2016 ~My Year of Yes!

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I declared 2016 my “Year of Yes”. I was inspired after reading Shonda Rhimes book and adopted a “sure, I can do that” attitude for the year. (This introvert needed to step outside her comfort zone!)

The year began when I said yes to a Nano to Publish writing class. I learned a lot but realized my coming of age memoir needs more editing before it’s ready for publishing. But that class led to another opportunity with the A to Z Blogging challenge in April, where I discovered WordPress and the blogosphere.

In February I joined a weekly writers group that meets for breakfast and conversation at a quirky little cafe called The Black Dog. I think we’re supposed to be writing, but we spend more time chatting about our books, characters, art, and debating if we should eat the potatoes and the toast, LOL. They’re a talented group of artists and writers! But more importantly, they’ve become dear friends.

In March I said yes to becoming more involved in the political process and attended my first State Caucus and decided there must be a more efficient way to nominate delegates… a blog for another day.

As the year went on I kept saying yes. I said yes to Tai Chi classes, poetry readings, attempts at writing poetry, a writers retreat, lectures on writing and occasionally, writing.

Over the summer, the geek in me said yes to Pokémon Go – research for my blog, of course.  As SuperSleuther, I reached level 23 with an impressive Pokédex before losing interest and looking for the next bright, shining thing.

In September I said “NO” to the loss of my younger brother. After the shock and denial phase, I surrendered and said yes to the grieving process and acceptance of the temporary nature of all things. My Bubba lived his life with “arms wide open” which was his way of saying yes to this life.

In November I said yes to participating for the third year in National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo.  I was successful in writing a 50K manuscript about witches, wolves, and druids. I had fun coming up with ideas and researching Wiccan, Paganism, and Druidry. I must confess, I am enchanted by the old religions and their connection to nature, mother earth, the moon, sun, and stars. I want to learn more so I said yes and enrolled in a year-long course through the Order of the Bards, Ovates, and Druids. 

Looking back, it’s been a busy year with twists and turns and moments of synchronicity. Recently, a friend suggested I declare 2017 my year of “balance”.  But as my final act of 2016, I’m gonna say Yes to 2017 with a shift in focus. I want to practice what I preach so my focus for 2017 will be….

…oh, snap!

I’m over my self-imposed 500-word count and I’ve probably lost most of you at this point…. but if you’re still with me, check back on New Year’s Day for the 2017 reveal!

Bada bing, bada boom… that’s a wrap! Cheers to you 2016!

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The Path of Unconditional Happiness

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“Happiness is an inside job.”

As the year draws to a close we’re entering the home stretch of my blog series on The Untethered Soul with five chapters to go! Thanks for hanging in there with me on this spiritual refresher course. In my opinion, these last chapters are the most inspiring and provocative. They include unconditional happiness, nonresistance, contemplating death, the middle way, and the loving eyes of God.
have-a-nice-dayIn his chapter on happiness, Michael Singer asks us a simple question: “Do you want to be happy?” I imagine everyone would say yes, of course, if only…(fill in the blank). We tend to put conditions on our happiness. I’ll be happy when I lose ten pounds, happy when I get the promotion, happy when I can afford a new car, and on it goes. But Singer tells us happiness is a choice, a choice that can lead to enlightenment if we drop the conditions.

“If you decide that you’re going to be happy from now on for the rest of your life, you will not only be happy, you will become enlightened. Unconditional happiness is the highest technique there is. You were not put on Earth to suffer. If you want to be happy, you have to let go of the part of you that wants to create melodrama.” ~ Michael Singer

Not surprisingly, many folks take issue with this idea – the idea that we can be happy 24/7, regardless of what life throws at us. I don’t know how realistic it is to feel “happy” in every moment of every day. So I am going to suggest a compromise, based on my own experience.

Let’s replace the word happy with peaceful.

I can envision living a more peaceful life. In fact, using some of Michael Singer’s techniques, I can achieve a peaceful state, regardless of the world around me, by going inward and focusing on the present moment. But it ain’t always easy. For me, it’s more of a process than a constant state of being.

