Saturday, July 22, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, July 22, 2017 - Sunflowers Follow the Light

Occasionally I begin writing a column with a question to which I don’t yet know the answer. When I do this, I find the answer seems to unfold itself as I write. It is an act of faith that the answer will be there once the question is so boldly asked as to set it in print. But we must then remain open to how that answer will arrive.
One of my favorite old spiritual jokes describes a man on his roof amid the waters of a great flood. He has prayed to God to save him, but sends away a rowboat and then a helicopter because he expects God will accomplish the task by means of the miraculous not the physical. Be sure you see miracles in rowboats. You never know from whence they came. Be also careful with your expectations. Light comes best where there is no obstruction (read: expectation).
There’s an old bit of flower lore which states if you seek a truth unknown to you, put a sunflower under your pillow and truth should be revealed the next day. I like this thought. Especially because it’s essentially a prayer for light; for illumination. And once you ask for light, light is exactly what you’ll get. But again, be careful what you wish for.
If it is a truism that when we deliberately face the light we feel better, then why not do it on purpose? What if we could get around the edges of our mental barriers and inner confusion about the state of our lives by simply facing some light? I mean this quite literally.
It can be as simple as choosing to orient ourselves for a moment in the direction of even so much as a lit candle just for the sake of what it represents of the bigger picture. We usually can’t manage to get out of our own way enough to really find the root of our problems. So start small. Ask for light. Notice it everywhere. Gradually light will become your predominant experience. Both literally and figuratively. It’s not that there wasn’t any light before. It’s that you see it all now. Instead of the light just going to the back of your brain, it’s getting into you.
We’re always dealing with the surface issues. But they are only symptoms of ‘the problem.’ They are not the problem itself. Asking for light gets underneath and around the things we don’t even know are obstructing our view of it. It reaches out from under the edge of our umbrellas to feel the rain itself.
Turn your face to the sun and allow its warmth to soak into your skin. Feel it moving into you, through your veins, into your very bones. You might not notice how it impacts your life. It’s not a pill you can swallow. But the more you do it on purpose, the better it will be. I promise.
Sunflowers really do turn their blossoms to face the sun as it moves across the sky. What do they know that we do not? What do they feel that we might also experience for ourselves? Orient yourself to the light, and perhaps you too will know.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, July 15, 2017 - Despair Me Not

Do not despair. You have been told. So don’t do it. But of course it’s easier said than done. And what is despair? It’s not merely sadness. Is deeper than sadness. It’s the persistent belief that sadness is your new permanent mailing address. It’s from the Latin prefix de- meaning “down from,” and sperare meaning “to hope.” As if hope is the pinnacle, and we are banished from ever again reaching it.

But despair is not about being in the depths, it’s about looking away from the light. It’s about choosing to see the depths as your new forever reality, rather than just a temporary one. It’s actually quite easy to slip into a belief that we will never be happy again when we lose someone. We can’t begin to picture what it would feel like to be happy as we process our loss.

But worse, we fear we are doing our love for them a disservice by imagining a future happiness in the midst of our present grief. We think it says we didn’t really love them unless we tear our clothes, put ashes on our heads and vow to never again think a pleasant thought. But that is not what is wanted for us. We were not made to be broken forever. We were made to become more beautiful from our brokenness. Google kintsugi.

Of course despair comes not only from loss of a loved one, but loss in general. It’s grief that has, much as a wound left without care, become like an infection. A wound needs love and attention, it needs patience. But when we ignore our grief, or don’t notice it’s there, we delve further into the valley. Shadows of death surround us and we forget to notice the light entirely. We then find no hope at all that it ever existed. Perhaps it was in our imagination.

I have come close to this feeling many times. I have lost the battle with it at least once. When I was 20 a series of mid-range misfortunes coalesced into a perfect storm and I simply folded into myself for weeks. I rarely left the house for anything other than therapy. I ate instant cheesecake like it was manna. I remember distinctly what the feeling of hopelessness was allowed to do within me.

I also remember making the choice to turn from my despair. But I had to accept where I was first in order to leave it. I used my imagination to reach for a better thought. I decided the bottom of the barrel now offered the best view of the sky, but I had to give into it and just lay down to see. Now that I was there, I needed to give myself over to the experience of feeling hopeless so I could pass through it. I was resisting it.

