Monday, September 29, 2008

Posting Schedule

I know they say that time is an illusion, that there is only the eternal Now. In my small world, though, I have only 24 hours in a day, and often must choose how to apportion them.

In Praying With My Feet, I discussed my calling this year to political action. As Obama’s campaign moves into its final days, I’m moved to devote more of my time and energy to ensuring he becomes our next President.

With my life already rich and quite full, that time must come from somewhere. And right now, my guess is that it will come from my writing.

So, I likely won’t post an essay a week for a while. I may post none until the election comes and goes. Time, as they say, will tell. But praying with my feet is, for now, my priority.


Loanne Marie

Monday, September 22, 2008

Spirituality: Balm or Bludgeon

Last week I wrote about the challenges of going with the ebb. On a related note, the belief system we carry with us into that ebb will help determine our experience while there.

One of the many imports from Eastern religious traditions is the concept of karma, the law of cause and effect applied on a grand, soul~development scale. Obviously, this notion is quite helpful in encouraging us toward a larger vision. However, the way this theory is applied can often perpetuate harm.

The inspiration for this essay was the half~joking comment made by a friend of mine this morning, referring to some unknown bad karma as the cause of her ongoing and expensive troubles with a lemon of a car she bought a year or two ago. However, bad karma has also been used to explain experiences of rape and childhood abuse, starvation and poverty, and incarnation into an ethnicity, country, or religion that is subjected to war and genocide.

We humans are meaning~making creatures. We want things to make sense, since the only thing worse than suffering is to suffer without meaning. And so the idea of cause and effect is beneficial as it shores up our belief that life, which may often seem capricious and incomprehensible, is playing by the rules, some rules anyway. If a situation seems terribly unfair and just plain wrong, we can rest more easily knowing that an explanation can be found in an individual’s actions, whether several months or years ago, or during a former, albeit unremembered, life.

Now, let me clearly state what should be obvious: I know not the mind of God or the vast workings of the Cosmos. Perhaps it really is that simple. As with most spiritual concepts, however, my guess is that we humans pare down the notion of karma into a form the Angels would hardly recognize. How could we not, as our wee brains grapple with the Infinite? What I’m interested in exploring here, though, is how our simplistic explanations affect the victims of atrocities and the ones who watch from the sidelines.

First, the victims. I have spent years working with trauma survivors who have taught me how the hate and disrespect inflicted by their abusers becomes internalized. Abusers, who don’t allow authentic guilt to dissuade them from their actions, seem to transfer to their victims both their unclaimed shame and the malice and disregard that propels their behavior.

This dynamic is most clearly seen in instances of sexual and physical abuse, in which there seems to be an almost energetic transmission of shame and loathing. The abuser walks away, and the victim carries the disgrace for him. This shame then weaves its way throughout her psyche, and pops up in some unexpected ways that seem, at first glance, removed from the original experience.

The same can be true for any group that is subjected to mass abuse and disrespect. We humans are social creatures. What that means is that we are open to one another; our boundaries are permeable. Hate gets in. And once in, its corrosive effect travels throughout our beings and molds us in ways we cannot always see.

An application of the concept of karma to explain harmful situations in life is, therefore, something that requires a clear~eyed examination. If someone chooses to believe that being born into an abusive family is a karmic reaction to past wrong behavior, that’s fine. But not until he spends some time examining that belief for evidence of good old fashioned victim~blaming.

Now what about the folks who attribute difficulties in the lives of others to karma? While I understand the relief gained in finding an explanation for injustice, personally I find it troubling. A belief that a victim in any way karmically ‘deserves’ her difficulty makes an authentically compassionate response less likely. It also heaps additional burdens on a person who is trying to heal, as well as strengthens a climate in which overt blame can take root.

In the case of societal abuse, the concept of karma tempts us to not actively challenge systems that give privilege to some at the expense of others. A clear link can usually be found between systemic oppression and economic and political policies that support it, and anything that makes that truth easier to ignore, rather than actively oppose, is dangerous. We risk becoming passive bystanders who accept the unacceptable from a position of a rather smug detachment. And that attitude will, if there is any truth to this theory at all, certainly set in motion a negative future karmic reaction.

An assumption of responsibility, without specific evidence, is a form of judgment, no matter what spiritual terms are used. And we need to tread cautiously when we approach that path.

So, what is a helpful and spiritually nurturing reaction to injustice? For me, it is to respond with an active form of compassion. When confronted by the pain of others, I need to respond from the awareness that we are all linked, and harm to one is harm to us all. That requires that I then do what I can, that I do what is mine to do to ameliorate the harm. Depending on the situation, it may be to listen with an open heart as private horrors are shared. Perhaps I’ll need to pray with my feet by working for a certain political candidate who has the best chance of redressing wrongs. It may mean holding a person or situation in my heart during meditation, or sending money to support a particular cause. It does, I feel, require doing something.

