The doom-and-gloom-sayers, the end-of-the-world folk are predicting, based on their interpretation of the Mayan calendar, that the world will indeed end tomorrow, December 21, 2012.
How will it end? Will we fall into a black hole; will a monstrous asteroid hit the planet sending us spinning out of control? Will aliens land and takeover, like they attempted to do in the movie Mars Attack? Or might the end be tied to killer bees? So many “End Day Possibilities.”
According to calculations measured by the Maya of South America during the classical period of their culture, from 250 to 900 A.D., December 21, 2012 marks the end of a “great” period of time. AND … December 22, 2012, begins a new era.
Either way: Last Day, Period – End of Report! – or – New Beginning
How will you spend your last day?
How will you make this day count?
My original plan for the day included laundry and dusting, both of which have been nixed. That’s for sure!
Instead, I am going to fold up my tent and head outside for a long walk with my soul mate, best friend and husband of many moons and decades. And as we walk, it my intent to ponder “Dreams.”
I am going to consider small and large dreams, dreams with great significance and dreams that are just plain fun; dreams that impact favorably on my life and favorably on your life.
I am going to imagine that failure does not exist, that my resources are unlimited, that “fearless” is my middle name and that I am not in the least bit concerned what others might think about my dreams or the actions that I take to manifest my dreams.
I am going to sprinkle seeds of joy, laughter, happiness, and success for the new era in my body, mind, and spirit.
I invite you to join with me!
DARE to DREAM for a More Vibrant Tomorrow –
Dreamy Questions to Ponder:
What experiences are you yearning to have in this lifetime?
What places do you thirst to see?
What fun, playful things are you secretly bursting to do?
What creative twists and turns do you long for; serendipitous happening do you hope for?
How does it feel to know that there are no real barriers; only the ones you have imagined in your mind’s eye?
How will you unleash your imagination; your greatest and most under-utilized gift?
“We have been raised to fear…our deepest cravings. And the fear of our deepest cravings keeps them suspect, keeps us docile and loyal and obedient, and leads us to settle for…many facets of our own oppression.” – Audre Lourde
In the myth of Eden, God created the garden and dropped the tree of knowledge, with its delicious and dangerous fruits, right smack dab in the middle. He then deposited some humans close by and forbade these curious, fruit-loving creatures from taking a taste. It was a set up. Eve naturally grasped at the fruit and then was shamed and punished for having done so.
We experience this situation daily inside our own psyche. We are encouraged by our culture to keep ourselves comfortable, to be right, to possess things, to be better than others, to look good, to be admired. We are also told that we should feel ashamed of our selfishness, that we are flawed for being so self-centered, sinful when we are indulgent.
Most mainstream religions—Judeo-Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Confucian—teach that our wanting, passion, and greed cause suffering. While this certainly can be true, their blanket teachings about the dangers of desire often deepen self-hatred. We are counseled to transcend, overcome or somehow manage the hungers of our physical and emotional being. We are taught to mistrust the wildness and intensity of our natural passions, to fear being out of control.
Equating spiritual purity with elimination of desire is a common misunderstanding I also see in students on the Buddhist path. This is not just a contemporary issue. The struggle to understand the relationship between awakening and desire in the context of the Buddhist teachings has gone on since the time of the Buddha himself.
A classical Chinese Zen tale brings this to light: An old woman had supported a monk for twenty years, letting him live in a hut on her land. After all this time she figured the monk, now a man in the prime of life, must have attained some degree of enlightenment. So she decided to test him.
Rather than taking his daily meal to him herself, she asked a beautiful young girl to deliver it. She instructed the girl to embrace the monk warmly—and then to report back to her how he responded. When the girl returned, she said that the monk had simply stood stock still, as if frozen.
The old woman then headed for the monk’s hut. What was it like, she asked him, when he felt the girl’s warm body against his? With some bitterness he answered, “Like a withering tree on a rock in winter, utterly without warmth.” Furious, the old woman threw him out and burned down his hut, exclaiming, “How could I have wasted all these years on such a fraud.”
