The other day my higher power told me not to attend a Zoom meeting. But I felt like I should attend because it would be good for my novel writing, I’d skipped the previous week, etc. Within minutes of signing on, Zoom froze and kicked me out of the meeting. I tried again and the same thing happened. At that point, I laughed and said, “OK, fine. I won’t join this meeting.” (For all you practically minded people, I updated Zoom because as much as I wasn’t supposed to be at that meeting, I also recognize sometimes computers glitch.)

So often I think I know how things should go. I want to force my will and run the show. Everything would be fine if things would just go how I think they should. It’s the nature of being human – we all have wants and desires and we’re trained to go after them. But what we often forget is we are not doing all of this alone. I pulled an oracle card this morning and it said, “Look at everything in your life as an opportunity for communion, losing the need for self-centeredness, connecting to Source in a sacred, intimate way. You will not pray on your knees as a supplicant. You will engage the Great Goddess as a partner in co-creation, participating in the making of worlds.”

flowers against a blue sky -- spiritual blog

How does this picture relate? It doesn’t but it sure is pretty. Photo by Ajnabi Creation on Unsplash

We are co-creating with the universe and at the same time, I’ve seen over and over again if my will doesn’t align with the Cosmic will, things won’t happen. I’ll sign on to Zoom and get kicked off repeatedly, for instance. In my spiritual tradition, we say, “[W]hatever happens in this Universe of ours is nothing but an expression of Cosmic desire or Cosmic will. Neither can there be any volcanic eruption nor can any blade of grass move without [God’s] order. . .Living beings cannot do anything without [God’s] support; that is, when a human desire and [God’s] desire coincide, then only does the human desire become fruitful, otherwise it is a sure failure.”

That doesn’t mean we’re all puppets on a string, that we should lie around and wait for things to happen. Life is about movement, footwork is required, but there is such a thing as Cosmic will. And the trick, if you can call it that, is to align our will with the Cosmic will. In essence, we’re surrendering, we’re no longer fighting. When Zoom kicked me off again, I could have joined the meeting via my phone. I could have doubled down on my will, but I didn’t because I accepted that maybe my higher power wanted me to do something else.

Through my nonviolent communication training, I’ve learned one of the things I value tremendously, one of the things I want more of in my life, is ease. You know what doesn’t produce ease? Trying to force my will. But aligning with Cosmic will does. This isn’t always the case, but oftentimes that alignment feels like slipping into a stream and letting it carry me in the current. So much of life requires effort – cleaning, cooking, shopping, working. Why not let myself experience ease when and where I can? For me, that means recognizing it’s better when my will is not done.

I dream of a world where we understand there is such a thing as Cosmic will. A world where we remember if the universe doesn’t want something to happen, it won’t. A world where we surrender to a power greater than ourselves because we recognize that brings more ease and flow into our lives. A world where we remember many times it’s better if our will is not done.

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

What follows is a repost from 10(!!) years ago so not all of the examples are relevant anymore. For instance, I no longer have a neighbor who plays loud music, nor am I waiting for my passport in the mail. I’m also far less anxious and melodramatic but the general wisdom about not spinning out and attaching a story to an emotion still applies. Enjoy.

I had a very interesting conversation this week with a friend. He said there’s a difference between feeling an emotion and attaching a story to it. For instance, I may be sad about losing a relationship, which is a natural emotion, but what makes it worse is the story I tell myself on top of it such as, “I’ll be alone for the rest of my life,” “No one will ever love me the same way,” etc. I can compound an emotional state by adding a story and really working myself into a tizzy.

What’s hard for me to do is let the emotion go through me. I’ve spent a good chunk of my life doing what I could to not feel, to avoid feeling my feelings at all costs, to keep them at bay because I was afraid of feeling the feeling. In my mind, it was better to not feel angry, sad, lonely, etc. in the first place. So now that I’m sober (i.e., actually feeling my feelings and not trying to numb out), I still have a hard time letting my emotions pass through me, precisely because I can drag them out by adding a story to them.

