The Uses of Joy

Yesterday morning, I met my dear neighbor on the sidewalk as she came out of her house to go to work. I was walking my dog home from a little golf course jaunt, in a sunny mood having seen a bit of sunrise and heard the birds’ voices.

“I am so glad to see you,” she said, in tones that told me something was wrong. I hugged her and asked what was up. Her beloved cat has been sick, but that was just the start of it. She had gone into a sort of panic fed by news stories of imminent global food shortages, water crises, violence–on top of the suffering of one adored creature who depends on her utterly. She cares so deeply, my neighbor-friend.

“It’s a lot,” I said in sympathy, knowing my own despairing times.

“It’s real,” she said of the bad news.

“And yet,” I said, “life is so good.”

She smiled at me with great affection, perhaps a bit of wonderment, saying, “And that is why I’m so glad to see you this morning.”

“See how beautiful?” I said, gesturing to the day at large: birdsong, sycamores, blue sky, happy poodle winding the leash around us. I admired her shirt, which was emblazoned with Ganesha, the Remover of Obstacles.

She had not known the identity of this elephant-man and was pleased to learn that he’s the Hindu god responsible for removing obstacles. (Also, he “creates obstructions in the path of those whose ambition has become destructive,” which seems like a timely duty given the “leadership” we currently endure in this country.)

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Ganesha, by Craig Moe, via Flickr Creative Commons

She hugged me again before heading off to the office where she counsels people in ill health and financial peril, people no one else listens to.

I could never do the supremely important work she does, but perhaps by fortifying her in this way that comes naturally to me, I have made a small indirect difference with her clients.

Possibly my privilege makes it easier for me to hang onto my joy (despite being rather anxiety-prone myself). Possibly I’m just extremely sheltered and unwilling to fully face up to the bad stuff. Yet it seems radiating joy can be of use to someone in pain, if it flips the script in some small way.

Now, did this encounter change the fact that later that same day someone was shot at a nearby gas station? Did it change the fact that mass shootings have become horrifyingly commonplace in my country? Did it change any dire predictions about the world’s future?

No. Still: I believe that the more inner resilience we cultivate, the better equipped we are to be there fully for each other, to anchor the shift, to hold a higher vibration, and to act from that expansive state, instead of out of fear and contraction.

I could fret about recent mass shootings, localized violence, or future projections, and go down a rabbit hole of information/commentary/outrage/worry. Or I could allow all my emotions to flow and shift, attending to them gently, and return to a steady place, in touch with my fierce joy if possible. Then I take whatever action calls me. (I used this script to call my Senators and demand universal background checks for gun purchases. I donated to Everytown for Gun Safety.)

Some resources: Rick Hanson’s lovely “Take Heart” post is all about cultivating inner resilience in troubled times. Jen Louden’s recent “When You Feel Powerless” speaks to the feeling of “what I do is a drop in the bucket,” specifically in the face of mass shootings. Also see my “Tips for the Anxiety-Prone.”

Sing Light

At the International Women’s Writing Guild‘s annual conference, I was drawn to a spiritual warriorship workshop. Here I found women both tender and fierce. From various spiritual backgrounds, we all were seeking to keep our hearts open in the face of the world’s pain. We meditated together, read, wrote and shed tears together.

One day the reading was Wendell Berry’s haunting  Work Song Part 2: A Vision, which speaks of “a long time after we are dead” when “memory will grow into legend, legend into song, song into sacrament.” The future, and what it might look like, if we are wise.

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Our writing prompt was : What I want to sing into this world is…

Here’s what came from that free write. (Read Wendell’s marvelous poem first!)

What I want to sing into this world is…
That we must breathe our despair and eat our fear. Then allow the alchemy of respiration, digestion, and elimination to work on our pain and terror until a new thing emerges on this earth. I want to sing a song of light—and yet allow darkness to be felt and seen. (Without awareness of what is hard and mean and forced, we forget the impoverished place that births our better future.) Sing light that doesn’t fear the dark but turns toward it, welcoming the whole story of our unfolding humanity. Find a way to rock the darkness like a neglected child, to give it the kind of love it’s never known.

 

And you: What do you want to sing into this world?

I’ll Meet You There

“It’s been a long time since I felt that sense of wholeness,” she told me. “Just to reconnect to something spiritual feels incredible.” I’d just talked her through a grounding and expanding meditation, one that I use myself to connect to Source.

