Breaking the Ostrich’s Egg

“Life does not put things in front of you that you are unable to handle.”

~ Unknown

How many times have you been faced with a seemingly hopeless situation and have ended up avoiding it altogether because it seems so impossible?

Oh don’t look at me like that.  Everyone does it.  You’re life is clicking along seamlessly (well, if not seamlessly than at least without too many potholes) and suddenly you come face to face with something that seems insurmountable.  The problem is just too big.  You’re not ready for this.  You don’t have the resources to handle it.  No one’s ever taught you how to handle something like this.

So what do you do?  If you are like most of us, you’ll find a way to avoid the situation altogether.  Either you will play the victim, run away from your problem, or pretend that it doesn’t exist.

Playing the Victim

Playing the victim is usually the easiest choice.  After all, you didn’t ask for this to happen, did you? That makes it easy to feel as if you are being ‘put upon’ or being manipulated by circumstances beyond your control.

Believe it or not, this belief; that we don’t have any choice in what happens to us; is a belief that is almost as old as mankind itself; almost a kind of archetypal thinking.  It is this overwhelming sense of helplessness that has spawned many of today’s religious belief systems, especially the kind with the evil villain/good savior dualism that puts both “good” and “bad” things firmly outside of your ability to control or handle on your own.

More recently victimization has taken a more psychological bent with psychiatrists helping individuals to come to terms with their victimization by pinpointing who or what is responsible for what has happened to them.  But even though it at least helps the individual to take responsibility for the feelings that they are having now, it is still feeding that ages old concept of being a victim.

The thing is, for all that it is easier to blame someone else; for all that it makes us feel better to not have to take responsibility for what has happened to us, it is the rare individual who doesn’t understand – even if it is on a deep, subconscious level, that the whole concept of victimization is, for the most part, something that is used to help us avoid having to deal with frightening or unpleasant situations.

Run for the Hills!

Running away is probably the next most popular means of avoidance.  Honestly, what can be more to the point than coming head to head with a seemingly insurmountable problem and simply giving up and walking away?  This is the most basic of avoidance instincts – the “flight” part of the fight or flight instinct that is built into nearly every living creature on the planet.

By removing yourself from the situation you can avoid having to deal with it.  There’s just one problem.  Running away has become associated with being a coward in modern society.  Of course we don’t want to look like cowards, so we come up with any number of ways to convince ourselves that we “can’t” deal with the situation, or that we really don’t have the time to be bothered by it.

These can include everything from literally physically walking away or withdrawing from the situation, to immersing yourself in work or drink, overeating, politics, drugs, sex, fantasy fiction, the nightly news or anything else that will keep you from having to think about the problem.

Once again, there isn’t a human alive that doesn’t understand that running away from your issues, (whether it is physically walking away from the situation or in masking your fears or worries by wrapping yourself up in layers of protective habits) is not going to resolve the situation.  This is why Alcoholics Anonymous and so many other 12 step programs have become so popular in the last two decades.  People know what they are doing.  They understand that there are issues that they are avoiding and that they have developed “methods” of avoidance that can’t be classified as cowardice in order to avoid their problems.  This leaves us our good old flightless birds, the Ostriches.

Playing the Ostrich

The last avoidance option; sticking your head in the sand and pretending that there is nothing wrong; is one that is used by those who do not choose to employ any of the “flight” options listed above such as playing the victim or running away.

Perhaps they are too honest with themselves to be able to walk away from the situation.  They know that running isn’t going to solve it, and they have enough understanding to realize that they have nothing or no one to blame but themselves.  However, these individuals tend to opt for another, less obvious (and sometimes more harmful) method of avoidance.  They pretend that the problem doesn’t exist.

Now yes, I’ll be the first one to say that you do create your own reality, and that you have the power and the ability to choose your life; your state of mind.  I’ll even agree that your thoughts determine your reality and that by focusing on the negative you are bound to bring more of the same into your life. But there is a decided difference between a fully conscious human who uses their creative abilities to sculpt their life to their specifications through intentional and authentic living, and someone who simply refuses to see what is right in front of them because it is unpleasant or frightening and they don’t want to have to deal with it.

