Compassion

I’m realizing that compassion requires a lot from us humans. It requires we do inner work as we are connecting with another. Compassion can be toward someone else but it must be cultivated from within. If we’re unable to be compassionate with ourselves we cannot be compassionate with another. Compassion is required if we want intimacy and deep relationships.

I’ve typically thought of compassion as “the ability to suffer with another”. Recently, I learned that compassion originates from the Greek work splagna. Splagna means guts in Greek. So essentially, to have compassion is to connect deeply at the gut level. It’s allowing someone else’s experience to penetrate us in the gut.

The first requirement for compassion is presence. If we are not fully with someone, body, mind, and spirit, we can not have compassion for them. This is the inside job of compassion, we must set ourselves, our stories, and our solutions aside so we can sit with another. Compassion includes listening with an open body, mind, and spirit.

The second requirement of compassion is that we do our work. To “suffer with someone” implies that we have suffered and that we have allowed ourselves to experience and process that suffering. If we resist our own experience of loss and suffering we will resist that in others. If we haven’t done our work we are more likely to fall into the darkness with the other (if we’re even willing to see them at all) instead of extending a hand to hold them as they get their bearings and find a way to crawl out of their pit of suffering.

Compassion is deep connecting with deep. It requires us to be present and go into another’s experience at a gut level. Over our lifetimes, we have learned a wide variety of ways to mask our pain and deny our experiences. We have felt that we must defend ourselves from our gut experiences. However, in order to have compassion, we must set aside these defense mechanisms. We must be vulnerable in order to be compassionate.

This holiday season, may we choose to be compassionate with ourselves and others. May we let others have their experience, their choices, and their consequences. May we meet each other on deep levels recognizing the light within one another and doing our best to awaken that in each other. May we see with the eyes of our hearts that we all long to be loved and we are all innocent children of God. May we be filled with compassion!

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Shadow Dancing

Andy Gibb has a song called “Shadow Dancing” and the chorus goes like this,

Do it light, taking me through the night
Shadow dancing, baby you do it right
Give me more, drag me across the floor
Shadow dancing, all this and nothing more

When I awoke this morning I felt heavy as if I’d been dragged across the floor through the night. Sometimes it’s like this with shadow work, in “the dark of the night of the soul”, the light illuminates parts of ourselves that we are not always ready to embrace with understanding and tenderness. This morning I was not at all embracing nor was I asking for more; I was shadow boxing, not shadow dancing.

Boxing is exhausting, even professional boxers limit their rounds to three minutes. In addition, boxing is done in a ring or a “box”, if you will, and if you get knocked down three times or stay down too long, you lose. Using this analogy, “shadow boxing” is fighting tooth and nail, to the point of exhaustion, to not get out of the box you are already in while working to annihilate the shadow before it knocks you down. The thing is, our shadow is not meant to be defeated, it only yearns to be seen. Our work is to cease fighting our shadow and start dancing with it.

“Shadow dancing” is entirely different from “shadow boxing”. Dancing calls us out of the box, it requires we tap into our creativity and be stretched. Dancing is invigorating, there have been many times I’ve joyfully danced all night. When we develop the ability to dance with our shadows we lighten up, joy is present, and we aren’t overcome with fear. George Bernard Shaw says, “If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you’d best teach it to dance.”

If we are not in direct alignment with the light source, God, we will always cast a shadow. Another interesting point to consider is the closer we get to the light source, the bigger our shadow gets. So in essence, when our shadow seems the biggest, all we have to do is turn around and those are the times we are closest to the Light. Thomas Keating says something like, “the darkness is not darkness at all, it’s overwhelming light and we must give our eyes time to adjust”.

Our shadow can be an excellent teacher in bringing us wholeness and healing. In learning to dance with our shadow we develop a deeper sense of compassion and kindness for ourselves and all of mankind. Richard Rohr says, “what we resist, persists”. It is through seeing ourselves more clearly and willingly acknowledging our shadow that we bring ourselves into greater alignment with the Light and fullness of our being. May we find the courage to take up “shadow dancing, all this and nothing more”.

