I feel your pain, so why can’t I help?

Guilt. If I let it take hold of me, I have noticed that it essentially cripples me. Being a sensitive, empathic person I believe makes one much, much more vulnerable to this paralysis:

Jacquelynn has an edema on her foot. Caused by an impact injury 15 years ago, it has long been a source of agony for her, and lack of insurance coverage has made the concept of correcting it problematic at least. Every morning, and frequently throughout the day, the pain is overwhelming and leaves her whimpering and cursing. Much as I want to help her, as much as I’d give my entire world and my life to alleviate her discomfort, I’m helpless to really be of any aid, and her pain communicates to me so purely that I cannot stand to be in the same room with her.   I want to hold her and fuel her with love and positive energy, but it makes me physically ill to hear and feel her pain. I can’t let her know this.   I refuse to add to her pain by allowing her to know mine, so I close the door and sit in my studio or put my headphones on and shut the world out.

And wallow in helpless guilt. Like the wannabe skydiver frozen with fear at the airplane hatch, unable to take that last step, I feel weak and useless. Ashamed.

Just this morning, when we’re normally spending a few minutes together before I leave for work, the pain took her, and I fled. I know I can’t fix it or free her from the agony, but shouldn’t I at least be strong enough to sit with her, feeding her strength rather than hiding on the other side of the house pretending to play solitaire games on my phone?

Fear. Guilt.

Shame.

I love my empathy. I celebrate the idea that sensitivity to others rules my actions.   But I yearn to overcome the paralysis that Jacquelynn’s pain brings. I believe that to be part of my path; to learn to harness the good that I can accomplish and to expand upon that and make myself useful in situations that currently render me incapable of action.

I’m eager for that. I’m ready.

Nature and its role in Spirituality

Life is bloody busy. I myself frequently lament the dearth of sufficient hours in a day to not only do my job and earn a living, but to commit time to my artwork, my writing and (the one that most often gets lost) nature.

Yes, I mean exactly that. I need to dedicate more time to nature. But what precisely does “dedicate time to nature” mean, anyway? Is it simply a walk in the park?   Picking up litter along the riverbank? A ride on the bicycle trail?

Absolutely. Any of those. ALL of them. Heck, just to go out and climb a tree!

We are, all of us, connected. To one another, to God, and, inescapably, to nature. This world lives and breathes just like we do, and its rhythms are as much a part of us as our own limbs. Renewing and strengthening that connection is essential to our journey, no matter how we do so. Some hike and camp out, sleeping directly on the earth and under the sky.   Some bicycle under the canopy of overhanging trees on beautiful bike paths (we have some of the nation’s best here in Cincinnati), some volunteer to clean and maintain their local environment.   Still others hunt, taking sustenance from the land and offering themselves to it. Myself, I LOVE to wander the dawn landscapes with my camera, snapping away as my feet get soaked in the dew and the wildlife reacts to my gentle invasion. And yes, I occasionally climb a tree. The 9-yr-old Tarzan wannabe is still alive and well inside me.

Many city-folk may scoff at this concept, but even they need nature. The simple feel of grass under your feet can be so cathartic, releasing the stress of life’s unceasing demands through the soles of your feet into the waiting earth, or even simply sitting on a shaded bench with your coffee and a bagel.

Reconnecting. Rejuvenating. Returning.

Rejoicing.

So, if you haven’t done so recently, I invite you to step outside today, slip your shoes off if you can, and just wiggle your toes in the grass. Never mind the little ant scurrying across your toes; he’s not here for you. Just breathe in a moment of clean, pure nature and feel it renew you.   Perceive the balance returning to life.

Me? I’m going for a walk this evening, whether I “have time for it” or not. I need to recharge.

Empathy, and its role in Equality

Two weeks ago, I authored a post about empathy. I was very pleased to learn that my post had touched, apparently quite deeply, a very dear friend of mine. I’m honored that this friend then chose to reach out to me and share some of the more moving and even traumatic examples of empathic perception from their life. I got the impression that some of them had never been discussed before, with anyone, and I was very moved to be chosen as a sounding board.

My friend has a special gift, which is inevitably seen occasionally as a curse; a sensitivity to strong emotion and its manifestations in others is how I could best describe it, at least in part. To look into another’s eyes and know that they’re afraid to go home, and even to know why (not culled from a cited example). I’ll never name or even hint at this person’s identity, and even as I write this, I know that I’ll seek their approval before posting this article, but I want them to know how grateful I am to them for opening my eyes just a bit more to the magnificent potential and capacity of the human heart.

Barring this one, wonderful case, the concepts of compassion and empathy seem sometimes to have been lost in today’s society, or worse yet, voluntarily surrendered. It is at our very core to feel what others feel. Indeed, it is the origin of our understanding of right versus wrong;   “how will my actions or inaction effect others?”   Is that not the “Golden Rule” on which we were all raised?

I love my family and my friends. I feel their love for me, and I reflect it back a thousand-fold at every opportunity. But today, as the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision to legally recognize same-sex marriages nationwide, I feel walls going up and sides being taken throughout social media. Rights and wrongs and sanctities and privileges and church and state and chest-pounding and sabre-rattling echoing across the land and the ‘net.

