I saw beauty and magnificence today, with a side of inspiration. As I walked through my neighborhood, I smelled grass, trees, and flowers. I felt peace, gratitude, and, most significantly, awe. I got an energy infusion from the warm spring sun and air. I heard children laughing and windchimes playing harmonies across backyard fences. I felt God’s presence and my own. My mind slowed long enough for the rest of me to catch up.
During my walk, the usual static was replaced with the quiet certainty of knowing I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing what I was supposed to do. I was happy without trying to be happy. I felt joy without praying to be joyful or undertaking a self-improvement checklist that promised joy upon completion.
We strive to be rational. We plan our futures. We plan to be happy tomorrow. But, happiness is only possible in what Richard Rohr calls The Naked Now. Buddhists call it the present moment and mindfulness.
We spend so much time trying to get God to love us! But, if we show up for ourselves just for this moment, we can forget trying to be perfect, productive, and accomplished long enough to let God love us and really feel it. That’s a game changer!
Miss me? I fell into the abyss. Hate it when that happens. I started out creating something amazing! But somehow I ended up in . . . . commerce
An artist’s life can be marked in distinct periods of BC and AD (Before Commerce and After Development). In the middle is purgatory.
This is much the same life cycle of an entrepreneur as they create a product, company, or app and then engage in the process of attempting to fund it and bring it to the marketplace.
Creation and commerce couldn’t be more different, and yet, one can deceptively and suddenly become the other. It starts with a crazy dream, becomes real and tangible, and then can become an existential crisis.
At the heart of me, I love to create beauty and move people in some way. That’s what drives me in whatever setting I’m in—contributing something that wasn’t there before. It’s where I find the happiest, fullest, truest version of myself. It’s where I am surest of who I am and that God is here with me. This is because at this phase my ego has disappeared, and I am merged with the thing I am creating. The soul is 100% naked and beautiful.
But, the biggest trick of the ego is to make us think it isn’t there, and that’s when things get capsized.
For example, I just finished my Dream Creation. All of us have one of those in us, I think. I couldn’t leave this earth without doing a collection of the best of my poetry, and the creation of this baby was sheer ecstasy, like nothing else. This, to me is the essence of creating– total freedom to take it wherever the spirit leads me, all while linked to my Creator.
But, after I finished creating this gorgeous, vibrant, personally transformative baby, I entered the production zone. I stopped feeling and doing, and started trying and forcing solutions, timeframes, and deadlines. I necessarily engaged others’ help to assist me into turning it into a beautiful package for others to consume and hopefully enjoy. This is exactly when ego took over and I found myself on the sadistic hamster wheel of others’ choices, others’ deadlines, others’ priorities and schedules—all completely necessary. But the second it became a product, God’s timing went out the window, as I tried to manage and exceed other’s expectations and even my own. When ego entered, so did the idea of competition, which I’d never even considered, and then fear. What if I’m not enough? What if my baby is really ugly, and I just don’t know it?
Coincidentally, I felt progressively tired, overwhelmed, irritated, angry and hopeless, equally in turns. Because commerce is completely outwardly driven, it’s about everyone else and whether they like you or are even paying attention. Paradoxically, my ego had stepped in trying to manage everything and excel, but the rest of me shrunk.
What happened? I had let the spirit ebb out of the work– the very essence and soul of it, in my hurry to for it to be born.
I now realize process is a metaphor that should stay on the assembly line. Creativity isn’t a process used in a factory: it’s a birth.
To be mired in process and mechanics forces the ego to take over and manage, like it’s an assembly line. Ego will always be tied to fear, and fear will always block God. But when I focus on fear I’m focusing on limitations: anathema to the creative spirit, which wants to run like a herd of mustangs.
The answer, at least for me, is to approach the commerce side of the equation with the same creative spirit of adventure I approach the creative phase, and to only allow limitations when it applies to time spent in commerce.
I can’t control who sees my art, who likes it, who buys it. I can reach people; if I do the best I can, while respecting that this new commercial landscape is the Wild, Wild West. I have to do my part, but not all of it is up to me. My creator is bigger than the Wild, Wild West, and he can change the topography as needed.
