the applause-o-meter: deserving, loving, fantastic, powerful, amazing

How much do you like yourself?

No, I’m not talking about narcissism: an inflated sense of self-importance where a person has an excessive need for approval, believes others’ feelings are of no import, is unable to handle criticism, and flaunts personal power and privilege. Rather, I’m talking about how you reveal your over-all well-being and optimism through your energy: feelings, thoughts, words, and actions.

Liking or loving yourself during the holidays can be an incredible morale booster, attitude adjuster, and life “just as it is” acceptor.  In general, you need to be your best advocate or cheerleader first, applauding all you are. If you don’t like yourself very much or have times when all you can do is criticize, most likely, you won’t be a glittering advocate. Your heart has grown tight. Think Scrooge! Soften your heart and see the true YOU of love!

Underneath the illusions or stories that your ego wants you to believe, you already are, in this moment, deserving, loving, fantastic, powerful, and amazing. Shifting your thoughts in this way will help you align with a greater energy so that you are clear about the most important qualities of life: love, optimism, and gratitude. You don’t have to bake forty varieties of elaborate cookies and bars (excess), to have the most powerful snowblower (competition), or to be the star community volunteer (glory, so others are aware of your presence) to like or love yourself.

You may not have realized that you have developed certain habits: automatically blaming yourself, jumping into conversations without listening to those around you, or immediately redirecting conversations through self-referencing. If you are having a hard time facing awareness of challenge areas, ask a trusted friend to describe you. Are you someone who is the first to show lovingkindness or a curmudgeon, always raining on someone’s parade? Hearing from someone you trust will help you begin to open to your shadow side. New heart awareness leads to change.

Everything that happens is meant to happen. If you don’t like what is happening or how you think or feel about what is happening, you have the power to invite a different perspective. Louise Hay, founder of Hay House Publishing Inc. and author of eleven plus metaphysical books, talked about this concept in her collaboration with New York Times best-selling author Cheryl Richardson, in You Can Create an Exceptional Life (2011). The degree of liking or loving yourself is key to how you experience life and to the quality of energy that others receive from you. It is up to you.

I decided to try a technique developed by Hay called “mirror work.” The main idea is whenever you pass or see a mirror or any object that reflects your image, gaze into it. The mirror may be permanent or portable. In fact, a portable mirror may be better because you can repeat positive statements at any time, in any location, and when you feel you need the practice most.

Next, say aloud “I love you” with feeling. Say it several times or decide to add other positive statements about yourself.  “Hi, Gorgeous—you big hunk! Wink, wink.” Don’t be shy! If you set an intention that your words reflect your truth, all the better; however, you may feel like you are only reciting or offering lip service. That’s fine, too. The main thing is to create a habit of praising yourself (aka your higher Self, one in the same) in front of the mirror. Over and over and over again. Engage in this practice for thirty days.

In the beginning, I felt awkward and a bit self-absorbed yet was determined to give this exercise an honest try. I’m not sure that I believed it would make any difference.  Ego kept badgering me: What will people think when you walk by a restaurant window and they see you talking to yourself—and you don’t have earbuds? Or, better yet, walk by a window that reflects outdoor seating, and they HEAR you???

Often I was project-focused and forgot to acknowledge my image, especially when I frequented the bathroom. I dutifully returned to the mirror and made my exclamations (I wasn’t about to sabotage the experiment by not upholding my part!). By the end of the first day, I felt lighter and less prone to restating my thoughts. By the end of the week, I felt more energetic and I smiled more. Paul thought I was more loving and calmer.

I haven’t finished week two yet, but am looking forward to seeing what happens with a greater softening of my heart. How freeing is the feeling of an expansive heart. Who knew? Join me! The process is so simple and costs nothing. Stay tuned.

From a higher vantage: Try a little “mirror work” and see how it changes your life. A bonus is that this work not only raises your personal vibration of love, it augments the overall vibration of the planet. It is the gift that keeps on giving year ‘round.

©2019 in the thick of things

links in the ancestral chain

This is the season for imagination and celebration of ancestors: Halloween; All Saints’ Day; All Souls’ Day; Día de Muertos, Day of the Dead, for those of Mexican heritage; Diwali, a Hindu celebration of lights; and Zhongyuan, a Ghost Festival of traditional Buddhists and Taoists. We take time to think about how our ancestors may have directed our lives. There is significance in creativity and vision whether for survival or for fun; in honor, gratitude for, and discovery of meaning in our ancestors; and in an understanding that accepts dying and death as a part of us.