I’m not a political person, and I have promised not to use this forum as a political soapbox. What I believe in is very, very simple and as essential and as inevitable as life itself:

I believe in Love.

Love exists without judgment, condemnation, or criticism.   Love simply IS. If you can’t FEEL it; if you can’t feel the rightness and the perfection of LOVE in all those around you; if you’ve set aside your capacity to feel everyone else’s love and to wallow in the wonder of it; if you’ve decided that there should be a limit to the only real power in all of creation, then I’m sorry for you. I still love you, and I always will, but you have sacrificed something that is irreplaceable. Something so completely essential to existence that life without it is simply impossible.

I believe in Love. I honor Love. And I love you, even if you disagree with me.

“And still, after all this time,
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe Me.”

Look what happens with
A love like that,
It lights the Whole Sky.”
― Hāfez

Are food worries really worth it?

I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist.  Get that straight.  I have (a little) common sense though, and I choose to exercise it.

I started writing this in the comments section of an unrelated FB post, but as I don’t know all the players there and they haven’t necessarily invited my opinion. I also had gone a little off topic (contain your surprise please), so I deleted that without sticking my nose in and decided to write a full-on blog post about it.

The spur in my flanks which started it was a comment about peanut butter. Now, it’s no shock to anyone who knows me, but I’m a BIG fan of peanut butter.   Organic only, but Matthew loves him some peanut butter. There was a comment about peanut butter being a “known carcinogen”.   Yes, aflatoxins CAN occur in peanuts grown in certain kinds of soils, if mold is allowed to develop.   Refrigerating organic peanut butter can reduce the chances of mold growth to close to nothing. Big brands are actually less likely to develop it with the extreme processing they’re subjected to. They’re also full of preservatives/emulsifiers/sweeteners/sodium.   Pick your poisons.

Eggs are bad for you. Oh wait, no they’re not. Wine is bad for you. Oh wait, it’s actually good for you. Or is it bad this week? Coffee is bad for you. Until the next week when it’s a healthy antioxidant. Blah blah motherfuckin’ blah.

Personally, I absolutely do not believe that God (or Universe or Tao or whatever name you choose for the ultimate intelligence behind and within everything) put any foods on this earth which will hurt us.   Yes, we’ve changed EVERYTHING about most of the foods we eat and turned them into poisons. We’ve also wrought SO many changes to ourselves through all the shit we eat that countless food allergies and sensitivities have developed over the centuries. Many of us simply can’t eat the natural foods of the earth due to the innumerable deficiencies we’ve created within ourselves.

Myself, I eat organic when I can afford it, I eschew GMOs and HFCS (and all artificial sweeteners). I eat whole wheat breads, grain-fed beef, and antibiotic-free chicken.   And I eat the living hell out of some single-ingredient peanut butter. “Peanuts”, says the ingredient label. Not “sorbitol” or “emulsifiers” or even “salt”. Yes, I have to stir it before I spread it, but so what? And I refrigerate it.   Sometimes.

Oh, and I eat WAY more donuts than I should. Sue me.

You know what though? We attract and create what we focus on. If you spend your every waking hour obsessing over carcinogens and all the possible ways one could get cancer, I’ll pray for you in your chemotherapy, because you’re working awfully hard to create it in yourself. I choose to spend my conscious thought on helping people and happiness. Those are my foci, and guess what? I’m pretty darned happy.   I waste no energy on what may happen, and focus on what I control.

Today, I get to talk to my mom, whom I’m tremendously blessed to have in my daily life though we’re separated by an entire state, and I’m going to try to help my sister diagnose an electrical issue with her truck (again from 100+ miles away). Helping people, and embracing joy. Odds are, I’ll be able to help someone at work, too. Cool by me.

Empathy

Jacquelynn carries a lot of stress in her forearms and calves.   We all do similar things; my stress surfaces mainly in my stomach in the form of digestive issues. I’d have to theorize that carrying it muscularly is probably healthier.

Anyway, I massage her calves and forearms before bed most nights to help her relax and drift off to sleep. Typically, she’s out within moments.

For all the time we’ve been together (16 years next month!), Jacquelynn has marveled at my ability to locate, just with a touch, any “knot” or stress point in her muscles. To me, it always feels like a big walnut just below the skin, but apparently not everyone perceives such things the way I do. I chalk it up to empathy.

I’ve always been naturally very empathic. I feel the sorrow or joy or discomfort of others sometimes more keenly than my own. Even if I have a customer across the desk from me who is uncomfortable negotiating a car purchase, I sometimes feel just as fidgety as they, just by osmosis.

I can even trace the genesis of this strange sort of communication to a specific event in my childhood. In seventh grade, my dad overheard my buddy Jeff and myself referring to another kid as “trumpet ears”. In a gentle way, Dad asked me how I feel when the kids call me names (which happened a LOT), and if I wanted the boy I was calling “trumpet ears” to feel the same way. This is a normal fatherly thing to say, repeated in endless family sitcoms over the decades, but it struck home so hard to me that day that recall it a vividly 35 years later as if it had happened yesterday.

