Stay Alert: What We Need to Learn Will Be Revealed

I have learned during my life that the answers to our questions are often nearby; Likewise, if we keep our eyes open and stay alert, we will be able to see ways we have been prepared for what is to come. The knowledge that an event was preparation may not be evident until sometime in the future.

Amma has taught me a lot about those things and has given me lots of opportunities to practice them but I also learned from other writers and experiences.

I remember reading that often where there are poisonous plants, the antidote to the poison is a plant that is nearby. I also read that whenever our path crosses someone else’s, we have something to teach them or something to learn from them.

I used to teach a workshop called Lessons on Lessons. There was one exercise where I asked participants to go outside and ask questions of inanimate objects such as rocks, fences, or light poles as well as plants, trees, and animals. And after asking their question, participants “listened” for a response. What amazing wisdom we can gather that way. If you haven’t already tried it, then do!

I learned the benefit of accepting lessons as they come as opposed to resisting them which often results in prolonging the lesson and any pain that comes along with it.

In addition to teaching content related to some of the areas above, Amma also taught and gave opportunities to practice lessons such as: “Be like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice”; discrimination between right and wrong; detachment; the importance of staying alert and putting in effort; and the importance of love and compassion.

Now that I am dealing with major health problems, I can see ways that I have been prepared for that experience by Spirit , the Universe, God, Guru, or whatever we call our higher power.

Most of these occurrences happened before I knew that there was anything wrong in my body. But each has been invaluable since I have known.

Some examples that I am aware of:

In the mid 1980s, a friend of mine took a workshop with Virginia Satir that lasted a month. I wanted to do that too. But I had young children and a job so I rationalized that I couldn’t do it then, I would do it later. She died before I took the training. Having lost that opportunity, I reacted very differently when I met Amma.

I met Amma in June 1989. That weekend I spent a day at her Orcas Island retreat, six weeks later I was at her East Coast retreat and six months later I was with her in India. I continued spending time with her each summer on the US tour and each winter in India for the next 30+ years. I had learned an important lesson from my Virginia Satir experience. I no longer put off doing what was important to me.

In 1997, I was on a plane headed for India when it had a decompression problem and dropped 25,000 feet in about a minute. Amma was aware of our plight at the time that it happened. Part of me believes that I was meant to die that day and that every day I have been alive since then has been a gift. So if I died tomorrow, I still would have lived a full life

In the early 2000’s, I had another experience that impacted my life. I read what I think was the last book that somebody I respected wrote before her death. She was asked if she still thought God was a loving God. She responded “No”. I thought she sounded very bitter and had the distinct impression that it was due to her not accepting help when it was offered. I vowed that I would learn to accept help so that when I needed it, I could let go and gratefully accept what was being offered rather than push it away saying “I can do that for myself.”

Now that I am having physical problems, I am receiving lots of opportunities for doing that and experiencing the benefits of following through. I really appreciate all the help I am getting.

In 1973, I broke my right wrist just before I started graduate school. In 2017 or 2018, I broke it again. Again, I had to learn how to do many things with my non-dominant hand. I don’t remember much about the earlier experience, but in the more recent one I remember having considerable difficulty figuring out how to put on a bra and fasten it.

Because that incident happened then, when my left arm and hand became weak with my current illness, I knew how to put on a bra. That may seem to be a minor thing, but it meant a lot to me.

In 2018 or 19, I started noticing a man in my Seattle neighborhood who I believed had had a stroke. I did not know him but I watched as he walked for long periods every day without fail. He even walked up and down big hills seemingly unafraid. I was so impressed. He was an inspiration to me and gave me hope when I started having trouble walking.

Because of my years as a psychotherapist and a nurse I am prepared to speak up and advocate for myself when I think that’s in order.

I have many friends, colleagues and family members who have dealt with cancer or serious chronic illnesses. All of them have modeled courage in the face of adversity. I hope I can be like them.

When I came back from my last trip to India in January 2020, I had an intuition that I would not be going back to India the next year as had been my practice. In fact, I wasn’t sure I would ever be going back. By then I knew I had a physical problem, but I didn’t know about Covid. I didn’t realize essentially the whole world would be on lockdown and I wouldn’t be the only one not going where they wanted to go.

