While there are days when I am tired or discouraged that I may think that I work in order to be able to buy the things I need to live, I know that isn’t really true. I have no doubt that I live to work. I have been a psychotherapist since 1987. My primary modality is group therapy based on a developmental model that includes the concept of “inner children.” I believe that one of the most important elements in healing is for clients to learn how to parent those vulnerable “children” inside of themselves.
Most people start therapy because they are depressed and/or anxious. They may have learned to cover their pain with addictive behaviors such over-working, over-thinking, eating disorders or substance abuse. They frequently have trouble in relationships and often feel alone and lonely. Past traumas may cause them to experience flashbacks. They often have poor self esteem and think they are unworthy and will never be good enough. They may be very critical of themselves and others.
When a friend showed me a picture of this rock, I thought of a one of the self care contracts* that I use in my personal life and with my psychotherapy clients. That contract is “I am responsible and accountable for my thoughts, feelings, actions and attitudes.”
It is not uncommon to hear people in our society make comments such as, “You hurt my feelings.” and “You made me do that.” You…..you….you….you. When we get into the “you’s” we are more than likely not being responsible and accountable for our own feelings, thoughts, actions and attitudes. Using that way of speaking increases the chances we will immerse ourselves in victim thinking and as a result experience a sense of powerlessness.
“It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.” Mahatma Gandhi
“I will not ask thee for improved memory, only for a little more humility and less self-assurance when my own memory doesn’t agree with that of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be wrong.” An Anonymous Abbess
“Acting with humility does not in any way deny our own self-worth. Rather it affirms the inherent worth of all persons. Some would consider humility to be a psychological malady that interferes with “success.” However, wealth, power or status gained at the expense of others brings only anxiety- never peace and love.” Commentary on Christian Bible Reference Site
Humility, among other things, is the absence of arrogance. One of the ways I am most likely to be arrogant is to hold on to a belief that I am right and others are wrong. I may verbalize my opinion and then stay silent, but internally I am very likely to be holding on to my rightness.
Last fall, I started working on a new project. I live on the side of Beacon Hill in Seattle and my front yard slopes down, both south to north and west to east. That means that rain water always flows towards the house. I decided that it would be better to level off the land and in so doing create garden beds where I could plant flowers and vegetables.
To that, I brought home load after load of bricks, and with my level and shovel in hand, I began to build walls. The bricks are loose, but I staggered them in a way that they stayed standing. When all of the walls are finished, I will have four large garden beds.
During the winter, I noticed some of the bricks were shifting and the walls had begun to sag. I assumed it was because the dirt underneath was settling. Also bricks have been bumped, children have moved them, people have even sat or stood on them! The structures still functioned well as garden beds but didn’t look as nice as they did originally.
Two weeks ago, I started to work on the project again. I continued building new walls but also rebuilt some of the old ones. (Since the bricks are loose I can do that as often as I need to.) Before long, I discovered that settling land and human actions were not the only reason for the sagging walls.
Moles had been burrowing under the brick walls and the area was full of their tunnels! That, of course, had caused the walls to become uneven. I knew I wasn’t going to kill the moles, so what would I do? Continue reading “Attitude is the Key”→
The Dungeon Prompt Sreejit gave us for this week was to “take some time and think about the one thing that you’ve learned which you would most like to pass on to future generations.” I gave myself several days to simply be with the instructions, knowing that the answer would “come” if I allowed myself to be quiet. And come it did! While I am far from having learned this lesson, I have come a long way down the path, and know I will go a lot further before I pass from this world. The lesson that is most important for me to learn and pass on is to quiet my over-active mind.
I have always been an introvert, and probably always will be. In addition, I lived in the era of “Children are to be seen and not heard.” In our home, the most common form of punishment was to be sent to our room. I spent a lot of time in my room. Did a lot of pouting there in fact.
I think my patterns of over-thinking have their roots in those early years. By the time I was in my thirties, I spent so much time immersed in my thoughts. When I was with a group of friends, or in a class, I analyzed everything I wanted to contribute to the conversation. By the time I had the perfect words figured out, the conversation would have moved past the point where speaking the words would have purpose. When I did manage to get them out, I would then spend an inordinate amount of time afterwards reviewing what I had said. Had I said what I wanted to say correctly? Had I made a fool out of myself?
That problem was probably at its height at the time I started my personal therapy process in the mid-eighties. I remember feeling like my mind was a computer that was about to explode. At one point, my therapist told me if I didn’t stop, I was going to end up in the hospital. He told me to pay complete attention to every moment. For example, when I was going to eat to say in my mind, “I am picking up my fork, I am putting the food on my fork, I am lifting the fork to my mouth, I am putting my fork down, I am chewing my food, I am swallowing my food, etc.” When I followed his instructions, my mind slowed down.
I met Amma in 1989. My mind was often very quiet when I sat near her, and I entered meditational realms that held so much deep peace and bliss. It was as if a door had opened for me and I could see what was possible. When I was away from her though, I would go back to many of my old thought patterns.
