Grief and love

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Dust in our eyes our own boots kicked up
Heartsick we nursed along the way we picked up
You may not see it when it’s sticking to your skin
But we’re better off for all that we let in

– Indigo Girls, All That We Let In

Everyone who lives experiences grief.  There’s no way to escape it.  If you try, it dogs you.  The only way out is through.

So I try to walk through.

Some days it feels like I’m walking through fire.  Other days it feels like a light rain.  Some blessed days, the sun is shining and the birds are singing.

The past couple of days have been unrelenting furnace.

There are a few thoughts, now that this intense crushing heartache seems to be receding to a drizzle with the sun shining down.

– There is no grief without love.  In the worst of my pain, I touched the deepest of my love.  I was shocked to see it there.  But I embraced it, and I felt thanks for it.  There is a comfort in knowing I am capable of deep love, even if it’s discovered through the experience of deep grief.

– When grief wears you down, minor hurts feel major.  A paper cut can feel like an amputation.  It’s good to remember that it’s both.  Appreciate the stimulus was small, but the effect was large.  Be honest with yourself.  Hold others accountable.  But be gentle.  My response is to eventually find my way to gratitude that I can still anticipate love, and my hope is still intact.  Grief has not broken me.  Not even close.

– Those paper cuts can bring the waves of grief crashing down on you.  Unrelated though they may be, everything in your psyche can be connected.  There is a phenomenon called cumulative grief.  When a different or new kind of hard shows up, it just might bring back the grief you thought you’d started to get a handle on.  Adding a little more to the pile can make it feel like you’ve not made any progress at all.  It’s not proof you are regressing.  It’s just opportunity to move through it.  Again.  Until you are on the other side.

– When the pain feels more than you can bear, pray.

That’s right.  Pray.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not big on prayer in the standard sense.  But I do believe there is goodness and assistance available for the asking.  I believe in intention.  And I believe in recognizing the power of grace and mercy.  No, I don’t know where it comes from.  But in my most desperate hours, I pray.  I call out for help psychically, and eventually the sun comes up.

– Reach out to those who love you and support you.  I don’t feel comfortable crying on just anyone’s shoulder.  It’s not appropriate to cry on just anyone’s shoulder.  But if you have a shoulder to cry on, use it.  Tears are healing.  It doesn’t feel like it when there is a seemingly bottomless ocean of them, but eventually they subside.  Eventually you laugh at something through your tears… little by little, you find there are less tears and more smiles.  Like waves, they’ll be back… but appreciate the sunbeams when they appear.  It’s all part of the process.

– Understand that while support is so important, no one can do or say anything to take away the pain of grief.  It belongs to you.  It’s yours to manage, to work through, to walk through.  Don’t think that if only the right words are said or the right man (or woman) holds you or the right child kisses you or the right friend or relative says or does the right thing, you’ll get a pass.  You won’t.  But you will get moments of relief, and those will strengthen you and renew you.

– This last one is the most important: grief is worth it.

Considering the absolutely hellish amount of pain grief can bring, I’m not saying this lightly.  But grief is worth it, because “grief is the price we pay for love.”  (That quote is attributed to Queen Elizabeth II.)  And for me, love is worth it.  Deep, no-holds-barred, bottom-of-my-soul love is worth it.  Worth it enough to suffer deep, no-holds-barred, bottom-of-my-soul grief.

But I only feel strong enough to say that when the sunbeams start to appear.

That is how we know

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Sometimes our inner wisdom speaks to us in ways that seem so odd and incomprehensible to us that we imagine we are being attacked from within. Our bodies have an innate wisdom that is intricately linked to our wellness on the whole. At times when we feel we need ourselves the very most, maybe our selves let us down. We can’t do what we thought we could. We can’t pursue what we thought we wanted. Sometimes when everything breaks down and we feel we must be falling to pieces, it is for one purpose only: so that the phoenix can rise from the ashes.

As dramatic as that sounds, maybe it does not take a complete destruction of the things we thought we loved and the ideals we hold dear to our hearts. Maybe it doesn’t take a complete disruption of the values we imagined to have for ourselves. Perhaps it just takes a series of minor disruptions before we release our resistance to letting go of that which we were sure we wanted and that which we felt we must do. We get so focused on the way we have seen it done by other people, the things the world expects of us, the times we’ve succeeded with techniques we’ve mastered over our lifetimes of adaption and response to every situation put before us. We do what we think works for us.

