Taxes get a bad name. We complain, revile, resist, and try to escape or minimize them. Our legislatures argue about who should pay more or less, and how to divide up what they collect.
What’s your fair share? Well, let’s face it: most people don’t really want to pay THAT much! I tend to think my fair share is less than they ask me to pay! Everybody likes getting something for free, but eventually somebody has to pay the bill.
Taxes are how we pay the bill for the stuff the government provides. We like having schools, so that knowledge can be passed on to the next generation… and our neighbors won’t be so god-awful dumb. We like roads to drive on, and water to drink, and a military to protect us. We like to have a rescue squad and a fire department when hard stuff happens. And a postal service to deliver our birthday cards and an occasional hand-written letter (remember those?). We like going to the park: the dog park, the playground, the tennis courts and baseball diamonds. We like to know that grandma can go to the doctor and she won’t starve or freeze next winter.
To live in community, we must each contribute to the community. No government is perfect in operation, but it’s the way we legislate community…. and some form of “government” is part of every functioning community on earth. Unless you live alone and totally self-sufficient on a desert island, you need to contribute to the community… and one of those ways is by contributing money in the form of taxes.
There have been various pipe-dreams: “communism” and “trickle-down economics” and “thousand points of light” come to mind…. but the reality is that we need a system of getting everyone to contribute to the Common Good. It ain’t perfect, but it’s the best we’ve come up with so far.
I admit that it is difficult for me to choose to be “generous enough” all on my own. Sometimes it’s like the Civil Rights movement – you just have to legislate things – even if they’re already “right” – to get it done, to get past the very human tendency toward greed or fear.
At heart, I am a socialist because I want a world that works for everyone, not just the top 10%, and not just the people who are skilled enough to be “successful” in a financial way. There are some people who are just incapable of supporting themselves. (Jesus said “the poor will always be with you.”) We don’t like it when they become dependent or homeless, due to low IQ, emotional problems, disabilities, addictions, whatever. Somehow they just can’t cut it in the modern world. But there they are, and we as a society need to provide for them in some way. Even if it’s not “fair.” (Surely you’ve figured out by now that life isn’t fair.)
I came to believe that the world needs beggars and welfare queens (that’s largely a myth, by the way). Why? To teach us how to be generous. To get us to exercise our compassion muscle. We need occasional economic downturns to rein us in, to remind us of our blessings, to give us perspective and maybe a new approach, a course correction. We seem to need to suffer ourselves to teach us empathy for the ways that other people suffer. (Every time I get the flu I remember why I respect people who live with chronic illnesses.)
I recommend giving thanks for the opportunity to pay taxes. It is important to spend more time in gratitude… and less in resentment…. if only to keep the Flow of abundance going in our lives. Be glad that you make enough money to need to pay taxes! It is a blessing to be abundant enough to be able to share. Be grateful for the opportunity to help your neighbors, to make a better world for us all.
Grateful people are happier people. What would it be like to be grateful for absolutely everything that came into your life? I’m certainly not there for more than moments at a time… but it would be an amazing mindset to live in.
Bottom line: I consider it a civic duty and a spiritual imperative to contribute money to my government…. maybe even a privilege. So this year, I will choose to pay taxes with a glad heart.
Lessons From the Garden #79: “All One!” ~ Lytingale – March, 2004
With a spring-time dose of ambition, I’m going to tackle a confusing teaching.
One of the core Unity teachings/affirmations is: “There is only one Presence and one Power in my life and in the universe: God, the good, omnipotent.”
Sounds pretty simple, but the ramifications are awesome. I think it explains a major difference from what fundamentalists believe. They always seem to be talking about “evil” or “Satan” or “wrong,” passing judgment on everything in the world… dividing “self” from “other.”
In contrast, Unity seeks to find the common ground, to emphasize the oneness instead of the different-ness.
If God is the “only presence and power,” then how can we blame things on Satan? If “God, the good,” is the only game in the universe, then how can there be “evil”? When we say something is “wrong,” aren’t we just saying “You messed up on that one, God!” ?
In God’s garden, there are no “weeds.” There are just many different kinds of “plants,” some of which we have labeled desirable (for their food, flowers, shade, etc), and some of which we have labeled undesirable (usually because they grow too well and take over!) God lets the warm sun and the nurturing rain fall on all of it, and on all of us, “the just and the unjust,” because it all has a place in God’s universe… whether or not we understand it.
There’s a wonderful bumpersticker seen around town: “All One.” This simple phrase reminds me on a lot of different levels:
Environment: We are one with Mother Earth, and we’d better take care of her and all types of her inhabitants, because we’re all interconnected.
Emotions: We are all one people, and we are all doing the best we can. So I need to cleanse my own heart of the hardness and judgment I find there toward people who don’t think, look, drive, speak, believe, etc.… like I do.
Politics: In an election year, it helps to remember that most Americans want the same basic ideals; we just differ radically on how we think we can attain them!
