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

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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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Resistance is futile

change-I’m about to ask you to do something really, really scary.  Ready?

Ok.  I want you to, just for a minute, let go of any preconceived notions that you actually have any control over the outcome of anything in your life.  Period.  Are you terrified yet?  At minimum you’re pretty uncomfortable.  But let’s keep going and I’ll explain.

What I’m talking about here isn’t little mundane choices we make daily.  For example, I know that if I choose to eat as much chocolate and drink as much wine as I can hold, no matter how bad the day was, the next day is going to feel like hell.  This is basic causation.  But this cause and effect doesn’t necessarily extrapolate to the larger world or to cosmic rationale.  There are people we all know who, despite having it all “together” and being “good people” have suffered the greatest heartache.  And still we know others who, to our minds, may be polar opposite of what we think of as a “good person” and skate through their lives with the greatest of ease.  There is no universal equality when it comes to security.  In fact, in her book “When Things Fall Apart,” Pema Chodron says, “To think that we can finally get it all together is unrealistic.  To seek for some lasting security is futile … One has to give up hope that this way of thinking will bring us satisfaction.”

Let me give you a personal example of this.  A few years ago, I was in a terrible relationship.  And yet I clung to it for security like it would feed me and keep me and protect me.  Instead it drained me, battered me and nearly killed me.  And yet I didn’t want to see what was happening.  I had planned, you see.  I had planned on a family and a marriage and a happily ever after. I was 32.  This was it, dammit.  But it wasn’t.  It fell apart, and rather dramatically, I might add.  The more desperately I clung on to try to control the inevitable outcome, the greater the lesson built up to show me that control was a moot point and my resistance was not only futile but making things a whole hell of a lot worse.  I resisted the truth and ultimately resisted my path and my own Truth (capital T, thank you).  You see, the “good” in my life fell apart and became “bad.”  At least that’s how I saw it.  Really, though, I was shedding a lot of “bad” and made room for the FABULOUS (all caps, thankyouverymuch).  But that’s not what I saw.  I just saw what was present and resisted any change.  I had the foolish notion that I was in control of everything and that if I just clung on to it hard enough, I could manifest the “correct” outcome.  It doesn’t work like that.

Nothing is constant.  Life is always changing.  The “good” will go “bad.”  But the good news in this is that the “bad” will also go “good.”  I was talking to my friend the other day in the midst of his most desperate hour in his atrocious divorce.  He said to me, “I think this might be the worst thing.” All I could think to say to him was, “Guess what?  That means the next thing automatically has to be better.  You got to the bottom; you’re only going up now.”  The amount of resistance that we feel from something is equal to the emotional energy that we put into the response.  So, if we label divorce or losing a job or moving as “really bad,” well, we’re automatically going to think it sucks.  Likewise, if we label marriage or getting a good job or even winning the lottery as “really good,” then we’re automatically going to be really freaking terrified.  It goes like this:  Big Emotion = Big Resistance = Ridiculous attempt to control our lives.  Does any of this seem like a good use of energy to you?  Me neither.

Am I saying don’t feel big emotion or have an emotional response to change?  Absolutely not.  I’m saying take a step back and look at change (ALL change) in the larger context of your life.  What response does this trigger?  Will a “loss” usher something else in?  Will a “gain” allow you to expand your magnanimity and share with others?  When something shows up to rock your world, let go of the good/bad dichotomy and see if there is a larger message in the change.  It is all change.  Yes, everything falls apart.  But at some point it comes back together, too.  It always has, and it always will.

Love, heather.

