Musings on Love

A random computer search today unearthed something I wrote back in 2009.  I must have been reflecting on the nature of love at the time and it prompted some deep reflections as well as a spontaneous poem. See what you think:

 

Love is not an emotion. It is a cosmic force. You would not say that anger, or patience, or grief is a cosmic force. But love is. Love is life. Without love, we cannot live a full human existence. Love is contentment, peace and pleasure. Love is passion for what we do and what we are interested in. Love is in our connections and attachments to other people. Love is what propels us forward, or holds us back. Love is what gives us hope and faith. It is love that inspires kindness. Love is the distress that causes us to change and grow. Love is why we exist. No being can live without love – human soul, plant, or animal. If we lived our lives bringing love to those around us, what better way could we have lived?

 

Love.

I love me.

Yes… I love me.

I am unique, interesting, creative, expressive, emotional, strong, giving, nurturing, wonderful, amazing…

Yes. I love me.

 

I love you.

Yes, I do love you.

You are beautiful.

You are impressive, delightful, inspirational, moving, stunning.

Of course I love you.

 

I love them too.

I love them because they are different.

They are new, exciting, fascinating and beautiful too.

They look at life from a different angle, and because of them, I can too.

Yes, I love them.

 

But, the them I love, isn’t really them.

The them I love is actually us.

And I really love us.

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“Letter to a Friend”: Reading of the Day

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I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep.  There is nothing I can give you which you have not. But there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant.Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see.  And to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look!

Life is so generous a giver. But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you.

Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there. The gift is there and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Your joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts.

Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering, that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it; that is all! But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country home.

And so, at this time, I greet you with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you now and forever, the day breaks, and the shadows flee away.

From “Letter to a Friend” by Fra Giovanni

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Why Meditate

Document3 copyI will be the first to admit that meditation can be a frustrating subject. I personally had a very difficult time learning to like meditation. If I hadn’t been forced to develop my meditation skills (in my Spiritual Counseling training) it never would have happened. Beginning the process was incredibly frustrating because the different meditation practices we were assigned were either completely confusing or emotionally provocative, forcing me to tap into stuff that I didn’t really want to deal with. I spent months feeling like I had no idea what I was doing and that I was never going to figure out the whole “meditation” thing. But thankfully I was forced to stick with it I eventually began to notice that I had developed a capacity to sink into a place of centeredness when I wanted to reflect on something or settle myself, and that I had started to understand my own inner workings in a way that allowed me to begin to help myself when I was in pain, and relax when I was happy. I began to be able to check in with myself and figure out what was bothering me at any given moment, and I learned how to plug into a part of myself that didn’t take things personally and had a sense of trust and confidence in the way the world was working (my “higher self”). So it took some time (about two years) and a lot of practice before I began to feel more comfortable in my meditation practice, but I actually did get there.

So what have I learned about meditation since I began the whole process?

I’ve learned that there are a million different ways to meditate. Each culture and Faith has developed different meditation practices so don’t get too hung up on just one. Different philosophies will have different strengths. Find a practice that makes sense to you and helps you accomplish your goals.

I’ve learned that meditation is a highly individual activity. It takes time to find the right meditation “recipe” for you. If you’re highly visual then guided visualization might be the way to go. If you’re kinesthetic then you might get more out of a movement meditation. Just don’t get stuck thinking that there’s one right way to do it and that you’re a failure at it. Give yourself permission to explore.

I’ve learned that meditation is about cultivating our consciousness. In any given day we spend a great deal of our time on autopilot. Meditation challenges us to actively reflect on our world, taking in things that we wouldn’t otherwise experience or appreciate. Meditation also challenges us to see the world as it really is, rather than how we think it should be. And by doing that we are enabled to see and appreciate ourselves as we are, rather than how we think we should be. This is incredibly liberating and lays the foundation for real and lasting happiness.

Meditation gives us the opportunity to explore our deepest inner self – our spiritual self. This is the person that we are when there is no one else in the room, when there are no distractions, and when we have no goal to accomplish. This is who we are when we cannot be defined by anyone else or by any accomplishment. This can be a very frightening thing for some of us because we take comfort in those external criteria. Yet ultimately our reality comes from within us, not from outside us, and we are best served by cultivating an experience of peace and contentment that is not dependent on any other living or non-living thing in this world. This, I believe, is the spiritual definition of freedom.

 

There are so many different aspects of meditation to touch on that I hope to continue this discussion in the future. But for the time being I challenge you to take another look at meditation if it isn’t already a regular part of your life, and even if it is, maybe try something new this week. See what guided meditations you can find on YouTube or look for a piece of music that settles you more deeply into yourself. Take a half an hour and browse through the meditation section at your local New Age bookstore or simply try sitting in silence for five minutes and see what happens. Let it be a fun exploration and maybe you’ll learn something new about yourself in the process.

