Seeing the best in life's challenges

“I Crochet”

Losing Your Mind to Gain Your Soul

By Ram Dass
July 29, 2013 6:00 AM EDT    (article found here)

In the West we get rewarded for rational knowledge and learning. But only when you see that the assumptions you’ve been working under are not valid, when you despair of getting there through your rational mind, does the possibility of truly changing your mind arise.

Albert Einstein said, “A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.” He also said, “The mind can proceed only so far upon what it knows and can prove. There comes a  point where the mind takes a leap—call it intuition or what you will—and comes out upon a higher plane of knowledge, but can never prove how it got there. All great discoveries have involved such a leap.”
People first awaken to a spiritual dimension in their lives in an incredible variety of ways. Some people seem to open up to it through traumatic experiences, as people describe when they’ve come near death or at another moment when they touch something much deeper than the usual way they thought about things. Other people awaken through meditation or through religious experiences. Others arrive at it through sex or through drugs.
I remember lecturing in a hall once, back in the early ’70s. Most of my audience at that time was young, and they tended to wear white and smile a lot and wear flowers. I wore my māla and had a long beard. In the front row there was a woman of about seventy, who had on a hat with little fake cherries and strawberries and things like that on it. She was wearing black oxfords and a print dress, and she had a black patent leather bag. I looked at her, and I couldn’t figure out what she was doing in the audience. She looked so dissimilar to all the rest.
These talks were like a gathering of an explorers club, where we would come together and just share our experiences. I started to describe some of my experiences, some of which were pretty far out. I looked at her, and she was nodding with understanding. I couldn’t believe that she could understand what I was talking about. I was describing experiences that I had using psychedelic chemicals, experiences that involved other planes of consciousness. I’d look over at her, and there she was, nodding away. I began to think maybe she had a problem with her neck and maybe it had nothing whatsoever to do with what I was saying. I kept watching and getting more and more fascinated and getting more and more outrageous, and she kept nodding and nodding.
At the end of the lecture, I just kind of smiled at her so intensely that she just had to come up and speak to me. She came up and said, “Thank you so much. That makes perfect sense. That’s just the way I understand the universe to be.”
And I said, “How do you know? I mean, what have you done in your life that brought you into those kinds of experiences?”
She leaned forward very conspiratorially, and she said, “I crochet.”
And at that moment, I realized that people arrive at spiritual understanding through a much wider spectrum of experience than I ever anticipated.
Part of the process of awakening is recognizing that the realities we thought were absolute are only relative. All you have to do is shift from one reality to another once, and your attachment to what you thought was real starts to collapse. Once the seed of awakening sprouts in you, there’s no choice—there’s no turning back.
Actually, we all know that reality is relative; we have known it since childhood: “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.” Life is a dream.
Taming the mind is fraught with paradoxes. You have to give it all up to have it all. Turn off your mind. There is a place in you beyond thought that already knows—trust in that. Jesus tells us that unless we become like little children, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. That child mind, sometimes called beginner’s mind in Zen, is the innocence of pure being, of unconditional love.
If we are to live in that state of pure being, something within us must die. It’s like when a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. The caterpillar does not become a flying caterpillar; it morphs into a butterfly.
This is the pathless path. Where the journey leads is to the deepest truth in you. It is really just returning to where you were initially before you got lost. Shedding the layers of the mind is like taking layers off of an onion. You peel them all away until you come to your essence. The spiritual journey is not about acquiring something outside yourself. Rather, you are penetrating the layers and veils to return to the deepest truth of your own being.
Excerpted from Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart by Ram Dass. Copyright © 2013 by the Love Serve Remember Foundation. Published by Sounds True.

The Science of Healthy Dialogue!

Did you know that the slightest form of negativity can instantly sabotage a conversation? If you grumble about the weather or slightly frown when a colleague says something displeasing, stress neurochemicals are released in both the speaker’s AND listener’s brain.