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Can we let things move through us like the wind blowing grass? Photo by Abdallah Kokash on Unsplash

The emotion turns into a big dramatic thing. I make it so much worse by piling on untruths such as, “I’ll feel this way forever,” or, “Things will never change.” There’s a lot of “always” and “never” in my stories. And a whole lot of catastrophizing where I jump from, “My neighbor is playing loud music,” to, “Oh my God, I need to move somewhere else!”

I’ll admit that much of this has to do with the fact that I’m anxious and melodramatic. For those of you who aren’t, you probably can’t relate to what I’m writing about. But for those of you who can, I want to point out how these stories and the catastrophizing make the emotion so much worse than it has to be. If I allowed myself to feel my moments of grief or loneliness, they wouldn’t last NEARLY as long.

I’m not sure what to do about all this other than to make myself aware of it. My dear friend who’s a therapist often tells me that awareness alone can make a huge difference. Maybe by understanding that I tell myself a lot of false “truths” I can catch myself in the act and remind myself they’re not the case. Just because I’m scared about not receiving my passport on time to leave for Europe, doesn’t automatically mean my boss will get pissed and fire me and never send me to Europe again. Instead, it’s better for me to stay present with what is and acknowledge, yes, I’m anxious about my passport arriving in the mail, but that’s all I get to be anxious about because nothing else has happened.

It all comes down to being present, to paying attention to what’s in front of me, and not future tripping or spinning out about what could be. There are a million things that “could be,” and when I start attaching emotion to all those possibilities, that’s when I really get into trouble. Can I let it be what it is instead?

I dream of a world where we feel, process, and let go of what’s before us. A world where we stick with whatever emotion we’re feeling and not compound it by telling ourselves falsehoods. A world where we allow emotions to come in and emotions to go out, understanding the process can be fast or slow depending on how much extra stuff we throw in. A world where we just let things be what they are.

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

As I made plans with friends the other day, I said, “I know my nap schedule makes meals and things harder to work with.” I’m a spoonie and don’t have a lot of health privilege. I have some but require a daily nap and don’t bounce back easily from stress. When I flew home from Chicago the other week, I slept 11 hours each day of the weekend and took 1.5-hour naps. For context, I usually sleep about eight or nine hours a night and nap for half an hour, max. But even on normal days, a nap is crucial.

When, where, and how I’ll be able to nap is at the forefront of my mind as I make plans with people. And my comment to my friends also reveals that I apologize for my body. In implicit and explicit ways, I say, “I’m sorry I’m like this. I wish things were different. Thank you for bearing with me.” I’m not engaging in what Sonya Renee Taylor dubs “radical self-love” in her book The Body is Not an Apology.

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May we all make a promise to ourselves that we’ll stop apologizing for our bodies. Photo by Womanizer Toys on Unsplash

She says, “Concepts like self-acceptance and body neutrality are not without value. When you have spent your entire life at war with your body, these models offer a truce. But you can have more than a cease-fire. You can have radical self-love because you are already radical self-love.”

What she means is when we come into the world, we love our bodies. Babies are delighted by every part of their body. They look in the mirror and giggle or smile. No child starts off hating their body. That comes later when society barrages them with messages about how “wrong” they are for being too dark, too light, too tall, too short, too fat, too thin, too whatever. Or the converse: not enough. In our capitalistic, patriarchal, white supremacist society, there will always be something wrong with us because that’s how the systems keep running.

Under this toxic framework, which oftentimes feels overwhelming and permanent, it’s harder to blame a nameless, faceless system and instead, people turn inward and start blaming themselves. That’s when the apologizing begins. But Taylor asks some great questions: “What if we all became committed to the idea that no one should have to apologize for being a human in a body? … How might we change our lives? How might we change the world?”

I can think of lots of ways we’d change – like building wider airplane seats or ensuring every sidewalk corner has a curb cut. But on a more personal level, I can see how things could be different for me. In response to my body apology, my friends said, “Your nap schedule is not hard to work with at all! Honestly, it’s inspiring for both of us.” Their reply touched me deeply because the subtext was, “You’re not a burden. You’re OK just as you are. And we appreciate that you take care of yourself.”

