Thursday, December 31, 2009

A New Year

If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. - Lao Tzu
Everywhere I go, people are breathing a big sigh of relief that 2009 is over. The news anchors claim there is a general feeling across the country that this was an especially bad year. Was it really? It's like there is a magical wall over which we can climb at midnight and escape the imagined curses of the past.

For as long as I can remember, the new year has always brought a response of, "Thank God!" I really cannot remember a time when this was not the case. As a child and a teenager, this declaration came mostly from adults and maybe some kids imitating adults. Children don't usually look at all the bad things behind them; they are too busy being interested in the next few minutes. Teenagers are thinking about the immediate future. Young adults start to get scrambled, coming up with a mixture of concern for their future and trying to grab everything they can in the now.

So why is this year making the news as an exceptionally bad year? What makes a whole year a

tragedy - Disappointment? Illness? Loss? War? Death? Natural disaster? Unrequited love? More tears than we think are normal?

I am absolutely certain that there have been 365-day blocks of time in the history of mankind that were much, much worse.

It would be infinitely more helpful to think of what we are grateful for over the past year. Not so we can hang on to the passing year and revel in it - so we can bless it and let it go. Even the smallest thing to be grateful for is worthwhile, because that small, positive thing could just as easily have been another disappointment.

My father was a humorous curmudgeon. People would say to him, "Why can't you be more positive?" He would reply, "I am positive. Positive everything will go wrong." He had the philosophy that if he expected the worst, he would never be disappointed. I do remember one or two times when he declared a whole year a wash and gave the big sigh of relief and the "Thank God it's over," declaration. Those instances, however, involved the tragedies and misfortunes of others, people he cared for, because for himself he had accepted that everything would always go wrong. One year, to him, was no different than another. "You've seen one bad year, you've seen them all." The closest thing to gratitude I ever heard him say was, "It's better than a kick in the butt."

I'm not going to pretend that I don't have my own gripes with the events of 2009. In the interest of avoiding a "whine-fest" I won't get into what those gripes are, or were. I can honestly say, though, if I were to make a list for every year, put all my concentration into thinking about the unpleasant things that have happened in my life, the lists would vary in length only slightly from year to year.

So, what is there to do? I think instead of a disappointment list, I'll make a list of satisfaction. I'm sure if I think about it enough, I can come up with a pretty long list. I bet I can make my satisfaction list longer than any of the disappointment lists. Lets see, where to start....

1. I am alive.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Inner Messenger

I love my "inner messenger," which I'm told is really called my higher self or my consciousness. Sometimes it pushes me, without words of course, to do something in a particular way. Sometimes it guides me to do something out of the ordinary. Sometimes it just tells me to be still and avoid doing anything. It's a wonderful thing.

Mostly I listen, but sometimes I don't.

Why not listen always?

Well, there are a few factors involved with being an "in tuned active listener."

1. The need to pay attention and be aware.

2. The need to trust the message.

3. The need to be able to stand up to those who question or doubt.

4. The need to be strong and eliminate fear.

I can remember when I first recognized that my inner messenger, my higher self, had spoken to me. After this experience, I was able to connect all the times throughout my life when I had "heard" it and either listened or ignored. But at this one point, I became absolutely aware and could acknowledge that there was a messenger, in my heart, which told me things in a very subtle but recognizable way.

I was driving down to town in a 1976 VW SuperBeetle. The year was 1993. The place, the Pocono Mountains. My husband (ex) was sitting in the passenger seat. I downshifted and put on the blinker to make a right hand turn that would cut across an approaching fork in the road and eventually take me to the same intersection at a different place. It wouldn't save time or trouble in any way. I did it because, without thinking about it, something inside me told me I should. It just made me feel more comfortable. My husband complained: Why would you do this? What does it help? This doesn't make sense! It will add time! I switched off the blinker and drove on without turning, while he continued to argue his point. Within several feet of driving past the turn I had intended to make, a school bus passed us going the other direction on the two lane road. A child on the bus threw a rock from the bus window and shattered the windshield of the VW.
My response was, "If only I had listened to myself, and not you, this wouldn't have happened." Of course, I was angry - at myself, at my overbearing husband, at the child and the bus. But, I was also just beginning on a path towards enlightenment and it didn't take long for the anger to change into, "Ah-ha."

