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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Consuming Interest

Passion or Obsession

It is surely a great calamity for a human being to have no obsessions.”
Robert Bly

Obsessions run the gamut from mere infatuation to mania and compulsion. Between what is minor and what is pathological are way-stations such as fixation, passion and preoccupation. We sometimes diagnose obsessions as unhealthy, especially when they get in the way of everyday life, but certainly, new love is obsessive and no one wants to ditch that. All human beings have what the autism community refers to as “a restricted interest,” and some of those are productive and some are not—which seems to be the demarcation point between being deemed healthy or pathological. Many people have turned something that started out as an obsession into an industry. Obsessive behavior pushes us to perfect, collect, and refine and can make us “the best” at whatever we do. I think of elite athletes who practice their sport six or eight hours a day, even when their game is not in season, and no coach is pushing them to keep up their skills. It can also ruin our lives.

A pathological obsession is “an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person's mind.” (Webster's) It can motivate us to create, as it did Vincent van Gogh, or it can render us insane by interfering with sleep and driving us to mania. On the other hand, passionate interest in one thing has produced some of our greatest inventions and discoveries. Think Albert Einstein, the Wright brothers, Marie Curie, and Watson and Crick, all of whom devoted their lives to a single concept.

It seems uniquely human to have passion for something. When we don't have a consuming interest in life, we feel flat and distracted. We can fritter away our days in idleness or aimlessness. Passionate interest is an exercise of life energy, of directed chi. It is life asserting itself and directing itself. But there is a difference between passion for something and all-consuming obsession with something—one enhances life, and one interferes with it. As with most things, between the black and the white are many shades of gray. Do you have a driving obsession? How does it affect your life?

                                                                In the Spirit,

Friday, September 23, 2016

Movement and Change


A useful image to help us conceptualize the thread of personal unfoldment is the mandala. By mandala I mean a field with a midpoint, such as a sphere with a center. The field is the totality of your experience—your thoughts, feelings, sensations, perceptions, actions; it is the totality of your life at each moment. The center is where Being's dynamism touches your mandala. This is where the transformation experience begins, which then ripples through the whole field.”
A.H. Almass

I have been making mandalas for more than twenty years, and I've worked with counseling clients to make them, too. Mandalas can be simple or complex, and the only rule in making one is to begin in the center and build it outward. The mandala is perhaps the oldest symbol, dating back to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians; to the ouroboros, or the serpent biting its tail. And, even earlier, the most ancient symbol for the divine is a circle within a circle.

I'm not sure what happens when we create a personal mandala, but something on a very deep level shifts. Pema Chodron expressed it this way: “Each person's life is like a mandala—a great, limitless circle. We stand at the center of our own circle, and everything we see, hear, and think forms the mandala of our life.” In every religion, and in nature itself, we find the circular form to be a central focus for connecting with our own center.

One of the most fundamental mandalas is the spiral. We see it in nature, and in architecture, and in art of all types. It is the symbol of growth, of movement. Most often when someone is asked to choose a favorite symbol from a group, they choose the spiral. It is based on the golden ratio; the same one that allows us to curl our fingers into a fist, and fold our bodies into a somersault. We relate to it on an instinctual level. You will find the spiral at the center of many mandalas.

I hope you will take the time to make your own personal mandala. If you make them over time, you will see movement and change. You don't have to understand it with your cerebral hemispheres; you can just trust your instincts to lead you to the center. Here's a thought from Saraha, (“the one who has shot the arrow”): “The flower's perfume has no form, but it pervades space. Likewise, through a spiral of mandalas formless reality is known.”

In the Spirit,

Thursday, September 22, 2016


Season of Turning

...The autumn wind is a raider, pillaging just for fun.”
Steve Sabol

Steve Sabol, the late NFL storyteller and film maker, capitalized the word Raider, and earlier in this quote also spoke of the autumn wind as a Pirate. For many folks, autumn is football season, pure and simple. Certainly, here in Alabama, the Tide will roll and the War Eagle will fly, and tens of thousands of fans will scream themselves hoarse every Saturday until the winter solstice.

