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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Cue Up!

How to Play the Game

If you start behind the 8-ball, you'll never get in front.”
Harvey Specter

Sometimes, the rules for business success make me want to scream, but I have to admit, some of them apply to life outside the corner office. Here are five lessons from Harvey Specter (Impiric Media website) on business success that I think apply to life in general:

Make a good first impression.
Keep your composure.
Bring solutions, not excuses.
Take responsibility.
Aim higher.”

Here are some examples of abject failure for you to contemplate. The first words I spoke to a man I'd conversed with on-line and was meeting for a first date: “I absolutely hate doing this!” That, my friends, is NOT how you make a good first impression. Needless to say, I never saw him again. A man, who had just moved into my neighborhood, took it upon himself to step out on his front porch and yell at me because my small dog had just pooped on the yard across the street from his house. It was a rare occasion when I had run out of bags for picking up the mess, and had just taken a stick and raked it into the street. This guy, whose yard it was not, yelled curses, then threatened me, “I know where you live!” Needless to say, that first impression stuck with both of us. On average, we have approximately 30 seconds to make a first impression, and first impressions are like super-glue. Don't take any cues from me.

There's a woman at church who, every week at prayer time, goes into a long diatribe about one personal disaster after another and always bawls while she's telling it. This not only monopolizes prayer time, but often causes eye-rolling and less than Christian thoughts in the rest of the congregation. Kissing and groping in public is also problematic. Public displays of emotion/affection are often uncomfortable for everyone in the room unless it happens to be the ICU waiting room in a hospital, the parlor of a funeral home, or you are on your honeymoon in the Bahamas. Try to avoid them if possible.

For goodness sake, if you have a problem, find a solution. Don't wring your hands and expect others to take care of it. Ask for help when you need it—offer help when you can. But, don't make excuses that are simply designed to delay and procrastinate. Or, at the very least, just explain to others that you're procrastinating on this—then no one will have expectations. Take responsibility for your lack of productivity, and don't blame it on others. Our president and the legislative branch of government could take a cue from that one.

Finally, and most importantly, aim higher. Try every day to be a more decent and kinder person to everyone you meet. Often people you would never suspect are carrying heavy loads, and just a smile or a kind gesture can brighten their day. You'll feel better, and so with they. If you start ahead of the 8-ball, who knows, you just might win the game.

                                                               In the Spirit,


Friday, August 18, 2017

Dispel the Darkness

Light a Candle

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

On Wednesday night, the Spirituality Group needed to debrief from the events that began in Charlottesville over the weekend. All of us are “Boomers,” yet none of us had ever seen armed Nazis with torches marching in the streets of an American city. The major question: “What can I do that will make a difference?” We talked about the obvious—call your representatives, or write letters telling them your views; demonstrate, stand vigil, pray. The one that seems most important to me–keep your spiritual community together. Stay close enough to keep your own light burning brightly, and to stoke the fire in one another.

Anne Frank, who knew the Nazi threat all too well, wrote: “Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.” When we are feeling low and helpless, lighting a candle is one way to lift our spirits. Lighting a candle and adding a prayer is even better. Pat Schneider, in How the Light Gets in: Writing as a Spiritual Practice, says this: “...there are truly many ways to pray, and lighting a candle is one of them.” My supply of Virgin of Guadeloupe candles is quite depleted now but, believe me, I will get more.

We need to hold the people of Charlottesville and Barcelona in our hearts. Light a candle for them. Also, remember Sierra Leone, where they are digging out of mudslides that destroyed their villages and killed more than 400 people. Light a candle for them. The people of Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and the destroyed country of Syria. Light a candle for them. For all our brothers and sisters living in refugee camps. Light a candle for them. For wisdom in the U.S. and North Korea; for patience and restraint among all the world's leaders. Light a candle for that. For love, not hate, to swell and grow. Light that one, too. Darkness cannot prevail against so many candles.

And, do not forget to light one for yourself. Hold it out; share it with others. Take comfort from the fact that you stand at the front of a long line of humanity, stretching back eons, who have lighted candles and prayed for peace. Maybe these prayers of ours, and these lights, will be the ones that finally bring it.

                                                           In the Spirit,


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Don't just visit the world!

