What is the Soul – Part 5 – Projection

“Wherever known reality stops, where we touch the unknown, there we project an archetypal image.” Marie -Louise von Franz

After reading quite a bit of Jung, I’ve felt that an important piece of understanding the soul is the concept of projection. However, Jung’s work is vast and I wasn’t keen on sifting through it merely to unearth some quotes about projection for a blog post. I briefly ran into this concept again (although not in the precise words) in Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen’s book, Thanks for the Feedback; still I held back.

But when I heard Dr Libby Weaver talking about projection as part of the 2016 Hay House World Summit and associating it with the Reticular Activating Center (RAS) in the brain, I felt we had to cover this topic before going further.

When we think of projection, we tend to think of it in a negative way, as in, “don’t project your insecurities onto me!” But, in my experience, projection is something we all do all the time. Projection is a big part of how we interact with our world. It is, actually, how we create our world. We can try to avoid projecting, but the practice is so engrained that we might have better luck if we start with identifying our projections and trying to understand them.

So what exactly is projection? It’s a very flexible word – the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary has no less than 9 different ways to define it. Definition #3 from a Google search seems to fit what we’re talking about in this post best; “the presentation or promotion of someone or something in a particular way;” with sub-bullet points, “a mental image viewed as reality,” and, “the unconscious transfer of one’s own desires or emotions to another person.”

I’ll return to a study quoted in my post 5 Habits to Make you Happier Now;

A study from the Netherlands, as referenced in a Psychology Today article from Dec 2012 asked subjects to “identify happy and sad ‘smiley icons’ while listening to happy or sad music. Music turned out to have a great influence on what the subjects perceived. Interestingly, even when a ‘neutral face’… was shown, the subjects often thought they recognized a happy smiley when listening to happy music and a sad one when listening to sad music.”[1]

The participants projected their mood onto the neutral smiley faces. Whenever we find uncertainty, vagaries, empty space, we project into it. We don’t usually notice that we’re doing this because it is seamless with our engagement with the world. It is only when we pull back and really try to notice projection that its ubiquity becomes apparent.

However, the fact that we project does not make our projections ‘untrue’ – they represent deep truth, our truth. We need to recognize that a projection’s primary value is not what it tells us about the other person or the outside world, but what it tells us about us.

If we look at the world through the lens of very defined categories where thoughts are nebulous ‘fluff’ and matter is physical and corporeal, then projections seem like nothing; only a mental interpretation displaced to an outer source, right?

But, as argued in the post Thoughts on Co-Creation, if everything is energy at a root level – then projections become as much a part of world creation as everything else.  If we view everything from the energetic perspective, we might ask what the real difference is between a mental image made up of energy and a corporeal element made up of energy. It raises interesting questions about reality.

But why does projection matter to this discussion on the Soul?

It is my belief, based on my informal study of mythology that our souls have projected our deep truth of discarnate existence into myth. I don’t think this is that far from what a Joseph Campbell or Jung would say – only they would be hesitant to use a term with such a heavy religious connotation as “soul.”

Regardless of the name we call it – the perspective that projects a pantheon of immortal, deathless beings is one that understands such an existence.

However, as we discussed in the post Orbiting, our memories of such an existence become unmoored when we incarnate and thus this soul-level (or subconscious) understanding has to manifest through the context of the time – in stories and myths.

If this only happened in one place, it would be easy to dismiss – it would be easy to say “Well this is one person’s deep truth they’re projecting.” The fact that we see so many similar fundamental themes in mythology, though; the fact that many of these stories still captivate us and resonate on a deep level, suggests that this represents our truth as a species.

In the next post we’ll talk about a mythological figure that may have started out as the ‘dumping ground’ for our feelings about incarnate life, but who has grown and evolved to take on a life of his own.

[1] Quote from psychologytoday.com article The Neuroscience of Music, Mindset, and Motivation, Christopher Bergland, Dec 29 2012

What does it mean to ‘Quiet the Mind’ and How do we Do it?

If you’ve experimented with meditation at all, you’re probably familiar with one of the proposed goals; to ‘quiet the mind.’ The mind doesn’t make any noise, though, so what does this cryptic directive mean?

To help us find an answer, we’ll look to an interesting source; science 🙂 – neuroscience to be specific. Two specific brain networks tend to show up in scientific studies on meditation; the Task Positive Network (TPN) and the Default Mode Network (DMN)

The Task Positive Network represents the regions of the brain that are engaged and communicating with each other when we are actively engaged in a task. Meditation can be one example of such task. In contrast, what’s known as the Default Mode Network is often active when we’re not actively engaged in a task.

The Default Mode Network is responsible for some really important aspects of humanity like self-reflection and empathy. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to learn from our mistakes or experience compassion.

On the other hand, when the Default Mode Network is too active it tends to cause effects like mind-wandering, obsessing over the past and future, and over-analyzing one’s own or others actions.

Unsurprisingly, an overly active Default Mode Network is associated with depression and anxiety disorders. Several studies on meditation have shown that practitioners can change the way their brain operates in relation to these two networks – even when they’re not meditating[1].

For many of us, the Default Mode Network is active often throughout the day, perhaps even when we’re performing routine tasks that don’t require our concentration or attention. This is responsible for what we think of as ‘mental chatter’ and is the very activity we are trying to reduce or suspend when we ‘quiet the mind.’

Many meditation traditions start practitioners with ‘breath meditation’ a minute-to-learn exercise that has us draw our attention to various aspects of the breath. As noted earlier, our intense focus on the breath pulls us out of our Default Mode Network and engages the Task Positive Network. I love breath meditation. For a beginning meditator, however, a directive to ‘focus on the breath’ may not be enough to anchor our attention.

Although all meditation practices that use breath meditation as a starting point emphasize that the expectation is not that individuals will be able to solely focus on the breath for the entire meditation, that part of the point is to train the attention to keep coming back to the breath. Even so, the experience may be frustrating for beginners if breath meditation is the only tool in their kit.

Below are a few ideas to help supplement your meditation practice (or help you start one if you haven’t yet).

Start by finding something that requires intense focus

Provided we don’t live an overly sedentary lifestyle, we can probably think of some activities that require our active concentration. Playing a sport or an instrument, driving in the snow, and cooking might be some examples. The key is that these activities must require our active attention. Cooking a recipe we’ve made a hundred times before may not qualify.

If you’re struggling to come up with an idea, remember that doing something new, especially an activity that requires you to pay attention to your surroundings may be a good place to start. I believe this is why many people find intense physical activity to be mentally cathartic – it gets us out of our heads for awhile.

In high school gymnastics, we girls noticed that we best performed our routines when we simply doing. After a slip-up, a teammate would often explain by saying, “I started thinking.”

Try to notice when you aren’t thinking. When you have found one – or more – activities that put you into this ‘zone,’ look for ways to bring them into your daily routine. Even though you aren’t actively ‘meditating’ you’ll be increasing the amount of time overall that you spend with a ‘quiet mind’ and this can help bring your Task Positive Network and Default Mode Network in balance.

