Thursday, April 29, 2010

Be Water

If you could meet anyone, anyone at all, living or not, who would it be? And why would you want to meet that person?

I would want to meet Bruce Lee. I have long admired him, first as a martial artist, but later because of his life story and his spiritual wisdom.

Here is one of my favorite quotations from one of his interviews. “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

When I was young I studied Tai Chi. I remember one exercise in particular. Our teacher would stand face to face with a student, about half an arm’s length apart. Feet were stationary and could not move. The student would try to push the teacher back, forcing the teacher to take a step to maintain his balance. As the student pushed on his shoulders or chest, the teacher simply melted away from the touch without avoiding it or resisting it. It was like trying to push water.

At some point, the student would be so extended that the teacher, using only his thumb and forefinger, would lightly grasp the student’s wrist and with a gentle pull throw the student to the ground. No matter how many times we participated in this exercise and vowed not to be caught off balance, our efforts to push invariably resulted in a quick trip to the floor while the teacher remained serenely unaffected and unmoved.

I have learned over the years that many arguments can be handled the same way. The best way to win an argument is to make the issue a non-issue. If there is nothing to fight about, the argument disappears. Here is an example I learned from a friend.

There used to be a lot of fighting about money in our house. The kids would want something that I said no to. Or the kids would argue about some perceived inequality. “You bought her new jeans, so you have to buy me new jeans.” (Even though I had just bought her new shoes.) Or someone would not be satisfied with a less expensive version of the desired designer goods.

Then an amazingly brilliant friend shared the money method in her family, which I quickly adapted for mine. On the first of each month, I gave each child the same amount of money. I continued to pay for food, shelter, and education, but the kids had to pay for everything else with their own money. That included all their clothes, entertainment, birthday presents for friends, etc. When the money was gone, then that was it for the month. No credit and no borrowing from anybody else.

The fighting stopped immediately because there was nothing to fight about. Everyone was treated the same and had control over their financial priorities. (I retained veto power of course.) The bonus was that the kids learned to budget, save, and be careful and thoughtful shoppers. It was undoubtedly one of the best things I ever did as a parent. (The system involved a bit more than what I have described here, but this is the basic structure. If you are interested in trying this for your family and you want to discuss it further, send me an email and I’d be glad to answer any questions. Naturally, each family would want to adapt this to their own children and their own values.)

The point here is that, thanks to my friend’s idea, I was able to make money a non-issue. Now when I find myself in conflict, I try to pause and explore the possibility of reframing the issue to avoid opposing sides. I have found this to be a powerful as well as a peaceful approach.

Be water, my friend.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Out of the Mouths of Teens

I wrote before about my daughter Lily’s life mantra “Everything will be all right” (Zen Girl). My other daughters have given me great sayings, too.

“I’m okay with that.” I got this from my foster daughter Grace. Grace would use this in the context of considering whether something was worth objecting to. Or when she was negotiating for something she wanted. It signified that the situation might not be optimum, but she was willing to accept something as good enough. I like it because it reminds me to choose my battles carefully. Much of what I get all worked up over isn’t really worth the energy I waste on it. If I can say, “I’m okay with that,” I’m acknowledging that something isn’t exactly what I want, but it is acceptable. I can choose to feel okay about it and move on.

“I’m just saying....” I also got this from Grace. She would use it when she had to get in the last word, or when she wanted to emphasize her point without escalating the situation. She had a disarming way of leaving that last word trailing as she threw up her hands signaling she was done. This has become sort of a special phrase between us. Sometimes I will text her “Love you. Just saying....”

“It’s all good.” This one is from Mia. What she really means when she says this is, “Okay, Mom, I get it. Please stop nagging me.” But beyond that meaning, it is a pleasant reminder that, at some level, it really is all good. It tells me to stop pushing and take a breath. I use this one with myself a lot!

“Speak wisely.” This one is courtesy of Lily’s friend Jamie. Lily and Jamie grew up together in an orphanage in China and were both adopted as teens. I took Lily to visit Jamie not long after they were settled in their new homes. This was the first time I had met Jamie’s mom. We took the girls to a mall. Jamie’s mom and I decided to sit and relax in the food court while the girls went shopping. Jamie smiled and admonished us to “speak wisely” before running off to join Lily. I have no idea what she thought we were going to say, but I cherish this phrase and the memory of her delivery of it.