Grace

Grace has been a really challenging concept for me to define. “Amazing grace”, “by the grace of God”, saying “grace” at a meal: I understood it was an important aspect of being in relationship with God but it was beyond my comprehension. “I didn’t get grace” and historically, my tendency was to avoid that which I didn’t understand.

Often we falsely believe we are less worthy if we don’t understand something, so we avoid it. In general, it is isolating and possibly detrimental to avoid that which we don’t understand. This mindset keeps is from joyfully playing and prevents us from willingly learning new things. It strengthens our selfish tendencies and prevents our development of humility. It keeps us stuck in survival mode and out of dependence on God.

Moreover, anytime I “don’t get something”, it’s true. In psychology, it’s called the self-fulfilling prophesy. The more I say “I don’t get grace” the more that will manifest in my life. It’s not that the availability of God’s grace changes, it’s that my ability to see and receive it changes. Basically, when I concluded that “I didn’t get grace”, I simultaneously constructed blinders to God’s grace. Even if I was experiencing God’s grace I was unaware; I was unable to see grace for what it is.

Everything shifted for me when I was given the gift of seeing “grace” as an acronym. The acronym didn’t help me define grace, it helped me understand that grace is experienced and it’s undefinable. Grace is part of God’s unfolding mystery which I’ll never fully understand. I am, however, requested to participate actively in it’s ever unfolding nature without knowing the master plan.

Debbie Rosas uses the acronym “GRACE” to mean Grounded, Relaxed, Aware, Centered Energy. It is only when I’m in GRACE that I can allow the removal of my blinders and truly experience God’s grace. So, even though I still cannot define grace, I now “get it”. So throughout my day I check in: am I grounded, relaxed, aware, and centered in my energy? If the answer is yes, I’m indeed experiencing God’s grace.

Unselfishly Flexible

I’m noticing a pattern in my life between selfishness and inflexibility. When I am open to the opinions and ways of others I am more flexible and able to “go with the flow”. When I’m wrapped up by my way of doing things and bound by being right, I’m totally inflexible.

In Latin there is a phrase “en curvatos” which translates roughly as “curved into one’s self”. Imagine, if you will, a roly poly curled into a ball. It is safe for the time being but it is no way to live. It can survive like this for a bit but cannot receive any nutrients here, nor can it be of any use to it’s doodlebug community. If it remains curled into itself, it will surely die.

So it is with us. There are certainly times in life when we, for whatever reason, feel it necessary to curl ourselves into a ball, but we cannot live “en curvatos”. The more we curl into ourselves the smaller our world gets and the easier it is for “them” to become the enemy. The more full of fear and “en curvatos” we are the more “our way” seems like the only “right way” and we become more and more rigid.

I’ve read on numerous occasions that the root of all our troubles is that “we are selfish and self-centered”. From this, one could infer that one way to address our “problem” of being “en curvatos” would be to become more flexible. How, though, does one become more flexible?

In reality, any practice that gets us out of ourselves and stops us spinning our selfish stories will yield flexibility. Every tradition has multiple sacred practices that aim to shift our attention from our small, selfish purposes to God’s bigger perspective. For me, it boils down to prayer, meditation, and service to others.

Prayer can take many forms. Prayer can be silent or spoken. Prayer can be done on a mat, sitting with a friend, drawing a picture, dancing, singing, lighting incense, even washing the dishes can be a prayer. In my experience, it’s not important what is spoken, it’s the heart and devotion behind the action that translates into a prayer. Prayer is active; it is about doing.

I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me.
William Nicholson, Shadowlands

Meditation also takes many forms. It can be done seated, walking, dancing, resting. Watching your breath, gazing at a candle, looking at nature, repeating a prayer or mantra, reading scripture or a sacred text: these are all forms of meditation. In my understanding, meditation is more about listening and being receptive; meditation is about being.