Even expressing anger in therapy can make the problem worse because it neurologically strengthens the negative memories. If you don’t find a way to quickly defuse the anger, it damages parts of the brain that regulate emotions. Expressing negativity disrupts the decision-making functions in the frontal lobe, impairing reason and social awareness. Compassion is compromised and empathy is lost.

When you speak ill of others, it increases prejudice in the listener’s brain, *even when both parties know that the information is false*! That’s why political mudslinging continues, and it works by generating neurological distrust. The instinctual brain assumes that a negative word is a real threat coming from the world.

Anger is particularly dangerous because it gives the speaker a false sense of certainty, confidence, and optimism, and this misguided pleasure encourages the person to get angrier. However, repressing anger just pushes it into unconsciousness. What’s the best solution? Just watch those negative feelings and thoughts as you remain utterly relaxed. Don’t judge them and don’t try to make them go away. They’ll quickly evaporate. They’re just an old movie from the past projected onto a future that doesn’t exist and rarely have anything to do with the present. Let them go and let them be, and they’ll float away like clouds. Then flood your consciousness with pleasant images. Your brain can’t simultaneously focus on a positive and negative thought.

If you still feel the urge to express negativity when talking with others, slow your speech rate down and speak briefly. Let the listener respond, and then speak for another ten seconds. Brevity derails the wordiness associated with negative speech, and this will stop your brain from sabotaging the conversation and the goodness that rests in your heart.

From the Science and Spirituality column by neuroscientists Mark Waldman and Andrew Newberg, MD, SOM July 2013.


Now What?

The announcement of a verdict takes me back to April 29, 1992.

I remember the day that the Rodney King verdict was announced.  I drove through the East Side of Oakland that evening to take a class at Peralta College, then drove back home to Alameda after dark.  I had no idea anything had happened until after I got home.  Meanwhile, in L.A. there was rioting.  What a stark contrast.

The damage was done when Rodney King was beaten and the damage was done when Trayvon Martin was killed.  We hear this kind of news and we are angry and sad.  And it’s not only about those situations, it’s because we are reminded about the countless instances of injustice, prejudice, fear and cruelty that happen in the world.

How do we heal from these awful wounds?

Short term, we must grieve our losses.  Understanding grief is really helpful and it’s obvious that people are grieving.  Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s book On Death and Dying outlines the process, and the following quotes are from the summary that can be found here.

“People often think of the stages as lasting weeks or months. They forget that the stages are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours as we flip in and out of one and then another. We do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion. We may feel one, then another and back again to the first one.”

Denial: “This first stage of grieving helps us to survive the loss. In this stage, the world becomes meaningless and overwhelming. Life makes no sense. We are in a state of shock and denial. We go numb. We wonder how we can go on, if we can go on, why we should go on. We try to find a way to simply get through each day. Denial and shock help us to cope and make survival possible. Denial helps us to pace our feelings of grief. There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle.”

Anger: “Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process. Be willing to feel your anger, even though it may seem endless. The more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you will heal. There are many other emotions under the anger and you will get to them in time, but anger is the emotion we are most used to managing. The truth is that anger has no limits. It can extend not only to your friends, the doctors, your family, yourself and your loved one who died, but also to God. You may ask, “Where is God in this?”

Bargaining: “We become lost in a maze of “If only…” or “What if…” statements. We want life returned to what it was…”

Depression:  Sadness

Acceptance: “Acceptance is often confused with the notion of being “all right” or “OK” with what has happened. This is not the case. Most people don’t ever feel OK or all right about the loss… This stage is about accepting the reality that our loved one is physically gone and recognizing that this new reality is the permanent reality. We will never like this reality or make it OK, but eventually we accept it.”

We can never fix what happened.  We can’t go back and change the past.  Even a guilty verdict will not bring a son back to his mother.  Grieving might help us to heal the pain of this, but it will not make things right.

