WEEK 6: Tell the Truth

“Our lives improve only when we take chances…and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves.” Walter Anderson

As with most of the preceding posts, the topic for this week seemed, at first, as though it would be pretty easy for me. I consider myself a fairly honest person, so I just didn’t think it would be too hard to tell the truth for a week. But what I am beginning to understand as my project goes along, is that what appears simple at first glance, becomes ever increasingly complex the more I think about it. And the more I remember my rule to push myself (Guideline #7), the harder these ‘assignments’ become. So when I decided, instead, that I would tell the truth to myself this week, rather than other people, well, the bar definitely rose a little higher, taking me right out of my comfort zone. That surprised me a little, too…why would the thought of being honest with myself make me uncomfortable? Well, maybe it’s because I just don’t often think about what I truly believe, about life, or myself. A little sad, I know, but, nonetheless, pretty true.

Another thing that worried me about all of this, is that other people may perceive these beliefs of mine as somehow wrong, or different, or even worse, foolish. So I just had to keep reminding myself that nobody’s truth is the ‘right’ truth, because we all experience life differently. And what I believe to be true about something, may just not be the same for someone else…but that is ok. I think that where we, as human beings, tend to run into trouble, is when we convince ourselves that our truth is the ‘right’ truth, rather than considering that another person’s truth could be just as ‘right’ for them. Max Born, a German physicist, said, “The belief that there is only one truth, and that oneself is in possession of it, is the root of all evil”. Well, the good news is that I definitely don’t believe my truths are the only truths, so I guess I don’t need to be nervous, or worried, that I am going to offend anyone. But still…this is very scary!

So, what truths do I have about myself? Well, I am loyal. I am a little impulsive. I am thoughtful. I am fair. I am kind of lazy. I am tolerant. I am, at times, a bit manipulative (this was a hard one to spit out!).

And what are my beliefs about life?  Well, hmmm, this is a little harder. But ok, I know I believe that we are all connected. That our souls are eternal, so death is really just a transition to a different vibration. I believe we are all here to learn lessons, both individually and collectively, so that our souls can evolve. And I truly believe, that right now, we are, as a species, being spiritually challenged to evolve to the next level.

What I found kind of interesting, as I contemplated these truths, was that the things that I believe about myself haven’t changed much over the years, while the things I believe about life have changed dramatically from when I was younger. For instance, as a child I believed that when people died, they disappeared forever into a completely black nothingness. I don’t know where I got this idea, since I know I understood about God and heaven, but I remember, distinctly, laying in bed at night and trying to imagine being nothing, forever. Needless to say, with thoughts like these, I was terrified of dying, and continued to fear it well into my adulthood. But when my father passed away, it was like a switch went off in my head, and I realized that it just couldn’t be possible that we become nothing when we die…our souls must go somewhere. And this new belief, that my dad’s soul would be waiting for me wherever it is that we go, brought me incredible comfort, and allowed me to let go of the old belief that had brought me so much pain.

I guess, in a perfect world, we would always be able to recognize when certain beliefs we have aren’t working, and consciously replace them with some that may work better. And, also in that perfect world, we would accept the idea that the truths we have for ourselves are no better, or worse, than the truths someone else might have…they might just be different. In his book, The New Revelations, A Conversation with God, Neale Donald Walsch suggests, among many other things, that the world would be so much better off if, when voicing either our individual or collective beliefs, we would begin by saying, “We are all one. Mine is not a better way, mine is merely another way.”

Just imagine a world where our first impulse, when faced with an opposing point of view, was to acknowledge that it’s really ok for that person (or country, or culture, or religion) to have that belief, instead of immediately trying to challenge it, or worse, condemn it. In our family, we call this impulse to challenge each other “the oppositional reflex,” and, unfortunately, it’s a bad habit we all share, and one that definitely creates a lot of unnecessary conflict. And since I am one of those people who really hates to argue (another truth about myself), it is a habit that I would love to see broken. I don’t know why it has to be so hard to simply agree to disagree…and to not always have to be ‘right.’ Anyway, I just have to believe that the world (and our dinner table!) would be a lot more peaceful if we would just allow each other the freedom of our own truths, and not feel threatened by their differences.

I think, in the end, what this very soul-baring week has taught me is that, in order to create my perfect world, it’s not only important that I’m honest with myself, about who I am and what I believe, but that I honor those beliefs, without dishonoring anyone else’s. I know that it won’t always be easy, but for a chance at that perfect world, it just has to be worth a try.