A recent example of the value of staying alert and of the answers to problems being nearby occurred when I decided to put together another issue of the Pacific Northwest GreenFriends newsletter. I completed it but it was much too hard for me to do, I needed to put this in my past.

Then it occurred to me, that I had gotten direction for the next step in two emails that came while I was doing that project. Both emails said something like “Why is this newsletter still a PDF, why is it not a blog or a website?”

I realized that in the 11 years I had been organizing our newsletter, GreenFriends- North America had started a website and a newsletter. Our newsletter could end and I could encourage our writers and photographers to contribute to that publication. I got support for that plan from the appropriate people and then announced it.

So in summary, remember that if you stay alert that you will be more likely to find the answers to problems nearby. And you might also discover ways in which you have received preparation for some of the problems that you have faced in life.

There is value in keeping your eyes open and making these observations. Perhaps the greatest value is feeling you are not doing this life journey alone. There is help all around you.

DEAR YOU

Neal's Epiphany

Disclaimer – A letter to my former self.  A probable epilogue to my “DEAR ME” post. 

Dear You,

There is nothing I can say to prepare you for where life will take you in the next ten years.

You will have experiences you never imagined possible or plausible—there will be great heartaches and devastating blows—and you will be taken to places you never knew existed. You will feel like you can’t go on, and you will feel like you will explode.

Your greatest fears will come to reality and you will never be the same, but you will fumble your way through.

I want to tell you specifics, I want to tell you where you should try harder and hold on more and not give up; I want to tell you where you should give in and let go and how to take care of yourself when the unthinkable…

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Daily Prompt: Squat

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia

I laughed when I saw that the Daily Prompt for today was “Squat.” My laughter was because it reminded me of something that happened in the 90’s.

First I will give some back story. When I first started going to Amma’s Amritapuri, India ashram in January of 1990, all of the toilets were squat toilets. I found them uncomfortable to use. My balance was shaky and as far as I was concerned they were just plain weird. Over the years, I became more used to them but I still didn’t like them, and I internally grumbled about them a lot.

Eventually, I became irritated by my own negativity. By then I had learned Byron Katie’s process for addressing negative judgments. At one point in her process you create “turnarounds” for a negative judgment and then examine the turnarounds to see if there is any truth in them. For example, if my belief is “Susan is angry with me”, the turnarounds would be “I am angry with me” or “I am angry with Susan.” The belief “My boss should listen to me more” could be turned around to say “I should listen to me more” or “I should listen to my boss more.”

One day in the mid-90’s, the familiar thought, “I hate Indian toilets,” ran through my mind. A voice within me said, “Now turn it around.” My immediate response was that the turnaround would be “I love Indian toilets.” That statement was so unacceptable to me that I wouldn’t even entertain the possibility that there could be truth in it. Then another sentence came to mind. “I love to hate Indian toilets!” That turnaround sent me into laughter and my energy shifted completely.

As the the years went by, most of the toilets in the ashram became toilets that combine the two styles, but once I had accepted the belief that “I love to hate Indian toilets,” I no longer had the strong negative reaction to them. Even today, I smile when I recall that long-ago incident.

DEAR ME

Yesterday, I read a post at Neal’s Epiphany that I thought was incredibly powerful. I don’t know how Neal sees it, but using my psychotherapy frame, I see him as having written a beautiful letter to his inner child. Neal has graciously consented to me sharing his letter with all of you.

Neal's Epiphany

Dear Me,

You and I go way back, to the beginning. We’re one hundred percent connected in a way no one will–or could ever–understand. We’ve been there, standing together. Sometimes crying in the shower, sometimes snorting through our nose, but it’s always been you and me. Always and forever…

Or so it was supposed to be, but some time ago I left you–

I left you floundering on your own, to rely on love and encouragement and strength from others–from strangers–when it was I who should have held you up. When it was I who should have hugged you and praised you and appreciated you for the wondrous person you are–for all the beauty and life you bring to this world.

I seldom tell you how much I love you. How much I admire you. How beautiful and caring and intelligent and strong you are. That you are my hero.

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Letting Go of Suffering- New Series Announcement

Are you tired of holding on to the past or worrying about the future?

Have you had your fill of feeling like a victim?

Are you committed to stopping your self-defeating behaviors?

Starting on Monday, November 21, I will be posting one chapter a week (for 17 weeks) from the Letting Go of Suffering workbook I wrote in 1991. If you answered “Yes” to any of the questions above, this upcoming “course” may be instrumental in helping you to make those changes.