Compassion: We are all one world, and we all suffer when any one being on the planet suffers.
Identity: I am a special and unique part of a greater whole… and so is everyone else. At some level, there is no “self” and “other,” just “oneness.” Separation is not our only option. I have an identity beyond that defined by my differences.
Mental Health: We all want the same things, when you get down to the roots and essence of it: love, acceptance, freedom, peace, joy, meaning. All the other stuff is just a substitute; all the other behaviors are misguided, usually fear-based attempts to get what we think we need to be happy.
Philosophy: The pieces all make up one whole. The yin & yang, the up & down, the fronts & backs, the highs & lows, the good & evil – all these apparent dualities stem from our insistence on dividing up the world. If we keep sight of the Whole, we won’t be so distracted by the parts.
Theology: God, the god, is the One presence and power; therefore, all things are a manifestation of God, even the stuff we don’t want.
The confusion comes when we see things that are so painful, so hard to understand, so inharmonious in our world. I don’t pretend to understand why someone like Saddam Hussein thinks and acts the way he did (or any other mass murderer), and it sure is tempting to label it “evil,” and file it away from my mind and heart. In the short term, righteous vengeance may feel good… but in the long run, I don’t think it helps to change the consciousness of the planet, or to further my own personal growth, to stay in that “eye for an eye” mentality. At some point, humanity must transcend and evolve, pulling along the Neanderthals of the world. It ain’t over till it’s over… for every single person on the planet. It’s got to start somewhere. If not me, then who? If not now, then when?
At the same time, we don’t have to condone, assist, or excuse behaviors that hurt others. We are the hands of God on earth, and we each have important work to do… as long as we remember to stay connected with divine love. Work for peace, but only if you stay at peace.
It’s OK to pull weeds from your garden… as long as you are careful how you do it. If you pull a weed next to a young shoot, you may hurt the emerging plant. If you’re not careful how you cut briars, you’re gonna hurt yourself. Protect the tenderness of your own heart; value your own emergent spiritual journey. Do all things with care and love, seeking understanding.
If you merely cut the top off a weed, it will grow back, usually stronger. It’s important to get at the root to make permanent change. In your life, look a little deeper for the root causes. See beyond the judgment, the duality, and the “weed”-ness, and you can tap into the roots of beauty and power.
Today is the Fourth of July, “Independence Day,” here in America, and I have such mixed feelings.
Our current form of government is obviously broken, but still, the American experiment is one of the best forms of government that humans have tried.
Technically, our country is a “constitutionally limited representative democratic republic” We elect representatives instead of deciding them ourselves, so it’s not a pure democracy. But we do elect them by majority rule, so it is democratic. And the infrastructure, the total form of government, is a republic, a somewhat voluntary association of individual states, each with their own government.
Unfortunately, much of the democratic process has been diluted and defiled – by gerrymandering that pollutes the vote, by a Congress bent on obstruction rather than cooperation, including stonewalling Supreme Court candidates, and a flood of executive orders to dismantle the protections and laws of previous administrations. The delicate balance of legislature, executive, and judicial branches has been deeply disturbed by extremist agendas. Folks, we are in deep doo-doo.
On the other hand, we live in a country of breathtaking beauty and abundant resources. My favorite patriotic song is not our National Anthem that celebrates bombs bursting and military victories. My favorite patriotic song is one that celebrates a vision of a world that works for everyone, a country that seeks nobleness and brotherhood.
America the Beautiful was inspired by the view from the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado. In the summer of 1893, poet Katharine Lee Bates was teaching English at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Later she remembered:
“One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse.”
On the pinnacle of the mountain, a poem started to come to her, and she wrote the words down upon returning to her hotel room. The poem was first published with the name Pikes Peak in the Independence Day edition of the church periodical The Congregationalist in 1895. Over the years, several existing pieces of music were adapted to the poem. A hymn tune composed by church organist and choirmaster Samuel A. Ward in 1882 was first published with Bates’ poem in 1910 as America the Beautiful.
Here is my commentary on the stunning lyrics.
America The Beautiful
O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain For purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plain America, America, God shed His grace on thee And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.
America is so blessed by beauty and abundance. It’s hard to understand how some folks only think of how to exploit that instead of protecting it. President Teddy Roosevelt said it this way:
“We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”….
“I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.”
(Roosevelt used his authority to protect wildlife and public lands by creating the United States Forest Service (USFS) and establishing 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments, and protected about 230 million acres of public land.)
And think for a moment about how our experience of life be transformed if each of us was devoted to brotherhood and sisterhood. Truly we could live in a state of grace here in this beautiful land, blessed by the goodness of abundant resources, free education, the Bill of Rights, and so much more… if we would only crown all that goodness with the beautiful quality we call “brotherhood” – the sense that we are all family.