It reminds me of Buddhism’s Eightfold Noble Path, which includes Right Speech. It teaches us to ask three questions before we speak. 1) Is it true? 2) Is it necessary? 3) Is it kind? If we can answer all three questions yes, then we are assured that we are speaking wisely. As a person who appreciates the power of words, I value Jamie’s advice deep in my heart. And while I don’t always follow it, I have stopped on more than one occasion and considered these questions before deciding to keep silent.

So it’s all good. And I’m okay with that. Just saying....

Monday, April 26, 2010

Love Your Death

“Hokahey! Today is a good day to die!” Crazy Horse exhorted his warriors with this cry as they went into battle. (Hokahey means something like “Let’s do it!” or “Let’s roll!”) Were they suicidal? I don’t think so.

The Tao Te Ching says, “He who knows how to live can walk abroad without fear ... because he has no place for death to enter.” I don’t think the Sioux warriors were seeking death. But they were not afraid of it, either. By living without fear of death, they lived fully. Sure, they died. We all do. But they didn’t die in advance, if you know what I mean. Death had no place to enter into their time of living.

Two years ago my word for the year was Prepare. The word came to me as I was going through my usual New Year’s Eve ritual at my cabin. (Word of the Year ) It was getting close to midnight and I still didn’t have a word. As I was listening to the sound of the creek outside, I heard the word Death (not my word because my word is always a verb) and then moments later Prepare (a verb). Hmm, not exactly what I was hoping for. How about Enjoy, Relax, or Nap? But I knew with an inner recognition that Prepare was my word. As ominous as is sounds, I didn’t get the sense that this was any sort of premonition or threat. It seemed more like loving advice. Not a death knell, but rather a wake up call.

In her last months, as my mom was dying of cancer, we had some wonderful conversations. I asked her questions about her life, like what were her happiest memories, what was she most proud of, what did she regret. Her answers were not the answers I would have predicted, so I discovered things about her that I treasure still. I asked her how she felt about dying and she responded that she was curious. Curious. Like the French philosopher Rabelais, who reportedly said on his deathbed, “Je vais chercher un grand peut-etre.” I go to seek a great perhaps.

Mom was not afraid to die. She was like the monk who stood calmly before the samurai warrior brandishing his sword. The warrior bellowed, “I can run you through without blinking an eye.” When the monk replied quietly, “And I can be run through without blinking an eye,” the samurai dropped his sword and fell at the feet of the monk, acknowledging his superior power. Mom’s ease put me at ease, with death and with her death.

I was sitting by the creek during the summer of the year when my word was Prepare. Everything was lush and green. The birds were chirping. Everywhere was life abundant. As the sun’s warm rays sparkled on the dancing water, I heard the message “Love your death.” And I understood. Preparing for and loving my death release me from fear. I am free to love my life, to rejoice in the precious gift of each moment.

Every day is a good day to die. Hokahey.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Quick Fix

Sometimes I need a little on the spot quick fix when I feel myself starting to tense up, starting to get “hooked.” Here are a few tricks. Nothing you don’t know already, so this is just a reminder. I was surprised to find out, however, that there is an actual physiological connection. Studies show that there are certain things we can do with our bodies that have an immediate benefit on our moods.

Smile. We smile when we are happy, but in fact we can make ourselves feel happier if we smile. The movement of the facial muscles sends a message to the brain – feeling happy! Besides, look at yourself in the mirror while you alternate smiling and not smiling. I know my face looks much younger when I smile. Instant plastic surgery!

Take a deep breath. A slow deep breath sends calming messages to our minds. I’m often a shallow breather. A few deep breaths stretches my muscles and releases tension. And the extra oxygen makes my mind feel more alert. Instant coffee!

Do what your mom told you a thousand times and sit or stand up straight. Straightening our spine and neck opens up our energy channels. Good posture mimics the bearing of someone who is confident and feeling good. Just like with smiling, we can trigger the emotion with the motion. And my back feels so much better. Instant massage!

Experiment – Stand up straight, take a deep breath, and smile. Not only will you feel better, but the people around you will feel better, too. Instantly!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Expecting Ponies

“My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.” –Montaigne

There were two boys. One was an optimist; the other was a pessimist. The pessimist was left in a room piled high with every imaginable toy a boy could ever desire. The optimist was left in a room piled high with horse manure. After awhile, the pessimist was found sitting in a corner of the room, the toys untouched. When asked why he wasn’t playing with the toys, he replied sullenly, “Why bother? They will just break anyway.” The optimist was discovered laughing with glee and digging like crazy in the horse manure. When asked about his strange behavior, he exclaimed without missing a beat, “I know there’s a pony in here somewhere!”

