Monday, 20 December 2010

What you can't meet in yourself: The Dark and the Light

One of my favorite 'therapy speak' expressions it this: What you can't meet in yourself comes to meet you. I've been pondering this lately as a series of interesting people and situations have been showing up to shake my hand.

First, there’s the matter of a guy I recently had a date with - my first since being single again. We had a nice time chatting over a beer and seemed to connect well. Then? Nothing but text messages - no invitation to meet again in the flesh. I was confused but figured it must mean one of two things: Either this is how dating is done in 2010 and I’m not playing the game right (let’s face it, the last time I was single I didn’t even have a cell phone!), or perhaps it was a reflection of my own reluctance and capacity to form an intimate relationship right now. Most likely it’s a little of both.

The next bit is pretty embarrassing to talk about but - gulp - here goes. You may recall that I’ve always been a bit of a “good girl” – easily shockable and quick to blush - so imagine my surprise when the aforementioned texting all turned a bit, well…sexy. I knew that the man in question had an undeniable fascination with the “dark side” that included an appetite for classic guy stuff like war and superheroes, but the naughty messages caught me completely off guard. It was perplexing that it could go from texting to sexting without even a first kiss, but I tried my best to check my judgement. This took the possibility of flirting and fantasy to a level I didn’t even know existed (except on paid chat lines) and revealed that I was far more game and able to meet him half way then I would ever have imagined.

Nothing came of our flirtation, but it left me with a much wider and accepting view of human sexuality. Hey, if it doesn’t hurt anyone and you’re both consenting, who am I to judge what you get up to in the privacy of your bedroom (or mobile phone)? An eye opener, to be sure, and yet I think I’ll hold out for in-the-flesh intimacy.

The next how-do-you-do arrived in the form of music. Not just any music, but live, acoustic music performed by impossibly talented young musicians. I had forgotten how much I love live performance and surprised even myself when one artist (who I wouldn’t have looked twice at on the street) stepped up to the mike and let out a voice so pure and raw that I started to cry. His talent sprang straight from his heart without a hint of self-consciousness and it was utterly moving.

The place was teeming with an under-30 crowd but rather than feeling out of place I felt, for the first time in a long time, at home. I recalled the odd combined sensation of nerves and bravery from when I too used to get on stage either with the jazz choir in high school or later with a rock band and bass guitar. I never felt more true to my authentic self as when I was making music, and yet I was never able to offer myself as completely as what I witnessed that night. Perhaps that is what touched me so deeply - the pain of acknowledging my own terror of being so exposed and vulnerable, while longing for it at the same time.
The array of talent that night nudged the shy, sleeping musician in me and beckoned it from the shadows. I haven’t got a clue what form it might take, but it will be braver than before. 

Another month or two wiser, I’ve learned to love just a little bit more of my shadow from both sides of the dark and light camp.  I've also learned that confidence is a muscle that shrivels without exercise. Thankfully, it's never too late to start doing a few pushups!  With every epiphany that life serves up I feel another piece of the puzzle-that-is-me fall into place. And thankfully I am learning to meet it all, palm extended, heart open.

Monday, 29 November 2010

What's in a Legacy: Lessons from my Grandma

A friend once expressed concern about her young daughter: Was she attending the right school?  Was she making appropriate friends? Were her extra-curricular activities the sort that would nurture her greatness?  “After all,” said she, “our children are our legacy.”

Her comment got me thinking - are our children our legacy? Do we need to fret about the type of people they may become?  Are we judged by their accomplishments (or misdeeds)?  And when we’re gone will we be remembered for our progeny or for our selves?   Personally, I believe the only legacy we leave behind is the one we create for ourselves, about ourselves. 

I don’t wish to dishearten those of you who are hoping to ride triumphantly into the sunset on the coat tails of your very successful and wonderful kids, but it does seem an awful burden to hand to one’s offspring – “Make something of yourself or I’ll be nothing!” And what about those folks who don’t become parents?

You need only attend a funeral to know what I mean.  Take my 92 year-old Grandma who passed away at the beginning of November.  She was mother to five children (including my mom), and while this is a wonderful accomplishment, it’s definitely not what she will be remembered for.  As was said so eloquently at her funeral:

She crossed continents like states and conquered all before her.
As she conquered me.
I loved her innate vibrance, her enthusiasm, her kindness in its simplicity.
You knew she meant it.
It was a rare charisma of wisdom and equilibrium.
And she rocked.

I too will remember her for all of the above, plus her bottomless appetite for seafood, her great love of hunting for stylish bargains at the thrift shops (charity shops to you Brits) and the evenings we spent playing Scrabble or going to the local casino to try our luck at the penny slots. Her legacy is her own -100%. 

So what is our responsibility to our kids? I like the very achievable guidance of DW Winnicott – just be a “good-enough mother”(or parent as it were).  It’s all about loving the child for who he or she is and not attempting to mould them into anything other than their best, natural selves.  Give them choices and options, but let them choose - then get out of the way.  Simple. 

That was one of my Grandma’s best qualities in fact.  She could spot the good in anyone and “forgive their trespasses” with seeming ease.  She knew that we sometimes make bad choices and she allowed them knowing we often learn far more from our mistakes than our triumphs.

At present I am exactly half my Grandma’s age and counting on many more years to work on my own legacy.  Who knows what it will be?  What I do know is this: The only important thing I will leave behind is the way in which I share myself with the world - be it for good or for ill.  (Kids, you’re off the hook.)  Whether one makes an impact within a family, a community,  a country or the whole world,  it’s the only legacy that counts.  And thankfully, it’s quite enough.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Excuse me but your yang stepped on my yin...

Do you know your yin from your yang?

By definition, yin is receptive, passive female energy, while yang is active, expanding male energy.  The symbol depicts two interconnecting swirls representing the interdependence of these energies, with the dots at the center of each swirl showing that each is inherent in the other.  This deceptively simple little symbol is nothing less than a reminder of how seemingly contrary energies are actually mutually-arising and continuously transforming.  In other words, how the entire universe works.

The ancient Chinese packed a lot of knowledge into one little symbol, but from our vantage point as men and women in the modern world, what exactly does the concept of yin and yang mean to us in practical terms?

