Chutes And Ladders

“It doesn’t matter how bad things get.  It doesn’t matter how dark the clouds are.  You have to believe, deep in your heart, that the sun is still shining, even if, right now, you can’t feel anything except the continual downpour.” ~ SSHenry

There are times in each of our lives; moments, days, months even; when we feel like giving up; when we feel that going through the motions of daily life are just too difficult and it would be easier to curl ourselves into a small ball and just wait for it all to end.

I’ve had one of those years.

The details don’t matter.  Suffice it to say that a year ago something happened to me that turned my world upside down.  It began with a single event and cascaded (as single events tend to do) into a thundering waterfall of circumstances that swept away nearly every aspect of who and what I was.

If you don’t believe me, go ahead and look at the dates on my writing here on the website.  You’ll notice that since a year ago the entries became fewer and farther between.  There would be months between entries.  That is because I was spending every last ounce of energy keeping my head above water; trying desperately not to drown in my own tears.

I was left clinging tenaciously to one thing and, oddly enough, it wasn’t someone or something outside of myself that I found myself clinging to.  It was an inner knowing; an understanding that even though it felt as if all of my insides had been torn out through my chest and kicked about by people in very dirty and heavy work boots before being randomly stuffed back in, it was going to be ok.

Somewhere deep inside I knew that even though it felt as if things would never get better, that this was just one of life’s weird twists.  It wasn’t the end.  It was more like the square on the Shute’s and Ladders board where you plummet back to nearly the beginning before picking yourself up and beginning the climb all over again.

Mind you, that didn’t make it any easier to handle.  That didn’t make the days any easier to face.  What it did was enable me to use my meditation and mindfulness skills to focus on the right here and now, as painful as it was; on getting through today.  Not looking towards tomorrow.  Not planning for the future;  just on getting through the day; through the morning; through the next hour.  I survived moment by moment until the hole in my heart scabbed over and reduced itself to an aching throb.

And after nearly a year’s worth of mornings where the alarm would go off and I would groan in disappointment at finding myself still alive and at the prospect of having to deal with yet another pointless and meaningless day; after nearly a year’s worth of days finding myself bursting into tears for no particular reason; one morning I surprised myself by waking up with a smile in my heart.  I could feel the sun again, and see colors.

Sure enough, when I checked the scab that had covered the hole where my insides were torn out had finally fallen off, leaving new pink skin underneath.  Mind you, it’s still very, very tender, and painful when exposed to the air or vigorous rubbing.  But it’s whole.  And I can feel my insides carefully rearranging themselves.  I think there may be a few pieces missing, for there certainly seems to be an emptiness inside that wasn’t there before.

Or maybe there is nothing missing.  Maybe during this last year, while I was focusing on getting through the day; maybe I grew.  Maybe it is not that there is something missing.  Maybe instead it is that there is now room inside of me; room for more; more of everything.

The Treat Truck from Neverland

There is an ice-cream treat truck that that circles our neighborhood during the summer. Actually there are a number of ice-cream trucks that make the rounds through our neighborhood due to the sheer number of children in the area. But this one isn’t like any that I’ve seen before.

First off, it’s not a truck, but a van, and it doesn’t have the traditional pictures of dancing ice-cream cones, or even pictures of the treats themselves, but multi-colored swirls on the sides, and a simple “Ice Cream” stenciled in elegant script on the sides. But the thing that really sets this treat-truck apart from the others is the music.

Most treat-trucks play jaunty children’s tunes, the better to catch the attention of the younger set. But this one not only has its music playing in a minor key, but it’s playing things like “Morning Has Broken” and “Imagine” instead of the standard kid stuff.  Yes, I know, this particular treat truck may sell something other than ice cream, but that is not the point.

