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Finding a Flock

I spent this weekend with dear friends of mine and all I could think was, “Thank God.” When the world feels like too much, when I recoil in horror after reading the news, good company lifts my spirits. In Sanskrit, the word for that is satsaunga. What follows is a post I wrote about the subject nearly six years ago.

This weekend I had the good fortune of being surrounded by folks who practice the same yoga and meditation I do. We are all close in age with only 10 years between the eldest and the youngest. It was a delicious weekend because we had excellent food, but also because it was one of the rare times I was surrounded by a large group of people who are similar to me. Sure, I’ve been to tons of yoga and meditation retreats, but it’s not as if I’m friends with everyone there like at the gathering this weekend.

Pictured is a flock of starlings.

Experiences like these give me hope for the future. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I had a rough childhood socially. I had friends, but most of them lived far away. I suffered from a lot of peer rejection and self-defined as the “weird” kid. Not because I ate paste or anything, but because I’m extremely sensitive to energy and cared about things like vegetarianism as an 8 year old. “Weird” is a title I’ve carried with me for much of my life. Inherent in “weird” is not fitting in or being an outsider. I’ve been shifting my focus away from that because I see how viewing myself as “weird” has been harmful. This weekend was a prime example because I didn’t feel out of place – I realized it just took me a while to find my flock; as in “Birds of a feather flock together.”

Speaking of birds flocking together, I’m reminded of this video by Sophie Windsor Clive who filmed a flock of starlings. It’s awesome in the truest sense of the word and captures the power and the beauty of belonging.


I know there’s a lot of talk about the necessity of cross pollination, of mixing different classes, races, and mindsets, which I completely agree with, but there’s also something to be said for being with people who get you. People who already have a shared understanding of where you’re coming from so there’s no need to explain things to them. People who love and support you and just want to see you happy. It’s a beautiful and touching thing, that sort of community. That’s what inspires me most: Someone like me who constantly defined herself as “different” found herself around other “different” people. Like those starlings who created new shapes by flying together, when people join in groups, beautiful things can happen. Because ultimately even the “loners” and “freaks” will find others like them. It may just take a while. In essence, no one is as alone as they think they are. And when a bird finds its flock, there’s great power in that.

I dream of a world where everyone feels a sense of community and belonging. A world where every person has a support network. A world where no one has to fend for themselves because we are all taking care of each other. A world where we can all live happy, joyous, and free. A world where we all fly with a flock that fits us.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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Divine Perfection for the Flawed Human

Several years ago, I wrote a post for Quarterlette.com called “Opportunity will beat down your door.” It’s a cheery and inspirational post about my move to San Francisco, explaining opportunity doesn’t knock once, it will beat down your door. In other words, there are certain things the universe will keep throwing in your face over and over again.

Right now I’m experiencing the shadow side of opportunity beating down my door. For years, the message I’ve received over and over again is, “You need to rest.” My response was, “By rest, you mean do more, right? You mean I need to try harder?” This week it became clear to me it’s time to listen to the message the universe is telling me. I can’t keep operating my life at the pace I have been, and instead of doors opening for me, they’re closing, forcing me to rest. Not for punishment, not to be mean, but to become more perfect.

Perfect.

That may sound strange, particularly because our conception of perfection at least in the U.S. is without flaws, but that’s not what I’m referring to here. Did you know an early definition of perfect is, “Brought to consummation or completeness?” That’s coming from the1913 Webster’s Writers’ Dictionary, by the way. I love this concept for many reasons. The first is I’m a one on the Enneagram, so I’m all about finding holy perfection, but second, the definition relates to my post from last week about moving from the crude to the subtle.

In our move from the crude to the subtle, that means we are all becoming more perfect, not because we then exist without flaws, but because eventually we join with the subtle; we experience merger with the subtle and thus completeness. You probably already know this, but that’s exactly what the word “yoga” means – unification.

