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It's About Time

An ongoing series of informational entries: short articles I've written and questions from clients.

Making Time to Notice the Okay Moments

March 11, 2023

One of my favorite self-care practices is what I call "Noticing the Okay Moments". Humans are evolutionarily hard-wired to remember the "negative" situations and events that happen in our lives so that we can avoid them in the future.

Unfortunately, that often leaves us with a "happiness deficit" because we forget the good, easy, or joyful times when we fixate on life's difficulties, and that leaves us overwhelmed with anxiety and depression. From that place, it's nearly impossible to sustain happiness, let alone to reach for joy.

So, here's the practice. In any moment, stop and ask yourself the following questions: Am I safe right now, right here in this moment? (Take a deep breath between each question.) Do I have everything I need right now for this moment? Am I warm and dry? Am I satisfied (neither hungry nor thirsty)? Am I comfortable? Am I okay right now, here in this moment?

If the answer to any of those questions is 'no', then quickly take action to address the issue -- put on a sweater, drink some water, go to the bathroom, etc. -- and ask the questions again.

When the answer to all the questions is 'yes', then breathe deeply, relax, and repeat to yourself, In this moment, I'm safe, I have everything I need, and I'm okay! Let your mouth smile, and become aware of what it feels like in your body to be safe, secure, and at peace in this particular slice of space and time.

These okay moments are so neutral that they're often overlooked when we think about our day-to-day lives. But, like saving coins in a jar, these short, scattered minutes of contentment only get deposited to your "positive mental bank account" when you remember to savor them. The more often you do this practice, the more often you'll notice these times, and you'll discover that "okay-ness" is really contentment in disguise.

One coin doesn't buy much alone, but a full jar can be worth over $100. Similarly, one minute of contentment isn't much, but many such moments that are consciously collected together create a strong foundation that can easily sustain your overall happiness.

The "Balance" Trap

February 14, 2023

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone lament, “My life is so out of balance right now!” Myriads of books, articles, teachings, blogs, and sermons tell us that achieving such a state will release our stress, stabilize our moods, give us a more positive outlook on life, and so much more! No wonder we want it: balance has become the prize to be sought, the promised panacea. “You just need to get your life back in balance!”

But, pause for a moment. When you think of something as being “balanced”, what images come to mind? A carefully stacked cairn of rocks; a yogini in Tree Pose; a set of scales with weight evenly distributed between its two pans; your checkbook. 

 All of those images capture only one moment in time: balanced, yes, but static, stationary, and immobile. However, time moves on. The stack of rocks blows over in the wind; the yogini finishes her pose and moves into the next; the scales are emptied and reused; one more check clears and the amount in your account changes. The idea of a “perfectly balanced life” is an illusory trap that keeps us unsatisfied with our present moment.

In many spiritual circles, “perfection” is the image of a serene, yogi-like person who is able to stay calm and unruffled as he/she easily and expertly juggles all aspects of his/her life. Spouse, children, spiritual practice, exercise, work, play, friends, and self-care all stay perfectly aligned as the person in the center remains in a state of relaxed bliss. Add one more ball? “Your parents are coming to stay for a week? No problem!” Or so we are told the Supremely-Balanced-Person should say with a cheerful smile.

Yet, so many of us struggle just to FIND that deceptive state of “balance”, let alone to stay there! Any sense of steadiness we may achieve passes just as quickly as it comes in the on-going swirling of life’s events. In fact, many of the fluctuations to our routine arise as a result of other people’s choices, and resisting the resulting changes only causes us more suffering. We compare ourselves to impossible ideals and then use all those “shoulds” to judge and berate ourselves when we don’t measure up.

A much better fit for successfully navigating this human experience is the concept of “dynamic equilibrium”, which can be defined as a constant dance between stillness and movement. Think for a moment of the simple exercise of walking. Starting from a place of balance, one leg swings forward – its motion creating imbalance – until at the farthest point in its swing, the body falls onto the extended leg and finds a point of balance again. 

