies and our planet. But even in the midst of all this turmoil, you can be free. By choosing freedom, by choosing to follow your heart and your Spirit, you will help to transform the world. Greed and corruption exist because people are out of integrity with who they really are. To change the world, you must be in integrity with who you are. If you’ve been living according to other people’s definition of “integrity,” then you must decide what this means for yourself. Everyone is different. Your purpose belongs to you alone.

Be who you are, be what gives Joy to your Spirit. It may not look the way society expects, or demands. It may not look the way you expected it would. This is perfectly okay. Social constructs are just that:  constructs. They are not true. They are not real. They do not even matter. We can change them whenever we want to, for any reason we want to. If something isn’t working for you, that’s your cue to change.

Nothing is hopeless. We can heal ourselves and this planet in an instant if we decide to. It’s like what John and Yoko said:  “War is over. If you want it.” Conflict is over; pollution is over; corruption is over; inequity is over; the illusion of lack is over; misery is over. If you want it. You are free to choose.

My 7 Keys to Happiness

Loved and nurtured children naturally live in their joy

Loved and nurtured children naturally live in their joy

I am happy. Actually, I’m more than happy. I am giddy with joy. I feel at peace within myself. I feel great and abiding love for all things. I feel clear. I am happy to be me, and I have no desire whatsoever to be anyone else. I love myself, flaws and all. Instead of dwelling on my imperfections, I forgive myself for them, learn, and move on. And I find myself surprised and amazed to be here after years of what seemed like a long struggle. How did that happen?

Looking back, I can see that I have steadily applied myself to my own path. One foot in front of the other, I plodded along on easy roads and hard ones. I made mistakes, I beat myself up, I despaired, I wondered how I would ever get past my own human frailties, and yet, here I am. I’m happy.

If I could point to some keys to my happiness, I believe they would look something like this:

1. Decide That You Matter

Given my toxic upbringing, I was not allowed to matter. My narcissistic mother was the only one allowed to matter, so I was not accustomed to having any of my needs met. I was in my 30s when I finally understood that my mother was mentally ill, and then I had to defend myself and my family from her worsening behavior. It was then that I could finally separate from my parents and become a person in my own right—a person who mattered. A person who could make her own decisions. I drew boundaries. And then I redrew them. I drew a final boundary when I had to cease all contact with my parents. That was a hard thing to do, but it was the only thing I could do in a world where I (and my wife and children) mattered.

2. Forgive Yourself

After spending many years being my own worst critic—saying things to myself that were far worse than anything my mother ever said—I made the decision to forgive myself. I didn’t make the decision to try to forgive myself. No, I decided to forgive myself, even if I did it imperfectly. The simple act of making that decision was in itself a miracle. Yes, I still had days of beating myself up, but I began to catch myself doing so. When I did, I changed my thought to something more positive about myself. Over time, I began to do that more automatically. And gradually, the self-abuse began to fade, so slowly that I didn’t even notice for a long time. But today, I look back and think, “Wow! I did it! Good for you!” And I give myself a well-deserved high five.

3. Recognize and Name Your Feelings

It is astonishing how often people navigate their lives without really knowing how they feel. So often, we are told to stuff our feelings, or that our feelings aren’t welcome, or they make somebody uncomfortable. And we forget that our feelings are our messengers, and we ignore them at our peril.

When I was in my 20s, I could be in my parents’ presence for less than 10 minutes, and I would become seethingly angry. I literally had no idea why this was. Perhaps it was a character defect. My parents certainly thought so. Why couldn’t I control this? Of course, what that feeling was saying was that I was incredibly frustrated. That I was unheard. That my feelings, thoughts, and beliefs did not matter and were not considered important. It drove me nuts. Anger was the only outlet I had, because it was the only outlet I had ever been shown.

With practice, I have now come to recognize a variety of feelings that are triggered by old patterns. For example, I now know that when I feel resentful and hurt, I tend to retreat into passive-aggressive behavior that is meant to show my loved ones that I’m upset. It’s what my parents did, and I learned it well. I now understand that this feeling of resentment is saying to me, “You need to make your needs known to your loved ones so that they have the opportunity to help you out.” So I do two things:  I ask for what I need (“I’m tired; please help me with the dishes” or “I had hoped we could play a game together”) and I recognize that the resentment does not serve my own peace, so I let it go.