This course is meant to increase your understanding of why you are the way you are and to teach you some new behaviors that can facilitate your movement from suffering to joy. Among the areas that will be addressed are:

  • Identifying Your Vision
  • Discovering Your Suffering Profile
  • Stopping Passive Behavior and Critical Self Talk
  • Using Affirmations and Contracts to Heal
  • Holding Yourself Accountable

I look forward to the possibility of sharing this journey with you.

Letting Go of Suffering Series:

Letting Go of Suffering- New Series Announcement

Letting Go of Suffering- Week 1: The Beginning

Borrowing Worry

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“In essentially all individual moments, we’re safe and physically comfortable. We generally have to borrow worry from the future or the past to maintain unhappiness.”

Fritz Reitz

 

You Are Enough Right Now

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“You are enough right now, not after further, future achievements, but now, as you are.

Your wisdom is a valuable contribution to others right now, not after further study and life experience, but now, as it is.

You are worthy of respect and compassion right now, as you are, and not just because Brene Brown says so, but she does say so, and she seems like a nice person.

You are wonderfully lovable as you are right now, not at some future point when you’ve purged yourself of every human foible, but now, and not just because Mr. Rogers would say so, but you know he SO would.

You have the inalienable right to be flawed, ordinary, in your stuff, and off-track. These are fundamental to existence, and in no way subtract from any of the above.

Go forth and rock.”

by Fritz Reitz
Quote used with permission

Challenges for Growth Prompt #11: Overcoming Resistance

20150726_193656 Overcoming Resistance

This week’s challenge is:

“Today I do something I’ve been resisting.”

A co-therapist I used to work with often told clients that it may take 75% of the time one is in therapy to do 25% of the work that needs to be done. The remaining work is likely to be completed much faster. I also remember hearing Amma, my spiritual teacher, say that we ask her to clean us up, but then we won’t hold still for the bath. The common factor in these two circumstances is resistance.

Resistance isn’t all bad.  It would be unhealthy to walk into a new situation and turn ourselves over to the whim of other people.  Blind faith can be dangerous.  It also takes time to determine a correct course of action.  However, when we know that there are changes we need to make, holding on to resistance often results in us holding on to, or creating, pain for ourselves.  It may also stifle our growth.

This week, for 1, 2, 3 days or longer do something you’ve been resisting doing.

Sometime during the week, write a post about some aspect of this topic or about experiences you had when you focused on overcoming something you’ve been resisting. Feel free to use whatever form you desire: i.e., prose, story, poem, photograph, etc.  (If you don’t have a blog, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below.)

 

General Prompt Information:

New prompts will be posted at 5 a.m. (PST) every Wednesday.

Since it is easier to make behavioral changes if we focus on them one day at a time, each of the weekly challenges will start with “Today, I focus on…….” It will be up to you to decide how long you want to focus on a particular challenge— one, two, three days or even longer. At some point during the week, publish a post that relates in some way to the subject of the week.

Link your post back to this prompt post. If the pingback doesn’t work, then leave the link to your post in the comment section below.  Be sure to include “Challenge for Growth Prompts” as one of your tags.

Throughout the week, I will publish the links for the posts that were created as the result of this prompt.  I will also post the links from those who participated the previous week. That way they will be seen by anyone who comes to this page.

 

This week’s contributors to: Overcoming Resistance

A Little Bit of Clarity- Where Love Meets War

Dealing with My Resistance- The Seeker’s Dungeon

Challenge for growth prompt/resistance- Annette’s Place

Laughing with God- Living, Learning and Letting Go

As He Wishes- Nik’s Place

How about you?

 

Last week’s contributors to: Preventing Food Waste

Challenge for growth/food waste- Annette’s Place

Food Waste: More Information to Ponder- Living, Learning and Letting Go

 

 

Challenge for Growth Prompt #2: Looking for the Good in Others

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Looking for the good

 

This week’s challenge is:

“Today I look for the good qualities in others.”

When we are in a bad mood, we may find ourselves focusing on someone else’s faults. When we focus on the negative, we are likely to see negativity all around us. From time to time, Amma reminds us that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

People often get triggered into negative thinking when they are with someone who reminds them of a person that hurt them in the past. In the psychotherapy model I use, we refer to that as “putting someone else’s face” on the present day person. That process is also referred to as projection.

