Renewal & Possibilities

Renewal: New Possibilities- Part 1

Spring is just beginning here in the northern hemisphere—the season of renewal and new possibilities. A small plot of land across from the complex where I live is blanketed with a floral violet-colored ground cover. It does so spot-on every year at this time, and it always takes my breath away. Daffodils and crocuses are beginning to blossom.

I know—the Covid-19 pandemic continues to linger and keep our lives in check. But we’ve come a long way through a very dark period of our lives—for many of us with great suffering and loss. Yet, there is hope for returning to some level of normalcy in the air, and the season of spring helps to fuel this.

“We grin and bear it ’cause the nights are long.
I hope that somethin’ better comes along.”

— The Muppets

What’s Next?

What will the coming months and year ahead really be like? When will we feel confident that we can see and hug our loved ones and friends freely again? When will life feel normal again—or will it ever? Most importantly – however things do unfold – what new possibilities are ahead for each of us?

There is a spiritual practice of Visioning developed by Rev. Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith of the Agape International Spiritual Center that might just help with this. It’s designed to help us create a more expansive idea of our lives than what we currently have—going beyond our limited perspectives and experiences by opening us to a higher vision. This is not about catching a vision and setting out to make it happen with goals, actions, etc. Rather, this Visioning is a meditative practice to clear some space for deep listening to Divine Wisdom within. In this space we can pose a series of inquiring questions: What must I release? What must I embrace or embody? What must I become?

Release and let go

This first inquiry invites us to clear out what is not needed, has completed its’ purpose, or is limiting us in some way. Is it time to let go of a relationship? Perhaps there are old habits, attitudes or beliefs that are no longer life affirming. Anything that does not serve the fulfillment of the possibilities and a new vision deserves consideration. It can even be old stuff we have hanging around, or old clothes we no longer wear and may never wear again. Releasing creates a vacuum, or perhaps we could refer to it as a womb of potentiality.

The spring season of renewal is a natural time for doing spring cleaning, or organizing, such as the garage or basement. It’s also the time to clean up the garden to prepare it for new growth. Whether you sit in quite meditation, go for long walks in nature and or tend to your home and garden, allow this to be time of reflection, of sorting and clearing the soil of your consciousness. These are all mindful actions that can serve this process.

Watch for furthering this Visioning practice in future posts.

Embrace your scars

Embrace Your Scars and Imperfections

“Let everything happen to you, beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”

— Rainer Maria Rilke

gounded beingI was in the midst of writing this article when the COVID-19 virus epidemic was declared a pandemic. Our Illinois’ governor mandated a “stay-at-home” order for all non-essential service employees. Much of my work halted, and like everyone, I was trying to adjust to the effects of isolation and uncertainty. I reluctantly cancelled my June Greek Island yoga retreat. And, I wondered when, or if, I’d get to dance Tango again! But my spiritual teachings and practices helped calm me with an inner knowing. No matter what happens on the surface of our lives, there is an unshakeable ground of being that is eternally present.

As the saying goes, we must “look for the silver lining.” We can choose to shine light on the positives that arise during, and because of, this pandemic. We can also embrace the residual scars that reveal the underlying strength, beauty and wisdom that emerges as healing inevitably pervades.


Gold and silver

I was so disappointed when a treasured statue of embracing dancers broke into many pieces last year.  I thought maybe I could glue it together, or better yet find a new one like it on the Internet. When my search proved fruitless, I consulted an expert on how to repair this item. His fee was far too expensive, but he told me on how I might do it myself. Because it was made of a soft soapstone, he cautioned that fragments could easily chip off. I gingerly glued the first two pieces together and waited many days before continuing with the next piece. When I finally got it all together, I was delighted to see it whole again—even though its imperfections were noticeable because of missing fragments.

Several weeks later, still admiring my accomplishment, I remembered referencing the Japanese art of Kintsugi in one of my articles many years ago, entitled, “Living the Wabi-Sabi Way.” When a piece of pottery has broken, the areas of breakage are mended with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Highlighting the cracks and repairs simply represents an event in the life of the object, and thus becomes a symbol of its fragility, strength and beauty.

embrace your scars Aha, I will paint the seams and imperfections with gold paint! As I did so, ideas began to flow on writing about Kintsugi as metaphor for life. Embracing our flaws, scars and imperfections offers us the opportunity to acknowledge our true strength, beauty and wisdom that comprise our essential wholeness.


