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Love for the New Year

As this year is quickly coming to a close, I’m thinking about what I’d like the new year to bring. If I’m honest, I want to be happy all the time. I want my life to be a series of good things, of wishes coming true, of ease and grace. Yet, as I look back at this year, or any year, really, I see that’s not possible. Life is good things and bad things, marriages and divorces, deaths and births all smushed together.

I’ve tried to escape pain, to only experience pleasure, but pain is inescapable. There will always be pain and there will always be pleasure, but there will also always be something more than either. Call it love, call it God, call it Spirit, call it the universe. There exists something beyond me, that’s bigger than me that gives me peace of mind no matter what.

New Year

This isn’t me but it could be.

I used to set New Year’s resolutions, which morphed into intentions. My only intention for this year is to align myself closer with God, Spirit, the universe. When I’m in alignment, when I’m “feeling the love” so to speak, I feel OK regardless of the circumstances. So often I get caught up in one thing or another; the drama overtakes me and I overidentify with my pain. I feel helpless, like a little boat upon the sea getting bashed about by waves and wind.

I equate syncing up with the universe as diving down deep into the ocean where the water is less choppy and the wind blows above me. In essence, a state of mental equipoise. How great does that sound?!? I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to maintain a state of detachment, but I’d sure like to try. This year I’d like to experience bliss not attached to people or circumstances, but rather self-generating through dint of my spiritual practices. This year I’d like to experience divine, unconditional love. The kind I feel as a constant presence. This year I’d like to take a different approach to my trials as I remember their transient nature. I want to use my gifts to serve others in anyway I can and treat myself with all the love, care, and attention I deserve.

I have that wish for others too. I wish that we may all experience untold bliss like we’ve never experienced before. That we ascend to new heights and feel just how loved we are. That we maintain our mental equipoise and align ourselves with something greater than us. That we serve ourselves and others and practice the golden rule.

I dream of a world that I just described, a world where 2015 is a bright and blessed year for all of us. A world where we join together to create a new Earth.

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

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The Light Within

Considering today is not only the solstice but Chanukah, I figured it would be a good time to talk about light and what it’s become a metaphor of.

One of the principles of Chanukah that I like the most is the idea that one candle may kindle the light of many others and yet lose none of its own light. Some people say that we’re already enlightened. I don’t subscribe to that idea because I for one have too many hangups and issues to consider myself to be on par with Lord Buddha, someone who I think we can all agree was enlightened.

Maybe within each of us there is a canyon of aitinght

Maybe within each of us there is a canyon of light waiting to get out.

What I do have, what we all have, is a soul, a spark, a piece of consciousness. In other words, light. I consider enlightenment to be a state of grace where consciousness or light is so vast and bright that the separation between me and what is not me no longer exists. I consider it my duty to remind others of their own light, of their own consciousness. In other words, to be a candle that kindles the light of many others.

During this holiday season it’s both easy to forget and easy to remember that life is not just about consuming things: food, drinks, or gifts. That we are more than human machines driven by impulse and instinct. We each have a light within us that is longing to burn ever brighter, to radiate ourselves and those around us.

Something important to remember though, is we do have human bodies, we aren’t just light beings. A friend circulated this post by Jeff Brown the other day who said:

“Real spirituality is all about ‘enrealment’ — it includes everything human in the equation. The real now is the one that includes everything we left behind on the path. We must work through our story, before the unresolved elements of our story kill us.”

I absolutely agree. My spiritual path is about using everything as a vehicle for liberation or enlightenment. About not running from feelings and tough times, and yet always remembering there is something more to me. Something outside the drama, the ups and downs, a witnessing part of me that remains unaffected and emits a light that can never be diminished. It’s my job to keep growing that light, to keep remembering its presence, and to kindle that light in others.

May you also remember the light being that you are. May you remember you are more than the sum of your parts, and may you also endeavor to shine a light on all parts of yourself because that is where enlightenment happens.

