What Lights You?

Abstract sun illustration

It is just a few days now till we experience the shortest amount of daylight, at least here in the Northern Hemisphere. And this year, it will occur within about two-and-a-half hours of a new moon — talk about dark!

Solstice coincides with holy days that inspire us to kindle lights — Hanukkah menorahs; Christmas lights on trees, houses or in windows; Kwanzaa candles; wood burning stoves and fireplaces lit for warmth, both literal and communal.

There is also a drive to be lit from within. To know what really lights us up and then act on that. It can be as simple as a cup of your favorite tea and a book, or as complex as creating packages and delivering them to shelters and food banks as you move through overly full days.

This season can be harsh, even in its directives to be merry and happy. Some feel the loss of loved ones more acutely as gatherings are planned. Some don’t have large gatherings to attend and wish they did — others feel pushed to attend parties and celebrations when they’d rather be home hibernating.

It’s rarely as straightforward as it seems.

This week, I urge you to be the light that you seek. Let the prompts below become a beam that will lead you through this darkest, most sacred time.

Prompt #3 — What lights you from within? How can you cultivate and spread more of that light, in even the smallest ways? Are you happiest offering it to others, or is there a deep comfort that comes from holding it and basking in the glow of your own sweet fullness?

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Are You Cultivating Kindness — For You?

Tree of knowledge growing out of book
The more I spend time teaching lovingkindness meditation, the more awed I am at human beings. How we think, how essentially good we are, how hard we can be on ourselves, how many difficulties life throws in our path.And still we show up. We persevere. We help, we heal, we nurture. We strive to be better people.

What’s really amazing to me is how kindness grows and spreads when it is cultivated. It lives within us, and yet it sometimes is hard to access — especially for ourselves.

Imagine a garden where the ground got tilled, seeds got planted, and then…nothing. No watering, no weeding, no pruning or deadheading occurred. Sure, you’d get some tomatoes and cucumbers, and the zinnias would still bloom.

But your garden would not thrive. Your harvest would not reach its full capacity. There would be a lack of fullness, lushness and thriving.

We Really Are Not So Different

There’s a lot that we can live with and endure, but that’s not the same as thriving. You can be a basically good, kind, warm person and still beat up on yourself, still take things hard and suffer “the slings and arrows” of life.

Which is why cultivating a practice of lovingkindness, self-love and self-care is so important. Not as shoulds, but as acts of deep connection, witnessing, support and love. And there’s no better place to start than with you, for as one of my favorite teachers puts it, “Life is so difficult, how can we be anything but kind?”

After all, you watch the cooking channel to pick up tips on technique and bring them into the kitchen, then share the yumminess with family and friends. You play lots of games of Words With Friends and begin to see ways to make more points using less letters. You pick up five pound weights to strengthen your biceps and feel greater ease in carrying groceries.

So too, the active practice of compassion and lovingkindness will strengthen the muscles of your heart and soul, allowing you to offer even more of your essential goodness to the world.

How will you cultivate kindness for yourself today?

Every Moment Matters

lighttree
 
Last week I wrote about the beauty of melancholy…this week, the world is trying to come to grips with the unbearably sad manifestation of depression in Robin Williams’ suicide.
 
It may not seem so in the busy flow of daily life, but every moment we are making choices. Even if we’re simply staring into space lost in our own thoughts, we are not doing something else.
 
It isn’t always easy to see the forest for the trees, even for those who have never experienced any gradation of this illness. And yet, every moment we have a choice. What helps you to remember that in your darkest moments?
 
I know a thing or two about clinical depression. I have struggled with it myself, and have close friends who do as well. I sprang from a family history fraught with it, including a grandfather who received electro-shock treatments back in the days when it was not nearly as nuanced as it is now
 
And yet I am far from an expert. There are many shades of blue, some much darker and more menacing, more all-encompassing, than others. Either way, the forest can feel awfully dense and dark on any given day.

We live in incredible times. There are huge advancements in science and technology; at the same time, there are huge regressions in human compassion and connection. Yet touchstone moments like these tend to shine a high beam on our shared humanity.

I’m not trying to bum you out…
 
…I am, however clumsily, trying to make a point about self-care. It is not negotiable. It is not simply a little nicety you add on at the end of a busy day, in the form of a bubble bath or a glass of wine. Those things might relax you, but they barely scratch the surface of a deeper calling.
 