For many, the world seems to be a tense and unyielding place. We are constantly striving to multi-task, reach goals, and, at all costs, thrive.  We are products of our own drive, society’s expectations, and cultural beliefs. Halloween is the perfect time to take a break, unwind, don a costume, and recall earlier spooky stories—maybe imagine what it was like to be an ancestor on this day.

Halloween dates to a seventh century pagan festival, Samhain, meaning summer’s end. This was an ancient Gaelic celebration that honored the end of the harvest. It was also believed to be a time of year when the veil between this world and the spiritual world became thinner. Good and evil spirits were thought to be part of the environment. People wanted to protect their crops and livestock from possible negative influences.

In extending hospitality to the spirits, people offered bonfires, place settings at the family table, food and drink, and costumed visitations to their neighbors. Imagination and the urgency to ward off any evil spirits created opportunities for distractions and socializing. Serious intentions expanded to solidarity, safety, and harmony.

During the ninth century, the Western Christian church moved the observance of Samhain to the day before the Christian celebrations of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day in the early part of November. For many, this pagan day merged with the holy days to become Halloween; however, many churches continue to witness the annual All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day as separate celebrations.

All Saints’ Day, November 1, celebrates the souls of those loved ones and unknowns who have died during the previous year, along with those exemplary souls who were influential in religious history. Since heaven is a state of mind and we are all connected, it is a good time for us to recall our ancestors and the ways in which they were meaningful to us as well as how they lived their lives. Do some of their traits live on in us?

I think of my Grandma Millie and how she was never too busy to listen or converse with me as if I were the only person in her world.  I also heard stories as we planted, weeded, harvested, and canned produce from her garden and made crafts like candy cane tree ornaments. It felt important to be recognized for being helpful and creative. She saw something in me that I didn’t know was there. In reverie, I sometimes imagine what it would have been like to cook with her in a contemporary kitchen with all the amenities—how excited and amazed she would have been. I am grateful for the enduring power of her influence. As a Gran, I look for ways in which to validate my “grands” to follow their hearts. Knowing that everyone has talents, gifts, or important words to offer, we can also honor those souls who were among us yet remain unknown.

November 2, All Souls’ Day, commemorates all souls, living or deceased, regardless of positive or negative circumstances. Let us be grateful for the gifts that each of us represents, for compassion and understanding of any shadow components, and for forgiveness of the humanness in each other. This is unconditional love. Knowing the shadow side of someone and loving that trait into light anyway is the realization of no separation. Benevolence begins with imagination. Loving shadow traits may not be easy, yet it is worth the effort.

Several other celebrations honor ancestors. Mexican Día de Muertos is an annual festivity scheduled for October 31-November 2, where celebrants welcome their beloved ancestors to be with them. The living pray for their deceased family members and friends, wear bright costumes, dance, and prepare special foods. They know that death is a natural part of life and, by facing this reality, they make peace with the inevitability of death. Because of this, they minimize their fear and dread. The 2017 Walt Disney movie, Coco, beautifully and tenderly portrays this remembrance.  We can imagine these aspects and sense oneness with all who celebrate their ancestors.

Diwali, meaning “row or series of lights,” is a Hindu Festival that is celebrated throughout the world. It honors new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil and light over dark. A religious observance, the celebration coincides with the Hindu New Year. This five-day Festival of Lights honors fortune, knowledge, light, the New Year, and love between siblings. Lighted candles, fairy lights, and oil lamps are placed inside and outside of homes, in front of public buildings and line streets. Fireworks are abundant. Though not everyone celebrates Diwali, we can use our imagination to feel the meaning of the festival. When we imagine, we use the functionality of our higher brain, and our energy vibration raises the overall vibration of the planet. Goodness increases for everyone.

Zhongyuan, a Chinese Ghost Festival, symbolizes the fall harvest and the rebirth of ancestors or ghosts. It is believed that their earthly families forgot to pay tribute to them after they died and, if they were treated poorly when they returned, great misfortune would descend on the family. Families offered prayers and food. They also burned items made of Joss paper which represented materialism in the afterlife. The more paper that was burned, the better for the ancestors. Lighted, floating lanterns were thought to guide the souls of the forgotten ancestors to the afterlife.

Imagining what it might be like to participate in this festival expands our consciousness. We feel oneness in light. Our connected energies and higher vibrations take us full circle.When we choose to visualize and direct our creativity, honor and discover meaning in our ancestors, and understand the deeper and broader aspects of dying and death, we are in the moment. This is our gift, and, at some point, our legacy.

