If you’re anything like me, it can be challenging to practice the art of allowing. What I mean by this is the irresistible urge I have to control outcomes. I can always make a good case for why I need to get in there and fix things or “help” the situation to arrive at the desired outcome. As a matter of fact, the only way I started to release this tendency was when life provided me circumstances that truly forced me to surrender.
There was nothing left to do but fall back into allowing and just be there with the discomfort, pain and dwell in the unknown. Scary stuff indeed, however, coming out on the other side I had inadvertently created a new awareness. Life didn’t need my help to get things squared away. It did a great job all on its own. Sure, the path wasn’t the route I would have preferred, but there I was, I had made it through intact. Ironically, I felt more enhanced and confident than before. I was clearly able to see it was safe to stop being so anxious and fearful about life and instead relax into life’s perfection.
This change didn’t happen overnight, it was a gradual unfolding as life continued to present situations that confirmed and reinforced this new found truth over and over. There are still times I slide back into the old patterns of behavior. However, the detour into madness gets shorter and comes with an awareness that I am out of alignment which allows me to return to sanity in short order.
Looking back, I am so grateful I learned to trust life. It makes this human experience infinitely more enjoyable. It takes a lot of time, energy and effort to control circumstances and attempt to force outcomes. Energy that could be better spent living our lives right now in the present – trusting that whatever happens, we can and will be okay. The truth of our collective situation is that we are all on a return journey back to spirit. A journey which began the moment we were born. This human experience has a shelf life, let’s commit to enjoying it as much as possible while we’re here.
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. Oh, how true this is! The events of the past year have really driven home this idea. On a personal level we’ve had a front row seat to this sobering truth during our kitchen remodel project. We made all the preparations, had a plan, checked all the boxes and mitigated all the seeming road blocks. Then life had other plans. In one fell swoop our carefully constructed timeline came crashing down, not just once, but again and again.
The lesson was abundantly clear, we are always on life’s timeline and not our own. We can have a vision, goal or dream but the path or trajectory to that destination is ultimately out of our hands. Any illusion that we are in control is an illusion of our creation and life will quickly and often swiftly remind us of this fact. But this isn’t to say that we are helpless beings, victims of a cruel unjust world. Actually, it is just the opposite. The more we fight and resist what’s showing up, the more we stay stuck in the muck. We think we know the best path to our goal but life keeps reminding us that we need to hold our personal agendas loosely.
In our case, we realized the delays and disruptions ultimately caused us to reevaluate some decisions which resulted in a fresh perspective we hadn’t considered originally. What looked like setbacks actually helped us greatly in a multitude of ways. Has it been frustrating and disheartening at times, absolutely. Do we wish everything was completed and our life back to normal, for sure! But we have finally surrendered to the journey this project is taking us on. We decided to commit to having as much fun as possible and give up the struggle. In the end, that is the only decision we have to make – to stay stuck in resistance or to surrender.
Are we going to struggle, resist and be angry when things don’t go our way? If so, we will be miserable quite often and life will continue to feel burdensome. The alternative is to trust the timing and unfolding of life, not as random but as perfection. We can then stop trying to force our way and begin to practice the art of allowing, creating space for the Universe to work its magic. Only when we loosen the reins and stop pushing our agenda can we truly begin to enjoy the ride that life has planned for each and every one of us.
There is a tendency in these times to feel justified in closing ourselves off from the world mentally as well as physically. It can all feel like too much and therefore we retreat as a protective measure and go into survival mode. From there we typically slip into a state of isolation which in turn further increases our anxiety and depression.
It can seem counter intuitive, but ironically the quickest way to elevate our state of mind is to take the focus off ourselves and our own problems. When we engage in activities, or put our energy into something that helps others we lighten our mental load. The result is a release from the inner madness and hyperawareness that is constantly directed towards our own problems.
We can do this from our own home if we are unable to actually get out into the community. There are so many ways to get involved in a cause that speaks to our hearts. We can also start small and look to our own circle of connections. Where is there an opportunity to reach out to a friend, family member or neighbor who needs a little support or a helping hand? The point is when we start looking for ways to bring our time, talent and attention to something, we not only spread the love, but get the benefit of both physical and mental upliftment. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time; it just has to come from the heart.
