WEEK 25: See Perceived Faults As A Mirror Image

‘Reality is the mirror of your thoughts. Choose well what you put in front of the mirror’ ~ Remez Sasson

I had a feeling the first time I saw this topic on the Official List, over a year ago now, that it was going to give me a little trouble. And I was right, it definitely did, although, surprisingly, not quite in the way I thought that it would.

The week started out with a somewhat sticky situation involving myself and some good friends. I don’t want to bore everyone with the details, so suffice it to say that some information was shared in a way that caused a few hurt feelings. In hindsight, though, I guess I can be grateful that it happened when it did, because it certainly provided me with a pretty good opportunity to try to ‘See Perceived Faults As A Mirror Image’.

And I was definitely starting to perceive some faults, because I honestly didn’t think I had done anything wrong!

Now, believe me, I am no saint. Sadly, I’ve been known to partake in my share of gossip in the past, and have learned the hard way that nothing good ever comes from it. But I really felt as though I had actually, finally, learned the lesson, so when I found myself smack in the middle of this situation anyway, despite my conscious effort to stay out of it, I figured that it had to be someone else’s fault.

But before I could really start playing the blame-game, I remembered my ‘assignment’ for the week. And so I took a deep breath, and forced myself to look at the ‘perceived faults’ I was trying to find in the others as a ‘mirror image’ of something inside me. Not the easiest thing I’ve ever had to do…my ego was pretty reluctant to accept any responsibility, even in the name of My Consciousness Project!

It seems, however, that taking responsibility was, in fact, exactly what I needed to do. According to Dr. Hew Len, an Hawaiian therapist and co-author of the book, Zero Limits, we are all, each and every one of us, 100% responsible for what happens in our lives. And not just for our thoughts and actions. It seems that everything we experience, whether it’s good or bad, our fault or not our fault, is totally our responsibility, simply because it’s in our life. By learning to accept this responsibility, and see our experiences as a reflection of our own inner judgements and beliefs, we can begin to take more control of what happens in our lives.

Dr. Hew Len teaches an ancient Hawaiian practice called Ho’oponopono, which, loosely translated, means ‘to make right’. Basically, it’s a very simple process that involves the following 3 steps:

  1. Acknowledge the negative situation.
  2. Accept 100% responsibility for it.
  3. Silently repeat the words; “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.”

In their book, Dr. Hew Len and his co-author, Joe Vitale, share the story of how thirty years ago, Dr. Hew Len healed an entire ward of mentally ill criminals at the Hawaii State Hospital, using only Ho’oponopono. It’s a pretty amazing story, especially since he never even met with these men in person. He simply sat in an office with their files, and, over a period of several years, he would read about what each one had done. Then, if he noticed himself feeling repulsed, or judgmental, or in any way negative about them, he would use the process to clear himself of the negativity:

“Dr. Hew Len’s method involves cleaning yourself of all memories or negativity in order to see change in yourself and even in others. It seems bizarre, but when you take care of your own issues, they disappear in other people. The whole idea is to love the problems away.”

According to Dr. Hew Len, because our reality is a reflection of our internal thoughts and beliefs, when we experience a negative situation it is simply because we have a similar negative thought or belief lurking in our sub-conscious. Ho’oponopono is a way to clear these limiting beliefs so that they will no longer be reflected externally.

Anyway, I decided to give it a try to see if it would help the situation with my friends. So here’s how it went:

  1. I acknowledged to myself that, yes, I was definitely in a negative situation.
  2. I acknowledged that yes, I was (gulp) 100% responsible for it because I was, in fact, experiencing it.
  3. I silently repeated, somewhat self-consciously, the prescribed words.

Now, I would love to say that as soon as I did this the whole situation miraculously resolved itself, but it didn’t happen quite that way. What did happen, though, was that once I honestly accepted the responsibility for being involved, I realized that blaming someone else was not going to help make it right. The only way that I could possibly make it right would be to change the way I was handling it.

Which made total sense when I really thought about it.  I mean, if I were standing in front of a real mirror and didn’t like something I saw, I wouldn’t try to fix the reflection. That would be a complete waste of energy because, obviously, it wouldn’t change a thing. The only way for me to change the reflection would be to change what was being reflected. There’s just no other way.

So, I took yet another deep breath (believe me, I took a few this week!), pulled up my big girl pants, and went over to apologize to my friend. And, believe it or not, before I could get one word out, she was apologizing to me!

It was almost like I was looking in a mirror again…but this time I really liked the reflection. And, amazingly enough, I never heard another word about that whole situation again, from anyone involved. It’s like it never happened.

Anyway, I have to say that although this week’s assignment was one of the hardest I’ve experienced so far, it was also the most enlightening. The idea that we each have within us the potential to change our life experience, simply by taking responsibility for the things that happen to us, gives me such great hope for the future.

Just imagine how incredible the world would be if we all remembered to look in the mirror! Because, as the great 13th century poet, Rumi, once wrote:

“We are the mirror, as well as the face in it.”