Dealing with the issue is not dwelling on the negative.  In fact, many times it is the means by which we can remove the negative from our lives once and for all and focus on maintaining the positive life that we want for ourselves.  But we can’t kid ourselves and pretend that these issues do not exist.  That is just asking for trouble.

While this last avoidance issue is by far the most insidious and the most difficult to deal with, there is one sure way to break the Ostrich’s habit, and that is to break his egg.

Breaking the Ostrich Egg

Contrary to popular belief, Ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand to avoid confronting danger.  This myth is thought to have originated with a quote from Pliny the Elder who wrote about Ostriches thrusting their head and neck into a bush and imagining that their whole body is concealed.  Actually, Pliny was wrong – they don’t even stick their heads in a shrub – they simply lay their necks out flat along the ground and spread out their wings to keep as low of a profile as possible.  This causes their bodies to appear – from a distance – like a shrub or low mound of dirt.

This of course makes sense when you realize that from a camouflaging point of view that the body of an ostrich really does resemble the kind of shrubs that abound in the Australian outback. So when the Ostrich’s elongated neck is concealed or isn’t immediately visible, most predators will simply walk right by them and not even notice.  But the fact is that most Ostriches only hide in certain situations; such as when they are laying eggs or have been physically injured.  Most times when an ostrich is threatened they don’t hide – they run.

This also makes sense, because the Ostrich is a fast runner. It’s true; they’ve been clocked at speeds up to 45 mph, which makes running away from a predator a very good option.  They can also maintain a steady running speed of about 32mph, which makes them the world’s fastest two-legged animal.  The thing is that there are times when an Ostrich simply will not run; when they refuse to run.  The most well-known of these is when their nest is threatened.

Indeed, threaten an Ostrich’s nest or (heaven forbid) break its egg, and the game is up.  You will see a different side of the Ostrich, one that most people don’t even suspect exists, because the Ostrich is also an extremely fierce and effective fighter.  Their powerful legs can deal out kicks that can seriously injure or even kill a predator, and their very strong and sharp beaks (driven by those muscular necks) can make quick work out of anyone or anything that threatens them.

So, Why are You Running?

Like the Ostrich, you too have the ability to not only face your problems, but to work through them.  While there may be a time and a place to blend in with your surroundings, or even to run, there is nothing keeping you from using your strengths (and you do have them!) to address the issue at hand.

It doesn’t matter what you are being asked to face. It doesn’t matter whether or not you have the right skills; the right training; the right credentials to handle the situations. It doesn’t even matter whether or not anyone believes that you can do it (including yourself!).  If the universe has presented you with a challenge, it is because you are ready to take it on.

Does this mean that you will inevitably succeed at what it is that you are attempting? Of course not.  Well, actually, it depends I suppose on your definition of success.  In fact, sometimes the whole point of the challenge is to help you uncover those things inside of yourself that will allow you to handle this sort of situation.  So if it is your first time facing up to this kind of situation- to this kind of challenge – then it may take several attempts for you to get it right.

But the point is that when you are presented with a challenging situation – even a seemingly hopeless situation – it doesn’t do you any good to blame someone else, to run away, or to pretend that the situation doesn’t exist. It was put in front of you for a reason.  It’s up to you to make the most of it.

 

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The Magic Web

We live in a magical world.  If you don’t think so, just look around you; look at the intricacies of a spider’s web (Her mother dies giving birth to her – so how does she know how to create that? Where do the designs come from?) Look at the glory of a sunrise; at the intimate dance of sunlight and shadow across the surface of a pond; at the delicate ecological balance of life taking place just beneath the surface of that water.

Truly, mysteries abound.  The secrets of fierce nuclear fusion that give birth to the life-giving warmth of our sun, the cycling of our stars and the complex combination of interlocking chemical and biological systems that make up the human body.

