The 4 a.m. Mind Circus

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? One moment you’re deeply asleep, the next you find yourself awake and in a very busy place. “In this ring, see how many clowns can come out of this Mini car! And over in the far ring, we have the rubber woman – watch her stretch and contort herself into postures that will amaze and confound! But, ladies and gentlemen, don’t lose sight of the center ring, where there is so much happening it will literally blow your mind!”

Off you go into your own three-ring circus, filled with thoughts of past hurts, tomorrow’s to-do list, money worries and concerns about next week’s visit to the internist. I know, I was just there this morning…

Taming the Tigers

Worry thoughts seem to have a life of their own, yet like other thoughts they simply arise and exist, often unbidden. When you find yourself jolted back to consciousness with your mind racing in a tight little wheel, what strategy are you most likely to pick once you realize you’re not going back to sleep?

  • Get up and turn on the TV or computer.
  • Fix yourself a comforting bowl of cereal or pick at last night’s mashed potatoes.
  • Lie awake in bed, tossing and fretting as any and all worry thoughts become bigger and scarier, as they tend to in the wee hours of the morning.

Yup, been there, done that…and those first two can seem mighty comforting and distracting, just what you think you want in that situation.

But much like the circus performers who work to ‘tame’ the tigers and other large, wild animals, your thoughts can also be tamed and made to work for rather than against you. It’s simply a matter of having the right tools and getting in plenty of focused practice.

Words of Lovingkindness

Maybe you haven’t been having trouble thoughts lately. Maybe your new year is off to a great start, with a clear sense of vision and purpose for the 12 months ahead. Whatever state you are in, taking a mindful, direct approach to increasing compassion can always serve and support you exactly where you are.

I am drawn to any practice that opens, fosters and celebrates the intelligence of the heart. This is why I have always loved the Buddhist practice of metta or lovingkindness, a subject I return to again and again in my work and in my life – one good thing you can never get too much of!

We use the phrases to remind us of our innate goodness and desire to be kind and loving, which is often easier in theory than practice. We also use it to train the mind to shift away from worry thoughts when they begin to overtake us past the point of usefulness. (Yes, there is such a thing as useful worry, like “gee, did I pay the mortgage this month?” or “wow, better slow down with the road so slippery.”)

Here are the phrases as I first learned them and still love to say them. There are many variations, including simply “may I feel happy, may I feel safe” but this set of four lines feels poetic and invokes a deep sense of possibility in me.

Begin by first saying the phrases for yourself, taking as much time as you need (who needs kindness more at 4 in the morning?!):

  • May I dwell in the heart
  • May I be free from suffering
  • May I be healed
  • May I be at peace

Then say them for people you love; for neutral people in your life, like the supermarket cashier; for people by whom you feel challenged or actively dislike; and then for all people everywhere.

Happy 2010. May this practice serve you well, nourish your heart and help your head steer clear of the tigers and the clowns…

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Everything Is Possible, Nothing Is Guaranteed

The law of attraction tells us that we are the creators of everything that comes into our lives, right? I’m sure you’ve experienced this miraculous energy yourself – the phone rings and it’s the friend you’ve been thinking of all week. Or you get very, very clear on everything you want in a new house and find it – at the right price too! – with the very next house you look at.

But what about when things don’t happen according to your carefully guided thoughts and desires, or when something unexpectedly wonderful occurs? What law is operating then?

The Unlawful Nature of Laws

The thing about these presumed laws of the universe is that they are not as predictable as one would hope. We may have free will, but there is also the Great Mystery of which we are all a part.

For example, I had the great fortune of working with Jessie at a holistic fair. In a brief 20-minute session, I learned that she had recently made huge changes in her life – ending a marriage, moving to a new town and finding different work – and did some energy balancing and releasing to help her assimilate the positive and negative stresses of all that change.

A few days later, I got an e-mail telling me that after our short time together she had an amazing experience. In her words, “I mentioned to you during that time that I felt a heaviness in my chest. You pressed on that spot, and you did something else miraculous because the heaviness/burden is completely gone. I have been working on getting rid of that feeling for years, with self healing, forgiveness and working with healers. It had diminished but never quite went away. In 15 or so minutes with you, it was gone.”

I have to be totally honest here – I have no idea what I did to create that kind of result, and couldn’t have planned it if I’d tried! Yes, I was fully present with her in those few moments together. Yes, I held a strong intention for her to receive as full a healing as possible, and worked in her heart area for much of the time. But I know that something else – some unknowable ‘X’ factor – was operating with us on that day. Everything coalesced for Jessie, supported by whatever I did, to create a profound and life-affirming shift in her.