Expanding on the Quiet Mind

Once you’ve found an activity that ‘quiets’ your mind, try to expand on it. Try to ‘catch’ yourself ‘not-thinking’ and then immediately pull your attention to the breath to gently hold (or ‘be in’) that open, silent space.

If you catch yourself ‘not-thinking’ you may think Oh No! Now I’m noticing I’m not thinking – I’m going to start thinking again. Don’t panic! J You can re-engage your quiet mind my bringing your awareness to a particular aspect of whatever activity has engaged your attention.

Are you cooking? Bring your awareness to the smells around you – don’t worry about categorizing them, or identifying them, or determining whether you ‘like’ or ‘don’t like’ them; just smell them. Bring your awareness to the temperatures around you. Are your hands warm? Are your feet cold? Focus on stirring a pot or allow yourself to watch the bubbles rise in a boiling pot of water for a few moments.

Maybe you are engaged in a more active pursuit; playing a sport, for example. You can expand on a quiet mind during physical activity by bringing your awareness to your body. What muscles are being used? How do your feet move? Or your hands? What is your breathing like – fast? Halted? Are there sounds of shoes on a gym floor, squeaking? Clothing rustling? People yelling?

We sometimes think of meditation as a mental activity, but it’s actually the opposite. In my experience, meditation brings us out of our heads and into contact with our present existence – an experience that is largely sensory in nature.

Two areas associated with the ‘Task Positive Network’ in the brain are the “Internal Sensor” and the “External Sensor.” Thus, if we’re using our senses, if we’re actually paying attention to the information they bring in, our mind will automatically quiet down.

Using a ‘Visual Aide’ during Meditation may help

If you’ve tried the first two ideas successfully, but are still struggling with an actual sitting meditation, you might try a visual aide. When my mind is churning during a sitting or breath meditation and wants to rehash events of the day, I visualize a point of mist expanding outward and gently ‘pushing’ thoughts to the side.

I keep my concentration on the central point where the mist expands from, rather than on the boundaries where all the thoughts are. Another angle on this same concept would be to imagine water droplets in the center of a still pond, the ripples of the waves pushing thoughts to the outer reaches.

If it feels more relevant or powerful, the expansion can be tied to exhalation. Each exhalation gently pushing thoughts further and further to the outer reaches.

By focusing on the point from which expansion starts, the mind has an image to work with. As the mist or water expands from the center, the ‘open’ space in the mind, too, feels larger, more spacious and free.

I know that many mindfulness experts instruct the beginner to ‘watch’ the thoughts without attaching to them. The phrase “Let them come and let them go” comes to mind. That’s fine. If that works for you, by all means keep doing it.

In my personal experience with meditation, however, having thoughts running around in my head gets in the way of a deep personal connection with my energy and my body. For me, thoughts are not all that helpful during meditation so I prefer to just move them out of the way altogether. Some find there way in here and there, but largely it’s quiet.

If you have difficulty not attaching to your thoughts during meditation, you might want to try some variations of the practices listed here and see if they help.

[1] See information from the NIH and a particularly good post about this here.

Find Lasting Love – Step 3 – See THEM

Welcome to Part three of this three part series on finding lasting love. If you haven’t read the first two installments of the series, I highly recommend doing so as the elements build on each other.

One of the biggest obstacles to a happy, lasting relationship can be that our own insecurities (as covered in step 1), and filters (as covered in step 2) get in the way of even seeing someone else for who they are. If we’re hiding behind our own walls, how can we possibly see anyone else?

Whether we are looking for new love or in a long-term relationship, if we can’t see our partner, we can’t engage with them in a meaningful and fulfilling way. Our fears and insecurities as well as filters inform many of our emotional interactions. All of our relationships are impacted by this, but since our love relationships are often characterized by emotional interactions, they tend to see the heaviest impact.

We should expect that our partner (or potential partner) has just as many fears, insecurities, and filters as we do. Perhaps a previous partner told them they were a boring lover and now they’ve researched every kama sutra position and aphrodisiac there is. No one will ever call them boring again!

Meanwhile, you’re thinking I don’t want to do gymnastics in bed! Can’t we just have sex? Or perhaps you’re even intimidated by all this expertise – what if they think you’re boring? When both partners are operating from a place of pre-existing (or even newfound) insecurities and fears without sharing them with each other, it’s a recipe for discontent.

Before we go further, though, a gentle warning. Seeing our partner for the whole person that they are is not the same as psycho-analyzing their every action and delivering a diagnosis with little to no input from them. ‘Seeing’ your partner is not an excuse to avoid a difficult conversation, it’s an invitation to have one.

‘Seeing’ your partner is recognizing they have their own fears and insecurities about the relationship and creating a space in which you can share that information with each other. Obviously, in a brand new relationship this would be heavy first-date conversation, so it’s enough in such a case to be aware that your date is a human being who comes to the situation with their own “baggage” and that what they carry is no less valid than your own “baggage.”

If we want to see our partner clearly, we need to train ourselves to enhance our observations of behavior and reduce the ‘spin’ our own filters and fears put on them. In Marshall Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication, he notes that, “Judgments of others are alienated expressions of our own unmet needs.”

He goes on to say,

“When we express our needs indirectly through the use of evaluations, interpretations, and images, others are likely to hear criticism. And when people hear anything that sounds like criticism, they tend to invest their energy in self-defense or counterattack.” [1]

If we’re going to change the way we see our partner, we must do more than change the way we communicate – we must change the way we think. We need to train ourselves, internally, to separate behaviors from our interpretations of them independently of when we feel a need to talk to our partner about a particular behavior.

This way, when we do feel a need to communicate on a behavior, we can approach from a point of open curiosity not because we’re trying to lead them to a particular point, but because we genuinely feel that curiosity – “I notice that you do ‘x,’ why is that?” This is an invitation for both partners to understand more about each other, versus one partner having a particular ‘view’ of a behavior that they are trying to ‘help’ the other person understand – no matter how compassionately phrased.

It’s important to me that you know, as a reader, that I do not share this advice from a superior position. All three of these steps are continual work I have to do in my own relationships; all of my relationships. Sometimes I do this really well, sometimes I fail miserably. I feel good about myself for trying, though, and that’s the key thing to take away from this series – the importance of making an effort.

Early on in our marriage, my husband used to wake up on Saturday mornings and agonize about the state of our apartment. “This place is a disaster, we need to be cleaning right now.” I would look around totally dumbfounded, there was nothing different about the ‘mess’ we had on Saturday morning versus Friday night – or Monday afternoon for that matter.

We had many, many weekend arguments about this until one day, after a particularly tumultuous fight-and-make-up series I observed, “You know, I notice this only happens on Saturday mornings. Is there something particular about Saturday mornings that causes an acute sensitivity in this area? Why don’t we have this same fight on like a Tuesday evening, for example?”

After some quiet reflection, my husband shared that when his family moved to this country, because they could no longer afford a maid, his mom would get the whole family up in a frenzy on Saturday morning and they would spend the early part of the day cleaning. Subconsciously, when he saw our apartment as a mess on Saturday mornings, he felt anxiety that we weren’t following this cleaning pattern he had become accustomed to.

