WEEK 11: Treat Yourself With Respect

“To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves – there lies the great, singular power of self-respect.” ~ Joan Dideon

I’m afraid this week was one of those weeks. Between a sick dog and a house full of 20-year-old boys, I just couldn’t seem to find the time to write this post. And as the week went along, I became more and more anxious about it, because I’ve been trying really hard to stick to my Friday ‘posting’ deadline. Luckily, though, I remembered Project Guideline #5, which reminded me to ‘be flexible’, so I was able to give myself a little breathing room. And as I sit here now trying to think of something to write about, I’m wondering whether, by giving myself that break, I actually ended up doing exactly what I was supposed to do this week – treat myself with respect.

I’m guessing that the reason it’s even on the list of ‘Ways to Raise Your Consciousness’ is because if we aren’t able to treat ourselves with respect, how can we expect other people to? I am also guessing that in order to know how to treat ourselves with respect, it’s important that we are aware of our strengths and weaknesses…and therefore, more conscious of who we really are. Luckily, I am definitely conscious enough to know that the combination of a sick dog, a houseful of boys, and a self-imposed deadline could definitely put me over the edge. And that awareness allowed me to treat myself with the respect necessary to avoid making myself, or my family, crazy.

I think that, on the whole, I generally treat myself with a decent amount of respect. Especially since my health scare, I am way more conscious about the food I eat, and the exercise I get. And I suppose, now that I think about it, even my napping habit could be seen as a sign of respect…yeah! I have also grown a lot more conscious of my thoughts and ideas over the last few years, and am learning to stand up for them in ways I never could have when I was younger. Actually, this project is a pretty good example of that.

On the other hand, though, there are definitely some areas where I could use a little work. For instance, I have a pretty bad habit of saying the word ‘just’ a lot. Like, “Oh, it’s just me” when I call someone on the phone, or “I just think…” when I’m voicing my opinion. I’m not sure why I do this – and actually I wasn’t even aware of it until a friend pointed it out one day – but it is certainly not a word that elicits a lot of respect, from others, or myself for that matter.

I think that in order to treat yourself with respect you definitely have to have a fair amount of self-respect. And I think that to have self-respect, you have to really know who you are, and have confidence in who that person is. For me, in my life, I have to admit there have been a few times when I haven’t been so confident, and I may have settled for something less than I really deserved, just to be safe.

One time, when I was a 20-something, newly promoted account executive at an advertising agency, my boss asked me to make a presentation to the client. Now you have to understand, for as long as I can remember, I have had a fear of speaking in front of people, so even though this was just a small group, and made up of people I’d known for a while, I was absolutely terrified. And as embarrassing as this is to admit, and believe me, this is very embarrassing, I totally chickened out. I let my fear get the best of me. I can still see the disappointment on my boss’s face even now, almost thirty years later, when I came up with some lame excuse to get myself out of it. Yuck.

Talk about not respecting myself! And I think the reason I still fret over that decision so often is because it wasn’t just my boss I let down that day…it was myself. I knew back then, and I know it even better today, that I should have made that presentation. Sure, I might have messed up. And I might not have done the best job ever. But at least I would be able to look back without regret, because I had tried.

And, as I’ve gotten older, I am understanding better how life is, really, all about the trying. It doesn’t matter how something turns out, even though our egos will tell us otherwise, because it is the fact that we tried at all that allows us never to regret the not trying. Why it took me so long to figure this out, I’ll never know…maybe it’s been a fear of failure? Or maybe, as Marianne Wilson suggests in her book, “A Return to Love”, in a crazy, backward way, a fear of success? She says:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you. We are meant to shine, as children do…And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

Wow, I wish I’d come across those words when I was 23, rather than 53!

Anyway, in the end, I guess that the key to being able to treat myself with respect is to be confident in who I really am, the good and the not so good, cause then I’ll know more easily what is best for me. And whether it’s letting myself off the hook to keep my sanity, or not letting myself off the hook so I’ll try something new, I should always trust that my true self knows what I need to get my light to shine brighter.

P.S. Dog is ok, boys are gone, and I am liking the Monday morning posting deadline a lot!

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 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.

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.

WEEK 1: Connect with Nature

“… I love the first part of the last part of the day, when things begin to close.”       Jon Troast

I have to admit that when I saw “Connect With Nature” was going to be the first way for me to start raising my consciousness, I was thrilled. I am very lucky to live in a place that is steps away from a beautiful land preserve, so walking in the woods has been a big part of my life. Or rather, was a big part until our dog became too old to go with me anymore. Sadly, I have found in the last few months that I rarely take the time to venture down there on my own very often…so I was excited that this would be just the incentive I needed to get me back out there.

