Category Archives: emotional health

full cup, thirsty spirit – a book about self care

it is important that we bow down to the breadth of our human experiences and to the larger mysteries that surround us. seeing beauty in the swirls of life’s busyness, making the most of what life brings our way, offering kindness to those around us, and being able to laugh from time to time. these gestures may be as grand as anything we can offer in our human life.

these are the parting words of karen horneffer-ginter in her book full cup, thirsty spirit – nourishing the soul when life’s just too much .full cup, thirsty spirit

like many of us, i have become weary of self help and motivational books – will this be another author telling me what to do, heaping platitudes on me, haranguing me to make endless lists, boring me with (most likely invented) stories about tracy the stockbroker and bruce the bank executive? you know what i’m talking about, right?

what a lovely surprise full cup, thirsty spirit was! it started with my eyes – i like a pleasing cover. the warm yellow and brown colours of a tea cup and pastel-yellow blossoms promised me rejuvenation and calm. if you’re still a “real book” reader like i – this is a book you want to have around, it feels good.

oh, and the words! they are all as lovingly written as the quote above. karen horneffer-ginter comes across as a gentle friend, someone on whose sofa you want to curl up, someone whose quiet wisdom will enrich your life.

this book is about self care, a topic about which i know quite a bit about, and something about which i preach to anyone who will listen. it takes quite a bit, then, for me to find new and interesting approaches. this book delivered just that.

i like the metaphors. she talks about thirst, one of our most essential drives, second only to the need to breathe. it expresses how much our spirit needs watering. how preposterous that we so often neglect such an essential call! the first chapter uses the metaphor of rhythm. she asks a lot of questions, such as

are there places where you get stuck in the movement between engaging in the world and turning within?

do i ever! i think there is a little part of me that rebels every time, that feels yanked back and forth: “8 hours for work! 3 hours for family! 1 hour for relaxation!” what if i want to work for 10 hours and then just … well, maybe swim around in my life, without being plonked into the next activity?

in turning within, she touches on how our use of language can thwart us.

if we had a socially acceptable language for naming “i’m unplugging today,” “i’m on sabbatical today,” “i’m going inward today,” this would be helpful. often when people say, “i’m taking time for myself” or “i’m taking personal leave today” the questions that follow suggest that we should be inserting some alternative activity into the day in order to justify our time off: “do you have a doctor’s appointment?” “are you getting caught up with some errands or yard work?”

that makes me think that “socially” acceptable can mean all sorts of things. we can wait till the cows come home until this sort of thing is acceptable in western society as a whole. but really, i don’t live in society-as-a-whole. i live in smallish societal circles, some of them overlapping, and why not experiment here and there what is acceptable, or even what i can make acceptable, simply by being the one who starts a particular use of language?

some years ago, when i was running a small but very vibrant and busy social service agency, i decided to emulate gandhi once in a while and have a day of silence in the midst of my busy work place. it didn’t mean that i wouldn’t work – i just didn’t talk. and you know what – it went well, and had a positive influence on everyone. that would be an example of experimenting with the notion of “acceptable”.

there are many, many gems in this book, and i honestly urge you to read it. i’ve been given a number of books to review here on this blog over the years – i think i’d put this in the top 5.

let me end with a quote from a poem by oriah mountain dreamer, which the author mentions in the chapter on embracing difficulty:

i want to know if you can see beauty, even when it is not pretty every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence

i want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “YES!”

the non-mental health camp recap: community support

well, as you can see, i haven’t done much with this blog lately. i am busy with other things right now but at some point i will come back to write more (and at some point i will also find a way to oust the viagra people who keep trying to hijack my blog! it’s pretty embarrassing to have that show up in the google searches). maybe this point has arrived already? stay tuned …

as you can see from one of the previous posts, we had to cancel mental health camp. both raul and i were just too deeply involved with our family lives. unfortunately, we both had some deaths. the support from people around this was, as usual, amazing! between raul and myself, we received over 70 comments on our facebook pages when we announced our decision. every single one of them was supportive.  just some examples:

kudos for you not to extend yourself so much.