That was one half of the mystery. It takes two to fight though – why did I resist his impulse so strongly? The apartment was a mess, why didn’t I just accommodate his wish to spend the Saturday morning hours cleaning?

I shared, for my part, that on the Saturday mornings I grew up with the family slept in and took it easy. It was the first day of the weekend after a long week of school or work and the last thing we did was more work at home. So I had been reluctant to give up what I viewed as my relaxation time.

The important thing to note is that this was also a pattern. These two conflicting patterns, meeting on Saturday mornings, triggered many explosions.

Once we had come to these realizations about our own behavior, we were able to choose how to move forward. I agreed that the apartment could benefit from more frequent cleaning and my husband agreed it would be nice to relax on Saturday mornings. Once we had freed ourselves from these unconscious influences, we never fought about cleaning on a Saturday morning again.

The exercise for this week is a bit more long-range than the two previous installments. Over the next few days and weeks make an effort to observe your partner. Not judge, just observe. Try not to creep them out! J

How do they get up in the morning? Do they seem well rested or always tired? How do they come home from work? Energized and happy? Disappointed and drained? How do they interact with you? How do they interact with others? What are their regular habits and how comfortable do they feel breaking those?

I can’t say this enough (because we all do it naturally), but really try to avoid judging or interpreting. For example, we want to avoid moving from “My partner hasn’t done the dishes in the month we’ve been together” to “My partner is lazy.” The first is an observation of a behavior, the second is a judgment on the cause of that behavior.

The goal of this exercise is not to deliver any kind of evaluation, but to start really seeing your partner in an effort to understand them better.

Even better than just watching your partner is to watch yourself watching your partner. Notice when you have an emotional reaction (especially a negative one) and ask yourself why you feel that way. You may find connections to some of the fears, insecurities, and filters identified in the first two exercises.

It can be invaluable to have this exchange with yourself before you address a behavior with your partner as it will allow you to explain to them “where you’re coming from” versus representing your viewpoint as an objective or obvious “truth” that they seem to be ignorant of.

Keep in mind that, at heart, most people don’t really want to be seen at this level of detail. At least, not by just anyone. However, if you see your partner from a point of love and compassion and not-at-all from a point of superiority, they probably won’t mind being seen so much.

All’s fair, though, and you can’t see them while hiding yourself. If you allow them to see you with just as much clarity and openness, the two of you will have the foundation for a relationship where love is supported by the kind of learning, growth, and sharing that makes relationships last.

I hope you found reading this series worthwhile and maybe found a tool here or there to try in your own quest for love or in an existing relationship. This post was inspired by my own experience with relationships, but the books Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen and Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg provided an excellent and helpful framework for organizing and thinking about my own relationship experience. I can feel their influence in the series overall and this post specifically. I highly recommend those books if you are looking for a more thorough and well-developed structure for the ideas in this series.

[1] Both quotes come from Rosenberg, Marshall Nonviolent Communication loc 1234 on Kindle

Find Lasting Love – Step 2 – Clear Your Filters

Note: This is part two in a three part series on finding lasting love, if you haven’t already read it, please see last week’s post. Each step builds upon the previous one

Roughly ten years ago, I was in a very bad place. My marriage was on the rocks and I was terribly unhappy in it. Whether or not my husband and I would stay together was, at least for me, a day to day question. Then I heard some advice I really took to heart and it changed our relationship for the better, forever.

I can’t recall whether it came from the pages of a book, the sounds of the radio, or if I overheard it in a conversation, but the advice was this, “Never let your idea of marriage, get in the way of your actual marriage.” This stopped me short. It was exactly what I had been doing, not just during this tumultuous period, but for our entire marriage.

I had all these ideas about what married life would or should be like and I constantly compared our marriage to them. When it became obvious our relationship was not going to be the idyllic love cocoon I’d imagined, disappointment, self-doubt, and depression set in.

I was angry with myself (Why wasn’t I attractive enough? Loveable enough?) and angry with him (Why did he act one way when we were dating, but differently now that we were together full-time?)

Idea Overload

The ideas we have about love, or anything really, can become like filters. An applicable definition of filter here comes from the Merriam Webster online dictionary, “Something that has the effect of a filter (as by holding back elements or modifying the appearance…)”

We think love, a relationship, a marriage, should flow along particular lines and the occurrences and behaviors that align with those pass through the filter. Everything else positive is left at the curb. In contrast, we use the events, ideas, and occurrences that don’t align with our ideas as evidence for what is not working about the relationship.

This can be unhelpful for either finding a new partner or for the longevity of an existing relationship

The concept of clearing our filters builds on last week’s exercise in self-love. Not only do we have many fears and insecurities about ourselves in love and relationships (the focus of last week’s post), but we also have many ideas about how the relationship itself should be. Sometimes these can be completely independent of our fears and insecurities (although you’ll undoubtedly find some influence of your fears and insecurities on your filters).

Maybe we think our partner should do everything with us, or conversely, we think they should let us be free to live our own life and do many things without them. Maybe we think a good relationship is characterized by lots of sex, or copious cuddling, long walks on the beach, or lots of intelligent conversation.

Regardless of what we think, these are our ideas of what makes a good relationship and not objective truths. Any partner we meet is going to come to the relationship with their own ideas of what makes a good relationship. Many of these, on both sides, will be hidden from view until after the honeymoon period is over.

Get a Heart Exam

One thing we can do to combat the detrimental effects our ideas of relationships have on our actual relationships, is to start looking at those ideas with a clear mind and eye. Take a moment to write down everything you can think of that makes a ‘good’ relationship or an ‘ideal’ partner. I recommend avoiding generalities like “mutual trust and affection” and being as specific as you can.

For example, do partners in a good relationship share the chores? Do they avoid nagging each other about housework completely? Should your partner take care of all the housework? Should you? Do partners in a good relationship allow opposite sex friendships? Do they not? How are finances handled? Should you or your partner take care of making sure the bills get paid and the mail gets opened? What about cooking? Eating? Political alignment? Etc.

As you can see, there are lots and lots of ideas that one can have about what makes a ‘good’ relationship or an ‘ideal’ partner! Although you don’t have to get quite as specific as I have above, you probably have more specific ideas than you realize. The more of your specific expectations that you capture, the more your own filters will start coming into view.

For example, you may expect your partner (or potential partner) to ‘clean up after themselves.’ For you, this may be an obvious basic. Your partner on the other hand, may have grown up in a household where a parent always cleaned up after them, or maybe they had a maid, or maybe they’re happy to live in a total mess. Your partner may not-at-all see this as a ‘basic’ component of a healthy relationship.

You may feel (when your partner doesn’t pick up after themselves) that they don’t respect you or that they treat you like a maid. Meanwhile, your partner may be perfectly happy living in unkempt conditions – they didn’t ask you to pick up after them – and completely dumbfounded why you ‘freak out’ about this all the time. Which one of you is ‘right’?

Neither. You both have different expectations. Even if ten people agree with you and only two people agree with your partner, it doesn’t change the fact that you have different expectations. The gap will be easier to navigate, though, if you recognize that this is one of your filters.

