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Only Love is Real

I’ve spent a lot of time in my life chasing after accomplishments. I finished a PhD when I was still in my 20s, and I thought when I went to work in the 2-year-college system that I had a pretty good deal because I didn’t have anything left to prove. I didn’t have to publish. I didn’t have to pursue any additional degrees. I could sit back and enjoy life and feel good that no one could take away my sense of my own accomplishment.

Yeah. That didn’t quite work out as planned.

I finished that PhD 18 years ago, and I’ve spent every single one of those years trying to prove to myself that I was worth something. I’ve taken on projects and presented at conferences and set challenges for myself. No matter how busy I’ve been, I’ve always managed to make myself busier by adding extra expectations on top of the ones that came with the job.

There’s something to be said for accomplishing goals. There is a certain satisfaction and a certain sense of self-worth and pride that comes with achievement. People need goals, and they need the discipline of meeting goals. They just don’t need them as much as they need other people.

After many years of getting it backwards, I think I finally see that salvation does not come to us through accomplishments. It comes to us through relationships.

I’ve been reading A Course in Miracles, and it puts a great deal of emphasis on the power of forgiveness. You find the light of God for yourself through forgiveness of others, it says. In other words, the divine that is found within is the loving kindness that we extend to others. God is love. There is no separation between our relationship to God and our relationship to people. They are one and the same. We find God by finding God within ourselves, which is to say that we find God by finding love within ourselves. Love needs community to grow. Love needs communion. We grow our feelings of closeness to God by growing our feelings of closeness to the people around us.

Redemption = relationships.
Happiness = relationships.
Peace = relationships.

This is why forgiveness is at the heart of redemption. Forgiveness closes the gaps in relationships. It heals wounds. It cultivates empathy and connection. Forgiveness is the same thing as love, and love is the same thing as God. Forgiveness is the path to the divine.

It really doesn’t matter whether you go about this from a religious or a non-religious point-of-view. The same principles hold true. Happiness is not found in things. Happiness is not found in accomplishments. Happiness is not found in building up the ego. Happiness is simply found in relationships.

This doesn’t mean romantic relationships. Sometimes romantic relationships are the opposite of redemptive because they are ego driven, and they can be demanding without being forgiving. Romantic relationships are probably only redemptive in nature if they are also relationships built on simple loving kindness of the same sort as would be extended to a child or a parent or a sibling or a best friend.

So often life becomes overwhelmed with responsibilities, and those responsibilities are important. They have to be taken care of. If they aren’t we end up dragging along a lot of guilt and resentment and self-doubt that we inevitably dump into our relationships. We have our jobs, and we have to do them, but we should never lose sight of the fact that we are working to make life better for ourselves and for the people around us. If our jobs and other responsibilities are robbing us of our relationships, we’ve gotten off track somewhere.

I’m preaching to myself when I say this. I need to hear it as much as anyone.

Never forget that family and friends are why you are here. Family and friends are not your distractions from your purpose. They are your purpose.

Only love is real.

Published: March 15, 2014 | Comments: 0

On Miracles and Cats

Jack Cat March 14Jack Cat and Stella Calico and I have been apartment dwellers through this school year, and it has been an adjustment for all of us. I love my apartment. I am eternally grateful for it. I am eternally grateful for the wonderful job that had me moving to an apartment this year. I am also happy to have spent this week back in my house. Jack Cat concurs. Stella Calico has spent the week sitting on couch cushions while she recovers from being spayed. I think she’s happy to be here but not as happy as Jack Cat.

Today I sat in my backyard and watched Jack Cat hunt bugs. He had a great time, and I did too. The sun was shining, the wind was blowing, the peach trees were blooming, and the cat was frolicking. I was just sitting and taking it all in, but I loved it. I had a profound sense of rightness in it all. I had a profound sense of my own connection to the divine. I was doing nothing more than sitting in a lawn chair by myself, but I was happy. God was in his Heaven, Jack Cat was climbing trees, and all was right with the world.

Last year around this time, I doubt I would have been capable of finding this kind of happiness in something so simple. I doubt I would have been capable of finding it at all. I wasn’t happy this time last year. I was deeply unhappy and looking for ways to change my life.

Last year around this time, I wasn’t happy, but I was spending a lot of time praying about what to do about it. In particular, I remember praying for miracles. I prayed for miracles for myself and for my friends who were in the same or a similar situation.

A lot of miracles happened in the spring and summer of last year. Doors opened for me that I didn’t anticipate. Roads were paved for me. Everything I needed to change my life worked out in just the way I needed.

I have a lot to be thankful for.

