jump, leap, penetrate, and arrive with hope

February may be short, but it’s full of special celebrations: Black History Month, Groundhog’s Day, Valentine’s Day (I call it Relationship Day), National Random Acts of Kindness Day, Leap Year, and Presidents’ Day to name a few. Who knows how any of these days may unfold or affect you, but they are perfect chances for each of us to shower some other energy with gratitude, hope, and unconditional love. It begins with us as individuals and may be initiated out-loud or silently.

“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” Dr. Maya Angelou 

Traditionally, when February arrives, we remember Valentine’s Day. I want to broaden that to read Relationship Day with Heart. So, beyond our loved ones, what kindnesses and heart wishes do we send to someone who stands off to the side of an interstate ramp with a homeless sign, hoping for a warm meal? To a group of teenagers, both white and black, who may call us names, laugh, and use rude gestures when we pass their meeting area? To a biracial couple at a restaurant with two children, one of whom is throwing a tantrum? To someone forthcoming about LGBTQ sexuality and whose partner is need of medical care? To a neighbor’s pet who gets into garbage or hisses with raised fur and piercing eyes? Although it is impossible for us to know their exact experiences, our expanded hearts see them as worthy of love and understanding.

Some hearts are wide open, bursting with acceptance. Other hearts are constricted with full-blown aversion. We justify our reactions by thinking that homelessness is an issue where a single person cannot make a difference (denial). We pay attention to the media and side with some press coverage that states today’s youth may be dangerous and carry weapons, so our physical safety could be jeopardized (fear). We don’t necessarily stare at the biracial couple, but we whisper about their incompetence as parents (judging). Some medical professionals do their jobs (making little eye contact or feeling a stomach knot), but they have a tight heart when approaching a person whose sexuality clearly may be different from their own (prejudice). Finally, regarding animals, we don’t know how any animal will react to our presence; however, we may send kindness and loving thoughts silently as we cross the street (anxiety). Yet if family members, friends, or pets are familiar to us, we most likely would not be averse, but try to understand and support the situation.

Choices are continuously available, not only in February, but every day of the year. And, as a friend of mine who loves to play with words pointed out, “The letters O-I-C in the middle of ‘Choice’ speak volumes about the openness of a person’s heart. Not understanding this, we are only probing the dark, hoping for answers as a form of lip service. Nothing really changes.

What’s in front of you? Barriers? Ignorance? Separation? Old stories? Conflict, opinions, or silence criticize, demonstrating a tight heart. Why not change how we think, feel and interact toward others by softening our hearts? Softening means accepting; showing compassion; speaking and acting from wisdom, rather than out of fear; and extending unconditional love. It is about others, not us! Yes, we are unique, but we are not separate. We are not superior. We are not special. We are here to connect, to care for each other, and to live heartfully.  

From a higher vantage:  Begin this month to soften your heart to one relationship. Send kindness and heart wishes. Be determined: jump hurdles, leap fences, penetrate walls, and arrive with hope. Know that it is the right thing to do. © 2020 in the thick of things

A greater energy knows

Everything that is happening to you is meant to be happening. For some of you, reading this is grounds for instant resistance: shock, argument, or eye-rolling. “Everything…that is happening”? Maybe, if it points only to the positive, familiar, and comfortable parts of life. “Meant to be happening?” There’s a purpose behind things, yes, but a predetermined course of events? What about free will? Who is calling the shots, anyway?

There are no coincidences. Often, you can’t see this until you engage in hindsight, and even then, you may not make the connection. It takes practice and contemplation to recognize that a greater energy has been with you throughout your life, overseeing the shots.

In my growing up years, I was always helping someone: parents, siblings, or friends. It seemed to be my inner nature. No resistance, just following the expectations of my parents and, later, those of my heart. Of course, my ego had to play devil’s advocate: What would happen if I refused to help. Consequence was a deal-breaker. Stop challenging or I would have limited time with friends or greater restricted phone privileges. Soon I understood the meaning of “under the thumb.” Fear and conditional love went unchallenged during an era when some parents offered few, if any, choices. In my world, adults were calling the shots and didn’t welcome a second opinion.

For many years, I couldn’t understand how a tight leash could result in anything positive. Why didn’t a greater energy intercede during this controlling time? During the early years of life, parents and guardians decide what is meant to be. They do the best they can with the knowledge and means that they have—realizations that became evident to me only after many years. I learned complaints were futile, a strong work ethic generates praise, and perseverance pays, life traits that are, indeed, valuable. Conversely, these years further prepared me for my own child rearing and adult work life. I learned what not to do by example. Everything that is happening to you is meant to be happening.  

Even then, I must have been influenced by the guidance of a greater energy. I deviated from how I was brought up and cherished the spontaneity and lovingkindness of life and my own children—despite the usual whining and button pushing—while learning life lessons from them. Parameters are necessary, but not ones of fear. Authentic encouragement is essential, and voices need to be heard—even when the truth hurts. Unconditional love changes everything for the better. These were my positives.

Incorporating these lessons in my work and volunteer lives, I was often thought of as being too soft and not assertive enough. People tended to take advantage of me. However, a greater energy, oblivious to me, must have offered support, nudging Press on!

Teaching English to secondary-aged students and later training adult learners in business writing honed my own writing, storytelling and curriculum development abilities. Developing these skills and applying nurturing lessons created positive results that served others. Individuals learned to value themselves, find the good in situations, and become empowered. This had become the foundation for all my work.