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WEEK 5 – Have the Intention to Raise Your Consciousness

All that counts in life is intention.” Andrea Bocelli

When I first saw this week’s topic I was a little worried about what I would do, since ‘having the intention to raise my consciousness’ is, basically, how this whole project began. I didn’t want to skip it, though, because I promised myself that I would stick to the list (Project Guideline #7), but I also didn’t want to rehash everything I said in my first post. I realized, then, that maybe I could still have an intention this week, it would just have to be about something else. But what? My intention to raise my consciousness (i.e this project) took a whole year to turn into something…I needed one that could happen in a week! Plus, whatever it was should have a specific outcome, so that the result would be very clear. I also thought it might be a good idea, if possible, to try it more than once, to really put the theory to a test.

Growing up, an intention to me was something that was either good or bad. To have the intention to do something simply meant following up a thought with some sort of action. Sometimes it worked out, and sometimes, well, despite the best of intentions, it just didn’t. For instance, I always had a good intention to do well in math, but no matter how hard I tried, I just always seemed to fall a little bit short. My father was not very sympathetic, despite my insistence that I really had intended to do better that semester. I guess he was more of a visual guy, so the grade on the report card was proof enough to him that my intention, however good it may have been, just wasn’t quite enough.

So when I came upon the book, The Power of Intention, by Dr. Wayne Dyer, a few years ago, I was intrigued by the idea of intention as a force of nature. A lot of what he wrote about made sense to me, especially his theory that “our intentions create our reality.”  When you think about it, there’s just not too much in the world that didn’t begin with an intention. Whether it’s the chair I’m sitting on, the house I live in, the car I drive, my husband, myself, our children…everything is the result of someone’s intention to create it. I had also read somewhere that the best way to influence your day-to-day reality is to spend a little time just after you wake up, when you are in-between sleep and total wakefulness, and picture in your head the way that you ‘intend’ your day to go. The theory is that once your mind has experienced the day the way you want it to be, then the chances are better that you will actually have that experience. If I had only known all of this when I was in school!

So anyway, last Sunday morning I set the intention that I would see my favorite hockey team, the NY Rangers, win their playoff game that afternoon. I realize that setting an intention for something so totally out of my realm of influence might seem a bit egotistical, but I decided that because I was focusing on my experience watching the game, that it was ok. And I imagine there are a few people who might be scratching their heads, wondering why I would pick something as trivial as a hockey game to set my intention on. Believe me, I totally understand that in the big scheme of things this is pretty inconsequential. But as my family and friends know, I just really, really love the NY Rangers…it’s as simple, and as ludicrous, as that. And since it was a really important game (the Rangers were down 2 games to none against the Washington Capitals), I figured there was nothing to lose by trying.

Anyway, as soon as I woke up, I pictured the team gathering in the middle of the rink and raising their sticks to the fans, a tradition when they win on home ice. I imagined how excited and happy I would feel when they won, and how much I absolutely love to watch them play. Finally, I pictured my husband and friends high-fiving each other when the game was over. And, even though I spent most of the game with my head buried in a pillow because it was so close, the ending turned out exactly like I’d pictured it – the Rangers won! I was so excited, and it even crossed my mind that maybe I had come up with the secret to winning that ever-so-elusive Stanley Cup…what if every fan woke up the day of a game and ‘intended’ to watch the Rangers win? They would be unbeatable!

Unfortunately, however, my theory was shattered a couple of days later when they lost the next game in double overtime, despite the fact that I had pictured everything exactly the same as before. I was disappointed, of course, but realistic enough to know that, alas, the Ranger’s fate could not possibly rest solely in my hands. The experience did make me wonder, though, what exactly makes an intention powerful enough to become a reality. On his cd, Speaking the Lost Language of God, Gregg Braden talks a lot about the connection that exists between our thoughts (or intentions), and our feelings and emotions. As I understand it, and please bear with me as I try to sort this out in my head, when we have a thought, we immediately attach an emotion to it (i.e. love or fear), and the result is a feeling we have, either good or bad. So a thought that elicits a positive emotion will result in a positive feeling, and then our reality will mirror that back to us. If a thought elicits a negative emotion, either consciously or unconsciously, then chances are we are going to feel badly, and that will be what we experience. Luckily though, as human beings, we all have the unique ability to consciously change how we feel about something, so it is ultimately within our power to control what we experience. According to Braden; “In every moment, of every day, we either make a life-affirming choice, or a life-denying choice in the way we respond to the world.” I guess the key is to try to be more aware of how we are feeling in any given situation, and then make the choice to feel good.

