Monday, October 24, 2011

Off to India

I am in India right now. If you would like to follow my travels from the Tibetan Buddhists in the north to the Kerala Spice Coast - go to simplegifts.ca and click on the link to the right that says: India Trip 2011. Namaste

Sunday, May 29, 2011

BE PEACE

I came across this little book about a year ago and was attracted by the title: Practicing Peace in Times of War by Pema Chodren. I had just returned from a trip to Vietnam where I was engaged in a journey of healing and reconciliation with Vietnamese and American veterans from what we call the Vietnam war and they call the American war. I learned a lot about war during that trip; I learned that the effects of war go far beyond the battlefield and the immediate casualties.

So six months later when I saw this title: Practicing Peace in Times of War I knew it was not talking about being a peacekeeper in a war zone. I knew that it was talking about me and each one of us in everyday life.

Most of us would say the Comox Valley is a pretty peaceful place. We live in a country that is renowned for its peaceful nature. I just read we are the 8th most peaceful country in the world. So what does war have to do with us right here, right now? War is much more than soldiers fighting each other. It also includes what we hear, what we see, what we read.

I don’t watch a lot of TV – maybe 5 hours every month or two when I am in a hotel on one of my trips.

What I notice is that there some interesting language easing into our tv shows, news, weather, advertising – words all associated with war.

In the 60’s a war on drugs was declared and that was a new approach but since that time there has been a significant increase in this kind of language. Perhaps because I only tune in every so often it is easy for me to notice.

For instance, while I was flipping through the channels I saw a weather alert. Oh – I better pay attention. What was it about? Nothing. It took me awhile to figure out that is what the weather report is called now – weather alert. Showers, some sunny breaks. That’s the weather alert.

We attack germs under the sink, we declare war on allergy season, we neutralize weeds in the garden, we fight memory loss. It sounds like we live in a war zone – at war with our environment, our bodies, our minds, ourselves.

I travel a lot to and from the states and I am acclimatizing myself to the border and custom regulations. In Vancouver, after taking a photo of a famous singer in the baggage claim area, I was accosted by 2 flak jacketed, uniformed men, who waited and watched while I deleted the pictures from the camera. No photos allowed - this is a high security area.

We don’t notice these things because they slowly creep in over time. We make adjustments and changes. We get used to hearing the terminology. We may not think it is having an impact on us but I believe it is.

What a shock it was going to India. We stopped in Hong Kong. Everyone at the airport was so friendly and smiling and helpful. Wow. Then on to Delhi – same thing. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. It took me awhile to pinpoint what it was. It wasn’t necessarily what they had and we didn’t – it was what was missing - homeland security.

Now I know Canada is a separate and quite distinct country from the US. However, we live shoulder to shoulder with a government that is at war and we fall under the shadow of that attitude and those policies. Everything from border control to TV shows and advertising.

Is that how we want to live? Do we want to be on alert for terrorism, germs, weeds and bad weather?

How do we be ‘at peace’ and not ‘at war’? You may say: I am not at war, I am not a violent person. But consider for a moment….

What do you call it when you call berate yourself for forgetting something? What do you call muttering under your breath at the checkout person who keeps making mistakes causing you late for an appointment? What do you call your frosty response to a telemarketer that calls at dinner time?

That is not peace.

How do you feel when someone is standing too close to you in a line-up, when you hear about the tornados in Missouri, when you get another solicitation in the mail from your credit card company? When you see someone driving dangerously while they are talking on their cell phone.

That is not peace.

It can happen so quickly. We are standing there in the grocery store line and the next thing we are agitated or anxious. Our peace is gone.

What happened? We have a thought, we react to it, we enlarge upon it, we build a story around it, we allow it to take shape and form in our minds. This whole process happens very quickly and repeats itself over and over, throughout the day, often without our even being aware. We only notice when the discomfort is great enough. This process can be an automatic response to – well, just about everything we encounter all day long!

The fact is we are immersed in life. We are going to encounter all of these situations and more every single hour of the day. Our desire to avoid these situations ends up being our reason for being. We take steps to avoid what is uncomfortable or undesirable. We avoid people who rub us the wrong way. We stay away from stores where the aisles are too narrow. We take a different route because every time we get stuck in the construction, we start thinking – why do they always do construction at the busiest time of year?

