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Love, Making a Difference, Ten Thousand Days

The Landscapes of Conflict

December 10, 2023

Photo: Stijn Swinnen

Day 3399 – Day 3403

One night this past week, I was scrolling and came across a video made by the actor Misha Collins, raising awareness about the shelling of Ukraine and I wrote a long comment.  I’m not a fan girl and can’t see myself ever being a celebrity fan girl.

I worked in the New York film business for several years and I worked with a lot of stars.  Yes, I was  excited to work with David Mamet and Paul Schrader – both great writers – but the only person who caused me to be tongue-tied and nervous was Francis Ford Coppola, when I met him, in passing.  Our office was in the famous Brill Building, on Broadway, on Paul Simon’s floor, so there were a lot of famous people that I met on set, in post and in passing.  I see stars for who they are – fellow human beings (with followers) who are very good at their craft (and sometimes very lucky) but humans, all the same.  Sometimes they have more fragile egos than one might expect, and it is for that reason – not because they are celebrities – that they might deserve extra kindness.

So, I suppose it was a combination of my nonchalant attitude towards celebrities, and the fact that I seem to share a lot of the same passions with Misha Collins, that led me to overshare by way of a contemplative comment on his YouTube video.  I don’t regret what I said, but I did realize that it wasn’t the right forum.  So, I deleted it – but not before I took a screen shot for myself.

There is so much conflict in the world and on the world stage.   I have friends and colleagues on both sides of current wars.  I don’t condemn anyone for feeling aligned with one side or another based on their lived experience.  I think that is natural.   But at the risk of attracting condemnation, I am becoming more resolved in my own impartiality.

There is a monument in London to Edith Cavell, a nurse who treated soldiers on both sides of the conflict in WW1 and who aided Allied soldiers to escape across the Dutch border.  She was tried by the Germans and shot for treason.  I learned of Edith Cavell during my time sitting in silent contemplation as a guest of the London Quakers.  I passed the monument several times a week, for years,  and the memory of her story left cracks in my heart.  I think, or I certainly hope, that I would have done the same as she.  In my heart, I feel that when we are called to love, it is a Holy call and our ego’s preferences can have no part to play.  That choice of impartial love can be a matter of conscience or faith or both.

This brings me back to the comment I made on Misha Collins’ video.  For context, I understand that he practices Buddhist meditation and he has a history of activism in both politics and projects aimed at making the world a kinder place.  We share a similar passion to change the world for the better.  Don’t many of us have that aspiration?  I assume that if you are hitting up this website, you are at least interested in gratitude, joy, oneness and service.  Perhaps, my friend, we are being called to a new army: an army of love.

I deleted my comment on Misha’s channel, partly because it wasn’t the forum for such a comment and partly because I thought it might be seen as a criticism, which was not my intention.  He was, in the video, in Ukraine, filming the torment of night time Russian shelling.  To some, it might appear that he has chosen a side, but only he knows the level of equanimity and compassion that he nurtures in his heart, for each side of the conflict.  Edith Cavell’s example reminds us that impartiality does not necessarily mean a lack of action, yet the landscapes of conflict are where our good intentions can be misconstrued and we can forget the good intentions of others.

In any case, I thought that you, dear reader, might find some food for thought in my slightly abridged words:

I wonder whether you struggle, like I do, to balance the spiritual call to be the witness, with your compassion and your activism.  This is not a criticism but a genuine question.

It is something that I wrestle with, on my own hybrid spiritual path.  My maternal ancestors were radical pacifists from that very region (Ukraine/Russia).  My paternal ancestors took a different tack on Christianity and lived more by the sword.  My meditation/spiritual teacher, in this lifetime, is a mystic of a different faith, where the tradition is both witnessing and radical love (but the sword has its historic place in the wider faith within which the mystic sits)

My teacher’s guidance is not to expend energy on outer activism, but to focus all our work on the inner…which is somewhat of a return to the path of my maternal ancestors.  It is heartbreaking and requires constant wrestling with the ego to truly be a compassionate witness and lover.  To do it wholeheartedly is not an act of complacency but I certainly don’t find that I live up to the call of my maternal ancestors or my mystic teacher.  I wonder sometimes if the inner work is enough.  And, just saying that feels like I need to do more inner work.

My maternal ancestors were labelled “Spirit Wrestlers” by the Russian Orthodox Church.  I really feel that moniker in my bones.  They have nearly died out now, globally, but it feels like now is their time.

Late night thoughts here but I do wonder how you manage the pull between the inner and outer.  I wonder how anyone on a spiritual path does.  I don’t feel I”m doing a great job of it in these times.