I dream of a world where we remember our brightness and we share that brightness with others. A world where we’re not scared of shadows because shadows are where light is most needed. A world where we embrace all parts of ourselves as we kindle the flame of enlightenment.

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

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Forget the Future

My mother recorded the audio for this post because I’m sick. =(

I have a tendency to focus on the future. And I mean more than being goal-oriented. I view the future as a tantalizing prospect and look forward to it with giddy anticipation. When I think of the future, it’s always as an absolute, not a possibility. I think of the future as a book that’s already written just waiting for me to read. Except, that’s not true. The future is more like a “choose your own adventure story.”

Van in the dust

The future is an open road!

I think I’ve already mentioned how I’ve yet to meet a psychic who can accurately predict my future. I was reminded of that yet again recently. I visited a city that she said would be great for me, where she thought I’d really flourish. It’s been a question in my mind ever since she suggested it two years ago. I visited the city and felt . . . nothing. I didn’t feel a hum of excitement or awe or frisson. Mostly I felt bored and uninspired.

My dad keeps saying to me there’s no way you can tell whether you’ll like living somewhere after only a weekend, but I think he’s wrong. I think you can tell almost immediately because you’re picking up on something – a vibration, an energy, something that notifies you whether a place is yours or not. After coming back from this trip I felt elated, not because I enjoyed the city, but because I finally felt that the world is my oyster.

I’ve honestly believed my life had a certain trajectory; that the future was decided, but after going on this trip I realized it’s not. The future is a series of possibilities, of adventures that I get to choose. All of my actions will have reactions – that’s a law of nature – but the actions I take now affect my future. The future is not something to live into, it’s something I’m creating with each and every moment with all the decisions I’m making right this instant.

I’m terribly excited by this realization because it relates to the #blacklivesmatter movement. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been despondent thinking about race in the U.S. and how people of color are treated. It seems inevitable that injustice will continue and that whatever will happen will happen. But when I realize the future is not decided, that we’re co-creating the future, we can establish a new way of being, of living, of treating each other.

In physics, if a ball is on a certain track, the slightest bump can cause the ball to veer off course. In the beginning, the change will be miniscule, but eventually, the difference between where the ball could have gone and where it ends up will be vast. That means the tiniest actions on our part could greatly affect the future. That to me means I can forget about the future because it’s the present that really matters.

I dream of a world where we understand the future is wide open with possibilities. A world where we know anything can happen. A world where we take the steps now for a future we’d like to create. A world where we understand even the slightest change can make the biggest difference.

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

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Just as Green

I have a tendency to romanticize/idealize places. I think that if only I could live in _______ all my problems will be solved. That’s an exaggeration, but not by much.

I suffer from sleep problems, as in, I don’t sleep well and I’m extremely sensitive to noise even with a white noise machine and earplugs. People kept telling me to move to a super remote place because remote places are quieter, and then I’d be able to sleep through the night. So I did. I temporarily moved to a retreat site in Missouri where the closest town – 20 minutes away – has a population of 2,000 people.

green grass

The grass is NOT greener on the other side.

When I got there, I found that the grass was not greener, so to speak, but just as green as anywhere else. Much to my surprise I still had problems sleeping – a train ran through nearby with a loud whistle, I heard planes flying overhead, the hum of the refrigerator bugged me, etc. I don’t regret the decision because moving to Missouri gave me a sense of freedom and relief I hadn’t experienced in probably years. I didn’t worry about anyone playing loud music on the weekends because I couldn’t even see my closest neighbors. I checked the mail whenever I wanted (in my last place the mailbox was locked and the key hung in my landlady’s house); if I needed a trash bag I walked into the main house and grabbed one. If I needed some spices I went to the commercial kitchen to get them.

Missouri was good for my soul but not for my body – alas, I still wasn’t sleeping. The whole thing made me realize external places are not what need to change, I need to change. I broke down and bought myself some sleep headphones, i.e. headphones specifically designed for sleeping, which I didn’t know existed until about a month ago. If being literally in the middle of nowhere was still too noisy for me, clearly nowhere except a sensory deprivation tank will be quiet enough.

