Changing the Past Part 2

(This is an excerpt from the book I am writing about the 12 Powers, the fundamental cornerstone of Unity metaphysics)

© 2013 Stew Bittman | All Rights Reserved

Our subconscious mind continually pumps out thoughts, something like 65,000 per day, according to scientists. Those same scientists also say that 95% or more of those 65,000 thoughts are exactly the same as the ones we had yesterday. With the same old input, no wonder we find it difficult to change!

I think of the subconscious mind as a thought factory, and its assembly line runs 24/7. It rains thoughts down upon the conscious mind without any distinction or consideration about their quality. Some of them are truly treasures and some are most definitely rejects. Some of them seem to come straight from the Source, others from less empowering places. Some reflect our current level of understanding and awareness; others are echoes of old tapes that were recorded before we had the tools to discern. Some of them serve our highest unfolding, many do not.

Unfortunately, most of us are probably used to paying more attention to the rejects than to the treasures. One my all-time favorite examples of a reject thought comes from Charlie Brown and the Peanuts comic strip: “Sometimes I lie awake at night, and ask, ‘Where have I gone wrong?’ Then a voice says to me, ‘This is going to take more than one night’.”

This kind of thinking is merely a habit! We’ve practiced it and gotten quite expert at it. We all know people who are accident-prone. Through entertaining those thoughts that don’t serve, over and over and over again, many of us have become anger-prone or guilt-prone or worry-prone or self-abuse-prone. Those thought patterns have become deeply etched, like Mississippi Rivers in our mind, and they make it difficult to even hear the treasures when they come. Once something launches that pattern of thinking (and often, it doesn’t take much), the pattern also tends to take us directly to New Orleans, even if had no intention or desire to go there.

For me, this idea helps me to understanding the concept of karma in Hinduism and Buddhism. It isn’t some cosmic scoreboard or ledger sheet to which I am doomed. It’s more a pattern of thinking from the past that begins to frame my experience of life and makes it more likely I will respond or see things a certain way in the present moment. The same old way. I interpret my experiences based on my past programming, which makes it seem as if things happen to me based on past actions.

We often hear the expression, “It is what it is.” And though it’s often used in resignation, there’s a ton of truth to be found in it. It can teach us acceptance and remind us to stay grounded in what’s happening in the moment. Our karma, however, makes us prone to more accurately and honestly say, “It is what it was.” But you and I can overcome our karma, and we can do it in this lifetime!

Our power of Wisdom can be thought of as quality control for the thought factory. As we establish more quality control through gaining awareness into the workings of the factory, we learn to focus more on the treasures. We learn to choose which thoughts on which to base our choices and responses. We learn to interpret our experiences based on what’s alive and true in our hearts, right now. And in the process, we become more abundance-prone and love-prone and joy-prone and peace-prone.

© 2013 Stew Bittman | All Rights Reserved

And if that’s all we remember, that’s more than enough for now…

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Changing the Past

It’s funny how my perspective on things can change so much, especially on things I was once absolutely convinced about. If only I can remember that when I become so convinced about an opinion or perspective that I make someone else wrong!

For instance, I used to ridicule the idea of changing the past. In fact, whenever I taught a workshop or class on forgiveness, I’d invariably say something like, “When we choose not to forgive someone, what we’re really doing is attempting to change our past.” The idea was, since the past couldn’t be changed, it was important to forgive so we could move on in the present. That’s a good idea, yet what I didn’t realize then was that not only is it possible to change the past, it is almost impossible to forgive until I do.

Before I talk about how, wouldn’t it be nice if it was possible and it really did make forgiveness easier? I realize that the wounds I carry from the past are probably the major impediment to my enjoyment of life right now. But somehow I continue to not only carry them, but also to replay them over and over in my mind. In a book I’m currently reading, A Spiritual Renegade’s Guide to the Good Life, by Lama Marut, the author equates this behavior with running with scissors. We know it’s not a good idea, it hurts, and yet not only do we refuse to drop the scissors, we stab ourselves with them again and again.

