Spirituality

We Never Walk Alone


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A couple of days ago, I woke early thinking about my friend Shannon.  You may remember  I wrote about her a couple of years ago, about how she was recovering from a stem cell transplant and for the first time in 50 days was tucking her three small children into their beds.

The first transplant didn’t do the trick, nor did the second one.  Shannon’s had some tricky, ugly diagnoses throughout her three years of cancer treatment; her journey has been one of progressions and set-backs.  Each time she and her family–including her parents, siblings and an army of friends–has rallied with an amazing sense of optimism and hope.

Transplant #3

Today, Shannon and crew begin what may be the biggest challenge yet.  It’s Hail Mary, pull-out-all-the-stops time as she enters Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York for her third stem cell transplant set for August 9.

Can you imagine?  I can’t conceive of replacing any part of my body once, let alone three times.  It’s been said that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle and that the crosses we bear are less heavy when we approach them with faith, hope and optimism.  But, geez, three transplants?

We probably all know of someone like Shannon, a person we admire by the way she or he faces long odds and major hurdles with spiritual confidence.  Meanwhile, we shake our heads and wonder to our friends and co-workers how the Shannons of the world make it through their ordeals.

I believe these special people let nothing tarnish their joy because it never occurs to them to act any differently.  Many of us would curl up in a fetal position and wait for the raging storm of life to pass.  At a minimum, we’d sit in Starbucks railing about how the world had done us wrong.

The Shannons out there aren’t trying to make the rest of us look bad.  On the contrary.  They aren’t even aware that they give us an incredible gift by teaching us how to face our own travails.

No problems, only mountains and valleys

I believe another reason why people like Shannon soldier on is because they understand that life is ebb and flow, give and take, mountains and valleys.  We human creatures were not born to have our lives stretch out in a straight line of even circumstances, although sometimes we think that’s what we would like.

But then we’d miss the glorious view from the mountain top and the curtain of rainy mist in the valley.  One necessitates the other.  Comfort lies in trusting that we will eventually walk through the valley of the shadow, as the Psalmist said.  We don’t linger there forever, trapped in gloomy conditions.

At some point the path will grow steeper and we’ll see the sun rising over the mountain range that’s just come into view.  The rhythm of life continues.

Shannon believes–and so do I–that the third time is the charm.  The radical approach to her treatment will eradicate all cancer cells in her body.  She will have to spend a more significant time away from her kids, missing birthdays and scout camps and probably Thanksgiving, but the short-term loss is worth the long-term gain.

She’ll be around to watch them grow through their teenage years and college.  She’ll get to watch them marry and then bounce their children on her knee.  Her hair will eventually turn grey and her knees may creak and groan.

Through it all, she’ll celebrate the sanctity of the precious gift of life and know that these months in New York, 1,000+ miles from her kids, was a valley she had to walk through.

Thank God she’s not walking alone.  None of us ever walks alone.

Photo courtesy of shebaduhkitty

Bringing Guilt to Forgiveness


file000920082747I recently had a very strange dream, induced perhaps by real-life empathy for several friends who have sent beloved pets over the Rainbow Bridge.  There’s been a rash of them lately.

My former veterinarian–the one who helped my two pugs cross the Bridge–was in the dream.  That’s all I remember.

When I woke from the dream, I immediately began to think about my elderly cat, Samantha, and how I wasn’t there for her when the time came to put her to sleep.  I had already moved to Texas.

Unresolved guilt

I hadn’t thought about Samantha in quite some time but once I did, old feelings of guilt flooded over me.  My mind went immediately back to that time, to decisions I made, to the people involved and to hurtful things that were said to me.  Lying in my bed, fresh from the dream, I traversed back in time to guilty feelings in about 4.5 seconds.

Have you ever had a gut-wrenching moment when you’re sucked back into old drama and all its attending emotions?  When I experience those times–rarely, thankfully–I become the person I was then.  As I replay the memory and suffer through the agony again, one question generally rises above the rest of the guilt-ridden mental chatter.

“I wonder if they still think badly of me for what I did?”

Then, “I wonder if they’ve forgiven me?”

Regardless of whether they do, by merely asking the question of myself, I’ve announced to the Universe that I believe I’m still guilty.

