Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Shifts in Consciousness and Spiritual Openings

consciousness, water, spirituality, spiritual awakening, becky stiller photography
Water Is Always Shifting, So Too Is Consciousness
In the grand scheme of things, our consciousness is always shifting. It's like the sea. There are greater and lesser waves that move through it, but in some way or form, it is always in motion even when it may be relatively still.

We are like this. We are this shimmering, interconnected life-form that extends from the tips of our collective noses all the way to the ends of the universe. Consciousness, to me, is a kind of alive energy. It is love. It is Truth. It is Beauty. It is everywhere. I know that different spiritual traditions have more specific meanings for consciousness, so I want to be clear about how I am using it. I am really using it in its higher truth sense. In this sense, nothing is unconscious. Even the tiniest rock has a certain level of consciousness and is part of the great sea of life.

Yet, as I alluded to with the rock, there are many levels of consciousness. No one is any better than the other. They simply bring about different interactions and opportunities in the world of form. So with all that said, I wanted to write a little bit today about the shifts in consciousness many people feel and the doorways that open to greater awareness.

Not All Shifts Created Equal

I will be clear that not all spiritual shifts are the same. In fact, no one ever really experiences the same kind of shift as someone else. Spiritual awakening is, in and of itself, just one type of shift in consciousness. Throughout our days, our consciousness makes subtle shifts. How I am when I am meditating is different than when I am showering or eating or writing or talking to friends. These are so subtle and normal that we hardly notice them. But if you ignore, block, or avoid inner shifts that need to take place, things can quickly get out of harmony. Then all kinds of issues crop up.

Consider if you need to speak your truth more. Your natural shifting wants to take you in this direction, but instead, you don't say anything. You keep biting your tongue and avoiding difficult conversations. Pretty soon, you feel like you want to scream. A shift may seem to burst out of you, but after the outburst, you may try to hide it all again. The cycle of pain and suffering soon repeats.

When we don't allow ourselves to naturally shift in our lives, things can get really uncomfortable and downright sour. Big shifts in consciousness may or may not be necessary in life. I'm not sure how much we would need major awakenings if we were all naturally living within our integrity and within the space of love. But regardless, each shift of whatever magnitude or of whatever issue will be different, and it will ask you to do or to be with very different things. And that's part of the reason that I am always cautious about generalizing these topics too much, and I caution you similarly about generalizing.

The Spiritual Opening: A Window of Light in a Room of Darkness

A spiritual opening is different than a shift in consciousness. I define spiritual openings with this key aspect: they're almost always dependent on an external situation. Shifts in consciousness like a spiritual awakening are internal movements. While certain situations definitely evoke internal movements, when those external forces (a spiritual retreat, a spiritual teacher, specific spiritual practices, angelic intervention, and others) go away, your consciousness returns to its usual state of being. You may feel like you've lost something.

Many of you may have had this experience with spiritual retreats or traveling to certain places. I know that lots of people love to go to India in search of spiritual experiences. They often have a great time, but when they come back, the energy high burns off. Life is once again mundane, and it is easy to begin to yearn for your life to be more like the retreat or the country to which you traveled.

But the beauty of all this is that the real depth that you are yearning for is already within you. That's why the spiritual path is always right here and now. It's because you are always right here and now. And I should think that's a very encouraging thing to know. It means that you don't need lots of money, an amazing teacher, or an amazing environment to be you.

Spiritual Openings Point the Finger to Greater Work

For some, however, the spiritual opening may suddenly shine a light on how unbearable and miserable your life is. If you return from a retreat in this wonderful afterglow and can now see how miserable things are, this is a great opportunity. It's a great opportunity to use the last remaining embers of that spark to ignite something that will last within you. No great teacher, healer, or spiritual person has ever been able to bypass the difficulties of their own life. The cup cannot be passed to any other, and so here is a chance to use this opening to see what is not in alignment with you.

More importantly, here is the opportunity to see how you are not in alignment with you. Because the trend for most people is to still blame the external world for not being what they want it to be. The external world will NEVER fit the ideas we have of it. How could it? Those are just ideas. Mental constructs. If mother nature wants to knock a house down, it doesn't matter how intellectual we are about it, the house gets knocked down. We cannot protect ourselves for this world with ideas, and if anything, a spiritual opening can help you start to see that.

The Blind Prefer to Be Blind

There's a bad saying that "Ignorance is bliss." But for anyone who has ever had a disease that they didn't know about and suddenly find out that they're going to die soon, I think they know the truth. Disease is one obvious thing that we can point out how important it is to be knowledgeable about ourselves because many diseases caught early on are easily treated. If you don't know yourself, you can keep getting into really bad cycles of pain. You suffer needlessly until you start to look at the causes for those cycles and make changes.

Consequently, most of humanity is diseased. They prefer to be blind. They prefer to play their games of blaming others. The world may even seem to play along for awhile until your stocks plummet and you're bankrupted one day. Usually, it has to get even worse before people are willing to realize just how blind they've been. It's why most people only turn to the spiritual path once things have gotten so horrendously bad that they have no more ideas about what to do. Only then when the shell of the ego is willing to say, "I don't know," a few rays of light can finally start to shine through the heavy blinds over the windows of the mind.

The Aspiration for Help and Awakening

The amazing thing these days are how many people are tuning into that deeper part of themselves that says that something is wrong. The amazing thing is how many people are interested in spiritual awakening because they already know that this heavily consumeristic and egoic society is way off course and that the results of this path are only increased suffering and disconnection. People are looking to reconnect again, and this is a very hopeful and inspiring thing. I'm always amazed at how young some of the people are who come looking for spiritual guidance. The spiritual path isn't just an end-of-life game anymore. It really is something that many people know they need in every moment of every day.

So here you are, reading this blog.

And even as you've been reading this blog, there have been shifts in consciousness. Little ones. Maybe even bigger ones as a realization burst forth from within you. Notice that I said, "within you." Your realizations are already there. My words in this moment are simply a different set of keys that you can use to unlock the doors to your own knowledge. Once you get started, it's a little addicting, but in a good way. You may wonder what other things you already know, and with that may come deeper and deeper shifts into your own consciousness.

Building Up to a Spiritual Awakening

Once again, I can't generalize, but for some of you, there is a build up and preparation time for a spiritual awakening. I know some traditions talk about this being something that can happen over lifetimes, but for the sake of this lifetime, I have also seen that people have a build up in the current lifetime in which they are meant to awaken. Often the individual is drawn to a wide variety of spiritual practices, starts making changes in their life, and does whatever they feel they currently know how to do to get closer to living a life of love. The tools people use is all over the map from weight-loss if they're overweight (essentially getting better aligned with their bodies) to Tarot to astrological readings to Eckhart Tolle to Christianity to Buddhism to Yogic teachings and so on. Everyone has a different set of keys that helps them to open up.

For me, a lot of it had to do with following my heart again and taking ownership of how mean I was being. For many of you, the idea of me being mean may seem absurd, but I certainly haven't always lived and acted from my current state of consciousness. I was much smaller-minded and harder hearted. And that had to change for me to make space for my awakened self, which burst forth after almost a year of build up time (keep in mind that I had no idea that I was going to have an awakening--I was just really passionate about following the spiritual path that had FINALLY opened up for me).

Letting Go of Definitions

As always, I encourage you to hold these definitions loosely. I encourage you to hold your shifts in consciousness loosely. One will come, and then another will come. It is part of the flow of consciousness. After an awakening, you may feel lots of shifting. You may feel like your awareness is all over the place. This is kind of like what I mentioned earlier about not honoring these shifts throughout your life. Awakening can sometimes be like a build up of energy. If it had been moving your whole life, it wouldn't be that big of a deal. But if you've been holding onto this energy for thirty years, the build up is massive when you finally erupt. At least that is how it can be for some people, certainly not all.

And as I mentioned earlier about spiritual openings, they are based on the external world. They can certainly spark an internal shift of consciousness both great and small, but they will not last. So don't hold onto them. Don't try to hold onto the feeling of them. Let them be beautiful for what they are, and as I said, let them be an inspiration to do deeper work and to allow a deeper spiritual shift within you. Because when you shift from within, your whole world can change.

Today's photo comes from my friend and reader, Becky Stiller. Please feel free to check out her beautiful work on this flickr link.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Spirituality Webinar: How to Improve Your Meditation

spiritual opening, meditation, relaxing into stillness, spiritual meditation
Opening More Deeply into Stillness Through Meditation
This is an updated blog post. I offered this webinar on November 6th, 2012, and since it is a popular topic, I'm offering it again.

Many people want to enjoy their meditations more and have greater inner peace and relaxation, but discomfort, loss of focus, and busy minds seem to always be ruining the situation. This spirituality webinar will address those issues and offer some tips to help you enjoy your meditation more.