unfortunate news, but the announcement embodies what the event is about (including finding out via facebook! 🙂 ). my best to you both.

good for you that you are putting your own mental health first. It’s a great example for others to follow. wishing you healing and support.

i’m glad to hear you’re taking active steps in protecting and caring for your own mental health

take care of yourself, and yes, congratulations on knowing when to say No to responsibilities you put on yourself. the community AND you will be better served by you both coming back when you are in a better place.

sounds like the right decision. way to go. an inspiration for all women 😉 ♥

here was my reply

thanks again to all of you. right now it’s a bit hard to fight the little voice inside (i call it my “german general”) that says that i’m a lazy, whining sissy – surely, if i can go on facebook, i can also organize mental health camp! hah! but i’m outing it. the german general does not like to see his words repeated unless they have gone through his press corps 🙂 i guess what’s good about this is that i have always felt very strongly about being up-front about one’s mental health, and here i get an opportunity to live this value – very much because of you and your support!

later …

but of course we’re not turning away from mental health camp, and definitely not from the idea behind it. the idea happens every day.

and later still:

this whole way in which i/we feel supported is starting to feel like an impromptu mental health camp in itself. maybe THIS is what was meant to happen. what can we learn from this? how can we take this further … ?

and then raul said, in his infinite wisdom:

isabella – don’t try to “take this further, or try to learn from this”. just enjoy the support, period. don’t make it more work for yourself! I’m just grateful that people understand that we are overwhelmed and over-committed as it stands.

all of this was two months ago. it is bittersweet – but more than that, truly wonderful to relive all this fabulous support. THIS is what we can do for each other! isn’t that mindbogglingly marvelous?!

next time i might just tell you about the workshop on recovering beauty that i ended up doing at gallery gachet anyways … 🙂

the wisdom to know the difference

the good people at TLC book tours asked me to write a review of eileen flanagan’s book the wisdom to know the difference – when to make a change, and when to let go. let’s start with a tidbit that resonated with me

“often when we accept something we shouldn’t, we feel resignation, rather than serenity.”

the book, as you might have guessed, takes as its root the serenity prayer

grant me the serenity
to accept the things i cannot change
courage to change the things i can
and the wisdom to know the difference.

the quote above goes right to that difference. how do you know when to accept something and when to change it? the answer is often quite muddled, and so we need wisdom. one of the ways the wisdom can come to us is through feeling into a possible decision. acceptance, ideally, brings with it a feeling of relaxation, of a burden lifted. and no, resignation and serenity are absolutely not the same.

a propos differences, let’s talk about how eileen flanagan’s oeuvre is different from other self help books. flanagan, among other things, is active in the quaker community, and you can see the quiet friendliness that we tend to associate with quakers all over the book. she does not wield the heavy stick that i often find in self help books; rather, she tells stories and gives gentle suggestions. each chapter of the book ends with a few queries (another quaker tradition). i liked this one:

“if you were to translate the proverb, ‘trust in god, but tie up your camels’ for your own life, what would it say?”

good question. i like the idea of translating proverbs.

the book is also well-researched. for example, she cites another of my favourites, andrew greeley (a roman catholic super priest who churns out not only one bestselling novel after the other but is also a well-respected journalist and sociologist), who “has developed a tool he calls the ‘grace scale’ that measures a respondent’s image of god … how we conceive of and describe god has profound implications for how we live.” flanagan talks about this in a chapter entitled “the courage to question”.

the serenity prayer is most often associated with 12-step programs (alcoholics anonymous, overeaters anonymous, narcotics anonymous, etc.) interestingly enough, 12-step programs encourage their members to work on their image of god, even to manufacture one according to one’s needs. however, this is by no means a 12-step book; while it occasionally mentions concepts associated with “the program” and also tells the tale of someone in AA, these instances are just one among many. this is another thing i liked about “the wisdom to know the difference” – flanagan takes great care to present a diversity of experiences. the stories that populate self-help books often have a canned feel to it. there is always the 36-year old single female executive who is disillusioned with her career, right? flanagan uses those cliché sparingly; her illustrations seem a little more alive, for example when she traces the life of a middle class african american woman who is both bewildered and inspired by the history of her ancestors. this historical and cultural context is also something that sets flanagan apart.

