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.

Embracing all of life

We have a strong tendency as humans to try and cling to the things and experiences we love and run from the painful experiences – or at least attempt to get away from the tough stuff as quickly as possible. I know it may seem like I am stating the obvious, a real no-brainer, right? Why would we want to linger in the painful stuff, or have it go on any longer than necessary?

What I would suggest for your consideration, is that the tough painful stuff is really the treasure trove of our lives. When the sh#t hits the fan and the bottom drops out, we are left naked and exposed. All our coping mechanisms, work-arounds and usual approaches typically come up short during these times in our lives. We are face to face with our deepest fears and vulnerabilities with nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. This is a seminal moment if we are willing to claim the gifts it brings. If we stay present and don’t try and check out or soften the blow, we can surrender to being transformed by the pain.

It is times like this when we realize our strength and discover inner untapped resources, we never knew we had. People in our lives might commend us for being brave, courageous or fearless when they see the way we navigate our particular challenge. But we often don’t see it that way at the time. We simply rise to the occasion and do what needs to be done. It is often only in retrospect when we can objectively look back from the safe, quiet space of calm peaceful times where we can see how we kicked ass and actually surprised ourselves.

Inside each and every one of us lies the hero of our own story. Our inner hero awakens to fulfill the need and save the day whenever called upon by the deep challenges and heartbreaks of life. In the aftermath, when we pick up the pieces and begin again, we do so with a new fresh acquisition of skills and assets we didn’t know we had. We essentially uplevel our ability to handle life’s bumps, curves and collisions.

All of this results in more freedom and ability to successfully navigate our daily lives. We realize that each storm we’ve weathered has resulted in us being able to handle life with greater ease and flow. It becomes a new way to journey through the dark night of the soul while holding the promise of knowing that grace will light our way. This trust, faith and surrender will reveal to us the gifts and strengths we need, not only to navigate the circumstance, but to inhabit the truth of who we are, what we are called to be and what we are asked to share with the world.

Bimini Lessons

This past summer, I went with Danielle MacKinnon and a group of lovely people to play with the wild dolphins for a week in Bimini (the closest Bahamian island to the United States). I felt the urge to attend even though I am not a fan of the open water, have never snorkeled and get sea sick standing on the dock. Part of me was screaming inside, “Are you nuts – stay at home and let this trip pass you by”. But there was another part of me that felt sure that I was supposed to be there. So I went. And it was terrifying….at least at first.

We had an orientation about stingrays, sharks, jelly fish and other poisonous fish that we should avoid. There were details about the ocean, the boat and lots of other items that I am sure were meant to inform and educate us, but ended up scaring the hell out of me. I was afraid, plain and simple. In the past, when I was really truly afraid of something I just steered clear of it and created a wide berth around even thinking of engaging in the fearful activity. But it has become clear to me that my ability to have freedom and joy in my life is inextricably tied to my willingness to move through the pain and fear versus letting it create a false boundary in my life.

So here I was heading off on a boat in the middle of the ocean for 5 hours to look for dolphins. I was anything but relaxed and I was definitely worried about what would happen when the moment came to jump off the boat and get into the water. The dolphins showed up to play and it was time to get our gear on and head out into the water. Everyone was getting into the water and there I stood with Danielle. I felt frozen in place. I told her to go ahead and that I would just sit this one out and try again on the next sighting. But in that moment I knew that if I didn’t get in that water right then and there, I would never do it. I would come up with another excuse and I would leave this trip not as someone who conquered their fear but as someone who had a story about why it was just all too much for me and I couldn’t do it.

The moment of decision was here, which person was I going to be? Someone who sat on the sidelines and watched others live their lives or someone who makes the decision to engage with the moment in front of them. In spite of every fear instinct going off in my body I decided to get in the water. So hand in hand, Danielle and I went in together. I was freaking out at first and then something incredible happened. I realized I was okay. The fear was like a paper tiger and everything was fine. In that moment a dolphin swam within two feet of us and looked directly into our eyes. It was such a peaceful moment and it seemed like time stopped.

Over the next day or two I became more comfortable in the water, and being on the boat for several hours was actually enjoyable. By the end of the week I was using my underwater camera and even tried my hand at free diving. I had went from being paralyzed with fear to actually being completely relaxed.

The point of me sharing this story is that we all have areas that are our sensitive soft spots. The places we allow ourselves to justify keeping our life limited or bound in some way. Often we create stories about why we need to maintain these fears or we get totally invested in justifying why we have them in the first place or even who is to blame for us being that particular way. The truth is that none of that serves our highest good. By making our wounds our calling cards we shortchange not only ourselves but everyone who could be served by us showing up fully for life. The greatness that we can all contribute to the world comes from moving forward in spite of our fear not by coddling it. This is not because it isn’t scary or painful or worrisome but precisely because it is.

