You ARE beautiful. Whether you believe it or not.

“You are the sole source of every quality that defines who you are.” –Deepak Chopra

Much is made today of the concept of “body shaming”.   This is a particularly heinous evolution of the playground bullying I grew up with (fatty, pizza face, gimp, etc), but the anonymity of social media has given it dark, vicious wings.   People (mostly, I suspect, those who fail badly at living up to their own standards) judge and lash out venomously at every perception or statement of beauty that doesn’t conform to their own very narrow definitions.

This in turn creates a backlash toward perceptions of beauty from those who, in their own minds, don’t fit a given mould and therefore perceive themselves as being judged less attractive. Skinny models are railed against as creating a negative body image in people who aren’t skinny; voluptuous models are vilified for creating unrealistic expectations; fit models (or female athletes) are “mannish”; “normal” body types are said to lower our expectations and devalue beauty; models in makeup are fake and models without makeup are liars or worse…

I would like to put forth an alternative take:

Deepak Chopra said that “My personal reality begins inside me.” I interpret this to mean essentially that it doesn’t matter one damn bit how someone else perceives you.

The only opinion of you that matters is yours, and until you understand that, perceiving yourself as beautiful will be impossible. You ARE beautiful, and so am I. My scars and lines are my history written for all to read. When someone calls me ugly (certainly not rare), I don’t feel victimized, I pity them for their narrow understanding.

Does our social interaction need to evolve beyond hiding behind avatars and viciously assaulting total strangers? Of course it does. I cringe and rail against such behavior whenever (hourly) I encounter it.   But we also need to evolve beyond its ability to affect us. You are NOT what others think of you. Even those Hollywood stars held up as “Most Beautiful” have been called ugly and “too ethnic” and told to lose weight and get a tan and dye their hair and fix their teeth.  The most successful of them have refused to change themselves for arbitrary standards and have instead proven themselves far more beautiful for holding onto their resolute self-images.

I received in my email just this morning, as I was contemplating writing this very article, a reminder of the value of diversity.   From Mike Dooley’s “TUT – A Note From The Universe”: “Having preferences doesn’t mean you’re judgmental; whether they’re likes or dislikes. They just ensure that as the winds of divinity are blown through your heart, the melody is unlike any other.”

We all have “preferences”. Some men like blondes. Some women prefer hairy chested men. This doesn’t mean that less hirsute fellas are disgusting, simply that there is infinite diversity in this world, and that we are all beautiful in our own wonderfully unique ways.

Perfection, like Shakespeare’s definition of beauty, is very much “in the eye of the beholder”. It is not society’s job to make you feel beautiful.  Until you find beauty in what you behold in the mirror, and see the irrelevance in what others say, you will remain a victim in your own eyes, and will be denying yourself the opportunity to experience the joy of feeling beautiful.   Everyone, EVERYONE deserves that joy.   Especially you.

Connectedness

A constant message in spiritual discussions is that of ‘connectedness”, but what does that actually mean? To whom or what are we connected and how?

Like with all such questions, answers are largely a matter a matter of perception, and open to endless interpretation, but I’d like to share with you my insights on the subject. I make no claim as to their relevance to your path, but I hope they may prove of use or help to someone.

When I meditate in the mornings, one of the concepts upon which I concentrate (and mantras I use) is that “I Am Harmony”. In my mind, I see that concept as universally inclusive. I am in harmony with all of life; I imagine that I can feel the grass growing, the insects moving through the earth, and the wind in my feathers as I soar above, looking down on myself in everything I behold. I AM the grass, the earth, the insects, and the birds, just as I am every other thing, living and non-living (of course, nothing is really non-living; everything carries energy and vibrates within that field), including every person alive on this world and any other. We are all part of everything else. We are all part of the infinite tapestry that is God.

One morning, while meditating on this very idea, I was inspired by an image of us all as finger puppets on the grand stage; of the vast intelligence of the Universe animating (but not controlling) each and every living being with love and attention to the individual desires and needs of each as well as the overall health and well-being of the whole. In this way were we all connected and harmonized; each self-determining but irreplaceably vital to the entirety of the work. Much like the grasses I mentioned before: individual, seemingly separate blades inextricably linked in a vast web of roots.

This connection can not be severed. We can fail to recognize it or we can consciously refuse to acknowledge it, but we cannot cut it. Some may even intentionally deny this link and act to counter it, but it’s impossible. We all have our purpose.   We can choose to acknowledge our part in the wholeness or not, and that is the choice that really matters; do I live at random, reacting to life as it occurs, or do I chose to live consciously and allow life to happen for me as opposed to perceiving it as happening to me?

