The Shadow Knows

March 1st, 2014

“When I was young my mother gave me her favorite books to read.
For every page of light, there was another written in shadows.”
-— Gregory Orr, from “Some Notes on Shadows,” from The Caged Owl: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2002)

“When we must deal with problems, we instinctively resist trying the way that leads through obscurity and darkness. We wish to hear only of unequivocal results, and completely forget that these results can only be brought about when we have ventured into and emerged again from the darkness. But to penetrate the darkness we must summon all the powers of enlightenment that consciousness can offer.” — Jung

“The range of what we think and do
is limited by what we fail to notice.
And because we fail to notice
that we fail to notice
there is little we can do
to change
until we notice
how failing to notice
shapes our thoughts and deeds.”
–R.D. Laing

“Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.” — Carl Gustav Jung

“I don’t need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better.” — Plutarch

“The brighter love’s radiance, the darker the shadows we encounter; the more we feel life stirring within us, the more we also feel our dead spots; the more conscious we become, the more clearly we see where we remain unconscious. None of this need dishearten us. For in facing our darkness, we bring to light forgotten parts of our being. In recognizing exactly where we have been unconscious, we become more conscious. And in seeing and feeling the ways we’ve gone dead, we start to revive and kindle our desire to live more expansively.”
– John Welwood

“Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.”
– C.S. Lewis

“Where there is much light, the shadow is deep” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and adventures are the shadow truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes and forgotten” — Neil Gaiman

“Between the conception
and the creation
between the emotion
and the response
Falls the shadow”
— Joseph Conrad

“With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” — Jung

No matter how fast you run, your shadow keeps up.
Sometimes it’s in front!
Only full overhead sun diminishes your shadow.
But that shadow has been serving you.
What hurts you, blesses you.
Darkness is your candle.
Your boundaries are your quest.
I could explain this,
but it will break the glass cover on your heart,
and there’s no fixing that.
You must have shadow and light source both.
Listen, and lay your head under the tree of awe.
When from that tree feathers and wings sprout on you,
be quieter than a dove.
Don’t even open your mouth for even a coo.
– Rumi

Today’s Lessons

July 18th, 2011

Get up and do something first thing in the day.

Be active.

Be motivated by love.

Don’t be silent anymore.

Simplify life — remove whatever and whoever does not inspire, inform, add personal value and friendship, or provide a needed service

Clean it up, and make it easy to keep clean.

There will always be more things to learn and do as the day progresses, but you have to start somewhere.

The Marriage of the Princess and the Dragon

December 30th, 2010

The Dragon and the Princess

Because of the mishaps of her parents, a young princess named Aris must be betrothed to a fearful dragon. When the king and queen tell her she becomes frightened for her life. But recovering her wits, she goes out beyond the market to seek a wise woman, who has raised twelve children and twenty-nine grandchildren and knows the ways of dragons and Men.

The wise woman tells Aris that she indeed must marry the dragon, but that there are proper ways to approach him. She then gives instructions for the wedding night. In particular, the princess is bidden to wear ten beautiful gowns, one on top of the other.

The wedding takes place. A feast is held in the palace, after which the dragon carries the princess of to his bed chamber. When the dragon advances towards his bride, she stops him, saying that she must carefully remove her wedding attire before offering her heart to him. And he too, she adds (instructed by the wise women), must properly remove his attire. To this he willingly agrees.

“As I take off each layer of my gown, you must also remove a layer.” Then, taking off the first gown, the princess watches as the dragon sheds his outer layer of scaly armour. Though it is painful, the dragon has done this periodically before. But then the princess removes another gown, and then another. Each time the dragon finds he too must claw off a deeper layer of scales. By the fifth gown the dragon begins to weep copious tears at the pain. Yet the princess continues.

With each successive layer the dragon’s skin becomes more tender and his form softens. He becomes lighter and lighter. When the princess removes her tenth gown, the dragon releases the last vestige of dragon form and emerges as a man, a fine prince whose eyes sparkle like a child’s, released at last from the ancient spell of his dragon form. Princess Aris and her new husband are then left to the pleasures of their bridal chamber, to fulfil the last advice of the wise women with twelve children and twenty nine grandchildren.

As in a dream, all the figures in such a story can be found within us. We find the scaly dragon and the attending princess, the wise grandmother, the irresponsible king and queen, the hidden prince, and the unknown one who cast his enchantment long ago.

