Full Moon Meditation

Tonight, the night of the full moon, I meditate.

Lying in a circle of mostly strangers in the grass.

In a park above the ocean. Cool and breezy. My sweater wrapped around my body.

Listening to our leader’s cues, imagining my body filled with light and energy, grounded to the earth.

I breath in deeply, then exhale, allowing my thoughts to settle, being gentle with myself.

I open my eyes and let them settle on the dark blue sky above me, allowing my body to sink into the soft grass.

When was the last time I lay in the grass and stared at the sky? In the cool night air? The sound of the waves filling my ears?

Soaking in the beauty of this moment, I am calm and at peace. And happy. And filled with love.

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Why Writing Is Worthwhile (even when you are unsure what you are writing or why)

“I am a writer.”

“What are you writing?”

“Well … Nothing in particular … Lots of things, but not one thing specifically … I mean, nothing I can publish or anything … I mean, nothing ….”

Does this sound familiar to anyone?  I hope I’m not alone in this. Why all the qualifiers? What makes our writing worthy or unworthy?  Does it have to be published to be worthy? Are we real writers if we don’t have a specific project in process?  What gives our writing value?

We writers like to place our thoughts onto the page. We like to string words together. We like to play with them. We pull over to the side of the road while we are driving just to scribble thoughts on scraps of paper before they fly out the window.

Our writing is worthwhile, just because we do it, but here a few more reasons why:

  • Morning pages” are worthwhile, even though they’re often grammatically-incorrect ramblings. Getting our thoughts and feelings out of our heads and onto the page clears away the clutter, settles our monkey mind, gets our fingers moving and the ideas flowing.
  • Even if a fully fledged piece doesn’t emerge, exploring an idea on the page is worthwhile. We could leave the scrap of paper on the floorboard of our car, or we could explore it a little and give it a chance to grow into something meaningful.
  • Commenting on articles or posts is worthwhile. Why not take part in the conversation? And forcing ourselves to encapsulate our opinions into coherent, persuasive arguments helps tighten lazy thinking.
  • Publishing pieces on our personal blogs or even anonymously has value simply in the act of sharing insights and experiences that another person may find helpful or entertaining.
  • Even texting can be worthwhile, sometimes building and deepening our relationships. I think of texts from my best friend at just the right moment offering a thoughtful insight or encouragement.
  • Writing down our memories and processing difficult life experiences is extremely worthwhile even if we will never share them. It helps us learn about ourselves and move through the hard stuff.

I’m not sure why we tend dismiss such an essential part of who we are. I suppose it’s fear. (Isn’t the answer always fear?) Fear grabs ahold of us when we are vulnerable. And writing definitely makes us vulnerable. Nevertheless, I am compelled to keep stringing words together, whether I am brave enough to share them or not.

Saturday Morning.

Slept. Woke. Checked time on cell phone. 6 AM. Pushed away dog’s face licks. Snuggled into covers. Pushed away dog nibbles. Got out of bed. Peed. Put on coat. Attached leash to dog’s collar. Walked around buildings. Dog peed. Startled by walker. Dog barked. Apologized. Returned home. Removed leash. Crawled back in bed. Slept with dog 2 more hours. Woke up. Prepared pot of coffee. Showered. Redressed in PJs. Dog nibbled on ankles. Changed clothes. Attached leash. Walked around buildings. Dog peed. Avoided man walking dogs. Gave treats. Walked more. Dog peed. Returned home. Poured cup of coffee. Picked up laptop. Sat on porch. Typed. Sipped coffee. 9 AM, called mom. Inquired about night. Received report of good night’s sleep. Mom responded to dad in another room. Dad needed attending. “Can I call you back in a few minutes?” “Yes, of course.” Mom called back 5 minutes later. Chatted about nurses. Planned my trip to farmers market. Listed items needed: yellow beans, summer squash, strawberries. Ended call. Texted list of items to phone. Sipped coffee. Returned to typing.

My Disappearance

Over the course of the last two years, my life has been in flux. I moved 1600 miles away from my home, my oldest son and my best friend.  I left a 25-year marriage.  I gave up a 10-year career.  I have ceased to be a presence in a number of people’s lives, and they have ceased to be a presence in mine.