It sounds like an easy choice to make, but actually doing so requires a discipline I’ve found to be very trying, especially as I SO wish to change others’ worlds and lives for the better. But who am I to determine “better” for anyone? I can’t know their path, even if I know them personally very well.   The best I can do for anyone is to be the best me I can manage. It does get easier as I go, but I also stumble on my path every day, and will continue to do so, until I don’t . When I no longer expect myself to fail, I will no longer fail. Especially since failure itself is only a perception; I–WE–can no more fail to be a thread in this colossal, epic tapestry than we can choose not to allow our hearts to beat.

As I’ve said here before , I choose to understand that everything happens for my own best benefit. From my phone ringing at an “inopportune” moment to losing a solitaire game on my computer, nothing is insignificant and everything has a reason and an origin in source energy which benefits.

I allow grace to guide my life by being alert to the voice of God in every song lyric on the radio and every ad in the magazine and every billboard along the highway. When something resonates within me as significant, I listen.   When my lovely Jacquelynn handed me a book she thought may interest me and I saw that the author shared a surname with one of my great mentors, I knew I must read it. I don’t yet know the significance of it, but I have faith that it will show itself. It was important enough to send me the message, so I read it, and I know it will eventually matter.

Inevitably, your interpretations and visualizations will differ from mine; we are all as different and unique as we are connected, adding infinite diversity and beauty to the whole. I have no intention of convincing anyone of anything or turning another to my views. I only wish to share my personal insights with the goal and deepest desire to touch and help just one soul. Just one, and my life will be full beyond comprehension.

Thank you.

From Loathing to Love: A Voyage of Self-Discovery

Self love can be a difficult thing. Simple in concept? Yes, looking back it seems so basic a prerequisite for any level of happiness. But from the opposite end of the spectrum, it can seem not only ridiculous but positively criminal to contemplate loving yourself, let alone actually forgiving yourself as well.

Not so very long ago, the idea of loving myself was the most preposterous and revolting concept I could imagine. No one knew me the way I knew me, and I knew damned good and well that there was nothing in me even remotely worth loving. Yes, I know, my mom loved me, as did the rest of my family, but (in my mind) only grudgingly. I was certain they’d be just as happy, probably more so, without me and I’d have bet they knew it, too.

Yes, I was a miserable person, and in my misery, only attracted more of the same. This would create a self-fulfilling morass of devalued filth which was very much a perfect reflection of my self-image.

I won’t delve into details of the on-and-off seven year relationship which mostly defined this era of my life, as it would serve no purpose other than to ascribe blame, where responsibility for my situation was entirely my own. Yes, it was a psychologically abusive relationship with a toxic ingredient in the person of my “partner” of the time, but that is what I attracted to myself in that state, and in hindsight it was a 100% necessary step to the enlightenment which would follow on its heels. I bear no ill will to anyone from that period of time, and while I have no desire whatsoever to encounter any of them again, I do hope that they are living beautifully fulfilled and happy lives today.

The low point of those years found me cutting and frequently contemplating suicide. Once I gave it a half-hearted try, knowing I wasn’t actually taking enough pills to accomplish the goal even while despising my own cowardice for it. I spent several years following the final dissolution of that relationship wallowing in self pity and making excuses for failure without ever acknowledging the true culprit and reason. Of course I knew, but like the addict who insists they can quit any time they wish, I denied and hid from my responsibility. It IS so much easier to blame someone else for your misery than to pull yourself out of it, after all. But you know that’s not right, so you have to choose either to accept your own blame or cast the weight onto absent shoulders and dodge your own despite.

Of course I chose the latter, and for a long time simply spiraled downward. I turned good jobs into more excuses for failure and disappointed myself and everyone around me in more ways than I wish to recall.

And of course I was horribly lonely.

Today, I have no real recollection of how I came to the realization, but after several attempts by good and faithful friends to set me up and help me find someone, each sabotaged in subtle and final fashion by my own selfish misery, I finally saw the impossibility of attracting love without feeling it. How could I ask or expect anyone else to respect me if I felt none whatsoever for myself? How could I be worthy if I didn’t feel worthy?

Finding that self worth was not an overnight thing, but recognizing its necessity was again just like the addict finally admitting the problem.   Finding the strength within myself to accept the responsibility for my own “lot in life” and being able to release, at least in part (the rest would come) the bitterness and blame directed at persons in my past. It wasn’t an instant panacea, but it was a solid start.

