Sunday, July 20, 2014

Excess or Express?

I wanted three pieces of purple
plaid wool clothing: the sleeveless thigh-length tunic, matching skirt, and pants. Mom thought two pieces were sufficient, but gave in to my pleading and bought all three. I ended up wearing the tunic as a jumper, traded off wearing the pants with a sweater — and never wore the skirt at all. My mother's wisdom was lost on me; at ten, I was already a master of excess.

It took years and a long dark night of the soul, when everything I'd thought defined my life was unceremoniously yanked from me, to begin to relinquish my reliance on acquisition as a means of identification, to begin to express rather than excess.

And mine was a comparatively mild case. How many people pile on the pounds to protect themselves from abuse, or to avoid having to face some other disturbing life circumstance? How many people buy 300 pairs of shoes, or a fleet of fast cars, to drown the call to awaken in excess, rather than express their true essence and risk ridicule? Much safer to blend in than stand out.

This is the moment to get real, in every sense of the term. The August issue of What Shines will focus on the theory of REAL-ativity, and how to become real so that you live from the depths of your power, passion, and purpose. Please subscribe, and let me know how the newsletter serves you on your journey to express the deepest truth of your being.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Sacred Geometry of Surprise

A few weeks ago I discussed why the people on the periphery matter a great deal in the overall scheme of our lives. I wrote that post from the perspective of influencer. Here's how it looks from the receiving end:

A healer who was recommended by a cyber acquaintance wasn't much direct help, though he did point me to a holistic tooth care company started by a woman whose children had never had a cavity. Intrigued, I began using Tooth Soap® in 2006, and over the years founder Gabriala Brown and I became friends across the (s)miles.

Fast-forward to 2010, when she acted as my dental angel for a mouthful of emergency. I wrote and published several articles lauding Tooth Soap®, but they don't begin to account for the magnitude of her gift. And for which I ultimately have Dr. Jim (now deceased) to thank. Following a thread that began with another acquaintance's book recommendation, to contacting him, to his Tooth Soap® referral, to Gabriala's suggestion of an innovative solution to and financial assistance with my dental crisis, created a tapestry of luminous cloth woven on life's loom.

We are each the warp and weft for those with whom we intersect, a sacred geometry of surprise the originators often know nothing about — akin to a sheepherder having no idea what happens to the wool once it leaves the land to be cleaned, carded, dyed, shipped to a knitting store, and ultimately purchased by a grandmother who will lovingly craft matching mother-daughter sweaters for her child and grandchild.

We weave in every encounter from the wool of our words and actions, seldom knowing how what we share or do may reverberate down the road. I feel this most acutely when I've been out of integrity: when I know I could have been kinder, or more patient, or listened more deeply. As a daily practice I'm helpful and informative, but sometimes that can tip over into invasive. Getting the Hang of It is an ongoing balancing act, often more challenging in these heady times as the world awakens, time wobbles, old structures disintegrate and tempers flare.

When we dress ourselves in the Love that we are, we wear threads that will never go out of style. The sacred geometry of surprise will take us to every connection we need to make along life's path. It's one math course in which everyone can excel.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The People on the Periphery — And Why They Matter

The other evening I was eating dinner at Whole Foods' outdoor café when a young woman turned around and looked at me as though she knew me. After a moment, I remembered. "Oh, you're the twins!" 

About a year ago, she and her sister, both 25, were scrutinizing the produce, wondering not just about organic vs. conventional but also the nutrient value of different fruits and vegetables. I found their interest in health refreshing, and we engaged in a lively dialogue. They told me a bit about their colorful pasts and how they were committed to taking good care of their bodies now. I congratulated them, and we spoke of "bad habits". I said, "Well, no matter what recreational drugs you may have used, at least you're not addicted to nicotine!" There was an uncomfortable silence. Then one sister admitted, "Actually, we both smoke."

Astonished, I said something along the lines of, "Why are you bothering about organic foods if you smoke?" Perhaps I was not quite so zealous, though knowing how I feel about cigarettes (can't abide them from 50 yards) I probably was. Then our encounter ended and I went back to my regularly scheduled life.

