Tag Archives: emotional growth

Talking turkey

Every year, I celebrate Thanksgiving by hosting a potluck at our Center. We’ve had as many as 60 people, although the average is closer to 45. I buy ham and turkey and everyone brings their favorite food. This way everyone gets their favorites, made the “right” way, and we all get to hang out in a party atmosphere for the day. I’ve learned a few things along the way. First of all, I won’t try to do all the cooking myself. I do one turkey and one ham. The rest goes home with someone to be cooked and they get the bones for soup. I don’t try to do the cooking at home. The Center kitchen has two ovens and if I cook stuff there, the building smells yummy. I’ve learned that the following day is a great time to make “leftovers”, which really means our family Thanksgiving foods without any stress over presentation.

I used to think I had to do it all myself. I used to think it had to look a certain way. One of the greatest benefits of growing up is that I realized that I get to define what’s right for me and I’m not responsible for meeting other people’s expectations. What is true for the holiday is true for spirituality. I don’t need to do everything the way my mother or grandmothers did it. I don’t care about presentation for the turkey and I don’t need my spiritual practice to meet anyone else’s approval. It’s worth getting up a little early to do it my way and the end result is that I get fed and I’m happy. Sometimes, letting go of doing it “the right way” is what allows for doing it the most effective way.

Going to the well

I was rereading a part of the Book of John this morning about when Jesus, having been walking all day, sits by the edge of a well and asks a woman for some water. Now, the woman is a Samaritan and they don’t generally interact with Jews. Add to that that in those days, women didn’t just chat with men casually. Like, ever. So when Jesus tells her to go get her husband, and she admits she has no husband, he tells her, “You’re right. You’ve had five husbands and the one you have now isn’t yours.”

Now, I heard this story originally as a folk song by Peter, Paul and Mary. The song makes it sound like the woman is, to put it lightly, loose. There’s a bit of slut-shaming in the song. As I read the story now, it occurs to me that a woman can have five husbands if she outlives four. In those days, a woman’s worth was in her marital status and her ability to have children. What if the only reason she’s around is because she didn’t die in childbirth? What if some of those husbands divorced her thinking she was barren? The story doesn’t really say why she’s been married so many times. However, if she lost all those husbands through no fault of her own, even if her society told her it was her fault, then our Samaritan sister has been through some tough times. If she’s living with a husband that isn’t hers (maybe it’s her brother or her father) then she’s probably a second-class citizen in her own home. She has no social standing.

And she is willing to see the possibility that this strange man, who she probably shouldn’t be talking to, might be on to something. Maybe he sounds arrogant to her. Maybe he looks ridiculous (remember he’s just a stranger who’s been walking in the desert all day). I can relate to her. I’ve been to lots of retreats and workshops that promised me “living water” in the form of five simple principles or one great secret or a dozen rules. I have all the books. I’ve done lots of hours of studying. Heck, I have two master’s degrees and the student loans to prove it. I look at the time and money and wonder what the heck I was thinking! I still feel, sometimes, like that unwanted, unloved Samaritan who is just trying to find her place in the world.

If your Buddha-nature spoke up right now and promised you living water, promised you peace and joy, would you have the strength to try one more time? Would you be willing to try someone who seems like an unlikely guru? I went to lots of professionals and certificated teachers before I found the ones who told me my teacher is my own heart. Trusting that unlikely teacher has made all the difference.

Hold my hand

Recently, I challenged myself to play the guitar for a Sunday service. Understand, I haven’t done that since about fourth grade. Think about that. It’s been decades, although I won’t say how many. I remembered how to do the three simple chords, no problem. I was able to work hard enough over the course of the week to somewhat create calluses so that I can play the chords on the metal strings (for those of you who don’t know – ouch!!!). I could sing the song without a problem. I had the words in front of me in case I lost it and it’s not like it’s not a song I sing to myself all the time, by one of my favorite artists, Celia (check out www.celiaonline.com) Folks gave me pretty good feedback, so it couldn’t have been too terrible. It wasn’t a virtuoso performance by any means, but no one walked out and there were few actual groans.