This is not living a life of peace. This is like a pin ball machine – bouncing and bumping around a table – off one way, back another way.

Where is the peace of mind? Where is the pure enjoyment of life? What happens to our capacity to help others? Where is the presence of mind to practice compassion? Where is our creativity? Where is our open-ness and curiosity? It’s all lost in the pinball game we have created that we call our life.

Our question might be: How can I avoid that experience? How can I make sure that doesn’t happen to me again?

That question in itself is creating more unrest in me. Trying to get away from ‘un-peaceful’ situations is creating more ‘non-peace’. Do you see that?

How could we possibly be a peaceful presence in the world when our life is consumed with running from or pushing away unpleasantness?

We think that we can push away someone and find some peace. But pushing away does not bring peace – peace brings peace. In her book “That Which You Seek”, Cheri Huber says: One process does not lead to another. War does not lead to peace. Impatience does not lead to patience. Aggression does not lead to compassion. Compassion leads to compassion. Aggression leads to aggression. Love leads to love. Rejection leads to more rejection.

Practicing peace means standing in every moment and accepting what is. Not pushing away ‘unpeace’ not grabbing for ‘peace’. Can we be at peace no matter what is going on around us or in us?

Practicing peace is accepting what is. Acceptance is not stepping back, saying – fine – I guess that’s just the way it is. Acceptance is not giving up or giving in.

Acceptance means being fully in the now moment. Acceptance takes courage. Courage to observe our own patterns of unhealthy behaviour or actions. Staying with ‘what is’ takes inner strength.

We have all developed ways to avoid our own discomfort. Maybe we close down, run away, distract ourselves, watch TV, start talking, pointing fingers, go shopping. It takes courage to stay present and observe ourselves and how we deal with our discomfort.

Practicing Peace in Times of War by Pema Chodren. p.71 quote “Becoming intimate with difficulty is the key to changing at the core of our being – staying open to everything we experience, letting the sharpness of difficult times pierce us to the heart, letting these times open us, humble us, and make us wiser and more brave. Let discomfort transform you. It will. In my experience, we just need help in learning how not to run away.”

Practicing Peace in Times of War by Pema Chodren. p. 36 “To the degree that each of us is dedicated to wanting peace in the world, then we have to take responsibility when our own hearts and minds harden and close. We have to be brave enough to soften what is rigid, to find the soft spot and stay with it. We have to have that kind of courage and have that kind of responsibility. That’s true spiritual warriorship. That’s the true practice of peace.”

If we can stay with that tender heart then we are cultivating seeds of peace. If we can observe our own nature without judgment or criticism we are creating peace. That is something we can do. WE say it every Sunday - let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.


Meditation
Today’s Daily Word (May 29, 2011)speaks to this practice of peaceful presence.

Looking past physical, geographical or cultural differences, I see that everything and everyone is God’s creation.

Can I see through the eyes of acceptance? Of what is, the differences and the similarities? Everywhere I look I see the divine in expression.

God lives within each one of us as Spirit, filling us with love, compassion and strength.

We have the capacity for being a presence of peace. It is our divine nature. We are born with compassion, it is part of us.

As a peacemaker, I appreciate peace and think peace, which leads me to act in peaceful ways.

I see peace, I breath peace, from that place, my words and actions are of peace.

My commitment is to bring harmony to my home and neighbourhood.

My commitment is to be harmony, in my home, in my relationships, in my everyday interactions with others.

This peaceful intention flows from me, rippling out into the world.

I am peace, peace naturally extends from me, easily without effort.

We are all members of the universal family of God.

In this truth I see my neighbours here and around the world with eyes of peace.

Through prayer and loving action, I reach out to others, even those far beyond my physical location.

From this place of peace, I know what is mine to do. I know what to say. I trust this inner guidance that is grounded in peace to direct all my actions.

I think, speak and act in ways that support a peaceful and prosperous life for all.

I accept everyone as they are. I accept myself the way I am at this moment. I breathe into the knowing that I am well and that truly, peace begins with me.

Monday, May 9, 2011

What is Your Life Prayer?

Do we pray for health and then lead a sedentary lifestyle or eat junk food? Do we pray for guidance and then continue to think that WE know the right way to do things? Do we pray for peace and then harbour resentment, unforgiveness and anger?

