WEEK 27: Gain Wisdom From Others

“Our best thoughts come from others” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Gathering of the Minds.jpg
The way I have felt about this week’s topic is the same way I felt after the first day of Philosophy 101 my freshman year in college…totally paralyzed by the enormity of what I was being asked to consider. I can remember trying to do my homework that first night of class and simply not being able to wrap my head around the concept of infinity. There was just no safe place for my thoughts to go – and the harder I tried to figure it out, the more the answers seemed to elude me.
 
It was definitelty not my favorite class.
 
And even though I know it seems a little absurd to compare this week’s topic to ‘Gain Wisdom From Others’ with a concept as big as infinity, I have had the same kind of trouble finding a safe path for my thoughts on this subject to go. There are so many different directions I could take that I’ve found myself going in circles trying to decide which way would be best.
 
And needless to say, since it’s been 8 (yikes!) months since I started to think about this, I’ve been going around in circles for a while.
 
I think the main problem I’ve had is that really, when you think about it, the only way we really ever learn anything is from other people, right? I mean, the knowledge that each of us has, individually, didn’t just come out of nowhere…it had to come from something, or someone, outside of us. Otherwise we would have been born knowing everything we need to know.
 
But that’s just not the case. We are born pretty much an empty slate, and as we interact with others, we gain knowledge from them. Just as they gained knowledge from the people they interacted with. And the people before them. It’s a never-ending spiral of knowledge that gets passed from generation to generation, person to person.
 
The thing that really gets my mind going in circles, though, is when I start wondering about the very first idea. There must have been one. There must have been a kind of ‘aha’ moment when one of our earliest ancestors realized he (or she) had knowledge to share.
 
In her movie, The Story, Barbara Marx Hubbard refers to these early ancestors as ‘the ones who know they know’. Somehow they became consciously aware enough to understand that by sharing and collaborating with each other, their ability to survive became stronger. It is the movie’s premise that this ability to share and collaborate could be what allowed Homo-Sapiens to continue to evolve, while others, such as Homo-Neanderthal, died out.
 
Which is probably why ‘Gain Wisdom From Others’ is on the list of ways to raise one’s consciousness. Because in order for us to keep evolving, we need to keep learning. And in order for us to keep learning, we need to keep sharing, otherwise the whole system breaks down.
 
Somehow, though, it seems humanity has moved away from this sharing philosophy in the last few years. Individuals (and corporations) seem to be more concerned with getting themselves ahead, than getting humanity ahead. Copyright infringement, CISPA, SOPA…I can’t help but believe that this ‘me me me’ culture is going to lead us down the same path as Homo-Neanderthal.
 
Thankfully, though, I don’t think it’s too late for us. There are a lot of people and organizations out there who understand the importance of sharing and collaborating. There’s TED (Ideas Worth Sharing), Creative Commons (Share Your Knowledge and Creativity With The World), Wikipedia (The Free Encyclopedia), Linux (Free and Open Source Software Collaboration) and Minds.com (Free and Open Souce Everything), to name just a few.
 
There is definitely a shift taking place toward a world where sharing and collaboration are the norm, rather than the alternative.
 
There’s an ancient African word called Ubuntu, which loosely translated means, ‘humanity to others’. In the Xhosa culture it means “I am because we are’. Gregg Braden, one of my favorite spiritual teachers, shared the following story on Facebook, and it really struck a chord with me:
 
“An anthropologist proposed a game to the kids in an African tribe. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told the kids that who ever got there first won the sweet fruits. When he told them to run, they all took each others hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats. When he asked them why they had run like that, as one could have had all the fruits for himself, they said: ”UBUNTU, how can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?”

It is my greatest hope that one day we will all join hands together and share the fruit.

P.S. I am in the process of moving My Consciousness Project over to Minds.com, a new open source social media site. Please consider joining Minds and subscribing to the My Consciousness Project channel. Thanks!

