Making Connection

“With That Moon Language”
by Hafiz

Admit something

Everyone you see, you say to them
“Love me.”

Of course you do not do this out loud;
Otherwise,
Someone would call the cops.

Still though, think about this,
The great pull in us
To connect.

Why not become the one
Who lives with a full moon in each eye
That is always saying,

With that sweet moon
Language,

What every other eye in this world
Is dying to
Hear.

 

Source:  The Gift

 

Living with Ambiguity

“Who sees the other half of self, sees Truth.”
~Anne Cameron, Dreamweaver

 

My morning journal time brought me to a chapter on fear and trust in Christina Baldwin’s Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Practice.  This is a book that I have recommended before.  She points out the unavoidable and uncomfortable experiences we have when confronting two opposing or paradoxical things at the same time. 

Fear and trust are one such paradox.  And you may have noticed by now that life and indeed, WE are filled with paradoxes!  We prefer to see the one aspect which is easier to accept.  For example, we make heroes of people and in doing so deny that they are also human beings who are capable of doing cruel and stupid things.

Or we focus on one preferable quality within ourselves, refusing to face what lies in the shadow that is opposing the one we are comfortable with.  We may be kind and caring, but we are also at times selfish and uncaring.  All those qualities that we ascribe to our heroines and villains reside within each and every one of us.  And so our relationships are admittedly complex, which at times can be quite bewildering.

After getting into a conversation about this with my daughter this morning, I remembered writing a blog post about it back in 2009.  Carl Jung has pointed out that there are riches to be gained by facing our shadow qualities, by enduring the discomforts that come up with looking at the “other half of self.”  When we are willing to peer into our shadow, we become more tolerant of ourselves and others for one thing.  We are able to listen better, and to come to mutually beneficial outcomes for everyone.

Here is the post from March of 2009.

Yesterday I was reminded of something in a session with a client we will call Sue. She was talking about her relationship with her mother and feeling angry about her mother’s behavior.  Sue has been working hard in therapy and making changes in her life and relationships.  As is the case for most young adults, she is sorting out how she is similar to and different from her parents, her mother in particular.

Sue has had many successes in being assertive with her mother.  And less success in trying to have some conversations about her psychological discoveries.  When it comes to Sue’s attempts to discuss problems in their communications, her mother avoids answering and in fact changes the subject most of the time.  Very frustrating to Sue!

I was thinking about how most of us have a hidden desire for a parent who is different than the parent that we got.  Sue wants a mother who is open and willing to have deep and personal discussions with her.  Yet she can see that her mother doesn’t have very intimate relationships with anyone, nor do members of that whole side of the family. 

When I was in elementary school, my best friend Linda had a mother who was the president of the PTA, a room mother and was frequently in school, very involved in what was going on.  My mother, in contrast, was shy, lacking in self confidence and very busy taking care of her children and a farm.  Not the least bit interested in the PTA or the school fair.  How I wanted her to be!

Years later I came to recognize my mother’s gifts as well as her shortcomings.  Education was important to her and she passed that on to her children.  She insisted on good manners and good grammar.  Getting your work done and meeting your responsibilities was something we learned from her.  She had keen intuition, and I got my spiritual connection and strength from her. 

In our dualistic way of thinking, we tend to be more comfortable with qualities in “either/or” or “black/white.”  In our perfectionism we strive to be “good” as we see it and struggle to eradicate “bad” qualities.  In others we tend to get hung up focusing on the qualities that annoy us.  Most often those qualities are the ones in ourselves that we can’t stand!  This leads to a lot of conflict and dissatisfaction in relationships of every kind.

What if we could purposely focus on what we appreciate in others as well as ourselves?  Do this by expressing thanks or gratitude to others, and paying close attention to gratitude for ourselves.  And then by truly intending to fully accept those annoying quirks in others (maybe with humor) and letting go of our need to change them, we can extend that same acceptance and kindness to ourselves. 