So what was the point of this somewhat amateurish performance? Besides trying to impress my congregation with my miraculous ability? Well, that’s a longer story. Ever since I was a kid, I refused to do things in public if I wasn’t good at them. I never played sports. I never did much of anything. Well, theater stuff, but I was good at that. When I sang, I’d go hide and sing where no one could see me. Yes, I see the problem with that – it didn’t occur to me until years later that folks could definitely hear me, and seeing me was not the issue.

Yesterday I got up and played the guitar even though I didn’t feel ready. I had adrenaline zipping through me at a prodigious rate. It’s been a long time since I had stage fright, but there you go. Now, it wasn’t enough to just do one song on a Sunday. I chose Easter Sunday. I was doing one of the big talks of the year and I asked to do the music. Yes, I asked. Theoretically, our music director could have said no. If I was really bad, I’d trust him to say no and save me the embarrassment. The whole point was to challenge my belief in perfection and do something I didn’t expect to just carry off effortlessly.

The good part is I could fake strumming when I could tell my fingers were playing the wrong chord.   I think we managed to turn the microphone on my guitar waaaay down. And I had the sense to do this in front of a crowd that is loving and forgiving and knows me anyway. What surprised me was that my ego was so involved in remaining calm and spiritual during this growth experience. It bothered me that there was so much adrenaline running through me. It bothered me that they were taking so long to figure out the microphones. It bothered me that I felt I’d let the sermon preparation slide a bit in order to get the music ready. I was not able to float through the whole thing on a cloud of serenity.

In meditation that morning, I saw a child who was doing something for the first time. She was scared, but clinging to a trusted adult’s hand. The whole experience was one of fun and fear at the same time. This is how I think maybe it’s supposed to be. As children we are supposed to have a trusted adult teach us how to feel fear and do it anyway to find out if the fear changes to fun. I’ve decided that is part of my Higher Power’s job description now. If I’m going to be spiritual and live on my growing edge, then God/Goddess/The Divine has to hold my hand.

That way, if I fall flat on my butt, at least I know someone will help me up. And laugh with me afterwards too.

Immortality

Tonight I’m teaching a class whose theme is Immortality. We’re going to be talking about life after death, what it might be like to live without a human body and what we teach about all that. Mostly it ends up being a discussion of the students’ experience with near death experiences, ghosts and other interesting occurrences. The thing is, our teaching is pretty simple. We don’t claim to know. We each individually have our pet theories, but the official teaching is that we can’t really know.

Here’s my official teaching. It’s more interesting to me to know if there can be a healthy, prosperous, fulfilling life BEFORE death. My focus is on right now. Am I doing everything I can to live large before I leave or am I just waiting for whatever comes next?

When I was in Practitioner training, we had to do an exercise in which we wrote our own eulogies and planned our memorial services. Mine was a big party with balloons and music and fun. I said I had died at the age of 83. I believe it was a happy death, and not a particularly difficult one. I had time to say goodbye to folks, make sure my affairs were in order and then just leave gracefully. This exercise is supposed to be about living more fully in this life because we are reminded we won’t be here forever.

I’ve been pretty up front about managing my depressive disorder. The effect this exercise had on me was to make me calculate how much longer I had to be here and when I could leave. It was more like counting down a prison sentence (a life sentence, if I want to be facetious). I’m not afraid of death; like many of us, I tend to have more anxiety around life. Realizing that I believe life to be eternal was, at one point, a very painful truth.

So now I’m taking the next step. At this juncture in my life, I still firmly believe that life is eternal and we get to keep the memory of whoever we were on earth. That’s no longer bad news. I also believe that we get to learn more about whom we have been in other lives and who we are between lives, which sounds pretty cool to me. The homework (as it were) is to make sure I don’t waste the time I have here. Am I coming out from behind my Netflix queue in order to engage with real people? Am I being of service to the folks I meet in the grocery store and at work, or do I just post something on my Facebook letting people know how I feel about the latest scandal? Or kittens, for that matter? (I’m pro-kittens, for the record).

This culture makes it so easy to live from a step back. We make it easy to live by proxy through our electronics. It takes effort to remain present in the here and now, and I believe it’s entirely worth it. As fascinating as I find near death experiences (nope, never had one) I don’t want to have a near life experience while I’m here. If for no other reason, I want actual people to show up for my memorial service and have something to say other than what my favorite TV show was.