Maybe that’s why I miss Prince so much. He could deliver a production but he was never a product; he wouldn’t stand for it. His identity was his art, take him or leave him. He never submitted to the process.
I can’t ignore commerce, or it will ignore me. But maybe I can try to keep it in its rightful place, and limit the amount of time I spend in and on it so it doesn’t creep into my creative space, like the blob, crowding out creation itself, and the joy that goes with it.
God has opened a lot of doors for me in my life. But, not a single one of these opportunities looked like a door at the time. They looked like failure. They looked like defeat. They looked like unbearable conflict and loss, eventually driving me from that particular situation to find something more peaceful. They looked like sudden physical limitations, springing from nowhere, that forced me to limit and change my focus. They always looked like crisis and change. And pain.
With the wisdom of hindsight, I see that these events that I perceived as horrible at the time, were answers to my own prayers for direction, deliverance and other things. They were thresholds.
My entire writing career resulted from being fired from a job as a lawyer. I had been charging down the legal path for decades at full tilt with success, which blinded me to the unpleasant changes happening in my life and my personality. Law is a great venue for believing the fantasy of control: if I just work harder and longer… what I want or what my client wants will be mine.
I had two very young children at the time. My daughter was 4 and my son was 2, and I never saw them. They were in bed when I went to work in the morning and in bed when I got home. Their father had to take care of almost everything, while I worked sometimes until 4 am answering e-mails, worked on holidays, worked on weekends. I was in pursuit of “ success’, and was going to crack this code, if I just worked harder.
One day, I was at work, of course, and I got a call from our nanny, frantic because she was at the hospital ER with my son, and they would not let her check him in. He had fallen down a flight of stone stairs. He was ok after some emergency surgery to put his teeth back in his mouth, and fortunately I was able to be there with him through this ordeal he doesn’t even remember.
This was a huge signpost that I missed. But, my subconscious was working on me. I did not want to give up being a parent to be a professional anything. My love for the job never really returned after that, and it was just a matter of time before my employer saw it. It was humiliating and painful and horribly unjustified I thought at the time. After all, who worked harder for these people?
It was merely a threshold God was asking me to go through. I began writing in journals to get my myriad emotions out. The emotions erupted in the form of poetry. It took all of these events for me to remember that I had originally wanted to write. I finally remembered that I had started writing poems at age ten.
God had returned me to who I really was, and I had fought him every step of the way.
I started a poetry blog, which led to a book, which led to this blog. I may have been a lawyer by trade, but in my heart, I was always an artist, with the soul of a poet. God had returned me to myself by erecting a threshold, and creating circumstances that urged me to walk through.
In retrospect, he was removing obstacles from my path, which a large portion of the time was I. My ambition. My will. My hunger for approval.
What a God! …Every God direction is road- tested. Everyone who runs to him makes it…You cleared the ground under me so my footing was firm.
Psalm 18, Message Version.
We don’t suffer because of what happens to us. We suffer because we struggle against it. That struggle is based on what our thoughts tell us about where we are versus where we should be. But our thoughts lie to us. All the time. Our minds lie to us, because we want our will instead of God’s, and we tell ourselves stories justifying it.
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
Ralph Waldo Emerson.
When it seems that I have tried everything and am beating my head against a brick wall, I am. There is no door there anymore. It’s scary, but all I need do is pray, look for the prompts, and take the next step in faith. It isn’t the end. It isn’t a death. It is only a threshold. Don’t fear the threshold; fear the cage that forms around us when we refuse to go through, struggling and fighting what is, and therefore, what could be.
I spent the better part of Easter Weekend digging in the dirt with my kids. It was glorious! We made the spring pilgrimage to Home Depot and Lowes and bought a cart full of vibrant blooms. One child graduated college in December, and the other is a sophomore in nursing school, so it had probably been a decade since we enjoyed this family pastime. Long enough for the soil to go completely fallow, for all of our ” curb appeal” shrubs and potted plants to have gone to the Great Nursery In the Sky. We had all been so busy with our lives; we didn’t notice how dead things were. So we raked, hoed, dug and brought in healthy soil. It came back to us, as if no time had passed. We were really working our bodies hard— quite joyfully we discovered, together. It was, in its way, a very holy celebration. We were ridding ourselves of all remnants of winter, and death, and planting the seeds of spring and summer. The very act of planting the seeds and blooms was an expression of faith in the future.