How do we prevent these situations from happening again?

One approach, which is mostly the one that has been used in the past, involves the following:

-Bring people to justice.  Show others that you can’t get away with this kind of behavior.  Make people afraid of the consequences.

 -Pass laws against killing, violence, and tools used to perpetrate violence.  Gun Control.   Get tough on crime.

 -Make places safe.  Security checks.  Better lighting.

 -Teach our kids to be careful.  Maybe teach our kids to be afraid.

Ah, and there it is:  most of our “fixes” for the troubles we are afraid of in this world, involve piling on more fear.

From my point of view, this approach is not working to solve the underlying problem, it is only trying to control the symptoms.  Do you agree?

The fear response is so entrenched, I don’t think most people see what we are doing.

I have some friends whose kids are not blond and blue-eyed like mine, and I know they are having to have difficult discussions with them in light of what goes on in the world.  I am NOT saying that you don’t teach your kids to be aware of their surroundings and make smart decisions based on “the way it is.”  We all need to understand the realities of the world, and not be naïve.

HOWEVER, we have to be careful not to slip into what Lenore Skenazy calls “worst-first” thinking.  YES, there are bad situations and bad guys out there, but that doesn’t mean we should assume ALL situations and people are dangerous.

Because, this is exactly the attitude that led George Zimmerman to assume Trayvon Martin was dangerous and it’s what led to such a sad situation.

FEAR and WORST-FIRST thinking are what caused this tragedy.

BTW, block by block, Oakland (at least at the time) was the most diverse city in the United States.  Bet you didn’t know that.  Having worked there, and having lived “next door,” you could sense what that meant.  People knowing each other as people, accepting diversity, less of that “Us vs. Them” mentality.  I’m sure this didn’t happen overnight…..but over time, living together and getting to know each other, a different environment was created.

That gated community that

you think will keep you safe

is just perpetuating the problem.



An Angel in my Kitchen

When I came downstairs this morning, I took one look at the kitchen and couldn’t believe what I saw.   Yes, I took a picture.  My dear husband (DH) was up before me, and I assumed he was the one who had cleaned up.  I said something about how nice the kitchen looked, and he was a little confused and said he thought I did it.  We were both stumped.

kitch clean

Last night we went out to eat, just the two of us, and when we got home the kitchen looked like it usually does.  We are a busy family, with three busy kids, and we use our kitchen hard.  We are pretty much always cooking, cleaning, loading and unloading the dishwasher, dropping keys and papers on the island, it just never stops.  And ask anybody that knows me, I am not a neat-freak by any stretch of the imagination.  While it seems like I am always cleaning up, my kitchen rarely looks like the picture.  Understatement.

I had put the dogs away just before 11:00, and the girls were both upstairs.  (Kid #1 was not home last night.)  I guess I fell asleep pretty fast, but usually I hear the banging of dishes being put away or other unusual activity at night.  DH is especially sensitive to nighttime noises, but he hadn’t heard anything either.

Seriously, it was like an Angel had visited my kitchen.  To provide some context, I have been on a roll lately (understatement) getting on my kids to help out, and it has seemed like my rants have fallen on deaf ears.  My kids are very good at expressing their wants and needs, but not always too good at helping out.  Although, to their credit, I do always hear how good and helpful they are when they are with other people.  It just feels like, much of the time, I am viewed as the servant-woman, and I have been very sensitive to that lately.

So, DH and I marveled at the sight of the kitchen, but soon had to move on with our day.  I couldn’t stand it any longer, so I went up to Kid #3’s room and said good morning, and asked if she had cleaned up the kitchen last night.  Answer:  “No.”

Ok, this is getting weird.  Could this have been some crazy reality shift, some miracle?

On to Kid #2.  Same question.  Answer:  “Yeah, I got all OCD.” 

BINGO!!  I found my Angel!!!

Whatever possessed her, who knows.  I’m not going to question it.