It reminds me of that quote from the Buddha who said, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” That means my body too. Not when it’s more energetic or more closely aligned with my idea of perfection, but now. In this iteration. Here. I can’t say I know exactly how to radically love my body – I suspect continuing to read Taylor’s book will help – but what I can do is be unapologetic about my body and that feels like a good place to start.

I dream of a world where we remember society will always tell us there’s something wrong with us. A world where we understand we can opt out of those messages. A world where we stop apologizing for our bodies because we realize they’re already lovely just as they are. A world where we practice radical self-love and treat ourselves as the precious beings we already are.

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

I’m sharing this story to serve as a reminder for myself but also in case it’s helpful for anyone else. For months, things have been rough financially. I’ve watched my savings dwindle because the high-paying clients of yore disappeared. As a businesswoman, I’m probably not supposed to say that because people want to work with those who are successful and raking in the dough. Well, what can I say? I don’t know how to pretend.

Because of my financial situation, I’ve cried many tears and prayed my buns off, asking for help and guidance from the Divine Beloved. In March, while I was napping the name of a company came to me. I won’t share the whole story because I already wrote about it on my professional website but the short version is a CEO had asked me 3.5 years ago to write for him and I couldn’t at the time. After that nap, I reached out and he said, “I’d love to have you write for us.” The whole thing reminded me there’s a cosmic magician and that life can be surprising and delightful.

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What a beautiful demonstration of nature’s abundance. Photo by Gustavo Quepón on Unsplash

As if to underscore that point about life being magical, Bank of America sent me a letter letting me know an inactive account contained some money. Would I like to claim it? Um, yes, I would. I seriously have no idea where the money came from or why I didn’t spend it years prior. But no matter! It came in just when I needed it.

The unexpected check from Bank of America reminds me that money can come from anywhere and that no client or job is my source. That’s also because my credit union told me this week some reward points are set to expire and would I like to redeem them for $125 in cashback? Ha! Yes, please!

So often I get tunnel vision and think if so-and-so hasn’t paid me yet that I’m screwed. If I don’t have X number of clients, I’m up the creek without a paddle. But that’s not true because the Divine Beloved is my source for all. The money doesn’t come from a job or a project. It comes from the energy that created everything. When I keep my focus on God, I’m open to possibilities and there is room for miracles to occur. I’m less attached to certain outcomes because I know my Higher Power can send things from the blue, like reconnecting with a business contact from my past, receiving a check from an inactive bank account, and telling me to cash in reward points.

The whole thing reminds me of what my spiritual teacher says about prayer, which is, “[Y]ou might ask for something very inferior, although you approach the All-Powerful for it. The best prayer is, therefore, ‘Oh Lord! Do whatever you think fit and best for me. I do not know in which way lies my good – You know.’”

Right now, I’m reminded just how true that is. The Divine Beloved knows what I need before I know I need or want it. I don’t always believe or remember that, but I’m hoping this post with multiple stories about money showing up right on time will reinforce the concept.

I dream of a world where we remember Cosmic Consciousness knows what we need before we do. A world where we trust that all true needs are always met in amazing ways. A world where we understand no person, place, thing, or situation is our source. A world where we remember the Divine Beloved is our source for all.

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

When I flew from Austin the other week, I was so grateful to have TSA precheck because the regular security line snaked around the airport. As many as 1 million people descended on Texas so the airport was packed. However, I ran into a snafu.

When I handed my ID to the security guy, he said, “You don’t have TSA precheck.”
“What?” I exclaimed. “I do have TSA precheck.”
“It’s not listed on your ticket.”
“Really? Can I just give you my known traveler number?”
He shook his head. “No, it’s through the airline. You have to turn around.”