As human beings, we are each one of us filled with paradox.  We can live in much better relationship to others and have much more peace and satisfaction when we accept the ambiguity within.

 

Mountaintop Experiences

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back
to its old dimensions.”     ~Oliver Wendell Holmes~

 

When I was a kid I heard an expression that caught my ear and my imagination.  An adult (whom I don’t remember) was talking about “mountaintop experiences,” and how life-changing they could be.  Growing up in the Midwest, Colorado was my family’s favorite vacation spot, so I knew the majesty of the Rocky Mountains.  One summer while riding up above the tree line on the Fourth of July, my dad let us out of the car to have a snowball fight.

So anything compared to such mountain tops made a clear connection in my mind to something pretty terrific.  In the years that followed I had some experiences that were indeed life changing because they opened my mind to something new…a perspective that I had been completely unaware of before.

What experiences have you had that “blew your mind,” as the expression goes?  Perhaps it should be called “blew your mind open.”  Can you point to experiences that have turned out to be pivotal points in your life?

While listening to “From the Top,” a public radio program featuring accomplished young musicians, I heard a teenaged opera singer say that she had been amazed as a 10 year old when her parents took her to hear an opera for the first time.  When she heard the music, she said, “That’s what I want to do!”

A woman who had grown up in a small sleepy town in Alabama attended a church program with her family one summer evening.  The program featured a slide show of the work of a missionary couple who had come stateside to raise money for their cause.  The pictures and lecture illustrating the landscapes and cultures of Africa fired the little girl’s imagination.  Showing her a world radically different than her own, she was truly amazed.  Years later after leaving Alabama for a college in New England, she chose a career with the State Department and has traveled the world, working in many posts, including one in Africa.  She credits that “mind blowing” experience in the church basement as opening the door to a fascinating life.

Recently while talking with a man about living in the wheat belt of the Midwest, he told me that his brother, who had always lived on the East Coast, had roomed with a kid from Kansas while he was at college.  Hearing about the wheat harvest and days and nights in the fields, and about the family farm culture, his brother accepted an invitation to go home with his roommate for the next harvest. He was so taken by the experience that he immediately moved there after graduation, got involved in wheat farming and the small community and has lived there ever since.

Sometimes these mountain top experiences don’t involve a change in geography or occupation at all.  Probably one of the biggest influences of new ways of seeing something is as close as your library or bookstore.  Or it could be looking at a photograph or painting that fires your imagination and inspiration.  Reading the work of Joseph Campbell and listening to his interviews with Bill Moyer was life altering for me.  Watching the movie “What the Bleep Do We Know?” was another paradigm changer.  What have you read, heard or watched that has inspired key changes in your way of thinking or being?

Are there people whose relationships have influenced or changed you?  You may be fortunate in having an elder member of your family whose life example shaped you.  Or you may have had a teacher whose wisdom and teaching provided a mountain top experience in your life.  Sometimes it’s a brief and chance meeting with someone who says or does something that really sticks with you.  These brief encounters can turn a light on something that can guide you to a different way of thinking and a perspective that may change your life in big or small ways.

And of course, bear in mind that YOU may be that person whose ideas or life example may provide inspiration to someone else.  You may never be aware of it, but that doesn’t lessen the influence that you have.

You can increase the likelihood of “catching” inspiration by opening your mind to noticing possibilities around you.  Be willing to expose yourself to a point of view or opinion that is radically different than your own.  Getting entrenched in your own ideology may be a comfortable rut, but that’s not an enlivening or energizing way to live.

Start simply by taking alternate routes or back roads on your commute.  Get out and walk or bike ride through a neighborhood or country road that you usually drive.  Tune into an unfamiliar radio or television channel.  Browse through the library and choose a biography or novel by an author you have never read.  Reading biographies is a great way to catch inspiration or fresh perspective from someone you will never actually meet.  Take a trip to somewhere new to you.  Sign up for a class in a subject that is unfamiliar.

There is no end to the possibilities around you once you open yourself to them.  Your mind and your life will expand and never be the same.

