“Every moment and every event of every man's life on earth plants something in his soul.” --Thomas Merton
As a former kindergarten teacher, I taught lessons on plants and seeds many times. I always asked what it takes for a plant to grow and got the usual answers; soil, sunlight and water. I never appreciated something very important though. We could put a rock in fertile soil, give it adequate water and sunlight and it would never grow. The most important thing needed for a plant to grow is the life inside the seed itself. It is life that makes the plant grow. The soil, sunlight and water are simply the conditions that allow life to emerge from its potential and express itself. I know that we all know this, but for some reason I was struck by this simple fact in a way that I never was before recently.
A quote from the Talmud says, Every Blade Of Grass Has An Angel That Bends Over It And Whispers..."Grow, Grow" The first few times I heard that quote, I dismissed it as odd. I couldn’t imagine an angel for every blade of grass and knew that it wasn’t true. I didn’t really get it. Recently, I heard that quote again and was struck by it. As soon as I heard it this time, I realized how much we take for granted the gift of life. Each seed contains life, a gift from the universe to be in expression in this physical world for a very short amount of time. The drive that pushes the grass to grow isn’t different from what is in each and every one of us.
We are not awakened in the morning by our alarm clock. We are awakened by life. Each day life gives us the opportunity to express itself through us in the unique way that only we can bring forth. It is an amazing miracle that we often take for granted. Life is cheering us on. When we hold a reverence for life, we are grateful for the gift of being alive in this very moment. Take a breath and feel the aliveness within you. You are life and life is a miracle.
“The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” --Albert Einstein
Life has a way of putting obstacles right in our way. It happens frequently. We finally decide that we are ready to take action and go for what we want, when an unexpected expense or event pops up that stops us. Many people take that as a sign that it wasn’t meant to be, so they turn around and shrink back into their old life. What if that block in our way was just a test to see if we really wanted what was on the other side?
When I work with clients, one of the first things I ask clients is what they want. Solution-Focused Therapy refers to this as the ‘Miracle Question.’ It is a question that asks clients to imagine that they went to bed tonight and a miracle happened, which removed all of their problems. When they woke up tomorrow, what would be different? What would indicate that all of their problems were resolved? Asking this question is a great way to help people clarify what they want in life. What is important to them? If they didn’t have the limits and confines of their current life, what would they want for their life? How would their relationships be different, how would their jobs be different, how would the way they see the world be different?
When clients are clear on what they want, the question then focuses on what is blocking them from getting what they want. This is trickier than it sounds. Most people are not aware of what the blocks are because we become oblivious to them. They become such an everyday part of our life, that we are blind to what is blocking us and unaware of our power to remove it. The beauty of the ‘Miracle Question’ is that it puts people in the mindset that the miracle has already occurred, so they are able to imagine life on the other side of the block. I often imagine the obstacles to be like a one-way valve that stops us when we are trying to get to our dreams from our current perspective. But, if we start on the other side, where the dream is and imagine ourselves coming from the dream, the valve opens right up and we are able to put on our dream and bring it to us. When we start imagining our self as already having what we say we want, new ideas and possibilities open up that bring what we want to us.
So, the next time that obstacle is in the way, think about what life would be like on the other side. How would I think, how would I talk, how would I act if I had what I say I want? Come from that place and see what new ideas come to you.
“Gratitude is an opener of locked-up blessings.” – Marianne Williamson
I just love Thanksgiving. It is a holiday focused on gratitude. It is a day to appreciate the blessings in life and take notice of the abundance that surrounds us. There is so much that we take for granted. What would life be like if we lived everyday as a ‘Thanksgiving Day?’ I once heard Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, discuss the importance of gratitude. He said to imagine the worst toothache pain you ever had. Feel how uncomfortable it was and remember the intensity of the pain. Now give thanks, there is no toothache today. How easily we forget to be grateful for not having toothache pain once it is gone. There is so much wisdom in his words.
In day to day life we get caught up in the drama, the rushing around, the responsibilities and the busyness that it is easy to forget to be grateful. We forget that in this moment, we do have enough. We are alive, so there is enough air to breath, food to digest and energy in our bodies. Are we grateful for the bed that we slept in, the heat in the house or the food in the refrigerator? Most of these things we take for granted until they aren’t there. We take for granted that the lights will turn on when we flick the switch, but it is only when there is a power outage that we remember how grateful we are for the convenience of electricity.
Is it only when we are faced with an illness that we are grateful for our bodies? When was the last time you were grateful to your heart for beating or your red blood cells for carrying oxygen? What an amazing miracle our bodies are! Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” When we look at the world as though everything is a miracle, there is gratitude in everything. Thanksgiving does not need to be a once a year holiday. It can be lived daily. Thich Nhat Hanh sums up beautifully what living in gratitude can be, “Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”
“Hard times don't create heroes. It is during the hard times when the 'hero' within us is revealed.” --Bob Riley
The news reports from Texas this week have been heartbreaking. Hurricane Harvey has left behind devastation and despair. But, watching the reports has also been inspiring. People have traveled from across the country to help in any way they can. People and businesses have made generous donations to provide resources to those in need. There have been many stories of heroism and people who have risked their lives to help complete strangers. It is during times like this that our true nature shines through.