Recently I was anticipating an event I was going to attend. I was not looking forward to it. I was pretty sure I would be bored. I didn’t think I would fit in with that particular crowd, so there was not going to be anyone for me to talk to. I thought about ways I could justify not going, or excuses for leaving early. By late afternoon, I felt a headache coming on, and that added to my conviction that the evening was going to be a major drag.

As you’ve probably guessed, the evening was a total delight. The event itself was stimulating and enjoyable. The people were friendly and easy to talk to. The time flew and I came home pleased and excited about new things I had experienced and new connections I had made.

I had wasted a lot of time prejudging the event in a negative way. I spent the time leading up to the event in a bad mood and fretting, when I could have just as easily chosen to anticipate having a good time and enjoyed my afternoon.

Even if the evening had turned out to be less than excellent, I could have chosen to make the best of it and have fun anyway. I could have kept an open mind and perhaps discovered something or someone interesting. At the very least, I could have chosen to be at peace in the present moment.

The optimist, after all, did not find a pony in the pile of horse manure. But he had a joyous time looking.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Start Well > End Well

All’s well that ends well. But it is more likely to end well if it starts well. How do you start your day? What is the first thing you do when you wake up, even before you open your eyes? Before you get out of bed? As soon as you stand up?

Typically, my brain kicks in pretty fast when consciousness first surfaces, like a hamster jumping on a wheel and taking off, going nowhere. I start thinking, planning, anticipating–automatically, with no real organization or accomplishment. Before long, I have loaded my plate with more than I can do and I’m worrying about all the things I won’t get done. My thoughts are scrambled and my brain is already tired. And I haven’t even opened my eyes yet! Someone once told me my brain is a scary place. They have no idea.

My brain reminds me of a dog I used to have. She was a great dog, but a bit high strung with too much nervous energy. When left to her own devices, she would get into trouble. I realized that she needed a job to do. She was happy when she had a task. Fortunately, she was smart and easy to train. (This is where the comparison to my brain breaks down.) When she was able to direct her energy in healthy and acceptable ways, not only was she a happier dog, but she was also a big help to me. (Except for the morning I sent her out to get the newspaper and then found all my neighbors’ papers on my front porch. She was so proud.)

In an earlier post, I compared training our minds to training a puppy. (What Does Your Homepage Look Like? 2/8/10) Although my mind is long past the puppy stage, I realized that my brain, like my dog, needs some directed activities. So I set out to develop some getting-my-day-started tasks for my brain so that we would both be happier.

Now when I first awaken into consciousness, I say a prayer. Sometimes it is the Lord’s Prayer, because when my brain isn’t fully awake that one is easy to remember. Sometimes it is my own variation. Something like–My father in heaven, I praise your holy name. May your perfect love be fully manifested in all the earth as it is in heaven. Thank you this day for my daily bread. Help me forgive others as you forgive me now and always. Leave me not in temptation but purify my spirit, that I may glorify you in all my ways. Amen. Sometimes I just say thank you.

I open my eyes and find my dog curled up next to me under the covers. We greet each other and look out the window to see what the day looks like. It always looks good. I take a few deep breaths and climb out of bed. If you spend much time around dogs or cats, you will notice that they frequently do some serious stretching when they get up. A good model for us, so when I stand up I do a few stretches. A few more deep breaths. And I’m ready for the day. Well, okay, I am ready to make it as far as the shower.

Monday, April 19, 2010

What do Real Americans Look Like?

I wrote last week about how the labels we attach to people change when we “switch chairs.” (See Who is a Terrorist? 4/13/10.) Yesterday I read a column by Roland Martin, a commentator for CNN, in which he drew parallels between the Confederate soldiers and Al Qaeda fighters. I am not going to address the merits of his comparison, but it got me thinking again about how hard it is sometimes to sit in another person’s chair.

My friend in L.A. who does stand up comedy (and who is Catholic) wonders about the ubiquitous presence of the crucifix. “Is this the first thing Jesus wants to see when He comes back? Is this a happy memory?” It’s all in the perspective.

