Saturday, 30 November 2013

Suffering - To Be or Not to Be?

I'm guessing many are familiar with the idea of "blessings in disguise." If your experience is anything like mine sometimes these blessings are seemingly very well disguised! It can even be true that years after various life experiences the "lessons," realizations, and relevance can still be unfolding. There exists a premise that most any experience (no matter how painful) can be transcended and holds within it the opportunity for growth and transformation.

When I consider this I wonder - is it then a given, that pain must precede growth? Well, certainly it is implied in such ideas as "growing pains." Physiologically there is a great deal, of energy required to support physical growth. Likely no less true for emotional/spiritual growth.  What of the idea that suffering is the result of resistance to what is (or as per Buddhist teachings) non-acceptance of impermanence. Said another way, "the only thing that is constant is change." (Heraclitus)

Therefore if change is inevitable - resistance to change (is both the cause of suffering and is a choice) then suffering could indeed be seen as optional. Pain I hear tell is also "inevitable" (but a distinction can be made between "pain" and "suffering" - usually along the lines of acute and more chronic respectively. For example one might "expect" to feel the pain of loss (at the end of a relationship, or passing of a loved one). I wonder though, whether that too is "necessary" or more a consequence of conditioning and therefore assured through belief systems.

I'm not suggesting ignoring or repression of emotional pain - I just wonder to what extent (if any) or for how long, the pain would exist, if it literally wasn't believed to be a circumstance that required a painful response or that if it were, commonly held time frames for such a "process" didn't apply. In other words an entirely different healing paradigm or even view of life. How much then is this pain brought on by the belief it is a "required" "natural" part of the process (and therefore it is so) and that it will take a more or less predetermined amount of time to heal or "get over it."

So then perhaps suffering is more about trying to avoid change (by for example, staying in various circumstances beyond their continuing to serve any higher purpose) than it is, "required." Nothing stays the same - it's ultimately futile to resist the reality of this. Nonetheless resistance to change can be pretty far-reaching both collectively and personally. I'm also not suggesting that the idea of impermanence (and change) be used as a rationalization to justify such things as unbridled development (those sort of changes should be ushered in mindfully and with foresight - not just done in a non-sustainable way and summed up as "change is coming whether you like it or not."

I acknowledge that it may be required experience, the emotional peaks and valleys that present as various circumstances play out in our lives, or as Shakespeare suggested "to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." However, my own personal reflection, introspection and self awareness also has brought to my attention what I might call habitual suffering. This might be tagged a part of victim consciousness in some schools of thought - it's a way seeing oneself, so that when unconscious of these mistaken beliefs, I might routinely conclude that I can "expect" to suffer. From this perspective, most anything I might take on - at best, will be defined by mediocrity or just as likely will end poorly. Obviously if this is the prevailing mindset, the powers of self-fulfilling prophecy most certainly will come into play.  My point here is that it is possible to discover that one can identify so completely with painful outcomes and the inevitability/necessity for hardship and suffering that virtually nothing else is possible. (I would suggest that this is true for different people in varying degrees, in my case I didn't necessarily have a continuous sense of foreboding and approached many things with relative confidence and enjoyment. At the same time there were countless ways I limited what was possible in my life by believing certain non-truths about myself, living them as true and creating pain & suffering along the way, by repeating many of these patterns. It's rather fascinating to me (well.. when I'm in a philosophical frame of mind) to come to realize there are such energies operating in my life. Of course on the one hand I have choice and personal responsibility, but at the same time it's not as though I get up each morning and make a "to do list" of various ways to create suffering in my life. Regardless when one is granted more of a "birds-eye view" of their own life, the ability to be the observer and see these some of these things - it's intriguing to consider, that was me, I was doing that (even though when I was doing it, I couldn't see it?)

For the purpose of illustration I will share a couple of contrasting experiences - both involve the rather seemingly pedestrian service of oral hygiene. What I have learned over time is that it doesn't matter how I come to learn different things about myself - because the behaviours and underlying programming are in operation throughout my life (not just where I discover them).

