Shifting With Grace (Or, “Let’s not be such control freaks”)

roller-coaster

As spiritual beings, we abhor stagnation – our lives are all about shifting and learning and growing. Of course, on a entirely human level, we often crave control, stability, a sense of security and some degree of predictability. I mean, change is scary, right? What if you, *gasp*, DIED?!?  No wonder so many of us have a white-knuckle grip on our need for control.

It stands to reason, then, if you’re experiencing a bout of significant shifting and growing, you might feel off-kilter, scared or just plain stressed out.  These spiritual changes often come disguised as significant life events like losing a job, ending a relationship, moving or incurring unexpected large expenses.  These events aren’t the Universe knocking us down and taking our lunch money, but are designed to get our attention and move us toward a new path.  For some of us, we may get these “plot twists” every few years or so.  For others, we may get them every other month.  Of course, this can be overwhelming and exhausting if you’re viewing them as punishment.  However, it is important to remember that lessons or shifts are neutral from a Universal perspective.  That is, the Universe doesn’t assign “good” or “bad” connotation to lessons as they are simply the vehicle to our growth.  It is we humans who view things like losing a job or breaking up with a significant other as “bad” and winning the lottery as “good.”  The Universe doesn’t attach such labels.  

So if these things aren’t “good” or “bad” then why do we feel such stress when the unexpected happens?  This goes back to our human, ego-driven need to be stable, secure and ultimately have control over our immediate circumstances.  But, guess what… the need for control is an illusion and a human construct that does us more harm than good.  We fight wars out of our need for control.  We lose sleep over our need for control.  We fight with loved ones over our need for control.  Control is diametrically opposed to the Universal constants of growing and shifting.  

As difficult as it can sometimes be, when we find ourselves in the thick of it, we must take a step back and look at the larger picture.  When something ends, the Universe rushes in to fill the vacuum; allow this to happen.  Don’t hang on to the old, stagnant patterns.  Allow these things to flow.  Granted, this is easy when the flow feels more like a lazy river on a summer day, than an intense roller coaster ride.  But hey, roller coasters are fun, too. Remember, it’s all about perspective. So let go, and throw your hands up in the air; and if it gets a little intense, it’s ok to scream your head off.  Just remember, that no matter what, you’re always going forward. 

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Love, anyway

love-anyway-shevon-johnsonFor those of you who read this column regularly, you know that I write and speak from a deeply personal place.  It is my sincerest wish that I can translate the lessons that I have been given in my life into a medium that can help you.  At least, that’s the plan.  I often make an example out myself unintentionally.  Recently, in my day job, I rescued a cat that had been stuck in a wood pile for several days.  The little creature repaid my kindness by nearly biting through my finger.  After ten days of guy-wrenching antibiotics, the lesson to the men on my team: Don’t be like me; wear thicker gloves.  (The cat’s doing fine, by the way, and has found a forever home… )

And other times, I’ll share here a particular struggle in which I find myself.  Lately, I’ve found myself in a Battle Royale with my own fear.  More specifically, with a deeply rooted fear of intimacy and of trust with another human being.  I’ve been standing on the precipice of something great and truly amazing – the chance for an exceptional life.  And yet, I can’t dive in.  I can’t accept what’s in front of me.  Of course, this relies on the participation of a partner and the trust that I will be loved and cared for unconditionally.  But therein lies the rub, I suppose.  I can’t accept that even on the outside chance this ends up hurting like hell, in the meantime, it will be extraordinary and well worth the gamble.  For you regular readers, you know that I preach that Fear is the opposite of Love.  In Fear there is no Love, and in Love there is no Fear.  Only the ones who have stood here on the edge before know that making this one particular leap is the most terrifying thing that you can ever do – that proverbial “Leap of Faith.”

Upon finding myself in this dilemma, I did what (I’m sure) everyone does: I came home, poured myself a glass of chianti and cried my eyes out.  I sobbed and begged for guidance: What do I DO?  What CAN I do?  Why the fuck am I so petrified?  As I sat there in a state of abject pain, The Voice broke through.  It’s message: “Love, anyway.”  Well, I have to say that that stopped me cold.  The Voice was right, of course (as always… it’s so smug sometimes…).  What else is there to do but love?  What other answer is there?  If I didn’t want to be scared anymore, isn’t the most obvious answer to just love what I was scared of?