Wounded, broken

Inevitably, circumstances shift and change and sometimes life seems to fall apart. Stuff happens, often catching us off guard. A relationship goes sour, a job is lost or put on furlough, finances take a hit—or we find ourselves in the middle of a pandemic!  While we are not made of ceramic, our emotions and thoughts can become rigid and corruptible (corrupt comes from the Latin word corruptus, meaning broken in pieces).

When the future becomes uncertain, we can fall into self-pity and victimization leaving us feeling utterly alone and broken. However, what has been broken or lost has the potential to be repaired or recovered. With appropriate resources a relationship may be repaired, a new job found, physical and economic health restored—maybe even better than before. If a void still remains, this creates space for new possibilities and opportunities…a chance to create life anew.

Suffering is a natural part of the human experience; experience that is essentially impermanent. We won’t live in this flawed and imperfect body forever—the surgence of COVID-19 has made this very clear. We don’t need to hide our wounds and scars or pretend nothing happened—any more than we need to ruminate over the past. Every scar has a story behind it, reminding us of a challenge overcome, a battle survived or even a funny moment in our lives. The key is to learn and grow from the experience, knowing that the hurt is over and to not let emotional scars linger as the story.

Emerging strength

Phoenix Often, we need to seemingly lose everything before we can rise from the ashes like the resiliency of the Phoenix. George Mumford, an aspiring basketball player at the University of Massachusetts, had injuries that forced him give up the game he loved. Pain medications led to heroin as emptiness left him spiraling downward. Finally, after turning to mindfulness meditation and getting clean, he was called to help Coach Phil Jackson and the Chicago Bulls, a team in crisis after the departure of Michael Jordan. Mumford has since coached a roster of champion clients from Olympians to corporate individuals.

Moving through challenging times makes us stronger. It’s a strength that emerges from within—our connection with our truest self, our core of being. Just as a physical wound heals from the inside out, there is an inner strength within each of us that arises to help us heal. The stronger we become with each circumstance, the greater ease we bring to each new challenge. We can heal collectively as well.

As I write this, I hear of all kinds of people throughout the world who are volunteering in various creative capacities to help us move through this pandemic.

Nelson Mandela recalled a time when he was reading a newspaper while flying with other passengers in a 20-seat aircraft. Suddenly one of the propellers began to sputter and stop. A sense of unease filled the cabin with concern that the other engine would keep running so the plane could safely land. Mandela continued to read his paper as though everything would be fine. Later, passengers remarked on how much his calmness helped them. What Mandela embodied and demonstrated is something we have within us—an unshakeable calmness and ease of being that cannot be broken or shattered and is always present.

Beauty and wisdom revealed

Embrace your scarsJapanese aesthetics value marks of wear from use of an object, and find beauty in what has been broken. In Kintsugi art, when a piece is missing from a ceramic bowl, a fragment from another broken object is fashioned to fill the void. We do this with broken bodies. When a leg is lost a new one can be attached to replace it. Rather than hiding the prosthetic, some people allow it to be freely visible as though wearing it as a badge of honor. Isn’t this an authentic display of inner strength and beauty?

It’s often said that when we bring something into the light, we see it more clearly. This is true of the flaws, blemishes and imperfections of our bodies as well as our lives. Regrets, lost opportunities and hurts, when left to harbor inside, can fester and cause more suffering. However, if we shine a light on them gilding them with our reflections on what we have learned, we begin to put ourselves back together.  We can then accept our true uniqueness—imperfections, deficiencies, challenges, warts and all.

The wisdom of Kintsugi also teaches that acceptance of change is inevitable.  There is a part of us that holds our authentic beauty, that is not broken, accepts everything and forgives our perceived brokenness.  When we can truly forgive ourselves, our inner beauty radiates. Thus, forgiveness brings us back to wholeness.

Life’s golden journey

vein of goldThe healing of our brokenness is sealed with a vein of gold that shines out from the core of our authentic beingness. We only need to regularly open our hearts, rest back and steep in this ground of being with whatever inner practice works for us—meditation, nature, connecting with a loved one. Our life journey then becomes a reflection of that golden vein which nourishes not only us, but interconnects with others throughout the world, the earth itself and the Divine Universe. The COVID Pandemic has brought us to our knees.