When I think of us as people, I envision that we all have an authentic spark within. Religions call this the soul. It is the part of us that is our core essence. At this authentic place within, we are loving, caring, altruistic people. All people have this authentic self within, but I envision it being surrounded by the ego. The greed, fear, anger and violence that is demonstrated daily in many different ways is part of the ego. When the ego is in control it chokes off access to our authentic self and we forget who we are. It is like the bushel hiding the light within. In the moments when we see people, who we call heroes, risking their lives to help others, it is a demonstration of breaking through the shell of the ego to act from the authentic self. These heroes are able to put fear aside and help because they are in alignment with their true nature, their authentic self, their soul. They become focused on helping and giving instead of the ego based worry. When we see people who are acting from their authentic self, we are inspired and reminded that we can all be heroes in our own way. They call us to shine our own authentic spark brightly. We can all be heroes in a difficult time and no matter where you are right now, there are difficult situations that need heroes. Fred Rogers sums this up beautifully. Please watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LGHtc_D328
“Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.” --Mahatma Gandhi
America was founded on the principles of freedom and tolerance of differing beliefs, but we seem to be at a crossroads. How tolerant can we be to the hate and violence that seems to permeate our media. Dictionary.com defines tolerance as, “The ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.” The problem is that when we have tolerance of intolerance, the problem doesn’t go away and those who are intolerant become emboldened. Karl Popper wrote the book, The Open Society and Its Enemies while in political exile during WWII. The two-volume book was published in 1945. The book has been called a philosophical defense of the importance of democracy. One of the points he discusses is the paradox of tolerance. Popper states, “Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.” There is a major point here. Can we be tolerant of intolerance? How do we change intolerance? Peace and acceptance of differences depends on us, as a society, coming to consensus on when to be tolerant and when to be intolerant. To me it comes down to a simple question. Does the intolerance cause suffering for someone else? If the answer is yes, someone is suffering due to intolerance, then we need to be intolerant of their intolerance. If there is no suffering, then it can be tolerated. I can be tolerant of other’s opinions and beliefs, but if their words, actions or behaviors cause suffering to another person, that becomes intolerable and must be addressed. Popper goes on to state, “In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.”
What would the world look like if every individual spoke out about intolerance which causes suffering? It is time. Our future depends on the choices we make today. Peace can only happen when we are truly tolerant of everyone and intolerance is not tolerated.
“We search for happiness everywhere, but we are like Tolstoy’s fabled beggar who spent his life sitting on a pot of gold, under him the whole time. Your treasure–your perfection–is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the busy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart.” — Elizabeth Gilbert
One of the comments I hear repeatedly in sessions is that people just want to be happy. While it seems like a simple request it is elusive for many. Why is happiness so hard to find? I believe that people aren’t looking in the right place. They spend their time searching for something to bring them happiness. Our media has sold us on the belief that we need their product in order to be happy. We can only smile when we have a Coke in our hand or when we are eating a Big Mac. Contrary to what most people believe, getting the perfect job, finding a soulmate, or moving into the dream house are not things that will bring happiness. There are plenty of people who have those things and are still miserable.
Happiness is something that we all have. If you are able to bring happiness and joy to others it is because you have it within you. We can only give what we already have. The problem is that we are often good at giving happiness, but are blocked to receiving it. It is like we are only ever able to exhale without being able to inhale. It just doesn’t work. What we need is to be able to complete the circuit. We need to open ourselves up to receive the joy and experience the happiness that is already ours. Happiness is our default programming, our natural state of being. Our thoughts, worries and ruminations are like a wedge that is driven down, cutting off the return flow of happiness. As long as we are stuck in our head we are not able to feel our natural happiness. When we take time for ourselves, when we slow down and enjoy the smell of the flowers or look in awe at the night sky, we open up the flow. We can also become curious about what the blocks in our lives are. Working to understand and push through the pain of the blocks allows them to dissolve and returns us to the natural state of happiness and joy that is our birthright. Are you ready to look at the blocks to happiness and open up to joy?
“The symbolic language of the crucifixion is the death of the old paradigm; resurrection is a leap into a whole new way of thinking.” –Deepak Chopra
The spring is a special time of year. After months of dormancy, trees, flowers and wildlife begin to show signs of life. It is a time of rebirth and renewal. The celebration of Easter is about crucifixion and resurrection. It is a time of change. It is a time of letting go of the old and ushering in the new. In our lives, we all have aspects of ourselves that we need to let go of. There are beliefs, habits, and choices that no longer serve us. What would happen if we could symbolically crucify these aspects? What would happen if we made a conscious choice to release the beliefs which are holding us back? This is something that we can all do, but first we have to be aware of the limiting beliefs or choices that we are making. Once they are identified, visualize them dying. Let go and release. After the crucifixion, there was a time of mourning. There was a deep sense of loss. After holding on to certain beliefs, engaging in unhealthy habits or making disempowering choices for any length of time, there will be a sense of loss. There will be uncertainty. It is unsettling to let go of something without knowing what will happen next. It is the time between no longer and not yet. When we are able to embrace that time of change and allow ourselves to be in the unknown, a new way of being will emerge. It will be a resurrection of our authentic self. The new way of being will be stronger than the previous version and more fully aligned with who you truly are. There will be a new way of seeing the world that was previously unknown. It is a shift in perspective. It is a new way of being in the world, which is more true to who you are.