Until one day we come to understand that what works for us is really just a set of constructions that we created. We thought we knew what the best path would be because it’s the path that worked for us in the past. We don’t know other paths, and we find it hard to imagine them, let alone look for them or think about stepping on them. We are creatures of habit, and we feel lost when our habits no longer bring us to successful realization of our goals.

What does it feel like to fail? What is failure for? Could it be that failure is simply our very own magical way of putting up a great big arrowed sign pointing in the direction we never thought to look? We feel immense and we assume that what we know and what we see and how we’ve always done things is the only way that makes sense and maybe even the only way forward or the only way that exists. What inspires pioneers? What brings someone to the realization that there is another way, that there are infinite ways… that our way is never predetermined – by anyone? Not by society, not by the universe and whatever known or unknown laws may be in play, certainly not by our very human selves. What causes an inspired soul to step out? What sparks the creativity that leads to finding a new way and embracing that way when no one you’ve ever known or even heard of has done it that way before? What leads to innovation? What gives one the courage to try that path?

Maybe it is failure. Maybe other options have been taken from you.

Everything I thought I knew about where life might be leading me, as murky as it might have seemed, found a place in my plans. I assumed I knew what it was about, what it was all for. I assumed if another way was necessary, someone or something would show me how and point the way. When there is no guidance except exhaustion and rebellion from my own faculties, my own intricate system that strives to keep me in balance no matter how hard I resist… how can I find the courage to let go of my ideas? How do I reach inside and embrace the creative spark that is leading me to a better way? How do a learn to value myself and trust the process of life enough to take a leap of faith? How do I make it ok to fail?

Maybe it just comes down to trust. I have to trust in more intelligence than I can reach with my reasoning, rational mind. I have to trust that if my system protests, there may be something I am missing. I have to appreciate the path I have taken and recognize that the next steps I take may not follow any path I expected to find under my feet. Maybe from the outside it doesn’t appear all that innovative or radical – but from the inside, it is wildly innovative and radical. Maybe it challenges all the assumptions I had about myself. Maybe it shows me how much stronger and how much more valuable I am than I ever knew I was.

What is it about breaking down that is so important? What is it about softening to the point where no resistance can be maintained? What if exhaustion is really a gift?

I must trust myself. I must trust that my limitations are as important as my strengths. I must understand – really understand – that both are equally important, as fluid as they may be. Can I learn to humble myself before the alter of possibility? Can I learn to trust that all is as it should be, no matter the losses I feel or the frustrations I experience? Can I learn to know, to tap into my inner knowing that reminds me of the irrepressible human spirit that by birthright I share? Innovative, resilient, dynamic, creative… all the things I feel do not apply to me when things start to break down… I might be learning that in life maybe we do not retain any understanding of who we are and what we are capable of.

In times when things are hard and the skills we’ve come to rely on are failing us, it just comes down to trust – you trust that there is a core of (something) within you that won’t let you fail, something that will push you to grow no matter how ridiculous or far-fetched it might be to release what you’ve gained through your life’s hard work. We all work hard to make our way, we all find what works for us. Maybe the only difference between dysfunction and truly, meaningful, personally valuable success is how long we resist allowing old lessons to pass away, how long we hang onto our hard-won knowledge of how the world around us and how our own lives “work.” We are masters of change. All we need to know is right in front of us if only we can stop fighting and follow where the road leads. Maybe it always feels like it leads away from safety. Maybe that is how we know…


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Oh how I love the moments of grace where thought becomes understanding that can be translated to action.  Those shifts are magical, and they can’t be forced.  So often, it’s just a twitch away from something you already know yet somehow haven’t been able to integrate.

This is the case with “should.”  How often have I heard “Stop shoulding all over yourself”?  And how often have I wanted to but could not figure out how to shush the shoulds?

Have you ever had a book on your shelf for years and then suddenly feel the impulse to finally pick it up and read it?  That happens to me frequently.  Maybe it only happens to those who collect books, as I do (I can’t seem to break myself of the habit).  The book that jumped out at me this week was Kurt Leland’s Menus for Impulsive Living.