Resilience

Embracing Resistance, Igniting Resilience

I recently met my friend John, whom I know from Argentine tango dancing. Over lunch he shared with me that four years ago he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease with Parkinson’s disease–which has been progressively impacting his life. He said that at a recent dance, his arm started shaking and his partner asked if something was wrong. His physician has now recommended he stop driving. Following the initial diagnosis, he refused to believe it; he resisted its reality. But currently he is embracing the physical changes rather than resisting them. How did he get there?

Meaningful LifeA life of sameness and predictability is far easier to accept than change and unpredictability, but the latter are inevitable. They happen in our work, relationships, and health, as well as our culture, laws, and, notably, weather. Sometimes the change is so dramatic that it can result in our feeling devastated, and thus we resist adapting to it. But there is a resiliency of the human spirit. In an e-mail after our lunch, John wrote: “The real lesson in this experience is the realization that you have Parkinson’s; not that you are Parkinson’s. When I overcame that obstacle, relationships became more precious, gestures became more meaningful, and life became more joyous.”

Resistance as a tool

Resistance often gets a bad rap. If you were offered a new job, you might feel both happy and apprehensive about accepting it. You might have doubts about whether you’re truly qualified to do the work. Uncertainty and fear about the new and unknown are a natural part of human existence. Our ancient ancestors were concerned about what was directly in front of them: Is this something I can consume or will it consume me? What if we were able to view doubt—and thereby resistance—as a guide instructing us to carefully consider before we choose the best action?

What causes us to both welcome and resist change simultaneously? Fred Nichols, managing partner of Distance Consulting, wrote in his blog: “Resistance is evidence that people care about something and want to protect or defend it.” Resistance often reflects real challenges we need to consider, and it can enable us to go within to find what is most important. Resisting, in fact, can be viewed as a way of defending and preserving our lives.

Gretta Thunberg

Gretta Thunberg

Resistance is prevalent in today’s society. One person who currently exemplifies resistance on the world stage is Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. She started learning about climate issues at age eight and three years later became depressed and lethargic and stopped talking and eating. She was then diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), and selective mutism. Rather than allowing her mental disorders to limit her, she now considers them her “superpower.”

Greta has embraced resistance as a tool. In 2018 at age 15 she made a commitment to protest every Friday outside the Swedish parliament. Her OCD has enabled her to be a tenacious demonstrator on the implications of climate change; she’s mobilized young people and adults to take action on a global scale. As a result of her persistence, on September 20, 2019, four million people protested in over 2,500 events in more than 163 countries on all seven continents!

Three days later, Greta addressed world leaders at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit in New York City. She accused them of stealing her dreams and her childhood by their inaction on climate change: “This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. . . . Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

Accepting resistance

When we recognize our personal resistance to change, or even to the status quo, it does not serve us to ignore it. We first need to be with the resistance—reflect on it and inquire What are we resistant to and is there a message we should heed? In questioning ourselves we begin the process of embracing the resistance.

Synonyms for the word embrace are accept, welcome, and take to heart. Accepting a new reality gives way to welcoming what is, thereby enabling us to take it to heart—and ultimately embrace it. When we embrace it, we bring it into the light, which offers a broader perspective. We then gain the wisdom to handle it. When we are stuck in resistance and fighting, we become locked into a counterproductive mode of perpetual suffering.

RelationshipsJohn slowly faced the reality of his circumstance; he accepted his resistance and ultimately embraced it. By doing so, he opened himself to his true essence—beyond the Parkinson’s. While limitations on his lifestyle are evolving, he’s not focusing on what he can’t do or won’t be able to do in the future. Rather he’s living each day mindfully and with gratitude for all the things he can do and for what he values most—relationships. He seeks creative ways to do things and remains open to new experiences. As for Greta, she accepted her diagnoses and then channeled her efforts into a purposeful mission.

From resistance to resilience

We are living in unprecedented times, with massive changes unfolding all the time. They are global, economic, social, and environmental—as well as personal. New technologies are taking the place of jobs. Environmental disasters are driving migration and causing species to become extinct. Our challenge is to meet these changes with equilibrium.