Martin’s column was in response to the controversy around the Virginia governor’s designation of April as Confederate History Month. In his proclamation, the governor omitted any reference to slavery, which sparked debate about what Confederate history really means and whether it is something to be proud of or ashamed of.

As a child of the South, a white child, this is my history, too. I remember having a discussion with my nephew years ago when he was a young man attending college in Mississippi. He wanted to put a Confederate flag sticker on his car to show school spirit. He had no political intent at all and didn’t associate the symbol with its history. He did not appreciate how this symbol could offend people. Even when I explained what the symbol might represent to African-Americans, he thought I was making a big deal out of something that was, in his mind, innocent and fun.

Interestingly, I read another column by Roland Martin today defending Tea Party protests. In it, he separated the cherished right of people to protest government actions from the indefensible rhetoric voiced by some. Shouting racist slurs and death threats at members of Congress does nothing to foster vigorous and healthy political debate. Sadly, our political dialogue has begun to sound like flashbacks to earlier times during the Civil Rights Movement and perhaps even back to the Civil War, now coincidentally (or not) back in the news.

During the last presidential campaign, one candidate giving a speech referred to the crowd as “real Americans.” Who do you think was in the audience? More significantly, who wasn’t? What is your image of a real American?

My daughter, who grew up in China, sometimes uses the term American to mean white. When she does, I remind her that she is an American. She rolls her eyes and says, “You know what I mean.” And I reply, “Yes, and you know what I mean!” My children are all of different races and ethnic backgrounds. Some were born in the United States; others weren’t. Their cultures of origin are Buddhist, Christian, Muslim. They are all United States citizens. They are real Americans.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


When my daughter Mia was young, one of her favorite books was Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes. I loved this book, too, because the little mouse Lily was so much like Mia. Lily was a feisty fashionista with an exuberance for life that couldn’t be contained and sometimes got her into trouble.

There was a line in the story repeated by various characters. “‘Wow,’ said [someone]. That was just about all [that person] could say.”

“Wow” described Mia’s attitude about life. Everything was an exciting adventure. Whatever I suggested, Mia was front and center. Did she want to run errands with me? Oh yes, that was her favorite thing to do. Whenever I told her what we were having for dinner, she would shout with glee that it was her favorite food, even if she had never tried it before.

Before Mia joined our family, I had shopped in the same little grocery store for several years without knowing anyone there. After Mia came along, she quickly made friends with everyone who worked there, as well as any number of random shoppers on any given day. I would find her helping Eddie stock the shelves in the dairy section, or chatting up some shopper in the produce section.

One evening after a busy day at kindergarten, Mia excitedly told me that she had seen the principal putting on her lipstick. I thought it was odd that the principal was walking around the school applying makeup. On further inquiry, Mia explained that she had been sent to the principal’s office as a consequence for her inability to keep her hands out of Marissa’s long hair during story time. I detected no remorse. The principal and I had a good laugh the next day as we discussed the effectiveness of this consequence for Mia’s misbehavior.

Mia coveted Marissa’s long hair. Impatient with the slow growth of her own hair, Mia improvised. She took a large pink T-shirt and stretched the neck around her head like a headband so that the T-shirt hung down her back. She became an expert stylist. The T-shirt could be put up in a bun or a ponytail, or (I’m not kidding) braided. One day as she was headed off to the mall with her grandmother, she was draping the T-shirt over her shoulders like shiny tresses shimmering on a shampoo commercial. “Will everyone think I have long hair?” she asked me, looking momentarily doubtful. “No,” I said smiling. “Everyone will think you have a pink T-shirt on your head.” She paused, eyeing me suspiciously. Then, with a final flip of the T-shirt, she said confidently, “No, they won’t.” And off she skipped, laughing and holding her grandmother’s hand.

“Wow,” I said. That was just about all I could say.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Which Wolf are You going to Feed?

The story is told of a boy who is angry and upset, and goes to his Native American grandfather for advice. The grandfather tells him, “I have two wolves inside my heart. One of them is kind and understanding. He lives in harmony and peace. The other wolf is vengeful and cruel. He rages, but his anger changes nothing. The two wolves fight inside me to see which is more powerful.”

The boy asks his grandfather which wolf will win the fight in his heart. The grandfather responds, “The one I feed.”

I read that the life span of any emotion is 1½ minutes. After that, we need to give it more energy to keep it going. We need to feed it. (This gives “nursing a grudge” a whole new meaning.) We can choose.