This particular afternoon as I was sitting out in my yard enjoying the sun and the breeze, I heard the minor-key Ice-Cream truck’s melody blending weirdly in with the sounds of the birds and the rustling of the branches, and I had a sudden vision of this van going from neighborhood to neighborhood and the lines being composed not of excited children clutching dollar bills in their sticky fingers, but of jaded and world-weary adults with sad and empty eyes lining up outside of the truck, offering up their souls for the chance that the ice-cream truck would take them away, far away; away to someplace else; anyway but here. That it would take them away from the pointlessness of existence and the sameness of their lives, or at least offer them the hope and the dreams that continue somehow, in spite of seeming success and achievement, to elude them.

There is such emptiness in the world today.  So many people are searching; searching for something to fill the emptiness; something that will satisfy their craving for substance and depth and honesty. They line up for any activity or idea or belief that they think might possibly fill the void and, if it proves to be insubstantial, they continue on to something that will provide them with a diversion; something that will numb the pain and the emptiness and help them pass the time.

If only they knew.

If only they knew that they have the answers inside of themselves.  That there is nothing to “find”, that if they truly want to fill the void all they have to do is look into their heart in order to find the joy and the substance is missing in their lives.  If they knew, maybe they wouldn’t go chasing after that treat truck.

Sardonic Smiles

Have you ever felt that you were wasting your life?

No, now don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing the life you’re living, your job, how much or little you’ve saved, your choice of life partners, your choice in household furnishings, hobbies, or your role as a parent or parent-care provider. But admit it – haven’t you ever felt as if your talents are being wasted? And you gaze around at your cubicle, or the beige walls of your hum-drum office (why do they choose beige, anyway? Don’t they know that it shows EVERYTHING?) or at the sticky mess of jell-o and chocolate sauce that your four year old has just concocted in the dog’s water bowl and said “what the hell am I doing HERE – doing THIS?”

Well, I have a secret to tell you. Everything you have ever done in your life. Every book you’ve read, every experience you’ve had, every song you’ve heard, every person you’ve interacted with, every failed and miserable relationship you’ve had, EVERYTHING was to bring you to this point and time.

What’s more, you’ve been brought to where you are – right here and now – for a reason.

Now don’t look at me, I don’t have a clue as to what you’re reason is! That’s why it’s YOUR reason, and it will be up to you to discover it.

Just keep in mind that at any moment your purpose – your reason for being could be revealed to you. It could dawn on you slowly, like a rose budding and blooming in the spring sunshine, or it could sneak up behind you like a hyper five year old and jump out at you when you’re least expecting it and scaring you half to death.

So when your boss is criticizing your work, or your teacher is criticizing your homework assignment, or your parents are criticizing your ability to act like a civilized human being, or your spouse is criticizing your ability to balance your checkbook, or your ten year old is criticizing your ability to understand the importance of having the latest X-Box model, or your teenager is criticizing you for your apparent inability to understand ANYTHING, keep in mind that at any moment your purpose, your reason for being, could be revealed to you and suddenly ALL of this will take on an entirely new perspective…

Try THAT thought when you’re sitting through your quarterly employee evaluation, your SAT’s, or the parent-teacher conference and I bet you emerge with a small, slightly sardonic smile that will confuse the hell out anyone who sees it.

Finally you will know the answer to the question that has been bugging you incessantly since, well, since forever; you are here to experience being you, and you can’t exactly get around to experiencing when you’re sitting around wondering why it is that you are here.

Something More; Seven Steps to Creating a Spiritual Life

Seven Steps to Creating a Spiritual Life

Do you sometimes feel that you are living someone else’s life?  A life that is not genuine or authentic?  Do you yearn for something more than what you have?   Do you find yourself longing for a life that is full of purpose, of meaning; a life where you feel as if your physical existence and soul purpose are in alignment; where you are living the sort of life that you were meant to live?

Many people do.  And many people try to fill that gap in their life; that need for meaning and purpose with whatever it is that has made them feel good in the past.  This could be anything from food, alcohol, excessive exercise and nicotine to sex, marijuana, extreme sports or hard drugs.  It doesn’t matter for it’s all the same. That is to say that there is nothing wrong with most of these things in the right place or time, but when you begin to use them as a means of filling that gap; that is when those things become a problem. The thing is that there is a better way.