You will also have a chance to ask questions throughout the session, so be sure to think up a few beforehand.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Loss of Focus During a Spiritual Awakening

loss of focus, spiritual awakening focus, spirituality focus
I am starting this spiritual awakening blog post like many of my others by offering a caveat. There are so many things that are being labeled as signs of a spiritual awakening that I don't want you to use this one as any kind of sure-fire, self-diagnosis that you are have an awakening. There are lots of shifts in consciousness, types of healing, and other reasons that we lose focus or can't focus our minding and bodies in the ways that we're used to.

In general, I am very careful how I list out signs of spiritual awakening (you can see how I talk about spiritual awakening signs in this post). However, the three corner stones that I point to that usually indicate you are having/have had an awakening are:
  • You have an immense sense of love for all of life
  • You have a profound clarity and understanding of what is real and true
  • You may also feel a profound sense of inner peace with yourself and with the perfection of the world (despite how messy life may be for you personally or internationally)
Usually when one, a combination, or all of the above are in play inside you (usually after a big ah-ha moment, but not necessarily), you have awakened. And during the shift in moving from living your life from an unconscious to an awakened state, you may suddenly find it really hard to focus on your mind on many things.

Shifts in Consciousness and Changing Perspectives

I'm taking another step back before going anywhere with this blog to encourage you to see that life is full of shifts in consciousness--big and small. A spiritual awakening tends to be a pretty big one that unequivocally connects you to that deep profound inner knowing and love we all have. It doesn't make life any easier or less difficult, and if it does make it easier, it's usually because we stop fighting ourselves. But as I said, there are many other changes in consciousness, and you may suddenly one day realize that you can't focus on your work. That may not be an awakening. It may simply be a shift in consciousness. Your energy (the real you) no longer wants to do that work. It wants to do something else. But the old ego self is committed in some way to the work you do. So it's like most of you has already left the room. You have no energy or awareness to do what you are doing anymore. It's time to let it go.

The problem is that people are so full of fear that the idea of letting go of...well, just about anything seems impossible. So they go to psychiatrists, drink more coffee, and do others things to beat themselves back into submission to do this work. But what they really need to do is to try something new. In these scenarios, when you try something that you are interested in or that you may even love to do, then suddenly focusing isn't an issue at all.

Focusing on Love Instead of Lies

For those in an awakening, there is a kind of inner directive to do what you love. You can still try and resist doing what you love, but along with the lack of focus may also come a total lose of any energy to do something that you don't love doing. If something is really out of integrity with who you are, it may become excruciatingly difficult. The eyes may tear up. You may get intense headaches or migraines. All kinds of things start to shut down physically. It sounds extreme, but it really happens. In these moments, you are trying to get ahold of your own attention. You are sending yourself every signal in the book to make a change NOW!

When someone suddenly starts focusing on love again, things get way easier. Usually the retort is, "But I can't make money doing this." But that's not true. There are many ways to make money to support ourselves financially. What tends to be more true is that you don't know how you'll make money and be financially supported doing something you love. A hidden or not so hidden fear of the unknown often lurks down behind that objection.

But you are still welcome to try to go back to doing things that aren't what you love and doing other things that deny who you are. The lessons will continue. The pain will continue as you fight yourself, and usually what will happen is that one day you will be forced to quit or possibly fired (if this is a work scenario that is).

Opening Up Your Eyes Again

Bringing awareness to a situation is always the most important part of life. This is how we invite presence into our lives. We start noticing what is already here. There are so many ways that we live in lies by keeping our eyes closed. So of course we haven't noticed that the CFO is embezzling from the company or that the department that we work in is full of really mean people who have been stabbing other people in the backs, which is why no other department wants to work with yours. It's also why we can't see how terrible a romantic partner is or how mean-spirited and victimized our friends are.

We haven't looked.

We haven't looked at ourselves.

Awakening is a great big opening of our eyes if nothing else. We suddenly see both profound beauty and profound darkness. We see the whole glass, and we no longer are labeling it as half full or half empty. It simply is, and it has a certain amount of water in it. So most of us are called to make changes in our lives. But where we resist the inner call to make changes, that's usually when the worst of the so-called "spiritual awakening symptoms" come up. (I put this in quotes because I don't like the word "symptoms." It suggests an illness, which is the opposite of what is happening. We're actually healing. I wrote about some of the levels of pain that can happen on this spiritual awakening blog post.)

Shifts Bringing Times of Transition and Refocusing

Because people are usually trying to deny problems, I've listed the more dire issues first in this post. But just because your eyes and your mind are having trouble focusing doesn't necessarily mean anything is going wrong. It may simply be a time of transition. In essence, it's like you're gradually shifting a prescription in glasses. Your eyes, mind and every other part of you need time to adjust to looking at the world in a different way. I have had my eyes get blurry at times, and then something settles in my process. Suddenly, I can see just fine. I definitely have had losses of mental focus, but that has usually meant I needed a time to rest and to leave the mind-centered Internet world alone.

Just because you've lost focus at a job, for instance, doesn't mean you need to leave it. You may simply need time to transition. You will very likely come back with a different view and attitude towards your work than before after you've embodied this latest shift (in embodying awakening, many of us go through waves as different parts of us learn different lessons), but there is still a time and necessity to allow the transition to take place. Consider if you are replacing parts in a car, you wouldn't be driving it at the same time. A little downtime goes a long way.

And if you are already doing what you love, when you come back, you'll feel like you are doing the work even better. Many people are already doing jobs that help people, and after you've had time to assimilate some of the shifts to embody your awakened self, you'll be able to focus again (at least on the mental levels--shifting everything inside of you may take longer than the average vacation. If so, I encourage you to make it a priority over the job so long as you can still take care of your means of living).

Parting With a Loved Job

Work seems to be the theme of this post. It often has so many triggers and issues for us that I consider it one of the best spiritual practices we have. It's right up there on the list with romantic relationships as ways to discover how we react to things and how we practice patience and loving awareness. But to the point of this paragraph, sometimes work that we have loved doing is complete. This loops back to what I talked about before in this post but from a different angle. Your energy has gone some place else. It doesn't mean this job is full of lies or is bad. It simply means that you're done, and whenever possible, we should honor coming to completion and letting go. Life is full of birth, death, and rebirth. To truly embrace rebirth, we have to let go. And I fear this is where so many get stuck in the transition of the spiritual awakening. We are dying to everything old inside to make room for the fullness of our awakened self. And the more profound the awakening, that often means the more profound the shift in the world around us. To be reborn into this new world means we have to let go of the things we held onto. If we don't, it's like one eye is looking to the past, and the other is looking in the present. We can't focus on anything. Our head spins. We feel confused and lost.

It's best to just let go and trust that what is coming will help us re-focus in the right way. And in that re-focusing, we are seeing with the eyes of love and can accept and love all that is part of this world. That's the gift of seeing with your true sight, and it will help you to see how you truly need to live, work, and flourish in this life.

Today's photo comes from my friend and reader, Becky Stiller. Please feel free to check out her beautiful work on this flickr link.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Upcoming November 2012 Spirituality Workshop: How to Build an Evolving Spiritual Practice

The spiritual path is like coming into full bloom.
I'm working on setting up more workshops to help people engage more deeply on their spiritual paths. Generally speaking, these will be based in the San Francisco Bay Area, but if you'd be willing to host a workshop in your area, please contact me through my contact form.

How to Build an Evolving Spiritual Practice Workshop

Workshop Overview

Many people get stuck in a one-size-fits-all mentality for spirituality or simply stick to spiritual practices because they are familiar. They often don’t have an appreciation for the fullness and expansiveness of themselves, and consequently, many people don’t know how to create a spiritual practice that meets them in their entirety.

Building an evolving spiritual practice helps people discover their inner needs and find more love and truth throughout their lives. This workshop is aimed to help beginners and continuing spiritual practitioners to build or re-build a spiritual practice to better meet more of their needs. Additionally, it helps people learn when and how to let go of a practice appropriately.

Workshop Highlights

In this workshop, you have the opportunity to:
  • Discover what your spiritual needs are/learn more about your spiritual needs
  • Appreciate the importance of beginner’s mind
  • Practice listening to your inner knowing to find the right spiritual tools for different issues/needs
  • Learn about perseverance and self-discipline
  • Identify the difference between pain and discomfort
  • Learn how to be mindfully and appropriately change your spiritual practice
  • Connect with others on the spiritual path

Workshop Details

Date: Saturday November 17th

Time: 1:30pm to 5:30pm PST

Place: Pleasant Hill, CA (Specific details forth-coming)

Teacher: Jim Tolles

Size: 6 to 7 attendees

Suggested Donation: $150 USD

As always, the suggested donation is just a suggestion. You should give from within your financial means, and whatever you have to give will be gratefully received.