That’s the secret to despair. The solution to its puzzle lies in the ability to allow it to pass through you with the knowledge and steadfast belief that it will pass. It will. There is an end to the bed of hot coals you are walking on. And if you can hold onto that thought while allowing yourself to feel the loss, the grief, the abandonment, you’ll find that will be the key to discovering the best version of your new self. Because we always, always change from loss. But it is entirely your decision what change that will be.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, July 8, 2017 - Sniff Those Rosebuds

It is said in many ways and by many different cultures that it’s not the destination which matters most. It’s the journey. We often see this kind of bumper-sticker speak suggesting we take in the present moment rather than obsess about future outcomes. Or past failures.

It might be concluded that world scripture is nudging us toward smelling the warmed roses, rather than burying the bushes for the winter in June. What might be sniffed from this?
Let’s create a “fact” for the sake of argument. The “fact” is: Journey is exponentially more important than Destination. If that is so, then why? And to what? If we assume Journey literally is the destination we seek, what thoughts does it bring up?
My faith operates under the assumption that like a good jazz vocal, real Truth fits in many different boxes without losing the essence and intent of the original thought. Truth is continuously revealed in the process of exploring it. God isn’t interested in us figuring it out as It is in the vibration of the steadfast attempt to raise ourselves up.
Is there a vibration to the pursuit of happiness?
As we sweep away the confetti of our 241st anniversary as an experiment in democracy, might we wonder if the energy that best propels us forward is the act of striving for something bigger than we are?
What if we were to see on a monitor the energy coming from an American football game? It could be surmised that the most productive, positive energy comes from the fans when their team gets a touchdown. But I think spiritual principle suggests that it comes from the team as they’re trying to score. It’s quieter, by comparison. But then volume has never had a history of being the determining factor of truth.
What occurs within us when we strive for something? What do we project? It would seem to me to be an energy that can ring bells the entire Universe can hear. The energy we broadcast as we study for an exam may well exceed that which occurs with the relief of getting an A. Or even a diploma.
So what might this mean for us? It means that Intent is what matters most to our sense of satisfaction. Not success. The road to hell is not paved with good intentions. It is paved with apathy. It is cobbled like so much stone from our fear of proceeding. Our fear of action.
And we understandably fear taking action. Action is risk. Risk implies the possibility of genuine loss. We are afraid for good reason. But what if we act in spite of that fear?
It would be easier to do so if we accept that trying is actually the point of life. Not succeeding. Not proving, but experimenting. We think getting the answer is the purpose, but it’s not. It’s asking the questions.
Intention is easier than action, for the record. It’s just spending some time deciding how you want to feel and then operating under the assumption that it’s a reality in process. Just decide what you want. Then don't do anything against it.
Americans have a deep need to succeed. It is the hallmark of our society. But what if the thing that God is actually trying to get you to do is to take the leap? What if the sensation of free-falling is the whole point of it all?
Might God love us most when we are sincerely doing our best? The most consistent traditional description of God is that of a loving father. We know the difference in parenting styles between a father which values winning at all costs over the dedicated pursuit of sportsmanship. We already know which one makes a better father. What if that is an accurate description of the masculine divine we refer to as the male pronoun God? Is God proud of us for trying? For doing our best? I think so. But why?
Perhaps it’s because that’s what propels the expansion of the entire Universe. Perhaps it’s Intent which fuels the motion of All That Is. Or maybe it will just make you feel better.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, July 1, 2017 - Can't Change the Weather

Some years ago, I had a sudden epiphany. I hated winter. Okay, so perhaps that’s not such a revelation, but to be honest I hadn’t really thought about it before. Sure, I had complained about it enough, but I hadn’t really declared my awareness to the level of actual venom.
I see people all the time who emphatically hate winter and even all things white, just to be on the safe side. They appear to love the sport of icy grievance. They speak of the weather as if it were grounds for a customer service complaint. To whom would their suggestions be boxed?
There’s a spiritual concept of Nonresistance which confuses us, especially Americans. We have been ingrained to resist as a point of national heritage. If we don’t like something we resist it. We throw our tea into the harbor time and again. The urge to resist is natural, it’s conscious, direct and actionable. Nonresistance as a concept feels like punching someone with Jello.
But nonresistance isn’t passive. It isn’t ineffective either. But it’s very subjective. There’s no proof to anyone else but you that it’s working. What is it you really want to accomplish? ‘Feel better,’ is ultimately the answer. And then we set about deciding what it is that will make us feel better when we usually have no real idea.
Start with how you feel about things over which you have no control. Winter, for instance. You do not have control over the weather, but you have plenty of control over how you feel about it. You do not have universal control over your children, your job, your health, or your spouse. You only have control over two things: how you feel about them and your proximity to them.
When I realized I actually hated Winter it was a wake up call for me. I didn’t want to hate something. I didn’t want to spend my year either glad it’s not Winter, dreading the Winter, or suffering through it. I needed to improve my relationship with the season not spend my energy battling it. That’s how Don Quixote ended up with a crooked sword.
But like the Man of La Mancha I have a near inexhaustible optimism. I decided to see what there was to love about Winter. As it turns out they nearly all begin with the letter S. The cold weather means sweaters, soups, snuggling, for some it’s skiing, sledding or snowboarding. You may not love all of these, but I bet you can think of more.
It doesn’t change the amount of snow, but it sure can change your feelings relative to it. And that’s what we are really going for here, a shift in attitude through a shift in our attention.
The first winter I decided to start actively loving the season on purpose it snowed over a hundred inches. Every time it snowed I went out there and shoveled as if I were going to the gym. I noticed my attitude around posture and good form improved. I shoveled in “sets and repetitions.” I stretched. I drank extra fluids. I didn’t get angry, I got fit.