I don’t have to tell you that this is easier said than done.  You probably also won’t be surprised that I haven’t made my leap of faith yet – gosh, I’m being so human.  But I’m getting closer.  And when I finally close my eyes and jump, I know that I will be safe.

Staring down the Shenpa

“I am a train wreck,” I said to a friend of mine one day.  “What the hell?”

“You’re not a train wreck,” she said patiently.  But, as I felt she was biased, I didn’t believe her.  “What do you do when these things crop up?  How have you been handling it?”

“‘Handling it’ seems like kind of a pipe dream,” I countered. “I’m a basket case.”

“No you’re not,” she said calmly (again with the obligatory platitudes).  “You seem to have named these feelings.  That’s good.  You’re observing them.”

“Well then how come it’s not getting better?  It’s worse,” I said.  I was getting fairly desperate at this point.

“Because you’re just observing them,” she countered.

“Are you saying I’m copping out?”

“Yep.”

Dammit.

It seems like somewhere along the way from personal devastation to near-recovery, I had developed a few defense mechanisms to deal with the really deep and ugly stuff.  The stuff that we all have that’s lurking around in our depths; its been down there so long, it doesn’t have a name.  It’s just a bulky mass in the darkness.  And when it moves around, it knocks us off balance.

So what was I supposed to do about it?  I was effectively thrown sideways and felt as though I was watching my sanity slip.  Whatever I was doing wasn’t working.  It was the equivalent of a scared child trembling in bed, transfixed on the closet door, waiting – just waiting – for the monster to come crashing out.  I had to get out of bed and fling that door open, but I was just too damn scared of what was actually in there.

Luckily, I was not the first person to feel this way.  It turns out that Tibetan Buddhists are experts on this kind of thing, and have many practices that they teach to scared, half-crazed souls such as myself.  My friend told me about Pema Chodron, a Tibetan Buddhist nun who teaches meditation (among other things), and her recording “Getting Unstuck – Breaking Your Habitual Patterns and Encountering Naked Reality.”  I was game to try anything, so I went home and downloaded it.

Even after years and years of mediation, I had never done a Buddhist meditation on mindfulness.  There are many significant differences from other practices, the biggest (for me) is that you do this practice with your eyes open.  You can’t run. You’re there. It’s intentional for many reasons, but for me it meant that I very literally had to stare down what was going on inside my head.

But what made this recording really resonate with me is the teaching on shenpa – or the things that hook us and drag us down or lure us off into fantasy so that we don’t deal with the issues at hand.  The things that are so painful, ugly or disconcerting that they start us on the downward spiral towards numbing the pain with defense mechanisms or addictions just to be able to escape from them for a little bit.  And I was staring down some big-time shenpa.  This was what was pulling me into insanity, making me feel frantic and out of control.  The source of the shenpa is irrelevant to this discussion, its the process of working through it that I want to share.

Coincidentally, shenpa is the exact same thing that sneaks up on you in meditation.  Sometimes it pokes you, sometimes it takes you by the hand and drags you down some fantasy road or another.  And sometimes it mauls you like a Bengal tiger. I fell into this last category.  So there I went, armed with Pema’s recording and a frantic mind, I decided to sit through the practice to see if it would make a big difference.  Immediately I hated it.  This is mostly because the second I sat down and tried to focus on my breath I began hyperventilating – not good.  But, as Pema teaches, you must stay.  As big and painful and horrible as it is, you must stay with it.  You can not name it, rationalize it, escape it or destroy it.  And so I stayed.  I sat  for many hours over the next few weeks and stared at this shenpa until I got to know every crevice of it.  Over time it began to soften and melt a little bit, as though my gaze were warming it.  Little by little, it faded into the background – not gone, not completely.  Just a more manageable piece and something that didn’t have power over me any more.

That was a significant event for me, but also a deeply hurtful shenpa.  I have more; so do you.  And that’s ok.  What is important is that it is very possible to move through it and, as Pema says, face “naked reality.” You need only have enough self love to recognize that you must face these fears head on.  Be brave.

