Doing the Work While Looking Away

There is such pressure to do everything full on and perfectly – including or especially the spiritual journey – that it induces guilt and even shame in people whose experience is more spotty. Like, most of us. It is the rare person who has an epiphany, an enlightened moment, the moment when everything makes sense now and forever, our life, habits and patterns forever changed. Some strive for it so ardently you can hear the strains of it as they talk about their spirituality, their practices, their connection to spirit. It has a ring of falsity to it and yet it arises from the pressure of perfection.

bandaged heartFor most of us the spiritual journey is more like fits and starts. The moment of clarity arrives through some deep spiritual experience – in a meditation, on a retreat, in the presence of great spiritual teachers – or in a mundane moment of living – doing the dishes, mowing the lawn, having a shower (since there is no one way that these moments arrive and no right way) – or in the moment of great life transformations like marriage, divorce, having a child, being with a loved one as they die. Gradually, over time, the epiphany or moment of enlightenment becomes a bit obscured and then more so by attending to life, relationships, work, demands on our time and attention.

And then, something brings our attention back to the moments of epiphany – days, weeks, months, maybe even years later. We are reminded that this is our path. Instead of turning to embrace it, we often give ourselves a hard time – the itty-bitty-shitty committee that sits on our shoulder – for having strayed away from “the path”, for letting ourselves be overwhelmed by life. We give ourselves grief because we don’t light candles every day, or meditate or have some daily ritual that would ensure our spiritual purity. We forget to allow ourselves some grace and compassion in the journey of life.

In a conversation with a friend and colleague who I coach, she said she feels like she is looking away from the work she needs to do. It is a thought that carries weight and heaviness – not just for her but for everyone of us who has had this experience. It occurred to me as I listened that we may also be doing the work while looking away. This does not need to be mutually exclusive. There may be many reasons why we look away.

We might look away because we are distracted. Life has a way of bringing us many distractions as we live into work, relationships, health, dreams. We might look away because it is too intense right now and we need a buffer. We might look away because our body, mind, heart and spirit needs time to absorb what we are learning and experiencing. Absorbing is also part of the work. Allowing is part of the work. Self compassion is part of the work. Finding our way – even or especially in fits and starts is part of the work. Remembering is part of the work.

It is not a straight line between the first steps or awareness and the next or last steps. It is a winding journey that brings us to many experiences. This is part of the reason I wrote my memoir, Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness. It details the fits and starts of my own life journey – the moments of epiphany, the moments of losing my way, the experiences of being drawn back to the journey of openheartedness – because it illuminates the journey of an ordinary person fortunate to have extraordinary experiences that keep reminding me I am human and I am a soul at the same time. It keeps reminding me to focus on the soul journey and not the human tragedy version of the same story.

It is easy to lose our way. It is also easy to find our way back – if we allow that this is all a natural part of the journey of life. And we can still be doing the work – or the work is finding its own way in us – even when we are looking away.

Extend Love From a Tender, Openhearted Space

slide1In this time of growing fear and anxiety about the future, about the unknown, about strangers, tap into that tender openhearted space within and extend love. First to yourself – a warm loving embrace to acknowledge the fear and then tap into gentleness, kindness and generosity.

Then to the people you know and love. Because we need to hold our loved ones close and turn to each other in times of chaos and uncertainty.

And then, the most generous act of all – extend kindness and love to people you do not yet know, remembering our common core of humanity, that the shortest distance between two people is a story and that most of us in our hearts want peace, a safe place to live and a future to live into.

Learn the story of a neighbour, a co-worker or someone you bump into in the coffee shop, someone you have met and are curious about but have not yet chatted with. Go to places you would not ordinarily go – to a place of worship of a different religion, to community centers, to peace gatherings. Become educated and aware of different people’s experiences that are different from your own.

Doing this we grow our circles of support, our trust and our faith in humanity.

Embracing the Shadow of Our Times

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On a personal level, embracing the shadow of your soul is one of the most challenging and powerful journeys you can make. Fear of what you might find holds you back, but shadow is an illusion, obscuring the beauty of your inner being and the illumination of your soul journey.