I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
T.S. Eliot

Service to others is the final piece in becoming flexible. Through service to others we gain humility. When we are humble, we value others as beloved children of God. By serving others we expose ourselves to opinions, ideas, and beliefs that are different from our own. Service work takes us out of ourselves and reminds us that we have a larger purpose in humanity. Pretty much every time I show up to serve anywhere, the gifts I receive end up being far greater than the gifts I show up to give.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ’s compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.
Therese of Avila

So, as we go forth may we be willing to be stretched. May we let go of being “en curvatos” and through prayer, meditation, and service allow ourselves to be straightened out. May we learn to surrender to Love and allow ourselves to be flexible and unselfish.

Palindrome

Over a year ago, I was driving alone from Austin to Fort Worth and received a mandate from spirit. I was told to create a workshop with three parts called “As Above, So Below”. I received a download of the basic outline and then was told to trust that spirit will fill in the rest.

Since that “spirit download” I’ve taught that workshop twice and spirit continues to fill in the blanks with this particular theme of “as above, so below”. It relates to the chakra system and the spine. Lately it has been a beautiful analogy for the parasympathetic nervous system.

What does any of this have to do with palindromes? A palindrome is a word or number that is the same forwards as it is backwards. Mom, dad, 2345432, taco cat, 818, these are all palindromes. Spirit revealed to me yesterday that our nervous system is in a way a palindrome as well.

I’ve been taught our autonomic nervous system is broken down into two parts: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The SNS is wired all along our spine and is responsible for our “fight or flight” response. The fight can be an external or an internal attack. The flight can be physically fleeing or physically disassociating and fleeing with mind and spirit.

The parasympathetic nervous system is a little less known. It is our relaxation response, our “peace place”. The PNS nerves are rumored to be bundled at the top of the spine (base of the skull and the third eye) and the base of the spine (around the sacrum and tailbone). So in essence, we are held in peace from above and below; we are wired for relaxation.

Like a palindrome our spine begins and ends the same with the PNS and the SNS is in the middle. It’s as if whether we are right side up or upside down we begin and end in peace. So here’s the work: can we surrender into being held in peace above and below and let go of the stress in between?

So often I find myself distressed, trying to “sort it all out”, trying to “get it straight”. I’m thinking that’s the problem, maybe the real “sorting out” comes from just resting in the knowing that I’m held in peace. When I shift from trying to fix stuff to allowing myself to be stretched trusting all is well, things have a way of working themselves out. Eckhart Tolle says:

Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.

May we let go and surrender to the peace for which we are all wired. May we allow ourselves to be stretched and straightened out in seemingly two directions so that our channel for peace elongates and opens up. May we trust we are palindromes so that no matter if we feel upside down or right side up we can relax knowing we are held in peace and it’s all good. May we wholeheartedly trust we are lovingly supported by design.

Discernment

In one of my groups of friends, it is a tradition to draw an angel card to guide you through the year. My card this year is discernment. For me discernment requires stillness of body and mind so I can hear the “still, small voice within me”. It can be defined as the power to accurately see what is not evident to the average mind. The accuracy in discernment comes not from “getting it right” but more from being true to ourselves.

Discernment encourages us to make choices that bring us into alignment with our authentic selves. Discernment involves our whole self and specifically our hearts over our minds. Discernment is about choosing that which is life giving and letting go of that which is life draining.

Today, I am focusing on discerning what is urgent and what is important. Sometimes the two coincide but usually the task in front of me is either urgent or important. Very often I can get trapped in doing what is urgent and then I miss out on what is important. Very quickly the urgent tasks overshadow the important things in my path.

It feels as if these days there is so much urgency. An expectation to text right back, to check and respond to emails right away, to drop everything and answer the phone, to catch every post. There is an urgency to get the house cleaned and the bills paid and get out the door so we’re not late to the next thing that we will most likely urgently have to leave as well. It’s as if there is an urgency to do something, anything, as long as we are in motion and taking action.