But then I started thinking about my Project Guidelines (#2 to be precise which is to ‘Push my Limits’), and worried that because walking in the woods was such an easy thing for me to do that perhaps it wasn’t really enough for me to gain any real new insights. And since insight is what I’m after here, I decided to give it a little more thought.

I recently listened to a cd by Gregg Braden, a scientist turned author, who is trying to bridge the gap between science and spirituality. I will probably talk about him a lot over the span of this project because I think he makes so much sense. Anyway, in the cd, Speaking the Lost Language of God, Gregg talks about a belief of the ancient indigenous people which struck me as something quite beautiful:

“…they believed that the moment when the sun goes down is the most powerful time of the day. It reveals a crack between the worlds, the space in-between, and in that moment, when it’s neither night nor day, we have the power to choose what will happen tomorrow, as well as give thanks for the day just passed.”

It occurred to me when I heard this that I rarely take the time to notice when the sun is setting (or rising for that matter). Sure, maybe once in a while when it is a particularly beautiful evening I will pause to watch the sun set, but in general those are two moments in my day that go by largely unnoticed. And if what the ancient indigenous people believed is true, then taking the time to pause and acknowledge the beginning and the end of the day might be something worth doing. So I decided that for Week 1 of my project I would “connect with nature” by doing just that…I would watch the sun rise and set every day and see if I could catch a glimpse of the “crack between the worlds.”

The first thing I realized, however, is that it would take an enormous amount of discipline on my part to even remember to look outside at the right time of day. I am at a stage of life where my short-term brain cells seem to come and go at will, and I am pretty easily distracted, which makes it hard to remember to do anything.  So I looked up the exact times of sunrise and sunset for the week, wrote them down on a post-it, and stuck it on my computer screen. I figured if I looked at it several times during the day maybe the information would plant itself in my sub-conscious and it would help me remember to go outside. Why don’t I just set my cell phone alarm? Well, unfortunately, even with my new android, I am forever leaving it in my car…it drives my family crazy!  Anyway, for the most part I was successful, although I found it way easier to remember sunrise than sunset. It was also easier to sit and enjoy the sun rise and reflect on what I hoped the day would bring. I found myself a bit impatient in the evening for the sun to go down, which I am sure is why it is considered the ‘most powerful time of the day’…it takes a lot more effort to pause and reflect when there’s dinner to be cooked and NY Ranger games to be watched. But the truth is that the couple of times I was actually able to tune out all the chatter going on in my mind and sit and watch the sun go down, were the times I noticed a couple of things that I may have missed otherwise.

For example, I realized that the expression ‘the space in-between‘ is something I’ve read or heard about quite often:

Dr. Wayne Dyer, the inspirational speaker/author, talks a lot about finding the ‘space between thoughts‘ when he is describing his Japa meditation practice. He refers to this space as ‘the gap’, the silent place between one thought and another in which we can find true peace. I tried it a few times when I first heard about it and found it pretty hard…but there were a couple of times where I did actually find myself ‘in the gap’ and  it was an incredibly relaxing place to be, even if it was just for a second or two.

There is also the ancient Zen observation; “It’s the silence between the notes that makes the music.” Even though I am not a musician I have always loved this idea…that silence can be more powerful than all the words in the world.

And, of course, there is Dave Matthew’s oh-so moving song called The Space Between. I love the line; “The space between your heart and mine is the space we’ll fill with time.”  For me, the image of filling the space between two hearts with anything…be it time, or love, or hope, or honesty…is just so beautiful.

The second thing I realized was that there is a big difference between pausing to reflect on something (i.e the sunset) and meditating. I naively thought at the beginning of the week that I might be able to kill two birds with one stone and get a jump start on #3 on the list (Simple Meditation). It didn’t take me long to figure out, though, that in order to really connect with nature you have to be very conscious of what is going on around you. And it was very interesting to sit quietly, watching the sky darken, and allow my thoughts to take me where they wanted, which is pretty much the opposite of meditating. And what was even better was how, once I was settled and the energy surrounding my presence had quieted down, the sounds of nature became so loud. There is definitely a silence in the dusk that makes the birds sound clearer, and the rustle in the tree branches more perceptible. It’s as though the world itself is settling down to sleep, and just as we are more inclined to say our prayers at bedtime, I felt as though the world was waiting to hear mine. It made it easy to be grateful for the day just passed, and hopeful for the day to come.

This realization lead me to thinking about how these two times of the day are something that we, as human beings on this earth, all share. Whether we live in tsunami devastated  Japan, the war-torn Middle East, or right here in suburban Connecticut, the sun rises and sets every day, no matter what. And just imagine if we all agreed to pause in that most powerful moment of the day, in that ‘space in-between’, maybe, just maybe, we would find ourselves together in the ‘crack between the worlds’ where we are all the same – no matter what ‘world’ on this earth we are living in – and with our combined power choose peace for the day to come.