Another example of wondering if circumstances were really meant to be happening to me was during the mid-1980’s when there was a glut of English teachers. I was unable to find a permanent teaching position. A substitute teacher for four years, I was convinced that being an English teacher was my most suitable option. In hindsight, I had not been open to working with the will and timing of a greater energy. I was consumed with thinking that I knew best.

Miraculously, several corporate training positions materialized. I was a bit hesitant, yet the prospect of corporate training was exciting. Grateful to generous individuals who believed in me and helped me to network, I quickly was able to segue much of my English teaching portfolio to reflect adult learning styles and business writing curriculum. By meeting adults at their level of understanding and using creativity and humor, I knew that I was on the right track. Everything that is happening to you is meant to be happening.

Again, it sometimes takes several persuasions of looking back to realize that you are exactly where you need to be at any point in time. Thirteen years ago, an accident lead to torn ligaments and tendons in my left ankle—the ER doctor said it would have been better if I had broken my ankle. Shocked by the reality that this was happening to me, indignant that I could do nothing about it, and frustrated that I was not in control, and never had been, I began my healing adventure. I was not a happy camper; although experiencing the paths of the Carleton College arb from a luxury wheelchair (pushed by my husband) was an attitude booster. When I reached some acceptance of my situation ten months later, hindsight told me, Everything that is happening to you is meant to be happening. My accident was the initiation of accepting my spiritual journey, and I am grateful.

Everything that has happened in your life was meant to be—especially the difficult or horrific circumstances that you don’t want to revisit. Finding one positive characteristic about negative circumstances and then focusing on it helps to pass the time and keep your sanity, leading you into the next moment, and into the next. Acceptance lets you see that you are not separate from others. You and they—we—all weather impermanence or change, good times and challenging ones, and a host of other dualities. When you allow all these conditions to happen, in their own time, you live more fully.

From a higher vantage: I Invite you to revisit the mileposts of your life, its turning points. See if a greater energy wasn’t in the thick of things along with you. Rich aha’s and understandings are waiting. A greater energy knows.

an antidote for snap judgments

Uninterrupted, gnawing pain! Face-to-face with something that hadn’t happened in years, I instantly recognized the feeling and immediately judged my circumstances. BAD! I had been practicing yoga almost daily with no problems. So, why now and why me? My lower back was in serious trouble. I didn’t want to label this experience as good or bad—it just happened. A snap judgment! My thoughts continued to spiral down.

Thanks to support from my compassionate teacher, I made my way up the studio steps and to my car. I drove home, still not reconciled with the pain. Several hours later, after contacting my naturopath, I had a recovery plan. It was time to be. I was still upset.

Impermanence had struck on the heels of four, intense months of doing—a writing immersion—and I hadn’t taken time to unwind. My striving mind was in deep conflict with my body. It was as if self-compassion never existed. How unfair! What an inconvenience! I’ll just push myself a bit more! My body was doing its best, given the circumstances, yet it was my mind that needed a time-out.

Not able to move well gave me plenty of hours for being. I realized, at an even deeper level, what was meant by seeing adversity as a profound teacher. I had heard from and read about people who welcomed their terminal diagnoses or injuries from a car accident. Welcomed these events! They had learned amazing lessons about themselves and life. They became forever changed in how they interacted with people and viewed life events. Life became more inclusive and meaningful. They discovered what really mattered—unconditional love and others. No snap judgments there.

Able to do very little for myself but rest, I was a tangled mess. The more I tried, the more pain and constraint I felt. My body was defying me. It seemed that I had aged before my very eyes. No amount of mind over matter would allow me ease or mobility. It was very humbling to be living within narrow parameters. I continued to judge my circumstances. A captive audience, my body commanded my full attention. These circumstances touched a familiar vibe. What lesson was unfolding?

Up until that point, I was feeling pretty good about how life was unfolding. Believing that my inner core was resilient and that I could handle any misfortune, I was zapped by reality. That’s right—control is only an illusion. Reminding myself to accept the experience that had come to me, I softened my heart to a different perspective. Had I been abusing or loving myself?

In slow recovery, I observed my pain as part of the moment, not labeling it. I stopped using negative self-talk regarding why I did not do preventative back strengthening exercises or how my computer posture might have been questionable. I made no excuses. I recalled the Buddhist practice of Tonglen that I had tried in earlier years without much success. Had I evolved enough spiritually that this practice might be helpful?

Tonglen practice helps you to interact from your best Self in both challenging and celebratory circumstances—whether thought about in advance or done in-the-moment. The first action for either kind of circumstance is no action. Step back and simply observe without judgment. Think: Something is happening. Do not identify the situation as good or bad or apply any other dualities. In circumstances of challenge, Tonglen statements help you to observe adverse circumstances, negative thoughts, or impermanence and work through humanness.

Stay with the  pure feelings of the moment; there is nothing to distract you from the past or future. This focus can be difficult, since most of the time you are used to making snap judgments. Remember self-compassion. As you breathe in these pure feelings—what does not work for you—you realize that you are honestly facing your issues. For some, this may be overwhelming at first and a bit scary. Your anxiety may be out-of-control. Stay with the negative feeling. Next, breathe out substitute feelings—antidotes—that are reassuring. You begin to feel calm. Repeat the statements as you inhale and exhale any number of times until you feel you are a part of them.

