Notes on the Journey

Monday, March 25, 2013

Refocused Yearning

My last post was about yearning, triggered by hearing a talk by an author at a local bookstore.  But, since that post, I've had more thoughts about the whole concept of yearning.

Being in the moment is more challenging than one might imagine.  Life has so many wonderful distractions that take us out of the moment.  I saw a wonderful short video on Facebook this morning, which I've shared on my page, of a 109-year-old holocaust survivor giving the most wonderful, wise advice.  "What's your secret?" she's asked.  And, she replies, "Optimism."  I'm paraphrasing now, but she says there are bad things in life, but you give your attention to the beautiful things.  There is beauty all around us, she says.  Yes.  I've heard this.  I've said this!  I've had moments of the awareness of this.  Why is it so easy to forget?

If one is yearning for anything, one is not in the moment.  Yearning for something means we think we don't have something that is really important to us.  But, that means that we forget that we have everything we need.  That means that we've gone into a consciousness of lack.  And, as long as we're yearning for something, or concentrating on what we don't have, we'll continue to create that lack.  When we're really present and in the moment with whatever is going on, we're not thinking about anything.  We might be processing incoming information through our mind, but we're with the situation, not thinking about the situation.  Presence requires awareness, not thought.

When we're really present, the past holds no sway over us.  When we're really present, we're not thinking about some concept we have about the future.  When we're really present, we're not yearning for something we think we need but don't have.  When we're really present, we're simply with whatever is revealing itself.  The thing that might be revealing itself could be love, beauty, connection, pleasure, anger, hunger, thirst, aggression, fierceness, tenderness...the list is endless.  But, if we're present, we're able to take in and receive whatever is being revealed.  We're able to respond instead of react.  We're not thinking, we're processing.  We're being aware.

I think part of being human is to yearn for things, dream for things, imagine things the way they could be, the way we want them to be.  It's not a bad thing to give our imaginations full leeway.  It's through our imaginations that creativity makes it's way into the world.  But, there's a balance to be struck between imagination and presence.  Yearning should not be focused on the thing we don't think we have, but on the feeling sense of what it would be like to have it.  In that way, our feeling sense of it is actually bringing it into being.  As we're present with our dreams and imaginings, they become our reality, but it requires a feeling sense of them.  And, as with whatever we're being present with, it is a visceral, living experience.  How to bring Life into everything is to be present with it.  We animate things by our very presence.  When we bring Life into our dreams and our yearnings, when we live them in our imaginations, they have no choice but to become our reality.

I'm continually amazed by how much repetition it takes for a concept to make its way into my consciousness and be integrated.  And, even once the concept is integrated, how much focus and presence it takes to really embody it.  But, such is the way of Life.  And, the unrelenting patience of Life is so touching it makes we weep.  And, as I weep my heart opens and I'm flooded with waves of unlimited love.  And, I feel full.  And, the yearning goes away.  And, I am grateful. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

What Do You Yearn For?

There is an independent, local bookstore in Albuquerque called Bookworks.  I love this bookstore.  They not only have great books displayed in an artistic and comfortable setting, but they also sometimes put on events and talks by authors.  I recently went to one such talk by a woman named Mary Johnson, who has written a book called "An Unquenchable Thirst" about her twenty years in the Catholic order of nuns called the Sisters of Charity, an order founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

I went to hear her speak because the title of her book interested me, for I also have an unquenchable thirst.  And, the fact that she had been a nun, and had the courage to leave after twenty years, is also pretty interesting.  I ultimately didn't buy her book, but very much enjoyed her talk.  I might go back and get the book, but I'm already daunted by the stack of books I've got piled up to read.

It is the yearning that is the central element of her story.  In the beginning, at seventeen, when she entered the holy order of the Sisters of Charity, it was the yearning for communion with God and a need to serve.  And later, as she matures and feels the yearning of other things, it's the need for individuality and creative expression and love and relationship.  But, the yearning is always the thing that keeps us going.  Yearning is central to all of us.  And, ultimately, I think we all yearn for the same thing, although it might not look like that.

The thing I think we all yearn for is to know and accept ourselves.  The yearning for God, even though often manifested in an exterior and searching way, is really the desire to know and accept ourselves...intimately.  Individuality and creative expression come out of our sense of ourselves, and deepen as we live and as our innermost selves are revealed to us.  Our self-confidence comes from our knowledge of ourselves, being clear about who we are and what gifts we have to give and express into the world.