Bring guilt to forgiveness

When you think about it, any present guilt you feel is a byproduct of something that has happened in the past.  My ego loves guilt because it can keep a toe-hold on my past supposedly for my benefit.

After spending time journaling about the dream and the ideas of guilt and forgiveness, I realized that my ego is not doing me any favors.    In fact, by fist-clutching guilt, I’m unable to freely live in the present moment.  I don’t know about you, but I really detest throwing precious Now moments away!

I decided, with the aid of A Course in Miracles, a couple of girlfriends and dedicated contemplation/meditation, to bring those guilt feelings to forgiveness.  You see, I realized an ugly truth:  I live with the notion that I have to be forgiven by others before I can forgive myself.

Wow.  That feels like a really big realization.  I’ll say it again.

I live with the notion that I have to be forgiven by others before I can forgive myself.

My God!  Where in the world did I come up with that misguided idea?

I believe I’m afraid to let go, to pick up my toe from the past and plant both feel squarely in the Now.  After all, letting go of guilt and stepping into forgiveness means releasing the old and familiar, messed up though it may be.

In this case, however, my desire for God’s peace overrides fear.  It just has to.  I suspect it will take a lot of concentrated effort, but don’t you think the results–freedom from guilt–will be worth it?

Marianne Williamson writes in A Return to Love, one of my all-time favorite books, that few of us succeed but making the effort to forgive is our most noble calling.

She also writes that “the practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world.”

What are your thoughts on guilt and forgiveness?  Is forgiveness from someone else necessary or is forgiving yourself all that really matters?

Photo courtesy of hibbard

Watch the Light, Follow the Compassion


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Please forgive me if I come across sounding dazed and confused.  I think I’m waterlogged from the torrential rain of vitriol pouring out of the news media and its social counterpart.

I’ve been consuming too much lately.  I have a love-hate relationship with news reporters and so-called analysts.  Journalism is my trained profession–although I’m always quick to point out that my degree speciality is magazine,  not hard news.

Sometimes I’m proud to align myself with the industry, but more often than not lately, I’m shaking my head in disgust.  What are they thinking?

Today, I wanted to stay in bed

Everyone has an expert opinion about court trials!  I try to escape into Facebook for a bit but post after depressing post comments on the same topics.  Ugh.

I sought escape into the All-Star game but during breaks in commentary instead listened to speculation and gossip about the dozen or more players about to be suspended for using performance enhancing drugs.

Flipping through channels, I encountered news about another star found dead in a hotel, and later learn he suffered an overdose of heroin and alcohol.  There’s an epidemic of murders among black gang members in Chicago.  Politicians are stirring and sliding into position for their mid-term, take-no-prisoner sprints.

Dear God . . .

Where did the love go?

My heart aches for balance.  My system yearns for decency.  Has love lost its place at the banquet table of dignity?

Peace, be still, I remember.  Be the peace, I’m reminded.  Take action, reads my morning Soul Clarity Card.

Stir the depths, love is still there.  Open my eyes and look closely.

Little gifts begin to appear.

First, a quote:

There is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t. ~ Blaise Pascal

Then a prayer:

The Light of God surrounds us; the Love of God enfolds us; the Power of God protects us; the Presence of God watches over us. Wherever we are, God is.

And finally, a blog post snippet following a personal meeting between inspirational speaker and writer Danielle LaPorte and the Dalai Lama:

His Holiness (answering her direct question about his advice for young people):  “In the West, you have education, and this is good. And you have technology. And this is good. But, you do not educate your people in values. Values of the heart. Compassion. This you must do.”

“And you see, it does not matter whether you are Buddhist or Christian,” he went on. “Compassion lives in heart, beyond religion. Even me, Buddhist, I can say, you do not need Buddhism, just the compassion of the heart.”  Click here for Danielle’s full post.

Yes, love is still here; in fact, is everywhere.  Watch the light and follow the compassion.  That’s where you’ll most likely find love.

Photo courtesy of amann

 

A Room With a View


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The view from my red Poäng Ikea chair comforts me.  Most early mornings find me there, journal on my lap and Jazzy at my feet, writing, reading daily wisdom and contemplating my day.