Here are some of my favorite meditation teachers:

Tara Brach

Pema Chodron

James Finley

Jon Kabat-Zinn

And here is an example of a movement meditation

 

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Feelings!? Anything but feelings!

I’ve decided that today is a feelings day.  I’m quite over tired due to a poor night’s sleep, and sometimes when that happens I find that my feelings flow much more freely.  Fatigue seems to break down whatever natural filters I have on my stronger emotions, and this means that I’m crying over videos of cute puppies, crying over spilt milk, and sometimes crying for no reason at all.

In recent years I’ve learned to just go with it.  In fact, one of my big lessons when I was training to be a Spiritual Counselor was to discover that I had built up some pretty big defenses around my heart in order to prevent myself from being overcome with emotion.  However, this also prevented me from feeling good things, and from being as open-hearted as I needed to be in my counseling relationships.  So some of those barriers had to come down (slowly, and sometimes painfully) and now I’ve learned to listen to my emotionality when it wells up from nowhere, rather than trying to stuff it back down*.

It helps that I’ve become more feelings literate over the past few years.  One of my favorite feelings “tools” is Nonviolent Communication (or NVC).  NVC is a wonderful resource, both for learning about feelings and for learning how to communicate effectively.  NVC invites the individual to become familiar with the broad spectrum of their feelings and to identify the potential “needs” responsible for those feelings.   NVC helps plan strategies for communicating well with others, but perhaps more importantly, it helps you learn how to be in relationship with the people you care about in such a way that both their needs and your needs are valued and shared.

If you want to know more about Nonviolent Communication you can check out the Center for Nonviolent Communication here (www.cnvc.org).

I also love these “feelings” and “needs” lists (www.cnvc.org/Training/feelings-inventory and www.cnvc.org/Training/needs-inventory) because they help me become more aware of my inner landscape.  The more familiar I become with my own experience, the more and sensitive I am to other people’s feelings.

As I peruse these lists this morning I find that the feelings that stand out to me are:

Mellow, Quiet, Engrossed, Safe, Still, Wonder, Weary, Agitated, Sensitive, Wistful, and Impatient.  

When I consult the “needs” list I find that, aside from “rest”, I’m also resonating with:

Air, Companionship, Empathy, Beauty, and Discovery.

It always surprises me to find such a complexity of feeling and yearning in myself.  Since I was planning to go for a hike this afternoon with my Father it seems as though I’m already pretty in tune with my needs today.  A hike will hopefully satisfy my need for beauty and discovery, spending time with my Father will satisfy my need for companionship and empathy, and the fresh air will go along way towards clearing that mind-fog that always accompanies a poor night’s sleep.

In summation – feelings aren’t bad or good, they’re simply a tool to let you know how you’re doing.  Yes, we may be high maintenance sometimes, but the more familiar we become with our feelings the less they will run riot over our lives, and the more effective we will be in meeting our needs and finding a happy equilibrium.

“Feelings demand to be noticed, and healthy people know what they feel, accept those feelings, are able to choose how to act in the light of those feelings.” (Inviting the Mystic, Supporting the Prophet, p. 35)

“Self-empathy in NVC means checking in with your own feelings and needs.” (Marshall Rosenburg, NVC)

“When we hear the other person’s feelings and needs, we recognize our common humanity.” (Marshall Rosenburg, NVC)

“Our ability to offer empathy can allow us to stay vulnerable, defuse potential violence, help us hear the word ‘no’ without taking it as a rejection, revive lifeless conversation, and even hear the feelings and needs expressed through silence.” (Marshall Rosenburg, NVC)

Good luck!

 

*What helped this process along was learning how to handle big emotions in my body.  It’s hard to open to strong emotions if they are going to overwhelm you and dominate your life.  It took a number of years for me to learn how to “digest” my emotionality and then release it, in a similar manner to how we chew, digest, and then release our food.  If you dislike being overwhelmed by your feelings, but also find that stuffing them down isn’t working anymore, don’t panic.  Go find a good counselor and ask for some tools to gently start processing your feelings.

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The God Question

As an Interfaith Spiritual Counselor I’ve had to grapple with the God question quite a bit, both for my own personal benefit and in order to figure out how to best support my clients.  To be frank, it’s a very complicated subject.  Everything about “God”- the language, ideology, familial and cultural training, or one’s belief or disbelief – can be a hugely loaded issue. Personally, I don’t believe that there is any one right answer.  I think that every person is entitled to come to a conclusion about, or an experience of, God for themselves.

