Taking Out the Trash

It is everywhere.

You don’t have to go looking for it.

Turn on the news; it doesn’t matter what channel. You’ll find it there.

Scroll through social media; any platform will do. You’ll find it there too; permeating the atmosphere like the stench of rotting garbage.

Anger. Hatred. Violence; the by-products of fear.

There is one very real thing about the stench of over-ripe garbage, and that is that no matter how much deodorizing spray you squirt, no matter how much lemon-scented soap you use, you can’t truly get rid of the smell unless you take out the trash.

Now before anyone gets their panties in a bunch, I’m not talking about voting one political party or another in, or out of office. It doesn’t matter WHO gets in. In truth, unless we deal with the underlying fear, it doesn’t matter who wins, WE LOSE. Why? Because we haven’t taken out the garbage. We haven’t dealt with the fear.

Until we deal with the fear, the stench will remain; a constant reminder of the rottenness at the core.

You have heard it said that people fear what they don’t understand.

This is true of EVERYONE who gets angry for a cause.

In the current political climate you have one side you have where individuals’ fears stem from the changes that they see as coming with a progressive platform (they want to take away our guns / kill our unborn babies/ turn everyone gay / give our hard-earned money away to freeloaders/open our boarders up to violent criminals etc.).

On another you have those who’s fears come from the contemplation of a world where conservative views impinge on the inroads progressive platforms have made in the last hundred years (they want to take away our social security/steal our medicare/deny us the right to marry who we want/keep us from affordable health care/deny us the right to love who we want/ attempt to control our bodies / punish us because we are a different skin color or religion etc.).

I’m not saying that the fears on either side are not justified. There are plenty of those on BOTH sides who can give convincing arguments as to why they are right and why everyone else is wrong. But at the end of the day those that act out of fear, even if it is for a “just” cause, have more in common with their opponents than they would like to think.

Why? Because the anger and the hatred and the need to justify one’s position or view point or ideology ALL STEM FROM FEAR.

I’m not saying that the issues being argued are not important. They ARE important, extremely so. This is a pivotal moment for our country and I am not saying that we should sit back and do nothing. I am merely pointing out that no matter what side you take, no matter what your personal views on a subject may be and no matter how justified you may think those views are, if you are acting from a place of fear, you lose.

What I am saying is that we ALL lose if we do not address the fear that lies behind all of the anger and hatred.

Confronting one’s fears is never an easy thing to do. Most people avoid it like the plague.

It is not done by forcing political, social or religious views on those who disagree with you whether by posting angry memes or passing legislature designed to suppress the opposing side.

It is not done by arguing and getting defensive every time someone disagrees with you.

And it is certainly not done by picking up a handy weapon and killing those that you fear.

Fear is not always loud and obnoxious and obvious. It can be insidious. It is pervasive. It hides in just causes and in thinking you have the high moral or intellectual ground in a situation.

In fact, there is only one thing in this world powerful enough to counter fear, and that is love

Yes, love.

Stop wincing, I’m not talking about new age cosmic love; all glitter and unicorns and “good thoughts”. I’m not talking about the kind of love that features in pop songs and teen magazines or indeed romantic love at all.

The kind of love I’m talking about does not look at one’s outward appearance or bank account or position or political ideology, or how many time’s one meditates a week or national identity or religious affiliation or sexual orientation to deem another worthy of being loved.

I’m talking about the kind of love that empowers another to be their best self by believing in their worth as a human being.

I’m talking about the kind of love that fills up your heart and heals you from the inside out.

A person with that kind of love in their heart simply loves. Everyone. Without reservation or judgement.

I’m talking about unconditional love.

To come from a place of unconditional love in every decision that we make as individuals, as communities, and as a country is the only way to counter the fear. And it is the only way to undo the damage that millennia of living from fear has caused.

By living from love we don’t just take out the garbage of our own fears and the innate fears that come from being human, we transform them. We turn those fears into compost; fertilizer that feeds the soul and strengthens the human spirit.

Unconditional love is real.

Living from a place of unconditional love is possible.

It is as simple as choosing in each moment to ask yourself “what would love do?”

And then go out and do it.

-Just Steph. October 30 2018

The Caterpillar Girl

THE CATERPILLAR GIRL

She was going nowhere, this caterpillar girl.  Every day the same.  Inching along her barren  branch. Trying to make sense of a pointless world.