What this story reveals from the start is that the journey is not about going into the light. The forces of our human history and entanglement are tenacious and powerful. The path to inner freedom requires passing through them. Receiving grace, opening to illumination, becoming wise has not been easy even for the masters. It is described as a difficult purification: cleansing, letting go, and stripping away. Suzuki Roshi called it a “general house cleaning of the mind.”

It is painful to cast of our own scales, and the dragons guiding the way are fierce. It requires the inspiration of angels; it requires diving into the ocean of tears.”

via The Marriage of the Princess and the Dragon-A Dharma Story « Metta Refuge.

The Dance of Awareness

October 4th, 2010

Awareness in life is not hoping you learn to dance — it is recognizing that you already are dancing. Life is the dancer, you are the dance.

2004:

It is true that being aware of how things happen makes one’s words more potent and one’s behavior more effective. But even without the light of consciousness, people grow and improve. Being unconscious is not a crime; it is merely a lack of a very helpful ability.

Knowing how things work gives the leader more real power and ability than all the degrees or titles the world can offer. That is why people in every era and in every culture have honored those who know how things happen.”Tao of Leadership

When I first started blogging about the Tao back in 2004, I was at the beginning of developing my full sense of awareness. But of course developing awareness isn’t something you can ever really finish; it is always a continuing process. Some moments allow us to be more present and aware than others, some people in our lives allow us to be more present with them than do others. This summer I had the amazing experience of being with a friend where we were both totally and completely aware with each other over several days, and it was a life changing experience for both of us.

I can still find it difficult to be around those who lack awareness, as I said when I posted this in 2004. I am pretty forgiving most of the time, though, and see it as a way to practice loving kindness towards those who are less aware. I often take the bodhisatva path of trying to wake others up, and walk with them for a while, but I usually revert to Tao eventually and am content to simply walk my own path.

2005:

Too many people seem to walk through their lives in a daze, not aware of what is going on around them at all, lost in their concerns over what has happened or will happen. We all need to be awake and aware to the possibilities of the Now –- and the consequences to the future of lacking that awareness.

I blogged a great deal about Tao in 2005, including most of Deng Ming Dao’s wonderful 365 Tao, which I sometimes give to friends who are in conflict. I have a good friend who is reading this right now, and I think it is beginning to help her. I credit this book with helping me the most with my own personal inner changes. If you want to see my real changes, it is in the contrast between the posts from that book and the political articles I was posting. In that year, I felt all the anger I had felt over our country’s situation shift into taking action to do something to change things. I worked a lot on political issues, but lost the anger I had felt and let it shift into movement. I began to understand that Tao is not only about acceptance of what is, but using the power of Tao to help create new or different situations. We are not helpless victims, we are the creators of our own world.

2006:

A person with true self-acceptance is “a person with full awareness of self in body, mind and spirit. This person’s center of consciousness (Hsing – “Heart Flower”) is in full bloom, ready to receive power from above, openly relating to and being reflected by others.”

It may seem clever to know and accept others
Yet accepting oneself is the way to Wisdom.
It may feel powerful to overcome others
Yet disciplining oneself is true Strength.
It may be noble to honor others
Yet respecting oneself is deep self-esteem.

Tao Mentoring

It has taken me a long time to fully learn to accept myself as I am. And it is a process I’ve repeated many times over. Each time I come to believe I finally accept myself, I find something I still want to improve. Meeting this balance between accepting myself as I am and knowing that I have even more room to grow is always interesting. It means not being complacent with where I am at, but always knowing there is more to know, more to see and feel and do, and that is ok.

But I think the key is really respect. Self-respect is not simply about accepting who you are right at this moment, but also respecting yourself enough to continually challenge yourself. Not allowing yourself to become complacent, thinking you are already the best you can be, but knowing there is more you can do and always being ready to learn and grow and change, truly opening yourself to the possibilities of life that are all around you.

This was one of my favorite posts, and one I return to often. I truly believe the key to being able to help others lies in acceptance of ourselves. In 2006, I developed the ability to really create change through simply being myself. I also blogged a lot about art journaling, and using art as a means to learn about yourself and perhaps visually see the inner processes that are usually hidden within us. It was a very helpful time for me, opening me up to new experiences and ideas and a great community of art bloggers.