In Sanskrit, the word yoga has two root verbs. One root verb is “Yuj” and another root verb is “yunj.” “Yuj” means to add, as in two plus two equals four. The other root verb for yoga is “yunj,” and it means to unify. My spiritual teacher gives the example of sugar and water. Adding sugar to water, sugar won’t be in a separate form from water – there will only be sugar water, and that’s precisely the unification we’re all moving toward: supreme sweetness.

Why do I bring this up? For me, it’s easy to launch into compare and despair. It’s easy for me to look at someone else and say, “Why don’t I have what they have? Why doesn’t my life look like theirs?” Particularly right now when many areas of my life are not what I’d like them to be, I start thinking I’m cursed. Not really, but it’s easy for me to slip into a victim mentality. When I think about yoga, I’m reminded all the things that happen to me, all the things I perceive to be good, and all the things I perceive to be bad, are bringing me closer to the supreme for the purpose of unification. That means the universe will keep sending me the same damn message over and over again because ultimately it’s for my benefit.

I dream of a world where we realize all the things that happen to us are in service of divine perfection. A world where we recognize we are moving from the crude to the subtle. A world where we understand we’re striving for unification in body, mind, and spirit. A world where we accept what the universe tells us.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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Bringing Us Closer

According to the spiritual philosophy I ascribe to, we are all moving from imperfection to perfection. That means we are all growing, changing, developing. We are progressing from crude to subtle, culminating in merger with the subtlest entity of them all: The source of all creation.

There is a part of me that expects this process of moving from crude to subtle to be easy, painless, and strewn with roses. However, I’m reminded a caterpillar doesn’t become a butterfly without struggle. That means in my movement toward the source of all creation, there will be some struggle, and dare I say it?, pain.

The last month especially is not what I would call a pleasure cruise: nightmares, grief, health troubles, financial insecurity. It’s enough to make a gal throw her hands up in the air and ask, “Why?!?” The only conclusion I can come to, the only conclusion that makes sense to me, is this is to bring me closer to my nearest and dearest, my most precious Self. This is aiding me on my path to become even more subtle.

I’m on an aquatic kick.

If the end game is merger with the Supreme, then I have to believe everything that happens to me is in service of that goal. Everything that happens to me is precisely so I can move closer and closer, each breath to my beloved. Sometimes I think my beloved is the worst kind of lover – jealous and possessive, not above lying and scheming – all to bring me closer. All so I can turn to my higher power over and over again. Because that’s precisely what’s happening right now.

This month I’ve meditated with a fervor that hasn’t been the case for a long time. Every spare minute it seems I’m thinking about the divine; aching, yearning, longing to feel better. To escape the pain I’m feeling in a constructive way. All this pain is not for punishment, it’s not for a random, no-good reason. It’s forcing me closer to God, and to God in the form of my community, and that’s not such a bad thing.

My spiritual teacher says, “You should always remember that you are the children of the [Cosmic Consciousness] and it is your birthright to be one with Him. It is your birthright to sit upon His lap. Nobody can debar you from this birthright. That is why, knowingly or unknowingly, consciously or unconsciously, you should all move towards Him and be one with Him. This is the path of humanity.”

I dream of a world where we consciously move closer to the divine. A world where we take our pain and use it as a tool of transformation. A world where we understand even the difficult things happen ultimately for our own good.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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There, Too

Life feels hard right now. My peppy outlook on life is not so peppy at the moment. Things are not working out how I’d like, leaving me feeling frustrated and despondent.

The other day I had a vision of myself sinking to the bottom of the ocean floor and saw my spiritual teacher there with me, which inspired a poem.

I am there too

In the darkness and the mourning,
I am there too
In the somber and the despairing,
I am there too
In the heavy and the hopeless,
I am there too
I am there, with you

In the deepest depths and the lowest lows,
I am there, with you
Not one minute alone
Not one minute by yourself
I’m with you always
I am your truest Self

Even in the dark, light may be found.