Every day she would wake up and do it all again.  And every night it seemed that she was no closer to her goal (whatever that might be ).  Every night she would curl herself around the stem of a leaf and fall asleep gazing at the stars and dreaming of a future where she had a purpose, where her life had meaning.

And then there came a day when the caterpillar girl knew that it was over.  She couldn’t stand being strongany longer.  That night she curled herself around the stem of a leaf, and this time she allowed herself to let go.

Inch by inch she used her outer skin to weave herself a shell; an armor against a purposeless pointless life.  And once she was enclosed in her safe space she allowed herself to fall apart.  She held onto nothing, allowing herself to finally let go, dissolving into the quantum foam of pure possibilities.

And it was there, in the quiet and the dark of her chrysalis that something began to take shape.  It was here that the caterpillar girl’s  hopes and dreams finally loosened from their mundane routine, began to take on a life of their own, and the foam of possibilities coalesced into exquisite form.

Finally, gasping for breath and still damp with the dew of creation, she climbed out of her self imposed prison and lay quite still, wings spread to dry, basking in the warmth of the sun and ready at last to make her dreams come true.

image

Boiling Frogs

“A Miracle is a highly improbably or extraordinary event, development or accomplishment (usually welcome and highly valued) which is not entirely explicable by natural laws. Some people attribute these to divine intervention. Others simply say that they are the result of natural laws which we simply don’t understand yet. One thing is for certain – sometimes it takes a miracle to make you believe in the possibility of them occurring no matter what their origin.” ~ SSHenry

I never used to believe in miracles; not even the kind that can be explained by as-yet unknown natural laws.  I always used to think that either something was possible – or it was not.  Oh I’d heard of miracles, certainly.  But even things like spontaneous cancer remissions could, in my mind, be categorized in the “as-yet unknown natural law” category.  But there is nothing like actually experiencing a miracle to understand its true power.

I can’t go into details; the events that led up to this particular incident are still too raw and close to my heart to share openly.  Suffice it to say that I had found myself in a situation that had become intolerable.  It was like the proverbial frog in a pot of boiling water.

You know the story; a frog is placed in a pot of tepid water on top of a stove burner.  It doesn’t resist being put in the water because the temperature is comfortable.  Then slowly, bit by bit, the temperature of the water is turned up until the frog quietly boils to death; never complaining or attempting to escape because it acclimates to each miniscule change in the water’s temperature.

I was the frog.  I had, over the years, allowed my life to reach a temperature just short of the boiling point.  Yes, it was a bit uncomfortable, but I simply thought that was the way things were supposed to be.  I didn’t fight it.  But then, rather abruptly, someone pulled the lid off the pot and prodded me into leaving the pot, and I’ll tell you right now, the change in temperature nearly blew my mind, as did the realization of just what I had allowed my life to become as well as what I had been living without; things that were my right; things that no one should have to live without. Then someone tried to put me back into the pot of near-boiling water.

Well, you can imagine what happened; water everywhere; the pot caroming off of cupboards and bouncing around on the floor like an ill-tempered poodle that has been ignored for too long. No, I did not go gentle into that good night.  In fact, I refused to go at all.  In the process of refusing to simply slip back into the boiling water I made a mess of everything around me and scalded those around me in the process.

It wasn’t pretty, and I’m not proud of the mess I made or the pain that I inflicted, but there is something good that came out of it.  No, there is something miraculous that came out of it; not only did I realize just what my life had become and refuse to be prodded into an acceptance of the way things had been, one of those I scalded – in spite of being in intense pain and extremely angry at me for upsetting the pot, was shocked into the realization of just what had been happening, of the pain and discomfort they had been inflicting as well by turning up the temperature (though it wasn’t a calculated infliction of pain). In fact, they were so startled when they realized what had been happening that they tossed out the pot as well as the stove and replaced them with a pond replete with lily pads and soothing reeds and lots of bugs where we can both kick back and relax and forget about things like stoves and pots and even kitchens.

The long and the short of it is that the atmosphere has completely changed.  I didn’t think it was possible.  I regret that it took such an upset and that people got hurt in the process, but the change is, not to put too fine of a point on it, miraculous.

Will it last?  I don’t know. I’d like to think so. But in the meantime, I am definitely going to enjoy the pond and being with someone who appreciates me and is willing to share this lily pad with me in spite of the burns I inflicted; burns that have to hurt like the very devil when immersed in the pond water but which will eventually heal when exposed to the warmth of the sun.