Our capacity to overcome adversity is innate. According to psychotherapist and consultant Linda Graham, author of Bouncing Back, Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being, resilience is the capacity to respond to pressures, changes, and even tragedies quickly and effectively.

resilienceThere is an innate drive for all living things to thrive. When a seedling encounters resistance, such as an obstacle that blocks its light and restricts its growth, it bends toward the light or finds an alternate path to it. When we humans experience trauma and setbacks, Graham encourages mindful awareness that shifts our perspective and enables us to discern options and make wise choices. She believes that we all have the capacity for resilience; by reestablishing centeredness, we become whole and have the opportunity to flourish. Embracing resistance ultimately ignites our resilience.

Connection in the Midst

Feeling Connection in the Midst of…

When we are confronted with difficult circumstances, such as enduring a hurricane, witnessing acts of terrorism, having relationship conflicts, or facing serious health concerns, it is common to react with anger, hurt, or feeling separate, isolated, or victimized. Or maybe we shut down and become numb. But we live in an interconnected world and we are wired to be connected—with the environment, other people, and various aspects of ourselves. Connectedness can also be with something larger than we are—a calling, the universe, God, or another higher power. It essentially is connectedness to a deep peace within.

connection in natureAnd we are not separate from nature. The sun, the air we breathe, plants, and animals all provide humans life-giving nourishment. As Alan Watts so eloquently put it: Each one of us, not only human beings but every leaf, every weed, exists in the way it does, only because everything else around it does. The individual and the universe are inseparable.” What’s most available to us at any moment is our connection to life and others through our senses—seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching.

Bodily connection

Most of us take our body for granted and are disconnected from it. We stretch it, strain it, and often abuse it. We don’t get enough sleep. We consume food and substances that compromise our health and well-being. The body is a web of interconnections and is continually seeking balance and wholeness via signals to and from the brain. But we often don’t pay attention to messages it may be sending in the form of pain or exhaustion. Our bodies can also speak to us through our feelings, emotions, and thoughts. We forget, or maybe never learned, that our bodies are constantly speaking to us. This is why we have been endowed with our senses and ability to perceive.

Social connection

We are making connections with others every moment of our lives—with every person we meet, every colleague we work with, every stranger who opens a door for us or sits down next to us on the subway. Let’s not forget the connections we have with all the people who plant, tend, transport, and sell us our food. Yet, we tend to be unaware of this multitude of connections.

social connectionResearch has shown that social connections strengthen our immune system, lower rates of anxiety and depression, heighten self-esteem, and increase empathy toward others. When we hear of a major disaster or tragedy and the suffering of many, most of us feel empathy and compassion. In fact, according to Brené Brown, best-selling author of The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings on Authenticity, Connection, & Courage, “empathy fuels connection.”

How often do we make judgments about other people because they appear different from us? It might be their race, religion, nationality, politics, or maybe just how they are dressed. So much in our society tells us to distrust others. In his book, The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Living a Compassionate Life, Piero Ferrucci writes of two worldviews. One is pessimistic and the other is optimistic. We can distance ourselves by suspicion, or we can draw nearer to people knowing we are linked to one another. Kindness brings us closer to people.

Empathy connection

My friend Ann was taking her daily walk when she saw a man she’d never seen before walking several dogs and headed towards her. She noted that he was quite overweight and was wearing torn, disheveled-looking clothes. Not the kind of person she would want to connect with, she thought. She became aware of fear and anxiety rising within her. But then something shifted inside her, compelling her to make a connection. Ann said hello and commented about one of dogs, which was quite small, saying how cute it was. Tom, who introduced himself, responded that he’d only had him three days and had found him on the Internet. He was a rescue dog from Houston made homeless by Hurricane Harvey. He said he and his wife decided they had room for him in their home—and in their hearts. Ann found her own heart melting and opening wide.

Peace connection

I recently found the following simple yet poignant definition of peace from an anonymous source on the Internet: Peace: It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” Even though this calmness can be buried beneath the ruble of accumulated life experiences, it is there and it is free and accessible to us all.