What to bring:
  •     A notebook
  •     Pen
  •     Wear comfortable clothing for sitting

What is provided:
  •     Snacks
  •     Tea/drinks

RSVP on the following link by November 15th if you will be attending:


Today's photo comes from my friend and reader, Becky Stiller. Please feel free to check out her beautiful work on this flickr link.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Getting Stuck and Incomplete Spiritual Awakening Integrations

Awakening Is Like Re-Writing Your Whole Life
Since I'm really talking about something that's relatively under-discussed (at least compared to sports, celebrities, politics, and other stuff in this culture), I wanted to tackle another topic that may get missed: incomplete spiritual awakening integration. It sounds kind of technical, but really it just means coming to completion with your awakening. That means you can live and act from that deeper space of knowing. It doesn't make you perfect. It doesn't get rid of all difficulty in life, but the lights are firmly on in your inner home.

Now, this is a little tricky because ultimately only you know if you feel incomplete or if you got stuck somewhere in integrating spirituality into yourself. You may even know where you got stuck, which is why you're really interested in this blog post (and there are plenty of us spiritual teachers and healers who can help you get unstuck too). So what happens to halt this amazing process? And how do we get the wheels turning again after things have ground to a halt? Let's see what comes up.

It Was All Going Along So Blissfully...

Everyone likes the bliss phase. Who wouldn't? You're just surfing along enjoying life in full HD 3D stereo, and everything is so, so beautiful. You feel love in everything, and then you hit something. Maybe you hit something really hard. It's jarring. "What is this?" you ask. "I don't like this whatever it is. Give me the bliss state back." But the energy that was so free-flowing has now found a wall, and that energy is pressing even harder on that wall. It's going to keep pressing until the wall crumbles.

But what are these walls? These are all the ideas and fears and ways of playing small that you've accepted in your life. They are your edges, and you unconsciously created them because of how you were raised, your karma in this life, and a variety of decisions you've made throughout your life. But as you awaken, anything in the way of your true fullness and your natural way of living and growing in life has to go. It just has to. And so your energy expands until it hits this wall--a wall you may or may not know existed--and this is when the spiritual work begins.

It's Not Hard Work, But It Is Hard Work

Many of the truths of life live in paradoxes because we live in paradoxes. We are all one, and yet we are separate. This is the truth of the matter. A droplet of water is its own thing, but it is also part of the ocean. The more you melt into your awakened state, the more you become like the droplet where the lines of separation grow tinier and tinier. But at times, you're going to feel like you need a hammer and chisel to get through all of this dense, inner ice that is restricting your growth. Which brings us to this truth:

Awakening is a lot of hard work, and awakening shouldn't be hard work at all.

And so you're like, well, what the heck do I do with that line, Jim? I know. Sorry. Bummer. It's a paradox. The truth is that some things need a lot of attention and active awareness, and that can bring you to seek outside support and stay very dedicated in your spiritual practices to uncover walls and remove them. You may need a spiritual teacher, energy healer, a daily journal, 2-hour meditation practice, yoga practice, and half a dozen other things as you re-program your ego and mind and make space for this awakened energy.

Then other times come, and you do nothing to absorb this awakened energy--which is simply you. You simply are aware of it, and you let that energy melt the edges of ice as you dissolve into pure being and integrate it into your daily life. There's no work or struggle at all.

That's how the awakening process tends to go.

What We Resist, Persists

As the old saying goes, what we resist, persists. As I talked about in my post about spiritual awakening pain, the more resistance we have, the more painful awakening becomes. Much of that resistance comes from the ego, which can be rapidly creating a new identity that it thinks is "spiritual." It loves to play this game. It's like a pile of crap re-wrapping itself in a new wrapper. So it says "spiritual" sounding stuff, wears shirts with "namaste" on it, learns energy healing, and goes to hang out with a whole bunch of spiritual teachers. But what you do in the outer world, really is inconsequential compared to what happens on the inner world. And your awakened energy knows the truth, so it will keep taking you towards your issues. RELENTLESSLY. Wherever you resist, you will get exhausted.

Now, resistance doesn't make you a bad person. It doesn't make you a failure at awakening. It really just means that you have resistance. You see the difference? This is the difference between discernment and judgment. Judgment says that resistance is bad. I'm not saying that resistance is bad or that if you feel fatigue or pain that you are doing poorly with your awakening. I'm saying that there is resistance, and if you dam up a river, there will be a great deal of pressure until the dam breaks. That's the truth of it. The truth takes us right into fear, anger, sadness, and depression, and when we release the ideas and old karmic pains (some of which are forgotten from occurrences in early childhood, coming from past-lives, or are just this old, ancient gunk that has been around for generations in the family), we expand once more.

The Sticking Point: Discovering What We're Avoiding

So, as I said, only you can decide if you awakening was incomplete. Your inner knowing knows the truth. Go there if you are uncertain if this applies to you. Because some people really only integrate spiritual awakenings in the upper energy centers. So you can see a person with a very awake mind, but the heart and the body really aren't in the same alignment. It's not bad. This may simply be what this soul came to do. You always have to keep that in mind whenever you're reading this blog or any others. Every soul has a different set of experiences that they're interested in having. So the person with an awakened mind who doesn't completely embody and live from awakened awareness isn't a failure. That person may simply have a different path.

This is also where its impossible to compare your awakening with anyone else. I get a lot of people who ask if other people are going through similar things, and it's just not a question that really makes sense. There are clearly similar themes in experiences, but we are all here to experience what we are all here to experience. So go within to ask yourself if what is happening is in alignment with what feels true to you. If the answer is yes, then relax a little more. Things are going as you have set out. If the answer is no, then ask where you got stuck.

Common Sticking Points in Spiritual Integration

Well, I'm sure you can guess what will be number one on this list, so let's see if I can start with some under-appreciated issues first.
  • Old family karma. This stuff is where the core issues are often rooted. Fears of lack, issues with self-worth or lack of love, fears of abandonment and social rejection, and other big ones hide out down here. You will likely have faced these things multiple times as you've healed, but each level heals in its own way. It's easy to get stuck in your family karma and all the old programming that tells you who to be and how to behave.
  • Past life/concurrent life issues. I say concurrent lives because ultimately we're all moving through a place where there is no space or time. The deeper you connect inside, the more time is just a concept. Consequently, all the lives that your soul is interconnected with become more connected to you as you connect more with everyone and everything. Old issues and unhealthy connections often have to be healed and resolved. Sometimes, these issues have to be dealt with sooner. It's one I typically talk about later on with people because too many people are interested in these energetic connections as a way to joy-ride through other lives or escape the present moment.
  • Trauma and especially family/early-childhood trauma. Trauma brings some of the biggest blockages. As I said, none of these blockages are "bad," but most people really want to heal from trauma. They also often find that their entire lives completely tied up in trauma, which means healing absolutely has to happen on every level. That can mean truly starting over in every aspect of your life, and if you have deep trauma that you are healing as you are awakening, outside support is often critical to not getting stuck.
  • The ego. Well, this thing runs through a lot of issues, including the ones I've listed. For instance, an ego may decide that it doesn't want to believe in concurrent lives. But what does not believing in that get you? You'll find that believing in this and not-believing that don't help you much in life. We don't become gullible, brainless people on the spiritual path. Instead, we learn how to sit in a place where we don't need to believe/disbelieve readily. If something is helpful, I'll believe in it. If believing that aliens are going to come save us from ourselves is helpful, I'll believe in it. I honestly don't care if there are aliens or not. Believing or disbelieving in them doesn't get me anything. You see what I mean?

Self-Identifying Sticking Points and Outside Perspectives

Finding your sticking points may be easy to do, and outside perspectives can also be helpful as well. I think a lot of people often figure out some of their answers just in emailing me. I don't necessarily always reply, and sometimes all there really is for me to say is, "That's beautiful. Keeping going." Because it's always the most important to be developing and owning your own wisdom. That's a key aspect of integrating spirituality.

Other aspects of integrating a spiritual awakening involve how you live and act from your heart, how you listen and learn mindfully from yourself and others, how you take care of your body, how you live in balance and harmony with life around you, and generally living and being your love. You don't have to try to be a good person. When you are doing what you love and focusing on that place in you, you are perfect as you are. In fact, the "good" and "bad" dichotomy becomes a pretty useless dichotomy. I'm not writing to you today to be a good person. I'm writing because it's what feels true to me to do. I have all of these blogs in my noggin, and quite frankly, not writing is like creating a dam against a whole surge of river water. So I keep writing.

But many times, your sticking points won't be obvious to you. As I said, the ego runs through a lot of issues. It will cut you off from yourself and from others. Being alone is often a big issue. Not being able to find people with "pure" enough energy to help you can be a big issue. I know. I've had those things come up in myself, and so it's forced me to look at my ego and its stories that said I was "unhelpable" or had to do things on my own. You see? You see how the ego creates new games around awakening. Ah, it is a shifty little imp.