These simple but potentially life-changing moments often happen, for me, with the sense of something getting rearranged in my brain.  That’s what happened when I read this:

What is an impulse?  In our view, it is a message sent to the ego either from the soul or the body.  This message indicates that a certain action is appropriate at a certain time.  When the message comes from the soul, the action will have something to do with the process of self-realization, of becoming who you truly are; when from the body, it will have something to do with physical survival…

…[T]here is no such thing as a self-destructive impulse…

From our perspective, actions motivated by such powerful emotions as rage or hatred are not impulsively but compulsively motivated.  There is a certain neurotic aspect to such behaviors, which indicate a severe misalignment of ego and soul.  The same would be true, but to a lesser extent, with individuals who feel the compulsion to shoplift or commit other minor transgressions.

… It is never appropriate to refuse or ignore impulses… True impulses have a certain persistence about them.  They will not vanish from your awareness until they have been acted upon.  In order to refuse or ignore them, the ego must talk itself out of noticing and acting upon them.  Whenever you try to persuade yourself to do a certain thing, you are ignoring and impulse against.  And whenever you try to persuade yourself not to do a certain thing, you are ignoring an impulse for.  A rather typical technique of persuasion is concealed in the word should.  Whenever you tell yourself that you should be doing a certain thing, there is always something else that you are trying to talk yourself out of doing.  If you say, “I should do X,” you are actually suppressing the second part of the sentence: “instead of Y.”  By reversing your position – doing Y instead of X – you will have acted on the true impulse.

Did you see the light bulb that just went on over my head?  I get so caught up in shoulds, my shoulds have shoulds.  Sometimes there are so many shoulds in my mind upon 2 minutes of awakening, I feel overwhelmed and want nothing to do with my day.  The list of shoulds is so long and impossible, and I can’t seem to choose which shoulds to address.  Even if I choose one or two, I tend to feel like the Red Queen – running, running, running and never getting anywhere.  Is there really a process so simple that I can turn these shoulds on their head?  Is there really a beacon inside me that guides truly to the things that most benefit myself and those around me and which things might be rejected because they are best left for another time… or best left undone?  Is there really a way to know, in each moment, which action will lead me to wholeness and true balance?

The questions above help me see that I’ve been pretending my whole life.  I pretend I know how to be a responsible adult.  I go through the motions.  Sometimes they feel good and other times they feel horrible.  I have trouble believing I’m the only one who has looked for a formula or a routine that will make things easier.  I suppose I’ve concluded more than once that I’m a flighty person for needing different things on different days, that a strict self-imposed routine has never worked well for me, and that while self-flagellation does not appear to be particularly effective, I’ve found no better approach.  Passion is unreliable, “laziness” too powerful.

Stress could be described as the state of being in need of something that you purposely deny to yourself – by telling yourself that something else is more important.  To live impulsively requires that you get rid of the system of values that supports this kind of thinking.

The details beyond these introductory ideas are interesting.  Things are broken down into categories and specific advice is given for various types of impulses.  The focus is on paying attention to the pull to do something or not do something instead of sticking with your ideas of what should or should not be done, in what order, and at what time.  From the basics of bodily functions to various activities, explanations are provided regarding the importance of structuring your life to accomplish ready response to impulses as they arise.

Whether the details about how to structure response to impulses speak to you or not, I find the concept of simply paying close attention to my impulses – all of them – to be a new and valuable tool.  I spent the day at work yesterday doing my best to value the bodily impulses.  I peed when I felt the urge, I drank water the moment I realized I was thirsty, I ate what appealed to me among the available options, and I stopped eating when the impulse arrived. (Okay, I admit, I did eat an extra 2 bites of pasta salad after that point – what can I say?  I’m learning.)

This morning, I woke up with my overwhelming list of want-to, need-to, and should-do items running through my head.  As usual, the mental list was superhumanly long and complicated.  As usual, I felt my anxiety rising.  As usual, I opted to lay in bed for many long minutes rather than greet my day with anticipation.  And then I began to breathe, and I reminded myself I am human, and I asked myself what my first impulse was.  So I started my day with a trip to the toilet (Leland claims that your body will tell you it’s time to wake through your bladder – if you have to pee, it’s time to get up… hmmm…) and I did not eat an early breakfast because I did not yet feel the impulse to eat, and I accepted that I can work with this concept of one moment leading to the next and embrace these impulses with joy and appreciation.