I was unlikely to have thought about these girls again. Yet here they were, with Rowan (both names have been changed) clearly itching to share.

"I stopped smoking two months ago!" she crowed. She quit cold turkey, and said even though she found herself craving a cigarette about a month in, she held to her resolve. When I congratulated her, saying, "Your lungs thank you, your liver thanks you, your whole being thanks you! And now you can taste food again!" she agreed, "Yes, you said we had it backwards by focusing on organic food if we were smoking."

"Did I say that? How rude," I apologized. But Rowan held firm: "No, you were right." Her sister Miranda still smokes, but I said with confidence, "She'll quit when she's ready."

As her sister reappeared from within the store, the pair got ready to leave, and Rowan's parting words were," It's the best gift I could ever have given myself!" I felt she was delighted to have the opportunity to share her win with me, to complete the circuit and receive my acknowledgment, because I don't think there are a lot of other older role models in their lives.

Honored, I reflected yet again on what I've come to call "the people on the periphery": those with whom we interact only briefly, perhaps once or twice in our lives and never again, yet who leave a lasting impact. A man who overheard our entire exchange said to me after the girls left, "You instigated that change for her." From my perspective it had just been one of the thousands of casual conversations I have with people over the course of a year. It's a great blessing to realize what we may not realize: namely, that every word matters, every action counts, even, especially, if we never see or learn the outcome.

Here's another example: I've had the same hair stylist for 17 years, though I only visit her seasonally and each cut lasts less than half an hour. But we cover a lot of ground in that time. Nora (real name) is also a hospice volunteer, and several years ago told me about a wonderful book called Deathing, which shows us another way to approach our final passage — including practices you can use, even at distance, to assist a loved one in crossing the threshold. I bought the book and absorbed its teachings. At the time, no one's death was imminent, though I have a 100+-year-old friend and my mother had serious heart disease.

When my Mom was close to the end of her earth journey this past January, I used the Deathing techniques with her. She was unconscious, but/and, hearing is the last sense to go, and medicine has demonstrated that people can hear what is being said even in a coma.

The next time I saw Nora she was telling me about a recent death workshop she'd attended, and how she was feeling she "didn't really know anything," compared with the other participants. I exclaimed, "That's not true! If it hadn't been for you I would never have known about Deathing or been able to use those tools with my mother! You're a blessing in my life." She was grateful for the mirroring.

Perhaps we have the most profound effect on those we see just once in our lives. Perhaps one wise word to a stranger changes the trajectory of their life. The periphery of the supermarket is where the fruits and vegetables are located. Maybe living at the edge (but not necessarily on it) is the healthiest place of all.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Summer Solstice: Ego or Egg?

"Aren't we all just fragile eggs hiding behind bubble wrap and bravado?"
~ Manny on Modern Family

Ever balanced an egg on its end? On Summer Solstice, when day and night are of equal length, it's possible to do so, if we're very patient and careful. But we can only attain this exquisite balance twice a year.

It's a humbling thought. Can we learn from something better known as breakfast how to create balance in our hectic lives? Can we become as poised as an egg?

Time for another subtle shift: from ego to egg, poison to poise. Here in Caffeine Nation, it might be more challenging to transmute hubris to humus, and take an earth-centered approach to life. The lightest day of the year is an ideal time to contemplate our dark side. To dive deep. Roam the loam. We're still in Mercury retrograde, a pristine moment to dwell in the Aretha Franklin lyric and "re-re-re-re" our lives: respect (literally, to look again), reimagine, remember, reboot…

Whether we're cognizant of it or not, we're all renewable energy beings: living on Earth for a time, becoming cosmic compost, being recycled back into the collective. This midsummer moment can help us create an eggstraordinary state of renewal and joy.

In her book, Living In Gratitude, a 12-month plan for making gratitude the foundation stone of our daily life, cross-cultural anthropologist, teacher and author Angeles Arrien says, of June, "We experience equanimity, or a state of balance, when we are content with the way things are. We are neither striving nor holding back. There is nothing lacking or in excess. This balance, or sense of acceptance, is at the heart of equanimity. It opens us to the experience of gratitude and the sustainable experience of renewal that comes from being in balance."