Let it Go

Once you’ve written down everything you can think of (and you can always come back and add more), see if any clear patterns emerge. Take each idea (or relevant group of ideas) and ask yourself why you have this idea about an ideal partner or a good relationship.

Is this idea representative of how you were raised? Is it something you saw in your parent’s relationship? Maybe it’s the opposite of how your parents interacted (if their marriage ended in divorce, etc.)? Is this something you saw on TV? Or read about in a book? Advice from a Friend?

All of our ideas come from somewhere. When we allow ourselves to see that, we may not feel so attached to them. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but many of my own deep ideas about romance and relationships came from fairy tales and, in my later teens, romance novels. When I was willing to see that about myself, it became easier to let those ideas go.

Unlike the subjects we study in school, our ideas about relationships largely come from our own life experience, making them especially subjective and especially entrenched. On top of that, we are all subjected to a fair bit of gender-based societal and media conditioning around relationships (although, thankfully, that is starting to ease up).

Bringing it back home

After you’ve explored where your ideas about relationships have come from, it’s time decide what you want to keep and what you want to let go. To be fair, this exercise will probably be an ongoing one, but it can be helpful to spend some time taking a first crack at it.

Recognize that it is entirely up to you which ideas about relationships (or an ideal partner) to hold on to. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having ideas about how a relationship or a partner should be. It is your awareness that these are your ideas and not “the gold standard” that will make it easier to deal with relationship interactions that don’t align with your expectations.

Practicing the self-love from last week, you can feel good about your willingness to take a look at this part of your life with a critical eye; it can be a challenging and emotional exercise.

Once you’ve gone through your list, you are ready to take a closer look at your relationship (assuming you are already in one). Pay attention to all the things your partner may be doing that are beneficial or positive in the relationship that you may not “count” because they didn’t necessarily “match” one of your ideas of how a relationship should be.

For example, maybe they make sure all the bills are paid on time. Maybe they warm up the car for you in the morning. Maybe they share cooking responsibilities or maybe they’re a really good parent. I had a co-worker who lost a dearly beloved husband and told me that one of the hardest things for her (practically) after he died was realizing all the things he just ‘handled’ that she never even knew or thought about.

Working on our filters is a continuous process throughout our lives. When we start this crucial work, though, we can look at our relationships, and our part in them, through a clearer lens. We may find unexpected elements that we really like and we may find the things we thought we didn’t like help us learn about ourselves, our partner, and relationships in general.

When we’ve started to clear our filters, we’re one step closer to finding lasting love! Check in next week for the final step in this series!

Find Lasting Love – Step 1 – Love Your Self

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, we can’t help but think about love. Not the universal, ‘brotherly’ kind, but the very human kind of love, the kind that (usually) involves physical contact and fluttering hearts. Whether we’re looking for someone new or are in an existing relationship, we can benefit from attending to these three steps to find lasting love. This week we cover Part 1;

Love Your Self

We are not very good at self-love. It seems to be all the rage, and we certainly pay lip service to it, but most encouragement around this idea is watered down to the point of a platitude. As a result, it’s difficult to understand what self-love is, much less practice it.

Based on my experience, Self-love is not seeing everything we do with a rosy glow, or ignoring feedback we don’t like because we don’t want to damage our fragile self-esteem.

Self-love may have to be tough love sometimes. If we think about a healthy relationship between a parent and a child, or a mentor and a student; what the parent / mentor wants most in the relationship is to see the child / student grow and find happiness in success.

At times, this will require course-corrections, admonishments, suggestions, etc. While this may be painful, at times, for the child or student, it is a necessary part of learning.

With self-love, we perform this role for ourselves. Rather than glossing over what we’re not doing right or dwelling on it so much we can’t see outside of it, we need to be able to look at our unhelpful behaviors with both a critical and compassionate eye.

The Devil you know

This holds true for any aspect of life, but since we’re focusing on love in this post let’s take that as an example. Let’s take a moment to write down all of our fears and insecurities around finding new love or about our current relationship.

These might be physical qualities, like our weight or the proportions of various body parts associated with physical attractiveness. They might be personality qualities we think inhibit a lasting relationship; ‘not playful enough’, ‘too controlling’, ‘too anal’, or –on the flipside – ‘too messy.’

It is okay if you cry during this exercise, I have often cried during such exercises. When we’re pulling up our deep fears and wounds, we should feel emotionally moved. If you don’t feel an intensity of emotion around what you are writing, it may be a sign you are not digging deep enough.

Once we’ve exorcised all those ghosts in our hearts, we are ready to really see them; to evaluate how they affect the way we feel about ourselves and the ways they get in the way of having a healthy relationship.

When we are bogged down by our fears and insecurities, especially when we haven’t taken the time to really be conscious of them, they can inhibit us from having healthy and fulfilling relationships. For example, if I’m insecure about my weight, I may project that insecurity onto my husband.

If he says, ‘let’s not eat out tonight’ I may interpret that to mean he thinks I’m fat and if we eat out again I’m only going to get fatter. Or if he says “We need to start going to the gym more.” I may think he means I need to go to the gym more because I’m getting fat.

Truthfully, my husband may think none of these things. I simply don’t know, and even if I ask, because I’m already projecting my own fear onto him, I’m unlikely to believe anything reassuring he says. We put a healthy relationship in jeopardy when we look to our partner to reassure us on the areas where we already feel vulnerable and insecure.

Each of us has different areas of sensitivity. Many people are insecure about their weight, but some are not. Some are insecure about their desirability or how good they are in bed. Others may be insecure about their intelligence. It doesn’t matter what our areas of insecurity are, it’s a key first step just to find them. If knowing is half the battle, we can’t even begin to fight if we don’t know.

Now What?

Now that we’ve flushed out our relationship fears and insecurities, we’re ready to work on the self-love part. First, we need to be compassionate with ourselves about the fact that we even have all these fears and insecurities. We can also feel pretty good that we were willing to admit them to ourselves, and bravely write them down!

Secondly, we should take each item individually and evaluate whether this is something we can (or want to) do something about or if it is something we just have to accept about ourselves or our situation; it may be both.

I engaged in this exercise before the birth of my second child. I had many fears and insecurities about the upcoming birth, especially given my last birth experience, and I really wanted to work on them. One of the fears I wrote down is that I would ‘run out of energy’ and be unable to deliver. My first labor had been thirty-four intense, long hours and I was terrified I wouldn’t have enough energy to go through that again.

When I looked at this fear I realized there were some reasons why my labor had been so long. I could ensure that my midwife and the hospital staff were well aware of the difficulties that happened the first time around. Too keep up my energy, I could ensure my diet leading up to labor was healthy and full of energizing foods. I could make sure we had lots of healthy ‘early labor’ snacks and that I was getting a good night’s sleep.

Writing down these ideas and putting them into practice greatly reduced the influence of this fear.

On the other hand, another fear I wrote down was that we would have a child with high-needs that we were unprepared to fulfill. Our first daughter requires so much energy and attention, my husband was very wary of having a second. I really pushed for the idea and I knew it was something that I wanted much more than he did.