Pema Chodron tells a story from The Search for a Nonviolent Future by Michael Nagler, about a Jewish couple, Michael and Julie Weisser, who lived in Lincoln, Nebraska. They began to get threatening phone calls from the Ku Klux Klan. The caller would threaten to kill them, destroy their property, and harm their friends.

The Weissers eventually figured out that the caller was Larry Trapp, the Grand Dragon of the Klan in that town. They knew that Larry was in a wheelchair and had a hard time getting around. During one hateful phone call, Michael spontaneously offered to give Larry a ride to the grocery store. Silence on the other end. Then Larry thanked them. They began to call him to offer whatever kind of help he needed. They brought him a home-cooked dinner. Finally, one day Larry took off his Nazi ring and severed his connection to the Klan.

The Weissers understood that behind every act of cruelty, there is always fear. They understood that Larry was calling for love. And they chose to feed the wolf of forgiveness and compassion.

People do and say mean things for the same reasons we do–out of hurt and fear. Being honest with ourselves is the first step towards changing our habits. When we feel a strong emotion based on fear–hatred, anger, vengeance–we can remind ourselves that it will pass quickly if we don’t revive it. We can pause and choose wisely which wolf to feed.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New Look!

Yes, you are in the right place! I thought I would experiment with some new templates from time to time. Just for a change.

Who is a Terrorist?

Terrorism is a word we use a lot these days. We are engaged in a war on terror. We identify certain people as terrorists. When you think of the word terrorist, what is the first image that comes to mind? The first image, without thinking about it.

What does your terrorist look like? Is it a man or a woman? From what part of the world? Of what faith? Of what race or ethnic group?

Okay, now imagine that you are a Native American living on the plains in the 1800's. You are cooking breakfast early one morning and you hear horses coming. Soldiers ride through your village killing everyone while other soldiers play music. Would you call them terrorists? What did they look like? Where were they from? Of what faith? Of what race?

Or describe a “revolutionary.” What is the first thing you think of? Is it the revolutionary soldiers we revere today who fought for our independence from England? Were they called heroes in England? Or terrorists?

In her book Taking the Leap, Pema Chodron talks about the word “haji.” Soldiers serving in the Middle East learn to use this word to dismiss or dehumanize civilians, as in “They’re just haji.” But in Islamic culture, the word is an honorific term for one who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Words. Words that we attach different meanings to. Meanings that connect us or separate us.

One time I was walking in the hills outside a charming Bavarian town in Germany. I followed a path through the woods to a small church, peacefully nestled in the trees. As I approached the building, I could see that the outside walls, protected by colonnades, were covered with pictures. When I got closer, I saw that they were old photos of soldiers. Young men sent off to war, probably from the nearby town. Loved and honored by their families. Some of them might have killed or been killed by our young men sent off to war. Standing there in front of hundreds of pictures, it was hard to identify the heroes and the villains.

I remember an argument I had years ago with my soon to be exhusband. I wanted the divorce. He didn’t. I wanted him to understand my reasons. I wanted him to agree that what I was doing was best for both of us. I desperately wanted him to see that I was not a bad person. We sat in two chairs facing each other and argued for hours. I was exhausted. I’m sure he was, too. Suddenly, I had what I can only describe as an out of body experience. I found myself sitting in his chair, looking through his eyes at me. I felt his feelings and thought his thoughts. He felt angry at my stubborn refusal to acknowledge what I was doing. I was destroying everything that he cared about. I was breaking his heart. He felt helpless to stop me. His perspective was crystal clear to me and completely understandable. Reality depended on what chair I was sitting in.

It is hard to imagine what the world looks like from the chair of a terrorist. The very label identifies that person as “other.” Not like me. Dangerous to me, to people I love, to a country I love. I remember that if I separate myself from anyone I separate myself from God. How can I open my heart and feel compassion for this person? I remember the example of Amish grace and forgiveness. I remember that everything we do or think or say is either an expression of love or a call for love. I drop the label. Namaste.

(Please understand that nothing in this post is intended as a political statement or as anything disrespectful to our brave men and women in uniform. I seek only to share some of my own struggle to see everyone as a child of God.)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bloom Where You're Planted

I had the good fortune to live overseas in three different countries with very different cultures. In two of these countries, I helped form professional women’s groups to share information and experiences. The group in one country grew to have over 150 members from over 30 countries. Meeting all these interesting women and hearing their stories was one of the highlights of my expatriate life. Out of these stories, two themes emerged.

