AMAZING GRACE

I woke up on Thursday with the song “Amazing Grace” playing loudly in my head.  I thought back to a dream I had where I was in a large shower room singing it at the top of my lungs:

AMAZING GRACE, HOW SWEET THE SOUND

THAT SAVED A WRETCH LIKE ME.

I ONCE WAS LOST BUT NOW I’M FOUND.

WAS BLIND BUT NOW I SEE.

Now, I am not a religious person and I have not heard this song in quite some time.  I had a feeling of peace and clarity when I arose and it lasted throughout the day and into Friday.  There was a lightness, an aliveness, like a mini awakening had occurred.  Although I don’t think I can really describe what I was feeling in words, what I have written below is what came onto the paper Thursday morning.

We pile a bunch of expectations on ourselves;  expectations about how we should be, what we should be doing, what we should have accomplished already. –Donna, you should be more enthusiastic, more compassionate.  You should be getting up earlier, making more progress towards your dreams.  And if we have a partner, we pile expectations on them, too.  He shouldn’t be so negative.  He shouldn’t be so opinionated.  He should listen to me.  He should always speak to me with kindness and respect.

It’s no wonder marriages get weighed down. It’s no wonder WE get weighed down.  How can love exist when we are feeling angry and resentful towards our partner and probably hating ourselves for feeling that way?  Love isn’t about trying to mould someone into who we think they ought to be nor is it trying to manipulate them into doing things they don’t want to do.  Love is allowing, accepting.

Think of all the energy you use in mentally trying to change someone or yourself.  Has it ever worked?  Does judging or criticizing yourself or someone else ever bring about the change you want?  I, for one, cannot think of any time in my life where this has worked.  We can spend our lives arguing with reality and not being fully present or we can accept people as they are.  Does that mean passively lying back and not doing anything? No, it means changing what we can and letting go of the rest.  (Just like the serenity prayer says)

Grace is defined as a reprieve.  It’s a pardon from punishment.  I don’t think we need a God to give us grace, we can give it to ourselves and to our loved ones.  It’s being generous and having a spirit of goodwill.

If your spouse is late again after you asked him to please be on time, you can allow yourself to get caught up in negativity and get angry with him or you can greet him with a hug and be thankful that he is safe and well.  Of course, you may still want to speak with him later about how you feel when he is late.  You can be vulnerable telling him that you worry about him and that when he is late, you feel you are not important to him.  But in that moment, you have a CHOICE as to how to respond.

Many of us are simply reacting out of old stories that are running our lives. “He’s late again.  Why can’t he be more considerate of my feelings?  It must mean he doesn’t really care.  I would never do that to him.  Here I am waiting and worrying.  He’s so thoughtless!”  and so on.

There can be no grace if our minds are stuck in the past, if we are already expecting some kind of “failure” from ourselves or our loved one.  Then we are not giving anyone a fair chance to begin again in the present.  Grace is like saying–You know what?  Just for now, I’m going to forget all your “mistakes” and all the ways I have felt hurt before and I’m simply going to respond to you in this moment.  I’m going to see you as you are right now–a human being who is flawed and imperfect;  a human being who sometimes suffers, sometimes acts unskillfully;  a human being who is doing his best and trying to be happy, just like me.

We can give this beautiful gift of generosity to each other.  We can see each other with fresh eyes every day, recognizing that we have both changed since the day before.   We are changing, impermanent entities;  not solid and fixed objects.

We can also give this grace to ourselves.  We can imagine that we are here today with a clean slate.  There is no past “me”.  There is only this consciousness in this moment.  I never did anything in the past nor can I do anything in the future.  I can only act in this moment.  Regret is a feeling that stems from thoughts like, “I should have done that.  I shouldn’t have done that.  I wish I had done that.  I really screwed that up.  Man, I’m a fool!  Why didn’t I go for that?”  And the second arrow is the shame of thinking we “messed up”.  Here again there is a choice.  We don’t have to hold on to these thoughts.  Grace can purify us if we can only see that who we are right now, is absolutely okay.