But probably one of the most amazingly mysterious and magical concepts is the fact that each of these mysteries; each of these intricate layers of creation is connected to everything else around it.  Like the spider dancing across the strings of her web; we too are connected to everything around us.  We share our energy with that spider.  We dance to the sinuous music of the wind in the trees and in our hearts burns the same fierce brightness that fuels the sun itself.

You don’t believe me?  Go out into your yard before dawn some morning; go out in your bare feet and feel the dew on the grass beneath your toes; close your eyes and let the silence soak into your skin; feel the stirring of the wind; feel the power of the earth soaking into the soles of your feet.  Listen as the birds begin to welcome the first rays of sunlight; then open your eyes and watch as morning breaks and then tell me that you are not connected to everything around you.

It’s just that sometimes there is so much to take in.  Sometimes it is too much to take in.  Sometimes it feels that if we try to take it all in our hearts will burst with the sheer beauty of it.  In fact, chances are that the last time you truly took the time to let yourself connect to everything and everyone around you was when you were a child; when you could still comprehend the vastness and the mystery of it without needing to understand why.

No, for most of us there comes a time when our openness and willingness to accept our connection to everyone and everything becomes too much to bear.  Usually this occurs when someone or something within our web lets us down; when we can no longer see the beauty of the connection because of the pain of disappointment and dashed hopes; when even trying to see this connection hurts us too much and we withdraw to a safer, less vibrant level of reality where it won’t hurt so bad because we are no longer as open to life.

And it doesn’t end with our first step away from openness.  Most of us spend our lives narrowing our connection.  For most of us, our webs of connection to the world around us get smaller and smaller over the years; our connections fewer as people and circumstances fail to live up to our expectations.  And instead of dealing with the pain we simply narrow our focus; spinning smaller and smaller webs until finally the last filaments of our once glorious web drift away in the evening breeze because of our neglect and we sit forlorn on the fencepost; alone and unconnected and waiting for the end.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

That talented spider with her delicately spun web does not let a little thing like a disappointment or discouragement –or even failed expectations keep her from maintaining her glorious web.  She spins and spins and spins and spins again.  And even when her web is broken by struggling insects; by gales of disappointment; by the careless actions of others; she quickly re-creates her web, continually opening herself back up – yes, to the pain and the disappointments – but also to the beauty and the wonder that caused her to choose that particular place to spin a web in to begin with.

So what is keeping you?

What is keeping you from re-spinning that web; those connections that you had in childhood; those connections that bound you with awe and reverence to the wonder and the mystery that surrounds you?

The only thing that is keeping you from once more opening yourself up to the joy and beauty that could be yours is your fear; the fear of disappointment; the fear pain; the fear that once your web has been torn apart you won’t have the strength to spin it out again.

Funny thing that, because the spider doesn’t even question whether or not she has the strength; she simply chooses to spin; stretching herself out to catch every subtle drop of beauty and possibility that is her birthright and accepting the pain as part of what it means to be alive.

The Lesson of the Red Rain Boots

“Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby”

~ Langston Hughes

When my daughters were small, I remember a day when I had taken them out for lunch.  While we were inside eating it started to rain.  This wasn’t just a pleasant summer afternoon rain shower, but a full-on wash-the-skies-clean kind of torrential rain; the kind that leaves everything soggy for hours afterwards; even the air.

It was still raining (though not quite so hard) by the time we left the restaurant and both of my girls were squealing in delight at the sheer number of puddles in the parking lot.  Some of the puddles, I noticed, were as large as small ponds, and probably just as deep.

Pausing to open my umbrella after a warning to both of the girls about keeping their feet dry, I let go of my youngest daughter’s hand for an instant, and a moment later she was knee deep in a puddle, giggling madly and splashing like a duck.  With a cry of warning I snatched her out; wrung out her dress as you would a washcloth and, after admonishing both of them (again) to stay out of the puddles because we had a long ride in the car ahead of us, we slowly made our way to the car; navigating around puddles and trying for the dry spots. Or rather I was trying for the dry spots.  Both of my daughters were angling for the puddles and my shoulders were starting to get sore from pulling them back.