I’m not sure I can express the significance of this for me. I’ve tried so hard not to feel sad or depressed or hopeless. In my mind, a divine presence is associated with happiness, inspiration, and hope. That means to feel a divine presence, I thought I had to be in those states. The vision I had reminds me that’s false.

My spiritual tradition doesn’t believe in hell and it is said, “[S]piritual aspirants should never be unnecessarily worried about heaven and hell. If one does noble deeds or sings spiritual songs in hell, it is the bounden duty of the Lord of hell to be there, too, and thus it automatically ceases to be a hell. You can transform a hell into a heaven.”

That means God is there too. Love is there too. It’s not sequestered to the happy places, the joyful places. The presence of a power greater than myself is found in the dark places too, the despairing places. There is no place I can go, either literally or figuratively, where the divine is not. It’s a great comfort to me knowing I don’t have to pretend things are alright or put on a happy face in order to feel connection, because no matter where I go, I am not alone.

I dream of a world where we feel the presence of a power greater than ourselves at all times. A world where we allow ourselves to feel all of our feelings, no matter how scary. A world where we realize wherever we go, God is there too.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

P.S. Did you know “Another World is Probable” is also a podcast? Click here to subscribe.

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A Miracle We Give Ourselves

I notice there’s a tendency in me and in society to avoid the deep and dark places. We are uncomfortable with displays of depression and despair.

The other day, a friend posted on facebook that she felt depressed and the majority of her friends said, “Are you getting help? Are you taking medication?” I’m not saying people shouldn’t take meds and shouldn’t seek help, but it’s interesting to notice their reactions. How quickly people turned to solutions instead of saying, “I hear you,” or “Me too.”

I understand the rush toward solutions. I know in myself, the minute I feel depressed or hopeless, I want to leave those states as quickly as possible. I don’t want to sit with the feelings, I don’t want to acknowledge them, I don’t want to give them air time. If I could bypass all the uncomfortable feelings, that would be great, thanks.

Even small acts of love can have great effects.

As my therapist reminds me, it doesn’t work that way. I can’t pretend certain feelings don’t exist just because I’d rather they didn’t. The only way to move through the feelings is to first have awareness of them, and second to feel them. In thinking of my spiritual practices, I’d like to add a third step.

I am reminded of the work crafted by a monk I knew. He used to say every cell of our body is longing for liberation, is longing for oneness with something greater than ourselves. Not only the parts we acknowledge, but the parts we push away as well. He went to graduate school for psychology and developed a mantra therapy technique combining what he learned there with the principles of our yoga and meditation group. In these heart circles, as he called them, people would sit in a circle. One person would sit in the center of the circle and think about an emotion or belief they wanted release from. Then everyone on the perimeter sang to the person in the center. They verbally bathed the person with a Sanskrit mantra, sending them love. They imagined love coming through them and directed it to the person in the center of the circle.

I’ve been in many a circle, and people often weep or their expression softens or they start beaming. Something happens. Something happens because all parts of us want love. All parts want acknowledgment. All parts want us to say, “I see you, I hear you, and I love you.”

This week as I’ve sat with my own hard feelings, I’ve directed love their way. Not to drown them out, but in an act of tenderness and care. As Doreen Virtue says, “Love is the miracle that heals all things,” and that includes me. Instead of hating certain emotions, instead of pushing them away, instead of pretending they don’t exist, instead of skipping over them, I’m sending them love. I’m going to the deepest, darkest places within me and saying, “I’m here and I love you,” because that’s ultimately what I want. And what we all want.

I dream of a world where we give all parts of ourselves air time. A world where we embrace all parts of ourselves and say, “I’m here and I love you.” A world where we recognize love is the miracle that heals all things and it’s a miracle we can give to ourselves.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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The Deep Question

It’s been a rough week. I found out a friend of mine committed suicide and it sent me reeling. Not only am I grieving the loss of my friend, but I’m also questioning the meaning of life, what my priorities are, how I’m spending my days, etc. The inconsequential questions, in other words.

