The Real Deal

I had the opportunity to meet and visit one of my spiritual mentors. This was the second time I had the pleasure of meeting him in person. On this visit, I walked away with some new epiphanies in addition to the benefits and insights that come from being in the presence of a great teacher. Located out in the middle of pristine forested land in Alachua County Florida, sits a small building called The Temple of the Universe. It is on this property where Michael Singer resides. He has lived there since the 1970s when he built himself a home in the woods. His plan was to meditate in solitude and peace out in the woods away from the world. Of course, what unfolded over the next 40 years was much different than he originally planned. But that is another story, which he tells beautifully in his book The Surrender Experiment.

What I wanted to share today was more about the authenticity, simplicity and refreshing nature of my time spent with Michael Singer at the Temple. For those of you who don’t know, over those 40 years, Michael did quite well for himself in the traditional way the world defines success. He was the creator of one of the very first software programs that helped medical practitioners to digitize their medical records. He was at the helm of a billion-dollar public company whose achievements are archived in the Smithsonian Institution. Michael ran it all from his property in the woods. A fact I share with you only as a point of reference and context for what I am going to elaborate on next.

You see, part of the magic and beauty of this place is that both the property and Michael are without any pretense. The Temple looks pretty much exactly as it would have when he built it in the 1970s. It is basic and simple, nothing is elaborately done or updated to look modern. There is no image promotion or concern about how this might look to potential visitors. There is no hype, spin or any thinly veiled attempt to sell or promote anything whatsoever. In other words, there is no show here. It is a beautiful space to gather and remains there with all its simplicity.

The same thing can be said about Michael. He is a shining example of what truly being of service to the world and humanity actually looks like. There is no marketing or promotion, no collection of donations or charge for anything whatsoever (and this has been the case for the past 40 years). The Temple has a weekly schedule of yoga, mantra chanting and talks by Michael. All of the programs they offer are free and open to everyone. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against people charging for their time and services. The point I am making here is that in this day and age, the amount of focus on self-promotion and self-aggrandizing has all gotten to be a bit much.

People can get so focused on their social media profile, Twitter feed, marketing their message, and trying to sell and promote themselves that it can start to become less about the service of helping others and more about all those other things that seem oh so important to building a business. There is an underlying feeling of “I’ve got to make this happen” and the mindset of push energy, competition and masterminding outcomes that is so prevalent and in vogue these days. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with self-promotion and marketing to clientele, however there has been some misdirection in applying spiritual principle as a means to increase one’s bottom line and business growth.

The highest spiritual mountaintop is not being able to manifest our own individual idea of success. The highest spiritual mountaintop is “how may I serve?”. When we go to the Universe/God/Spirit with that as our one and only goal everything we need will be added unto us. This will include meeting the right people, attracting clients to serve, and whatever else is necessary to do the job we have been assigned to do. All of this was demonstrated for me during my most recent visit. People have been coming to The Temple of the Universe for 40 years and there is no advertising campaign or clever marketing techniques to draw in visitors. It served as a wonderful reminder to take a step back and really look at our motives and behavior. Do we believe that we have to “take the bull by the horns” or do we trust that by staying in alignment with a service minded way of living everything we need will be laid before us? I think it’s an important point for all of us to consider.

Reinterpreting our circumstances

I have been a student of A Course In Miracles for many years. For those of you who don’t know, the Course is a psychological mind training in which a thought system of fear (the ego mindset) is replaced with a thought system of love (ultimate truth). The Course is not a religion, there is no doctrine or dogma. It presents universal spiritual themes that are found at the heart of all the great religious and spiritual traditions. The book contains three volumes. The first volume is the text, which covers the intellectual material and provides a theoretical foundation and framework of the Course. The second volume is the workbook, which is 365 lessons, one for each day of the year. The workbook is the crux of the Course and its purpose is to train your mind in a systematic way to a different perception of everyone and everything in the world. The third volume is the manual for teachers which answers some questions about the concepts covered in the Course.