When Intention Misfires

And then there are people like Anne, who I worked with over the phone after a series of e-mail exchanges. She was struggling with lifelong patterns that resulted in a mysterious illness that kept her from working and fully engaging with life. She believed fully in the power of intention and the law of attraction, yet her efforts to heal weren’t getting her anywhere.

Anne kept using language like “I just want my life back” and “I can’t figure out why nothing is changing, I’m trying so hard!” I mentioned to her that sometimes the intense focus on everything being good and right is so at odds with reality that our system doesn’t know what to believe. The paradox is that when we keep disowning ‘negative’ or ‘undesirable’ aspects of ourselves, they grab hold even tighter; but if we allow all things to exist as they are, something in us softens and releases, and real magic can occur.

In trying to only resonate with health and vibrant wellbeing, she was setting herself up to believe that if she didn’t get better it was somehow her fault. She wasn’t working hard enough, affirming clearly enough or somehow was just not enough. When I gently asked “what if your physical symptoms never really go away, could you still see yourself as whole?” she was stymied and uncomfortable. Her belief in the law of attraction was so strong she could only see that as defeat.

Needless to say, I never did hear from Anne again. My kabbalistic healing perspective of holding all things in wholeness and recognizing that everything, including the bad stuff in life, exists because of the same mysterious creative force, was too radical a notion. As much as I can’t fully take credit for Jessie’s healing, I am pretty darn sure that if Anne had continued opening to this way of thinking, she would have experienced healing whether or not her physical symptoms abated.

Holding Opposites Makes Us Whole

The point here is that anytime we codify something as law, we lose something in the process. It often creates conflict and opposition, which are not great partners of healing. The most fertile ground for miracles comes from recognizing that our will is only part of the story. Allow the mysterious nature of God, the Universe, or whatever you want to call the potent realm of creation, to move through you and see what is possible.

As the Buddhist saying goes, “May you bloom like the lotus, at home in the muddy waters.”

What Color is Your Guilt?

Everything is drenched in green these days – magazines, newspapers, HGTV shows — heck, there’s a whole cable network dedicated to Green Living! Do you feel like you’re doing your part, or does it seem more like a terrible burden to keep up with the Greens?

Picking Your Battles

First, give yourself credit for what you are doing to create less of an impact on the planet. Have you traded your plastic bottles of water for a reusable one? Check. Are you recycling as much of your paper and plastic refuse as possible? Check. Are you buying more locally grown produce and minimizing your purchases of fruits from Chile and New Zealand? (Good news: first of the season northeast strawberries are coming soon!)

As much as I admire people like Barbara Kingsolver — the gifted writer who wrote so touchingly about her family’s commitment to eating only locally raised food in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – I am far from a localvore (don’t you love these new words that spring out of ideologies?). One of my favorite things about winter is the abundance of succulent pink grapefruit from Florida, which makes those snowy mornings worthwhile. I can’t imagine eating only apples and pears ALL…WINTER…LONG.

And, just last week, someone who is a vegan tried to convince me that if everyone in the world went vegan, global warming would cease to be an issue. Hmmm…maybe. Sounds good. But while we might all agree that eating less meat overall, and more humanely raised animals when we do, is better for individual and planetary health, the plain truth is that not everyone is meant to be or willing to be totally vegan.

Yeah, So?

My point here is that life is a very large and complex place, and we are here such a short amount of time. A little guilt might not be such a bad thing if it spurs you to action, but too much and you zap all of the joy and color out of existence.

We are all part of the great chain of being…we can do our part to live lightly and responsibly, but in truth our individual actions are only a tiny part of the bigger picture. How we engage in those actions, however, is of great importance.

The best antidote for guilt is gratitude. When we take a moment to consciously connect to what we are doing or eating, and gratefully acknowledge all of the energy, people, and animals that went into our now being able to partake of something, we relax. We feel humble. We feel connected rather than apart from the very things we rely on for our nourishment and survival (or play). We find ourselves naturally drawn to eat more slowly, and possibly more healthfully, when we remember to thank those that gave their lives so we can eat – including the carrot and the zucchini.

Whatever we are truly in relationship with, we are less likely to abuse, misuse or discard thoughtlessly. So when the web of guilt starts to close in around you, weave your way out by making a compassionate connection to all that exists. If more of us did that, we just might save the world…