Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Circle with No Exit

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. ~Albert Einstein

I’ve been stuck for months in a thinking pattern about a certain situation in my family. When I think about it, I get upset. When I get upset, I want to “fix” the situation so that I won’t be upset. Fixing the situation involves getting the other people in this situation to behave in a different way, meaning, of course, the way I think best. If they would behave differently, then there wouldn’t be a problem and I wouldn’t be upset. It’s so simple.

As you can imagine, I’m not having much success with this approach. I know that, and yet I repeatedly return to it. It’s so easy and fall into that familiar pattern of making my own happiness and peace of mind dependent on someone or something else. I have to repeatedly remind myself that my well being is my own responsibility and is based on my own thoughts. When I remember this, then for a few moments I feel serene. Until I start to feel resentment towards the others for “making” me have to remind my self of this over and over. Sigh.

As my tai chi teacher observed, it’s a circle with no exit. As long as I am in that plane of consciousness, there will be attack and defense, gain and loss, us and them, winning and losing. And at the root of all of those...fear.

How do I get out of this circle? Ah, perhaps the solution is in the question. I can’t get out of the circle by searching the circumference for an opening. There is none. In accepting the reality of the circle, I’m accepting my confinement within it.

But what if I render the circle meaningless by shifting to a different plane, one where there is no us versus them, where this and the other dualities no longer exist? Where fear transforms from arrows into flowers like the evils hurled by Mara at the enlightened Buddha?

On this plane, the other people in my family situation are not sources of anger or frustration or anxiety. They are angels sent to me, leading me to my meditation cushion instead of my soapbox, opening my heart with compassion instead of closing it with judgment, teaching me to trust the basic goodness of the universe instead of my futile efforts to control it. And instead of feeling resentment, I am humbly grateful.

Here, there are no circles.

related posts: No One Wins in Court; On the Razor’s Edge

Friday, January 25, 2013

Seeking Silence in a Noisy World

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. ~Psalm 62:5

As I continue to explore my word of the year “Wait,” I find that I am seeking more quiet time. This coincides nicely with my recent transition to an empty nest. There are many ways to experience quiet time.

I might sit with a cup of tea and read.

I’m trying to step up my meditation practice. I’m finding that the noisiest place on the planet is right inside my head!

My martial arts practice, oddly, seems to be a time of inner quiet, even though my body is busy.

I am going to block out more time on my calendar to go to my cabin in the mountains, where I am unplugged from phone and computer and TV. In fact, I’m headed up there today for the weekend.

I might experiment with a time of being unplugged here at home during the week, perhaps Sunday mornings.

Do you have any sort of regular quiet time? I’d love to hear about it.

As I just mentioned, I’ll be away from the computer for a couple of days. Because I use comment moderation (to avoid spam), there will be a delay in seeing them. Your comments are valued and valuable, so please go ahead and leave your comments, and they will magically appear on Sunday as soon as I get back. I look forward to hearing about your experiences with silence.

related post: Silence is Golden; The M Word

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Kind words are short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless. ~Mother Teresa

High school was not a happy time for me. That’s an understatement. By my senior year, I had abandoned all my former delight in learning, and would not regain it until I was in college and then in graduate school. I was coming of age in the late 60s when everything was in flux. I embraced the chaos, finding that the anarchy of my generation matched the maelstrom inside my soul. School? Just one more thing for me to rebel against.

But there was one shining light. Mrs. Goldfarb, my Spanish teacher. I remember little of what went on in class. Somehow, Spanish was the one subject I could apparently learn by osmosis. Without doing the homework or studying, and in spite of sleeping through class much of the time, I managed to ace tests while watching my scores in other classes plummet.

But it wasn’t the grades that endeared Mrs. Goldfarb to my troubled spirit. It was her presence. I can’t even remember a single conversation we had. But I remember her smile, and I remember the feeling I had when I would sit by her desk and visit with her when I should have been doing something else. I remember feeling always welcome, always cared about, always accepted. Her presence was the one place I felt at peace.

Decades later, as I approached my fiftieth birthday, I thought about what she had meant to me. I tracked her down in her retirement and wrote her a letter, not even sure she would remember me, but wanting to say thank you for what I remembered of her. She wrote back a lovely and gracious letter. I was glad I had written.