To some who love me, or used to love me, some friends, some relatives, quite a few colleagues and coworkers, and a handful of neighbors, in a way, I have disappeared. I no longer live next door. I no longer work with you. I no longer see you in the coffee shop each morning. You no longer read my words. You no longer stop in my office on your way down the hall. You no longer consider me your sister-in-law or your wife. We are no longer Facebook friends. I am no longer your lunch buddy or your team member. You no longer wave hello. You don’t see me at church. You don’t see me walking my dog down the street.

I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but it’s kind of weird.

I have a deep sense that I don’t know who I am anymore, and I’m starting to wonder if I ever really did.

I am in transition. I didn’t anticipate that this phase would last as long as it has or reach into as many areas of my life as it has reached. I had no idea when I started this journey two years ago that I would be where I am today.

This is the most important time of my life. I can feel it. Yet sometimes I am gripped by fear that I might let this moment slip through my fingers. But I have a sense that I won’t, that I’m not. I have a sense that something is happening within me that is momentous, even if it is only of consequence to me.

#NaBloPoMo

Realizations Upon Separation

30 days after move-out day, these are the lessons I have learned:

  1. Levelness is not as necessary as I was led to believe. Over the course of the last 30 days, I have succeeded in hanging things from the wall without a level. They are relatively straight.

Note:  Listing will be expanded periodically, as new insights are revealed.

Seek Not for Love

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.–A Course in Miracles

My task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within myself that I have built against it.

My task is not to seek for creativity, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within myself that I have built against it.

My task is not to seek for health, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within myself that I have built against it.

My task is not to seek for friendship, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within myself that I have built against it.

My task is not to seek for fortune, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within myself that I have built against it.

My task is not to seek for energy, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within myself that I have built against it.

My task is not to seek for authenticy, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within myself that I have built against it.

My task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all that barriers within myself that I have built against it.

Today I’ll defer to the dog

 

My inner critic has run amuck, haranguing me with disapproval. I am resisting its critique of my worthiness and capabilities. Then I remember, don’t resist. What you resist persists. Observe without attachment. Observe without attachment. But I have attached and internalized its assessment of me.

I’ve got to shake this mood.

Take a walk. I grab the leash. The dog is so happy he knocks himself over with his exuberant tail wagging. We take off down the street–a mile and a half round the corner, up the hill and back. The sun is shining. The weather is perfect. We both feel good and happy and fulfilled.

I am back to work. He naps on the floor beside me. For the rest of the day, I’ll defer to the dog’s judgment of my worthiness. He thinks I’m pretty spiffy. What else do I need?

Weekly Writing Challenge: Lunch Post 

Mindful Anger Management

First published on Huffington Post on May 3, 2012

The other day I was driving down the road feeling peaceful and happy. Life was good. All was right with the world. As I signaled to change lanes, the driver next to me wouldn’t let me in, and impulsively, I reacted. I yelled sarcastically, “Thanks a lot!” Then I called her a name. I proceeded to get angrier because I missed my turn. Then I paused and observed how ridiculous I was — in two seconds I had gone from joyful and content to angry and yelling at a stranger.

Have you had a similar experience? Have you ever snapped at someone because the perfect order of your world unexpectedly went awry? We all have our strategies for dealing with anger — some healthier than others. When we unconsciously lash out at people, it can be hurtful to both them and us — or just plain embarrassing.

Recently His Holiness the Dalai Lama had this to say about anger: “The first drawback of anger is that it destroys your inner peace; the second is that it distorts your view of reality. If you think about this and come to understand that anger is really unhelpful, that it is only destructive, you can begin to distance yourself from anger.”

Of all the wonderful emotions we have available to us as humans, anger is my least favorite. Yet I disagree with the Dalai Lama in one small respect, because I believe anger can be a useful tool in our search for self-awareness.

Anger is our built-in alarm system alerting us that something is wrong, out of harmony, off balance. Some event has clashed with our expectations, our beliefs or our spirit. We can gain vital information about ourselves and what we believe about the world when we look honestly at our anger. But when we react unconsciously, repress our anger or get caught up in it, it becomes counterproductive and negatively affects our health and relationships.

What if we practiced being mindful of our anger?

What if, as soon as we noticed our anger, we stopped for a moment to feel the emotion fully? What happens to the body when we’re angry? Maybe we feel a tightness or pressure in our chest; our body tenses and heats up; our breathing gets shallow. Just observing the sensations in the body is a mindful practice.

