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Saturday, December 10, 2016

In these days of increasing darkness...

Work with Light

There is no more worthy, more glorious, or more potent work, than to work with light.”
Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov (The Mystery of Light)

We are moving steadily toward Winter Solstice, the day of least sunlight in the northern hemisphere, on December 21. For the next six weeks or so, we will see more hours of darkness than light. The length of darkness in winter is more significant than we think—about five hours less daylight than we see in June. Birmingham is situated on the far eastern edge of the Central Time Zone, so our sunrise, at the moment, is about 6 a.m. and twilight begins around 4 in the afternoon. It's a very short day.

Working with light is important to our physical health, since many of our critical neurotransmitters are produced in daylight. That is why many people feel less energy, and more sadness in the dark days of winter—SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is due to low exposure to sunlight. The other reason to work with light is because we are spiritually moved by it. At this moment, for instance, I can look out my window, and see the newly risen sun shining directly through the red leaves of an oak tree, illuminating them, creating an aura of yellow light around the tree, and brightening everything behind it. It's a sight that captures my attention, brings me to stillness, and connects me with something eternal. It is calming and meditative simply to watch.

We've all experienced this phenomenon with light—at the beach, for instance, watching the red sun drop into the sea, or rise from it. Observing many glorious colors making their way through the clouds, changing and blending sky and water as it goes. In that moment, we feel ourselves expand and become one with sea and sky. Here is how Mikhael Aivanhov describes it in The Mystery of Light: “Wherever there are no limits, where Infinity and Eternity and Immortality exist, that is where God is.” That is the connection we feel, at least momentarily, when we work with light. Today, make the most of it.

                                                            In the Spirit,

                                                                Jane

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Gift of Story

Book Worm

A book is a dream that you hold in your hands.”
Neil Gaiman

Most of us these days are trying to drum-up ideas for Christmas/Hanukah (Hanukah begins on Christmas day this year! Wonder how often that happens?) I'm a great lover of books, so when I know that someone else loves them too, I get very excited. I just learned that my young cousin, Kaidance, who's now about 9 years old, is a non-fiction reader. A girl after my own heart. Now, I'm excited about browsing the kid's shelves at our local bookstore.

Edmond Wilson, whose writing influenced the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, said, “No two persons ever read the same book.” It's dicey business to try and buy books for another person based on whether or not you enjoyed them. I've done that many times, and struck out often. So it's a good idea, if you're a book lover, to ask people what they want—be specific. I asked for Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Series for my last birthday and received them—all four books! Well over a thousand pages. At first, I was daunted by the shear volume, but now, I'm mid-way through the second book and can barely put it down to sleep at night.

One of the problems with belonging to a book club, at least for me, was that about half the time, I didn't like the choice of reading material. I wanted more in the way of non-fiction—essays, history, biographies—and no one else did. I ended up spending money for books I just didn't enjoy reading. Always, there were people in the group who just loved that book! Best read ever! We all come to a book the way we come to a stranger. We are drawn to them, or we are not; immediately interested, or indifferent. We approach from the perspective of our own life experience, and something unspoken, little understood, perhaps intuitive, happens in the way of attraction, just as it happens between people. I think that is because every book written, at least the ones that are not formula driven, has been a soul journey for the author. They have poured their days, usually years, into writing and research, devoted themselves to the words as they would to an intimate relationship. Writing a book is a gift of love; it requires passion that verges on obsession. Reading such a book puts you squarely in the middle of that passion. You feel it, you're involved; you care about the characters as you would good friends.

I think reading is magical. The very best thing we can do for our children is to encourage them to read by feeding that appetite for story that they naturally have. A good book is a great way to engage a curious mind, and that is a gift that lasts a lifetime.

                                                                   In the Spirit,

                                                                       Jane

Thursday, December 8, 2016

No curves, no left turns...

Walking the High Wire

The wire is a safe place for me to be. The street is not. Life is not. It's a rigorous and simple path. It's straight. You don't have meanders there like, you know, on the ground, in life.”
Philippe Petit

Philippe Petit, you may remember, is the French high-wire artist, who is best known for walking a wire stretched between the two World Trade Center Towers in 1974. It seemed insane to me at the time, and, honestly, it still does. But, for him, it's safe because it's predictable and there are no “meanders” that might hold unpleasant surprises. Most of us would like to have such a life; to be in control of every aspect so that we could go from point (a) to point (b) with no curving lines and no blind alleys.