As a result, I was terrified that this second child might make our lives even harder and cause my husband to resent that I had pressed so hard to have one. What if we found it hard to love the second child? What if we were never able to spend time being together as a married couple again because our lives were so full of childcare responsibilities?

Unlike the first fear, this one I had to accept. The many tears I cried over this fear helped me come to terms with it, though. Once all the tears were cried out, I was able to accept this potential reality and move forward knowing deep down that whatever happened, there would be support, love, and help from the Universe.

I offer these examples, knowing they may cast me in an unflattering light because it is important to be honest with ourselves about our fears and worries, even if we would be embarrassed sharing them with someone else. Even if we are embarrassed to even have them.

I recommend going through each of the fears and insecurities you’ve identified around love and relationships and making an effort to understand them at a deep level as just modeled. What are you willing to change? What are you unwilling to change? What do others have to accept about you? What do you have to accept about yourself?

Now that we have made an effort to identify, understand, and come to terms with our fears and insecurities, we should promise ourselves that we are going to avoid projecting them onto potential (or existing) partners. In order to avoid the projection, we had to go through the painful exercise of identification and reconciliation first.

It’s important to find and keep a supportive partner. However, we must recognize that no partner, no matter how wonderful, can heal our wounded sense of self-worth. We can only heal ourselves and we can only do so by truly loving ourselves. Allowing our conscious mind into the dark and hidden corners of our own hearts will help us find a path of healing.

When we really understand and internalize this lesson, we will naturally stop expecting our partners to bridge the gap between their own love and the love we should feel for ourselves. We will be one step closer to finding lasting love.

Tune in next week for the next step in this three part series on how to find lasting love!

Ruminate

Once you have created

you have responsibility, but not control.

Anyone who has ever had children knows exactly what I mean.

but you don’t need to have children to understand this

because it holds true for ALL creation

even ideas

even us

.

.

.

Photo note: I’ve been listening this week to the free broadcast of the live event in Anaheim ‘Co-Creation at it’s Best’  that’s part of the Hay House World Summit.  This morning, I looked out the window at work and ‘happened’ to see a boat floating by – pictured above.  The photo is blurry because I was zooming in to try to capture the boat’s name, but as you can see I didn’t quite get it.  The boat’s name is Intention.

To Infinity AND Beyond

 It could hardly be one without the other

The Trickster. Everywhere I turn I run into him. Everything I read, whatever I see, wherever I look; he’s winking at me. I used to think I could read the world pretty well, but now I’m seeing things in a whole new way. I’ve had a paradigm shift…and while this isn’t the only place to be, and it isn’t necessarily “better” than any other place, this is where I am.

On my way to work one recent morning, I ruminated (I love this word – a Trickster reference bringing together appetite and thought) on the infinite ways to apply the “&” stance from Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen’s book Thanks for the Feedback (see post In My Reflection for more on this). My mind then jumped to how “AND” also allows us to engage thoughtfully with paradox. To use the example from the Trickster post, the signs and symbols are both meant just for me AND have nothing to do with me (See Trickster Makes this Road for more on this).

Suddenly, the little word “and” seemed to carry so much more meaning than the sum of it’s letters. In fact, it represents exactly where I am. According to Carl Jung, the subconscious operates in symbol. An image bubbled up from the deep; the Ampersand turned on it’s side. From such a perspective, it resembles the sign for infinity; “The Infinite AND” was born.

Engaging with the Subconscious

You may be thinking, OK, you just flipped the Ampersand on it’s side, what’s the big deal? I admit, i’m not going win any prizes for innovation here, but a closer study of this symbol and it’s meaning can reveal that there is something interesting going on here.

Part of the beauty of this symbol Is it’s simplicity. Yes, I merely turned an existing symbol on it’s side. Strangely enough, though, when I first show this symbol to people, they usually don’t even recognize the Ampersand. In that way, this new view on an old character is symbolic of the difference a mere change in perspective can make.

Further, on the left side of this symbol we can clearly see the “beginnings” of the infinity sign, but when we follow the lines to the right, instead of the two lines joining together to close the loop of infinity, we find another crossroads; an opening. The very same opening that ’AND’ often allows us to find. So, in a way, this character is a symbol of change – the opening that allows us to get out of a closed loop of thinking, being, etc. It is a symbol of opportunity and, at a deeper level, represents the opening to embrace paradox.

Another funny coincidence; the other mark commonly used for “and” in handwriting is a “+” which is visually reminiscent of a crossroads – the very place we can expect to find the Trickster. Sometimes this “cross” symbol is handwritten such that two of the perpendicular lines are connected (this is the way I write it) which suggests a boxy sort of infinity symbol that is, again, open on the opposite side.

For me, at the deepest level, this image represents the Trickster who governs the crossroads, opportunity, and (often) paradox. Incidentally the Trickster also governs “the lucky find” as this symbol was for me.

What’s in a Name?

According to Wikipedia the Ampersand was once considered a “letter” in it’s own right. Around the 1800’s students were required to recite their letters. After ’z’ the students would go on to distinguish “a” per se “a”, which meant “a by itself a” and referred to the use of “a” alone versus in a word (the same case is true for “I”).

Apparently, “&” was also recited in this way. “And per se and” to mean “and, by itself, and” – the thinking is that this got slurred over time to our modern day name, “Ampersand.” Ironically, if this etymology is true, then even the name of this ligature contains a bit of a fun paradox. “Ampersand” may literally translate to “And, by itself, and” – but (at least from a usage perspective) the purpose of “and” is to join things – so how can “and” ever be by itself?

Dreams AND Reality

Of course the Universe is always ready to step in and make sure I don’t get too full of myself. As I mentioned earlier, I found this symbol on my morning walk. The first blush of enthusiasm had not yet worn off by the time I got to work. So, when I got to my desk, I immediately opened Word and printed out the biggest Ampersand I could, filling the whole page. I then turned it sideways and hung it in my cube.

What I didn’t realize at the time, was that the printer printed out five more copies. Yep, five more copies of giant Ampersands sitting on the work printer. So the rest of the morning, I had to field questions about why I was printing out giant Ampersands. One such exchange went like this;

(Coworker walks to snack table which is located right by my cube and notices my newly hanging cube art)

Coworker: Oh! That was YOU printing out giant “and” signs. I thought the printer was malfunctioning.

Me: Yeah. No. That was me!

Coworker: What the heck are you printing out giant “and” signs for?

Me: Um… (Trying to determine if there’s any way i’m going to be able to condense exactly what happened that morning that resulted in the symbol -as well as the symbol’s significance to me- into a reasonable answer for an acquaintance-coworker. Nope!) ummm…. I find it inspiring.

Coworker: You find it inspiring. Ohhhhhh-K. (Coworker walks away shaking head).

I have to smile because this is an excellent example of how the Trickster operates. There’s nothing particularly magical about what happened here. Clearly, the last time I printed something form Word I had selected to print five copies of it and somehow the default setting stuck.