My personal journey so far has been quite complicated.  I have always been a person of faith but I was also taught to question my beliefs and “grapple” with them as I needed to. I was taught that God loved me, and that He (or She, or It, or whatever makes you comfortable) desired my love in return, which was an easy and natural thing for me to do as a child.  But I suppose all relationships are messy, and our relationship with God is no exception. As I got older there were periods of my life when I was afraid of God,  times when I ignored God, and for a while there was a period when I was very, incredibly, world-endingly angry at God.  But things have a way of resolving themselves over time, and now my relationship with God is something else altogether.  An explanation evades me at the moment, but I will say that it feels deeper, sweeter, and more grounded, as well as humble and more confused. Somehow, the more deeply I experience my own faith, and feel confirmed in my experience of Spirit, the more baffling the idea of God becomes.  Perhaps this is some sort of unavoidable divine paradox.  Or perhaps this is just my own personal journey.

So whatever relationship (or non-relationship) you have with God right now is absolutely fine.  It’s your relationship.  No one else can tell you how it should be. However… don’t get too comfortable.  Relationships are always evolving so leave room for the possibility of being surprised down the road.  The one constant in this world it is change – and in our spiritual lives change is our saving grace.

I stumbled upon the following quote yesterday and hope you find it interesting, and maybe helpful.  It is from one of the letters of Rainer Maria Rilke (a poet).  He is addressing a young aspiring poet who has become disenchanted due to his loss of faith as an adult:

…if it dismays and torments you to think of childhood and of the simplicity and stillness that goes with it, because you can no longer believe in God who is to be met with everywhere there, ask yourself, dear Herr Kappus, whether you have after all really lost God? Is it not much rather the case that you have never yet possessed him? For when might that have been? Do you believe a child can hold him, him whom men bear only with difficulty, whose weight bows down the aged? Do you believe that one who really has him could lose him like a little stone, or do you not also feel that one who had him could but be lost by him? – But when you realize that he was not in your childhood, and not before hand, when you surmise that Christ was deluded by his longing and Mohammed betrayed by his pride, – and when you feel with horror that he does not exist now either, in this hour when we are speaking of him, – what entitles you then to miss, as if he had passed away, and to seek, as if he were lost, someone who has never been?

Why do you not think that he who draws near from all eternity is still to come, that he is in the future, the final fruit of a tree whose leaves we are? What prevents you from throwing forward his truth into times yet to be, and living your life as a painful and beautiful day in the history of a great gestation? Do you not see, then, how everything that happens is for ever a beginning, and might it not be His beginning, since beginning is in itself always so beautiful?

… As bees collect honey, so we take what is sweetest out of everything and build Him. We start actually with the slight, with the unpretentious (if only it is done with love), with work and with resting after it, with a silence or with a little solitary joy, with everything that we do alone, without helpers or adherents, we begin him whom we shall not experience anymore than our forefathers could experience us. And yet they are in us, those who have long since passed away, as natural disposition, as burden on our destiny, as blood that throbs, and as gesture that rises up out of the depths of time.

Is there anything which can take from you the hope of thus being hereafter in him, in the most distant, the uttermost?

… He perhaps needs just this fear of life from you in order to begin; these very days of your transition are perhaps the time when everything in you is working upon him, as once before in childhood you worked upon him breathlessly. Be patient and without resentment, and reflect that the least we can do is, not to make his becoming more difficult for him than the earth makes it for the Spring that wants to come.

(From Letters to a Young Poet, pp28-30)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reading of the day

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The Guest House

by Rumi

This being human is a guest house.

Each morning is a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still treat each guest honourably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

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Song of the Day

There’s been a big upset in our national community since Robin William’s death.  It’s brought a lot of attention to the seriousness of mental health, and the tragedy that is suicide.  Depression, anxiety, and fear are all things we like to try to keep at bay, but no one escapes them completely.  The good news is that people overcome these issues every day, and sometimes darkness can be the very thing that forces us to find a brighter, happier path. We just have to know when to ask for help, because none of us has to go through this alone, and sometimes we need someone else to hold our hope, vitality, beauty, and purpose for us until we find it again.