Noooooooo. Visions of missing my flight danced through my head as he told me I’d have to get my ticket reissued or go through regular screening. I reversed my way out of the security line and approached the airport ticketing helpdesk. Hallelujah, they reprinted my boarding pass with the known traveler number and I breezed through TSA precheck after all. I chalked up the experience to Mercury retrograde shenanigans because this stuff happens all the time under that transit.

airport -- spiritual blog

Opportunities for service abound. Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

Cut to a few days ago when I was on my way to Chicago and the same thing happened to a woman ahead of me in the TSA precheck line. Because of my experience in Austin, I was able to lean over and tell her she could go to the airline helpdesk and get her ticket reissued. In that moment I thought, “Huh. Isn’t that interesting.” In 12-step programs, we say that overcoming our difficulties can be of use to others. It’s encapsulated in the third-step prayer, which is: “God, I offer myself to Thee, to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of Life. May I do Thy will always. Amen.”

So often I think of difficulties as mine and mine alone but what if they aren’t? What if they’re for me, sure, but also an opportunity to be of service to someone else? My spiritual tradition is big on service. The two tenets are self-realization and service to the universe. They are like the wings of a bird and you need them both to fly. Usually when I think of service, I think of feeding the hungry, or building a home with Habitat for Humanity, but service is so much more than that. My spiritual teacher says, “[People] will have to consider themselves as instruments of the Supreme Entity, and throw themselves unreservedly into the work desired by [the Supreme Entity].”

What if being an instrument of the Supreme Entity is more than the things I can put on my LinkedIn profile? What if it’s also the small things like a kind word to a stranger, holding the door open for someone, and sharing about overcoming a challenge? As I wrote about last week, everything is a vehicle for liberation. Maybe everything is an opportunity for service too, including a headache with TSA precheck.

I dream of a world where we recognize everything that happens to us can eventually be of service to someone else. A world where we realize no experience is wasted. A world where we understand we can help others if we choose. A world where we know service isn’t only the large things, it’s also the small things.

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

I keep thinking about a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset asserts that your intelligence, talents, and personality are fixed traits that cannot grow. There’s no improvement, there’s no change. A growth mindset is the opposite – it’s a belief that your intelligence, talents, and personality improve and change over time. However, instead of only applying the growth mindset to myself, as in, my novel-writing skills will improve, I also apply it to how I approach the world.

My spiritual tradition is a tantra-oriented practice, which if you break down the literal definition of tantra means liberation through expansion. In practice, tantra uses everything as a vehicle for liberation. That means every situation, every struggle, every everything is an opportunity to move closer to the Divine Beloved or further away.

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Grow, baby, grow! Photo by Victoria Strukovskaya on Unsplash

Here’s a silly, but perfect, example of how I use everything as a vehicle for liberation. In June 2016, I went to a cat café and none of the cats came up to me. I consider myself a cat person even though I don’t have one and usually, cats rub against me, want to sit on my lap, etc. But these cats didn’t and I was offended, especially because they came up to my friend. What the heck?!? Was she special and I wasn’t?!? Truly, it threw me into a tizzy and it’s what prompted my post, “You So Special.”

My interaction (or lack of interaction) with a random cat, once, spurred me to start affirming that I’m special and unique. It showed me that I was relying on other people to do that for me but using that method is like trying to fill up a colander with water – there are too many holes and the water will keep streaming out. I had to, and have to, give myself what I need first.

Bringing it back to tantra, my spiritual teacher says tantra is an all-around fight, both internally and externally. That means facing my fears, protesting injustice, and always asking, “How can I use this situation or experience to grow?” In my personal life, it also means becoming more accepting of whatever is in front of me because I understand it’s there for a reason and the reason is not to torture me.

My friend Ramesh Bjonnes, author of Tantra: The Yoga of Love and Awakening, wrote about this on Facebook in 2016 and I’m partially quoting him now. He said:

“In meditation, we do not deny anything, we actually become more accepting of everything, and in doing so, we realize where peace and true satisfaction is truly found – not in the fluctuating reality of the body and the mind, but in the stillness of the soul. And that stillness is so big that it contains everything, the only change is that our focus has changed, our identification has changed. It is from this state, we can more soulfully deal with pain, heartbreak, stress, and all the other stuff of life. This is the gift of meditation, to be able to dip into the ocean of the soul and thus return spiritually refreshed.”

