Monday, November 24, 2008

Of Lotuses And Muddy Water

Each year at this time, we are urged to be thankful for all the good things in our lives. What a delightful idea, this setting aside an entire day to cultivate gratitude.

But what about the not so good things that fill our days? Could we find a way to be grateful even for those? We all have struggles, some quite grave. Yet, if we approach these difficulties with an eye to the pearls they just might contain, wouldn't our experience of them change significantly?

If I have learned anything in 25 years as a psychotherapist, it is that beauty can rise out of deep pain. I have been schooled in this lesson by soul after brave soul who extracted jewels from the rubble of personal suffering. Rough times, when handled skillfully and with an openness born of a courageous spirit, can bring us great gifts. We needn't deny our distress, just discover the potential that lies within it.

The most difficult times in my own life have stretched my edges and deepened my heart. I have learned compassion from being wounded, humility from making mistakes, and kindness in both forgiving and being forgiven. Adversity has taught me fortitude, integrity, and the value of commitment. I have been nudged toward new and rewarding paths by situations whose heaviness grew day by day. And the gifts of being present at the deaths and near~deaths of loved ones? Oh, my! Difficult experiences, but ones I would not trade for anything.

Goldie Hawn, that kooky philosopher, puts it this way: “The beautiful lotus flower cannot grow any other way (than) in muddy water.” The muddy water of which she speaks lies within our hurt places and amid the trying moments of our lives. Those waters offer valuable lessons from which, ultimately, we can derive wisdom.

Christ urged us to love our enemies. Could not this entreaty be expanded to suggest a loving receptivity toward those slices of life that are not as we wish them to be? Our earth eyes divide experience into good and bad, pleasurable and painful, wanted and unwanted. Were we to see with wide open spirit eyes, perhaps we'd find that Grace is, indeed, everywhere, even in those moments that challenge us.

Since our spirit eyes tend not to function very consistently, we could simply choose~~right here, right now~~to honor the whole dance, not just its enjoyable or easy steps. And then we practice, growing in our ability to dance this dance of ours.

Many of us have a Thanksgiving tradition of pausing before that scrumptious meal to express gratitude for the good things in our lives. Perhaps this year we could also share a gem that came our way disguised as something else.

Difficulties will forever be part of the human experience. Our approach to them, though, just might determine the human we come to be. As Goldie says, “The flower that you become is not always easy.” Indeed.

Phoenixes rise from ashes, and clouds have silver linings. And to grow a lotus, you need a little mud.

Namaste, beautiful lotuses!

Loanne Marie

For another take on Thanksgiving, see Flow of Thanks.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Awaken To What Is

Some of us conceive of the spiritual journey as an endeavor to find God. However, doesn't such a conceptualization presuppose that the Infinite has somehow become lost?

I realize that when folks think in these terms, they know full well that the Sacred is not a set of car keys or favorite necklace that, in our distraction, we misplace. Yet the words used to define a quest are important, as they unconsciously inform our approach to it.

If we see the Divine as something out there, we inadvertently reinforce a belief in a great dividing chasm, thus furthering a sense of separation. If we begin instead with the idea that the world and each moment of our lives are infused with the Holy, a different response is engendered.

With the latter perspective, we need only find ways to recognize what already is.

How do we perceive and, more importantly, increase our experience of the great Mystery? A vital first step is through enhancing our ability to pay attention.

This is no easy task as our brains are adept at creating fantasies that sweep us away. How often do we only vaguely perceive our surroundings ~~when driving down the road, for example~~while internally projecting ourselves into various imagined scenarios?

A reorientation is needed, away from thoughts that carry us out of the present and toward a direct experience of what is. Here are a few suggestions to increase the skill of living in the here and now.

  • Look for small moments within each day to come to an inner stillness. As we wash a dish, brush our teeth, or gaze out the window, for example, we could do so with full awareness.
  • Greet loved ones and coworkers authentically. No matter the specifics of history or personality, as we say hello we could open to the divine spark present in the other and within our interaction. 
  • Post evocative words or sacred images in places you will often see them. In this way, the bathroom mirror, refrigerator door, or computer screen act as reminders, pulling us deeper into the vast Mystery inherent in the present moment.
  • Make a commitment to open to the Divine for whatever specific period each day fits your life. Remember, whether you sit in receptive silence or read from a sacred text, it is far wiser to do so for 5 minutes each day than to set unrealistic goals that are abandoned in a few weeks.
These are only a few suggestions. In a quiet moment, ask for others that reflect your current needs, and listen for the answers that arise.

One of the paradoxes of life is that the force which shapes and propels the vast universe itself is present, too, within the tiny moments of our own small lives. It is the task of our evolving consciousness to grow in awareness of that reality, and to increase our full experience of it as well.

Sleeping and awakening are both part of the human experience. Perhaps it is time to give our awakening the greater share.

Have a lovely week!


Loanne Marie

Monday, November 10, 2008

Open Letter to McCain Supporters

While I am thrilled by the election of Barrack Obama, my heart goes out to those Americans who just as strongly supported McCain.

I well remember how I felt after the elections of 2000 and 2004, and can only guess that you’re feeling now some of what I felt then.

I suspect it might be too soon for anything to soften that upset. This election was an expression of the very real divisions that exist within our nation. However, I trust that we will find a way to bridge those divides over the next few months and years.