More years passed. Then last year, I received a note from a woman who identified herself as Mrs. Goldfarb’s daughter. Her mother had died, and while going through her things, she discovered the letter I had written. She told me how much my letter must have meant to her mother, because her mother did not usually keep letters. And she told me how much it meant to her to read the tribute I had written. I wrote back, expressing my condolences and repeating my gratitude for what her mother had meant to me.

Another year since then. Yesterday, I was looking in an old file for something and discovered Mrs. Goldfarb’s letter that she had written in response to mine. In it, she graciously thanked me and went on to tell me how teaching had enriched her life. It was beautiful. It must have meant a lot to me, since, like Mrs. Goldfarb, I so rarely keep any letters.

Tomorrow I’m going to send it to her daughter.

related posts: Kindness Memories; Thank Someone Today

Thursday, January 17, 2013

God Made Time, but Man Made Haste (Irish Proverb)

I'm in a hurry to get things done
Oh I rush and rush until life's no fun
All I've really gotta do is live and die
But I'm in a hurry and don't know why....
~Roger Murrah and Randy VanWarmer

I was just reminded in a book I’m reading of the story about Joshua Bell, a famous violinist, who agreed to perform incognito as a street musician in a Washington, D.C. subway station. For about forty-five minutes, he performed on his 300 year old Stradivarius, worth 3.5 million dollars, some of the greatest violin music ever composed. Only days before, patrons had paid at least $100 to hear a similar performance in Boston’s Symphony Hall.

As you can guess, most people hurried by, some dropping change in his case without breaking stride. Only seven people out of over a thousand paused to listen. I probably would have been one of the ones racing by, except when my son James was a young boy.

I lived in Paris from the time James was two until just before his fourth birthday. Before that, I lived in Bangkok, Thailand, and then in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. My years in the tropics had not prepared me for keeping a young child occupied during the cold, dark winter. James’s autism, although still undiagnosed at that point, made finding something to interest him even more challenging. I missed the ubiquitous lizards of West Africa. Chasing them around our large, walled-in yard kept James active and happy for most of his waking hours in the pleasant temperatures year round.

That first winter in Paris, I was hard pressed to find anything so engaging. But one thing captivated James – the street musicians in the Paris Metro stations. So we spent many afternoons riding the rails, following the sounds of music echoing through the tunnels until we found the source. There James would stand, enraptured by whatever music was being played, swaying with the rhythm, sometimes conducting, oblivious to the hectic hoards that otherwise might have made him anxious and agitated.

In time, we became familiar with which musicians would be at which stations. Our favorite was a group from Peru. Their Andean instruments and melodies could keep us enthralled for an hour, happy and warm underground, as bundled up crowds scurried from one train to another or up the escalators to the wintry streets above.

Were any of them famous? I have no idea. But their music haunts my memory of treasured times with James. Such beauty and joy...all for free if we just pause. So generous.

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.  ~Lao Tzu

related posts: You Are Here; You Have To Be Present To WinThat Man Might Be Jesus

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Like Magic, Only Real

If you haven’t seen this commercial, take a look. It’s only 30 seconds.

We think these guys are silly to believe that turning their labels out will affect the trajectory of the football. And yet...

People have asked me about the dedication in my book, “To Todd, who found the part that looked like me.” Here’s the story.

Years ago, I was in the emergency room with a pain in my solar plexus that I described as a 12 to the doctor who asked me to rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10. After the initial shock of being attacked from the inside out, and after finally getting some chemically induced temporary relief, I understood intuitively that there was nothing medically wrong with me.

I write those words “understood intuitively” like intuitive understanding was a common occurrence for me. It wasn’t. I’m a lawyer by profession and by calling. For most of my life I relied on what I could understand and defend through rational analysis, on what I could “prove” based on facts. Nevertheless, lying in that emergency room, I was sure that medical tests would reveal nothing. I was right. And I knew just as surely that I was going to die if I didn’t change my life. I couldn’t explain it, but I knew it.