O beautiful for Pilgrim feet, whose stern impassioned stress A thoroughfare for freedom beat, across the wilderness America, America, God mend thine every flaw Confirm thy soul in self control, Thy liberty in law.
The Pilgrims left England to find a place where they could practice their own version of religion. Liberty was a rough road, paved for us by ancestors who were passionate about creating and defending freedom. And we need to get back to fixing our flaws, using self control, and understanding that our liberty comes from the laws that we have enacted to be fair and just with each other.
O beautiful for heroes proved, in liberating strife Who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life. America, America, May God thy gold refine Till all success be nobleness, and every gain divine.
So we have had wars and troubles, and heroes have stepped forward to serve a cause larger than the self. From firemen to warriors, people have given their life energy, even unto death, to serve the Greater Good, embodying the quality of noble service.
We have been given golden opportunities, but that gold continues to need to be purified and refined so that we come to understand that true success is not just about profit. Too many of us have diluted the gift we were given in blind obedience to the Bottom Line. Instead of worshipping the gains in the Gross National Product, let’s think about making gains in the Happiness Index, about what makes a desirable quality of life, about embracing a Generosity of Spirit. Only then can we live in harmony with the divine.
O beautiful for patriot dream, that sees beyond the years Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears. America, America, God shed His grace on thee, And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.
Our ancestors had a vision, a dream of a future where the cities would be shining places where people live in joy and freedom, instead of servitude and tears. We like to think of America as “the land of opportunity,” but that’s not really the case for everybody. Some people have worked way too hard at preserving wealth, gaining power, and protecting their own advantages. True equality is still a long ways off.
So again, we ask God to help us see more clearly, to give us the grace of seeking and finding the ways that we are the same, instead of looking for the differences that separate us.
The United States was founded on the idea that we are stronger together. But that means ALL of us. We can’t keep leaving people out of the American dream and expect it to work.
America has such potential to be truly beautiful. Let’s make it so.
The older I get, the more I appreciate – and miss – my mother.
Born in 1919, Gladys Olive McLaughlin Henrickson was a woman of her times… and our relationship was somewhat a victim of The Generation Gap that widened so drastically in the 1960s. Although we weren’t tremendously close, we always maintained communication and a sense of family. She (and my dad) were always very supportive of me, in spite of my being a hippie musician who took off cross-country living in a van for six months (way before the days of cell phones). I can only imagine how difficult that was for them.
It didn’t look like I’d ever marry, and when I finally did at age 33, it was to a New Age minister who’d been divorced twice previously. My life choices were a lot for them to accept, but they came through with flying colors, and as a result, we had a relationship that survived our differences. This lesson of acceptance and faithful patience served me well when my own children reached their teens and twenties.
Gladys served many roles in her life – wife, mother, grandmother, secretary, choir singer, gardener, friend – and did them all with a level of excellence and commitment that is all too rare. As I hear about other people’s upbringings, I am so grateful for the loving support, stability, and plain old sanity that I enjoyed as a child. Nobody in our house drank too much, or gambled, or smoked, or abused anyone else. People were treated with politeness and basic respect. The bills were always paid because Dad and Mom showed up every day, on time and prepared to do their not-particularly-exciting jobs. They didn’t have huge expectations out of life, merely aspiring to a quiet, useful, middle class life. They appreciated and took good care of whatever they did have.
As a wife, Gladys kept the house clean and neat, tended her vegetable and flower gardens (often the pride of the neighborhood), and put supper on the table every weeknight at 5:15. From every paycheck, she put money in a little book of envelopes for each category of household spending, using the budgeted amount to live within our means, shopping the sales and clipping coupons.
When I entered junior high, she went back to work as a secretary, part-time so she could be home when I got home from school, and earning enough to eat out more often, save for college and retirement, and spend a little more on our annual vacation. She ended up working as the personal secretary to the president of a small company, in part because of her fastidious attention to detail – and his delight at her perfect spelling. She was smart, reliable, and friendly, well-liked by all her co-workers.
Gladys didn’t particularly like to cook, but she cooked every day, usually from her well-worn Betty Crocker Cookbook. Nothing fancy, just simple fare in an era when lasagna was an exotic dish. We had a full Sunday dinner after church (put the chicken in the oven on low and don’t linger at church), then hot dogs & beans for supper. Every Friday she’d bake 2 pies and a batch of cookies. One pie was for friends that they’d invite over on Saturday, to chat or play cards. Every birthday had a homemade cake and some kind of party with relatives and/or friends. Every holiday had decorations and cookies and celebrations. Cookouts for the extended family were in our backyard on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day… and often in between. She was known for being able to whip up a meal from the pantry & freezer whenever somebody hungry showed up. And her homemade baked beans were legendary at the congregational church potlucks. (Her secret: “When I add the brown sugar, I close my eyes and pour in more than I should.”)