So compost the coffee and let it be grounds for eggceptional openheartedness, and the fulfillment of your dearest dreams. Step out of the bubble wrap and shine your magnificence on those who seek the light. When you live with wonder and humility, your ego transforms into a good egg — and that makes a satisfying meal for anyone, in every season.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Do You Create or Maintain?

As I watched a woman in a well-to-do neighborhood open the door to her housekeeper and child at 8 a.m. on Friday morning, I mused, wouldn't we all prefer to be the one living in that house rather than coming to clean it? Perhaps. Yet Nature herself continually creates, maintains and destroys; that's the essence of the life cycle.

While I think of myself as primarily a creator, the world needs daily maintenance — not least because of the mess we bipeds tend to leave behind. I wipe down sinks in public restrooms and often have to clean off outdoor tables before I can sit to eat at places like Whole Foods; even the staff can't keep up with the detritus.

Daily life is one of maintenance, renewal. Poet and novelist Marge Piercy writes,

            "The work of the world is common as mud.
            Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
            But the thing worth doing well done
            has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident."

(excerpted from To Be of Use, © 1982)
Yet I find myself disdaining some whose work entails tidying up the universe rather than contributing something fresh. The maintenance manager at a local community center seems comically addicted to keeping the exterior doors locked and "undesirables" (read: homeless people) out. When I've sat inside to use their high-speed WiFi, I witness him check and lock the doors at least a half dozen times within a few hours. It seems almost a pointless exercise, because people stream into the center for classes, meetings and other events all day long.

Directly across the outdoor quad from the community center is a new senior wing. It's ADA compliant in every way — except the architects didn't take into account seniors' diminished upper body strength and agility. Several women have become trapped in the restrooms, whose heavy oak doors are almost impossible for someone using a walker or wheelchair to negotiate. So the community center's counterpart now has the additional responsibility of constantly making sure all eight restroom doors (two for each gender, at opposite sides of a long corridor in a 2-story building) remain stoppered open each weekday from 9 to 5. There's a poetry to this, and a bit of Divine humor as well.

Years ago, metaphysical teacher and author Louise Hay made many tapes accompanied by the musical group Alliance. One I listened to repeatedly was, "Doors Closing, Doors Opening," and while it focused on personal growth rather than physical structures, I find it amusingly applicable to the situations I've described. The main lyric went, "Doors closing, doors opening, doors closing, doors I'm opening. I am safe, it's only change. I am safe it's only change…"

Are you opening doors or closing them? Do you create or maintain? Does your life weave between the two, and if so, are you growing in ways that feed your soul? Mother Nature is always in motion. It's important to clean up our mess and keep the doors to possibility open. And maybe, unlocking what seems a necessary barrier will let in some surprising gifts that may change your perception and release a fresh flow of creativity.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Remembering Angeles Arrien 1940-2014

Yesterday I picked up the May/June issue of Common Ground, an alternative magazine I sometimes read here in northern California, and turned to the final page, Last Words. I found a quote by one of my great teachers, Angeles Arrien, and below her name, two dates with a dash between them. It took my mind several seconds to process what this meant. NO! Angeles can't be gone; she was only 74. She was in the midst of a teaching schedule for her newest book, Living In Gratitude. She's a pillar of wisdom. And now, she is an ancestor.

While so many have transitioned already this year, including my own mother, Angeles' death hits me hard, because it's out of the blue. Judging by the events planned for later in 2014, I imagine it must have been sudden. But though I've scoured the web, so far I've only discovered the date, (April 24th) not cause. Not that it matters. She was obviously complete here.

What a gift this woman was, and what a gift she had: the extraordinary ability to meld anthropology, psychology and comparative religions to help those of us privileged to study with her learn how to live a practical spirituality, or as she referred to it, to "walk the mystical path with practical feet."

I took her Four-Fold Way Foundational Training at Esalen, on the ruggedly beautiful California coast, in January 1994. I'd read her book, The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary the previous summer, and the talk I attended then convinced me she had much wisdom to share. I enrolled in the weeklong training, though by the following winter I was deep into my awakening odyssey (disguised as serious illness), and could barely function on the physical plane. Nevertheless I made the 5-hour journey, and my emerging state of unreality probably enhanced my absorption of her teachings.