In no way am I intending to minimize or negate the horrible things that happened in your life and mine. When I work to change my past, I endeavor to start with the “small stuff.” I run with scissors of every conceivable size and sharpness, and it makes sense to start working with the smaller and duller ones. As I practice and my forgiveness muscles get stronger, I can work more and more with the nastier ones. But before I can do any of that, it’s important that I actually believe it is possible to change the past.

Certainly it is impossible to change the events, the circumstances or the hard data from the past. But it is equally certain that I can change my perspective on what happened, the meaning I assign to it, and my understanding of it. When I do these things, in a very real way I am indeed changing the past, because the past only exists in the form of how I think about it now. The past isn’t really “what happened”, but “what I think happened” in this moment. I tend to think of my memories as solid and etched in stone, but that’s just what I tend to think!

Hey, history books change the past all the time. Hollywood, too. When was the last time you saw or read about Native Americans being ignorant God-less savages, who only served to provide target practice for John Wayne? Did the events from that era change, or did our perspective and understanding change? History books even have a name for this—they call it “revisionist history.” What I’m suggesting is that we wrote our own history book, and have every right to revise it.

Have you ever been absolutely convinced of something, only to find out you were wrong? This happens to me quite often. I wonder how many times I was wrong and didn’t find out! A perspective is simply a perspective, and it doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. Can you and I look at the same thing and have a different perspective? Can I look at the same thing I looked at yesterday and have a different perspective? Of course. So, can I look at something in the past and have a perspective that’s different than the one I’ve always held? Of course. And when I do, the past is revised.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not the same person I was in the past. I’ve grown. I’ve evolved. I have more tools, more faith, more gratitude, more understanding, more awareness, a greater capacity for love and compassion. When I look at the past from my current viewpoint, it looks different. And that’s my major tool for changing the past and forgiving—looking at it from my current viewpoint. So I’m not talking about turning my back on the past, rather, I’m working on “turning the other cheek” to it, meaning I can look at it more and more as the spiritual being I am. I can look at it more and more from a place of wholeness, of love, of my innate divinity. When I do that, it changes.

Forgiving isn’t forgetting. It isn’t condoning or losing and it isn’t a sign of weakness. It has nothing to do with whether or not the person I’m working to forgive deserves it. I choose to change the past and forgive for ME, because as soon as I change the past I’ve improved my present. As soon as I stop running with any of the scissors I’ve carried around, I experience less pain. I am freer to unfold my deepest desires and intentions. I am freer to suffer less. I am freer to experience joy. It’s as simple as that.

I will continue this discussion in my next post, but in the meantime…if that’s all I remember, that’s more than enough for now.

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CLARITY IS AN INSIDE JOB

This is the preliminary text for a TED talk I’m doing next month…so I’d love your feedback…

There are really only 2 things I know for sure about clarity, and the first is that it’s elusive! It often seems as if I am swimming in a sea of confusion, misperception and miscommunication, and that’s just MY life. There appears to be a lot of that going around in the world as well. Sometimes I think I spend half my life dealing with the after effects of not being clear, especially with all the communication I do via email and text messages. Hey, it’s hard enough to be clear using complete words and sentences, let alone with acronyms and abbreviations! It’s gotten to the point where my wife and I always check each other’s emails for clarity before we send anything out, but no matter how clear we think we are, we are often are misunderstood anyway.

Once again, when I consider how much of this miscommunication and misunderstanding happens on a global level, it’s easy for me to see why we have a lot of the problems we have and therefore how important clarity really is.

The other thing I’m clear on about clarity is that it’s an inside job. In other words, the clearer I am within my own being, the more clarity I tend to experience around me. I can’t rationally expect to have clarity in my communication and relationships with others if I’m fragmented within myself. Gandhi said that his power to affect change flowed from the fact that his thoughts, feelings, words and actions were all the same. WOW! That’s clarity. And when I first heard that quote and thought about myself, I realized that oftentimes I think one thing, feel another, say a third and do a fourth! No wonder my wife has to check my emails!