It is now many years further on, and my voyage is really just beginning. The scars from my cutting are faded to the point that if you’re not directed to them, you’ll never notice them. The scars inside are similarly gone; healed in the only way they can be, through love.   The forgiveness, as true an act of love as is possible, really only happened quite recently, in fact. I’ve found many beloved and revered mentors from throughout history in my reading; I’ve discovered the power of silence in meditation and have harnessed the creative energy of allowing and the divine power of the “I Am”.

I know who I am, and I love me. Even typing it just now I’m shocked by how natural it seems to say and feel that, especially considering how loathsome the very idea had been to me not so long ago.

I Love Me. I love being me, and I love the history, painful as so much of it was, that brought me here.

By the way, I love you, too. And I thank you all for joining me here.

Making it up as I go.

I am not this body. My life did not begin with its birth, and will not end with its death.   But while I’m here, a spiritual being on this human journey, I’m going to make the most of it.

And I mean that literally. I MAKE my life. I am the creator of my experiences, as are we all. The difference is learning and accepting this as fact, and becoming a conscious creator rather than living someone else’s reality.

What do I mean by that? How does one “live someone else’s reality”?

To begin, lets examine the term “reality”, and what it means to us. Daily, even hourly, we’re confronted with the admonition to “be realistic” or the defensive version “I’m just being realistic”.   So just who defines “realistic”? To whom have you surrendered the power to decide what’s real for you?

“Reality is reality. It isn’t relative. Reality is defined by measurable scientific methods.”

Poppycock. Your reality is not the sunrise. Your reality is how the sunrise affects you. Just as your reality is not the tragedy, but how you react to it. Does a global catastrophe or a school shooting send you into fits of tears and rage or do you react with love and compassion?   Do you hate and gnash and rail at terrorists or do you reach out and send love to all corners of the world?

Ours is an attractive universe. Yes, it is beautiful in ways which make words difficult, but it is also defined by attraction. You attract that which you radiate.

All that hatred you’re feeling and posting to social media and ranting about at work comes right back to you in countless ways.   You engender more hatred towards yourself and those who join you in your anger; your health suffers as the venom burns away at you from the inside; your potential employers and clients distance themselves from the invective in your posts and photos.

Likewise, if your heart reaches out not only to the victims at home but with love toward the perpetrators (hate the act, not the person), knowing that we’re truly all products of the same source, each a piece of the perfect whole, then that love and understanding is what’s coming back at you a hundredfold.

Every moment of joy you share, every instant of bliss you experience, each hour of peace you live, any act of love you create. They all spread, like ripples in a pond, each added splash creating ever larger waves. And just like in a pond, they all bounce back, interacting and amplifying and multiplying as they go. So that by the time they get back to you, it’s a tsunami of loving, creative energy sweeping your life up in new and unimagined directions.

The REALITY is that you are in complete control of your reality. You decide, through your actions, reactions, and energy, what kind of world you experience.   If you’re trying and trying and still can’t catch a break and shit still keeps piling up and there’s no end to it?   Guess what? There is no end to it, because as much as you want it to end, you don’t expect it to; you don’t believe it ever will.

Plow through the shit. It’s not about the shit. It’s about how you let the shit affect you. Does it pull you down or do you still find joy in spite of it? Is it really just a big pile of shit or is it a gift of really pungent fertilizer for growing the luscious flower garden you’ve always dreamed of?

I apologize for the language and for the cliché overload, but it’s all true. Reality is perspective.

Like I said in my earlier article about surrender, it’s the knowing, not the hoping. Hoping things turn out okay leaves the door open for it to be someone else’s “okay” rather than yours. Knowing that things always work out for your best benefit simply means that they do. Always. For example: I rail and cuss on mornings when my 33 year old motorcycle stubbornly and for no good damned reason won’t start, but deep inside I understand that for, reasons I’ll never know, today was a bad day to ride.

I acknowledge that my reality is uniquely mine, and I do not allow anyone else to define it for me. I am a conscious creator of my experiences, and I accept personal responsibility when I create, through either action or negligence, a “negative” and I take joy in the lesson (hopefully) learned.

I realize that this can all sound very Pie-In-The-Sky, but I promise you that it really is that easy. And that hard. My world is perfect for me in this instant, and I’m creating in each moment a brighter, more enlightened and prosperous tomorrow.

