Life

“We have to go back, Kate!” -Lost

Katie At The AshramThis time last year I set out on a month of adventure.  I am about to venture out for another August, but this story is very different than the one I was telling a year ago.

After returning from last year’s excursions I found myself jobless, and quite without a sense of direction.  The time seemed ripe to return to a place of great importance to me, the Satchidananda Ashram.

I had once sought the ashram as a refuge at the age of 20.  That period of time was one of great turmoil in which I found myself suddenly living alone, instead of with my partner, and feeling crushed by the weight of my own responsibility for my life situation.

The brief time I spent at the ashram was one of the most meaningful experiences of my short life.  But it was just that, brief.  Instead of the planned month of service I was to do there, I rushed home as soon as the voice in my head told me it had had enough.

The work was too hard.  I missed my family.  I couldn’t stomach the health food.  And God didn’t want or need me to worship Him this way.  These were the patterns of thought that I let drive me back home.

However, I never regretted my short stay.  I loved my time there.  I loved my roommates and the lifestyle.  I knew I would be back.  I knew there was some purpose in this brief introduction.

Cut to last fall, six years after leaving the ashram.  It was time to go back.  But the tumor living incognito in my skull caused a seizure, and the long road to surgery and recovery began.  I was okay with this, I was just happy to be alive.  And I knew my time would come.

Then it was February of this year.  I felt more myself again.  Now that I’m more recovered I can see how ambitious I was being, but I decided February was my chance.  I was finally healthy, and I had been looking forward to this since before my surgery.  Then the phone rang, and a job opportunity thrust its way into my life.  It was a blessing, but I felt let down.

Now all these months later, with many hitches along the way, I’m packing to leave in a week.  I won’t be back until September 8th.  I can’t really have any expectations about it now.  Just getting to be there will be a tremendous gift.  And that is one of the major lessons about life that I’m constantly losing sight of.  Just getting to be here is tremendous.

Life can easily feel like one burdensome situation after another, but I know it doesn’t have to.  If you’ve ever experienced a moment of inner peace, of the stillness of nature, of laughter with people you love, you too know life doesn’t have to feel like a burden.  It is as if a bright light is shining down on all of us, and if we shift just one step to the right we will be completely immersed in its glow.  My going to the ashram is taking that one step.  What is yours?

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Life

Why Not Knowing Is Not Bad

By Peter SperoEverywhere you turn the world will give you a piece of its mind.  Well-meaning loved ones, TV talk show hosts, commercials, and Yelp are all here to help you figure things out.  As we get older we add beliefs on top of beliefs until there are only a few corners of our minds left available to be filled with new understanding.

We are so accustomed to being able to figure things out that a lack of understanding can trigger fear, anxiety, and an immense amount of pain.  If life situations that leave you scratching your head are disturbing to you, that is a sign to let go of your need to know.

Letting go of the need to control life through your thoughts is not only liberating, but it is also your best chance for you to experience your best possibilities.

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Peace

How To Step Out Of Stress

DucksOn Friday night I was so stressed from my vision of the coming week that all I could do was cry about it.  Then just the next day, I got sick.  The negative emotions generated by the spinning of my anxious thoughts so quickly translated into physical illness that my choice became clear.  I could do my work with stress, or I could do it without stress.  The former was so obviously uncomfortable that I opted for the “without stress” option.

It did not seem easy at first.  My mind wouldn’t let go of thinking about the end products and panicking about how I would get there successfully.  I wasn’t going to find peace of mind from my mind.  That was the stress trigger itself.  I knew that to make the decision to go about my tasks stress free I had to surpass the mind’s attempts to help altogether.

It then became all the more clear that the uncomfortable state I had been experiencing wasn’t due to any task I had to perform, but rather, by my thoughts about their outcomes.

Focusing on the fruits of your actions instead of the actions themselves creates stress.  If you’re feeling like I was last Friday, look at your situation and notice if you are thinking about the end product instead of just dealing with the task at hand.  That slight shift in perspective may be the step that takes you out of stress altogether.

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Inspiration

Party More

Joey's GraduationThis weekend I had the great privilege of celebrating my baby brother’s graduation from college. Then came Mother’s Day.  Celebrations transformed both of those days.

This month also marks the six-month anniversary of my brain surgery. And while I didn’t have a party for that, I must confess that I’ve been celebrating its anniversary every single month since it happened. I celebrate mainly within myself, congratulating myself, feeling grateful for the passing months. But I also excitedly exclaim to my boyfriend about it every 5th of the month. So what difference does it make?