This is not to say that I was never cruel again, or that I was suddenly polite and considerate to every child I encountered from that point forward, but I was irreversibly sensitive to everything that I said or heard from then on. I always knew when I had hurt someone’s feelings and I always shared that hurt.   Probably one reason why I didn’t make all that great a Marine, truth be told.

Lately, I’ve been meditating on the concepts of compassion and empathy (which I see as much the same things, honestly). What changes could be made to this world if the simple concept of feeling what others feel were universal? We ALL have the capacity for it, so what would happen if we all used it, just for a moment? If the armed robber could feel the fear in the cashier’s heart? If the bomber could experience the loss their victims’ families suffer? If we could all feel the desperation and shame of the beggar we just walked past on the street?

The Dalai Lama once said that if we could get all the children in the world to meditate on the concept of compassion for one hour a week, in one generation we’d eradicate violence. Completely.   If we could just feel what we’re doing to one another, we couldn’t help but change.

“For” vs “To”

Semantics? One of my affirmations as I meditate or (more often) when I talk myself down into sleep is “Only beautiful and wondrous things happen for and around me.” Recently, after meditating on this very concept, I changed it to the current “FOR and around me” from the original “TO and around me”.

Now I realize that it seems trivial to make a big deal over one word, but while meditating and using the full “Only beautiful and wondrous things happen to and around me”, I had a bit of an epiphany in regards to that simple word. The sentiment and emotion behind it felt 100% right and helpful, but my tongue and spirit stumbled over that one word, and I couldn’t figure out why.   Then I realized (or was directed to/was revealed to me/was shown; however you prefer to phrase it) that it is much, much more than simply a word: it’s truly and no less than a very profound difference in perspective:

Am I a victim or a creator?

Do things happen TO me? Do I really choose to be no more than a spiritual windsock tossed to and fro in the breeze? Or do I prefer to take on the role of creator and allow God/Universe/Karma/Tao to do things FOR me? Everything that happens is, after all, to my benefit, even when it doesn’t necessarily seem to be so.

So I tried version 2.0, and it rolled off my tongue and through my spirit smoothly and effortlessly. It fit, plain and simple.

So last night, in what Dr. Dyer calls “My Last Five Minutes” (more on this concept in a later post), “I AM constantly attracting the miraculous into my life; only beautiful and wondrous things happen for and around me” repeated gently to myself lulled me to sleep and created wonderful, prosperous, positive dreams. I awoke refreshed and eager to face my day, knowing full well the truth of the affirmations that served as my lullaby.

Opposites Attract

Beautiful.

Ugly.

Fat.

Skinny.

Smart.

Stupid.

Evil.

Holy.

Opposites only exist as judgments. Is it really necessary to quantify things and people in these ways? Does “ugliness” exist without “beauty”? CAN opposites even BE without one another?

Personally, I don’t believe in ugliness. If we’re talking about levels of physical attractiveness, it is a purely subjective opinion, because everyone is lovely to someone.   If the subject at hand is personality, then why are any of us fit to judge? I don’t know your path, and you don’t know mine. We are each and every one of us connected to and part of the whole, whether you call that whole “God”, Universe”, “Tao”, or any of countless adjectives for what is essentially the same concept. Why should the overweight woman or the balding man or the addict or the criminal or any other variation on the limitless theme of humanity be considered differently? We are ALL OF US of the exact same source; we all come from God, and we all return to whence we came.

Beyond the obviously necessary judgments of protecting society from those who would harm others, why must we label and separate?   6’3″ straight Tim is the same as 5’6″ gay Marc. 280lb Caucasian Sarah is the same as 110lb Latino Annie. The same spark of the divine lives in the convict as lives in the pastor. Look to the spark, and recognize it for what it is. Recognize the holy in every soul you encounter, and be not so quick to judge.

This is why my photo isn’t featured in this blog, though it can be found on Facebook and anywhere else you choose to search. Who I am is in these words; not in a picture or a name. What does it matter if I’m a 30-year-old white male or a 63-year-old African American woman? If I weigh 311 or 164? If I’m sitting in a wheelchair or at a desk typing this?

God/Universe/Tao doesn’t care one iota what color your hair is or how many tattoos you have, and neither do I. I love you regardless. You are beautiful in every judgment-free way, and you deserve to be seen that way.

I have vowed to try to live without three key ingredients in my heart, and while I won’t pretend that I don’t occasionally fall back into old patterns, I am making progress, and I am becoming less and less prone to them:

Criticism.

Condemnation.

Judgment.

These three habits separate us from our potential and keep us from realizing our true, limitlessly beautiful selves. The rhythms and flows of life’s wonderful energies become bound up in these patterns of behavior and cannot move us forward on our paths when we are tied to the concept of being better or above another. You cannot affect your life in a beautiful way when you are wishing less for another; when you believe you deserve more or better than another. I urge you to divorce yourself from these three debilitating habits and to experience the freedom and joy and instant feelings of connectedness you’ll perceive.

Life is intended to be a glorious, connected, creative experience in which we each determine and consciously design our path. Please don’t let judgments (that is what “prejudice” is: Pre-Judging based upon appearance and assumption) hold you back from that wonderful ride.