Personally, I have at times been held sway by two erroneous beliefs:  first, that women should be more yin and men should be more yang - separate but equal(ish); and second, that the only way for a woman to express yin and yang is to raise the kids, be the hostess-with-the-mostess and have a full- time job.  However, an eye opening little book that found it's way into my hands recently, has changed all of that.

In Collection, Shirley Gehrke Luthman (whom I can find no information about other than she was a therapist in 70's and 80's) makes the important point that feminine (intuitive, feeling, perception, images, fantasies) and masculine (aggressive, action-oriented, verbal, intellectual behavioral expression) energies are androgynous and belong to neither sex.  Her ideas can be condensed to the yin/yang principles of intuition and assertion:
You must put your feminine, intuitive power in control and use your masculine, yang force [assertion] to support and express it.  The internal distortion of this principle - the split between yin and yang - is the basis for all problems, power struggles, and distances between men and women.  
Duh, it's all about inner balance.  (Thank goodness. Now I can retire the idea that females should be one way and males another, and let myself off the hook about not being a super mom/career wonder woman hybrid.)  But can it really be that simple?  Well yes, and no.  Yes, because I believe she's right, and no because it's damned hard to put into practice.  Simply learning to recognize (never mind act upon) one's feelings can be a life's work.  And, she says, "it is not enough just to acknowledge your feelings and begin the act upon them.  The intuitive must be in charge, and the male energy must back it up instantly, without question or doubt."

According to Luthman, our relationships with the opposite sex are merely a reflection of the internal struggle between the yin and the yang.  So how do your relationships look?  Balanced?  Is there an easy flow between intuition and assertion?  Or have you, like me, found a few places where your yang trips over your yin and visa versa?

Having spent years mistrusting my intuition, it is no easy task to simply begin asserting myself based upon its counsel.  Like any under-used muscle it's going to take some consistent working out to build up my yin/yang balance.  As I happen to be single right now, I'm intrigued by the idea of being able to gauge my inner progress by the type of men I attract and am attracted to.  (Watch this space!) Meanwhile, give some consideration to your own inner yin and yang, and for a very thought-provoking read, get the book. 
*  *  *

Shirley Gehrke Luthman's Collection was published in 1980 by Mehetabel & Company and is  available from used booksellers such as  Enjoy the entire book or skip straight to chapter six for her discussion of yin and yang.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

To drift or not to drift...that is the question.

I once wrote a really corny song called "Follow your Bliss."  The lyrics went like this:

Good at everything; great at nothing.
I can't be like you, eyes set on one thing.
Life's more interesting when you let the current carry you.
I suppose that I could learn to swim against the tide,
It's not that I'm lazy,
It's just more fun floating.

Well guess what?  Turns out I am lazy!  And while "floating" has indeed afforded me a very interesting life, my aversion to five-year plans has finally caught up with me.  I have discovered that if I really want to "follow my bliss," I need to at least have a vague idea of where I want to end up.

Every seminar, workshop and book that I've ever attended or read on the subject of living an fulfilling life has stressed the importance of having a vision - a target to aim for.  Over the years I have made various half-hearted attempts to define my goals, but nothing has ever "stuck" with much energy or enthusiasm.

In her book The Right Questions:  Ten Essential Questions to Guide You to an Extraordinary Life, Debbie Ford likens a life without a vision to planning a road trip without a map.  She says, "If that was your strategy, you might never arrive at your destination.  With a map, if you made a wrong turn along the way, you wouldn't stop and spend five years beating yourself up.  You would pull over, look at your map, and get back on track."  She goes on, "Without vision it's easy to fall prey to the heat of the moment and the whims of your habitual behaviors."

So I pondered my lack of 'a master plan' and discovered that rather than having a plan of my own, I've had an "underlying commitment" (another of Debbie's terms) to finding 'a man with a plan.'  (It's true, and I am as shocked by this as you probably are.)  I've always considered myself a strong woman who can take care of herself, but the evidence is incontrovertible:  Husband number one - a brain surgeon;  Husband number two - a race-car driving property developer.  I have played at being self-sufficient (I have even been quite defensive about it!) but in reality I have made choices under the influence of an old wound - an unconscious fear that I am not worthy of success in my own right.  In reality there is nothing wrong with marrying successful, powerful people, but if it is covering up one's own unacknowledged desire for power and success, at the very least it can lead to resentment on both sides or, as in my case, two divorces. 

I am by no means alone here.  Question number three in Ford's book asks, "Am I standing in my power or am I trying to please another?"  I see this every day amongst my friends and family.  There is still an imbalance of power between the sexes, with too many women deciding that 'pleasing another' is their responsibility.  We set ourselves up to be martyrs, telling ourselves that "it's okay to abandon [ourselves] as long as we are making someone else happy." (Be it the kids, the husband, the dog...) I decided this long, long ago, believing (albeit unconsciously) that I'd be "too much" for people if I were to really shine.

So where does all this new insight leave me?  Well, I am pleased to say that I am working on a vision statement in earnest.  I've also decided that while my little song does have some truth to it - there is wisdom in allowing ourselves to drift along with the current - there's nothing wrong with keeping one hand on the rudder at the same time.


Monday, 27 September 2010

Face to Face with the Force

What started as a coffee morning - the usual gaggle of moms catching up over hot drinks and chit chat - turned into a surprise encounter with something I thought I knew quite a bit about -  "The Force."

One mom had brought along an exotic stranger - a MAN, from California no less, who was a Transformational Breath practitioner.  After not much pleading, he agreed to give us an impromptu class.  "Excellent," I thought, "A new weird experience to add to my collection."

The basic instruction was to breathe in from the lower belly for three counts and then let it out fast in one count - no pausing in between breaths. After about 15 minutes of breathing this way, he explained, the conscious mind would essentially shut off, leaving the door open for the powerful unconscious to come in and take over, allowing the body to release whatever old traumas or dramas it had been holding onto for safe keeping. If we were really lucky we might even slip into the flow of the source-of-all itself and experience the type of bliss that yogis sit on mountaintops for years trying to attain.  So far, so simple.  Ready, steady, go.