This leads me to conclude that in reality, there is really nothing to forgive.  Whatever unkind things we’ve done to ourselves and whatever ways we’ve reacted to someone else’s unskillful behaviour, those were only our past selves doing what they did.  Grace can be like an eraser if we meet each moment with a beginner’s mind.  We might be tempted to say, “But she hurt me.  She betrayed me!  Her actions caused my suffering!”  The truth is we are the only ones who can cause our own suffering since we are in charge of our thoughts and therefore also our feelings.

Forgiveness can be necessary, too, though because we may not be in a place let go when feelings are still so strong.  Forgiveness means looking back into the past and giving ourselves healing in order to move forward.  Forgiveness can heal our hearts.

Grace is a special kind of forgiveness.  Grace happens in the present.  It happens moment by moment.  Each new second is fresh and we begin again anew.  What is there to forgive when the past is already gone?  Grace is a lifting of all those heavy expectations.  Grace carries aways the regret, the shame, the hurt, the disappointment and resentment and replaces them with love, peace, clarity and an open-hearted acceptance.  With grace, the present again becomes filled with possibility, excitement, wonder and joy.  With grace, there is true spaciousness for the moment to unfold exactly as it is.

 

 

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Tinsel

I got caught up in reactivity yesterday.  It was the same old situation that has happened again and again.  I start to feel very small, like I’m shrinking.  I feel scared, like I am being attacked.  I feel angry, like it shouldn’t be happening.  I feel helpless, like there’s nothing I can do.  I feel self-righteous, like I’m the good guy, he’s the bad guy.  I feel hopeless, like I’m going to be stuck in this loop forever.  I feel terrified, like the end of the world is coming.  All of this occurs in my body-mind in a very short period of time.

The beliefs in my head are–He doesn’t really love me.  He doesn’t really care about me.  He shouldn’t be acting this way.  He shouldn’t be ruining my peaceful feeling.  This is never going to end!  This is all wrong!  I should stand up for myself.  Why am I letting him treat me this way?  Stay calm, Donna.  Don’t let it get to you.  He’s bad for scaring you like this.  Ahhh, I’m trapped in this and I don’t know how to get out!  Why does it have to be so difficult?!

What’s really happening here?  I see my husband.  The muscles in his face look tight. We try to work on a business issue together.  He talks in a louder, faster voice than usual.  His arms are moving and he taps something.  He comes over to where I am sitting.  He is looking down at me.  He tells me what to write in an email.  We finish.  That’s it.  I am interpreting the rest.  I am interpreting this as “scary situation”, need to escape!

I’ve been aware of my story for quite a while now.  The story of the girl who isn’t loved.  The victim who is hurt and left alone.  But I saw another piece of the puzzle this morning.  I realized with more clarity how I have been collecting evidence over the years to prove my theory that “he doesn’t really love me, he doesn’t really care”.  I’ve been so focused lately on everything that he should and shouldn’t be doing.  I saw how I’ve actually been living the story of–Oh poor me!  I’m stuck with this husband who isn’t doing all the things a “good” husband should.

Is this true?  That he doesn’t do things that are loving?  No. Not at all.  In fact, there have been way more cases of him being loving and caring than those few things I harp on in my mind that I believe are lacking.

The truth is he is not doing anything TO me.  He is simply being himself, trying to do his best.  It is me who concocts this elaborate tale of an unloved, neglected wife.  It’s the same story. The story that originated in my childhood.  Ah, yes, I was the unloved, neglected little girl!  It’s all sounding so familiar now!

Is this true?  That I am not really loved and cared for; that I’m not important.  No.  Not at all.  In fact, I have a family, friends and a husband who all love and care about me.

Did I not love and care for myself sometimes?  Did I sometimes act as though I wasn’t important?  Now this is definitely more true.  I realize my part in all this.  That ultimately I am responsible for my life.

Is is true that I’m stuck in a terrible situation?  No. I am not stuck at all and nothing is terrible.  In fact my life is incredibly blessed with so much.  And I am completely free to choose to go in any direction I please.

Is it true that life is always a difficult struggle; a struggle I have to face alone?  No.  Although there have been challenging times, I feel that I have been supported throughout my life by many amazing people.  As I look back on my journey, I realize that 90% of the pain has been in my mind.