What I learned is how deeply Angeles embodied what she taught. The tenets of the Four-Fold Way are:

Warrior: Show up and choose to be present
: Pay attention to what has heart and meaning
: Tell the truth without blame or judgment
Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome.

I internalized these truths into a little sing-song: "Show up, pay attention, tell the truth and let it go!" It's a credo for living that serves us well throughout our lives.

What Angeles brilliantly modeled transcended the personal growth community. Her books and practices have found a place in corporate, academic and medical milieux, as well as the non-profit sector. When I think of her, some of the words that come to mind include authenticity, generosity of spirit, wholeheartedness. And joy.

Heaven has gained another angel, so aptly named. Thank you for shining your Light in my life, dear one. In boundless gratitude, blessings.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Grace Notes: Other Mothers and The Mother of All

I didn't send my Mom a Mother's Day card this year; she made her transition in January. I did send a trio of cards to a beloved 100-year-old friend who's been a spiritual mother my entire life, from the days when I'd paste my artwork on the kitchen window she'd pass on her way to work (and to which she'd respond in poetry), to our adult friendship spanning four decades. Ellie and her husband never had children, yet I don't think that's why so many "young people" (as she characterized those in their 50s when she was 92!) have adopted her as a surrogate Mom. It's because, by her very essence, she engenders the deep love and appreciation we associate with mothering.

I've been blessed to enjoy this kind of relationship a few times in my life. Another was with a woman whose husband I met in the park, not long after I'd graduated from college. He brought me home to meet his wife as though I were a flea market find, and the three of us became fast friends during the year before I moved to California. I was just launching my life at 22, and Sten and Ethel provided the support and encouragement I needed to thrive — right down to lending me their old car for the final weeks prior to my relocation, so I could get around town once I'd sold mine. Ethel had multiple sclerosis (MS), and her optimism and sunny disposition in the face of her illness seem even more amazing to me now. For her birthday that year I sent a singing balloon-a-gram; the center balloon was shaped like a heart. She told me this balloon kept its helium for weeks and followed her around the house! That's the power of Love.

Another spiritual mother for 26 years and counting is Louise Hay. An old friend gifted me with Louise's signature book, You Can Heal Your Life in 1988, the same year I was blessed to meet Louise in person when she held a "Hay Ride" event in San Francisco. Her breakthrough personal growth work has sustained and healed me on many levels since then. Louise is just nine months older than my biological mother, so in many ways she really does feel like my Mom.

Who are the "other mothers" in your life? Mother's Day is a beautiful moment to let them know how much you cherish their love, their support, their wisdom. Whether they know you personally or are a public figure who's helped you via their planetary service (Oprah springs to mind), take a moment to acknowledge this gift. In the level playing field of the digital age we can connect with almost anyone, yet your thank you needn't be splashed across the social landscape unless you so choose. If you send your message via the quantum field, it will be received — at an even more profound level.

If you can and want to connect in 3D, that's always a delight. I'll call my 100+ year-old friend in the morning, and thank her again for shining her Light in my life.

Finally, there is our collective Mother, Gaia, in all her (wo)manifestations. During my awakening journey I realized how profoundly I yearned to nestle into the nurturing archetypal arms of the Great Mother. I found her in trees, in our animal kin, in metaphysical bookstores and sacred ceremony, and in the wisdom of those who had gone before me and could give a name to this longing.

Reaching our Light means daring a descent into the dark, to the ancient womb of Mystery that lives within each one, calling us to awaken and claim our power. Men and women alike are capable of this kind of birth, which knows no gender — only the willingness to open to the immanent truth of our being.

Everything arises from this awareness: how we move through the world, how we effect change, how we define what "matters" (which comes from the same root as "mother".) Uncloaked, we are cut from whole cloth — "material" in its original sense. When we abide in the Mother, who we are matters — and we are always Home.

Mother yourself, today and every day. That's the greatest grace note of all.

~ Much Love to you ~