The thing for me, however, is that sometimes I’m just not aware that a negative emotion may be influencing my thoughts. It could be that there’s a negative belief so deeply ingrained in my subconscious that I don’t know it’s there, or it could be that I am just too busy wallowing in my unhappiness to notice anything. But whatever the reason may be, if I’m not aware of the negative emotion, I can’t change it to something more positive…a kind of catch-22. That could explain why things didn’t work out for me watching the Rangers in the second game – because even though my intention was positive (to watch the Rangers win), and the emotion elicited from that thought was also positive (love for Rangers), I’m wondering if, even though I thought I believed it could happen,  that maybe deep down inside I just wasn’t so sure. And then the resulting feeling, although I thought it felt good on the outside, was actually based on doubt from the inside, so my experience watching the game was not what I had intended. Of course, it could have just been because the other team was better!

So, it seems to me, that if our intentions do in fact create our reality, as Dr. Dyer claims, and if I, as a human being, am consciously able choose how I feel about my intentions, as Braden asserts, then I guess I really have more control over my life than I ever thought. I might not be able to change the outcome of a hockey game, but I will take comfort in the fact that I am able to choose how I feel, every moment of every day. And as ancient wisdom reminds us…as within, so without.

WEEK 4: Reconnect With True Friends

“The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart.” Elisabeth Foley

At the beginning of this week, I have to say, I was pretty nervous about what would happen as I reached out to the friends I haven’t talked to or seen in a long time. I’m not exactly sure why I was nervous, except that maybe there was a little part of me that was scared no one would respond. Or that they would think my project was silly. Or even worse, that they didn’t think of me the same way I thought of them. But one thing I am learning from this whole consciousness-raising experience is that sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and jump, and hope that the landing won’t hurt too much.

In my life I have been very lucky to have true friends from just about every stage I’ve been through. There are my childhood friends – the ones I grew up with who have known me the longest. We share so many memories that they probably know me as well as I know myself. Then there are my friends from boarding school…and even though I have probably spent the least amount of time with any of them since we graduated, the time we did share was so intense and concentrated that I could pick up right where we left off in an instant, and not miss a beat. College was a little different for me – I didn’t come out of there with a big group of friends, but I did come out with a few, and most importantly, my husband, my truest friend by far. There are my ‘super’ friends, the wives of my husband’s best friends, who I have shared a zillion different things with from marriage, to children, to vacations, to, well, you name it. There are my friends from our first neighborhood where our children were born…they are the ones who kept me sane while I learned the ins and outs of motherhood. And now, of course, there are my friends where we live now – as true as friends can be. But, luckily, I don’t need to reconnect with them just yet.

So my challenge for this week was to decide how I was going to actually do the reconnecting with all these people who I wanted to reach out to. I thought about calling them all, but since there were pretty many, it didn’t seem too practical. I finally decided to use a combination of email and Facebook,  and on Sunday afternoon I wrote them all a note, closed my eyes and pressed ‘send’. As I’ve already said, it was pretty scary, and I actually didn’t sleep very well that night fretting about whether I would hear anything back. Monday morning came around and when I nervously checked my email and Facebook there was nothing from anyone. Oh dear. Needless to say, I spent the rest of the day trying to convince myself not to take it too personally…people are busy, right? They could be on vacation, or sick, or…it was definitely a long day trying to keep the Doubting Debby in my mind at bay. But then, thankfully, late Monday afternoon I got a response. And then another, and another, and before the day was over I had reconnected with enough of these old friends that I was on top of the world. It was SO much fun! Some shared old memories, some gave an update on what they’d been doing, and some just said hi. And sure, there are still a few I haven’t heard back from, but because I want to be a true friend myself, I will just trust that there is a reason, and that someday a note from them will appear. And I will be so happy when it does.

I have really been giving a lot of thought this week to how friends are made. For instance, when you’re 5 years old and you walk into kindergarten for the first time, what is it that makes you want to play with one person over another? I don’t remember it ever being a conscious decision…and actually, in my particular case, one of my oldest friends picked me. And then decided she wanted to ‘keep me’, so she made me get on her bus, which I did. I’m not sure if I was just too scared to say anything (she was kind of bossy!), or if I actually realized it was my bus too, so it wasn’t worth arguing. In any case, when my big sister got on, everything was sorted out. But the thing is, from that very moment we met, we’ve been friends, and it just seems to me that there must be something that we saw in each other right from the start. Who knows, maybe it was our souls recognizing each other from some past life. I like that idea a lot, actually, and I think I even witnessed it when my youngest son met one of his ‘true’ friends for the first time. We were in the nursery school playground waiting to meet with the teacher, and I took him over to the slide. There was another mom standing at the bottom, and her son was getting ready to slide down. The two boys looked at each other and smiled…I swear, they might as well have said “Oh hi, I’ve been waiting for you…where’ve you been?” It was instant friendship from that moment on.