And even as I was thinking about writing this I was going to say–Ah, how do I get rid of this story, these beliefs?  It’s so hard!  Why do I keep reacting the same way?  Will I ever get out of this?  Will I ever become the empowered woman I imagine myself to be?  It feels hopeless!  Oh poor me!  Ring any bells?  Here I am again, even in telling the story of “my story” I am tempted into playing the wounded, helpless victim.  (Ha ha!  I caught you!)

Byron Katie says, “When you’re focused outside and believe that your problem is caused by someone else rather than by your attachment to the story you’re believing, then you are your own victim, and the situation appears to be hopeless.”

So who would I be if I didn’t have these beliefs?  Beliefs dangling like tinsel on a Christmas tree in January.  Some tinsel has been taken off but there are still strands that are clinging to the tree.  They’re really attached to the tree!  Boy, do we ever cling to our storylines! (or perhaps they cling to us)  We believe our stories.  We fear losing our identity.  We think, I must hang on to this tinsel or otherwise I won’t be a Christmas tree anymore!

I felt disheartened yesterday that I couldn’t come up with the “right” response–nothing seemed to “work”.  This too, is another belief–that something is wrong and I need to fix it!  I am in an argument with reality.  I’m thinking to myself, “It’s not supposed to be this way and if I could just figure out that “right” response then everything would be perfect;  smooth and calm.”

I’m caught up in believing that there is something wrong, and that means that I must be doing something wrong.  The reactivity becomes another flaw that is deemed “unacceptable”. There are these “bad” beliefs that I need to get rid of and then I’ll be okay.  (I can hear the story coming in again, of how it’s such a difficult struggle.)

I was reacting to my reactivity saying, “NO, you’re not supposed to be here, this shouldn’t be happening.  I should be calm and composed…equanimous!   Ah, this is all wrong!”  But the truth is I AM reacting this way and the only thing I can really do is BE with it.  Bring compassionate awareness to it.  Allow it.  This too shall pass.

What if I could really just let things be as they are?!  Stop fighting with life.  Stop fighting with myself.  Stop trying to get things to go my way.

Maybe in that moment of reactivity, I could just pause and say to myself, “Donna, I see that there is suffering here.  There is fear.  It’s okay.  You are safe.  You are loved.  You always have a choice.  You are free.”  Maybe I could embrace that inner child, give her the attention she wants.  Show her that she is important.  I could love her and care for her.  I could speak to her softly, really listen with an open heart and try to understand her.  I could show her that I accept her just as she is.

That’s what she is really yearning for.  When I give that to myself, I won’t be trying to get it from outside of myself.  And perhaps I’ll stop having my happiness depend so much on what others are doing or not doing.  Perhaps, my whole world could change!

If you have some beliefs that have been clinging on, don’t make them bad or wrong.  Take a good look at them.  See if there are a few that could be released.  Keep pausing to look, be curious.  Oh, that one is still there.  That’s ok.  It is real.  Yeah.  Is it true?  No.  It isn’t me. If you get caught up in reactivity, don’t add on the second arrow of shame, just investigate with an open mind and say to yourself, What am I believing right now?

Once you really start to see your storyline and the beliefs that hold it up, choose one of your core limiting beliefs and then step back and really imagine what it would be like not to have this belief anymore.  Really try to picture what your life would look like.  How would you carry yourself?  How would you interact with others?  What would you say?  What would your facial expression be?  How would others treat you?  Say to yourself, Who would I be without this belief?

Just think..you don’t have to identify with the tinsel, the clingy beliefs!  You can simply be the tree that you are without all the extra decoration!  Hey, and maybe someday, you won’t even need the tree!!

(This is a method of investigation that is suggested by Byron Katie & Tara Brach)

 

 

Her New Story

Donna adapted to her world by being quiet, hiding.  This is how she thought she needed to be in order to survive.  She thought that it was easier to passively drift along than to try speaking up when speaking up most likely wouldn’t change anything.  She thought she had no choice.  She felt helpless.  She thought that she wasn’t loved.  She wondered if there was something wrong with her.

These were the stories she told herself to get by.  They helped her stay small and safe.  They helped her get attention.  She knows that she doesn’t need these old stories anymore.  She lovingly releases all that no longer serves her.  What she often forgets is the other part of the story.  The girl who was strong, resilient and creative.  The girl who was sang and danced and wrote poetry.  The girl with the tender heart.

