Honoring My Inner Wisdom

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I published a new post, Honoring My Inner Voice, on The Seeker’s Dungeon this morning. I hope you take a moment and head to the Dungeon to read it!

While you are there, take a look at the 365 Days on Living and Dying event under the Guest Posts tab. Sreejit is still welcoming submissions for that offering.

Making A Difference

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Many years ago, at the the end of the programs in each city on Amma‘s North American tour, there was an announcement that contained a story about a squirrel who contributed to the building of the Rama Setu bridge. The squirrel participated by rolling in the sand and then going to the end of the bridge and shaking the sand off, chanting the name of Lord Rama throughout the process.

Lord Rama rewarded the squirrel by picking him up and stroking his back. From then on, this type of squirrel had three stripes on its back, stripes that went from head to tail. The stripes are seen as Lord Rama’s fingers. At Amma’s programs, this story was used to teach that everything we do to contribute makes a difference.

I remember thinking that what was called a squirrel in the story must be what we call a chipmunk. Since then, I have learned that the squirrel is a palm squirrel and it the same size as a large chipmunk.

On one of the first days I was in the Saraswati garden, I heard a sound. I thought it was a bird at first, but when I followed the sound, I discovered it came from the squirrel in the picture at the top of this post. I didn’t know squirrels were so loud! Here are two more photos of that squirrel:

A few days ago, I saw another squirrel in the garden; or maybe it was the same one. I feel so privileged to have been able to watch squirrels like the one in the story I have heard so many times.

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To look at previous posts in this Amritapuri series, click here.

Keep Loving by Nimo Patel

When I checked my email inbox this morning, I found an email from Nimo Patel of Empty Hands Music. I heard him sing in Atlanta in August of 2015. I was very impressed by his music at the time, and once I learned more about him, I was even more impressed. In his email message, he offered words of wisdom and a video.

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Dear Family and Friends of Empty Hands Music,

In this moment when many of us our unhappy, saddened and hurt by the decision we may have made, as a country, to select such a leader, is also the same moment we can take to use that energy for positive change. We vote for this type of leader every 4 years in America. But, really, everyday we have a chance to vote. Everyday we can vote by using less of earth’s resources to help fight global warming. Everyday we can vote by treating our women with the deepest unconditional love and respect. Everyday we can vote by treating all our brothers and sisters in our country and in the world, with genuine appreciation and gratitude for all the beauty and diversity we bring to each other. Every moment, in every day of our life is a seed being planted, is a vote being made. Lets move forward now voting each day through our actions, thoughts and heart. Through whatever darkness we perceive, lets try to shine light. May we all KEEP LOVING! Hope you can enjoy this Music Video during this moment in time. Love you ALL. We will move forward together now. But we all just need to focus on doing our part. Making our daily votes count. Love Love Love.

Blessings to you and sending lots of love!
-nimo and the Empty Hands family.

To learn more about Nimo and Empty Hands Music click here.
To download the free Empty Hands album click here.

From Darkness to Light

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I just published a new post in The Seeker’s Dungeon. It is one that is very close to my heart. I hope you will run over there to read it!

From Darkness to Light

 

Am I Contributing to My Living or My Dying?

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In 1996, I was on an airplane that “fell” 25,000 feet in about a minute’s time. For the next two hours we did not know if we were going to live or die. Since then I have had a sense that I am living on borrowed time. I think I was supposed to die that day, but Grace prevailed. Now, I see every moment I live as a gift and remember that tomorrow is not promised. I have a strong desire to live in a way that allows me to die without regrets.

When I was a new psychotherapist, I assisted in a therapy group led by Delphine Bowers.  She used to ask clients if the actions they were thinking about doing would “contribute to their living or their dying.”  That question has stuck with me for almost 30 years.

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I believe I am contributing to my dying, instead of my living, when I am:

Overdoing

I am great at getting things done. There was a time in my life when I was working three jobs, going to school, and raising two children. Throughout my adult life, I have generally been unwilling to stop “doing” unless I get so sick that I can’t do otherwise.

In the last few years, I have made great strides in stopping that behavior. Still, it is not lost on me that I have back problems which have impacted my level of activity since mid-February. While 97% of the time I am resting and doing what I know I should do,  I still find myself saying, “Oh it’s okay if I plant a few seedlings.” Or I do other minor garden work when I know I should be avoiding all leaning over and bending down. What will it take for me to learn this lesson?  I shudder to think of the answer.