I’m not sure any of us are really doing a great job of navigating a world in conflict right now. Conflict seems only to be escalating, from inner conflict to family conflict to workplace conflict to road rage to a shooting at the local grocery store until entire countries and regions of the world are at war.

If we believe that there is something more profound than just ourselves, how do we reconcile the experience of conflict with our awareness of Oneness?  And how, then are we to respond?

I don’t have the answers.   I have inner conflict and there is conflict in many areas of my life with which I struggle to bring together both my worldly and spiritual truths.  I have some good questions and my faith to guide me but I am actively wrestling with them, for my own and for Spirit’s sake.

Even in this uncomfortable place, I find myself grateful.  I’m grateful for that video by Misha Collins that gave me the space to begin to put words to these questions.  I’m glad I made the choice to delete them and re-write them in this forum, as an invitation to contemplation.    I am grateful for my ancestors – even for the fact that their values were so at odds.  It has been a legacy I have had to contend with all my life. Perhaps it has made me more aware of and willing (sometimes not before I’ve dug in my heels and been dragged, kicking and screaming) to try to walk the tight rope between points of view.  And, finally, I’m grateful for my teacher and my small group of fellow meditators with whom I meet, fortnightly, to bear witness to it all.

My compassionate hope for you is that you, too, will find the gift of space to reflect and wonder, as you navigate the many landscapes of conflict.

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

Gratitude, Love, Milestone, Ten Thousand Days

6 Years of Gratitude

August 17, 2020

Photo: Natasha Welingkar

Day 2193

What a year this has been!  As always, this anniversary sort of crept up on me.  I knew it was coming but this time of year seems to always be so busy that I never find the time to sit down and plan anything special.  It was a miracle that I managed to plan a party for my first year anniversary.  I am sure that I would not have managed it if it had not been for the gentle prodding of friends.

I like birthdays and last year’s 5-year marker was a big one.  I spent the first half of year 6 just being grateful to be alive.  Little did I know that 2020 would bring a string of news stories that would make me want to crawl into bed for at least the rest of the year.  In the end, I’m still grateful for the same thing: to be alive.

I had been struggling with a sense of boredom when, this past year, I hit another milestone and it was a daunting one.  I passed the 2,000 day mark and having spent 1/5 of the time to which I had committed, I wondered: what have I really achieved for the cause of gratitude, in this time?  In this past year, I have started a YouTube channel and I have been creating gratitude related content on a regular basis.  That trial by fire was a great way to get rid of boredom.  But it is hard to measure impact when the goal is simply to practice for a certain number of days.  Measuring impact is something I will be giving some attention in the coming year.  There is no way to increase impact (except by a fluke of luck) without measuring it.

During this past year, it also became clear to me that I am being called to write the stories of love.  I don’t mean some Harlequin romance novel.  I mean that I am being called to bring love to the forefront of my gratitude practice.  I think I struggled with this idea, initially, because I had been burned by love.  But, one terrible romance cannot get in the way of a whole way of being that is at the centre of my spiritual life.  And so, I am being called to bring my spiritual path of love to the gratitude table.

I thank you for 6 great years together and I hope that you will continue into the 7th year and an exploration of gratitude and love, together.

Photo: Carolyn V

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

 

Love, Meditation, Ten Thousand Days

11:11

March 3, 2020

Photo: Hennie Stander

Day 2021 – Day 2026

Throughout my life, I have seen repeating numbers and knew it was supposed to mean something, according to New Age texts.  I just never really gave it much thought.  Several weeks ago, I started seeing repeating numbers every time I looked at the clock. It started with the number 11:11 and I saw that over and over again and ignored it.  So, I started seeing other strange combinations like 3:33 or 5:55.  I saw 5:55 an awful lot and dismissed it as simply being an indication that maybe it was time to leave the office for the day.  I also saw 8:18 an awful lot.  That is the time that I was born, so I dismissed it as selective attention.  When I started seeing 23:23, I started getting annoyed.

There is a lot of new age spiritual mumbo jumbo out there as to what number series mean.  I don’t buy into that.  But, there are ancient systems of numerology where number series have meaning.  I am not versed in them.  Some people say 11:11 is a twin flame number – I don’t know what that is or if it is a real thing.  If I’m going down the mumbo jumbo route, I’m more inclined to believe that 11:11 is an invitation to a spiritual gateway.  Even that sounds hippy dippy to me.  But, what I can say is that I am grateful for feeling annoyed by the constant series of repeating numbers filling my life, if only for one reason – it has made me pay very careful attention.

This morning I awoke at 4:44. Okay.  I’m paying attention.

