I am guilty of a most false assumption: “Everything in my life will go smoothly since I am on a spiritual journey.”
Isn’t that cute?
What a rude awakening to find out that I’m not always going to get my way from that God that I have always loved and tried to please!
My first clue into this was the drive from Missouri to Florida right after being married. My new husband and I were enjoying the scenery, albeit a little lost. My husband pulled into a gas station to ask for directions (yeah, I got a winner) while I waited in the car. Out of nowhere, I was suddenly filled with jealous thoughts: “What if he finds someone in there more attractive than me? What if he finds her more interesting? What if? What if? What if?!”
I was never jealous with previous boyfriends–not once. My attitude was, “Hey, if you want to date someone else, go right ahead. I don’t need to waste my time.” These thoughts that surfaced during our honeymoon trek came as a disarming and alien surprise.
At the time, I didn’t know what to do with jealousy, and was quite embarrassed and overwhelmed by the emotions. I tried to hide what I was feeling, but didn’t do so well. Fortunately, my husband was kind enough to talk me through my feelings.
…Which would have been great if all I needed to do was talk! I felt better in the moment, but those feelings were only a taste of what was to come. I had a whole slew of faulty childhood beliefs that were surfacing to be healed. This was what my spiritual journey was to be for several years: Clearing false beliefs from my childhood–not just jealousy, but a series of dysfunctional attitudes and concepts about relationships overall.
What the heck? I wanted to be married and live happily ever after! I wanted to ride off into the sunset, live on the beach, and be eternally wise and wonderful! That emotional work was getting in my way of my FUN! How dare it!
I eventually learned that this is the spiritual process, and healing needs showed up in all areas of life: my relationships, career endeavors, and how I perceived myself. Even those who wouldn’t consider themselves on the spiritual journey have issues that arise to be healed. This clearing of false beliefs, shedding light on what is real and true (until the next round of clearing!) is what this journey is about! It is simply part of our journey as humans moving into Something Greater.
How disappointing, I have thought–at first and many times since then! Yet, how necessary to be able to move forward unimpeded by my fears and false assumptions. How much stronger my intuition became because of my willingness to do the work. What better life choices I have made because of my willingness to let go of my lesser ideas of “fun” and short-sighted ways of doing things.
The spiritual journey is about clearing away our personal ideas of what is real, valid and important; and open to our intuitive nature that knows what is better for us. Our Higher Self waits for us to loose our little wills and cooperate with the bigger picture that can only be perceived when we tap into it! And we can’t tap into it while we hold fears and wrong ideas about whatever situation is at hand.
The spiritual journey takes diligence, willingness, and spunk. What are you willing to let go of so you can grow?
Change happens. Sometimes we change because we want to; sometimes we change because we have to. When dealing with a change that is out of our control, one of the best approaches is to Sherlock it.
“My name is Sherlock Holmes.
It is my business to know what other people don’t know.”
Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
You know Sherlock. He’s the odd, people-challenged character who sure knew how to solve mysteries. Don’t some changes feel like mysteries to you?
Recently, my favorite yogurt brand changed the consistency, flavor and protein content of their product, and I wasn’t happy! I will use this silly example to walk you through the process of moving through a change that is out of your control so you can get a feel for the process. If it can work with yogurt, maybe it will transfer to any bigger change you may be dealing with!
“…[W]hen a fact appears to be opposed to a long train of deductions it invariably proves to be capable of bearing some other interpretation.”
Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet
1. What is the change that is happening around you? Describe the facts. What exactly is different?
This company changed the protein content of my favorite yogurt went from 15 grams of protein down to 12! Plus, the consistency is more watery, and the flavor tastes watered down as well, but it’s cheaper!
2. Now you get to expand a little. How do you feel about this change? Are you angry, afraid, sad, or frustrated? Let it out, and include why you are feeling the way you do about this change.
I feel really disappointed about this. I counted on those 15 grams of protein in the mornings when I didn’t have time for a larger breakfast. I would eat it at work as well, but now it isn’t satisfying as it was before. I don’t understand why they made these changes, and I feel angry. I feel especially frustrated because the only other comparable yogurt is at a grocery store that is inconveniently located!
3. What about this change is in your control? What about it is out of your control? (Keep to the facts here, too!)
I can control whether or not I continue to purchase this brand of yogurt. I don’t have control over how it is made. I can write an email to the company, voicing my dissatisfaction, but I can’t control whether or not they do anything about my dissatisfaction, either.
4. What would be the best way for you to manage this change? What steps are you willing to take to make the necessary adjustments?
I can consider other options, such as trying a different brand of yogurt, or making the trek to the other grocery store. I can also find other sources of quick proteins for my food intake needs, like protein bars.
“Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth.”
Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of Four
Now it’s up to you what you decide to do. You can always choose to continue with emotional responses, such as disappointment, anger, frustration, sadness. If that’s the route you take, be sure to also answer this question: “For what good purpose would it serve for me to continue feeling (frustrated, sad, angry, hurt, etc) about this change?” That can be an eye-opener, and can lead to your choosing not to hold on to that reaction any longer than you need to.
“What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable.”
Sherlock Holmes, The Cardboard Box
When you have completed the process and made your adjustments, kick back like Sherlock (or perhaps in your own, healthier way) and feel good about solving the mystery of change.
“Let me run over the principal steps. We approached the case, you remember, with an absolutely blank mind, which is always an advantage. We had formed no theories. We were simply there to observe and to draw inferences from our observations.”
Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Cardboard Box
Since the transition into the new year, there have been many scientific revelations around the practice of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is focused attention, the observing of sensations and thoughts without getting caught up in them. Often the breath is the focus of mindfulness meditation, and yoga is an example of mindfulness practice.
Meditators and yoga lovers have known the power of focused attention, stillness and breath awareness for a long time—thousands of years, even. Through many recent brain scans studies, science now acknowledges several physiological benefits of taking just five minutes every day to pay attention to the breath:
Convinced like a scientist yet?
So, where to begin? All you need in your busy schedule is five minutes. Try to pick the same time each day so it becomes part of your daily routine. Think of it as necessary as brushing your teeth, except you are “brushing” away stress from your brain!
Sit comfortably. Begin taking normal breaths. Make sure you are breathing from your diaphragm (“belly breathing”) rather than your lungs only (“chest breathing”). Rest your hand above the stomach and below the ribs, which is where your diaphragm is approximately located. As you breathe normally from your diaphragm, you will feel your belly rise as you inhale, and retract as you exhale. Continue for five minutes.
If you find your mind wandering (which you will!) during this time, gently bring your attention back to your breathe. Notice any sensations in your body, but do not let your mind have a conversation about them. Simply bring your attention back to your breathe. Notice sounds around you, but again, don’t let your thoughts go on about them. Let your belly breathing be your primary focus.
Keep a journal of the changes you notice over time. People have told me that their doctors asked them why their blood pressure was lower than their last check up. Others have noticed emotional equilibrium that wasn’t there before they began practicing. Others appreciate the sense of overall peace throughout their day.
What benefits are coming to you through your practice?
"'Mindfulness' Meditation Alters Gene Expression, Study Suggests", The Huffington Post | By Jacqueline Howard Posted: 12/09/2013 7:53 am EST | Updated: 01/19/2014 11:49 pm EST
"The science behind meditation, and why it makes you feel better", GEORGE DVORSKY on IO9NEUROSCIENCE
"The Power of Concentration", By Maria Konnikova, Published: December 15, 2012
Each new year brings new energy and desire for change! Often when we have something we want to change in ourselves, the first response we have is anger, frustration, rejection. We then try to go about our desired change with a hammer over our heads!
How many of us do well while getting bossed around, criticized and rejected? It might work for a little while—or a long while, if we are super-tolerant—but after a time, we stop trying so hard, or try to get away from the hammer, thus avoiding the task at hand.
We do better at change when we have encouragement, acceptance and a caring eye guiding us in the new behavior.
Who is the best person to do that for you? Maybe you have a supportive friend, or an encouraging therapist. But you are with you all the time! You are the one who will walk with you through all of the ups and downs of life!
Here are a few ways to encourage yourself through any change you want to make:
A little love goes a long way to melt raw materials and create a masterpiece. Take a best friend with you into 2014…YOU! Happy New Year, and happy new YOU!
Jane Elizabeth Hart, author of Spiritual Power Tools, would often say in her classes, “Love is the answer. What is the question?”
She was reminding us that every day provides opportunities to love—and not just the easy ones. As her students, we would ask her, “What do I do about this person? What do I need to do to forgive and release them from my life?” At times, underneath such questions was the ulterior motive of either making the person change or wanting them out of our lives altogether! Jane Elizabeth would respond with the bottom line answer: Love.
This was our direction: That no matter how much processing, forgiving and releasing we do, our action step is still the same: to love unconditionally, without judgment or hesitation. Her question became a tool in the midst of difficult interactions. We could ask our selves, “If I were coming from love, how would I act?”
At Christmastime, there is an energy of love which opens our hearts to giving and receiving love. Let your Christmas intention be to share love freely, especially with those more difficult characters in your Christmas story.
Love is the answer. What was the question?
Why bother with all this spiritual work? It’s all they talk about around here! I mean, really, what do we get out of it, except less time to watch CSI?