WEEK 26: Face Your Deepest Fears

“Expose yourself to your deepest fear, after that fear has no power.” ~ Jim Morrison

A few years ago when I was in Sedona, Arizona, I went on a hike to the area’s famous energy vortexes, led by a rather intimidating ‘shaman’. I will never forget standing among those beautiful red rocks, on an equally beautiful June day, and having this complete stranger yell at me: “You are so scared, you don’t even know what you’re scared of!”

I was completely taken aback by the vehemence of his words, so I can’t remember now if I even responded. But I do remember thinking he had no idea what he was talking about because, having just finished 5 weeks of radiation treatment for early stage breast cancer, I was pretty sure that I actually did know what I was scared of back then.

And even today, though, luckily, cancer is no longer at the top of the list, I think I still have a pretty good handle on what my deepest fears are.

For instance, I’m scared of being the center of attention. And of being judged by others. I have a deep, inexplicable fear of anything having to do with vampires. I am also becoming a little worried that I won’t get through all 100 topics on my Official List by the December 21st deadline, which I guess points to a certain fear of failure.

Anyway, as I started to think about this week’s topic to ‘Face Your Deepest Fears’, I was reminded of that crazy shaman’s words, and it occurred to me that maybe he wasn’t as crazy as I’d thought. In fact, maybe he had just been trying to get me to do what this week’s assignment was forcing me to do.

Because it turns out that it’s one thing to know what I’m scared of, but to actually do something about it is an entirely different matter. Not to mention, a whole lot harder.

Ok, so for my assignment this week, I decided to face one of my bigger fears (i.e. being judged by others) by trying to do something I’d been putting off for a while. Ever since last summer, I’d been tossing an idea around with a couple of my like-minded friends about getting a group together to talk about spiritual stuff. Kind of like a book group, but without the book. I kept putting off doing anything about it, though, because (and this is pretty embarrassing to admit) I was a little worried about what my other, less like-minded friends would think of me if they found out.

And, unfortunately, the longer I put it off, the worse I started to feel, because I knew that, deep down, I was really just being a total chicken. I kept hearing this little voice in my head telling me that I better be careful. That if I started this group people may talk. About me. Behind my back. Yuck.

But because it was ‘Face Your Deepest Fears’ week, I made myself take a deep breath, shush the little voice in my head as best I could, and figure out what I needed to do to get this group going. And so I picked a date, made a list of people who I thought might be interested, and sent out an email inviting them to come to my first ever Consciousness Group.

Pushing the ‘send’ button on that email may have been one of the scariest things I’d ever done. That is, until I had to stand up in front of all the people who had, happily, all come to the meeting, because that was even scarier.

But the way I felt after it was over was definitely worth every moment of terror that led up to it.  I imagine it’s the same way someone might feel after they’ve gone skydiving: elation that they’d found the courage to actually jump out of an airplane into thin air, and relief that the parachute had opened so they didn’t plummet to their death. And though I realize that starting a spiritual group is a very far cry from jumping out of a plane, that is exactly how I felt.

I had stepped out of my comfort zone and survived. I was so happy.

The thing is, in the long run, I’m not sure it actually matters how I stepped out of my comfort zone, just that I did. Because whether it’s starting a group, fighting cancer, or jumping out of a plane, the important thing is to find a way to quiet the voice that’s telling me I can’t, so that I can hear the other voice that’s telling me I can.

Because, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said:

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence in every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

And I think that in order to do the things that I’m not sure I can, I have to listen for the voice that’s going to remind me to be brave, rather than careful. The one that’s going to urge me forward, rather than hold me back.

And, most importantly, the voice that will remind me to be who I really am, rather than who I think everyone else wants me to be.

I just have to remember to be brave.

P.S.  I realized as I was crossing ‘Face Your Deepest Fears’ off my Official List just now, that I can actually cross off a few other topics as well. Because in order to do this week’s assignment, I really, really had to ‘Muster Up Some Courage’ (#54) to ‘Form A Mastermind Group’ (#80) so I could ‘Be A Leader’ (#83) to ‘Share Unique Insight and Wisdom’ (#38) and ‘Guide Others in Raising Their Consciousness’ (#77).