One thing that happened, though, was that one of my friends introduced me to a book called A Course in Miracles. I was praying for miracles for this friend. I had not told anyone that I was praying for miracles. Then the person I was praying for gave me a book meant to teach what miracles are and how to find them in life. I considered that to be pretty miraculous in and of itself.

One of the main things that A Course in Miracles teaches is that miracles are changes in perception. Miracles are not so much material gains as they are corrections in perception about what we already have. Miracles are the removal of fear and doubt to make more room for love and faith. Miracles are acts of forgiveness and compassion. Miracles are feelings of connection rather than disconnection. Miracles resolve inner conflict and bring harmony into a life and therefore into the world. Miracles are acts of service to others. Miracles are acts of reconciliation. Miracles are recognitions of the light of God inside and outside the self. Miracles are changes in gratitude.

I feel like I’ve experienced a lot of miracles this year. Not the least among them is the simple ability to sit quietly alone in my own yard doing nothing more than watching my cat chase bugs and feel very, very blessed to be there.

Like most people, I can be pretty stubborn. I had to leave my house to learn how to be truly happy in it. I’ve had to leave a lot of other things behind as well this year. The changes in my life have been good, but they haven’t all been easy. At times I’ve felt like I’ve finally understood the story of Lot’s wife. If you spend too much time looking back, you will petrify yourself with your own tears. The Greeks gave us the story of Niobe who was turned to stone in her grief for her lost children. Regret has its price no matter what culture you come from. The living move forward not backward because that is the only direction that life flows in.

Sometimes, even if it is just for one week, forward takes you right back where you were, however, but the beauty of this is that it’s a whole new place by the time you come back around because you are a whole new person.

The only thing real is love, A Course in Miracles says. The only time that is real is now. The only way to live in the now is to forgive yourself and others, let the love of the Divine in, and look around to see how truly blessed you really are.

Published: March 14, 2014 | Comments: 0

Emotional Toddlers

I’ve recently diagnosed myself as a “feeler” with a little help from an online personality test. I’m an INFP, and as far as I’ve been able to understand this means that my feelings are usually so close to the surface that they freak other people out. I don’t think this means I feel more deeply than other people. I just think it means I’m a little messier about expressing my feelings, and I frequently require time alone to settle down and run an emotional recalibration on myself.

I tend to think of this as a problem, especially when I am in the middle of a meltdown that I can’t seem to turn off. I’ve been reading a book this week, though, called The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron, and this book has reinforced for me what the personality tests also indicated. Being “sensitive” or “emotional” aren’t personality disorders or personality flaws. They are just personality. They are part of my personality type. They are just part of life.

I’ve been thinking about this along with something I got from another book I read this week. In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr talks about the fact that we need to get away from dualistic thinking if we want to grow spiritually. We do tend to divide the world into opposites: “If I’m not like you, something must be wrong with one of us, and I have to choose whether to blame you or blame me.” This is not good. The beauty of life is that we all get to be many varieties of different and unique and still be normal. We don’t need fixing nearly as often as we think. We just need to hold off on the judgments and love ourselves and others a little more.

Life doesn’t have to be divided into one or the other. If I can’t agree with you, that doesn’t mean I can’t be friends with you. If I can’t define an issue the same way you do, that doesn’t mean I can’t love you.

I’ve often thought that everyone needed brothers and sisters to teach them these basic human friendship truths. Brothers and sisters fight like the devil with each other and fight for each other to the death. They know that their differences do not define their relationships.

Brothers and sisters teach us how to get along with each other and how to get along in life. A sister teaches a brother how to treat women, and a brother teaches a sister how to treat men. In the best cases, we learn these problem-solving skills early because we are going to need them our whole lives, and according to Elaine N. Aron, we are going to revert to who we were as small children in our relationship conflicts throughout our whole lives.

So if I get into an argument with a guy friend, and I accuse him of being childish, I am correct. In the middle of a conflict, he will inevitably revert to being who he was as a toddler. I am also being childish. Conflict is a two way street. It takes two to take a conflict to the playroom, and as soon as one person goes there, the other is sure to follow.

We all become children in the face of emotional conflict or upheaval. There is no getting around this. This is not a disorder or a failure to grow up or a character deficiency. This is just reality. We are emotional babies one and all. The sooner we recognize this, the better off we are. Those babies inside of us need a lot of reassurance and a lot of emotional TLC. By the time we reach a certain age, it’s pretty certain that no one else is going to provide that TLC. We have to learn to give it to ourselves. We have to learn how to call time out and mother our own insecurities before our tantrums bring the whole house crashing down on us.