Stepping Back Into Vulnerability Once More

Life is always unknown, and in that space of vulnerability is all of life. Each time we step into that flow, we can never know where it is going to happen. Oftentimes, people get stuck because they are afraid. They are afraid of where this flow is going to take them, and if you did get stuck and have found this blog today, then you are being invited back into vulnerability and change. It's time to go yet a little more deeply to re-open yourself. Go back to where you felt like things were flowing and integrating and expanding. See what happened. Journal about it or talk to a friend about it. Obviously, I'm around for those who want to write to me or talk about it in a session.  But it doesn't necessarily need a lot of work. It may take a little bit of courage though. But the gift of stepping back into this energy and this flow is that your life will begin to open up and flow again. This awakened energy that is simply you gets invited more fully into yourself, and you will get to fully embody and integrate the spiritually awake person you naturally are.

Today's photo comes from my friend and reader, Becky Stiller. Please feel free to check out her beautiful work on this flickr link.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cycles of Pain and Suffering

Pain can be healed and addressed when we are finally willing to look at what binds us.
The Chains of Pain
A man beats his child

Teaches her that love and pain are combined

She grows up and marries a man who beats her

Then they teach that child the same lesson, and he one day beats his wife

The cycle of pain and suffering continues.

I'm not pulling my punches today. We live in a world caught in cycles of pain. It's important to look at them. It's important to look at how they influence us. It's important to see how we perpetuate them. All the great major religions at their core are interested in ending these cycles of suffering. They seek to bring balance and harmony to civilization. Nevermind what extremists are doing or what people who have lost their spirituality in their service to the great edifice of the structure of religions are doing. Get to the core. Get down to the root. To do that means we have to look at how we've created our internal world so that we can begin to break the cycles of pain and suffering within us.

The Hammer Falls Once on Us; We Share It Twice on Others

Even people who consider themselves to be nice people may cringe as they look inwards at how they've aided, abetted, or perpetuated suffering in themselves or on others. It's a cold dark world at times when we have to admit that we are part of the problem. That's part of the profundity that comes with spiritual awakening; we suddenly see all of that all at once. Spiritual awakening doesn't give you rose colored glasses. It takes those away and smashes them into millions of peaces. Awakening simply sees. It sees what is without label. It sees pain, and it sees joy. It sees their sacred dance together as life unfolds.

And yet from this deep awareness, there will often arise the aspiration to influence life and to assuage much of the suffering that is going on. It starts with stopping how we swing the hammer on others. So often the pain that we feel from someone else we immediately we want to get rid of. So we pound someone twice with our hammer--whether it is abuse of another, general whining and bitching, or someone other outlet.

Or perhaps we swing the hammer twice on ourselves. There's a strong masochistic element in many people, and many people think that there is no harm in harming themselves. But there is. Your seemingly private pity party in alcohol, binge eating, excessive working-out, over working in general, or whatever you do to avoid your pain and suffering is actually inflicting suffering on yourself and is also making everyone else around you suffer more. Because we are all connected, and what we do to hurt or debase ourselves, hurts others.

The Pain Game

A woman comes home and yells at her husband

At night, he crawls into the bottle to hide from that pain

Later on he gets in a shouting match and fist fight with another man over nothing

He ends up in jail. The other man ends up in the hospital

The other man cowers the rest of his life from difficult situations and never asserts himself again

His family learns the lesson of becoming a victim

The cycle of pain and suffering continues

The cycles of pain play out in so many ways. It's like the game of telephone, but in a very bad way. In telephone, someone whispers a message to one person, and then that person whispers it to another. The message gradually morphs into something different from the original message--most of the time. Then everyone laughs at what the final metamorphosis is.

But with pain, it's not funny what this morphs into. It is simply more and more suffering. Many of us who have awakened find it really upsetting to do harmful things to others if we didn't already have that aversion. Although I notice that there is still this martyrdom element that can show up, but as I said, suffering for the world does no good.

The world knows suffering.

It needs to know love.

Grounding and Releasing Pain and Suffering in You

Which is why having grounding rituals is important. One of my favorite techniques that I learned someone time ago was called a negative tension release. What I'm going to describe is a variant of that. Essentially, you sit up straight and focus on different parts of your body. Start with the top of your head and work your way down. Breathe slowly and deeply with your eyes closed, and focus on any feelings of dis-ease or pain at each area. Then shake it out of through your arms. Work your way all the way down to your feet, and see if you feel a little better. I usually do, and it's definitely been helpful as I've released negativity pointed at me indirectly or directly. Not all negativity is personal--and oftentimes when someone is trying to make it personal, it really isn't. Sometimes, different places and cities are negative, so this can be a great way to practice clearing away the mud of walking through a swamp. Those places not necessarily evil; they are just swamps. Don't make too big of a deal out of it.

Walking Out of Pain and Suffering

A man sees another man get mugged and robbed

He says nothing

At work, he sees his boss talk over all the other employees

He says nothing

At home he screams at everybody

His children and wife say nothing

His children grow up, and they learn to scream at others, but when something serious happens, they say nothing

The cycle of silent suffering continues.

It can all seem bleak, but I encourage you to look inward. I know these little vignettes have been striking, but sometimes these scenarios are the only way to get people to pay attention. I recently encouraged a spiritual friend interested in child advocacy to take pictures of children who have been abused. Words are powerful, but like the old age says, a picture is worth a thousand words. The power of those images can help people finally see the problem at hand instead of ignoring or avoiding it.

Which is where the start of breaking the cycle of pain and suffering begins. We start by bringing awareness and our inner sight to view the suffering in our own lives.

Our Eyes Open to Reality

As I mentioned, spiritual awakening does not bring rose-colored glasses. Anything that only judges life as positive and negative and focuses solely on the positive while ignoring the negative is a very naive way to look at life. That's not how spirituality is. Spirituality sees all. But you will only be able to see all of life when you are willing to see all of you. A lot of times, we don't look at all of life because we are afraid to look at all of ourselves. It's a hard thing to imagine that we could ever do things like murder, gang rape, steal, and so forth, but the human beings doing such things are--in fact--still human beings. They are just like us. Labelling them as evil, insane, unconscious, or whatever doesn't get us out of the fact that we have those same potentialities inside us. Sure, the more you embrace the fullness of your love and awareness, those types of things don't even surface in your consciousness as something that you would do. But this is the no-holds-bars reality of the spiritual path; to get to that place of awareness means you have to accept all of life and all of yourself--both the ability to do great kindnesses and the ability to do great harm.

What to Do With the Mess in Your Living Room

If you have started to open your eyes, even a little, I applaud you. But you may suddenly feel overwhelmed by the fear, anger, hatred, sadness, despair, and other things piled in your inner living room. "How did it all get here?" you may wonder. They got there through avoidance, neglect, and more fear of ourselves. To clean it up starts and continues with noticing what is there. You have to survey the damage. Many people just want it to be cleaned up already, and while healing can be instantaneous, I think it is often more helpful to go slowly. There is no rush. No matter how badly things seem, the idea of fixing ourselves can potentially be worse. Because fixing often means rejecting parts of ourselves. Healing means loving all of ourselves including our hatreds, fears, and sadness. This may sound strange, and you may not know how to do this. But as I said, start by noticing what is here. The journal is, as ever, a great place to start to list out what you see before you consider bringing in the battle axe to hack it out.

Breaking the Cycles of Pain and Suffering

A man is belittled at work and robbed as he gets off the subway

He goes home and cries after filing a police report

His partner asks why he is crying

He tells him and lets the pain go

The cycle of pain and suffering starts to break

Whenever you are unhappy or upset, I encourage you to pause. I encourage you to see the upset feelings inside, and I encourage you to find the courage to let them go. Whatever happened is not about you. If there is something to be learned from the situation, then learn it. This is part of the power of our courage and love. This part of the power of seeing the reality of the situation. When we turn to face it instead of running from it, attacking it, or avoiding it, we can now see it. I can't emphasize this enough. The cycles of pain and suffering that the Buddha and other teachers talked about thousands of years ago are still just as present today, and they are still just as heal-able. And all it takes to get started is the willingness to look and see what is right there.

The chains of pain picture comes from my student, Jenn. Thanks, dear one!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Finding Her Voice: A Student's Journey to Speaking Her Truth

The ocean is like our voices when they are open. Sometimes quiet, sometimes furious, but always flowing.
No one can quiet the voice of the ocean
Finding our truth and speaking it is so important to living our lives in integrity and love. It’s a common issue that many people face in a society that wants us to conform to certain ways of speaking. In this post, my student, Jenn, shares her journey with finding her voice. And if you’d like yet another perspective, you can check out my former student, Susan’s post on the topic as well. BTW, toady's picture is also from Jenn.

Enjoy the blog!

Finding My Voice

For me to find my own voice, I needed to go back to the time and place when I thought I first lost it. For me, that's easy to know; I need to go back to birth.

I never had my own voice. For most of my life, I said and did what I thought everyone else wanted me to say and do. For the first time, I am finding my own voice. My own pure beautiful voice. My voice and my heart are connected. I have the awareness today to know when I am speaking from my heart or when I am speaking from my head or someone else’s ideas. To find my own voice is to take responsibility for my life and clean out all the garbage that is blocking the pathway to my heart. I had to get honest with myself. I needed to unlock painful childhood memories that I tried to run from for years. 