Cushions, blankets and pillow were gathered, and within minutes we were warming up to the beat of some energetic quasi-eastern trance/dance music, bouncing up and down and punching the air to "grab" handfuls of breath.  (I love these women - not afraid to dance like wild banshees first thing in the morning.)  As soon as the song ended we dove for our cushions to get into the breathing technique as quickly as possible.

My hands, arms and legs went numb and tingly within the first 10 minutes, and the breathing felt forced and unnatural. (He did say we might experience all of this, along with a few other common side effects such as muscle cramping, chills, etc.)  But, sure enough, after about 15 minutes things got interesting. I was breathing almost automatically now, and was noticing with detachment as first my right hand, then my left, began to curl into what I can only describe as a claw wrapped around a steel ball.  (I'm not making this up!) Next my calves seized up, followed by my lips.  At about this time we were encouraged to release sound on the out breath - any kind of vocal release that felt appropriate - a tone, a note, a sigh, a cry.  This felt great, and the music was loud enough to mask my tendency towards self-consciousness.

But soon my detachment turned toward distress as I realized I was completely frozen solid and it was getting painful.  Thankfully the teacher arrived when the student was ready, and he very gently helped to open my fingers and assured me it was safe to release whatever it was I was holding onto so fiercely, both literally and figuratively.  With that a most unexpected wail welled up from deep in my belly and came out of my being as an uncontrollable howl.  I sobbed loudly and wholeheartedly.

As the pain and the sobs began to wane, my body deeply relaxed. My awareness, however, was alert and observing.  I felt a wave-like sensation as my breathing took on a much slower, gentler rhythm, and it seemed as if I was lying in the bottom of a warm river, the water flowing over me in undulating ribbons of gentle energy.  I noticed that I was hardly breathing now, and I had a strong desire to stay in the pause between breaths forever.  It was pure peace, pure calm, pure love.  I imagine this is what the poet Rabindranath Tagore was describing when he wrote, The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day, runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.

As the session came to an end I reluctantly began to wiggle my fingers and toes and bring myself back to the room.  Everyone had had a profound experience in varying degrees, and all looked radiant. 

Later that night I went to the theater and felt oddly removed yet alert.  At one point I noticed that I was completely still - no fidgeting, which is my usual modus operandi.  Three days on and I still feel slightly dazed and strangely calm, the chronic tension in my jaw and shoulders more or less gone.

The yogis have known of the transformational power of breath for thousands of years, and in my experience this particular breathing technique is aptly named. "The Stream of Life," "The Force," "God" - call it what you will.  Once you have experienced it so viscerally you truly will be transformed., and "the Force will be with you, always."

Friday, 3 September 2010

It's not Helpful to be Helpful

One day I'm going to do it.  I'm going to make a t-shirt that says, "I'm not here to help" and I'm going to wear it when I see counselling clients on their first appointment.  Why would I do that?  Because it's true.  Being a therapist may include many things, but being helpful isn't one of them.  In fact, I've come to learn that being helpful is actually unhelpful.

I recently read a story about a Russian billionaire who spent millions helping impoverished local in his native Georgia.  He discovered that paying their electricity bills merely led to them leaving the lights on all the time!  

What's going on here? 

Being helpful, particularly where money is concerned, is disempowering.  It tends to foster dependence rather than raise people up in the world.  As the old saying goes, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for one day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." 

The same might be said of the listening arts of counselling and psychotherapy.  While I aim to empathize, encourage, challenge, reflect and notice my clients, the minute I try to be helpful I have an agenda - that something is wrong with them the way they are, or that I don't believe that they can help themselves.  Further, it sends a subtle message that, "I know what's best for you," and can insidiously undermine their belief that they can learn to be effective in their own lives. 

Being helpful can also prolong people's suffering by preventing them from facing the consequences of their own actions or inaction.  The desire to protect people from their problems is an easy trap to fall into, particularly where children and vulnerable people are concerned.  But I can clearly see in my own life that I gained far more when I learned to do things for myself, even when it meant, "learning the hard way."  After all, it is the struggle to emerge from the chrysalis that forces fluid into a butterfly's wings and enables it to fly.  "Help" it by assisting it out of its cocoon and it dies. 

Does this mean we abandon all charity and humanitarian causes?  Of course not.  Compassionate action will always have a place in the world. But the manner in which assistance is administered makes all the difference.  A hand up and a hand out are two entirely different things. 

Today, with perfect timing, I received the following inspirational e-mail from Neale Donald Walsch, author of the Conversations with God books:

On this day of your life, dear friend, I believe God wants you to know...
...that nobody needs your help.

I know, I know...this is a difficult one. But it is true.
Yet this does not mean no one wants your help, or that no one
could use your help. It simply means the thought that another
Aspect of Divinity [person] is powerless without you is inaccurate.

I love it when the universe drops such neat little crumbs to show me that I'm on the right path.  Neale and me, we're singing from the same hymnal.  Can you spot us in the choir?  He's the one with the beard, and I'm the one in the t-shirt that reads, "I'm not here to help."  (And a green light sabre, of course.)

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Late Night Ah Ha - A Short Story

It is after midnight and I'm lying in bed listening to the party going on downstairs.  My husband is giving loud and enthusiastic advice to someone playing a racecar video game.  There is laughter.  Everyone is a bit drunk and, as we are in the middle of nowhere, not concerned about noise. 

I lay still for a few minutes - not sure if I am annoyed at having been woken, or annoyed that I went to bed early.  (That's me, the sensible one who gets the kids to bed at a reasonable hour and usually joins them.) A while ago I might have stomped down the stairs and asked the crowd to keep it down, but, for some reason, not tonight. 

Instead, I remember a funny conversation I once had with a gal who was lamenting the fact that a party-animal friend had quit drinking.  While she knew it was good for his health, she selfishly missed having him as the life of the party.  I can relate.  I once thought I knew what was best for my husband.   I wanted to magically change him into the watered down version of himself that I thought would be best.  But lying here right now, I am gifted with a moment of clarity.  I recognize how he brightens a room with his infectious antics and injects life into even the most awkward of social situations.  He is perfect as he is.

It's easy to fall into judgment and loose sight of how everything fits into the grand scheme of things.  To glimpse this perfection, even for a moment, makes my heart swell.