Dipping into the ocean of the soul means taking a broader perspective. It means approaching life not from a fixed mindset of, “This will never change” or “I just need to find the right configuration of ____ to be happy.” It’s approaching life from a growth mindset of, “How can I grow from this situation? What can I learn?”

I dream of a world where we recognize we have a choice about how we approach life. A world where we understand we can view the things that happen to us from the standpoint of a victim or as something we have agency over. A world where we recognize we can grow from our experiences if we wish. A world where we have a different orientation toward the world that’s about moving us closer to the Divine Beloved.

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

I keep thinking about a poem/quote I read from Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés that I’ll share an excerpt of:

“We do not become healers.
We came as healers.
We are.
Some of us are still catching up to what we are.
We do not become storytellers.
We came as carriers of the stories
we and our ancestors actually lived.
We are.
Some of us are still catching up to what we are.
We do not become artists.
We came as artists.
We are.
Some of us are still catching up to what we are.
We do not become writers…dancers…musicians…helpers…peacemakers.
We came as such.
We are.
Some of us are still catching up to what we are.”

Her quote/poem speaks to me because for about the past year I’ve engaged in a deep recovery and reclaiming of my artistic self. For a long time, I joked that I couldn’t write fiction to save my life. It was a joke but also, I meant it. I didn’t think I could write fiction, didn’t think of myself as creative or artistic. I had moments where I proclaimed, “I’m an artist!” and then quickly forgot those and fell back into the belief that I’m not a creative person.

wooden fence in the grass -- spiritual blog

Why this picture? Unclear! It came up when I searched for “reclaimed.” Maybe the wood is reclaimed. Photo by Chris Lorensson on Unsplash

That might sound strange considering I wrote a novel but in my mind, the first one didn’t count because it was based so much on my real life. And this second novel, which isn’t based on my real life, has been a struggle, let me tell you. I fight against the belief that I can’t write it pretty much every day. In part, the struggle is because I have a perception that I’m not a storyteller, that I’m a journalist who tells stories about real life and real people but can’t create imaginary worlds. But is that really true?

The other week I found a modern retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” that I wrote when I was probably 10. The text is in calligraphy and the pictures were also drawn by me. There is literal evidence to show I’ve always been a storyteller. As Estés says, I didn’t become a storyteller, I came as a carrier of the stories I and my ancestors actually lived. This is true in more ways than one. I’m VERY attuned to intergenerational trauma and collected my ancestors’ stories, both good and bad. I’m the family historian because stories matter to me. I am a storyteller and storykeeper.

I am reclaiming the identity of storyteller and catching up to what I am, to what I already came here imbued with. I wish it could be a “one and done” sort of thing but for me, it hasn’t worked like that. It’s been a daily process of remembering and reclaiming my artistic self.

This post is about me but I’m sharing it because I wonder if there’s a part of you that’s been long buried that it’s time to resurrect. What has stayed hidden for too long that wants to see the light of day? What do you want to reclaim, recover, or remember? I bet it’s something powerful and important.

I dream of a world where we recognize some things we don’t become, some things we already are. A world where we understand we came into the world with certain gifts and sometimes we need to retrieve those gifts. A world where we let go of identities that no longer serve us and reclaim who we truly are.

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

I’m currently in Texas for what I hope is a peak experience, aka, watching the total solar eclipse. What follows is a repost from September 2015 so the content has changed – neither of the men mentioned here are a part of my life anymore, for instance – but the concept is still valid and apt for my current circumstances. Maybe they apply to you too.

Lately, I’ve been humbled and in awe of the magic, the mystery, and the surprise of life. So often I think I know how things will play out and I’m being shown, yet again, I have no idea. This has come up especially regarding people.

I met someone in December 2013 who I liked right off the bat and had high hopes for his involvement with my yoga and meditation community. He seemed so keen and enthusiastic. He came to our newly formed meditation group a few times consecutively and then stopped. I wrote him off, never expecting to see him again except on Facebook. Someone else in the group said, “Well, that’s the last time we’ll see that guy again.” But it wasn’t. About a year later, “that guy” surprised us by circling back. He’s shown himself to be a dedicated member of my community, and much to my surprise, he’s a dear friend and an important person in my life. Go figure.