Mary Johnson felt that the way to satisfy and fulfill her yearning was to enter a nunnery and live a life of selflessness, obedience, and personal solitude.  But, as with all things, we don't always know what we're getting into until we're there.  And, once there, wherever and whatever there is, it's not always easy to see the truth of where we are as separate from our yearning.  Our yearning clouds our vision.  We get stuck in the perception that if we just persevere, our yearning will be satisfied.  Our perceived purpose will be fulfilled, and it will all have been worth it.  We sacrifice ourselves in service to this yearning.  We allow ourselves to be oppressed and suppressed, we quiet our voices and obey the rules and directives of those we think know more than we do, or are closer to our goal than we are.  Our yearning is so strong that we'll do anything, give anything, in order to fulfill it.

The mistake in this type of externally focused yearning is that we lose ourselves in it and to it.  We think that by holding to a certain set of rules or dogma--be it of church or institution or corporation--that we will reach the thing for which we yearn.  But, no.  We are always lead astray by thinking that the answers lay outside ourselves.  But, if we're lucky, all of what the yearning takes us through, will ultimately show us that looking outside ourselves, denying ourselves, is not the way.  And, once we figure that out, we'll turn inward, we'll turn to ourselves and start listening to our own inner voice.  Getting lost, for a long or short period of time, does eventually help us to realize that we must turn within.  But, that lonely road of the lost can go on for a very long time.  And, some leave the body without ever realizing the purpose of it all, and without satisfying their yearning.

Every spiritual path tells us to turn within, to listen to that still small inner voice.  And, we can hear that advice over and over for years and years without really understanding what it means.  We might have an intellectual concept of what it means, we might think we know what it means, but actually integrating what it means and embodying the continual practice of it is a very different thing.  And, we're really only on the true path once we start to turn inward.  As long as we are outward focused, we will continue to lose our way.  As long as we look outside of ourselves for ways to satisfy our yearning, we sentence ourselves to endless searching.  But, as I say, the journey can be long.  My journey has been long.  Even though I've let go of a lot and turned inward, the tunnel still looks pretty dark.  The nature of the journey has changed, but the unsatisfied yearning remains.

I long for the day when I feel a solid sense of self.  When the calm of self-knowing becomes more the norm than not.  I'm envious of confident, purposeful people.  Of course, some of those confident, purposeful people might be putting on a really good act, but I'm incapable of seeing through it.  To me, because of my own yearning, they seem to be glowing examples of what I'll never be.  Mary Johnson finally found the courage and the vision to break out of the straight jacket she'd put herself in.  She's now happily married and a successful writer, her twenty years of suppression now fodder for her creative impulses and acceptance into the world at large.  But, I wonder how well she really knows herself, how satisfied her yearning has been.  None of us ever know by looking in from the outside.  And, the only person we ever really know about at that depth is ourselves.

Each and every one of us has our journey to walk, and we walk that journey alone.  No matter how many people we have gathered around us, the walk to ourselves is a solitary one.  I wish for you what I want for myself, to know who I am in the depths of my soul.  To walk forward in the world, confident in that knowing, and to move purposefully from that knowing.  To contribute from the best and deepest and truest core of myself.  This is my yearning.  In this I am incomplete and unfinished.  And so, I keep walking.  What do you yearn for?   

Monday, March 18, 2013

Stuck in My Perception

There's a quote from Albert Einstein, which I'll include here:  "We can not solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."  So true.

I have an electric stove.  I've always had gas stoves before, so this is new for me.  Plus, for the last thirty-five years or so, I've not done much cooking.  But, my whole relativity to how stoves and ovens work, is based on how ones that run on gas work.  I've been convinced that my current electric stove needed a new thermostat since I moved in, which is now three months ago.  Things took too long to cook and then didn't always turn out the way I thought they should.  A friend of mine suggested getting an oven thermometer to check the oven temperature with, which I did.  According to this thermometer, which I spent quite a bit on in a very upscale cooking store, the temperature of my oven was way off.

I reported what seemed to be a thermostat problem to my apartment complex management office.  The property management crew came by more than once to check the oven, but with their somewhat limited knowledge and skills with stoves and ovens, they weren't really sure what to do.  They ended up ordering a new heating coil for the oven, thinking that, since they didn't know what else to do, it might fix the problem.  It did not fix the problem, and they ended up switching out my stove for the one from the vacant apartment next door to me.  I had the same problem with the alternative stove from next door.  Hmmmmm.....imagine that.