I usually want to turn away from agony, seeking a fast fix. This time I lay with the pain, felt it, and breathed it in. I breathed in dark and negative feelings, naming frustration, discomfort, arrogance of knowing (rather, thinking I did), and delay in finishing my work. These statements resonated to my core, to the point of tears.

To balance those negative feelings, I breathed out positive statements, characteristics of the true Self:  ease, patience, forgiveness, and calm. I continued to repeat this pattern of inhaling and exhaling my feelings. At the time, it was all I could do to work with my own feelings. Yet part of Tonglen practice seeks inclusiveness—to remember that others (family members, as well as those you don’t know) experience similar circumstances and feel distress and pain. As I became more aligned through my statements with an energy that was greater than I, I was able to breathe in similar negative feelings that others experienced and breathe out the antidotes for those feelings. Inclusivity emerged, as separateness faded to the background. The more I worked with this practice, the more oneness I felt.

I developed the following Tonglen statements for three challenging situations. Although it is still tricky to catch myself before making snap judgments, I find that this practice offers lighter and more connected feelings. You might want to start reading the statements and then sit with the experience until you know the statements are right for you. Some of the situations and supporting declarations may have to be changed, customizing them to your circumstances. Be courageous and develop your own statements. It is worth your time. You will know what resonates when you feel something quicken within. Recognizing which statements symbolize your situation, repeat them until you feel you are a part of them.

It is easier to state declarations for yourself first and then state the declarations on behalf of family members and unknown others who have similar distress or pain. Breathe in what does not work for them and breathe out positive feelings that strengthen them. All energies are connected. It is important to remember that even though you may not know whom you support with your declarations, you will feel a kinship with them. This is also a sign of oneness. I invite you to consider these Tonglen statements for challenging circumstances.

Situation 1: Anxiety over health issues or terminal diagnoses

Breathe in…

  • Nervousness
  • Despair
  • Fear of leaving loved ones, incomplete work projects, not fulfilling my purpose

Breathe out…

  • Knowing that this experience is mine by design
  • Knowing that I’m not alone
  • Knowing that I’m part of a greater energy
  • Knowing that I’m deeply loved

Situation 2: Relationship setback

Breathe in…

  • Lack of unconditional love for another
  • Guilt, shame
  • Insensitivity to circumstances
  • Presumption that I know, or know better

Breathe out…

  • Self-compassion and love
  • Forgiveness for my humanness
  • Strength to create a new habit or approach

Situation 3: Tight heart; carrying a grudge

Breathe in…

  • Frustration
  • Arrogance
  • Judgment
  • My timetable

Breathe out…

  • Ease
  • Patience
  • Understanding of and forgiveness for my role in the hurt
  • Unconditional love in the form of expansive relief

At the other end of the spectrum, Tonglen statements also encourage you to recognize celebratory feelings of good will, caring, and joy. When you are feeling personal gratitude, fulfillment, or awe, it is natural to want to recognize the circumstances that created those feelings. A greater energy around you is supportive. Sharing your happiness, whether privately or overtly, raises your vibration.

You’ll also want to share your positive experiences with others who are celebrating similar circumstances or with those who could benefit from some positivity. This gathering of celebratory feelings raises the vibrations of all energies throughout the collective universe and those of the general universe.

Breathe in examples of optimism and breathe out the gifts of your experience, sharing with others to uplift them. On behalf of others who might benefit from positivity, breathe in your observations and breathe out inspiring declarations. 

The following Tonglen statements point to three celebration circumstances. Starting with these declarations may move you to develop your own. Again, you will know which statements are right for you because something within will stir. Repeat the statements until you feel you are a part of them.

Situation 1: Beauty of nature – Contemplating a small twig of crabapple blossoms

Breathe in…

  • Red and green gradient foliage
  • Tender, pink flowers with delicate magenta and gray stamen
  • Quiet, unassuming beauty that speaks to strength of being

Breathe out…

  • Appreciation for nature’s spontaneous gifts
  • Innate goodness that augments circumstances
  • This moment that encourages wholeness

Situation 2: Improved health because of professional care – Hooray for craniosacral therapy!

Breathe in…

  • Gratitude for intuitive perceptions and skilled hands
  • Release of tight ligaments and muscles
  • Relief that overrides pain

Breathe out…

  • Awareness
  • Love in the form of body alignment and mobility
  • Zest for life

Situation 3: Reconnection of Friendship

Breathe in …

  • Like-minded thoughtfulness and common values
  • Shared focus, honesty, and appreciation of differences
  • Acceptance without judgment

Breathe out…

  • Friendship that weathers impermanence
  • Lightness, humor, and ease of being
  • Uncompromised support

Words can never fully express the interactions and effects of Tonglen practice. It is about reaching an understanding at a higher level among all energies. After working with Tonglen, I feel that my heart and mind are no longer at odds. When I feel a snap judgment lurking and begin to label an experience as fortunate or unfortunate, I stop because I realize that my thinking and feeling patterns are no longer stable. I may or may not be going down the “rabbit hole.”  I return to the present moment, breathe, and begin Tonglen statements. Because my mind and heart have stopped judging, they are more open to new understandings. This is a good thing—a form of loving myself and others.

Applying a diligent practice like this whenever life’s experiences lure me toward snap judgments, I find my thoughts and actions are more consistent. When I begin with something is happening and then move to breath declarations for myself and others, humanness doesn’t trip me up as often.