Fun, Frolicking and Failure

My dog Bella competes in Agility. For those of you who don’t know, Agility is a sport where you and your dog navigate an obstacle course, the goal being to complete the course with speed and precision. Bella is a Shih Tzu, which does not exactly put her at the top of the list for either of these criteria. However, she really loves it and actually does quite well to boot. We started taking her to agility training classes about two years ago and it was an immediate hit for Bella. My husband and I told ourselves that as long as she was having fun we would continue with classes and eventually start competing in the sport.

So, fast forward to early October, Bella was finally ready to compete in her first agility trial. My husband was going to be running the course with her and although we felt prepared we were both definitely nervous. We kept reminding ourselves the purpose was to have fun and bond with Bella and the results or competition aspect was secondary. With our great mindset in place and our expectations in check we set off for our first competition. We were so thrilled that weekend when Bella had two perfect runs! We continued to compete in upcoming trials over the next several weeks. Everything was going wonderfully and she was completing the course without errors and having fun. Then something started to change…

The more things went perfectly, the more my husband and I started to think about keeping the “winning streak” going. We started to think about the progress we were making and the competition goals. Our focus shifted from “let’s have fun” to “let’s get it right”. As I am sure you have experienced in your life, trying to “get something right” is the opposite of feeling free and having fun. We changed and Bella felt it. She started to slow down in her runs and became less connected with Jeff in the ring. She didn’t come when he called her and she was distracted from the task altogether.

Bella was responding to the shift in energy and letting us both know exactly what she thought about it. She wasn’t interested in the heavy, anxious, and demanding energy of wanting to “get it right”. All she wanted to do was play and have fun with dad. Most importantly she wanted him to have fun and be light-hearted. Something that is not exactly my husband’s strong suit. By Bella sending us such a clear signal with her behavior, we were both able to take an honest look at what we were doing. We saw how quickly we got sidetracked from our original goal and intention, which was to focus on fun!

I am happy to report that Bella ended 2018 with multiple agility titles and is now competing in the Master Agility Class, but that is not what we are most proud of. We are most proud of the fact that her journey and our journey along the way was perfectly imperfect. There were mistakes, failures and mishaps along the way. And, as is often true, we learned more from each of the failures then we did from all of the wins combined. It was another wonderful reminder of how each and every day, in the smallest and largest of circumstances, our animals are always communicating with us to demonstrate just what we need to know to help us live our best lives.

New Year, New You?

This is the time for diets, exercise and creating a new you in 2019! I would like to suggest to you that we leave that hyped up energy aside and choose a more realistic mindset that sets us up for success not only in 2019 but more importantly for the rest of our lives. What I am talking about here is a shift that comes from the inside out versus the rearranging of outside appearances, which is void of the inner grounding that really makes any lasting change possible.

For years I was someone who made New Year’s resolutions and had the usual plans for weight loss, exercising and other miraculous transformations that I would somehow seize this time around even though they had eluded me in previous years. But the common denominator was that I was the same. Why would the changes stick this time around when fundamentally nothing had changed? I still viewed life as something that I could finally get into the groove of once my weight, relationships, and laundry list of other issues were solved. Then I could really get serious and start having a more elevated existence. I just had to get my life in order and then it would all work out.

Well let me tell you how that plan went. Not very well. It is called the hamster wheel of suffering. Nothing changed because I was waiting on the outside circumstances to dictate when I could finally be whole, at peace and ready to live life. As though all the rest of the time I wasn’t truly living life but was somehow practicing for the big grand moment when life would finally start. Here is the sobering news. Your life is right now. Not when your 50 pounds lighter or you get the dream job, or find the perfect soul mate. Your life is here right now, with the extra weight, the family drama and the job you can’t stand. We don’t start living life once things fall into place. By romanticizing that life and our true happiness starts after we have reached and achieved any particular goal, we just guarantee that we will miss out on what is right in front of us in the here and now.

So in application of that idea, here is what I did this year. In November I decided to make a major change to my eating habits. I purposefully did this during the holiday season instead of waiting for January 1st. This was important for me because I have known for years that certain foods do not agree with me and yet I keep trying to eat them in moderate quantities….which has NEVER worked for me. I decided that if I really wanted change, I had to be willing to do something different. I made a decision that was a shift in identity versus a temporary diet plan. Similar to when I became vegetarian, I shifted my identity to define myself as someone who didn’t eat meat. I never say, “Oh l would love some of that meat, but I can’t eat it on my diet.” This is an important distinction because in one scenario we are lamenting what we can’t have and in another we have made the journey without distance from our head to our heart where we have changed the way we see and define ourselves.

I am using the example of food simply because this was a personal area that has been a source of pain and burden for me. But this is true regardless of the area. Most of us know what we need to do to make our life work. The problem isn’t usually that we don’t know what needs to be done. The problem is our resistance to doing it. There is some area in your life where you know you would be served by changing your identity. By becoming a person who just doesn’t do X anymore or who does Y now instead. Make a decision and choose a path, because the saddest place to reside is in that familiar old place where we just keep trying the same thing over and over again and getting the same results. So here’s to real lasting change in 2019. The kind that sticks, the kind that will start a domino effect of blessings in our lives. As we say goodbye to habits that no longer serve us, we will make room for a new level of authenticity that has been there waiting to emerge.