First, those of us who were employed had almost all gotten our jobs through networking, especially with other women. When we operated as a community, all of us were less isolated and more successful. Because of the practical and emotional support we received through networking, we made a decision to keep the group as open as possible so that we could be a resource for as many women as possible. The term “professional” was used only to distinguish the group from other women’s groups that were organized for social or charitable purposes. The door was open to any woman who wanted to participate. No one was excluded.

Looking back, that was an important lesson that shaped my future. I learned that my life is enriched when I don’t set prerequisites for who is “qualified” to be in my life. I learned that all the differences we perceive between ourselves and others (cultures, professions, faiths, experiences, opinions) expand our lives when we view each other with genuine interest and good will rather than judgment or fear. And I learned that underneath those differences, we really are all the same.

Second, almost all of us were working at things other than what we were trained to do. A scientist was an author, a nurse was a consultant, a homemaker was an expert on local crafts, and a former Playboy bunny was a antiques dealer (no kidding).

This second theme was a surprise to us, so we tried to understand why so many of us shared this common experience of working outside of our original fields. We realized that most of us came into our new environments with certain labels that were part of our self-identity. I am a businesswoman, I am a lawyer, I am a stay-at-home mom, I am a teacher. As we tried to find a place for ourselves, these labels became restrictive. When we dropped the labels and were able to focus instead on our talents and interests, our self-identities became more fluid. We were able to recognize new opportunities that had been obscured by our rigid labels.

This wasn’t always easy. Many of us had a lot invested in identities we had worked hard to establish. These labels were marks of pride and accomplishment. And security. Dropping them meant leaving our comfort zones. There was disappointment and anxiety. But there was also liberation. And growth. And new confidence. Those of us who were able to let go found that we not only thrived but were also happier.

Another important lesson. We can’t always control the circumstances we find ourselves in. But if we can let go of expectations and use the resources at hand, we can bloom where we’re planted. And if we can bloom where we’re planted, then wherever we’re planted will become our happy place.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Calling for Love

I would like to go back to the topic of our connection to others. (See 3/4/10 Zero Degrees of Separation.) Our connection with others is related to our connection with God. (As always, I mean God in whatever sense is meaningful to you.) I believe they are one and the same. Many studies show that our happiness is directly related to the connection we have with others.

Great concept, but hard to put into practice. How many times a day do I separate myself from someone by anger, judgment, criticism, fear, resentment, seeing someone else as “other”? Let’s face it, there are plenty of folks out there I really don’t want to be connected to.

I have a friend in Los Angeles who does stand up comedy. She says she supports the military policy of banning women from combat. “Why,” she asks, “would I want to go halfway around the world to wear a ton of gear in the middle of the burning desert and shoot at people who have done absolutely nothing to me, when I can sit in the air-conditioned comfort of my own living room and take out a few people who really matter?!”

Been there. So if maintaining a connection to other people is the price of admission to my happy place, I sometimes need, as Patti LaBelle sings, a new attitude.

A Course in Miracles teaches that love has no opposite. Love is all there is. (Wasn’t that the title of a Beatles song? No, that was "Love is all you need." Also true.) When something happens that blocks our awareness of love’s presence, we experience that separation as fear. When we feel afraid, we reflect our separation from others through negative thoughts, words, and behavior. In reality, all we are doing is seeking reconnection. We are calling for love. Everything we do or say or think is either an expression of love (when we are connected) or a call for love (when we are separated). Everything is one or the other. It’s that simple.

When I can remember this, I find that it is much easier to keep my heart open. For example, if someone is unkind to me, instead of reacting defensively, I can take a deep breath and think, “Man, you are seriously calling for love.” My attention shifts away from my own hurt feelings. My ego is not engaged. I can stay connected at that sacred level. Then whatever I do or say or think is an expression of love.

If I am unable to make this shift, if I react with separating thoughts or words or deeds of my own in retaliation, then later I can see that I was calling for love myself. And yes, sometimes I am the one who initiates the call for love by being unkind to someone else. When I see my own behavior in this light, it is easier for me to accept responsibility and apologize.