This is a special time of the year. It is a time of transformation. What beliefs or habits are you willing to crucify so that your authentic self can be resurrected?
“And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.” Rainer Maria Rilke
Over the holidays we got to talking about how times have changed. Grandparents were sharing stories of when they got their first TV, which amazed my children. I talked about the first TI computer we had and how I remembered typing code in to make a game. While it sounds foreign today, it was not that long ago. We got into a discussion about what antiquated technology my children are going to be telling their children and grandchildren about in the decades to come. It is amazing to think about how fast technology is changing our world and what the future will be like.
Every new year is symbolic for new potential. It is a time to reflect upon that which has not been serving us and to draw a line in the sand. That was then; this is now. This year to come is full of potential, but the first step is to begin visualizing what you would like to see. To conceive of an idea and to nurture it, is to bring it into creation. In Genevieve Behrend’s book, Your Invisible Power, written in 1929, she discusses the importance of moving beyond the known boundaries and into the unknown. She states, “We now fly through the air, not because anyone has been able to change the laws of Nature, but because the inventor of the flying machine learned how to apply Nature’s laws and, by making orderly use of them, produced the desired result. So far as the natural forces are concerned, nothing has changed since the beginning. There were no airplanes in ‘the Year One,’ because those of that generation could not conceive the idea as a practical, working possibility. ‘It has not yet been done,’ was the argument, ‘and it cannot be done.’ Yet the laws and materials for practical flying machines existed then as now.”
This year, what new ideas will be conceived of? What new possibilities will arise? This generation is able to imagine things that were thought impossible by previous generations. What an exciting time to be alive! Here is to a NEW YEAR!
“Yesterday is but today’s memory, and tomorrow is today’s dream.” — Khalil Gibran
I know what you are thinking, ‘you can’t have a memory of something that hasn’t happened yet.’ This is not about time warping, but it is about playing a trick with your mind. Scientists have demonstrated that our minds are not very good at separating reality from imagination. Our bodies will physically react simply to our thoughts. You know if you think about something embarrassing your cheeks begin turning red. If you think about something upsetting your heart beats faster. Our mind is a powerful tool and we can choose to use that tool to set some new intentions for the New Year.
In Solution-Focused Therapy there is a powerful technique called A Letter from the Future. To do this, the client is asked to relax and envision themselves one year from now. They have gotten through the difficulty or challenge that they are currently facing and are doing well. The client is asked to feel that future self and to use their senses to experience what that future self, who is wiser and happier, now knows. They are then asked to begin writing a letter from the future self where the future self describes where they are now at and what they are doing. The future self describes the most important steps they have taken to get to that point. It also offers wise advice and kind words of encouragement.
Our imagination is a powerful tool, but often we use it to create future memories of worst-case scenarios. This New Years, take a few moments to use your imagination and create some fond memories of 2017 that you can’t wait to experience!
“Christmas makes me happy no matter what time of year it comes around.”–Bryan White
I have always loved the feeling that comes at Christmas time. People seem to become more giving, loving and peaceful. It is truly magical when we take time to soak in the season. While Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus during this time, several years ago I heard a new take on the Christmas story that is universal. I’d like to share it with you here.
In the Bible, it says that Mary had a strong faith that was unwavering. Because she was able to hold onto her faith, despite the difficult circumstances around her, she was given a divine gift. In our lives there are divine ideas which come to us. All of the great inventions and movements which changed the world began as an idea. Where do these ideas come from? Mary Morrissey has said that ideas are God’s currency. When we are curious, we are open to new ideas. There is a difference between a low level idea and a divine idea. Low level ideas are based on conditions, what I think is reasonable and possible. Divine ideas are the big ideas that come to us out of the blue. They are the ideas that grab our attention and make us take notice. These ideas are a divine gift. When the angel told Mary what was to come, her immediate question was, ‘How can this be, I’m a virgin.’ When we are given a divine idea it is something new. We have never done it before and it often feels bigger than we are capable of handling. Although Mary’s faith wavered initially, the angel told her of another miracle that was also happening and Mary resumed her faith. We too, can look to other people for inspiration. Amidst all of the negative news, there are stories of miracles. This time of year more attention seems to get focused on the good in the world. When we see what is possible, we gain confidence to follow our own divine ideas. Then there is the period of challenge. While Mary was pregnant she had to travel over difficult terrain. She was denied room at the inn and eventually gave birth in a stable. When we are given a divine idea there will be challenges. It may not be easy and people may not support the idea. It may even appear to be imperfect in how it is coming about. Holding onto faith and not giving up, even when others deny it or turn you away, is part of the journey. When we hold an unwavering faith, we too find that nothing is impossible. Mary is truly an inspiration and looking at her story from a metaphysical perspective gives it a new meaning. What divine idea are you ready to birth into this world?