Looking for Wisdom

I have begun a practice of reading in bed before I get up (well, getting back in bed after starting the coffee). Right now I’m all about Emma Curtis Hopkins, possibly because I finished a class recently that opened my eyes to her awesome writings. At the best of times, her writing can require a dictionary. The wording is outdated and complex. Her writing also references a lot of knowledge I don’t have about Hinduism, Hebrew and Latin references, mythology and ancient Greek philosophy. And all of that is before I even get to her encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible.
Here’s what I’m learning – it’s not the words or the references I need to notice. It’s those glimmering bits of wisdom that shine just for me. When Emma tells me “look up” or that “Facing Thee, there is no evil in my path”, what I get out of it is a reminder that by focusing on the Spirit Within Me, all my so-called problems melt away. She reminds me that asthma is not the boss of me –my physical lungs heal when I rely on a power greater than myself and if that seems pie-in-the-sky, well, it’s not. She lists over and over the examples throughout history of when allowing Spirit to lead not only worked, it worked miracles.
It’s jarring to go from that kind of consciousness to needing to get on with my day. What would Emma say about Facebook? What would she say about the minutia of ministry – writing the reports, noting the attendance numbers, making sure the Christmas decorations are put away and ready for next year? What would she say about keeping up with email and visits? Not much probably. I think she’d look at all that and remind me – Facing Thee, there is no evil in my path. Spirit isn’t tied to time or limited by a data plan.
These things that worked for the prophets of Israel also worked for yogis and the Brahmans. Focusing on the Divine Self worked for Druids in what became Ireland and the United Kingdom. It worked for the priests of Huitzilopochtli in the Aztec Empire and the seekers of the three-faced Goddess Hecate. It doesn’t matter what the details of the story are – Spirit is timeless, ageless and without limit. So…. With a nod to Emma….
Dude – facing Thee, It’s all Good!

Working with the Law

Today is my 47th birthday. And, because I’m a responsible adult with a full time job and mortgage payments, and thus in control of my own destiny, we had chocolate cake and coffee for breakfast. That’s probably the best part of being an adult. You get to decide what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it.

Of course, there’s this guy whose birthday we celebrate tomorrow that also talked about the joy of being in charge of your own life. Ernest Holmes, about 2000 years later, explained to us how it all works by talking about the Law of Cause and Effect. And he was right in saying that we are the Law’s slave until we understand it and then it becomes our servant.

So, for instance, I could have chocolate cake for breakfast (two pieces). I get to make that decision. It doesn’t excuse me from the consequences, either on the scale or the sudden need for salad for lunch. I can try to twist the Law, but there it is. I even split hairs with it – like the time I remembered that mom taught that if there was lots of color on your dinner plate, it was probably a healthy meal. I poured bowl of M&M’s, then called her to tell her what I was eating. Followed the letter of the law, but not the spirit, and so ended up with an upset stomach.

Knowing how the Law works helps us to live happier lives. We give from our joy, in part because we know the Law will return that joy a hundred-fold. Of course, it’s also a lot of fun. We do good for others in order to create the world that works for everyone and then we get to live in that world. That’s how it works – always and in all ways. We live in the world we create, according to the Law, whether we like it or not. There’s something reassuring about that. No matter how long it takes, my positive thoughts and choice to believe in the ultimate goodness of the human soul MUST return to me. I must experience the outpicturing of that thought/belief.

So here’s my early Christmas wish for you – may you be pleasantly surprised this year by the inherent goodness of your fellow beings on this earth. May you let that happy surprise shape your thinking about the whole world. And may you, at some point, gift yourself with birthday cake for breakfast, just because it’s fun and you can.

Fake news

There’s been a debate lately about how and if Facebook should screen the news that gets shared on that site. There’s a lot of fake news – there are actually people who make their entire living making up news and sharing it on Facebook. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, says only 1% of the information on Facebook is fake news, but since a quarter of the world’s population is part of this site, that might still be a problem.