How much of our world are we powerless against? But we have infinitely creative minds. We use them all the time to insure our misery. What if we used our imagination to find a way to feel better? What might become of our “enemy” if we were to suddenly become disinterested in the battle? It sure is a lot easier on the sword.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, June 24, 2017 - Drop an F-Bomb. It’s Good for Your Heart.

Go ahead. You know you want to. Just open your mouth and burst a nice long stream of curse words. Say all the ones especially that you were punished for saying as a kid. Those are the best ones of all.
Sure, we can still follow the suggestions of polite society, but we know when and where we can get away with a little occasional potty mouth. Take advantage of it.
Science has been showing for years now that using curse words makes a surprising impact on the body. It may seem like a stretch to believe, but choice words spoken under the right circumstances have the ability to improve stamina, strength, and even has pain-relieving properties. Swearing reduces inflammation in our bodies and lowers the production of stress hormones.
So go for it. Be naughty. Be daring. Let it all hang out. It’s good for you.
Why do you suppose that these reactions occur? No one knows for sure. Perhaps it’s a vestige of evolution, but what were the swear words of early humans?
The benefit probably corresponds with our feelings about the taboo rather than the words themselves. Words only have the value a culture gives them. Feeling naughty is a recognition of having been restrained. It feels good to let go. What is happening in the body when pressure is suddenly relieved? What does it feel like when you’ve been carrying someone on your shoulders and then put them down? What does it feel like when the wall we have been pushing against suddenly falls? That is the sensation which heals. That is the emotional state we are seeking when we swear.
Why do we swear when we stub our toe? Because it’s faster than a bandage. It’s a release of pressure and a rush of positive chemicals to fill the vacuum. Second only to a mother’s kiss. The taboo value of the words creates a heightened physical release. But that value is entirely personal. What is offensive to one, can be a term of endearment to another.
Swearing in excess can be a sign of something darker, of course. A need to compulsively tap into that same power of release, strength and pain-relief. The anger behind a curse can be very revealing if we listen honestly. Amid a vulgar stream there often lies a deeper message. Hear me. Notice me. These are the only words I know which relieve the pain.
Blue language can become a shield, a barrier to relationship. Words matter in every regard. What are the words we are saying and when? When does the scale tip toward our use of words as daggers? Use words carefully. They are powerful.
Like every potentially healing compound known on earth, they can be used for harm as well as good. Swearing can bring health benefits, but also show us where healing has yet to begin. Listen honestly. To both your words and the words of others. They can mean many things. But all are toward the desire to be healed.
To what ideals do you belong? If they are healing, move toward that. Your words will know what to do. If your ideology is loving, it listens and hears the words but also the heart beneath them.
F, yeah, it does.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, June 17, 2017 - Hedonism Has Its Advantages