Characterizing negative thoughts, words, or behavior as a call for love helps me stay centered, no matter how big or small the hurt is, no matter whether it is directed at me or someone else. If I can reinterpret a perceived attack as a call for love, then my heart stays soft and open. Forgiveness and compassion flow naturally to others and to ourselves from an open heart. When my heart is open, I stay connected, and my words and thoughts and actions are expressions of love. When I choose to express love, I am exactly where I want to be–in my happy place in the presence of the divine.

Monday, April 5, 2010

I Am Not a Prophet, Too!

I just read a book by Mark Hughes, the title of which begins I Am Not a Prophet.... The author’s point is that we don’t need to be anyone special to hear our inner guidance. The answer we seek can only be found within. And here’s the good news–everyone can find it.

Okay, okay, I get that. But maybe if I just read one more book, go to one more presentation, attend one more meditation workshop, listen to one more teacher.... Maybe if I keep looking out there, I will find what I’m looking for in here. So I keep reading about meditation, about listening to my inner guidance, about forgiveness, about compassion, about being here now.

If I could just get to that darned nirvana place, my life would be so much better. I would be calm and joyful all the time. I would be wise. My life would be eternally blissful. I would never, ever be angry or judgmental or unhappy or even cranky. I would be a better person. A much better person.

Pema Chodron says that this way of thinking is a subtle form of aggression. (Sometimes not so subtle, I think.) We blame ourselves or others because of what we perceive as some lack in our own life. If it weren’t for my boss, the government, my childhood, my neighbor, my ex, the terrorists, my faults, the weather, my life would be great. And my personal favorite, “If it weren’t for my mind, my meditation would be excellent.”

Instead, she says, we don’t need to change anything about ourselves. We can still be our crazy, angry, impatient, insecure, silly selves. We don’t need to trade ourselves in for the new, shinier, upgraded model. Instead, we can make friends with ourselves. We can start where we are. Here. Right now.

We can start by suspending our judgments long enough to get to know who we are. Imagine that you are out on a date with yourself. A first date. What would you ask yourself? How would you answer? Treat yourself with the same curiosity and courtesy you would give your date.

If we befriend ourselves, we might do less searching outside and more finding inside. I was recently feeling a bit unsure about teaching this 10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place program. The critic started whispering. “Who do you think you are to teach anyone about this? What credentials do you have? What makes you think you have anything worthwhile to offer?” I took a deep breath and listened more deeply.

A different voice (much friendlier) encouraged, “Live it. Then teach it.” A gentle reminder to get out of my head, where I spend way (waaaay) too much time. I am not a prophet. No one special. Thank God.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Habits 3

Here is a cumulative review of some habits that will help us reset our homepage (What Does Your Homepage Look Like? 2/8/10) and stay in our happy place. Some of the suggestions are relevant to more than one step.

This list is intended to be a reference, not an overwhelming to do list. Maybe something will pique your interest and you might want to focus on that for awhile. Maybe not. It’s all okay.

If you want to read more about any of these ideas, I have included a representative post title and date in parentheses, or you can click on the step number in the labels at the end of this post to see all posts relating to that step.

Step 1. Give yourself permission to be happy.

When you become aware that you are resisting happiness, remind yourself, “Fun is good.” (Fun is Good! 2/10/10)

When you have a choice to make, choose in alignment with your passions. (Choose Happiness 2/19/10)

Step 2. Decide if you want to be right or happy.

When you find yourself getting drawn into an argument or tempted to correct someone, ask yourself if the argument or the correction is worth the emotional price you might pay to be right. (I’m Right–So What! 3/28/10)

Step 3. Give up the delusion of control.

When you sense your anxiety rising because things are not turning out the way you planned, take a deep breath and say to yourself, “The life-span of the butterfly is precisely the right length.” (Man Plans God Laughs 2/14/10)

When life presents you with a game change, try to open rather than close your heart and see what happens. (Game Change 3/1/10)

Remind yourself that “Everything will be all right.” Because it will be. (Zen Girl 3/26/10)

Step 4. Feel your feelings.

Try to accept your feelings. All of them. Just acknowledge them and say, “This, too. This, too.” (Inviting the Demons to Tea 2/19/10)

Cradle your feelings. Think of your feelings as a child needing acceptance and comfort. (Cradling Our Feelings 4/2/10)

Step 5. Make haste to be kind.

As you go through your day, notice people. Remind yourself that the person you are noticing might be Jesus. (That Man Might Be Jesus! 2/12/10)

Play the kindness game, alone or with others. See how many nice things can you do for other people as you go through your day. (The Kindness Game 3/16/10)

Step 6. Judge not.