At that time in my life, I felt a strong desire to live in an ashram (monastery), even though I knew that it was not the appropriate time for me to do that. Whenever I thought about living in an ashram, I would feel so much grief that I couldn’t stop crying. Sometime in the early 90’s, I took this problem to Amma. Her immediate response was “Stop Thinking!” I now realize in those two simple words, she had given me a direction that could change my whole life.
Simple to say, but not simple to do. I have come a long way in that endeavor, but if I am in my “stuff,” over-thinking is still likely to be the cause of it. I make myself so miserable in that way.
I know that a silent mind is where intuition, insight, and inspiration reside. I also know that the road to a silent mind is by doing the spiritual practices I have been taught, such as japa (mantra repetition), chanting spiritual texts such as the Sri Lalita Sahasranama, singing bhajans (devotional singing), and mindfulness. Processes such as meditation and yoga also help.
So what is preventing me from doing those practices consistently, what is my resistance? I have no doubt that the resistance is fueled to my over-doing. As long as I fill my life with doing things that do not support my goal of having a quiet mind, I will not have it.
While I still am over-doing, I am much more likely to say no to things that I don’t want to do. I have a harder time saying no to activities that give me pleasure. However, some of those activities, such as studying Sanskrit and writing for my blog, are part of the path to a quiet mind. I am most successful in those undertakings when I do them in a way that is meditative.
Like most big changes, learning to quiet the mind takes time. I have the opportunity to make choices between doing and being many times each day. As I experience the benefits that come with a still mind, I am more likely to make choices that will promote it. I am progressing on the path, and that is what is important.
Each year, I spend six weeks in Amma’s ashram in South Kerala, India. Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi), who is sometimes referred to as The Hugging Saint since she has hugged 33 million people worldwide, is also known for her extensive networks of humanitarian projects called Embracing the World.
My last trip to Amritapuri was from November 30, 2014 to January 9, 2015. For the first time, I shared my experiences there through this blog. Afterwards, numerous people told me that the posts made them feel like they were taking the journey with me.
I decided to create this index of posts in case anyone else wants to accompany me vicariously on that journey. Enjoy!
Last Saturday, I decided to do the morning prayers as a walking meditation instead of sitting like I normally do. Fairly quickly, I discovered I was “receiving” a series of “tests” or “lessons” in the midst of the prayers. I stayed in the moment and worked through them without missing a word of the chants! I enjoy these types of challenges and decided to share what I learned. Continue reading “Living in Awareness”→
By 9:00 this morning, I had already been given the opportunity to witness one of my less virtuous sides. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of the sevas (volunteer work) I do at Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri, India is to work in the vermicomposting center, separating the worms from the compost they make. The harvested worms are sent back to make more compost and the finished compost is bagged and stored for use in the gardens. This is the third year I am doing this seva.
Last year, there was a woman in the center who was working so fast. It seemed to me like she was taking handful after handful of the compost and making no effort to separate out the worms. She had way more experience than I did and worked many hours a day, but my judgment was that she was being careless and not taking her job seriously. “I”, on the other hand, was being meticulous, going carefully over every handful of compost looking for even the smallest of worms. “I” knew what I was doing and “I” was doing it way better than she was.
Fast forward to this year. Yesterday, while I was harvesting the worms, another woman joined me. This year there is a different set up in that the material we are to separate has been formed into mounds that are about 16 inches high. The woman sat down in front of a mound and started picking up handful after handful of the compost and placing it in the bucket which contained the finished compost. She didn’t even seem to be looking for worms, and I rarely saw her put a worm in the worm bucket. Then she started lightly brushing the sides of the mound with her hand. She would pick up the material she had brushed off and placed it in the compost bucket. Again, I was full of judgment. She was being so careless, while “I” was working slowly and methodically, making sure that “I” didn’t miss a single worm. I left soon after that so did not see how she completed the process.
I should mention that my way of harvesting the worms is very different. I know that worms gather at the bottom so I take the mound apart and go directly to the bottom. I am then able to quickly gather large numbers of worms and place them in my worm bucket. That process is very satisfying because I see the fruit of my action right away. Next, I examine every bit of the remaining compost to make sure I haven’t missed any worms.
I thought about that scenario during the day and began to wonder if there was something that I was missing. Was it possible that the two women knew something that I didn’t know? That would make sense since they were the ones who did this work day in and day out. This morning I decided to try it their way.
Once I looked at the mound with fresh perspective, I had a sense of what was happening. The outer part of the mound is drier and, in addition, is exposed to light. Worms want to be where it is damp and dark, so if the compost is dry or there is light, they would burrow deeper into the mound. And the act of someone brushing off the outside layer of the mound would certainly result in the worms quickly moving deeper inside.