Not long ago I helped lead a six-day iRest Yoga Nidra meditation teacher training. Participants came from all over the country and as far away as Hong Kong. Short for Integrative Restoration, iRest is highly experiential practice that helps one achieve, or restore, groundedness and deep calm. Regular practice helps one live a connected life as this place of peace becomes naturally integrated into one’s daily life. A participant in the training I assisted in last year, a psychiatrist, told me that iRest helped her feel more present in her body and less stuck in her thoughts.

iRest is a simple guided meditation practice of mindfulness and deep relaxation. It helps us systematically and somatically move through the boundaries of feeling separate from others, from life, and from ourselves. It invites us to embrace our best qualities, which are already present, though obscured by conditioning.

Jacqui facilitating iRest

Jacqui facilitating iRest

iRest offers a toolbox of practices that teaches how to notice whatever sensations, feelings, or thoughts arise as the body-mind’s way of sharing messages. A physical sensation such as pain may be calling for us to inquire into its source and, in some cases, seek medical assistance. Thoughts, feelings, and emotions are also explored in a way that allows us to learn from their messages. Thus we become more aware and conscious of whatever may be arising in any given moment. Rather than allowing a negative reaction to form, we can feel back into our inner resource of peace and well-being and choose a more favorable response.

Other body-mind practices such as yoga, tai chi, and types of meditation are ways to access and deepen our connectedness. The same is true with activities that foster a connection with nature.

Peace within the midst

A core teaching of Viktor Frankl (1905–1997), Austrian psychiatrist, neurologist, holocaust survivor, and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, was that our power to choose our response is the source of our growth and freedom. He also said, “If you don’t go within, you simply go without.” In other words, we lose our sense of connectedness.

We all have the capacity to feel grounded in peace. We can learn to live that way in the midst of whatever circumstance we encounter. When we experience this profound peace in the midst of turmoil, our connection is infinite.

comfort zone

Your Comfort Zone: Time to Let it Go?

Comfort, ease, and safety are core elements that contribute to our overall sense of well-being. We are wired to seek comfort, and familiarity feeds this neutral state of being. Our habits help us move efficiently through our daily activities and feel mentally secure. Getting too firmly set in our comfort zone, however, doesn’t necessarily free us from worry or depression. Rather, it can cause us to function on autopilot. As a result, we miss opportunities to grow and create and experience authentic joy.

Stress and risk

Our comfort zone can be defined as the space where our activities and behaviors minimize stress and risk. Sometimes, though, we’re not truly comfortable in our comfort zone; yet the thought of stepping outside it can cause anxiety and stress and even panic. Since stress is considered the cause of many illnesses, it makes sense to want to minimize it.

Child risk-takerChildren, in their innocence and fearlessness, are natural risk-takers. They know nothing about a “comfort zone.” They experience life with a sense wonder and curiosity. A leaf, an animal, the sky, a shadow—all can delight them. Beyond childhood, however, most of us succumb to conditioning that pushes us to seek a safe and familiar path.

Feelings of stress and fatigue are often caused by the constant discourse buzzing inside our minds. If you stop to listen, you’ll notice how that discourse is generally uninspiring rumination. When allowed free rein, such ruminating thoughts can become an internal tyrant telling us how flawed and incapable we are. Over time, we become psychologically conditioned to fear failure, though that’s what we expect of ourselves. We find ourselves stuck in a treadmill-like existence until a crisis occurs, forcing us to act or make a change.

Fear and growth

On the other hand, instinctive rather than conditioned fear can save our lives. It’s in our DNA to recognize a threat and self-protect, as did our ancestors. We are designed to move naturally between threat, action, and comfort. The space just outside our comfort zone is called “optimal anxiety,” where stress levels are slightly elevated—a healthy state. Venturing into this space motivates us to act. We build the flexibility and resilience not only to meet adversity but to take advantage of opportunity—as long as we to return to a state of comfort with relative ease.

Taking risks can be very frightening. While we tend to like things that are easy, even a path with a seemingly low resistance can be strewn with unknowns. Experiencing trauma such as death of a loved one, job or financial loss, or abuse can cause us to retreat into our default comfort zone and remain there. Yet, isn’t this life we’ve been given meant to be lived in a way that enables us to bring our best self into it? Allowing our best self to flourish requires courage.

Our lives are all about learning and growing. The more we learn to flex between comfort and action, the easier and less stressful life becomes.