The introduction of the Course starts somewhat audaciously with these words:

“This is a course in miracles. It is a required course. Only the time you take it is voluntary. Free will does not mean that you can establish the curriculum. It means only that you can elect what you want to take at a given time. The course does not aim at teaching the meaning of love, for that is beyond what can be taught. It does aim, however, at removing the blocks to the awareness of love’s presence, which is your natural inheritance. The opposite of love is fear, but what is all-encompassing can have no opposite. This course can therefore be summed up very simply in this way:”

“Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists.
Herein lies the peace of God.”

I remember years ago being somewhat awestruck by this statement of it being a “required course”. Over the years of reading and studying the material, I grew to have a deeper understanding of the truth being offered by these words.

The ability and capacity to move from fear to love is inexplicably connected to how we interpret the circumstances and daily challenges of our lives. On the three-dimensional human level of existence, it looks like we live in a chaotic, fearful world. The times we are living in are particularly difficult in a multitude of ways. By simply turning on the evening news we will find an endless array of topics to cause us worry, anxiety and distress. But the Course presents us with the understanding that this is not the ultimate truth.

It makes a fundamental distinction between the real and the unreal; between knowledge and perception. The world of perception is based on interpretation, not in facts. It is the world of birth and death, founded on belief in scarcity, loss and separation. When we find ourselves caught up in the world of perception we are essentially caught in a dream. The first step out of this mindset is to realize that our true Self is forever complete, safe, loved and loving.

By opening our minds to this alternate way of viewing the world we lay the foundation for a reinterpretation of all the events we encounter on a daily basis. For instance, I may feel wounded by the actions of another person, but I now have a framework in which I can view and process the situation from a new level of awareness. The wounded ego of my personality is just one level of the experience I am having. The ultimate truth is that the discomfort, hurt and sadness I experience are the tools through which I can cultivate deeper compassion, unity and forgiveness.

The gateway opens up for every interaction to be ripe with the opportunity for expansion, connection and a loving exchange. In my life this has been a process of two steps forward and one step back. It is the work of a lifetime to see and live with love, but it makes the journey of life so much sweeter.

Liquid Luck

I am a huge Harry Potter fan. When I had the opportunity to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando, I was thrilled. One of the souvenirs I purchased was a bottle of Felix Felicis, also known as Liquid Luck. In one of the movies, it is featured as a magical potion that makes the drinker lucky for a period of time, during which everything they attempt will be successful. Harry uses it as a way to extract some much-needed information out of a person reluctant to share the details of his past encounters with “he who shall not be named.”

But the part I really love, is when Harry lets his best pal Ron believe he has put Liquid Luck in his cup the morning of their Quidditch match. Because Ron thought he had the magical potion, he believed that he would do brilliantly. And because of that, he wasn’t nervous and easily played his part well, just as he was always capable of doing. Why I love this so much is that it is a shining example of what it looks like to trust in our ability to rise to the occasion of any circumstance life presents.

The truth of the matter is that we all come equipped with our own “Liquid Luck”. We can call it intuition, our inner-voice, spirit, or a gut feeling. Whatever we choose to call it, we have the opportunity to experience it every single day of our lives. We can choose to come open and available to every moment of life, trusting in the guidance and direction of our highest self.  Living in this way, we experience synchronicity, flow, support and direction to make all the right moves and navigate life’s challenges.

The shift happens when we believe that we cannot fail in our endeavors. As it turns out, failure is a state of mind versus a potential outcome. Therefore, in any endeavor we engage with, we are only ever producing results. It is what we are prompted to do with those results that makes the difference. Every setback can either be viewed as an opportunity for growth or a reason to throw in the towel. If we believed that we had the magical powers of Liquid Luck on our side, we would stay centered, focused and not allow ourselves to get sidetracked by any kerfuffle or temporary set-back.

A natural result of holding this mindset is that our negative thoughts would lessen. We would feel more peace – not because we attracted more peace. Because we became peaceful. The law of attraction is superseded by the law of vibration. Which means that you can have anything you are willing to become. The result being your world will change when you show up differently within the world.