Mostly what this all means, what I’m taking away from the experience, is nowhere is a magic bullet, nowhere will cure all my problems because the majority of my problems are internal. That’s not to say some places aren’t better than others – some places are more suited to my needs, but it’s unrealistic to think moving somewhere will make all my troubles disappear. More likely, I’ll have new and different problems. No place is a utopia as much as I like to fantasize about one. I do think the world can be a better place, but again and again I see a “utopia” manifests with effort and perseverance, not some magic wand or a plane ticket.

I dream of a world where we realize going somewhere else won’t make our troubles disappear, they might just go into hiding for a while. A world where we realize usually we are the ones that need to change. A world where instead of fantasizing about a place where the grass is greener, we realize the grass is just as green.

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

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Santosha, or Contentment

In yoga there is a concept of santosha, or contentment that I’ve always struggled with. I am rarely content with what I have and am usually focused on what’s next as opposed to what is. This week I had two interactions that brought some perspective.

When I flew back to the West Coast a couple of Saturdays ago, I started chatting with the guy next to me. I asked him if he liked where he lived and the answer was, “No.” When I asked him why he’s lived there so long he said because of his job. In that moment, I felt a swell of gratitude and contentment.

contentment

So, I know I’m inferring some things, but this guy sure looks content!

My gypsy lifestyle is not without its challenges (hello moving more times than years I’ve been alive), but the one thing I will say is if I’m unhappy in a place I’ll move. I’d much rather take a chance on an uncertain future than a discontented secure one. I love that about myself. I appreciate the fact I’m willing to take a risk, to do the scary thing, in the hopes it will pay off.

In this same conversation, my seatmate asked me if I traveled much. My curt reply was, “Yes.” It got me thinking about all the places I’ve been lucky enough to see in my life. Usually I’m comparing myself with others and coming up short. I’ll think to myself, “Yeah, I’ve traveled a lot, but I haven’t traveled as much as so-and-so,” or, “Yeah, but I haven’t been to _____.” I’m constantly striving ahead instead of being content with what I have. In that reflective plane ride, I felt appreciation for the places I’ve seen, and the places I’ve lived.

A few days after I arrived, I got my haircut. The hairdresser started telling me about her life and I was again amazed to hear about someone’s life that is so different from mine. She’s 23 and has never lived anywhere else. She’s barely left the state. She also told me about her sister, who is close to my age, and has the sort of life I thought I would have at 30: married, owns a house, possibly babies in the future. Her sister also hasn’t left the state or lived anywhere else. In that moment, I peeked into the life of someone else and found that in fact I am content with my own.

What I am getting at here, perhaps poorly, is that so often I look at what I don’t have, how my life doesn’t look the way I think it should, and I forget to remember what’s great about it. And I don’t mean the things we’re all grateful for – a place to sleep, enough to eat, great friends – I mean the character traits I possess, the way I choose to live my life. I see possibilities of other ways of being and I feel content because despite everything, life is pretty good.

I dream of a world where we’re all able to cultivate contentment for ourselves. A world where we want what we already have. A world where we take the time to pause and congratulate ourselves for what we’re doing right. A world where we have santosha.

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

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What is “The Truth”?

I am obsessed with “the truth.” Maybe it’s a hallmark of being a journalist, but I’m constantly searching for “the Truth” with a capital T. When people throw out platitudes like “the truth is relative,” and “everybody has their own truth,” I’m unsatisfied because why? Why is the truth relative? Why does everyone have their own truth?

Last week, I wrote about logic versus intuition, and defined intuition as a reflection of consciousness. I also said perhaps the reason why intuition can be wrong is that the reflection isn’t clear and maybe it’s like smudges on a mirror.

trees

Being outside in nature also calms the mind down and allows for intuition to come through.

This week I did some more investigation because I wasn’t fully satisfied with that answer. My spiritual teacher says there are “layers of the mind” and this affects the different ways in which humans operate. One layer is responsible for satisfying what we sense through the body. So, for instance, if I’m cold and reach for a blanket, that’s one layer of the mind. Another layer of the mind deals with conscious thought like problem-solving and intellectual reasoning.

