Mindfulness

A Savasana Gift

If someone thinks that love and peace is a cliche that must have been left behind in the Sixties, that’s his problem. Love and peace are eternal. ~ John Lennon

Yoga practitioners say that savasana, or corpse pose, is a favorite because it is a restorative pose that often concludes a yoga session.

I certainly look forward to the few moments of savasana that wrap up my Thursday night practice. Usually, I melt into relaxation after an hour of stretching and pushing my body to its physical limits. Last Thursday, however, I received an unexpected gift while “practicing” the corpse pose.

I had a vision.

I “saw” my abdomen as a smoothly hollowed out, bowl-like space, as if the edges dropped off below my sternum and rose again at my hips. Oddly enough, I didn’t freak out. I had the sense that all I was supposed to do in that moment was breathe into the space.

That’s it. Just breathe. I remember being vaguely curious about when I would fill the space and with what. Or even whether I would be the one to fill the bowl to its capacity again.

Weird, right?

Along with the mild curiosity, I remember telling myself that all was well. Nothing was unusual or off about having a bowl-gut.

I hadn’t told anyone about my vision until last night when my sweetie asked about my blog topic. Just speaking the words, “I had a vision” felt weird, like I’ve gone a little bit cuckoo, as my friend Helshi says.

When I remember what happened before yoga that night, things begin to add up.

Recently, the Interfaith Peace Chapel at my church–Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ–was tagged with some pretty hateful graffiti aimed presumably at our primarily LGBTQ congregation.

In addition, the Texas lieutenant governor, held a press conference announcing that a bill–turns out it’s SB6–would be introduced prohibiting transgender people from using restrooms reserved for the gender with which they identify. There is much idiocy and insanity in this bill, particularly the statement that it protect women and students.

Five people were killed and eight injured during the terrible tragedy at the Fort Lauderdale airport last week.

A hate-crime beating in Chicago was videoed and posted on Facebook.

A terrorist attack killed 39 in Istanbul on New Year’s.

Peace, where are you?

Give me an epiphany with a little e.

Last Thursday–the Day of Epiphany–while many Christians and others celebrated the manifestation of Jesus in their lives, I had my own little epiphany. My vision of the concave space represents filling myself with love and all its byproducts like generosity and kindness, peace and patience, gentleness and respect, trust and presence and so much more.

May my bowl, my vessel, be filled to overflowing so that none of the evil stays with me for long. Instead, let me be called to pray.

Let me be urged to focus on goodness.

Let me summon the belief–and hold it tightly–that God is working through even these evil times.

Let me continue to wait for moments to pour from my bowl of love, for God has chosen each of us to be his people and to spread one gospel.

It’s love. It’s always love. Now and forever more.

Peace be with you, my friends.

Political Theater Lacks Compassion

Positive reinforcement word Compassion engrained in a rock

Like most of you, I feel disgusted with the daily tabloid-like fodder coming from the presidential candidates’ camps. Decency, respectability and admirability, like Elvis Presley, left the building weeks ago.

Political theater? We’re living the 2016 version of The Nightmare on Elm Street only this is no dream and Freddy Krueger is alive and well–he just has better hair.

Oh, I’m no Hillary fan either, except, she at least has  a comprehensive plan to address substance use disorder and addiction.

But even that topic, which is dear to my heart, takes a back seat to what is really missing in this election cycle.

Compassion.

The theater playing before us is not meant to be a laughing matter but it certainly is a joke. The joke’s on us–and it’s a cruel one–because we’re losing so much of what makes America great.

We need not lose ourselves too.

We have to dig deep

I’ve been tuning out a lot of news lately. I try not to watch the political back-and-forth too closely. I’ve decided that in this final month before the presidential election, I’m going to reach for the one thing that Jesus thought was “the dominant quality of God,” according to author Marcus J. Borg.

That quality, even more than holiness, is compassion.

In his book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, the Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith, Borg describes Jesus as a political rebel-rouser. He showed/demonstrated how to defy those who followed the lead of ridiculous men, even those who were rich and powerful.

“For Jesus, compassion was the central quality of God and the central moral quality of a life centered in God,” Borg writes. “These two aspects of compassion are combined most clearly and compactly in a single verse . . . ‘Be compassionate as God is compassionate.'” Luke 6:36

Jesus walked a walk of decency, compassion and reverence for people, not the possessions or status symbols that leaders and rulers of the time worshiped.

Jesus eschewed the rules of the day in order to be the Golden Rule.

It’s time for us to do the same

Admittedly, my view of the political theater is from the cheap seats. But I know this: there was a time when our country’s leaders were admired and emulated. Children were told they could grow up to be the president.

The presidency was held in high regard. Today, many believe it is little more than something to be mocked and derided.

It’s a sad situation with no single, nor simple solution.

Sometimes we must be our own solutions. We must take the lead, be the change.

Between now and November 8, a little less than one month from now, I intend to lead with compassion, the highest quality of Jesus, Gandhi, the Buddha, the Dalai Lama and other people of Spirit.

Then I’ll cast my ballot along with what will hopefully be a good majority of Americans. Political theater: the show must go on.

Shenpa and Learning to Listen

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In Tibetan, shenpa describes aggression or craving. Pema Chödrön writes that shenpa is “the root of all conflict, all cruelty, oppression and greed.”

Not to sound judgy, but there is enough shenpa in the world right now to fill an ark, two-by-two and squared.

Although the actual translation is attachment, Pema says she thinks of shenpa as “getting hooked,” while one of her teachers describes shenpa as the “charge,” like an electrical current, behind our thoughts, words and actions.

An example of shenpa is your response when someone criticizes you. The charge fires and you have to respond. You have to say something. You’re hooked.