Relax! Nothing is under control

Observing the natural world and the implicit order of the Universe provides us a valuable lesson in understanding how very little we actually have control over. All we have to do is look around at nature and even the complex processes of our human bodies. It doesn’t take too long to come to the realization that we are not controlling anything. Our heart beats, food digests and a multitude of other processes happen continuously without us doing a single thing. The sun rises and sets, weather patterns come and go, animals migrate, and a host of other events unfold constantly and continuously without our input, assistance or interference.

We have absolutely no control or hand in any of it. All of this has been unfolding in the universe for nearly 14 billion years. On one level that can be a fearful and worrisome thought. But on another level if we really let the truth of what this actually means sink into our minds it is delightfully reassuring! This alternative perspective would sound something like, “Wow, I don’t have to actually make any of this happen. I can trust that the same energy that created the Universe in all its splendor is acting through me and in all aspects of everything that I encounter – and I have the honor of being here to witness and experience it for a finite number of years in this human body…cool!”

Part of that witnessing and experiencing will include things that excite and delight us and part of it will include things that deeply challenge us and we would rather avoid entirely. Understanding that this is part of the plan from the beginning is the key. It is the foundation for accepting that we live in a purposeful Universe that has our soul’s evolution as the highest goal. Meaning by extension, all that we encounter throughout this human journey is meant to be the fertile ground in which our souls evolve.

It is possible to rest, relax and feel supported regardless of where we are or what we are dealing with in life, but only if our perception of what is actually happening is corrected. Only then will our experience change, because we realize that it is all in divine order…not our own individual idea of what divine order might look like. That means the death of a beloved pet, cancer diagnosis, loss of employment, end of a marriage, etc. does not represent the world being out to get us. It represents the perfect way that the Universe customized our individual curriculums.

As the great spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson so eloquently says, “When we give ourselves over to love and the quantum field of infinite possibility it activates the natural intelligence of the universe which is always working through all units of time and space to bring all living beings and all circumstances to their highest level of creative possibility.” The only control we do have is our power to decide how we respond to the events of our lives, choosing either to embrace what is before us or struggle against life. In the end, what we do as a result of the circumstances that life presents to us is completely up to us.

Keep Calm and Consult Your Higher Self

Part of what can be so bothersome and downright terrifying is the incessant, worrisome and fearful thoughts that stream into our minds. It seems at any moment a situation, song, smell, person, news report, etcetera can trigger a chain reaction of thinking that pulls us into anxiety or despair. We have all experienced this. It is the very root of what keeps us trying to control outside circumstances to keep our inner state “in control” or feeling good. It is a situation that cannot work…and it doesn’t.

When we begin to realize that our thoughts are not facts and just because a thought passes through our mind we do not need to engage or act on it – we are stepping onto the path of true freedom. Consider how many times our minds race with worst-case scenario thinking (health care crisis, job loss, relationship issues, and financial troubles). There is likely no area of our lives that has not been touched by obsessive scary thoughts of doom and gloom.

Here is the important question. How often have all of those thoughts that kept us up at night, gave us a knot in our stomach or caused us a whole host of other physical ailments actually happened? We never look it squarely in the eye and call the ego’s bluff in this way (when I use the word “ego” I am referring to our small self, the human part of us that feels limited and vulnerable). If anyone else were giving us advice like this and had such a terrible track record of accuracy, we would have parted ways with them a long time ago. It is time to make the decision to stop believing our ego-driven thinking.

But how do we go about doing this…how do we stop listening to the fearful ego-driven advice and instead take our direction from the inspired voice of our highest selves? The answer is the same as it would be in regards to acquiring any other new skill – such as playing the piano or learning a new language. We continue to practice at it. We don’t expect to be an expert at playing the piano when we show up for lessons on our first day. We understand that the purpose of us investing time into the endeavor is to hone our proficiency and skill in this area.

For some reason we seem to think that doesn’t apply to changing long standing patterns of thinking and behaving. Without the intervention of bringing conscious awareness to the moment in front of us, we will react and respond out of our default mode – and the default mode is always running the same old software. Until we choose to download, install and upgrade our operating system, there is no real change that can occur.