i noticed that most of the sections i underlined where ones where flanagan cites others. a few more examples:

“we live in a culture [that encourages] people to pursue perfection and control. the result is inevitably frustration and angst.” in quoting another book i find quite helpful, the spirituality of imperfection, flanagan points out the “anxious determination to take control, to be in charge” engrained in our culture. replace that wilfulness with willingness, is the suggestion.

quoting st. teresa of avila:

“one day of humble self knowledge is better than a thousand days of prayer.”

and a quote from thomas keating’s invitation to love:

“the regular practice of contemplative prayer initiates a healing process that might be called ‘the divine therapy’.”

energy audit

i just participated in another wonderful chat about mental health and social media. the topic this time was stress. one of the things i mentioned is that i have been inspired by tony schwartz to do a daily energy audit at work. two people asked if i could post about it so here it is.

in the summer my energy dropped somewhere into the basement, and when i was assaulted by a bad back for the first time in my life, i knew i had to do something. so i sat down and asked myself what impinges on my energy, and what feels important for my energy. here are the questions i came up with:

– how hopeful am i that i will get through the day?
– are there any resentments or other gremlins crowding my mind?
– what’s my physical energy like?
– what’s my emotional energy like?
– how “buzzy” do i feel? (feeling ungrounded, or “buzzy” zaps my energy)

i put the whole thing on a spreadsheet and assign a number to each question. 1 means i feel lousy, 10 means i feel great. i also make little comments that explain some of the numbers. and because i like statistics, i like to pour over the numbers the way a tea leaf reader pours over a cup of darjeeling and glean some wisdom. for example, i’ve noticed that on some questions, i fluctuate a lot and on others only a little.

here is a screenshot of a recreated spreadsheet. what do you think? would this be useful for you? what questions would make sense to you?

a spreadsheet to measure the energy level throughout the day

change questionnaire, part 2

part 2 of the change questionnaire. let me know what you think – it’s really just an adapted draft at this stage.

17. Please rate these areas of your life on a scale of 1-10. 1 would be very poor, 5 would be acceptable and 10 very good.

a. Finances ___
b. Relationships ___
c. Work ___
d. Emotions ___
e. Motivation ___
f. Spirituality ___
g. Physical Health ___
h. Mental Health
i. Recreation / Down Time / Fun ___
j. Other ___

I. Change History
What has been your own response to change in the past?

18. Changing the way I DO things – e.g. a change how I do things at work, or a change from eating lots of carbohydrates to eating more vegetables.
a) No problem
b) A few difficulties but not many
c) Not so easy
d) Almost impossible
e) No experience with this kind of change

19. Changing the way I COMMUNICATE – e.g. how I communicate with my spouse, children, coworkers, relatives, friends, etc.
a) No problem
b) A few difficulties but not many
c) Not so easy
d) Almost impossible
e) No experience with this kind of change

20. Changing the way I THINK – e.g. how I talk to myself, how I think about others, etc.
a) No problem
b) A few difficulties but not many
c) Not so easy
d) Almost impossible
e) No experience with this kind of change

21. Changing ROLES – e.g. from single to married, from parent to empty nester, or a change in your role at work?
a) No problem
b) A few difficulties but not many
c) Not so easy
d) Almost impossible
e) No experience with this kind of change

22. A CAREER/WORK change – e.g. becoming unemployed, changing careers, starting work after university
a) No problem
b) A few difficulties but not many
c) Not so easy
d) Almost impossible
e) No experience with this kind of change

23. A change in _________________________________________________ (a significant change in your life)
a) No problem
b) A few difficulties but not many
c) Not so easy
d) Almost impossible
e) No experience with this kind of change

24. Have you experienced any changes which normally would have bothered you, but which did not disturb you? Describe what the change was, and what the factors were that made it worthwhile for you to change.

