Mother your body—Man up your mind

Mother your body—Man up your mind – Podcast #4

Are you “procrastinating” on something?

Perhaps you think the only way to get certain things done is to force yourself to do them. This principle has worked reasonably well for you in the past. And you’ve got conventional wisdom on your side too: “No pain, no gain.”

But I’m here to challenge that. That approach will only get you so far. Over time, you’ll burn yourself out and make yourself sick. (I speak from experience.) Here too you’ve got plenty of company.

There’s another way I’m learning and it’s this: Live from inspiration. Always. Only do what you’re inspired to do—what you have energy and excitement to do.

Today I spent several hours performing long-overdue maintenance of our composting toilet system, reflecting on the metaphorical implications of knocking down and breaking through walls of, well, compost. Believe it or not, it’s something I’ve been avoiding.

What inspired me to do it today? Partly, the thought of how nice it would be to have it behind me. Also, the thought that it might free up more energy and yield some momentum. I’m not sure altogether. All I know is that I felt like doing it. And I had the energy to do it.

But how can you possibly live from inspiration all the time? Don’t you sometimes need to “take the bull by the horns”—even when you don’t feel like doing it?

I’m just going to say it: NO. You don’t need to abuse yourself, not even in moderation.

You’re probably thinking, “But, but, but…”. I know the thought process. If I drop everything, everything in my life will fall apart! What if I don’t feel like doing anything? Then what?

If you don’t feel like doing anything, then you have a lot of healing to do. So many of us are out of touch with who we are and what we’re meant to do in this life. We’ve adopted the conventional wisdom. We’ve internalized the messages of society that are constantly scrutinizing us and judging us, telling us that we need to get from A to B or else. And thus we live disconnected lives—disconnected from ourselves. Until we heal, our connections with others suffer too, because we look to them to fulfill whatever it is we’re missing on the inside.

Pick an area of your life and begin testing this out. Catch yourself in the middle of self-abuse. Notice the stress that builds up—the headaches, the mild tension and pains as they appear in your body. Then honor yourself by ending the abuse in that moment. Take “force myself” out of your vocabulary. Replace it with…replace it with what?

Ah, here is where you get to be vigilant. You know all that willpower that you’ve been using to force yourself to do things you don’t want to do? Instead, use it to whip your mind into shape. Unless you’re quite intentional about your thoughts, your mind has been going wherever it “feels like” going. In other words, it’s being blown by the wind. Not the wind of the Spirit, mind you, but by the ever-shifting, arbitrary winds of your external circumstances. Too often you don’t realize you have a choice when it comes to your thoughts. You experience life, to varying degrees, as a victim. Now it’s time to, yes, take the bull by the horns and start paying attention to your thoughts and choosing them wisely.

I have a hypothesis which I have been progressively proving in my own life and here it is: staying true to the following affirmations will lead to the elimination of stress:

  1. I vigilantly guard my heart with powerful affirmations of truth.
  2. I always do what I feel like doing.

The first affirmation is about taking action (in my thoughts), moving forward, and using my willpower. It is a “meta-affirmation” (an affirmation about affirmations), and as such entails a lot of inner work, paying attention to my thoughts, consciously choosing them, and training my mind to keep going back to those supportive thoughts (using whatever means I can—writing, singing, talking to myself, etc.).

The second affirmation is about how I treat my body. It’s about listening and responding, welcoming, being receptive, and going with the flow.

As of today, I have a new theory about this, thanks to an essay by Sukie Colgrave I found yesterday in a book called Challenge of the Heart. Here’s an excerpt:

Psychological “marriage” of the feminine and masculine within each person imbues its practices with new meaning and life. The injunction that the man must initiate and the woman follow, highly oppressive to many individual women and men in their relationship with each other, can be recognized as wisdom for self-development. For the way of the masculine is actively to organize and initiate, while the way of the feminine is to yield, receive, and harmonize. Both are valued equally.

Regardless of whether you’re a woman or a man, if you are a human in the 21st century Western world, my bet is that you have been overly masculine in approach to your actions and overly feminine in approach to your thoughts.

This is just a model of course, but, looking back, it seems to make sense of a number of my personal insights lately. Here are a few recently tweeted examples:

  • In order to bear fruit [children], spiritual insight [feminine] must be joined with a sense of personal destiny [masculine].
  • Receiving what you have [feminine] is the first step to creating something new [masculine].
  • The fundamental nature of healing—at whatever level—is reunion [sex!].