She was musical. She learned to play the piano at school, but they didn’t have a piano at home, so she practiced on a piece of wood that had the piano keys painted on it. She probably wanted to accompany her father’s singing. She mostly played hymns, always from sheet music. She was my first piano teacher when I was 5. She sat and played the piano almost every day of her life. And she always sang in the choir at whatever church she attended. My first introduction to choral music was sitting on the piano bench with her as she directed the church’s Junior Choir (I was too young to be in it.) Late in life, she sang with a group of a dozen women called the “Do-Re-Mommies” who gave small concerts. She was thrilled to appear on a local TV show with them. She sang alto – the harmony, never a solo – and sang duets with me a couple times. The family often gathered around the piano to sing together. Mom and Dad attended every concert within 300 miles if I was singing in it, and I deeply appreciate the support they demonstrated.
Gladys went to the local congregational church every week without fail, but was not particularly interested in theology. She said it was an hour of peace and quiet in her week, and she loved the music. Sure, the sermon helped her continue to be a good person, but I think she mostly liked the circle of friends and the friendly competition over coffee hour snacks. She always got involved and did her part in taking on the volunteer jobs. When she moved south, she did the same at my church, becoming a Volunteer of the Year. Here’s a photo of her shoveling gravel at our new church – at age 82!
She was also an artist. She did all the artwork – lovely drawings – for her high school yearbook, but never pursued any art training. It just wasn’t an option for her in 1936. But she used her artistic talents to do various crafts and arrange artificial flowers. She often had a glue gun or knitting needles or a crochet hook in her hands. A large portion of her church’s annual expenses were paid by a small group of women who met weekly to make Christmas ornaments to sell at an annual Bazaar.
As a child she was exceptionally quiet and shy, hardly saying a word. But in later life, she made up for lost time – she was very talkative, knew all her neighbors, and struck up conversations with perfect strangers.
Gladys and Cliff met while ice skating on a local pond. She fell, he picked her up, and they were married on New Year’s Day, 1941, in the West Suffield (CT) Congregational Church. The bride carried gardenias in her bouquet, and the reception was in the fellowship hall. The war was on, but Dad worked in a defense industry that made parts for aircraft, so he wasn’t drafted. Their son arrived in December 1941.
In 1943, they left the baby with grandma and had an adventure – a cross-country trip, with a ration book for gas and tires. Cliff had a brother in California he wanted to visit, so they delivered a car to the west coast and rode a bus back. The first flat tire came before they got through New York state.
In the spring of 1949, they went to Washington D.C. to see the cherry blossoms. I was the result. The fur coat was made of muskrat pelts. Mom gave it to me to wear in high school. I didn’t feel bad about wearing that fur – after all, the muskrats would have died of old age decades before.
Gladys knew the name of every flower in her garden. The bloom started with crocus peeking through the snow, then daffodils and tulips, iris and dutch iris, azaleas and dogwood. Summer brought coral bells, yarrow, primrose, bleeding heart, columbine, daylilies, hen & chickens, sedum, roses, hosta, lots of annuals, and her namesake, gladiolus. She always added a couple bags of fresh dirt to the flower bed every spring to improve the soil. By the mailbox she had a rock garden of shade-loving plants tucked artfully among the large rocks. She didn’t wear old clothes or use garden gloves. I never figured out how she stayed so miraculously clean!
In the backyard she planted lots of tomatoes, bell peppers, and green and yellow beans for us to enjoy. She did NOT can anything – she did too much of that in her youth when that was the only way to have vegetables in the winter. But she’d go get a bushel basket of corn that we’d blanch, put into ice, then cut off the cobs to put into the freezer. Some of it made it to Thanksgiving dinner. We’d usually make a visit to a pick-your-own strawberry patch and later to a blueberry patch. After strawberry shortcakes and blueberry pies, some of that bounty might make it to the freezer.
As Depression-era children, my parents were frugal, especially Dad. Success was a full pantry, a good used car, and a paid-off mortgage some day. You repaired instead of replaced, you bought on sale, and you didn’t throw away things that could be useful. I remember Mom telling me that she had to convince Dad that I should get a new doll for Christmas. He didn’t think I needed more than one. And she believed that you should spend as much on vacation as you would have earned in those two weeks. We vacationed in a 9 x 9 umbrella tent, but we went every year without fail and we loved our times at Lake George NY. And in various years, we went to Detroit, to Prince Edward Island (Canada), to Florida, and to the Grand Canyon and Disneyland on a cross-country trip in 1958. Although she saved for the future, Gladys made sure to enjoy the present.