WEEK 24: Have Sex With Your Partner

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” ~ Thomas Merton

OK, so I don’t think this will come as much of a surprise to anyone, but there’s been a little bit of concern from certain members of my family about how I was going to handle this week’s topic. And I actually can’t say that I blame them…I’ve been wondering quite a bit about it myself!

Fortunately, I remembered my Project Guidelines, specifically #5 to ‘Be Flexible’, so I decided that it was okay to let myself (and everyone else!) off the hook by keeping my experience with this particular ‘assignment’ to myself.

Hmmm – I think I can actually hear the collective sigh of relief from my entire family…my own being the loudest!

Anyway, as the week went along, every time I tried to think of what I was going to write about, the phrase ‘Make Love, Not War’ would pop into my head. And the more it popped into my head, the more I started to wonder who the first person was to actually say it. John Lennon? Some other 1960’s pacifist?

Well, when I searched the internet I was pretty surprised to find out that it didn’t come from anyone in the 1960’s at all!

According to Wikipedia, the phrase originated in 411 BC, when a Greek comic playwright, Aristophanes, wrote an antiwar comedy called ‘Lysistrata’.  The play was about a woman, Lysistrata (meaning ‘releaser of war’), who tried to rally the females of Greece to withhold sex from their husbands and lovers so that the men would stop killing each other in the violent Peloponnesian War they were all fighting in.

And the idea actually worked…the play ends with the men literally choosing to ‘make love, not war’. Wow!

Unfortunately, such a strategy is pretty much the opposite of what this week’s topic is suggesting. And I’m not totally sure that it’s ever that good of an idea to use sex as a bargaining chip anyway…even when it’s for something as important as peace.

But what I am sure of is that love, above everything else, is the best way to a more conscious and peaceful world…no matter how we choose to demonstrate it.

So whether you’re a 5th century woman trying to keep your husband alive, a 1960’s pacifist refusing to fight a war you don’t believe in, or simply someone like me,  a 54-year-old woman trying to raise her consciousness, the important thing is not how we demonstrate love, just that we do. Any way that we can. As often as we can.

Because clearly the world could use a little more love these days.

And even though John Lennon didn’t actually come up with the phrase himself, I still think he said it best when he wrote:

“Make love, not war. I know, you’ve heard it before…Love is the answer. And you know that it’s true.”

 

So maybe, hopefully, after centuries of trying to make it happen, 2012 will finally be the year that we all choose, both individually and collectively, to actually make love, and not war.

Because I truly believe that each one of us knows, deep down in our hearts, that love really is the answer.

WEEK 17: Make Yourself Happy

“Happiness depends upon ourselves.” ~ Aristotle

When I started to think about the kinds of things I would do during “Make Yourself Happy” week, I couldn’t wait for it to get here. I mean, how often in life do you get an opportunity to spend a whole week just doing things you love to do…and not even have to feel guilty about it?

But as the week got closer, I realized that a lot of the things that I was thinking I might do to ‘make myself happy’, I pretty much already do…albeit a bit guiltily at times. So when I received an email from my new ‘like-minded friend’ (Week 15) about a workshop called ‘Inner Space’ that was being held at a nearby Feng Shui Center, I impulsively signed up. I’d been learning a little bit about feng shui and thought that really diving into it at a weekend workshop would definitely make me happy.

Or, on the other hand, maybe not.

Sadly, the whole weekend was a pretty big disappointment. Instead of making me happy, I was actually fairly unhappy from the minute I walked through the door. First of all, and this is totally my fault for not reading the whole email my friend sent, the workshop had nothing to do with feng shui, even though it was at a Feng Shui Center. It turned out to be about finding the ‘inner space’ in yourself, not in your home, which is all well and good, and probably something worth learning about, but it wasn’t what I was expecting at all.

Secondly, I didn’t really care for the teacher. She seemed ok at first, but as the weekend went along she started to show some alarming passive-aggressive tendencies by picking on a poor woman who’d been a few minutes late to the class. Not exactly inspiring.

So ok, live and learn. I guess it’s a good idea to do a little homework before signing up for a weekend workshop!

But I will say that the experience got me thinking that perhaps ‘making myself happy’ is less about doing and more about being. That maybe what’s important is finding a way to be happy even when the circumstances surrounding me are not so great.

So instead of grumbling about how the workshop wasn’t what I had expected, and the teacher was a bit psycho, maybe I should have tried to focus more on what was good about it. Because, actually, there were a few things that weren’t so terrible. For instance, I learned that pine trees have psychic energy. That’s kind of cool. And I met a couple of nice people I wouldn’t have otherwise met. Plus, I did something I had never done before by signing up to go on my own.

There were actually quite a few things that could have made me happy while I was there…I just chose not to see them.

The thing is that it’s sometimes really hard to make yourself happy when you’re in an unhappy place. A couple of weeks ago, for example, I was worried about a zillion things, and no matter how hard I tried to talk myself out of the negative zone I was in, my mind just kept circling and circling from one bad thought to the next. I couldn’t find my way out.