 

Quotation of the Day

“Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without
prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with
their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not
common, but it is essential for right thinking.”
~ Leo Tolstoy ~ 

Photo by Scott Eisenbise,  2012

Getting Grounded

“And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays.”
~James Russell Lowell~


This morning is one of those days when just being alive with all my senses intact is at the top of my gratitude list.  After a hot and muggy spell, followed by a rainy day, this morning dawned clear and breezy with low humidity.  As I opened all the windows, James Russell Lowell’s poem sprang to mind.

Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that spring is ruled by the element of wood, and an energy that pushes up with vigor.  You can see this all around with tender shoots of every kind of plant coming up and out.  Mother Nature invites us to come out and be a part of all this growth and to remember and to be in tune with that energy within ourselves.

One of my spring rituals is planting the potted garden on my porch.  It is a remnant of past years when my garden was large and the landscape extensive.  During the dregs of winter, the arrival of the seed and tree catalogs revived my spirits, and my spare time was spent making lists of new varieties I wanted to try, and figuring out where to plant another blueberry bush.  A change of address, brought about by a new phase of life, reduced my garden to very small proportions.

My approach is now much more spontaneous and simple.  A stop at the neighborhood garden center (well actually, it turned into more than one stop), and ideas about some colors and a couple of must-haves led to a leisurely walk around the greenhouse.  I came home with a variety of plants that will thrive either in full sun or shade or somewhere in between.  I’m still pondering where I can put in a couple of tomatoes and basil.

As I worked in the dirt, placing the plants and then moving them several times until the balance of height and color looked right to me, I thought about not only the joy, but the value of planting and harvesting.  The electronic age has pulled us even farther from what for our parents and grandparents was a life more grounded in earth and nature.  Many of us spend hours in front of one kind of a screen or other but rarely even a few hours outdoors, unless it’s accompanied by the roar of a lawn mower.

I know there is a growing consciousness about this alienation from nature and our food sources, and hopefully that movement will gain momentum and we can all benefit.  In the meantime I invite you to get your hands in the dirt and to experience the energizing and grounding effects of planting and being a part of the cycle of life. Your life will be richer for it.

 

Don’t Forget to Live

 

“Health, south wind, books, old trees, a boat, a friend.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson~

 Lately I’ve been thinking about what makes for a good life.  I like those tee shirts and bumper stickers that say “Life is good.”  Sometimes when I see them I am brought up short, sort of startled out of some preoccupation or other with what I need to get done or haven’t gotten done yet.  If you are like me, sometimes life seems like a never ending to do list.

Our time is consumed with little mundane tasks or small steps to big goals, and once in awhile a pedal-to-the-metal burst of hard work to meet a deadline.  Since I am in the business of helping people who generally need and want to change something essential, or to come to terms with some change in life that has changed them, goals and meeting them is ever present for me.  Or nearly so.

I guess what has brought this into focus is my mom.  At 93, she has dementia as well as a physical disability that has left her dependent on her children and a live-in caregiver for every day functions. Seeing her, caring for her and making decisions on her behalf has been touching, sad, funny and difficult and challenging by turns.

Some evenings as I leave her I feel distressed and upset at my helplessness to change the conditions of her life.  Other times I am more settled and philosophical about the mysteries of how we live our lives and come to the end as we do.  And inevitably, it has brought up an awareness of my own life choices, where I am at this point and the unknowns of my own future.

Most days I can accept that we humans have very little direct control of life.  We can plan, we can be active in doing what we think will prepare us for certain eventualities.  We can make a game plan after sorting out new directions at various junctures in life.  All of that is important.  And it makes a huge difference in the quality of life to be a conscious creator rather than a piece of driftwood being tossed along where ever the current takes us.