When I tell people I didn’t talk until I was 7 years old, they have a reaction of either disbelief or find it humorous. I can tell you it’s anything but funny. When I was a young girl I was an observer; I watched life. I watched how people interacted at home, in school, and I watched how nature interacted. I was a curious child, and unfortunately I was a very scared child. I still remember listening to the teacher in nursery school call my name over and over until I hesitantly raised my hand slowly almost shamefully. Children used to approach me and poke their finger into my side and ask if I was a stuffed animal, and I would smile then look down. I would sit and color for hours without stopping; I would lose myself in art. I felt safe there. I felt peace there. But when it was time to socialize, I remember feeling a swarm of internal bees fly up my gut into my throat and to swarm and bite my vocal chords. It literally hurt, and I kept silent as a result.

I was scared to express myself. I was scared to talk because I was scared of what I would say. I wasn’t sure how I felt or what I thought to even start to be able to express my needs or wants or even simply my thoughts and definitely not my feelings. I was scared of not being accepted if I showed the world who I really was. I convinced myself that if the world really knew who Jenn was, then no one would ever love me. How could a little girl have so much fear and shame? I came from a childhood that was pretty normal. I never experienced physical harm. I was raised in a middle to upper class family and lived in a great suburban town 20 miles from NYC. I had really no “excuse” for this silent behavior. Then the more I dig, the more I realize that I never felt safe. I was always living in constant fear.

My father was an alcoholic--the kind that slips away into the basement and drinks in secret. He was never loud or harmful, though he was extremely silent. I never really knew him, but I knew we shared one thing, suffering. He suffered from the disease of alcoholism, and I suffered from the disease of silence. The older I became, the more stressful things at home were becoming. My father was drinking more, he sold our lucrative family business, and our family could no longer keep up with the Joneses. My mother and father started to fight a lot, and like I said, I was an observer. So I saw it all. I felt that if I “behaved” I could alter or manipulate the unpleasant stuff going on at home. If I could only take away my mother’s pain, then she would be happy. If I could only be a better daughter then my father wouldn’t drink, I convinced myself. I sincerely believed I was somehow responsible for my family's pain. 

Fortunately, I started going to speech therapy at the age of 7. I feel this was a turning point. It helped a lot! I started to gain confidence with each session despite the growing turmoil at home. I found my role in my family was shifting. I was becoming the peace maker and the entertainer--the child that made sure everyone was happy. Unfortunately, I did this most of the time at my own emotional expense. I remember always being very sensitive. I could feel others pain on a very uncomfortable level. I remember visualizing absorbing others pain through a bright orange straw, drinking it down into my belly so they didn't have to feel the pain. I could "save" them from themselves, I thought. The way I would escape from my own pain was art and nature.

At a young age I had a very special and spiritual connection to nature. I felt sincere, clean, pure love in nature. Mostly I felt safe there away from people. I would run off to the nearest nature trail 1 mile down the road from our house. I first started to express myself to flowers. They always looked like they were smiling. So I would tell them how my day was. I felt peaceful and welcomed when I looked at them. I felt like they listened and didn’t judge me. I would even talk to frogs, squirrels, birds, trees, and--my favorite--the running water in the stream. I personified the woods and made it the family that I wish I had at home.

By the time I was 17 I was still caretaking, but I was a pretty happy teen. I was involved in a lot of sports and had great friends. But something happened that again took my breath away. In the spring of 2002, my father was on his death bed with liver failure. My mother stuck by his side. I really felt it was for us kids. But whatever her intentions, I’m glad she did. The doctor would make house visits. I can remember the room my father was in. It was dark. He slept all day. He was going through detox, and the room had an odor I can't even begin to explain. I just hope to never experience it again.

The doctor sat my mother, brother, and sister down and explained my father may not make it. He strongly suggested we needed to start praying more than we ever had before. I was angry. I hated my dad for drinking. I hated my mom for marrying him. I hated them for having me. But I could never tell this to anyone, not even God. My idea of God was punishing, and I didn’t want him to think I was ungrateful. Then I felt guilty for even having those feelings about my mother and father in the first place. I escaped even more into sports for those awful months. I ran until my body hurt. I would go home late then wake up early just so I didn’t have to be home. My mother told us to tell no one what was going on at home and instead tell friends and teachers that dad was using vacation days to relax.

By the grace of God, my father lived, and the doctor professed him a waking miracle. He changed over those months. That near death experience changed my father for forever. I finally started to have a normal sober healthy father. I started really getting to know him for the first time. Things were getting much better at home and I started to feel peace there for the first time.

A year later, the summer of 2003 my mother had an affair that ripped our family to pieces. That was years ago, and much healing has come from that heart ache. But the hardest thing about her affair is that I found out before anyone else did. I approached her about it, and she told me I had to keep quiet until she was ready to tell them family. And that if I did say a word, I would be betraying my only mother's trust. I kept that dirty secret to myself for 3 whole months the entire summer. It tormented me. I picked up poor eating habits and cigarettes just to deal with it. I allowed again another person to suffocate my voice. I just wish it didn’t have to be my mother.

That summer and about 5 years after, I stayed quiet about the issues at home. I ran off to college, and I suffered from panic attacks that would leave me paralyzed. I ended up in the ER one time because I couldn't breathe. I was involved in an extremely co-dependent relationship. I took off a year from college to comfort my dad because I was scared for him to be alone.

I wanted to feel needed. It was one of the only ways I felt self-worth. I tried to lose myself in other people so I didn't have to take responsibility and deal with myself. I felt safe and needed as long as other people were around me. Unfortunately I didn't have the awareness to understand the harmfulness of this at the time. I would accept any type of attention even emotionally abusive attention. My life was being held together by dirty glue that was barely keeping the seams from splitting. Then in 2009 I lost it and moved to Pittsburgh to start all over. Here is where I found true healing.  

From doing work with Jim and the work I continue to do with myself and my higher power, I am realizing that silence has kept me sick for my most of my life. Today I am taking a different approach. I am being gentle with myself. I feel in a lot of ways I am a still a little girl that just wants a big hug and to be told that she is loved and safe. Today I hug and love that little girl inside of me. I allow for her to speak and tell me what she needs and feels. I quiet my jabber, so I can listen to my own fears and feelings. I am learning that I no longer need to run from myself. I am safe in my heart.

I never knew how to express myself. I played the role of a victim so well I started to believe and identify as a victim in most areas of my life. I played the role of the martyr, the girl that would bend over backwards for you and place herself in ultimate sacrifice. I wasn't being "selfless," I was being extremely selfish. I was trying to manipulate people to keep them under my control. I wanted them to know that they owed me for all the sacrifice I continued to force down their throats even though many never asked for help. I used people to give myself purpose. I kept myself in my own chains. I am finding that today I no longer need to absorb other people’s pain. That is not my responsibility. I can finally let go.

A lot of my own internal garbage has been surfacing that has been giving me the freedom to change my behavior. I am starting to own my life. I thought my "spiritual house" was so clean and tidy until I went into the attic, opened the closets and basement--a great analogy I picked up from Jim.

Today I am finding my own voice in taking responsibility for myself. Each morning I start the day with a meditation where I ask God for the strength and guidance to surrender my desire to control others and life in general. I pray for love. I am setting boundaries with people. It's unpleasant but I am learning how to say "no." Today I feel safe in my own company, and I allow myself to speak. Sometimes I scream when I’m alone because it feels so new and so relieving! I am slowly releasing the years of staying quiet. I am learning how to express in a healthy way to others what is acceptable and unacceptable in my life. I am finding out that neither people, places or things can give me peace, and the tighter I hold onto these illusions, the more resistance I create, which paralyzes my own inner love to sing. I am learning how to be alone in my own company, in my own silence, and in my own noise. I practice looking into the mirror and telling myself “I am safe, I am loved, and I am beautiful.” (I used to avoid all mirrors possible when I was in the thick of my own suffering. I couldn’t stand to look into my own eyes.)

I am trusting my own inner love and truly knowing that all the love and answers I am searching for are within my heart. Nobody has them but me. I know there is a lot of garbage left to clean up that is blocking my path to my heart. This summer I made the commitment to clean out as much as I can, and I will keep that promise. I want to love cleanly, speak cleanly, behave cleanly. One of my absolute favorite phrases from Jim. Mostly, I want to fall in love with myself. Which I feel I am. I am experiencing the miracle of love. I have seen it melt away layers of fear and harmful stories within. I am learning to trust and love myself regardless of my past. I am learning to love my voice. And I no longer feel other people's voices are more important, beautiful, or wiser than my own.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Spiritual Awakening and Pain: The Torment of Internal Resistance

A metaphor for spiritual awakening and resisting the process.
The Spiritual Road Isn't As Cold As It May Seem
One of the most common concerns around spiritual awakening is the arising of pain and discomfort. There's this very juvenile thought that spiritual awakening brings with it the end of all difficulty in life. It doesn't. It brings with it the opportunity to be released from suffering, which is very different. Suffering is of the mind. It is how we try to make life fit our ideas of it, and because life will never comply, we endlessly suffer. Awakening illuminates the folly of this and shows us the truth of our lives. But along with the beauty awakening may show us, it will also show us the trash and debris that we've filled our lives with.