We were about halfway across the parking lot when I noticed a brightly colored figure headed in our direction.  It was a woman; an old woman.  With her pure white nimbus of hair and a face lined in a thousand wrinkles, she looked like one of those dried apple head dolls that the pioneers used to make.  But it wasn’t her age that caught my attention, nor was it her attire (she was dressed in a bright yellow rain slicker, red rain boots, a purple rain hat).  What caught my attention was that she was making a point not to avoid the puddles, but to jump in them.

I stood there – stunned; unable to tear my eyes away, though I could see from the corner of my eye that both of my girls were watching her with absolute awe and rapture.

Finally, when her puddle jumping brought her to within a few feet of where I stood, she realized that there was someone in front of her and paused in her puddle jumping long enough to look up and meet my eye.  The stunned expression on my face must have amused her, because she grinned from ear to ear and then threw her head back and laughed like a loon.

“Aw sweetie,” she said to me finally – a grin still in her voice – it’s not as bad as all that.  Really, I’ve been waiting all my life to do this!  You’ll see.  One day you’ll jump in the puddles too.”  And then, with another grin for me and a wave for the girls, she had passed us, and life went back to normal. Well, almost normal.  I didn’t have the heart to keep the girls out of the puddles after that, and it was a long and soggy trip home.

But even now, years later I can’t get that woman and her bright red rain boots out of my mind, for how far do most of us go to avoid what we perceive as the negative things in our lives?

Honestly, I know that dealing with negative people and negative situations is unpleasant – and something most of us will avoid like the plague if given the chance, but how do we know that those puddles of negativity haven’t been put in our way for a reason? How do we know that we aren’t supposed to go through them instead of around them?

Who knows, those puddles might not even have been put in our way for our own experience.  Maybe, just maybe, someone on the other side of the parking lot is watching us; someone who has been avoiding negative situations of their own because they don’t have the courage to face them.

And maybe, just maybe, when they see you splashing through those problems in your red rain boots and laughing like a loon, they’ll find the courage to do something that they’ve never thought possible.

The Butterfly’s Shadow

You probably know the story of the chrysalis effect – how the lowly caterpillar transforms itself into the soup of possibilities out of which emerges the butterfly with its capacity to fly.  But every butterfly cats a shadow, for being a butterfly comes with a price.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of butterflies?  Is it of delicate airy wisps with fragile, colorful wings that soar through sunshine and shadow and feed directly on the nectar of flowers?

Well, I can’t blame you if that is your take on them.  They are lovely creatures, and watching them flutter from flower to flower in a garden or lend their grace to a meadow can be peaceful to the point of transcendence; but what of the darker side of the butterfly’s life?

Oh come now, you didn’t think it was all rainbows and moonbeams did you?  You didn’t think that once a caterpillar becomes a butterfly that its worries are over did you?  That all the bad things in its world would automatically dissipate into the mist of ambrosia and enlightenment?  If so, you may want to think again.

Yes, a butterfly has wings.  Unlike its caterpillar brethren it is not earthbound.  It can choose to soar above all of those things which – when it was in its caterpillar form – were insurmountable obstacles.  But this ability to transcend those things that others find nearly impossible comes inexorably linked with the ability to see more of both the good and the bad, and not only to see them, but to experience them fully.

You see, with the change in its body structure comes a change in metabolism and nutritional needs, including the need for more nutrients such as salts and amino acids; nutrients that can only be found in limited amounts in flower nectars, which is why it is not uncommon to see butterflies ingesting the liquids put out by wet soil, dung and even carrion as well as blood and in some cases even the tears of some birds and mammals in order to supply themselves with the nutrients needed to continue their lives.

Let me be clear, this does not make the butterfly a killer.  It can no more kill another creature than a feather duster could harm a washcloth, but in the course of its existence as a creature of the skies with a wider view of reality, it sees more than its caterpillar brethren.