Awareness of this change seemed to come out-of-the-blue. Yet I know differently. Nothing happens by chance. It was a wise and resourceful greater energy that believed I was ready. Now I have more clarity within the moment. I think of others in similar circumstances and want for them what I am experiencing. I am a work-in-progress, and this has made all the difference.

From a higher vantage: Resilience is gained from not accepting the lure of immediately labeling circumstances as good or bad, happy or sad, or hopeless or optimistic. Simple acknowledgment is enough. I don’t have to judge, thereby not feeling separated from others. Instead, I am creating a new pattern of how I deal with the on-going challenges and celebrations that Impermanence is sure to deliver. Distress and pain are eased while joy is enhanced.

are you sharing?

I am dying. Don’t think that I’ve been keeping a secret. No, without a doubt, this is simply the state of things—for me and for all energies. As soon as I think these words (not even say them), a quiet panic sets in. My stomach tightens. I get a headache. My pulse races, and I am extremely alert. I immediately begin a reality check.

The sunrise is still breathtaking. An unidentified bird’s nest, hosting two different kinds of eggs, is still nestled in the spring wreath near the back door. The half-empty seed packet of Swiss Chard is still bundled where I left it yesterday. These things confirm that I am still connected to the universe. In ways great and small, I identify with each of these visions. I want to keep them with me. To embrace them. To not let them slip away.

Thinking the words, I am dying, points to a duality that confronts me. On one hand, what I love, know, and don’t want to let go of—what I’m identifying with—people, animals, plants or material goods will eventually become memories. So, I cling even more intensely.  On the other hand, it is this constant clinging that causes more distress, regret, and disappointment—all forms of suffering—as I live and approach my death.

“We are dominated by everything with which we are identified, and we have dominion over everything from which we disidentify.”                                                      

~Roberto Assagioli, Italian psychiatrist and pioneer in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology

During the first half of life, I devoted love, purpose, and time in raising children, getting to know people, working my careers, volunteering, and trying to understand life.

Now, during the second half of life, I’m learning more about me. I appreciate that all my earlier interactions contributed to the truth of who I am. Yet, it goes deeper. Now I understand that I don’t need labels or other external measures to prove my truth. Loving relationships with family and friends matter most and not having to strive or protect anything softens my heart.

Practicing living simply; appreciating, accepting, and then letting go of circumstances; and connecting with others in love inspires living fully and dying well. When I identify with anything that I feel I MUST have, INSIST on, have PREFERENCES for, or DEPEND on, it means that I am tightening my heart which is a form of resistance. The antidote? Enjoy everything in life without controlling. No clinging. This approach offers independence and freedom, a way to live L A R G E L Y.

How do I stop clinging?  I begin with small and seemingly insignificant things. How about a Snickers Bar? I appreciate its flavor, texture, and how it makes me smile. There was a time when I thought I had to have a bar every day—and, for a while, I did—just the small size, of course! Not going to the vending machine for this treat gave me cause for an attitude adjustment. Now I live in a body that sickens at the addition of sugar. Excluding Snickers Bars makes me feel better, even if I do think about them from time to time.

Losing a favorite pair of earrings, however, is another level of intensity that would send me into a tail spin of clinging. If I received the earrings as a gift, it would be very difficult not to feel highly emotional or rant and rave in an attitude of lack for days. I would cling to their memory or to the memory of the person who gave them to me. Initially, I would not forgive myself for having lost them. Eventually, I noticed that this thought affected other parts of my life in a negative way. Over time, practice in letting go of experiences, not clinging, showed me that this was not a life or death matter. Rather, it was an extremely unfortunate one:  one attributed to humanness.

Consider the picture at the top of this narrative. Assuming the role of the mama bird, I would be faced with a much greater level of intensity regarding clinging:  the safety of my four, unhatched eggs.  Arriving at my nest, I would find the addition of a larger, whitish-brown egg with markings—probably from the neighborhood, brown-headed cowbird. She used my nest for brood parasitism. This is her mode of operation: She expected me to hatch and feed her egg.     

More than forgotten Snickers Bars and lost earrings, based on my species, I might cling to my eggs and eject the odd egg from the nest. I could abandon the nest but would lose my own brood. Or perhaps I would hatch all the eggs and feed all the babies—taking a chance that the loud cries of the baby cowbird might attract predators. Hatching and feeding new chicks is both a sacrifice and an inconvenience on many levels. Do I cling or let go? Nature can be cruel.

Human again, I have practiced letting go of somewhat insignificant things. This is helpful preparation as I realize that I am dying a little each day. I recognize that people, animals, plants, and material goods can slip away, and that’s all right. I have no need to forever embrace them or to keep them with me. They are meant to be shared with the universe.

From a higher vantage:  I pay attention to people and things in my environment, value them for their role in my life, am grateful for them, and yet understand that, at some point, I will not be taking them with me as I die. I feel safe, loved, and free because I do not hang on to, identify with, or cling to that which is around me. Love accompanies my essence.

© 2019 in the thick of things

maybe leads to steadiness

Yup! Uh, huh! I love this game! danced the abundance of self-confidence from my Uno-savvy, nearly ten-year-old granddaughter.

Arrgggghhhh! I’m going to lose. Why do I have to keep drawing? wailed my seven-year-old grandson who chose to join in the game for the first time. According to Uno tips and directions, seven is the youngest age for playing the game.

Is it five or seven cards to start? I wondered, remembering crazy times I had had while playing this game with my now adult children.