Someone sends you a snippy email (or one you perceive to be snippy).

You’re running late and someone cuts you off on the interstate.

Your flight is delayed—six times—and then cancelled.

Do you feel that flare? That instant of “Oh my God! Seriously?”

That flash of emotion that scales up from annoyance to outrage and beyond? That’s shenpa.

Shenpa can be managed—that’s the good news. But it takes the consistent and frequent practice of presence.

Here’s an idea.

What if shenpa could be drastically reduced in homes, schools and communities by improving how we listen?

We are obsessed with talking. If we’re not talking, we’re thinking about what we’re going to say when it’s our turn to talk.

Now, I’m not implying that you don’t listen or that you’re not a good listener. But what if you began to practice radical listening?

Listening is the gift that grants peace, whether during a meaningful conversation or a solo stroll along an empty beach.

Quiet digesting of words and thoughts make up the truths and ideals that pull us back from insanity. I’m certain of it.

Listening lets you explore the edges and margins of life so as not to judge or draw conclusions, but to inquire and become more aware.

Listening provides connecting points and intersections of clarity or confusion, sometimes both. We learn to question who we are and what we want—and then how to invite our most cherished qualities of life to those points of connection.

Think of these virtues: love, compassion, forgiveness.

Let’s listen for them today. And then, let’s watch how shenpa—that snap-your-fingers nasty attitude behind so much of today’s snarly public discourse, fades to black.

Who knows? Maybe listening becomes a new cultural phenomenon—the very one that overtakes our distracting obsession with our gadgets. Stranger things have happened!

Photo courtesy of elephant journal

White Heron or Range Rover?

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Over the weekend, I was leaving my neighborhood when a majestic white heron, like the one pictured here, flew low across the street in front of my car.

Seconds later, I turned left onto Village Boulevard (speed limit 30 mph, I believe) when a burnt orange Range Rover with out-of-state plates suddenly appeared behind me, swerved around me and zoomed toward the main entrance.

Definitely not neighborhood etiquette, not to mention downright rude! I quickly opened my iPhone camera and tried to snap a pic of the license plate but I was too late.

I was furious! Good thing I was on my way to my regular Saturday morning 12-step meeting.

Then it hit me

Suddenly I realized how the previous 30 seconds was a microcosm of my life.

Two quick moments: Close encounters with a beautiful white heron and a rude driver of an ugly Range Rover–each eliciting strong, instant emotions. Which do I focus on after the moment has passed?

I laughed out loud when I got a mental picture of Little Beth stomping her foot and muttering through clenched teeth, “Range Rover.” But the adult, more expansive me? White heron, of course.

Choosing where to place your focus

You’ve had similar experiences, right? A moment of awe or wonder or thrilling adrenaline? And a second moment–maybe within the “good” one, that is ugly or hurtful or just yucky.

It’s the Cherokee fable about which wolf do you feed?

Your decision is crucial because it sets the tone for what comes next–darkness or light? Kind-hearted or gritchy? Loving or hateful?

In the split second you’re given to make the decision, try to see past your self-focused vision to the people your decision impacts. Your family, children, neighbors, or in my case, the people with whom I shared the suburban streets. Our decisions always have consequences.

James Allen said, “Man is made or unmade by himself. By the right choice he ascends. As a being of power, intelligence, and love, and the lord of his own thoughts, he holds the key to every situation.”

My entire Saturday hinged on the decision I made in the 30-second flash of the white heron and the Range Rover. We make those choices multiple times each day.

Teach yourself to be present to those moments and then choose wisely. Your day, and the days of everyone you encounter hinges on your choice.

Peace to all!

P.S. A quick shameless plug for Facing Addiction and the team on the ground in Cleveland at the Caucus for Addiction Solutions during the Republican National Convention. Catch Facebook Live news coverage and interviews. Next week it’s on Philadelphia to host the Caucus during the Democratic National Convention.

Photo courtesy of AcrylicArtist

7 Quotes to Unplug and Enjoy a Vacation

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You plan a vacation and then count down the days, maybe weeks or months, until you leave for the islands or the mountains or the cabin in the woods.

You cannot wait to escape the life that is your every day, to unplug from stress and making decisions.

You get where you’re going and spend the first two days unwinding your mind to get into vacation mode.

The vacation is grand and then it ends. Back to reality, back to work, back to the grind. You may feel refreshed and rejuvenated for a time, maybe a couple of days or a week.

Soon after, though, you find yourself leaving today to go back to the memory of your vacation or to begin planning the next one.

It’s hard to stay satisfied with today, with right where you are in your circumstances. When you’re feeling overwhelmed and under-appreciated, it’s okay if you want to leave.  In fact, you probably should step away for a few moments, if only in your mind, before you snap or yell or do whatever you do when you need a vacation.

Unplug for a minute, more if you can. Give yourself a brief vacation. Right now is the perfect time!

I think I’ll join you because I’ve been back at work less than three weeks after my phenomenal trip to the Virgin Islands and I need to feel the Caribbean breeze on my face again.

Take a time out. If you need to justify your brief absence–or enhance it–take these seven thoughts with you. No need to thank me. Just enjoy your vacation!

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, even you. ~ Anne Lamott

We do well to unplug regularly. Quiet time restores our focus and composure. ~ Daniel Goleman

I find it refreshing to unplug from it for a while. You kind of forget how deeply you get embedded in it. ~ Will Wright

Disconnect from technology and reconnect with each other. ~ Rosemary Wixom

It’s bad for your brain not to unplug. ~ John Green

There are few times that I feel more at peace, more in tune, more Zen, if you will, than when I force myself to unplug. ~ Harlan Coben

Dare to unplug. Go off the grid. Give yourself permission to say yes to your wellbeing. ~ Bonnie Gray