Perfectly Imperfect

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I’ve been contemplating the idea of perfectionism a lot lately. Which is odd, since I hadn’t considered myself to be a perfectionist at all. Not one little bitty bit. I didn’t strive for the stock broker husband, 2.5 kids, the house in the suburbs, a place on the PTA, a beige Lexus SUV or any of the trappings of the successful, overstressed, “Perfect American.” In other words, I completely eschewed the typical, perfect American Dream. How Gen X of me…

But then I got to thinking: Wait, then why the hell am I so fucking stressed out? I began to look at my life and analyzed what was putting pressure on me and what the motive was for each stressor (and yes, I’m Type A – a little…). I discovered that in each area (work, home, my love life) I am very successful, and have no external pressure from anyone. But for each portion of my life I found myself saying, “I should have ____,” or “I should be _____,” or “I should do_____.” Where did all these “shoulds” come from? Who put those in my life? Was it me? And if so, I am definitely sucking at perfectionism.

Yet, there it was. I had a my own version of how perfect was supposed to manifest in my life. And it was making feel crazy, out of control and like a complete failure. I was getting hung up on the little failures in my career instead of the huge milestones. I was upset that I hadn’t been able to start a family yet, instead of celebrating the and enjoying the relationships I’ve had. I was feeling imagined financial strain instead of reveling in the fact that I’ve attained a point in my life where my wine budget equals my food budget (heck, I’m drinking wine as I write this). Dammit. I needed to stop sweating the small stuff and start being grateful for the here and now. The minutiae don’t really matter. The fact that my life is pretty damn perfect just like it is.

I’m sure that you have your own version of what perfect is supposed to be. But that’s not the point of life. The point is to let it be a little messy, it’s not supposed to look like the brochure. Ease in, lean in, and let go of whatever you think is supposed to happen. I can guarantee you that whatever you think you “should” be getting/doing/having, that the Universe has something much better planned for you.

Imperfectly yours,
–h

Fumbling Towards Happily Ever After

il_fullxfull.346554233So often messages for my clients seem to be clustered into themes.  One week will be when all the divorcees call me. Then next is when everyone has a job crisis.  Followed by the week everyone seems to be having issues with their teenaged children.  It’s uncanny really.  But recently all the folks who think their love lives are “stuck” have been beating down my door.  I know we’ve all been there – some of us (me included) have been there more times that we care to admit.  Emboldened by the phrase, “But I just don’t know how to BE in a relationship!!!” they call me in frustration and desperation.  And I think I repeatedly let them down.  Not because I don’t assuage their fears, but because the answer is so simple and yet so complicated.  And here it is:  No one (and I mean NO ONE) actually knows how to be in a relationship.  Period.  The end.

Allow me to explain things a little bit more.  We have suffered a Disneyfication of marriage and have all been operating under the delusion that that we’ll walk into a ballroom (or run up the turret of some castle, or walk into a board meeting, etc.), lock eyes with Mr./Miss. wonderful and BAM! Married happily ever after.  No matter who you are, you subscribe to this fantasy to some degree.  What fairy tales (or anyone else for that matter) don’t seem to cover is what happens after the honeymoon.  I mean how the heck are you suppose to actually LIVE with this S.O.B.?   Maybe she leaves shoes everywhere and always wants to talk to the cat like its human (guilty on both counts, here).  And maybe he obsesses about NASCAR and thinks good sex is when you watch Seinfeld after he rolls off of you.  This, friends, is called real life.  Any maybe you’re significant other doesn’t have these particular issues, but I’m sure he or she has some other ones you could name without trying.  Being in a relationship with another human being is hard work.  Why?  Because you’re two living, breathing beings with your own egos, fears, attitudes and opinions.  And sometimes yours won’t mesh with your partner’s.  This doesn’t mean that your relationship is necessarily broken.  It just means you’re human and so is your spouse.

It’s a good idea, always, to take stock of what’s happening in your relationship.  Are you just frustrated or truly feeling undervalued and ignored? Are you white-knuckling through some deal-breakers or just annoyed that his socks are on the floor (again)? Are there harmful behaviors and/or addictions present or does her love of ‘N Sync just make road trips a cringe-fest? If you’re dealing with truly harmful or neglectful behaviors, then it might be time to evaluate the viability of your relationship.  But if you’re just irritated at your significant other’s quirks, well, welcome to being a grown up.  Real, loving, long-lasting relationships involve relinquishing control, removing the ego and loving your partner unconditionally and unabashedly.  In the face of true love all the other stuff becomes background noise and tolerable.  At the end of the day, you’re two perfectly imperfect people trying to make something extraordinary.  And you know what, it happens all the time.