Interestingly, the more challenging and precarious the circumstances we find ourselves in, the more we need to make this a priority. Doing so helps us remember we are never truly alone and no problem is insurmountable. These wonderful opportunities are always available. When we reach out with openness and curiosity, we allow the magical healing balm of connection to remind us of the goodness that is ever present.
In the world we are currently living in it can be a curious conundrum to speak about believing we live in a friendly, loving Universe. We need only look around us to find countless arguments and evidence that appears to suggest the contrary. But are we really seeing ultimate reality? Again, this can sound like a Pollyanna viewpoint devoid of realism, scientifically minded judgment and within the realm of wishful thinking.
However, I don’t share this fatalistic viewpoint. I feel there is an overwhelming plethora of evidence that points to a Universe (and humanity) that is kind, loving and always working on behalf of our highest ultimate good. The problem as I see it is the all-knowing Divine mind of the Infinite lays out these plans in ways that are often in opposition to what we humans deem as the best path or right situation. We think we know how things should be for us to be happy, fulfilled, safe, successful but the truth is we don’t know what’s coming around the corner and we can only make decisions from our own past experience and limited point of view.
This often makes us snow-blind to seeing the potential for a positive outcome from circumstances that don’t fit within our definition of desirable. None of us would actively choose to have a bankruptcy, serious illness, experience the death of our child, find ourselves homeless, and a whole host of other deeply challenging circumstances. But repeatedly we find the people who encounter these life altering situations are inexplicably changed and, in many instances, changed for the better. They typically speak of living life with more freedom, love and kindness than ever before – frequently stating they would not change the fact these circumstances occurred in their life.
Somewhat surprisingly, they are usually deeply grateful for having had the seemingly “tragic” circumstance come into their life. Time and again people who have traversed these situations credit the experience as completely altering the trajectory of their life and adding a meaning to their existence that had been missing. I don’t know about you, but that certainly sounds like the result of a kind and loving Universe. Somehow a mysterious alchemy takes place, transforming what we initially defined as our worst nightmare into the method of our evolution.
When we decide life is for us and not against us, it completely changes the way we interact with everything. We start to loosen our grip on needing to control outcomes and agendas. We become less fearful and more trusting in all areas of our life. In turn, our reality that was once viewed through ominous lenses morphs into one in which we begin feeling safe to extend love in all circumstances. We do this in confidence knowing a loving, kind Universe has our back and indeed the best is yet to come.
It’s April in Michigan, winter has released its grip, and we are enjoying the glorious spring season emerging all around us. It always feels like a breath of fresh air to witness the ground breaking open with new life. This year in particular feels like a time of rebirth and reemerging into life. It happens to also be one year since my father passed away.
In some ways it seems impossible that a year has come and gone since his death. In other ways it has been a year filled with extraordinary challenges and change for not only myself, but the entire world. I think we are all ready to emerge from our collective hibernation and reclaim some normalcy and connection. This time of isolation has created such a deep appreciation for the little things that once seemed so insignificant and mundane. Experiencing the holidays, special occasions and meaningful moments of this past year without dad has been tough. But slowly through the grief I have discovered a new way to live without his physical presence.
During this past year we have all been through a master class in learning to live with loss and grief while wading deep into waters of the unknown. I look forward to this spring season with renewed hope that the worst is behind us and that the best is yet to come.
I recently read Being Ram Dass – his last published work before his death (spoiler alert, it’s the featured book this month). There were many insights, aha moments and powerful takeaways from this book. However, the real stand out message for me was the importance of following your own north star. By this I mean doing what you know is your heart’s desire and following your calling to live your truth.