There is an ancient Hawaiian practice called Ho'Oponopono that encourages one to take responsibility for their judgments by repeating the simple mantra, “I'm sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.”  Lying awake I can't think of a better way to acknowledge this new awareness and to apologize for my arrogance, while at the same time forgiving myself.

I offer up a silent prayer to the man whom I have judged so harshly for his wild ways.  I smile as I hear him sloppily coach the game player through a chicane.  I'm sorry.  Please forgive me.  I love you.  Thank you.  The party is far from over, but I am happy in my bed, enjoying my little "ah ha" moment.  I tuck an arm around my little boy who is sleeping next to me and go back to sleep.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The Tangled Web of Purpose

The other day I had a conversation with a young counseling client about his life purpose.  It was interesting to discover that his (and my own) perception about purpose was entirely based upon about what we are to do in life, i.e., go to school, build a career, buy a home, have a family, etc.  But what if our purpose is a bit more complicated and tangled than that?

As I listened it dawned on me that perhaps part of this young man's purpose is also to be my client, helping me to learn and hone my counseling craft.  Likewise part of my purpose is to be his counselor, to help him learn to move through his life with more ease.  Thus his purpose and mine are intertwined. 

Imagine that life is an enormous jigsaw puzzle with each person representing a single piece of unique shape and size.  No matter how insignificant one feels their piece is, the space left by even the smallest missing chunk leaves a glaring hole in the picture.

It's terribly simple yet complicated at the same time.  One morning my purpose might be to smile at the depressed lady at the grocery store to remind her that all is not lost, while hers might be to awaken my compassion.  Later my kids' purpose might be to push the boundaries of my tolerance so that I lose my temper and illustrate for them that everyone has their limits.  A lovingly cooked dinner has no purpose without hungry mouths to eat it, and likewise a brilliant performance needs to see itself reflected back in appreciative eyes to feel purposeful. 

We do not exist in a vacuum - it is not possible for my purpose and yours to be mutually exclusive.  Carl Jung said, "As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. " And it seems to me we can only achieve that with the help of another.

Living a life of purpose is our natural state.  Once we recognize this we can let go of the illusion that purpose = achievement.  If you have goal to achieve great things then good for you, but don't discount the importance of your more mundane interactions with others - healers need patients, teachers need students, and politicians need voters.

Today my purpose included writing this short blog.  If your purpose has been to read it, then I am honored and awed by our interconnection.  Have a wonderful, purposeful day.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Compassion with a Capital 'C'

Compassion is something I thought I knew quite a lot about.  I give lots of second, third and fourth chances, I almost never hold a grudge, I mutter a prayer when my cats bring me dead mice, I ALWAYS give money to buskers (street musicians for you non-Brits) and I USUALLY buy The Big Issue from homeless guys.  This is fairly generic stuff, as is getting a lump in the throat when watching TV charity appeals for the latest tragedy on the globe (be it a tsunami, earthquake, or famine), or welling up at the plight of abused animals, neglected orphans and casualties of war.  In most cases you can do your bit without leaving your sofa or really getting involved - that's compassion with a small 'c.'  But what I'm interested in is compassion with a capital 'C." Let me explain.

Recently I was complaining to a trusted advisor about the unthinking behavior of a loved-one.  I expected to receive some sympathy or commiseration, but instead they asked,  "Can you feel compassion for the wounded part of them that drives them to behave like that?"  I had never considered this before.  Generally speaking I see the distasteful behavior of those around me as character flaws at best (including my own) or stupidity and meanness at worst (got to hold my own hand up here as well.)  Did I feel compassion?  No, I most certainly did not.

But over time, that question began to work its magic - my inner landscape shifting to accommodate it.   I spent an evening with someone who couldn't stop drinking and I wondered what old hurts might be so bad that they needed to be numbed with alcohol?  I saw a woman shouting at her kid in the grocery store and wondered about the inner pain that might be fueling her rawness.  I pondered the defensiveness of a friend - what makes her so vulnerable yet rigid?  I felt my heart ache for the kinds of on-the-ground, up-close-and-personal types of old wounds that fuel my own short fuse, my judgment, my fear.

True compassion with a capital 'C' will change not only the way you regard your own pain, but also that of the alcoholic in your life, the belligerent neighbor, the hooded youths hanging out on the corner, or the undependable friend.  And it also means being willing to be honest with them - to trust that they can handle the truth and consequences of their behavior.  Big 'C' compassion might be tough love in one case, or just a knowing hug in another. You can't do that with a victim of a natural disaster. 

This is foreign territory for me, but I'm beginning to get my bearings.  It is a landscape you are familiar with?  I invite you to explore this space for yourself - let your heart be your compass.  For as the Buddha said, "In separateness lies the world's great misery, but in compassion lies the world's true strength."

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Dr. Demartini - Jedi Master?

The person who has most influenced my thinking these past few years has got to be Dr. John F. Demartini. You might say he is my own personal Yoda. The good Doctor teaches that all of nature, including human nature, is composed of equal pairs of opposites - night/day, birth/death, war/peace, kind/mean, happy/sad, etc. And like the polarities of a magnet, you can't have one without the other - they cannot be separated for each is inherent in the other. Take, for example, the issue of war and peace. They are indivisible, for if you are "for" peace and "against" war, aren't you at war with war? What's more, these pairs of opposites are ALWAYS in balance, it's just our lopsided perception that says otherwise.

Dr. Demartini developed his ideas from studying physics, among other things, where principles such as The Law of Conservation of Charge Parity state that positive and negative can neither be created nor destroyed - only changed in form. These principles underlie all physical events, and ultimately, he hypothesized, human perceptions and actions.

I took to Dr. Demartini's teachings like a duck to water because it engaged that part of me that knows this instinctively - that nothing is out of balance, ever. He says that if we go through life looking for more support than challenge, more praise than criticism, more good than bad, we will always attract the opposite of what we seek as nature strives to keep the equilibrium. (We could have an entire discussion just about depression and its role in balancing perceptions in a culture that holds"positive thinking" as the gold standard.) This is classic duality, with a twist. The twist being that there is no battle of good and evil being waged, only an endless dance of opposites.