I’d read somewhere that sometimes it can help to write all your worries down when they start piling up. That somehow putting them down on paper can get them out of your head…kind of releasing them to the universe, I guess.

So I tried it. I sat down before I went to bed and wrote down every single thing that was troubling me. And a few things that I didn’t even know were troubling me! Then I tore the piece of paper into tiny little pieces and threw them away.

Did it work? Well, I think so. I was able to fall asleep at least. I can’t say that I was happier – that would have been a pretty big leap – but I definitely felt better. And I think that it was by taking that action, by asserting a little bit of control over the negative vortex I was swirling around in, that helped make the difference.

According to Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project:

“The feeling of control is an essential element of happiness…a better predictor of happiness than, say, income. Having a feeling of autonomy, of being able to choose what happens in your life or how you spend your time, is crucial.”

The problem, though, at least for me, is that it’s hard to always have control over what happens in my life, so I need to try to remember that I do have control over how I feel about what’s going on. Maybe I couldn’t control the fact that the workshop I went to wasn’t what I expected, or that the teacher was a passive-aggressive nutcase, but I certainly could have shifted my focus from the bad to the not-so-bad while I was there, and not ruined the whole weekend for myself.

And so I’m realizing that it’s never going to be the weekend workshop I sign up for, or the cute new sweater I buy (believe me, I’ve tried that!), or the better job, nicer car, bigger house, etc. etc. that will ‘make’ me happy. None of those outside things can bring me happiness if I haven’t found it on the inside first.

Helen Keller, one of the most inspiring people I can think of, put it this way:

Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.”

I guess, in the end, if I’m looking to ‘make myself happy’, I just have to remember where to look.

Week 16: Express Gratitude On A Daily Basis

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures” ~ Thornton Wilder

I have to say I definitely turned a corner this week on understanding what raising consciousness is really all about. Up until now, I have looked at all of these different ‘assignments’ for my project as a means to an end. That if I meditate, or re-connect with true friends, or practice forgiveness, or any of the other 100 things on my Official List, then I am eventually going to get myself to a better place. To a better me.

What I realized, though, as I tried to ‘express gratitude’ this week, is that there really is no end point. Raising my consciousness is not at all about the future me, it is about the me right now. In this moment. It’s about being the best me I can be today, not 100 weeks from now.

So what was the turning point? Well, having heard over the years about the benefits of keeping a ‘gratitude journal’, I decided that would be the perfect way for me to ‘express gratitude’ this week. I found an old notebook and committed to writing down 5 new things every night that I was grateful for. Why 5? Because I’d read somewhere that that’s how Oprah does it. Plus, it seemed pretty simple.

Well, the first night was simple…in fact it was so simple that I didn’t stop at just 5, I wrote down every single thing I could think of. I fell asleep in a haze of gratitude – it was awesome. The next night, though, was a little trickier and I had to dig a little deeper to come up with 5 more things to be grateful about. It wasn’t actually that hard, but it did make me realize that if I was going to come up with enough new things every night, then I was really going to have to start paying a little more attention while I was awake!

The next few days were pretty fun as I started noticing things that I might have overlooked, or forgotten about, in the past. Like finding the perfect parking place on a rainy day. And getting the last box of my favorite cereal at the grocery store. Seeing hundreds of dragon flies flying around the field below our house. Certainly nothing life-altering, but I found myself feeling grateful about them nonetheless. I was definitely looking at my world through a whole new light.

And that’s when I realized that all of this consciousness raising I was doing was not just a way to a better life, it was the better life.

Now some might say that it’s easy to find things to be grateful for when life is good, but what if I were hungry, or poor, or sick? What if I was hungry, poor and sick? Well, according to a lot of the books I’ve read (and believe me, I’ve read a lot!) that’s when it’s the most important to find something, anything, to be grateful about. Even if it’s just that the sky is blue, or my heart is beating…it doesn’t matter what it is at all. What matters is that I’m making the choice to see something positive rather than negative. Because it is in that choice, that decision to stop saying ‘woe is me’, even if I have every reason in the world to say it, that life can start to change for the better.

One of my most favorite spiritual gurus, Eckhart Tolle, put it this way:

“Gratitude is very important.  It transforms your whole life, if you can remember the importance of being grateful for life.  As you go through your day, every day, you can even have little reminders – of the importance of being appreciative of life. Every person has to verify for themselves, what can I be grateful for at this moment? Sense the being that you are – not just the physical, but the sense of your own presence.  That’s a great source of joy, to feel your own presence, it cannot really be defined.  That’s the ultimate gratitude.”

It is so easy, at least for me, to take life for granted. To get so caught up in my day-to-day worries and problems that I fail to remember what an incredible gift it is to just be alive. Even after being jolted out of my complacency a few times with health scares, I still find myself coasting along on auto-pilot every so often, not paying any attention at all.

I read a story this week that my niece had sent out to our family, about a social experiment, organized by The Washington Post, on how people perceive certain things. Back in January, 2007, they arranged for a very famous violinist, Joshua Bell, to play incognito in a DC Metro station, during the morning rush hour. He played music written by Bach on his $3,500,000 violin for an hour, and during that time about 2000 people passed through the station. Of those 2000, only 6 people actually stopped to listen. The question asked at the end of the story was this:

“If we don’t have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, on one of the most beautiful instruments ever made…how many other things are we missing?”