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Pictures of space always make me think of a divine intelligence. Photo by Rodion Kutsaiev on Unsplash

Similarly, three years ago I connected with someone and felt affection for him right away. We hung out a few times and then I didn’t hear much from him again. I assumed he would be a peripheral friend, someone I’d invite to a party, but nothing more. Color me shocked when he called me up last week to catch up and reconnect. That’s not how I was expecting things to play out. And that’s the point – I never know how things will play out.

I throw myself into a tizzy thinking about the future because I’m absolutely sure I know what will happen. If I’m not friends with you now, I won’t be friends with you later. If I’m single now, I’ll be single forever. If I’m in debt now, I’ll be in debt forever. It’s a small thing, but these two men remind me I have no freaking clue what the future holds and they remind me someone, or rather something else is in charge here.

Indian-American economist, author, and professor Ravi Batra wrote a book in the late 80s that became a number-one New York Times bestseller. He attributed his success to the “cosmic magician.” I love that. It certainly seems that way when something unexpected and amazing happens like writing a runaway bestseller when all your previous books weren’t as successful. Thinking of the cosmic magician reminds me amazing and magical things can happen and they’re not up to me. I’m not the one responsible for outcomes, or the fruits of my labor, if you will. Not just with writing, but with everything.

My spiritual teacher says, “Behind this world’s creation, there is a cosmic magician who has created the universe and also controls it. In fact, whatever has been or shall be created is He and He alone. Those who have realized this truth attain blessedness.”

When I can remember the cosmic magician, I can relax because it means I’m not responsible for everything in my life. Some things yes. But everything? No. There are greater forces at play in the world that have absolutely nothing to do with me. And those forces are often working to create something amazing and magical if we only have enough patience to see how it turns out.

I dream of a world where we realize there is divine intelligence at play. A world where we allow ourselves to be open to whatever comes our way because we have no idea what’s ahead. A world where we understand amazing and magical things happen all the time not because we “made them happen,” but because there’s a cosmic magician working behind the scenes on our behalf.

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

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you already saw the picture associated with this post but I want to tell the story behind it. The past week was rough. Mars entered Pisces and started lighting up various parts of my astrological chart. Mars is the God of war; assertiveness, bravery, and forward motion are positive expressions of that energy. Negative expressions are aggressiveness, brashness, and impulsivity.

I mostly felt the negative expressions. My temper ran hot and I wanted to be impulsive. Because things weren’t going how I liked, my internal response was, “Burn it to the ground!” (For the record, I didn’t.) Add in Mercury retrograde, which is also lighting up my chart so communication has been wonky and technology isn’t working properly, and you have a recipe for not-fun times.

(I recognize not everyone believes in astrology and that’s fine. You don’t have to. For the purposes of this post, just remember there are times when you’re angry, frustrated, and things aren’t working how you’d like them to.) So, in the middle of this delightful mood, I took a walk and a voice told me, “Look up.” I did and saw a rainbow ring around the sun.

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Photo by moi. It looked more rainbow-y in real life.

I squealed and shared my delight with a construction worker because I can’t keep these things to myself. When I see something beautiful or feel love toward someone or something, I share it. Seeing that rainbow ring shifted my entire mood and it reminded me of two things. One, that I am connected to the Divine Beloved. I don’t normally walk around staring at the sun. I would have completely missed the rainbow if a voice hadn’t told me to look up.

Two, the experience reminded me there’s always love and grace raining down on us if we’re willing to see it. In my spiritual tradition, we say that divine bliss and grace are always being showered upon each and every being but we don’t feel it because we’re holding the umbrella of vanity or ego over our heads. If we want to be drenched by that divine shower, we have to remove the umbrella.    

I both love and hate that saying because the pat answer for removing the umbrella of ego is: meditate. But I’ve never been satisfied with that response because there’s not much instruction or explanation. I’ve been meditating for decades and the umbrella of ego is still over my head. HOWEVER, seeing this rainbow ring, it struck me that removing the umbrella of ego means recognizing love is here, even when things are challenging. It means remembering there is a force in the world that loves us, is shining upon us.