So there it is. Listen to your body; open yourself up to your deepest desires. Proactively choose your thoughts; create belief structures that align with your highest values. Mother your body, man up your mind.

As a conclusion, here are some of the thoughts I proactively chose while shoveling caca today:

  • If I can enjoy (bring joy to) this activity, I can enjoy anything!
  • It’s all just energy.
  • My challenges perfectly suit me to realize my potential.

And in regard to that last one: Thank God for showers!

Making peace with structure

Making peace with structure – Podcast #3

False dichotomies routinely emerge in my head and I must regularly challenge them. The latest one is inspiration vs. structure. I’m inspired by the concept of inspiration—of taking inspired action by following the trail of what’s hot, what I have real energy for, and seeing what new inspiration results. This is largely what I mean by living a faith-filled life. As an experiment, I’ve started to loosen my grip on some structures (such as daily planning) that have previously worked well for me. This has been a good move, but now I’m ready to revisit it. What happens when I have a promise that I’ve made but that I’m not particularly inspired to act on? Do I keep putting it off? What if my target date is here (or even past)? How do I make sense of this? Do I let go of the concept of a faith-filled life? Do I “balance it out” using equal parts faith and nose-to-the-grindstone discipline?

When I try to figure something out like this using just my mind, I often get confused. So last night, I took to my bed with these questions: What’s the relationship between freedom and structure? What’s important about staying true to my word? I said this like a prayer, asking for insight. Then I went to sleep. (By the way, I recommend this. And you can double your insights if you take a daily nap!) Here’s what emerged for me this morning.

There is always structure. Moreover, your mind is always what provides it. There’s no ultimate distinction between external circumstances and internal commitments since your mind mediates and interprets both.

Staying true to promises to yourself is equally important to staying true to promises made to others. Both represent living in harmony and humility—in right relationship to the whole of which you’re a part and to the parts of which you’re a whole. Part of you may not find doing your taxes intrinsically inspiring. But all parts of you value peace. Try this affirmation on for size: “I live in harmony with every part of Myself (whether internal or external).” Every yield and adjustment promotes flexibility and subsequent ease, and is in the service of God. How so? By paving the way for and making space for inspiration.

Think of John the Baptist who “prepared the way for the Lord.” He said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” You die to your false self and live to your True Self when you take on tasks that clear the decks and promote peace. Do you think John the Baptist was inspired by eating locusts? No, he was inspired by the one who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” His acts and his message paved the way for inspiration. Thus he submitted to structure and the intentional re-working of structure. “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.” That sounds like a lot of work! Yes, but it was all connected for John. He was inspired—by the vision of what was coming.

So how do we apply this in practice? Certainly not by moralistic self-judgment. Rather, we use the ingenuity of our own minds to honestly ask ourselves some questions. Will doing this bring me more peace? Will it make me more or less receptive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit? What will be the resulting structure? (Remember: there’s always structure.) Will it be more spacious and supportive, or more cluttered and distracting?

Then, once we’ve decided on the structure (promise, plan, or commitment), we submit to it completely. We stop fighting ourselves. We live in peace. We sacrifice the false self in favor of our true, whole selves. We go with the flow, unquestioningly staying true to our own word. We free our minds from hesitation and don’t look back. We unconditionally accept our new constraint as just another aspect of current reality—what we have to work with. We practice loving what is until, as with John the Baptist, it all becomes connected and we no longer need to distinguish between inspired actions and actions that pave the way for inspiration.

Until then, enjoy those locusts!

Healing eyes

Healing eyes – Podcast #2

“What were your magic moments?”

This is one of the questions we ask each other in Peer Success Circles, a wonderful service run by my lovely friend Joseph Varghese. Knowing that I’m going to be asked this question each day has helped me start paying attention to the little joys in life, if for no other reason than I’ll have one or two answers ready for the question.

But what if magic moments were meant to be the rule rather than the exception? What if we could learn to open ourselves so fully to life that each day became a joyous, unbroken string of magic moments? Is this something that would have to depend on our external circumstances? Or could we bring it with us wherever we go and whatever we do?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” This suggests that how we see things is very important to how we experience life and how others experience us. We are so tempted to think that all we have to do is fix our external circumstances and then we’ll be good, then we’ll be whole, then we’ll be safe. But what if it’s just that our eyes need healing? What if the key is to see that we already are good, safe, and whole? Recipients of grace and unconditional love, engaged always and already in a cosmic Dance, creating and being created in the image of God!