When Only the Moon Howls

“There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls.”

~ George Carlin

We’ve all had those nights; nights when logic and reason abandon us to those thoughts that we usually keep locked up deep in the untouchable places of our minds. You know the thoughts I’m talking about.  The kind that we keep locked up so tight that we somehow manage to convince ourselves that we never entertained them.

It’s on nights like these that we wander around the house searching for something; unsure of what it is that we are looking for but finding nothing but frustration and abandoned hopes scattered like overlooked dust bunnies beneath the larger pieces of our mental furniture.

If you are anything like me you wander from room to room; switching on lights, computers, making a cup of hot tea, running a futile Google search (and usually for random phrases that keep running through your mind), perhaps skulking around the yard in hopes of encountering something unusual to keep us occupied, maybe listening to some music or attempting to read a few chapters in your current book until finally you crawl back into bed and close your eyes in hopes that sleep will finally find you.

It is then of course that they come.

But it isn’t sleep that creeps into the silent spaces in your mind.

It isn’t sleep that seeps into the corners of your heart and congeals in oil-slick pools that make your stomach turn over just looking at them.

It is those dark contemplations; those self-doubts and depreciations and fears that we keep locked away in the daylight; buried deep in air tight caskets like so many vampires relegated to the dungeons beneath our waking thoughts.

For some reason they thrive in the moonlight and bask in the play of shadows that fall across the living room floor.  You can see them slithering along the baseboards and skulking in the darkness under the stairs and worming their way across the landscape of your mind.

The impression of teeth; of claws extending from misshapen hands; hands that are reaching out to tear our self worth into shreds with one swipe and stand growling over the carcass of our sanity like a hell hound bent on tearing our soul right out of its shell. It’s enough to paralyze you; to leave you shivering on the couch with a blanket pulled around your shoulders, hunched against the chill of uncertainty and self-loathing, the tea congealing on the coffee table and every creak and groan in the floors and pipes only underscoring the sinister ambiance.

When these nights come – and they will come – you can either cower in fear and hiding your heart from the despair that they generate, or you can embrace them; pull them into the core of your heart and welcome them with open arms as long lost aspects of yourself.

You see, these unlovely thoughts; these fears and doubts and feelings of impotency and despair are just as much a part of you as the practical and upbeat aspects of your daytime self; the one who always knows just the right words to say and who others look to when they are in need of wisdom and emotional support.  Denying the truth will only give them more power each time that they manage to creep beyond the confines of those deep places to which you have relegated them.

If you embrace them however, if you welcome them as a part of yourself that has heretofore gone unacknowledged and greet them with love you will find a strange thing happening.  Like the early morning mist that dissipates as the sun creeps over the horizon, these dark and loathsome thoughts will melt away in the all-forgiving light of you love.  You will see them as they truly are, and they will lose what power they had over your heart and soul and mind.

 

The Empty Shell

“You can’t ask a butterfly to scrunch herself back into her chrysalis or to go back to being a caterpillar just because you’d gotten used to her like that.  What’s worse is when you try to get her to go back because you fear the freedom given to her by her wings.”  ~SSHenry

There are some experiences; some moments in time; that change your life forever.  Perhaps for you it was a major life event such as the birth of a child, the death of a loved one or a close call that shook you right down to the foundations of your soul.  Or maybe it wasn’t a large event at all.  Maybe it was something much more subtle such as a kind word spoken when it was most needed; the touch of a lover’s hand or a breeze that not only ruffled your hair but stirred up something deep down inside you that simply could not be contained.

I’ve had many life-changing moments.  All of us have.  Sometimes it seems as if these moments come so thick and fast that they threaten to overwhelm you.  At other times you feel as if your entire life is on “pause” and all of the moments having stepped out for a drink or something.   At some points in your life it is as if the moments of realization and wonder and change are so few and far between that you’ve pretty much forgotten what they are like before the next one begins to play itself out and have to remind yourself what exactly it is that you are dealing with each time you encounter it.

My most recent (and not surprisingly most profound) life-changing moment to date came the moment that I walked into my house after a two month absence and realized that there was no way that I could go back to being the person I had been when I walked out that door eight weeks earlier.