My life philosophy is, living with an open mind, open heart and compassion towards all. It’s a rather simple philosophy in theory, in practice, well, that’s another matter. I make it more difficult when I let the melodrama of my mind have its way, but that’s my choice too. Sometimes I like a little drama, it keeps life spicy. Striving to live a more peaceful life doesn’t mean I never experience drama, or anger, or the full range of human emotions – I do!  But through the practice of awareness, I can see my thoughts spiraling out of control and pull back, become the observer, the witness and make a choice. Do I wanna go down this rabbit hole of drama? Or, get my act together and calm down? That’s awareness.

So, choosing peace, or happiness, doesn’t mean you won’t still experience life’s difficulties. You’re simply choosing to see things differently, through the eyes of awareness. Once you’re aware, then you can choose how best to respond.

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” ~Wayne Dyer

Once again, Singer recommends adopting a daily meditation practice to stay centered. I think he may be right, though – knowing you can center yourself and choose peace leads to a happier life. See how we came full circle just then? LOL.

Give peace a chance

Give peace a chance

So this week, as we approach the new year, practice choosing peace, and know that it is your choice. You are not powerless over how you react to what the world throws at you. And if you’re resistant to this idea….well, stay tuned….

Next week: The Spiritual Path of Non-resistance

~Namaste

The Reality of Fear

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I AM FEAR

I am the menace that lurks in the paths of life, never
visible to the eye but sharply felt in the heart. I am the father of
despair, the brother of procrastination, the enemy of progress, the tool of tyranny.
 
Born of ignorance and nursed on misguided thought, I have darkened more hopes, stifled more ambitions, shattered more ideas and prevented more accomplishments than history could record.
 
Like the changing chameleon, I assume many disguises. I masquerade as caution. I am sometimes known as doubt or worry. But whatever I’m called, I am still fear, the obstacle of achievement. I know no master but one.
 
Its name is Awareness. I have no power but what the human mind gives me, and I vanish completely when the light of awareness reveals the facts as they really are, for I am really nothing.
 
You see, if you have the courage to acknowledge your fears, you will be taking the first step toward controlling them instead of them controlling you. And if you take the next step toward awareness, you will be able to move past them to empathy, perhaps even to love.”
 
~ Author Unknown

I kept this description of fear tacked to the bulletin board in my office for years. I gave copies to anyone I thought may benefit from the message. Mostly, I kept it for myself.  So when Michael Singer wrote about how to free ourselves from our fears in The Untethered Soul, I had a hunch it came down to the one skill I had yet to master: AWARENESS.

I had another one of those “ah-ha” moments while reading Michael Singer’s description of fear. He describes fear as simply “a thing”, often just the rambling thoughts of our mind. Now, to be clear, we’re talking about psychological fear, not physical danger. In cases of danger, our fight and flight instincts take over.

“People don’t understand that fear is a thing. It’s just another object in the universe that you are capable of experiencing. You can do one of two things with fear: you can recognize that you have it and work to release it, or you can keep it and try to hide from it.” ~ Singer

So what do we do to dispel our fears? First, we have to realize that we can’t control the world or other people. And we can’t expect our minds to protect us from experiencing life. Life is gonna happen. At times life is pure joy. Other times life is filled with sadness and loss. Awareness of our thoughts and feelings is the beginning of healing and releasing fear from our minds and hearts.

“Do not doubt your ability to remove the root causes of the disturbances inside of you. It really can go away. You can look deep within yourself, to the core of your being, and decide that you don’t want the weakest part of you running your life. This is the essence of the path. This is the essence of a spiritual life. Once you learn that it’s okay to feel inner disturbances and that they can no longer disturb your seat of consciousness, you will be free.” ~ Singer

This week, be the Observer, the Witness – watch your thoughts come and go. Observe, feel, and release. Breathe and be free.

In the spirit of the holiday season, a quote of inspiration.

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Next week:  Going Beyond

~ Namaste

Living with an Open Heart

untethered-soul-3“It’s impossible,” said Pride.
“It’s risky,” said Experience.
“It’s pointless,” said Reason.
“Give it a try,” said the Heart.

Living with an open heart makes us vulnerable and yet without an open heart, we are closed to the love, joy, and happiness that makes our human experience meaningful.

In chapter seven of The Untethered Soul, Singer provides insights and techniques to keep us from closing ourselves off from the world. He warns that if we close our hearts, we lock our fears inside with us. If there is no light, we can’t grow. We become prisoners of our own making.