2007:

We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement. All these trips we lay on ourselves never touch our basic wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of the eye from being fully awake.” — Pema Chodron, Start From Where You Are

In 2007, I blogged about yoga, including Rolf Gates’ wonderful “Meditations from the Mat”, and Buddhism, including much of the wonderful Pema Chodron . I spent a lot of time exploring different paths, but still found Tao to be the one that I kept returning to (well, return is the way of the Tao…) I did a lot of traveling and exploring, worked a great deal on politics, and really felt that our political community was moving towards creating change.

2009:

How much of the day are you aware -– just basically aware of what life is presenting -– rather than being lost in waking sleep, in being identified with whatever you’re doing, almost as if you didn’t exist?

To what extent do you blindly drift from one form of comfort to another, from one daydream or fantasy to another, from one secure place to another, in order to avoid the anxious quiver of discomfort or insecurity? How much of your energy is used to fortify a particular self-image, or to simply please others in order to gain approval, instead of devoting your energy to living a genuine life?” — At Home in the Muddy Water: A Guide to Finding Peace within Everyday Chaos Ezra Bayda

Oh soul,
you worry too much.

You have seen your own strength.
You have seen your own beauty.
You have seen your golden wings.
Of anything less,
why do you worry?
You are in truth
the soul, of the soul, of the soul.”

Jalal ad-Din Rumi

For me, spiritual growth has come in strange ways and from strange places, and I think that is how authentic spiritual growth progresses, from within, as we turn through the limits of our own being and try to become more. We find ourselves turning again and again within the limited space of ourselves, and finally realize that there is an enormous amount of space outside of ourselves. We then create mobius strips and Klein bottles, trying to bring this outside space within ourselves, an impossible task at first. We see the beautiful poetry of Rumi as he struggles with spirituality, the magnificent stories and tales of mythology, religion, and literature, all trying to move in these same paths.

And then one day, a small hummingbird sits in front of your nose, flapping its wings, and looks at you curiously, or you gaze into a flower and finally really see it, or someone says something that catches your ear and your mind at just the right moment, or a quiet meditation brings you to the place within yourself that just knows, simply knows, and you smile. You get it. You get that Mona Lisa smile on your face and just — become yourself.

And it happens over and over. We find ourselves, we lose ourselves, we find ourselves again, at another place on the spiral. The helixes divide, and come back together. And life goes on.

2009 for me was about realizing “there is nothing to achieve” — we are already within ourselves everything we want to be or could hope to be. Everything else is just ego. It’s the point where I really became comfortable in my own skin, even as I watch that skin age.

And then — my wonderful friend came along and exploded my world again with this question:

“How open to change are you?”

My boat strikes something deep.
At first, sounds of silence, waves.
Nothing has happened;
Or perhaps everything has happened
And I am sitting in my new life.
-– Rumi

2010:

Dogen reminds us that to raise the mind of compassionate awakening is none other than the whole of daily activity with no concern for one’s self, no thought of outcome, no sense of self-gratification. It means that whatever is, is the best that there is at this moment. Just this, wholly this, only this.

Engaging in the Way, in the life of continuous practice, means that we are constantly awakening with each new moment. Awakening is not a single event in time. Rather it is a continuous event through time. Basho wrote: Let me be called a traveler. He did not mention any destination. Just a traveler.”
- Joan Halifax via Whiskey River

“Being present in the motion, moment after moment, provides that secret chamber of awareness and gives the writer the chance to notice what is passing by before it is gone.” — Richard R. Powell, Wabi Sabi for Writers

So you may have noticed a lack of posting here lately. Well, much of my work has moved elsewhere on the Internet — into Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr — but much of me is now just off living my life, living in awareness, being where I am and with who I am with and doing whatever I am doing, but always Being. I made a vision board a year or so ago with the words “Go. Do. Be” on it, and that’s what I’ve been doing. I keep growing, moving, changing, becoming, being. Others may notice, or not, it doesn’t matter. I may change the world, or those around me, or not, it doesn’t matter. What matters, for all of us, is Awareness and Being.

That’s all there is, really. The rest is ego. Life dances. You are the dance, not the dancer.

Deserving

August 11th, 2010

No more being the ugly duckling, people. It’s time for all of us to shine our brightest….