When we acknowledge and become fully aware of our emotions, we gain a certain amount of spaciousness in the experience. Just the act of accepting and acknowledging the feeling loosens its grip on us. And as soon as the grip is loosened, we can open to loving kindness towards others and ourselves. The sooner we move from anger to love, the sooner our inner peace is restored.

We can also bring awareness to our thoughts. In our anger, did we draw conclusions about a situation or the people involved? The moment I got angry with the driver who wasn’t budging in the next lane, I started to draw conclusions about her. She was an idiot… She was rude… She was in my way… She made me miss my turn. Well, none of that was true, but it’s the story my mind instantly created.

On a daily basis, any number of things can trigger anger and frustration — a friend does something that hurts our feelings, our company makes a decision that negatively impacts our work or we do something stupid or thoughtless and have trouble letting ourselves off the hook. We can easily get caught up in all sorts of stories about why something should or shouldn’t have happened, or worry about all the trouble it’s going to cause in our lives. Our minds will take us down a winding road while our frustration, anger and resentment intensify. We have attached meaning to an event. However, when we become aware of the story we’ve created, when we mindfully observe our thoughts, we can apply the brakes, stop the story and gently bring ourselves back to the present moment. And in the present moment, we realize the story we’ve created is causing more pain than the event that triggered it.

In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle writes, “Accept — then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.”

As long as we resist what IS, our anger will build and we will carry that anger with us. When we accept what IS, we can begin to move forward. By acknowledging our feelings and simply observing our thoughts, we are better able to make a conscious choice of how best to respond to life’s occasional frustrations.

On the Path to Self-Discovery With the Duchess of York

First published on Huffington Post, 2011-05-20

I’ve always liked Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York. Perhaps it is that she came on the scene when I was a teenage girl and infatuated with the royal weddings, like girls today. Perhaps it was her curly hair, which matched my own. Or her slight chunkiness, which also matched my own. Over the past decade, it’s been sad to watch what seemed to be her spiral downward. Last year, when she was caught on tape in the alleged bribery scandal, it appeared we were witnessing her self-destruction. However, as I watched Oprah’s interview with Sarah last week, I felt hopeful for her again. She still seems a bit shaky and just a little bit desperate, but she also appears to have found at least the trailhead of her own path to self-discovery.

Interspersed throughout the Oprah interview were clips from Sarah’s upcoming series on OWN, “Finding Sarah,” where she is counseled by Dr. Phil and Suze Orman to help her find her way. While I’m not a big fan of on-camera therapy, especially when it’s coming from Suze Orman who hardly seems qualified — I mean, who goes to their financial advisor for help with self-esteem issues? I was struck by one moment in particular when Sarah asks Suze with hopeless frustration in her voice, “How do you get self-worth? I don’t know how to get it!”

I remember years ago asking that question of my therapist with much the same frustration. While I cannot relate to life as a royal, I can certainly relate to Sarah’s personal struggle of not knowing her true value, making destructive choices and self-sabotage, and I know I am not alone.

It is at these low points in life when we realize we are going at it all wrong, that life is just not working, and we begin our own personal journey of self-discovery. For me it was also a journey of spiritual discovery — where I came to discover that I am a spiritual being, that I have within me the power of the “divine,” that I am — like every one else — a unique expression of God. I’m not sure where Sarah’s journey will take her, but I do believe it is a vital journey for every person to take.

A couple of practices were essential for me as I worked through my issues and came to discover my inner peace and confidence. I found that I had to:

Become aware of self-talk

Most of the time, we are unaware of our own thoughts. When we stop for a moment and observe our self-talk, some of us find that the voice in our head can be pretty unpleasant. It’s like hanging out with a nagging critic who points out our faults as we move throughout the day. If we let this critic go unchecked, it can lead to feeling pretty crappy about ourselves.  If we believe we are unloved and unlovable, it’s no wonder we look outside ourselves to fill the inner void.

But we can’t change what we are not aware of. So we need to shine some light on the self-critical thoughts and conversations that are happening in the background of our minds. At first we just need to become the observer and bring awareness to our thoughts and feelings. We can say, “Isn’t that interesting,” as a thought passes through our awareness. That’s enough to release any charge of negativity a thought or feeling may be carrying.

Find peace within

When we feel empty inside, it’s natural to seek someone or something to fill the emptiness. But there is no one or no thing that can give us what we need. Lasting peace, happiness and acceptance can only be found within. If we are having trouble finding peace, it may be that we need to remove some clutter.