This is not often the easy choice, but it is truly the only choice that will satisfy our soul’s longing for expression. Oftentimes we will face a series of challenges, tough choices and opposition when we travel the path of following our truth. This can be very disturbing, troublesome and scary to work through. It is even likely to cause us to consider giving up and settling for a life we have talked ourselves into wanting because it will keep the peace or be more palatable to our family, friends or society. But inside we die a little bit every day by making this trade. Our soul yearns for truth and expression yet our ego wants the acceptance, security and safety of the familiar.
This point was so clearly demonstrated in the transformational life of Richard Alpert. The safe path of a respected Harvard professor, transformed into a controversial polarizing figure of the 60’s, transformed again into the spiritual teacher Ram Dass. Each step along the way was wrought with challenges, setbacks, self-discovery and adversity. But the one constant was the impetus to follow his own path.
We can never know where our choices will lead us, but if we stay committed to honoring our own truth, we can be assured that it will be a journey worth taking. Along the way without even trying, our life will be an inspiration and blessing to others. By witnessing our courage and fortitude to take the path less traveled it will instill belief and legitimacy for others to also take a leap of faith and embark on the journey of following their bliss.
In these polarizing, divisive times we are living in it can be hard to disconnect from the frantic, anxious energy that is so pervasive. Everywhere we turn there is a debate, argument or eruption of discord and negative energy. It is easy to get pulled into defending our views, positions and beliefs. We often feel attacked and misunderstood, then seek to set the record straight by telling our side of the story. In other words, the “right” way to view things – if we are honest, this telling of our position more times than not includes a lot of upset, anger and thinly veiled judgement on our part.
There is nothing inherently wrong with sharing our viewpoint, but doing it in this way rarely ends up resulting in us feeling better. If our goal is to eradicate angry, fearful energy and create more peace in the world, then this approach just doesn’t fit the bill. We can’t get to peace and harmony by arguing and making other people wrong. So, what are we to do with all the anxiety, outrage and anger we feel when we witness the atrocities of this world? We make our one and only goal the commitment to not add to the collective toxic soup of hatred, blame and finger pointing. We do this by keeping a keen eye on our reactivity, bringing a higher level of awareness to how we respond and react in every moment.
We need to be awake to our knee-jerk responses and our tendency to speak, post, or tweet as a means to make ourselves momentarily feel better but not ultimately serve the goals that we all so desperately want to see manifest in this world. This means that we all must be willing to trade what feels good in that moment for what we ultimately want. This is about impulse control, and it has become increasingly difficult in this instantaneous social media world we live in to mitigate this issue. But it can be achieved if we each begin to take responsibility for the energetic pollution we are adding to the mix.
We can begin to ask ourselves if our dialog, comments or social media post is adding anything positive to the situation or simply putting fuel on the fire. If we are honest, oftentimes we want to get something off our chest and in doing so add to the tumultuous chaos of the collective. The Buddhist concepts of right speech and right action are an appropriate corollary to this idea. When we take the time to center ourselves before reacting and speaking, it gives us the opportunity to take an internal inquiry and ask – What is my intention? I have personally decided to make Mahatma Gandhi’s quote the basis for such decisions: “Speak only if it improves upon the silence”. Explore this idea for yourself and see if you too arrive at the same conclusion.
The new year is the perfect time to think about planting new seeds. Not in the gardening sense, but in the realm of our beliefs and thoughts. The effort put forth to cultivate and care for our seedlings of “new thought” will reap a rich harvest if we’re willing to stay the course.
Many people try to use affirmations, mantras or meditation to shift their mindset and claim it doesn’t work. Well, the truth of the matter is that we can’t get the results we want by spending fifteen minutes a day being open, positive and centered – and then spend the remaining 23.75 hours in anxiety, fear and negativity. It will take a long time to make a shift with that approach.
The insidious patterns of a negative mindset represent a long-standing habitual way of looking at life. They have actually become affirmations that are actively working against the life we want. We typically also have strong emotions behind these old thoughts and beliefs, which can make them seem even more intractable. The key to having our new thoughts and beliefs take root is to prepare an atmosphere where they can grow. Just like in traditional gardening, seeds planted in poor soil yield poor growth. But planting in rich soil and tending to the care of the seedlings yields a bountiful harvest.