She has done much work to overcome the conditioning and heal her heart.  So much reflection and investigation.  So much writing.  So many tears.  She knows that the negative thoughts she sometimes has are just remnants of her old stories.  She knows she can let that go now.  That story of the hurt little girl.  She knows she has other choices.

She has changed.  She has grown up.  She is a woman who is finding herself all over again.  She is discovering who she is and what she wants.  Every day she sheds a little more of the story and the self-criticism.  Every day her heart opens a little more to compassion.

This is a woman emerging.  A woman coming into her full power.  Progress seems slow (frustratingly slow at times) but she knows that she is getting closer and closer to being who she truly is.  She knows, too, that this is a life long process, an endless practice, a continuous shedding.

All she needs to do today is open up, feel what she’s feeling, speak her truth, trust and surrender.  She can sense her compassion for herself and others growing bit by bit.  The universe knows what she wants;  her heart’s desires.  The seeds have already been planted.  She is wise enough to know that her life will probably not go as planned but that it WILL be much better than anything she could have imagined.

She hears the familiar voice of “not doing enough”, “not getting there fast enough” but knows these are only thoughts, NOT the truth of her love and power.  Her love is deeper than the ocean.  Her power is larger than the mountains.  There doesn’t need to be any more striving.  There can simply be allowing, accepting and a natural blossoming.  Her heart is healing as she writes this.  Pain melts away.  Presence returns.

There is no “somebody perfect” to become in the future.  No “something important” to accomplish.  She had already arrived.  HERE.  NOW.  She is already complete, whole and perfect just as she is…with all of her beautiful qualities, unique abilities and all her flaws and weaknesses too.  She is always perfectly, truly…Donna.  FLAWESOME!  She is exactly where she needs to be, learning exactly what she needs to learn, going at the ideal pace.  It’s all unfolding naturally, beautifully, perfectly.

There’s no need to hold back or hide anymore.  No need to puff herself up with false pride. She knows it is safe to simply be herself.  It will take time to change old patterns.  She will be patient with herself as she learns a new way of being:  A powerful and loving woman who opens herself like a peacock spreading its fan;  neither proud nor ashamed, just being the magnificent life she is.   A creative, intuitive woman who flows with ease like a feather on the breeze;  neither pushing or pulling, just being with the truth of  what is.

She is here to tell truth, heal hearts and inspire inner strength!!

 

 

I DON’T KNOW

I don’t know exactly what I want to write today.  I have a few ideas mingling in my mind. Perhaps I will be knocking down some myths!

The first idea that I would like to investigate is the common belief that we have a special purpose, a calling, a certain job we are here to do.  I touched on this in my last post.  I have had this feeling of–“I have a calling and I’m not sure what it is yet but I feel bad ’cause I sense I am not living up to my highest purpose.”  And I have pondered this belief and the feelings that often come along with it.

If we do have a calling from the universe or God (or whatever your name for it is), and the universe/God has an ultimate plan for all of us, then wouldn’t it follow that we would ALL be living our purpose ALL the time!  Otherwise, isn’t it possible that we could all NOT be living our purpose and there would be chaos and God’s mighty plan wouldn’t mean diddly.  Somehow, feeling like I’m failing at my purpose is not making me feel that hot!  Wouldn’t it be healthier and more positive for me to believe that my purpose is up to ME to find!

I do believe that we all have an inner voice that helps guides us and tells us what is right and wrong for us.  It nudges us to go this way and stay away from that. When we are connected to this wiser part of ourselves, we tend to make better choices and those choice then lead to a happier, more fulfilling life.

So I think I am going to abandon this idea that God or whatever is “calling” me to do something.  Rather I am going to choose to believe that even though the universe has it’s mysterious ways, ultimately, it’s up to me.  I’m going to choose to be empowered to follow what feels right.  No more trying to please the universe (or anyone else for that matter).

This idea that we need to be somebody special comes from ego.  An ego that strives for success, recognition, importance.  Although each life is precious and meaningful, we are also basically expendable. That’s the paradox.  Just as each tree, each flower, each animal is magnificent in and of itself.  It does not need to “become” something in order to be aligned with the universe.  A frog is never out of alignment or not being true to itself!  It is always simply “being”.