For me, another way of saying what Gandhi proposed is that clarity emerges much more often when my head and my heart are working together. When my head is left to run the show alone, clarity is a rarity. I don’t know about your head, but mine loves to question and doubt and judge and stew over things ad nauseum. Clarity doesn’t seem to be a high priority for it; it’s much more interested in being right and making others wrong, or in doing things the same way it’s always done them in the past, whether or not that way has ever worked.

And this idea of head and heart working together isn’t just poetry or metaphor or New Age mumbo jumbo. It’s science. Organizations such as the HeartMath Institute have conclusively shown that the heart has a tremendously positive influence on the head, even more than the head has on the heart. They’ve shown that when the heart is engaged, especially when we’re in a state of love or gratitude or compassion or joy, it informs the head and the head instantly becomes much smarter, much more creative, much more aware of the big picture, and generally much clearer. Without the heart informing the head, we tend to react to life based on our emotions and our memories, not necessarily based on what’s important or on what’s going on in the moment, which seem to be 2 pretty important ingredients for clarity.

In the times when I need clarity the most, as in when I get triggered emotionally, my historical pattern is to go directly to the worst place imaginable to find it–my head. Once I’m there, it is virtually impossible to rise above my own emotional reactions and patterns based on the past. But when I remember to engage my heart, simply by placing my attention on it and by taking a deep breath into it, I am instantly rewarded. I become aware of my inner resources, I remember that it’s possible for everyone’s needs to be met, and I often even remember that it’s far more important to me to be clear and to foster a connection than it is to be right. All of this makes it much more likely that I will be able to take the clearest, most grounded, and most centered action that is based on my deepest values and intentions. Engaging my heart allows me to keep my attention on my intention to be clear.

The word “clarity” shares the same root of origin as the word “claim.” And that’s what I’m suggesting. In order to experience more clarity, I have to claim it for myself by engaging my heart. That may seem too simple but my question is how often do we do it? How often do we take a moment or 3 to fully appreciate our life or to fully appreciate those we love or those that love us? How often do stop to take a deep and conscious breath, instead of breathing just enough to survive? How often do we decide to commune with nature when we have a spare hour instead of answering emails or catching up with our friends on FaceBook?

Especially in this day and age of so much mental stimulation and overload, how often do we take the time to stop and engage our hearts in order to give our minds a rest and a glimpse of clarity? Clarity is something the world can most certainly use more of, and while we’re sitting around hoping and waiting for it, let’s remember another of Gandhi’s quotes…the one about being the change we wish to see in the world. We have to claim clarity for ourselves before we’ll ever see it in the world. I can’t think of a greater gift we can give to ourselves OR to the world.

So, if you get an email from me and it’s not clear, I give you permission to reply and remind me to breathe into my heart and try again. In the meantime, have a clear day!

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Love Wins

I’m pretty sure I can’t write it any better than I said it this past Sunday, so here’s a link to my talk from December 16th “Love Wins“.  Enjoy!

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Thankful for Leftovers

I apologize in advance for the unusual length of this post. I guess playing hooky from this blog has allowed a bunch of thoughts to ferment for a while…

Years ago I heard or read somewhere that the average American family eats Thanksgiving leftovers for 6 days. I haven’t been able to confirm that, but it’s a staggering thought, especially when you figure that quite a few people only have them for 2 or 3 days, meaning some families are annually pushing the limits of safe refrigerator hygiene. More to the point, regardless of how many turkey sandwiches I might endure, my intention this year has been for the thanksgiving in my heart to last at least as long as the leftovers.

Without a doubt, of all the spiritual and life-enhancing practices I’ve engaged in, cultivating a practice of thanksgiving has been the most valuable in terms of my day-to-day happiness level. Indeed, to this point anyway, according to the scientists who actually study happiness (I wonder if they’re happy studying it?) the only practice that has been objectively measured to increase prolonged happiness is doing a daily gratitude list. Wow, and such a simple thing, too. Gratitude opens my heart, brings me right smack dab into the present moment, has me focusing on what I want (rather than what I don’t want), and instantly raises my consciousness; all the things most of us are looking for in a daily spiritual practice. Your grandmother and mine knew what they were talking about when they told us to count our blessings!