The layer I’m interested in at the moment is the layer where intuition comes in. My teacher uses a Sanskrit word that I am sure to mispronounce, but the English translation is “supramental” or “higher mind.” This is the layer responsible for scientific discoveries and creative insight. When the lower levels of the mind are quiet, the higher mind comes through. This is what Michelangelo is referring to when he likened the creative process to “a seizure of the soul” or when Albert Einstein said in reference to discovering relativity, “There is no logical way to the discovery of these elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition.”

So what happens after the message gets delivered, if you will? When a person gets an intuitive hit, it still has to filter through their mind and sift through biases and experiences, aka, the smudges on a mirror. That explains why the truth is relative – because each person has their own experiences and biases the intuitive message is coming through. For each person, the reflection of consciousness looks a little bit different.

That means there is an absolute truth, but I am not able to access it because my mirror is too dirty. The quickest way to clean the mirror, according to my teacher, is to meditate because meditation silences the lower layers of the mind and allows a person to access the higher ones. If you can believe it, the layer where intuition lives is not the highest layer of the mind! The higher layers are ones where duality ceases to exist and a person sees everything as an expression of Spirit. But that is perhaps another post for another time.

I dream of a world where we all quiet our minds and allow something greater than us to come through. A world where we understand that behind the relative truth is an absolute truth that maybe we can’t quite see. A world where we each seek to know that absolute truth and arrive at those higher layers.

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

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Logic versus Intuition

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about logic and intuition. I notice that for the most part people seem to advocate one or the other.

On the logic side, science and rationality are worshipped. Some people disregard anything that cannot be proved scientifically. If there’s no randomized controlled trial, the thing is full of crap. This is why people say homeopathics are snake oil, despite the loads of anecdotal evidence that say otherwise. Maybe what’s happening is our scientific instruments aren’t sensitive enough yet to measure homeopathics.

I like this picture because it represents division, but at the same time unison.

I like this picture because it represents division, but at the same time unison.

Also, the thing about randomized controlled trials is they’re imperfect and there is often conflicting evidence. In radiology, for instance, a subject I am very familiar with as writing about CT scans, MRIs, and ultrasounds is my primary source of income, there’s a huge debate about breast cancer screening. A study from Canada recently stated breast cancer screening causes more harm than good. The researchers argue breast cancer screening leads to overdiagnosis, or diagnosing tumors as cancerous that may not become problematic. In other words, diagnosing cancer too much.

On the other hand, there are also randomized controlled trials stating the opposite, that breast cancer screening causes early diagnosis, i.e., catching a cancer early, and not overdiagnosis. Advocates vehemently argue the true harm to women is from these scientific studies that scare women into believing they don’t need their regular mammograms. Who is right?

For those who eschew science and rationality, there’s a belief in the infallibility of intuition, that intuition is always right.  Except, that’s not always true and not everybody’s intuition is equally valid. How many times have we watched a contestant on The Bachelor declare they know they’ll receive the final rose? That “their gut” tells them they’ve found the love of their life and then the person ends up being wrong? Clearly there’s something going on here.

My spiritual teacher defines intuition as a reflection of Consciousness, or Spirit. He also says that meditation leads to a clearer reflection of Consciousness. In that context, it makes sense why people can be off when they say they’re using their intuition; either the person is really tapping into their ego, or their reflection to Consciousness isn’t clear. Perhaps it’s like a mirror and some people have smudges all over it so they can see some of the reflection but not all of it.

I have a tendency to completely accept something a person says if they say it came from their intuition, especially if it can’t be scientifically proved. However, people, me included, are wrong sometimes! I have a brain so I need to use it!

My spiritual teacher also says:

The highest treasure of human beings, distinct from other creatures, is their intellectual superiority. Had there been no intelligence in humans, they would hardly be different from other animals. This philosophical consciousness will lead humanity to greater intellectuality. And this constant pursuit of intellectuality leads one to its furthest limit, where intuition begins. – Shrii Shrii Anandamurtii

Intuition is valued, of course, but so is intellect. Maybe it’s time I start using both logic and intuition. Maybe we all need that integration.

