Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Awakening, Part Two

This morning, I'm continuing to examine the Sojourners' 12 Symptoms of Spiritual Awakening. I prefer to re-cast this list, not as symptoms (a humorous metaphor to some) but as rungs of a ladder to a new and contended place.

7. Once you have cultivated the attitude of gratitude discussed in number 4 above, you will find that it is more difficult to worry. It will not come as easily as it did before. Your frequent smiling (see number 2 above) will forestall the frown and wrinkles that accompany worrying, requiring an act of will to settle into serious anxiety. It will simply happen less often. It is also good to allow that things might happen for a reason, which also forestalls worry, since you can instead think of the mystery of why something is happening -- what good reason there might be for it -- rather than how bad it is. You may not subscribe to the popular idea that "things happen for a reason," but it can be a more productive way to approach what seems to be a random and catastrophic existence, whether it is true or not. In this, I am a pragmatic rather than a romantic (my more usual mode).

8. Conflict tends to be interesting to those who are worrying, who are disconnected from nature and isolated from others, who do not perceive what they have that they should be grateful for.  Insecurity, disconnection, anxiety, make it more interesting to watch others fight or engage with difficulties. This is not the same as enjoying a good story, nor is it even the same as escaping into a good story. This is more about pot-stirrers, who deliberately egg on those who would gossip or otherwise engage in and encourage alienation, disturbance, emotional fighting. This is about those who would rather talk about others than collaborate with others. 

All of that interest falls away as one perceives connection and expresses gratitude. The lives of the rich and famous, whether on television, internet, or down the hall at work, are simply less interesting when one's own life becomes less fraught. It is good when you no longer have to look for someone in bigger trouble than you are. If you are attuned to letting things happen for yourself, you don't have to look to others for excitement. You just don't care about the Kardashians (less accessible) or the Jones (right in the neighborhood) who have this, that, and the other thing. Less comparison with others means more satisfaction and contentedness. You'll find you can resist major advertising campaigns more successfully, and with practice, you might be able to ignore them completely.

It helps if you avoid reading glossy magazines that act as mass pot stirrers to get us interested in Kardashians and Joneses. Try giving up newspapers, magazines, even television or radio news for short periods of time. Re-introduce small doses of headline radio news, to avoid the pot stirring and visual advertising onslaughts. It also helps to avoid staff lounges or other gathering places of the meddling and vindictive. Remember that some people use those spaces with no malign intent (do not judge; see number 10 below) but they are also Petri dishes for those who cast their eyes about looking for trouble to nudge and poke into full conflagration. Go to such places, but do so with open eyes, with a strong heart to resist them, and instead connect and collaborate with the others.

9. Now that you are less interested in the actions of others and more focused on your own spontaneity and living in the moment (see numbers 5 and 6 above), you will also spend less time wondering why other people do the things they do and spend more of your valuable time in this life on just living it. This leads to more of number 5 and 6 above: more intensely joyful experiences that will give you a feeling of truly being alive and aware, connected in the most positive ways to nature and society. You will approach a feeling of being one with the universe. That may sound hokey, but wait until you have that feeling, and your smile stretches across your face, and your tears well up. And you wonder why but you know it doesn't matter. It could be myriads of small joys or several big ones.

10. The kind of reflection that allows for gratitude and joy also leads to an attitude that makes it difficult to judge other people. You know how you have grown and changed; you know from whence you came. You will not be so quick to put someone else down (except perhaps for a moment in your own mind, and certainly not out loud and publicly). You will no longer be the judgmental bitch or bastard you might once have been, and it will free up all sorts of energy for new projects and thoughts that present themselves in the void created when you leave all that behind. You will find that you will judge less and less even in your own mind. Your energy just will not support it anymore.

11. One of the best results from number 10 above is that you will also become less judgmental of yourself. You will allow yourself to be nurturing and encouraging, and those voices that used to say "you can't, you can't" will start saying, "let's! let's!" You will be amazed at the possibilities that open up before you. It will bring you great joy. You will smile more, and tears will well up at odd moments.

12. With the inordinate amount of interest in others reduced and moments of joy greatly increased, you will find that you have a lot of love in your heart. Because you are not focused on others but simply connected, you will not expect anything from them in return for your own love and encouragement. You will find yourself filled with love. It is a really different way to live, so don't expect every step of the way to be easy. You may draw attention to yourself in ways you did not anticipate, but be strong. Be brave. Love is a good foundation for living, especially supported by numbers 1 through 10 above. 

Because of the great shining light of love and joy that will surround you at this point, more light and energy and joy will come to you. It seems to be how this universe works. I could be wrong, but it feels really good anyway.