After driving kiddo to school, the impulse came to make a list of leisure activities that I feel may bring interest and joy into my life, regardless of whether I feel I have time for them.  Then the impulse to write appeared, and so that’s what I’m doing.  And the next impulse is to grab my mat and go to yoga, which I will also do.  I suspect the impulse to eat will follow that, but we’ll see… and then my afternoon may be taken up with any of several activities, but for now I’m trusting that there’s no need to plan.  The list will remain, but if I follow impulse to impulse, I won’t get paralyzed and I won’t feel the need to go to bed and pull the covers over my head.  Maybe I’ll play with the dog.  Maybe I’ll do the laundry.  Maybe I’ll lay in bed and read.  I won’t be surprised if the list gets done on its own if I respect this process.  It’s an experiment I’m willing to try.  In this moment, I sense the wisdom in this approach… let’s see if I can live it.

Energetic Birthright

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I just rediscovered this post I wrote for the Xen Healing Arts blog when I was associated with them in March of 2011.  I kind of appreciated it, reading it after this much time and so wanted to share it here on my personal blog as well (am I the only one who enjoys finding old bits of writing that I forgot about?).  Good thoughts for the new year… enjoy!

With Reiki I and II training coming up on March 19 & 20 at Xen Healing Arts, I thought it a perfect time to throw out some thoughts about confidence in healing. Challenges with confidence are as varied and individual as we are, but this article focuses on common issues for those new to sensing and moving energy.

Reiki is a wonderful and soothing method of utilizing life force energy for personal and interpersonal healing. It is a powerful system of natural healing and many holistic therapists are known to have started their training in healing with Reiki. I know for myself, Reiki is the baseline I always go back to as I progress into further healing skills and awareness. Reiki is useful for so many things that I can’t help but feel my life has been irreversibly enriched by the experience of its gift. I consider my Reiki attunements honestly among the richest blessings of my life. It has changed the way I think about … well, everything.

Our world and all we experience is made of energy in various forms. Whether you consider yourself a healer or not, Reiki is a concrete hands-on way to experience energy in a very personal way. However, the concept of moving and appreciating energy in the way that Reiki encourages and supports is foreign to many in our Western society. We tend to trust only what can been seen and measured. We tend to focus relatively little on sensing and feeling. Most of us have not ever considered nor tuned in to our personal energy fields, let alone the vast variety of experiences with energy that exist all around us.

I think this may be why learning Reiki can be difficult for some of us. The actual system is elegant and simple. It gives our brains something to focus on. The concepts underlying the system can seem esoteric to some, and this is where confidence comes in. When we are dealing with a system that is based on an invisible life force that many of us have never experienced in a directly conscious and personal way, it can seem incredible to consider that it is actually our birthright. Once that hurdle is cleared, we can still, at times, find ourselves wondering if we’ve gone a little loopy in the noggin as we attempt to work with this force. Who are we to move and manipulate the very essence of life? “Am I doing it right?” “What if it doesn’t work?” “Have I lost my mind?”

Granted, there are those who have enough experience and knowing to understand (or at least become comfortable with) the underlying principles at play. It tends to get easier with more exposure to both the ideas and the energy itself. We trust what we know, and there is no exception here. Then there are others, maybe most of us, who need a little injection of confidence – either to get started or to continue as doubts arise.

The first thing to remember is that regardless of what you’ve been told (or perhaps more to the point, what you tell yourself), energy is elemental to who you are, who we all are. We can categorize and define and work with various frequencies from x-rays to color, but the bottom line is that energy surrounds us. We are steeped in it, and we have an intimate connection with it. From our own personal energy field to the molecules in motion in the cosmos, energy is ours. Simply by being alive, you have a right to acknowledge, appreciate, and manipulate it. You do it whether you’re conscious of it or not. So, my question to you is: why not be conscious?

The second point is that regardless of what your particular gift for sensing energy may or may not be, you can trust that energy follows intent. Whether you feel palpable sensations… or whether you experience a “knowing” that you can’t explain or describe… or whether you simply trust that Reiki (and healing energy in general) is something that exists and can be harnessed or directed in some respect or another, you can always be sure of two things:

Intent is key.
Reiki does no harm.

If you start with those two concepts and develop confidence in them, this is a good place to begin. I believe that if you can start here, going back to these two concepts when you’re feeling insecure or wondering if you’re “making it up,” much of the nervousness can be set aside or cleared entirely.