I continued complaining to the apartment office, hoping to get a trained and certified technician to come and check out my stove.  I was told this was not possible because the complex had no agreement with the stove manufacturer and so there was no way to pay a technician.  Huh?  Okay...  I was then told that the complex was in the process of purchasing new stoves for all of the tenants, but that since I'd had so much trouble with mine, they weren't sure they wanted to buy the same brand again.  The person who was arranging the sale of the 250 stoves to my complex freaked out when the possibility that the sale would not go through was brought up.  This person, bless him, arranged for a technician to come out--just this once--to check out and fix my thermostat problem.

The technician came out and spent about an hour with me.  He had a very expensive thermometer with him that proved the one I had bought to be totally inaccurate.  It's now in the trash.  And, even though I was not wrong about the temperature in my oven varying greatly, I was told that it was not unusual for an electric oven, and that the idea was that it all evened out in the end.  Oh.  So, as it turns out, there was nothing wrong with my oven.  What was wrong, was my perception of the way my oven should be working based on my limited past experience with a different type of oven.

This is where the Einstein quote comes in.  My perceived problem was based in an erroneous mind set.  And, as long as I had that mind set, I was convinced my oven needed a new thermometer.  Until the technician came and checked out my oven and explained its workings to me, there was nothing to change my mind set...at least, from the outside.  I could have realized that the problem was with me and not the stove, but heaven forbid, after everything I'd put everyone through in regard to it, that I might be wrong.  My mind had created the problem due to a misperception, and the problem would persist until that misperception was corrected.

I had to get over myself.  I had to see the situation differently.  I had to find a new perception, a new attitude, toward the thing I had been perceiving as a problem.  We do this all the time.  I was stuck in the way I was seeing a situation, which then prohibited me from seeing any other solution than the one I thought necessary.  There actually was no problem.  I created the problem and then couldn't see my way out of it except through one avenue.  I hate that I did this.  I'm embarrassed that I did this.

The whole experience did bring me much more into consciousness about the ways in which we get stuck, though.  And, for that, I'm grateful.  I'm hoping the next time I perceive a problem, I'll be able to get myself out of the box in which I created it, and see it in a new way that will hold a solution or reveal to me my misperception.  Life will give me many opportunities to practice this, I'm sure.

We can have a spiritual experience with anything or anyone, and I had one with my stove.  My stove showed me how I get stuck in my position and am unwilling to move out of it.  My stove showed me how stubborn I can be when I think I'm right.  My stove showed me that there's more than one way to look at something.  My stove showed me that I need to pay less attention to what the dial says, and more attention to the food and how it's cooking.  I have to up my presence in relation to my stove and my food.  When something isn't going the way I think it should, I need to move off my position and consider alternatives.  I need to see where the resistance is coming from and open up to the field and allow a solution to come in.

My life is my spiritual path.  And, everything in it, including my stove, is capable of teaching me more about myself.  Because of this experience, I'm now more present and in touch with my stove; and, I'm now more present and in touch with whatever I happen to be cooking on or in it.  I'm also more aware of the ways in which I can get stuck.  The more deeply we know ourselves, the more we're able to accept ourselves, the more we're able to get out of our own way. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Staying With Myself

I'm sitting on my apartment balcony in the late afternoon sun.  My cat, Sophie, frolicks around my feet and makes surprising pounces onto my lap before jumping off and running around some more.  I realize I'm totally relaxed.  I don't have to go anywhere, I don't have to do anything, there's nothing calling me but this moment and the warmth of the sun.  It's quiet and I can hear a variety of birds singing in the background and talking to each other.  There's the distant sound of car engines making the drive up the grade of Academy toward Tramway.  And, shadows are starting to fall on the western slopes of the Sandias.

It takes a while to relax when you've been working non-stop for most of your life.  The last time I was off work for as long as I've been off now, was many years ago.  I'd gone through an emotional upheaval that was so devastating to me at the time that I couldn't work.  I stayed off work for a year and a half before realizing that I had to go back.  The financial consequences of that sojourn were unexpected and far-reaching in their impact, as well as being totally destructive.  I needed the time emotionally, although I was not able to meet my financial responsibilities for allowing myself that time.  But...after I'd been off for about a year--I didn't think I was going to script supervise again then either, but that time I was wrong--I had relaxed enough that I would sit in my living room at the end of the day and watch the light fade.  Just sit there and watch the light fade.  Nothing else going on, just watching and experiencing the light.

During that devastating time off, I got in touch with myself in ways that I'd not done before.  I was present with my pain and gave myself a reset...in all ways.  I didn't know in the beginning of that period of time that it would end up being a year and a half, that's just how long it ended up being before going back to work was something I could do; knew I had to do.  I don't know now how long my period of peaceful relaxation is going to be before Life pulls me in another direction.  It will be unexpected, since I have no agenda for myself at this time, and so I enjoy each precious moment of relaxation and quiet as it comes.  For, the unexpected is always around the corner, and I don't want to miss or not be present with a moment of this time I have now.

