Archive for the ‘Spiritual’ Category

People often ask me about how to increase self-confidence so they can try new things. They imagine confidence to be a magically acquired inner quality, and that successful people are naturally fearless, willing to try new experiences, managing to look cool in the process. The real path to self-confidence is to develop COMPETENCE with practice, trial and error. To dare to follow your dreams requires the willingness to look foolish, to risk failure and rejection. Our mistakes are requirements for wisdom and true confidence. Of course, His Holiness manages to say this with much more elegance and simplicity.

Warm-heartedness reinforces our self-confidence – giving us not a blind confidence, but a sense of confidence based on reason. When you have that you can act transparently, with nothing to hide! Likewise, if you are honest, the community will trust you. Trust brings friendship, as a result of which you can always feel happy. Whether you look to the right or the left, you will always be able to smile.

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Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here.  As stated by Marianne Williamson

Is this true, that we are all open to giving and receiving and being pure love when we take our first breath, and soon after the lessons begin to convince us that we have to be perfect to be loved?

This fits, I think, when trying to cope with my own fears of rejection. When I place my guilt/shame/anxiety in a crucible, and cook out all the what ifs, what I end up holding is the fear that I have blown the chance to be accepted and loved. I know, I know, that “no one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes.” Yet, it is much easier for me to forgive others than to accept my own imperfections, because rejection is the greatest fear, tantamount to death our ancient DNA structure.

Marianne stays consistent with The Course in Miracles core teaching that we have two choices: love and fear, that to give energy to complicated variations of feelings only prevent us from reconnecting with Divine, with our own Best Selves.
Can it be so simple? That we can choose to focus on love rather than fear? I didn’t say it was easy, but perhaps it helps to simplify.  Today I wish it so for me, and for you.

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 Pema Chodron, again. These words are especially important to me, today. Blessings on us all.

January 25, 2012


If   we begin to surrender to ourselves—begin to drop the story line and   experience what all this messy stuff behind the story line feels like—we   begin to find bodhichitta, the tenderness that’s underneath all the   harshness. By being kind to ourselves, we become kind to others. By being   kind to others—if it’s done properly, with proper understanding—we benefit as   well.

So   the first point is that we are completely interrelated. What you do to   others, you do to yourself. What you do to yourself, you do to others.

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An essential part of my personal and professional practice is in hospice. Since 1978 I have worked or volunteered with the seriously ill and dying, providing support to patients and families. Every hospice volunteer or worker knows that the real gift is not in the giving of service, but in the lessons and love received. I  recommend this book to everyone, because we all will face the end of our days, and the days of many we love.

Thanks to Judith Keyssar, RN director of a hospice program in SF, for this marvelous read. “Last Acts of Kindness” tells the stories and lessons from the bedside of hospice patients, and just won a national award (to be announced in January 2012). Comfort, love, and hope on every page.

Last Acts of Kindness
by Judith Redwing Keyssar

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I took an actual vacate-tion this early autumn. Two weeks with no obligation to be productive. For fifteen hundred miles in a comfy rental car, no schedule or itinerary, I loafed and lingered, knowing I needed a decisive break from fixed routine. And yet, an odd sense of guilt, of not being productive or useful, haunted me. And that reminded me that guilt is rooted in fear, specifically the fear of being found unworthy, useless.

Knowing that guilt over relaxing would not serve the Greater Good, I persisted in my goal of escaping being over-responsible. (I am aware of the irony of making goallessness a goal.) I didn’t even write in my journal for much of the trip. Instead, I saw the trees change colors for the first time in my life, pulled over dozens of time to take pictures and sometimes left my camera, and simply cried at the beauty of it all. I discovered XM radio, where several classical, comedy, and NPR stations vied for my attention. And the silence crept in a little each day, until I would realize I hadn’t turned on the radio for half an hour or more. I didn’t want to hear the news, even music distracted me at times from simply seeing, and being at home within myself.

Beyond words and knowing, the antidote for pressure might sometimes be silence, a soft and sacred space.

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I frequently find myself lost. I seldom have a complete  certainty of where I am on the planet. Whether in parking lots, department  stores, or most recently in Golden Gate Park by the museums, if it weren’t for people who know where I happen to be at that moment, and what direction might get me to where I want to go, I wouldn’t “be here now.” It has to be brain damage from… drugs? car accidents? brain surgery? I’ve had them all.

For the most part I have learned not to panic. Being clean and sober, finding myself in  totally foreign landscapes can be a sort of high, at least Twilight  Zone-esque.  I used to feel shame,  frustration, and self-deprecation in these circumstances. I’ve learned to surrender  during these misadventures, telling myself that the spiritual warrior learns to  “enjoy the journey.”

I fear the disorientation may be getting worse. My only hope is that I lean toward the style of  the absent-minded professor whom people find adorable. There is a terrific story about Albert Einstein. He was walking on the Princeton  campus when a student asked him to discuss a theorem. After a cheerful and engaging conversation, Albert said, “And now, if you wouldn’t mind helping  me? When you stopped me, was I walking toward or away from the Science  building?” When the student replied, “Toward, sir.” “Ah,  then I’ve already had my breakfast.”

I once  heard the term pronoid, defined as a  person who has the sneaky suspicion that everyone wants to help her. This is me, how I was raised. My family subscribed to Will Rogers’ philosophy that a  stranger is just a friend you haven’t met. This core orientation allows me to fearlessly ask for directions, and given that I tend to go in circles, often from the same person twice.

There is sufficient scientific evidence proving that assisting other people reduces stress, so perhaps I am doing a service to let  the helpful help me.

At times, I recognize this attitude may be irresponsible, being cavalier about a character defect that I could improve. I’ve avoided putting it on the long list of issues  that bother me much more; those having to do with kindness, acceptance of  things I cannot change and the like.