Meditation is the most valuable tool we have for uncovering the treasure trove of peace and well-being that is within. In the silence, we touch serenity, we feel our spirits expanding, we feel spacious freedom and, most importantly, we connect with our inner wisdom.

The choice of meditation practices is wide-ranging. It doesn’t need to be complicated or require much special instruction. In Unity, one of the practices we teach is silent meditation. In a recent article in Daily Word, Rev. Carolyne Mathlin offers this simple technique to begin:

Sit quietly in the silence. If you need a focus, follow your breath. If your mind chatters, and it will, just gently return focus to your breath. Dissolve into the silence and let the silence reveal Itself to you.

I do not believe there is any other practice that has been more beneficial to my spiritual growth than meditation. If you don’t have a meditation practice of your own or have let it lapse, I encourage you to start one today and find the peace that lives within you.

* * * * *

Laura Harvey is the editor of Daily Word, a daily devotional magazine, published by Unity since 1924. Unity emphasizes the practical, everyday application of spiritual principles to help people live more abundant and meaningful lives.

Letting Go: How to Release the Past

First published on Huffington Post, 2011-02-26

A dear friend of mine cannot seem to let go of an old hurt. His marriage ended in the 1970s, and she passed away a few years ago, but thoughts of his ex-wife are still very fresh in his mind. We will be having a conversation, and something unrelated will trigger a memory. Attempts to steer him in another direction usually fail. He is simply unable to let it go.

Stories from our past, unforgiveness and regret distract us from living fully in the present. But how do we let things go and move on?

We all hold on to hurts from time to time. I realized recently I was holding on to a project that had not gone as I had hoped. I wasted way too much energy stewing over what had happened and why. I replayed the project in my mind many times — somewhat compulsively. Nothing could be done about it now; the project was over. I needed to learn from it and let it go, trusting that next time, I would do better.

So how can we let go when we feel compelled to hold on?

Be present

Compulsive thinking contaminates our present reality. When I realized I had been stewing over the project, I asked myself a simple question: Where am I right now? The question snapped me back into present moment awareness. My mind had been in one place while I was in another. We all do this. We may be lying in bed at night, taking a shower or driving to work, but our minds are distracted, or engaged in one-sided arguments, or trying to fix someone or something. Asking ourselves, “Where am I right now?” gives us a chance to step outside the internal dialogue for a moment of peace. Look around you, take a deep breath and notice what you see, hear and feel. Present moment awareness is the point of power and choice. It frees us from our compulsive thoughts.

Accept

So often we simply don’t want to accept what has happened. When mistakes are made, we tend to resist, telling ourselves that things should have gone another way. Resistance causes inner turmoil, robbing us of peace in our day-to-day lives. Acceptance brings peace. Learning from past experience is important, of course, but replaying things over and over again just binds us to old hurt, guilt and anger. With awareness and acceptance, we find that the hurtful situation loses its hold on us, and we are free to move on.

Forgive

Forgiveness is a common stumbling block. We don’t want to let others off the hook for hurt or pain we feel they caused us. But forgiveness begins and ends in our own consciousness. We forgive in order to free <em>ourselves</em> from the bondage of judgment and anger. In Daily Word each month since 1924 we have included a message about forgiveness. I went back into the archives to find this from 1941:

As long as we hold harsh or unforgiving thoughts, we cannot be an open channel for the receptivity of good. They who are unforgiving harm themselves rather than the object of their condemnation, for the hate generated operates only within themselves and leaves its effect solely upon them.

We suffer when we hold on to the past. Do the forgiveness work, let it go and get some relief.

Be grateful

This quote from Kahlil Gibran is profound:

I have learned silence from the talkative, tolerance from the intolerant and kindness from the unkind; yet strangely, I am ungrateful to these teachers.

It’s so true. We learn from the irritants in our lives. At the very least, we learn how not to be. But how often are we actually grateful for the lessons?

Once we become aware of our thoughts, accept the situation as it is and release it through forgiveness, we can then move on to being grateful for it. We can look back and find some aspect of the situation that has had a positive effect on us. Maybe we learned something. Maybe the trouble ultimately resulted in positive changes in our life. We may not be in control of everything that happens to us, but we are absolutely in control of our perception. Stepping into gratefulness for all that life brings is extremely freeing and empowering.

What kind of strategies have you developed to let go of old grudges or compulsive thinking?