I.D.I.C.*

Recently, I was tasked by a close personal friend to explain and defend my personal philosophy. Though it was a gentle probe and by no means hostile or combative, this honestly surprised me. But seeing as it came in the midst of a great deal of personal chaos and familial turmoil, I guess it shouldn’t have, which I’ll explain in a bit.

Firstly, while I responded to this request quickly and deeply from my heart, I’m not sure that I did so with the eloquence it deserves, nor am I certain that I made my point clearly. I fear that I may have been perceived as just cutting off the discussion, which was never my intent, especially considering how important this person’s friendship is to me. The particular assertion I found myself defending was my decision to approach life with one phrase always on my lips: “Everything happens for my best benefit”. Now, while I can understand a surface reaction which would interpret this as a very ego-based “I am the center of the world” philosophy, I can also empathize with the view that this can be seen as a painfully naive concept. However, it is neither (at least to me), and here is why:

When I silently repeat to myself that “Everything happens for my best benefit”, what I’m actually doing is reminding myself that every event in life, no matter how negative it may feel, can lead to a positive. This simple catch phrase/philosophy centers me and helps to prevent any negative reaction on my part; I find peace and calm in the midst of the storm, a peace which has quite literally saved my mind from itself in recent weeks.

With this little sentence, I maintain my status as a creator in my life, and never sink to the role of victim. I make NO claim that life will never throw me complications, only that the choice to label and perceive them as 100% negative truly is a choice, and one I do not make. We create our experience of life through our perceptions, and choosing to perceive ourselves as tossed about on the tides of chaotic, negative chance can make it all but impossible to see ourselves as capable of rising above that negativity.

I believe that this friend may also have seen my views as discounting God, and assuming all godlike power as my own. While our views of God may differ, this is certainly as far from accurate as I can imagine. On the contrary, rather than discounting God’s impact on my life, I see this as magnifying it. I believe that God has a very real impact on my daily life. God takes a direct interest and investment in my life, and I have a real and very intimate relationship with God.

To me, however, God isn’t a separate, cloud-borne entity before whom I kneel to beg forgiveness and entreat for boon. God is everything and everywhere. God is the air we breathe and the ground we walk upon.   God is the slobber in a puppy’s kiss, the light in a child’s eyes, and yes, God is in every person we encounter, without exception. God IS creation, and divine power is part and parcel to each and every one of us.   The idea that someone or something could be “God-forsaken” is anathema to me: I do not believe God is even capable of forsaking or abandonment of even the merest microbe.   To do so would be God forsaking God, as every cell of creation is part of and therefore wholly God.

I pray. Every time I hear a siren or see an ambulance drive by in full code-mode. With every shooting, train wreck, and tornado on the news, I pour my heart into prayer for those affected. I also meditate. I turn inside to find the love when hatred seems to be the only logical reaction.   I strive to see the divine equally in every raindrop and every blessing and every challenge before me. I refuse to see true negativity in anything life presents me, regardless of the level of challenge it represents, because, simply put, I do not believe in the truly negative. It is ALL perception, and I elect, I CHOOSE, to believe in the blessing inside the curse, even when I can’t see it for myself.

Also addressed in this conversation was my fondness for the “I AM”. Now let me make it clear; the “I AM” isn’t some funky, new-agey pseudotechnology. It is, per the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament, the literal name of God, as told BY God to Moses at the Burning Bush. “I am that I am”, said God to Moses, “will be my name for all generations.” These words, used together, have power. They define us in our own eyes and in the eyes of those around us. Each of us, daily, even hourly, use these two words.   “I am…” “mad”, “overweight”, “unhappy”, etc. I personally don’t see how identifying ourselves in this way can be anything other than counterproductive. So I choose to use those two words only in a positive manner. “I AM” does not escape my lips unless it’s followed by something uplifting. “Lucky”, “Happy”, and I always, always respond to “how are you?” with “I AM WONDERFUL”.   This creates a wonderful me, as each uttering of it buoys my spirit and elevates my mood. It also makes those I encounter smile and react to my “constant wonderfulness” with wonder of their own. If I can elevate myself and those around me, then this cannot be anything but a holy response.

