Friday, March 28, 2008

One message

"Say not, 'I have found the truth,' but rather, 'I have found a truth.'"
~Kahlil Gibran

I had a wonderful, somewhat unexpected experience last night. A friend of mine heard somewhat vaguely about a blessing being done by a woman from India who imparts divine energy. She didn't know anything else about it except when and where it would be held. It sounded interesting to me so I decided to go to it with her. The evening ended up being part of Sri Karunamayi's 2008 World Tour, the Spiritual Discourse and Darshan piece of her larger Bay Area program. Amma, as she is called, is considered to be an embodiment of the divine mother, with a large heart full of love for individuals and the world as a whole. She has many followers in India and around the world, revered for her loving presence and good works.

While I've always found Hinduism interesting--really, find me a religion or philosophy that's NOT interesting--I was always more attracted to the Taoist and Buddhist end of the Eastern religious spectrum. I've been introduced to small pieces of the faith throughout the years, even studying the Bhagavad Gita and using a mantra, but I've never been one of those people who felt incomplete without a guru or a trip to India. However, one of the things I love about being where I am on my path right now is that I really got to enjoy the experience last night, soak up all the good energy in the room, experience Amma's amazing presence, and not worry about what to call it or find a label for myself in the midst of it. I loved the chanting--my favorite being the Sri Sarasweti Mantra, I've been singing it half the morning--loved feeling the vibration of the sounds in my chest and body, loved how it deepened my connection to everyone else in the room, loved how I could feel the vibration even during the silent meditation. During some of the chants there was drumming, which set my soul on fire and made me want to move, to participate in the creation of its beautiful, soulful rhythm.

Amma spoke on and off throughout the evening, sharing her perspective on the world and our place in it. I couldn't always understand the words she was saying, but I always felt connected to her message. The more she spoke the more clear it became to me that she was speaking a truth I'd heard before, just with a slightly different perspective on it. She may be coming from the background of Sanātana Dharma and I may be coming from a patchwork quilt background that includes Christianity and Religious Science, but we are both pulling from the same well, connecting to the same sense of the divine. She spoke of our Oneness with the whole of life, and how to be at peace with that life. She spoke of our duty to be in the world but not of it, bringing our presence out into the world without getting sucked into its drama. She spoke of the importance of meditation, and how to find clues to the practice of meditation by looking out in nature. And she spoke of a deep, abiding love that fills her up and spreads out into the world through each person that allows it to, carrying with it the peace and joy that true love brings.

At the end of the evening, I got to take part in the blessing. Amma reached out and dabbed a mixture on my forehead as she murmured a few words, and I thanked her, looking deep in her eyes and soaking up her loving energy. I felt so light, so peaceful, and so grateful to have been part of the experience. I bet if you'd seen me at that moment, I would have been radiant, almost translucent. Slowly but surely, I'm sloughing off my labels, my personal dogma, my limiting beliefs. I am opening up to experiencing all of the wisdom and truth and power and love this universe has to offer. It's a wonderful ride. Namaste.

Photo: "Sri Lanka," originally uploaded by Steve Evans

(Yes, I know this is a picture of a Sri Lankan girl, which means not only is she from another country but there's a 70% chance she's Buddhist. However, it's such a beautiful, striking photo that I wanted to share it. No labels, remember?)

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Thursday, March 27, 2008


"We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
~Walt Disney

I've got a bit of a chicken-and-egg dilemma here--what came first, my curiosity or my spirituality? Okay, dilemma may be a strong word, but I am, ahem, curious about this. I've been noticing my curiosity blossoming like mad in the past few months. The whole world just seems fascinating and I want to learn as much as possible. I mentioned this recent influx of curiosity earlier this week in a class I'm taking, and a woman responded that curiosity opens you to connection with the divine. So I got to thinking, have I always been curious? And at what point in my life did I become spiritual?

While I usually define "my spiritual path" as having begun approximately 17 years ago, by stricter definitions I have been spiritual my whole life. I was born into a Southern Baptist family and can remember experiencing deep faith as a very small child. I was in awe of the fire-and-brimstone pastor of my grandparents' Baptist church and would always become more devout when we went to visit. I don't have many memories of stereotypically girlie things like planning my wedding 25 years in advance, but I do remember lying on the bed flipping through the Old Testament of the Bible looking for good names for my future children (Rebekkah was always my favorite). I also remember an incredibly formative conversation I had with my mother on the way to church when I was about 8 or 9. I asked her how she knew God was real and she said that when she looks at a flower or at the way our bodies were built, she knows there was an intelligence at work in that process, a belief I still share with her today. So while spirituality and religiosity might have been entangled during that era, I would say my spirituality began when I was fairly young.