You can create that purpose and meaning in your life by living a spiritual life.

No, living a spiritual life does not mean that you have to go get yourself a religion.  It does not even mean that you have to pick a particular tradition and stick with it.  No.  What living a spiritual life means is that you are taking those things that you instinctively know in the deepest part of your soul to be right and true; and are incorporating them into your everyday reality.

You are finally living from your heart.

It is not an easy thing to live from your heart.  In fact, sometimes it can take all of your strength and test your resolve to the point that you wonder if it is really worth it or if it wouldn’t by far be easier to go back to living the way that you were; the life that you had.

But if you are truly committed to living a more fulfilling and authentic life; to bringing your reality into alignment with your soul purpose, then below you will find seven steps that should help you in putting together more spiritual life; one where you are living your beliefs so that you can become the person you were truly meant to be.

Seven Steps to Creating a Spiritual Life

Step #1:  Practice Everyday Mindfulness.  In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness “means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and non judgmentally.”  This can be an extremely difficult (though not impossible) thing to do.  And there are a number of ways to bring your attention to the here and now; to what is happening at this particular point in time.    (For more information on mastering everyday mindfulness, click HERE).

Step #2:  Practice Emotional Mindfulness.  Emotional mindfulness is different than everyday mindfulness.  In practicing everyday mindfulness you are paying attention to what is happening around you without; allowing it to be exactly what it is without judgment and without trying to change it.  Emotional mindfulness is a tad more difficult.  Emotional mindfulness is learning to pay attention to your thoughts.  Emotional mindfulness is learning to screen your thoughts and beliefs for any self-sabotaging patterns and replacing them with those that will bring your thoughts into alignment with who and what you really are.  (For more information on mastering emotional mindfulness, click HERE).

Step #3:  Take Time to Pray.  It has been said that prayer is the art of communication; of speaking to creation. Whether you believe that you are speaking to God, the Universe or your higher self, know that it is the presence with whom you converse that brings to you all of the circumstances and experiences that make you your life. If you want to bring certain things into your life, then it is important to be very clear on what it is that you want so that this presence knows exactly what to bring to you. Unclear or unspecific requests will bring unclear results.  If you are grateful for those things that you already have, don’t be afraid to say it!  In fact, expressing gratitude actually opens you up for more blessings as you make yourself into a magnet for everything that you want by BEING what it is that you are looking for.

Step #4:  Take Time for Meditation.  Whereas prayer is the art of communication with the divine, meditation is the art of listening.  Think about it, it does absolutely no good to ask a question if you aren’t willing to listen for an answer.  All the prayer in the world isn’t going to help if you aren’t open and ready for the answers that you are given. Meditation does not necessarily mean that you have to sit in a full-lotus position for hours every day.  Meditation takes many forms, but the most important thing to remember is that the true nature of meditation is the art of learning how to LISTEN; to your thoughts, your mind, your soul, your body.  You can meditate sitting down, standing up, lying in bed or even walking down the street.  (For more information on how to meditate, click HERE).

Step #5:  Learn to Trust and Act on Your Intuition.  It is not enough to tell the Universe or higher self what it is that you want and then to listen to your heart and what it is telling you should do to achieve it.  You must also learn to act on the promptings of that inner voice; to trust what it is telling you enough to take the steps it suggests when it suggests taking them.  You may receive confirmation by the arrival of synchronistic events in your life.  Don’t ignore them!  (For more on the importance of synchronicity, click HERE).

Step #6:  Body Awareness.  Being in touch with your spiritual nature does you little good if you cannot live out your intentions.  For this reason it is important to pay attention not only to your diet and exercise, but to your body itself; its needs and wants and desires.  The body is what we have to work with in this physical reality and too many of us take it for granted.  Learn how to communicate with your body.  Learn how to listen to what it is trying to tell you.  Learn how to eat and exercise with awareness and intent.