At this rate, I might make my December 21st deadline after all. Yeah!

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 22: Speak Compassionately

“In separateness lies the world’s great misery, in compassion lies the world’s true strength.” ~ Buddha

I wasn’t at all worried about this week’s topic to ‘Speak Compassionately’. I was actually so unworried that I didn’t even think I needed to come up with an ‘assignment’ to do. I guess because I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty compassionate person, I just assumed speaking compassionately for a week would not be too much of a problem.

Well, as it turned out, it was a little harder than I expected! In fact, and this is pretty embarrassing to admit, I totally flunked the first night of ‘Speak Compassionately’ week! I’m not kidding…within about 15 minutes of sitting down to watch the news, I found myself saying some pretty uncompassionate things about how a couple of the reporters looked. I didn’t like one of their outfits. And another’s teeth looked a little funny to me. I couldn’t believe I was being so mean!

I guess I had somehow forgotten the old adage that ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’. And even though it wasn’t like I was saying these things about people I knew, or actually hurting anyone’s feelings, the fact that I felt compelled to make such comments at all was pretty troublesome to me.

So I decided that this would be the perfect week to put those wise old words into practice. I would watch what came out of my mouth very closely, and if I caught myself about to say something mean or unkind, I would either not say anything, or try to find something nice to say instead.

Fortunately, I realized pretty quickly that I don’t really say unkind things very often, at least about anyone other than television news people! I have no idea why I am so critical of them…maybe I’m just trying to be funny, or somehow make conversation. But I did find, the next time I was watching the news, that by holding my tongue whenever I felt the urge to say something mean, I felt much better. Almost lighter. It was as though the whole energy in the room shifted because I decided to keep those negative words to myself.

And as it turns out, words really do have the power to change the energy in a room, or in anything for that matter.

In the 1990’s, Dr. Masuru Emoto performed a series of experiments observing the physical effect of words on the crystalline structure of water. He hired photographers to take pictures of water after being exposed to different types of words, and then froze them so that they would form crystalline structures.

Amazingly, when exposed to prayer, or positive words like ‘love’ and ‘appreciation’, the crystals formed beautiful patterns that were pure in color, and in perfect symmetry. On the other hand, when exposed to negative words like ‘anger’ and ‘hate’, the crystals were rough, dull, and in a state of disarray.

Dr. Emoto explains:

“Think of it in terms of vibration. It’s easy to understand that language — the spoken word — has a vibration. Well, written words also have a vibration. Anything in existence has a vibration. If I were to draw a circle, the vibration of a circle would be created. Drawing a cross would create the vibration of a cross. So if I write the letters L O V E, then these letters put out the vibration of love. Water can be imprinted with these vibrations. Beautiful words have beautiful, clear vibrations. But negative words put out ugly, incoherent vibrations which do not form clusters.”

And because humans are made up of almost 60% water, it just goes to reason that the words we use to communicate with each other could have as big an impact on the people we’re talking to (not to mention ourselves!), as they did on the water in Dr. Emoto’s experiment.

So whether I’m talking to myself or someone else, it seems to me that it’s really important that I try to pay attention to the words I’m choosing to use. Because when I’m more conscious of what I’m saying, the greater chance I’ll have of choosing words that are positive, rather than negative. And that can only be good, for me and anyone else I’m talking to, or about. Even television news reporters.

I came upon this acronym on Facebook the other day, and I think it’s going to be the perfect way to remind myself to ‘Speak Compassionately’ from here on in:

T.H.I.N.K. before you speak! Is what you are about to say True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and above all, Kind?”

Because if there’s one thing we could all use a little more of in this world, it’s kindness.