I stated earlier that I shouldn’t have been surprised at the timing of this particular challenge. It came at me hot on the heels of my mother’s hospitalization and just ahead of my Jacquelynn’s own trip to the ER and subsequent emergency surgery. I was at the time spinning crazily and being pulled in many directions all at once, pinballing from one emotional extreme to the other, and my world felt chaotic and uncontrolled. But being presented with this question and having to collect myself to respond to it was of great service to me, as it forced me to realign with my center, and to remind myself that the chaos only has as much power over me as I grant it. Chatting back-and-forth with my friend on the subject was therapeutic and deeply cathartic for me, and I am grateful for the pull back toward myself that this conversation provided. So, in a very real way, my friend’s statement, which they felt was sent to them for the purpose of passing it on to me, was a very real blessing of its own, proving both their points and my own, within our own perceptions. I want them to know how grateful I am both to them, and for their presence in my life.

Let me be completely clear in that I make no assertions that everyone, or even anyone should approach their life as I choose to do with my own, nor do I believe that everyone should believe, pray, or worship in the same way. Walk your chosen path, and walk it in beauty. I gratefully embrace all paths which bring peace and lend strength in times of weakness.

And you know what? I love you.   I don’t care who you are or what you believe, I love you. We all come from the same source, and we all return there. I enjoy knowing you all here, and I look forward to seeing you there as well.

 

*I apologize to those non-geeks among you for the title of this little article. It stands for Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. Perhaps the greatest legacy left to popular culture by the late, great Gene Roddenberry.

Constructive Panic?

I had a bit of a breakdown today. Panic set in, as we discussed, then argued, then panicked about our job and income situations. I lost my composure, I gave up, just for a few moments, on everything I’m working so hard to create, and I cussed and swore and railed and wept while she did the same.

Afterward, with me at work and her back online digging for opportunities, I’ve concluded that sometimes these events are necessary.   We both feel more focused and determined in its wake. Even my morning meditation, driven by my review of the 73rd verse of the Tao, about surrender and not pushing for your desires but allowing them instead, was brought into sharp focus in the moments following.

When I arrived at work and powered up my computer, two quotes leapt up from my feed at ElephantJournal.com, and they’re real doozies:

 

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

–Marianne Williamson

 

“For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
For beautiful hair, let a child run their fingers through it once a day.
For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.
People, more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms.
As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself and the other for helping others.”

~ Sam Levenson

 

The Levenson quote was a favorite of Audrey Hepburn’s, and the Marianne Williamson moves me in ways that are difficult to quantify: the fear that we’re not only adequate put infinitely powerful and capable, while it may seem oxymoronic and counterintuitive, is honestly terrifyingly on point. For what is more frightening than the idea that we truly are all of that and we’ve done nothing with it? That we’ve wasted it? 

It may be the most sobering thought I’ve ever encountered.

Forgiveness made easy(er).

You’ve read those clichés and posts. “Forgiveness is the key”; “Forgive and forget”, “To err is human, to forgive divine”. I’m not writing to argue the obvious merits of an open and forgiving heart; I simply wish to examine why we occasionally have SO much difficulty forgiving. What are the blocks we have constructed to prevent it and why did we build them to begin with? These answers can help us open hearts and lives to allow the power of forgiveness to brighten every aspect of our existence.

Recently, I’ve struggled with it. Struggled with forgiving a co-worker. There was undeniably an offense, and to be honest, I’m still pretty pissed about it. But who am I really mad at? Am I mad at the co-worker for the offense?  Am I mad at myself for allowing it?   Or at the client caught in the middle?   This is what I need to sort out in order for forgiveness to take place. Otherwise, I can talk all about open-heartedness and getting past my issues but it won’t mean a damned thing unless I figure out whom I’m really angry with.

Given the difficulty it’s causing me, though, I suspect I know the answer. It’s the same answer 90+% of the time, for each and every one of us, if we’re honest with ourselves.

After all, the human habit is to be hardest on ourselves, isn’t it?   Lord knows I’ve always had a problem being kind to Matthew, and loving him.