Self-care is an act of faith. It is a choice that needs to be made day by day. It is different things for different people with one common thread — that it connect you to your breath, to your soul, to the part of you that exists beyond this three dimensional world.
 
You needn’t believe in a particular religion to tap into the sacred. Yet it is a necessary ingredient for basic human nourishment, balance, and support. It is a muscle that needs to be strengthened, because our world and culture offer so many things to weaken it.
 
Every moment you are making a decision — do I believe this heavy, mean thought or replace it with a better one? Do I stay stuck on this couch or get up and do the dishes, just to get moving? Do I reach for the belt (or the pills or the gun), or reach for the doorknob and take one step out of this room? {I don’t in any way mean to belittle Mr. Williams’ clearly consuming pain; and I imagine many of us have at least once thought that it would be easier to simply check out.}
 
There are two sides to every story, every rough moment, every sense of “it will never get better.” The world exists in pairs of seeming opposites — my prayer is that you always find a middle way.

The Beauty of Melancholy

thumb_Young-Woman-in-a-Shawl

 
Why talk about melancholy at the height of the summer? Isn’t this a time for endless barbecues, vacation plans and bicycle rides, for the joys of fresh peaches and cherries?
 
It is all of the above and more. What I love about melancholy is that it is equated with being pensive, as opposed to depressed. 
 
We feel a bit blue because we are allowing ourselves to feel everything — the joy of a gorgeous summer day mixed with sadness at the loss of a parent or the pain of a dear friend. Both of my parents died in summertime, and it has given this season a bittersweet blend of uplift mixed with wistfulness. And I know I’m not the only one who experiences this.
 
But What About Positive Thinking and the Law of Attraction?
 
Ah yes…that old “what you focus on is what you create!” conundrum! How does that fit in? Aren’t we supposed to always be putting our attention on what we are grateful for, what we want to draw into our lives, what is light and bright and inspired by a higher energy?
 
There’s a difference between being positive and being real.
 
Yes, you can be sad and content at the same time. When you don’t push away honest feelings of sadness, anger or fear, they don’t pull you out of flow, they are part of it. Being with is not the same as wallowing in.
  • Being with allows space for those feelings to not get stuck, but move through and out.
  • Being with keeps us honest and gives us valuable information about what is working in our lives and what is not.
  • Being with is the internal equivalent of a sudden summer storm. Emotions can blow through, leaving us calm, clear and cool in their wake.
Peace of mind comes not from latching desperately on to the high points of the season. It comes from letting all of the seasons of your life breathe fully in every moment, rising and falling like the swells in the ocean. 
 
The way out is always through. Trust in your melancholy moments; relish the wisdom inherent in letting joy marry sorrow. The wheel always keeps turning; remember that and you’ll never get stuck in one place.

Sticks and Stones…

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You remember that old nursery rhyme, don’t you? No, this isn’t going to be a post about how words have power and we need to be careful how we speak, especially to ourselves (though it’s true and we must).

 
It is about taking time for allowing the sacred to emerge, even though it’s around us all the time. It’s in everything, even the random sticks and stones we find on our path.
 
Yesterday I took a Medicine Walk, a time-out-of-time to be in nature, ask for guidance and receive answers in wonderfully wordless ways. It wasn’t a walk for exercise, though I’m sure I got some. It wasn’t a walk to simply enjoy the beauty of the natural world, although I certainly did that (especially after being inside over many hot, rainy days).
 
It was a walk with intention — the intention to get clarity about how I can serve you more deeply, how I can fulfill my own spiritual path more honestly, and how to bring even more of the sacred to light in my daily life.
 
It was not a time for lots of thinking and figuring things out, but for letting things come to me and allow myself to be fully with them. Over the course of the next week or so, as I reflect on what I felt, saw and noted in my little journal, the meanings will begin sorting themselves out in my cognitive mind.
 
One of the first things I came across was this Y-shaped twig; the Y was for me a big YES, though I’m still not certain to what. To my quest being worthwhile, perhaps…
 
And towards the end I felt compelled to pick up some stones to bring home, and chose the two above out of the thousands I walked by. They now all sit on my altar, to remind me of that sacred walk and where their larger meaning might eventually become clear.
 
Or maybe not. That’s the thing about the sacred — it exists in liminal space, beyond conscious thought. Theorizing might be fun and offer some sense of meaning in an often seemingly random world, but ultimately our spiritual journey is about becoming comfortable with the Mystery. 
 