“We are who we are because they were who they were. It’s wise to know where you come from, who called your name.”   ~Maya Angelou

From a higher vantage: Make time to thank your ancestors, regardless of perspective or underlying stories. Offer at least one positive comment for what lives on in you. Without ancestors, who would you be?

©2019 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.

the shift

Cooler temperatures, rain, and a hint of color on the trees remind me that a new season is at-hand. After months of spontaneous decisions, modified schedules, and road construction, I’m ready to return to the basics of harvesting, shorter days, and introspection. With this presence, I move into a time of reflection and gratitude.

This meditation is just what is needed to reel me in from my summer adventures and remind me of the value of refocus.  Additionally, it may be used during active dying or by the loved ones of someone who is actively dying.

Meditation IV

My mind states,  An energy greater than I am is within and around me. It is also in all matter and living things.

Yet I am dying, whether living in hospice or waking up to another day at home. I know this is part of the life cycle, yet sometimes I wonder if I have been forgotten. Bombarding thoughts hold me hostage.

Unseen, yet profound, they insist on my witness. Listening, even hearing their drone, is all-consuming. It is too much. I wish for silence.

Now thoughts are beginning to slip away; something else is taking their place. Something inside me shifts, and I suddenly feel different, comforted and at ease.

Clarity.

I feel my heart breaking…O P E N!

I love wildly!

I am not afraid to ask for forgiveness.

I liberally forgive.

I am intensely grateful.

Within, I am soothed; light appears and wholeness emerges.

My heart whispers, Kindness, presence, love without conditions. Finally mind and heart come together.

Hours of reflections follow yet remain unknown to others.

No matter: I am not forgotten.

From a higher vantage: During the interim between seasons, find space and time to consider the depth of things. Surface exploration is a quick look; there was a season for that. Now it’s time to refocus on the significance of the more profound stories. Nothing is forgotten.

© 2019 in the thick of things

engage without reservation

Oneness is challenging to understand and even more difficult to experience. However, I have witnessed it in several instances. One approach is to slow down, relax, and be in the moment. Then choose an object that appeals to the senses: a favorite flower, the spiral of a conch shell, or the song of a bird.  I set an intention for my energy to merge with that of the object. I ask to feel the oneness between us. Everything around me becomes timeless, and a warmth opens me. I feel my vision, and then body, reaching and merging with the object. I am suspended in oneness. Sadly, the sensation doesn’t last long because my focus changes to wanting the experience to continue, and then the feeling subsides. Yet I am elated to have experienced it for a brief time.

In a similar way, exploring the mystery behind the creative process also holds the promise of oneness. In my case, I clear all distractions and focus on new expressions of communicating. I allow all ideas to come to me as my creativity leads. My environment seems to disappear, and I feel ethereal. Timing and how this unfolds is never pre-determined. Work and rework are part of the process, yet the result is so gratifying.

Although no two creative experiences are the same, even for one individual, creativity connects me to something larger and grander. The scope of the idea does not matter. Thoughts from higher realms feed my heart and mind, and new expressions or ways of seeing are born.

Undisputedly, there are many myths about creativity. This dialogue between ego and higher Self explores ideas about the creative process and may also lead to a greater understanding.

Ego:  Why all this talk about creativity?

Higher Self:  Creativity is a way that everyone can align with a greater energy. The present moment calls, and the person moves effortlessly toward and within it. This is the zone of oneness. Expressing ideas in an original way gives an individual great satisfaction. Beginning with the unknown, something emerges.

Ego:  Sounds like change is involved.

Higher Self:  Yes, of the very best kind.

Ego:  Well, you know I prefer the status quo, structure, and known paradigms. Change makes me nervous; I’m afraid of connecting ideas to create something new. What if the result is criticized or [whisper]…I fail?

Higher Self:  Worrying about the small stuff (and it’s all small stuff) holds you back. It takes you out of the moment. It fills all the little spaces in your brain with doubt and blocks your intuition so that exciting, new thoughts go unnoticed. Don’t force thoughts, let them arrive when they will. This is not about your timing.

Ego:  You mean creative thoughts can come to anyone? It isn’t just a select few who are born with them? Or who have muses? Or who participate in a think tank atmosphere?

Higher Self:  Creativity takes place in the moment at-hand when nature, or anything, really, speaks to you—sounds, shapes, wafting aromas, the weather, a sunset over water, or a riveting conversation. Anything that catches your attention.

Ego:  Well, I like the tried-and-true past. It also gives me a foundation for the future. I think present moment creativity is overrated!