IT was lovely summer weather in the country, and the golden corn, the green oats, and the haystacks piled up in the meadows looked beautiful. The stork walking about on his long red legs chattered in the Egyptian language, which he had learnt from his mother. The corn-fields and meadows were surrounded by large forests, in the midst of which were deep pools. It was, indeed, delightful to walk about in the country. In a sunny spot stood a pleasant old farm-house close by a deep river, and from the house down to the water side grew great burdock leaves, so high, that under the tallest of them a little child could stand upright. The spot was as wild as the centre of a thick wood. In this snug retreat sat a duck on her nest, watching for her young brood to hatch; she was beginning to get tired of her task, for the little ones were a long time coming out of their shells, and she seldom had any visitors. The other ducks liked much better to swim about in the river than to climb the slippery banks, and sit under a burdock leaf, to have a gossip with her. At length one shell cracked, and then another, and from each egg came a living creature that lifted its head and cried, “Peep, peep.” “Quack, quack,” said the mother, and then they all quacked as well as they could, and looked about them on every side at the large green leaves. Their mother allowed them to look as much as they liked, because green is good for the eyes. “How large the world is,” said the young ducks, when they found how much more room they now had than while they were inside the egg-shell. “Do you imagine this is the whole world?” asked the mother; “Wait till you have seen the garden; it stretches far beyond that to the parson’s field, but I have never ventured to such a distance. Are you all out?” she continued, rising; “No, I declare, the largest egg lies there still. I wonder how long this is to last, I am quite tired of it;” and she seated herself again on the nest…..

There is probably no better or more reliable measure of whether a woman has spent time in ugly duckling status at some point or all throughout her life than her inability to digest a sincere compliment. Although it could be a matter of modesty, or could be attributed to shyness — although too many serious wounds are carelessly written off as “nothing but shyness” — more often a compliment is stuttered around because it sets up an automatic and unpleasant dialogue in the woman’s mind.

If you say how lovely she is, or how beautiful her art is, or compliment anything else her soul took part in, inspired, or suffused, something in her mind says she is undeserving and you, the complimentor, are an idiot for thinking such a thing to begin with. Rather than understand that the beauty of her soul shines through when she is being herself, the woman changes the subject and effectively snatches nourishment away from the soul-self, which thrives on being acknowledged, on being seen.

So that is the final work of the exile who finds her own: to not only accept one’s own individuality, but also to accept one’s beauty… the shape of one’s soul and the fact that living close to that wild creature transforms us and all that it touches.

When we accept our own wild beauty, it is put into perspective, and we are no longer poignantly aware of it anymore, but neither would we forsake it or disclaim it either. Does a wolf know how beautiful she is when she leaps? Does a feline know what beautiful shapes she makes when she sits? Is a bird awed by the sound it hears when it snaps open its wings? Learning from them, we just act in our own true way and do not draw back from or hide from our natural beauty. Like the creatures, we just are, and it is right.

– Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves

Reality is all in Your Head

April 12th, 2010

The key, then, to self responsibility is taking 100% ownership of our thoughts, feelings, and actions, while at the same time remembering that we don’t know much for sure.

It is quite immature for adults to stomp their little feetsies, and say, “I don’t understand, I don’t believe it, and I’m not listening to another word!”

Such an odd thing. People are stuck in a pile of shit, and insist that

a) it appeared by magic,

b) they had nothing to do with their being in it,

c) someone else is to blame,

d) someone else should dig them out, and

e) they don’t want to even consider how they got into the pile in the first place (as they place their fingers in their ears, and start humming.)

If I assume that what I know is provisional and incomplete (what Zen calls Beginner’s Mind…) then life actually becomes kind of simple. If I am standing in roses I can enjoy it, then move on. If I am standing in shit, I can extricate myself, and then devise a way to not end up there again.

The Point?

The entire universe is going on right in your head. You are creating everything through the stories you tell, and experiencing everything as you choose to. Your experience, your feelings, your thoughts, all are you — you are choosing out of many, many options, those specific things. If I have Beginner’s Mind, I can start again, and pick some other way.

via Reality is all in Your Head | The Pathless Path.

Anger Management

April 23rd, 2009

Dragon of anger
Calls for us to take action
Anger is the fire

Nurture the darkness of your soul
until you become whole.
Can you do this and not fail?
–Tao Te Ching, 10

Been feeling angry about a lot of little things lately. Part of it is politics, with all the torture memos coming out this week. Most of it is just small things annoying me. But it’s quite unusual for me to be feeling it so strongly. I’ve been doing a lot of shadow work, though, trying to get at some issues that still nibble at me from time to time and that have popped up more frequently lately. I suppose I should go see my shrink, but these are the things he’s never really been able to be helpful about, because of basic worldview differences (he’s Jewish, of course). I think I lost a bit of respect for him when he mentioned he stopped talking to his mother — I just thought that was a bit weird for a shrink to say, and shows a lot of avoidance of shadow issues. I guess they have their own problems too though, of course.