Alan Watts says, “You may believe yourself out of harmony with life and its eternal NOW; but you cannot be, for you are life and exist NOW.”  We ARE the magnificence of life with nothing to accomplish, nothing to become.  We ARE being true to ourselves every moment because who else could we be BUT ourselves. As Dr. Seuss wisely puts it:  “Today you are YOU!  That is truer than true.  There is no one alive who is you-er than you!!”

Next myth, which is kind of related to the first.  At the end of the book, The Wisdom of Yoga, Cope finally surrenders and says, “I don’t know.”  I felt the power and beauty of these words.  I realized how often I am trying to plan and analyze and figure everything out.  I want to know–what is next?  I guess I am not a big fan of uncertainty!  Are any of us?  So the myth is that we have total control over everything in our lives and we can steer it exactly where we want to go.  We want things to go our way.  When things are out of our control or don’t go our way, we feel very uncomfortable.

There’s a restlessness that underlying much of our constant busy-ness in this society.  There seems to be this belief that if we just keep moving and doing that we can control things and that way nothing bad will ever happen to us.  Of course it’s a delusion.  But we like to go on pretending that we have it all figured out, all wrapped up neatly.

I realized that my own busy-ness is often an attempt to avoid my feelings of restlessness, confusion, anxiety, doubt, frustration.  What if I were to just FEEL these feelings and admit that I DON’T KNOW.  The truth is…we don’t know.  We don’t know what is going to happen in the future or where we’ll be 5 years from now.  Heck, we can’t really even be certain of where we’ll be (or IF we’ll be) tomorrow.

Another great saying comes to my head which is–“When you take care of the present, the future takes care of itself.”  It’s natural when facing uncertainty to try to plan and figure out the future.  We want to know how it goes.  We want to CONTROL how it goes.  But if we gently remind ourselves to come back to the present, we can again find the clarity and peace of mind we were missing by letting our minds get dragged into the imagined future.

Again, the paradox.  When searching the future for answers we feel confused, anxious and frustrated….but wait, if we come back to the stillness of our centre, we see these feelings pass on by.  Then there may be peace, contentment.  The distressed feelings will keep on popping up for sure.  Just let them pass.  Peace will come and go too.  It all does.  Just wait a few minutes, an hour, a day.  Let the feelings be.  Stay present.  This is the best place to be to make wise and clear choices!

Finally, a myth that is well-ingrained in many of us of this generation.  We first work and do whatever we can (even if we don’t like it) to gain money, stuff, success.  Then when we have this elusive sense of security, we can go after what we really want; what makes our hearts really sing.  But I would guess for most, this day never comes… because we can never find security in money or things.  What if instead we were taught to listen to our voice of inner wisdom and follow it?

I find this belief hard to let go of.  It seems so logical and reasonable.–Okay, I work and establish some financial security and then I allow myself to follow my dreams.  I can’t just do what makes me happy now.  That won’t bring stability.  I am living in a fantasy if I think I can just start doing what I feel passionate about and the universe will support me.  That doesn’t really happen.  Only to people in those cheesy inspirational books.  Me, no, I need to “pay my dues” first, wait and see.

Perhaps what holds me back is the belief that successful people who follow their hearts have something that I don’t.  But what is that exactly?  Courage, confidence, know-how, street smarts?  I can see just as I am writing this how false this belief really is.  Do I not think I am deserving, good enough?

There actually are more and more people these days who ARE living their dreams.  Their work and passions are one and the same. They love what they are doing.  Get up in the morning, excited for the day ahead.  Scared perhaps, but excited!  This IS a possibility.  I just need to believe, really believe deep down, that this is a possibility for me, too!

Security, certainty, a set path to follow…these are all elusive mirages.  They keep us grasping, clinging.  The truth is, we will never find these things outside of ourselves.  We can’t wait around for signs from the universe (or approval from our loved ones).  We can’t wait around until we have it all figured out.  We can’t wait around until we have the right amount of money and stuff (how much would that be anyway?)  It’s up to us to take a small step forward, and then another small step.  It’s up to us to feel the uncomfortableness and go ahead anyway.  It’s up to us to listen to that voice of wisdom and then to follow it.