The meaning of “Surrender”

“Things will work out the way they’re supposed to.”

This is what many people imagine when they read or hear about “surrendering”. Many of our greatest teachers speak at length about the concept of “surrender” and “allowing”, and the above sentence is what we believe we’re being told to surrender to.

Not quite, but let me lay a little groundwork before elaborating on that point:

You are MEANT to prosper. Suffering and lack are not your natural state. These are conditions you have attracted to yourself via your thoughts and your general state of mind. For example, you may believe that you’re concentrating on prosperity and catching up on your financial situation, when in fact the bulk of your energy is concentrated on your current lack of funds. Rather than focusing on the ability to make your mortgage payment and the gas bill without being late on the car note, you spend your energy on worry and panic and finally resignation to the inability to pay. The stress you feel is your prime indicator of the direction of your focus: if you feel bad, you’re concentrating on the negative, whereas if you’re feeling good, even great, in the face of your current adversity, you’re far more open and receptive to “corrective” energy, and you’re going to attract even more good feelings.

Well-being is your birthright. It is your intended state.

It is your choice.

So, when the concept of surrender is discussed, it is vital that we focus on what we’re surrendering to. I do not surrender to the “fact” that everything will work out as it is “supposed to”, because that leaves the possibility that it is “supposed to” work out in a way counter to my best benefit. Rather, I surrender fully and freely to the pure knowledge that everything will work out in my favor. Your best benefit is never to another’s detriment, either.

In short, Yes. Surrender. Surrender to the complete inevitability of the total fulfillment of your grandest dreams. That is what happens, when you allow it to.

Is The Prayer of St. Francis the Most Significant Verse Ever?

The Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

Oh, divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.

Much has been written of these words in the nearly eight centuries since they were first published, and I’m not going to pretend that I’m covering new ground here. Still, even from a not-precisely-Christian point of view, there is undeniable gold herein.

Read it through a few times.   Read it from your personal perspective, irrespective of faith or religion. Read it and see, read it and feel…

The Beetles were right. All you need is Love. St. Francis knew it in the thirteenth century, and the truth is ALWAYS the truth.

I’d like to examine each line individually.

“Make me an instrument of Thy peace”

Not asking or praying for peace, but pleading to be peace.

“Where there is hatred, let me sow love”

To return love for hate is perhaps the most difficult thing a person can do. It’s also one of the most important. Being love means just that; hatred and anger simply aren’t in your wheelhouse of reactions. It is inevitable that we’ll all occasionally feel these things, but letting them control us is a choice. So is deciding not to.

“Where there is injury, pardon”

Simple forgiveness. Including (perhaps most importantly) forgiveness of self. Carrying bitterness and resentment colors your every action and decision. As we’ve all heard in pop culture lately, “let it go”.

“Where there is doubt, faith”

Faith means belief in oneself, belief in one’s God, belief in one’s very belief. Faith is KNOWING, not thinking. Faith is sowing faith (a.k.a. love) everywhere one travels, and most conspicuously in the face of doubt.

I feel it is important to note here that this very line, as well as many biblical quotes of similar context have been cited in countless mass “conversions”, also known as crusades and inquisitions. One can not sow faith with violence or force. And religion is not faith. Those differences may very well be the subject of a future essay.

“Where there is despair, hope”

It sounds easy, doesn’t it?   Of course, it’s more than “it’ll be okay”. to embody and communicate the hope even as we assuage the fear can be an herculean task.   Hence the prayer. As with each line, the goal is to truly be, not just bring, but to BE the blessing you wish to bestow.

“Where there is darkness, light”

How does one embody light?   How does one dispel another’s darkness?   You don’t. You join them in their darkness and demonstrate the light.   You show them how to be their own light. After all, the goal isn’t to be needed, it’s to end need.

“Where there is sadness, joy”

Sadness, mourning, and loss are inevitable and key ingredients in the human experience. To avoid them is false and harmful, but so is to let them rule you. Learn from your grief; hear what it has to teach you, then release it. Love its lesson, be true to your heart, and move on. This doesn’t diminish your loss or your love, rather it honors it and makes it more meaningful as you grow from it and learn to love even more deeply.

“Oh, divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”

This entire second stanza, deep and rich as it is, asks of God and us as well one simple thing, teaching us one vital lesson: We receive only by giving. Give freely and from the depths of your heart and you will be repaid both in this life and the next. Be love, and you will feel more love directed towards you than you can possibly prepare for. Surrender ego and see the universe open itself to you. Don’t ask to get, ask to do and to be.