No, I don’t imagine it will be easy. A democratic republic requires hard work.

However, history is on our side. Strong differences have been the norm throughout the history of this country. During other times of strain, we survived and things moved forward. In just this way, we will move forward from this current juncture as well.

We are in this thing together, even though we viewed the candidates and the issues differently. We are fellow citizens of an amazing country, one that we each love dearly, and one that deserves our hard work and good faith to make better still.

Loanne Marie

A Shift In Consciousness

Martin Luther King's dream, voiced so eloquently 35 years ago, was finally realized this past week. The American people judged a black presidential candidate, not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.

This election obviously speaks volumes about the healing of the deep racial wounds of our nation, and the tears shed by so many of us Tuesday night honored this reality. However, I believe something still deeper has occurred.

The election of Barack Obama demonstrates a shift in consciousness,  as well.

There are moments in human history that are truly transformational. They creep up on us gradually, and can generally be perceived only in hindsight. I believe we are now living such a moment.

Millions of Americans cast individual ballots, some in the weeks of early voting, others on election day itself. Not until the tally of those votes started coming in did we begin to realize what we might have done as a nation.

It was not, however, until a somber and dignified black man walked onto that stage in Grant Park that we began to really get it. And as we listened to his sage and inspiring words, we knew. America, all of America, had a leader once more. And we, as a people, had grown stronger and deeper and united in a way we had not been the night before.

Our highest selves stood with us as we felt Obama's quiet strength, as we saw the gravity and grace with which he approached this historic moment. Our cynicism had evaporated without our even knowing it, and we allowed joy to overflow.

We had abandoned an ethic of divisiveness and pessimism, and allowed unity and hope a place at our collective table. We not only rejected fear as a political strategy. We rejected fear itself. And that is huge.

Of course there will be difficult times ahead. Much is expected of our new leader, and he well knows it. However, there is much expected of each of us as well. 

We will be given opportunities again and again to retreat into fear and skepticism. A shift has begun. It is up to us to nurture that new growth so that its roots reach deep and become sturdy.

We have given Obama a powerful mandate to move forward, to move us forward as a nation into uncharted territory. We must move with him, by stepping into that future with an ever-renewing faith that we can succeed.

You know, there really is no way to speak or write about this moment without sounding a bit corny or cliched. And the fact that we do it anyway is evidence of the transformation of which I speak.

Our election of a black man is truly historic. But I believe it was a deeper paradigm shift that allowed us to do so. It is this profound metamorphosis that will lead us to confront in novel ways the challenges that lay ahead.

And there is every reason to believe that the transformation we have experienced this week will continue to unfold, if we allow it, and sweep us into a future we can, from our present vantage point, only begin to imagine.

I can hardly wait!

Blessings to us all on this amazing journey ahead,

Loanne Marie

Monday, November 3, 2008

Be The Change

A vibrant spirituality cannot be something confined to morning meditation or weekly church service. For spirituality to be a living thing, it must be woven throughout our entire existence.

As we mature, we are often better able to articulate our core spiritual values. Actualizing them, however, is a challenging and ever-evolving process.

If we believe in love, we are called to love not just our family and friends, but all with whom we share this world. Easier said than done, certainly.

If we assume an interconnectedness with all life, a wise stewardship of the earth’s resources will follow, as will compassionate and substantive assistance to those of our own species in need. But what form shall these intentions take?

If we recognize that other cultures and religions are comprised of good people like ourselves who simply reflect another facet of the Infinite, we will honor our differences. What, then, is the appropriate response when these differences lead to conflict?

Tough questions, to be sure, but difficulty does not excuse us from our task. Enacting our spiritual principles must ever be our goal.

Nowhere is this challenge more acute than in the political arena. In fact, the political process is often a contest of values and of competing proposals for how best to advance them.

When someone asks for our vote, we need to listen carefully to both what the candidate and their party says, and how they say it.

The specific policies and proposals are, of course, extremely important, as are critiques of the state of the nation and our place in the world. Only a portion of pre-election proposals come to fruition, however, and then often in a form different from what was originally proffered.

That is why, more and more, I listen specifically for how a candidate conveys his or her plan. The tenor of the rhetoric, the images invoked, the emotional quality conveyed all give me insight into temperament, closely held values, and an idea of how he or she will approach the issues that concern us most.

No one can know the specific challenges our elected leaders will face, for we live in uncertain times. The issues confronting us are enormous: financial instability, sociological shifts, political upheaval, climate change, poverty, and violence around the world.

While times of smooth sailing have been rare in human history, the increasing rapidity of current changes, combined with the shrinking of our world through increased population and technological advancements, makes ours an era of unprecedented challenge.

But it is also a time of great potential. Events have conspired in such a way that we are poised on the cusp of profound change, for good or for ill.

When Gandhi exhorted us to “be the change you want to see in the world”, he was urging us to demonstrate our spiritual principles in every facet of our lives.

I’ve continued over the years to clarify my core spiritual values, and have tried in my own imperfect and evolving way to live them. This year, I’ve also listened to the candidates for the Presidency.

There is one who stands out, one candidate who best reflects my principles, both in the what of his policies and the how of his rhetoric.

My choice this year has arisen naturally from who I am, and who I perceive the candidates to be. This year, I cast my vote with ease.

I cast it with hope, as well.


Loanne Marie