We are all seed planters in some way, aren’t we?
In an interview with Meet The Press, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said, “God is The God of Spring, renewal, birth, and growth– not winter and death.” While so much is complicated, that is a theological concept easy for me to focus upon.
So often, we don’t know what our next step should be. There is so much that is difficult, trying and confusing. But, we can help keep it simple.
All we can do is the next task that seems to present itself to our attention, having faith that it is, indeed, where we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to be doing.
Dig, plant, water, and grow. It’s your time to bloom! Winter is over!
This is my favorite quote in the world. What liberation lies in those words! Are there really ” flaws” or mistakes for someone submitting their will to God, every day or even more often? Let’s unpack this a little further.
As a reformed guilt and unworthiness addict, I’ve looked back on my life, and come to the opinion that these words are quite literally true. That is not to say, that there are no sins or missteps, but even my biggest missteps were not only notfatal, but led me back to Jesus and my true path.
I love Emmet Fox’s definition of meekness; as in: blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)
He describes this rare quality as the mental attitude of being teachable. To me, that is the definition of true humility, not focusing on my unworthiness to the exclusion of all else.
Well, if we are to be teachable and humble, then presumably, there are lessons to be received and learned, and we will be given ample opportunities to practice. It’s an Internship that never ends. Aren’t we to assume that our infinite Maker knows these missteps/ lessons in advance and intends them for our ultimate good, according to his divine timing?
If I focus on mistakes and flaws in a self- shaming way, other people become my God, because they have the power to label my behavior or me a mistake. But, if I view these “ flaws” and “ mistakes” as lessons I get to learn with my God right there, teaching me, it’s a positive, expansive experience. I can rejoice in my progress, however small.
Don’t put your spiritual growth in someone else’s hands. We all need trusted advisors and friends who will tell us the truth, but none of us needs our own personal Chorus of Doom. Sadly, there are folks to whom this is their whole job in life: pointing out others’ flaws and mistakes. You know whom I mean: The Oh! Bless your heart! You are so crazy/ naive/ inexperienced/ wrong/ But, I’ll pray for you Folks. Turn your back and run as fast as you can. As Marc & Angel Chernoff point out in their marvelous book, 1000 + Little Things Happy Successful people Do differently, we are the average of all the people we hang out with. We can’t help but be affected by people who only see our flaws or can’t see that we aren’t failing at all.
Interesting to me is The Talmud’s interpretation of the verse ” if a leader has sinned.” The Talmud interprets ” if” to be derived from the word ” fortunate”. The Torah values truth above all else.
If our leaders establish a precedent for truth, we would be fortunate to have them as…role models, and would not hesitate to admit when we’re wrong. Truth sets us free to correct mistakes.
And the freedom to correct our mistakes and move beyond them, seeking God’s guidance, is that spiritual flowering others call growth.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder means so much more than what it says on the surface! What we perceive as awful missteps that trigger shame may be inspirational in the eye of their beholder. They may be beautiful in the eye of our Creator, because we were obedient to what we perceived as his will:)
A spiritual journey really is a terrible thing to waste.
The truth of any teaching can never be found in the words. Rather, the truth is found in that which is revealed inside our own selves. By exploring in this way, we make the teachings our own. And by making a teaching our own… we come to awaken to a view of life that is whole and unified…and addresses the deepest yearning and longing of the human heart.
I so want to consider myself a mystic. I’m always looking for that next burning bush, while ignoring that my left foot is on fire. Can’t see the tree, for looking at the forest. I want to have a positive impact on the world. But, the true point of impact is the fundamentals, not the polished product. I have learned this again and again and yet, the lesson is far from over. When I am trying to accomplish a lot, I focus so intently on the finished work that I literally lose myself, and lose these critical benefits in the process:
DIRECTION AND PERSPECTIVE
I can’t accomplish big things, if I can’t even accomplish little things consistently. I must remove all the fluff, drilling down to the most basic level first, before doing anything else.