___________________________________________________________________

25. Rate your general readiness to change
a) Prepared to give all the time and energy it takes to succeed.
b) Prepared to put in quite a bit of time and energy to support the change.
c) Prepared to commit a modest amount of time and energy to support the change.
d) Prepared to support the change, but don’t have time to give.
0) Not prepared to actively support the change right now

26. Rate the readiness to support the change on the part of the important people in your life
a) Prepared to give the time and energy it takes to succeed.
b) Prepared to put in quite a bit of time and energy to support the change.
c) Prepared to commit a modest amount of time and energy to support the change.
d) Prepared to support the change, but don’t have time to give.
0) Not prepared to actively support the change right now

J. Dealing with the Stress, Loss and Trauma of Change
People often go through certain stages in dealing with change, sometimes even loss and trauma. By assessing where you stand with this, we can look at how best to support the change with the least pain

Difficulty accepting: Sometimes we find it hard to acknowledge that things need to change (or are already changing). We sometimes minimize the need for change or the fact that things are already changing. Sometimes people know things are or will be changing (e.g. at work, upcoming work shortages; in personal life, deteriorating health or relationships) but look the other way.

Disagreeing with change. E.g. We don’t take steps to prepare for change; fail to look at important signs, facts or information; search for even small evidence that “everything is ok”; actively resist change that is already occurring; react negatively to people associated with the change

In the pit: We acknowledge the inevitability of change and feel hit emotionally by
it. We don’t defend against the change anymore and may experience feelings of confusion, helplessness, lack of motivation, sadness, or perhaps even depression. The emotional and physical immune system is under a lot of stress. Sometimes we become ill; people tend to get more colds in these situations, or certain pre-existing physical or mental health conditions may flare up.

Coming to terms: Accepting the change emotionally, including the losses involved. The perception of the situation, maybe even of the “big picture” changes and begins to include the circumstances/feelings/actions which have changed. We begin to make the best of the change and look for alternate ways of meeting
our needs and become involved again. We become open to rational problem solving (thinking about/accepting alternatives, looking for/accepting information, etc.).

Adapting and coping: A stage of learning, growing, and active problem-solving. We mobilize energy and commitment to deal with the change, to overcome what problems and barriers are amenable to effort, and to develop the skills, attitudes, beliefs and perceptions helpful in dealing with the change.

27. Where are you in the change sequence? We go in and out of the different stages and are often in more than one stage at once. Please rate on a scale of 1 to 10 where you are in each stage.

a. Difficulty accepting change ___
b. Disagreeing with change ___
c. The Pit. ___
d. Coming to terms with the change ___
e. Actively adapting and coping with the change. ___

K. Change History 2
Your change history gives valuable clues to how you are likely to respond during the next change. If you have frequently undergone major change, you will probably deal with change more easily than someone whose life has been stable for a long time. On the other hand, if you have experienced a number of traumatic changes in the recent past, you may feel particularly vulnerable.

28. How frequently have you undergone significant change during the past five years?
a) Change is a way of life for me
b) Several major changes.
c) One or two major changes.
d) No major changes.

29. What has been the dominant effect of these changes on you?
a) The changes have been energizing and stimulating.
b) The changes have been coped with without overt effects on the people.
c) The changes have been stressful, physically and/or emotionally, but I have
recovered.
d) I can’t take any more change!

30. What lessons can you draw from your response to past change efforts? Give
attention to such areas as
• The way the change was introduced, the kind and amount of information given about the change.
• The degree to which you were able to participate and be involved in planning and implementing the change.
• The timing and pacing of the change.
• Other people involved in the change.

L. Assessing the Level of Pain
Optimum pain for change exists when people recognize that significant aspects of the way their life are not working; they believe that if they knew a better way to operate they could adopt it successfully; and you can find the resources of time, money, support and energy to invest in making improvements while at the same time continuing to meet current demands.