So anyway, I’m kind of looking for more of a Jungian approach rather than Freudian, and a good Jungian analyst seems to be hard to find. The do it yourself approach is tough with Jung, since I do understand it, but it takes a lot of time. And the shadow is a trickster, so it’s just tough to deal with in general anyway. And since I don’t want to inflict this on others, I’m staying more to myself, so I’m a bit lonely from that.

Ah well, this too shall pass…

“When you are feeling depreciated, angry and drained, it is a sign that other people are not open to your energy.” — Sanaya Roman

“There is nothing more galling to angry people than the coolness of those on whom they wish to vent their spleen.” — Alexandre Dumas

“The world needs anger. The world often continues to allow evil because it isn’t angry enough.” — Bede Jarrett

“In certain trying circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity furnishes a relief denied even to prayer.” — Mark Twain

“Do not teach your children never to be angry; teach them how to be angry.” — Lyman Abbott

“At the core of all anger is a need that is not being fulfilled.” — Marshall B. Rosenberg

“It is wise to direct your anger towards problems — not people; to focus your energies on answers — not excuses.” — William Arthur Ward

“In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” — Douglas Adams

“Anger is a great force. If you control it, it can be transmuted into a power which can move the whole world.” — William Shenstone

“Anger is not bad. Anger can be a very positive thing, the thing that moves us beyond the acceptance of evil.” — Joan Chittister

“Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”
– William Saroyan

“I would not look upon anger as something foreign to me that I have to fight…I have to deal with my anger with care, with love, with tenderness, with nonviolence.” — Thich Nhat Hanh

Dr. Buddy Rydell: Dave, there are two kinds of angry people – explosive and implosive. Explosive is the type of individual you see screaming at the cashier for not taking his coupon. Implosive is the cashier who remains quiet day after day and then finally shoots everyone in the store. You’re the cashier.

Dave Buznik: No, no, no. I’m the guy in the frozen food section dialin’ 911. I swear.

– Anger Management

Positioning (repost)

November 9th, 2008

Heron stands in the blue estuary,
Solitary, white, unmoving for hours.
A fish! Quick avian darting;
The prey is captured.

People always ask how to follow Tao. It is as easy and natural as the heron standing in the water. The bird moves when it must; it does not move when stillness is appropriate.

The secret of its serenity is a type of vigilance, a contemplative state. The heron is not in mere dumbness or sleep. It knows a lucid stillness. It stands unmoving in the flow of the water. It gazes unperturbed and is aware. When Tao brings it something that it needs, it seizes the opportunity without hesitation or deliberation. Then it goes back to its quiescence without disturbing itself or its surroundings. Unless it found the right position in the water’s flow and remained patient, it would not have succeeded.

Actions in life can be reduced to two factors: positioning and timing. If we are not in the right place at the right time, we cannot possibly take advantage of what life has to offer us. Almost anything is appropriate if an action is in accord with the time and the place. But we must be vigilant and prepared. Even if the time and the place are right, we can still miss our chance if we do not notice the moment, if we act inadequately, or if we hamper ourselves with doubts and second thoughts. When life presents an opportunity, we must be ready to seize it without hesitation or inhibition. Position is useless without awareness. If we have both, we make no mistakes.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

I’ve been thinking a lot about this one. One of the comments my yoga teacher often makes is that yoga is about creating “steadyness of mind”. I think this is what this passage means. We have to steady and quiet our minds, creating awareness. Then, when opportunities are presented to us, we can easily know what needs to be done and take action.When your mind is confused or distracted with conflicting ideas or feelings, it can be impossible to know what to do. But Tao trains us in quieting and steadying the mind, just as yoga does. The two are very effective together.

I think I would like to learn other techniques for this as well. I know the medications I take have a great effect on steadying and quieting my mind and my thoughts, which is very helpful. My gardening becomes like this for me as well, as I get into an almost zen-like state of seeing what needs to be done and doing it, without doing so much that the overall effect is ruined. Not that I have a zen garden, it’s far more of a cottage garden. I don’t care for the over-manicured look of most meditative gardens, really. I prefer a natural look.