To some the monk’s response might seem virtuous. After all, he resisted temptation, he even seemed to have pulled desire out by the roots. Still the old woman considered him a fraud. Is his way of experiencing the young girl—“like a withering tree on a rock in winter”—the point of spiritual practice? Instead of appreciating the girl’s youth and loveliness, instead of noting the arising of a natural sexual response and its passing away without acting on it, the monk shut down. This is not enlightenment.
I have worked with many meditation students who have gotten the message that experiencing desire is a sign of being spiritually undeveloped. While it is true that withdrawing attention from certain impulses can diminish their strength, the continued desire for simple pleasures—delicious foods, play, entertainment or sexual gratification—need not be embarrassing evidence of being trapped in lower impulses.
Those same students also assume that “spiritual people” are supposed to call on inner resources as their only refuge, and so they rarely ask for comfort or help from their friends and teachers. I’ve talked with some who have been practicing spiritual disciplines for years, yet have never let themselves acknowledge that they are lonely and long for intimacy.
As the monk in the Zen tale shows, if we push away desire, we disconnect from our tenderness and we harden against life. We become like a “rock in winter.” When we reject desire, we reject the very source of our love and aliveness.
Today is Day 4 of the GIG 12 Days of Inspiration Campaign. Starting Dec. 13, we started counting down to Christmas by sharing one inspiring story each day, followed by an action item you can take to make the world a better place. You can read more about the series here.
*Day 4* Inspire to smile:
Claire Lemmel goes the extra mile to fulfill her mission of making people, including strangers smile.
Video: “Going the Extra Smile”
Call to action: Inspire to create a ripple of kindness by spreading smiles and holiday cheer! Smile at a stranger.
Today is Day 2 of the GIG 12 Days of Inspiration Campaign. Starting Dec. 13, we started counting down to Christmas by sharing one inspiring story each day, followed by an action item you can take to make the world a better place. You can read more about the series here.
*Day 2* Inspire to create a GIG Spark:
In this video, Toan and some Gigsters visit the BAYCAT community as the youth speak up about issues they’d like to address and the changes they’d like to see.
Call to action: Inspire to create a GIG Spark. Use your power and multimedia to be the change.
Marge, a woman in our meditation community, was in a painful standoff with her teenage son. At fifteen, Micky was in a downward spiral of skipping classes and using drugs, and had just been suspended for smoking marijuana on school grounds. While Marge blamed herself—she was the parent, after all—she was also furious at him.
The piercings she hadn’t approved, the lies, stale smell of cigarettes, and earphones that kept him in his own removed world—every interaction with Micky left her feeling powerless, angry, and afraid. The more she tried to take control with her criticism, with “groundings” and other ways of setting limits, the more withdrawn and defiant Micky became. When she came in for a counseling session, she wanted to talk about why the entire situation was really her fault.
An attorney with a large firm, Marge felt she’d let her career get in the way of attentive parenting. She’d divorced Micky’s father when the boy was entering kindergarten, and her new partner, Jan, had moved in several years later. More often than not, it was Jan, not Marge, who went to PTA meetings and soccer games, Jan who was there when Micky got home from school. Recently, the stress had peaked when a new account increased Marge’s hours at work.
“I wish I’d been there for him more,” she said. “I love him, I’ve tried, but now it is impossible to reach him. I’m so afraid he is going to create a train wreck out of his life.” I heard the despair in her voice. When she fell silent, I invited her to sit quietly for a few moments. “You might notice whatever feelings you’re aware of, and when you’re ready, name them out loud.” When she spoke again, Marge’s tone was flat. “Anger—at him, at me, who knows. Fear—he’s ruining his life. Guilt, shame—so much shame, for screwing up as a mother.”
I asked her softly if it would be okay to take some time to investigate the shame. She nodded. “You might start by agreeing to let it be there, sensing where you feel it most in your body.” Again she nodded, and few moments later, put one hand on her heart and another on her belly. “Good,” I said. “Keep letting yourself feel the shame, and sense if there is something it wants to say. What is it believing about you, about your life?”
It was awhile before Marge spoke. “The shame says that I let everyone down. I’m so caught up in myself, what’s important to me. It’s not just Micky, it’s Jan, and Rick (her ex-husband), and my mom, and . . . I’m selfish and too ambitious, I disappoint everyone I care about.”