My naturopath suggested that I consult Todd, whom she described as an energy healer. I was desperate enough to pick up the phone and call, and too embarrassed to tell anyone that I was going to pay someone who was no doubt some sort of crackpot looney. This was all way too woowoo for me.

At one point during our session, I suddenly felt something that defies description. The best I can do is to say that I felt a whoosh, like a sudden gust of wind, but on the inside. Afterward, when I asked Todd what happened, he said that among other energy healing techniques, he had done a “soul retrieval.” When pressed, he explained that he went to a place where there were parts of souls that had been lost, found mine, and returned it to me. With rising anxiety and incredulity, I challenged, “How do you know that part was mine? What if you put someone else’s soul fragment in me?” He replied calmly and matter of fact-ly, “It looked like you.”

Well, what can you say to that?!  I went on with my life, but there was a distinct and subtle shift that happened that day. True, I was doing many other things, too, to change my life. But my life did change, from one based in fear to one based in joy. Can I prove that what Todd did affected the outcome? No. But I can’t prove that it didn’t either. I came to accept that there are things that bring about greater joy and peace in our lives that I can’t explain through rational analysis.

Energy healing is way out there, I admit. But what about kindness? I can’t explain why kindness makes me happier, but it does. Forgiveness. Generosity. Smiling. Prayer. Gratitude. Meditation. Friendship. Compassion. Love. Faith. All these enrich my life and fill my (now retrieved) soul with light and joy. How marvelous. Like magic, only real.

As the commercial says, “It’s only weird if it doesn’t work.”

related post: Resolution or Revolution

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Warrior of Waiting

Engage!” –Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the starship USS Enterprise, ordering the helmsman to engage the engines

This word “engage” has been tapping my mind lately. Interesting, since my word of the year is “wait.” Hmm.

There are lots of ways to wait. In fact, most of us spend at least a little time every day waiting. We wait at a stoplight, we wait for water to boil, we wait on hold, we wait in the doctor’s office. Everyday waiting.

In my last post on waiting, I described some situations in which waiting allowed me to think twice, and think better, before speaking or acting. That was more like pausing waiting.

So how is this word “engage” connected to “wait”? When my word came to me for this year, it didn’t come to me as cautionary word. It came to me as a deep soul call to action, a reminder that grace is not something I can demand or grab, but something that is given to me. And it is given to me when I am not distracted, but when I am alert, open, fearless...engaged.

I accept the challenge. My spiritual practice this year will be waiting, sacred waiting. I will be a warrior of waiting.

They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.  –Isaiah 40:31

Monday, January 7, 2013

My Favorite Day

I saw this cartoon on Tess Marshall’s Facebook page recently. I immediately thought of two things.

First is the funny email that circulates every year or so about a dog’s diary and a cat’s diary. I’ll just include the dog’s diary here.

From a  Dog's Diary
8:00 am - Dog food! My favorite thing!                        
9:30 am - A car ride! My favorite thing!
9:40 am - A walk in the park! My favorite thing!
10:30 am - Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!
12:00 pm - Lunch! My favorite thing!
1:00 pm -  Played in the yard! My favorite thing!
3:00 pm - Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!
5:00 pm - Milk bones! My favorite thing!
7:00 pm - Got to play ball! My favorite thing!
8:00 pm - Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!
11:00 pm - Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!

Anyone who has a dog or knows a dog will appreciate this!

The second thing I thought of was my daughter Mia. When she was little, she was the most exuberant sprite on the planet. Everything was her favorite thing. Every day she would ask me what I was making for dinner, and when I answered her, she would invariably exclaim, “That’s my favorite food!” This was true even if I was making something I was sure she had never tasted before.

Many of us were like this as kids. But somewhere along the way, we stopped embracing life. We became teenagers. When Mia and her sister were teens, they would look at each other and roll their eyes or make a face when I told them what I was making for dinner. Finally, one day, feeling especially unappreciated and a bit cranky, I responded to their inquiry about what I was making for dinner by saying, “We’re having whatever y’all are making. Please let me know when dinner is ready. I’ll be in my room.”

They thought I was kidding, but when I walked off and settled into my favorite chair with a book, they knew the jig was up. I don’t remember what we had for dinner that night, but I remember telling them how much I appreciated their cooking and how good the food was. And from then on, the kids (the guys, too) were responsible for dinner on certain nights. And we all learned, or rather re-learned, to welcome the gifts that life brings us.