This morning, this first day of autumn, the wind is indeed swashbuckling its way around my morning porch and rattling the dry, brown leaves, which are rapidly falling without turning beautiful colors. But autumn is so much more than wind and leaves. This is the season of turning; the wild birds migrate south, the burrowing animals forage and build their dens in preparation for winter. And, human beings seek solitude within and without. It is the season of long walks, and deep meditation, of considering and musing about future plans and changes in direction.

The cooler, shorter days and longer nights bring us to this time of stillness. Even if we live in a neon city, even if everyday life remains the same, our body/mind/spirit responds to the turning of the year, to the changes in light, to the lowering of the sap. The sun rises later and sets earlier, and we slow our pace to match. There are reasons for these rhythms. Creation provided for change in order to facilitate the natural cycle of growth, death and renewal. Our earth tilts, and we tilt with it. When we make conscious these changing cycles, we can lean into them for maximum benefit. Consider the ways you might slow down and give thought to your inner life. Take the candle of consciousness and enter into the growing darkness with anticipation—not with fear, but with expectation of rich reward.

                                                         In the Spirit,

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

"Whether you're a brother, or whether you're a mother..."

Stay Alive

Whether you're a brother, or whether you're a mother,
you're stayin' alive, stayin' alive.
Feel the city breakin' and everybody shakin'
And we're stayin' alive, stayin' alive.
Ah ha ha ha stayin' alive, stayin' alive
Ah ha ha ha stayin' alive.”
Bee Gees (Stayin' Alive refrain)

I'm not sure whether you're old enough to remember this hip Bee Gee's tune—those of us who are will automatically see John Travolta sauntering down a city street to it's beat. Back in the 70's we disco-danced to such swaggering songs and had a great time doing it. Dancing is one way to experience feeling well and truly alive in both body and soul. Think how far back in human history dancing has been a means of altering consciousness—back to the caves.

The legendary Joseph Campbell said: “I don't believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.” We sometimes unfortunately believe that we feel more alive when we're drunk or stoned, but our amazing bodies don't need extra psycho-active substances to feel alive. Even if we don't have two legs to dance on, even if we are awkward and not rhythmic, simply propelling the body/mind into action can produce the feeling of being wildly alive. It's all about brain chemistry. Putting our bodies through vigorous activity kicks off our good chemistry; dopamine, serotonin, endorphin, and oxytocin.

We also experience being fully alive when in communion with other human beings, in deep conversation, in the exchange of ideas, while walking hand in hand, making love, or sharing a wonderful meal together. What brings us fully alive is simply interacting with life itself. But to do that, we must put down our mobile devices and look someone in the eye. Life is not technology—life is in you and in others of your species. Get out there today and experience it. Maybe even dance a little.

                                                           In the Spirit,


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Problem Solving 101

Missing the Mark

Unrest of spirit is a mark of life; one problem after another presents itself and in the solving of them we can take our greatest pleasure.”
Karl A. Menninger

You may (or may not) have noticed that I didn't post yesterday. I overslept, which means I woke up at 5:30 instead of 5:00; then I spent an hour trying to upload an image of the harvest moon to no avail. I wanted to write about the changing of the season, about the upcoming Equinox, but by the time I spent that hour in the utter frustration of techno-hell, I couldn't write a single word. I just had to go walk Liza in the alleys, and let my head stop boiling. Sometimes, when problems present themselves, we just don't appreciate what a great pleasure it is to solve them; this especially happens when we don't, in fact, solve them.

So, maybe I don't need to write about the change in season (since here in Alabama it isn't changing much—daytime temperatures are still in the 90's with no end in sight). Maybe I wasn't listening to my muse—whoever she is—and launched off on my own ego interests. Clearly, technology is not my problem to solve. Maybe I'm called upon by Spirit, to dig a little deeper than the season and the harvest moon (which, by the way, was spectacular over the weekend, and still is, though it's now waning). The problems to be addressed by such a one as me are problems of a different nature—they are problems of the human spirit, of listening to the stirrings of soul in everyday life. I missed the mark.