This scales. It is what we are now seeing played out globally. It can be fear evoking. Fear can be debilitating and cause us to withdraw. When we transcend our fear, we can breathe, we can see the beauty that is being evoked by the shadow that has descended in many places where authoritarianism has risen and where there are attempts to silence freedom of speech. We can see the scale of movement, the rising up that has been evoked in response. Embracing the shadow of our times does not mean accepting a new emerging status quo. It means we can begin to see beyond, make intentional choices and keep moving toward the light. For ourselves, individually, and on behalf of all who yearn for a different future.

Shaping Our Experiences Through the Stories We Tell

 

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We are shaped by our experiences and, more importantly, by the stories we tell that help us make sense of our experiences. We can tell the story about how worn down we are and how awful it is or we can focus on the grand adventure of where and how life sprouts and how it sustains itself no matter what. The circumstances we encounter shape us. How they will shape us is up to us.

In these days when there often seems more bad news than good (at least in my worldview), remembering there is a positive story too – that things are awakening as well dying – can help us remember that nothing ever stays the same, everything changes, all the time – imperceptibly or dramatically and everything in between.

Where do you want to focus your attention so that you have an intentional hand in shaping your experiences?

Moment to Moment

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This moment is but a small grain in the sands of time. What happens in the next moment is unknowable but this too shall pass and a better moment shall arise. In your life, in the history of the world, of various civilizations, moments have come and gone. Some have been better. Some have been worse.

If you are in a moment of overwhelm, if world events are weighing you down, turn solidly to this moment. In this moment, you are okay. As this moment turns to the next, you are okay. Maybe tomorrow or next week will be a different story. However, as Mark Twain said, “Worry is the interest we pay on trouble that never comes.” Trouble might be imminent but until we are actually in it, worrying about it is a drain on energy that could be available for something else – something productive or even relaxing.

When you notice you are worrying, anxious or fearful, remind yourself, in this moment, you are okay. And moment to moment you will make it to each next breath.

Give Yourself Permission to Feel

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Emotions are your guidance system. They tell you when your boundaries have been violated. This could involve a violation of your values, your way of life, your sense of integrity or your sense of what is appropriate. Even things that are happening on local, national and international scales can result in a sense of personal violation.

Right now many people are expressing many conflicting emotions and, even still, it may be hard to acknowledge and speak the depth of them. Sometimes we want to diminish our emotions so we will speak of anger but not rage, of disappointment but not betrayal. We might need to expand our emotional vocabulary.

In these days and the times leading up to these days, many people have felt, do feel, betrayed – by people, by systems, by government, by institutions, more – and have lacked the language and the means to express it. If we do not know how to language it, it can be hard to discover how to move past it. Sometimes it is not through language that we find the place of healing, it is in other forms of expression – tears, wailing, howling at the moon.

Sense into your emotions. Let them rage if that is what is needed now. Find language or other means to express it and look for healthy outlets – exercise, activism, hugging loved ones, joining a circle or support group, or whatever it is that allows you to channel your emotional experience in ways where you can stay in your own integrity.

Give yourself permission to feel, even if that feels scary. The only way to is through.

What Gives You Hope Now?

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These are tumultuous times. It can be easy to be swept away by the currents of fear, anxiety, overwhelm and hopelessness. But hope resides within, fuelled by things that catch your attention and seep into your being. It can be a heartfelt question. Look around. What gives you hope now?

For me, it is the groundswell of people rising up in ways I have not personally witnessed before. It is the Mayor of Halifax last night at an impromptu peace rally he called to invite people to come and be together because, he said, what else do you do when you do not know what else to do, deep in his own vulnerability as he spoke.

It is my fourteen year old child already finding ways to stand up for values held dear. It is each individual expressing sorrow, grief or outrage. Saying when there is hate we need to respond with love. People making phone calls and sharing the result. Lawyers who sat in airports pro bono. Rising up. Showing up.

What gives you hope now? List every single thing you can think of. And then keep showing up in the moments you feel called. Courage might just be finding the way through the day.