The Art of Allowing Part I

Have you noticed that when it comes to “life lessons,”  when you forget one, that somehow you get a sort of cosmic thump on the side of the head as a reminder that you need to pay attention?  That is how it seems to me, at any rate.

Last spring I was cashing in on a generous offer from a friend to come to her spa for a treatment called Healing Touch.  Despite being in serious need of some TLC, she reminded me repeatedly of her offer before I finally surrendered and arranged the appointment.

This made no rational sense because at the time I was really at a low ebb; drained and in a gray mood. I don’t like to think of myself in these terms, but I was burned out.  Physically I was vaguely symptomatic, but not sick enough to warrant going to the doctor.  She obviously recognized my state of being far more clearly than I did.

She showed me back to the massage room, and asked me to sit on the table.  She bent to untie my shoes and remove them, and I nearly bumped heads with her, trying to take them off myself.  She calmly said, “It would be all right for you to allow someone else to take your shoes off for you.” What a concept!

This is what I mean when I say “cosmic thump on the side of the head.”  After the session was over, and I was feeling relaxed, calm and then increasingly rejuvenated, I reflected on that small exchange. How many times had I turned down offers for assistance assuring the person offering that I could manage it myself?

The winter before when my friend Denny called me to offer to drive over to shovel the snow from around my car, I objected at first even though I was recovering from the flu and in no shape to go shovel snow! Surely I could hire the kid across the street, and besides, what if he hurt his back again? Denny was more persistent than I was, and arrived despite my objections.  Afterwards we enjoyed a chat over a cup of coffee, and I felt truly grateful for his help and his friendship.

So what’s the problem?

Probably like many of you, I was taught that it is better to give than to receive.  And socialized as a female, the expectations of caring for everyone else rather than oneself were greatly reinforced. In fact to say no, was selfish and not at all nice.  And lord knows that good girls are nice. In my work life I have met many men who are burdened by the same internalized message.

Like many great spiritual lessons, I think that one has been poorly understood.  I don’t think it means that receiving is selfish or wrong.  In fact nature herself demonstrates that there is ebb and a flow to giving and receiving.  The ocean waves come in, and they also go out.  The farmer prepares the soil, plants the seeds and after the sun and rain of the growing season, harvests the crop. 

In our human affairs, the cash flows in and as we pay our bills, it flows out. We can quickly see in this case that we are in trouble if we are giving and not receiving.  But the same is true for our relationships.  We share our thoughts and feelings with friends, and we also need to be quiet and allow them to do the same.   Speak and then attentively listen.  Help when they need it and also allow them to help us.

It’s an irony that what we secretly desire the most from friends and family is for them to attend and care for us.  But we may find it difficult to relax and fully allow their attention and help.  What is this about?  I think that when we are in a position to help others, we have a sense of being in control.  Or at least we feel more powerful or capable.  To stand by and allow someone else to take off our shoes means to be vulnerable.  To open our hearts and truly allow another human being to offer his thoughts or her love means being vulnerable.  We cannot control what may be coming our way.

What if it hurts?  What if it stops?  What if I don’t understand it?  What if I come to count on it and it goes away?  Sometimes it is a challenge to believe in the abundance of love in the universe, as well as an abundance of everything else we need and want.  We are so conditioned by our culture to feel fear and a scarcity of what we need.  Our habits of thought are initially shaped by our parents’ fears and reinforced by the hysteria of mass media and entertainment that we pay to watch.

Although we desire abundance and love and well-being, we end up resisting them when we can’t believe that we deserve them, or that they even exist. When you take a good look at your life and understand that what you see is the result of your beliefs and practices, your resistance to allowing what you desire will be apparent.

However, we can choose to become conscious of those beliefs and thought habits.  Through practice we can replace them and the behaviors that result, with healthier ones.  We can be helpful to others and also allow for our own rest, replenishment, nourishment and support.  There is plenty for all of us.


What is Greater than Genius?

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed
in overalls and looks like work.”
~Thomas Edison~

This week the scientific world is celebrating the discovery of a sub-atomic particle that may be the key to the formation of stars, planets and eventually life after the Big Bang. Called the Higgs Boson, or god particle, many questions remain about the exact nature of this particle. When the news was announced in Switzerland, the audience of scientists applauded wildly.