Sunlight. Revisited.

Photo by Rishi Bandopadhay, via Flickr Creative Commons

This young woman was one of about 30 I worked with Tuesday night at a collaborative “Art and Insight” event. Other participants, upon opening their eyes, said they felt themselves floating, or they gained perspective over their petty concerns, or they felt as refreshed as if they’d had a nice long sleep.

Guiding people to spaciousness was a gift to my own energy. I thought I might feel drained afterward, doing so many consecutive mini-interventions—but instead, I was on a high. (The only thing that would have increased my high? If I’d had time to enjoy my beautiful collaborators’ offerings—spirit animal readings by Elizabeth Camp of Zen Within and reiki from Amy Barr of The Healing Room. Not to mention henna by Carrie of Eastside Gypsies. Next time!)

This work makes me so happy. I never expected to find a vocation that felt as natural as writing. But I love sharing ways that people can regain their footing in a rocky world.

So many of us are walking around in trauma these days as we face up to our collective shadow. Nothing seems certain anymore; institutions that once appeared solid are crumbling one by one. It can feel, as intuitive Lee Harris once put it, like we have lost our handrail.

In troubled times, it’s so helpful to reach out to each other, reach down to the earth, reach beyond to the cosmos, and experience ourselves as intertwined with All That Is.

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That sense of interconnectedness is what helps me return to a space of possibility and openness instead of shutting down.

I used to consider this kind of thing “self-care,” which seems to relegate it to the “optional, somewhat privileged” category of activities, on a par with green drinks and Pilates. Certainly not mission-critical, like the shovel-in-dirt projects that remake the world.

However, I see now that the world is made up of people on a path, and that clearing out and opening up on an individual level is absolutely critical if we want to thrive here. Before the remaking of the world comes the reimagining, which can’t happen with eyes that see the same old way.

So how do we build a new world—safer, saner, more compassionate, more just, peaceful, resilient? There are so many problems, so many slippery arguments. There’s so much shouting, so much pain.

We can start by opening our hearts and looking into each other’s eyes.

Or in preparation for that, we can look at a flower, or a beetle, or a cat, or a tree.

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Or in preparation for that, we can feel the marvel of our lungs filling with air as we draw breath.

We can start anywhere. Sweep our little corner.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.

—Rumi

Note: Please sign up for my e-newsletter if you want to receive notices of upcoming similar events. And consider joining me at Empath 101, where I will share energetic tools to manage sensitivity.

This is Humanity

Charles Eisenstein, in this interview, challenges me to something more radical than empathy. What if we believe everything we read and hear? Not in the sense of “That’s Absolute Truth,” but in the sense of: This is what’s real for this person.

It’s a difficult assignment, because it requires giving up being right. But practicing it would open up the potential for new learning.

What life circumstances could I imagine that would give rise to the various stories I hear? What enculturation/emotions/experiences underlie people’s opinions? Or the scenarios being played out, which are expressions of the stories people know to be true?

What stories must be firmly in place for so many African-Americans to be brutalized and killed at the hands of authorities, so often with impunity?

As this writer posits, “America has conditioned society to regard us (African-Americans) as beasts, superhuman, faster, and stronger. So when we are killed, it’s easy to rationalize and accept.”

That’s one possible story. A painful one. Giving rise to the need for all of us to say, unequivocally, Black Lives Matter.

This morning in meditation I saw a flower with countless small petals. One bloom, many petals: This is humanity. A flower doesn’t have to be told that it’s insanity to pluck out some petals. It is all one whole, one body.

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From my journal after one such shooting:

Is it possible that I carry all the permutations of humanity in my cells, in a more literal way than I ever imagined?

What if: I am the police officer who killed the black teenager. And I am the teenager who died. I am the crowd that formed. I am the mother. I am the judge, the jury, the media, the Facebook storm, the Twittersphere.

All of these are within me and I must must must love them now. The young woman wanting to smash up stores in anger. The older folks grieving. The Fox News people spinning. The truckers in the truck stop, the teens at the mall, the babies in wombs ready to be born into a quaking world. The deflection. The pain. The heartache. The horror.

The fear. Everywhere fear. I am that. And I must love that.

I am the return, too. The opening.

Can we imagine a story that would solidify our shared humanity, and our mutuality, and our need for everyone to feel safe and respected as they walk through the world?