We reside in a society that often fails to acknowledge (and at times is outrightly hostile towards) the energetic essence of our true natures. It can be difficult to leap into exploring these concepts and make them our own. As a good friend of mine said shortly after her introduction to energy healing, “I don’t want to believe it, but I can’t deny it.” There can be a significant degree of cognitive dissonance as we reach towards something that others have told us is not legitimate, even when our experience tells us otherwise. The irony is that so many of us are coming to know and experience these truths in increasing numbers. You may be shocked to discover how many around you are opening, as you are. We are waking up. And we are claiming what’s ours. What’s not to inspire confidence in that?

Beginner’s Mind

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I’ve been listening to a lot of Gabe Dixon lately.  I go through these phases in which a certain type of music fascinates me and it never seems to make much sense which way I’ll go.  For example, a Pink phase will be followed by a meditation music phase.  Go figure.

Anyway, lately it’s been Gabe Dixon.  There’s a song on The Gabe Dixon Band’s self-titled album called “Further the Sky.”  It’s a sweet song, but it’s always bothered me a little bit because it seems so… negative.  Like you just can’t win.  Here are the lyrics:

When you don’t know where you’re going and you don’t know why
It feels like another day’s beating into the night
Lay your head on my chest while my beatin’ heart pounds out the secret of this life

The higher you reach
The further the sky
The more miles you walk
The longer the road
The steeper you climb
The harder you stand to fall
The stronger you get
The heavier the load

I wish I could give you the answers and paper and ink
I wish I could stop all the tears before they start falling
But we’re feeling our way and we’re always beginners
We’re all cuts and no scars

The bigger the dream
The rougher the ride
The truer the love
The deeper the ache
The blinder the faith
The tougher the go…

I have been thinking about these lyrics a lot.  And I realize now that they are not really negative, underdog lyrics.  The song is only negative when we look at it through the lens of our “do-all, be-all” culture that insists you are nothing if you haven’t accomplished something.

The line “But we’re feeling our way and we’re always beginners” gives it away.

It doesn’t matter how far the sky is.  It doesn’t matter if we ever reach it.  The reaching for it is all that matters.  It doesn’t matter how long the road is or whether we get to the end of it.  And no matter how strong we get, there will be more challenges, more things to learn – and there’s not anything wrong with that.

In this life, we will never be finished.  “Lay your head on my chest while my beatin’ heart pounds out the secret of this life.”  And that’s the secret – the heart beats and beats and beats… it’s never done until life is done.  There is no goal for those heartbeats other than to just be what they are – always working to sustain life.

This is a lesson I still need to learn.  It’s a lesson we all learn every day we are living.



I speak from my heart but I’m not really sure if its true…

I don’t know what to believe I just show up and breathe


                                          Indigo Girls, Lay My Head Down (Emily Saliers)

I’ve been silent on the blog for a while, and there’s a reason for that.  It’s primarily about doubt.

As I’ve opened to things unseen and things that many believe unknowable, it’s easy to let my thinking brain get in the way.  I do lots of that.  I’ve always felt blessed with a bright brain, but only recently have I come to understand that as glorified as intellect is in our culture, there are some things that come more easily to simple people (and by “simple,” please understand – I’m not saying unintelligent).  I think they often know how to feel their way through life in ways that those of us with big intellects have a hard time truly understanding.  I’ve been worshiping at the shrine of intellect all my days; I only recently became aware that the intellect cannot understand all things.  There are some things it can’t even approach.  I will admit, I have always believed that anything in life can be “figured out.”  And it turns out I was very wrong about that.

Still.  It’s very much my impulse and habit to use my brain for every application.  I’m learning, but it’s slow-going, and frankly, still way too often more theoretical than experiential.  And when I do get a lovely experience that takes me out of my brain, the gray matter immediately goes to work categorizing and intellectualizing as soon as I’m back from where ever I’ve been.  Maybe the best I can do is just watch my mind do this, try to understand that that’s what brains do and not get too distressed about it.  The only issue is that I still tend to think the answer is in the brain.