So take heart, dear ones.  You’re not alone.  Sure, some people seem to be better at the relationship thing than others, but I assure you, they’re fumbling towards happily ever after just like the rest of us.

The Pitfalls of Planning

I really love trying to find lessons and synchronicities in everyday life.  Even the most seemingly uncomfortable and irritating situation can lead to learning experiences and epiphanies – in fact, they are the most fertile ground.  And I can think of nothing more irritating and uncomfortable than a bad date.  I’ve had a few, but a few weeks ago, I came home from the worst one on record, plopped down on the couch and laughed and laughed.  Here’s how it went: After arriving late, he proceeded to launch into a diatribe about how he hates his parents, why he won’t admit that his own brother is gay, and that he lived with his mother until his late 30s.  All red flags, really.  But even before the appetizers arrived, he had started planning out our lives together.  Everything from what we would do the next weekend, to where we would have dinner the next night, how long we were going to date before we got married, where we would live and when we would retire.  By the time the check arrived, he had decided that I would likely need to give up my cats since he was allergic.  Whoa.  Seriously?  So I did what any self-respecting girl would do: I ran for it.

In the calm and sanity of my cat-infested living room, I debriefed.  Why was planning so patently ludicrous and down-right frightening to me?  Well, probably because I don’t really do it.  Planning out every nuance is exhausting and completely unnecessary.  That’s not say I don’t have goals; I do – lots of them.  But I can’t plan the minutiae of how they will manifest.  I can only work hard, follow my passions and live in the moment trusting that the future will be absolutely perfect.  Sometimes I get a little uptight about what’s coming, especially when it’s an outcome or a relationship that I’m particularly interested in.  But if I waste time obsessing over every single “what-if” then I’ll have missed the whole point.  And the point is that we enjoy the ride on the way to the outcome; it makes it that much sweeter to see how the Universe has plotted and planned to work for you, instead of you working against it.  It’s exactly the same thing as being “in the flow.”  I sometimes need to remind myself of all the things that I tell my clients which is this: I could never in a million years have planned the life I have now.  It is perfect and amazing and full of love and laughter.  So if I couldn’t have even planned this, what on Earth makes me think that I have any idea about how to plan what’s coming next?  It’s impossible.  I must simply allow myself to move through space in my own time all the while following my heart.  That may sound silly, but its worked for me so far, and I’ve never been happier.  In fact, I’d like to think that this process has allowed me to co-create my own miracles.  And that’s just amazing.

Love and light,

–h

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.

Faith – Lost and Found

I have a confession to make: I’ve lost faith.  I’ve lost faith in myself, in my abilities and in my place in the divine order of things.  I’ve felt lost, confused, frustrated and listless.  I’ve lost touch with my true self in the midst of all of this self-doubt.  In short, I’ve lost my path.

Or I thought I did.  You see, faith can be a tricky thing.  Just because you think you’re lost, that doesn’t mean that the Universe hasn’t held that faith for you.  It’s just waiting for you to surrender.  When you surrender to the Universe, you commit yourself to true Faith (yes,with a capital “F”).  Bashar, an intelligence channeled by Darryl Anka, tells us that it is not our “job” as humans is not to “plan” – that’s a job for our higher selves.   Our job is to listen, to react, to trust, to follow the direction of our higher selves.  In other words – let go, surrender.  It is in the surrendering of our need to control and our need to always know what’s next that we can rediscover our Faith.

After all, when things seem the most out of control, that is when the Universe is most in control.  See, you don’t have to drive all the time.  Just enjoy the ride.

Love and light.