Catching Abundance

One day early in June, I looked down at my salad plate and realized my good fortune.

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The abundant salad

I saw that an incredible number of friends and acquaintances had contributed to my meal. Here were lettuces I’d purchased as seedlings from a farmer friend. Serviceberries I’d picked from a neighbor’s tree. Roasted chickpeas given to me by another neighbor, and guacamole from yet another neighbor. I dressed it with a drizzle of superspecialyummo high-end olive oil that another neighbor-friend gave me, along with beet kraut from local fermenters Fermenti Artisan.

I mean, seriously now.

And that’s not even mentioning the contributions of all the nonhuman cocreators of my food, the bees and tiny bugs, the sunshine and rain and minerals and fungi and soil itself.

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Dan’s tree was loaded. Enough for birds and neighbors to enjoy, while still filling his freezer.

This time of year especially, the sheer plenitude just delights. That is, if we let it.

Nance Klehm of The Ground Rules calls it “catching abundance”—the idea that our job is to show up and appreciate, and make use of, what we are freely given.

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I picked these yesterday. Blackberries, red raspberries, wild black raspberries, mulberries, and a couple Alpine strawberries.

It can be food, but it can be other things too. Recently I’ve felt grateful for an abundance of ideas, an abundance of encouragement and support, an abundance of beauty, on and on.

One night, at bedtime, I saw the quarter moon reflected in my neighbor’s window. I let myself be awed.

Gratitude opens the door to awe and wonder, two emotions that promote loving-kindness, so essential in this jaded age. (This article posits that “chronic awe deprivation has had a hand in … making us more individualistic, more self-focused, more materialistic and less connected to others… We need to actively seek out awe-inspiring moments in our everyday lives.”)

Contacting this state then, which I also call spaciousness, is not just the icing on the cake. It may be the entire smorgasbord.

Saturday I took a space at a wellness expo, where I asked people where they encounter spaciousness, or what it means to them. Many generously contributed to my inquiry, as you can see.

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I invited people to contemplate spaciousness and add a thought to this board. I caught an abundance of responses!

A few of the answers:

  • Expansion ♥
  • In the green of nature
  • Simplicity
  • Freedom to be me!
  • Contentment ♥
  • Awareness
  • Love!
  • Open heart ♥
  • Unlimited
  • The stillness inside of myself

And my personal favorite, a drawing of a tree. (Yes! Thank you, Tree!)

I bow in gratitude to the people willing to scribble something for me, and to those willing to pause a bit longer and try out my uber-short meditation for grounding and expanding. What a privilege to encounter so many openhearted souls.

What about you? What is your experience of spaciousness,  or where do you encounter awe and wonder? Are you catching the abundance in your life?

Magnify Love

Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.

—Desmond Tutu

Here in the U.S., we’re feeling the reverberations of yet another mass shooting. Some call it the deadliest in our nation’s history. Even as I unplug from the news cycle, I’m energetically affected by the pain and anguish, the anger and fear.

Sadness is mostly what I feel when I think of the shooting. When I remember to, I turn toward the sadness, feel it in my body, notice the wish to numb it, alongside the urge to amass information in support of my personal philosophy about these types of tragedies.

I “embrace, allow, include,” as I’ve been coached in mindfulness training. I open up room for all my responses and attend to them with kindness. In that space I can consider right action.

All of which gives me more compassion for others on their own path.

I like to believe that humanity is evolving in a positive direction, appearances (seemingly) to the contrary. The horrible things that happen always grab our focus, fuel our outrage. It’s the same with the inflammatory things said by some pundits and politicians: Our attention gets hooked by ugly things that seem to confirm the awfulness of everything. And the ugliness magnifies.

A wise yoga/meditation instructor recently reminded me that our brains are wired to notice the snake amidst the flowers. Danger! Alert! We fixate on the negative. It’s biological.

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No snake, just flower.

Mindfulness meditation creates an opening for a new practice to emerge. It offers a brief space—the length of a breath—in which we can begin to choose.

I wonder: what if we train our attention on something other than the horror? Not to look away blithely denying injustice, but turning toward the little acts of love and solidarity, small exchanges of soul happening every day. Is it a copout, born of privilege, to even suggest such a thing? Or is it an opening?

Some schools of Buddhism teach that the material world is nothing other than a construct of mind. What mind do I wish to inhabit?

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What do I choose to magnify with my attention?