Overthinking

I used to obsess about anything I wanted to say for so long that I often lost the opportunity to say it. I also obsessed about things I did say, analyzing my words looking for errors or wondering if I had said something that made me look stupid. While I stopped those behaviors decades ago, I believe that overthinking is still the most common way I make myself miserable. And it is certainly the source of most of my stress. If I am offended by something, I may fixate on it. Worrying about the future also leads me to overthinking. The fact that I avoid mind-slowing spiritual practices, such as meditation, perpetuates the problem.

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I have long been aware of my tendency to overdo and overthink. In fact I have written about those behaviors before. (Recovering from Overdoing, Stay in the Present and Stop Thinking!) In the last month, awareness of another way I contribute to my dying has resurfaced.

Emotions such as anger, sadness and fear are meant to show us that there are problems we need to deal with. If we feel the feelings and address the issues, the emotions are likely to flow through us. If we repress them, we probably won’t solve the problems and we may become depressed, anxious or sick.

I have been conscious of the fear in my body for a long time, but I used to bury my anger so deep that I didn’t even realize it was there. Now I feel the anger at the time it is triggered. My new awareness is that I am repressing my grief.

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Stuffing Grief

When I was growing up, a frequent message from my father was, “If you are going to cry, I will give you something to cry about.”  If I didn’t stop crying, I was usually spanked or sent to my bedroom.  I learned it was not okay for me to express my sadness.

When I met Amma in 1989, grief began to erupt from inside of me. Generally that grief was not associated with any conscious memory. Even though I didn’t know what it was related to, I often had a sense that I was releasing the energy from traumas that had occurred earlier in my life. Sometimes I wondered if some of it was coming from other lifetimes, or if it was some form of “universal grief.” That spontaneous release of tears, which usually occurred during Amma’s programs, went on for several years.  Letting them pour out felt very healing.

Then one day someone teased me about my tears. My childhood programming took over and I shut them down so fast it was mind-boggling. From time to time, something will still bring up that deep well of grief inside of me, but for the most part it is nowhere to be found.

A week or so ago, there was a moment when I felt sadness about my back pain and the resulting physical limitations. I shed a tear, or maybe two, before a firm inner voice said, “It’s good that you felt your sadness, but that is ENOUGH.” I saw that my father’s message was still operating within me. Certainly no healing can come from releasing one or two tears.

When I heard the news that Prince had died, I started crying, and I cried on and off throughout the week.  The grief I felt was so deep, very similar to the level of emotion I experienced during my early years with Amma. While Prince’s “Purple Rain” album and movie, and especially the song “When Doves Cry,” was important to me in the 80’s, I hadn’t followed his career after that, other than taking my children to his 1988 Seattle concert.  Even though I didn’t understand my level of emotion, I was aware that the tears I shed felt cleansing and therapeutic.

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I believe that overdoing, overthinking and stuffing my grief are the three biggest ways that I am currently contributing to my dying.  I know it is important for me to continue working on these issues and to keep the “Will this action contribute to your living or your dying?” question in mind as I make day-to-day decisions as well as when I consider long term decisions, such as when to retire.

I have no way of knowing whether I will live one more day or one year, five years, ten years or more.  I am committed to making the most of every moment I have left in this lifetime.

 

Originally Published on May 6, 2016 as part of  The Seeker’s Dungeon’s On Living and Dying event.

If you’d like to be one of the guest authors, you can learn more about the event here: 365 Days On Living and Dying.

 

The Black Doves Came To Me!

black_peace_dove-svgI just had the most amazing dream. It was filled with so many snipets. Some were joyful and some were uncomfortable. Some could have happened in the present or might happen in the future, but others brought in elements of the past. One snipet felt mystical, like being in a magical kingdom. Continue reading “The Black Doves Came To Me!”

Challenging My Memory

 

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I intentionally carry a small purse (7 ½ x 5 ½ x 2 ½ inches) and I keep very few things in it.  I believe that having a small purse increases the likelihood that I will be able to find items when I look for them.

Despite that precaution, I find myself constantly searching for things. I often say that if I could get back all of the time I have spent looking for my keys, it would add years to my life.

Sometimes I lose items due to not paying attention to where I put them. At other times though, the circumstances are more bizarre.

A few weeks ago, I bought a clock at my local Rite Aid store.  I was aware at the time that it might not work out, so I took care to keep the receipt.  The next day, I decided to return the clock.  I looked through my purse, the place where I was sure I had put it, and it wasn’t there.