I have been thinking a lot about awareness lately, specifically “nonlocal” awareness.  What does this mean?  Nonlocal awareness?  It’s essentially the idea that our awareness does not reside in our bodies, in our nervous systems.  It’s behind the experiences people have when they remember past lives or have a near-death experience.  If we weren’t “here,” in our bodies, where do these “thoughts” and “memories” come from?  Consciousness is larger than our neurons.

I started to wonder if it’s possible to be aware of everything – I mean, really – EVERYTHING.  (I’m nothing if not ambitious, right?)  If you’ve been reading the blog for a while (or care to take a jog through old posts), you’ll know I have been diagnosed with adult ADD, and recognizing those tendencies in the way my brain works has been life-altering for me.  One thing that is obvious is that brains can only hold so much in attention at once, there’s only so much we can know and remember as humans.  There’s only so much we can attend to.  Even those of us who tune in to quite a lot at one time can’t tune in to EVERYTHING.  And the more we let in, the worse our overwhelm can become.  Our nervous systems just were not designed to attend to all that is, even in one blessed moment.

But… if we take the brain out of the equation?  What then?  Can we know in ways that we can’t intellectualize?  Can we know in ways that give us a snapshot, so to speak, of our entire environment?  I have begun to think that the answer to this is YES!

Only now, the question comes back to, “HOW?”

And that’s what I’ve been working on.  That’s why I haven’t had much to say lately.  I’m working out the awareness puzzle, and trying my damnedest to do so without my eager brain jumping in every other second.  It’s slow going for a heavy thinker like me.  The biggest hurdle on this journey so far is doubt.

There’s so much talk about ego – the evils and pitfalls of the ego.  Essentially, ego is brain-based.  I’ve come to understand that our ego is the unflinching survival mechanism that grounds us in this world.  It deserves respect but also should not be given domain over what it cannot comprehend.  I feel the ego is inescapable in this lifetime, but we can put it into the service of our soul.  I’m not always very good at that… but I’m working on it.  When I reach even a taste of what I’m trying to experience, the ego mind flies in with doubts.  The ego is entirely based in the intellect and in the survival instincts of this world.  It does not understand anything else, and so when those things appear, the ego/intellect dismisses them.  It is quite dogmatic in that way, and it’s easily threatened.  We are so very fond of listening to our egos.  For good reason, too – they help keep us physically safe and alive, functioning within our world of illusion.  So we are met with a challenge… how do we remove the intellect as king?  How can we give it a proper place, in balance with the wholeness of our being?

I don’t have answers.  Yet.  And when the answers come, I don’t know if I’ll be able to translate them to words on a computer screen. No doubt I will at least have the impulse to try.

And so the lyrics from the song I referenced above speak to me loudly these days.  “I speak from my heart, but I’m not really sure if it’s true.”  And I’ve realized that not being sure of my truth is a very painful place to be.  I hate it.  I want to stand on solid ground, and I want my intellect to reassure me that what I understand is TRUTH.  I want to wrestle with the issues of discernment with my brain, and it’s just not working very well.

“I don’t know what to believe, I just show up and breathe anymore.”

And maybe that’s all I can do.  Just show up and breathe.  Maybe while my mind is taking a breather, I will find and embrace my truth.  Maybe the Skeptic and the Thinker will lose track of me altogether.

A girl can hope.

I’m an ocean

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You’re an ocean you’re an ocean
Settle down settle down
What’s the commotion?
I’m an island
But you’re an ocean
It’s a stormy sea of love and emotion
You got me suspended motionless in time

Dr. Maitland advises me to make myself an ocean.

The metaphor goes like this.  If you are a puddle, any little pebble that hits you makes a big splash. If you are an ocean, you could drop a boulder and it would not make more than an insignificant ripple on the surface of a vast body of water.

At times, it feels that all of us are vulnerable to so many things in our environment, internal and external.  What other people do or think, what our own judgments of ourselves and others create.  Emotions, events, and our interpretations of them can really make us feel that our well-being is in jeopardy.  For those of us who are especially sensitive (and for those of us who embrace and cultivate that sensitivity), we’ve often got what seems like a lot of pebbles hitting us continuously.  And we all get a boulder or two every now and then, something that just rocks us to our core.