And honestly, I feel that way about all of my friends. I may not be able to tell you exactly when we met, or even where, but I can tell you that with every single one of them, I feel like I’m home when I’m with them. No matter the time or distance between us, no matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done, whether we’ve changed or are the same as we’ve always been, that spark is always there.  And whether that spark is a past connection between our souls, or just the recognition of a kindred spirit in the here and now, I know, better than I know anything else, that it’s a spark that will never go out.

WEEK 3: Simple Meditation

“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; Who looks inside, awakes.” Carl Jung

The first time I can remember hearing about meditation was when I was about 12 or 13 years old in the early 70’s, when one of my best friends told me about TM, or Transcendental Meditation. I was intrigued, but because it cost a lot of money back then, I wasn’t able to go with him. I was pretty jealous though, especially when he told me about the secret mantra he’d been given…it all seemed so mysterious and, well, cool. Of course, I was just about to enter into what I fondly recall as my hippie teenage years, so it’s not too surprising that I was drawn to something so ‘new age’ as TM was considered back then.

But even though I’ve always been curious about meditation, the practice of it seemed to have alluded me, until just recently. I’m not sure why…maybe it seemed too self-serving, or self-indulgent, or just selfish, period. Maybe it was that old Puritan work ethic telling me that I should always be doing something. Or maybe I was just trying to squash the inner hippie that I thought I had outgrown. In any case, it was definitely not something I talked about with my family or friends -it just seemed way too personal.

And somehow I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling, either. I think there could be a lot of people out there who consider meditation as something only hippies do, or people who live on the fringe. Even now, as I write this, there is a part of me that is worried that I am stepping over a line of some sort, and that people reading this, who know me, will be raising a few eyebrows.

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned in other posts, after my health scare I did a lot of reading and talked to a lot of alternative healing practitioners, and I found that meditation was a common denominator everywhere I turned. So I decided to give it a whirl. I tried all different kinds – from mindfulness meditation to guided meditations on cds. I tried it for different lengths of time – from 30 minutes to one minute. I tried it sitting in my living room and sitting in my bed. I tried it in the morning and then in the evening. I kept thinking that if I just kept trying, I would find the perfect one for me and finally understand what everyone was talking about. The problem was that I kept worrying that I was doing it wrong, because there didn’t seem to be any dramatic result telling me differently.

And if I couldn’t see any result, then what exactly was the point? I guess I believed that I would experience something definite, something that would say to me without question that meditation was working.

So when I found the book Wherever you Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, I was really excited to discover that there is no right way to meditate! Oh my gosh..I was so happy! Sure, there are more disciplined ways than others, and perhaps by having more discipline you are opening your mind to a more dramatic experience. But, for me, the bottom line seems to be that however I meditate is the right way…it’s really the intention behind it that is the most important thing.

Now, I am sure there are a lot of people out there who may not agree with this and, believe me, I am not claiming to be an expert on the subject.  I found, though, that as soon as I didn’t feel the pressure of doing it ‘right,’ I was able to figure out the way that worked ‘right’ for me. So for the last few months I have been spending anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes every morning (well, most mornings), after I’ve had my first cup of coffee, to just sit in my bed and focus on my breathing. In my head I say ‘in’ when I’m inhaling, and ‘out’ when I’m exhaling, and as soon as I notice one of the thousands of thoughts that float through my mind during this time, I just go back to the breathing…not rocket science, but it seems to work for me.

Has meditating raised my consciousness? Well, one thing I’ve noticed is that when I am doing something that maybe I don’t want to be doing, like emptying the dishwasher or folding the laundry, and I get that yucky, wish-I-was-anywhere-but-here feeling, I have found that if I just take a second to slow myself down and accept the fact that I am where I am, then I feel calmer, and the thing I’m doing doesn’t seem nearly as bad.  That’s something new for me, and I definitely like the idea that I have that kind of control over the way my body thinks and feels. And I’m pretty sure I learned that from meditating.

Anyway, I am going to go out on a bit of a limb right now, in honor of this week’s topic, and try to put into words why I think meditation could be one of the most important things we, as human beings, could do to put us on the right track. I read an article a while back which said that in order for the human race to ‘evolve’ to the next level, that we have to find a way to meld together the two halves of our brains, commonly known as the right and the left, so that we’re using the whole thing at the same time. Long ago, in our more ancient cultures, we were dominated by the right side which is generally thought of as more intuitive, creative and feminine. Then there was a shift to the left, which led us down a more masculine and linear path, leading to the industrial and technological revolutions. And now here we are, clearly in a bit of a mess, but with the potential of participating in another shift that could help turn things around…the blending of the left and the right brains into one, very balanced, human mind.