Well, if I learned anything this week, it’s that if I want to be the kind of person who stops and listens to the music, I am going to have to slow down every now and then so I can hear it.

WEEK 15: Befriend Like-Minded Individuals

“Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!” ~ C.S. Lewis

Well, I guess when I started my project back in March I should have given a little more thought to how I would keep up with it during the summer, since I am away (and unplugged) for a lot of it. So rather than spend my vacation fretting about how far behind I was getting, I decided to simply add another guideline to my list:

Number 11: Don’t take myself too seriously – it’s just a blog!

So, in the spirit of that guideline, I enjoyed a very relaxing summer, and now I’m ready to pick up where I left off back in July…Week 15: Befriend Like-Minded Individuals.

I’m pretty sure that if I had actually given any thought beforehand to how I was going to go about finding a ‘like-minded individual’ to befriend, I might have panicked a little bit. I mean, it’s not like meeting new friends is the easiest thing to do, like-minded or not. Luckily, though, I didn’t have to think about it. It was almost as though someone led me on a treasure hunt, and the prize at the end was the perfect ‘like-minded individual’!

What’s amazing though, especially in hindsight, is how easily I could have not met this person, because a lot of the decisions I made along the way were pretty out of character for me. I’m not sure if it was fate, or the universe, or just dumb luck that led me down the right path, but I am incredibly grateful that something kept pointing me in the right direction. Otherwise, I might still be out there looking for a like-minded person, and be even further behind than I already am!

So here’s what happened:

A friend read my blog on Facebook and thought I might be interested in going to hear Gabrielle Bernstein, a young spiritual author, speak at a local playhouse. Now, I don’t usually like to go out during the week if I can help it, so it would have been much more like me not to make the effort. But for some reason I went. That was Not-Like-Me-At-All Decision #1

When we got to the event, some vendors were set up in the lobby, and there was a long line in front of one of them. When I found out that everyone was waiting for a free ‘angel reading’ I was pretty intrigued, so I got in line. That was Not-Like-Me-At-All Decision #2, because I really hate standing in long lines.

The reading itself was brief, but amazingly accurate given the circumstances, and so I took one of her cards, thinking an ‘Angel Reader’ might come in handy when I got to #70 on my Official List: Connect with Your Spirit Guides. So a couple of days later I checked out her website, and ended up sending her an email to get a few more details about what she did. At the last-minute, I decided to include a little bit about my project, and added the link to my blog. Now, I have to tell you, I have never shared my blog with anyone I haven’t met before, so this was definitely Not-Like-Me-At-All Decision #3.

We started a little email exchange and she suggested that maybe we could meet for coffee sometime and talk more about my project. I was so excited…someone I didn’t even know actually liked my blog! So I sent her a quick reply saying that I was getting ready to leave on vacation, but I would love to have coffee as soon as I got back. I had no sooner pushed the send button, though, than I turned the page on my calendar and saw that my next week’s ‘assignment’ was to ‘Befriend Like-Minded Individuals’! It seemed too good to be true!

So, at the risk of her thinking I was completely nuts, I quickly sent another email asking if she would possibly help me out by being my like-minded friend for a week, and she agreed to get together before I left. Now, for some people, meeting with a complete stranger may be no big deal, but for me it is just not something I do every day. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’d never done anything like it before…so Not-Like-Me-At-All Decision #4!

We met a couple of days later, and luckily, despite my worry that it might be totally awkward, it was just really, really fun. Talking to someone who is on the same path is so energizing – especially when that someone is a little further along that path. I felt like I’d known her forever! And believe it or not, even though she and I had never really met, I actually knew her husband. In fact, I was going to be seeing him later that morning! It really can be a crazy, small world, can’t it?

Of course, I’m sure there are people out there who might read this and say that it was all just coincidence, and that I am making way too much out of what happened. But the week after all of this took place, I randomly picked up a book called The Celestine Prophesy, by James Redfield, and to my utter amazement the whole first chapter was about experiences such as mine. According to Redfield:

“…these coincidences are happening more and more frequently and, when they do, they strike us as beyond what would be expected by pure chance. They feel destined, as though our lives had been guided by some unexplained force. The experience induces a feeling of mystery and excitement and, as a result, we feel more alive.”

Redfield refers to such experiences as ‘meaningful coincidences’ that lead one in a particular direction, and he believes they happen a lot more often than we realize. We just miss recognizing them because we are moving so fast through our lives. Perhaps if we could slow down and take ourselves off autopilot once in a while, we would notice more often when we actually have a choice to make that could point us in the right direction.

Looking back on all of the ‘coincidences’ that led me to my new like-minded friend last week, I have to say that the experience left me with an incredible sense of possibility. That if I would just step out of my comfort zone a little more often, and perhaps try some new ways of thinking (and doing), it would be much more possible for me to experience the limitless opportunities (and friends!) that are out there, waiting for me to find them.