But wait; there’s more! Eric Butterworth, a famous Unity Minister and author, wrote, “Thanksgiving is not just a reactionary emotion; it is a causative energy.” Gratitude isn’t just something I feel only when I get what I want; it’s a state of consciousness that allows me to create my experience of life based on my core values and intentions. It’s an attitude of mind I can develop that allows me to see the good in myself and in life. It’s a causative energy that has contributed greatly to the realization of many of my dreams.

When I first started developing a thanksgiving practice, I began with the “small” stuff—those everyday blessings and gifts that I was taking for granted. Immediately I discovered, to paraphrase A Course in Miracles, that there’s no order of magnitude among blessings when I notice and acknowledge them. It was hard at first to list what I was grateful for, but forcing myself to do it seemed to grease the whole mechanism to the point where I could soon take a 15-minute walk in the morning and rattle off things I was grateful for the whole time.

The next step was developing gratitude in the face of things it was harder to be grateful for. In the Bible, Paul writes, “Give thanks in all things.” No small feat. Thankfully, he doesn’t say, “Give thanks FOR all things.” For me Paul is suggesting something possible and extremely powerful, namely, when the schmootz hits the fan, I don’t necessarily have to be grateful FOR it, but IN the situation, I can still keep at least one toe firmly ensconced in gratitude. Again, this will allow me to stay grounded, present, hopeful and connected to my inner resources—those things that will help me through the schmootz and possibly even see a blessing in it.

This, finally—thanks for hanging in there—brings me back to leftovers. I’m working on being thankful for my leftovers, which in this case I’ll define as those issues I’ve worked on/with, ad nauseum, for eons. You know; the negative labels I’ve stitched deeply into the collar of my self-image? The ones that still, after all these years, show up and spoil the fun like red ants at a picnic? Do you have any of those? Can I really be thankful for those leftovers when they emerge from the fridge and show up in my awareness?

In many ways I believe that until I do develop gratitude for those leftovers, they continue to return like relatives I don’t like. Once again to quote the Bible, after Jacob wrestles all night with an angel who finally asks Jacob to let him go, Jacob responds, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” What a beautiful metaphor for those issues I’ve wrestled with for years. In the past I tried denying them, hating them, resisting them, feeling victimized by them, cajoling them, inquiring into them and generally focusing on them so hard and so long in an attempt to get rid of them that I was able to expound on them backwards and forwards in several different languages. When I started to simply be OK with them, to notice them and accept them, they started to let go of me a bit. They lost some power over me because I stopped giving them so much power. When I actually started blessing them, they let go of me even more.

There’ve been other gifts in giving thanks for my leftovers. I’ve noticed that I’ve been able to reframe some of my negative labels into things that serve me. For instance, instead of calling myself lazy, I now enjoy and understand the value of rest and recharging. Instead of thinking of myself as a “good little boy” or “people pleaser”, I’ve become a compassionate being who touches people with my kindness and love. And instead of stressing over my tendency to obsess over things that never happened and never will happen, I now have one-pointed focus and attention on my intention. Is that cool or what?

I’m turning my issues into allies. Just like Gandhi did with his alleged greediness, I can use my leftovers as compost for growing what I really want for myself and for the world. I’ll need them as allies in my journey. When Jesus was tempted by Satan he repeated several times, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Perhaps Jesus was tempted by the leftovers in his own consciousness and not necessarily banishing them, but telling them to get behind him, to support him, to get on his team. He undoubtedly knew he’d need every aspect of his wholeness to do what he needed to do in this world, and I can do the same. I’m thankful for my leftovers, and I’m thankful the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone!

And if that’s all I remember, that’s more than enough for now.