I know now that the point of this experience was purely to teach me about my inner messenger, about the obstacles that I must face in order to listen, and about the unhappy experiences I won't ever know were right around the corner because I listened.

Had I turned, the only lesson I might have received would have been to avoid taking my husband in the car, or to wear ear plugs.

Still, I have to admit, I don't always listen. What my inner messenger tells me doesn't always make sense: I get the urge to pack something odd in my suitcase for a trip, or stick unusual things in my purse before work, or I feel the need to complete something way ahead of time. I always find out why later on. I have also taken those odd things back out of my suitcase and my purse, and put off doing things ahead of time, and I eventually find out why I should have listened. Those are just a simple examples, but it kind of works that way, in all types of situations.

What I try not to do is berate myself too much for not listening. No one is perfect. The thing is, those small, insignificant experiences are good lessons. They keep me aware of that inner messenger that "speaks" through feeling, or pure thought, and not words. The more familiar that guiding voice gets, I believe, the more likely I am to listen when something really important is at stake.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Tuition of Anger

I get angry sometimes. It’s not a chronic problem. I don’t get offended easily or dwell overly much on injustice. But, sometimes I do have a welling up of that hurtful emotion, that beastly ghost, and it always comes in lesson form.
Major Test
About a month ago I had an experience that elicited from me a reaction of extreme anger. It was a dreadful case of disrespect at work. I was so angry that I shook inside, trembled in my spirit body like a dry leaf ready to break free. It had been so long since I had allowed a feeling like that, I broke down. I became physically ill. It took a forgiveness ritual and much meditation to get back on track so I could get well.
Field Study
Today I went to my daughter’s university graduation ceremony. Her boyfriend and I found seats right up front where we could see her accept her diploma and walk down the stairs. We waited a good hour and a half for that momentary event. Meanwhile, other audience members would come down the stairs to take pictures and were quickly chased away by a woman usher who was very devoted to her job. The usherette seemed to be curtly insistent with some people and softer with others. I alternated between trying to be understanding, to watching in curiosity, to being a little shocked by her behavior.
At one point, a man in a suit came rushing down the stairs to take a picture of his daughter and nearly knocked over, linebacker style, a woman who had just been brusquely chased away. The usherette simply looked at him silently as he planted his feet, yelled for his daughter, held up his camera, and clicked as his daughter stumbled down the stairs! Thank goodness for the boy who caught her! It was as though the man’s self absorbed energy, that had nearly pushed a stranger into my lap, was thrust across the divide over to his poor daughter. I found the whole thing quite amazing.
Pop Quiz
Then it was time for my daughter to walk. I had a perfect set up right from my seat to get a clear shot of her coming down the stairs. (I was lucky enough already to get a really cute picture of her entering the arena to the graduation processional march.) I got greedy, though. I stood up to get a picture of her being handed her diploma. The usherette fussed at me. I snapped the picture and the usherette continued to fuss. Rather than sending her love and a smile, I argued. I pointed out that I was just standing next to my seat. It took only that long for my daughter to reach the edge of the stage and walk down the stairs - without me getting the picture I had waited for.
I knew instantly what had happened. Moi - the person so often described as mellow, patient, laid back – had merely acknowledged the ugly head of anger and was getting an obvious, in my face lesson.
I’ve been reading quite a bit about the effects of anger lately. Writers like Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, and Eckhart Tolle warn of the consequences of allowing anger to separate us from each other. Anger ruins everything.
The usherette was firmly lodged in an “us and them” mentality and I fell into the trap. I wasn’t even angry myself. I just took the time to acknowledge her anger, allowed myself to absorb the negative vibes coming from her, and in weakness I responded!
So what am I going to do? I had to laugh. The cool thing to be happy about is that my daughter and her boyfriend had a special moment glancing at each other across that space - a sweet moment that only they share.
And me? Well, I’m still a long way from being a Yogi. But I’m taking little baby steps - and that’s okay.
The usherette? Thanks, lady. I think you helped me earn another enlightenment credit hour.
Until next time,

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Power Threshold

For every man there exists a bait which he cannot resist swallowing.
- Friedrich Nietzsche

When I was in my pre-teenage years, a very strange thing happened. The president of the United States - respected, revered, and a father figure to most everyone - acted in a dishonest way and abused his power. It was shocking and disheartening. We were accustomed to our celebrities misbehaving, although it seemed, as a whole, we wanted to reserve the news of their indiscretions for whispers and short news articles in special publications. The fall of our 37th president, however, was out there, big and full blown for everyone to see. As teenagers, we weren’t sure how to interpret this. We had grown up with the Vietnam War and the Cold War, a time when politicians were being accused of lying to us on a daily basis. Unfortunately, we were faced with the unhappy conclusion that people we respected and counted on would lie and cheat. (I'm sure we aren't the first generation in the history of man to have to face that.)