4. Live in the Present Moment

Memories are peculiar things. Have you ever notice that if you dive into a memory, whether good or bad, that you relive every single feeling you had in that moment? Memories are emotional, and if something upset you 20 years ago, it will upset you again if you dwell on it.

Likewise, if you are daydreaming about something, your emotions respond to whatever thought you are creating in that moment. If you are imagining telling off your mother-in-law, then your blood pressure probably goes up, and you become angry just thinking about it. Of course, in this scenario, none of it is real! It’s just a thought in your head.

Living in the now, or the present moment is the most freeing thing you can do. It allows you to take in what is before you. If you are truly present, you will have the ability to think before you react. If you observe something upsetting, you can decide if you want to react to it with upsetness or with peace. This does take practice. Most people are not accustomed to this way of being. But practice is like exercise:  it helps you to build that muscle.

5. Learn to Relax

My old Tai Chi and Chi Gung master once told me, “Tai Chi people are the laziest people.” At the time, I didn’t fully understand what he meant, but now I do.

Take a moment to feel your body. Where are you holding tension? I’ll bet you’re holding it somewhere. In your neck, back, shoulders, hands, feet, stomach, or even your buttocks. Is your breathing shallow or full? Take a deep breath into your stomach. Feel the difference?

When I was learning Tai Chi, I thought that in order to master it, I had to be very strong, which meant being very tense. This is the opposite of what was required of me. What I needed was to be as relaxed as a rag doll, flowing slowly and easily through the forms. The only effort I needed to put forth was the barest effort to keep myself upright and my limbs flowing. I needed long, deep breaths. Keeping my muscles taut was interfering with my ability to do the forms correctly.

These days, I do yoga, but the principle is the same. Relax, relax, relax. And as your body learns how to relax, a funny thing happens:  your emotional body follows suit. Most people who are uptight are not relaxed. If they were, they would be calmer and more easygoing. Your state of mind mirrors your body, and vice versa. If you are having a hard time calming your mind, then calm your body first. The feedback from your body will help you calm your mind.

Relax, relax, relax. This, too, requires practice, but it builds upon itself.

6. Build a “Core of Care”

We wrote about the Core of Care last fall, and it really does matter. It will help your healing tremendously to be supported by close friends and loved ones, whether they are your blood family or your spirit family. I am so at home with my family and feel so loved and nourished by them, that healing and happiness just naturally flows from that.

People who have never had a true Core of Care, however, may tend to subconsciously sabotage truly nurturing relationships. If you can’t seem to attract healthy, loving people into your life, then that is something for you to examine. Are you so comfortable with discord and toxicity that “healthy” feels completely alien to you? Sometimes people opt for the devil that they do know instead of the angel that they don’t know. Give yourself a chance to get used to being loved and respected, even if it feels uncomfortable at first. Remember, to move forward, move fearward.

7. Trust the Universe and Pursue Spiritual Growth

I could never be happy because of my own lone efforts, because I am not alone. I am part of the Great I AM, the Creator, God, whatever you want to call it. I am not separate from anything, so in order to find myself, to love myself, to value myself, to be at peace with myself, and ultimately to find happiness within myself, I had to open myself to this great understanding of who I really am. I had to connect with all life. I had to see myself as One, not separate. This has been a journey in itself, and I had to learn several key lessons:

  • I am not in control. For a control freak, that’s a scary proposition. But I slowly began to internalize that the only things I did control were my thoughts, beliefs, and reactions to whatever happens.
  • Trust that my needs will always be met, and that whatever happens is meant for my highest good. This certainly took practice, but I have found that my needs are always met, and I have been given the skills and resources to deal with whatever comes my way, whether joyful or difficult.
  • Always allow for miracles. Whenever I run into a wall and think I can’t go any further, I ask for help, and the wall simply disappears.
  • Open my heart and keep it open. Unfortunately, it is a common belief that an open heart must always lead to heartbreak. This simply isn’t true. An open heart feels many different kinds of feelings, certainly, and some of them are not happy ones. But the open heart is capable of giving and—more importantly—receiving love, and Love with a capital “L.” The open heart and mindfulness of the present moment can help you to understand what is yours, and what is not. There may be people who don’t love you or even like you, but you can choose how you react to that. You can take it personally and be hurt, or you can bless them and send them on their way. You’ve had the power all along.