Richard Foster writes,

In contemporary society our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in “much-ness” and “manyness,” he will rest satisfied.

In our modern society how much we can accomplish in a day and how quickly we take care of the “urgent matters” are of utmost importance. Multitasking and over committing are praised in our culture. Many of us have bought into the lie that we are what we do and that our worthiness is based on being in a constant state of action.

The fact remains that we are human beings, not human doers. We are not designed to be in a state if constant action. We are wired for rest and connection. Very often, constant doing becomes a way of numbing out and then we can no longer fully participate in what is important. There will always be urgent matters, but the real question is whether or not the urgent matter is important as well.

Compulsive doing keeps us from being. It prevents us from slowing down and connecting. The important things in life require us to unplug from technology and plug in to the moment.

Often I find it easier to do what urgent. In doing the dishes or cleaning the house I get instant gratification and visible results. In texting right back or checking emails and Facebook, I get an instant connection that is safe and I’m completely in control of it. The thing is there is little vulnerability or growth in just doing what’s urgent.

Doing the important things stretches me beyond what is comfortable. It is important for me to drop everything and connect with my family. However, while playing I’m constantly tempted to “do something”. It is important for me to spend quiet time alone in prayer and meditation and yet the voices in my head tempt me to be productive. When I fall prey to these temptations, I miss the authentic connection and neglect what’s important.

Discernment requires me to choose what is important even when the urgent tasks call louder and louder. The important things require me to show up and be vulnerable. The important things are often messy and require me to let go of being in control. The important things require me to trust there is enough and I’m worthy as I am. I am so grateful that my life is filled with important things and I’m grateful for the gift of discernment that allows me to live life a little more fully each and every day.

Open Wounds

Since January 1st, I have journaled everyday. I have documented the rise and fall of my emotions, my faith, my relationships. I have written my deepest secrets, my heartfelt prayers, the confidential stories others have shared with me. I have written words of my teachers, new insights, and curriculum I’ve taught and plan to teach. That butterfly journal is filled to the brim with my souls journey from February to November. A nine month journey.

This weekend I had the gift of attending a weekend long prayer retreat. Each moment seemed spirit filled. It renewed me and deepened my faith in ways I didn’t even know I was yearning for. In fact, it was during the first night of the retreat that my sweet butterfly journal was filled. The journal was started at a prayer retreat and completed on yet another prayer retreat.

On the first night we were asked our deepest fears and encouraged to share them with the group. I shared that my deepest fear is “that if they really knew me, they couldn’t possibly love me”. It is the false belief that if I’m vulnerable, authentic, and intimate I will be abandoned.

I spent a lot of time over the weekend communing with God and returned home with a deep sense of peace and connection. I felt renewed. I believed the fear I’d held so close was loosening it’s grip on me. How quickly things shifted when I unpacked by bag and found my journal missing.

It was amazing how quickly I gave my peace away to the fear of what could happen with the missing journal. The “what ifs” were innumerable. Something as simple as misplacing a journal shined light on a fear of being unworthy, a fear of being abandoned, a fear of being intimately vulnerable, and a fear of uncertainty and losing control. The missing journal exposed the wounds within me.

The beauty of these open wounds is that I can see them more clearly for what they are. They are simply wounds that need to heal. In the past, I’ve covered them over and hid them away which has caused a corrosive thread in all my relationships. Today, I choose to let the light shine on these fears and show up even if I’m fearful.

The journal was located and it will be returned. None of my “what ifs” came true and they rarely do. So instead of “what if”, I ask “what now”? Today, I continue to journal, I continue to pray and draw near to God. I choose to have courage as the fears within me are illuminated trusting Gods got me.

After a period of meditation on the retreat, I received this message:
“Don’t worry! I’ve got you and I’ve got them. It’s safe here, you can come out now.” And so it is, all is well!