If we are able to harness the best of both sides, mixing the masculine with the feminine, the intuitive with the practical, the creative with the logical, and we could all do it together, just imagine what could happen! I truly believe that this evolution is possible; in fact, I think it is already happening.  And if we, in our collective humanness, would decide to take just one minute a day to slow down our very chatty left side and allow our quieter, more intuitive right side a chance to be heard, we could, in our togetherness, change the world for good.

WEEK 2: Get Your Body Moving

Ok, so if there’s one thing that my friends all know about me,  it’s that I really don’t like to exercise. I’ve managed for most of my life to avoid it pretty well…ever since I was a teenager in high school trying to get out of gym class, I have developed a real talent for coming up with a thousand different excuses to get me out of it. Plus, as I’ve mentioned before, I am pretty easily distracted, so it’s usually not too hard for me to distract myself just long enough to miss the aerobics class, or the walk, or whatever it is I have promised myself for the umpteenth time to do.

The thing is that I really hate to sweat, so I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that endorphin rush everyone talks about. And that, according to my husband, is the whole problem in a nutshell. He loves to sweat…in fact, the more he sweats the better he feels. His answer to any problem is a good workout, which I just don’t get at all. I guess opposites really do attract!

Anyway, last year I had a bit of a health scare and I had to make some lifestyle changes as a result. One of those things was to exercise more, and because I wanted to do whatever I could to avoid any more health issues, I pulled up my big girl pants and joined a gym. I actually made it through a whole year working out there (an all-time record for me!) until I discovered yoga. I don’t mean to sound cliche here, but yoga changed me. Honestly, I love it. Not every class, mind you. Some teachers I’ve encountered terrify me into positions I should not be in. But that doesn’t happen too often, and I am usually able to avoid them once I know who they are. There’s something about the different poses, though – the movement into them and the stillness of maintaining them – that strikes a cord in me that no other kind of exercise ever has.

And the fact that I feel like I’m working hard, but not sweating too much, is a definite plus.

So when I was trying to decide what I would do to ‘get my body moving’ this week, I wanted to come up with something that was maybe a little different than my usual routine. Kind of like last week’s assignment, I thought it was important to push myself to get out of my comfort zone so that I would have a better chance of raising my awareness of my personal limits. I had recently seen a sign that a Bikram Hot Yoga studio was going to be opening not far from where I live, and when I found out that its grand opening was the same week that I had to ‘get my body moving,’ it just seemed like a sign that I needed to pay attention to.

Of course, the whole idea of hot yoga was about the worst thing I could ever imagine…they actually refer to the 105 degree room on their website as a “torture chamber” (not kidding!). But it seemed to me that combining something I love (yoga), with something I hate (sweating), was the perfect way to try and raise my consciousness, as long as the whole experience didn’t scar me for life!

I honestly could hardly sleep the night before my first class I was so worried that the heat would be too much for me and I would embarrass myself by fainting, or throwing up, or something equally terrible. And believe me, if it wasn’t for this project, I am pretty sure that I would have been able to come up with some reason to postpone the experience. But I decided to consider it a personal challenge to actually follow through on this, and I’m happy to report that I didn’t let myself down.

Was it as hard as I imagined it would be? Yes. Did I make it through the whole class? Barely. Will I ever go back? Surprisingly, yes, I definitely will. Somehow, even though I have never in my life sweated as much as I did in that class, I have also never felt as good as I did after it was over. I don’t know, but maybe sweating a lot is a good thing for the body!

Albert Einstein once said that “nothing happens until something moves,” which, when I first heard it, seemed so obvious to me that I hardly gave it any thought. But when I tried to relate it to this week’s ‘assignment’ to raise my consciousness, I realized that maybe there was, actually, a little more to it. For instance, if I had not consciously ‘moved’ my thought process away from my usual view of sweating, then my hot yoga experience would probably not have ‘happened’. And when you think about it in a broader sense – from trying something new to changing the world – everything  has to start with a first move of some kind.

So whether it’s a conscious shift in mental attitude, a tiny baby step toward an unfulfilled goal, or a giant leap of faith into the unknown, if we want something to happen, some sort of move has to be made. It’s not always easy, and it can be very scary, but if what we want to happen is for the greater good, then we have to trust that whatever move we make will be the right one. We just have to be brave.