Namaste.

Love, Fear and the Bible

Any tool is a weapon if you hold it right — Ani DiFranco

Something unexpectedly funny happened to me the other day – someone tried to save my soul. Right down to the bible-thumping and Jesus-praising, a well-meaning man tried to snatch me right out of the clutches of Lucifer and deliver me into the redemptive embrace of Jesus Christ.  So why on Earth did I find it so funny?  Because I never for one second believed that my mortal soul was in any kind of peril or, if it was, that Jesus was going to help me in anyway.  Cynical? Sacrilegious? Just plain crazy?  Sure. But read on.

There has never been a moment in my life where I have understood Salvation.  I just don’t buy it. There are many people who do, and I do not take issue with their, or any other, faith.  Faith and religion are beautiful and deep expressions of God and of Life and should be celebrated with the utmost reverence.  I do, however, take issue with folks who think that their own way is the One True Right Way and use that to spread fear and judgment while holding The Good Book.  And in the moment of my attempted soul-saving there were a lot of fear tactics and judgements placed on us “sinners” that were coming right out of the pages of that Book.  Didn’t we want to enter the Kingdom of God? Sure.  Didn’t we want everlasting life? Well, who doesn’t.  Did we really want to be thrown to the clutches of the Devil forever and ever?  Um, not really.

It may come as a surprise to my regular followers that I have read the Bible and spent a fair amount of time pretending to be a Christian (I thought that if I stuck with it long enough, I’d eventually get the whole Jesus thing).  There is a lot of great stuff in there.  The Ten Commandments are solid, so is that bit about forgiveness and the part about the Kingdom of God.  But there’s an awful lot in there that is not wonderful or enlightened and is even down right dangerous in the wrong hands.  I have had many a Bible-wielding, self-righteous, do-gooder flap at me about my work with Spirit citing everything from Leviticus to Revelations.  Charming, huh?  So let’s take a look here.  The first part of Leviticus reads like a complicated BBQ manual, and if taken out of context, we can snidely surmise that God likes a good cook-out.  Then we move on to the part about who we can and can’t have sex with (bummer, if God happened to also make you gay), which slaves you can and can’t have sex with (because that’s ok, you know) and pretty much out and out condemns Lycra (nice move, actually).  After that we get to some nice verses about not coveting our neighbor’s stuff and wives, and then we immediately get to the part about the evil of soothsayers (I see the pitchforks and torches coming now…).  From there Leviticus goes on to succinctly answer any lingering doubts about the cleanliness of pustules (what a relief).  This is a pretty eclectic little book in a much larger tome, which is equally eclectic and varied.  The Bible contradicts itself quite a bit, and much like anything else, can be hauled out to prove any and all conflicting points.  I wouldn’t have such a problem with that if it wasn’t used to also incite fear and condemnation, which seems to be the larger aim of the Book of Revelations, but I really don’t want to go into that here.

The point I’m trying to make is this: Fear is not Love.  Fear is the opposite of Love.  Anyone inciting or causing Fear is not coming from Love.  Anyone who uses something they call Holy to cause Fear in another is not coming from a place of Love.  No matter how good their intentions are (and believe me, there have been some who were genuinely afraid of me going to Hell), if what they are saying is not Loving it is not of the Light and it is not of God.  Anything coming from Source or God will be life-affirming, uplifting, invigorating and empowering.  It will never make you feel guilty, evil, depleted, or fearful.  It will never seek to manipulate you or tell you that Love is conditional.  Real Source energy will never deny you and will never seek to destroy you. This is why I don’t put much stock in what the Bible has to say.  It was written and rewritten many times over by men with agendas.  I know there is some fabulous stuff in there, but let’s look at this with our own discernment.  Really think, does this resonate with me?  Do I feel Fear or do I feel Love?

I am not in any way asking anyone to give up their religion or denounce their long-held beliefs.  I am only asking you to think about the energy that you are holding and spreading to the people and the world around you.  Are you spreading Fear or are you spreading Love?  Are you a vessel of Divine Love or something else?