Gladys became the quintessential grandma. She was fortunate that her 4 grandchildren arrived over a wide span of time. When each boy was 10 years old and started out “out-grow” grandma, another baby came along, until the last: a girl just 5 years after her brother and born on Glady’s 74th birthday. With the grandkids, she played board games, did crafts, sang, played catch, went mini-golfing, introduced them to fast food french fries, made cookies, took them berry-picking, had us over for Sunday dinners. My kids got to do a sleep-over at Grandma’s on Saturday nights, with breakfast at Hardee’s and arrival at church for the 11:00 service, so they wouldn’t have to get there at 8:30 with me. We often went on vacations together, and Gladys was right with us in the ocean or the pool, pushing a stroller along the winding paths at Hilton Head, riding a steam train from Dillsboro, or hiking to Pearson’s Falls. She was fun-loving and had an adventurous spirit.
Although she was not “athletic,” she was fit and healthy, and lived to age 90 with only a few difficulties. She watched her diet – with exceptions and in moderation: fries, potato chips, ice cream, and Hershey bars. She was always gardening, and she walked a lot, usually at a fast pace! Only 5’2″ tall, she kept those short legs moving! And when old age finally caught up to her, she walked around the neighborhood with a walker.
My mother gave me a strong legacy: her example of womanhood. I always felt that women were capable and powerful… because she was. She was feminine but strong; she had opinions, but did not need to be confrontational. She was smart and talented, but didn’t feel a need to hide that in an era when many women felt they had to. By her example as well as her support, I learned to trust in my own abilities, and later to support my children in their endeavors. We didn’t have to agree on everything to love each other.
Mom, you were one in a million, and I thank you for it.
A walk around the backyard brought me thoughts about the yin & yang of life… how you’ve got to take the “good” with the “bad.”
The day was balmy – over 70 degrees on the last week of January! The warm sun was a treat, but at the same time, I find it scary that our weather should be so warm this time of year. The daffodils were budding and the blackberries were leafing out – which is totally unnatural for this climate. I recall reading how this has been the warmest year since they began recording temperatures. Beautiful day… or global warming? The yin and yang…
Further on, I came across the debris left by a pesky dog in our neighborhood. He likes to take things – like toys, flowerpots, trash bags, and garbage from our compost bucket. He chews on them, and leaves the trash around the yard. Last week his owner cleaned up 2 such piles of trash from our yard and 1 from his own. I’d imagine, however, that he loves this dog, gaining affection and companionship from him. Hassle… or beloved pet? Yin and yang.
At this Valentine’s season, we can also remember the give and take of relationships. Having a spouse to call sure is helpful when the car battery dies… but of course, it’s less convenient for the rescuer than for one who is rescued. On the balance sheet of relationships, how many football games equal one night out dancing? At some time, we are each the caregiver and the one cared for. To get the goodies, we gotta give ‘em too. Yin and yang.
There was a great line in the movie “Oh, God” where God explains how he just “can’t make a front without a back, an up without a down, a good without a bad,” etc. As long as you judge one thing “good,” there’s gonna be its opposite, and the Dance of Duality goes on.
But beyond the place of just resigning ourselves to this duality, there exists the possibility of embracing everything, without the baggage of our value judgments. One of the best explanations was in the song “Beware What You Tell Yourself” by Summer Raven, written when she used to hang out with Ken Keyes and friends:
“When life didn’t please us, we made ourselves sad.
When we couldn’t control things, we made ourselves mad.
This kept up from loving what we already had.
What we want we call good, what we don’t we call bad.”
That last line is the crux of the matter. For instance, how you feel after this Superbowl Sunday depends entirely on which side of the stadium you’re on – whether you’re from Atlanta or from… well, wherever that other team was from.
I admit that I don’t succeed at staying out of judgment very consistently. I have pockets of clarity mixed with vast areas of stuck-ness, especially on the big things we like to label evil. For instance, the hurricane in Central America was pretty hard to feel OK about. Must innocent people die just to warn us of global climate changes… or to give us the opportunity to practice compassion? I really don’t know. But at the risk of sounding Airy Fairy about this issue, I will point out that we don’t know the really Big Picture… that’s God’s domain. I’ve got enough to deal with in my own backyard.
I do believe that the quality of my daily life is improved to the extent that I can stay out of judging the little things good or bad. And that’s the level where I have great power to change my experience of reality. Do I lose it when I see trash on the lawn? Do I kick someone out of my heart for a few precious minutes of my life, just because he left dishes in the sink again? Do I create anger whenever the traffic light turns red?
Every situation presents me with an opportunity for choice in how I will respond to it. No, I might not be able to choose the situation… and I believe that many situations are God picking a curriculum for my spiritual studies. I can, however, always control the way that I will respond to what comes into my life.
We can go on chasing the good and resisting the bad, or we can seek to take dominion over our minds and embrace everything. When the yin and yang combine, they form a perfect circle of wholeness, of Oneness.
Anger is something that I have thought about a lot. My first inclination was to change the wording of this precept to reflect a Truth about anger:
Just for today, I will not CREATE anger.
Anger is not something that you “get” like the flu. You don’t catch it; you create it by deciding that you don’t like or want something that has come into your life. Byron Katie would say that you are at war with “what is.” In religious terms, you are saying that God got it wrong and you are not pleased with the current divine plan.