A Year In Review

Year in Review

As we wind down one year and begin another, I always find it interesting and informative to reflect back on the events, situations and circumstances that filled the previous twelve months. Typically at the start of each New Year we have goals, plans and ideas of how we want and hope the year will unfold. I am often surprised by the dichotomy of what I thought would happen during the year and what actually ended up happening – as the saying goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. Over time I have learned to surrender my ideas to the greater plan that the universe has for me and my life. This has resulted in much more peace, happiness and joy in my day to day life. However, this approach didn’t come easily to me. At first I struggled greatly to create the outcomes I wanted and pushed hard to make things happen in my life. I had the mindset that the only way to get something done was with lots of hard work, analytical thinking and careful planning. Most of the world will support this approach to life. It is the “take the bull by the horns” mentality that is commonplace thinking in the world at large. The great irony being that in my previous efforts to reduce my anxiety, worry and stress about life, I was actually guaranteeing that it would continue to be my primary experience. The mindset that I alone am the driving force holding my goals, plans and hopes together is by definition anxiety creating! If the only way my life works is that I have the responsibility to hold everything together through my own intellect, how could I not be worried and fearful? Feeling as though it all depends on you is terrifying. It is why people struggle to make decisions, have lots of push energy, and experience fear about the future. We can’t know what is coming around the bend or what twists and turns life has planned for us. When we are trying to make life happen on our own terms it can only create in us an anxious and worried mindset.

The good news is that there is another way. In order to access this alternative way, we need to reframe our understanding. Life is not “out to get us” and we don’t need to stand guard ready to hatch a plan that will save ourselves and our loved ones from whatever is showing up as the current worry of the day. This is essential to understand, because otherwise our life will continually be spent putting out fires, dealing with the next crisis and trying to solve yet another impossible dilemma. Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem at the same level of thinking that created it. That is what I am getting at here. It is a shift in mindset that creates the new awareness. As this happens, we begin to move into a deeper understanding, a recognition that life will present us all with challenges. From this new vantage point, we cease to view life’s challenges as problems to be solved and start to see them as opportunities for growth. This creates the space and presence of mind to recognize that our so-called problems are actually the method of our evolution. By replacing that faulty mindset with truth, which is that we live in an intentional universe, we can start the journey back to sanity.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t have goals or plans for the New Year, it means that we begin to have a relationship with life where we hold “our plans” loosely. Then we can release our attachment and drive to a particular outcome and open up the possibility for the universe to bring us even something better than we could have ever dreamed up on our own. Which brings me full circle to how I started, we are not doing this alone and we can relax into the knowledge that the same infinite intelligence that keeps the planets in orbit, turns embryos into babies and buds into blossoms can handle the circumstances of our life. According to the Talmud, every blade of grass has its own angel bending over it, whispering, “Grow, grow.” We just have to take our hands off the wheel and be willing to trust that the universe has our back.

Everything Belongs

I had an amazing opportunity to visit the Lubee Bat Conservancy, which is an international non-profit organization dedicated to saving bats and their habitats through research, conservation, and education. This was an eye opening and transformational visit in a variety of ways. I must admit that I have never really thought a lot about bats. I think I definitely fell prey to the stereotypes and old wives’ tales about bats…none of which are true by the way. Here are some bat myths dispelled by fact versus fiction.

  1. Bats are not blind nor are they afraid of light.
  2. Bats will NOT fly into your hair. They are actually just hunting for insects not swooping for your head. They know exactly where they are going!
  3. Getting rabies from a bat is EXTREMELY rare. Less than 1% of all bats actually carry rabies.
  4. Bats are NOT rodents. Bats are not related to rodents. In fact, they are most closely related to dogs…who would have thought that!
  5. Bats are NOT scary. Despite the negative stereotypes surrounding bats, they are extremely intelligent and beneficial animals upon which we depend.

This rare opportunity to tour the Lubee Conservancy was both educational and an awesome chance to be able to view up close some of the most beautiful and exotic bat varieties in the world. When understood in true context and reality these creatures are just like any other animal we love and connect with…able to form relationships with their caregivers, be trained to respond to commands and demonstrate the true capacity for love and attachment to humans. No big surprise here, but it reminded me of something important…the fact that everything belongs and has a place in this universe. Not just traditionally cute and adorable dogs and cats, but every animal, insect, tree and human being. We don’t get to decide what has value and what doesn’t. Our job is to seek to remove the barriers within us that keep us from seeing the inherent value in all of creation. Another lovely lesson and important reminder from an unexpected teacher, a beautiful colony of bats!

…And just for fun, here a few facts I learned during my visit. Fruit bats are the primary means of seed dispersal for many tropical plant species and in certain areas of the tropics, bats are responsible for 95% of the regrowth of the rainforests. Insect eating bats, which are the main variety found in the USA, can eat up to 500 mosquito-sized bugs in an hour and are essential in controlling the insect population. Pretty cool, huh!