About two weeks ago I was lamenting to someone that I have never had the benefit of a mentor, even though I really feel that I could use one.  I have this particular situation where I feel really lost.  I can see that I am doing work that others are doing and I want to network with my colleagues but I am stymied.  I don’t know what to say to them.  I’m not sure what the value proposition is.  And I’m frustrated.  I need a mentor.

As soon as I expressed that feeling, I got an email of an offer for some discounted mentoring from someone who knows what they’re talking about.  Now, it is not someone involved in that circle of colleagues but it is someone who can help me figure out how to use the tools at my disposal to put myself out there.  I’m grateful for that email and I’m looking forward to our session that will happen, tomorrow.

I feel like the energy of the world is changing and this is happening very quickly, now.

I’m also grateful for what appears to be a heightened sense of intuition and connection to certain people.  I probably can’t explain this but there are people in my life with whom I am feeling vibrationally connected in a very intense way.  There are even some people that I only know on the internet with whom I am feeling strangely in-tune. With my increased intuition and intense connection, I am experiencing a lot of profound and intense love.  I sometimes wonder if I’m not a bit weird or if I have a brain tumour.  Intuition is something that nobody really teaches us to understand, in modern times.  I am grateful, in this, that I have a spiritual group to whom I can bring my weirdness.

The world is in a very tumultuous place right now with the news filled with stories of a worldwide pandemic, panic buying, stock market plunges and G7 rapid action to stem off a worldwide recession.  I remember my yoga guru Swami Satchidananda used to say that we are all like oranges.  When we get squeezed, we will see what is truly inside of us.

What is inside of us? Fear and darkness? Or, love and light?

Photo: Jon Tyson

For what are you most grateful, today?

Gratitude, Gratitude Practice, Love, Milestone

Two Thousand Days of Gratitude

February 6, 2020

Photo: 30daysreplay

Day 2000

During the first year of my gratitude practice, I made it a habit to ‘check-in’ about what was going on with me, at regular intervals.  This was how I discovered the impetus to give back, and my increasing capacity and desire for connection – both interpersonally but also at a more profound level, in experiences of Oneness.  I’ve also observed, at these check-ins, the urge to find purpose and meaning and the necessity for mindfulness, presence and authenticity in order to live gratefully.

I will say that the marker of 2,000 days feels more daunting than even the 5-year mark.  We’re used to counting time in years when we’re asked how long we’ve lived somewhere or been in a job.  It’s a kind of backward counting up of time spent.  With the counting of days, there is more of a sense of counting time that is remaining.  At 2,000 days, I am 1/5 of the way through the Ten Thousand Day goal.  Having equated ten thousand days as my remaining life expectancy, I feel the urgency of time passing and making the most of my spiritual practice and habits of living well and gratefully.

And yet, standing at the 2,000-day mark, the first thing I have been noticing over the past year is a kind of apathy and boredom in my practice.  I don’t think grateful living is boring.  I don’t think being thankful is boring.  I just found myself unmotivated to practice, and I was finding myself frustrated with the place I find myself, in life.  I have been resisting my life with so much passion that I lack more than a drop of it to look deeply enough into the life that I wish was different to find things for which to be grateful.

As I write this, I see that what I needed to do was surrender to this little life that I find so boring, in comparison to the life I’ve led these last 20 years.  I needed to surrender to the quiet and see what I would find in my stillness.

Friends and spiritual companions have tried to advise me to stay still and just be.  In that stillness, a lot of things can arise, and I think that is what terrified me.  Being back in my family of origin, I knew that whatever arose and needed to be healed would be something from which I have run, for as long as I could walk.  Perhaps that’s why I chose not to surrender and I filled my life with travel, art, sport and a fair amount of Netflix.  I fell victim of the terror of the pain that precedes healing.

When you run, you never get far away from that thing.  That thing is strong and is always nipping at your heels, threatening to overtake you.  There is no peace in running.  No amount of travel and no overcrowded schedule could keep the dogs at bay, forever.

I’ve said this before, but gratitude is not the property of the positive psychology movement, although it is only positive psychologists who seem to have had interest in promoting more good feeling, rather than alleviating the bad.  It has – as spiritual trends do – gotten co-opted by the spiritual BS artists out there.  We may not know them when we see them, but if we pay attention, we can smell them a mile away.  The yoga dudes and dudettes who pranam and utter platitudes of non-attachment, but whose identity is tied up with being a ‘teacher’.  I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting them – usually they are chatting-up some member of the attractive sex, talking tantra or some other spiritual tradition in which they’ve superficially dabbled, for their own egoistic purpose.  I don’t fault anyone for following them, for a time. Finding a teacher who is the real McCoy is not easy.  I went through 3 different spiritual masters and tested my teacher for nearly 12 years before I was certain that I had found the right path for me.  And, I’m certain he is the real deal.  He is grounded and concerned with matters of both the soul and the spirit.  They are very different things.