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Is-ness as Usual

Strong coffee is my weakness, as my father used to say. Once in a while I get tired of my automatic coffeemaker’s version (never quite strong enough) and pull out the heavy artillery: the French press. Then after a few months I get tired of the cleaning and the grinding and the plunging and the fact that I have to leave the last sip in the cup because it’s always full of grounds and slink back to good ol’ Mr. Coffee.

The interesting thing about all this is that the first time I went through this cycle and went back to the automatic coffemaker, it took months before I realized I was still leaving the last sip sitting in the cup, even though it was blissfully free of grounds! Besides being a tragic waste of coffee, it made it very clear how good my mind is at automatic pilot. If I could go months missing out on strong coffee without choosing to, what else was I missing?

Indeed, “business as usual” seems to be my conscious mind’s mantra, as if any moment was usual. It seems to enjoy believing that nothing ever changes or even should change. So what if every moment is a brand new ballgame? Who cares if every moment is potentially life and/or world changing? To my mind, they’re all alike. You’ve seen one moment, you’ve seen them all. Same schmootz; different moment. You get the idea (hopefully).

Business as usual is so diametrically opposed to the truth I hold in my heart that it’s almost funny. My heart (as well as my spleen, my big toe, my uvula…every cell, tissue and organ in my being except for my brain) knows that in every moment, the real truth is “is-ness as usual.” No matter where I am or what is going on, regardless of the appearance of things or my perception of them, God IS, which for me means that love is, compassion is, harmony is, peace is, wholeness is, oneness is, joy is, abundance is. These things simply are. They have a life and a reality in and of themselves. Schmootz, on the other hand, requires my consent, my cooperation, my perceptions.

This is-ness is always present and active, and it’s all good. Because of this is-ness, every moment contains unlimited possibilities for good. Every moment is extraordinary and unique and each one represents an opportunity to tap into the is-ness and mold it and shape it in order to create our lives according to our highest values and desires. How exciting! Perhaps that’s why we are naturally enthusiastic, passionate, curious and creative beings who crave awe and wonder and beauty in our lives. Those things, sadly, tend to get lost in business as usual.

Is-ness as usual” is a beautiful reminder to stay centered in the present moment so I can be aware of the unlimited possibilities therein and to be aware that life-changing moments usually arrive unannounced. It’s a beautiful reminder that life isn’t a problem to be solved but an is-ness to be experienced and expressed. It’s a beautiful reminder that this is-ness can become my default location as it becomes more “usual” in my consciousness.

We often hear the phrase “it is what it is” and perhaps even use it to describe resignation (“oh well”). Now when I hear it I’ll say, “Yahoo!” Indeed, it is what it is, and in each moment, what it is is love! Allness! Spirit! AND I AM THAT!

Business as usual also refers to “the normal conduct of business especially in difficult events which pose a potential negative impact” (=schmootz!). When the schmootz hits the fan heavily, business as usual is about the best I can do, and that’s OK. At the same time, I can remember the is-ness that is still present, that healing is always possible because of that is-ness, that everyone involved in the situation, including me, has all the strength, love and wisdom of that is-ness within them. In doing so, I can remain open to creative ideas and opportunities as they arise, I can remain an inlet and outlet of all there is in God, and I become a source of peace and love within the schmootz.

Is-ness is usual because it is what I am. And the more I embrace it, affirm it, feed it, acknowledge and appreciate it, the more beautiful and rich my life becomes.

And if that’s all I remember, that’s more than enough for now.

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Happy New Year

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, began last night at sundown. I haven’t figured out why the year starts in the 7th month of the Jewish calendar, but hey, January 1st is rather arbitrary as well. Anyway, the significance of the holiday is that it begins the “10 days of awe” which end on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. On Rosh Hashanah, God gets out the book and writes all our names in it with the kind of year we’re going to have, including whether we’re going to be around for next year’s holiday. On Yom Kippur, the book is “closed”. Pretty creepy, huh? The good news is that we have these 10 days to change God’s decree, and we can do so through repentance, prayer and good deeds.