Primarily what her death brought up in me is nihilism. What’s the point of it all? What am I doing here? In our capitalistic culture I see an emphasis on pleasure. On squeezing every last drop of joy out of life that we possibly can. Of doing cool and unusual things – swimming with dolphins in Maui, hiking up Mt. Everest, and then snapping an instagram photo so everyone knows about it. I’m not saying these are inherently bad things, but should they be the point of life? Our entire focus? What about acquiring wealth and power? Is that the point of life? Should we all be aiming to buy a Tesla and run a Fortune 500 company?

Let’s dive deep like this sea turtle.

My friend’s death reminds me we can’t take any of these things with us when we go. When we leave the material world, we leave everything behind. Considering all this put me in a funk. In times like these, I turn to the things I know work: sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Just kidding. I turned to my spiritual practices and reached out to friends.

Looking at my spiritual practices, the point of life is not to suck every ounce of pleasure that we can from it. The point of life is to realize the beloved. To move closer to our nearest and dearest, our most precious entity. A friend reminded me this happens not through withdrawing from life to sit on a mountaintop in meditation. It happens by being here, being present, engaging. I know some spiritual paths expound complete renunciation, but mine is not one of them.

My spiritual path advocates subjective approach and objective adjustment, which as I’ve mentioned before, makes zero sense to me. Until now. Now I understand. It means, “Keep your eyes trained on the divine and adjust how you do that based on circumstances.” For instance, if I broke my leg and couldn’t sit in a proper meditation position, that’s OK, I can meditate lying down. The point is, don’t stop. Keep going. I don’t have to do things perfectly or follow every rule set forth by a spiritual adviser. The important thing is to keep moving.

I’m tearing up writing this because I’m thinking of my friend who felt so hopeless, so despairing, she took her life. I’m tearing up writing this because I, too, know what it’s like to want to stop. To feel hopeless and despairing. To believe nothing will change and to ask, “What’s the point?” I sympathize with my friend because sometimes to continue moving feels like the hardest possible thing. But I also know for me there is no other choice. Death is like changing a t-shirt, according to my spiritual teacher, so that means I’ll reincarnate in another body and trade one set of circumstances for another.

If the point of life is sacred union with something greater than myself, I have to live in such a way that I experience the sacred and holy beyond when I’m meditating. I am not the Buddha. I don’t have the patience to sit in endless meditation day after day, night after night. I have to engage in the world, and to engage in the world in a way that doesn’t feel pointless, means I must feel the touch of the eternal even in the ephemeral.

I dream of a world where we see the divine in all things. A world where we keep going even when times are tough. A world where we feel our feelings and keep in mind feelings are not facts.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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The Great Equalizer

Maybe I’m off base, but it seems to me in the West there’s a notion spirituality is for the privileged. For people who don’t have to worry so much about the mundane necessities of life. For people who have time and space to contemplate why they’re here and what their purpose is. But that’s not true; spirituality is for all. It’s everyone’s birthright.

I understand why someone would tell me otherwise, because when you don’t have a place to live, it’s hard to ruminate on the sacred. I’m nothing if not practical. Our basic needs must be met, yet at the same time we keep chasing after the next thing and then the next. If not something we desire, then something we have to get done. However, there’s always something on the to-do list. When does it end?

Mmmm, equality, symmetry.

Paraphrasing my spiritual teacher, there is in the living being a thirst for limitlessness. Knowingly or unknowingly, human beings are running after limitlessness. However, it is not possible for limited objects to quench one’s thirst. That means it doesn’t matter how much money I have or how good I look in a bathing suit or who is by my side. There will always be a longing and a yearning for something more, something greater.

That longing, that yearning, is not confined to a privileged few. Nor is it a luxury. From my perspective, it’s not a luxury because without it, we have people and leaders who are interested only in satisfying their own desires. Without it, we have people who feel separate from each other and treat each other as such. Without it, the environment becomes a resource we pillage instead of a sacred entity.