There’s more. Not only are we all different as adults, but we started out that way as well. We do all revert to infancy when faced with conflict, but we didn’t all have the same personalities as babies, and we didn’t all respond to fear and uncertainty in the same way. According to Aron, we can basically be divided into two camps: the babies that screamed for help, and the babies that shut down and hid out until the danger seemed to have passed.

I imagine it is often extremely difficult for the two different types to understand each other, but both are perfectly normal. We can call each other every name in the book, and it won’t do a bit of good. We are all just doing what we are physically and mentally programmed to do. We are all just being human, and humans never leave behind their infant selves.

When faced with conflict, you will very likely do one or the other. You will cry and scream and plead, or you will go into emotional hiding until the danger seems to have passed. People will try to tell you there is something wrong with you. You will tell yourself there is something wrong with you. There isn’t. This is the one way you are just like everybody else. You are just a child in the face of your own emotions.

Be good to that child. Nurture that toddler. Give that baby as many reassurances as it needs. Feed the baby. Rock the baby. Sing to the baby. Let the baby go back to sleep. And then get up and brush yourself off and do your best to find your inner grownup again.

How you react in the moment to conflict is not nearly as important as how you show up to make peace in the aftermath.

My friend and I once heard a dean say to a student, “It’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility,” and we’ve been using that line on students ever since.

Be who you are. Be proud of who you are. Don’t let anyone tell you there is anything wrong with who you are. And if you have to melt down sometimes, go ahead and let go, and let it happen. It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you. It isn’t your fault. It’s just your responsibility. Own that responsibility in the end, and everything is cool.

Be the child you are on the inside, and be the adult you have worked to become as well. There is nothing wrong with either part of you. You are beautiful and unique and wonderful and lovable in all of your human messiness just the way you are.

At least I hope so because that is my lesson to myself today.

That and remember that other people are just toddlers on the inside too. When you are able, tell your inner toddler to be gentle toward the inner toddlers of those around you. Every single last one of us is just bumbling around looking for someone to reassure us that the world is not a scary place. The world is a scary place, and there isn’t much reassurance to be found. Remember this, and be good to one another.

Published: March 12, 2014 | Comments: 0

Always trust your cape

A few days ago, my little Stella Calico Kitty climbed up on top of a cabinet and convinced herself she couldn’t get down on her own. She cried for me to come rescue her. This is a regular occurrence in my house, and I always go to her when she cries. This time I was in the middle of doing something, though, and I was slow to respond. I knew it wouldn’t hurt her to stay up there a little bit longer, so I just kept doing what I was doing while Stella Calico kept crying. Eventually, I realized that I had forgotten all about rescuing her and that she was down and running around playing. She got tired of waiting to be rescued and rescued herself. She had the power to rescue herself all along, but she had to cry until she disgusted herself with the whole business before she realized this.

So much of life is wasted in this way, waiting for someone or something to rescue us from fears we can escape on our own whenever we are ready. Like Dorothy, we all have to learn in our own way that the most powerful magic is inside ourselves.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. The power is inside you. Close your eyes and click your heels and go where you need to go by the force of your own self-reliance.

Sometimes this might require a real leap of faith.

Sometimes leaps of faith leave us with breaks and bruises, but that’s okay. The magic is in the leap. The magic is in the faith.

Always trust your cape. Always take the leap toward your own dreams. Always believe in yourself and the power you have had along to go where you need to go.

That said, my answer to the gentleman who has recently tried to talk me into taking up sky diving is still no. I will be spreading my wings in my own way, but it isn’t a goal of mine to step out of a perfectly good airplane. I will make my jumps a little closer to the ground.

Published: March 8, 2014 | Comments: 0

Things I’ve learned from being a mixed up person in a mixed up world

1. Whatever the problem is, the root of the problem is fear. So you think someone has been insulting, mean, inconsiderate, egotistical, disrespectful, or dismissive? The problem is none of the above. The problem is fear. The person you have a problem with is driven by fear. Your reaction is driven by fear. Fear is the one thing standing in the way of positive human interaction. We are all breathing bundles of insecurity. Once we recognize that, we recognize our shared humanity, regardless of our differences.
2. The way to inner peace is through forgiving others. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” says the Lord’s Prayer, and there’s a reason we are supposed to forgive others. This is the path to our own freedom from inner conflict. This is the way to the light. This is what redemption is.
3. It isn’t easy to forgive when we have been hurt, and it is even harder to keep forgiving when our offer of forgiveness has no impact on the other person’s behavior. Our forgiveness will not change the situation or the other person. That doesn’t matter. It will change us. We can’t forgive ourselves before we forgive others, and we can’t move on before we’ve forgiven ourselves. We have to forgive if we want to truly live.
4. You have to give to receive, and sometimes you have to give without receiving. That’s okay. It’s always better to be a giver. We were created to serve others, and when we don’t fulfill this role, we don’t feel fulfilled. We have to give our time and our talents and our hearts to others if we want to profit from these things ourselves.
5. The way we judge others is the way we judge ourselves. The way we talk to or about others is the way we believe we deserve to be talked to or about. The flaws we notice in others are the ones we are most concerned about in ourselves. We ought to be kinder and more generous to others because that is the only way to be kinder and more generous to ourselves.
6. The best revenge really is happiness. If you want to be happy, just get out there every day and love every minute of your very precious life. Time flies whether you are having fun our not. You might as well enjoy it.
7. Revenge is the wrong word because revenge comes from a place of bitterness, and there is no room for bitterness in a happy life. Just get out there and love life. Include as many people as you can in your love for life. You may have to love life in spite of some people, but nothing that is done to spite another person is love. Forget the spite. Just love.