Sounds great! So why aren’t we all happy? “But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” We can certainly be out of alignment with the truth. When in darkness, we’re overwhelmed by fear. We don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve lost touch with the power of Grace and Love. We feel less-than, not-enough, broken, distanced from God,  ourselves, and each other. It doesn’t matter who’s around. Depression at whatever grade is a lonely, lonely place to be.

We need healing. We need healing our whole lives, in every dimension of our being. Jesus knew this. For him, healing wasn’t a side show, a stunt to garner him some credibility. He already spoke with authority. Whether through his words or his actions, healing was central to his ministry.

Ask for healing. Look for healing. Trust that healing is not only possible but that it’s your destiny. You will find that, as you heal, you will also help the people around you heal. Sickness doesn’t have a monopoly on contagion. Your healthy eyes will connect with the tired, broken eyes of others, bringing an implicit message of hope. “I know what you’re going through” and “We are in this together.”

Remember this: healing isn’t a one-shot deal. It’s a life-long affair. It’s not that first you get healed, and then you start experiencing magic. No, it’s all weaved together and it never ends. True happiness embraces both the Pain and Beauty of life, recognizing ultimately that they’re part of a single unbroken whole. The good news then is that you can be far from healthy yet have a wealth of answers to that question: “What were your magic moments?”

Creativity Song

Hi everyone,

I have a special gift for you today. It has the potential of truly blessing you and supporting you in a new way to realize your dreams. It can help you enjoy life more, get out of your own way, and start creating more of what you want. As with anything, it will only work if you receive the gift and use it. So I challenge you to try it out in the privacy of your own home. Take it seriously, apply it, and tweak it as necessary so it maximally resonates with you.

It’s a song. You sing it to yourself. It’s also fun to sing it to your partner, kids, or grandkids if you have any. I am first going to show you all the words. Then I’ll provide some commentary on each line. Finally, there’s the song itself, both a recording and a score which you can play back in your browser.

Here are the words:

I lovingly embrace myself as a child of God.
I gently nurture the longings of my soul.
I welcome and act on the creative promptings of the Holy Spirit.
I outwardly express who I am for the sake of the world.
I easily tap into infinite creativity whenever I choose.

Now the commentary:

“I lovingly embrace myself as a child of God.”

Regardless of your beliefs or lack of beliefs about God, this is a statement that will support you. (Feel free to substitute “human being” for “child of God” if you like.) Because regardless of your your theory of the world, there’s no question that you are an amazing creature. Not only that, but you have the ability to be conscious of this fact! There’s no more appropriate response than love. Loving yourself is a prerequisite to truly loving others and to appreciating the magnificent world of which you’re a part. Singing this to yourself will help you believe it even more.

“I gently nurture the longings of my soul.”

As a human being, you have deep desires and dreams. Even if you’ve lost touch with what those are, that’s okay. They’re still there, latent, waiting to be acknowledged. This statement will help you listen to those longings, to gradually and gently shift toward honoring and realizing your truest desires.

“I welcome and act on the creative promptings of the Holy Spirit.”

When you get a sudden brilliant insight, when you wake up with the answer you were looking for—where do these thoughts come from? They seem to simply arrive, as if coming from the outside. Regardless of the mechanism, this experience of inspiration (literally, “breathing in” as “spirit” literally means “breath”) is something you can cultivate. The key is to act on your insights. Share them with others! If you get a sudden urge to say Hi to someone in the supermarket, or buy someone a gift, or write a poem, accept the inspiration and act on it! This will pave the way to more inspiration and the creation of beauty in your life.

“I outwardly express who I am for the sake of the world.”

You are a unique gift to the world. As you grow into your own potential and talents, other people will be profoundly blessed by your presence. If you don’t believe this, you will hide yourself and all the rest of us will miss out. But if you embrace it, then you’ll experience the joy of making a difference in someone’s life. “The scribbles in your journal are the words the world needs to hear.” (thanks, Joel McKerrow).

“I easily tap into infinite creativity whenever I choose.”

You are part of an amazing world. Every moment, every event is pregnant with possibility. Look at the manifold creativity of Nature—effortlessly and eternally growing into utterly beautiful forms and expressions of life. You are a part of this same creativity. Got that? Let it sink in. I’ll wait.