What are our REAL prayers? Not just the prayers that we spend 5 minutes or 30 minutes praying. Our whole life is a prayer – every waking moment of every day. What is it saying? What is our “life prayer”?

We have a wonderful example of someone who lived his ‘life prayer’ and had an enormous impact on hundreds of millions of lives - that is Gandhi.

Gandhi lived and breathed and walked his beliefs. His “life prayer” was aligned with his beliefs. He challenged himself to live his principles – every moment of the day. When people asked “what is your message”. He said: “My life is my message.”

And his life was an open book. Gandhi was available to anyone and everyone who wanted to talk with him. He spent his days speaking with Indian Viceroys, British governors, people from the next village who wanted him to settle a domestic dispute. One woman came to him with her young son, wanting Gandhi to get him to stop eating sugar, it was bad for him. Gandhi said come back next week. When she did, he spoke to the little boy saying “please don’t eat sugar, it is bad for you” and they joked for awhile. His mother, puzzled, asked why didn’t Gandhi just say that the first week instead of making them come back. He said “Last week, I too, was eating sugar.”

Gandhi followed the teachings of his religion and culture and he took them into every part of his life. He lived the message of harmony, one-ness, non-violence.

Gandhi put himself in the arena of the human suffering he saw and experienced all around him. He didn’t consider himself a political activist – he was a ‘life’ activist. He saw hundreds of millions of Indians living in poverty and under the foot of the British empire. He saw the British being forced to defend their citizens and ‘property’ and use violence to keep order. He saw that everyone was suffering under this system. His actions and words were never about opposition – who is right and who is wrong. His actions were always about what is best for the good of all.

Gandhi did not see people as “opponents”. He knew that all life is One. He said: “liquidate antagonism, not antagonists”. Melt away opposition.

Non-violence is not a tool we pull out when we need it and put it away when we don’t. It is a way of life. It is rooted in an unwillingness to see differences or to harbor animosity or anger. It extends into every facet of life, everything we do and say. It shifts how we look at each other and at life.

If we really saw ourselves as being one, then we can not be in opposition. We can look at life in terms of cooperation. We are all on the same side – there is only one side.

When we maintain and protect our own position, we block out possibility, we ignore different ideas and perspectives. As long as we think we know what is right and what should be done, and that we know the answers, we have placed ourselves in an adversarial position. That brings about defense and resistance - and no movement, no positive peaceful outcome. No cooperation, no union.

When we are partners, we have all the resources from both sides available to the cause. We ensure respect and support. Only then will peace be possible.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spiritual Community

Spiritual community is a cauldron where we get to be with each other in a very deep and real sense. Many of us can do things alone – but doing them in community really calls us to a higher level of commitment and intention. Community acts as a catalyst where change is possible – more than change - transformation happens. Because there is something we are creating together that cannot be brought into manifestation alone.

Doing things together requires us to develop qualities which may be outside our natural preferences.

For example, we may not be the kind of person who needs a lot of time to make decisions. And working in a group may push us to our limits while we develop patience and understanding for those who need more time to think things through and feel comfortable.

And we as a sacred community – what holds us together, what is our commitment to each other when we bump up against our differences? What holds us together as a spiritual community is different than what holds other relationships together.

Spiritual community calls the relationship to an entirely different level because it is not based on needs or common experiences or convenience. It is based on spiritual principles. Not in our human-ness, not in our individualities, but in the principle that each one of us shares our spiritual nature – the nature of God. And when we are willing to be together in that way – incredible things happen. People who seem to have nothing in common can form a very powerful spiritual community. Because holding the principles as a guiding light is more powerful than any interest or experience. And when we see each other in that Light, and support each other in that Truth, miracles happen.

What are the benefits of being in a spiritual community? Acceptance, love, non-judgment, forgiveness. Who would not want to experience these?

Non-judgment is knowing that you are safe with this person, that you do not need to place distance or armour around yourself when you are around them.
Acceptance gives you the freedom to feel your feelings, say what’s on your mind without being judged or criticized. With a relationship based on acceptance we don’t have to pretend to be who we are not. There are no masks. A friend will listen and be with us, never forgetting that we are really so much more than what is showing at this moment. And unconditional love – who wouldn’t want to know that someone recognizes the inner beauty and joy and wisdom and will love you and appreciate you even when you are not feeling worthy of it.