“How long have you felt this way, that you’ve let everyone down?” I asked. She said, “As long as I can remember. Even as a little girl. I’ve always felt I was failing people, that I didn’t deserve love. Now I run around trying to achieve things, trying to be worthy, and I end up failing those I love the most!”
“Take a moment, Marge, and let the feeling of failing people, of being undeserving of love, be as big as it really is.” After a few moments she said, “It’s like a sore tugging feeling in my heart.”
“Now,” I said, “sense what it’s like to know that even as a little girl—for as long as you can remember—you’ve lived with this pain of not deserving love, lived with this sore tugging in your heart. Sense what that has done to your life.” Marge grew very still and then began silently weeping.
Marge was experiencing what I call “soul sadness,” the sadness that arises when we’re able to sense our temporary, precious existence, and directly face the suffering that’s come from losing life. We recognize how our self-aversion has prevented us from being close to others, from expressing and letting love in. We see, sometimes with striking clarity, that we’ve closed ourselves off from our own creativity and spontaneity, from being fully alive. We remember missed moments when it might have been otherwise, and we begin to grieve our unlived life.
This grief can be so painful that we tend, unconsciously, to move away from it. Even if we start to touch our sadness, we often bury it by reentering the shame—judging our suffering, assuming that we somehow deserve it, telling ourselves that others have “real suffering” and we shouldn’t be filled with self pity. Our soul sadness is fully revealed only when we directly and mindfully contact our pain. It is revealed when we stay on the spot and fully recognize that this human being is having a hard time. In such moments we discover a natural upwelling of compassion—the tenderness of our own forgiving heart.
When Marge’s crying subsided, I suggested she ask the place of sorrow what it longed for most. She knew right away: “To trust that I’m worthy of love in my life.” I invited her to once again place one hand on her heart and another on her belly, letting the gentle pressure of her touch communicate care. “Now sense whatever message most resonates for you, and send it inwardly. Allow the energy of the message to bathe and comfort all the places in your being that need to hear it.”
After a couple of minutes of this, Marge took a few full breaths. Her expression was serene, undefended. “This feels right,” she said quietly, “being kind to my own hurting heart.” Marge had looked beyond her fault to her need. She was healing herself with compassion.
Before she left, I suggested she pause whenever she became aware of guilt or shame, and take a moment to reconnect with self-compassion. If she was in a private place, she could gently touch her heart and belly, and let that contact deepen her communication with her inner life. I also encouraged her to include the metta (lovingkindness) practice for herself and her son in her daily meditation: “You’ll find that self-compassion will open you to feeling more loving.”
Six weeks later Marge and I met again. She told me that at the end of her daily meditation, she’d started doing metta for herself, reminding herself of her honesty, sincerity, and longing to love well. Then she’d offer herself wishes, most often reciting, “May I accept myself just as I am. May I be filled with loving-kindness, held in lovingkindness.” After a few minutes she’d then bring her son to mind: “I would see how his eyes light up when he gets animated, and how happy he looks when he laughs. Then I’d say ‘May you feel happy. May you feel relaxed and at ease. May you feel my love now.’ With each phrase I’d imagine him happy, relaxed, feeling held in my love.”
Their interactions started to change. She went out early on Saturday mornings to pick up his favorite “everything” bagels before he woke up. He brought out the trash unasked. They watched several episodes of The Wire together on TV. Then,” Marge told me, “a few nights ago, he came into my home office, made himself comfortable on the couch, and said nonchalantly, ‘What’s up, Mom? Just thought I’d check in.’”
“It wasn’t exactly an extended chat,” she said with a smile. “He suddenly sprang up and told me he had to meet some friends at the mall. But we’re more at ease, a door has reopened.” Marge was thoughtful for a few moments, then said, “I understand what happened. By letting go of the blame—most of which I was aiming at myself—I created room for both of us in my heart.”
As Marge was discovering, self-compassion is entirely interdependent with acting responsibly and caringly toward others. Forgiving ourselves clears the way for a loving presence that can appreciate the goodness of others, and respond to their hurts and needs. And, in turn, our way of relating to others affects how we regard ourselves and supports our ongoing self-forgiveness.
While reading through all the holiday season tips — ideas that range from how to resist the urge to stuff yourself silly to tips on how to not overspend your weigh (Freudian slip) into bankruptcy — I realized that somewhere between the my holiday shopping list and dusting underneath the bed, being sexy has fallen off the grid, out of sight, out of mind.