Today, when I picked up the compost around the base of my mound, I discovered it didn’t contain a single worm. That was also true when I brushed the outside of my mound; none of the material that I brushed off had worms in it. It was not until I was much deeper into the mound that I found more than the occasional worm. Once I reached the center areas, I joyously harvested big clumps of worms!
It had taken me a full hour to separate the worms from one mound of compost when I did it “my” way. Using their techniques, I finished sorting two mounds in about 40 minutes! Clearly, these two women knew how to efficiently separate the worms and the compost and I did not. I not only had learned a new way to harvest the worms, but I had also received an opportunity to examine my arrogance! And it is still early morning. I wonder what the rest of this day will hold?
Many years ago, I heard a minister say that the voice of God is most often the first voice we hear inside. What usually follows is a flood of discounting messages telling us why God’s message will not work, “You can’t do that,” “That’s wrong,” “It will never work,” “Do this instead.” He said that the quiet voice of God may make another attempt or two, but if we continue to ignore it, the “voice” will eventually fade.
People have many ways of conceptualizing this voice. For some it is God. Others call it intuition, inner voice, higher self, Spirit, or The Divine. In this post I will refer to it as inner voice.
I have experienced that process many times in my life, but never as frequently as during a week in 1995. It began when I was attending one of Amma’s programs in Calicut, India. At that time, I was staying with other ashramites, i.e. devotees from Amma’s main ashram in Amritapuri, on the roof of her Calicut temple.
There were places on the roof where mounds of rough concrete rose two to three inches above the surface. Several times, when I passed a particular mound, my inner voice said, “Be careful, that concrete is dangerous.” My response was, “I see it. I AM being careful.” I would then continue blithely on my way. One day, as I was walking to my sleeping mat, not paying a bit of conscious attention to what I was doing, I tripped over that mound of concrete and tore a big piece of flesh from the top of my toe.
The injury was very painful but that was the least of my concerns. Having an open foot wound in India seemed very dangerous to me. In those days, I generally walked barefoot and I had no doubt that the ground was filled with untold numbers and varieties of bacteria. My nursing background told me that the extreme heat and high humidity created a perfect breeding ground for the bacteria. I cleaned the wound as best I could and went on with my life. I found I needed to stay very conscious of my surroundings because any time I would lose concentration I would hit my toe on something, sending waves of pain coursing through my body.
I apparently hadn’t learned what I was meant to learn though. Over and over that week, my inner voice “warned” me of potential problems and I repeatedly discounted those warnings. The second instance occurred when my daughter Chaitanya, a friend and I took a taxi to the Singapore Airlines office in downtown Calicut. We drove in circles for an hour, unable to find the office. Once there, we discovered we needed to go to the Indian Air office before we could make the necessary changes with Singapore Airlines. As we left the Singapore Airlines office my inner voice said, “Make sure you write down the address so you can get back here.” I responded, “That is not necessary, the next taxi driver will know the way.” Later, when we left the Indian Air office, we spent another frustrating hour searching for the Singapore Airlines office.
Soon thereafter, I needed to relay an important message to a person at Amma’s Amritapuri ashram. I arranged to send it with a friend who was returning to the ashram sooner than the rest of us. The night before my friend’s departure, my inner voice said, “Write the note and give it to her NOW.” I answered, “No, that is not necessary. She will not be leaving until tomorrow afternoon.” When I awakened the next morning, I discovered my friend had abruptly changed her plans, taking off for the ashram at daybreak.
As we cleaned our living area, the morning after the program’s end, I noticed a piece of paper on the floor beside my sleeping mat. My inner voice said, “That looks like a train ticket.” I answered, “MY ticket is in my wallet.” When we arrived at the train station a few hours later, I discovered that our tickets were missing.
My series of misfortunes did not end there. Chaitanya was scheduled to leave India two days after our return from Calicut. A friend cautioned me to pack her most important items in her carry-on luggage. I inwardly responded, “Everything is already packed and I do not want to start over. That is unnecessary.” After driving the three hours from the ashram to the airport, we discovered we had left my daughter’s suitcase sitting in our room at the ashram. That suitcase contained everything she needed for the school report that was due upon her return to the United States. There was no way to retrieve the suitcase before her plane departed. When I reflected on that event, I remembered that God’s messages may also be relayed through another person, such as in this incident with the suitcase.
As I began to ponder my behavior, I realized that after years of being so intensely focused on my spiritual path, I had developed a rather cocky attitude about my ability to hear and respond to that inner voice. I was shocked to see the reality of the situation. Over and over again, I had been warned of an impending problem and had discounted, ignored, and contradicted the warnings. I was awed by how much pain I could have saved myself if I had listened to each instruction. I was thankful for the powerful display of this particular spiritual pitfall and vowed to be much more conscious and conscientious in the future.
I believe that I am much more likely to pay attention to that quiet voice now than I did back then, but I still find myself discounting or ignoring warnings. This will probably be one of those lessons that will last a lifetime.
What experiences have you had in ignoring your inner voice?