Perched just so in the corner of my writing studio (also known as an office, but when I’m feeling particularly creative, it’s a studio, den or nook), I can nearly feel the sun warming the bricks on the other side of the wall.   I watch Old Sol’s rays creep around the corner and splash the yellow daylillies with light.

This morning, before picking up my pen, I sat for the longest time allowing my gaze to rise and fall and then rest on little pieces of inspiration scattered around the room.

The ebb and flow of my flow is symbolized here, I realized, in photos of joyous times and containers of ashes from lives ended.  One wall and surface commemorates college pride; its facing wall is a colage of hearts representing my decades of love and fulfillment.  In between trinkets sparkle, slogans affirm and book titles inspire me to reach and stretch until I touch my very own star.

It is here that I believe all things are possible.  Here, in this place, there is nothing left unfulfilled.  My space, my place, my sanctuary, my soft landing, my firm grounding.

From this chair I can look upon pink hibiscus and purple Texas lilacs.  When I let myself just be here, the physical me almost melts into ephemeral weightlessness and time is nothing more than tick tocks.

I close my eyes and murmur, be here.  The words bubble from my soul for I didn’t make a conscious decision to voice them.  I only know they’re here now, sitting, being, no expectation beyond this holy instant.

Oh that everyone could have a view like mine.  Please, find yourself a chair and position it so you can sit for a spell, to pause and simply breathe.

Go ahead.   You must be first in your day, for this is the point on which the remainder stands.

Give in.  You want to, don’t you?  If you need a reason or a label, call it self-care.  Or call it Dalai Mama time (or Dalai Papa if appropriate).

Sit and soak in the goodness from your spot in heaven’s presence.

Sit and breathe, trusting that you are filling your spiritual tank with the fuel–only the highest octane, my dear–to help your engine run smoothly today.

Sit and take it in because you may need to return here in your mind’s eye before the day is through.

Your place, a sacred spot, is calling to you.

Perfect, As Usual!


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I know I’m in a place of deep contentment and peace when I sleep really well at night.

Some people can lay their heads on the pillow at the end of the day and consistently conk out–that’s not the case for me.  If I’m not careful, nighttime can be a brooding time for me . . . thinking about projects, pondering the perpetual to-do list, and yes, worrying about those dear to me.

There are also times when I’m in the middle of something new or preparing for a new adventure and I’m too excited to sleep because I might miss something!

Surely I’m not the only one.

Deep contentment

Then there are periods like now, when I’m so okay that I slip right into dreamland with little effort.  But these times are fairly rare, so in an effort to hold onto the feeling (and continue to sleep), I decided to delve into the idea of deep contentment.

First, I think deep contentment requires feeling comfortable in the present moment.  No matter what stimuli is flashing around me (and coming off the Independence Day weekend, there have been plenty of flashing, star-lit stimuli), I can let it happen on the periphery. I’m good right where I am.

Second, I believe deep contentment requires a healed heart.  Life dramas grip us from time to time; small or major, they press inward with increasing pressure until fissures appear in our hearts.  When my heart hurts, even minor pain caused by a misunderstood deed or a misinterpreted conversation, I struggle with contentment until the salve of forgiveness soothes the wounded place.

Finally, deep contentment requires being willing to let go, to surrender to the natural state of my being where only good is intended.  This is the place where I don’t play the gloomy music of the world, where I know that everything in this moment is perfect as it is.

Perfect, as usual!

I like this place of deep contentment so much that I’ve decided I’d like to stay here.  Wouldn’t you?  So, let’s make a pact:  whenever we slip away from deep contentment for a while, we’ll get back as quickly as possible.

One avenue back is the “perfect, as usual” response.

Imagine that you walk into a room where your child or your grandchild is eating cereal from a bowl.  You glance at the soggy contents and think it looks kind of gross.  But you keep your thought to yourself and instead ask, “How are your corn flakes?

The child replies, “Perfect, as usual!”

Whether the moment includes milky corn flakes or a broken down car, the moment, not the circumstances, is perfect.  What if we adopt that idea as a default setting, as an automatic response to the poopiness in our lives?

You see, “perfect, as usual” aligns with our natural state of goodness.  God’s vision for us is deep contentment and peace.  When I consciously decide to move my daily vision closer to God’s vision, I feel contentment and peace.

The bonus is I get to sleep better!  How are you sleeping these days?

Photo courtesy of clarita