If you are reading this, chances are you’ve read many books about how to learn to love yourself and let go of old baggage, and you may be despairing that you’ll ever get there. Know that you can, but that it won’t occur overnight. Healing is a journey, not a destination. You can choose to be happy today. Why not practice happiness? Who cares if you do it perfectly or not? Take one step at a time and see where it takes you.

It took me a number of years to see and appreciate the slow change that was occurring within me, but now I am amazed and grateful. I am at peace, and life is just amazing. I give thanks for it every single day. And I can’t help but imagine how our world would transform if everyone else felt the same way. Don’t think that could happen? I do. I expect miracles. In my experience, they occur every day.

Empty Friday

Black Friday ShoppersWhen I was a kid, every American who didn’t have a critical job (such as providing medical care or policing) got a holiday on Thanksgiving day, which falls on the fourth Thursday of November. It was truly a hallowed day, one to be spent eating good food with your loved ones. No stores were open then, and there was no shopping. The day after Thanksgiving, it was common for festive families to get out of the house and do some Christmas shopping together. This was often a lot of fun.

Post-Thanksgiving shopping was also fun for retailers, and after awhile, they started to open their stores earlier, to give people more shopping time. Eventually, stores were opening at 6am, 5am, 4am. Now, they open at midnight. If their employees are lucky…

More and more stores are now starting to open on Thanksgiving day itself, which deprives their employees of any semblance of a holiday, along with the shoppers. It’s just not Thanksgiving if you clean your plate and head to the mall, leaving behind everyone else who might have been hoping for a little conversation or a board game or two.

Retailers call the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday,” because it’s when they make their profit during the year. It can have other connotations, too, as people get so desperate for deals that they camp out overnight in front of the store and then fight one another inside once the doors open. You can quite literally get a black eye on Black Friday. Or worse.

There is nothing wrong with shopping for what you need or buying holiday gifts. But the spectacle of Black Friday just keeps getting bigger, and while people decry such blatant consumerism, it continues. People willingly give up their comfort and family time in search of the cheapest TV set, and every year people get hurt. Sometimes, someone dies. What is up with that?

I think we should start calling Black Friday “Empty Friday,” because that’s how people really feel. When we crave the “next big thing” or “the next big deal,” it’s like an addiction. Until we heal it, everyone has an addiction like this. The addiction says, “I cannot feel loved/whole/fulfilled/complete without X.” And it doesn’t really matter what X is, but it is always external from ourselves; it’s never within us, so we always need more, more, and more of it. In particular, many Americans use buying stuff as a means of fulfillment. Of course we do. We’re told it’s our patriotic duty to buy, buy, buy, and then maybe the big corporations will give us a job or two. Shopping gives us a rush. Yay! I have the New Thing! And after a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks, the emptiness gnaws at us again. We need a new thing. We need a new rush. Our landfills are full of “old rushes.”

Ironically, Thanksgiving is the holiday about gratitude for what you already have—not for what you might find on sale the next day. We are forgetting how to appreciate what is while we search continuously for what we might have.

Thanksgiving 2011 has come and gone. For some people out there, this was their last Thanksgiving, although they don’t know it. Between now and next November, some people will leave their earthly vehicle and return to Spirit. They may be old. They may be young. Their deaths may be lingering, or fast and unexpected. How did they spend their last Thanksgiving? Were they enjoying the company of their friends and family? Were they out shopping? Did they camp out overnight at Best Buy? How tragic, if so.

Empty Friday doesn’t have to be empty. A Fulfilled and Grateful Thursday can come before. A more reasoned Joyful Friday could follow. Instead of grabbing what we can, maybe we should remember how to be of service to one another. Sometimes, all that takes is playing a board game or two.

Another perspective

I’ll leave you with the perspective of the Reverend Billy Talen and his Stop Shopping Choir. What would Jesus buy?