Continual celebration for any reason makes each day more memorable as well as more fulfilling. To me celebration is the practice of aligning your perspective with the reality of life. It is easy to think to yourself, “Every day is a precious gift to be treasured.” But that is just a thought in the mind not yet born into the reality of experience. When you celebrate you are acting out the reality of the sacredness of the now. You are honoring existence. And in the process of aligning yourself with this perspective, you uncover the latent joy within.

Find something to celebrate today. Did you wake up this morning? Did you go to work? Did you share a smile with another person? You experienced the miracle that is conscious existence. Celebrate it in whatever way you personally enjoy. Eat a wonderful meal, make a toast, share time with someone you love, dance to your favorite song. Instead of making your worries, thoughts about the future, and painful stories the center of your attention today, create a reason to celebrate. It will move you ever closer to a state of joy and peace, and you may find that celebration begets further celebration.

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Relationships

The Crazy Idea I Didn’t Know I Believed

LightIt wasn’t until a job training that focused on “positive discipline” for children that I realized I was walking around with an insane idea that greatly affected my relationships.

A slide in the presentation read, “It’s a crazy idea, really: to make children do better, they have to feel worse.”

Have you ever unknowingly operated from this crazy idea?  I know I have.  When I care about someone deeply and want their behavior to change, for their benefit or my own, I make them feel bad about it.  It sounds harsh, and consciously of course I wouldn’t try to make a loved one feel worse.  But up until this idea was exposed to me in such a clear manner, I was making people feel worse when trying to “help” them.

Human beings do this all the time, and not just when disciplining children.  We do this with our spouses, siblings, friends, and co-workers.

Jane Nelsen, author of the Positive Discipline series, talks about the deep roots of sprouting behavioral issues in children.  But how can we react when encountered with an adult close to us whose behavior we want to change?

That question cannot be answered in one small post.  But there are a few essential steps before you go about trying.

Firstly, take a look at the “man in the mirror.”  Ask yourself what parts of the issue bothering you, do you contain within yourself.

Then completely accept the other person as they are, and forgive them.

Lastly, become utterly present.  Let go of the unhappy story you are telling yourself and instead focus on the feeling of your hands and feet.  Feel the inhale and exhale of your breath.

While this won’t necessarily change someone else’s behavior, it will change yours.  Whatever you do in a state of presence will be positive and productive for everyone.  Of course the consequences of this presence will not be known until it is tried and tested.  I will attempt these steps the next time I feel the impulse to change someone else’s behavior through the old, criticizing manner. Comment and let me know how it goes for you!

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Peace

When It’s Time To Stop Talking

HowardCan you recall a moment in your life when you were at a loss for words?

For many of us, that is a rare occurrence. Yet, the power of silence in the thick of a busy and loud life experience has the possibility to achieve more towards your goals than even the most well chosen turns of phrase.

I often try to cope with the instability of life through logical thinking or comforting sentiments.  But the unpleasantness I am trying to withdraw from dissolves more quickly, and of its own accord, when I allow the experience to run its course.

There isn’t always a need to explain things away.  All things inevitably fall away on their own.

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Relationships

Why My Relationships Will Never Be The Same

DucksAll of the sudden it happened.  After months of lazing about recovering from surgery I have found myself back in the workforce.  I now have emails to respond to, lessons to plan, projects to coordinate, and an alarm clock going off in the morning.  Of course I am grateful, but I have yet to experience a transition without growing pains, yet to feel completely comfortable with letting go.

This new lesson in acceptance is one I am beginning to navigate, but there is one lesson from the surgery that I’m still holding onto: I was treated differently, and still am over three months after the fact.

I found on the whole that friends, family, and acquaintances were kinder, more appreciative, and altogether more forgiving of me than I had ever experienced.

These changes in relationships could be chalked up to compassion during a difficult situation, but I don’t buy into that.  I’ve experienced compassion before, and it is beautiful and life affirming.  I also have a ridiculously loving family.  But the kindness I received during this period of my life carried an even deeper undertone that I’m sure few would ever admit, even to themselves.

People realized I was mortal.

I know how this sounds; am I ridiculously asserting that my friends thought of me as immortal before it turned out I had a tumor in my skull?  On the intellectual level, of course not, we all understand the reality of birth and death.  But one of the things that makes life less scary, more ordinary, and makes relationships easier to handle is that, in the words of my friend Mark, we temporarily assume we are all immortal.

Having brain surgery created relationships in which the fragility of life became more real.  And while this could sound grim, it was the most profound, loving, and fulfilling experience I’ve been blessed to witness in my short life thus far.