Two courageous women

I’d like to share examples of two women I know who are in the midst of moving beyond their comfort zones. These women have taken risks to bring greater meaning and purpose to their lives.

Maria was recovering from the recent loss of one of her two war veteran sons to suicide. After several months of attending the iRest meditation program I teach, she shared how she was able to integrate the practices into her life. She now sleeps well and is able to fulfill her responsibilities as a speech pathologist for autistic children. An organization I’m affiliated with wants to videotape testimonials about services that have helped veterans and their families. When asked if she would participate, Maria said, “So you’re asking me to go beyond my comfort zone?” After a long pause she said that if it would help just one veteran she would do it.

Undertow bookDiane Madden Ferguson is a survivor of sexual trauma that occurred during her five-year tour in the Navy. When she got out, she married a man she knew from high school. During their 38 years of marriage, she raised two children, got a master’s degree, and had a successful career in law enforcement. After retirement, her life fell apart. She had never told anyone, not even her husband, about the sexual abuse. Two years ago she finally had the courage to step out of her comfort zone. Her healing journey began with therapy and culminated with the publication of her memoir, Undertow: A US Navy Veteran’s Journey Through Military Sexual Trauma, in 2016.

Fear and love as allies

fear and loveI am the least likely person to venture beyond my comfort zone, having been a shy, introverted child. Yet, as I reflect back, I’m amazed at how many times I have gone far outside my comfort zone… and how many ventures (many of which did not pan out) and adventures have enriched my life.

Long ago a co-worker challenged me:, “Why don’t you travel?” I proceeded to make a hobby of traveling to far-off lands—usually alone. A friend said, “Let’s take a belly dance class.” I later became a principal dancer performing with a dance company for more than 20 years. Later a colleague said, “I have space in my office. Come start your own business.” And I did. Another colleague suggested joining a Toastmasters club to overcome my fear of public speaking. Now teaching, coaching, and speaking are second nature to me. Fear has been my companion along much of the way. But it always arose with a message compelling me to take the leap and experience the rewards—even when the chance of failure was great.

As I have learned to move beyond my comfort zone, I have found that fear always brings along its unlikely companions—love and joy. Somehow I knew that if I did that thing of which I was fearful, I would ultimately do what I love and enjoy what I do. I was inspired to embrace life and bounce back even when things didn’t work out. The words of two famous writers truly capture this message for me. In You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote: “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” And the poet Rumi wrote: “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”

Taking the next stepThe next step

It’s never too late to recapture some of the innocence and fearlessness of your inner child and become comfortable outside your comfort zone. Rather than waiting for others or circumstances to push you into action, start by making small changes in your routines, traveling different routes, or trying new things. Notice when autopilot thinking is occurring, and relax with deep breaths to quiet your mind. Shift your attention to something you love or something that challenges you.

In order to grow and be transformed, you musk risk failure. But your life will be richer and more rewarding when you allow love and joy to be your allies, right along with fear.

The next step

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

We live in a culture that views success as a process of steadily moving forward, while moving backward implies failure. The title of this article was a phrase used by President Obama in his farewell speech to the nation; he was referring to the historical forward and sometimes backward movement of our country’s progress. Let’s put aside the debate as to whether the U.S. is currently moving forward or backward and consider the phrase as a metaphor for our personal lives. While time marches on linearly, as much as we may wish it to be different, our lives often fail to progress in the same manner, and discouragement may prevail.

Just as tides ebb and flow, there is a continual back-and-forth movement in the ebb and flowtrajectory of our lives. Our best-laid plans can fall short or, for whatever reason, not come to fruition. Taking a step back periodically is a natural and sometimes necessary component of life. It can help us replenish and build the inner strength and courage to meet life circumstances. The key to our growth as human beings is the ability to welcome the backward movements when they come—as they inevitably will—and learn from them, rather than allow discouragement to stifle our spirit and motivation.

As Oswald Chambers, an early 20th-century Scottish Baptist evangelist, wrote, If you are going through a time of discouragement, there is a time of great personal growth ahead.” 