What I have just described is what we RECEIVE from being part of a spiritual community.

How do we get some of that? BY GIVING IT. Oh-oh - can I be unconditionally loving all the time? Do I really accept everyone just the way they are?

I will speak for myself – and the answer is no. I am not a perfect expression of the divine all the time. But I am willing to learn and I am learning. That’s why it is called a spiritual practice. Perhaps in some areas we have had a lot of experience and we can act out of our spiritual principles most of the time. And there may be other areas, where we have not yet even tried.

But first we must be willing to do it imperfectly. Am I the only one who feels like they need to do it right – the first time – every time? Can you see what an unrealistic burden that places on us? We would not expect a child to jump on a bicycle and ride perfectly the first time. Of course – they are going to practice and probably have a few spills. And so will we.

Spiritual community is where we get to practice these – because it is a place of love – acceptance – growth. What better place?

A minister friend of mine said - ministry is full of growth opportunities. When I mess up - I get to practice humility and the congregation gets to practice forgiveness.

One of the greatest gifts of your life is finding a place where people are going to support you in your spiritual practice. Find one now!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Moving Ahead in Freedom

January is traditionally a time when we look forward into the new year with anticipation. However... when we look only forward we are missing an opportunity to reflect on what has been. To take time to mindfully and lovingly look at what we may be holding on to that is no longer serving us.

My daughter worked in a shipyard for many years and every year boats come in for repair and maintenance. Some come in regularly and you can see they are well taken care of. In others, it is easy to see that the owners have not brought their boat in for a long time. The bottom is covered in barnacles, the wood is starting to rot, the boat is sometimes even in danger of sinking. What has happened is that little by little the barnacles have attached themselves, and over time the integrity of the boat is in jeopardy.

There is something in our lives that works in a similar way – and that is holding onto the stuff of our past. We all carry old beliefs, attitudes, thoughts and feelings from a long time ago. And if we do not take the time to consciously let go of them, they – like the barnacles – get pretty stuck and hardened.

What can we do for ourselves to release negative and limiting thoughts and beliefs that are no longer serving us? So that we CAN move ahead – into the new year – into life - with ease and freedom.

We can take time for the definite work of consciousness cleansing. Of creating a new slate for the new year. It is a time in which we release the past so that we can open a new place in our minds and hearts for the future.

I have noticed in my life that some baggage is pretty comfortable. familiar. I hold onto it –even though it is not really working FOR me any longer.

The first step is to look inwardly for something we may wish to release. Often the first thing that comes to mind is a person or situation that we want to put behind us, to move past. The Truth is, as much as we would like to release someone from our lives... sometimes... they are still there! at work, next door neighbors, family members. We cannot make a person go away. But we can sure transform the energy we hold around them and as a result feel differently about them.

So it is important to remember as we do this inner work - we are not releasing people……we are not releasing conditions……We are releasing the energy we have around them - letting go of the feelings or thoughts we have about them.

We can release the disappointment …. Judgment……… regret.

We can release the thoughts and feelings we have about them because THIS is something we do have control of. This is something we have the ability and power to do.

Spend some time in quiet meditation and contemplation - creating a space in which Spirit may work. Gently allow to come to mind any thoughts and behavior patterns you wish to release. What IN YOU is standing in your way of experiencing life fully and with joy?

When you know what it is you would like to release, write a word or short phrase on a small piece of paper, meaningful only to you. Take your time.

Next you can take this paper and put it in a flame – a candle or burn it outside. You will see it transformed by the flame, releasing the energy and power you have previously given that condition back to the potential for good from which it came.

As the fire transforms the energy contained in the paper into heat energy, so you are releasing the seeming power this condition has had in your life.

You may find this affirmation uselful as you burn it: ‘This is no longer a part of my life. I set myself free’

Now we have cleared a place in our hearts and minds for something new. Growing in consciousness is a two step process - first clearing out what no longer serves us, then filling in with something new. Every time we clear something out - we want to mindfully choose what to replace it with.

I encourage you to take time to choose what it is you want more of in your life this year. It might be peace, or love or strength, or acceptance. Give it some thought and activate the good that is already within you!