To what end, pleasure? Is there vibration to joy? If we could see ecstasy how would we employ it? Pretend you had a button that, when pressed, made all the colors around you more vibrant. Dispense with the question of whether it is the environment changing or merely your perception of it. It doesn’t matter.
How do you feel as the colors become deeper at your command? How do those two facts combine? Both the improvement in the landscape entangled with the power to command it. It would be a rush, yes? Would you hold down the button all day? What of your poor button finger?
When does happiness become indulgence? Who defines moderation?
‘An it harme none, so mote it be,’ the old Wiccan Rede says. So long as no harm comes, do as you will. It sounds like permission to do anything you want just don’t hurt anybody or break anything.
But that’s when it gets complicated. Should you be gay if it “hurts” your grandmother? Should you eat an entire box of Ding Dongs? Should you abuse the purpose of drugs because it doesn’t hurt anyone else? Should you pursue your dreams even when they are not shared? How do we recognize when someone else’s happiness is dependent upon our misery?
Pleasure, satisfaction and joy are worthwhile, sacred pursuits. They are the very reason we exist. Our free will gives us the platform to explore every pathway to happiness available. Including the ones that trick us. Yet those are the ones from whom we learn the most. Judas has two stories.
We place a disproportionate amount of judgement upon the pleasure others experience. We question their motivation and their dedication. We question their faith. We deem them selfish and ungodly. Hedonists.
The word hedonism literally means pleasure-ism. The ideology of self-gratification as a life practice. A word created in the early 19th century so that philosophers could debate the ethics of pleasure.
The word has also taken an additional, more pleasant definition. Hedonism is also an ethical system of belief where pleasure is in the interest of the highest good. That’s where the good stuff is. It is the intersection of pleasure and ethics. The old Wiccan Rede again.
Perhaps it is good to indulge. Perhaps we draw the line too far and pinch ourselves off from the flow of life. How much joy do we push away? We have interpreted our scriptures to mean that only God should give us joy.
But there is so much joy in the world. Might there be as many pathways to God as there are licks in an extra large ice cream cone or gasps from an extra long session of lovemaking? We have placed too many restrictions on what is acceptable and beat ourselves to death with guilt.
Indulge, but evaluate. ‘An it harme none...’ also refers to yourself. Do not harm yourself. Love life, but be wise. I tell my kids in the Tribe that if you’re going to do something stupid, be smart about it. We even put it on a t-shirt.
Raise the vibration of this earth with your Joy. Do it on purpose. Think of it like a bell which the entire Universe can hear. Notice other people’s happiness! Masha’Allah! And happiness will be drawn to you. For you will be irresistible to It.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, June 10, 2017 - Masha'Allah and the Law of Attraction

Graffiti art of the Arabic word Masha'Allah, or 'God has willed it.'
Today is the halfway point in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The fasts and feasts continue. The extra mindfulness required of one’s actions during these days is in agreement with these same purposes during Christian Advent and the Jewish Ten Days of Awe.
We are invited, at specific times in the wheel of the year, to remember not only who we are, but whose. We are to make extra acts of charity and kindness. To be mindful of our footprints.
During these introspective periods we are encouraged to ponder our beliefs and observe how they compel us to act in the world. We are to especially remember Gratitude and its proper place in the constellation of our busy lives.
There is a word in the Islamic world—Masha’Allah—which means literally “God has willed it.” I have heard the story of the word taught in two very different ways. Both customarily require that it be said upon hearing or discovering especially good news. “Masha’Allah! That’s wonderful!” But the underlying intention between the two is quite different.
For the record, I am not an Islamic scholar nor am I a Muslim. I am a dharmic Christian who respects and collaborates with other world faiths and traditions. I am curious about where all our views about God overlap with one another. I believe we each have a piece of the sacred puzzle in our possession, like so many fragments of a treasure map. If we wish to view a better glimpse of the Ultimate Reality we will eventually have to put them together.
In my exploration of the word Masha’Allah I have read in many places that it is said in pairing with a compliment so as to ward off any evil which may become attracted to it. “What a beautiful child. Masha’Allah!” In this thinking, we pray against evil when life is good that good may ever safely endure. But is it better to be against or for?
As it was first taught to me, Masha’Allah is a blessing, not a protection. It is a call of gratitude to the angels that a gift was bestowed upon someone. How wonderful! But more, it is given with the understanding that to participate in the gratitude of someone else’s good fortune is to invite blessing also upon oneself. “Masha’Allah, you sew beautifully!”
The Law of Attraction would agree. So would Christianity. What we reap, we sow. And likewise, this thought too can be seen as an invitation for punishment as easily as the encouragement of blessing. Which will you choose? Attraction principle invites us to reach for a better thought.
What would you like to attract when you see someone who has something you want? We have two options: Envy or Admiration. We will always attract more of our present experience. What are you feeling right now? That’s what you’re attracting. When someone wins the lottery what do you feel? Are you able to be genuinely happy for them? Or does their success become all about your lack? When you see a happy couple walking down the street what do you feel?

What if the lonely were to seek as many examples of love in the world as possible? Put pictures upon their walls of happy, friendly people enjoying one another’s company? What if we all were to turn our cheek away from our own dissatisfaction? I guarantee the view would improve dramatically.