Serve and be served.

What I take from this immortal and revered prayer is as simple as it is (to me at least) beautiful, and it has been said in every spiritual text of any weight in any language: Be the change you want to see. Bring joy and love to every encounter. It is the only true wealth and in only in sharing does it multiply, just as surely as in hoarding it diminishes. Take your bliss with you everywhere you go. Throw it to the wind and feel it grow within you. It is as inevitable as the dawn, and as unstoppable as the tide.

All you need,

Is love.

Humility

(n)” A modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.

Synonyms: modesty, meekness, diffidence, unassertiveness; lack of pride, lack of vanity; servility, submissiveness.”

Low? Diffident? Unassertive? Is it really possible that the reason humanity seems so completely to have cast aside the beauty of humility is because we’ve come to view it as weak? Is a towering ego and dominating self-image so central to our culture that the power of service can be so totally discounted?

The 39th verse of the Tao Te Ching tells us:

Therefore, nobility is rooted in humility

loftiness is based on lowliness,

This is why noble people refer to themselves

as alone. lacking, and unworthy.*

The truly noble among leaders do not set themselves above the people, rather they serve, as elected leaders are supposed to do.

There is a great, Tao-centered lesson here for us all: Humility is central to all we can accomplish in service to each other and our world. When we can surrender our ego and see ourselves as fully and truly connected to one another and all of creation; when we can know that we really are all one and the same, that we are all spiritual beings on a human journey; when we open our hearts and FEEL the workings of the universe in and around us and our place within this vast organism, we will be incapable of rendering harm to any part of it.

When we finally see God in ourselves, and in everyone else at the same time, then will understanding and love be the order of the day.

Ironically, we have to grow enough to set aside our egos in order to see just how totally awesome we really are.

Don’t tell me God doesn’t know how to laugh.

*There are countless translations of this 2500+ year old text. This one is from “Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life”, by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer.

Spirit Animals

I’ve hesitated to write about this, as I know some folks, friends and family whom I treasure and respect, may find folly and scoff at this.   But that’s largely the point of this blog; to explore my own experience and share what I find, perhaps even assisting others on similar journeys. With that in mind, I discard my shyness and reticence and open my heart fully to you.

The concept of the Spirit Animal or Spirit Guide is as old as human culture, and most aboriginal peoples have a similar tradition. It’s really only when we “civilize” that we tend to abandon the more esoteric spiritual beliefs.

With my current quest to broaden my experiences and truly get to know myself on the deepest possible level, I’ve explored a few such traditions, and fully intend to continue to do so. In the process, I’ve consulted some spiritual “mentors” and advisors, and have completely embraced the concept of meditation.   Meditating has, with zero exaggeration or hyperbole, truly changed my life. I’m calmer, much more laid-back, and simply better when I take “me” time and connect with myself and my source.

It was through meditation that I discovered my spirit guide. You see, I’d done enough surface reading to have allowed myself the conceit that I…thought…I knew what my totem would be.  I followed a guided meditation technique designed to open one’s self to such contact.   Through it, I was guided through the normal relaxation measures; breathing and releasing tensions as well as connections to my seated self.  Eventually, I found myself in a fog. I was on a bridge spanning a misty river. The fog was incredibly thick and I could feel the moisture on my skin and beading on my eyelashes. It was a fairly rickety bridge; wide enough for a car, but clearly intended only for foot traffic. The rope handholds were cold and slick, but I held tight anyway. I was honestly expecting a spider to crawl over the rope and onto my hand, as this was what I had convinced myself would happen, so imagine my surprise when an immense snorting breath preceded the emergence of a massive trunked head parting the mist.

The huge pachyderm reached out to me with its warm, dew-drenched trunk and gently caressed my face before stepping fearlessly onto the bridge, which didn’t buckle or sway at all under its weight. The instant it touched me, I KNEW. Like I had always known, but I certainly hadn’t. It’s like when I go home after a day at work and first see Jacquelynn; the key in the lock.

It fit. 100%

I’ve read a bit since, of course, and meanings/interpretations include reliability, steadfastness, higher spiritual consciousness, great responsibility, etc, etc…

I don’t know all of what it means yet, but I know for certain that I can feel it with me at all times now. I can sense the soft, sensitive “lip” of the trunk and the raspy, dry skin against my shoulder.

I only know that it’s real to me, and that’s all that really matters. Not that I’m watched over by it, but that it’s truly part of me. Symbolic and material at the same time.