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Gratitude, Intimacy, Love, Ten Thousand Days

A Valentine’s Day Love Letter

February 14, 2020

Photo: Annie Spratt

Day 1994 – Day 2008

When I was younger, I used to feel like the limp leftover lettuce leaf at the back of the crisper drawer if I was single when Valentine’s Day rolled around.  As I grew up and matured, I transformed my sadness and diminished self-worth that inevitably resulted from the cultural imperative to be in a couple.  I celebrate the sacredness of love in all its forms and offer a middle-finger salute to advertisers and businesses that turn the most sacred act – loving – into an opportunity to sell their regular wares at radically inflated prices.  During the years when I was in a loving relationship, I refused to succumb to the commodification of love (and thankfully, I choose men who express their love regularly, who are self-possessed and who refuse to be bullied into herd mentality).  During those years when I have been single, I still celebrate whole-heartedly.

This year, I am single.  I will have an early dinner with family and then I will be out with some dear friends from the paddling community, who will be gathering to celebrate the visit of a fellow paddler from out of town.  I’m not the least bit sad that I am single.  I recently developed a rather annoying crush on someone.  It is annoying because he’s kind of a dork to me.   Maybe he’s a dork to everyone, but he’s not behaving like a suitor.  I’m a kind person, by nature.   There comes a point when you just have to go against your nature, in order to validate the right messages to your own psyche.  I’m not going to be unkind, but I’m not going to make an effort anymore, unless he does.

I’m grateful for the reminder that I can still get hooked by a man who pushes all the right buttons on my childhood wounds, and that I’m aware of it, and am able to make different choices.  Repetition compulsion is a good phrase because it encapsulates that misguided wish to have a do-over on all the childhood wounds, with the hope that if the outcome could somehow be different as an adult, it would fill the childhood hole.  And, the term compulsion conveys the almost irresistible pull of these dorks when they come along and treat us poorly.  Almost irresistible.  Almost.  I’ve done too much work on myself in this lifetime, and seen how precious this short life is, to spend any more time on unrequited love.  The best way to heal those old wounds, I think, is to give myself what I should have been given from those unavailable and inconsistent caregivers who gifted me with an insecure attachment style.   And so, I’m never grateful to anyone for treating me with indifference or disdain, but I am grateful for the opportunity to face this old nugget, again.

Romantic pain isn’t what you want on Valentine’s Day but I think back to this time 3 years ago, and I was absolutely shattered by a horrendous and sudden breakup.  This is nothing compared to that pain and I’m certainly grateful I’m well beyond that grief.  On the positive side, I’m so grateful for wonderful memories of quirky Valentine’s Days in college, loads of Palentine’s events wherever I’ve roamed, and lovely romantic getaways throughout Europe.

I haven’t really begun the exploration of love and gratitude, but I’m a day late on my self-imposed schedule for posting, and so it might be worth thinking a little bit about love today.  I am reminded of the Sufi Sheikh Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee who talks of the two faces of love.  There is the masculine face that quests and declares: “I love you.”  And, there is the feminine face of love, hidden behind the veil, longing and waiting.  He is, of course, talking of the deep mystery of Agape love but the same applies to all sorts of love, including the romantic love of Eros that we celebrate today.  It applies to all forms of love because real love is the meeting of two souls in Oneness.

He speaks of the way in which our modern society has glorified the masculine and killed off the feminine spirit.  And in my life, I can see this.  Even someone who is inherently feminine, like me, has always approached love as a quest.  But it is not my role to quest, no matter what childhood wounds might tell me.  It is my job to be the feminine force of receptivity.  That feminine face of love has been all but lost in modern society, and the vulnerability that accompanies it, is almost unbearable.  Almost.

When that vulnerability of it becomes too strong, it helps me to remember that the ancient Greeks recognized at least 6 manifestations of love: Agape, Philia, Storge, Philautia, Xenia, and of course, Eros.  Even Eros, when matured, draws the person toward beauty – embodied or not – and not simply toward human attraction. Looking at or making art, watching a sunset or photographing the beauty around us, reading or writing poetry or listening to and making music can all be ways to express and experience the soul’s need for Eros in one’s life.  I’ve been doing all of these things, and doubling down on them recently, because I recognized that my life has become arid where my practice of watching the sunset on the Thames used to be.  And, I need to fill my well with love – even Erotic love – so that my longing can be bittersweet, without being all consuming.

Today, dinner with my family will fulfill my soul’s calling for Storge and Philia while my date with friends further provides more Philia love as well as Xenia.  My personal spiritual practice is centred on Agape and I am painting and photographing much more than I used to, and that just leaves Philautia – the love of self.

A deep experience of Philautia is another aspect of love that gets short shrift in our drive for romance.  I recently heard someone on YouTube suggest that one cure for depression is to get out dating or get into a relationship.  I’m not at all sure about that.  Maybe it depends on the cause of the depression and whether it is really depression or just a bit of loneliness and sadness.  (Edit: I’m not saying not to date or to love someone who is depressed. I am saying that dating or looking for love outside oneself is not a cure for depression)  I think that looking outside of oneself for hits of feel-good hormones like dopamine and oxytocin is a weak strategy for what is essentially a sickness of the soul that can only be cured with deep processing.  If we look outside ourselves for validation of our worthiness to be loved, who are we, when we are rejected?  If we love others only so that they will fill us up, then what is the quality of our love? And, how fragile is our sense of self?

In our times, dating without a solid sense of self-love is a common remedy for hard soul work and the progress toward self-actualization.  Ultimately, it leads to unfulfilling relationships and a terribly transactional approach to love and life.  Nothing ever gets healed, it just gets avoided.

Today, I make a joyful promise to myself that I am done with the quest that reveals itself in the pursuit of the unavailable man and his unattainable love which will never heal me.  I do myself and the “runner” a service by stopping this game and standing still.  I am, with no small amount of fear, surrendering to the forgotten call of the feminine soul which travels with me through time and space, and I am giving in to the mystery of the oneness of the collective unconsciousness.  I am resurrecting the Divine Feminine in my life.

I am longing for you; I am waiting for you.

Photo: Billy Williams

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?