Snippets of conversation—heard at the dining room table earlier this week—allowed the three of us to better know each other. Two of our “grands” were spending part of Spring Break with us while their parents were on a trip. What appeared to be a casual card game on the surface, revealed deeper layers of character and some thoughts about life.

The original Uno card game was developed in 1971, by Merle Robbins, a barber in Cincinnati, Ohio. It has been a Mattel brand since 1992. As a grandparent, I look at it as fun, but also a game in which we have choices in how we react to what comes to us in the moment—impermanence. I can’t help but think that the game also mirrors choices for how we cope in life.

When we’re seven, we barely know what to do with life—we’re learning the rules and how we fit in. Things come at us so quickly. We watch–sometimes, we jump right in. We want to feel like we belong, to do the right thing, so we take things very personally.

At ten, we’ve had more experience and are beginning to feel more comfortable. We believe that we know a lot about many things.  We want to show the world what we know. However, relationship interactions remain mysterious (isn’t this the case throughout life?). Our main concern is how we appear to others.

As we grow up, we hone our personalities, experience delights and disappointments, and build our reputations. Somehow, a card game invites us to be in the moment, and, if we choose that focus, we become less guarded and relax into being our true Selves. Perhaps when we want to learn more about someone, a card game could be an effective strategy. During a game, we experience people in action. And, more importantly, we can choose to observe reactions.

It was difficult for my grandson to give himself credit for trying something completely new, where he encountered a steep learning curve. He wanted everything to come easily and quickly (isn’t this the case throughout life?). No matter how often we supported him on his efforts, he felt short-changed. To his credit, he persisted and categorized the cards by colors, even after drawing twenty cards.

On the other hand, my granddaughter couldn’t play the game fast enough. She was thoroughly enjoying her game knowledge and strategies, complete with apologizing for playing the Skip/Reverse combo, Draw 2, and Wild cards with which she consistently nailed us. Her apologies—a bit insincere and accompanied with a hint of a smile—caused me to say something. In cards, when the goal is to win, there are no apologies. Trying to get opponents to draw many cards and to stop opponents from playing certain cards are common strategies. However, a notably superior attitude takes the fun out of things. These comments were mostly ignored while my grandson became increasingly dejected.

Then impermanence (change) showed up. The universe has a way of altering circumstances (isn’t this the case throughout life?). One Reverse card played by my grandson changed the game completely. Suddenly, my granddaughter was dealing with misfortune. And, the timing was perfect for me to plant some seeds about impermanence.

Accepting what comes to us, even when all we want to do is S C R E A M or pout, is one way to remain emotionally and physically steady. It is not easy and can be most challenging for younger children and pre-teens; however, it’s never too early to plant seeds for life, as acceptance of “what is” continues to challenge many adults.

How do we remain steady in circumstances, both negative and positive? Knowing that we are not fully in control of life—the universe is—we show a pleasant, neutral face and think, Maybe. As we become more comfortable with accepting impermanence, we might be able to say maybe. Here are some examples:

Negative comments/circumstances:

Opposition: Oh, NO! Look at all the cards you’ve drawn. You probably won’t win. 

You:[with a pleasant, neutral face] Maybe.

Positive circumstances:

Player: WOW! I give up. You have only two cards left. You’re probably going to win.

You: [with a pleasant, neutral face] Maybe.

Because the truth is, we don’t know when we will win or lose. There are no guarantees either way. Yet, there is a lot less resistance and suffering when we involve maybe. Despite the twenty cards my grandson drew later in the game, he went on to take second place. My granddaughter, on that day, lost all three games. The silver lining: there is always another game (or life event) in which to practice being emotionally and physically steady.

From a higher vantage: Acceptance of what comes to us in life is especially difficult in a society filled with competition at every turn. Let us be kind to ourselves and to others by looking at life events from a higher perspective. Viewing life circumstances through the lens of maybe encourages emotional and physical stability and flow with life. This is who we are in our deepest hearts.  

maybe leads to steadiness

Yup! Uh, huh! I love this game! danced the abundance of self-confidence from my Uno-savvy, nearly ten-year-old granddaughter.

Arrgggghhhh! I’m going to lose. Why do I have to keep drawing? wailed my seven-year-old grandson who chose to join in the game for the first time. According to Uno tips and directions, seven is the youngest age for playing the game.

Is it five or seven cards to start? I wondered, remembering crazy times I had had while playing this game with my now adult children.

Snippets of conversation—heard at the dining room table earlier this week—allowed the three of us to better know each other. Two of our “grands” were spending part of Spring Break with us while their parents were on a trip. What appeared to be a casual card game on the surface, revealed deeper layers of character and some thoughts about life.

The original Uno card game was developed in 1971, by Merle Robbins, a barber in Cincinnati, Ohio. It has been a Mattel brand since 1992. As a grandparent, I look at it as fun, but also a game in which we have choices in how we react to what comes to us in the moment—impermanence. I can’t help but think that the game also mirrors choices for how we cope in life.

When we’re seven, we barely know what to do with life—we’re learning the rules and how we fit in. Things come at us so quickly. We watch; sometimes, we jump right in. We want to feel like we belong, to do the right thing, so we take things very personally.

At ten, we’ve had more experience and are beginning to feel more comfortable. We believe that we know a lot about many things.  We want to show the world what we know. However, relationship interactions remain mysterious (isn’t this the case throughout life?). Our main concern is how we appear to others.