Nevermind that I don’t remember doing that or that whether or not Word would have saved that default depends on any number of uncertain variables; to try to make more out of the occurrence than it is misses the point. The point is – “pay attention or look like an idiot.” 🙂 A good reminder from the influence that leaves opportunities, traps, and lucky finds lying around. A good reminder and a good opportunity to smile and say “You got me” followed by “Thank You.”

Walk the Walk – a ‘Dances with Books’ post featuring Sonia Choquette’s book “Walking Home”

WARNING: This is not a book review.   This is the first post in my new series “Dances with Books.”  To learn more about what that means- read here

I found freedom in the ugly truth” – Madonna, Living for Love

Prelude

Some dances are fast and frenetic, they start and finish before you even know what happened.  This is a slow dance.  A long dance; one that started four or five years ago.  I was sitting down to dinner with my husband and in-laws at a local Tapas place when my brother-in-law brought up the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage.

He had been struggling for some time with some personal issues and thought it might be helpful for him to go.  I must have made a dismissive noise because he looked pointedly at me and said, “I thought this sortof thing would be right up your alley.” “You’re not going to find yourself by going somewhere,” I responded, “you have to look within.”

So I had to laugh, embarrassed at my own arrogance in that long ago conversation, when I read that renowned spiritualist Sonia Choquette’s latest book, Walking Home: A Pilgrimage from Humbled to Healed, chronicled her time walking the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route.  As I read her story, an understanding that had only just started developing in the prior year became clear. [1]  In walking with Sonia, I found my own path out of bondage – a bondage I hadn’t even realized I was in.

Binding Light

Before leaving for her trek, Sonia writes quite a bit about the beating she takes from herself and others about her reactions to the loss of her father and brother; “I prayed for these feelings to go away, but they didn’t budge, and for that I was also disappointed in myself.  Being this angry with my now-dead brother didn’t fit in at all with my self-image as a spiritual teacher and guide, and that left me feeling embarrassed.  If I let slip to anyone that I did harbor these feelings, especially to any of my spiritual or professional peers, I was immediately chastised.  I was told things like: ‘Forgive him.’ ‘Don’t Judge.’ ‘It was your karma to have a brother like this.’ ‘Be grateful it wasn’t you.’ ‘I’m surprised that you feel this way given that you should know better.’”[2]

No matter where we are in life or on the path we can expect to be subjected to the expectations of others.  People always seem to have an idea of what it means to be ‘spiritual.’ They say things like; “If you were so spiritually advanced you would do this more, or do that less.  Be more x, be less Y.  Care more about this, Care less about that.”  Etc.

Not only do we face expectations from others, but also from ourselves.  Sonia writes, “It.. shamed me.  I was not supposed to be angry with him.  He was dead, for God’s sake!  I was supposed to have unconditional love for him and be glad he was at peace.” [3]  As frustrating and discouraging as the criticism of others can be, nothing is quite as defeating as our own unmet expectations for ourselves.

Sonia relays how she chastised herself about her feelings, “Come on, Sonia.  Really? Haven’t you worked out your childhood wounding yet?… How pathetic of you.”  I’ve certainly faced this kind of self-recrimination in my own heart many, many times in the last eighteen years.  I thought I was past this – why do I still get angry, jealous, hurt, frustrated, etc.  Without realizing it, I had constructed a prison out of my own (and others’) expectations and locked myself inside.  No wonder I’ve been so stuck.

Mind over Matter = Over Head Projector?

Not only do we carry the judgments of ourselves and others, but we also project our disappointment in ourselves onto others.  We make a bad situation even worse when we take a particular comment or behavior of another person and magnify it through the lens of our own insecurities.

Sonia writes, “I.. recognized… that the one who had injured me most was not my father at all.  Rather, it was me, by treating myself the way I had interpreted him to be treating me when I was a child” [4]  Here Sonia describes how she treats herself and we would do well to pay attention.  However, this type of projection can come into play, not only with self-treatment, but directly in our interactions with others.

I came to a realization late last year that because I was insecure about being attractive and desirable, I was projecting those feelings onto my husband.  I interpreted particular behaviors and comments on his part in such a way that they reinforced my own insecurity; clearly he found me unattractive and undesirable.  It took some powerful soul-searching by me on this topic to recognize what I was doing because although I didn’t feel unattractive or undesirable I was worried that I was and that created the impetus for my projection.

People have hundreds of motivations for doing and saying the things they do – but we interpret them using our own filter.  This isn’t to say that our projections are only the products of our imagination.  It may be that there is some truth to my assumptions and interpretations when it comes to my husband.  But it may be that 10% of what I’m interpreting is true to his feelings and the other 90% is my projection… or it may be 50/50, or it may all be in my mind.  The bottom line is – how he actually feels is quite independent of my projection.

Clean Break

It is only by engaging with our expectations, fears, and insecurities that we can begin to see how and where we project them.  Sonia writes, “Maybe it was time to stop judging even these dark parts of myself and just acknowledge and accept that I have some of these fears at times…”[5]

Reading about Sonia’s walk helped me come to a deep realization of my own.  I had been mostly defining myself by my mystical experience eighteen years ago.   While I have certainly been actively walking the path and have endured and exulted in a number of spiritual tests and triumphs since then, there was a part of me that was always looking back to that experience and trying to get “there” again.  There was a part of me that thought any “authority” I had on spiritual matters was informed by that experience.  For the first time in eighteen years – I was able to start releasing my hold on that attachment.

This may sound like nothing, but it can be very powerful to take a defining moment in your life and say, you know, that was incredible and I learned a lot, but it’s over – really over – and it’s time to move on.  It’s time to stop seeing the rest of my life as the waves created by that one impact.  I found freedom in my own ugly truth. Yes, there are lots of expectations I’m not meeting.  No, I’m not spiritually connected all the time – experiencing union and bliss.  But also, I no longer have to keep trying to be ‘there.’  It’s okay for me to be right where I am.

This liberating understanding further refined a concept that has been germinating inside me for a few years; the concept of allowing.  To allow is to “permit something to happen or exist.”[6]  When we allow we are not making anything happen, we are not forcing a particular outcome.[7]  We are simply letting people, events, ourselves be what they are.  When this concept originally occurred to me a few years ago, it was via the understanding that “we need to allow people to change.”[8]  But, for the first time, inspired by Walking Home, I realized I needed to apply this to myself.  I need to allow myself to be who I am, where I am, now.

Sonia writes, “I also needed to stop seeing my ego as ‘the enemy’ and start seeing it as the ‘me’ who needed more love.  I didn’t have to fight my ego when it flared up in pain.”[9] Ego can be a very loaded term in the spiritual community – often associated with negative connotations.  Here, it seems to me, Sonia is saying, we need to stop pretending we can leave our ego at the curb, we need to recognize that it is part of who we are.

Diseases of the body often (though not always) have innocuous-seeming warning signs before developing into deeper problems.  In like fashion, we ignore or gloss over the concerns of our ego at our peril.  Our fears, hurts, angers and insecurities that are not handled in the conscious realm of the ego don’t disappear – they sink to our subconscious where they become much more difficult to find and eradicate.[10]  We need to allow ourselves to have an ego and we need to allow ourselves to engage with it.