From our tiny human perspective it is easy to get angry when we don't get our own way - when we focus on one half of the duality and ignore, or can't see, the big picture. It's like the ancient Sufi story about the blind men and the elephant - because each man felt just one part of the elephant, they were all wrongly convinced that they knew what it was - a snake, a tree, a rope, a spear.

Ultimately it's our choice if we want to stick with our 'blind men' version of events, or choose to accept that there might be more than meets the eye to any given situation, and thus not go into judgment about how things are (or aren't). The beautiful thing is that if you dare to glimpse the perfection - the center point between the opposites - you feel nothing but gratitude for this rather miraculous truth. In Dr. Demartini's own words:

Between positively and negatively charged
particles is a center point of light.
Between positively and negatively charged
emotions is the center point of love.

Dr. Demartini opened my eyes to a whole new way of seeing. He showed me that when you stop fighting with the world and with yourself, it is possible to move through life with grace, power and purpose. And if that's not the way of the Jedi, I don't know what is.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

What's all the fuss about 2012?

More often than not I am met with blank stares when I make comments such as, “let’s just wait until 2012!”  Hollywood disaster movies, the London Olympics and Obama's re-election aside, I’m amazed that so many people have not heard about 2012.  Perhaps you are one?  Read on.

The Mayans, clever clogs that they were, devised a very accurate and complex calendar that simultaneously keeps track of several time cycles, including the moon (28 days), sun (365 days) and the ‘sacred’ cycle of 260 days (human gestation period).  A full trip around the Mayan calendar (otherwise known as The Long Count) is equal to 13 periods of 144,000 days each.  And since most scholars agree that the beginning of this Long Count was August 11, 3114 B.C.E., the thirteenth and final cycle will come to a close on precisely December 21, 2012.  THAT is what all the fuss is about.

What will happen on that day is open to speculation.  And, as with most things, we can view the cup as half full or half empty.  In other words, it’s either the end, or the beginning.

The end?

Although there isn’t much evidence left from the Mayan civilization to suggest that they themselves thought the world would end in 2012, there are many doomsday types who have jumped on the Armageddon bandwagon.  This cheery theory says that when the cycle ends, time will cease and the world will end in any number of ways, none of them very pleasant.  (Makes me think of the “would you rather be boiled or fried” conversations we had as kids.)  Will the earth be wiped out by a giant meteor or asteroid?  Will the sun flare up and cause the planet to explode like a huge kernel of microwave popcorn?  Will the there be a “pole shift” where disturbances in the earth’s magnetic field cause the planet to literally tilt, thus triggering catastrophic earth quakes, volcanoes, storms and floods?  Pick your poison, unless you happen to believe in The Rapture – the resurrection of all Christians that will be triggered by the return of Jesus Christ.  (They'll be floating safely back to heaven.)

The Beginning?

The other viewpoint is that whatever shift occurs, it will be of the inner variety (i.e. human consciousness) rather than the physical kind.  Many religious and esoteric traditions point to a time of peace and prosperity where humanity overcomes its own worst enemy – itself.  Whether viewed as a general rise in human awareness (from duality to oneness perhaps), an evolutionary leap, or a burgeoning awareness of higher dimensions, this camp seems to be betting on change for the better.  The general consensus is that this ‘new age’ will be ushered in with some help from either extra-terrestrials (as portend by crop circles and increased UFO activity), heavenly intervention (angels, ascended masters, the Virgin Mary, etc.,) or by the bombardment of earth by new and powerful energies/vibrations emanating from the centre of the universe itself. 

All is not sunshine and roses however, as increased vibration rates could prove fatal to those who are either unprepared or who cling to old ways - every rose has its thorns.  (Although some might secretly delight in the idea that those who are lower on the totem pole, so to speak, won't be around to ruin the party!)  Personally, I wonder if the rise in extreme-isms of all sorts, as we are witnessing now, is an unconscious reaction to change? Whatever the source or the outcome, resistance is futile. Come what may, I think we’re in for a wild ride into 2012 and, hopefully (gulp), beyond.

 *  *  *

Want to learn more?  For an in-depth look at the Mayan Calendar click here.
For some weird and wonderful "spiritual" 2012 theories (Cell regeneration and the reversal of ageing?  Bring it on!) click here.
For some fascinating and more science-based views click here.
For a bit of entertainment watch this.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

When Labels are a Good Thing

I’m a dabbler, a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none.  It keeps life interesting, having no fixed vocation, but sometimes I envy people with specific expertise.  Am I avoiding depth by not cultivating one interest?  Or am I just mercurial by nature?  There’s always that moment of anxiety when someone asks, “what do you do?”  For while I can do many things, some of them quite well, (and yes, I know that we are human beings, not human doings) there is a part of me that desperately wants a label.

“Nice to meet you.  My name is Tricia and I’m a _____!”

I trained as a counsellor but I only work as a volunteer, so can I say it's my profession?  I have played  bass guitar in rock bands, but I can’t read music and have never earned a cent doing it, so can I call myself a musician?  And I write this blog, but does that make me a writer?  Or am I just a housewife with a few hobbies?  How does one cross the bridge from doing something to being something?  And is it even necessary?

To adopt a label could be both scary and liberating.  If I dare to plant my flag in the fertile soil of “writer” (the leader of the pack at the moment) then what expectations will be heaped upon me?  If I never publish one word other than what I write here can I still call myself a writer?  Or must I justify my claim by cultivating some kind of success? That’s the scary part.  The liberating part might be that by declaring myself a writer I ‘own my power’ and commit fully my talent and intention.  (Oh God, that’s scary too!)

In 'A Return To Love' (1992) Marianne Williamson wrote,  “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?  Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

It seems that in our culture if we get paid to do something, we are that something.  Without the money we are simply enthusiasts and dare not “claim our brilliance” as Marianne puts it.  It may feel incredibly risky to declare a title for ourselves, but I sense that the loss of not doing so is far greater.  I don’t want to play small anymore.  Self-deprecation is over-rated!

Some people might think I’m a second-rate regurgitater of other people’s ideas - and they might be right.  But then again, like a fingerprint, there is no one else on the whole planet who can do anything exactly like me – not write a sentence, play a bass line, talk to a client or load the dishwasher just so. 