I mentally retraced every move I made after having left Rite Aid.  I remembered that I had carried the unbagged clock  to the QFC next door. Had I kept the receipt in my hand instead of putting it in my purse?  Had I put the clock and the receipt in the grocery cart and accidentally left the receipt in the cart?  That didn’t seem right, but at least it was a reasonable explanation.

For two days, I searched everywhere for the receipt.  I looked through my purse over and over again.  I finally accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to find it.  A day or two after that, I looked across the table and saw this:

PurseIt was the receipt for the clock! There was NO way that receipt had been hanging out of my purse all that time.  And I live alone so it was not reasonable to think that someone else had placed it there.

Hinduism has a word called leela.  It means God’s play.  The whole thing sure felt like a leela to me.  God’s play would have a purpose though.  So if this was a leela what was the purpose?  Well it had given me the opportunity to practice being calm in all circumstances; trust the process of life; remember the importance of being mindful; be persistent in going after what I want, yet know when it is time to let go; and remember that everything happens for a reason.

Decades ago, I had many experiences of losing things and then finding them days, weeks, or months later… in plain sight.  So often the items were in places I had looked many times. I began to wonder if there was something physically wrong with me.  Did I have a dissociative disorder (i.e. in those days the extreme version was called Multiple Personality Disorder)?  Did I have Alzheimers? Did I have some other medical problem?  None of those explanations seemed right but I went to a psychologist anyway.  He reassured me that there was nothing wrong with me and said he believed that my unconscious mind had found a way to get my attention FAST.  There was no doubt about that; I hated having my memory challenged.

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This morning, as I was contemplating writing this post, it happened again.  I have a brick wall in my garden that I build two years ago out of loose bricks.  My garden has gophers and their tunnels cause the wall to slump.  Therefore, I need to rebuild parts of it each spring.

I decided I would start that rebuilding process this morning.  I’ve been having back problems the last few months so I knew I would have to do it slowly, a small section at a time.  I finished what I considered to be a reasonable amount of the work…. and then decided I would do just a little more.  I reached for my trowel and the level, and they were nowhere to be found!

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I hadn’t moved from where I was working.  I searched for the tools for a while and then gave up.  Clearly I shouldn’t be doing any more; I had done all my back could tolerate. I also decided there was no point in continuing to look for the tools.  I went back into the house to rest my back.

When I took the garbage outside, two hours later, I found the trowel and level in another part of the garden.  When I saw them, I remembered that earlier I had seen some bricks that were not straight in that part of the garden and had walked over there to straighten them.  I had set the tools down at that time.

I imagine there are rational explanations for everything I lose, although I often don’t have a clue what it is.  I do believe things happens for a reason and those reasons are for the good.  I appreciate any process that gives me opportunity to learn and/or protects me from me.

Written for The Daily Post Prompt: Misplaced

Are My Trips to Amritapuri Fulfilling a Need or a Want?

Since I wrote the “Needs vs Wants” prompt, I have been reflecting on my own relationship to that subject.  Sitting here in my flat at Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri, India, it occurred to me that the reason I have been able to come here 26 times since January 1990 is because I have made that trip a major priority in my life. I value experience over material possessions so I have never been pulled into the world of consumerism and accumulation.  There have only been two years when I was not able to save enough money to allow me to make that sojourn.

Is going to India a need or a want? At first I thought it was a want, but then I remembered there were many years I went to India even though I felt a lot of resistance to going. Continue reading “Are My Trips to Amritapuri Fulfilling a Need or a Want?”

Be Careful What You Wish For

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia

In the late 80’s and early 90’s there was a period of several years when I had a series of mystical experiences. Even though they may have been frightening at times, they were also fascinating and exciting. A whole new world was opening up for me, one that was very different from my normal logical left brain way of being in the world.

Back then, I would frequently enter spontaneous trance states, i.e. altered states of consciousness. I remember once sensing that part of me was at a party, one that the rest of me wasn’t allowed to go to. At the time, I believed that the pain of leaving that “party” would have been so tremendous that my not being allowed to go there completely was my unconscious mind’s way of protecting me from having to feel so much grief. Continue reading “Be Careful What You Wish For”

My Spirit Soaring

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia

When I read Sreejit’s post “Dungeon Prompts: Take Me To Church” this past Thursday, I instantly knew what the nature of my response to the prompt would be.  Even so, I had the sense that I shouldn’t write it then and there. Now I know why.