Anger feels like it just pops up on its own. But the reality is that a thought has always preceded the anger. It happens SO fast that you might not notice. But if you slow down and look deeper, you can always find a thought that contains some way that you are judging the world to be wrong. You have a belief, desire, or expectation that is not being met – a trigger thought – so you create anger about it.
Going another level deeper, underneath the anger is always some kind of fear. We feel threatened in some way, and that usually boils down to a form of survival – of our ego, of our place in the world, of our economic survival, of our loved ones. If you identify the trigger thought, you can find a deeper fear in it, and that is what gives it the emotional content, that sense of being out of control and at the mercy of an unfriendly universe. When we are in stressful situations, the triggers become hair triggers – ready to go off at the smallest provocation.
Some people use anger to scare others into doing what they want, or to scare them away. It’s a tool, but not a very effective one. I think the angriest people are often the most fearful in their core. But the only thing that feels worse than being around an angry person is being an angry person. Living inside a heart full of anger and a head full of fear is not fun.
So anger is an automatic emotional response that we use to defend and protect. Freedom comes from learning to see its roots so we can unhook from these negative emotions, to turn off the autopilot and chart a course to a more fulfilled life.
However, that ain’t easy. It takes a lot of practice, although it gets easier the more you do it. And most of us still end up creating anger more often than we like. The idea of never getting angry seems unattainable. So I went for yet another wording:
Just for today, I will not BE angry.
What I mean by that is that I will not stay in anger. Although I will likely visit it from time to time, I don’t have to rent a room. If I watch my mind at all, I can easily notice that I have slipped into anger, and then I can choose not to stay there. I can identify it and then move on through, like a stop on the subway. “Oh, there I go, creating anger again. Well, let’s not get off at that stop.”
I can let go of anger, see it as something that comes and goes, instead of getting sucked in by its powerful emotional content. Anger is not what I am, it is not where I live and breathe and have my being. I can choose not to wallow in the seductive qualities of being right, perfectionism, or deserving “better.” My happiness and peacefulness are not dependent on outside circumstances. When I know that in the depths of my soul, I do not need anger.
Just for today, I will choose to live at a higher vibration.
Recently I took the Reiki I Training with Jonna Rae Bartges, a Third Degree Reiki Master and a psychic, who teaches with joy and bad puns and calls herself The Happy Medium (she says “I see dead people so you don’t have to.”) I appreciate her wit and I do believe that you should never fully trust a spiritual teacher who doesn’t laugh and smile. I’m not the only one who thinks this way. The visionary Jesuit priest & scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” He is the philosopher who also said “We are not physical beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a physical experience.” And let’s face it, this physical experience can be mighty funny… if we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
To get back on my original topic, one of the practices of Reiki is to use five precepts, or daily affirmations. The first one is:
“Just for today, I will not worry.”
OK, so first it says that I should do this thing one day at a time. Yeah, small daily steps are what will accomplish big goals. But what is this thing called “worry”? Here’s a dictionary definition (I added the bold):
give way to anxiety or unease; allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles.
Synonyms: fret, be concerned, be anxious, agonize, overthink, brood, panic, lose sleep, get worked up, get stressed, get in a state, stew, torment oneself
(of a dog or other carnivorous animal) tear at, gnaw on, or drag around with the teeth. “I found my dog contentedly worrying a bone”
a state of anxiety and uncertainty over actual or potential problems.
So worry is about allowing your mind to get stuck in an endless hamster wheel of negative thoughts about the future. Whether that future is 5 minutes or 5 years away, it’s still the future if it’s not happening right now. Our worries are about what I want to happen in the future, not about what I am experiencing right now.
Anxiety always exists in the gap between now and some future moment. Anxiety is the mind filling in the gap, that uncomfortable blank space, with fearful imaginings. We will always handle what is happening right now – yes, we will do whatever we can, the best we are able at that moment in time. But we can’t really change the past – what’s done is done and the best we can do is clean up after the mess if needed. And we can’t accurately predict the future. Do you really know what’s going to happen and how that will affect other things? Uncomfortable in uncertainty, we make a guess. Sadly, we tend to go for drama and make up a negative outcome, grab on to that fear-based creation, then gnaw on that idea like a hungry puppy. Since this problem is in the future, it is only a potential problem, not an actual one.
We can choose, moment by moment, tick by tick, thought by thought, whether to live in the Blessed Now, or to allow the mind to indulge in our negative fantasies. It really is a choice.But I didn’t say it was easy! It takes diligence and awareness to stay awake enough to notice the mind at play, so that you can stop buying tickets to the fantasy land that the anxious mind is creating. That’s why they call it spiritual practice – it really does take practice!
It takes using our will to not worry, to dwell instead in a deep faith that all is in divine order. Einstein was once quoted as saying:
“The most important question you can ever ask is if the world is a friendly place.”