What do you do that you have not had the courage to claim as your own?  Whatever it is, it's nice to meet you.  My name is Tricia and I’m a writer.  

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

You Are What You Speak

Have you heard the proverb about the two frogs that fell into a deep pit?  Several other frogs saw them fall, and while observing the poor fellows trying to escape they began to shout at them saying, "You're wasting your time trying to get out - the pit is too deep - you're going to die in there!"  One of the frogs took the words to heart and died after several failed attempts at jumping out of the pit.  But the other frog kept trying to escape until finally he launched himself free.  The frogs who had been watching and shouting gathered around the survivor and ask him, "why did you keep jumping when we told you that you'd never get out?"  The exhausted frog looked confused.  "I'm deaf," he explained, "and I thought you were encouraging me to keep trying!"

Ah, the power of words.  I've been pondering this lately, for, as the book of Proverbs says, "There is death and life in the power of the tongue."  But our words don't only affect others, they affect us.  Simply put, words define who we are while subtly and surely shaping our lives.  You may never have entertained the thought that you are what you speak, so let me give you an example.

Many years ago when I was trying to get pregnant I made sure that I always said "when I have a baby..." instead of "if I have a baby..." because I figured that by saying "when" I was giving a clear message to the powers that be (God, the universe...whatever) that I fully intended to have a child (I just wasn't in control of the time frame).  Of course that wasn't the only thing I did to reach my goal, but in a powerful way I believe it shaped my future by constantly reinforcing my intention as, indeed, several years later and against all odds, I did manage to conceive naturally.

Once we understand that what we say has power, we can begin to play with it.  Here's another little story to illustrate the point... 
One day a woman found a dime on the ground and said to herself, "How can it get better than this?"  A block or two later she found a dollar and asked herself again, "How can it get better than this?"  She walked further still and found twenty dollars and again asked, "How can it get better than this?"  She arrived home and found a diamond bracelet in the gutter and said, "It can't get better than this!"  And, indeed, it didn't.
I don't know if it's a true story or not, but I love the concept - it ties in nicely to my own habit of saying not "if" but "when."   Can you see how an open-ended question throws the door open for anything to happen while a statement slams it shut? What if we live our lives and choose our words in such a way that invites miracles rather than putting limits on what life serves up? 

I am excited by the possibilities and will be choosing my words carefully.  How can it get better than this?  I can't wait to find out.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Time for a Change

Last weekend I had the good fortune of attending a service at New York Unity church on what was literally the first day of spring.  Spring took its time arriving this year to say the least, with the east coast being battered by rain and wind just days before the spring equinox brought with it near record temperatures in the 70's.  It was a dramatic change, and it seemed as though the first leaves on the trees appeared literally overnight.

During the sermon the minister asked, "Did you ever doubt that Spring would arrive?"  Of course no one did - Spring always arrives!  But then he said, "So do you ever doubt that healing will arrive?  Or success?  Or a change in circumstances?"  There were knowing mumbles all around.

I like to think of myself of an enlightened gal, but it's amazing how easy it is to get swept up in the drama of my life and forget that "this too shall pass."  Of course I don't just mean just bad stuff, but the good stuff too.  All of life is cyclical, but sometimes the cycles move too slowly for me to notice.

Years ago an astrologer told me that astrology is just the study of very large cycles - the orbit of planets around the sun - and their affect on earth and its inhabitants.  These cycles are imperceptible and their effects too subtle for the average  person to notice.  Likewise it is easy for days, weeks and months to roll by without noticing the inch by inch progress made in one direction or another.  Then one day our eyes open and we realize we are in a new space entirely - be it a crisis or a triumph - and we didn't even see it coming.  Just like spring arriving in New York with a skid last weekend.  

So how can we learn to stay poised and unruffled when things are either changing too slowly or too quickly for comfort? Jean Houson said, "Change the story and you change perception; change perception and you change the world."  If that's true then there's no fighting change, just our thoughts about it - our story.

If I tell myself, "I'm stuck and there's no way out!" no doubt I will be miserable.  But if I gently remind myself that life is in constant flux and the next phase of my life is already on the horizon (whether I can see it or not) then I can remain calm and attentive and welcoming to change.  I might even enjoy the "stuck" bits where it feels like change might never arrive!

Plato noticed that, "everything flows and nothing can't step into the same river twice" and you can't fault his wisdom.  But I prefer a more modern reminder of the same truth, from the great sages of Monty Python's Flying Circus:

"And now for something completely different!" 

Happy Spring, everyone.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

How Pessimism Can Save Your Life

I am a wide-eyed optimist at heart, but from time to time it's important to remind myself that things do not always turn out for the best. Sometimes the worst does happen; we hit the end of the line; the party's over.

My father was an Army man.  He was sent to Vietnam in July 1965.  A couple of years ago I decided to learn more about that part of his life.   Thankfully my mom had saved a cache of old reel-to-reel tapes that they used to send back and forth to each other.  She also had a box of their letters.  As I began sifting through their correspondence and listening to the tapes, an image of my dad began to form - not some romanticised vision of a heroic soldier and his one true love (although their love was overwhelmingly present), but of a man trapped in a situation that he hated and who was tortured by the fear that he may have screwed up his life.

Dad loved his country, its democratic system and the principles for which it stands (once stood?) and he wanted to go to law school to do his part in preserving its greatness.  But, as one particular tape made clear, he was disgusted with the military and it's culture of authority-over-decency.  He abhorred the tendency toward shame and bullying which his superiors made clear was the way to get ahead.  He spoke and wrote of his desire to refuse a Captainship, should it be offered - his way of sticking to his principles. My grandfather said he was "intolerant of injustice and unfairness, but was always tolerant, understanding and forgiving of human weakness."

Oddly, he did not seem at all afraid of being in Vietnam.  As an officer he was stationed in Saigon and worked at the large field depot on the outskirts of the city.  The war was still young, and the city still relatively safe.   What did seem to worry him was that he might have ruined his chances of getting into a good law school by not taking his undergrad years seriously enough; and he couldn't shake the gnawing sense that going into the military was a big mistake.