What an awesome metaphor for our consciousness! How many fake news sites are running through your head at any given time? Who’s making money by advertising on those sites? Is there a site dedicated to why your body is not the right shape, size, color or gender? Is it overflowing with ads that tell you how to “fix” yourself?

What about a site that tells you about your talents and skills? Are there articles that say your primary worth is what you do? Or maybe there’s not much you can do that is worthy of sharing, so you should probably just stay home. These sites might have lots of ads for classes or self-help books. They might have commentary from the authority figures of your childhood explaining WHY you never did learn to be useful or what would happen if you stopped doing that thing everyone expects you to do.

It’s worth looking into what scrolls through the feed in your mind. It’s what we do in this philosophy. Each of us probably has some input from someone we should mentally block or even unfriend. The process we go through in Science of Mind is akin to fact checking the news sites that pop up. There is a divine snopes.com that we access through prayer and meditation. There is a way to let our conscious mind comment on different articles, deciding whether they are just inflammatory or if they hold real, important information.

We all have this power. In the Divine sense, we can’t unsubscribe to Facebook – there’s a consciousness that runs through all of us and never stops. It is running in the back of your head right now. It’s also running in your heart and in your physical body. Paying attention to what you’re paying attention to is a great spiritual practice. So, what news sites do you need to block from your consciousness? Are you willing to unfriend the really toxic ones? And just as important – are you willing to read the in-depth articles that might teach you about a world you didn’t know existed?

It’s a beautiful morning!

These last few weeks have been absolutely fantastic! You might wonder if I’ve taken leave of my senses – and yes, I have! Thank God! In the last few weeks I’ve dealt with conversations I didn’t want to have, family dynamics I thought I’d left behind, and an election that has a large section of my social media feed in full freak-out mode. All the rational reasoning seems to have been left in the dust, drowned in adrenaline.

So I’m taking leave of my senses in the best possible way. Over all these years of studying and teaching, I’ve learned intellectually that cause is always from within and that I can choose my thinking and thus my experience. These past few weeks, I got to DO it. I got to look at the circumstances around me and refuse the evidence of my senses. It took me a long time, but I guess I’m finally getting the lesson. I won’t bemoan the time it took, because it was all worth it for this result.

The absolute truth is that I live in a friendly universe and, as Emma Curtis Hopkins wrote, “God is my friend.” Every time I think that phrase, I see the big blue genie from Aladdin and hear “You ain’t never had a friend like me!” Okay, so my mental image of God is less dignified but he sure is fun! No matter what is going on in the world, I can relax because underneath and through it all is a force for good. Underneath and through it all is a Being and a Presence that would never let me fall.

Do I ignore or look down on those who are hurting right now? Of course not! I am their ally. James Dillet Freeman once wrote a poem about what it means to minister. In that poem, he writes,

“It means to not merely live a life of prayer, but to turn your prayers into life – more life for you, more life for those to whom you minister.

It means to be God-centered and human hearted, to involve yourself in humanity and to keep your vision on divinity – and so draw from all around you the human form divine

It means to share in the greatest moments of life – in birth and sickness and marriage and death – and at times, whether of crisis or of celebration, to bring comfort and a blessing, and above all a sense of a Presence that sometimes we cannot see and of a Meaning that often we overlook.

That is what it means to be a minister of God and a minister to man.”

Let us all minister to each other. Let us all choose to create a world that works for everyone, leaving the past in the past, allowing ourselves to believe that the Universe is our friend and is conspiring on our behalf.

Autumn leaves

I saw this great meme on Facebook about how, in the autumn, the trees give us a beautiful example of letting go of what’s dead. This is a statement about surrender.

And here’s the thing; I have a love/hate relationship with that word. Our whole culture has a love/hate relationship with that word. What our philosophy teaches is that Spirit takes on form (this physical world), has some experiences, and then abandons the original form to take on another form. Spirit is good at surrendering that first form and has been doing it for billions of years. Can you imagine if Spirit had refused to let go of the form of dinosaurs? Our daily commute the office would be far more exciting.