For quite some period of time I went to a particular dentists office, the visit with him was unremarkable (given it was usually for all of five minutes - the rest was spent with the hygienist). Suffice to say my experience with her was such - that I generally had some degree of anxiety running before I even got in the chair.  The experience varied from visit to visit depending on how diligently I maintained consistency with flossing etc. (the primary variance being time in the chair). The tension and anxiety I experienced naturally included my jaw muscles (which would just ache) while she was doing her cleaning routine ( which at times felt to me like she was supporting her entire arm weight on my jaw) I would try to relieve the tension by moving or asking for a break. Her response to this was an audible sigh, which I suppose could be an expression of her concern for workload and time management given this was a multi-chair, high volume clinic (which felt to me more like a assembly line than a client care setting). Of course it was possible that she was "intolerant" of my expression of discomfort.

I was just watching an old Bill Cosby stand-up comedy routine and he was doing a bit on being at the dentist. He commented that if he were ever to lose the use of his legs, he could ambulate adequately using the muscle of his buttocks ( I laughed at this as I related to the imagery) - I did exactly that while in the chair with the hygienist, as she put more pressure on my teeth I would wiggle down the chair trying to get away from her. Then occasionally, she would slip and poke under my gums with one of her cleaning implements, I would jump, jerk my head away and close my mouth.

She would admonish me - telling me I "really need to hold still and that it would go much easier and faster if I would just relax." Then she would go on to tell me that there was a "fair amount of bleeding under my gums and that the inflammation contributed to my "sensitivity."

Personally I'm fed up with a prevailing consciousness that considers sensitivity a pathology (without question at different times in my life I have done my utmost to "desensitize" responding to a world that seemed to expect it of me) more recently my journey seems to be about reclaiming myself (including the gift of sensitivity) - I am far more aware of my own humanity as a result & would submit that many of the worlds "woes" might be addressed if more people didn't perpetually cut themselves off from their own hearts.

I said - "you don't suppose it would have anything to do with you sticking your precision made, surgical stainless steel hooks and claws under my gums, wielding them like you were ploughing a field - while you do your gum-gardening?" "At home I use soft synthetic thread and a rubber tip pick!" (here the tool-kit looks like it belongs in a medieval dungeon.")

I will acknowledge it is my responsibility to take good care of my own health (including my oral hygiene) - it is not my responsibility to sit back quietly when I am uncomfortable, and make someone else feel better about causing me discomfort because they are in a hurry, or their technique and practices don't include empathy & compassion for the client. I say this now in hindsight because for a variety of "reasons" I kept going back to this clinic (though it wasn't unusual for me to procrastinate about confirming my appointments when the reminder cards would arrive in the mail) - so it was my choice.

The contrasting experience took place quite recently. I had heard good reports about a clinic in town that offered the services of a hygienist (the focus was on a thorough cleaning & they could still assess anything concerning that would require the attention of a dentist). My experience began with a phone conversation with a fellow at the "front end," he was patient, pleasant, informative and in a non-hurried fashion, gave me all the answers I required to make an educated decision.

I arrived early the day of my appointment, anticipating new client paper work and also brought a book to pass the time. I found that the book wasn't necessary as the same fellow I had spoke to was at the reception area that day and was very engaging and seemed interested in conversation (which was a pleasant, relaxing way to await my session.

As it turned out the previous appointment went a little overtime and due to my delay in booking a session, my cleaning was to be more extensive than what it might have been if I had come in sooner. The hygienist explained what was going to be required - she said due to the later start and the amount of work, that she might only do the lower half and book another time for completion. Her concern was both one of time and for my comfort (she indicated that even if she had time to do it all in the one session, it might be more uncomfortable for me afterward). I appreciated that she was upfront about all this at the outset, that she wasn't going to trying a rush through and she was sincerely concerned with my well-being (she was not of the mind that "productivity" ruled the day and the client should just "suck it up," with regard to discomfort).