Inside Out

One of my favorite expressions over the last decade or so is this one; knowing is half the battle.   I love this phrase because there is a little trick to it that can catch the unwary, but the truth is there for those who look.  Most often this saying is used to reassure someone that – when they’ve figured out the cause of a problem – they are halfway to conquering it.  The trick, of course, is in the word “half.”  Knowing may be half the battle, but you still have another half battle to fight… and presumably you’re tired and discouraged from the first half!  There is a gap, and not a small one, between understanding and execution.

As Sonia puts it, “Forgiveness, at least for me, came about in increments.  I had to feel and honor my wounds and traumas before I could release them.  For years I had tried to forgive through spiritual platitudes, but in spite of my ambitious ideals, I only managed to bury my wounds even deeper into my bones.  Walking with my pain freed me from it.  I always wanted to forgive, but it was only through the act of being with my pain fully, walking with it day after day, that it began to ease up and leave my body, allowing me to open up to greater understanding of how people hurt one another, myself included.  In doing this I found compassion and could forgive and hope to be forgiven” [11]

It is something, a significant something, to recognize a pattern in my life – to see an attachment for what it is and start to loosen my grip. It would be naïve of me to think, however, that now that I can see the problem clearly it will just disappear on it’s own.  Even such a passive-seeming concept as “allowing” requires considerable effort to practice.  Sonia mentions walking with her pain.  I suspect I will need to walk with my own pain, my own insecurities, for quite some time before I can let go.  For now, at least, I’ve found my way out, my own path to freedom.

Songs I danced to while writing this: Madonna – Living for Love, Ariana Grande – Break Free, ODESZA – Say My Name, Calvin Harris – Outside

[1] In my post Everything is Now, I write about the process of ‘becoming’ – instead of thinking of development as time-based, recognizing all the pieces and parts that have to come together to make something what it is, or – from a different vantage point – someone who they are

[2]Walking Home: A Pilgrimage from Humbled to Healed; Choquette, Sonia; Hay House; September 2014 –kindle location 199

[3] Walking Home: A Pilgrimage from Humbled to Healed; Choquette, Sonia; Hay House; September 2014 – loc 193

[4] Walking Home: A Pilgrimage from Humbled to Healed; Choquette, Sonia; Hay House; September 2014 – loc 1036

[5] Walking Home: A Pilgrimage from Humbled to Healed; Choquette, Sonia; Hay House; September 2014 – loc 3409

[6] definition from dictionary.com

[7] I want to also note – that to allow is not to be a doormat – it is not to ‘let someone walk all over you’ or let you walk all over you.  Rather, allowing is about being and awareness; surrendering an imagined sense of control to an observation of how things come to be what they are.  Also – a recognition that they might change, and that’s okay.

[8] I use this word with the same intention in my post “Trickster Makes This Road” when I say, “we need to allow him to remain uncategorized.”  I hope to develop this concept more fully in an upcoming ‘dances with books’ post featuring the book Thanks for the Feedback – but, in a nutshell, what I mean here is that we need to stop engaging in behaviors that pigeon-hole others and ourselves, that make it difficult for ourselves and others to change.

[9] Walking Home: A Pilgrimage from Humbled to Healed; Choquette, Sonia; Hay House; September 2014 – loc 4638

[10] once they are in the subconscious, they attract the Trickster influence to cleverly trap us in such a way that we cannot escape without engaging with them. As Sonia writes, As Sonia writes, “It’s frustrating when you are possessed by a pattern because you can’t really see it until it becomes so obvious that it smacks you in the face.” See my post Trickster Makes this Road for more about this.

[11] Walking Home: A Pilgrimage from Humbled to Healed; Choquette, Sonia; Hay House; September 2014 – loc 4753

Why I Am Not a (Insert Religion Here)

Sometimes, one size doesn’t fit all

While my husband and I traveled in Japan, we had the opportunity to try on yukatas (Japanese summer traditional dress for festivals and ceremonies,etc).  It was great fun to put them on and I loved the style and feel of the garment, but ultimately I wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing one on the street.  It’s beautiful, but on me it felt like a costume.  In contrast, while we toured the temples in Nara (outside of Kyoto) I saw a couple wearing traditional dress, including yukatas, and it looked so right.  The clothing was a perfect fit on them, not only bodily, but holistically.  This is how I feel about organized religion.  For some people (and, truly, I have met people like this) it works beautifully.  They find comfort in its structure and it acts as a vehicle for them to bring love, kindness, and understanding into the world. As long as a religion remains true to it’s roots (which are usually based in love, compassion, understanding) and avoids setting up false dichotomies of “us” and “them” to facilitate conflict, I think it is a wonderfully helpful institution for many people.  Often, I have lamented that my life would be so much easier if I was one of those people.  Unfortunately, on me, religion feels like a costume.

I was raised Catholic (as so many of us wanderers were), but I can remember questioning church dogma from a very early age.  As a child, I believed in reincarnation, the church didn’t.  That was the main discrepancy, I know there were countless others.  My memories of early church education are mostly of well-meaning volunteers scaring the living daylights out of me with dire warnings about evil lurking around every corner. (One particular instance that comes to mind was of a youth educator who told us we needed to be careful about hand position while praying, because if we held our hands the wrong way, regardless of our intentions, we were actually praying to Satan and not God.  Can you imagine?)  We shouldn’t have to be scared into believing something, the positive aspects of the religion should be strong enough to stand on their own; to make us want to believe.  As soon as I was old enough to control my own destiny, I distanced myself from the church. My parents were never really critical about it and managed to convey a type of support by not being outwardly against the idea.  I think they, too, we’re struggling with their faith.

The Hindus have a concept of the “seven layers of reality.”  It is important to note that these layers are all reality – one is not more real than the others. As humans, we are singular and unified beings, yet we are also simultaneously a collection of cells and even further a collection of atoms.  All of these layers of us are “real”.  I have come to a place where I think of religion along similar lines.  Truth is at the heart of all religions and they have developed a symbology to represent this truth.  That doesn’t mean the imagery is false or wrong; like any visual aide it can be tremendously useful for providing an understanding of the divine.  What I struggle with most about the imagery of any religion is that it often becomes, at heart, a projection of aspects of the self.  Again, this does not mean it’s wrong, in fact, I think it has quite intentionally evolved this way.  However, projection is an outward form of expression and can sometimes distract us from looking inward.  Also, religious imagery is often “pure” or relatively one dimensional, representing supreme good – like Jesus, or supreme compassion and peace – like Buddha, or supreme evil – like Satan. But, in reality, we are incredibly nuanced individuals – we risk losing something of ourselves in the projection.  Over time we may come to see those aspects of ourselves that don’t neatly fit into the imagery we want to emulate as “bad” or “wrong” and therefore to be “oppressed” or “eliminated” rather than explored with openness and understanding.