People often remark these days on how calm I am; how so little seems to upset me. Oh, sure, I can get upset when it matters. But little things don’t bother me. I am learning to trust Tao to work things out, and start to look for what comes to me when my plans are upset. Often I’ll find just what I’m looking for when things seem to have gone awry. So I’ve learned that sometimes Tao is telling me that what I need may be different from what I have planned, and learn to be less upset.

I suppose a lot of people would say their belief in their God is like this, but it’s different for me. I don’t look to a god, unless you could consider everything in life some part of god. For me, it is all a connected whole. I don’t see myself as separate from god, or other people as any better or worse for what they believe in. Perhaps I’m more Hindu in that, just accepting all gods as part of the pantheon. But I go further in accepting all spirituality as basically the same. What I don’t accept in religion is the imposing of one’s beliefs on others.

So, I guess I am learning to stand more quietly in the stream, hoping to catch more fish. Hey, last night I caught a pretty great salmon, all nice and cooked and brought to my table in a tasty sauce. The fishing doesn’t get much better than that.

(originally posted on Friday, January 14th, 2005 )

Faith (Repost)

February 24th, 2008

In spite of knowing,
Yet still believing.
Though no god above,
Yet god within.

There is no god in the sense of a cosmic father or mother who will provide all things to their children. Nor is there some heavenly bureaucracy to petition. These models are not descriptions of a divine order, but are projections from archetypal templates. If we believe in the divine as cosmic family, we relegate ourselves to perpetual adolescence. If we regard the divine as supreme government, we are forever victims of unfathomable officialdom.

Yet it does not work for us to totally abandon faith. It does not follow that we can forego all belief in higher beings. We need faith, not because there are beings who will punish us or reward us, but because gods are wonderful ways of describing things that happen to us. They embody the highest aspects of human aspiration. Gods on the altars are essential metaphors for the human spiritual experience.

Faith shouldn’t be shaken because bad things happen to us or because our loved ones are killed. Good and bad fortune are not in the hands of gods, so it is useless to blame them. Neither does faith need to be confirmed by some objective occurrence. Faith is self-affirming. If we maintain faith, then we have its reward. If we become better people, then our faith has results. It is we who create faith, and it is through our efforts that faith is validated.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

The point of faith is to become better people. Not to force your religion on others, but to better yourself. Not to strengthen your religion or return it to its traditions so you can glory in the past, but to allow yourself to face the world as it is now, and deal with life as it is now. Tao doesn’t encourage us to live in the past or long for some past glory days of Taoist rule, or go around converting everyone to Taoism, or to force our governments to meet some holy standards of justice. Tao tells us to live our own lives in harmony with natural forces. The “faith” of Tao is to know that if you follow its principles and move in harmony with the Tao, your life will naturally become better.

And it does. That’s the beauty of it. It works. Just as Christianity does if you truly follow its teachings, and don’t reinvent your own interpretations of it to suit your misogynistic tendencies. Just as Buddhism does, if you follow its logic. Just as Islam does, if you follow its true tenants and don’t use them as ways to control the women in your society, or enforce the power of the Mullahs over the people to their detriment. Just as any faith does, once you get past the “rules” you’re “supposed” to follow and understand the heart of what it is trying to tell you – to treat other people well, to better yourself before complaining about others, and to live your own life in accordance with what you believe, and not impose that on other people around you.

For the unified mind in accord with the tao all self-centered striving ceases. Doubts and irresolutions vanish and life in true faith is possible. With a single stroke we are freed from bondage; nothing clings to us and we hold to nothing. All is empty, clear, self-illuminating, with no exertion of the mind’s power. Here thought, feeling, knowledge, and imagination are of no value. In this world of suchness there is neither seer nor other-than-self.

To come directly into harmony with this reality just simply say when doubt arises, ‘Not two.’ In this ‘not two’ nothing is separate, nothing is excluded. No matter when or where, enlightenment means entering this truth. And this truth is beyond extension or diminution in time or space; in it a single thought is ten thousand years.

Emptiness here, Emptiness there, but the infinite universe stands always before your eyes. Infinitely large and infinitely small, no difference, for definitions have vanished and no boundaries are seen. So too with Being and non-Being. Don’t waste time in doubts and arguments that have nothing to do with this.

One thing, all things: move among and intermingle, without distinction. To live in this realization is to be without anxiety about non-perfection. To live in this faith is the road to non-duality, because the non-dual is one with the trusting mind.

Words! The tao is beyond language, for in it there is no yesterday, no tomorrow, no today.