She let me know that there was a "topical" freezing gel available (in other words no needles required) - I indicated that I was keenly in favour of using all that was available to me! I was encouraged to let her know at anytime during the procedure if I felt the "slightest discomfort" and she would apply more freezing. The difference was so stark - I suppose I didn't imagine before having the experience that it could be so!

During the session I shared a little of my past experience (without specifically identifying the clinic or staff) - she was aghast. Her perspective was that she "couldn't keep showing up doing the job if it meant that degree of discomfort for the client." It was so affirming to hear that my concerns and well-being were not "unreasonable expectations." I sat back in the comfort of the dental chair (which previously would have been an oxymoron - "comfort - what comfort?") this chair even had a pulsating back massage feature). I never felt anything through the whole procedure, it was amazing! I was even sent home with some acetaminophen (in case my gums were tender later) - as it turned out I didn't need it, but I certainly appreciated the consideration that I might.

I guess what I have learned from this is to listen to my own assessment of a situation - if it doesn't feel okay to me, then it probably isn't. I also recognize that I don't have to "settle" - because something has always been a certain way doesn't mean it's right, or that nothing else is possible. It does mean I need to speak up, move on or create a better way for myself (or for others). Some things are what they are - if my continuing to show up in it, causes me undo suffering, then my response to the situation needs to change. Chances are if I keep coming back for more, that is what I will get. The change then is, I decide I am worth enough (as is my well-being) to say no to the current situation, "enough is enough." There is no virtue in suffering (and at the very least, some of the time, it is not necessary).

In other words I will find myself in more loving circumstances - by expecting it and beginning with consistently loving myself.

Friday, 15 November 2013

You Raise Me Up

I suppose generally speaking raking leaves on an autumn day might not be what many would consider an emotionally stirring day! Nonetheless it was just such a day for me. At the risk of sounding cliche the idea that an experience is "what you make of it" does come into play here to some degree. But I reckon the afternoon might require some set up to put things in context.

The morning did start with the expression of love and a conversation which centered on the heart and being heart-centered. At one point the conversation touched on the idea of "unorthodox" parenting which involved a deeply committed stand to consider the unique needs of the child, rather than have them conform to the wants of the parent (which could be further homogenized by the parents succumbing to the mores of society with regard to raising children - i.e. education etc.) The love and acceptance represented in the very idea of that touched me deeply and I knew instantly, the truth of the need for it.

As one that has outwardly (and internally) rebelled against a world that attempts to orchestrate conformity - I highly value freedom of expression. For many years I have pushed against systems and authority (in what I would say in hindsight was a largely unconscious misguided attempt, to be myself). So often I have found myself looking at what is going on around me (or what is being taught to me) and thought: "it's just not right - I don't get it, it makes no sense, I don't want to get it, who says it has to be that way?" For so long I thought the problem was me - it felt a bit like I'd been dropped off on the wrong planet.

Much has changed since then (about me) I don't so much see the need to rebel (nor do I see myself as defective or deficient) - from here on in I intend to lovingly and more consistently stand in who I am. I wasn't meant to "fit in" (though God know the lengths I went to try) - I don't happen to believe anyone else was supposed to either - but that is for each to determine for themselves. We each have been given such unique gifts that could be of such value to the world when fully expressed - to live only to fulfill the expectations of others, is perhaps one of life's great tragedy's.

So now when I describe my afternoon of raking leaves as so much more than mere drudgery - my intention is to express the extraordinary present simultaneously (within) the ordinary. It is not a question of my viewpoint being superior to that of anyone else - I am just less inclined to surrender mine in order to blend with the "popular consensus."

To begin with it was a gorgeous mid-November afternoon. I quickly discovered that I was over-dressed for the mild temperature - it really felt more like a Spring afternoon. My objective was to rake the front yard at my parents place. The municipality begins "leaf pickups" next week - but they must be piled at the road side so that they can just come along efficiently and remove them.