That is where the true power lies…sticks and stones and all.

 

Everything’s In Everything

4 Nested White Bowls On White Background
How are you feeling today? Any little aches or pains floating into your awareness, or are you feeling at ease in your body at the moment? How about your emotional body — any stresses or strains poking at you as you read this?
The reason I ask is because so often, feeling well lends itself to being in a good mood. And, conversely, pain, discomfort or distress of some kind inclines the mind towards what we consider a “bad day.”
Yet the two needn’t always correlate.
Like the bowls above, our experience in each moment is nested in layers of awareness. 
 
And wholeness, true healing and awakening, comes when we are able to let everything be just as it is. No pushing back, no resistance, no need to escape.
That doesn’t mean we don’t wish for things to feel better. Right now, I’ve got low back pain (unusual for me) and wonky sinuses — and I am fine. Would I prefer no pain and a clear head? Sure. But at this moment, they are not derailing my overall sense of wellbeing. They are part of it, just one of the small bowls nesting in the larger bowl of being.
Focus On The Big Bowl
 
It’s so easy to contract our awareness around an unpleasant experience. It’s how we are naturally wired.
The next time you become aware of a distracting discomfort, try this. Take a moment to change your focus. Like water running through a series of graduated bowls, allow your awareness to flow from the smaller realm of the physical, through the wider bowl of emotions, to the larger bowl of existence in which mind, body and emotions are held. 
Connect with that which is larger than your individual self, your particular aches and pains. You might even try connecting energetically to others, known or unknown, who are feeling the same pain and discomfort. Remember that you are not alone — send love and compassion to them, breathing in the discomfort and breathing out pure love and wishes for healing.
You will be amazed at how sending comfort to others will comfort you as well. And remember, you are always held in the big bowl of being.

Who’s Holding You Up?

Angel winged
True confessions time: recently I had slipped into a place of feeling disconnected from any sense of true direction and clarity. It’s painful when that happens, on several levels. I can have plenty of clarity for my work with other people, but when my personal compass goes wonky it’s not easy to recalibrate it on my own. This echoes one of the first things I ever heard from my Kabbalistic healing teacher: all healing happens in relationship.
So earlier this week I reached out for help and had a reading with a wonderful intuitive healer. And one of the things she asked was if I’d been calling on my spirit guides for support.
GULP…this is an area that I don’t usually talk about, and often actually forget. I tend to be the type who’s not only a fiercely independent do-it-yourselfer, but who keeps it pretty simple. I tend to focus on mindful awareness and lovingkindness.
I may ask for help from the larger Mystery, but I don’t usually tune into specific beings or angels or guides for support. It’s not that I don’t believe they’re there; it’s more that it feels a bit lame or weak to always call on them for help. Or I simply forget that such energetic guidance exists.
Oh…my…goodness. What I’ve really forgotten in those moments is that it’s more a point of strength than weakness to remember that I am not, in fact, alone. The greater truth is, the container of existence in which I am held offers more support than I can even take in.
 
Have You Met Your Guides and Angels?
 
Perhaps you’ve experienced the sense of a presence when you walk alone and fall into a rhythm that attunes you to the natural world. Maybe you have a regular meditation or prayer practice, yet wonder where it’s landing when your words go out into some large, vague container.
Here’s the funny thing I’ve learned about spirit guides and other supportive disembodied beings — they’re around us all the time, just waiting for us to ask for assistance. To the logical, objective mind, it can feel like we’re just making this stuff up, or a little bit crazy, or both!
But when we relax into remembering that we are part of a larger matrix of life-force, magical things can happen. The first time I had this experience at a meditation intensive decades ago, I was astonished by the palpable feeling of being surrounded by loving beings as the teacher invited us to connect with our guides. And it still astonishes me every time. because as I said, I often forget to ask…<insert chagrined grin here>
If this has been your experience, I encourage you to take the time to tune in and open to receiving support once again. And if you’ve never done this and think it sounds cuckoo, I encourage you to try it anyway. It may bring an unexpected sense of having something solid and reassuring to lean into. Even if you are just making it up, it still feels better than struggling alone.
After all, the Talmud tells us that every blade of grass has an angel urging it to “grow, grow!” Why wouldn’t the same be true for us humans?
Here’s to your growth and spiritual support…

 

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