Yeah. I’m really pretty cranked at myself. Now what to do about it?

Typically, when I’ve reached this point, I’d begin examining what it is that I think I did wrong, so I could learn from it and move on, but I’ve come to believe that this is an unnecessary and even wasteful step.   Understanding can come later, if indeed it ever does, because forgiveness is not an intellectual exercise. Forgiveness, whether you’re trying to forgive a family member, lover, perfect stranger, or yourself, is a completely internal event. Your essential spirit, your true, capital “S” Self, cares not one whit about pursuits of the intellect. It is a being of love, which is the antithesis of intellect. Love is purely spiritual, and so is forgiveness.

Now, I know that the title of this article promised an easier path to forgiveness, but just how easy it is depends entirely upon how much you resist the concept. I’m not going to try and tell you that it’s easy for me, because even as I type this, I’m struggling with how I’m going to do this. But I believe I’ve already done the hardest art in identifying myself as the primary antagonist of the piece. This already frees me from the building anger at the co-worker in question, and at the customer. I’ve already embraced the fact that most of my anger is directed inwardly (a passive-aggressive trait from way back), so the remaining ire I feel at the others is already waning. Me though? Yeah, I still have a bit of a problem with me and my role in this infuriating fiasco.

So…to digress for a moment.

I read a statistic this morning that more than 50% of Americans try meditating at some point in their lives, but the vast majority of them abandon the process before they even figure it out. They try to “clear their minds” and find this to be an impossible task, so they deem it “not for me” and move on. This, dear friends, if accurate (which I suspect), is a huge, HUGE tragedy. Without going on and on about the countless benefits of meditation, I’ll say that, even with the sporadic schedule of my own practice and the occasional complete failure of some individual sessions, meditating has completely changed my life. More on that in a later article.

The reason for most of these failures and resigned attempts is, in my opinion, simply bad advice. We read articles like this one online or we watch youtube videos coaching us through a Tibetan monastic meditation ritual, focusing on our breathing and silencing our thoughts and when we can’t do so for the 30+ minutes of the video, we feel like instant failures. We try this and a dozen or so other sources and techniques, never getting there, or getting SO CLOSE for just a few moments, then losing it.   Eventually, discouragement and crappy self-esteem (a.k.a. EGO) set in and tell us that this is bullshit. You don’t need this garbage.

And that’s 100% right. You DON’T need that garbage. What you need is a meditation that works for you. An opportunity to create a few moments of self-love and emotional fulfillment you can build upon. An easy, unintimidating method of achieving just a smidgen of peace…that will be where the forgiveness occurs. Forgiveness and love can only come from peace. Just as peace and forgiveness can only come from love.   They are all one and the same thing, after all.

I didn’t make any of this up myself, by the way.   I’ve listened, attempted, emulated, and distilled, but I make no claims at having created anything here. I’ve found a method which works for me, and I believe it can help you as well.

So find yourself a quiet spot. I prefer my bed, whenever possible. I also meditate in my art studio occasionally, as that is my Zen place, my Sacred Spot. But that very fact makes it an unwelcome place for the energy of the anger I’m currently carrying, so the bed is definitely the spot for this one. Don’t lie down, as you’re likely to doze off, especially if you do this either the first thing in the morning or just before bed. Sit up straight, but comfortably. Good posture will help, I promise, as you’ll be less distracted by discomfort. The rest is easy. Simply close your eyes and envision three things in your life that you love. It can be people, pets, possessions, anything. Just picture in your mind those three things which you love so much, and bask in that feeling of love for just a few moments. Assign a part of your body to feel and focus that love. The heart is the obvious place, of course, and that’s perfectly fine. It is the natural location to feel love most keenly.   Just enjoy the warmth of that love for a moment. Then, without releasing that joyous feeling, envision three things about yourself that you love. Yes, love three specific things about yourself. Maybe you’re proud of your perfect teeth. Perhaps your philanthropy is something of which you’re proud.   Maybe your artistic or musical gift, or your dedication to animals. What it is doesn’t matter, just that it’s part of you, and that thinking of it fills you with love. Move that love into your heart, and feel the warmth there spread and strengthen.   Now, for the last step, look upon those things which you’ve chosen to represent such love in your heart, and feel deep, deep gratitude for them. Be thankful for their presence in your life and heart. Feel and express your complete and total gratefulness for the experience of such love. Then, expand that gratitude, just like a great bubble, to encompass your anger. Be grateful for the anger and disappointment you feel, because it was a necessary step in learning how to get through it. Smile at yourself for your ability to be angry in the presence of such pure love. Envision the entire event which so infuriated you earlier just dissipating into a wisp of smoke, to be carried away on the breeze. Love the smoke as you bid it farewell.