I dream of a world where we don’t accept something as true just because someone said they had a feeling about it. And at the same time, I dream of a world where we understand some things are beyond logic, some things don’t make sense and they may never will. A world that’s not logic versus intuition, but a world that relies on logic and intuition.

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

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Doing it Alone

The other day a friend and I started to watch an HBO show called Enlightened. The basic gist is a woman has a nervous breakdown and goes to Hawaii to get her health back. She returns to her normal life and is struggling to implement all the new things that she learned like daily meditation or giving up her destructive habits. She often gets frustrated and stops. Throughout the show I kept saying, “That woman needs some friends!”

I think often when it comes to changing a habit, belief, or behavior, there’s an idea that willpower will be enough. That a person can, and should, be able to tackle the issue on their own. I think that’s why the self-help market is so huge – people want to change and believe that desire is all they need. In my opinion, that desire or determination is the first step. What solidifies a habit, belief, or behavior (besides repetition) is support.

What I like about this picture is it demonstrates aloneness and togetherness at the same time!

What I like about this picture is it demonstrates aloneness and togetherness at the same time!

The reason I kept yelling at the TV screen that the main character needed some friends, is because it’s hard to change. No epiphany there I’m sure. We already know this. We hear about it all the time when it comes to exercise. In fact, I just turned in an article on Friday in which several gyms and personal trainers all told me the latest trend is personal training in groups of three to five. When a person is working out with their friends they’re more likely to go to the gym because there’s accountability, and because it’s more fun. I’ve found the same is true with the internal changes.

In Sanskrit there’s a word for this: satsaunga, or good spiritual company. Usually it’s thought of in terms of who we hang out with, but I think it’s important not just for who we have fun with, but who will help us in life. One of the most useful things for me has been learning who to talk to about what. Some friends are good for their light-heartedness. Other friends I’ll call up if I’m feeling sad. I’ll talk to somebody else about my spiritual issues. There’s a saying I really like that applies: “Don’t go to the hardware store for milk.” Imbibing that saying has saved me a lot of frustration, that’s for sure!

Maybe I’m preaching to the choir here, but mostly I’m advocating when it comes to change, not doing it alone. Doing something alone will only get a person so far. When there’s the support of a community, when someone else knows about the changes you’re trying to make, that’s when they stick. And if I can broaden this a little more, the support of other people is also what ensures change in the greater world. In the West, we think in individualistic terms, but really, we are so much more than individuals. We’re like little droplets of water that when pooled together become a river. And a river eventually becomes an ocean.

I dream of a world where we encourage one another. A world where we support each other as we make positive changes in our lives. A world where we understand firm determination and willpower alone are not enough to wrest transformation, transformation requires a village. A world where instead of doing things alone, we do them together.

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

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Expectations and Traditions

Audio at the bottom.

In about a month I’ll be 30. (One month!) Where I come from, i.e., the South, 30 means you’re married with a child or two and own a house. That is decidedly not my reality; in fact, I’m at the complete opposite end of the spectrum – single, childless, and not even an apartment, much less a house. This is not what I anticipated my life looking like. This is not what I expected for myself.

In October, a friend of mine turned 30 and when I voiced my own apprehensions about turning the big 3-0, she said, “Is life really so bad? Don’t you think you’ve lived well? Aren’t you pleased with the choices you’ve made?” I wouldn’t say I’m pleased, but I would say I think I’ve done the best I could with what I’ve been given.

sparkler

Let’s pretend this is a birthday sparkler.

It’s painful to grieve for the future that could have been, the Ghost of Christmas Future, if you will, but while I don’t have the house, the kids, or the partner, I still count myself blessed. I’m well-read, well-traveled, and well-loved. By that I mean I am loved by many near and far. I belong to several communities and each of those communities is filled with loving, generous people, for which I’m grateful. Their kindness has brought me to tears over and over again.