However, many people still will cling to these attachments, fears, desires, and needs. And with the rush of awakened energy opened up inside, there is the meeting of resistance and flow. Then the pain starts.

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The Bliss Subsides

For many people, spiritual awakening brings immense bliss and enjoyment. It's like floating in this other world that you never knew could exist. You see the reality of life. You see the beauty in life. You may see the beauty in suffering as in pleasure, and you understand these truths.

But as these truths descend into you to take root, they most often hit resistance. The moment you resist this energy--this flow of change and love--is the moment the bliss state begins to fade, potentially to never return.

And of course, how could it return? This is a very special time frame, and you have to be in a certain space to experience bliss in this way. In many respects, most people experience bliss in a very naive way since they've never touched it before. The more integrated experiences of bliss are much different. They aren't floating and surreal. Instead, they bring an intense clarity and love to your life in a whole other way. And these moments may appear, but resistance has to be released. Inner space has to be made for more of the awakened you. But you're most likely going to have to do some inner work to create that space.

The Pain Grows and Intensifies

People love to blame things, situations, and other people. The same goes for spiritual awakening. Sure, it was all fun and games until something had to get a little deeper and more serious. Suddenly, the light switch that went off in your inner world is showing you the leaking sewage in your basement, but you didn't want to see that. You just wanted to feel good all the time like a perpetual sugar rush. Oh, humanity...we have become so childish.

And so many people avoid this situation. They run to a spiritual teacher, retreat center, meditation group, commune, or something else. They try to constantly do kind acts for others thinking that they can over compensate for the issue or something. But still, the sewage leak continues in the basement. This issue may be undealt with pain with family members, fear of being alone, fear of following your heart, anger at a past lover, and so many more things that I won't even attempt to continue this list. It's all there. All the pain that you've experienced or inflicted on others is there. It's why I spend so much time talking about the importance of healing on this blog because if you don't do it before an awakening arrives, you most certainly will have to after it comes.

Excruciating Pressures on Parts of the Body

But instead, people continue the avoidance of the issues, and so the pain intensifies. Now, this doesn't mean you're a bad person either. That's not how this situation works. You aren't being punished for your sins or forced to endure a terrible ordeal. You're being asked to open up to love and to release old pain. You aren't meant to suffer on this path, and you aren't being asked to do anything super-human. You are merely having to face yourself, and with that can come an immense amount of intensity.

One of the easiest to point out and most common types I've heard about are pressures on the top of the head and forehead. Abiding that you have been checked out with the local MD community, those pressures are usually examples of where your mind is getting in the way of the energy. It's usually holding onto its ideas about what it should be experiencing or how it wants to have this awakening or not have this awakening. That's like building a dam in front of the river, and the pressure is building. It will build until it bursts or until after some long period of time, the energy gets all dammed up again. And awakening is an afterthought, although you never really go back completely to sleep. You simply will know that you missed something, and there may be this sad, painful longing and regret that washes up inside you from time to time that chills you and that you cannot seem to forget.

And the Pain Grows Further: Movement Becomes Difficult

I'm going to keep going here because people have so much resistance inside that they can practically debilitate themselves. It tends to be even worse when someone has deep trauma or pain, and if you stir in a really, really un-relenting ego with potentially some past-life issues, then you've got the recipe for someone who may get locked in suffering for some time. This person will hate the awakening, and s/he will very likely blame it for ruining her/his life. Jobs and doing pretty much anything become impossible. This person may not even be able to move very much without feeling pain. It's not necessarily because you shouldn't be working; it's more because all your energy is diverted to this inner war.

The suffering is immense and unrelenting in this situation. It can bring about severe depression, at which point it is high past the time for getting external help and support. But these egos that get to this point are so mired and dug in that the individual often won't go for help. And if you are one of these people, I strongly encourage you to seek out help if pain has gotten so severe and all the Western doctors keep saying, "We can't find anything physically wrong with you." There are those of us who do understand, but it will always have to come from you to ask for help and then do the work of letting go inside.

The Amazing Magic of Letting Go

Then one day, the individual makes a decision to let go. Often this is a kind of giving up. This is when the individual finally realizes that s/he can't beat the awakening. In truth, this is a wildly unfortunate perspective. Because the awakening is just that person. The awakening is taking the individual towards love and whatever s/he treasures most--even if the person doesn't know what that is. But life is an imperfect thing, and so sometimes, that kind of letting go is good enough. Some of the resistance releases, and then there's more relaxation again. The person may have a momentary expansion and move back into a high state experience--although if things got really painful, it may not be that high of a state. Furthermore, the more you integrate spirituality, you're moving your energy into a naturally higher state, but let's not get too stuck on this idea. I don't want you to get lost in the ideas of higher or lower. Let's just say, you'll probably feel a lot better.

The Renewal of Pain and More Inner Torment

Yet, if someone has gotten into this much pain, there's probably a lot more inner resistance to release. Resistance is anyway that we fight the flow of life, and there are different types in the mind, heart, body, and energy field. Energy field resistance can be the most subtle to work with, but usually by the time someone is working in this space, they've gotten comfortable with the process even if the process isn't exactly comfortable.

I know that for me right now as I write this blog, I'm working out resistance in my body. It feels like it's down in my very bones, and yoga has been immensely helpful along with breathing exercises, meditation and energy clearing, showers, and general mindful presence. It's nothing like some of the inner resistance I've dealt with before, and I'm not in any kind of immense pain. But there is discomfort. So I see it and meet it instead of running from it (which is a kind of passive resistance in and of itself).

Finding the Right Help at the Right Time

Ultimately, being present and letting go are the most central ways of dealing with inner resistance. Every spiritual tool that I may suggest is just a way of encouraging you to do those two things. Within those things are love and acceptance of what is. You have to stop resisting who you are and the spiritual integration process. If you don't stop resisting, the pain will continue needlessly. And it's important to emphasize that it is needless. There is discomfort that we face, and there is pain that we create. Life is full of uncomfortable things from the loss of a loved one to hitting our hand with a hammer. Pain is constantly thinking about the lost loved one or blaming ourselves repeatedly for hitting our hand with the hammer. Do you see the difference? If not, feel free to contact me.

With all that said, different help is appropriate for different types of resistance. For stuff going on in my body, I'm not trying to write it out. My body understands movement, and so I move it mindfully. I'm also not trying to force out the resistance. I lean into it. With the heart, releasing resistance may be forgiving a loved one, someone who hurt us, or someone we hurt. With healing the mind, it may involve acceptance and having more faith in what is happening. Whatever resistance and pain you may feel during an awakening, it can be released, and there are many tools, teachers, healers, and modalities out there to help facilitate it if you need the extra helping hand.

Today's lovely photo comes from my friend and reader, Becky Stiller. Please feel free to check out her beautiful work on this flickr link.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

How to Find a Spiritual Teacher

Putting aside the obvious, clearly you've found a spiritual teacher by coming to this spirituality blog. Ta-da! Good job. However, what I really am referring to is the "how" in the matter. How to look for a spiritual teacher always begins and ends with your inner knowing. This is the only way to find the right people to support you on your spiritual path. With so many new spiritual teachers and guides appearing these days to help people become more conscious and potentially awaken, the field of options is much broader than it has ever been. Add on to that the power of the Internet to find many of these individuals, and in many ways, we are in a kind of rebirth of spirituality.

But not every teacher is right for every student, and the first thing to delve into are your own needs.

In the event you do want to work with me, please feel free to contact me on my contact page.

Confused, Scared, Directionless

I have no illusions that many of you have been and felt very lost. The idea of connecting to your own inner knowing seems like something that happens on the other side of the moon. But that's not true at all. You own intuition/inner knowing is always right here. It's always waiting for you to start listening, and if you feel like you need a spiritual teacher to help you out of the muck, I encourage you to go even slower. Because the old and unhealthy habit of people is to give their power away. They say to themselves, "Ah-ha! Here's a person with all my answers. I'll just do whatever she/he tells me to do."

But that isn't right. That just continues cycles of pain because even if the teacher is extremely conscious or even awake, s/he can't know what your answers are. Only you do. And even if what the spiritual teacher is telling you sounds right a lot, the teacher won't always be right in what actions you need to take or not to take. You cannot abdicate your power on your spiritual path to ANYONE. So if you are interested in finding a spiritual teacher and you feel especially confused, I encourage you to slow down and take a few more breaths before making any big commitments.