I have never been one to approach the practice of grateful living as the endless pursuit to ascent to Spirit.  That is ungrounded, and can’t be sustained.  I’ve always believed that a spiritually mature practice must not only reach to the heights of spirit but also be prepared to descend into the depths of the soul.

I’ve also never claimed to be a perfect spiritual wayfarer.  I’ve only claimed to be on the path and depending on where you are in your journey, I may have walked a little further.  I still have a very long way to walk, and if you’re ahead of me, I thank you for lighting the way.

I have been sitting with this feeling of boredom and dissatisfaction with my practice for more than 9 months now.  I’ve plumbed the depths before, finding terrible beauty in my pain as it is transformed.  But this has been different.  It’s been neither glorious, nor agonizing.  It has just been meh.

The Universe handed me a gift, in the form of a surgery that went horribly wrong.  One day I was stuck in the petty resentments that I had been carrying with me everywhere I ran these past few years and, perhaps, all my life.  The next day, I was at the mercy of a surgeon who ended up gifting me a month in various hospitals and several surgeries.  I learned some private and painful things, in the hospital, about the isolation of serious illness and about the unique gifts and woundings that I received from my family of origin.  I came out of hospital a stronger woman – not just for having had my internal organs and systems repaired by the best liver surgeon in the country.  I came out stronger for being unable, any longer, to entertain the distraction of busyness or the denial of what needs healing deep within me.  I came out with a steadfast conviction to do what I came here to do.

There have been rapturous moments in my life where I feel such great joy and gratitude for my existence that I know that I could die, happily, in that moment.  Was I ready to die?  No.  Would I cling to life in the final second if I were to die in those moments? Yeah, probably.  But, last August, around about midnight, I was awoken and told that I was heading to major reconstructive surgery, and the porter was there to take me.  I was alone.  I barely had time to text my folks and my small prayer circle of friends to let them know.  My organs were shutting down and the surgeon needed to get in there immediately.  I was scared.  I didn’t spend all of my life as a wayfarer to choose fear in this moment.  As the porter wheeled me down the hallway, the nurses took my hand and wished me well.  I cried, all the way to surgery, knowing that I’d go in there with no final words, no final hug or kiss.  I was alone and I may never come back.

I knew that it was up to me to fight my way through as much as it was the surgeon’s job to keep me alive.  And so, I started humming the theme music of Rocky, in my head.  It sounds stupid, but we reach for whatever comes up from our subconscious to achieve what we need, in those moments.  When I was finally wheeled into the operating room, I followed the team of surgeons’ directions as they stitched in an epidural and lay me down for anesthetic.  Humming Rocky and telling my surgeon I’d fight to see him on the other side, I laid back.  In my last conscious moment, from my soul, I surrendered and called out to my God: “You are the surgeon.”  It might seem a weird thing to say, but to me it simply meant that I was surrendering with complete faith to the will of my Beloved.

We have to live in this world where the compelling story is the rising up in Spirit.  But we must also keep a foot in eternity and move to the demands of the soul.

The trouble that I’ve had with gratitude lately is, I think, rooted in resentment.  Some things may never change, but we can change our relationship to them.  We can let go of resentment and find things for which to be grateful.  By the time I was released from hospital, more than 2 weeks later, I took with me a renewed sense of purpose, a clarity of who is really in charge of this tiny life of mine, a deepening of faith, and an awareness of the imperative of surrender.  In some ways, I grew up in hospital.

I know the strength of my relationships.  I know where I need to place my attention both in this world and the other.

And, this brings me to the second thing that is arising at this time of check-in.  I am acutely aware of the depth of my capacity to love and also of my fears of being loved and broken open by that love.  There is an imbalance there that I know needs to be sorted out, if I’m going to have the experience that I wish to have in this incarnation and beyond.  My path is the path of love, and so I’ve got a lot to do.

Fortunately, I have a rising awareness and experience of the marriage of gratitude and love.  I’ve not conducted any clinical trials or studied a group of students’ brains.  All I can say is that, for me, I am becoming very aware of the connection between gratitude and love and I intend to make this connection a subject of observation, contemplation and action.

Photo: Brittney Burnett

I don’t think this revelation is unique to a Sufi or a bhaktan or a spiritual mystic.  I think that through gratitude we can all clean the mirrors of our hearts and create, amplify and reflect more love in the world.

That’s all I have for day 2,000.  Of course, I’m grateful to all of you for walking with me, on this journey.  I hope that you are finding something of value here for your own unique voyage.

 

For what are you most grateful, today?