What's interesting to me is that I don't think I was a very curious kid. I would spend twenty minutes with my nose against the glass at Baskin Robbins trying to pick a flavor and then end up with vanilla (still my favorite to this day, especially the Breyers with the real vanilla beans in it). I didn't like to meet new people or do new things--I preferred the comfort of the familiar. I probably re-read as many books as I read new ones, which is probably why I've still never read as many of the classics as I would have liked.

I have to attribute the development of my curiosity to a person. I met my best friend Kirsten when we both moved to Connecticut around the beginning of fifth grade. Her parents had met during the Peace Corps and their whole family had an air of the bohemian compared to what I had grown up with. While I had been raised to have faith, Kirsten had been raised to ask questions. And boy, did her questions ever throw me for a loop! If God loves everyone unconditionally, why do you have to build fancy cathedrals for Him and dress up for Him? Wouldn't he love you just the same wearing jeans in a shack in the woods? Kirsten opened me up to a new way of looking at things, and really introduced me to the concept that we each have our own unique perspective on the universe.

The convergence of my spirituality and relatively newfound curiosity happened when I took the Confirmation class my freshman year of high school. Now involved in a Congregational church in Connecticut, we spent a year studying the Bible, moving our awareness of our faith from that of a child to that of an adult. I threw myself into the class, asking question after question, studying everything I could get my hands on. I finished the program, went through the act of Confirmation, and promptly dropped out of the church. What I'd discovered had really only opened my eyes, deepened my curiosity, and sent me out into the world like someone dying of thirst would seek water.

That is the place my curiosity finds me again now, at this stage of my life. Having recently left the spiritual community that was my home for many years, I find myself open to all the wonders the universe has to offer. I may land again one day and build a nest amongst a new group of seekers, but I hope I never stay in one place for too long. What I've rediscovered here is too precious to misplace again, and this life is just too darn short not to try to soak up as much as humanly possible. It's okay to savor old favorites--friends and books alike--but there is a whole world of new things out there for me to discover, and I know I'll love every minute of the process. Namaste.

Photo: "There must be a present for me in one of these bags!", originally uploaded by John Haslam

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008


"The more you struggle to live, the less you live. Give up the notion that you must be sure of what you are doing. Instead, surrender to what is real within you, for that alone is sure. As stars high above earth, you are above everything distressing. But you must awaken to it. Wake up!"
~Baruch Spinoza

Surrender is a dirty word for many people. I've known folks who have been on the spiritual path for longer than I've been alive who still have great resistance to the concept of surrender. When you look at the primary definition on, it's really no wonder: to yield (something) to the possession or power of another; deliver up possession of on demand or under duress: to surrender the fort to the enemy; to surrender the stolen goods to the police. Even the definition that I'm using doesn't sound much better on the surface: to give (oneself) up to some influence, course, emotion, etc.: He surrendered himself to a life of hardship. There's great fear that surrendering means we'll have to give something up, or even just give up in general. But what does "giving up" really mean? To me, anyway, it means to stop trying. And boy oh boy, is there ever a lesson for me in that. There is great power in ceasing to try to do anything. It's like Yoda says: "Do or do not. There is no try." The more we try the less we do, not to mention the more we get frustrated.

One day last week I was working on some things having to do with my finances and I could feel myself getting anxious about it--never a good sign. As I was trying to shake off the anxiety, I had an image pop into my head of Liz Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love, when she was lying on her bathroom floor crying and talking to God. This image was quickly followed by one from the movie Saved! where one of the Catholic schoolgirls is kneeling by her bed crying and praying wildly. I thought, well, I've never tried it--who knows, maybe it's exactly what I need to do. So I went into my living room and knelt down, going almost into Child's Pose with my forehead touching the floor. I just started talking out loud, expressing how I was feeling about money and where I was looking for resolution. Before I knew it, a flood of emotion came out and I started to cry, ultimately lying there with my head on my arms repeating, "I just need some help, I just need some help," over and over again. Suddenly, I felt this deep sense of calm and stillness come over me--I moved into a seated position and sat there for a few minutes breathing in my newfound peace. Before I could get up and go back to my work my phone rang--it was a friend who wanted to pay me to do some work for her. I burst out laughing and when I hung up I simply said, Thank you.

I've invested a lot of energy lately trying to surrender--what happened that day was that I actually surrendered. I gave up in the sense that I stopped trying to do anything. My intention was in place, but I was holding on to it so tightly there was no room for the Universe to provide. By letting go, by surrendering, I opened myself up to solutions I never could have forced into being. In the end, surrendering isn't about giving up anything--it's about moving yourself into alignment with Life so you can begin to accept all the good that Life has to offer. This process reminds me of the poem at the beginning of Wayne Dyer's Your Sacred Self:

Broken Dreams
author unknown

As children bring their broken toys
With tears for us to mend,
I brought my broken dream to God
Because He was my Friend.