Look, I realize all the world’s problems can’t be solved by meditating. We are human beings living in a world of matter. That means action is necessary. Meditating on ending world hunger doesn’t end world hunger. But how do you convince people ending world hunger is a good idea? In my mind, that comes from spirituality. From opening up their hearts. The meditation I practice connects me to all living beings and doing so means I’m not OK with them coming to harm. I recognize myself in others as opposed to seeing them as strangers, and that comes directly from my spiritual practice.

Spirituality is the great equalizer because it’s a reminder we all want the same things and we all belong to each other. It’s a reminder we’re all in this together. Not only that, spirituality is the only thing that will satisfy our ultimate longing because material goods never will. That’s true not only for some, but for all.

I dream of a world where we realize what we hunger for exists on the spiritual plane. A world where we realize we all want the same things. A world where we view spirituality as a necessity rather than a luxury because we are all striving for eternal bliss.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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The Circle of Life

Doesn’t the title of this post make you want to break into song? If I felt more confident in my singing voice I’d serenade you. Ahem, anyway, all this week I’ve contemplated the circle of life. Within the span of 24 hours I found out two people I know are pregnant and another lost her mother. The juxtaposition of the two was enough to give me emotional whiplash.

In Sanskrit, the term for this is saḿsára, which means the entity that constantly keeps moving. As we all know, that’s what life does. It keeps moving even when we want it to stop, even when it seems like the world should stand still, it keeps spinning. It’s both a blessing and a curse. I don’t have any particular great insights. The whole thing sounds exhausting, and feels that way too. I’d like a break, but maybe that’s also particularly true for me because for a full week I’ve had a nightmare every night.

Isn’t this a great photo?

The “break” though doesn’t come from shuffling off this mortal coil, at least according to the spiritual philosophy I ascribe to. Because I believe in reincarnation, once I die, I’ll be reborn. The circle of life continues not only in general, but for me as well. Death and birth, death and birth. When does it end?

My spiritual teacher says, “Whichever way we look, we see only the external dynamism of everything, and as we witness this external dynamism, we feel pleasure when we get something, we feel pain when we lose something. If we try to discover the ultimate reality hidden within the apparent reality, we shall feel neither the momentary pleasure of gain in the mundane world, nor the sorrow of loss in the mundane world. The Supreme Entity which is neither to be obtained nor to be lost will remain always with us, and we shall remain absorbed in the eternal bliss of the companionship of that Supreme Entity.”

That sounds nice right now. To remain absorbed in eternal bliss. To escape the cycle of pain and pleasure, death and birth.

I write about these things because I need the reminder, and I suspect others do too. I need the reminder of what’s permanent, of what I can attach to, of what’s constant. Otherwise it’s easy for my mood to swing from high to low in an instant and the whole thing is exhausting. All I can do, all that I try to do, is keep my mind trained on my higher power, on the divine and loving presence that’s with me always so that eventually two become one.

I dream of a world where we all feel eternal bliss. A world where we train our sights on a constant, permanent entity. A world where we escape the circle of life.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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Love Means Saying No

When I think “love,” I think soft, gentle, and kind. I also think “permissive.” If I love someone, I want them to have everything they desire. But that’s not real love. Real love also means saying “no.”

I think we all know this. We talk about it often in the context of parents and children. Children frequently want things that aren’t good for them, like to eat toxic paint, and the parent has to put his or her foot down. In that case, it’s easy to understand saying “no” is ultimately for the child’s best interest. But what about when it comes to ourselves? Can we tell ourselves “no” when a part of us wants to say “yes?”

Love requires boundaries.

Over the years, I’ve come to see I have many internal parts or selves. I have multiple inner children, an inner teenager, a loving parent, a witnessing entity. There are so many internal “me’s” I could easily fill up a minivan. That means sometimes I’ll feel conflicted because one part of me wants something and another part does not. What to do in that situation? Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I have to be a parent to myself as well. I have to say no to myself just as I would to an external child.