The level of pain is suboptimal for change when people generally feel things are working well enough. They perceive the costs of change to outweigh the gains.

When a person is in continual crisis, and is using all their resources just to meet current demands, they are probably in too much pain to undertake substantial change. Since change requires learning, nearly every significant change results in an initial decrement in “performance” while being “on the learning curve.” In such cases, diversion of resources to manage the change process may well reduce the current performance below the level required for survival. A person can only afford to adopt “quick fix” improvements which require little basic change. It “can’t win for losing.”

31. Rate your degree of pain
a) Little or none; relatively content
b) Some: low level unease and disquiet.
c) Substantial: definite unhappiness with the way things are.
d) Overwhelming: the organization is in crisis and can barely cope.

M. Picking the Right Place to Start Change
Many changes have failed because they got bogged down in the first place they were tried. It is important to choose the part of your life where the change is initiated carefully. Here are some factors to consider in making this choice.
• It is not normally a good idea to institute change “across the board.” Not only does it create a lot of stress, but the change resources are then spread too
thin. You lose the advantage of trying a change in one area, learning from your mistakes, and revising your approach the next time.
• Look for optimum pain (see above)
• Look for where the “free energy” is. This can be found in areas of your life that are not already overwhelmed by current demands and that have the resources necessary to take on the overload required by the change.

32. Given these considerations plus any other criteria that seem valid to you, what areas in your life seem like good candidates for beginning the change? Give your criteria for choosing them.

N. Looking at the Downside of Change
Even though the change may be desirable, there are inevitable losses and possible negative consequences to any change. It is important to be aware of these, so they may be planned for.

33. What do you personally stand to lose if the change takes place as proposed?

34. How would you deal with these losses?

35. What do you stand to lose if the change does not take place?

36. How would you deal with these losses?

37. If applicable: What do others in your life (work, family, etc.) stand to lose if the change takes place as proposed?

38. What do others in your life stand to lose if the change does not take place as proposed?

Now is a good time to return to your original formulation of your plan for change, and update it in the light of your work on the organization’s readiness for change. You may also want to reexamine and possibly revise your change goals.

change questionnaire

i am currently playing with an adaptation of the readiness for change questionnaire for personal changes.  there are 50-odd questions (i’ll probably pare it down to about 35, 40 – less, hopefully, with your help!).  as i’m doing this i’m interested in all the different angles change can be looked at, and am also thinking of maybe turning this into a little research project.  after all, this blog is called change therapy!

i would love to have your thoughts.  are these useful questions?  what do they make you think of?  how might they help YOU make changes?

ok, here starts the adaptation  (in capital letters, of all things!  jan, are you reading this?)

The questionnaire is comprehensive and is intended to provide a way for people

desiring change to scan and evaluate the many factors that may influence

change readiness. It can be used to identify the factors that will support

and facilitate a given change, as well as to flag possible pitfalls and difficulties.

Some of the questions may not apply to you: leave them blank.  Some may seem to apply, but they seem “off” in some way, not phrased just right for your situation. Please answer these questions, but make a note as to how the question should be rephrased to apply to your situation.

A. This questionnaire assumes that you either see a need for change, or that someone else has proposed a change. Whichever is the case, take a moment to define for yourself what change you have in mind as you go through this questionnaire, and describe it very briefly below.

___________________________

___________________________

1. What is your likely relationship to the change? Check as many items as apply to you.

a. I want to change.

b. I think I should change but I am not 100% enthusiastic about it.

c. I have been told it would be good to change, or that I should change.

d. I have been forced to change.

e. I think there is some change happening in the future, and I think I should/want to prepare for it.

2. How much information do you have about the proposed change?

a) I am fully informed.

b) I have some information.

c) I have little information.

d) I have no information.

0) No change has yet been proposed.

B. The need for change.

3. Is there a need for change?

a) Yes, definitely.

b) Probably; I think so.

c) I’m not sure; I don’t know.

d) No, not at this time.