The point of decision is always in the present moment. How can it be anywhere else? We can’t change the past and the future hasn’t happened yet. Our practice ground becomes whatever is in front of us right now – walking the dog, driving the car, getting groceries, cleaning the house, returning a call from a friend, visiting our family. The everyday stuff that fills our lives is the equivalent of going for piano lessons if we choose to accept the mission.

How do we know when the thoughts are from the ego? We know because the thoughts are fear based, critical, excluding, punishing or in other words, they are constrictive. Thoughts from our highest self are the exact opposite and feel expansive, inclusive and never come with scare tactics. When we stop giving attention, engagement and belief to these lower-energy thought patterns they will start to lessen their grip on us. We don’t get rid of troubling thoughts by fighting, repressing, acting on or distracting ourselves from them. These approaches only strengthen their hold on us.

Thoughts have no control over us until we decide to turn our power over to them by believing and engaging with them as though they were true. We get to decide where we put our focus and what we do with our will (meaning our consciously directed attention). It is entirely up to us whether we live our life at the bequest of our lower self or claim our role as a conscious creator. This is what having free will truly means. The great news is that the Universe is ready and willing to support us in this mission. Trust that life has your back. You can make the choice to go forward with enthusiasm and along the way you will discover a brand-new way of meeting each and every moment.

Stop and smell the roses

As the summer season winds down and fall is quickly approaching, I find myself a bit melancholy. I think perhaps this is due to the realization that summer is nearly gone and it felt like a blur. This fact resonating as regret that I really didn’t stop and smell the roses (both literally and figuratively!).

It was a good reminder for me of how we often allow the tasks, chores, duties and responsibilities of daily life rob us of the joy and fun of being alive. We all would like to have more leisure time, relaxation and fun. But are we working so hard today in hopes of reaping these things at some unspecified date in the future? A future that isn’t promised to any of us. We really only have now. The realization settled on me like a heavy wet blanket. This summer I had intentions of relaxing more in the garden, taking leisurely walks with no agenda or going on an impromptu trip up north. But the fact is that I never really got around to it.

The lesson for me as I reflect on my choices, is that I see many instances where I could’ve chose tending to my inner-state over completing something on my to-do list. Reminiscent of the old saying that on your death bed you are not going to wish you had worked longer hours and dusted the house one more time.

Given the fragility of life, it made me ponder how much of it can so easily be squandered. If we only had a few months to live how many things that seem so paramount would immediately be obsolete? What bucket-list items we had been putting off would suddenly become a top priority? It is so easy in this busy world to succumb to this reality and fall prey to the rat race of life. So, I am going to challenge myself to stay conscious and awake to the ways I suppress my urge for joy and fun in service of my ego’s need to get stuff done and complete tasks. Clearly life is a balancing act of both and my goal is to gently remind myself to stop and smell the roses.

What is Forgiveness?

I am sure that you have all heard about the benefits of forgiveness. In traditional therapeutic terms and in more spiritual oriented thinking it is not only considered the path to healing but the only true way to release ourselves from the ties that bind us to any particular situation, person or energetic pattern. We’ve even heard the saying, “forgiveness is for yourself, not the other person”. But what does that really mean? It all sounds good, but how do I move from anger, resentment and hurt into a place where I can access a way of reaching forgiveness?

It all starts with being able to separate human behavior from the divine essence that exists within all of us. We may have acted inappropriately, done something hurtful or chose a path that led to our own pain or painful experiences for others. What does that ultimately mean? It means that we made a mistake. We weren’t acting from our highest self and in that moment we blew it. But that isn’t the end of the story because in any given moment we can choose again. We can right the wrong and make amends. If you’ve lived long enough, you’ve accumulated some choices and decisions that weren’t your proudest moment.

What we all want is to be welcomed, allowed, accepted and loved as more than our worst moment. We want a chance to redeem ourselves, to demonstrate that we have grown, learned and evolved. None of us want to be defined by our mistakes or errors. We know that it is not a true representation of ourselves and what we have to offer the world. The bottom line is that if we want mercy and forgiveness from the world for our mistakes, we have to be willing to extend it to others. When we remember the divinity that is the true essence of ourselves and others we lay the foundation for seeing things differently.