Miracles DO happen!!!


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Raised by Wolves

Have you ever watched a dog tied on a lead in an area where there are a bunch of obstacles?  I recently spent some time doing that, and of course it had me thinking.  A dog is not aware, not able to step back and look at the big picture of what is going on.  They are tied up to that rope, which is anchored into the ground, so they wander around within their circle, stopped each time they come to the edge of the circle that binds them.  They wander, and get tangled in the various obstacles within their circle, and it doesn’t take long before you see them with very little wiggle room.  Their freedom, which initially was only limited by the length of the rope, is now much more severely limited because of their movement within the obstacles, and by the fact that the dog does not think about the interactions or consequences of their movements, the fact that they are on a rope, and the fact that the rope gets caught up on the obstacles. 

This can be hard to watch, as the dog winds himself around the same chairs and sticks, over and over again.  The dog is not aware, so it does not learn to avoid the obstacles, or to backtrack, to keep from being tangled.  When it ends up with just a couple feet of rope keeping it from moving, it is not very happy or comfortable.

So when we see this happen to a dog we feel responsible for, we untangle the rope to give it more freedom.  Then, most of the time, the dog just repeats the process and nothing ever changes.

Now think, metaphorically of course, that this is not a dog at all, but a child that was “raised by wolves”, a person that has been living unaware, like the dog we were watching.  This person is tied to a rope, maybe a set of limiting beliefs, a paradigm, a set of assumptions that the person never questions.  They live in a circle that is defined by their rope, which is anchored in a certain spot.  It has never occurred to this person to question the rope or where it is dug into the ground.  This is all he knows.

This person might encounter obstacles that, when wrapped around, restrict his freedom and “tie him down” further.  If he isn’t aware of this process, then he may get in a tight spot, without the ability to untangle himself.  If you are watching this process and you feel responsible for this person, or if you have compassion and care about their comfort, you will probably get involved and help them get untangled.  If you can see their rope and how they got tangled around those obstacles, then you might try to explain to them what you see.  But if they are still unable to think this way, they will probably repeat their previous behavior and get themselves tied up yet again.

Some will learn that there are others around them that are very good at untangling their problems.  They might become very dependent on these people.  When they get frustrated at the restrictions they create, they can become very demanding of those who are always there to “save” them.  So think about this:  is “saving” this type of person over and over, really helping them, or is it really just ensuring that they will remain on their rope indefinitely?

People who are unaware remain in the same patterns, restricted by the rope of their paradigm, tangled up in the same obstacles over and over again.  Because they are not thinking about how their actions and choices interact with the world around them, they are unable to learn and therefore change their situations.  Because they do not question their paradigm, they forget that, unlike a dog, they have opposable thumbs and they are able to untie themselves from the rope to gain complete freedom. 

Some people will learn that they can avoid obstacles, or will get very good at untangling themselves when they do get stuck, but they will continue to assume that there is no way to dig up the rope or untie it.  In real life, this may look like someone who follows a set of rules that “works” within their personal paradigm, their personal circle.  They will be very good at navigating life, but they will not be completely free.

Incomplete freedom may or may not be bothersome.  Some people are very comfortable within their safe, known, predictable circle.  Many are afraid of what is outside the circle.  Maybe they have been told over and over about the bad guys that exist outside their circle, or the terrible consequences of questioning the circle to begin with. 

But others may be unable to shake that nagging feeling that they can’t get completely rid of that rope.   They may not be able to put their finger on what is wrong, they just may have an underlying frustration or unhappiness.  Do you know anyone who fits this description?

The answer here is not to just untie the dog.  After all, if the dog on the rope isn’t smart or aware enough to navigate his own circle, then we know we don’t want him running loose out in the greater world.  He might get run over by a car or lost when he wanders without any restrictions.  We either have to teach that dog to obey commands to keep it safe, or we have to keep it on its lead.