4. What circumstances tell you that there is or might be a need to change?

________________________________

________________________________

5. What are your personal experiences, thoughts or feelings that tell you there is or might be a need to change?

________________________________

________________________________

6. In relationship to the needed or proposed changes, which statement best reflects the current situation?

a) I know exactly what to do, have a plan for doing it, and am currently

implementing the plan.

b) I know exactly what to do, have a plan for doing it and haven’t begun to

implement the plan.

c) I know exactly what to do and have no plan for doing it yet.

d) I have a general idea of what to do, have a plan for doing it, and am currently

implementing the plan.

e) I have a general idea of what to do, have a plan for doing it and haven’t begun to implement the plan.

f) I have a general idea of what to do and have no plan for doing it yet.

g) I don’t know what to do but am experimenting with some things anyway, such as ___________________

h) I don’t know what to do.

i) Even if I knew what to do, I wouldn’t know how to plan or implement it.

C. The Approach to Change

7. How do you think you might go about making the needed changes?

________________________________

________________________________

D. The Urgency of Change

8. How urgent is the need for change?

a) It is imperative that I change now.

b) I need to change soon.

c) I will need to change in the foreseeable future.

d) The need is not urgent.

9. How long can the change be put off before it gets intolerable for me?

a) The current situation already has seriously impacted me

b) ___ Weeks.

c)____  Months.

d) A year or more.

10. How long can the change be put off before it gets intolerable for my family?

a) The current situation already has seriously impacted my family

b) ___ Weeks.

c)____  Months.

d) A year or more

e) It doesn’t matter because ______________________________________

E. Magnitude of Change Required:

11. What is the magnitude of change needed to make a substantial improvement in the current situation? (Check as many as apply.)

a. A small/medium/large amount of change in finances, most importantly from __________ to ____________

b. A small/medium/large amount of change in some/many/all of my relationships, most importantly from _________________ to ______________________

c. A small/medium/large amount of change at work, from __________ to ____________

d. A small/medium/large amount of change in my behaviour, most importantly from __________ to ____________

e.  A small/medium/large amount of change in my thoughts, most importantly from __________ to ____________

f.  A small/medium/large amount of change in my feelings, most importantly from __________ to ____________

g.  A small/medium/large amount of change in my motivation, most importantly from __________ to ____________

h.  A small/medium/large amount of change in my spiritual life, most importantly from __________ to ____________

i.  A small/medium/large amount of change in my physical health, most importantly from __________ to ____________

j.  A small/medium/large amount of change in  ___________________________, most importantly from __________ to ____________

F. Criteria of Successful Change

12. How will you know that the needed change has occurred? (Please give as concrete examples and indicators as you can.)

a. I will know ___________________________________________ has changed when ___________________________, _____________________________, and _______________________

G. Resources

Change sometimes requires extra resources. How available are the following resources for carrying out the change?

13. Support from people:

a) People who and are already supporting me or have indicated they are eager to support me, e.g. ____________________________________________  ________________________________________(list as many as you can think of)

b) People who I think are willing to support me, e.g.  ______________________  ________________________________________(list as many as you can think of)

c) People who could possibly support me, e.g.  ______________________  ________________________________________(list as many as you can think of)

d) No-one

14. Information

a) I have all the information I need.

b) I still need to find out more about ___________________ and I can get it from  ___________________________

b) I still need to find out more about ___________________ and don’t know where I can get it

c) I’m not sure whether I have all the information.  However, I do know ______________________________________________________________

d) There’s lots I don’t know and I have no idea where to start.

15. Skills

a) I have all the skills I need.

b) I need to beef up on  ___________________ and am already committed to doing  ___________________________________________________ about it

c) I need to beef up on  ___________________ and could do  _________________________________________________________ about it

d) I need to beef up on   ___________________and don’t know how to go about it

e) I need to learn how to   ___________________ and am already committed to doing  ___________________________________________________ about it

f) I need to learn how to   ___________________ and could do  _________________________________________________________ about it

g) I need to learn how to  ___________________and don’t know how to go about it

h) I don’t have a lot of skills to deal with the change.  One skill I DO have is ________________________________________________________________

i) I have no skills whatsoever to deal with the change.

j) I have a feeling there is/are skills that I need to deal with the change but I have no idea what it is/they are.