My intention is to bring “hot and sexy this holiday season” back into play.
9 Tips: How to Be Holiday Sexy
1. Shake It, Move It – From Jive to Meringue. Step it up and find a new way to shake your booty that connects to and energizes your soul. Nothing sexier than a high energy happy!
2. Wear Clothes that Fit – No matter what your size, there’s nothing less flattering than wearing clothes that are either too big or too small. Just take a look around you. Am I right, or am I right?
3. Smile Bright - There is nothing more alluring than a happy smile. Show off those pearly whites, and if they are not so pearly, get them whitened. It’s totally worth the investment.
4. Good Skin – Glowing skin adds to your glowing aura. Be sure to wash your face before you go to sleep as well as when you wake up, and throughout the day if you live in a dirty, gritty city like I do.
5. Smell Like a Million Bucks - Consider getting a new perfume and dabbing on a drop or two (don’t go crazy), or using a great smelling soap that lingers. Bottom line, you sure don’t want to smell bad, do you?
6. Focus on Personality - Forget what the scale says in either direction. If you are thin, and you think that you are oozing sexy based solely on your looks, watch out. Maybe yes, maybe no and it won’t last forever. And if you’re on the chunky side, let go of those preconceived notions as well. Let the real fun, energetic, loving and caring you shine through.
7. Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken. – Everyone has something to offer to another person. You are loveable, creative, talented, and worthy of love. Just make sure that the person you are lovin’, is worthy of you!
8. Walk with Confidence – Now that you are energized, clean, smelling good, and you teeth are shining – step out with confidence. Believe in yourself. Strut your stuff and …
9. Have Fun - Lighten up, have fun. The definition of sexy should be: someone who is laughing, smiling, being real and having fun!
As one of the American pioneers credited for bringing Eastern spirituality to the West, Ram Dass had more than four decades of spiritual training to help guide him when he suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage in 1997. Nonetheless, in the hours after his devastating stroke, he lay in a gurney staring at the pipes on the hospital ceiling, feeling utterly helpless and alone. No uplifting thoughts came to rescue him, and he was unable to regard what was happening with mindfulness or self-compassion. In that crucial moment, as he put it bluntly, “I flunked the test.”
I sometimes tell his story to students who worry that they too have “flunked the test.” They have practiced meeting difficulties with mindfulness, but then they encounter a situation where the fear or distress or pain is so great that they just cannot arouse presence. They’re often left with feelings of deep discouragement and self-doubt, as if the door of refuge had been closed to them.
I start by trying to help them judge themselves less harshly. When we’re in an emotional or physical crisis, we are often in trance, gripped by fear and confusion. At such times, our first step toward true refuge—often the only one available to us—is to discover some sense of caring connection with the life around and within us. We need to enter refuge through the gateway of love.
Ram Dass passed through this gateway by calling on Maharajji (Neem Karoli Baba),the Indian guru who had given him his Hindu name, and who’d died more than thirty years earlier. In the midst of hisphysical anguish, powerlessness, and despair, Ram Dass began to pray to Maharajji, who to him had always been a pure emanation of love. As he later wrote, “I talked to my guru’s picture and he spoke to me, he was all around me.” That Maharajji should be immediately “there,” as fully available as ever, was to Ram Dass pure grace. At home again in loving presence, he was able to be at peace with the intensity of the moment-to-moment challenge he was facing.
The gateway of love is a felt sense of care and relatedness—with a loved one, the earth, a spiritual figure, and ultimately, awareness itself. Just as a rose needs the encouragement of light, we need love. Otherwise, as poet Hafiz says, “We all remain too frightened.”
Today, researchers are discovering whathappens in the brains of meditators when their attention is focused on lovingkindness or compassion, two primary expressions of love. Sophisticated brain scans show that the left frontal cortex lights, correlating strongly with subjective feelings of happiness, openness, and peace.