Because we want to love ourselves.
I know you think you already do. So did I, so I’d let myself stay up late watching movies even though I’d be overtired and grumpy the next day. I thought I loved myself, so I would put up walls between myself and others so I didn’t have to bother myself with them much. I thought I loved myself, so I would treat myself to that extra sugar in my diet.
We have to ask ourselves, are we loving ourselves, or protecting against something or someone? Are we loving ourselves, or making excuses not to stick with the discipline that is meant to keep us healthy?
Avoidance isn’t love, neither is indulgence. Love is the energy that comes through us as we clear out our fears, resentments and false beliefs. Love isn't so much an act as it is a vibration that becomes part of us as we do our spiritual processing and releasing.
So keep on forgiving. Take time to journal your thoughts and feelings. Make your daily meditation a priority. Be aware of your inner self-talk and make sure it is kind and supportive. Slowly but surely, you will make yourself more and more receptive to Divine Love moving through you, blessing yourself and spilling over as blessings for others.
All you need is love, the kind that comes from our healing and devotion to your soul evolution.
Now that we are in full swing of the Lenten season, what have you released for this time? Are you spending your energy staying away from chocolate or sugar? Or have you decided to release something that will make even more of a difference to your Soul? Even if you have no investment in the traditional Lenten season, how about ditching guilt and resentment towards yourself for a while?
It is so much easier to forgive other people, isn’t it? I mean, we don’t have to live with those people (not the easy ones to forgive, anyway), so why should we hold a grudge against them? But our own selves? We have to see our own thinking and behavior every single day! That starts building up after a while. And if we find out we have been wrong? Watch out! We pull that guilt hammer out and start hitting ourselves with it so quickly!
How do we release these regrets and resentments directed at oursleves?
First of all, find out what you need to forgive about yourself. Acknowledge it, understand it, label it. This helps us have something more concrete to release rather than it being an abstract, generalized ideal. For example, seeing times when I have been impatient with others over time is much easier to forgive than trying to forgive myself for being a “bad person” over all. “Bad person” doesn’t teach me anything, nor does it give me new choices for my behavior. Impatience, on the other hand, I can grasp, and it has the alternative of being patient.
Secondly, speaking of patience, be patient as you transition from the old behavior that you are releasing to the new behavior. You might have heard the saying, “A habit wasn’t created over night,” meaning that it won’t be changed overnight either. You have acknowledged, understood and labeled your behavior, now let yourself practice the new behavior, with a gentle and wide learning curve.
Finally, during this transition, add energy to the positive choices you make, and quickly pass by the times you fall into the old behaviors. Yes, see that you missed your desired mark, but move on quickly! Don’t let that old hammer have time to resume its flagellating! Take time to feel gratitude toward yourself for your new behavior.
Forgiveness is not just about stating that we are suddenly just peachy about ourselves. It is about making changes, with compassion, and moving into a new way of being with ourselves. Enjoy your chocolate, and give up the guilt!
Love. Fun, sweet, nurturing, enlivening, and…good for the brain.
Good for the brain? How romantic is that?
Recent studies on the brain have uncovered the importance of relationships in brain development, maintenance and repair. Did you know that our brains are designed to intuit another person’s mental state of being? When we are in relationship with another person, we are attuned to something beyond our own thinking, receptive to something greater than just ourselves. This builds our sense of compassion, patience, balance and focus—and the fibers of the brain that are responsible for these qualities.
It is not always easy though, is it? The early dopamine rush of a new relationship doesn’t challenge the complex integrative fibers of the brain much! Everything seems easy and wonderful! It’s the stick-to-itiveness that is required as a relationship progresses that gives our brains the workout it needs to thrive!
Developing patience to tolerate quirky (but not abusive!) behaviors, taking time to listen to another, being able to put yourself in another’s shoes and understand their perspective, finding the balance between taking care of yourself and caring for another—all this (and more!) is necessary for a healthy relationship. It takes a great deal of work on ourselves to be able to relate with someone in a balanced and compassionate way, but it is worth the time and effort to heal, grow and bond with—and because of—another.
Forgiveness, presence of mind, self-awareness, releasing expectations, embracing new ideas, blending with another. These are tools for multiple purposes: spiritual and personal growth, emotional intelligence, building relationships and supporting the brain!
As you celebrate February with the ones you love, remember that as you love, you are exercising your brain as well as your heart and soul! I wouldn’t say “No pain, no gain,” but conscious effort is definitely part of the workout!
Lynn Barrette, LCSW Blending psychology with spirituality, I offer tools for forgiveness, acceptance, meditation and relaxation, and positive parenting solutions.