Not only does it see more – it understands that in order to be what it is; in order to continue to bring love and light and understanding to all it interacts with it cannot simply dine on nectar and drift on obligatory breezes.  It also has to be able to stomach the harsher realities of life.  It has to be able to ingest the pain and the suffering of others in order to transform them into love and light.  It has to be able to get its feelers dirty (metaphorically speaking) in order to enact any real change in the world around it.

More importantly, it has transformed itself from a self-absorbed caterpillar whose only goal is to eat enough leaves to enact its own personal change, into a butterfly; a creature that understands that it is but a part of the larger picture; one strand in the web of life that enables the existence of everything that is.

No, not everything about going through the transformational process from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly is pleasant.  The caterpillar has a far simpler and less complicated life.  The creature in its chrysalis state may know pain, but it does not yet have to deal with the pain of others.  But once the transformation is complete, the hurt can sometimes seem unbearable.  But with the price of admission into the butterfly kingdom comes the joy of knowing that when the negative becomes too much to bear, you can choose to open your wings and fly.

 

 

 

©2012 SSHenry

Authentic Living 201: Living Intentionally

There is a difference between living and living an intentional life.

No, seriously, everybody lives.  Unless you’ve been in a serious accident and are fighting for every breath you take, living is not something you actually have to think about.  It simply happens, usually when you aren’t paying attention.  In fact, one day you look up and realize that half your life has gone by and wonder where the devil it’s gone.  It was just here for pity’s sakes.

Suddenly you realize that you’ve slipped so far into routine that you’re drowning in it.  For whatever reason your life has become mundane – each day just like the one before, and it doesn’t matter how good your life actually is.  It doesn’t matter how nice your house is, or your car.  It doesn’t matter how much (or how little) money you have in the bank – your life is being lived – you’re not living an intentional life.  So, what is the difference? What does it mean to live intentionally?

What is Intentional Living?

Intentional living is not about turning your life upside down.  It is not even about manifesting change in your life.  Intentional living is about being here – now; it is about doing everything you do with complete and total awareness of what it is that you are doing and why it is that you are doing it.

From eating your breakfast to sitting through that aptly named board meeting; from playing Frisbee with your kids to walking the dog; you need to pay attention to what it is that you are doing.  You need to use your mastery of everyday mindfulness to pay attention to what is happening in your life and to be totally in the moment as you do it; paying attention to all the details and being open to all the nuances.  And yes, I’ll tell you right now, it’s harder than it seems.

You see, we have this sense of urgency that surrounds everything that we do.  I’m sure you’ve noticed it.  When you are doing something mundane or boring your mind tends to either shut off or to race ahead to what needs to be done next or sometimes berate us over past mistakes and things that we could have done better.  Very rarely are we actually fully in the moment.  Well, it’s time to change all of that.

Living the Intentional Life

Using your mastery of mindfulness to pay attention to what is happening here and now, you’re going to make some interesting discoveries.  You are going to find that there are things that are a part of your life that no longer serve you.  You may have gone years – or even decades without realizing what you were doing; the time you were wasting on something that you really have absolutely no interest in whatsoever; things in your life that are just taking up space.

So, why are you still doing them?  Why have you kept them all these years?  What is keeping you from letting go of those things that no longer serve you so that you can make room in your life for something that actually makes a difference?  Yes, I’m sure that if you think hard enough you can find a reason to keep them in your life.  But is it worth it?  Is the time, effort and energy that you spend on them worth what is given back to you in the satisfaction of possession or in the completion of the action itself? If you were fully present every time you did this – used this – would you still want it in your life?

And it won’t just be physical objects or routines that you find cluttering up your life.  You’re going to run into friendships, acquaintances, even romantic relationships that are called into question, especially if – once you start actually paying attention to them – you find that neither of you is getting anything out of it; or if the relationship is unbalanced.  Just like physical objects and everyday routines, sometimes there are relationships that have run their course; that we hold onto out of habit, but that would serve everyone better if we simply let them go.

But it isn’t just about getting rid of the excess; of the mundane; of those things that no longer serve you or that have run their course.  Living intentionally is also about coming to a realization of those things that you are missing; those things that you really want to be a part of your life but didn’t realize were missing until you started paying attention to what you actually had.   Only once you realize what it is that you really want can you go about taking the necessary steps to bring it into your life.