If I don’t put my spiritual life first, my entire perception of everything and everyone becomes skewed.
I am a person of words, but words can and often do lie. In his wonderful book, Falling Into Grace, Adyashanti posits that the reason for human suffering is that we believe our own thoughts.
My thoughts are just a story I tell myself. If I don’t make my time with God my top priority, I start to live in the story, instead of the truth. I have a story about everything: the past, the future, and my motivations for doing what I am doing. I even tell myself a story about my spiritual time:
“ It’s something I have to do, or God will be mad at me.”
“ I need to master the art of prayer and read scriptures or books about prayer.” Well, that’s just the enemy telling me another story.
It is best to start my day with God, before things get too far afield. Otherwise, I will take off in the wrong direction going 200 miles an hour until l hit the wall and finally collapse. My time with God can be 30 minutes or 3 minutes— it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to be fluffy or perfect. My prayer and meditation time is where I find the fount of truth, which becomes, freedom, insight, purpose, direction, energy and inspiration. It starts out being like spiritual broccoli, how I get my antioxidants. But, soon it becomes the most pleasurable part of my day, because it leads me to:
AWAKENING. I get out of my head and my stories, and focus on what is true, and what is happening right in front of my face or even in my own beating heart right now. There is no truth, or happiness or peace or love living in my head. It is happening in this very moment. I even tell myself stories about the truth, wanting it to be bigger, something I can’t miss, like a neon sign. It isn’t.
It is amazing how often the truth for which I search is hiding in my own body. I drive and drive myself, ignoring the evidence. Am I sleeping and eating well, in other words, treating myself like I matter? If not, why? What am I feeling? Is fear or resentment from the past driving me? What is my true motivation for the present course I am charting? Have I been feeling sick or tired for a long time? What is the story I’m telling myself about this? Is it even true? The evidence is not just physical: it is spiritual. Something is off. My life is skewed and out of balance and the cure is not driving myself harder, but drilling down to the Paleo: finding the truth in each and every moment. It is far from easy; it is peeling an enormous onion, but it is the seed from which everything else grows.
I’m bearing witness to how I can trick myself out of miracles by imposing rules or limits on my Higher Power to appear “appropriate “or holy, not being flippant or disrespectful. If I have free will, doesn’t God? Won’t he show up where and when it suits him best?
I spent years in an Old Testament box awaiting punishment, because Iput God in a box, and refused to believe he was big or limber enough to find me outside of that box. I wanted everything about my faith and my relationship to God to be intellectual and complicated. If it is important, it should be complicated and difficult, right?
If there is one thing on which those of us who believe in a Higher Power can agree it is this: whatever we choose to call this divine being, it is omnipotent, infinite, omniscient, and omnipresent. For grammatical simplicity, I choose to use the pronoun, “he”.
His holy presence is everywhere and cannot be labeled or limited in any way. A host of amazing things follow from this:
Miracles are possible anywhere, anytime.
Sanctuary is too, because it isn’t a building. It is the presence of grace.
Spiritual community can happen anywhere, because true community is about joy and the freedom from fear and shame.
I used to think that thinking was the highest function of humanity. Now I know that loving is our supreme function, because it can transform both those who receive it and those who give it.
Through love, my faith has become about freedom, not labels and limits. Through the eyes of freedom, life becomes a simple adventure: I ask for help, blessings, and even miracles, and then just let them fall on me like summer rain. They happen when and how God wants them too. They don’t and can’t look the way I forecast them in my head, because my imagination is too small.
Lift up your eyes all around, and see;
they all gather together, they come to you…
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and exult,
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you.
So, why wouldn’t I be able to find my God at the Jewish Community Center, regardless of whether or not I am Jewish? There is such warm and loving acceptance of individual beauty there, such a beautiful spiritual atmosphere that is spacious and has room for me; I am immediately receptive to divine guidance, love and presence.