As we grow up, we hone our personalities, experience delights and disappointments, and build our reputations. Somehow, a card game invites us to be in the moment, and, if we choose that focus, we become less guarded and relax into being our true Selves. Perhaps when we want to learn more about someone, a card game could be an effective strategy. During a game, we experience people in action. And, more importantly, we can choose to observe our reactions.

It was difficult for my grandson to give himself credit for trying something completely new, where he encountered a steep learning curve. He wanted everything to come easily and quickly (isn’t this the case throughout life?). No matter how often we supported him on his efforts, he felt short-changed. To his credit, he persisted and categorized the cards by colors, even after drawing twenty cards.

On the other hand, my granddaughter couldn’t play the game fast enough. She was thoroughly enjoying her game knowledge and strategies, complete with apologizing for playing the Skip/Reverse combo, Draw 2, and Wild cards with which she consistently nailed us. Her apologies—a bit insincere and accompanied with a hint of a smile—caused me to say something. In cards, when the goal is to win, there are no apologies. Trying to get opponents to draw many cards and to stop opponents from playing certain cards are common strategies. However, a notably superior attitude takes the fun out of things. These comments were mostly ignored while my grandson became increasingly dejected.

Then impermanence (change) showed up. The universe has a way of altering circumstances (isn’t this the case throughout life?). One Reverse card played by my grandson changed the game completely. Suddenly, my granddaughter was dealing with misfortune. And, the timing was perfect for me to plant some seeds about impermanence.

Accepting what comes to us, even when all we want to do is S C R E A M or pout, is one way to remain emotionally and physically steady. It is not easy and can be most challenging for younger children and pre-teens; however, it’s never too early to plant seeds for life, as acceptance of “what is” continues to challenge many adults.

How do we remain steady in circumstances, both negative and positive? Knowing that we are not fully in control of life—the Universe is—we show a pleasant, neutral face and think, Maybe. As we become more comfortable with accepting impermanence, we might be able to say maybe. Here are some examples:

Negative comments/circumstances:

Opponent: Oh, NO! Look at all the cards you’ve drawn. You won’t win! 

You:[with a pleasant, neutral face] Maybe.

Positive circumstances:

Opponent: WOW! I give up. You have only two cards left. You’re gonna win.

You: [with a pleasant, neutral face] Maybe.

Because the truth is, we don’t know when we will win or lose. There are no guarantees either way. Yet, there is a lot less resistance and suffering when we involve maybe. Despite the twenty cards my grandson drew later in the game, he went on to take second place. My granddaughter, on that day, lost all three games. The silver lining: there is always another game (or life event) in which to practice being emotionally and physically steady.

From a higher vantage: Acceptance of what comes to us in life is especially difficult in a society filled with competition at every turn. Let us be kind to ourselves and to others by looking at life events from a higher perspective. Viewing life circumstances through the lens of maybe encourages emotional and physical stability and flow with life. This is who we are in our deepest hearts.

© 2019 in the thick of things 

Integration 101

Look at me! That’s the hidden message that we strive to project in the first half of our lives. In some form, we yearn to stand out. We believe it is our reason for existence. Personalities, careers, reputations, appearances, recognition, and material goods pave the way to separating ourselves from everyone else—and Source—as we are strongly influenced by our ego and outer circumstances.

Then, in the second half of our lives, if we choose to become more contemplative, we discover that inward reflection brings about clarity of true Self. As we move into our late sixties and early seventies, we begin to understand the value of integration, focusing on and bringing together aspects of our lives that really matter: gratitude, listening, relationships, lessons learned from experience, and how we want to be remembered. Certainly there are other aspects, yet this is a helpful list for starters.

Integration brings to mind energy. We are complex beings whose energies often go beyond our sensory perceptions, often without our knowing. This happened to one of my friends who discovered that he was a conduit for Source’s healing energy.  He has now offered energy healing for nearly twenty-five years.

Bob (fictitious name) was offering a foot rub, a gesture of comfort, to a good friend who was dying of HIV. The friend said that he could feel amazing energy coming from Bob’s hands and that he should pursue this gift of healing energy. It didn’t occur to Bob that his hands could deliver strong, healing energy. He didn’t understand or believe it. His gift went largely unnoticed for two or three years. The death of his friend, however, prompted him to learn more about this kind of healing and his role in it.

What Bob learned as an energy healer was to trust in his gift; doubting and wondering Why me? only created blockages to the flow of healing. He could have no expectations, no control. He could only show up and be ready for service. Those seeking healing would find him. Bob became a channel for Source’s energy as it flowed through him. Finding a virtual freeway, energy unconditionally flows to the receiver, its method and destinations known only by Source. Once awakened to his gift, Bob knew he would always use it.

In addition to helping to overcome physical ailments, energy healing can also positively affect emotional and psychological demons. Again, the energy healer is the conduit. Colors representing heart energy and the energy of other chakras often can be seen by the recipient, as well as mental images symbolizing the body’s distress. Any nay-saying or worrying about the existence of a higher power instantly disappears in the presence of an energy healing session. A palpable sense of awe and a powerful knowing permeates both healer and participant.

Everything is energy, and not one single action goes unnoticed by the universe. There may not be an immediate, telling reaction, yet, over time (maybe a lapse of hundreds of years), the action receives a response. Because we are all connected energies, it is essential that we bring lovingkindness to each moment through our thoughts, words, and actions.  This ability begins with mindful introspection, where we find our true Selves, and pass along what is needed.