On the one hand, surrender means that I lost. It means that I gave up on something. When I got divorced, the hardest thing to do was surrender those wedding vows and all the promises I’d made and dreams I’d dreamed. I thought being married meant I never had to be alone again, that I’d always have the support of my spouse and that I was done with being seen a not-fully-matured as a woman in this society. And I’ll be honest – there’s a certain safety in being married. That wedding ring gets rid of a lot of unwanted attention.

On the other hand, things I believed about marriage and what it all meant needed to be surrendered if I was going to live in the real world. Arguing with what is and trying to force what I believe should be the truth will never lead to happiness. Surrender means freedom from the fight. Surrender means allowing the truth of this reality to be true and to be what I work with. Let me tell you, it was much easier to take on a new “form” in my life once I admitted that the original form was dead.

Ah, but how do I know the difference between time to persevere and time to surrender, you ask. Well, I can’t tell you that. You’ll have your own set of signals. I know that for me, if something is making me miserable and I’m getting myself all tied up in knots around my judgment of what I’m seeing, it’s time to at least temporarily surrender it. I can’t tell you how many times I walked away from writing something because it just wasn’t coming out, only to come back later and have it write itself. In the time in between, I’d been focusing on other things, maybe doing something physical rather than intellectual, and quietly surrendering what I thought needed to be written.

I could have stayed in my marriage. Lucky for me, I’d seen what staying in an unhappy marriage looks like. Because I was willing to surrender, I now work in a career that is my calling as well as my job. He went back and married his old girlfriend and (I’m told) has a happy life and career in the military. I like to believe he and his family are happy in the life that would have made me miserable. I know I’m happy in the life that he would have hated. What has been surrendered is the idea that one of us had to be wrong for each of us to have the life we love.

Surrender has led to some of the most beautiful new growth in my world. And yes, some of the old stuff has claw marks on it, but there will be other opportunities to let go gracefully.

Trigger warnings

I think I should come with a trigger warning. Actually, I think spirituality should come with a trigger warning and as a spiritual leader, I should have one tattooed somewhere obvious. I decided this when I woke up to rain this morning and realized that sitting on the couch and getting caught up with the news was going to be my spiritual practice.

I saw whole bunches of opinions on which charity is most trustworthy if you want to help folks in Haiti now that they’ve been flooded. I saw opinions about the Susan G Komen foundation and whether or not they really are a great help in the search for a cure for breast cancer. And I saw lots and lots of opinions about the latest scandal in the presidential election.

I doubt any of you are under the impression that I don’t have a personal opinion about climate change, immigration, the election or how a person should speak to or about another person regardless of gender. However, my job isn’t to spout my opinion. It’s not unlike my advice: free to everyone and worth every penny.

My job, and my calling in this world, is to look at what my opinion and how I express it says about my own state of consciousness. So for instance: in my opinion none of the current nominees for president is perfect. In my state of consciousness, none of them need to be. Asking for any individual to be perfect is asking for that person to lie to me. If we require everyone in public office to be perfect, we will only have liars running for office. People who are real, people who are willing to get their hands dirty and who admit when they mess up or change their stance on the issues because they have learned new facts – these people are the ones I like and tend to trust. Authenticity is one of my core values; human perfection is not.

Some folks will quote Dr. Holmes as having said two different things about the same issue. Depending on when he was writing, he might contradict himself on a specific issue. If the man had never changed his thinking in the course of his forty plus years in his career, I certainly wouldn’t be teaching this philosophy which is based on the idea that we can change our thinking.

Although I have the greatest of respect for our founder, I don’t know that I would necessarily ask him questions how to live my life and deal with my specific issues. He gives us pointers on how to think, how to examine our thinking and encourages us to actually think for ourselves. He can’t tell me how to be a woman in the 21st Century, dealing with the issues of this particular election. Similar situations, yes. This specific election, no. I can make intelligent guesses based on what he faced in his time and how he handled it.

And that brings me to the trigger warning. In this election and in every part of your life, as a spiritual human being, you will be triggered. As you become more conscious, you will be triggered more. Eventually, you will come to see all those buttons that get pushed as a gift – they show you where your shadow is hiding, where you have healing left to do in your consciousness and where your green and growing edges are. Consider yourself warned by the Chief Button Pusher at the Center for Spiritual Living Prescott.