The details as to why I ended up gone for two months (illness in the family) or what happened while I was gone are not important.  Yes, I had some interesting experiences while I was off on my own for two months dealing with unexpected issues and meeting people I might not otherwise have encountered. But what really matters is that for two solid months I was detached from the life that I had been living up until that moment.

For two months I was separated from all of the small niggling everyday details that we label “reality” and which demand our attention and catch us up in layers upon layers of drama and expectation; layers that we gladly pull around us like a cloak and call “life.”

For two months I was free of those layers.  Getting rid of them was not pleasant. They got stripped away from me rudely leaving me rather raw and feeling as if I had been flayed alive and then washed down in salt water and I felt as if was being completely inundated with issues and problems and responsibilities that I really didn’t want to deal with at that moment in time.

But the point is that for two months I was not just a wife.  Nor was I just a mother or a daughter taking care of her own mother.  For two solid months – I was me.

Just me.

I was not free of obligations or responsibilities (caring for a sick family member brings with it its own responsibilities and expectations).  But for two months I was free of the obligations and responsibilities and expectations in which I had wrapped myself up for the last 22 years; those responsibilities and expectations that come from being a wife and mother and homemaker extraordinaire.

For two solid months was completely and totally myself.

It dawned on me as I was driving home, to wonder just how I would ever be able to go back to living my old life.  But when I pulled into the driveway and saw my house for the first time in eight weeks; when I walked through the door and took one look around me, I knew that it was patently impossible.

I can’t go back to the way things were; ever.  The person who lived that life is gone.

I could feel the shell of her; that old me; waiting for me around every corner.  “Come on” she whispered, holding out the old life as if it were a soft but comfortable pair of sweat pants. “Don’t you want to slip back into this?  This is where you are comfortable.  This is where you belong.  Life doesn’t get any better than this.”

“Oh yes it does sweetheart” I whispered back “you have NO idea!”

You see, the old life has a lot going for it.  There are many things that I would like to keep and incorporate into my new reality, but not if it means having to go back to being the person that I was.  The person I have become cannot possibly fit into that old skin. Not without giving up who and what I have become.

It would be like asking a butterfly to scrunch back into her chrysalis.  Or better yet, to turn back time and become a caterpillar again.  It’s not going to happen.  I could pretend, but I’m tired of pretending.

I am simply going to be myself.

My whole self.

I will start again.  Here.  Now.  As myself.  If that is not enough, or more likely if that is too much, then so be it.  I have wings now baby. There’s no reason for me to go back to crawling when I can fly.

The Big Picture

“Sometimes it is difficult to understand why certain things have to happen in our lives.  What may be even more difficult to believe is that everything; no matter how seemingly unfair or painful; is part of the larger picture a picture that is being created by a skilled and talented artist who knows exactly what they are doing.” ~ SSHenry

Have you ever watched an artist at work?  I’m not talking about the painter dude on PBS who whips his pictures out in a neat half hour show while talking to his audience about technique.  I’m talking about a painter who is creating something entirely new; something that has never been seen before; something straight out of their imagination.  It’s slow going and sometimes it is not always clear just what they are trying to do.  In fact, watching them step by step can be confusing to say the least.

Layers of primer and base coat colors give way to blotchy looking splotches which slowly meld themselves into vibrantly shaded backgrounds and open spaces.  Bold, angry looking lines and jagged chunks of seemingly pointless blackness become trees and rocks and valleys.

Sometimes it may seem as if the artist is moving quickly with broad strokes blending colors and creating textures in mere minutes.  But then they may let the painting sit for a long period of time while the layers cure, or they may leave one section of the painting to attend to another, leaving the one watching them in frustration as to how things are going to turn out and what exactly it is that is being created.

Sometimes the artist appears to attack the painting, using metal tools to cut through layers of already cured and dried paint in order to lend depth and texture where there was previously only smooth paint.  Sometimes they look as if they are attacking the painting with their brush; jabbing angrily at various patches where an object is slowly taking shape.  Sometimes the brushes slash; at other times they caress so gently and delicately that you could imagine that the artist is making love to the canvass, and sometimes the artist will use a spray bottle of paint thinner to remove entire sections in order to make room for something else.

Confusing?  Yes.  Especially for the one watching the painting take shape, but imagine for a moment that you are not merely watching the painting, but that you are the painting.