The way I initially responded to Dr. Maitland’s advice was to focus in on what I felt was the essence of myself, the inner part of me.  Then I imagined that part of me extending outside my body and moving all the way to the horizon, becoming expansive.  As I walked through my day, I would practice pushing my energy ahead of me, outside of me, surrounding me and extending all the way to the curvature of the Earth.  At times, I tried to imagine it encompassing the Earth or extending out into outer space.  I admit, I’ve never really accomplished that much expansiveness through imagery and will, but it’s fun to try.

The interesting thing about this exercise is that when I’m able to do well with it, it feels as though judgment falls away to some extent or another.  It feels as though self-reproach falls away in part or full.  The expansiveness feels like an embrace of everything and everyone around you.  Judgment, including self-judgment, tends to “crunch” it all back down, and I am yet again a puddle with a hailstorm of pebbles all around.

But I think I may have discovered another piece of the puzzle.  The phrase “Be the observer,” is fairly well known.  It is based in Buddhist (and other) philosophies that ask us to release attachment to our present experience, whatever it may be.  We can observe our emotions without getting drawn into the drama of them.  We can observe what happens around us without getting caught up in the dichotomy of good and bad, without the idea that we have to put everything in a little box so that we can understand it with our thinking mind.  Or so I hear.

I discovered a book called The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer.  I’ve had more success learning to be the observer since I started reading this book than I ever have before.  He explains the essence of who we are in a way that makes more sense to me than anything else I’ve ever read.  I realize I’m not my thoughts, I’m not my experiences, I’m not my personality – but who am I?  I’m the awareness of all those things.  I am not even the thinker of thoughts.  I am the one who is aware of the thought.  And that’s all.  In fact, that’s more than “all” – that’s everything.

We think that our thoughts are substantial.  We think that our beliefs are real and our opinions are real.  We think that if we can understand it, it counts.  In my cerebral way, I’m as prone to this (if not more so) than most people.  It’s part of being human to get caught up in what we think and to believe that we are defined by our thoughts and the actions they lead us to.  But that’s not who we are.  We are the awareness of those things – the thoughts, the actions, and everything we observe around us.

Michael Singer compares it to watching a movie and getting so caught up in the experience of the movie, you forget you’re sitting in a theater.  You forget the details of your life outside the theater.  You come back to yourself when the credits roll and the lights are turned on.  Then you realize you were absorbed in the story and had left yourself for a while.  He asks us to imagine a movie where we could smell and taste and feel every element of the story as well as see it.  How much more absorbed would we become?  We might forget ourselves completely.  And so we do.  This human experience is so absorbing that we tend to be unable to remember who we really are.  We think we are all the things and experiences that make up our Earth life.  We forget we are actually the awareness that is having the experience.

This way of looking at things has made a big difference in learning to become the observer.  I feel like I really am starting to get it for the first time.  I am more easily able to step back to the level of awareness and watch what goes on – what my brain thinks, what my emotions react to.  I still get caught up and absorbed in the story – and I know I always will tend to do that, just as all humans will tend to do that.  But I more easily and quickly pull back and watch, even as the tears stream down my face, even as I’m feeling irritable and out of sorts, even as I grapple with insecurities.  Even as all this occurs, I am more aware of the consciousness that underlies every Earthly experience.  I am more in touch with the true essence of myself, and it is simple and profound.

So, I began experimenting with the ocean idea again.  Only this time, I’m not vaguely pushing some part of myself to the horizon.  Instead, I’m simply focusing on the aware part of myself, the truly “me” part of me, and getting a sense of that.  As I do, I try to find the boundaries… and I can’t.  I can’t find the boundaries.  Maybe there are edges out there somewhere, but I can’t sense them.  It is more expansive than I could have imagined.  It’s not a question of pushing my boundaries out to the horizon or into outer space or beyond.  It’s really that I have no sense of where this awareness begins or ends.  It feels immeasureable.  How startling.  Is that really me?  Could it really be that I am that expansive?  (And at this point, “I” doesn’t mean what it used to mean.)

When I pull back into my awareness, when I’m able to do this, I’m truly an ocean.  And when I crumble, when I compress into my current experience of insecurity, lack, thoughts, and opinions, I can at least watch myself doing that.  Even when I don’t feel expansive, I have a sense that I am expansive – more than I can possibly comprehend in my current state.  And as I watch myself getting caught up in the drama, I am comforted by that knowledge, even when I don’t feel it, when I have no visceral experience of it.  I remember having a glimpse of it in my clearest moments, and for now that is enough.

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