As it turns out, he was not safe in Saigon.  On the morning of April 1st, 1966, a Viet Cong terrorist drove a van full of explosives into the lobby of the Victoria Hotel where he was billeted.  Captain David Marshall Davies was the only American soldier killed in the blast.  He was a few weeks shy of his 26th birthday. 

Next week I will turn 46 - I'll have had 20 years more than my dad had.  I feel a bit sick when I realize how many aspirations I've filed away for someday.   We like to believe that we will always get another chance to step up in life, but my father's short life is a sobering testament to the fact that that is not always the case. 

Being an optimist is fantastic, but perhaps an equal dose of pessimism is what we all need to keep us moving towards our dreams.  As the say goes, "If not me, who? And if not now, when?"

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Not nice...and proud of it!

Someone once asked me how becoming  a Psychosynthesis counselor has changed me.  I hesitated only a moment before answering, "I'm not as nice as I used to be."  But, I hear you thinking, isn't is good to be nice?  In a word, no.  Let me explain.

A few years ago we had a heatwave in London - really hot, almost 100 degrees.  On this particular day I had arrived at class in my trusty VW Beetle with 10 minutes to spare.  I left the engine running so I could enjoy a few minutes gathering my thoughts in the coolness of the air conditioning.  I am not normally the sort to condone such wanton burning of fosil fuels, but following a fraught morning I felt I deserved a moment of cool peace. 

After only a minute or so, a woman walking by rapped on my window.  With a start I snapped to attention and cracked the window to see what she wanted.  With a friendly smile she asked if I wouldn't mind turning my engine off.  I was horrified at having been "caught" in my selfish act, and without hesitating I said, "Of course!" and switched off my car.  As she walked away I felt the red rise in my cheeks and I realized how angry I was.  But I wan't angry with the busy body, I was mad at myself!  My "niceness" had become habitual to the point where I was on people-pleasing autopilot.  

Thus began the process of untangling the difference between nice and kind - two very different things.  After all, giving robust "feedback" (critcism to some) with kindness can be extremely valuable, whereas niceness just for the sake of it evokes images of the smarmy Eddy Haskel on Leave it to Beaver.  (Didn't you just want to punch him?!)

I don't remember where I found the following quote, but I can't resist including it:
"The truth spoken is a gift given. Truth withheld is more than a gift denied, it is an arrow aimed at the heart.

It has been said that "the truth hurts," but the exact opposite is true. No truth is too hurtful, and no lie is harmless. Because every truth opens your heart to another, and every lie separates it.

Yet know this: The way you say your truth can be hurtful.  So speak your truth, but soothe your words with peace."
Many times I have replayed the scene in the car and imagined what I could have said to that lady - something like, "I'm sure you have your reasons for asking me to turn my engine off, but I have good reasons of my own for keeping it running, and it's really none of your business."  (The expression "firm but kind" comes to mind.) 

I'm more honest in my interactions these days, and I have discovered that  I can do all sorts of "not nice" things without a guilt trip, like saying no to my kids, or letting a waiter know the truth when they ask how the food is.  Stepping into my true self may mean that I'm not as nice as I used to be, but, ultimately, I am far kinder, especially to myself. 


Friday, 26 February 2010

A Case for Surrender

If you are planning to see A Single Man, the new movie directed by Tom Ford, stop reading now - I don't want to ruin it for you.  It's a beautiful film, brimming with pain and, ultimately, salvation, although not in the way one might think.  I watched last night and it got me thinking about the power of surrender.  In the movie, Colin Firth plays a middle aged, homosexual academic who can not come to terms with the death of his partner of 16 years.  Eight months on, he is meticulously planning his own suicide.  The camera follows Firth through his last day of life, but everything does not go to plan.

And that's life, isn't it - our best laid plans scuppered and interupted in ways both irritating and illuminating:  People die/leave us/change; circumstances fail to meet our expectations.  And in this beautiful mess we have two choices - either hold stubbornly to our pain and disappointment, or surrender to the inevitable ebb and flow of life.  Put another way by Poet Greta W. Croby, "Loss makes artists of us all as we weave new patterns in the fabric of our lives."

Back in 1998 I was floored by the news that I would never be able to have children.  The consensus among the various fertility specialist I saw was that having donor egg IVF was my only viable option.  Furious and refusing to accept their diagnosis, I went into overdrive seeking specialists and techniques that might tip the odds in my favor - Traditional Chinese Medicine, psychotherapy, Reiki name it, I probably tried it.  After about three years, when I was tired of fighting with God about my predicament, I reached my surrender point.  I quit struggling and decided that with or without a baby I could have, would have, a wonderful life.  Several months later I fell pregnant, naturally, with my son Charlie.

You may argue that it was the all the treatments added up over time that enabled my pregnancy, but with the benefit of hind-sight, I beg to differ.  The inner shift I experienced when I surrendered was measurable -  it was if I removed a dam of resistance and allowed the waters of life to flow freely once more.  And although I never stopped wishing for a baby in my heart of hearts, I quit focusing on what I didn't have, and did a swan dive back into the life I actually had, rather than the one I thought I should have.

Colin Firth does not get the chance to kill himself in A Single Man.  He too awakes from his grief and notices that the world and all its beauty is still there, offering its hand if he will only grasp it.  Quite beautifully and ironically, he dies of a heart attack and is reunited with his lover upon his surrender.

I thought this an inspired way to end the film, which begs the question, what are you resisting in your own life?  Where are you trying to swim against the current?  If you are willing to take the risk and give up the struggle (though not the wish) you might be amazed at where the flow of life might take you.  As counter-intuitive as it seems, surrendering may be the most powerful thing you've ever done.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

My Life as an Atom

I recently read Deepak Chopra’s latest book Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul and came away with an unshakeable image of myself as an atom.  Or more precisely, I picture myself as the nucleus of an atom, with all the bits and pieces of my life rotating around me like electrons.  This is not as loony as it sounds.  Apparently those on the leading edge of science view the human body as nothing less than a hologram for the entire universe.  (More on this next week.) So if my body is a hologram of the universe, can’t an atom be a hologram of my life?