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On Sunday evening, I attended the ordination of a friend who was becoming a Unitarian Universalist minister. She had worked towards that goal for many years. It was a day of great celebration. The ordination rituals affected me in ways that I hadn’t expected. Towards the beginning of the ceremony, there was a procession of already-ordained ministers. It reminded me of college graduations where the professors walk in, each clothed in different robes reflecting the school they had attended. I took one look at these ministers and my “being” erupted in grief. Grief of recognition, grief of longing. Was it related to past lives? Maybe. Probably.  That grief came again as the group of ministers walked out of the sanctuary during the recessional.

Tapping into something beyond my understanding, but no doubt, I had been “taken to church.”

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During the ordination, in addition to thoroughly enjoying my friend’s experience, I was flooded with ideas for this post. Ideas continued to “come” for the rest of the night.  By the next morning, I was ready to write!

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Spirit has “taken me to church” so many times during my life.

I remember feeling embarrassed as an eight to ten year old child when my mother brought a friend to my bedroom as I was kneeling beside my bed praying. I also remember avidly reading books and watching movies about nuns in my early teen years.  I had a sense I was “supposed” to become a nun, but that was not possible.  I wasn’t Catholic!

When I was in tenth grade, and living in Hawaii, I went to a Billy Graham crusade and became a born again Christian. Afterwards, I joined a Youth for Christ group at my high school. I remember the group traveling together on buses, singing hour after hour. That was pure bliss for me. I felt like I was part of a family, I belonged!.

Tapping into something beyond my understanding, but no doubt, I had been “taken to church.”

my spirit soaring
heaven on earth
joy abounds
Home

 Beliefs Men Live By

At the end of that year, my father retired from the Army, and we moved to Florida. I attended a Congregational church, which was my mother’s denomination. I loved being part of the youth group. During the summer of 1965, we traveled from Florida to Washington State and back, studying The Belief’s Men Live By. I still have many memories of that summer. It was also the time I decided I would go to a Free Methodist college in Seattle.

When I arrived at the college, I was still a fairly conservative Christian, much more conservative than my Congregational friends. The college that I attended was so conservative though that over time I became very disillusioned, and for the next twenty years considered myself to be somewhere between an agnostic and an atheist.

Spirit did not leave me during those darker times though. I loved to go to the University Unitarian Church the day after Christmas to participate in a Messiah Sing-a-Long.  I went every year until I started spending every Christmas season in India. Singing the Messiah was such a highlight in my life.

Tapping into something beyond my understanding, but no doubt, I had been “taken to church.”

my spirit soaring
heaven on earth
joy abounds
Home

 

About the same time, I started attending the Unitarian summer camp at Seabeck Conference Center. My children and I participated in that camp every summer for thirteen years. There I had the opportunity to be with a group that was like an extended family, where there were plenty of hugs, lots of rest, and fun, and children were cared for by all of the attendees.  Crossing the bridge into the conference center was like traveling to another world.  My whole body would relax and I could breathe fully.  I considered Seabeck to be my home in the universe for many years.  In fact, I still consider it to be one of my homes.

Tapping into something beyond my understanding, but no doubt, I had been “taken to church.”

my spirit soaring
heaven on earth
my soul is at rest
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I was still quite negative about anything spiritual.  I reached a point when even hearing the word God made me feel sick to my stomach. That changed the night I went to Amma’s Seattle program in 1989. In the months prior to that event, spiritual people started showing up in my life, much to my dismay. In fact, it was one of them who had invited me to go to Amma’s program. My internal response to her was “NO” but “YES” came out of my mouth. When the day arrived, I walked into the room after the program had already started. As Amma and the Swamis (monks) began to sing, I burst into tears. My tears lasted throughout the night and I entered into deep meditational states. What was happening to me? My friend had told me that she thought I would like it once I adjusted to the cultural differences. What cultural differences? I had never had any contact with Eastern spirituality yet I felt completely at home.

Tapping into something beyond my understanding, but no doubt, I had been “taken to church.”

my spirit soaring
tears flowing
touched to the core
Home

 

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I went back to Amma’s program the next night, and to part of her retreat on Orcus Island the following weekend. Six weeks later, I attended her retreat in New Hampshire and six months after that took my first trip to India. Being an Amma devotee has been the center of my life, and the life of my children, ever since.