After hearing my story about being lost in Golden Gate Park, my friend Alice gave me a  portable GPS.  Perhaps my energy would best be spent in learning to program the thing. It’s wonderful also to depend on the kindness my friends.

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Here is a sweet reminder from Pema Chondron


When the Buddha taught, he didn’t say that we were bad people or that there was some sin that we had committed—original or otherwise—that made us more ignorant than clear, more harsh than gentle, more closed than open. He taught that there is a kind of innocent misunderstanding that we all share, something that can be turned around, corrected, and seen through, as if we were in a dark room and someone showed us where the light switch was. It isn’t a sin that we are in a dark room. It’s just an innocent situation, but how fortunate that someone shows us where the light switch is. It brightens up our life considerably. We can start to read books, to see one another’s faces, to discover the colors of the walls, to enjoy the little animals that creep in and out of the room.

Be gentle with yourself. Blessings, Cynthia

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Some people who might otherwise be artists, or merely more productive, turn their creative talents elsewhere because they cannot tolerate being alone for extended periods. Anna Held Audette

Is it ever honorable to avoid creating, practicing, playing at your chosen craft or tackle a hard task? Of course. There are a thousand times when you can righteously say “no” to the work. But there are as many times when you must righteously say “yes.” Between the two there is no time left ever to say “maybe.”
When you do say “yes,” where will you be? Completely alone. In order to start, an artist must invite in and be able to tolerate active aloneness. We can all tolerate passive aloneness reasonably well: in that dull state we can nap, watch TV, read, play computer games, think of people to call. But active aloneness is a cat of another stripe.
To be actively alone means to be belligerent, alive, ecstatic, afraid, on your feet, wired, doubtful, upset, fired up, and all the rest. It means that mistakes are about to happen. It means that contradictory ideas will engulf you, and confrontation will occur. As the painter Agnes Martin explains it:
               The solitary life is full of terrors. If … you go walking down a country lane in the dark, it is an entirely different thing than walking with someone else. If you were not completely distracted you would surely feel “the fear” part of the time, the pervasive fear that is always with us. In solitude this fear is lived and finally understood.

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“Our deepest stress is that we are at war with ourselves,” Tara Brach

We spend a lot of our days being driven by a vague existential clutch that something is wrong, something needs doing right now. And so we speed up. It’s not in our basic design to remember we can simply pause, breathe, notice the beauty around us. There is risk in relaxing. Our ancestral survivors lived because they were hyper-vigilant. Our DNA tells us that only the tense will survive, and this creates a driven joyless demand on ourselves and others to be perfect, which equals safety.

Tension is the body’s way of not allowing life as it is, guarding against wrongness, especially our own imperfection. We feel called to action, to change, and then inevitably to regret what we’ve done to try to fix the problem. As we awaken to our busy-ness, we recognize in horror that we are overreacting yet again, and do not like ourselves very much. When we meditate, breathe, sit with a teacher, even flop down on the couch between chores without distraction of TV, we might feel the freedom from this unnecessary tension for just a moment. And so we make the error of thinking, “Now this is the right way to be, more perfect, calm, kind, able to love life as it is.”

Then the phone rings, or we see the dust rhinoceros under the bookcase, and are back grasping and gasping, feeling the drive to multi-task and accomplish and correct and judge. “Oh, no, I’m doing it again,” and up comes self-loathing for not being able to change, to seek peace.

To be free is to be without anxiety about imperfection. This means not being triggered by the messiness of being human, to be forgiving of the obsessions or reactivity that everyone has, including ourselves.This is the unnecessary suffering that the Buddha spoke of when he said we all must suffer, but needn’t heap pain on ourselves because we are not perfect.

It is inevitable that we will be imperfect. We will make poor choices and eat too much and do too much and gossip and watch TV and not get up early to meditate. We slip into directing and correcting those we love, insanely expecting them to appreciate our loving attention. As we helplessly watch ourselves doing the same thing over and over, despite our desire to live in peace and harmony with what is, we have the opportunity to stop blaming ourselves for being stuck, to stop repeating “Something is wrong with me, I’m not okay.” But we are deeply organized to be afraid to accept ourselves: “If I accept my controlling, judging, messy imperfection, I’ll only get worse.” And so we increase the stress by waging war with our imperfectness.

Tara Brach describes a simple way out, a truce, by exercising “the sacred pause,” three deep, sweet breaths that bring the mind and body back to the present. With the first you can release some of the physical tension. With the second, loosen mental tightness by observing the thought that says you are bad for not being a better person. The magical third breath opens the door to loving-kindness, and often the desire for another breath or two. This is the start of making friends with life and yourself as you are, right now.

A relaxed attention is the deepest form of love. It notices and allows. All you need is already within you, if you can approach yourself with the patience you would show a beloved child.

Thank you, Tara Brach, psychologist and Buddhist teacher, for so many of these concepts elegantly explained. www.tarabrach.com

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Some days are harder than others. Today seems to be one of those, for me: no energy, not wanting to jump on my planned tasks. One curse of being a therapist is my tendency is to look for reasons. And so I reviewed some of my recent decisions and actions, and non-actions, and found myself looking at the questionnaire I wrote a while back: “Are You Addicted to Ambivalence?” I posted it for your own exploration.

My answers revealed that I am feeling uncertain about a couple of recent smallish decisions. And that began to rumble deeper indecision and self-doubt in general.  I am viewing my whole life through the small window of the past week. NOT A GOOD IDEA. For today, I’ll take my best advice and lower expectations and toss my to-do list, slow waaaaay, down, and simply be deliberately kind to myself and those I encounter. And that is a decision I can feel good about.

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