I don’t believe in the kind of God that judges us (if God is love, where does judgment come into the picture?), let alone one that records it all in a book, but the holiday still has tremendous meaning for me. The idea of “cleaning our slate” shows up in every religion, but I am reminded that the only one who ever writes anything on my slate is me. We are the ones who tend to have elephant-like memories when it comes to our own shortcomings, our own mistakes, our own limitations; our own “sins.” A sin is an error, specifically a thought, word or action that we express from less than our highest consciousness. The chances are great that we’ve already paid the consequences for that error, so why is it still on the slate?

For me, God is all the love, intelligence, substance, principle and presence in the Universe. And all of that is alive and active as each and every one of us. Each of us has a divine essence that not only represents our fundamental reality, but also is always tapping at the door of our awareness, ready, willing, anxious and infinitely able to express all that is good and beautiful and true out into the world. All we have to do is give our consent. Whenever we do, our God Self radiates as brilliantly as the day we were born. Our slate is already and eternally clean unless we choose to hold things on ourselves. And because we do, rituals and holidays such as Rosh Hashanah hold incredible value.

For me, it’s not God’s decree that needs to be changed, it’s our own. And the very things that Jewish people believe will do the job, namely repentance, prayer and good deeds, are the perfect activities we can engage in to raise our consciousness and change our own decree about ourselves.

Repentance, even though the word carries the connotation of contrition, simply means, “Think again.” So things like forgiveness (especially of self), repeating affirmations and denials, visualization and simply making a different choice about something all fall into that category. Prayer is another activity that isn’t so much about changing God’s mind but about changing ours. And one can say the same about “good deeds” (service). When we do any of these things, we tend to feel really good, and I believe that’s because we’re touching our “original goodness”, our divine essence. We’re reminding ourselves that our slate is clean.

What’s the big deal about being more aware that our slate is clean in each and every moment? When I do remember that, it allows me to make choices that are based on what I really desire and what is really important to me, instead of ones based on what I think is possible. What I think is possible, especially when I run it through my memory that is chock full of my own errors and shortcomings, is quite limited. The only way I can really find out what’s possible is by heading in the direction of my deepest desires. And most of the time I find out that all things are possible, especially when I align in consciousness with my God Self.

My high school physics teacher said that the only thing in the universe that was impossible was putting toothpaste back into the tube the same way it came out. If that’s even remotely true, that leaves a whole bunch of things that are possible!

So I choose to honor Rosh Hashanah tradition this year and do a whole lot of repenting, praying and good deeds, because I’ve undoubtedly written a bunch of things on my slate this year, and those activities will remind me that if I wrote ‘em, I can erase them. With a clean slate, it’s full speed ahead in the direction of my dreams. L’shanah tovah (“for a good year”)!

And if that’s all I remember, that’s more than enough for now.

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Harmony or Upset-able? (this is also my “Spiritual Leader’s article” in Unity at the Lake’s bimonthly newsletter)

My favorite quote from the Buddha goes something like this: “We don’t get upset because of what’s happening; we get upset because we’re upset-able.” In other words, just like happiness, upset is an inside job. And I don’t know about you, but I much prefer harmony; in my day, in my experiences and, perhaps especially, in my relationships. So before I start looking for harmony outside of myself, I need to establish it inside myself. When I do, I become much less upset-able.

It has become clear to me that harmony within does not tend to happen spontaneously; I need to establish it. My mind tends to be hectic and chaotic, prone as it is to outside influences. This makes it difficult for me to attune to the harmony that is always present in life, in Nature, in my God Self. For me, God IS the harmony and balance that is always present even in what seems like chaos; the principles that govern my existence whether things seem harmonious or not…and the only place I can be separate from all is in my awareness. My mind is very good at that bit of separation.

When things are disharmonious, it isn’t as though God just left the scene, but I undoubtedly did. So, it behooves me to constantly remind myself of my oneness with God. I can feed that part of myself by giving it more of my attention and focus, through prayer, meditation, affirmations, journaling, visualization, or whatever. I can spend more time in Nature or listening to music or doing something to attune with a less hectic vibration. I can start my day and indeed every interaction by grounding in what is most important to me, my deepest values and my deepest desires. And I can tap into the joy, love, gratitude, compassion and peace that always abide in my heart before I speak or act. Or think. These things are possible, but it’s me that has to do them.