Clients in therapy frequently project their parents’ faces on their therapists. I remember a time in the mid 90’s when a client was always angry with the male co-therapist in one of my therapy groups. He knew that the therapist reminded him of his father, but he was having a hard time “getting his dad’s face” off of the therapist.

This therapist had some unusual characteristics so I said to the client, “Did your dad ever wear an earring?” and “Did your dad sometimes wear red toenail polish?” The client started laughing. His father would NEVER have considered doing either of those things. Seeing the differences really helped him separate the therapist from his father.

This week, for one, two, three days or longer, focus on looking for the good in others. If you have trouble finding anything positive about a person, consider whose face you might have on them.  If you decide it is a parent, or a boss, or someone else from your past, identify ways the current day person is different from the one in your past.  Then “de-role” the present day person by saying to yourself, “You are not (insert the name or role of person from the past), you are (insert the name or role of the person in the present).”  After you de-role the current day person, you may be better able to identify some of their good qualities.

Also consider making lists of the positive qualities of anyone you have negative thoughts about, whether they be from your past or present.

Sometime during the week, write a post about some aspect of this topic or about your experience when focusing on seeing the good in others. Feel free to use whatever form you desire: i.e., prose, story, poem, photograph, etc.

I look forward to seeing where this challenge takes you.

The article that you link to this prompt should be a new post written specifically for this challenge.

 

General Prompt Information:

Since it is easier to make behavioral changes if we focus on them one day at a time, each of the weekly challenges will start with “Today, I focus on…….” It will be up to you to decide how long you want to focus on a particular challenge— one, two, three days or even longer. At some point during the week, publish a post that relates in some way to the subject of the week.

Link your post back to this prompt post. If the pingback doesn’t work, then leave the link to your post in the comment section of this post.  Be sure to include “Challenge for Growth Prompts” as one of your tags.

Throughout the week, I will publish the links for the posts that were created as the result of this prompt.  I will also post the links from those who participated the previous week. That way they will be seen by anyone who comes to the this page.

If you don’t have a blog, please feel free to submit your contribution to the prompt in the comment section below.

 

This week’s contributors to Looking for the Good challenge:

On Humans and Humanity- The Seeker’s Dungeon

Today I look for the good qualities in others- Journey of a Warrior Womyn

There is No “Other”- Living, Learning and Letting Go

Khuśiyōm Kī Bahār- Living, Learning and Letting Go

Through the Shadows- Nik’s Place

finding the light side (free verse)- Traces of the Soul

Challenge for Growth Prompt #2- Annette’s Place

 

Last week’s contributors to Needs vs Wants challenge:

The Bliss We Seek- The Seeker’s Dungeon

2016 Needs- Self Therapy

Needs vs Wants (Haibun)- Traces of the Soul

Resolve- Dream Cloud Diaries

Compassion’s Desires (Haibun)- Tournesol dans un Jardin

Are My Trips to Amritapuri Fulfilling a Need or a Want?- Living, Learning and Letting Go

The Needing Want- Nik’s Place

Needs vs Wants- Journey of a Warrior Womyn

My thanks goes to each of the bloggers listed above and to those of you who wrote your response to the challenge in the comments section of the challenge post.

 

To see the most recent Challenge for Growth Prompts Click Here

 

 

What a Difference Attitude Can Make!

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Soon after I arrived in Amritapuri, I had the foolish thought that this might be the year that I don’t have any experiences to share. I say foolish because I don’t believe there ever was any remote possibility that could happen.

My first week was full of challenges. In hindsight, I see that I was receiving endless opportunities to choose between two possible attitudes. For example:

  • I could lament that I left my good thongs in Seattle, or instead choose to be grateful that I had felt drawn to pick up and pack a cheap pair of thongs that, for the last two years, had been lying on the floor of an empty room where I work.
  • I could suffer about the fact that my internet stick was not where I believed I had left it last January or instead choose to do what it took to get another one.
  • I could berate myself for not remembering that I needed to bring a water filter or instead choose to look for creative ways to solve the problem.
  • I could bemoan that the seva (volunteer work) I look forward to most in Amritapuri (separating worms from the fertilizer they produce) was no longer an option or instead choose to appreciate that I would have more time to support the development of the Christmas play.
  • I could obsess about the seemingly endless internet and phone problems I was experiencing or instead choose to see those problems as opportunities to practice equanimity while doing what needed to be done to solve them, one step at a time.