–Hsin Hsin Ming (Verses on the Faith Mind)
Attributed to Chien Chih Sengtsan, ca. 600 C.E.
Translated by Robert B. Clarke

Trickster

February 23rd, 2008

I am beginning to understand that there is much of the trickster in my personality. I’ve always identified with Loki, and often use humor to try and defuse situations (not always successfully, like any trickster…)

I’m currently reading Lewis Hyde’s “The Gift” right now, but I think his “Trickster Makes This World” will be in the reading stack soon. (It’s been on my wish list for a few weeks now).

Lewis Hyde

“An important part of any sacred activity is marking a boundary between the sacred and non-sacred. It’s important to build a container so the action is conducted inside sacred space,” he noted. “So, when you get to a character like the Trickster, you now have somebody who is the critic of the boundary, whose position is that all boundaries can be become too rigid and too impermeable, causing the life to dry up inside the container. So you need, both … some way to make the container and some function that is smart about how and where to break it. The Trickster is the sacred boundary crosser. And it’s not just that he crosses boundaries, he does it as a needed sacred function. If all you have is sacred forces who are maintaining their fiefdoms then you can end up with a fragmented heaven. Trickster gets a commerce going among the various sacred powers.”

Speaking of “heaven” – Hyde related in his book the story of C.G.Jung when he was a twelve-year-old schoolboy in Basel, Switzerland, admiring the glorious cathedral in the town square.

Said Jung, “I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the sight, and thought: ‘The world is beautiful and the church is beautiful and God made all this and sits above it far away in the blue sky on a golden throne and … Here came a great hole in my thoughts, and a choking sensation. I felt numbed, and knew only: ‘Don’t go on thinking now! Something terrible is coming …’”

For several days Jung struggled with the thought of whether or not God, who controls all things, could allow him to think a thought he shouldn’t think. Finally, having worked himself around to believing that God wanted him to have the forbidden thought, he relented: “I gathered all my courage, as though I were about to leap forthwith into hell-fire, and let the thought come. I saw before me the cathedral, the blue sky. God sits on His golden throne, high above the world – and from under the throne an enormous turd falls upon the sparkling new roof, shatters it, and breaks the walls of the cathedral asunder … I felt an enormous, an indescribable relief. Instead of the expected damnation, grace had come upon me. I wept for happiness and gratitude.”

Hyde said he was indebted to C.G. Jung, particularly one of his students, Marie-Louise von Franz, and their work with the idea of Mercurius. To the medieval alchemists, Mercury was the metal symbolizing duality – metallic yet liquid, matter yet spirit, cold yet fiery. Mercury was the metal uniting all the opposites. This Trickster energy was known to the Greeks by way of Hermes, the messenger god; in the Roman pantheon, Hermes becomes Mercury.

“C.G. Jung was a fabulously smart guide,” Hyde continued. “The Jungian insight is that the psyche is a community of forces and you need that whole community of forces working together. The pathology is when one member of the community begins to dominate in an individual, so some other part – your Warrior, say, or your sense of justice – gets muted. Or if we’re speaking of a group rather than one psyche, it’s when somebody begins to take over through display of one singular force. In a healthy community, every force will have a counter force. For example, Hermes steals the cattle from Apollo, but at the end of the story, Hermes and Apollo are friends. They find a way to relate. They need each other. You can’t have a boundary crosser unless you have someone who cares about the boundary. Hermes needs Apollo to be able to play with the rules and Apollo needs Hermes to keep things lively.”

To help people come back to a place where they’ve been trapped or lost requires them to become a ‘Hermeneut’ of their own life. They have to be helped to understand that there is an active learnable role to play in relating to the story you tell about your own life, the story you’ve inherited, the story you’re going to create as you live your life. Most Americans are passive recipients of the story that the media wants them to live by and only when you realize it is a story are you able to make different choices. You can interpret the story and be converted – from a passive object of commercial pitchmen into an actor living a life that you yourself create.”

Hyde said he believed a lot of Americans were “numb.” I liked the quote he used from child psychologist Donald Winnicott: “It is a joy to be hidden, but disaster not to be found.”

To explore within ourselves all the limiting behavior we’ve been taught takes a kind of “imaginative amorality,” the author said. It’s not an immorality, but an archetypal motivation in our own psyche to “play with the rules rather than observe them.”

Peace be with you

February 21st, 2008

On a day when I am not at peace with myself or my surroundings, Ascender comes along and kicks my cage door wide open. I was going to write something about how I am feeling today, but I think I’ll just link to her good wishes instead. Please click on her link below to visit all the bloggers she lists; I don’t have the time to fix all the linky love at the moment here.