Their excitement may be explained in part by the fact that it has taken the cooperation of thousands of scientists working over four decades to find the particle that is essential to seeing that there’s an invisible field that permeates the universe and gives mass to everything in it including stars and of course the atoms inside our bodies. This is a very big deal.

Now what I know about quantum physics you could put inside the eye and a gnat and it could still see.  But the thing that snagged my attention was the obvious joy and excitement expressed by what is usually a pretty staid and stoic group of human beings.  Scientists are cautious in their pronouncements about important discoveries.  Generally not prone to drama.

The other thing that struck me is that they have been looking for this sub-atomic particle for so long and that it has taken a huge army of people working steadily on the problems involved in finding it.  40 years!

It reminded me of Thomas Edison who worked doggedly on his invention of the electric light bulb. He and his associates worked on at least three thousand different theories to develop an efficient incandescent lamp. We admire his genius, but often overlook the years of work, trial and error that he required to finally succeed.  Most of his contemporaries had long since given up by that time.  He was quoted as saying, “”Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

Does it sometimes seem to you that what you need to succeed is a unique and amazing idea?  Surely that would be the key to success, whether you want to invent something, meet a challenging goal, make a career change or start a new business.  It really is amazing when that figurative light bulb goes off in your mind.  But I think Edison and the quantum physicists would tell us that that is just a nanosecond of the story.

After the great idea, then it’s time to put on your overalls and get to work. And to expect to persevere in that work for a long time, if need be. Keeping focused on the target and then persevering despite setbacks and errors will get you to your goal eventually.  Those mistakes are essential to the process and must not deter you.

Can you imagine how many trials and errors Edison and the quantum physicists must have encountered?  And all of it provided feedback that enabled them to make the eventual changes that led to success possible.  Whatever achievement you are working on, find the support and inspiration you need to keep on your path. You can persevere and succeed. 


Quotable Quote

“Every morning you are handed twenty-four golden hours.
They are one of the few things in this world that you get free of charge.  If you had all the money in the world, you couldn’t buy an extra hour.  What will you do with this priceless treasure?  Remember, you must use it, as it is given only once.  Once wasted you cannot get it back.”

~Source Unknown~


In The News: A Riff on Penn State


“May God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you really can make a difference in this world,
so that you are able, with God’s grace,
to do what others claim cannot be done.”
~The Fourth of a Four-Fold Franciscan Blessing~


As a citizen of PA I have been, like thousands of others, reeling in the wake of events that have occurred in our state over the past week.  A child sexual assault scandal has rocked a hallowed institution, and ended the careers of a number of powerful men.  Arrests have been made and further investigations are ongoing.

Besides being shocked and appalled by what has been happening under our very noses for many years, we hear expressions of outrage, disgust, fear and sorrow.  Personally I have felt them too.  Admittedly I am not a Penn State graduate, nor am I am fan of college football.  I follow sports only at Olympics time and whatever commentary or news is covered by NPR.  I have been known to go into a coma at the sound of football commentary on TV.  So my concerns don’t really extend to those entities.

What I think this is about is the assault on innocent children, and the abuse of power by people who apparently believe that sustaining  institutional structures and the cash cow of college football  (in this case) is more important than protecting those who are vulnerable, unprotected and have no power at all.

It isn’t even really about Penn State and college football;  unfortunately this misuse of power and scandal has besmirched the Catholic Church, the Mormon Church, (probably every other church to some extent), other professional sports teams such as the Red Sox, and maybe even a local day care center in your community.

At the risk of sounding like an alarmist or shocking you, what I am saying is that no group or community is immune to it.

These acts are not perpetrated by monsters, although we like to call them that.  They are not mentally ill people who have some “chemical imbalance” or brain dysfunction which keeps them unable to control their impulses.  They are ordinary people who make awful choices.  That they themselves were once similarly abused is likely the case.  However, they have other options for dealing with pain, rather than inflicting it on others.