Pay Attention

Ten times a day something happens to me like this—some strengthening throb of amazement—some good sweet empathic ping and swell. This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”
Mary Oliver

Some folks idolize great athletes, glitzy pop stars, or famous actors—I idolize Mary Oliver. I honestly think I could sit at her feet everyday for the rest of my life and be contented. I wonder whether she ever says anything trivial, or harsh, or banal. If so, it never shows up in her writing. The way she lives, and the way that she writes are one thing—she does not differentiate between work and play—she just lives absorbed. She writes: “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” Her advice to the rest of us is: “Love yourself. Then forget it. Then love the world.” In three short sentences, nine words, she sums up the life cycle of adult humans. First we love ourselves, are completely caught up in the glories of youthful bodies and minds. Then we forget all that as we grind out those middle years of work, child-rearing, relationship building and too often, relationship ending. Parents fall ill and eventually die. We cling to our life preserves and just hope for survival. And then, we fall in love all over again, this time with the world, and with its people and its creatures. It's amazing how beautiful the world looks in these later years, how precious.

I had an encounter a few nights ago. It was bedtime, and I was headed that way when I heard noise outside. I thought it might be thunder or fireworks, so I walked out on my porch and looked west, checking for lightening. Suddenly, from the street out front, an owl flew up and lit on the light pole. He was at least two feet tall, and magnificent! He sat there for several minutes, while I held my breath, and then he flew away. I have been listening to that owl calling to his mate for years, but I have never before caught even a glimpse of him. It was a holy moment.

Mary Oliver wrote: “I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.” If you feel that way too, pay attention. Soak it up. Let yourself experience the beauty of it. This is your “one wild and precious life.” Don't spend it being distracted by your cell phone. The world won't be the same tomorrow, and neither will you. Seize the day!

                                                                      In the Spirit,

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Seeing Clearly


...He thought of himself, thought of things that had seemed so important, so full of meaning when he was twenty, or forty...Red herrings and misdirection, all the characters and observations that seemed so central, so significant while the story was unfolding. But then at the end you realized that the crucial thing was really something else. Something buried in a conversation, a description—you realized that all along it had been a different answer, another person glimpsed but passed over, who was the key to everything...And if you went back...they were there, the clues you missed while you were reading, caught up in the need to move forward. All quietly there.”
Mary Swan

Good writers can tell a story that leads into a densely wooded forest with many paths. Any chosen path will lead to a conclusion that is different from all the others. They know how to drop into the story-line a casual conversations, or a quick glimpse of something that seems irrelevant at the time, but later turns out to be crucial. When you are reading a good book, do you find yourself leafing back to certain scenes, or making margin notes of things to remember? Sometimes, when the tension gets too high, I skip ahead to make sure my favorite characters survive, knowing that losing them would feel tragic to me. At the end, all the threads either come together, or turn inside-out, so that what seemed to be the most likely outcome was not at all. Good stories are deliciously unpredictable.

Hindsight is one of the great mysteries of life. Salmon can swim all their lives in the vast ocean, and still remember exactly which river they hatched in and how to get back there. So why is it that we humans, with our big brains, can live a long life and miss all the clues? Why is it that we latch on to all the wrong things, the unimportant things, and give them far more meaning than they deserve?

Remember when you were ten years old and the teacher scolded you for being sloppy in your homework, or not studying for a test. At the time, the embarrassment was deeply wounding. You thought you would die from shame. But looking back, what real impact did that incident have on your life? Was it a turning point? Suppose you had a love relationship that went down the drain—you discovered that the object of your affection was unfaithful or deceitful. Life turned upside down for a while. You grieved, maybe even fell into depression. You thought you would never be whole again. But here you are, and in hindsight you feel eternally grateful that the person came and went from your life. When you look back, all the clues to that deceit were there in plain sight, but did not register with you or you chose not to see them. Only in hindsight is the pattern clear. Many paths, many outcomes.

We can live looking in the rear-view mirror, or we can learn from our mistakes and misdirection, and move on. Allowing life to flow, not getting stuck on the rocks and riffs of past illusions and bad choices, makes for a happier present. Our story is just as complex as any plot in any book ever written. The very best we can do is keep our eyes open, and try not to miss any of it. The clues are all there if we have eyes to see them. Your story is still which path will you take?

                                                             In the Spirit,


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Cleaning Up

What a Mess

Have God make a message out of your mess.”
Joyce Meyer

One down-side to raising one's consciousness is seeing more than you want to see about yourself and others. Instead of being oblivious to your own faults, and those of others, they sit there looking you straight in the eyes and blinking like some fairy tale frog. They say, “Go ahead; kiss me and I'll become a prince.” but you know better. “Not no, but hell no!” you say. Well, maybe that's not the best reaction. Maybe we should wrestle with it a bit first. Maybe kissing the frog really is the correct response.