None of this condones inappropriate behavior or means that we don’t hold people accountable for wrong or even unspeakable criminal behavior. It means that we realize by holding onto our anger and unforgiveness towards another person we are completely identifying them with their mistake. We essentially define them as the sum total of their errors and write them off completely. We also often have an agenda for how another person’s behavior “should be” if they are to be deemed worthy of forgiveness, which sets ourselves up for more disappointment and resentment.

The truth is we are called to be people who have a heart filled with infinite compassion for all living things, which means extending forgiveness to both ourselves and others. Some people hear this and think that living this way would make them a doormat and subject to accepting any behavior and/or abuse from others. On the contrary, living from this place makes you better equipped to discern your boundaries, own your choices, and own your “yes” or “no”.

At the deepest level I can realize that you are more than your mistakes, but that realization does not mean that I will necessarily be coming over for Thanksgiving dinner, inviting you for lunch or continuing the relationship in the same manner and closeness as before. We are actually better able to make decisions from this place of forgiveness because we have let the other person off the cross of persecution. When we put down our resentment, bitterness and victim consciousness we can more easily ascertain what our role is and the next best step for healing the situation.

We don’t heal by nursing our wounds and rehearsing our stories of betrayal. We heal by understanding that we are all imperfect and we all make mistakes. When we are willing to make mercy and forgiveness our bottom line we will begin to reap the benefits in our own life. Shedding blame and guilt about the errors we’ve made or someone else made will free up space for the next new chapter to unfold.

Mountain top views and valley experiences

We’ve all had the experience in our lives of feeling on top of the world. These mountain top moments provide us clarity, an expansive view of the horizon ahead and make us feel that we are on the right track. These are moments we love to savor. We relish the sweet sensation that comes from the experience that life is falling perfectly into place.

The valley experiences can be more disconcerting for us to navigate. From the valley, our view is often obstructed and we can’t tell which path will take us to the destination we are seeking. Sometimes we wander around aimlessly just trying to find our way. There are dead ends, forks in the road and detour signs all adding to our confusion and disorientation. We just want to get back on top of the mountain and restore order and clarity to our lives, but we’re not sure how to get there.

This is the pattern of our human experience. It is the design and destiny of our soul’s evolution to travel the valleys and mountain tops while gaining valuable tools and knowledge along the way. As we revisit the valley, we remember what strengths, assets and discoveries we made during our last visit and utilize those skills to make our journey less struggle and more surrender.

What I have personally found most challenging about the valley experience is that there is typically a pattern or an old way of being that is dying away and yet the new way of being is not yet established. It can often be a confusing and bewildering experience. We knew how to react, behave and live as the person we used to be, but who are we now without those old patterns, behaviors or relationships? It can feel like we are fumbling around in the dark.

With time, patience and commitment to our own unfolding we will begin to discover how it looks and feels to live from this new place. Intuition and grace begin to guide our footsteps and then suddenly we realize that we are ascending back up the mountain to encounter another summit experience. If we are smart, we begin to become less attached to clinging on to our view from the top. We realize that this is just another glorious part of a never-ending journey.

We begin to find joy not only in the view from the top, but the gifts that we gather each time we are blessed with a trip into the valley. The realization that our deepest sense of satisfaction, growth and peace has emerged from our time in the valley will create in us a space of joyous welcoming each time we return to this terrain. Our resistance and fear will be replaced with a wellspring of excited anticipation for the discoveries, shifts and blessings we will harvest along the way. Without even realizing it, we will have moved into living from a place of surrender. A place where we release our preference in favor of our evolution and accept the present moment as perfect.

Time, love and tenderness

No, I am not about to launch into singing a rendition of Michael Bolton’s hit song from the 90s. Instead I am interested in reflecting on how we use our most precious resource – our time. Each day we wake up with a fresh new start. We are given 24 hours, a brand new day of life, a day that has never occurred before and will never occur again. It is unrepeatable, irreplaceable, uniquely ours and it is completely up to us what we do with it.