I will describe three other examples in more detail:

1) The evening of December 2, I was about to go to my room when someone walked up to me and asked if I would be willing to hand Amma prasad (the candy she gives devotees after she hugs them). That is one of my favorite sevas so I eagerly accepted the invitation and joined the prasad line. As I reached the front of the line and took the position next to Amma, a western man came for his hug. He started speaking to her in beginner’s level Malayalam. Amma and he were having a great time laughing about his speaking attempt.  Afterwards, he handed Amma three malas (prayer bead necklaces). He wanted Amma to put them on him. Once she did that, he pulled out another handful of malas made from a different substance and asked her to put those on him too. He went through that sequence two more times. The last set was a handful of about 15 rosewood malas. It was a rather bizarre scene, especially since he was now wearing around 30 malas. I imagined he had plans to give them away to friends at home but having her put them on him was a rather bizarre change from normal practice of simply asking Amma to bless the malas he would be giving as gifts. Amma and he were laughing and so was everyone who was witnessing the incident. To me it seemed like “no accident” that I was present for that entire encounter.

I had not been able to sleep for more than two or three hours at a time since I arrived in India on November 28, so was hopeful that night would be different. You can imagine how upset I was when, after 2 ½ hours of sleep, there was a huge ruckus between nearby dogs. Once I wake up, sleep is over for the night. How long could I live like this? I had to get some sleep! Would the dogs start barking again? Would they continue to be a problem throughout my stay? It didn’t even occur to me that they hadn’t barked during the previous nights and dogs had never been a problem in the past. I was too sleepy and too lost in fear of the future to think clearly.

It did occur to me that I had been in bliss when I went to bed and now felt like I was in hell. I realized it was a good example of how quickly our minds can change our reality. While I struggled with the fear for the rest of the night, I found it immensely helpful to recall my experience of witnessing the interaction between Amma and the man with the malas. As I smiled with the memory, I let go of some of my tension. What a gift that prasad experience had been for me.  So in a situation like this, I could choose to stay in the fear, or consciously focus on a time when I was happy, reminding myself that this current challenge will pass.

2) With the ongoing lack of sleep, it soon became obvious I was developing a cold. On the afternoon of December 4, I felt strongly pulled into sleep and I slept almost continually for the next 36 hours, getting up only for meals and for meeting bathroom needs. I realized I could focus on how many things I was missing out on while I was sleeping or could instead choose to be grateful that:

  • as I moved in and out of sleep when Amma was leading bhajans (devotional songs) that night, I heard small portions of them from my room.  Each bhajan segment I became aware of was a favorite of mine.  I wasn’t sure whether I was really hearing the songs or if I was dreaming I was hearing them. Regardless of whether it was a dream or reality, I could choose to believe that experience was a gift from Amma to me.
  • during the short time I went downstairs for dinner on Dec. 5, Swami Pranavamrita sang Kalam Kanalu and a Swami Ayyappa song. I have a special history with both of those songs so I could choose to take them as yet another gift to me.
  • since I have been sleeping around the clock the swelling in my feet has gone away.  Perhaps the jet lag will also be gone when this illness has run its course!  I can choose to believe that my sickness has multiple purposes and they are all good ones.

3) I have felt pulled to learn Tai Chi for several years but the pull was not strong enough for me to take action. Before I left Seattle, I knew that this was the year for me to start, so I enrolled in the classes as soon as I arrived in Amritapuri. One lesson was all I needed to take to know that it was so right for me. The process quickly brought my mind and body into a meditative stillness. I could tell some part of me recognized the moves and knew what to do. I could berate myself for taking this long to begin, or I could choose to remember that my life will unfold in its own time and acknowledge that now must be the perfect time for me to start Tai Chi.

 

All in all, during the eight days I have been at the ashram, I think I have done a pretty good job of choosing to not make myself miserable by taking on negative attitudes and instead consciously choosing positive ones.  The time I was least successful in that endeavor was the night the dogs woke me up.  All of these events have reminded me that I can choose my attitude towards the lessons, challenges, and tests that come my way, and that my attitude will make a  significant difference in my experience.