I just need to slow down so I’ll notice the clues.

 

WEEK 12: Practice Forgiveness

“Forgiveness is choosing to love.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Being a pretty forgiving person, I wasn’t too concerned about this week’s topic to ‘practice forgiveness’. I rarely hold a grudge, and if someone has hurt me I will usually try to smooth things over with them. Luckily, in my life, I haven’t been hurt that often. A boyfriend cheated on me once, which was pretty awful, but other than that I can’t really think of anything that was so painful for me that it was hard to forgive. And believe me, I consider myself incredibly fortunate that this is the case, because from what I read in the news, there is definitely a lot of hurting going on in the world.

Anyway, as seems to happen quite often with these topics, the more I thought about forgiveness, the more I realized that forgiving other people was not what was going to ‘push my limit’ this week. What would be a little more challenging would be to see if I could forgive myself for some mistakes I’ve made along the way…and show myself some of the same compassion that I find so easy to show others.

Growing up, I was always a little envious of my friends who were Catholic because they got to go to confession every week. I thought it was so great that no matter how bad they were, as long as they went to church every Saturday and confessed it all to the priest, their slate was totally wiped clean. Sure, it may have been a little scary to go into the confessional and say out loud what they had done wrong, but knowing that they would be forgiven, no matter whatwell, it just seemed like a pretty good deal to me.

So I guess, in a way, I could look at this week of self-forgiveness as my own personal confessional. Yes, it might be a little scary to admit to myself that I’m not perfect, but hopefully, in the same way a priest offers unconditional forgiveness, I would find a way to offer the same compassion to myself. And from what I’ve learned this week, there is a power in forgiveness that can make an enormous difference, not just spiritually, but physically as well. Given my health history over the last few years, I thought it was definitely worth looking into.

I had no idea that there is a whole science of forgiveness being studied today. Two prominent professors, Dr. Robert Enright of the University of Wisconsin, and Dr. Fred Luskin of Stanford University, have both conducted research studies into the health benefits of forgiveness, and their findings have proven that the ability to forgive, or not forgive, can directly affect an individual’s health:

“Studies show that people who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold resentments. The first study to look at how forgiveness improves physical health discovered that when people think about forgiving an offender it leads to improved functioning in their cardiovascular and nervous systems. Another study found the more forgiving people were, the less they suffered from a wide range of illnesses. The less forgiving people reported a greater number of health problems.

Plus, along with all of the new scientific research, I found a ton of forgiveness websites out there as well: The Forgiveness Project, The Forgiveness Foundation, The Campaign for Love and Forgiveness – the list goes on and on. It seems that a lot of people have discovered the power in forgiveness and are trying to spread the word.

My dilemma, however, was not that I didn’t understand the benefits of forgiveness, I just wasn’t sure what the best way was to go about it.

According to Marianne Williamson, “We do not need to know how to forgive. All we need is to be willing to forgive. The Universe will take care of the rest.” Well, I guess that makes sense, but still, not that I don’t totally trust the Universe, but I think, in this case, I needed something a little more concrete.

So, a quick internet search led me to a website, ForgiveYourself.com, which made the claim:

REVEALED! How to Forgive Yourself Once and For All – Even if You’re Unforgivable and You Don’t Deserve It”

Well, that certainly got my attention, and even though it turned out that I had to spend $25 to find out exactly how to forgive myself once and for all, I decided to go ahead and give it a try. Luckily, it didn’t turn out to be a total scam, and I actually ended up learning quite a bit about the whole forgiveness process.

It seems that our bodies have a way of holding on to stress, and trauma, and guilt in ways that can actually cause illness. Even the littlest hurt, or guilty feeling, can settle into our psyche and have the potential to cause quite a bit of havoc, not only in our minds, but in our bodies as well. And even though I’ve known this for a while, until this week I hadn’t really bothered to take the time to figure out what those things might be for me.

As it turns out, there are a few choices I’ve made in my life that still make me cringe a little when I think about them…mostly because I’m pretty sure I hurt some people I care about in the process. And whenever one of those memories pops into my head, even though it happened a really long time ago, I still feel terrible.

So it seems that those bad feelings are the source of a lot of negative energy. And even now, years later, every time I think about what happened, that memory creates even more bad energy, setting a pattern which, according to this website, can only be disrupted by forgiving myself for making the bad choice in the first place:

“Forgiveness works by freeing up your energy. We all have a tendency to hold onto events of the past and patterns of the present. But it takes energy to hold onto anything, whether it’s physical, mental or emotional. And if your hands are full, you must let go of something else. Letting go of what you’re holding onto right now frees up your energy…so you’ll be better able to handle what’s next.”

This made a lot of sense to me because, as a Reiki student, I totally believe that maintaining the flow of positive energy through our bodies is instrumental to our well-being. And, it goes to reason, that when there aren’t a lot of blocks in the way of that energy, it can flow that much more smoothly.