I swim laps outside, and, more often than not this winter, I have literally been swimming through clouds. Tell me, that isn’t 3 steps from Heaven! The warm water carries me and I don’t have to struggle or fight or try. It’s literally a communion between nature, spirit and body. That sounds like sanctuary and spiritual community to me.
Don’t I believe that God loves me enough to reveal himself to me in a way that I can see and understand? You bet I do! I’m not going to cheat myself out of another miracle.
Please hear me out. This may be controversial or not. But, it isn’t political. I know he lied. I know that is the cardinal sin of journalism. Here’s the thing: I don’t think he’s the real problem, and if he isn’t the real problem, firing him is putting a Band-Aid on Ebola. It looks like we are doing something, but it’s not something useful. It’s closing the pasture gate after the herd has already escaped. I think the herd escaped a decade ago. Here’s why:
Truth is a much larger concept than the literal accuracy of remarks made during a network news broadcast, or anywhere else. Part of living in truth is acknowledging the realities of the world in which we live today. Brian Williams’ comments are merely a symptom of a long- standing epidemic, and the causes and effects of this disease are myriad, including his own network, which is fleeing from him as if from leprosy. NBC, of course, did not know that the now infamous war story wasn’t true. But, they did know that part of the reason Williams had such big ratings was that he straddled the line between straight journalism and entertainment and did it very well. He had huge name recognition. He was a regular on the talk show circuit. I started watching the evening news on his channel because I saw him being hilarious somewhere else. That is the truth.The truth is that the words investigative and journalism no longer appear in the same sentence with any regularity.
The truth is I am technically a registered Republican, but I was and am a loyal Jon Stewart fan because he refuses to let guests cling to their talking points, and yet he manages to question them congenially, without all the vitriol. He maintains respectful friendships with those he criticizes most. That shouldn’t be a rare art, but the truth is that today it is indeed rare.
The truth is we can see falsity packaged as “ truthiness” on TV news at any time. “Truthiness” can be literally true in the specific words that are said, and still missing key relevant facts, depending on who is telling the story. Reporting some facts while omitting others: is that completely honest? Blending news and entertainment to produce the mutation called Infotainment: is that truth in journalism? Is it journalism?
Just at random, I decided to watch Good Morning America last week for it’s content. It was an entertaining blend of weather, celebrity news, vine videos and reports on ISIS. I made the same notes on the network evening news: one third weather, one-third ISIS, and the rest was “news.” Into this mix, entered Brain Williams. He had huge viewership partially because he was also a personality; we knew him and liked him. Now, his employer is acting like he didn’t enter this arena with their permission and encouragement. BS. It’s about both ratings and truth, as long as there is competition for viewers and advertising dollars.
There is a beautiful gift in this set of circumstances because of what it reveals: We want the news to be real, fact based, investigative, journalism again. We didn’t know it until now, but we really, really miss it.
Let’s revel in this moment because it points to the solution, and there is one.
The cure invites action on all of our parts. We can actively seek out and support our true independent news sources, whatever our political persuasions, wherever they may be. We can each become advocates of the truth. There are independent, investigative journalists out there working for newspapers, online periodicals, and other venues. They rely on donors, like us. They are independent because they do not rely on advertising revenue from big corporate sponsors. We don’t live in a world where there is a single source for news delivered to us as we sit at our dinner tables anymore. ~
Here’s the thing: he lied. I am in no way excusing that fact, but can we all tell the truth? Omitting news is also being dishonest. Telling part of the story is lying. Pandering to the powerful isn’t completely honest. We live in a topsy-turvy world where a whole generation gets their news from a fake news show and is mourning the loss of its host. I recently had the opportunity to very briefly meet Lizz Winstead, the co- creator of The Daily Show, and she schooled me a little bit, as I needed to be. I was lamenting the loss of Stewart, and she reminded me that he isn’t the only place to go where stories and facts are investigated, questioned and verified. It just might require a little more effort on my part now, and not be as funny.