Life down here on the street is not safe. It is not straight and simple. You can't train for a lot of what happens outside your tiny sphere of control—that is, beyond your human body. You just have to play the cards you're dealt, and some days they are great, and some days, not so much. We have all sorts of human ways of trying to gain the advantage in this game of life. We try to stack up as much money as possible, we put on a ton of make-up so no one really knows what we look like, we wash ourselves with germ killing soaps and chemicals, we don't step on cracks, we place all manner of alarms and security apparatuses in our homes, we hoard completely unnecessary things, some of us limit our interactions so as not to encounter anything, or anyone, beyond the doors of our safe space. When we have an unpleasant interaction with messy old life, we scrub our hands extra hard, and redouble our efforts.

The problem with these rigorous efforts to keep it straight-forward and controllable, is (1) it's impossible to do, and (2) we block out all the good stuff along with the bad—all the joy, all the serendipity, all the grandeur and glory and awesome deliciousness of life itself. We can live in a cell of our own making, or we can let go, and allow life to happen in all its terrible and delightful manifestations. Or, I suppose, we can learn how to walk on a high wire.

                                                             In the Spirit,
                                                                Jane




Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Holding the Space

Being Present

Holding the space for another person is incredibly profound.”
Lynn Hauka (Huffington Post Website)

Learning to hold the space for another person requires as much training and discipline as becoming a major athlete. In fact, it's not terribly different except that it doesn't require bench pressing hundreds of pounds. What it does require is presence.

Athletic training typically begins with an early morning routine—running several miles is common. And then, hours in the gym, developing individual sets of muscles. It requires keen attention to diet, getting enough of the right calories to support the exercise and build muscle instead of fat. One must become body-conscious; must be fully present in their body, because the result of being distracted is often injury. After that, hours of field training. Specific skill-building, depending on which sport you play. Learning the plays, learning the moves, and how to do your job on the team. Day after day, week after week, a commitment to excellence is required.

Learning to hold the space for another is quite similar. It necessitates knowing oneself very well; what are the tripwires that may tip you into self-consciousness. What are your particular buttons that, when pushed, will activate your own defenses and prevent you from being present? What is required for you to be quiet inside, to not be distracted your own concerns? Practice at staying out of one's own head is necessary. Holding the space for someone requires you to be present, body and mind, with that person.

When you can be there, hold the space, free of distraction, and look someone in the eye with your complete consciousness, healing happens—for them and for you. It is the meeting of two souls; it is the powerful experience that someone else understands, witnesses, and will not run away. It may be the most potent medicine we humans have at our disposal.

                                                                In the Spirit,

                                                                   Jane

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

What is normal?

Being Typical

To be broken is no reason to see all things as broken.”
Mark Nepo

As you may know, my educational background is in counseling. I am well steeped in diagnosis and pathology. I was born with an analytical mindset that is always assessing. But I've come to understand, though it's taken far too long, that not every broken person or thing is pathological. You know how sometimes when a broken bone heals incorrectly, it has to be broken again and reset? Well, that's how I think of life circumstances that crack us open—they provide, in addition to pain, opportunities to reset.

I think we are a little too quick to diagnose and prescribe. That no doubt comes from a positive place—to make it better; to help this person get past their trauma and move on. But sometimes, people need to stay with their ill feelings, to sit with them until understanding comes, and a new appreciation is gained. Not always, of course, but sometimes. Remember Job, in the Old Testament? How he dons sackcloth and sits in the ashes of his former life? He takes time to mourn. It's so uncomfortable for his neighbors, that, in their attempts to make it better, they only make it worse.

Sometimes what we think of as pathological is simply a variation of normal—whatever normal is. Sometimes, people don't need a label that helps them to identify what sort of “deviation from the norm” they are; they just need to find ways to accommodate their difference. There is no check list when it comes to being typical, so that you know whether you fall safely into the statistical mean. We humans are scattered across the bell curve on many different measures beyond intelligence. Adaptability, for instance, is a major skill, no matter what sort of cracks and breaks you may have. I see this every week in my trips to Lakeshore, the training site for the Paralympic teams. Talk about your adaptable people!