But instead of leaving Him
In peace to work alone,
I hung around and tried to help
With ways that were my own.

At last I snatched them back and cried,
"How can You be so slow?"
"My child," He said, "what could I do?
You never let them go."

What are you holding on to? What are you ready to receive? Can you begin to see how you might surrender it to the Universe, thereby allowing it to come into fruition? Take the leap of faith with me this week--truly surrender whatever it you find yourself holding onto most tightly. Experience the deep peace that surrender brings, and see what shows up to support you. Namaste.

Photo: "Sweet Surrender," originally uploaded by What's in a name...

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A New Earth -- Role-Playing: The Many Faces of the Ego

Jenn's thoughts and learnings from the fourth week of A New Earth: The Oprah Web Event.

"There are three words that convey the secret of the art of living, the secret of all success and happiness: One With Life. Being one with life is being one with Now. You then realize that you don't live your life, but life lives you. Life is the dancer, and you are the dance."
~Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

As always, Eckhart Tolle's presence this week was very timely for me. I had lots of fresh material to work with as I was watching the podcast of last night's webinar today. I appreciate so much Eckhart's centered, grounded presence, and the natural way he is able to answer the questions as they come in. This week in particular I felt that Eckhart provided some helpful tools, for me anyway, in dealing with issues as they come up in the moment. I'd like to share a few of my favorites.

* Practicing the Presence. I always wanted to be like Brother Lawrence, practicing the Presence. What it used to mean to me was being aware of your connection to Source all of the time. I suppose this is what Eckhart experiences with his being fully in the present moment, being fully the awareness and the Presence instead of the ego. One caller asked about how to bring this more into our daily lives, into work and relationships and whatnot. Eckhart provided a handful of suggestions for consciously bringing Presence, beingness, awareness into your day, throughout the day, as a reminder of Who You Really Are--a form of practicing the Presence for the rest of us who are still in the process of awakening.

Eckhart suggests that you make sure you're bringing your spiritual practice out into the world with you. While all practice helps you ultimately become aware, it easier to focus on your awareness, your aliveness when you're at home alone than it is when you're, say, at work. Take a few moments throughout your day to just be. You might allow your phone to ring two extra times, breathing in and noticing the aliveness within you before answering the phone. Or put a flower on your desk by your computer, periodically turning away from what you're doing to appreciate the beauty and aliveness in the flower and feel its aliveness in you. Even one conscious breath, in and out, is a short meditation. There's no need to wait until you're home alone or until you feel you have plenty of time to meditate--you can bring it with you wherever you go.

* The awareness gap. I've heard many people over the years, myself included, be frustrated when they don't find themselves applying their awareness enough in advance to avoid falling into an old pattern they thought they'd already let go of. Eckhart reminded us that the first step is awareness in any form. If you find yourself identifying with a role, behaving in ways that don't serve you, or any other form of falling into old patterns, the first step is to become aware of it, even if it is after the fact. As you become more and more aware of what you tend to do, the gap between the act and the awareness begins to shrink until you find yourself becoming aware of what is happening while you are doing it. And as you continue to practice awareness, you will get to a place where you can see where you are headed even before you get there. So have a little patience with yourself, celebrate your awareness whenever you are having it, and the gap will keep shrinking until one day it vanishes.

* Facing challenges. I don't know about you, but I definitely have areas of my life where it is easier to practice what I know and areas where I seem to keep tripping over my own feet. Eckhart says most people face one big challenge in their lives, whether it's an illness or a traumatic event or a person. When we come face to face with that challenge there are really two ways we can react to it: 1) we can fall into our old patterns, our old ways of being--like if someone gets angry with you and you join them in their unconsciousness, getting angry back; or 2) we can allow the challenge to wake us up even more, becoming even more present and aware in the situation and taking steps to disconnect from the ego's desire to react and just be. We can rail against a situation or we can surrender to it and go with the flow. We can get sucked into someone's drama or we can just be with them and provide them a space to get it out of their system. One of Eckhart's suggestions that I just loved was to pretend that you are transparent and just let whatever it is pass through you. He recommended practicing with a loud noise like a jackhammer, feeling the noise but allowing it to pass through, without reaction, without irritation. The more we practice with those smaller challenges, the more we can see the gifts in the bigger challenges and rise to the occasion.

* Guardians of being. Anyone who knows me knows how much of an animal person I am, and a cat person in particular. A caller asked about why it is that she always seems to be more present when she is with her dog. Eckhart spoke about pets (cats and dogs in particular) generally being more present than we are. I personally think it has to do with the way their memories are structured, but if you watch an animal, you can see that they are completely invested in the moment, fully present wherever they are. Right now my cat Morgan is cleaning herself in a sunny spot -- she is completely focused on the task at hand, so much so that usually she only cleans one paw, like there aren't three others for her to think about. Our pets become "guardians of being" when they bring that beingness to us. I think part of it is that as we engage with them we become fully present really in whatever it is that they are doing. But I also think that they elevate the level of beingness in the space, and when we occupy the space with them, we join them in that beingness. I didn't really need another excuse to love having cats more, but it is always a good for me to remember the special spirits they are.