Let’s forgive Williams, and if he does it again, he’s gone. Meanwhile, let’s take this opportunity to become more actively engaged in the search for and reporting of the truth.
Whatever our political beliefs, we can find independent sources of truth, balance, and accuracy in journalism and support them financially, read them, watch them and talk about them, so they can live to report another day.
God speaks to me in metaphors because it is the only thing I understand. Every year, I go to a retreat at Laity Lodge to get closer to the Creator and his creations and foster the creative process in myself. Usually, I am presented with a lesson or several on the last day. I offer this, for what it may be worth to you.
I had been feeling severely depleted and removed from my Higher Power due to some serious and ongoing personal crises, aka life. I just wanted to hunker down somewhere and hide and try to find my center again.
I found a cool spot on the footbridge facing some waterfalls and situated myself where no one could see me. I tried to get still and quiet, but the beauty of it all was too much. I tried to catch the 4 big waterfalls with my iPad camera from every angle, but they didn’t show up. I got up and changed position, but it didn’t work. I resorted to my phone, because it had a zoom, and I figured I could capture the beauty and crop it after the fact.
Finally, I gave up and sat back down. I resumed staring at the falls. As soon as I did, a 5th big waterfall came into view. I don’t know how I missed it, but I did. This sent me into a new tailspin. I began to try to capture the 5th fall with my cameras; it was the biggest one! This effort to capture a moment was even more fruitless and frustrating than the last.
Slowly, I realized the sound of tumbling water was coming from more than 5 places. My eye was drawn, each in turn; to 3 other small falls spewing from the rocks.
The lesson just kept coming. I tried to capture these new, hidden sources of flow with my camera, but they didn’t materialize either.
I looked around again at my surroundings, paying attention and noticing two additional falls staring me in the face. This was getting ridiculous!
All of these sources had been there all along, biding their time. Not waiting to be revealed, but waiting to be noticed.
I ‘m always trying to capture the infinite and reduce it to a sound bite. But, then it disappears. This is complete insanity on my part, but we all have those moments of craziness, when what we are trying to accomplish for ourselves, for others, or even for God completely takes over our thoughts and makes us completely lose perspective. What is required at this moment of lunacy is to sit there and do nothing, reconnecting with our Source of infinite peace, intelligence, wisdom, love.
The Infinite Source is magnificent, but not necessarily glamorous. It is like the support girders that keep our national highways humming without falling down. We are supposed to keep driving: not stop and take pictures of them as we make our way down the road. Imagine what would happen if we did! Well, that is exactly what does happen in each individual instance of mini-crazy. We go off- course and can stay there until we can stop long enough to check our direction. I can veer dramatically off course before my feet even hit the floor in the morning.
Perhaps, for me personally, the best thing I can do every morning before I bounce out of bed is to simply ask ” God, what are you going to show me today? What’s my lesson? Please help me to see it and receive it.
This is when being a storyteller can be a less than good thing, because I’m so excited about relating the miracle, the blessing or the lesson, that I don’t give it time to sink in. Hopefully, next time I’ll just sit there for a while and take it all in.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
What else would I talk about this week, but love? As the quote would indicate, love is a practice, not a gooey feeling. But, what kind of love are we practicing? What is excellence in love?
Love can be a super- power, because it can erase fear, and not much else can.
Love can be freedom, because it can create an expansion in our spirit and open us to a whole new perspective on the world and a host of unexplored possibilities.
Love and intelligence combined can result in wisdom.
But love without detachment, can be quicksand for the giver and the recipient. Love that is not detached from judgment is entirely conditional, and can make the giver a puppeteer and the recipient resentful. Love not detached from the fact that we are not anyone’s saviors can ruin our health, take us off of our own path and ultimately take our loved one off of theirs. We can’t save anyone from all pain or consequences, even our children. Any and all efforts to do so only result in the erasure of us.
Love with detachment, gives us the ability to be compassionate and forgive. It allows us to love from the appropriate distance, so we don’t get stepped on for putting ourselves between someone else and their destiny.
Love is an attitude, an intention practiced daily, or even more often, to see others as a gift, a blessing, and a lesson for who they are right now at this instant.