Before you jump to judgment about a situation, remind yourself, “Who knows if it is good or bad?” (Who Knows if it is Good or Bad? 2/26/10)

Remember that every time you separate yourself from another person by seeing them as “other,” you separate yourself from God. Look deeper until you find your common ground. (Zero Degrees of Separation 3/4/10)

Step 7. Practice compassion.

When you get “hooked,” practice compassion on yourself. (Oops, I Did It Again! 3/13/10)

Remember that you might be the only Bible someone ever reads. (What are You Writing in Your Book? 3/31/10)

Step 8. Forgive everyone.

When your heart feels hard, contemplate Amish forgiveness. (From the Ashes 2/23/10)

If you are unable to forgive someone, bless that person every time you think of her. You might say, “God bless [name] and please help me mean it." Repeat until you do! (God Bless That Ol’ @#&! 2/25/10)

Step 9. Develop an attitude of gratitude.

When something rubs you the wrong way, say, “I’m grateful for that!” Keep thinking of things to be grateful for until you really are grateful. (I’m Grateful for That! 2/17/10)

Try to break the habit of complaining by substituting a positive thought or comment. (I Had a Great Week, Thank You! 3/6/10)

Step 10. Be Here Now.

Attend. (Word of the Year 2/4/10)

Pause (use a stop sign as a reminder!) and take a breath. Check in with your senses. (You Are Here 3/27/10)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Cradling Our Feelings

When I moved to the Northwest, my son had just turned four. I knew something was not right, but I didn’t have a word for it yet. After months of diagnostic testing, I had a word. Autism.

Suddenly I was in a new world, a world I did not want to be in. A world I didn’t know how to navigate. A world I only wanted to escape from.

There were lots of people to meet that I never would have crossed paths with. Experts. Parents. Doctors. Teachers. Specialists. Therapists. Support groups. I was flooded with way too much information. I couldn’t begin to sort it out. I was numb. No time for feelings. I had to function. I was alone with a son I loved who had a problem. I had to fix the problem. That is what I knew how to do and I did it very well. Fix problems. Find a solution. Make everything all right.

Someone said I should talk to Sherry, a mom/expert. Sort of the mother superior for all the novice moms. I took James to her house. She was so friendly. I thought she was so happy because she knew how to make this all go away. She was going to share the secret cure with me. She had this great big smile on her face as she exclaimed, “I love autism!” Wow, I thought, will I ever love autism? I was pretty sure I wouldn’t.

We sat at her kitchen table while James played with her son. She was so perky as she laid out the future and told me what I needed to do. I stared out the window. At one point she was talking about another family. She sighed, shaking her head, and confided that they had not even grieved yet. Grief. Now there was a concept I had not thought of. She seemed to think that it was important. I filed that away for another day, another year, another decade.

Years passed. People would often say how well I handled everything. What a good mother I was. But I didn’t feel that way. I didn’t fix the problem. I failed at the only thing that really mattered. Not rational, I know. But guilt and shame are rarely rational.

And still I did not grieve. But grief, like any other feeling, will not be denied forever. (How the demons broke out is a topic for another day.) So I learned to live with grief. Chronic grief. My son will always be autistic, so my heart breaks every day.

This is what I wrote about it years ago–

This is my sadness. It speaks. I am here with you always. You cannot get away from me. Your struggle is useless. Your world view irrelevant. I am here in your heart. In your soul. You cannot cut me out. There is no medicine to make me disappear. When you struggle, I dig in deeper. Your struggle makes me heavier. My density increases. I press on your heart. I am the sadness of your life. The sadness of James, of your losses, of your fear. I will be with you always. Give in to me. Do not struggle so. Learn to live with me. Then the pain will not be so great. Accept me. Embrace me. I am your child. Love me.

Eventually I listened. I did stop fighting. I surrendered. And the pain was not so great. I learned that living with the fear of feelings was much worse than living with the feelings. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us to cradle our feelings, all our feelings, like a baby. When I feel the sadness now I rock it tenderly and sing it lullabies. I think about all the other people in the world who grieve. I know that whatever I feel has been felt before, and is being felt this very moment, by millions of people. I reach out to them. I am filled with compassion for us all. Our hearts are one. And in that oneness I feel peace.