When I teach meditations for the heart, I often ask my students to visualize being held by a loved one and/or to offer gentle self-touch as part of the practice. Research shows that a twenty-second hug stimulates production of oxytocin, the hormone associated with feelings of love, connectedness, and safety. Yet, we don’t need to receive a physical hug to enjoy this benefit: Either imagining a hug, or feeling our own touch—on our cheek, on our chest—also releasesoxytocin. Whether through visualization, words, or touch, meditations on love can shift brain activity in a way that arouses positive emotions and reduces traumatic reactivity. Where attention goes, energy flows: We have the capacity to cultivate an inner refuge of safety and love.
In assisting students and clients as they develop such a refuge, I often ask the following questions:
1. With whom do you feel connection or belonging? Feel cared for or loved? Feel at home, safe, secure?
Some people immediately identify an individual—a family member, friend, healer, or teacher—whose presence creates the feeling of “at home.” For others, home is a spiritual community, a twelve-step group, or a circle of intimate friends. Sometimes the feeling of belonging is strongest with a person who has died, as for Ram Dass with Maharajji, or with a person you revere but may never have met, such as the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, or Mother Teresa. Many people feel drawn to an archetypal figure like the Buddha or Jesus, Kwan-yin (the bodhisattva of compassion), the Virgin Mary, or some other expression of the divine mother. I’ve also known a good number of people who feel comfort and belonging when they call to mind their dog or cat. I assure students that no one figure is more spiritual or elevated or pure than another as a focus. All that matters is choosing a source of safe and loving feelings.
2. Whenand where do you feel most at home—safe, secure, relaxed, or strong?
Some people find a sense of sanctuary in the natural world, while others feel more oriented and secure when they’re surrounded by the noise and vibrancy of a big city. Your safe space may be a church or temple, your office, or a crowded sports stadium. Some people feel most at home curled up with a book in bed—others when they’re working on a laptop at a busy coffee shop. Certain activities may offer a sense of ease or flow, from playing Ping-Pong to cleaning out a closet to listening to music. Even if you almost never feel truly relaxed and secure, you can build on any setting or situation where you are closest to feeling at home.
3. What events or experiences or relationships have best revealed to you your strength, your courage, your potential?
Sometimes what arises is a memory of a particularly meaningful experience—an artistic or professional endeavor, aservice offered, an athletic feat—that was a source of personal gratification or accomplishment. Whatever the experience, it’s important to explore how it deepens our trust of ourselves.
4. What about yourself helps you to trust your goodness?
When we’re in the grip of trauma or very strong emotion, it may not be possible to reflect on goodness, our own or others’. But when the body and mind are less agitated, this inquiry can be a powerful entry to inner refuge. I often ask clients or students to consider the qualities they like about themselves—humor, kindness, patience, creativity, curiosity, loyalty, honesty, wonder. I suggest that they recall their deepest life aspirations—loving well, realizing truth, happiness, peace, serving others—and sense the goodness of their hearts’ longings. And I invite them to sense the goodness of their very essence, their experience of aliveness, awareness, and heart.
5. When you are caught in fear, what do you most want to feel?
When I ask this question, people often say that they just want the fear to go away. But when they pause to reflect, they often name more positive states of mind. They want to feel safe or loved. They want to feel valued or worthwhile. They long to feel peaceful, at home, or trusting. Or they want to feel physically held, embraced. The words that name our longings, and the images that arise with them, can become a valuable entry to inner refuge. Often the starting place is to offer ourselves wishes or prayers such as, “May I feel safe and at home.” Like offering the phrases in the classic lovingkindness mediation or placing a hand on the heart, expressions of self-care help us open to an experience of belonging and ease.
With each of these inquiries, as we tap into a nourishing memory, thought, prayer or feeling, the invitation is to deepen our attention to that felt experience. Neurons that fire together, wire together. The more we pay attention to the sense of another’s love, to a place that provides beauty and ease, to our own strengths and aspiration, the more we connect with the heartspace that will offer a healing refuge.
At the time of his stroke, Ram Dass had studied with, revered, and prayed to his guru, Maharajji, over a period of thirty years.The gateway to a vast loving presence was already open, and in his moment of great need, he could walk through it to healing. But I’ve seen time and again that the gateway of the heart is still available even for people have had little experience with inner training. All that is needed is the longing to heal and the willingness to practice. As poet Hafiz writes, “Ask the friend for love, ask him again . . . For I have found that every heart will get what it prays for most.”