* Focus brings success. Perhaps my favorite part of the webinar was when Eckhart was clearing up a misconception from last week. A lot of people had come away with the idea that there's no room for planning and ambition in the Now, and they wanted to know how you can still have a life of passion. He spoke about how much greater the passion and joy are when you stay in the present moment, when you stay focused on what you are doing now. The more you focus on where you want to get to, the more your passion degenerates into stress. Make plans, set intentions, have dreams, but then live each moment as it comes. Everything in life requires steps to get there, however the delusion is in the idea that the fulfillment somehow only exists in the future. As we've talked about before, life is a journey not a destination. Enjoy the ride.

Eckhart told a story from a Zen master that I think applies well to all of life. The gist was that if the archer focuses on winning, he steps out of the present moment and his need to win drains him of his power, keeping him from being able to hit the target. Mastery comes from being in the moment. Live each moment as it comes, experience the energy that moment contains, then let it go and move onto the next, experiencing it with just as much focus as the last. This is the path to true success, to true enjoyment of life, to true passion, to living life fully. Namaste.

Photo: "Masked figures," originally uploaded by Frank K.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Everett Ruess Quote

I have always been unsatisfied with life as most people live it. Always I want to live more intensely and richly. Why muck and conceal one's true longings and loves, when by speaking of them one might find someone to understand them, and by acting on them one might discover oneself?

~Everett Ruess

Connecting through nature

I had a wonderful weekend. Interestingly, however, I was all over the map emotionally, a regular roller coaster ride experiencing everything from being on top of the world to feeling smothered by doubt and fear. So how is that I can call it a wonderful weekend and feel so optimistic this morning? Because I spent so much time in nature, soaking up the beauty of the world around me and reveling in its glory.

Nature for me is a direct connection to the divine. It definitely helps that it was a beautiful weekend--70's and sunny--and that we had so much rain this winter. Everything is still so green, so full of life--I just opened the blinds and looked out over the valley beneath my apartment and it took my breath away. However I can find the divine in a gray and rainy day as well. What's important is that I make sure I get outside, go for a walk, pay attention to the landscape and how the seasons shift it, see what is blossoming and what is waning, smell the fragrances of the flowers, notice the quality of the air.

On Saturday, we went up to Mount Diablo for the first time. Now that I've seen its beauty, I can't believe I've never taken the time to experience it before. You can see most of the Bay Area from its peak, and its foothills are spectacular. Seeing it in all its green splendor this weekend brought to mind my mental image of what Ireland must look like. On Sunday, I took a walk through local neighborhoods and had a similar experience of the beauty around me. Walking along residential streets is a much more up-close-and-personal view, but all of the blossoming trees and flowering gardens still played their part in helping me feel connected.

Being in nature makes me come alive, increases my sensitivity to my own sense of vibrancy, of vitality. When I touch the earth I can feel its energy, feel it connecting to my own energy and providing its strength to support me. I have this fantasy of becoming a gardener, of putting my hands in the soil and taking care of plants and helping them grow. My brown thumb suggests that might not be wise, but I yearn for that direct connection with the earth. That might be why I enjoy camping so much--even when I'm sleeping on rocks and roots I wake up with a surprising amount of energy quite likely because I've been soaking it up from the ground. I have this childlike desire to go rolling down the side of a hill, and maybe I will.

What makes you come alive? What steps can you take this week to embrace that vitality, regardless of what is happening in the world around you, regardless of how you are feeling? Join with me in a quest for the divine, a quest for connection. Take some time this week to walk with your feet touching the earth. Bend down and smell a flower as it blooms, touch the grass as it reaches for the light. Notice the beauty around you whether it's gray or sunny, whether there's still snow on the ground or the world is blossoming around you. Feel the energy of the earth and let it strengthen you, let it feed you, let it ground you. Namaste.

Photo: "Sun over Pine Ridge in Mount Diablo State Park," originally uploaded by Miguel Vieira

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Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow

Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to singin my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope,
the rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing in the
surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes,
arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the
clear water of a pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who,
approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly
weapons to Uganda.

I am the 12-year-old girl, refugee
on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after
being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with
plenty of power in my hand,
and I am the man who has to pay his
"debt of blood" to my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is likes pring, so warm it makes
flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it
fills up the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughs
at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

~Thich Nhat Hanh, from Earth Prayers

Photo: "Peacock Butterfly in the morning," originally uploaded by Hans-Peter