The front yard is blessed (or cursed) again it would depend on your point of view, with a massive Garry Oak tree. As I worked below it's extensive canopy, limbs twisting and turning their way skyward, reaching to the  heavens - I was reminded of a time of my life when I was considerably younger (& the tree significantly smaller). I used to climb to the top of that tree and sit there alone, pondering life. One might wonder what I teenage boy might have to ponder at that "tender young age" - suffice to say, that as far as I could tell most of my peers seemed to be fairly care-free (I don't remember ever being such). So perched high above the world the tree afforded me a vantage point and solitude that wasn't so readily available on the ground.

All these years later, I have come to know that oak trees were held quite sacred in ancient Celtic spirituality which as it happens is my blood ancestry on my father's side. Though as a teen I neither knew of my ancestry or the oak tree connection (as I was adopted) unless of course I did, and was naturally drawn to this place of sacred refuge.

I continued to drag the fallen leaves into piles and began to consider the age and wisdom of the tree - it's connection to trees of past generations, the connection of all the trees, to the lives and ways of being of my ancestors - and therefore my connection to all that and more. What then could the tree offer me in relation to my ancestors - what wisdom of theirs could I now access? Clearly I reasoned, what was necessary, was to ask the tree.

I marveled at the awareness and answers that "came to mind" - realizing the beautiful "unseasonably warm" day - at the same time that I raked fallen leaves denoting Autumn, there was in the rock garden at the front of the house, a miniature rose bush with numerous buds and some in full bloom. There they sat pink and embodying the perfection associated with roses in seemingly, a contradiction to the calendar. The wonder of creation was right there in my midst (or me squarely in the midst of creation) with a clear demonstration that calendars and various means of linear marking of time is of little consequence to nature. It is laughable to try and contain the great Mother Earth and all of her marvels in such limiting parameters (and yet "we" try). She thinks nothing of having the roses of spring blooming with the oak tree shedding it's summer foliage. The cycles of nature will not be pigeon-holed and held to some standard of predictability and routine, performing her wonders within a predetermined timetable! (Why then is humanity so fixated on the enforced futility of premeditated dogmatic paradigms for each other?) Our very nature is one with nature, ignoring that -  it's a bit like trying to lasso the wind. The inevitability of natural rhythms versus my agenda was further reinforced by a light breeze coming up and my then turning, to see dozens of pirouetting leaves spiraling their way to the ground landing softly but assuredly where I had previously raked. The dance was captivating, no two leaves took the same flight path to earth, each was released in it's right and perfect time. (Not yesterday, not tomorrow - right now).

I listened more deeply to the teaching of my towering old friend - "there comes a time to let go, absolutely and completely." "All that was once vital and necessary - will reach it's time for release." "Even in it's (appearance of) death, it continues to serve life." Evolution (rebirth) would not be possible while still clinging to what was." "There is no beginning and ending - even in the finale lays the seeds of the upcoming curtain call" "there is no stasis and truly no need to mark the transition" "upon a continuum the old welcomes the new as the new becomes the old - only to die in order to release rebirth." "Trust that it is so - as in deed it always has been and will be forever more" "As the process can be indiscernible to the eye - there appears to be a period of dormancy - indeed this is illusory in nature (pun intended) it is only in the "mind" that the unknown is perceived (and therefore fear generated) in actuality there is only the surety of completion and evolution - in this you can trust." (it is so, regardless of your accepting the truth of it - you may freely choose!"

Just then a delicate soft rain shower began to fall (it likely lasted no more than 5 minutes) and upon my iPod began to play the song "You raise Me Up" from an album entitled "Celtic Woman" - it was as though I could feel the gentle kiss of my ancestors upon my cheeks and was being serenaded by a choir of angels. The sun continued it's warm embrace and I looked skyward delighted to discover the rainbow I "suspected" would present. I no longer question the miraculous (which isn't to say I understand them) - in many ways, (to me) it seems all that is required is to allow the space to bear witness and to pay attention and the miracles can be then seen as endless. 

 To the uninitiated there might appear to be a lone figure doing yard work in a neighborhood comprised of "war era" houses - an unremarkable microcosm of suburbia. Quite to the contrary there is occurring a celebration of epic proportions - a great love affair with all that is - a most profound knowing that there are no ordinary moments and soul-felt gratitude for a heart that now has eyes - "that once were blind, but now can see!"