I breathe and I observe the sky.  I listen to the smallest sounds and find such joy in watching my cat play.  I cook and I clean and I find enjoyment in domestic tasks.  I read and I write and I stay present with myself.  No matter what comes next, it will be informed by this gift of quiet and relaxation during which I've gotten reaquainted with myself and the things that matter.  I had gotten very far afield in my quest for worldly success and financial gain.  Not that I didn't have good moments in that quest, I did, but I feel like I've come back to myself again.

Knowing who I am in this life has been a difficult path for me.  I'm very empathetic and have always had a hard time distinguishing what's my energy and what's someone else's.  I adapt very well and sometimes feel like I've lost myself in that adaptation to situations and relationships.  I think it's one of the reasons I need so much time alone.  When I'm alone, I have a much better sense of myself.  If I'm around other people too much I start to go a little crazy, which is why, when I was working, my weekends and days off were so important to me.  I would gather myself back up and get ready for the onslaught of another week surrounded by hundreds of people again.  And, it wasn't that I didn't love and enjoy those people, I did, but I hadn't developed the tools that would have protected me from taking on so much from them energetically.

I'm still working on developing the tools that will help me to stay in integrity with myself.  As with everything, it's a process.  But, I'm growing in awareness and in my ability to stay with myself.  And, it's not that I care less about people, it's that I'm getting better at allowing everyone their journey and not feeling that I need to help or fix anything for them, or bear their pain.  I can be with them, I can have compassion for them, and I can stay with myself at the same time.  Boundaries have become a big part of my current journey.  I've only recently realized that I didn't have any boundaries for most of my life.  But now, I see how important they are for all of us.  Boundaries help me stay in touch with who I am and not get drawn into someone else's energy.  They give me a basis for whether I want to say "yes" or "no."  They give me an internal structure that makes me feel safe, so that I'm not invaded by every stray or passing energy that's in my vicinity.  It's hard to know who you are, or what you're feeling or thinking, when your energy field is constantly being impacted by everyone else's energy field who happens to be around you.

I realize that for most of my life, I've been going out to others with my energy field.  My field moves out and joins with theirs in order to "grok" who they are, what they're feeling, what they want, what they think.  Once I've done this, and clicked into their energy, I know who they are, and I adapt the way I am in their presence to align with that.  Because of that level of adaptation, I lose myself.  I only know who I am in relationship to how I am around specific people or in specific situations.  It's been a journey of discovery to find out who I am, irrespective of who I happen to be around or what context I might be in.  Of course, there is an essence that comprises this personality and this soul, and that has come through everything else, but my lack of boundaries has created a lot of confusion for me.  It's also affected my self-confidence, because it's hard to have a lot of self-confidence when you're not sure who you are.  What is there to be self-confident about, other than your ability to adapt really well to any situation or personality you come into contact with?  That doesn't give you a real strong sense of self.

So, I'm getting to know myself more deeply.  I'm honoring what I like...what I like to do, what I like to eat, what I think is important, who I want to be with, where I want to be.  I'm paying attention to myself.  I'm keeping my energy with myself and keeping my third eye focused in on myself.  It's a practice, and I can still get drawn out of myself, but I'm much more aware now when I abandon myself than I used to be.  I catch myself and I draw myself back in.  It's a much more feminine way of being.  I stay with myself and allow Life to happen and respond to it as it does.  I'm not efforting to understand and grok my surroundings and the people who inhabit them, I'm allowing it all to be what it is, knowing that understanding will happen without my effort to make it so.

One of the most surprising results of this practice with boundaries and staying with myself is that I now feel safe in my body for the first time in my life.  I historically had a hard time grounding into my body.  When I would really "come in" I would often cry, because I was filled with fear.  But now, I don't do that anymore.  I'm actually able to be in my body and feel comfortable and safe.  It's a revelation.  I'm an adopted child and was always told that I had issues with abandonment, but it's only recently that I realize that the reason behind that was that I had abandoned myself.  I was rarely "home" in my body, and there was always an inherent discomfort to that.  Now, I'm able to be with myself and in my body--most of the time--which makes moot the whole abandonment issue.  It's one of those things that no longer holds me in its grip.

The sun is almost gone for today and color streaks across the sky.  I sit with myself in gratitude for all that my life holds.  And, I'm grateful for my growing awareness of the things that matter.