Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Learning to Ask for Help

I have to say that one of the most under-appreciated spiritual practices that I can think of is this: asking for help.

Do you know how to do this? I know that I have to practice it. Maybe it's a social training thing. Okay, I know it's a social training thing. There's this idea out there that we have to do everything on our own. It's part of the illusion of independence. Well, good luck with that. I've done pretty good in perpetuating that illusion in my life at certain times, but when you really look at life, you'll realize that there's absolutely nothing that you do by yourself. You can't even breathe without the help of a whole lot of external systems (plants mainly) and internal systems (lungs, blood cells, etc.) to supply you  with and to properly absorb clean air. And if you think you're in full control of your body, well, then just take a look at anyone who has had nerve damage. When the impulses from the brain can't go some place, you suddenly realize just how tenuous your influence over your body ever was. And it's one of the ways where becoming or being disabled in some way immediately faces you with the lack of independence that you actually have and how important it is to know how to ask for help.

Embracing Interdependence and Getting a Hand From Time to Time
You know this blog post isn't for those of you avoiding doing something or who are trying to get others to do things for you. That kind of neediness isn't an authentic asking for help. We don't need to ask others to do stuff that we can already do for ourselves. We learn to ask others for help so that they can share their talents with us for things we may not be good at or during times when we don't have the time or energy to do it. I've learned to ask for help from time to time, and as I'm developing this blog, you'll notice some more obvious helping hands as well as some quieter helping hands in the background. Make no mistake about it; I don't know how to set up a Web site. The magicians at Blogger have created this, and in a subtle way, they've helped me so that I can talk to you. Other more obvious things are the blogs from students or the photos from students and other well-wishers. They've all contributed to help me make this a richer space for you, and they show how interdependent I am on a whole system of support. You are never alone on this path, and sometimes, seeing this interdependence is both humbling and enheartening.

Finding Your Ego Blocks
But so often, many of us think we have to do things alone. I certainly can't deny that going off on your own to face some of the fears in the darkness of your soul may be necessary. I can't deny that you're going to feel like you're standing naked in the middle of the road at times when you first start following your heart. I can't deny that the spiritual path doesn't require a ton of initiative, love, and courage to bring into creation the life that you truly want to live. But for as much as these individual choices are important, so much more will come from your connections to others. When you get stuck or hurt or scared or tired, allowing others to help you is only natural. In a more interconnected world, I think that this is our natural mode. Maybe I'm just an optimist, but I think that healthy human beings naturally want to help each other, and in truth, part of the spiritual path really is just about becoming healthy. To do so, we have to find those spaces of the ego that say we can't ask for help because we'll look weak, because we're afraid that we'll be denied, because of any number of issues. If you don't know what they are, please stop and pay attention to how you respond to a situation where you need help. What feelings come up? What ideas come up? Trust me, this will be illuminating. And then you'll have to take action to help face and dissolve those issues before you can move on and really receive help.

God Walks With/in All of Us
I read a blog post about being afraid to take action not too long ago, and I really liked how the author talked about getting help from God. If there's ever a being to turn to, it's God. I'm not telling you to believe in a higher power or not, although I always encourage everyone to see what their definition of God is. Most of us are not using that term the same way. To me, God is everything. God is energy. God is love. Wherever you look, you see God, be it in the face of a friend, a flower, or an enemy. And God will help us if we are humble and we genuinely ask for it, although the help may not come in the form that we expect. If there is one of the greatest challenges to the ego, it's receiving the help of God when it comes from an unexpected and perhaps an unwanted source. In those situations, we are being challenged to learn how to receive even more and from different givers. This can be a practice in and of itself, but we cannot practice until we start to learn to ask for help. This isn't just whining to God that your life is miserable. Be specific whenever possible, and you will get whatever it is that you most need even if you don't know what that is.

Unexpected Help and Unexpected Consequences
Along with asking for help, you may not fully know what the consequences of that help may be. Consider that you need a new job, and you've asked for help from a group of professionals. The help you may get may lead you to go back to school even if you don't want to go back to school. You don't need to swallow all help and suggestions entirely, and you do continue to need to develop your inner knowing and act upon that knowing when given help and advice to know if it's appropriate to you. But more often than not, help will guide us towards certain goals and outcomes, which may not be what we expected.

I remember trying to get into a Master's of Fine Arts program for Creative Writing. I wanted to take the next step as a writer. I was summarily rejected from all the schools. Sure they were selective schools, but that's not the point. God was helping me. Because at the same time I was following my heart towards writing and being a better writer through this avenue, God was opening up a path to do so. For me, the path to embracing my writing in its power and candor was the spiritual path. So at the same time that I'm studying for the GRE, the movements towards spiritual awakening had already begun. I did have enough awareness to see the last rejection letter as one last message from God that there was a different road for me to take, and in doing so, I've become a far better writer than I could have imagined.

Breaking Down Old Ideas Around Help
But I know I have to come back to the ideas still lodged in your heads about getting help. Start there. Really look at how you think and feel about getting help. Help is also a form of receiving, and there seems to be this idea that if you have to receive from others that you're somehow lacking or weak. This isn't true. We receive from others all the time. We receive paychecks, stipends, and all kinds of things. What we're focusing too much on is the avenue. Receiving a paycheck, assistance from the government, or a gift from a friend is no different. It's just a different form of energy. What is important is how we use that help in living the life of our heart's truest intents.

In general, help should be a natural part of giving and receiving. Giving and receiving are like breathing. They should be done in tandem. This allows the natural flow of energy through the universe. When we get stuck in hoarding or taking from others, we stymie that flow. We stymie ourselves. And when we don't open up to the flow coming to us, then we also stymie ourselves. So stop and look at where you're refusing help if you feel stuck or going in the wrong direction. You may not like what you see and hear. You can always ask friends, and you may not like what you hear from them. I encourage you to have the courage to see and hear. It's the only way to embrace reality and to start moving in integrity with your life.

The Help We Need Most Is Always Here and Now
Even in our most difficult moments, the help we need is always here and now. It's never exactly as we expect it to be, but it can be in no other moment. Stop waiting for the future to give you a more comfortable or safe-seeming solution. Safety is another illusion that is running around in here that is doing nothing for you and causing quite a bit of confusion. In many ways, we don't really know what safety is. We know what familiarity is, but that often is very different than safety. Life isn't safe. It never will be. There will be pain. There will be death. That's part of this planet, but we don't need to suffer needlessly. And we can help each other, so if there's one thing I hope you remember and take to heart it's that it's always okay to ask for help.

The lovely photo for this blog is a gift from my student, Jenn.
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