So go ahead – start today!  Start paying attention to the life that you are living.  Start living your life intentionally.  Stop living on autopilot; never fully engaged in what it is that you are doing, and start putting a part of yourself; a part of your energy; into everything that you do.  Start being fully present in every relationship you are a part of and not just because you have to; not just because you feel obligated; but because you want to; because at that particular moment in time there is nothing you would rather be doing, for in the end that is the only way to really be alive.

 

 

The First Day of Forever

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams!  Live the life you’ve imagined.  

~ Thoreau

It’s going to happen.  One morning you are going to wake up and realize that today is the first day of forever.  It will happen when you are ready for it to; this first day of forever.

It will happen when you have decided to stop looking for happiness as you would an object you have lost and instead choose to be happy.

It will happen when you stop looking for wonder and mystery long enough to open your eyes and see the wondrous and mysterious things that surround you in every moment of the day.

It will happen when you stop looking for someone outside of yourself to blame for everything in your life that you have seen as evil or negative and finally realize that everything that happens to you is a result of decisions that you have made in the past.

It will happen when you finally realize that the only one who has the power to change your present circumstances – is you.

You see, there comes a point when it becomes clear that there is no one else that you can blame for the situations in which you find yourself.  I don’t care how dysfunctional your childhood family was or what negative circumstances you had to deal with as you were growing up or how many of your relationships have failed.  It’s still your fault. You brought this on yourself.  If you had been paying attention, you would never be in the situation that you are in now.

Oh, I’m sorry, is that too harsh?  Would you rather hear that it is all “their” fault?  That you can put the blame for the person that you have become on your parents or on the partners of failed relationships or on the seemingly random and chance events that have created the life that you are currently living? Or maybe you’d prefer the concept of a random and chance universe where bad things happen to good people for absolutely no reason.

It would be easier if I did that, wouldn’t it? It would be easier to be able to point fingers and place blame and sigh about how much better your life would be if only this or that hadn’t happened or if only this or that would.  Ah yes, much easier than actually getting out there and doing something about it.

You see it is your fault; all of it.  The circumstances you have found yourself in, the problems that you are being faced with, the seemingly random events that make no logical sense; they are all of them the result of your past focus and actions.  These are not tests by a divinity or temptations by an evil being.  You have drawn them to you by the focus of yesterday’s thoughts; the focus of yesterday’s energy.

And what about the seeming randomness of so many events and circumstances?  Well here’s the thing, chances are that you didn’t realize yesterday that your current attitude was going to have an effect on tomorrow’s events.  You probably weren’t paying attention to what you were thinking about; to the direction that your chaotic emotions were pointing you in.  You simply went with it.  You let your emotions control your thoughts and you let your thoughts control the focus of your energy.  And so it was that your energy was focused – unintentionally mind you – but focused nonetheless.  And what you were focused on is what you brought into your life today.

And yes, there are random circumstances that are not the result of your intentional (or unintentional) focus of energy but which are in fact the result of someone else’s intentional (or unintentional) focus of energy.  But here’s the thing, it is still up to you as to how you react or respond to these circumstances.

The random traffic accident that is not caused by anything you did wrong but rather by someone else being in too big of a hurry to stop at the light.  That accident may in no way be your fault, or even the result of your previous actions.  There may have been absolutely nothing you could have done to prevent it.  But first, that does not mean that you didn’t bring the event into your life.  Secondly, it does not mean that you have to allow your emotions to control how you react to that event.

You can choose to get upset and let it ruin your entire day, or you can calmly and coolly exchange insurance information and go on about your business knowing that while it may have seemed to be a random accident may instead have been your higher self’s way of ensuring that you’ve learned what you need to know about controlling your temper or about letting your emotions control your reactions.

And it doesn’t matter how big or small the circumstance.  It doesn’t matter how mundane an action or how life changing of an event you are faced with.  The truth of the matter still remains; you can control tomorrow’s reality by how you choose to react and respond to today’s events and circumstances.