16. Money

a) Readily available.

b) Available if I work on it a bit

c) Pretty tight.

d) None whatsoever.

***

I will post part 2 very soon.

“be love now” by ram dass – annoying or enlightening?

be love now is ram dass’s newest book.  it will be misunderstood by many.  in fact, it – or at least ram dass himself – already has been misunderstood.  “ram dass is a superb writer,” the san francisco chronicle says.  calling ram dass a superb writer is like praising the world’s most lovingly raised organic carrots for their orangeness.  for sure, it’s one characteristic but it’s not the one that’s most important or even relevant.

a characteristic of this book that stands out is how much ram dass talks about his guru, maharaj-ji.  the title of the book is “be love now – the path of the heart.”  so why does ram dass go on and on (and ON!) about his guru?  he mentions i don’t know how many times how his guru was able to read his mind or when he did or didn’t manage to see maharaj-ji in person.  and all those references to indian deities – ram, arjun, and for goodness sake, hanuman the monkey devotee.  this is all very faraway and weird-like stuff.  who in the west really wants to have a guru?  of course there are all these people who are called gurus, or like to call themselves gurus.  “the blogging guru” or “the guru of golf”, etc.  this doesn’t really make the idea of a guru more appealing.

and then …

… then there is all the love that shines through this book, the deep, caring, overarching, limitless love that emanates from ram dass.  if we let this work on us, then everything suddenly has a different meaning.  the going on and on stops being annoying and begins to take on the ever-deepening quality of repeating a mantra or saying the rosary.

like the st. john of the cross that i mentioned last week, ram dass is a mystic, a person who “dwells in the love of god.”  (please, let’s take “god” in the widest sense here.)  this dwelling might be one that we have consciously experienced here and there as a short vacation destination, but most of us do not call it our home (and let’s add a comforting “yet”.)  that means that many of the perspectives are unknown or at least unfamiliar – often uncomfortable – for us.  as a point in fact, i had help writing this article by having someone read the passage below to me for easier typing.  there was much sighing and eye-rolling and sarcastic intonation.

from this strange abode of dwelling in the love of god, ram dass says

i am loving awareness

i have a practice in which i say to myself, “i am loving awareness.”  to begin, i focus my attention in the muddle of my chest, on the heart-mind.  i may take a few deep breaths into my diaphragm to help me identify with it.  i breathe in love and breathe out love.  i watch of all the thoughts the create the stuff of my mind, and i love everything, everything i can be aware of.  i just love, just love, just love.

i love you.  no matter how rotten you are, i love you because you are part of the manifestation of god.  in that heart-mind i’m not richard alpert, i’m not ram dass – those are both roles.  i look at those roles from the deeper “i”.  in the heart-mind i’m not identified with my roles.  they’re like costumes or uniforms (^^^) hanging in my closet.  “i am a reader,” “i am a father,” “i am a yogi,” i am a man,” “i am a driver” – those are all roles.

all i am is loving awareness.  I AM LOVING AWARENESS.  it means that wherever i look, anything that touches my awareness will be loved by me.  that loving awareness is the most fundamental “i”.  loving awareness witnesses the incarnation from a place of consciousness different from the plane that we live on as egos, though it completely contains and interpenetrates everyday experiences.

when i wake up in the morning, i’m aware of the air, the fan on my ceiling, i’ve got to love them,  I AM LOVING AWARENESS.  but if i’m an ego, i’m judging everything as it relates to my own survival.  the air might give me a cold that might turn into pneumonia.  i’m always afraid of something in the world that i have to defend myself against.  if i’m identified with my ego, the ego is frightened silly because the ego knows that it is going to end at death.  but if i merge with love, there is nothing to be afraid of.  love neutralizes fear.