It is often as difficult to discover which problems are ours to solve, and which are not ours to solve, as it is to actually solve them. Sometimes, we spend an entire lifetime trying to address someone else's issues, or trying to resolve a problem that happened a long time ago. Usually, this is because we don't want to see, or acknowledge, our own problems in the here and now. Other peoples problems, or problems in the distant past that are no longer resolvable, are a diversion. They keep us in denial about our own issues that are happening right this minute. I can't say there's any pleasure in discovering this, but once we do, there is a much greater likelihood of actually solving the real problem. That will give us pleasure; and not only pleasure, but freedom.

(I hope you grab a chance to see the harvest moon tonight. It's pretty beautiful even at half-staff. Just saying...)

                                                            In the Spirit,


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Shake the World

Speak Up

The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.”
Robert F. Kennedy

It is very easy to think that we can't do much to impact the world—being one person, with no power. But the truth is if we do one thing that improves the life of one person, we have contributed to making things better. And, if that person, because you have done that one kind thing, helps someone else, then two people have been impacted by your actions. If that continues down the line, you can see how a long string of good can come from one simple act of kindness. As Gandhi said: “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

We tend to allow our perceived lack of power cause even more damage. We refuse to speak up when we see injustice. We leave situations that are uncomfortable for us, rather than stick it out. We remain silent, when we hear other people say things that are in the category of an “ism.” I remember well listening to people make “dumb-blond” jokes, and “silly woman” jokes when I was younger—even racist and homophobic jokes—and feeling uncomfortable, but not speaking up, or worse, laughing along, for fear that the unkindness would then be turned on me. We dismiss these kinds of things, thinking why make a big deal out of it; it's just a joke, after all. But our silence condones and encourages such behavior, and a mole-hill can, as you know, become a mountain.

Here is timely advice from author, William Arthur Ward:

Do more than belong: participate.
Do more than believe: practice.
Do more than be fair: be kind.
Do more than forgive: forget.
Do more than dream: work.”

We can shake the world gently with one act of kindness.

                                                               In the Spirit,


Saturday, September 17, 2016

Deeper Meaning


We're all just walking each other home.”
Ram Dass

Do you ever look at the people around you and wonder how it happened, or better still, why it happened that you came to know them? How and why they came into your life, and you into theirs? Why is it that people come for a while, you form intense relationships with them, and then they go, but leave their imprint on your psyche and soul. Are these events random? Perhaps.

Some of us (like me), think in metaphysics all the time—that there are no random events, that people come and go for a reason. Lord knows, I'm not infallible; I find meaning in things simply because I choose to find meaning in them. In my world view, a soul incarnates with a specific task, and the people who come into our lives teach us what we're here to learn. Those people include our parents, our siblings, and everyone we come in contact with for longer than a nanosecond. What they teach us may be predominantly positive, or negative, or may simply give us a slice of information that we carry with us from then on--an impression, a whiff of something we need to know. I know, hopelessly mystical, right?

We take on roles of leadership from time to time—sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. These roles are not always clearly seen for what they are, except in retrospect. Case in point, my cousin, Anne, who has a personality like a neodymium magnet—people are drawn to her as if she had her own gravitational field—put out a call last week for bird seed for the Hospice House where her mother is waiting for her return home. Each room has a big picture window with a bird feeder outside and my aunt, Elaine, loves watching the birds. Bird seed for sixteen feeders is expensive, as you might imagine, and the hospice was having difficulty providing. So, Anne posted a request for people to donate—within twenty-four hours, they had 120 pounds of bird seed, and I'll bet there's more on the way. In fact, I'll bet that hospice never has to buy bird seed again.

We all have a role to play in the lives of those around us. We can be conscious about that, or not. Other people have a role to play in our lives; we can choose to see that, or not. Truth is, “We're all just walking each other home.”

                                                                 In the Spirit,