Doesn’t it feel that way sometimes?  Doesn’t it feel as if you are being manipulated by some master craftsman; some talented artist who doesn’t take your wishes into account at all but instead is manipulating the situations, events and people in your life in a way that you can’t even begin to understand?

Shall I tell you a secret?

It’s true.  You are being manipulated by a master craftsman; a master artist.  Your life is a canvass; a work in progress and I bet if you close your eyes you can feel the brush strokes on your soul; the colors coming together in vibrantly rich tapestries of detailed light and shadow.

You want to know something else?  This artist is no stranger.  This master artist is no separate and distinct god who is flagrantly manipulating your life for his own purposes.

You are the artist.

You are the artist and the canvass.

You are simultaneously the paint and the brush; the color and the texture; the light and the shadow.

All of it – all of it is you.

Every decision that you make – or don’t make; every action that you take – or don’t take; everything is part of the grand scheme; the big picture that your higher self is crafting out of your life.

You can fight it.  Of course you can.  You can wail and scream about the unfairness of the knife cutting through your perfectly laid paint layers.  You can gnash your teeth about the angry slashes that are marring up your background or the inexplicable color combinations that don’t go with the decorating scheme you chose for your life, or you can accept that there is a reason for what is happening, even if they don’t make logical sense in the here and now.

Or, you can accept that it is all part and parcel of the big picture.  You may not yet be able to see the picture in its entirety, but you can feel the canvass under your fingertips and smell the oils in the air and trust that you know what it is that you are doing and that as the painting begins to take shape you will feel things fall into place.

As long as you remember that every joy and ecstasy, every misadventure and painful goodbye and heartwarming hello is a necessary step towards the future that you are creating for yourself; as long as you remember that every personally painful experience and heart wrenching moment is adding shadow and depth to a work of art that would otherwise be flat and uninteresting you will be okay.

 

The Enlightened Art of Chasing Rainbows

You’ve run into them, I know you have, those New Age ‘gurus’ who sell a method or process of enlightenment that is “guaranteed” to work.   Well, you have to buy their book or their 10 disc CD set or sign up for their online course (where you get a personal spirit coach and a free reading on your etheric colors).

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not knocking their methods.  In fact, I have read a huge number of “how to” and “self help” books that contain some extraordinarily awesome suggestions; tips and techniques that have definitely made my own spiritual journey far richer and more interesting than it would have been if I’d continued to keep slugging away through the underbrush on my own; forging my own path with absolutely no outside help and only a semi-sharp machete.

I only have one problem when it comes to these sorts of spiritual teachers, and that is the overall attitude that there is just one way to enlightenment – their way – when in truth the process of enlightenment is more like chasing rainbows.

Didn’t you ever chase after a rainbow as a kid?  You can see it, its right there!  And yet, when you get to the point of the rainbow’s origin, what do you find?  Nothing but mist and sunlight; nothing tangible; nothing substantial, and definitely nothing that you can lay your hands on and say “hey look, I’ve got me a rainbow!”  In fact, once you reach the point where the rainbow seemed to touch the ground, chances are that you will have found that it has moved on to the top of the hill; the top of the mountain; always a step ahead of you and just out of reach.

As you get older you learn about how rainbows are made and even the knowledge that it is nothing but raindrops and sunbeams doesn’t deter us.  Even the knowledge that the array of colors is due to the prismatic effect of refraction doesn’t keep us from our goal.  We still try.  We might even consult with others who claim that they know how to pin one down.

Yes, there are teachers who have a grasp on ways to help you see the colors more clearly.  There are those who can give you a step by step description of what each color means and others who will be able to walk you through the process of refraction and be able to discuss the philosophical meaning of rainbows and the importance they play in the human drama, but there is not one teacher out there who can teach you how to lay your hands on that rainbow.  Why?  Because it can’t be done.

That’s right.  There is no such thing as “achieving” enlightenment.  I don’t care how hard you run or how many mountains you climb, you will never “achieve” enlightenment.  There will never be anything that you can hold out and say, “Here is enlightenment.  It is within my grasp.  It is mine.”  Why?  Because enlightenment is not something that you get; it is not something that you get.  Enlightenment is the process of stepping back and discovering that enlightenment was inside of you the entire time.

You are the sun.

You are the rain.

And it is in your heart and mind and soul that the rainbow not only has its origins but where you will find your pot of gold as well.