It’s so hard though. I love myself and want myself to have everything I desire. I want to say “yes” unequivocally. It feels good to say yes. Especially saying yes to my inner child. Somehow it’s easier for me to say “no” to my adult than it is to say “no” to my inner child. But that’s not love. Yes, love is soft, gentle, and kind, but it’s also tough, firm, and at times harsh. My spiritual teacher talks about this. He says, “Sometimes I appear harsh to some. But that is for love. If I were indifferent, there would be no need for scolding or punishment.” He also says, “Punishment alone, without love, is not good. Love and punishment should go together, and the degree of punishment should never exceed the degree of love.”

Inherent in his statement is the notion love and punishment go hand in hand. To only shower a being with love and affection, to only say yes, to give in to everything the person wants, is not love. In fact, it’s damaging, as anyone who’s read or seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory knows. One of the characters, Veruca Salt, gets everything she ever wants, has never heard the word “no” in her life. In the movie, Veruca wants her father to buy her one of Wonka’s golden egg-laying geese. After Wonka refuses, Veruca goes on a tirade by trashing the room and disturbing the Oompa Loompas’ work in the process. She climbs onto an Eggdicator and is dropped down into the furnace holding room after being rejected as a “bad egg” by the machine. A reminder for us all that nothing good comes from being spoiled. Nothing good comes from always saying “yes.”

I dream of a world where we realize the most loving thing we can do for ourselves sometimes is to say “no,” even if a part of us wants to say “yes.” A world where we recognize love is better with boundaries. A world where we remember love is soft and gentle, but it’s also tough and strong.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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The Beloved is Me (and You)

Maybe it’s because Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, but I keep thinking about a post I wrote more than a year ago on being the beloved. Recognizing the beloved is me (and you). I’m sharing it again with you now.

The other day I had a conversation with my friend and neighbor about how I’m constantly seeking love from the “other.” And what I’m still learning is how to give love to myself and be OK with my own company. She reminded me while it’s true it’s important to love ourselves, it’s also important to remember we are the beloved. That we are the divine in physical form and we are already loved and cherished more than we can imagine.

My spiritual teacher says pretty much the same thing, but he adds in a twist and mentions the notion of subject and object. He says when we are meditating, we are thinking of God, we think of ourselves as the subject because we are the ones doing, we are the ones meditating. In actuality, God is meditating on us and we are the object. I think I’ve heard that a bajillion times and I just. don’t. get. it. Maybe it’s because I never learned grammar in elementary and middle school, but I don’t connect with the subject and object analogy.

The beloved is me, and you, and these penguins.

I started thinking about this more, puzzling over how to feel into the notion I am the beloved, the beloved is me. I started thinking about the people I love unconditionally, the people I would do anything for, and don’t require anything in return because loving them is enough. One such person is my niece (not by blood), nicknamed Buddha. This is a girl I fell in love with at first sight. I’ve sung her to sleep, I’ve wiped her butt happily while she was potty training, I’ve kissed her, held her, and loved her even while she threw her worst temper tantrums.

It occurred to me God loves me, and us, the way I love my niece. All the love I feel for Buddha, that’s exactly how God feels about me, plus more. I am loved, cherished, and adored beyond measure. Just now I looked up from my computer to the sky outside and saw a heart in the clouds as if to remind me, “Yes, Rebekah, love is everywhere and you are loved that much.”

Take a moment with me and feel into that. Think of some entity, whether it’s a person or a pet, who you love unconditionally and now imagine all the love you feel for them directed at yourself. Feel the depth and breadth of love for you, for us.

I dream of a world where we feel how loved we are. A world where even at our most alone, we don’t feel lonely because we sense the love of something greater than ourselves. A world where we recognize we are the beloved.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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