I also think about something another friend of mine said to me in college. When I told her someone called me nontraditional, she said, “According to whose traditions?” I love that because she’s right. Whose traditions am I adopting here? Whose expectations am I foisting upon myself? Is anyone except for me judging and criticizing my life for not looking a certain way? To be honest, I think most people are too consumed with living their lives to judge mine.

I also think about a passage that has resonance for me: “[M]y serenity is inversely proportional to my expectations. The higher my expectations … the lower is my serenity. I can watch my serenity level rise when I discard my expectations.” I’ve had many expectations for my life, how it will go, what I expect will happen, and all it has accomplished is to make me sad or frustrated. Perhaps it’s time to discard the expectations and instead trust that as someone said to me a decade ago, I’m nontraditional, and that means I get to make my own traditions.

This post is all about me turning 30, but I hope you find some relevance for your own life. Things rarely work out the way we expect or plan and when that happens, I hope you’ll join me in yelling, “Plot twist!” After all, what great adventure doesn’t have a few surprises?

I dream of a world where we discard our expectations and make our own traditions. A world where we realize our lives may not follow the path we had planned, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. A world where we accept the things we cannot change, have the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

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

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Why Reform Just Won’t Cut It

For audio, scroll to the bottom.

I have some hang-ups about money. I think it’s safe to say I’m not alone in this. For a long time I thought if I made a lot of money I would turn into a jerk, which is kind of silly because to paraphrase Henry Ford, money doesn’t change people, it merely unmasks them. If a person is naturally selfish or arrogant or greedy, the money brings that out. I’m not naturally mean spirited so I think it’s safe to say making more money won’t bring those qualities out in me.

Once I cleared that hurdle, the idea of being a “conscious millionaire” started to appeal to me. It sounds great! Someone who is kind and compassionate, but also has money. Someone who can donate to her favorite charities and change some things because as we’re all aware, in this day in age, money equals power. If I became the richest person in the world then I could change the rules and make things better for everyone! Except, in a conversation I had with a friend on Friday night, I realized being a conscious millionaire is not enough.

shopping

I want to live in a world where the mantra isn’t “consume.”

I’m currently in the middle of nowhere Missouri. I mean really middle of nowhere. The closest town (about 20 minutes away) has a population of around 2,000. When I think “middle of nowhere,” I think cheap. When I asked my friend how much he’s paying for internet, I nearly choked on my tea when he said a telephone and internet combo is costing him $100 a month. For a speed of 1.5 mbps! If I was in California, I could pay $65 a month for a speed of 45 mbps! What makes this all the more depressing is my location isn’t exactly booming economically, meaning the people who are the least likely able to afford $100 a month for a regular landline phone and DSL are the ones getting price gouged. The wealthy areas are where people are paying less for phone and internet service.

It was in that moment that I realized being a conscious millionaire would only help so much. Sure, I can donate to my favorite charities and help family and friends, but what about the people I’ll never meet? Those in the Ozarks or the Bible Belt or the Midwest? My millions won’t help them at all. The only thing that will help them is a complete dismantling of our current economic system. And that requires an economic revolution. A “reform” just won’t cut it. The very principles of capitalism are founded on greed and selfishness, and greed and selfishness have given us the world we currently live in.

But we don’t have to keep living in that world. Alternative economic systems exist. I’ve written about it before, but Prout – the Progressive Utilization Theory – is an alternative to capitalism and communism. Prout is economics based on compassion and love, on understanding all beings are worthy of love and respect. It takes out exploitation and gives more power to workers through its emphasis on cooperatives. The utilities – water, electricity, and in this day and age I would argue, internet – would be taken care of by the government so we no longer have a situation where someone in Missouri is paying $100 for slow speeds and poor service.

In the words of John Lennon, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

I dream of a world where economics is based on taking care of everyone rather than exploitation. A world where we share more than we consume. A world where we are stewards of the Earth rather than masters over it. A world where we’ve revolutionized our economy.

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

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