Anyway, the website goes on to provide a step-by-step process as to how to get rid of those blocks and, I have to say, I think it was pretty effective, at least for me. It’s a little time-consuming, so I won’t go into all the details, but having taken myself through the steps a couple of times, I definitely feel a little lighter when I think about those bad choices. I can’t change the fact that I might have hurt someone, but I can forgive myself for making the choice that led to that hurt. And, hopefully, I was able to remove some of those pesky blocks in the process, which may have been causing me a little trouble over the years. So, yeah!

The thing about forgiveness is that it is not always a very easy thing to do, whether we’re forgiving ourselves or someone else. In fact, it is probably one of the hardest things, so ‘practicing’ it actually makes a lot of sense. And, as is true with anything else, the more we practice something, the better we become at it. And the better we become at something, the more likely we are to do it, right? Which can only be a good thing, individually and as a whole. For as Martin Luther King reminded us:

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.”

WEEK 10: Pursue Higher Intelligence

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.” ~ Michel Legrand

Well, I have to be honest….I had no idea what I was going to do this week to ‘pursue higher intelligence’. I just couldn’t think of anything that would be interesting to learn about, and at the same time be something that made any sense for this project. It’s been my aim every week to think of things that I can ‘do’ that are a little different from the norm, but this week, for whatever reason, the ideas that I came up with were all just really boring.

Then the other morning I was on Facebook, going through my old messages, when something a friend had written (during ‘Re-connect with True Friends’ week) popped out at me. She mentioned how she had done some work in ‘A Course in Miracles‘, which I’d actually heard about before, but had always considered a little too touch-feely for me. But because this friend has always been one of the more grounded people I’ve known, I figured that if she could handle it, then maybe I could too.

‘A Course in Miracles’, by the way, seems to be the holy grail for most of the spiritual authors I’ve come across. People like Marianne Williamson, Wayne Dyer, and even Oprah, often refer to it in their books and on their shows. As I understand it (and believe me, I don’t understand a lot), the course is a practice in forgiveness; a step-by-step process which is meant to help us break down the separation between ourselves and our fellow-man, and help us take responsibility for our own actions. Not exactly a beach read, and certainly not something that would be appealing to everyone. But as I clearly hadn’t come up with any other ideas, I decided to look into it.

So I turned to the internet to see if there were any classes offered in my area, and lo and behold, there was one being held Wednesday mornings at a church in a nearby town. I emailed the minister to see if a new session would be starting soon, and learned that I could start any time….all I needed was the textbook and I could jump right in. Well, ok – this seemed pretty perfect. Not only would I be pursuing higher intelligence, I would be pursuing higher spiritual intelligence – the whole reason for my project in the first place! Yeah!

Wednesday morning came around and I have to admit, I was a little nervous. I wondered what kind of people would be there, what the teacher would be like and whether I would understand anything at all. And then, to make me even more nervous, what I saw when I arrived was not exactly what I had pictured in my head! I found myself in a make-shift church, rather than the real one I had expected, over a car dealership, without another soul in sight. But because I was a little early, I made myself wait until it was at least time for the class to start before I totally chickened out.

Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long before someone showed up. An older gentleman, dressed in a dark suit, suspenders and hat, appeared at the top of the stairs and, as soon as he saw me, opened his arms wide and embraced me as if we were long-lost friends. Thinking he was the minister, I followed him over to the bookshelves where he handed me a copy of the very large, rather intimidating, textbook. And then another gentleman appeared who was, in fact, the minister/teacher. There was not a lot of small talk – besides asking my name, neither of them asked me any questions at all – they just led me into a small conference room where we sat down at a table, opened our books to where they must have left off the week before, and began taking turns reading the passages out loud.

Talk about jumping right in! But I guess, in hindsight, it was the perfect way for me to understand what I was getting myself into. As I mentioned, the book itself is very big, consisting of three different parts; the Text, the Workbook for Students, and the Manual for Teachers. I was a little put off at first, and actually still kind of am, by the religious overtones of the Text, but realized after we read a few pages, that many of the messages in it were very similar to the things I’ve been learning about with this project. In fact, one of the first passages we read was about making conscious choices (#8: Take Conscious Control of your Decisions):

“You may believe that you are responsible for what you do, but not for what you think. The truth is that you are responsible for what you think, because it is only at this level that you can exercise choice. What you do comes from what you think.”

I couldn’t believe it! And the more we read that morning, the more similarities I noticed…it was crazy! I wonder if the person who wrote my Official List was a student of ‘A Course in Miracles’?

Anyway, as the class went along a few more people trickled in, and it was very helpful for me to realize that, even though they all had a lot more experience with the material than me, we all seemed to have the same questions. And, I have to say, the questions definitely sparked some pretty interesting discussions! I also realized, fairly quickly, that even though the course was described as ‘a self-study curriculum to assist in a spiritual transformation’, I would probably not be doing a whole lot of ‘spiritual transforming’ if I did the course on my own…I absolutely would need some sort of guidance if I was to understand any of it at all. But the 365 daily lessons in the Workbook didn’t seem too hard, and I was assured that they only took a minute or two to do each day. All in all, by the time the class was over, I was feeling pretty confident that this was definitely something I could handle.