Worry is a belief that my world is not going to be OK. In a way, I’m saying to Spirit (or God, or Allah, or Buddha, Baba, Universal Mind, Goddess, Christ Consciousness, Ki, Higher Power, The Light, or The Great Cosmic Muffin – use whatever name you are comfortable with – Spirit doesn’t mind), “Spirit, I don’t trust that you’ve got this right. My life is not in divine order and I have to fix everything.” (Stamp foot, say “It’s not fair!” with teenage angst.)
When I choose to not engage in worry, I am letting go of the burden of being responsible for things I cannot control.
Read that sentence again. Have you been trying to control the uncontrollable? Like your spouse, your kids, your boss, your health, your inlaws, co-workers, the Economy, Congress, getting older, the way an audience responds to you, what somebody thinks of you. Are you ready to let go of that heaviness? Can you give up your job as Director of the Universe?
Now this does not mean that you don’t take action. Lack of worry does not mean lack of action. You still engage in the world; you do the things that you feel are important and that are yours to do. The difference is whether you do them with anxiety and fear, or whether you do them with faith in the inherent goodness of humanity and with trust in your deity of choice.
It is said that worry is like a hamster wheel – you go round and round but you never get anywhere. Worry doesn’t fix anything! In fact, it usually makes it harder to get things done. And it definitely changes the quality of living, the emotional content of daily life.
We can always find something to worry about. Current politics is certainly easy to worry about. So is my health. And my finances. And the well being of my children. And the things that need fixing in my home. And how my car is running. And… and… and… There is no end to things that cry out for my energy. (BTW, having things to handle is part of the rent we pay for being alive on this planet. So stop resisting these signs that you are still alive!) These all have the potential to be objects of my worry. But the essential question is whether I will use my energy from a place of fear (which is where worry is born) or from a place of love (in trust and feeling connection).
When I worry, I lower my energy vibration and I cut off my connection to Spirit, the Universal Mind, the Life Force. Impediments to the flow of this life force within me create sickness in body and spirit.
So just for today, this moment, this tiny tick of time, I use my will to stay out of fear, to choose to notworry, and to dwell in love and perfect trust.
Have fun! Detach from your definitions of what you “should” be and how life “should” unfold, and how other people “should” act, and how they “should” treat you. Once you detach from your expectations of others, your perfectionism, your deadly seriousness, you can truly have some fun.
Think of Life as an Amusement Park. It’s an adventure!
The exciting rides are scary.
This ride turns you in circles.
The kiddie rides are sweet and simple and short.
You’ll get wet on the log flume, but you’ll laugh a lot.
That show makes you laugh – and another makes you cry.
Music makes it better, and so do bright colors.
There’s tasty stuff to eat and something interesting around every corner.
Sometimes you just have to wait.
Everything costs a lot, but the price of admission is worth it.
It’s more fun with a friend or a family.
Play hard, jump on all the rides you can, laugh, keep moving your weary feet. Whee!
And at the end of the experience, you will be tired and ready to go home.
You see, it’s NOT all about you. You are just a spectator, watching the show and playing your part. There’s really nothing to get bent about. There’s no grand prize at the end for doing it “right.” You can do everything “right” and still have your house burn down, or get a nasty disease, or watch your child die of cancer. That’s just part of your own uniquely individual journey.
You see, it IS all about you. You are the one who chooses HOW you will take the journey – screaming and whining, or embracing and laughing. It’s all in how you see it. How are you perceiving your life? Does your perspective create distortions like a Fun House mirror? Can you live lightly? Can you find a way to smile about the marvelously entertaining people you meet every day? Can you live being true to yourself, instead of worrying about the Rules?
Now, don’t get me wrong. You can choose to cling to your cherished opinions as much as you want. You don’t really have to give up your demands and expectations. You will still have them, probably till your dying day. They will keep popping up, like a Whack-A-Mole game. But you don’t have to pay attention to them! You don’t have to give them any influence over your mood or your actions! Just detach a bit, and you can watch your mind as it tries to lead you down a rocky path. “Ah, there I go again, thinking my partner should do it my way. How silly of me! How futile! I wonder if I’ll ever give up on that idea.” And suddenly, you’re at Disney World, watching the show, a carefree spectator, instead of stuck in the muck of identifying with your opinions and ideas (half of which were installed in the back corners of your mind by your misguided parents.) You are so much more than your thoughts.
This all becomes easier once you truly believe that dying is safe… and therefore, so is living.
The true essence of you is eternal. You are energy, taking human form to play around in this Amusement Park called Planet Earth — to taste the incredible variety and richness of the human experience, to find the Joy in the Dance, and to Learn to Love ever more fully and unconditionally.
Shakespeare’s Puck sat in his laughing tree, saying “what fools these mortals be.” C’mon, admit it. We are one crazy species, doing all manner of foolish things. We are wondrously made indeed, but really, have you looked at yourself naked in a full-length mirror?