One insight Singer offers is the realization that our thoughts and emotions are just objects of our consciousness. I remember reading that line over and over. It was another “ah-ha” moment for me as I studied Singer’s book. I realized that my thoughts were just objects with no power to hurt me unless I gave them the power. Often, I gave my thoughts a lot of power and a lot of attention. I’m a recovering overthinker. I’m learning to trust my intuition again!

Another technique involves awareness. When we feel the tendency to close ourselves off, defend ourselves or fight against something, instead, he reminds us to relax into it. Remember, awareness requires presence. You must be focused in the present moment. So, take a breath and as thoughts arise, don’t fight them, judge them, or try to change them. Accept.  Surrender.  Let go.

“You will get to a point in your growth where you understand that if you protect yourself, you will never be free. It’s that simple. Because you’re scared, you have locked yourself within your house and pulled down all the shades.” ~Michael Singer

And finally, Singer tells us to tap into our “inner will” and center ourselves. We have the power to focus our attention in the present moment and become aware. Being mindful and aware is key to maintaining an open heart.

Before we go, I’d like to add another suggestion. I was reminded recently about the power of gratitude. If you feel your heart closing, take a moment to count your blessings and be grateful. This technique works for me every time!

As you start your week keep these suggestions in mind.  Life can be overwhelming this time of year with work, family, and social obligations. If you find yourself closing off, becoming defensive, angry or hurt, remember to take a breath, focus, assert your will, count your blessings, and then let it go.

Next week: Don’t be Afraid ~ Be Free

~Namaste

Grief and the Spiritual Heart

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“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

Grief stole most of November. The sorrow from the sudden loss of my younger brother, two months earlier, became unbearable. When I saw this quote from Gibran I realized it was true; I was weeping for the loss of what had been my delight.

My brother and I had a special relationship. We were both aspiring writers and November held special meaning. In the past, we participated in the Nanowrimo (National Novel Writers Month) challenge; write a 50,000-word novel in November. He was “Bubba Gator” on the Nano boards and we enjoyed tracking each other’s progress online. This year his Nano board word count remained at zero. I cried every time I logged in and saw his profile picture, my handsome Bubba Gator.

In past years, at Thanksgiving, we would entertain our extended family with talk of our characters, plots, and imaginary worlds. My brother was three chapters from finishing a novel he’d been working on for years. He planned to finish this year. His teenage children have vowed to finish his book. I promised to help.

Life goes on. We heal. We grow. We keep an open heart.

Part of my healing process includes this review of Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul. As I prepared this week’s post I knew it was a timely reminder not to let grief close my heart.

Singer explains that at some point in our lives, we all feel the joy of love and the sorrow of loss. Our journey through life brings happiness and suffering. In his chapter on the spiritual heart, he helps us understand why our hearts close and what we can do to stay open.

Singer points out that much of what we experience in life gets stuck inside our hearts and our hearts tend to close to protect us from future suffering. Our heart’s energy flow becomes blocked because we either resist the negative experiences as they surface, or we cling to the positive memories.

“When you are unable to allow life’s events to pass through you, they stay inside and become a problem. These patterns may be held within you for a very long time….that unfinished energy pattern is called a ‘samskara’. This is a Sanskrit word meaning impression, and in the yogic teachings, it is considered one of the most important influences affecting your life. A samskara is a blockage, an impression from the past. It’s an unfinished energy pattern that ends up running your life.” ~ Michael Singer

Over the course of our lifetime, we can store up many samskaras resulting in a closed, hardened heart. Our past samskaras can make us hypersensitive with a tendency to over-react when we find ourselves in similar situations or feel our heart is at risk. The pain of the past comes flooding back and we close our heart and are blocked from moving forward.

So how do we move forward? Singer advises us to stay open and when the old energy patterns emerge let them pass through. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel the pain or pleasure, you do, and then you let it go. This, he says, is the heart’s purification process.

“Learn to be centered enough to watch the energy patterns come up. Once you can sit deeply enough inside and stop fighting the stored energy patterns, they’ll come up and pass right through you. Your heart will become accustomed to the process of releasing and cleansing. Just keep letting go.” ~ Michael Singer

Take time this week to watch for old energy patterns and practice letting them go. Awareness of your own samskaras is a sign of progress. Try not to linger on them, notice them coming to the surface of your heart, feel whatever energy they bring and then release.

Living with an open heart allows you to be open to new experiences and move forward – maybe even write a book!

Until next week ~Namaste