Hold onto that feeling of gratitude as you open your eyes. Is it a magic wand cure to your disappointment and resentment? Of course not. Life doesn’t work that way. We’re very emotional and not entirely rational creatures. But it does almost instantly make it easier to bare, and after a few similar meditations, each no more than a few minutes, you’ll have moved completely past the event which started it all.

The human mind can not be silenced.   Eventually, as your proficiency grows and meditation becomes more natural and habitual for you, you’ll find your silence, though you’ll learn that even then, your mind is still working on a thousand things at a time. But it’ll all be in the background. It will not matter in the least, as you’ll still find your peace in the tumult, like the eye of a great storm. Then you’ll learn, as I also eventually will, that when you live in the eye, the storm no longer matters.

 

Of Scrambled Eggs and Reason

I begin by warming the skillet to about medium heat–about 4.5 on the digital indicator on my smooth-top range. Just enough coconut oil to glaze the bottom of the pan.

Alton Brown taught me to never break my eggs directly into the pan, so while my skillet is heating, I break them into a small bowl and whisk them together thoroughly, adding only a tablespoon or so of room temperature water.

The moment I pour the eggs into the hot pan, I begin gently stirring and folding them with a wooden spatula, adding my seasonings as I do so; coarse ground black pepper, fine sea salt, just a very little masa for texture and a southwest flair, stirring and folding all the while. Within moments, they’re fluffy, tender, and ready to eat, and when I serve them, I may put just a small spoonful of salsa verde on the plate next to my delicious breakfast.

Scrambled eggs are an art form all to themselves, and the way one person likes them will have very little in common with their neighbor’s recipe. That doesn’t make the neighbor wrong.

One of the great difficulties the human race seems to face is the inability (or unwillingness) to consider differing viewpoints as equally valid. We highlight and rail at the differences instead of welcoming the variety and diversity of alternative opinions and beliefs. We see this in everything from religion and politics to hair color and body shape. We may not feud over scrambled egg recipes, but we’ll damn sure go to war over differences which don’t seem a hell of a lot more profound than that.

The ancient Sufi poet Tilopa implored us to “Have a mind that is open to everything and attached to nothing”. While I have read a great number of rebuttals of this philosophy, primarily from one religion or another, I still cling to it in times of confusion. On the surface, it can be read (and often is) as if he is telling us to deconstruct our beliefs and live an anarchic life, but upon contemplation, one can come to realize that, like any true wisdom, Tilopa’s advice can be interpreted in many ways, which is clearly true to the very spirit of the quote.

When I re-read this timeless quote, I don’t see anarchy and anti-religious fervor, I see inclusiveness and kindness. I envision in this simple sentence the cessation of conflict. I hear humanity engaging in conversation rather than arming for battle. I feel the power of diversity and compassion swelling to encompass the world.

Judgment.   Condemnation. Criticism. Most of us, myself included, do these things instinctively and without conscious thought.   The tendency to fall back on these old patterns and then justify them rather than simply stopping is endlessly destructive. We destroy relationships, we crush self esteem and independence in our children, we dismantle trust and common ground. And we injure ourselves far worse than anyone else when we poison our outlook and our vision with darkness. For while we can control no other soul’s behavior, we are 100% in control of how we allow them to affect our own worlds. Our reactions are under our control. If we react with gentility and an open mind, then the only failure is the failure to create tension and conflict, which can only be seen as a win in my book.

I’ll make you my eggs, and I’d love to taste yours.