You can stop letting your body-generated emotions dictate tomorrow’s reality and instead take the necessary steps to ensuring that tomorrow you will be living the life you always imagined.  And when you have done this for long enough there will come that morning when you wake up to realize that tomorrow is today, and that today is, finally, the first day of forever.

The Great Spiral of Spiritual Evolution

“A circle is the reflection of eternity. It has no beginning and it has no end – and if you put several circles over each other, then you get a spiral”

~ Maynard James Keenan

You have heard, I am sure, of the circle of life.  Anyone who has watched the Disney Classic “The Lion King” has felt themselves tearing up (or at least in awe) while sitting through that opening number where the interconnectedness of all of nature is emphasized (and with a phenomenal musical score nonetheless).  But when it comes to the concept of spiritual evolution, it isn’t so much a circle as it is a spiral.

Circles are perfect.  Just ask the Zen masters who saw the circle as the embodiment of absolute enlightenment.  Called the ensō, this circle represented strength as well as elegance.  It was used to represent both the void and the universe in all its wild complexity and, more recently, has come to be seen as an expression of the moment and the perfect completeness of “now.”

This is all fine and good for representing the perfection of enlightenment.  But what about what comes before?  Better yet – what about that which comes after?

Enlightenment, you see, isn’t the end.

Wait, what?  Isn’t that what this is all about?  Isn’t enlightenment the whole purpose of spiritual evolution?  Isn’t the prospect of enlightenment all about the perfectness of the moment, of that instant when everything becomes clear to you and you finally realize the true nature of reality and the reason that you have been put on this earth?

Of course it is.  But that doesn’t mean that enlightenment is the end.  Becoming enlightened does not mean that you instantaneously become perfect; never have a bad thought or speak a bad word ever again.  In fact, enlightenment is, if you will, simply the beginning, for it isn’t enough to know the true nature of reality; to know the reason that you have been put on this earth and how everything fits into place.  Now that you know it, you have to live it. You have to live your truth and that, quite frankly, can take some doing.

In fact, living your truth and the progression that comes after enlightenment can actually be more confusing than what came before, and that is because you are no longer on a journey.  You are no longer following a path to actually get somewhere.  Now that you have got to where you are going you have to create an entirely new life; a new existence; a new reality for yourself, like the pioneers who traveled out west in their covered wagons.  They didn’t always know where they would end up, but once they got to where they were going, it was time to get started on the real work; on creating a life for themselves out of the wilderness they had discovered.  It is the same with enlightenment.

Once you have awakened; once you have become aware of the true nature of reality and of your real reason for existence, you stop searching and begin creating a life based on your new realizations, and that isn’t so much a circle as it is a spiral.

Imagine if you will a giant slinky.  A slinky is not much more than a flexible coiled spring whose individual spirals are all part of a much larger whole.  Now, when you condense the spring into its smallest form you see it for what it really is; a slinky.  But when you pull the spirals apart – stretch that flexible spring out to its maximum length, it almost appears that the slinky is made up of individual spirals.

In fact, if you were small enough (and if you turned the slinky on end) you could start at the bottom end of the slinky and slowly but surely walk your way up; spiral after spiral; to the very top.

Congratulations!  You’ve just made a visual picture of the evolution of the soul.

That’s right.  Once you’ve broken free from the infinite loop of habit; of years and lifetimes’ worth of repeating patterns and conditioned responses; once you’ve attained enlightenment as to the real nature of reality and of your place in the universe, then and only then can you start your real journey, the journey that will take you up the spirals of your soul’s spiritual evolution as you create for yourself a life based on those things that you have come to hold dear.

Each level of the spiral is a circle complete and contains within it that reflection of eternity attributed to the ensō.  And yet, as the Zen ensō leaves a small space at the end of the brush stroke completing the circle, so too does a spiral leave a space for the one walking the circle to move up to the next level, completing the circle while transcending it at the same time and integrating everything that was learned in transitioning the circle below into the creation of the life currently being lived.