Seeing this Pooh cartoon brought back sweet memories of raising my children, all the more poignant as I am learning to embrace my empty nest. Which is, I must admit, quickly becoming my favorite thing!

related post: Wow; It's a Dog's Life

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Wisdom of Waiting

I can think. I can wait. I can fast. –Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse

I’ve only had my word of the year “Wait” for a few days, and I can already tell you that waiting is not such an easy thing to do. Even so, my word has already taught me some valuable lessons.

I’ve used it while meditating to bring my attention back to quiet alertness. I’ve used it to remind myself to listen more and speak less. I’ve used it when poised to do something or say something that, after waiting a moment to take a few breaths, I thought better of.

Just this morning, I was about to call a company that recently provided some services at my house. I was irritated about something and intended to complain. Instead, I waited until after I had a cup of tea. I wrote an email to the company and rather than complain, I asked questions about what I was concerned about. The company had someone at my house within twenty minutes who looked at what I was concerned about and took care of it immediately, with assurances that they wanted me to be completely satisfied. Wow. My concerns were addressed and everybody felt much better than if I had opened the conversation with a criticism.

Of course, it’s true that I might not have gotten such a good outcome, but regardless of the company’s response, the point is that I was so much happier with the approach I took. And the approach I took was a direct result of waiting before acting on my initial impulse.

In another example, I have been thinking about a decision I need to make. It’s not urgent, but I have been pushing myself to decide just to get the issue resolved. Yesterday, I realized that waiting for more clarity will lead to a better decision. The only urgency is my own impatience. I put it aside.

As a bonus, because I had put it aside, I was able to make a more pressing decision on another matter with much more focus and confidence because my mind was not cluttered with needless distractions.

So although my initial reaction to my word was sort of a disappointed “Really?” I’ve come to see fairly quickly that I’m going to get a lot of mileage out of this humble word. Just “wait” and see.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Word of the Year 2013


No, not you. Me. Yep, “wait” is my word of the year. Didn’t see that coming.

In fact, I was pretty sure it was another word. I spent the last week savoring that other word, looking up quotes, imagining it, exploring it. And then, as New Year’s Eve moved from afternoon to early evening, and I was starting to get ahead of myself a bit by thinking of my post today, I was reading another quote about that other word, and the word “wait” glowed on the page, calling my attention to it, gently nudging the other word away.

Hmm, I thought, not a very sexy word. A bit dull, even tedious. Not glittery and exciting like my word for 2012, Shine. Waiting well is not something I’m known for. On the contrary, I’ve more often heard myself described, even by those who love me, as, well, impatient.

But I’ve gotten so much better, I protested to this word. I can belly breathe when I get stuck in traffic. I can entertain myself while standing in line to check out. I can almost stay calm when I get handed off through a series of recorded messages to end up still not talking to a real person. Almost.

Really, I don’t think this could possibly be my word, I thought. The word waited. (The irony of that is not lost on me.)

Well, there was that time last summer, which still haunts me, when I reacted quickly and forcefully in fear. I still wonder what would have happened if I had paused to breathe and think before doing what fear told me to do.

And what about all those times when I interrupt? I’m so eager to speak my piece, to move the conversation along, to get things resolved, to override the other person’s opinion.

I have been thinking a lot lately about how scattered I feel, how my mind kittens are high on catnip, how I fidget restlessly while trying to settle in prayer or meditation, how multi-tasking seems to be my default mode because I can’t focus on one thing at a time, how I’ve been yearning to deepen my spiritual practice.

But waiting is not what I had in mind. The word smiled.

So I said the word...and waited. The effect was immediate. My body relaxed, my mind calmed. Like sinking into a soft pillow or warm water. I felt alert, filled with quiet anticipation. My soul expanded, open.

I remembered my word of 2011, and yielded. My new word, Wait, glowed happily and settled in.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.  –Psalm 130:5-6

Do you have a word or phrase that will guide you this year? If you have written about it and would like to include a link to your post, I invite you to do so.  May 2013 be a year of abundant blessings to us all.