Backward resistance

Backward steps, as well as side steps and twirling, add intricacy and enjoyment to social dancing. But when it comes to our personal lives, going backwards generally doesn’t feel good. We may even try to avoid it at all costs. It may be a cliché, but whatever we resist persists. Resistance in fact may be hazardous to our well-being and ultimately cause much pain and suffering.

resistenceWhen obstacles block our path, a knee-jerk reaction may be frustration, anger, dismay, or outright grief. There are times when the backward movement seems far greater than just one step. Many people are bitter about the outcome of the recent election. But losses are inevitable and come in many forms. We have all faced the loss of a loved one or relationship, a job or opportunity, or an investment in a dream. I’ve personally had my share of such losses. But rather than let our losses put us into a tailspin, I’ve learned that at least initially it is best to surrender to the emotional plunge rather than resist it.

In the midst of a backward movement, old beliefs and fears may surface. The situation may require not only a step backwards but also a side step into uncharted territory where we don’t feel safe. We may become overwhelmed and think “I’m not good (smart, capable, strong) enough.”  We may ask “How did this happen?” “Why me?” “What did I do wrong?” We may feel alone, unloved, unseen, unheard, or unappreciated.

Worst of all, we may succumb to being a victim and just give up. But giving up only stifles the spirit. When we surrender to the “poor me syndrome, which can give rise to addictive behaviors as we seek ways to numb our pain, we tune out from life.

Uncovering courage

heart The Latin word for courage is cor, which literally means “heart.” The original meaning of courage is “to stand by one’s core.” The prefix dis signifies a moving away from or a reversing force. When we continue to feed our discouragement with negative thoughts and emotions, we move away from our core, our heartfelt values, and aliveness.

When fear and other negative emotions take over, we “disour courage. Power is taken away from what truly wants to emerge—our inner wisdom and strength. While our physical body constantly seeks the homeostasis of health and harmony, our emotions and thoughts can be examined and soothed to enable them to reestablish harmony. We can benefit deeply when we step back and just be present with what is. When we take this opportunity and set judgment aside, we create space to be open and understand what is getting in the way of our emotional harmony.

Mark Nepo, author of Facing the Lion, Being the Lion: Finding Inner Courage, teaches us how to face the lion, our inner core of courage, and then stand by it, live through it, and encourage others to do the same. We admire those people who summon up the courage to help in life-threatening situations, stand up to an abusive partner, or bounce back from a major life setback. Those people, Nepo says, have an inner courage. “By inner courage,” he writes, “I mean the ground of quiet braveries from which the more visible braveries sprout.”

We all have this inner courage that can help us meet the disappointments in our life without overreacting to them. When we connect with our inner core, we are better able to meet our life circumstances in a grounded way. We stay open so that we can be engaged with life.

self compassionHeart of courage

The human spirit has an amazing resiliency; we truly want to be happy.  Yet, it’s easy to get stuck in the muck of our setbacks.

One clear way to access our inner core is through love and compassion—not just through our feelings for others but through self-compassion. Many of the people I work with find it a tall order to be kind to themselves, especially those who are struggling to recover from trauma. But by accessing our inner core of courage and learning to stand by it and live from it, we honor our values and can be true to ourselves.

Having learned to step back and both face and listen to my core of courage has enhanced my ability to encourage others to do the same. You too can find your heart of courage and once again take big steps forward.

beginnings from endings

Beginnings from Endings: Hope for Something Better

Every ending creates space for a new beginning to emerge—a seedbed of potentiality and hope for something better. It’s a law of nature that life continually seeks places to germinate. Beginnings from endings can be an exciting time for us with opportunities for change. A time to establish a new habit, relationship, city, or a completely new way of life. But it also means saying good-bye to what we have known, loved, or lost.

“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.”—Lao Tzu

“We grin and bear it ’cause the nights are long. I hope that somethin’ better comes along.” — The Muppets

hope for something betterExperiencing an ending, loss, or defeat can cause us to become immobilized. We might grieve for what once was or might have been, as Lao Tzu (ancient Chinese philosopher) and the Muppets realized.

Beginning a new year in the North, with its long winter nights and bitter cold, can be trying. What I’m most motivated to do is snuggle up by a fire, sip hot tea, reflect, and turn in early. Nature turns inward at this time of year to conserve energy. I believe we should as well.