Removing the umbrella of ego means practicing humility and understanding my place in the great web of life. The ego tells us we’re alone, separate, in charge. It says we have power over everything that happens in our lives. It’s the Law of Attraction on steroids. But grace is the opposite. Grace is connection, communion, and the recognition we are part of the whole. Grace asks us to glance up, to notice the miracles around us, and to realize we are so very loved if we’re only willing to look.

I dream of a world where we understand there is a guiding force in our lives. A world where we know we are connected to something greater than ourselves. A world where we remember we are very, very loved. A world where we realize there is always grace raining upon us and if we practice humility, if we look up, we’ll see it.

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

I recently took the University of Pennsylvania’s VIA Survey of Character Strengths in an effort to leverage my strengths and become happier. Marty Seligman, the father of positive psychology, said to be happier we can use our top strengths and apply them to something we don’t like. For instance, if you don’t like filing your taxes and your top strength is humor and play, you can gamify filing your taxes.

My top strength completely shocked me. When the result came in, I texted a friend and said, “Is this right? This doesn’t seem right.” My top strength? Bravery and valor. BRAVERY AND VALOR. UPenn defines this as, “You are a courageous person who does not shrink from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain. You speak up for what is right even if there is opposition. You act on your convictions.” OK, well, when you put it like that, it’s true. And then the universe answered my question about whether that’s my top strength because independently, unprompted, someone told me over Facebook that I’m like a first responder always running toward the fire, that I don’t shy away from issues. Message received!

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I don’t know how this picture relates but somehow it does. Photo by NEOM on Unsplash

I don’t know how to apply bravery and valor to filing taxes but what I am applying this character strength toward is other things, namely my relationship to fear itself. Our society has a very combative relationship to fear. We say, “Screw fear! Don’t let fear stop you! If you’re scared, do it anyway!” We think of fear as a bad thing, something to push away or bulldoze over. I get it. Me too, but it’s not really working for me anymore. I find that instead of feeling less afraid, fear is taking over and I’m falling into a fugue state where I can’t concentrate on anything because there’s not anything to do. In other words, my fears are not around things like ice skating or public speaking. They’re abstract.

Telling myself all the reasons why I shouldn’t be afraid, also doesn’t help because I become irrational when I’m afraid. I thought about it and asked, “What would approaching this issue from my top strength of bravery and valor mean?” And you know what it means? Facing fear head-on without trying to fix, change, or solve it. I’ve been setting a timer for 15 minutes for the past few days and just letting fear flood my body. I’m not trying to soothe myself, push it away, or do anything. I’m letting it be. I’m saying to myself, “It makes sense that you feel afraid. It’s OK. I’m here. It’s safe for you to feel afraid.”

No one has ever said that to me in my life. It’s safe to feel afraid? I don’t have to run from this emotion just like I don’t run from anger and sadness? I’m finding that’s exactly what I need. Like I wrote about a month ago, change requires not only awareness and action but also acceptance. Before I can do anything about the fear, I need to feel it. I need to accept that it’s there, not minimize the emotion or declare all the reasons why it’s invalid. I can’t speak for everyone but for me, I perpetually want a container. I want a safe space to fall apart, to unravel. I want someone to witness me with love and neutrality. It’s one of the reasons I love therapy so much.

However, I only talk to my therapist once a week. What about the other 167 hours? I am the only person who is with me constantly so the best thing I can do is become a safe space for myself. It feels like the most terrifying thing I can do, let myself feel afraid, and yet doing so I feel more settled, more present, more adult because I’m not letting a scared inner child take over my body. I’m giving myself the space to feel my feelings like a good parent. In other words, I’m being brave. And wouldn’t you know it, I do feel happier.

I dream of a world where we stop trying to force ourselves to feel one way or another. A world where we create a safe container to feel all of our emotions. A world where instead of making fear an enemy, we recognize there’s a reason we feel scared. A world where we let ourselves feel afraid because we know it’s safe to do so.

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

P.S. If you take the strengths test, I’d love to hear your results.

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