Since that time, we have become a nation, perhaps even a world, which loves to expose the wrong doings of the rich, powerful, and famous. Perhaps it’s to help us forget about our own indecencies. Perhaps it eases our jealousy. Regular people do naughty things all the time. Over the course of my life, I have been entrusted with the secrets of many family members who presented themselves self-righteously and yet bore the personal history of those human weaknesses capable of raising an eyebrow. I hold those secrets like a treasure chest, not sharing them with anyone who would delight in them, but saving them as potential parables for conversation with my wise and wonderful daughter, as did my own mother with me.

What is important, in my opinion, is that we learn from the public stories, as my daughter learns from my private ones. It seems that people who seek or accept power over others, in any form, frequently have an opening through which they cannot go without foundering. I’ve always called it the “power threshold.”

A power threshold can be reached at any level of influence or livelihood. One doesn't have to reach the astronomical heights of the world leader or the sports hero. I've seen people allow a taste of superiority to cause shameless or assuming behavior in many walks of life. One person could make it to a position of great power before becoming so filled with self importance that they lose their humility and get careless; another might fall after merely acquiring a humble trust in some modest capacity.

So what can we learn from it?
The obvious first lesson is that no one person is actually better than another. That is something that I think we can easily forget in the presence of someone charismatic and powerful.
Another lesson, the one that I most emphasize to my daughter, is the importance of remaining humble at all times and in every situation. If one can hold steady in the imperative acceptance of their humility, and be forever grateful for whatever blessings have been bestowed upon them, they will be less likely to behave in a way that appears as though they feel they are somehow more entitled than others.
And, perhaps the last lesson is just to understand the misery of being exposed. To understand that, though the world may seem to love one person more, it's not like a mother's love. It's a mercurial love. It stands on feet of sugar crystals ready to melt away when the reasons for that love become hotly tainted. To reach an accomplishment of any magnitude, great or small, and then lose what has been gained through actions that were no more than selfish whims must be a great punishment indeed. That's when saying over and over that the past is past and it's time to move on and deal with the present would be almost unbearable, I'm sure.

I am not convinced of Nietzsche's philosophy about a bait for every man, however. I believe that the power threshold of any individual is set by that individual and doesn't lie in waiting like a hidden fox trap. If we want to, we can achieve any state of greatness and always remain humble and never take the bait. Indeed, perhaps there are those of us for which no bait even exists. I'd like to think so. I'd like to make it so.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Just One Wish

If you had one wish…

I know it sounds childish, but really. What would you wish for if you had one wish?

I’ve thought about this my whole life. Why? I don’t know. Usually it’s something to think about when I’m lying awake in the early, early AM, when my mind is still kind of sleepy but not enough to actually sleep. If you’ve never contemplated the one wish dilemma, then you might want to start contemplating kindness, forgiveness, and tolerance so you don’t get the urge to make fun.

Back to the wish.

When I was young, the standard answer would be, “I wish for more wishes!” That way I could help everybody else and myself, too. But, then, some wise guy somewhere asked the question and qualified it by declaring that the “infinite wishes” answer wasn’t allowed anymore.

Of course not.

So what would it be? Endless food for everyone? A loving home for every human and domestic animal? World peace?

One pretty good wish would be to make everything that is meant to be a weapon, or is used as a weapon, just disappear – poof!

One wish could end fear, end greed, end hate.

You could even wish for everyone to suddenly be filled with divine love for everyone and everything.

I watched Star Trek a lot as a kid and I always liked the episode with the spores that shot out of the flowers and made everybody perfectly happy and healthy. It was a lovely symbiotic relationship. Even Mr. Spock was happy. Maybe I would wish that those flowers were real and growing everywhere on earth.

It’s just too hard to decide. If it really happened, I think I’d need a little time.

Since it’s not real, I’m going back to the “infinite wishes” wish. I don’t care if it’s not allowed. That one takes more time when I’m trying to get back to sleep.