We can often feel like life is dictating for us where our time is spent. But this is a very disempowering way to live because it continually makes us feel that we are the victims of whatever life throws our way. One way to help combat this is to work with your calendar to make sure it is reflective of your priorities. This is a process that I began doing this past year and it has made a huge difference in my satisfaction and peace of mind.

I essentially schedule time in my calendar for things that are important to me. This could be anything from working in my garden to activities like meditation, centering practices, yoga or journaling time. I also schedule out time to spend with my husband and dog doing things that we enjoy as a family. Before I enacted this way of working with my calendar, I just did those things whenever I could fit it into my day. Which often meant it didn’t get done. Life often seemed to get in the way and I found myself waiting for the time when things would settle down and I could get back to having time for these things.

The truth is that while it felt important to me, I was always letting other things take priority. Then one day it hit me, I was spending my time doing things that weren’t priorities to me, but were priorities to other people in my life. I didn’t want to let people down or not meet their approval and expectations of me. But the truth was, I didn’t really want to trade my most valuable resource – my time, for involvement in or engagement in these activities. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the people or see the value in the activity, it was just not something I was willing to trade my time for anymore.

This was a big aha moment for me. Most of us don’t really take the time to ask ourselves what we want. We are so used to being a caregiver and putting our needs last that it can be startling to really ask ourselves what we want and where would like to spend our time. For me it meant learning how to say no with love and being okay with whatever the consequences of honoring my truth meant. People that truly love us and want the best for us will support us in making these changes. They want us to live a life that truly lights our fire and makes us excited to greet each new day. I found that the best way to honor myself and others is to make sure my calendar reflects my priorities. It has helped me to be more present to the people around me and to dissolve the resentment that can follow anytime we feel pressured or cornered into doing things we don’t really want to do.

For me this is a work in progress, but I can definitely say that when I decide to add something to my calendar and make the decision to trade my time for it, I stop and give pause and a moment of reflection to determine if I am truly wanting to do it or if I am trying to please someone else. Most of all, I realized the need to be gentle with myself through enacting this change. It takes a bit of time, love and tenderness to put ourselves back on the list of importance in our own lives.

Who’s Helping Who?

My father was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer six months ago. As you can imagine, it has been a challenging and tumultuous time for my family. There have been many trips to specialists across the state, various tests, procedures and treatment protocols. My goal has been to help my father navigate this diagnosis and be a support for him in any way possible.

What I noticed recently was that while I was anxious and worried about the next steps in his treatment or the progress of the disease, my dad was not experiencing this same level of anxiety. I sat back and observed objectively how he had been dealing with his diagnosis and handling all the twists and turns we have encountered during this process. I realized that while my dad was accepting of his current circumstances, he didn’t allow the circumstances to define or change him. He was still his optimistic, happy, friendly and good-natured self. He manages to stay in the moment and doesn’t lament his situation or spend his time fearing the future or engaging in worst-case scenario thinking.

This realization and acknowledgement of how he was handling everything made me see things in a whole new light. I thought that I was helping him, but maybe he was helping me? Helping me to see there was a way to traverse life’s most challenging circumstances with peace, joy and an open heart. By surrendering to the moment in front of you while still holding to the image of health, wholeness and restoration. These are the same ideas and teachings presented by the mystics and wisdom teachers throughout the ages.

My dad isn’t a yogi or a mystical spiritual teacher by traditional standards. But in so many ways that is what he has been for me during this time. Demonstrating grace under pressure and love enduring, while steadfastly believing that all things are possible. These realizations made me pause to consider how often in our lives we set out to help our family, friends or animals and end up being the recipient of these unexpected gifts of wisdom.

I guess the answer to the question, “who’s helping who”, is really that we are all helping one another. While I may be helping my dad navigate a challenge in the three-dimensional world in regards to doctor visits, insurance claims and treatment plans, he is providing me a valuable lesson on how to navigate the same challenge on an emotional and spiritual level by remaining peaceful and surrendered to what is unfolding in the present moment.