And what about the silent witnesses?  They are ordinary people too.  People who look and live an awful lot like you and me.  And when you think about it, the witnesses by far out-number the monstrous perpetrators who inhabit so many nightmares.  And the situations of abuse that seem to go on and on before they are finally (if ever) reported, are only made possible by people who turn a blind eye.

In one of many conversations I had last week, someone suggested that the witnesses at Penn State didn’t call the police because they feared for their jobs.  As it turns out, their jobs would not be protected, at least in this state, because only certain occupational groups (teachers, counselors, doctors and nurses) have a duty to report.  Ironically, coaches who deal with hundreds of minors, do not.  Neither does John or Jill Q. Public.  So protecting one’s career and financial interests can certainly outweigh doing the moral or ethical thing without legal consequences.

It would certainly be uncomfortable to buck the power of the institution, to risk disapproval and maybe even the ire of those who are at the top of the heap, wielding the most power.  Lord knows it is uncomfortable standing up and opposing any existing order.  Most of us are way too invested in pleasing other people…especially our “superiors” or those we see as authorities or deities (with a small “d”).

But what I want to remind you of is that there is tremendous power in the simple witnessing of anything you see or hear.  There must be some sociological law that serves as the counterpart of nuclear physics which says that anything being observed is changed just by that process of being observed.

Can even one single individual change the world order?  Yes, I have to believe that we can.  The fate of one potential victim or one injured victim can be changed if we are willing to endure our own discomfort and stand up, dial a phone number and say, “I have seen this, or I have heard this, or I have reason to be concerned about this. “

Institutions of power can only abuse that power if the witnesses are all complicit in denying what they have seen and heard and been concerned about.  One individual, especially when joined by others, can topple the biggest house of cards.  You may think it is foolish to believe, but history is rife with examples of those who dared to speak up and of those who did not.  The consequences are clear, and the children are still suffering.



Letting Go

“There are things I can’t force.  I must adjust.
There are times when the greatest change needed is
a change of my viewpoint.”

In my on-going attempt to curb the clutter in my life, I was cleaning out some files, pitching out some material that I used a long time ago but haven’t seen recently.  I came across something that I once used when I facilitated a women’s group therapy.

I really have no idea where it came from.  I’m guessing it came out of the 12 Step traditions in some form or fashion.  Since I don’t know who to give credit to for it, I offer my apologies in advance.   But I like it and find the concept of “letting go” a valuable tenant of a healthy and happy life, whether you consider yourself to be recovering, or a traveler on a heroes journey (as Joseph Campbell called it).

Here it is; I hope it is useful to you:

  • To let go doesn’t mean to stop caring; it means I can’t do it for someone else.
  • To let go is not to cut myself off; it’s the realization that I can’t control another.
  • To let go is not to enable, but to allow learning from natural consequences.
  • To let go is to admit powerlessness which means the outcome is not in my hands.
  • To let go is not to care for, but to care about.
  • To let go is not to fix, but to be supportive.
  • To let go is not to judge, but to allow another to be a human being.
  • To let go is not to be protective, it is to permit another to face reality.
  • To let go is not to be in the middle arranging all the outcomes, but to allow others to effect their own outcomes.
  • To let go is not to deny but to accept.
  • To let go is not to nag, scold or argue, but to search out my own shortcomings and to correct them.
  • To let go is not to adjust everything to my desires, but to take each day as it comes, and to cherish the moment.
  • To let go is not to criticize and regulate anyone, but to try to become whatever dream I can be.
  • To let go is not to regret the past, but to grow and live for the future.
  • To let go is to fear less and to love more.


Where Are You Going?

The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are,
but in what direction we are moving.”
~Oliver Wendell Holmes~

Are you familiar with the concept of “Becoming?”  It is a term which was brought to the world by Carl Rogers, a pioneer of the Humanistic psychology movement.  I have always liked it because it implies a truth that seems evident, and that is that as human beings we never really arrive at some great destination.  Instead we always seem to be on a continuing pattern of growth.

That’s not to say that we don’t have mountain top experiences.  And by that I mean the moments when some important goal is realized.  Or we are in the right place at the right time with the right mind set to experience something life altering.  I don’t believe these events are accidental.  But rather the result of preparation meeting opportunity.