I can imagine it. Can you?

HERE I GO

With the recent tragic and earth-shattering events that are taking place in Japan right now, I am feeling so completely helpless that my mind just keeps searching for something, anything, that I might be able to do to help make a difference. The immensity of what has happened and the future ramifications for not just Japan, but for the whole world, make the usual avenues of help (i.e sending money) feel inadequate. I’ve been praying a lot, but even that doesn’t seem to be easing the anguish I feel deep in my soul. So I am going to do something I’ve been talking about doing for some time now, but for one reason or another have put off actually doing…I am going to start a blog.

Now, this might not seem like such a big deal, but for me it is a giant leap into the unknown and one that is pretty scary to take. Believe it or not, the first time I ever even understood the whole point of blogging was when I saw Julie & Julia…up until then I just didn’t get it. But giving your soul an outlet, no matter what you’re writing about, can only be a good thing.

So in honor of Japan, and myself, here I go.

I’ve had this idea for My Consciousness Project for quite a while…ever since I read Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project (www.happiness-project.com), a couple of years ago. I considered, at the time, starting my own happiness project, but realized pretty quickly that I am actually (luckily) a very happy person. What I was beginning to question, though, was not so much my happiness quotient, but my spirituality quotient. Having gone through a couple of pretty scary health issues in the last few years, I was starting to really wonder if there was some sort of big life lesson that I just wasn’t learning. Did the universe really work that way and if so, was there something I should be doing that I clearly hadn’t figured out?

I started reading books on the whole mind, body, spirit connection which lead me to try a few alternative healing methods. One thing I noticed through all this, was that when I would talk to certain people about these ideas, a lot of them would roll their eyes saying, “Oh, you’re into that?”. Or worse, their eyes would just glaze over and they’d change the subject. Some people were nicer, but I could tell they were looking at me a little differently, probably thinking to themselves “..and I thought I knew her so well!” So the first idea for my project was to see if it was possible to practice all of these different consciousness raising methods in such a way that people who might otherwise roll their eyes could be swayed to try it for themselves. But that’s as far as I got…for some reason I just never was able to put pen to paper to get it started.

Looking back now I think that it was because the idea was more about other people than about me. Sometimes I guess the universe does know what’s best.

Thankfully, I recently came across a quote from Daisaku Ikeda, a Buddhist philosopher, and I knew right away that I had found the basis for my would-be project. Ikeda asserts that:

“A great inner revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of an entire society and, further, will cause a change in the destiny of humankind.”

Is it really possible that if I, a regular, everyday person, am able to raise my consciousness -my awareness of myself and the world – that I will actually see the change that I hope for? Given all that’s going on today – from Japan, to the Middle East, to the overall disconnectedness of the human race – it seems to me that if ever there was a time to try, it is now. There is just so much good to be found in the world, that if we could just tap into it more often than we tap into the bad then maybe, just maybe, we can turn things around.

So here’s my plan…when I googled “ways to raise your consciousness” I came across a site entitled “100 Ways To Become More Conscious: How to Raise Your Consciousness” (4Mind4Life.com). I actually laughed out loud when I saw it…don’t you just love the internet? Anyway, I am going to go down the list, one at a time, and write about my experiences…I’m thinking one a week is a good starting point. Some are easier than others, some are a bit redundant, and some are going to be very hard for me…I am guessing, however, that those are the ones that are going to spark “a great inner revolution” within me.  So, for the sake of my project, I promise that I will not conveniently overlook them. In fact, just so I won’t be tempted I will list them here:

#30 – See perceived faults as a “mirror image” (I can be a little judgmental of others, so this could be an eye opener)

#32 and #54 – Face your deepest fears/Muster up some courage (I have to give these some thought…speaking in public and ocean waves are the two that come to mind)

#58 – Purify your body (I am guessing wine is out?)

#73 – Turn off the TV (I am hoping this one won’t fall during hockey season!)

You can see the whole list under “Pages” in the right hand column.

Anyway, my goal is to have the project completed by December 21, 2012 which is just short of 100 weeks from now (94 to be exact). I am figuring it will work out perfectly as some of the ideas on the list are very similar to one another (i.e #3 – Simple meditation and #49 – Take time for internal reflection) so I can double up some weeks to avoid overkill of any subject. Why that date? Well, it is believed to be the culmination of a cycle in the Mayan calendar and, therefore, feels to me like an appropriate ending point for my project as well.  Not because it’s the actual end of something, at least not in a doomsday sort of way, but because it seems to be offering us an opportunity for something even better to begin. One of my all-time favorite lines from a song is, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”…I just love that.

So for me, right now in my life and in the world, the best thing I can think to do is challenge myself to be better than I am. It is my fervent hope that Daisuka Ikeda is right and when my project is done the world and I will be in a better place than we are right now.