Let me just say, I've made the choice to sprint at top speed away from the frog many times in my life, and I can testify to you that he's hard to outrun. Finding fault with self and others can bring you down, and then stand on you chest so you can't get up. I happen to be an expert in this area. I've been pinned down in the pits on any number of occasions. Believe me when I say, it's best to go ahead and kiss that ugly thing.

Embracing the totality of your personality doesn't mean handing the reins of your life over to, and then being swallowed up by, the worst in you. It means recognizing the frog in you, while also seeing your very brightest light. Then, allowing those two parts of you to live together in peace. You/I will always have the choice of which part we call upon in any given situation, because we need them both. Integration allows them to become equal partners.

Transformation from frog to prince is never complete—there will always be a little green around our gills, and a few spines on our backs. But God can make a near-perfect purse out of the proverbial pig's ear. We just have to hand over our mess—all of it—and allow Spirit to take the lead.

Here is a daily affirmation that Joyce Meyer recommends: “The healing power of God is working in me right now. Everyday I get better and better in every way.”

                                                         In the Spirit,

Monday, August 14, 2017

Heads Toward the Sun

Moving Forward

I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being an optimist is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward.”
Nelson Mandela

As much as I've written about darkness lately, I am, as was Nelson Mandela, fundamentally, an optimist. I still believe in the basic decency of humanity. Sometimes, it takes seeing what is ugliest in us to be able to rise above it. This hideous, newfangled brand of hate we witnessed in Charlottesville over the weekend—one that celebrates racism, antisemitism, white-supremacy, and violence—is like a primeval dragon, awake and unshackled, that remembers it can breathe fire and brimstone down on the rest of us. We've certainly seen its face before, and we know how dangerous it is, but the full weight of humankind is aligned against it, and will stand together to oppose its wrath. Our eyes are open, too, and there are many more of us.

I believe that, having seen the beast, we will view each other differently. Perhaps now we will be more inclined to treat each other kindly to counterbalance the hatefulness. Hopefully, we will go out of our way to show respect for one another. It doesn't harm anyone. It takes no more energy to be kind than to be hateful. We can open our hearts just as easily as closing them. And, it's time to open them.

This resurrection of racist violence and unrest in America has nothing to do with history, nor with pride of place or culture. It has only to do with power, hate and fear. Fear of displacement, fear of becoming a minority culture—because we know how we have treated our minority cultures—how we are still treating them—and we don't want to be treated that way. There is still time to enact the golden rule; to treat others as we would like to be treated. But there is no turning back the clock. We must point our faces toward the sun, and move forward together.

                                                           In the Spirit,

Sunday, August 13, 2017

High Consciousness

Integrating the Shadow

The message is unmistakable; our own healing proceeds from that overlap of what we call good and evil, light and dark. It is not that the light element alone does the healing; the place where light and dark begin to touch is where miracles arise. This middle place is a mandorla.”
Robert A. Johnson (Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche)

Just for clarification, a mandorla is an oval of light, usually seen around such sacred Christian figures such as Jesus or Mary. It is used to indicate holy ground, sacred space, wholeness. There are many images of wholeness in other religious traditions—the taijitu, or yin/yang symbol, for one. It depicts the same reality that Johnson elaborates above—light and dark exist within one another and cannot be separated. Together and integrated, they form the whole.

This understanding has deep implications for each of us individually and for our world. When we split off one part of us—whether that part is another tribe, race, nation, human being, or personal characteristic—it is impossible to be whole. It is not in rejecting what we don't like or don't agree with, but in bringing into the fold and integrating it, that we are healed and our nations are healed.

The riots in Charlottesville, Venezuela, and Kenya, together with the insane threats of nuclear attacks from the leaders of North Korea and the United States, form a clear example—when people feel marginalized, their natural instinct is to fight; when people want power and control, their natural instinct is to suppress others. The only way for there to be a good outcome to all this violence is to acknowledge these opposing needs, to rise above our animal instincts, and find a way to negotiate. More fighting, more suppression, and more raving madness will not bring peace or healing. The paradox here is that it is highly probable that all this nastiness had to come to the surface, even erupt in our streets, for transformation to take place—otherwise it would simply stay buried in the collective human psyche and continue to foment hatred, resentment and more violence. Acknowledging the legitimacy of the darkness, whether we like it or not, is a necessary part of healing.

Jungian Analyst, Robert Johnson, now ninety-six years old, had this to say about it: “Nothing will see us through the age we're entering but high consciousness, and that comes hard.” Each of us contributes to the whole, so individual growth is essential. Becoming conscious is, at this point, not optional—we must do it to move from chaos to clarity, from broken to whole. That will not happen solely by gazing upon the light, but by recognizing and integrating our own darkness.

                                                         In the Spirit,