And, what attitude is best to bring with us into our own personal ebb tides? The very same~~an active compassion. We can hold ourselves gently while doing what is ours to do. We can also allow our pain to connect us with the pain of others, to grow the boundaries of our hearts so that we break free of isolation and become softer toward ourselves and others in this challenging experience of being human.

If there are lessons to be learned from difficulties~~and I believe there always are, regardless of whether responsibility is ascribed~~we will learn those lessons so much better within a supportive context. This is true for our children in school. It is equally true for all of us here in Earth School as well.  And with active compassion as our approach, our spirituality becomes a balm for what ails us.

So, I wish you success in bringing an active compassion to your own tender places and difficult times, as well as to those of others.


Loanne Marie

Monday, September 15, 2008

Go With The Ebb?

Yes, indeed! We are often advised to go with the flow, but no one talks much about going with the ebb, do they? While going with the flow is certainly challenging when that flow is moving in an unappealing direction, going with the ebb seems infinitely more difficult.

I am writing this essay from the backwaters of a major ebb. I am on the 9th day of an ultimately harmless, but immensely annoying illness. I’m stuck. Nothing is moving, and no apparent progress seems made~~no matter that I am doing all those good and right things one is supposed to do when sick. Given this state of affairs, I’m being challenged to thrive with what is.

I’ve always had particular difficulty maintaining a good frame of mind when my body feels bad. Whether from pain or illness or lack of sleep, it’s easy for me to sink into an emotional funk, even a spiritual one, when I’m physically distressed. I suspect this is in part evidence of having been given a body that is seldom seriously ill. If I had an omnipresent physical ailment, wouldn’t I learn to swim a bit better in the ebb tides? I certainly hope so.

However, this issue extends beyond physical maladies, and I know it is not unique to me. During most of life, things are happening. Like it or not, there is movement, a progression, and hence something for a person to do. But other times, nada. We feel stale, weary to our core. Our best efforts seem futile, and there is nothing to do but wait for the tide to turn.

Stagnant periods are likely particularly difficult for those of us who most dearly hold a belief in personal control. We find these times try-ing because try as we might, nothing changes. We, or at least our small wills, are powerless.

Personal power~~a complex concept indeed. On the one hand is the idea that we are more powerful than we dare believe, as so splendidly voiced in the passage Our Deepest Fear by Marianne Williamson. On the other lies the stream of debacles we humans create as we attempt to force life to meet our expectations.

I suspect a main purpose of our time here on earth is to resolve this dichotomy. We humans do have a depth of untapped resources, as well as a tendency to force our wills. I think the key is to discern, in each instance, the province of our personal influence, to act appropriately therein, and to let the rest be. This notion has never been more simply and clearly expressed than in the Serenity Prayer:

Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the Courage to change the things I can,
and the Wisdom to know the difference.

When we find our lives in ebb mode, we need to scrutinize the situation with an honest and wise eye to ascertain if there is, in fact, further action that is ours to take. If so, act. If not, then it’s time to give the ebb its due and let go. Accept. We need to ride that receding tide, trusting that the waters will turn once again.

But how exactly do we ride the ebb with good grace? There’s the rub~~and the growth. We need to repeatedly align ourselves with something larger than personal discomfort. Those of us with a spiritual bent are obliged to embrace the constancy of that vast ocean, while feeling the sway of its individual tides. 

And if we fall short again and again, no matter. We’ll be given opportunities galore to perfect this capacity that lies insufficiently developed within us all. Keeping this greater task in mind will likely bring at least a bit of relief our way when we’re stuck.  And by using our stuckness to reinforce our loyalty to a truer vision, we will, at the very least, have something to do!

So, I’m off to gargle, swallow some more immune boosting supplements, and soak in a hot bath.  And as the steam rises from those healing waters, I will also consciously breathe a dazzling radiance into my ailing body and spirit.

Blessings of health and growth to you all!

Loanne Marie

A few days later...the tide has turned!  I am feeling much better.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Praying With My Feet

This has been an inspirational week. My husband and I are slowly working our way through the major speeches of the Democratic National Convention taped during our recent travels. At the same time, we are actively involved at the local level in a debate on how to best address the problem of poor cell phone reception. Whether in the grand scheme of national government or the smaller world of our tiny town, I find myself called these days to act.

How best to express spiritual values is a fundamental question for every seeker. The balance between inner experience and outer action will be unique to each of us, as our constitutions, proclivities, and life lessons are varied. But I know that my spirituality must move outward into the rest of my life. Of course, it must extend to how I relate to my family, friends, and clients. But I also know it must be reflected in the way I greet the cashier at our local store, in how I respond to the stranger on the street, and in my involvement in both local and national politics.

The latter is a bit of a stretch for me, particularly given my somewhat introverted nature and disenchanted political history. I came to adolescence in the 60s and effortlessly absorbed a leftist sensibility that I have never abandoned. While my radicalism lessened as I grew older, I continued to see Democrats as hopelessly conservative. When Bill Clinton arrived on the scene and I finally voted for a president who actually won, I accepted that it was enough to have someone in the Oval Office who at least said the right things. I had become a grudging Democrat.