WEEK 21: Be Aware and Accepting of Your Emotions

“Feelings are much like waves, we can’t stop them from coming but we can choose which one to surf” ~ Jonatan Mårtensson

One of the very first books I read after my health scare a few years ago was Dr.Wayne Dyer’s, The Power of Intention. And one of the things that really struck a chord in me was his assertion that no matter what the circumstances of our life may be, we always have the choice to feel good, rather than bad. It’s not always an easy choice, especially when the situation justifies feeling bad, but, according to Dyer, when we can make the shift, no matter how slight, from feeling bad to feeling good, we raise our vibration to a higher level and the Universe will respond in kind.

The tricky part, at least for me, is remembering to notice how I’m feeling at the time that I’m feeling it. Sadly, I think I spend a lot of my day on auto-pilot, not really paying attention when life’s little stresses are getting to me. And if I don’t know they’re there, then I can’t make the shift to something better.

So this week’s topic to ‘Be Aware and Accepting of Your Emotions’ seemed like the perfect opportunity to test Dr. Dyer’s theory out. If I could just discipline myself to tune in more often to how I was feeling every day, then I would be more likely to notice when I was feeling badly, and could shift my thoughts accordingly. And to help keep me on my toes to remember to do this, I tied a string around my finger as a reminder. Every time I noticed the string, I checked in with myself to see how I was feeling. I’m not sure exactly why tying a string around a finger helps, but it certainly did the trick!

Dr. Dyer suggests in his book that, in order to shift our thoughts more easily, we should choose a kind of ‘go-to’, happy thought that we always have on hand for when we catch ourselves in a negative frame of mind:

“Make a conscious choice to select a thought that will activate good feelings…Ultimately you’ll come up with one that you agree makes you feel good, if only temporarily. Your choice might be the thought of a beautiful sunset, the expression on the face of someone you love, or a thrilling experience. It’s only important that it resonate with you emotionally and physically as a good feeling. In the moment of experiencing an anxious or stressful thought, change to the thought you chose, which makes you feel good.”

Ok, so it was really easy to choose my happy thought (i.e. sitting on knoll in Maine, looking out on river). And it was even easy to make the shift to that thought when I was totally stressed about being late to a class because I’d left my purse at home and had to go back for it. I could actually feel my body relax for a second as I thought about sitting on the knoll in Maine rather than about how I late I was. And who knows…maybe making that shift was the reason I ended up getting to my class in time after all.

But I have to admit that it wasn’t so easy to make a similar shift when I found myself really upset by something someone said to me on the phone. I was mad, really mad (which, honestly, doesn’t happen that often!) and no matter how hard I tried to switch from my very angry thoughts to my happy Maine thought, I just couldn’t make it stick long enough to calm me down. I was so sure I was right, and the other person wrong, that my anger felt totally justified. I deserved to be that mad.

But, according to Dr. Dyer, that was really just my pesky ego trying to confuse me and take control. Egos have a way of always wanting to be right, even if it makes us feel bad in the process. To overcome this need to be right, Dyer suggests that we try not to take ourselves so seriously, something he calls ‘Rule Number 6′. He writes:

“When you have the choice to be right or to be kind, pick kind, and push the ego’s demand out of the way. Kindness is what you emanated from, and by practicing it, rather than being right, you eliminate the possibility of stress in your moment of kindness. When you find yourself being impatient with anyone, simply say to yourself: “Rule Number 6,” and you’ll immediately laugh at the piddly little ego that wants you to be first, faster, number one, and to be treated better than the other guy.”

Well, I wish I could say that I practiced ‘Rule Number 6’ and took the high road by calling the person to apologize for my part in the argument, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. And even though I knew such a call would make me feel a whole lot better than I was feeling as I stewed in my self-righteous anger, my ego won out. I chose to feel bad.

So much for raising my consciousness!

Fortunately, though, when I woke up the next day and realized that I was still feeling terrible, I took a deep breath and picked up the phone. And lo and behold, after I fumbled through an apology, the other person apologized too. In fact, she took the blame for the whole sorry mess. I hung up feeling like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and realized that I could have saved myself a lot of angst if I had just picked up the phone a little sooner.