Published: March 4, 2014 | Comments: 0

On Shame and Vulnerability

This Ted Talk from Brené Brown really had an impact on me. I ran across it a few months ago, and I’ve now read most of her books. I’m now a huge fan of vulnerability. Willingness to be vulnerable is one of the most courageous things a person can do. You can’t be vulnerable without crashing head first into your own deepest pits of personal shame, though. Willingness to work through your own shame in order to remain in a place where you feel vulnerable so as to remain open to connections to other human being is one of the most courageous things you can do.

I’ve been thinking about these issues a lot lately. I’ve been through a lot of changes this year, and there’s nothing quite like change to bring out the insecurities. Brené Brown has helped through the transitions.

That’s why I thought about her talks on vulnerability and shame today when I needed to write a sample essay for my students. You can read my essay about understanding shame on Scribd.

Courage is writing an essay about things that make you feel ashamed and sharing that essay with a room full of students. I’m not sure posting that essay online for others to read even qualifies as vulnerable and courageous, though. I may have moved into just plain crazy territory now.

I hope you enjoy my essay. I hope that if it triggers any of your own shame buttons, you will remember that vulnerability is courage.

Published: March 3, 2014 | Comments: 0

You can’t blame a goat for eating grass

“When people show you who they are, believe them.”

Maya Angelou

I saw this quote on Facebook a couple of times this week, and it stuck with me. I even went so far as to look up the Oprah segment where Maya Angelou shared this advice.

It’s good advice. It’s solid. I know exactly what she’s talking about. If someone lies once, that person will lie again and again. If someone lets you down when you are in need, that person will let you down again and again. If someone hurts you once, that person will keep on hurting you. Believe people the first time they show you who they are.

Believe them, and don’t blame them for it. I know that the point of this lesson is to get away from people who can’t be trusted, but I also heard Dr. Angelou say, “Why would you blame a man for being who he is?”

I like my friend David’s way of expressing this: “You can’t blame a goat for eating grass.” The goat is who he is. He is doing what he does. Blame accomplishes nothing.

Let go of blame. If you need to also get away from the person, do that too, but let go of blame. Blame hurts you more than it hurts the other person.

Let go and believe the person is showing you the truth about himself or herself. Without a doubt, do that. It’s great advice, but while you believe, stop and ask yourself something else. Would you want anyone to judge you solely based on your worst moment and/or your worst characteristics?

People are package deals. The good comes with the bad. There’s no such thing as a person who doesn’t have any flaws. If we walked away from everyone who showed us that he or she could not be everything we wanted all the time, we would not have a friend left in this world.

Let people be who they are. You can’t change them.

Be who you are. Don’t try to change for anyone else. That won’t work either. For one, you aren’t really happy around another person if you aren’t at ease with yourself. For another, you can only hide who you are for so long before the real you starts to show.

All you can do is to decide if you are willing to live with the whole goat, grass eating and all. If not, find yourself a greener pasture. If so, learn to really live with it. You asked for it, you got it, baby. We’re all just grass eating goats here.

Published: March 2, 2014 | Comments: 0

The Idealistic Personality

Here’s a video about the INFP personality (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving). This is my personality type, and I’ve been trying to learn more about it (and myself) lately.

The INFP is one of the personality types labeled as “Idealist.” Here are some videos about Idealists.

Part 1: Overview

Part 2: Idealists and Relationships

Part 3: Childhood, Adulthood, and Leadership

I wouldn’t say that I fit these descriptions 100%, but I’m certainly close enough for all of this to be highly informative. It helps to know that some of my issues with life, the universe, and everything stem from my personality type and not from a personality disorder. In these days of diagnosing everyone with mental health issues, anything off the beaten path tends to get labeled as a disorder. According to some estimates, INFPs make up no more than 5% of the population. That’s a ways off the beaten path.