When I do, I experience harmony. When I do, fewer things seem urgent and I can spend time on things that are important and valuable to me. When I do, I spend more time creating and less reacting (by the way, those two words have the same letters, just in different sequence). Then I notice that what I create in life is much more in line with my core values and intentions. I also notice I am much more able to take whatever comes in my life and use it to unfold more of my divinity.

This summer, I haven’t been doing my usual spiritual routine that I described above. I’ve been out in Nature a lot, but almost none of the rest. And apparently it’s like not drinking enough water: by the time you realize it, your tank is already very low. I’d become quite upset-able lately without really realizing it, and it came to a head the other day. Through that experience I came to realize that it’s not enough to know I am divine Love. I have to affirm it, acknowledge it, appreciate it, fill myself with it and remind myself of it, consciously and often. It’s pretty simple. The more I do, the harder it is for me to forget and the easier it is for me to show it.

The word “harmony” means “to fit together”, and that’s how it feels to me. When I find harmony within myself, everything seems to fit together. I know everyone and everything already does, but only when I establish harmony within myself do I experience that feeling. And when it feels as if everything fits together, I am much less upset-able!

And if that’s all I remember, that’s more than enough for now.

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What Would Brenna Do?

It probably borders on blasphemy, but I have recently found myself asking this question often: “What would Brenna do?” Brenna is “my” nearly 2-year old Labrador Retriever, and she is wise beyond measure. She is nearly always happy and energetic and seems to squeeze every drop out of life. She’s loyal, accepting, forgiving and unconditionally loving. I realize I speak and write about her a lot, and I imagine it’s because basically she shows up in life exactly how I would ideally choose to. So, I consciously work to emulate her. It might help to have most of my brain removed so it matches the size of hers, but I figure I can do it even with my huge cerebral cortex. I generally prefer being a human being anyway, if only because I get to eat stuff besides dry, disgusting kibble.

I observe her and, besides making her nervous, I notice some major differences between us in how we respond to life. For one thing, she never seems to confuse what she has with who she is. I do it all the time. I often get so attached to what I have (or don’t have) that I make it part of my very identity. I’m talking about my experiences, my relationships, my job, my bank account, my body, my thoughts, my feelings, my story…all these are things I have but they are not who I am. The simple fact that I refer to them as, “My…” seems to underline this confusion. When I get them confused, when I identify (which literally means, “To regard as the same”) my very being with these things, when I become emotionally invested in them, I give them power over me. As they go, I go, as if we were chained together. Brenna seems to be free of chains.

She has obvious preferences, but doesn’t get attached to things. Sometimes she’ll carry a stick for 4 miles and it only takes one firm, “Leave it!” from me and she drops it. It might require 1 additional command for her to give it up completely, but I’m consistently amazed. If it was me, I would say, “Are you serious, I just carried this damned thing for 2 hours. I’ve swallowed a half a pound of bark and you want me to leave it?” Brenna simply makes a different choice that is still aligned with who she is, what’s important to her, her core values. She’ll pick up another stick or a ball, or she’ll just enjoy running around and sniffing all the smells of nature, which to her are obviously plentiful and pleasant.

Her preferences don’t become attachments whereas mine often are indistinguishable. The problem for me is that I get so stuck on the form I lose myself. I lose my intention to experience love and joy, which are undoubtedly what I really wanted to begin with. So sometimes now when I realize I’m attached to something that I can’t or don’t have, I ask myself what I really want and often I realize I CAN have that. For instance, with my recent hip injury, I worried that I might not be able to hike again this summer or perhaps any summer. I realized how attached to hiking I am. So I asked myself what hiking allowed me to experience. The answers included peace, beauty, solitude, connection with nature, a sense of awe and wonder and oneness, and exercise. It became clear to me that if, God forbid, I really couldn’t hike anymore, I could take up swimming and every now and then someone could wheel me out into the woods! Hiking is not who I am. I can always make a different choice that feeds who I am and unfolds my deepest desires.