 

You Are Here

by The Wailin’ Jennys

 

You wonder why you wonder when

You wonder how now and then

How you became who you’ve become

 

You are here

And yet you dream of being there

Of being where you think the good life has begun

 

Every darkened hallway

Every fallen dream

Every battle lost and

Every shadow in between

Will bring you to your knees and

Closer to the reason

 

And there’s no making cases

For getting out or trading places

And there’s no turning back

No you are here

 

Who can say who made the choice

In the matter of your birth

Who brought about that fateful day

Well you are here and born with fire and desire

You’re the only one can stand in your own way

 

And every broken arrow

Every hardened smile

Every foolish gamble and

Every lonely mile

Will bring you to your knees and

Closer to the reason

 

And there’s no making cases

For getting out or trading places

And there’s no turning back

No you are here

 

And every sign of love

Every seed that’s growing

Every sweet surrender

To that silent knowing

Will bring you to your knees and

Closer to the reason

 

And there’s no making cases

For getting out or trading places

And there’s no turning back

No you are here

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Reading of the day

   

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No need for fear or deep despair, seekers of God receive his care. No need for fear or deep despair, we are at home and God is there.

              -Teresa of Avilla

 

(Sourced from Women Pray, compiled by Monica Furlong)

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Reading of the day

Hampton Beach at sunset

     Love penetrates the senses and storms the soul with all its power.  When love grows in the soul, then it rises up with great longing to God and flowingly expands to receive the miracle that breaks in upon it.  Love melts through the soul and into the senses.  And so the body too gains its part and conforms in all ways to love.

-Mechthild of Magdeburg

 

(sourced from Women Pray, compiled by Monica Furlong)

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I am a work in progress…

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e·piph·a·ny: a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something (from dictionary.reference.com)

 

I recently observed that when I have an epiphany about myself or about some great life lesson I automatically think – ‘wow, I should tattoo that on my arm so I don’t forget it.’ In truth, I would never actually get a tattoo – I would be bored with it after about five minutes – but this thought process seems to reflect my feeling that I don’t want to lose an idea that could potentially transform my life – but only if I can hang on to it forever.

However the last time I had an epiphany, I had an epiphany about my epiphanies (… what?).   This epiphany was that whenever I get a particularly good insight about myself I seem to believe that this is the best of all possible revelations, and that there will never be anything more relevant to me, and my life, ever again. I seem to believe that I have reached some pinnacle of understanding, and now I just have to apply it.

In reality, however, the epiphanies that I have had in the past were simply stepping-stones in the process of my growth, and each new one has built on the previous one, developing my understanding and practice even further. The epiphanies continue to come, and I continue to learn new things about myself and about the way the world works, and the process doesn’t end. I realized that this belief that nothing else will come again as potent as this most recent epiphany is a delusion that I seem to be under, but it explains my impulse to tattoo the thing on my body. I have always thought that tattoos were a little confining, because how do you choose a symbol or image that is going to be as meaningful to you in the future as it is now? A lot of people regret ever getting a tattoo because it is an expression of an earlier version of themselves, and not necessarily in keeping with their present self. My epiphanies are the same sort of thing. I keep acting like my understanding of myself in the world is a static thing. I keep thinking that my potential has been reached, and that who I am now is not going to change significantly in the future.

In truth, I am a radically different person than I was even four years ago, and the things that were meaningful to me then don’t always have a place in my life now. The epiphanies that came to me four years ago were transformative and guiding back then, but I’m incredibly glad that I never actually tattooed them onto my body because they don’t speak to me with the same potency now. So why do I assume that my understanding, nay, my self, is so static? Why can’t I live in the reality that I am a constantly transforming and developing persona, learning from each experience and choice? Why do I not see myself as a fluid being, continually redefining myself?

Perhaps this is an issue of spiritual perception. Our essence may be one eternal truth – that is our most authentic and real self – but our ability to understand or express that reality is eternally developing.   From a spiritual perspective, one of the greatest mysteries after God is the human spirit. How can I think I understand everything that needs to be understood about myself in one little epiphany? It’s going to take multiple lifetimes to even have the smallest grasp of my reality as a human being. Why should I limit or define myself by my present understanding?

From now on I’m going to pay attention to those moments of insight. I’m going to enjoy them, and cling to them in the best way I know how so they can inform my choices in that moment. But when I start to say to myself, “wow, I should tattoo this to my arm or something”, I’m going to gently remind myself that this one realization does not define me, in this moment or in the future, and that it is simply one of many tools that will guide me in the exploration of my self and my world. Ultimately that goes for any thought I have about my self. Whether positive or negative, those thoughts are temporary. I will not be the same person in a year. I will have new capacities, a new level of understanding, and will make new choices.   I don’t have to let anything about this moment define me, and I don’t have to know everything about myself now. I am a work in progress, and there is no pressure to be perfect, or to have everything pulled together. I am not a static thing. I am free and unconstrained. And I can be whatever moves me in this moment.

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