In a kinder, gentler world, we don't label people according to their differences, nor do we celebrate some and not others. We just accept each person as they are—as we are—with a mixture of gifts and deficits that add up to one original and valuable human being.

                                                        In the Spirit,
                                                             Jane






Monday, December 5, 2016

Unlikely Sources

Youthful Wisdom

I have been finding treasure in places I did not want to search. I have been hearing wisdom from tongues I did not want to listen. I have been finding beauty where I did not want to look. And I have learned so much from journeys I did not want to take...”
Suzy Kassem (Rise Up and Salute the Sun)

Perhaps it's the effects of age, or of too much time in silence, but lately I've been reassessing all the notions, and ways of being, that I thought were “settled law” within my psyche. I have always held the idea that one gains wisdom with age, that one, simply through experience, gathers information pertinent to the living of life. But the older I get, the more years of experience I gather, the less sure I am of what I truly know—in fact, I think there may be no such thing as “settled law” within me.

I meet young people now, who are far wiser than I, whose perception of life differs from mine simply because they're still open to new information. Their understanding of how things work, how the powers-that-be steer the world-ship, is both more, and less, cynical than mine. They are still malleable, and so much better informed. They see themselves as world citizens, and that is neither scary, nor a grandiose notion to them.

I have found within myself too much certainty, too much judgment, too little flexibility. I'm like the Farmer's Insurance commercial, “We've seen almost everything, so we know how to cover almost anything.” But, seeing almost everything doesn't mean that I have inside information or conclusive knowledge. It only means that I have some experience with a lot of different situations. We elders must hold open the possibility that there is yet more to learn, to discover, to experience, and that we may gain knowledge of life from the young. Along with their beauty, and their energy, they have much wisdom to impart if we have ears to hear.

                                                                In the Spirit,

                                                                    Jane

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Passionate Choices...

Healthy Cells

This is why finding what we love, though it may take years, is building a life of passion. For what makes you come alive can keep you alive, whether you are paid well for it or not. And beyond the fashion of the job market, a life of passion makes us a healthy cell in the body of the world.”
Mark Nepo (The Book of Awakening)

When I was a young person heading off to college, the jobs available for women were limited—teacher, nurse, secretary, possibly bookkeeper, if you happened to be really good with figures. My sister, Jerrie, was an aberrant female, who majored in statistics in college. College graduates knew that whatever field they chose would be productive—there would be jobs waiting, and they could pick and choose. We didn't think much about passion, or what made us come alive. If we had, I would have majored in art. Since art was not considered a reasonable college choice, even for a girl, I had to squeeze those classes in around the edges as electives. My passion was diverted into teaching, and though I brought some creativity to that field, the deep dive into art-making remained on the sidelines.

Now, as then, it seems that the job market drives college decisions. I have a young friend who loves animals, who has wanted to be a veterinarian her whole life, and was even accepted into vet school, which is no easy feat. But, she decided that the job market was not ideal, she would likely not make enough money in that field, so she changed her major. I know others who have gone into computer science fields, though they loathe working at a computer all day. Nowadays, students coming out of high school are told the best jobs are in engineering—and no doubt they are, but what if you don't have a genuine interest in engineering? Will you become a successful engineer?

And then there is the whole generation X, who had the bad—or possibly, the good—fortune to have graduated at the moment of the economic melt-down. Their degrees, no matter what they happened to be, meant very little because the jobs simply weren't there. As a result, they have learned to innovate. I heard this week, that the daughter of a friend of mine is making her living by raising goats, and making products--soaps and body lotions--from their milk. Many Gen-Xers' have created a life based on their passionate interests. To be sure, they may be struggling financially, but many of them are doing what they love. You tell me—which is better?

When we listen to our hearts, and choose to do what brings us alive, our whole body/mind dances. We work hard, but hard work feels good; we strive, and are happy striving. As Mark Nepo says, we become “a healthy cell in the body of the world.” In other words, we become a blessing, both to ourselves and to others.

                                                       In the Spirit,
                                                           Jane