One of the first changes I noticed after I met Amma was that I was able to separate my love for Christ from my anger at the Christian church. In time, even my anger at the church decreased. After all we are all human and are doing the best we can on this life’s journey. My spiritual life once again became my major focus.

Being with Amma, however, had opened a part of me that I didn’t know existed, a part that contained so much grief.  I was still experiencing deep, and often spontaneous, trance states.   At times, I felt as if some part of me was at a party that the conscious part of me was not invited to.  Although I was very curious about that, I sensed it was a protective mechanism.  If I was experiencing this much grief without knowing what was happening, what would I be feeling if I knew.  I believed I was experiencing the grief of longing, longing for union with God.  When I was with Amma I usually felt a sense of peace and fullness.  But when I was away, my separation grief flared.

Through grace, Spirit led me to many places and situations that made the time away from Amma more comfortable.  They often were areas where left brained, reserved Carol Poole (my name before I asked and received a name from Amma in 1990) would never have considered going.

  • Soon after I met Amma, I started studying the tabla, an Indian drum. Over time I became aware that my tabla teacher was the leader of a rock band called Tribal Therapy. He invited me to come to a show but said I probably wouldn’t like it since it was rock music. When I went to his concert, I discovered his songs were all spiritually based. I had never danced before but something inside of me “turned on” and I danced the night away, filled with joy. I started attending his band’s performances as often as I could. I was one of the last people I would have expected to ever become involved with an Indian guru, and now, at 41 years-of-age, I had also become a band groupie.  Unbelievable!
  • One day in 1991, I walked to a service station near my home, inexplicably taking a different route than I would normally take. As I passed an open field I noticed a sign that said “Tent Revival starting August 28.”  A big “YES” erupted within me as I gazed at the sign. I was very surprised at my reaction because at that time I still felt very separate from the Christian church.  I eagerly awaited the night of the revival and when it came, it was wonderous. The revival was sponsored by Power House Church of God in Christ, which is an African-American church whose roots are in the Deep South. People were dancing in the spirit, speaking in tongues, praising God, and singing.  The sermon spoke to me, even though I needed to reframe some of the content. The Gospel music sent me into ecstasy. I started attending that church regularly, and did so for many years. Being in that environment “fed me” during the times I was away from Amma. Early on, my body started dancing spontaneously, in a form that was similar to a whirling dervish. The whirling felt familiar, probably from lifetimes long past. I found it hard to believe that I was once again attending a conservative Christian church, a Pentecostal one at that. I loved that I was able to immerse myself in the experience and was treated with love and respect by the congregation even though I had beliefs that were very different from theirs.  At one point, from the pulpit, the minister claimed ME as a member of the church.  (I had never joined because I didn’t believe parts of their Statement of Faith.)  I felt so grateful and blessed.
  • In 2000, when I visited St. James Cathedral in Seattle, a flyer caught my eye. It was for a Taize service that was going to take place in the church in a half hour. I decided to wait and see what Taize was. When the service started and the music began, my tears flowed.  The grief I felt was so familiar. The music used a call-response style and was in a variety of languages. Soloists sang the call portion and the congregation responded. After some time, the congregation continued with the main chant, and the soloists started singing melodies above it. The moment they started singing in that way, my body filled with bliss. I soon learned that Taize was the name of a monastery in France, one that is dedicated to reconciliation of the Christian church. I attended the weekly Taize service at St. James Cathedral for some time. Years later, two friends and I visited the French monastery when we were on our way to Amma’s ashram in India.  Below you will find a video of the monks singing my favorite Taize song, Veni Sancte Spiritus.

Each of these experiences tapped into something beyond my understanding, but no doubt, I had been “taken to church.”

my spirit soaring
heaven on earth
joy abounds
Home

 

There have been many special times on this spiritual journey of mine but these events have been some of the highlights. The path has taken me one place and then another. What stays consistent throughout is Amma. My journey with her has been the center of my life since 1989, and probably for lifetimes before this one. While Spirit has led me in many directions, the place where I feel most at Home is when I am enveloped in Amma’s arms.

Amma's hug

my spirit soaring
heaven on earth
my soul at rest
Home

 

Written for Dungeon Prompts: Take Me to Church and Weekly Photo Challenge: Enveloped

Amma’s North American Summer Tour begins in Washington State on May 30. To see her entire tour schedule click here