 

From a higher vantage: Yes, Look at me! Now I stand out for a different reason. I recognize the inner beauty of being ordinary and being loved by Source. I no longer require the surface appeal of outside approval or material goods. Deep down I know who I am and feel content. Lovingkindness and interconnectness guide me.

Lift or Squash?

Somewhere around the ages of eight or nine—I have a grandson and granddaughter in this range—a child has capitalized on a growing Ego. The voice is almost magical and highly persuasive as it drives the child to distinguish character in any way possible. To stand out from the crowd begins with checking out the competition and comparing the assets and deficits. The child will feel either superior to (arrogance) or cheated out of (lack) as the situation is analyzed. These feelings carry over to the parties of any relationship. Comparison always results in greater separation from Source, separation that continues well into young adulthood and intensifies throughout mid-life.

Noting comparison behaviors in a child is a wake-up call to all adults to carefully consider how they approach comparison in their life situations. Adults cannot expect from a child that which they are not willing to see in themselves. The exploration of the still, inner voice is unconsciously cast aside in favor of personal development, with an opportunity to be heard, once again, at the sunset of life.

Anecdotal evidence may lead a child (or an adult)…

(1) To believe s/he is “right” about most things, evidenced by playing the card of the older sibling or adult knows best or uses physical or mental prowess to gain the upper hand.

(2) To unabashedly tout good fortune by playing the card of the announcement to go on a trip or constantly talk about how exciting it will be to experience an amusement park ride (with a height requirement).

(3) To mock and belittle the actions or situations of others by playing the card of calling out the emotion observed and adding an undermining comment.  (Stop crying like a baby because you can’t go to the Children’s Theater—you’d never understand the play anyway).

(4) To want to feel superior at another’s expense by playing the card of criticism (Look at your hair—mine is cooler).

In using comparison behaviors, the child (or adult) thinks only of personal self and believes that RECOGNITION is guaranteed. At the heart of these deductions is self, or Ego. The child (or adult) desires personal happiness—at all costs. And, as we observe an eight- or nine-year-old, this realization is almost forgivable except that a child imitates adult comparison behaviors that are witnessed in a variety of environments. Interacting with adults who have honed these skills of comparison, we often shake our heads or are quick to judge.

Comparison behaviors can be effective when used to lift someone’s outlook, desires, or dreams rather than to dash or to squash those qualities. Recall the anecdotal evidence and spin them in a positive way.

(1)  This is what has worked for me…

(2)  Even though I’ll be gone for a while, I know that you will make our pet happy.

(3)  Dr. Seuss’s “The Sneetches” at the Children’s Theater is the perfect play for you because you have so many friends with different interests.

(4) You’re getting better with the gel—let me put some of mine in your hair.

 

From a higher vantage: Regardless of age, time of life, or profession, a choice to lift or to squash someone else’s outlook, desires, or dreams is always at-hand. Lifting encourages self-esteem, compassion, camaraderie, and inclusion. Overall, each act or exchange of words affects the state of the whole. We are all in this life together. Choose to follow your higher Self and lift at every opportunity.

© 2017 Barbara L. Krause

getting to forgiveness

Ego: It’s not fair! I told Patti, in confidence, about a newly-discovered breast lump from my recent mammogram. She told someone else in our women’s group, and now everyone knows. I haven’t even returned for a follow-up screening yet. It was my story to tell!

Higher Self: That’s a tough one.

Ego: It was an insatiable personal urge to tell someone so that I would feel some comfort; however, it turned into a nightmare.

Higher Self: Even words presumed as confidential carry no guarantee that they will be honored as such. Feeling betrayed is difficult—a trust has been broken.

Ego: I don’t think that I can ever talk to Patti—again! For all I know, others are thinking that I have only six months to live!

Higher Self: You and Patti are long-time friends. It seems as if she acted out of character. You remember that her sister had breast cancer two years ago. Perhaps your news brought back scary memories.

Ego: I don’t know. It makes me angry, though. Maybe I should call her and tell her off!

Higher Self: Try looking at what has happened from a different angle—with an accepting and loving heart.

Ego: Fat Chance. If I let her off the hook by forgiving her, what’s to stop her from deceiving someone else?

Higher Self: Try to separate Patti the person from her behavior. Usually a kind and gracious individual, Patti forgot to be sensitive to your needs. Perhaps she was overwhelmed by your news and panicked.

Ego: Make no mistake: She just didn’t think!

Higher Self: I know her actions have made you upset. I believe that she had an urgent need to enlist help from others to support you.

Ego: Her behavior hurt me!

Higher Self: Have you ever made a tacky, thoughtless comment about someone when you didn’t realize that person was within earshot?

Ego: No! Never! (pause) Well, maybe, but I didn’t mean it. I was just kidding.

Higher Self: The comment was still insensitive, right?

Ego: I guess.

Higher Self: See how easily we can slip into our humanness? First accept what happened. Then offer forgiveness because it eases you out of situations with potential long-term negativity by imparting divine love into the mix. Mentally extend compassion and benevolence toward the person who “wronged” you. Finally, have gratitude for another way to witness Source. Accept. Forgive. Love. Extend. Gratitude. Remember that forgiveness is not about the other person. It is about you.

Ego: I can’t do that!

Higher Self: You’re not ready to do that, yet. Raise your consciousness to another level. When you focus on the divine spark of Source within you and within the person responsible for the grievance, you understand that you both are one and one with Source. What you do to others, you really do to yourself.

Ego: I need to think about your words.