With people, they can remain “safe” on the rope of their paradigm.  And they can still remain safe outside of their circle if they “obey” someone else who tells them what to do when they encounter life outside their circle.  But that’s still not true freedom.

People can grow beyond their restrictions, and it’s important to remember that this happens step by step.  They can become aware of the whole process and take initiative and responsibility for their own actions and choices, and the consequences that result.  They can open their minds and hearts and learn to function in a world without ropes and circles.



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“Perfect” Parenting (LOL)

The theme coming at me today is all about how we raise kids.  This is a topic very near and dear to my heart, and has historically been a huge research topic for me, while trying to figure out how to be a “good mom” to my kids.

One conclusion I have come to is that we can only do the best that we can do at each moment in time.  We will never be “perfect” (whatever that means) and I don’t even think we would want to appear perfect.  Part of what I want my kids to understand, is that you do the best you can, with good intent, but life is life and all we can do is learn from it and keep growing.

I also see that each child is a unique individual.  There’s that nature vs. nurture question that always comes up, but it’s even more complicated than that.  If you see each child as the soul that they are, here to have a human experience that is custom designed by them, for them, you realize that each situation is custom-tailored to that kid, and by definition, you ARE the perfect parent for your kid, BECAUSE of your strengths, weaknesses, and quirks.  Try thinking about it that way!

So this morning, I read a great blog post by Dan of Single Dad Laughing, about how he’s feeling like a crappy dad.  We all feel this way sometimes.  Look, if you are trying and are caring, you are being a good parent.  We can all stand to go easier on ourselves.

This comes after a 24 hour period in my own life where I’ve freaked out on my 3 kids (and I knew I was doing it and it was really on purpose, I had hit my limit) about being too demanding and being ungrateful. 

You see, some of us, like Dan, seem to get these Angel Children.  I know people who have these kids and I am jealous (JK, well, mostly).  Others of us get kids that are here to push us.  We each get what we are supposed to get, depending on what we are working on.  My kids are amazing, wonderful people, but they definitely know who they are, what they want, and they are Self Advocates.  They are not here to be sweet and make me feel happy, although they do that sometimes.  No, they push me and have made me think a lot, self-reflect, and grow and learn a great deal.  My job has been to both support them in being who they are, while at the same time giving them feedback so they can learn how “who they are” works or doesn’t as they interact with various people in the world.

Which brings me to the next post I read.  When you have an obviously unique child, it’s hard not to contemplate where they come from, why they are here, why you got them, and how this whole thing works in terms of which souls are born when.  (It’s how I found Lee Carroll and Kryon, because of his books on Indigo Kids.)  So, is it really that much of a stretch to read this interview, of an 8 yr. old boy, who knows his own Soul Purpose and is giving us parents advice on how to raise kids these days? 

A friend emailed me today about her own challenges with her kid.  Every situation is different, every parent is different, every kid is different, and the game, if you will, is to figure out as much as you can about how to handle it all.  Those basic ideas of trusting your heart and what feels right, and also, trusting your kid to tell you what they need, are both a big help in figuring it out.

To go further out on a limb, read my friend David’s post here.  You have to be willing to open your mind and consider any option, let go of the ideas of what you are “supposed” to do, run it through your own mental reasoning, pass it by your heart and your feelings, and then go with what you come up with.  Accept that this is a complicated and interactive process, and what works for me won’t necessarily work for my kid, what works for me as a parent won’t necessarily work for you as a parent, and what works for me might seem crazy to any or all observers out there.

There is a lot of guilt clouding parenting these days.  Recognize it for what it is, and maybe read some Scary Mommy or posts from Lenore Skenazy (this particular post about Mom Guilt.)  Share your stories and laugh.  I tell my kids all the time, I am just doing the best I can – nobody is perfect.  The fun part for many of us, is that after we have the experience of being parented, we get to try out the other side and do it our own way.  Humbling, huh?


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