Anyway, I guess what’s really important in life is not necessarily feeling good every single minute. There are always going to be times when we feel stress, or fear, or are just really, really mad because, well, we’re human. But because we’re human, we have the remarkable ability to consciously shift those negative emotions to something more positive – we just have to be aware of how we’re feeling. Because it’s in that awareness that a shift becomes possible.

And the more I am able to make the shift from feeling bad to feeling good, the more the Universe will reflect that good right back to me.

Or, as Dr. Dyer puts it:

“You feel good not because the world is right, but your world is right because you feel good. “

WEEK 20: Avoid Physical Fighting and Abuse

“You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist.” ~ Indira Gandhi

Well, life has definitely thrown me a couple of loops these last few weeks, so getting this post written has not been the easiest thing to do. Although, to be totally honest, I think it was going to be hard anyway because physical fighting and abuse are, luckily for me, just not a part of my every day life. And it’s kind of hard to find a way to avoid something that isn’t there to begin with, even in the name of raising consciousness.

So I am going to let myself off the hook again, and rather than rack my brain for something I can do to ‘Avoid Physical Fighting and Abuse’, I am going to share Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘Joint Principles of Non-Violence‘, which I came across the other day as I searched the internet for some inspiration. I can’t think of any better way to raise my consciousness this week than to reflect on these principles, and try to incorporate them into my own life:

JOINT (GANDHI-KING) PRINCIPLES OF NON-VIOLENCE

1. Non-violence means to honor the inherent worth of every human being. In non-violence we naturally seek to understand each other, build friendship and community.

2. Non-violence means believing that our lives are linked together, that what we do impacts the lives of everyone we encounter. That we are responsible to and for one another. That we can trust one another and work toward the common good.

3. Non-violence means dedicating ourselves to the fundamental rights of every human being (Justice, Equity, Equality)

4. Non-violence is courageously choosing to practice compassion with our adversaries. We oppose injustice, not people.

5. Non-violence means recognizing love as the power of the human spirit to triumph over injustice, inequity, suffering; a true hero’s journey of personal-social change.

It is my fervent hope that in the new year before us, these principles find their way into everyone’s heart (especially those who are in power!). I totally believe that we are at a tipping point right now, and with some courage, and a little shift in the right direction, we will find ourselves in the world that Gandhi and Dr. King envisioned.

I heard this song by Tracy Chapman the other day, called New Beginning, and the words offered me hope that a more peaceful world really is possible:

“We can break the cycle – We can break the chain.

We can start all over – In the new beginning

 We can learn, we can teach.

We can share the myths, the dream, the prayer.

 The notion that we can do better.

Change our lives and paths.

Create a new world.”

So in this season of hope and peace, I am going to make an early new year’s resolution that in 2012 I will be brave, and help make the shift to a better world happen.




WEEK 19: Choose Empowering Beliefs

“Man is made by his belief. As he believes, so he is.” ~ Bhagavad Gita

For some reason this week’s topic to ‘Choose Empowering Beliefs’ has really thrown me for a loop. I just haven’t been able to figure out what direction to take, and so every time I sit down to write, I find myself going around in circles.

I can’t really put my finger on what is making this one so difficult either. Maybe it’s because I didn’t really like my ‘assignment’ that much. Or it could be that I’ve read so many different things about beliefs that it’s hard to pick one area to focus on.

But whatever it is, the time has come to stop fretting about it and just get started. Hopefully, I’ll figure out the best direction to take as I go along.

Anyway, a couple of years ago I saw this YouTube video of a little girl standing on her bathroom sink, loudly affirming how much she loves everything in her life:

And when I was thinking about how to ‘Choose Empowering Beliefs’ this week, I thought it might be fun to try something similar by giving myself a little pep talk every morning. Simple enough, I thought, and a good reminder about all the things I have to be grateful for.

So I found a list of empowering beliefs on the internet, and picked one that I thought would help me start my day off in the most positive way:

“Anyone can do anything and anything can happen.”