Higher Self:  Let me help you experience creativity. First, slow down and then connect with a greater energy of which you’re a part. Now think of something you’re passionate about: It may be one of the traditional arts or wood carving, decorating, making fishing lures, gardening, or photographing.

Ego:  Okay, I think I’m getting it.

Higher Self:  Right here, right now, let your brain and heart go wild. Let time be of no consequence; creativity often involves work and rework. The process may even take your breath away (for just an instant). Yet the result—the magnum opus—is monumental, if only for yourself, especially for yourself. The feeling is difficult to put into words.

Ego:  I like the “self” part but taking my breath away—I don’t know.

Higher Self:  Your imagination collaborates with mysterious energy to yield something new. What you create may even be good, useful, or unique to the community and beyond—or just for fun. Either way, give thanks and feel the vibrations of the Universe applauding.

Ego:  If creativity will make me the star of my own show where I can get applause and feel good, I may have to try it. Hummm, since I’ve been told that I am already creative, I will begin to nurture this quality by focusing on my favorite flower, the lily. Sensing oneness with its beauty and edibility, maybe I will be inspired to create a beautiful dinner entrée.

Thoughts…

Expressions of creativity surround you. Whether in nature or defined from within, know that you can engage without reservation. Feel oneness. Share.

© 2019 in the thick of things

a flash of awe

Long ago and far away. Freedom from allegiance to Britain. Freedom of common defense. Freedom of friendship among states to include assistance to each other in times of disagreement based on unlawful authority, religion, or trade. These freedoms—taken from specific Articles of Confederation—are part of the Declaration of Independence, officially signed on August 2, 1776. This is our nation’s 243rd birthday celebration.

Amid fireworks that symbolize these outward freedoms, guaranteed in writing, let us acknowledge that, individually, we can take the initiative to pursue an inner freedom from personal distress and pain. Yes, it is possible to experience less stress, pain, and heartache.

Ancient wisdom suggests we create this downward spiral for ourselves. How? By expecting more: more experiences, more options, more knowledge or more “stuff.” The choice of “more” often derails us from dealing with the truth of our challenges. We believe we are effectively becoming more aware yet, we are simply chasing illusions.

When we meet with what we do not expect or want, (terminal health prognosis; a lesser job, no job, or forced retirement; unrequited love; or the struggles of raising a differently abled child), we dig in and oppose. Then, going beyond the initial resistance, we end up fighting what comes to us, “what is.”

It is this internal battle that increases our distress and deepens our unhappiness. Resistance may show up as doubt, insistence of preferences, negative thoughts, a constricted or tight heart, or the belief that we know all the answers.

Spiritual teachings share: “There are four unavoidable physical sufferings: birth, old age, sickness, and death. There are also three forms of mental suffering: separation from the people we love; contact with the people we dislike, and frustration of desires.”

~www.rabe.org/thoughts-on-buddhism/cause-of-suffering/

There will always be life challenges—that is the nature of impermanence and humanness. They will never go away. We never will completely solve all problems—not that we should stop trying—yet a more expansive viewpoint could be helpful. Turning to acceptance, the absence of negativity, we begin to be aware of the things we need to release. We will be fine without them—quite possibly, we will live even better. Coming to terms with this revelation is not always easy.

Seeking the little things that bring beauty, pleasure, and connection with a cause greater than ourselves, encourages us to breathe and be in harmony with life. Observing nature, feeling exhilarated from an invigorating walk or run, reconnecting with friends, hearing the story behind a stunning piece of artwork, writing, recreating a family heirloom recipe, or experiencing heartfelt music transcend the mundane.

We experience awe in the moment, no longer overthinking a situation. We accept just this moment, even though it may seem like a limitation. Up close and personal. Within all the freedoms we currently enjoy, we seek some freedom from our situation. Some form of beauty, some small thing that resonates with our heart. We focus and are grateful, stretching out this feeling of beauty and gratitude until we begin to feel calmer and more aligned within. A greater energy moves in, around, and through us.

This is not about “the situation”; rather, it is about each moment that comes to us, as it is, in the thick of things. How do we handle those moments? We practice glimpsing one, small instant and finding awe in it. Gratitude will naturally follow. Then, it’s choosing to find beauty in each moment, over and over, until answers are made known to us.

From a higher vantage: The more we accept the moment, the more stable we are emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. We feel freedom from much of life’s drama and welcome less personal suffering. We are safe and deeply loved.

© 2019 in the thick of things

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