awareness and love, loving awareness, is the soul.  this practice of “i am loving awareness” turns you inward toward the soul.  if you dive deep enough into your soul, you will come to god.  in greek, it’s called agape, god love.  martin luther king jr said about agape, this higher love: “it’s an overflowing love which is pure, spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless and creative.  the love of god operating in a human condition.”

it’s the love maharaj-ji spreads around, the unconditional love.  he loves you just because, just because.  spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless. he’s not going to love you because you are an achiever or a devotee, or a yogi, or because you’re on the path.  he loves you just because.  can you accept it?  can you accept unconditional love?

when you can accept that kind of love, you can give that love.  you can give love to all you perceive, all the time.  i am loving awareness. you can be aware of your eyes seeing, your ears hearing, your skin feeling, and your mind producing thoughts, thought after thought after thought.  thoughts are terribly seductive, but you don’t have to identify with them.  you identify not with the thoughts, but with the awareness of the thoughts.  to bring loving awareness to everything you turn your awareness to is love.  this moment is love.  i am loving awareness.

if you put out love, then you immerse yourself in a sea of love.  you don’t put out love in order to get back love.  it’s not a transaction.  you just become a beacon of love for those around you.  that’s what maharaj-ji is.  then from the moment you wake to the moment you go to sleep, and maybe in dreams, too, you’re in a loving environment.

try using i’m loving awareness to become aware of your thought forms and to practice not identifying with them.  then you can identify with your soul, not your fears or anxieties.  once you identify with your spiritual being, you can’t help but be love.

it’s simple.  i start with the fact that i am aware, and then i love everything.  but that’s all in the mind, that’s a thought, and loving awareness is not a thought.  or if it is a thought, it’s pointing to a place that’s not a thought.  it’s pointing at a state of being, the way the concept of emptiness is pointing at emptiness, which is really fullness.

souls love.  that’s what souls do.  egos don’t, but souls do.  become a soul, look around, you’ll be amazed – all the beings around you are souls.  be one, see one.

when many people have this heart connection, then we will know that we are all one, we human beings all over the planet.  we will be one.  one love.

and don’t leave out the animals, and trees, and clouds, and galaxies – it’s all one.  it’s one energy.  it comes through in individual ways, but it’s one energy.  you can call it energy, or you can call it love.  i like to look at a tree and see that it’s love, don’t you?

health month

for the month of october, i’ve played something called healthmonth. it is a fun, useful and well-thought-out site where you can establish health rules you’d like to follow and then keep track of how you’re doing.

from the site:

health month is all about designing your own health rules, and then trying to stick to them. we provide the points and the motivation.
here’s how it works:
before the game starts
1. choose your rules
2. make your bets and promises
3. choose how you want to play
o– games with 3 or fewer rules are free
o– games with 4 or more rules are either $5 per game, or $50 per year to become a member
o– if you can’t afford to pay, you can also seek sponsorship. every paying player can sponsor one person per month, or they can choose to pay for you
4. introduce yourself to the other players and wait for the game to start
after the game starts
1. mark off your rules every day
2. get points
3. share your progress

we all know how to be healthy. this game is about finding your limits, giving you incentives to make new habits stick, and helping you learn what works for you.

there’s much more to it, like how well your rule is aligned with your heart, how easy or hard it is to follow the rule, etc. you can choose from a variety of rules and then establish how often you’d like to follow them. many of the rules are about physical health (limit alcohol; cook dinner; eat fruit; limit soda, etc.); some are also about mental health, like

  • list grateful things
  • limit internet usage
  • meditate
  • limit television
  • write in a private journal
  • read
  • relax
  • get quality time alone
  • quality time with kids

i’ve found it very useful, mostly because it helped me be more focused around things that i already do, more or less – and now i do them more. eating greens, for example, or flossing every day.

i was introduced to this by my twitter friend sameer vasta and am part of his little group at health month in october. but i’m thinking of maybe starting my own group. anyone care to join me? we could make it just a tad about mental health …

leave me a comment here or drop me a line if you’d like to participate. if i have three or more confirmed people by october 31 (hallowe’en!), it’s a go. it does cost $5 a month. great investment.