Step #7:  Live Intentionally and Joyfully.  Living with intent and living joyfully are probably two of the most challenging – and rewarding things that you can do.  Unfortunately we live in a society where most of us live and exist on autopilot, rarely thinking about how what we are doing and how we are doing it is impacting our lives.  Most people are completely unaware of how the power of intent and the transforming energy of joy can change even the most mundane of tasks into a powerful affirmation of who and what we really are.  By using the art of mindfulness to focus on each task that we undertake and to bring our whole selves into the moment sanctifies what we are doing and makes it special; sacred even.  By taking joy in everything that we undertake we put all of life into a sharper focus.  And even the most mundane of activities suddenly takes on new purpose and meaning and becomes a part of a life lived from the heart.

The trick, you see, to creating a truly spiritual life is not to do – but to be.  By choosing to engage all of our senses; our mind, our body even in every task that we undertake from eating breakfast to our evening’s meditation and doing the dishes, by focusing our intent on every aspect of our lives; on bringing our everyday life into alignment with our soul purpose, by living joyfully and by putting all of this together we choose to live in accordance to our highest vision of who and what we really are and we can finally step forward knowing that our lives will finally reflect our true nature and purpose in life.

 

©Stephanie S. Henry 2012

Waiting to Live

It seems as if I have spent my life waiting…

Waiting for those rushes of energy and emotion, of unadulterated experience that the universe always seemed to throw at me with such reckless abandonment; rushes so intense that I can’t think of anything but what is happening and everything else takes a backseat – almost as if I’m suffering from some sort of cosmic bi-polar disorder.

Athletes talk about being in the zone; about how everything else falls away as they slip into that moment where the only thing that matters is what they are doing here and now.  Musicians and artists too speak of this absorption.  I’ve experienced this myself with my writing.  The words just pour out of me as if someone turned on a tap and later, when I look at what I wrote I am in amazement.  I wrote that? Where did that come from?

I’m sure you’ve experienced those moments too…moments when everything seems to happen at once, and yet it is as if everything around you takes on a crystallized clarity as you focus on what needs to be done and thrill to the feel of the adrenaline coursing through your veins, to the power of the emotions and sensations stirred up in your blood. You have a purpose – you have meaning!  This is LIFE that is happening to you and you want to be fully there in every single second.

And then, when the moment is over, everything seems to STOP (or at least appears to stop in comparison to what you’ve just experienced) and you could swear that every movement you make is like trying to walk through molasses; so mundane and dull does it seem next to the heady rush you just experienced and you could cry at your loss, for after having experienced something so intense, how can you ever go back to living normally? How can you possibly work on the laundry after having just seen the view from the mountaintop?

But you do.  You come back to earth (so to speak) with a vengeance.  Indeed, after a while the intensity of the moment becomes nothing more than a vague memory; an anomaly that you remember with a certain nostalgia – until the next time it happens and once more you are thrown into the whirl of intensity that seems to affect every cell in your body.

And then there comes the day when you wake up and realize that it doesn’t have to stop.

No, this does not mean that you get to live in that cosmic high – in a never-ending rush of adrenaline and focused purposefulness (oh wouldn’t the corporate motivators love to get a hold of THAT sort of motivation for their employees!)

No.  What happens is that there comes a day when you realize that those moments of unadulterated experience are not just some random occurrence.  They are a choice.  They are what happens to you when you choose to bring your physical life into alignment with your soul purpose.  Those are your authentic moments – and they can last you for a lifetime.

You can wake up every day laughing in awe at the realization that each and every moment that you are experiencing contains that spark of awe; that crystalline clarity and sense of rightness.  When you realize this you will find yourself approaching each and every moment (even those that should, by all rights, be the most dull and mundane) with a sort of profound amazement at the potential that it contains; at the promise that it holds.

And it is then that the knowing will overwhelm you.

You are no longer waiting to live.

You are living.