Monday, 11 November 2013

Room in the Sandbox (for us all)

Today's musings were set in motion by hearing, that a friend's daughter was to be confirmed today in the Catholic cathedral along with her classmates that attend a private Catholic school. The nature of my pondering then, is all things "spiritual." By it's very nature the "spiritual life" is a journey so in that respect I suppose mine is not exceptional.

I attended Catholic private school (for grades 1-6) though I was raised in a family that declared themselves to be Anglican. I do recall my classmates preparing for their "first communion" (which I was excluded from because I wasn't Catholic. Unquestionably this created for me irreconcilable  confusion with respect to the "teachings of Jesus" and my reality. I perceived myself to be on the outside looking in (which I'll grant you was also a story that I created through having been adopted - this just occurred to me to further exacerbate my perception. What of "love thy neighbor?" (not if they're Anglican - seemed to me to be the message to me). Eventually someone intervened and I was no longer left alone in the classroom while the rest of the class went to the church - I could go (even sing the songs) just couldn't take part in the other rituals.

I highly value inclusion (& have deep compassion for those that experience exclusion) - I guess I won't ever know if that would or wouldn't be the case if I hadn't walked the path I did. To this day I'm not really a card carrying member of any religious organization (though perhaps the Anglicans might try and lay claim to my soul as I was baptized and later confirmed) I don't resonate with the theology and I certainly haven't attended in those circles for years (though I have sat in various "holy" places of worship while observing my own sacred practices and connection with the divine.

I don't understand the divisiveness that so frequently exists between "differing" adherents. It doesn't even have to be entirely different groups - there is even distention within groups that both claim to be "Christian" or Buddhist. I mean I do "understand" fear and ignorance that create walls rather than bridges - I just don't get why it still, seems so difficult to overcome these.

It was years after I had largely stopped frequenting Sunday school and therefore leading I suppose what would be called a secular life, that I was reintroduced to the idea of living a spiritual life when I came through the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous - where I was introduced to the concept of adopting a belief in "God as You Understand Him" (yes.... still a gender bias within their teachings) interesting in one breath you're encourage to establish your own understanding and in the next breath it is declared God is "Him." Nonetheless this (at least initial) lack of dogma gave me a refreshing opportunity to explore on good days, and seemingly, enough rope to hang myself on other days. I did gain some further insight into divisiveness (in a program that espouses "tolerance,  acceptance, open-mindedness" etc.) it was said somewhat tongue-in-cheek - "all you need to start a new meeting is a resentment and a coffee pot" (and half the group was moving across town to a new venue). So it goes seemingly in human evolution (I guess it is not a strictly linear process - individually or collectively).

Still it was a "beginning" for me - my natural curiosity, quest for the "truth" that began my hunger to find meaning in life (it wouldn't be until later that I would realize that I would be required to scrutinize myself with "rigorous honesty") good thing,  at the time I was quite sure that my outward oriented critical eye would bring about the necessary changes in the world. If I'd known straight away, I was going to have to look at myself I might have run off. 

The afore mentioned curiosity has compelled me through 12 step rooms (with a number of different focal points) over a period of some 26 years - the same time I have immersed myself in a wide variety of paths, hungry for what each has to offer with respect to "being in the world and not of it." I seek to keep the conversation alive - and have listened (to many that might experience rejection more frequently than be extended an attentive ear). Surely they all have a piece of the puzzle I reasoned - I have opted not to "join" any one group - but I deeply yearn to see them all adjoined. I have received literature and teachings upon my door step from the Jehovah's Witnesses - while on a road trip in the U.S. a tour of the Mormon Tabernacle yielded me another free book (hand delivered by a couple of finely dressed gentlemen right to my front door in Victoria - that Mormon organization has very long arms apparently.