Creating an environment that supports our efforts is paramount. Some things to consider when cultivating a rich medium for growth are the following important questions. How can we stay more aware and present throughout our day? What changes would have to be made in order to make this shift?
Along those lines, it will be important to take a serious look at the things in our life that no longer serve us. This could be people, work, commitments, or our living situation. Anything that we personally define as not representative of the direction we want to go. We can be grateful for the time we interacted with these things and be willing to move on from them.
Sitting with these questions will serve to create a template and action plan that starts us on the road to successful, lasting change. By staying in connection to our own gut instincts and feelings, we can make adjustments and tweaks along the way and close 2021 with a plentiful harvest of growth.
I am sure many of you know that we are the proud owners of an adorable Shih Tzu named Bella. In case you weren’t aware, she is the light of our life and the princess of the house. Bella wears a top-knot and can always be found sporting an adorable hair bow. She is also a competitive AKC Agility dog. This surprises some people.
They see the fluffy little white dog with the hair bow and make an assumption…probably a number of assumptions actually. Some about the dog and some about the owners. The point being that we all have a tendency to think we know the story, the situation, person or dog by what we see and observe at a quick glance. But we are often wrong in these assessments. Usually it is our tendency to categorize and judge that is at work in these moments. It isn’t our fault, our human physiology is set up to quickly scan the environment, decide what the deal is and then take action or in fact make a judgement.
But we are more than our physiology, and therefore we have the ability to step back and be willing to open ourselves up to the curiosity and exploration of not knowing. Not knowing can be the most exciting thing ever! Just look at how kids navigate the world. They are so excited to wake up and greet the day because they bring an open-minded spontaneous energy to everything they do.
The key to recapturing that energy in our adult lives is to be willing to admit we don’t know as much as we think we do. The question really boils down to this – Are we teachable and willing to be wrong? The truth is that many people would rather stay stuck in painful patterns then to admit they are wrong or that they don’t have the answers. Our willingness to get comfortable with the idea of “not knowing” is really the first step to recapturing the joy and elation of life.
As an interesting sidenote, Bella received an invitation to compete in the AKC Agility Invitational this month in Florida. The top five dogs in the country from each breed are invited to compete. When we started competing in agility with Bella, we never had any aspirations to reach this level. We had in fact made a number of assumptions about her, and the likelihood of her reaching this level of success competing as a Shih Tzu in agility. Bella has taught us an important lesson about not judging a book by its cover. She reminds us every time she steps in the ring to compete that she makes her own rules, lives life on her own terms and to expect the unexpected.
Two years ago, this month my father was diagnosed with stage four metastatic pancreatic cancer. For the past twenty-four months I have taken a detour from life as I knew it into a tumultuous space of the unknown. In the way steel is tempered in fire, I felt life provided me the same experience – a burning away of the unnecessary to expose and leave only the essential.
As I look back now, it has felt surreal and dreamlike. So much living has been jampacked into this timespan – my dad’s illness, his death, my mother’s cognitive decline and placement in an assisted living, the dissolution of my parent’s life and selling of their home. The list goes on, but you get the point…it’s a lot.
It was so extremely paramount to stay in the present moment and deal with what was needed and required in the now. The future held too many unknowns to even entertain strolling down that lane. I just kept focused on being present to what life was putting in front of me at any given moment. What I am most grateful for is the way life supported me throughout this entire endeavor. The people, places and kind faces just seemed to rise up to meet every need as it was presented.
I realized that we are all there together, living on the edge. Life’s edge, the place where pain, joy and all emotions reside. It’s the very fabric of our lives. Woven together and bound by our common humanity, we will all walk down a similar path of loss, grief, joy and redemption. The circumstances may be different, but the result is the same.
By the fact that we all traverse this unpredictable journey of life together, we can be comforted in knowing that we are never alone. For better or for worse, we stand on the shoulders of countless others who have endured all that life presents and survived. Sometimes with battle wounds or scars but often, if we are lucky with a renewed sense of faith in the love and goodwill that exists inside every person.