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Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it. – Helen Keller

balance

I have been practicing Marshall Rosenberg’s seminal work on nonviolent communication for over nine years. Recently, I have been remembering his statement that every communication is an expression of either “Please” or “Thank you.” No matter how skillfully or un-skillfully the communication is delivered, all communications are either requesting something one needs or expressing gratitude. We don’t always get what we want or need from people, but we can always choose a response that is more conscious. A more conscious response will move the conversation closer to love and forgiveness; forgiveness of other, and more importantly, forgiveness of self. A less conscious, more impulsive reaction would likely keep the expression of pain going. It requires much skill to interact consciously with other human beings; I believe that is why we are here, learning with and from each other.

It is essential that we understand the feelings we are experiencing during conflict and that we understand the unmet need triggering the feeling. Identifying our feelings can take much spiritual maturity, because allowing oneself to be vulnerable during conflict is like what Stephen Levine calls, “opening your heart in hell.” Once one is feeling and need literate, conflict is easily reconciled. Here are some common examples:

Wife – You are always working, it’s like I’m a single woman in a marriage!

This is an expression of please. This is where the real work begins. The wife might only feel anger, but sadness or grief is always under anger. She might not even realize she is sad and missing her connection with her partner. In our culture, acknowledging our vulnerabilities is grossly undervalued, perpetuating an illusion that we are self-sufficient islands. Allowing one’s vulnerability, in my opinion, is how we can achieve world peace, one person at a time. At the core of this existential shift is the ability to find empathy for the self. To me, this is the prerequisite and the gift that neutralizes conflict and increases love of self and others. Once empathy is achieved, there is more self-reflection, and her communication might be, “My need for connection with you is not being met and I’m really sad about it. Would you manage your time so you can spend more time with me and the children? With practice, one can move more swiftly to vulnerability and affirming one’s love for the other can render more love.

Husband – I cannot do enough for you. All you do is nag nag nag.

This is an expression of please. It is important to hear beyond the pain. What he may be unable to express if he is not feeling literate is, “I feel so much pressure to provide financially, emotionally, and physically. I feel like I’m dying on the vine. I need some help here.”

The most difficult work is identifying the feelings and needs. Cultivating empathy for one’s self, leads to empathy for the other and will ultimately lead to feeling less isolated. This is the power of duality, or interacting intimately with others; the power of community.

Once self-empathy becomes natural, one can respond to these please requests with gratitude, rather than the automatic reaction of withdrawal or acting out our pain. Whether the communication is skillful or not, we can feel gratitude, because the other person is willing to express their unmet needs. Moving out of one’s own pain through self-empathy allows one to hear the other’s pain. Here is where love and connection can be restored and please can become thank you.

Recently, I reached out to a significant person in my life who has been disconnected from me, disconnected from my heart. As I move toward the end of my life, I know this is not truth. I reached out asking if we could reconnect. (Please.) I was met with a very cold, defensive response. I knew that we were not both in the place of reconciliation and I needed to honor that. In the past, I might have pushed for my needs to get met and it would not have ended well. I recognized the opportunity to honor where the other person was and more importantly, not to sacrifice my own well-being, knowing how open and vulnerable I am in my life right now. My reply was merely, Thank you.

And I meant those words, completely. “Thank you” to her for letting me know where she was. And, “thank you” to me for letting go, for having the wisdom to know that because we are disconnected on the physical plane, in another vibration where love is the only truth, we are connected forever.

All statements express please or thank you. Vulnerability is the key to open communication and inevitably leads to empathy. Empathy is the balm that changes poison (pain) to medicine (intimacy). You cannot give to others with an empty internal reservoir of love. This reservoir needs to be attended to constantly and consistently. This is the basis of most spiritual practices and the hope of heart-centered psychotherapy.

Marshall’s books can be purchased on Amazon, found in many libraries and YouTube videos are available online at no charge.

World peace can be achieved, one person at a time.

“In each of us there is another whom we do not know.” ~ Carl Gustav Jung

The Veil

Have you ever had an old aunt or parent who was in assisted living and they complained that you never came to visit? Maybe you were there the day before, but in their minds it was never and you knew there was no way you could convince them otherwise. Feeling exasperated, you thought, “What’s the point? I can never do enough.”

Well, from the perspective of someone who is alone eighteen hours a day, seven days a week and having felt this Great Aloneness my whole life, the kind of aloneness that being with other people does not touch, I am beginning to understand this dilemma in a completely different way. With this new understanding, beloved family members finding themselves in what feels like a bottomless pit of despair they could never climb out of, just a shift in perspective could significantly reduce suffering.

Many people, like myself, have lived much of our lives close to the veil that lies between this physical existence and our Soul selves. The veil is getting thinner as people are becoming more conscious, whether our egos accept this or not. After all, we, our souls, have chosen to enter human bodies for a courageous reason. When entering the lower vibrations of duality, the work of evolution of the soul is, paradoxically, accelerated. From duality, we move toward unitive consciousness. (Our culture is craving this shift and this is the hope for humanity.)