There is some alchemy involved; the mysterious and seemingly magical process of turning lead into gold and finding an elixir of life.  You probably can recall such moments in your own life when it seemed that things just came together and you were able to recognize that something you were wishing for and working toward finally came together.

In order to reach these benchmarks in our process of Becoming, these are the elements which we need to have in play:

  • A clear sense of direction.  We must know what our values and priorities are.  And we must have an idea of what we desire in our life, and in what direction we need to move in order to get there.
  • A willingness to dream and to invest some time and attention to understand your deeper yearnings and to treat them with respect.  This often unconscious part of you is where your powerhouse of ideas and energy reside.  You need to harness it in order to succeed.  To ignore it is like trying to swim upstream through molasses.
  • A commitment to take small and regular steps toward those dreams.  And when life intervenes (as it will!) and you get distracted and sometimes totally derailed from where you were going (and you will!), to assess the situation, get a new reading on your compass and then get moving again.
  • Do what I call “Caring for your base camp.”  Which means to take care of your basic needs in a holistic way; body, mind and spirit.  This includes getting proper sleep, nutrition, daily order of your living space, tending to your finances, taking care of the relationships with the people you love, doing whatever feeds your spiritual needs.  You can’t possibly have the energy you need to do the necessary work unless your base camp is well established and tended every day.
  • Find a mentor or teacher or coach who can offer guidance, support and an example to live by.  Choose this person well.  You can set your direction much more easily, as well as learn by observing and discussing the particulars of what you are undertaking.  There is no substitute for learning from the successes and failures of others who can encourage and teach you.
  • Be open to feedback and willing to change your plans when you need to.  Your own experiences are valid, and even when things seem to be going terribly wrong, there is great benefit in paying attention, asking yourself what you can learn from this.  Yes, you will have to deal with your emotions and reactions.  But don’t make the mistake of getting stuck in blaming anyone else and resenting them.  Winners take full responsibility for everything that happens to them.   And this is the key to the secret of being able to move forward.

Photo by Dave Hamilton


So What’s the Secret?

Tomorrow is election day in the United States.  It is a mid-term election, which often gets short shrift in the attention of the voters.  If we are to believe the newscasters and pundits (yes, a big “IF,” it’s true) this one may have more than the usual turnout.

Years ago, Dr. Andrew Weil suggested as a part of his 8 Days to Better Health, that we stop watching and reading the news in order to reduce stress levels.  Advice that I took to heart.  Although I listen to NPR regularly, I rarely see network news because I find the “facts” delivered in short sound bites interspersed with even longer advertising to be really annoying. And there seems no shortage of awful and alarming news.  Often I notice that even the weather is portrayed as awful and alarming!

A few years ago we were treated to a teaser for the road to a better life with a book and movie called The Secret. I call it a teaser because although it was about the Law of Attraction, which is a big paradigm change for most of us, it seemed to leave a lot out.  For practical use of the LOA in changing your life, it remained largely a secret.

It seems to me that one of the most basic and important steps to attracting results that you desire into your life, is to learn to observe your own thoughts and feelings and to shift them away from all the bad, alarming focus that makes you miserable and keeps you stuck, to desirable ones.

It is easy to slide back into our negative, well habituated ways of thinking and behaving.  After all we’ve had years to establish these patterns, and when stressed they become our “default” mode.  And if we are thinking and doing the same old thing, we are of course going to get the same old results.

There is good news though.  The brain has much greater plasticity or ability to change than you know.  We can build new neuropathways that lead to new and better results.

There are some great resources to help you do this.  I have reviewed some of them and will continue to tell you about resources that come from credible people.  One that recently came to my attention is a DVD series taught by Bob Proctor and Mary Morrissey.  They are both writers and speakers who have years of experience using and teaching the tenants of the Law of Attraction.

If you find yourself going back to old, familiar negative patterns, check this out.  And even if you are pessimistic that there even IS a secret to getting the results you desire, you owe it to yourself to do a little
more reading.

I highly recommend this product, and you can read and hear more reviews and recommendations at this site:

Oh, and by the way, even if you doubt that you make a difference, go vote anyway!