The Many Types of Spiritual Teachers

I like to point people to my "What Is a Spiritual Teacher?" blog because I see this sacred role in many aspects, including the mind, heart, body, and energy/spirit. I believe spirituality is in all things, and so you can have teachers helping you with different levels of awareness in each of these different aspects of yourself. For instance, I consider yoga teachers who teach physical poses such as vinyasas and so forth to be spiritual teachers to the body. Putting aside those people who just teach yoga as an athletic outing, yoga teachers help people bring consciousness to their bodies. They help students to see what's stuck and where in their physical bodies. They help them to be in difficult spaces and to breathe into those spaces. And they help them prepare for that beautiful meditation that comes at the end of a yoga routine. All of this is part of helping someone appreciate the sacredness in their body.

And there are many more types of spiritual teachers. Some few can teach multiple aspects, and some fewer are masters that teach every aspect simply through the profundity of presence and being. These masters can use any tool in the toolkit--any aspect of life--to teach if they even feel called to teaching. Ultimately, teaching for masters is just a matter of being, not of action, so they'd be wholly different to experience than other teachers who are still doing a lot of types of instruction. I always warn people about running off to seek a master because most people have no idea what that term means and the reality of the individual that they are seeking.

The Cultivation of the Inner Teacher

You should also be paying attention to how the teachers you find cultivate their students' inner teachers. Some of the biggest warning signs are teachers that make you dependent on them for knowledge, connection to God/universe, or anything else. I know some older traditions get stuck on yoking/tethering yourself to one tradition or teacher. The hook into that tradition is that the teacher/teaching becomes your means to salvation/nirvana/moksha or some other magnificent sounding term. To the unaware student (and this isn't meant to be critical--most us have been unaware because of how we've been taught to look for our gratification and answers externally), these high-falluting terms sound pretty good. We're like, "Yeah! Gimme some of that."

Then you're caught in the cycle of karma with that teacher. Because make no doubt about it, the teacher is locked in a cycle of karma whenever he is professing to have all your answers or the keys to your enlightenment. Only you can ever have those, and when you hear teachers telling you that you have your answers, you may actually be frustrated or scared in a new way. This is actually a good thing, but it may take time to get used to it. Because these uncomfortable feelings are your outer layers of lies that are standing in the way of your inner teacher. I encourage you to inquire further within, and of course, there's never any rush to do so. So you can touch these feelings, and then back off before making any decisions. Then lean into them again to see what it is you are really afraid of.

The Online Phenomenon and Basics of Locating a Spiritual Teacher

Okay, so I'm sure some of you were looking for tips on locating a spiritual teacher. As I said, obviously, the Internet is one. It brought you here. But the Internet is a big, big place, so here are additional thoughts on that score:
  • Facebook. Lots of us teachers have set up shop on Facebook with profiles and pages. It's worth a look-see to see if someone is saying something that resonates for you.
  • YouTube. I love how YouTube has given even more voice to teachers. I encourage you to check out their different channels and listen to teachers like Mooji and Eckhart Tolle.
  • Google. Clearly many of you know this, but you can search on different topics and on spiritual teachers specifically to learn more.
I know many of you would also like to find spiritual teachers in your area, and I think there are always wonderful teachers nearby. They may simply not call themselves a spiritual teacher. As I said, there are many types teachers. A heart teacher teaches you to love unconditionally. This person may be working at the Humane Society, a cancer research institute, or anywhere really. Whatever they'll be doing, they'll most likely love doing. They are around, and if you start to look with your heart you'll find them.

As for the more commonly understood types of spiritual teachers, they can be found at meditation groups, churches, synagogues,  mosques, and other groups. Oftentimes you can find different types of groups with advertisements at spiritual bookstores, the church bulletin board, or yoga studios. As always, keep tuning in to your inner knowing to see who feels right to you.

Finding an Awakened Spiritual Teacher

Finding an awakened spiritual teacher is still kind of rare these days. I expect that will change, and I often tell people that this isn't quite as important as it may sound. You just need the right teacher for you in this moment. Sometimes you'll go through different teachers to help you through different phases, and that's perfectly healthy and okay. I think the bigger problems come when someone gets into the "until-death-do-us-part-mentality" with spiritual teachers. Then they can't let that person go when it is clearly time to move on. The spiritual teacher may even tell the student that it's time to leave and continue the journey on their on or to find a new teacher. But attachment is a nasty thing, is it not?

So, there is this way that you have to learn how to hold this relationship loosely, and yet it also requires you to be disciplined at times. You can't run away from the teacher, per se. Ultimately, it's just you running away from you, and I bring this up because an awakened teacher often scares the marbles out of people. There is a very powerful energy that is alive and moving in an awakened spiritual teacher, and that energy connects with students to be a kind of tuning fork for the students to find their own inner pitch. Awakened teachers tend to work on the most basic and profound level of presences and energy. And for many unprepared students, this is a shock and triggers all the old ego defense mechanisms when that inner harmony starts to resonate batch to the teacher's pitch. So I encourage most of you to not idealize this type of teacher and really only go searching for one when you're ready.

The Awakening Student

The awakened students can greatly benefit from an awakened teacher. I want to be clear that awakened students also can get plenty of support for unawakened teachers, who can be very kind, loving, and conscious. There are many, many lessons to be learned and many pains to be healed. So all teachers and healers can offer important insights and help.

However, the awakened teacher knows the spiritual integration process. The awakened spiritual teacher won't try to force the awakening student into a structure, which can happen with the unawakened teacher. The unawakened teacher tends to be a little too committed to the structure that they are teaching (yogic philosophy, the Koran, the Bible, etc.). They don't always understand the amazing blessing of what is happening, and it's actually what the many key spiritual teachers in the aforementioned books and in other teachings were pointing to. So, the awakened student can potentially get trapped in a shell that is no longer needed. Don't misunderstand me--all spiritual and religious traditions are helpful. But they have their roles, and when the spark of wisdom is aflame, there is a time to step back and a way to properly fan the flames.

And most often with awakening students, that role is to fan the flame of their own inner knowing.

Continually Return to Your Inner Knowing

I think you're noticing a theme here, right? How to find a spiritual teacher is about how to listen to yourself. It's also being willing to step into inner challenges because the right teacher may sometimes scare you. It's also being willing to step out when something no longer serves you or if you feel like it's not the right relationship. It's a delicate dance some days, and other days, it's extraordinarily clear what to do. If you really don't know how to tune into yourself, I encourage you to search the other blogs here I have about your inner knowing. No one can tell you who the right spiritual teacher is for you except your owner inner teacher. And that's ultimately where this whole thing is taking you--back inside to the wisdom you already own.

Today's lovely photo comes from my friend and reader, Becky Stiller. Please feel free to check out her beautiful work on this flickr link.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

3 Helpful Spirituality Blogs and a Student's Thoughts on Each Post

Life may challenge on our spiritual paths, but even in difficulty, there is the opportunity to flourish.
My student, Jenn, shares a couple of her favorite spirituality posts from this website and how she’s learned to apply them in her life. I hope you enjoy her thoughts and check out the posts. The picture is also from her.

Past the Turning Point: Life Speeds Up   

I really found this blog to be insightful. The topic of expansion and contraction fascinates me on a really spiritual and intellectual level. I can relate it to physics as much as to my internal spiritual space.

In January 2009, my life stopped “working.” I fell to my knees in exhaustion (the contraction kicked in.) My life had become all smashed up. First, my skin broke out into the worst case of acne I've ever experienced to the point where I didn't want to leave the house, and my friends were getting upset I wouldn’t want to see them. My 5-year relationship ended, and my dream job in NYC turned into a miserable environment that I dreaded waking up to go to. I couldn’t escape the misery; it was only building.

Like Jim mentions “low energy,” I was really stuck in that space where I was met with despair, confusion and sooo much self-hatred. I can remember it like it was yesterday. The pain was so great that within hours I decided I needed to leave everything. So I did. I threw everything I could fit into my car and booked it to Pittsburgh to seek refuge.

Quickly I started to feel an expansion. Dream jobs were being put in front of me without much effort. I moved to four different homes in 3 years. I was in 2 healthy and committed relationships. My desire to smoke cigarettes, drink, and eat poorly left, and I found myself plugged into 5 different spiritual and environment groups.

And as of these past two weeks my relationship with the Divine Spirit and others is greatly expanding. I can feel my cells are in harmony, it’s nothing like I have experienced before.  I am finding I have so more space for my own self-love and love for others.   

Grief and the Path of Loss   

Grief and loss are such uncomfortable topics for me to express. The pain is so intense that I find my throat blocked and I want to run. Reading Jim's blog have helped me to observe how strongly my ego holds onto relationships, my youth, the good days, the days when my parents were still together, when my grandma was living, etc.

Geeze, I'm only 27.

Like Jim writes, "The spiritual path is a path of loss." I find that there is a correlation; the more I let go and surrender my need to control life, the more at peace I am.

Recently, I have been trying to relinquish my old ego and make space for a cleaner and more enlightened ego. I find myself crying a lot recently over really simple things. Yesterday I started crying because the autumn leaves were starting to fall. A week ago I was reading a beautiful reading from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians in church for my brother’s wedding, and I started crying in front of the whole service. I feel really open, like emotions and feelings are passing quickly and intensely through me.