As people near their transitions, they become closer to their soul selves. It begins as an internal process that may not become outwardly visible until a critical mass has been reached within the consciousness of the individual. It can be subtle, where the person we’ve known all our lives becomes different. It may have a balancing effect where they appear belligerent where they were gentle or they become peaceful where they had previously been hostile. Sometimes, this process happens through acquiring dementia to fully experience their Shadow, the part of their personalities they were unable to live due to a lack of acceptance of these behaviors. (Maybe a significant person in their lives had been aggressive and they chose to live passively, refusing any angry impulses.) We take on human bodies to acquire experience, to grow and heal by balancing karma. The more determined the soul, the more likely one may choose illness, addiction or injury to assure we are following the soul’s plan rather than the ego’s plan.

My mother would have been a Renaissance woman if born during a different time. She was an independent, able woman who skipped grades in school, but married young and began having children at 19. She never completed college, which I imagine created much frustration due to limiting her options in life. Over time, her personality became aggressive and belligerent, which was not her true nature. She was frustrated and I felt terrorized by her behavior. I learned to not be my mother, so I denied any feelings of anger. On the surface, I appeared to be a sweet person who could have won a prize for “most congenial,” until one day a spiritual teacher gave me a Shadow gift of a plastic machine gun. I instantly felt shame, but a part of me felt liberated as I began to love the sound of the plastic machine gun, and, more importantly, I began to experience the buried aggression in my personality. Allowing myself to feel the repressed aggression and befriending it freed me to begin to allow vulnerability, a quality necessary for intimacy in relationships, and therefore freeing me to live a more authentic life.

When it became dangerous for my mother to live alone, we had to place her in a nursing home. She went through a period of confusion and outrage, until she surrendered and became a sweet old lady. My brothers and I commented on the irony, “A sweet old lady called me today, do you know who that might have been?” She was finally able to live her true self.

Understanding the changes in ourselves and our loved ones as we near death can significantly decrease suffering and allow us to truly come Home to our own true nature.

 

“[Spirit] needed a player, someone willing to get on the field of action, learn the plays, take the risks, get injured, play through the setbacks and defeats and continue to grind their way to the goal line. NOT to sit on the bleachers as a spectator…” -Burgess Owens, cornerback for Oakland Raiders and Super Bowl winner in 1980 in reference to me.

Burgess

When I went to the University of Miami for college from Scranton, I had no idea the explosion that was about to happen in my life. After all, I only had one significant boyfriend for most of the four years of high school. He was my first lover and we naïvely began discussing marriage at sixteen. At that time, there was no doubt in my mind that this would be the trajectory of my life. As life would reveal, she had other plans. To say that I was an inexperienced sixteen year old was an understatement. My idealism and my family dynamics did not prepare me for a life of simplicity and joy. It did not prepared me for the suffering required for maturation. Although Miami was not a good fit for my heart, I made it work for the four years required as a prerequisite for the deep initiations I apparently “signed up for” in life.

Early in my freshman year I was walking with a girlfriend and I crossed paths with a young junior who, unbeknownst to me, would drastically change my life. I remember specifically stopping in my tracks and saying, “I’m in love.” Burgess was a starting football player on the University of Miami football team. He was also a marine biology student. I knew nothing about football, so his celebrity eluded me. All I knew was that he was handsome and deep, gentle and loving. I began to tutor him French and he helped me with my sciences. We would frequently drive to the Florida Keys on the weekend to snorkel and collect sea life for his tropical aquarium.

B and II soon became aware that this relationship would alter my life, but I had no idea of the degree to which it would explode open. I immediately called my boyfriend and told him what was happening. Our plans had been for me to transfer to a college in New York State that was closer to him, but my life was taking a whole new tract. Good or bad, happy or sad, I was being drawn into a tsunami and all I could do was let go.

The next two years were expansive for me. Unlike the focus from my family of origin, my first two boyfriends supported my educational/intellectual pursuits. I became the president of the freshman women’s honor society and received recognition from the mortarboard and several other honors. Left to my own devices, I probably would have taken the easier path joining the waterski team that was seeking me out after seeing my slalom abilities. Education had never been my focus. My older brother was the first person to finish college in my family. Escaping the pogroms in Russia and surviving the Depression while speaking broken English was more a part of my history than higher education.

I knew that Burgess believed in me and that gave me the courage to pursue honors programs and to graduate cum laude. However, there was a deeper initiation into the vicissitudes of life that would take me to my edge. Opening my heart to this young, charismatic, and idealistic man transported me into unknown territory. Crossing the “racial barrier” was an initiation that required a level of courage I did not know I had. I can remember looks from people imbued with much fear, fear of crossing a line. After all, I was in the South. I remember Michael telling me that prejudice in the North was just as prevalent as in the South, it was just more hidden. I clearly felt the pain of bearing a scarlet letter across my chest not unlike the yellow stars my ancestors were forced to wear. I felt the shame from the projection of other people’s fears. However, this was an initiation I was willing to undertake. After all, the feeling in my heart was undeniable.