 But in the next moment, the back leg pushes forward – temporarily bringing the body back into balance above the standing leg – and continues to swing forward until the body once again falls out of balance, only to be caught by the frontward leg’s connection with the floor. And so the process continues, over and over again: stillness, motion, stillness, motion, stillness, motion…in truth, the only way to move forward is to dance between balance and imbalance.

One thing is always flowing into another, just as one season seamlessly shifts into the next. Inhale, exhale. Daytime, nighttime. High tide, low tide. Gathering, releasing. Seed time, harvest. Life is a spiral dance, not a static event; and, understanding the concept of dynamic equilibrium allows us to surf the wave of uncertainty by being equally at peace with the seasons of stillness and the seasons of motion – and all those seasons of transition in between. By letting go of our attachment to “the way I think things are supposed to be”, we create a life of peace.

Becoming the Hero of Your Story

January 15, 2023

In the mythic “Hero's Journey”, the hero sets out on an arduous quest, travels through strange lands, faces many challenges and monsters, and finally returns home again victorious. 

In order for us to become the heroes of our own stories, we must make the epic journey into the underworld of our psyches where the “monsters” of our disowned Shadow aspects and dissociated soul parts dwell; not to vanquish them, but to love and embrace them, and to bring them into the light of awareness. Carl Jung once said, “Enlightenment does not come from imagining figures of light, but from making the darkness conscious.”

One way in which our personalities become fragmented is through what Carl Jung referred to as “the Shadow”: the parts of our personalities which we disown because they are not socially acceptable. Entire religions are built around this need to separate ourselves from the "darkness" within, and this is why New Age "sweetness and light" appeals to so many who come out of those religions; but, it is also why it falls so far short of delivering the promised enlightenment.

Collectively, those disowned fragments combine their individual emotional charges, and that’s why the depths of the subconscious mind can be so intensely frightening: it is the place where we must face the fear of being overwhelmed emotionally in order to bring our dissociated Shadow aspects home.

Another form of dissociation which modern society has been slow to recognize is called “soul loss”. Like a hologram, we can divide our soul energy and still have a complete picture: every part of the energy body contains all the information of the whole, even though the strength of the original is diminished by doing so.

This ability of ours gives rise to a unique coping mechanism which allows us to survive traumas. Basically, fragmented pieces of our soul’s energy may leave our bodies during traumatic events (everything from accidents, illnesses, natural disasters, war, physical or emotional abuse, the sudden death of a loved one, job loss, etc.), carrying with them the very strongly emotionally charged imprint of the trauma so that we can survive the moment.

Ideally, those soul parts would be quickly reintegrated once the trauma had passed to allow for healing of the emotional and psychic wounds. When they are not, they either stay stuck in the energy matrix of a specific location (so-called “residual hauntings”) or they go off to wherever (or whenever) they feel safe within the energy matrix of the earth.

So, when you think about how many traumatic experiences you’ve had over the course of this lifetime and add to that all the traumatic incidents and unseemly demises you may have ever experienced which were not properly dealt with from your past lives, you begin to realize that you’ve left bits and pieces of your personal energy stranded throughout space and time which are still out there, waiting to be rescued. However, as the Buddha once pointed out, “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”

Every one of us hears the invitation to the Hero’s Journey at one point or another in our lives. And, every one of us is faced with the choice of whether to stay “home” in our comfortable routines and thoughts, waiting for someone else to rescue us; or, to launch out into the fearful unknown and to take responsibility for our own healing and growth.

If you have been feeling stuck, trapped and unable to move forward, perhaps you’ve been resisting this call. The vow of compassion of the Bodhisattva in Buddhism says that as long as any being is in suffering and darkness, then none can be truly free. Likewise, as long as any aspect of your self -- be it part of your personality or a fragmented piece of your soul’s energy -- remains disowned in the darkness of dissociation, you will remain divided and unable to attain liberation.

In my opinion, becoming whole by choosing to be the heroes of our own stories is the greatest work we could ever do and the greatest gift we can give the world.  

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