You ARE living your purpose, right now.

You DON’T know what will happen, and that’s okay.

You CAN follow your heart AND live the life you dream of.

 

 

 

 

 

You Can’t Get It Wrong

I recognized more clearly today another negative record that has been playing in my head.  I was already quite aware of the voice that kept telling me–You’re not doing enough.  You should be accomplishing more!–and now I have uncovered its close cousin, the worried voice that keeps repeating to me–Am I doing the right thing right now?  Should I be doing something else?  What if I get it wrong?–It’s the constant nagging in the back of my mind.

It has become quite loud since I started working at home.  It’s not like a job where there is more structure.  There’s an open endedness to my days which is both a delight and a difficulty.  I have to make all the decisions.  What if I’m getting it wrong?  What if I am missing something?  What if I fail the universe?

I mean, I have this feeling that I have a calling.  And if we believe that we all have a unique calling then what happens when we don’t hear it?  Or what happens when we are too fearful to follow?  What if we take some wrong turns and don’t get there in time?–  Isn’t that a lot of pressure?  If the universe did have some sort of plan then wouldn’t I ALWAYS be doing exactly the right thing no matter what?

My big fear right now is that I’ll wake up in 5 or 10 years and still have this feeling.  This nagging sense of “not getting it right, supposed to be doing something different, missing my calling”.  I suppose it’s the impossibly high expectations I have for myself.  I feel like I am in my early 20’s again, trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.

But I am 45 and the road ahead is not getting any longer.  God knows I’ve already made quite a few bad choices.  I just want to get it right for once!!

Last Monday, I was working on my speech for the Toastmasters meeting that night.  I had already worked on it most of Sunday afternoon.  It still seemed too long and unfocused.  I wanted it to be perfect.

To top of my mounting anxiety, my energy was low.  After writing , rehearsing and rewriting I was about to time myself as I spoke into the mirror.  Well, I was only one sentence in when I paused, unsure of my next words, and I just broke down crying.  I can’t.  I can’t do this!

Yes, it was overly dramatic and after I got the fear out of my system, I gathered myself together and spent a couple of hours just relaxing, meditating and napping.  At the meeting, my speech went pretty well and despite some initial nervousness, I felt almost calm.

But once the speech was done, I didn’t have the feeling like–Yay me!–It was like I was still not happy with what I had done.  It hadn’t gone perfectly like I had wanted it to.  I know logically that there is no such thing as perfect but this striving to get it all right seems to be a well ingrained habit with me.

Cooking is a nice refuge these days.  I’m hungry and I don’t have anything made in the fridge so I know what I need to do–I prepare food.  There’s no sense of “should I be doing something else”.  I know I gotta eat and so I cook.  Simple.  Yeah, even in cooking I can get a bit too clingy to wanting it to be good but lately most of what I make turns out okay and if it’s reasonably tasty, I’m happy.

You can’t get it wrong–it was a phrase I learned in Danceplay training.  It just came back to me this evening.  I’m spending so much time worrying about whether or not I am getting it right that I’m forgetting to SAVOUR the moment.

It’s hard to distinguish fear from intuition sometimes.  How do I know if that voice that is telling me I’m missing the boat is worry or a real message from my soul trying to guide me in the right direction?

I so desperately want to live true to myself and to fulfill whatever mission I am here to do.  Maybe, as the Buddha says, my purpose is to find my purpose.  Maybe there isn’t just one right way of living my life.  Maybe there are unlimited possibilities and whichever path I take will be okay.  Maybe I really can’t get it wrong.

Perhaps, just like making curry, you can switch up the ingredients, add an extra spice, throw in a different vegetable but you still end up with curry!

What if I simply savoured the present; relaxed into the present?  TRUSTED myself.  Ironically, the more I struggle to get it right, the less I can really be true to myself because my mind is too noisy to hear the quiet voice of intuition and wisdom.

When I look back on my life, there have certainly been some unwise decisions but for the most part, I feel that things keep turning out okay…just like the curry!  There’s nothing wrong with this moment.  It is perfect and complete…and so am I.