I can remember that day I looked at Burgess and no longer saw a black person looking at me. This was the young man I loved with all my heart. I didn’t realize the depth of initiation I was undergoing.

And now, forty years later we have reconnected on a soul level. We are revisiting the influence that connection had in our lives during such formative years. Despite Burgess and me practicing completely different religions and ideologies, there is still a spiritual connection that transcends the social constructs that would otherwise force separation.

After forty years we are reconciling our differences and acknowledging both the idealism of our youth and the excavations we have courageously and willingly undergone building bridges instead of walls in our hearts. I know these bridges will filter down to our children and our grandchildren to affect a world that is more inclusive.

Sharing what we have learned over the last forty years and revisiting our limitations from the past is bringing a healing that would otherwise have been unimaginable to me. Saying the things to each other we were too immature to grasp at that age has brought a deep level of completion and clarity.

When I crossed the racial boundaries, I opened up a level of empathy for the vulnerability and potential terror a mother of African-American children feels; I opened my heart to the multicultural families I would work with in my career. Burgess and I raised our children to cross cultural lines as well, and to not just believe in diversity, but to live it, to marry people of different cultures, giving birth to grandchildren who have the courage to bring in the New World.

These personal communications between Burgess and me are not just healing our human hearts, but they are changing the world, or they are showing us how we have already changed the world.

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river in you, a joy.”–Rumi

imagine

Without my two grand boys, I would not be a grandmother. I cannot write a blog of love and regeneration and not include my beautiful boys River and Luc. River was born in 2011 when I briefly lived nearby. We drove two hours to the hospital in New York City and I saw him when he was a few hours old. Luc was born exactly two years later; in a mysterious and unseen way, despite being in Colorado I felt as if I were present, experiencing the blessed event with my children. What an amazing feeling to see our families meld into one little being with so much promise.

I wondered what sort of grandmother I might be confined to a wheelchair with so much disability. I always saw myself throwing them up in the air and flying them in the air with their stomachs against my feet, like I did with my children. What sort of grandmother could I be to my grandchildren?

One day, when Casey was pregnant, I posed that question to them during a state of vulnerability. Feeling a relapse into the belief that I am my physicality, my son-in-law broke through my mood with, “It’s like, you offer a register of consciousness.” In that moment, it was like an electric shock wave sped through me that reminded me of who I truly am and what my Sacred mission is.

So my beloved River and Luc, I will not be sitting on the floor with you, I will not be holding books to read with you, but I will hold a frequency of Love and I will follow your lives, wherever they will take you. I will be in the wind if you listen closely, I will be in the water tickling you, and I will be in the sun’s rays warming your skin. You can learn to listen closely and you will hear my words of love and encouragement. You will never be without me in your hearts. And that will be true for any other siblings or cousins in the future.

My life has always brought many surprises to myself and others which has provided an opportunity for deepening. I hope that we can meet together in that field of Love and Depth.

“First I was raw; then I was cooked; now I am burnt.” Rumi

Image

Okay, sometimes I get totally thrown. During those times, there is no escape from my mind, from the feeling in my chest. It vacillates between a Shakespearean play and a banal soap opera. I have some control for redirection but the intensity remains unaffected.I sit. When I’m not standing every morning for an hour or riding a motorized stationary bike, I sit.

I sit facing multiple, snowcapped fourteen thousand foot mountains, or fourteeners to the locals. I love where I sit. I would rather be here than anywhere else. I sit and examine my life. It is a sacred task and one for which I feel much gratitude. Who gets to do this? When something from my past feels incomplete, it gets tweaked. If there is something that I haven’t said to someone, I see it and say it. There is a flow with every relationship in my life. I have corrected the imbalance of giving too much; I have learned to receive.

I believe that when we leave this majestic world, like nearly all of the near-death experiences portray, we have a life review. I’m fortunate to begin that self-reflection while still in my body. There is an old Hasidic saying, “on your deathbed, you never say,’ I should have worked more.’” Whether this chair in which I sit is a deathbed or a temporary place of rest, that is merely a matter of semantics.

I have partial use of one hand; that is it. From a competitive swimmer, runner, and horse rider, this is my Sacred Curriculum. I accept this curriculum and all that it involves. Would I rather be riding my horse or snow skiing? Honestly, there are moments I would. Would I rather be flying to New York City to be with my children and grandchildren? Clearly, there are moments, many moments that I would. However, doing this Work is what I am here to do in the present moment. All I have, all we all have, is the present moment.

It is in the present moment where true joy lives. For me, the past brings grief and the future, fear. That is generally true for everyone, whether dealing with a life-threatening illness or not. The present moment is where I try to live. Our bodies join with our spirits to partner with us in this endeavor.

Everybody gets thrown sometimes. It is a sacred practice to metaphorically pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, and begin again. It is the means to the “end” that grows our soul. It is that perseverance that grows self-love. I believe that this is the essence of why we are here.