In January of this year (2014), I had a whirlwind experience with a Christian Mystical church in the area.  It was a small group, only five, including me, at the service I attended. On the altar, a pair of pictures rested; one of Jesus with hands in the teacher position and one of Mary looking both serene and seductive.[1]  The pictures were of equal size and it was clear they were meant to represent the divine masculine and feminine energies.  When we had brunch and discussion together after the service, the reverend inquired on my feelings about the images. I noted that I was still chewing them over to see how they fit with my personal beliefs.  He then said, “Well, it’s not really about the imagery, you know, it’s about the energy behind the imagery”. See, and that right there is what I struggle with.  At heart, I believe that energy is the root of everything. If you believe it’s about the energy behind the imagery, why not go straight to that? It seems limiting and unnecessary to have to go “through” graphical representations to get there. According to Daoism – In the beginning there was the Dao which separated into the yin and the yang[2] and from that came forth the myriad of things.  Why not start with Source and back into differentiation?

If you don’t go to church or aren’t part of an organized religion, people tend to think that you don’t believe in God.  This is true for some of us, but not all. One holiday seven or eight years ago, my family was playing the game “Loaded Questions”.  If you’re unfamiliar with it, basically all players confidentially answer a personal question and the ’reader’, which rotates, has to read the answers and guess which answer belongs to which player.  The question came up, “How many times were you in a place of worship last year?” The answer bubbled up from deep in my soul, “I am always in a place of worship”.  It sounds like a clever answer, but is a true expression of how I feel.  Just because I don’t go to a particular building to worship God doesn’t mean I’m an atheist.  As is true for so many of us, my beliefs in God are personal and complicated.  Actually, to clarify, my beliefs are incredibly simple in my heart, but difficult to explain. But my beliefs inform and direct so much of my life that it’s heartbreakingly laughable when I get criticism from a relative for my ‘non-religious’ behavior.

I don’t have a lot of interest in getting into a theological debate with anyone.  I’m happy with what I believe.  If you’re happy with what you believe – great! Let’s just both be happy instead of trying to convince each other why one view is better than the other. :). And if you’re confused, lost, or unhappy in your relationship with the divine – relax, you’re not alone – we’ve all been there at some point. Keep walking with an open mind and heart and you’ll find your path.

 

[1] I won’t lie – seeing Mary looking about the same age as Jesus and looking somewhat seductive (she had her fingers clutched to her shawl as if about to take it off) was very disconcerting.  I mean, I get it – Mary represents mother, maiden, wife, and all the feminine roles (at least I believe that is what they were trying to suggest), but perhaps some Catholic concepts are too firmly embedded in my psyche for me to feel comfortable seeing “Mary” cast in such a way.

[2] yin representing the divine feminine (among many other things) and yang representing the divine masculine (among other things)

A Word on Semantics

“Conceptual substitutes for ineffable experiences are not adequate.  They are products of rational thinking.  All forms, according to Samkara, contain an element of untruth and the real is beyond all forms… And yet we cannot afford to be absolutely silent” – Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Religious Experience and it’s Affirmations

According to Google, there are over a million words in the English language, but the options seem paltry indeed when an individual is faced with the challenge of describing a spiritual experience. Worse, the words that would normally seem appropriate in such a situation are often either abused or so loaded with negative connotation they make most of us cringe when we hear them.  Faced with this challenge, the spiritual practitioner battles the simultaneous conflicting urges to be silent and to spread the word.  When I was ‘in the thread’ (the phrase I use to refer to my own experience of union) I used to wish I could just ‘touch people’ and ‘give’ them the sensation inside of me.  I realized that even in crafting the most beautiful poetry, I could not express this feeling.  The message of the heart struggles with the words of the mind.  And yet, as Radhakrishnan says, we cannot be silent – the deep desire to share, to bring about more love and happiness in the world, is also part of the experience.

As I have walked the path I have encountered a few ways of handling these challenges, most of them variations on a theme.  Many practitioners end up co-opting common words or phrases and giving them their own “special” meanings.[1]  I am no exception to this rule.  As evidenced above, I refer to my own experience of union as being ‘in the thread.’  Thread is not normally considered a spiritual word and yet I settled on that one because it most captured my experience.  As a single thread is woven into an intricate tapestry it is both itself and integrally part of something much larger.  A person looking at the finished work would have difficulty distinguishing an individual thread, yet without all those single threads there would be no tapestry at all.  In Greek Mythology, it is also a thread that Clothos weaves, Lachesis measures, and Atropos cuts to represent a life.  And let’s not forget that it was a thread Theseus used to navigate the famous Labyrinth and avoid the bloodthirsty Minotaur.  Even a humble thread can have references that make it perfectly appropriate as a spiritual path term.  To be fair, it is not that I researched possible words to use and picked ‘thread,’ the phrase ‘in the thread’ spontaneously occurred to me as the ‘right’ one for me to use at the time.  However, it’s possible that my pre-existing understanding of these concepts subconsciously contributed to my choice of phrase.

One of my meditation teachers refers to her experience as “when I was in the river.”  At first glance these two ways of describing a similar experience may seem quite different.  After all, a thread is a fairly stationary item unless someone is using it and a river is constantly moving; dynamic.  A river can be vast or narrow, but will always be larger and more diverse than a single thread.   I instantly recognized where she had been, however, because it is the feeling that the words are trying to describe that promotes the understanding rather than the words themselves.  In fact, I could have used that phrase to describe my own experience – it just isn’t the phrase that occurred to me.  This sort of translation is like understanding the concept of “Ow” in almost any language when you hear someone, in pain, exclaim it.

In reading descriptions of the spiritual experience, you may notice that a single word can have dual (or more!) meanings or multiple layers of meaning. If you’ve read Gary Zukav’s The Dancing Wu-Li Masters or have done any work with Tarot or other symbology you are familiar with this concept. An example of this most people will be familiar with is the word ‘see;’ sometimes it refers to using one’s eyes and sometimes it refers to an inner observation that has nothing to do with rods, cones, and optic nerves.  As another example which may help with readability of this blog – I often use the term ‘energy’ (if I haven’t used it a lot yet its only because I’ve been holding back 🙂 ).  I think energy is the root of all manifest existence so it pops up everywhere across my spiritual landscape.  I use this term the way many people use the term ‘science.’  There are types of science; Biology, Chemistry, Physics, etc.  But “science” is not just the sum of all these individual parts.  For many, the word ‘science’ is an approach, a philosophy, a worldview.  That is linguistically analogous to my use of the term ‘energy.’  There are lots of different types of energy, but my concept of energy is all of those and more.  It is the stuff our universe is made of and ‘energy’ is simply the best term I’ve found to describe it.

For those who are suffering through the use of casual terms to refer to weighty spiritual matters in your reading, I appreciate your frustration.  Let me apologize in advance, because I am quite sure I will hardly be consistent in my use of terms even across this blog.  The best advice I can offer is to recommend you keep meditating (or if you aren’t already, start! start!) and keep reading on the topic and understanding will come.  I remember reading somewhere that immersion is the best way to learn a language. 🙂


[1] This is yet another parallel with Alchemy – see post “Full Frontal Alchemy” for more speculation on Alchemy as a Spiritual Path tradition.