And then came the Bush~Cheney years. Oh, my! Any thoughts I still harbored about it making little difference who was in the White House rapidly evaporated. I watched our country shrink on every measure of moral authority and conduct, and I knew without a doubt that it all would have been quite different under a President Gore.

My spirituality deepened during the Bush~Cheney years, particularly during their second term. I wonder if this is entirely coincidental. Perhaps watching my country deteriorate on so many levels, apparently with the support of a fearful citizenry, propelled me inward in a search for something constant and true. I’ll never know.

What I do know is that as I now listen to speech after speech so eloquently describing both the peril and opportunity facing us, I feel something stirring within me~~an urgent hope. I know that I must act, not just as an American who has the power to cast a vote, but as a spiritual being who has the opportunity to pray with her feet. It is not sufficient for me to meditate and extend a deepening spirituality into my personal world. I know I must act politically, even though such expression does not come easily to me. I know I must do what I can to elect Barrack Obama and Joe Biden.

The Democrats and politics in general will likely disappoint me time and again. Of course they will; they are part of our imperfect world and reflect our human flaws~~as do I. The existence of imperfection is no excuse for passivity or hopelessness. No, it is reason to pray with my feet. And my voice. And my time.  And my keyboard.

Barrack Obama is a candidate I can enthusiastically support. An individual who is intelligent, wise, and has the temperament to make reasoned choices. A person who understands the struggles of average Americans and will advocate for their needs within a bureaucracy that is often unresponsive. A man who is schooled in the Constitution, and will uphold it through his appointment of justices, including nominees to the Supreme Court. Someone who will repair our standing in the world community through a foreign policy that stands in accordance with our values, relying on diplomacy, choosing war as a last resort, and abolishing the use of torture. 

So, I will continue to register new voters. I will make my Obama calls and perhaps go door to door once more. And I will continue to press myself toward involvement in local politics as well. All of this is an expression, an extension, of my spiritual self.

I hope your spirituality has also found its ground. And with feet strong and sure, may it run!


Loanne Marie

Addendum: A few days have passed since I wrote the above and my enthusiasm has waned a bit. I’ve remembered that US foreign and domestic policies have always had a seamy side, no matter the president, and that the choices of our elected leaders often raise the question of who their constituents truly are. I guess I still remain an ambivalent Democrat.

Yet hope endures. It really does matter which imperfect persons sit in that imperfect White House. I continue to feel infinitely better with the prospect of Obama and Biden there than the alternative.

And pray with my feet I shall!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Clear Eyes

I return from a month’s absence from these pages to reflect on the delights of time away. What is it that is so magnificent about a vacation, even from work that is engaging and meaningful? While time off can be filled with wondrous moments, I haven’t found these to be necessary in making a vacation beneficial. For me, it is the break in my routine that is essential, and what such a break brings my way.

I become so acclimated to my daily life that I cease to fully experience it. For example, we live in a particularly beautiful part of the world. I know the mountains that ring our town are amazing, and yet I become so accustomed to their presence that I no longer truly see them. One of the joys of having folks spend their vacations with us is that I borrow their eyes to behold what is here before me each and every day. And certainly one of the delights of leaving our small town on a vacation of my own lies in coming home to it, seeing it fresh once again.

In just this way, when I take a break from the routines of my life, I gain a perspective that allows me to return to them refreshed and open. I can see my life as it is, without the familiarity that leads me too often to take aspects for granted. And such a clarified vision may prompt a much needed evaluation. There have certainly been times in my life when the angst I felt at returning to a particular job, for example, powerfully signaled that an examination was in order. But whether I return with gratitude for the life I am blessed to live or an uneasiness that tells me it’s time for modification, I usually come back with a clearer perception than when I left.

Yet some vacations bring, along with the break in routine, special delights. This August, I spent nearly 2 weeks in Greece. There I found ancient traditions, beautiful terrain, a language new to me, foods I had never eaten and familiar ones prepared in novel ways, and a whole culture which differed from my own. I was exposed to fresh views of my own world and life in general, ways that I trust have become part of the weave~~at least in small part~~of who I now am.

When I am away from my routines, life takes on an immediacy. Everything is so there, vibrant and without the overlays bred of long acquaintance. And I am reminded that this intimate and vivid experience of life is the goal of any deep spiritual practice. I meditate to slough off the tendency to move through my days on autopilot, to better see what is with fresh eyes, to be more fully and richly present in each moment. These are the very things I value most about a vacation.

Meditation as a vacation from the routine of life? Yes, it seems so to me. And all without the expense and jet lag!

So, now I return to my life. The discipline of weekly writing is a part of that. Tomorrow I resume my work with folks who dig deep for healing and search for an enhanced awareness of their own lives. My wish is to better see, through eyes more thoroughly cleansed of preconceptions, the unique variations of Spirit reflected in each individual and in every interaction that arises between us. And, as always, I hope to more truly recognize and graciously welcome the guidance of that indefinable Other who always shares the room with us.

May your week, too, be full of moments of unbridled perception.


Loanne Marie