Lastly, I'll share the prayer that helps me keep all this in mind as I sit, in the morning, and face a new day:

Lord of light, constant, unchanging, 
shine on me and shine in me. 
Hear my prayers. 
Hear me declare that I am letting go of the struggle, 
that I am eager to learn through joy, 
eager to claim all the blessings that are waiting for me. 
Protect me from my own desires. 
Teach me to find truth in my mouth, in my heart. 
Keep me from taking anything personally. 
Put questions on my lips 
rather than assumptions in my mind. 
Give me patience to listen closely, 
that I may hear others' stories, 
and that I may know 
what it is I am meant to learn from them. 
Push me to do my best always, in everything. 
Lead me from the darkness of pain and fear 
into the marvelous light of grace and peace.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Awakening, Part One

A spiritual friend sent out an interesting list that came to him from a group called Sojourners, people who describe themselves as Christian activists for social justice. It describes 12 symptoms of Spiritual Awakening. As I read down the list, I realized that I have cultivated these symptoms deliberately over the last 20 years, and that they really define my approach to existence, in this universe, anyway. I'm altering the list of "symptoms," since I find that word to be misleading, with spiritual awakening likened to a disease. It can be a humorous way to treat a serious topic, but I prefer to present the list as a series of recommendations that promote personal growth, with advice about how to scaffold and encourage that growth in each of these twelve areas.

1. Let things happen sometimes, rather than orchestrating and insisting and controlling. It is a pleasant feeling to roll down a river without a paddle, if you know you are in no danger. "Go with the flow," is the expression that came to us from Marcus Arelius' writings. This is a synonymous expression, although it doesn't have exactly the same meaning as this first piece of advice. Controlling and orchestrating and insisting takes psychic energy, and sometimes you would be better off reserving that energy for other undertakings, picking your battles, perhaps. Life has plenty of situations where your planning and organizational skills are essential. Allow yourself to have some measure of time that is not planned and organized.

2. Smiling is really an important strategy for life. Cultivating an easy smile is not listed as a management technique, and yet it accomplishes so much in the larger social realm. Besides that, it is a great way to be remembered. Think, right now, about people you know and love and respect - how many of them have a great smile, one that lights up a room, or at least lights up the heart of the person they are listening to at the moment? That smile signals attention, positivity, encouragement, love - all conducive to social and professional situations.

3. Spend time outdoors. Walk outside every day near grass, bushes, trees, and water. If you can't bring yourself to hug a tree, at least sit under or near trees, especially trees that contain life in the form of squirrels and birds. If you are confined to the indoors, sit where you can look out a window at trees, sky, clouds, far hills, or some other form of nature. Grow a small plant on a windowsill. Allow yourself to really look at the plant, clouds, trees, that are in that frame you have set up. Listen to the water you are near; watch it move. Connect with this place that you are from, that is part of you.

3b. Connect with people near you every day. Use that smile (see number 2) to make connections with the strangers who cross your path, and use your heart to make connections with loved ones. If you live far away, use e-mail or social networks to keep in touch. If you must spend some long hours working apart from people, take breaks that bring you near people again. Remind yourself of this human network you are part of; don't forget it for too many hours at a time. Such isolation brings errant thoughts and inhumane behavior.

4. Take some time each day (many of us favor early morning or right before sleeping) to appreciate, or in other words, show gratitude for some small number of aspects of life that day or the previous one. Let this habit build, through practice, until the day comes when you are overwhelmed with positive appreciation at an odd time, that is, at a time when nothing in particular has occurred, yet all seems to be well and good. This is called joy. It leads to recurrent episodes of joy, and sometimes they can bring tears to the eyes, they are so sharp and sudden. These episodes can also lead to prolonged periods of feeling on top of the world. The positive energy generates more and more positive energy. This is a good thing.

5. This one is related to number 1 above. Allow yourself to act spontaneously from time to time, to choose to do something that appears on your event horizon unbidden, that is unplanned, that has come to you seemingly from nowhere, and practice the art of NOT LETTING FEAR (based on past experiences) control your actions. We humans, in our superior evolutionary position, use past experience to guide us, but sometimes we let that happen too much. Sometimes it paralyzes us, freezing us in a rut or pattern of activity/inactivity that threatens to bury us. Scientists are studying, right now, how change and growth is essential to the elderly in order for them to live a bit longer with some quality of life. Let's not wait for the final results -- do something new every other day, or every week or so. Do something that someone suggests and do it without weighing and thinking too hard. Be safe, but don't turn down what could be the key to your next phase of existence.

6. Ancient wisdom tells us to enjoy each moment. We who plan and organize or let televisions or internet plan and organize our time sometimes lose sight of the present moment in our anticipation of future moments. It is such an easy trap to slip into. As teens we are chomping at the bit for the future. Wait until I get out of here. Wait until I live on my own. Wait until I get a good job instead of this crappy summer job. Wait until I'm the manager. Wait until I find my one and only. I can't wait until this, that, or the other thing. Throughout our twenties, we say phrases like these often until we build up a pattern. As parents, we live through difficult phases of our childrens' growth by reminding ourselves that they won't be inarticulate infants forever, that they won't be toddlers forever, that they will someday learn to wash their ears and brush their teeth on their own. Then our children are grown in the blink of an eye, and we wonder where those moments went. Stop yourself, if you find yourself in the middle of one of these thoughts. These moments are our life. Don't wish them away. Breathe - it can make a difficult moment not quite so difficult. Find ways of thinking about the difficult moments, as you are in them, that allow you to live the moment rather than wish it away. You will not want to awaken from a life that is wished away to say, "where did it go?"

There are twelve items on the list - I'll deal with the other six in my next post.