So I guess the big question comes down to whether or not I will actually stick with the class, even though the week for ‘pursuing higher education’ is over. It’s definitely a big commitment, no doubt about that, and I’m not entirely sure the whole thing is really my cup of tea, but there seems to be a part of me that wants to keep going. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my project so far, it’s that I need to pay more attention to that inner voice when I hear it. So I guess I will keep going and just see where ‘A Course in Miracles’ takes me…because maybe it’s going to take me right where I want to go.

WEEK 9: Always Be Open-Minded

“If you keep doing things like you’ve always done them, what you get is what you’ve already got.” — Anonymous

I have always considered myself to be a fairly open-minded person. I will, for the most part, always listen to someone else’s point of view and, even though I might be getting just a teensy bit set in my ways, I will usually consider a different way of doing something, if it seems to make sense.

So when I stumbled upon an internet quiz, “How Open Minded Are You?”, earlier this week, and only scored a 65%, I was a little surprised by the result. It seemed pretty low – kind of like getting a D on a math test (which I’ve had some experience with) and I just couldn’t understand how I did so badly. Was I really that wrong about myself? Well, just to be sure, I decided to take another look at the results, and noticed that along with the number score came the following description: You are tolerant and flexible, and appreciate most lifestyles and viewpoints.” Well, ok, phew! I guess 65% wasn’t so bad after all…but it definitely got me thinking about the other 35%. I decided that this week was the perfect chance to take a look at the areas in my life where I may be just a little less than open-minded.

I seem to have reached a ‘certain age’ when I often may do something more out of habit than anything else. Take the kinds of food I eat. Being a fairly picky eater, I don’t usually ‘experiment’ with anything new…in fact, I can pretty much decide if I’ll try something based solely on the look of it – sad, but true. So the other night when I was offered an appetizer at a party, my first inclination when I saw it was to say no thanks. But then I remembered what week it was, so I took a deep breath, cut one in half (I know, a little wimpy) and popped it into my mouth. And, well, as much as I would like to say I loved it, to prove my point, I’m afraid I can’t. I just didn’t like it. It was really spicy, and as anyone who knows me understands, I am just not a spicy food kind of girl.

So, even with an open mind, the fact is that there are just some things I don’t like. And that’s got to be ok – we’re allowed to not like things, right? What’s important, though, at least for me, is that I remember to consider trying new things, whether it’s food, or ideas, or whatever, even though it might take me out of my comfort zone. I think that a lot of times, whether out of habit, or laziness, or maybe even stubbornness(!), it is often just a lot easier to stick with the status quo.

For example, much to my son’s dismay, I am pretty set in my ways when it comes to how I get my news. He has suggested, a few times, that it might be good for me to broaden my horizons a bit and check out some alternative sources. Up until now I haven’t been too receptive to his suggestions, but in honor of ‘Always Be Open-Minded’ week, I spent some time looking through a few of the websites he had told me about.

Well, it was certainly an eye-opener! Reading about some of the issues we are facing, from a totally different perspective, made me realize that maybe he had a point, and I have had some blinders on, so wasn’t able to see the whole picture. And even though I can’t go so far as to say those websites are any more right than the mainstream media I usually watch, I will absolutely agree that it’s important to open my mind to some other points of view more often. Especially in this day and age, when there are so many ways of distorting the truth with technology (i.e. digital imaging, Photoshop, etc.), and so many people with their own agendas, I think it’s going to require a certain amount of conscious effort to really understand all sides of an issue. It’s not like in the old days when there was Walter Cronkite and…well, Walter Cronkite. Today there are so many choices about where we get our news that it’s almost paralyzing.

So I realized this week that being open-minded, at least for me, is really about my willingness to acknowledge that there is a possibility of another way of looking at something, whether I agree with it or not.  What can be hard, though, is that in order to acknowledge that possibility, I have to let go of my need to be right, and, unfortunately, my ego sometimes gets in the way of that. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. In his book, “The New Revelations; A Conversation with God”, Neale Donald Walsch has a lot to say about this human tendency to always want to be right. He believes that if we could let go of that need, and open ourselves up to the possibility of some new ways of thinking, then we might actually have a chance of getting ourselves out of the mess that we’re in:

So long as you believe that there is such a thing as Right and Wrong, you will be willing to risk everything to be ‘right’. You will not change your beliefs if you think that doing so will make you, or someone you love, wrong. Yet as soon as you change the Right-Wrong axis to a What Works-What Doesn’t Work paradigm, the difficulty of critically analyzing – to say nothing of changing – basic beliefs is eased.”

Maybe if I could let go of my need to be ‘right’ a little more often, and replace it with a need for ‘what works’ instead, then my ego wouldn’t care as much. And without my ego in the way, maybe I could be open-minded more than 65% of the time.

Then who knows…by opening myself up to other possibilities more often, I might actually end up with something that works even better than what I started with.

And I think that is definitely worth a try.