I have been in innumerable healing fire ceremonies, sweat lodge, received from practitioners of assorted modalities different forms of energy healing, practiced martial arts, yoga and meditation. I had shamanic healing - discovered a large piece of my ancestral origins and have journeyed once to the homeland of my ancestors (that is a plot that certainly continues to thicken to this very day). I have sat in circles that base their spiritual life on "Christian mysticism" - viewing the "teachings" of Jesus as literally "the living word" and a path for a personal and profound connection to "God" (which is what I believe he was teaching all along - before the "church" co-opted - the man & then, set about to commandeer and misrepresent his teachings in order to direct the masses to "join" and willingly uphold the newly formed power structure of "organized religion." Dogma and "intellectualizing" these teachings has rendered much of it's transformational power benign (but my experience is this is a matter of practice - no shortfall on the teachings.

I have sat in Buddhist meditations and retreats and in talking circles around the fire, sat alone on the mountaintop - I have on more than one occasion had fascinating conversations with some of the local street corner evangelists (some representing a particular group - others representing a raw, authentic brand of humanity that is hour by hour, a dance that is far closer to the realities of life and death than the likes of me typically experiences). Society looks down it's collective nose at some of these folks when they could have the vision of living saints - talk about misuse of resources!!
In Ireland I sat in ancient stone circles and visited sacred sites - awakening me to the call of my ancestors. Through the Balkan countries I visited a wide variety of churches, cathedrals and even had the chance to attend a prayer session in the Mosque in Sarajevo. Again I sat on the mountain top - alone for the night on "Apparition Hill" in Medjugorje, Bosnia (where pilgrimages continue to this day to connect with Mother Mary) and kneeled at the tombs of St. Francis and Saint Clare in Assisi, Italy (though it is not my intention to take away from the beliefs and reverence bestowed upon them by the Catholic faith  - I personally don't believe they have the monopoly on them, their teaching or their energies now that they are in the spirit realm - I personally had profound experiences at these sites.

I also took the opportunity to view the splendor and grandeur of Vatican City. My personal experience connecting to all of these holy places is that the energy of reverence, worship, sacredness is present throughout (in some cases that was all I could connect with as the "sermon" was in different languages none of which I understood. Why then can't (won't) people connect at that level and forget the differences?

It is this heart connection that I believe many (if not all the faith paths) describe - obviously that connection is frequently lost while different groups quibble, debate and wage wars over the particular strategy they follow.

I know in my heart exclusivity is not the way - I don't believe that the love that is espoused throughout the spiritual paths of the world, is well embodied by those that practice alienation.  I understand fear, greed and the desire for power (I also know of the illusory nature of all of these and the havoc it reeked in my life - my life is just a microcosm of the whole) in fact I have in various ways contributed to the state of the world (if only through my inaction) and various levels of unconscious living.

Personal crisis (which I believe is always "spiritual" in nature) changed my life trajectory (actually first it saved my life) and continues to do so - "does a leopard change its spots?" Yes, absolutely and completely (at least I can speak for myself) given I know I'm really no different than anyone else I know transformation is available for all those that choose it and therefore humanity as a whole. The ways and means that individuals and groups choose to seek this transformation should not matter. Love is all that matters - if you buy a cake mix from the store it doesn't matter if it's Duncan Heinz or Betty Crocker either will yield a cake. Are you going to refuse dessert at your neighbors house because you disagree with their choice of mix?

Most of the "major" religious paths have a version of "Love your neighbour as yourself" when then, will it start?

Friday, 1 November 2013

Best Served Fresh

Despite eyes I do not see
Beholding the skeletal form of your absence
Acutely I am aware of the vibrancy of your presence
Clambering through minds catacombs
Yearning hands grasp at wispy threads
Heart pleading with memory
To afford one more embrace

How many moments were spent
A wash in waves of blissful ecstasy
So clear and complete was love’s visitations
Soul launched upon a quantum journey
Did fearful self-interest bind a tongue?
That a bridge was crossed
Leaving behind only a shroud of silence?

Does vocabulary and diction exist?
To capture the thousands of love nuances
Dangling upon the vine
Fruit once ripe for shared expression
Best not left to wither in the sun!