But what I became aware of is the importance of being mindful as we go along.  Deciding what it is that we value the most.  And then making sure that our schedule reflects what we say is most important.  You know that old adage about the man lying on his death bed is never wishing he had spent more time at the office?  If you would say that your relationships are the most important thing in your life, and then were to add up the hours in a week or month that you spend feeding those relationships, would your declaration be believable?  What you say is important should be congruent with your behavior, or you have a big disconnect going on.

And it’s important to be paying attention to life as you are living it.  What does that mean?  I think it means taking time every day and every week to stop, reflect, and really observe what is going on.  To be in nature and smell the flowers, feel your body as you walk along.  Do something with a friend that is outside your routine.  Go see something that is off your beaten path and open yourself to the wonder of life.  I never fail to be amazed at people’s creativity, and even more so, nature’s creations.  To be filled with awe is to be filled with spirit.  You know that you are alive.  This is living!

Take time for silence.  Invite inspiration to come and make it welcome by allowing space for it.  Rest and relax.  Soon you can return to working.  There is certainly an important place for that.  But at the end of the day, or the end of a life, be sure that you have remembered to live.

 

What We Pay Attention to Gets Bigger

“Let the beauty of what we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
~Rumi~

 

When I was inspired to write this blog post, I have to confess to feeling a tad irritated.  It is a topic that has been popping up in my awareness with increasing frequency, so I must say that it has certainly gotten my attention and I am ready for it to quit taking up so much space in my head.

The other day in a restaurant I was seated across the aisle from a young mother and her daughter. From the time they sat down until they had finished their meal and left, the woman was talking on her cell phone. Her conversation with whoever was on the other end was only interrupted periodically by orders given to her daughter to eat or not to spill her food and to sit still.  I don’t know how she could have been aware of her own meal, and she certainly missed an opportunity to have a conversation with her daughter.  I wondered what unintentional messages that girl was getting from her mother regarding her own importance or lack of it.

We are so bombarded by stimulation from the myriad of our electronic devices that we are not fully aware of how distracted and stressed we become.  Our conversations are so frequently interrupted by the beeps of incoming calls or texts or tweets that it is rare to enjoy the full attention and interactions with others.  The constant interruptions bring on a sort of imposed ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) that disrupts continuity and harmony and function.

If you notice, there are television cell phone ads now making a joke of this.  If it weren’t so irritating it would be funny.  A man and woman are having a romantic dinner, while he keeps surreptitiously looking at his phone.  She asks if he is watching a game while she’s talking to him, which he denies.  Then he gives himself away by cheering when his team makes a goal.  The voiceover says something like “22 seconds faster.”  So much for that romance!

Worst of all, this so-called electronic “connection” keeps us from being truly connected with our own thoughts, emotions, and spirits.  All our endeavors become disjointed and ineffective as we lose more and more contact with our deeper self.  How can we possibly do purposeful work, be inspired or enjoy the presence of another human being with all interruptions that our electronic connections bring?

I am not naive in thinking that our devices are going anywhere.  They are amazing, entertaining, and useful in the blitz of zippy information they provide.  My life wouldn’t be the same without them.  As a culture we are addicted to them and will stand in line for hours to get the latest versions.  What I am suggesting is that we use them mindfully.  And that every day we turn them off and put them away for awhile.  (I can hear people hyperventilating.  Grab a paper bag to breathe into).

At a time when we are routinely stressed by bad news, too much to do and worries about whether we are meeting the demands of the day, it is very easy to get focused on what is wrong in life.  In order to stay sane, healthy or even to heal, we need a break.  What we are focused on gets bigger, no doubt about it.  You may have gotten used to talking and consuming the latest drama or bad news of the day.  It is essential to open yourself to wonder, which essentially means allowing for some silence and mindfulness.

Being quiet and observant opens a crack of daylight in your awareness.  Going for a walk without your ear buds will allow for hearing a crow cawing or the wind in the tree.  You may notice that one grass has a deeper color or different texture than its neighbor. There may be some wonder in the feather that lies on your path.

If you notice, you begin to experience wonder and joy.  It is a beautiful world we live in and a beautiful life when we care to pay attention.