Letting Go Of Resistance  

It's funny when I read this blog awhile ago, I really appreciated it, but the words seemed far away from me. Now when I read it I actually “get it,” and it feels close, like an internal understanding. I'm noticing such a difference in my understanding and connection to life. A perfect example is that I've always loved nature, but truthfully I always felt separate from it like it was more pure or beautiful than I was and I wanted to be more like it. Today when I go hiking, I truly feel that there is no separation. For all those years I thought I was seeking nature, but what I was really seeking was myself.

The words "Just let go" bring up so much anxiety! I can feel it swell up in my root chakra. I never felt very safe or protected growing up, and I have purposely tried attaching to people, places, and things to develop a false sense of security. The idea of letting go and not knowing what the outcome will be triggers a very deep fear of feeling unsafe. I also start to feel fear, the need to control even more, and strong rage, which is followed by confusion.

For so many years I have been practicing how to control, manipulate, and shape my life to avoid the fear of the unknown. I was really trying to avoid myself and uncomfortable feelings. But now I see what Jim is saying; we really have no control over our lives. And that trying to control it and others is harmful and leads to much unnecessary pain. He mentions, "You wake up in the singular moment when you let go of all resistance." This has brought clarity to a lot of my own sleeping internal dragons.

In my morning meditation and throughout the day I practice surrendering and letting go. I am trusting that Divine Love is, always has been, and always will be taking care of me and that it is safe to take my hands off the steering wheel.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Yoga and a Self-Guided Practice to Open Your Energy and Clear Issues

darkness, light, spiritual path, spiritual awakening
Today's topic about yoga is focusing on some of the specific needs of those of you integrating a spiritual awakening. It still applies to those of you not in that space, but there are some differences. Usually, the biggest one is that you are still getting to know your body, and it isn't always as apparent what's needing the most attention. Obviously, some of you are very body-conscious, so that won't always be the case. But in awakening, there's a kind of hyper-awareness, hyper-sensitivity, and hyper-intensity, and that often informs the individual about where attention is most needed, how long it is needed there, and how much intensity is needed there. The person in awakening also will tend to be clearer about when something has really energetically released, which is a different feeling from a physical release.

With all that said, there should be something for everyone, so enjoy these thoughts about yoga.

Yoga: Much More Than a Downward-Facing Dog

In Western Culture, yoga is often a term only used to reference physical poses. In actuality, it is much bigger than that. In this culture, we've selected some of the pieces that we most need from spiritual traditions like yoga (in this case, mindfulness and exercise) and kind of forgotten the rest. So I want to honor that the word "yoga" refers to much bigger traditions than what is currently happening on most yoga mats. That doesn't denigrate the work people are doing on their mats and in yoga studios. Instead it may be an invitation to you to explore yoga even more fully such as studying the Bhagavad Gita or getting involved in a complete yoga tradition. Because as wonderful as it is to get to know your body and your energy through yoga, there's even more here to discover in a yoga tradition. And if you are completely new to yoga, I think this can be really helpful to put the postures into a broader context. This is also really helpful if you are really new to spirituality in general, which may be the case even if you are in a spiritual awakening.

The Awakened Body Knows What It Wants

I have so much love and respect for body wisdom. There is so much inside of us, and most of Western Society badly needs to start listening. It's more than just, "I want to eat now" or "I want to go for a walk." It's not a mindless dog. Our bodies are actually very mindful aspects of ourselves, and they doesn't need quite as much management as our minds think. Could you imagine what it would be like if we actually had to tell our hearts to beat, our lungs to breath, or our immune system to fight off diseases? Millions of activities are going on right under out skin every day, and it makes you start to really appreciate the miracle of good health.

In awakening, this body awareness can get heightened like no other. That's often why people go through dramatic changes in diet and body shape. Potentially for the first time ever, they are now listening to what their body actually wants. This is, unfortunately, often fought by the mind, which still believes that drinking beer and eating hot dogs is what it really needs. The inner resistance from the mind is often one of the stickiest things for people to work out. But it can be done, and as you drop more deeply into your awakened awareness, you will become clearer about what your needs are, especially in exercise and movement.

Mindfully Moving, Not Creating a Body Shape

Unfortunately again, yoga has also become a trendy way to get in shape. This tends to be more so for women, but there are still plenty of men doing super crazy power yoga stuff. That's fine. But I want to emphasize more conscious ways to use yoga and to let go of goals and ideas around it. Conscious yoga practices are about moving the body in ways that are healthful, healing, and helpful. It is not about achieving a body shape, losing weight, gaining muscle, or anything else. The body may become more pretty/handsome from a cultural standpoint, but that's not interesting to an awakened consciousness. It wants to move to be in alignment with spirit and to be healthy. In the awakened awareness, yoga can be a particularly powerful tool to heal issues and to open further to the energy that is now freely flowing. For those of you who have read my "How to Grow Your Garden" post, it's like digging rows for this water to be absorbed (I'm not sure that I used awakening as water in that metaphor, but you get the idea: you need to make space for the energy to be in your life).

With that in mind, I strongly encourage you to have had a yoga teacher or get a yoga video with proper instruction. Because yoga has become a fad, a lot of people aren't doing it with the right mindset and/or are doing poses improperly. I don't want any of you to hurt yourselves, and I certainly don't want you to come with the intention to force yourself through an issue that is still stuck in your body. The point is to be gentle and consistent and to learn to be with mild to moderate discomfort at times. This mindful movement can create space to release an issue that's in your body (say it's a deep rooted trauma or a general issue with your family) in a healthy way.

Picking Postures and Staying With the Discomfort

I've often heard yoga teachers talk about leaning into a pose when it gets difficult. If you've got a strong understanding of yoga, you will understand what I mean. There are times when you have to simply be with the discomfort in your body when you're working with a pose. I think in awakening, this is particularly important. You can't run from yourself anyway. If you feel like there's a lot going on in your hips, pick a few hip opener poses to do. Build up to them by working the muscles around them, and then do the full series throughout the day and as you need them. In creating a self-guided yoga practice, you can come back to these poses throughout the day. I've had a lot of success with this for myself.

It also can get you out of the more regimented idea of having an hour long yoga session that goes a certain way. I am assuming as I write this that you've already done that. If you haven't, I really encourage you to do that first and regularly before doing what I'm suggesting to do in this spirituality blog post. As I said, I want you to take care of yourself, and this post is intended for a little bit more experienced audience.

Breathing Into Intense Moments in Spiritual Awakening

As my regular readers may have noticed, I'm always telling you to keep breathing. It really helps out a lot, because...well you have to live. And it helps to diffuse fear and other issues that come up when life gets difficult. If you've developed a personal series for working with your hips, when you get into the more difficult postures, breathing is even more essential. Difficult postures make us want to lose our breath. If we can't breath very well, then it is okay to step back from the intensity to gather ourselves. That, too, is like the breath. We go deeply into a posture, and then we go out of it. In and out. Finding our own natural rhythm. And we're listening to our bodies all the time. We're listening, and sometimes, we won't "hear" that release that we hoped for. That's okay. All issues release on their own schedule. All you can do is to have patience, persistence, and good self-discipline. Especially if you feel like you have no energy at all, five or ten or fifteen minutes of yoga can make all the difference. A lack of energy often indicates a big blockage, and even if it means doing yoga for five minutes and crying the whole time, that does help to start aligning the body and energy together.

As I said, you don't have to do it all at one shot. So five minutes here and there throughout the day can start to slowly nibble away and erode a big issue (and if it really is that big, I encourage you to find more outside support to help your energy move it).

And Then the Release and the Rush of Energy

As I've mentioned in other posts like "The Process of Releasing Pain From Your Energy Body," the release of energy from behind a blockage is awesome. It's amazing. You feel lighter, energized, and more expansive than ever before. It's like someone just lifted an elephant off of your shoulders that you had no idea you'd been carrying your WHOLE life. Sometimes, it's not that dramatic. But you get my drift. It's like you've come out of a darkened hallway, and there is all this light. "Wow. I had no idea I was living in a dungeon."

This is part of the gift that yoga can give often in tandem with other spiritual practices, and it is the gift of receiving more of you. That's Awakening isn't an external life force coming to take us over. It's no invader. It's actually us. It's all the parts of us that we cut off and put in little boxes or kicked out of the house because we were told that we could not be that way. Worst of all, we believed that lie. So here you are having a big homecoming, and you're trying to beat down your own door to get in. Yoga helps you to open the doors. With a self-guided yoga practice, you can take yoga to the next step by making a practice tailored specific to your needs and lasting only as long as you need it. The rush of the normal yoga high that people experience gets added on to in awakening, and that can be such a wonderfully rewarding feeling. It is the feeling of getting to be even more of you, and who would ever want to say no to a gift like that?

Today's lovely photo comes from my friend and reader, Becky Stiller. Please feel free to check out her beautiful work on this flickr link.
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