Now that I’m well again, what does this lesson mean, and why am I still holding onto it?

I saw that it is possible to love deeply, appreciate people meaningfully, and forgive people’s faults easily.  This can be the reality of all of our relationships and interactions.

Perhaps contemplating the unstable nature of all forms will be your catalyst toward this type of human interaction.  Or perhaps, like me, that is altogether too frightening an approach.  If that is the case, just love others, and be kinder than necessary.  Even if you haven’t been on the receiving end of this depth of kindness yet, you can be the initiator of a new way to be human together.

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Inspiration

Feel Your Way Out Of The Dark

Feel GoodA desire to feel better than you currently feel is itself an acknowledgment that your current experience has the ability to change.

When I was younger feeling bad took an eternity.  Now it is more like an alarm clock telling me that I want to feel better.  I may press the snooze button again and again, but the second I decide to wake up how I feel changes.

There may be many rungs on the emotional ladder between how you feel now and how you desire to feel.  Don’t try to jump all the way to the top and fall victim to gravity.  Take each step as a victory.  Feeling bored feels better than despair.  Feeling annoyed feels better than feeling afraid.  We all know how we desire to feel, and we all have the power to let how we feel guide us toward what we desire.

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Inspiration

How To Stop Time

TimelessWhat would you choose to do right now if you could stop time?  If the succession of time had a DVR and you could simply press the pause button, do you know how you would fill in the gap?

Now that the holidays are over, my family has returned to their various corners of the world, and I’m navigating life on my own again post-surgery, time has begun to feel like a thief robbing me of moments I wish I could get back.

Since racing against the clock is an invitation for disappointment and constant discontent, how can you find a way out?  Is there a way to stop time?

The ticking of the clock, of course, cannot stop.  But when time feels too fast, it isn’t clock time you’re fighting with, it is psychological time.  Thoughts of missing the past, and anxious thoughts about the future make time an undefeatable enemy.  The actual present moment that you are experiencing will never run away from you; it is the one constant in a life full of variables.

Instead of worrying about a future deadline, work when you work, and rest when you rest.  The end game will be the same either way.  This doesn’t seem as simple as it sounds to a mind running in circles trying to solve the “problem” of time. The mind will continue to spin its tales, but without your belief in them, the stories lose their power.

Stop time by bringing yourself back to the faithful now.  In the words of Eckhart Tolle, “Don’t let a mad world tell you that success is anything other than a successful present moment.”

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Life

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

PresenceAs December is coming to a close, I am writing to you in good health, as I now feel normal again over a month after surgery.  I could never have imagined the magnificence of simply feeling normal until now.  But while my body has a normal state to return to, my life situation has a completely different story.  Before surgery I was in the midst of searching for a new normal after my job of four years came to a close when its grant cycled out, and I was imagining new passions and opportunities that might emerge.  A seizure, concussion, myriad of medical tests, and brain surgery later, that new normal hasn’t yet found its way into my experience.

Have you ever experienced a transition that seems to be followed by still more change?  Have you seen uncertainty lead to greater uncertainty?  When life shows its true colors by unmasking the illusion of stability you are left with an important task.  That task is your reaction.

An easy go-to reaction is fear, but if you have had enough suffering you’ll bypass that one quite quickly.  Another reaction, which may not even seem like a reaction at first, is waiting. You can wait out the uncertainty.  You can wait to feel comfortable, at peace, joyful, and grateful until you have your new normal.  Of course waiting to be at peace until your outer situation looks a certain way is the ego’s best kept secret in how to never be at peace.

Without fear and waiting, how can you react to uncertainty and transition?  I have found that my favorite, most joy-filled, peaceful, hopeful reaction to such an outer situation is to allow myself to inhabit the present moment.

It feels a bit uncomfortable at first, and I always get the initial sensation that I have to distract myself with something.  But after I let myself be present through the discomfort it turns out that the present is a pristine, perfect place to be, that asks nothing of me but my awareness of it.  When I let myself place my attention on my sensory perceptions of the present, the mind, which is busy worrying and trying to fix various aspects of what it deems an unacceptable life situation, starts to lose steam.  Real life emerges.

While the future feels like it needs constant attention, life is always happening right now and no place else.  It isn’t waiting for you to notice it.  You could go your whole life unaware that you’re only living in your mind and missing the moment that living takes place.  But uncertainty will help you notice the living present if you let it.  Life is beckoning you through every situation you find yourself in.  This time let your life situation drive you home to the present moment.  You’ll be glad you came.

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