Well, I was a little surprised, at first, to discover that talking to myself in the mirror is not as easy as it looks! When I stood staring at my reflection on the first morning, I was actually a little embarrassed to say anything at all, let alone with the enthusiastic abandon of the little girl in the video. And even though it got somewhat easier as the week went along, I have to admit that I was never really very comfortable.

Which started me wondering whether I was uncomfortable because I was talking to myself in a mirror, or because I just didn’t really believe, deep down inside, that what I was saying was true. Which kind of confused me, because I had pretty much thought that I already believed it! I mean, I love hearing stories about someone who’s done the seemingly impossible…the underdog who’s succeeded against all odds. I’ve probably watched the movie ‘Rudy’ a hundred times and have absolutely never gotten tired of it!

But no matter how loudly or often I would say this affirmation, I couldn’t ignore the little voice in the back of my mind telling me it just wasn’t true. That people do have limits, and so it’s not really possible that anyone can do anything.

What I couldn’t figure out, though, was where this belief had come from. I really have no honest recollection of anyone ever telling me such a thing, so I guess that somewhere along the line I must have done something, or witnessed something, that made me believe it was true. And the fact that I didn’t even know it was there is a little bit worrisome…I wonder if there are other limiting beliefs lurking in my subconscious?

In any case, I started thinking that maybe this is true for a lot of us – that because we don’t always consciously choose some of the beliefs we have, we’re not even really aware that we have them! We grow up with parents who have certain beliefs they pass along to us, which have been passed along to them, and even though we might question them as we get older, it’s probably pretty hard to get rid of them altogether.

And the same way this can happen with families, it can probably happen just as easily with our different cultures and religions. I imagine generations have come and gone with no one ever really questioning the beliefs that have been passed along, because it’s just the way it’s always been.

And, according to Neale Donald Walsch in his book, The New Revelations – A Conversation With God, this is exactly why our world is in such trouble today. Because many of us are really reluctant, whether consciously or unconsciously, to challenge some of those beliefs that have been passed down through the generations. And so we keep making the same mistakes, because we’re unwilling, or maybe just scared, to question the wisdom of our ancestors:

“Your world is facing enormous problems right now, and you must solve the problems at the level of belief. You cannot solve the problems at the level of behavior. Seek to change beliefs, not behaviors…You can take whatever action you want to take to alter someone else’s behavior or to stop it, but unless you alter the beliefs that produced such behavior, you will alter nothing and stop nothing.”

Unfortunately, it seems that we humans have a pretty hard time when it comes to altering our beliefs, even when there’s solid evidence that those beliefs are completely false. For instance, Walsch reminds us, we used to believe that the earth was the center of the universe. When Copernicus, and then Galileo, both offered proof that this assertion was false, they were called blasphemers and heretics. No one believed them. It wasn’t until 300 years later that Galileo was finally pardoned by the Catholic Church and the world accepted this new belief.

It’s amazing how stubborn and fearful we can be when we’re faced with a new way of thinking.

Take what’s going on today with the Occupy Movement. The protestors are being criticized for not having a cohesive message, but I think the message is actually crystal clear. Something is wrong. The world is just not in a good place right now. And whether you’re in the 1% or the 99%, there is just no getting around the fact that our system isn’t working.

And maybe it’s not working because some of our most basic beliefs have become outdated. Economic and political policies that may have worked at one point in history may just not work today. Not necessarily because they’re  wrong, but because the world is changing. And people are changing. And the climate is changing. Everything is changing.

It just makes sense, then, that some of our beliefs about how the world works may have to change too, so that we can adapt to what’s happening and be able to move forward.

Albert Einstein put it this way:

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

Maybe if all of us, both individually and collectively, would consciously choose to consider some newer, more empowering beliefs, we’ll be able to see which of our old beliefs may be holding us back. And perhaps then, with that newfound awareness, we’ll find ourselves at a new level of consciousness where we can start solving some of our problems.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I definitely think it’s worth a try.

So I’m going to start by choosing a slightly different empowering belief to say to myself in the mirror every morning:

“Anyone can do anything, if they truly believe that they can.”

I think even the little voice in the back of my mind can believe that.

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.