Moving through any transition means allowing space for self-reflection. This space invites our heart’s deepest longings to be revealed. Being fully human is to learn from what has ended, find something that gives us inspiration for the future, and take action by cultivating new seeds. But we must also be prepared for future endings.

Learning from endings

Every ending is ripe with messages to learn from. But how can we learn from endings that cause disappointment or grief? If we simply try to bypass our emotional reaction to the ending and get on with life, we miss the chance to honor the best parts of those experiences or find closure through acceptance or forgiveness. We also risk stuffing unresolved emotions that can plague us in the future.

new beginningThere is a Buddhist story about a woman whose only child had died. Unwilling to accept his death, she sought out the Buddha and pleaded with him to bring back her child. He promised to create a medicine for this if she would gather mustard seeds from all the neighbors in her village who had not been touched by death. She, of course, discovered that everyone had been touched. She was then able to accept the death, find peace, and move forward with her life. When we acknowledge the sorrows from our loss, we can begin to cherish a new beginning.

As humans, no matter what our religious faith, beliefs, ideologies, or values, we have much in common. When we attempt to gather “mustard seeds,” we find that everyone experiences some kind of suffering.

Everyone experiences losses and disappointments. Everyone has fears, including fears of getting sick, getting old, and passing away. Everyone has desires and unfulfilled dreams. Everyone wants to be safe and secure and experience peace. Everyone wants to be happy and feel loved and cared for.

Choosing one’s own way

With the increasing disharmonies and divisiveness in the world, isn’t it time to rethink our connection with others and value the things we have in common? Isn’t it time to learn how to live our lives with less effort and more ease rather than great effort, stress, and dis-ease? Isn’t it time to reflect on what is really important in our lives and contemplate our spiritual nature and maybe even how we fit into the bigger scheme of things?

Search for meaningVictor Frankl, who survived two Nazi death camps, wrote in his book Man’s Search for Meaning about the men who walked through huts at the camps comforting others. He said, “…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstances….” He went on to say that to choose one’s own way is a spiritual freedom that can’t be taken away—and it makes life meaningful.

Emotional suffering from circumstances in our life and in the world can compromise our physical, mental, and spiritual health. In spite of what is going on in and around us, this concept of spiritual freedom can help us shift our perspective—and our health. When an individual can face death and still find purpose, imagine what we can do when we take time to contemplate our deepest longings. Uncovering what we value—what we believe in and care about and what brings us joy—can give us  hope and inspiration. While this may seem like a lofty process, when we regularly take time for self-reflection—through journaling, meditation, a solitary walk, or a talk with a trusted confidant, the answers begin to become clear.

Hope, Inspiration Action

InspireThe root of the words “inspire” and “spirit” is spiritus, which means to “breathe.” Living in harmony with our core values inspires us to breathe in hopes and ideas and animates us to take action.

Whether changing a habit, identifying a new life direction, or beginning a new project, it’s important to be aware of obstacles and find ways to overcome them. What may block you from living in alignment with your values—lack of time, resources, distraction? Taking action requires not only letting go of the past but also controlling the outcome. Remain open and curious about future possibilities, and the hope for something better.

When endings leave us feeling broken, we may also feel isolated. Hope and faith can help build an inner sanctuary of safety to help us move beyond our own condition. Having human connections provides us essential support and the security of community. These connections may even “conspire” to new help us find a meaningful path. Conspire means to breathe together in harmony.

Embrace the light

The poet Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” When we embrace the light of hope, faith, self-confidence, and compassion for others, we move beyond our own condition.

Desmond Doss

Desmond Doss

Desmond Doss is an example of someone who exuded this approach. He was a 145-pound World War II medic of the 77th Army Division who served at Hacksaw Ridge (also the title of a book and recent movie) on Okinawa, Japan. As a conscientious objector, he refused to carry a gun. Yet, following battle, but still under enemy fire, he single-handedly rescued 75 men and lowered them to safety below the ridge over a 12-hour period. He continued to say, “Lord, let me find one more.” If you can stomach the war scenes, it’s an incredibly inspiring movie.

Whenever plagued by inner anxieties and self-doubts, take time to reflect on your deepest values. You’re bound to find a spark of hope. Savor each step forward, each accomplishment, and every tiny pleasure. Draw inspiration from your endings your new beginnings to flourish.

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Loving Kindness

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