It works so well for Brenna that my new mantra is, “Leave it!” Whenever I become aware that I’m attached to something I have or don’t have, that I have my teeth sunk into something in the realm of form, I give myself that firm command. It reminds me to break the imaginary chain I have created between it and me. It allows me to remember who I am and what is most important to me. I may have to give myself a few hundred additional commands before I let go completely but hey, I do have this huge cerebral cortex.

I don’t compare myself to Brenna, I just emulate her. I ask myself what she would do in any particular situation, and the answer always feels right, loving and free.

And if that’s all I remember, that’s more than enough for now.

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One Choice at a Time

I ran across this Cherokee expression: “When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.” I know that this kind of life is possible and it unfolds one choice at a time, as does any kind of life. When my choices are aligned with my highest vision, my deepest values and my heart’s desires, I can not only rejoice when I die (assuming one can rejoice at that point) but all along the way as well. And those choices begin with what I choose to focus on moment by moment.

Eckhart Tolle wrote, “What the future holds depends on our state of consciousness now.” Knowing that my life plays out according to the thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and beliefs I choose to place and hold in the center ring of my awareness, why is it that I still make stinky choices as the ringmaster? Why wouldn’t I always choose to give the center ring to what I want to be, do and have and how I want to show up in life? Why wouldn’t I always choose to focus on love, joy, peace, compassion, abundance, service, oneness and wholeness?

Well, at this point in my life the only answer to those questions that truly serves me is, “Who cares?” Historically, my responses to those “why” questions have always been a list of less-than-empowering activities such as excuses, justifications, blame, negative self-judgment, shouldas, couldas and wouldas. None of those ever get me any closer to the choice I really want to make in that moment, in every moment, which is to proclaim loudly and proudly, “Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, for your enjoyment, now in the center ring…LOVE!” In fact, I’m now convinced that it’s the mental gymnastics I choose instead that represent the primary thing that stops me from making truth and love my focus in any moment.

I’m tired of the gymnastics. So I’m renewing my intention to pay attention to what I’ve chosen to place in the center ring and to take responsibility for placing it there. Yes, often it seems as if my mind were a 50-ring circus. Yes, I have old tapes and mental mechanisms that make it easier for me to give the spotlight to fear, lack and limitation. But when I simply notice I’ve done that and take responsibility for doing it (instead of engaging in shoulds and “yeah, buts”), it’s a lot easier to shine the light of my awareness where I really choose to.

This choice to focus on truth is apparently one I need to make over and over again. I practice it in meditation so I can do it more easily in my “normal” life. And it gets easier. Every time I remember to make that kind of choice, I leave a little trail of breadcrumbs that make my highest truth easier to find the next time.

There’s more good news about all this related to how our brains and nerve systems work. It’s called reciprocal inhibition. Whatever I put in the center ring of my awareness expands, and all the lunacy and mayhem on the fringes diminish. This motivates me to keep making the choice for joy and peace without excessive resistance or justification. I’d rather have joy and peace in the center ring and not resistance and justification!

My hip is pretty much fine again, and I bless it once again for helping me to practice making the choice for truth (and for feeling better, too). There were times in the first week or two after injuring it when the choice to focus on my highest truth seemed very difficult to make, and what I discovered was that by simply being willing to make it, that helped. When the pain or frustration or worry seemed overwhelming, I remembered (most of the time) to simply say to myself, “I am willing to experience joy right now.” That really helped me to remember all the tools I have for accessing joy, and the willingness itself felt a lot better than the angst. Even when the angst wouldn’t completely leave the center ring, taking responsibility for choosing it felt more empowering and hopeful than being at its mercy.

I know we each have everything we need to live our life so well that when we die, the world cries and we rejoice. It’s happening right now in the center ring…so it behooves me to be mindful and responsible about what I put there!

And if that’s all I remember, that’s more than enough for now.

 

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