Higher Self: Withholding forgiveness hardens your heart and compromises your health. It is divisive and causes separation.

Ego: (looks away)

Higher Self: Inner wisdom breaks open your heart. Over time, your attitude and disposition will be transformed. You’ll hold yourself (as well as the “abusers”) in acceptance, forgiveness, divine love, and compassion. This is a “sure remedy”!

Unity co-founder Charles Fillmore offers a way to practice forgiveness as found in a 1924 Unity publication entitled, “A Sure Remedy.”

“…Sit for half an hour every night and mentally forgive everyone against whom you have any ill will or antipathy. If you fear or if you are prejudiced against even an animal, mentally ask forgiveness of it and send it thoughts of love. If you have accused anyone of injustice, if you have discussed anyone unkindly, if you have criticized or gossiped about anyone, withdraw your words by asking him, in the silence, to forgive you. If you have had a falling out with friends or relatives, if you are at law or engaged in contention with anyone, do everything in your power to end the separation. See all things and all persons as they really are—pure Spirit—and send them your strongest thoughts of love. Do not go to bed any night feeling that you have an enemy in the world.”

Source intends goodness to enrich every aspect of our lives, lessons in bounty. When we do not forgive others and ourselves, we interrupt that circle of fullness. This negatively affects every aspect of our being, physically, emotionally, and mentally.

~paraphrased: Science of Mind, “Our Need for Forgiveness,” Ernest Holmes

You may find this all-inclusive prayer of forgiveness to be meaningful: “I forgive everything, everyone, every experience, every memory of the past or present that needs forgiveness. I forgive positively everyone. I also forgive myself of past mistakes. The Universe is love, and I am forgiven and governed by love alone. Love is now adjusting my life. Realizing this, I abide in peace.”

~Catherine Ponder, Unity Movement

 

From a higher vantage: Recognizing the need for forgiveness and practicing it leads to miraculous heart transformations and increased personal happiness.

©2017 Barbara L. Krause

the tremor twins

Neck tremors:  They came and went without pattern, yet, up to that point, did not affect my sleep or daily activities. Besides, it is often useless to explain the onset of odd quirks in the body. They’re like Minnesota weather—wait for a little while, and things change. I suppose there could have been a number of competing causes: harvesting tomatoes, herbs and raspberries; cleaning up the gardens and yard for fall; decluttering our house and filling a 20-yard dumpster; and preparing for and hosting a yard sale. These stressors were the basis of the “Last Straw Award,” recognized periodically by various compromised parts of my body.

 

Stress or not, this time my encounter with muscle tremors in my neck was markedly different from the first experience. As I lied down to go to sleep, they consumed me. They were unstoppable. They increased in severity. For fourteen hours my head did nothing but wobble, regardless of my body position. For the most part, yogic breathing, meditating, or telling my ego to go to her corner—that I wasn’t in any physical danger—mediate my stressors. Not this time. I tried replacing my trusty pillow with the ergonomic one recommended by my chiropractor, embracing and calming my fear, and thinking of things for which I was grateful (that actually helped for a while). However, the tremors returned. Fear grew ten-fold, and panic set in. It was a vicious cycle. I was certain that I had a serious disorder and was not long for this world.

 

Morning hours approached and, although exhausted, I decided to attend an early yoga class because yoga always makes me feel better. A fellow yogi, who is a neuro-muscular therapist, gently took me by the shoulders and said I would be fine. Fear was the driving factor—I needed to continue my breathing and visioning. The tremors did not go away; they just came with less intensity. I managed my daytime activities to include movements and positions that offered me comfort and support. I had an earnest conversation with Source, indicating that I was knocking at a portal and would appreciate knowing that I had been heard. My all-consuming fear had blocked any chance of realizing Source’s presence. I felt a smidge like a four-year-old, begging for a night light to be left on in my room because of the monsters lurking under my bed. The tremors were scary. I did not want to think about the upcoming evening hours. I was not alone, yet it felt like it.

 

At 9:30 p.m. I meditated on “Calm Lake,” a Buddhist visualization that substitutes calm mental pictures for nagging worry phrases. Still somewhat anxious and feeling subdued tremors, I fell asleep. Some time later, I was awakened by the voice of a familiar friend from the woods near our home—the eight-to-nine-note call of the Barred Owl.

 

During an earlier, twenty-seven month writing project that culminated in PENROE: in another field without time (www.penroe.net), I had researched and written about the Barred Owl. This was the totem animal of the main character of the book. The sound that I heard was its distinct lyric that called to me on three previous occasions during the development of the book. Locating a specific line of poetry among thousands of lines, deciding to diverge from the standard use of dialogue, or using non-traditional ways of shaping the narrative, the Barred Owl’s voice brought courage and confirmation. All energies are connected. Clearly in the thick of things, Source had spoken to me then through the owl and was speaking to me now. Everything is exactly as it should be and all is well. The owl’s call spread calm and peace throughout my anxious body. The tremors subsided. Source had heard my knock, and I was humbled and grateful to have received an answer. In hindsight, Source is always available; it was I who needed more faith.

 

The tremors are still with me, yet their random presence has happened fewer and fewer times. I set appointments with my doctor and acupuncturist. I know Source “has my back.”

 

 

In the quiet moments : When you’re in a situation where you’ve run out of options, feel out-of-control (not that you ever were in control!) and don’t know if Source is truly listening, call on faith and persistence. Know that you can trust Source.

 

 

© 2015 in the thick of things