True to my personality type, I plan to devote a great deal of time to meditating over what all of this means. Let’s just hope I also manage to get a few other things done today as well.

To learn more about your own personality type, take the Myers Briggs test online at Human Metrics. If you are also an Idealist, be sure to come back and tell me, and we will contemplate the meaning of life and personality together…but possibly from a distance because I am also highly introverted.

Published: March 1, 2014 | Comments: 1

Go with the flow

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 78

to be at your best
pattern yourself after water

nothing in all the world is softer or more powerful
nothing in all the world can substitute for it
nothing in all the world can stop it

in their hearts
everyone easily knows that
the soft and weak
will always overcome the hard and strong
but they find it difficult to live this way

the secret is to
move the bodymind like water

By Lao Tzu
Translation by John Bright-Fey

In my quest to understand what lasting happiness really means, this is a lesson I am trying to learn. Don’t fight obstacles. Don’t worry about obstacles. Don’t internalize conflicts brought about by obstacles. Just flow around any and all problems like water.

Easier said than done. This is a mindset I aspire to. Thus far, my aspirations are still very much a work-in-progress. I do believe that this is an important formula for inner peace, however, which is (when coupled with gratitude) the same thing as happiness. Don’t fight problems. Accept them, and peacefully flow around them. That is real power. That is real happiness.

Of course, if you are watery like me, and you aspire to keep flowing, sometimes you will encounter obstacles that have the whole path dammed up, and you will end up flooding the person or persons creating the obstacle with all of your watery depths. I guess that’s okay. Flooding over the dam is better than sitting still with it and stagnating.

Go with the flow, my people. Nothing can stop a spirit that flows on and on like a gentle stream.

Published: March 1, 2014 | Comments: 0

Just do the right thing

I’m borrowing a life lesson from my Daddy tonight because I’m fresh out of my own: “When we do what’s right, the Lord blesses us.”

In another belief system, this might be called karma. What goes around comes around. Do right, and blessings come to you.

This is not to be confused with playing tit for tat with God. I think a lot of people are looking for the easy way out these days, and maybe they always have been. Everybody wants something for nothing. Everybody wants boundless profit from putting forth the minimal effort to just be a decent human being. This is not my Daddy’s idea of right.

In my family, we were taught to do the right thing no matter what. We were taught to do the right thing with no expectation of reward. We were taught to do the right thing even to the extent of personal risk and personal loss.

I’ve had my Daddy’s saying on my mind this week because one of my friends was talking about this characteristic in me the other day. She said to another friend, “Sharon is going to do what she thinks is right if it brings the whole world crashing down on her head. You can’t bribe her out of it, and you can’t threaten her out of it. You wouldn’t know it to look at her, but if her value system is crossed, she is made of iron. It’s because she is a Gerald. They are all the same.”

I think this was a nice way of saying that I have a stubborn streak a mile wide. It’s also a good compliment to my parents who taught us that there is no ultimate reward for doing the wrong thing. Doing the wrong thing is separation from God. Doing the wrong thing is separation from peace of mind.

Doing the right thing, then, is an act of selfishness even when it does bring the world crashing down. It’s selfish because it’s about peace of mind. The expectation of blessings, though, is a little more humble where I come from than what you hear from the prosperity preachers who talk about how people can get rich off of connecting with God. Blessings, by my Daddy’s definition, are things like self-respect and peace of mind and a clean conscience. They are things like the joy of knowing you’ve been able to make a difference, the ability to appreciate what you already have, and the simple satisfaction of knowing you’ve done your best.

There is also the idea that if you do what’s right and you have faith your basic needs will be met. You don’t do the right thing to receive things, though. You do the right thing just because it is right. Blessings might result, but the real blessings are blessings of the spirit. Those are the ones that count. Those are the ones that mean happiness.

I’ve been writing out my own definitions of happiness this week, so add this one to the list. Happiness is freedom from inner conflict.

Do the right thing no matter what. Do the right thing to the best of your knowledge and ability. If you haven’t always done the right thing in the past, sitting around feeling bad about that won’t help nearly as much as resolving to do better from now on. Just put your work boots on and get busy doing right as best as you are able. If you think you’ve done the right thing, and then you learn differently, apologize, make amends, and do better next time. Do absolutely the best you know how. Don’t let anyone or any circumstance talk you into anything different.

If you put your flat level best into doing the right thing, you will be blessed with freedom from inner conflict, and that is what happiness means to me.

Published: February 27, 2014 | Comments: 0