If you still don’t think of yourself as a creative person, please recognize that this is your choice. Studies have actually shown that the only reliable predictor of creativity in people is the belief that they’re creative people!

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, people are said to be made “in the image of God,” the Creator. That makes us little creators. Creativity is a part of our nature. It’s an essential aspect—perhaps the most essential aspect—of who we are. Worth cultivating and celebrating, don’t you think?

To the extent that you believe the affirmations in this song, your life will become more and more wonderful. Of course, you may need more than a song to start believing them. I’ve undergone a lot of suffering, a lot of which in hindsight seems to have been necessary. Letting go of self-doubt and other limiting beliefs can be a tough process. So you might need to do some work too. 🙂 But my hope is that you’ll use this song to support yourself at whatever stage of life you’re at. Maybe it will help you skip some unnecessary suffering or facilitate healing. Maybe it will help you appreciate the wonderful gift of life you already have today and each day you wake up again.

As I said before, change the song as necessary to make it your own. Let it start playing in the background of your mind so that your thoughts will start automatically supporting you even and especially when you’re not consciously thinking about it.

Finally, I release this song to the public domain. Please “Share” it with your friends and readers. If you know someone who would like to sing it, produce a recording of it, re-mix it, etc., by all means encourage them to do so!

Onto the next inspiration!

Musical score (to hear the tune, click the little Play button at the bottom left of the screen):

Audio of me singing it:

The structure of faith

The structure of faith – Podcast #1

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, an asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

— Luke 5:1-7

Deep water is dark, murky, and out of reach, yet that’s where the power lies.

Have you ever felt a calling or inspiration to do something that defies common sense? That when you analyze it using all your knowledge and ingenuity, you come up dry? You can’t possibly see how things will work out. From where you’re standing, you’d just as well try walking through a brick wall. Jesus’ command defies everything Simon (Peter) knows. “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” The proposition doesn’t add up; it seems foolish and futile.

“But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” What made Simon decide to do it? Jesus had been speaking “the word of God”—inspired words having a sense of power and authority. These had a big enough impact on him that he thought it worth taking a small risk—looking ridiculous—to follow the instruction. His little step of faith was rewarded in frightening abundance. “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!'” (v. 8) But Jesus assuaged his fears, drawing him even further. “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” (v. 10) Thus began Peter’s walk with Jesus, a life filled with steps of faith as well as stumbles.

This is the sequence of a faith-filled life:

  1. Receive inspiration.
  2. Act on it.
  3. [See step 1.]

Mathematicians and computer programmers will recognize this as an infinitely recursive function. You could also picture it as an upward spiral, where each successive level represents both a bigger risk and a bigger reward. We are prone to get stuck on step 2 (acting on the inspiration we’ve received). That’s because we tend not to see the reward but only the risk. Even when we have an idea of the reward, it almost always turns out differently than we had envisioned. But the risk? It’s always crystal clear…which is why it tends to dwarf our perception of the potential reward. Paradoxically, the biggest steps of faith are those where no reward has been calculated or expected.

Of course if we were to draw pictures of our own lives, none of them would look like perfect spirals. We’d see fits and starts, backtracks, and blotches of bleeding ink where we got stuck on step 2. Later on in the book of Luke, Peter failed dramatically when, full of fear, he denied that he knew Jesus. But then we read that “he went outside and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22:62) The pain of failure and of inaction is a beautiful thing—a gift even. Pain signals misalignment with our calling, failure to act on our inspiration. Moreover, it never gives up. Keep suppressing your instinct, your knowing sense of direction, and pain will faithfully befriend you—sometimes in the form of disease. You don’t have to worry about it; it will always be there for you.

So how do you know what you’re being called to do, whether at the small scale (greeting a stranger) or at the large scale (changing careers)? This is where our minds play tricks on us. Confusion quickly sets in as we get bogged down in questions of authority and whose mental map is better. At the end of the day, you must take responsibility for what inspires you. Whether you conceive of it as the voice of God, the promptings of the Holy Spirit, or the call of your heart—whatever words you use, you can trust that the call and the pain of not following the call are real.

Today, consider how you can “put out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch.” Keep your eyes wide open to your surroundings. What’s happening now? Who is making an appearance in your world? What are your opportunities for little magic moments? Seize one, then another. See what opens up for you. Let inspiration become a way of life. And enjoy the upward spiral.