One of Chad’s favorite quotes was: “If you learn to laugh at yourself, you’ll never run out of material.”
As soon as you can find the humor, that Christmas dinner with the in-laws becomes entertainment instead of torture. When you have nothing to prove, you are free to be who you really are. When you have detached from being right or worrying about your image, you can breath easy and just enjoy the show.
The Show goes by quickly and it doesn’t last very long, but it is endlessly entertaining when you wake up to watch.
It doesn’t matter WHO you pray to. The name of the force – God, Allah, Spirit, Yahweh, The Great Cosmic Muffin – is not important. It just matters that you acknowledge something outside of yourself.
It doesn’t matter WHAT WORDS you say, which psalm or verse, or which language you use. There are no perfect words. It’s about finding some words from your heart.
It doesn’t matter whether you think of it as a “prayer” – or just a conversation with the universe, a chat with a friend. You don’t have to bow your head or clasp your hands just so or kneel or bend or raise your arms to heaven. You can sit or stand or walk or lay down. You can swim or run or dance or sing or be very, very still.
It doesn’t matter where you are. You can be at home, in a church, in a forest, on a beach, in a hot tub with a glass of wine. Spirit is everywhere, so wherever you are is fine.
It doesn’t have a dress code. There are no required tools, props, or costumes. Oh, there’s nothing wrong with them if they help you get in the mood of the show, but don’t mistake the props for the real thing.
It doesn’t need a specific location, time, or day of the week. The opportunity is open to you 24/7, come as you are, no admission fee.
You just have to stop, notice the grace, and feel it. “Oh, yes, now I see the grace that is there.”
Feel that sense of fullness and connection to something greater. And when you notice it and feel it, you can’t help but have gratitude.
Because you have a life.
You have a ticket to the Greatest Show on Earth.
You are a piece of the puzzle, a player in the band, a marcher in the parade.
The more you notice the amazing things happening around you, the more you will smile.
Perhaps you think the universe is saying No to you. You just haven’t yet seen the Yes. It’s all Yes when you zoom out far enough, when you have a wide enough and long enough perspective. But it’s not always easy to see the big Yes when you’re standing in this little spot.
When a friend offers you a gift, the worst insult would be for you to not unwrap it, to ignore it. Yet we ignore the gifts of the universe all the time. I imagine a petulant child, standing at the foot of a Christmas tree surrounded by hundreds of gifts. She is holding a list and she is saying, “But you forgot #72, #33, and #126. And #37 is the wrong color. And #59 is the wrong size.” Like that child, we go through our lives thinking Spirit got it wrong again.
If you are focused on your List Of What’s Missing, you will miss seeing what IS there for you in your unique and amazing existence.
You have a life. Wow!
You have a courtside seat for the Big Game.
You have a horse in this race, a seat on the bus, your name in the program.
You are right here and right now, able to witness the Power and the Glory.
Your life is like no other. Isn’t that wonderful?!
Thanks be to God, Allah, Yahweh, Shiva, Buddha, Baba, Yemaya, The Force, Tao, Ancestors, Guardian Angels, Spirit, and the Great Cosmic Muffin!
Let us pray.
Let us PLAY.
And as a wise man often said, “Enjoy the Grace!”
~ Lytingale (Nov 20,2015)
(PS: Photographs taken by me. Amazing views provided by Spirit.)
One of the blessings of being sick is the renewal of my empathy for others who struggle with their health.
I think of the persistence and courage of those who have a chronic illness. Day in and day out, they deal with pain and difficulty, often with no hope of improvement. They do what needs to be done just to maintain whatever level of wellness they can attain. And mostly they do this with little complaint, so we don’t even notice their struggle.
I think of people who are facing a life-threatening illness. With no certainty of success, they undergo painful, costly treatments, embroiled in the medical system. And yet they put one foot in front of the other and go through the process, choosing life, finding moments of joy in a dark landscape.
I think of what it would be like to be sick while being homeless. I am blessed with a warm house, a comfortable bed, a convenient private bathroom, a pantry full of food, and family and friends to look after me. Not everyone is nearly so fortunate. Can you even imagine having pneumonia while living in a cardboard box or staying at a shelter?
And what if you lived in a refugee camp? Or a village without access to clean water? If there were even a doctor to tell you to “drink lots of fluids,” could you walk a mile to get water?
Whether far away or just next door, all around us are people who are struggling with great difficulties. When I jump into judgments of others, I have forgotten to have empathy for their hidden challenges. How do I know what they have come through? How do I know what they are dealing with today? And yet, I so easily forget.
And so I bless my own struggles because they remind me of the struggles of others and they exercise my empathy muscles.
“One of the things about compassion is that the difficult things that happen in our own lives teach us the most about what other people go through. So I value all the really lousy times in my life. It has been the lowest times in my life that have helped me the most to understand other people.” -Pema Chodron