Atoms are the smallest basic unit of matter and are like tiny solar systems with a nucleus instead of a central sun.  The nucleus is actually a cluster of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons bound together by an extremely powerful nuclear force.  Around the nucleus, whirling at fantastic speeds, is a cloud of negatively charged electrons held in place by electromagnetic force.  Thus my soul is the nucleus of me, and all the events and circumstances of my life are the electrons

My interpretation of Chopra’s work is that we can choose to view life either from the perspective of the nucleus/soul - allowing life to spin around us trusting that everything is in perfect balance, or we can live from the ego’s perspective  - jumping on any number of negatively charged electrons and getting caught in the cycle of worry and the need to control.  He advocates the former and suggests adopting a type of “soft focus” awareness as the key to achieving it.  An example:

  • Your mind is calm and not overworked. You enjoy being in its presence.
  • You don’t feel haunted by guilty and shameful thoughts.
  • You don’t try to control your thoughts.  The more freely they come, the better.
  • When you make a mistake, you accept it and quickly move on.
  • Not every idea can be perfect or brilliant, and mistakes are often the best teachers.
  • There’s a contrast between good and bad impulses, but you take both in stride.  (In fact, sometimes you take secret delight in so-called bad thoughts, knowing that they’re just another part of your experience.)
  • Unpleasant mental images don’t make you afraid or disgusted.  You can adapt to the mind’s darker side.
  • You aren’t plagued by a judgmental voice telling you that you’re bad or unworthy.
  • You aren’t braced for the next disaster around the corner.

Meditation is one way to cultivate this awareness, as it seems the brain instinctively goes to the default soul/nucleus position when given half a chance.  Personally I don’t often sit still long enough to meditate.  But when I find myself getting swept out into electron territory, it is often enough just to remind myself that life keeps spinning on and on whether I worry about it or not.

The beauty of this philosophy is that we learn to welcome all thoughts, and indeed all of life, with equanimity - no need to condemn negativity as is so popular in some circles.  Besides, with its equal number of protons and neutrons, an atom is inherently neutral (as I believe the soul is) while an atom that is positively or negatively charged is not an atom at all, but an ion, which must go forth and find something to bond with to become balanced.  It is a “quest-ion.” (Get it?)

The ego hates this type of thinking because it thrives on drama – it loves all the to-ing and fro-ing of electrons.  But with the soul in the drivers seat instead of the ego, it’s a much smoother ride in the atom of life.  


Thursday, 28 January 2010

Excuse me, have you got a moment?

Although I've been life long explorer of human consciousness and spirituality and such, I’ve never really understood what all the fuss is about “being in the moment?”  To me it sounds akin to watching paint dry.  My brain likes action - my inner dialogue jumping furiously between old memories and future possibilities. But having such an active brain means my best-laid plans often get waylaid by “bright shiny thing” syndrome (“Oh look…a bright shiny thing!”) which, while mildly entertaining, is extremely frustrating when you’ve got an infinite list of things to do in a finite amount of time.

So imagine my surprise when one day, just recently, I got it.  I was “inspired” to do the dishes and, as I went through the process, I realized that I was focusing on nothing else but the feeling of the warm soapy water on my hands…and the way I was able to get every bit of crust off the old fying pan…even the smell of the not-so-fresh dish rag.  I was “in the moment” with washing the dishes and it was, dare I say, wonderful.

Being in the moment means being present to the task at hand without my brain racing ahead to the next item on the agenda.  It also means ejecting the stream of “shoulds” and “oughts” that often accompany me through my day.  It really is that simple.  It’s so simple, in fact, that I feel stupid even writing about it!  (She never got that? Duh!!)

There are a bunch of things going on in my life right now that could paralyse me with fear about the future, but when I gently pull my mind back from the edge of the precipice and focus on the task at hand, life just flows.  I’ve been so amazed by this that I was inspired to sit and write this post. And now I am ready to go and “be in the moment” with my pillow.  Good night everyone. 


Monday, 18 January 2010

Master Oogway and the Broken Leg of Life

Perhaps you are familiar with the ancient Taoist proverb about the boy who broke his leg?  It goes something like this: 

One day, a farmer's horse ran away. His neighbours cried, "What terrible luck that you lost your horse!" The farmer replied, "Maybe so, maybe not."

A few days later, the horse returned, leading several wild horses. The neighbours cried, "Your horse has returned, and brought more with him. What great fortune!" The farmer replied, "Maybe so, maybe not."

Later that week, the farmer's son was trying to break one of the wild horses and got thrown to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, "Your son broke his leg, what a calamity!" The farmer replied, "Maybe so, maybe not."

A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, conscripting all the able-bodied young men for the army. They did not take the farmer's son because of his broken leg. Friends cried, "Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!" To which the farmer replied, "Maybe so, maybe not."

Recently, while watching the film KUNG FU PANDA (Dreamworks 2008) with my son, I was delighted when wise old Master Oogway reminds Master Shifu (who is in a panic because the villain Tai Lung has escaped from prison) that ‘an event is just an event.’ In other words, events have no meaning in and of themselves, only the ones we give them.  Though this may have gone over a seven-year-old’s head, it went straight to my heart.

This can be hard for people to grasp as human beings are generally far more comfortable with a firm, clear set of rules and values which name things as “right” and “wrong”,  “good” and “bad” as determined by some authority, earthly or heavenly. But the truth, I suspect, is more aligned with Master Oogway’s philosophy than religious or political dogma. 

Perhaps we know this innately, but we forget in the heat of the moment.  I remember not getting a job I particularly wanted some years ago.  I cursed the unfairness of life.  Soon after I was offered a better, far more interesting position that I could not have taken if I had got the first job.  I could have saved myself a lot of angst if I'd been centered enough to pause and consider that losing out on a job might have a greater meaning.  

We can all cultivate this kind of "maybe so, maybe not" centeredness, and heaven knows there are plenty of wise souls both past and present who offer practical teachings along those lines.  Jesus himself urged us not to judge, and Byron Katie, a favorite modern sage, urges us to “love what is.”

There is plenty going on in the world right now that one could call “good” or “bad.”  But it is perhaps wiser to remember that a broken leg is just a broken leg unless we deem otherwise.