WEEK 8: Take Conscious Control of Your Decisions

“A life lived of choice is a life of conscious action.” Neale Donald Walsch

I didn’t ever realize, until this week, how many decisions I actually make on any given day. From the very moment I open my eyes in the morning, I start making choices; “Should I get up now, or hit the snooze button?” “What should I wear?” “Cereal or toast?” “Grocery store or yoga?” It is one decision after another, all day long, and it amazed me to realize that, most of the time, I am not even conscious of making them at all!

Sadly, I guess this means that I must be on some sort of autopilot as I go through my day…and I think I make a lot of my decisions more by habit than anything else. Of course, in my defense, it’s probably not necessary to make a conscious choice about every single thing I do – I mean, whether I wear the red sweater or the blue shirt isn’t going to make a big difference in the way my life turns out. But the decisions I make about what I eat or how much I sleep, could actually, in the long run, make a huge difference in the quality of my life, even though, on a day-to-day basis, they seem pretty trivial. Always choosing junk food and late nights, over organic food and a good night’s sleep, would definitely affect my long-term health… so, in order to live the best life I can, it makes a lot of sense to try to be as conscious as possible in the choices I make every day.

Growing up, whenever I had an important decision to make my dad would sit me down with a pen and paper and have me write down the pros and cons. I would moan and groan my way through the whole process, insisting to him that it wasn’t going to make the decision any easier. But, and this made me so mad, it actually did help – I guess that by having to think about all the positive and negative outcomes of whatever it was I was deciding, I was better able to see the big picture, so the choice became more clear. And, even though I really resisted the lesson my dad was teaching me back then, I guess I learned it anyway, because I still reach for the pen and paper whenever I have a big decision to make. Of course, it’s much easier to take ‘conscious control’ of a decision when you are aware of how important it is – it’s not quite as easy when the decision isn’t so big. And I think sometimes it’s in those little decisions that we have the most opportunity to take control of our lives, and perhaps change them for the better.

In his book, “The Divine Matrix”, Gregg Braden talks a lot about our ability, as human beings, to make decisions, both big and small. It is something that separates us from all other living things, and is, when you think about it, a pretty powerful tool that we all have. Braden says:

‘…it’s our ability to purposefully create the conditions of consciousness…that lock one possibility of our choosing into the reality of our lives.”

Whether the decision being made is huge and life-changing, or small and inconsequential, by taking conscious control of it, and understanding how the different choices will ultimately make us feel, we have the power to choose the one that will make us feel better. It is certainly not always easy, because coasting along on autopilot is, quite honestly, a lot less work than having to always be paying attention. But I have learned this week that when I make a decision that feels good inside, then my outside world is better too.

The other night, for example, I had just finished my first draft of this post and had pushed ‘update’ to save it. Something went wrong with the internet, though, and I realized, to my horror, that I had lost the whole thing. Well, needless to say, I was pretty upset, especially since I had struggled with a terrible case of writer’s block all day, so when my husband walked through the door from work, I was on the verge of a full-out pity party. But luckily I remembered (because I had just spent the day writing about it!) that we always have a choice in the way we react to something; I could go ahead and feel sorry for myself, which I really wanted to do, and risk ruining the evening for my family, or I could take a deep breath and laugh it off, because honestly, it’s only a blog. So I shrugged my shoulders, poured a (big) glass of wine, and was able to fully appreciate the power in making a decision to feel good, rather than bad.

Anyway, it seems to me that if we could all just try to remember, both individually and collectively, that we have this power, and consciously use it for our greater good, then maybe we could get the world back on the right track. Barbara Marx Hubbard, founder of the Foundation for Conscious Evolution (www.barbaramarxhubbard.com), believes that we have arrived at a moment in our evolution when we must, as a species, take conscious control of the decisions we are making for the world, or risk destroying ourselves:

“Due to the increased power given us through science and technology, we are learning how nature works – the gene, the atom, the brain. We are affecting our own evolution by everything we do. With these new powers we can destroy our life support systems…or we can move toward a hope-filled future of immeasurable possibilities.”

We have gained so much knowledge in the last couple of centuries, from both the industrial and technological revolutions, that maybe, in our enthusiasm for all the new ‘things’ that have resulted, we’ve forgotten about the ‘things’ that really matter. Aristotle believed we should always look for the balance between too much and too little, and taught us that, “Virtue is the golden mean between two vices, the one of excess and the other of deficiency.” Maybe it’s time for us to consciously start looking for the balance between our scientific and spiritual worlds, and find the ‘golden mean’ that will help us evolve to an even greater level of consciousness. And maybe, if we’re successful, it will help us out of this mess that we’re in, for as another great thinker, Albert Einstein, warned: “Humankind cannot solve its problems from the same place of consciousness in which we created them. A new place of consciousness is required.”

So, for me, I am going to start looking for that ‘new place of consciousness’ in my own life. It may not be that easy, because I’ve been on autopilot for a while, so having to pay attention all the time may be a little hard. But I have to believe I will find what I’m looking for a lot faster if I am in control of the decisions I have to make along the way.

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.