Namaste, to all.

Studio Lolo tagged me with this ‘peace and love’ meme; to spread the word to send loving energy and thoughts to the places and people that need it. Rather then tagging others I hope to pass on some urls of my virtual pals who could use some of your loving energy and thoughts. Please leave some virtual peace and love to some people who could really use it right now.

Red Moon at the loss of her daughter

The Daily Warrior successfully fighting ALS for 16 years

Studio Friday is closing down. Stop by and show her some love for her dedication all these years.

Check out these bloggers who address peace and love almost everyday: 3191, a poetic justice, another poster for peace, anti-war us, Art For A Change, Art of Mark Byran, Artists Helping Children, Blog Like You Give A Damn, Blood For Oil, bricalu, Buddha Project, Change Me, Changing Places, Crafty Green Poet, No Blood For War and Profit, Inhabitat, kamurawayan, Light a Candle, Military Families Speak Out, Miniature Gigantic, Paris Parfait, Peaceful Societies, Pinwheels for Peace, Poets Against the War, rambling taoist, smile, smile, Take it Personally, The Peace Train, Treehugger, Visual Resistance, We Are What We Do, Betmo, Bloggers For Peace

The Broken-Hearted Warrior

January 11th, 2008

Why then, have to be human?
Oh not because happiness exists,
Not out of curiosity…
But because being here means so much;
because everything here,
vanishing so quickly, seems to need us,
and strangely keeps calling to us… To have been
here, once, completely, even if only once,
to have been at one with the earth –
this is beyond undoing.

– Rainer Maria Rilke

“It is only through letting our heart break that we discover something unexpected: The heart cannot actually break, it can only break open … To live with a broken-open heart is to experience life full strength … When the heart breaks open, it marks the beginning of a real love affair with this world. It is a broken-hearted love affair, rather than the conventional kind based on hope and expectation. Only in this fearless love that can respond to life’s pain as well as its beauty can we be of real help to ourselves or anyone else in this difficult age. The broken-hearted warrior is an essential archetype for our time.”

“We set out on a path that is continually surprising — learning to be ourselves, yet also more than ourselves. As Zen master Shunryu Suzuki points out, “When you are yourself, just yourself, through and through, you are the universe. You are not this conditioned person anymore.” Then, though we may dedicate ourselves to helping this world, our well-being will not depend on the outcome. For we are becoming one with that force in the universe that is forever creating itself anew.” — John Welwood, Love and Awakening

“The soul that rises within us,
our life’s star,
cometh from afar
and hath elsewhere its setting.”

– Wordsworth

Love and Awakening

January 9th, 2008

Currently reading John Welwood’s “Love and Awakening”. Good stuff, and recommended. Some quotes follow here.

Like the sun’s rays that cause the seed to stir within its husk, love’s radiant energy penetrates the facade of the false self, calling forth resources hidden deep within us. Its warmth wakes up the life inside us, making us want to uncurl, to give birth, to grow and reach for the light. It calls on us to break out of our shell, the personality-husk surrounding the seed potential of all that we could be. The purpose of a seed husk is to protect the tender life within until the time and conditions are right for it to burst forth. Our personality structure serves a similar function. It provides a semblance of security, as a kind of compensation for the loss of our larger being. But when love’s warming rays start to wake us up, our ego-shell becomes a barrier restricting our expansion. As the germ of life swells within us, we feel our imprisonment more acutely…..

The brighter love’s radiance, the darker the shadows we encounter; the more we feel life stirring within us, the more we also feel our dead spots; the more conscious we become, the more clearly we see where we remain unconscious. None of this need dishearten us. For in facing our darkness, we bring to light forgotten parts of our being. In recognizing exactly where we have been unconscious, we become more conscious. And in seeing and feeling the ways we’ve gone dead, we start to revive and kindle our desire to live more expansively….

A soul connection is a resonance between two people who respond to the essential beauty of each other’s individual natures, behind their facades, and who connect on this deeper level. This kind of mutual recognition provides the catalyst for a potent alchemy. It is a sacred alliance whose purpose is to help both partners discover and realize their deepest potentials. While a heart connection lets us appreciate those we love just as they are, a soul connection opens up a further dimension — seeing and loving them for who they could be, and for who we could become under their influence. This means recognizing that we both have an important part to play in helping each other become more fully who we are….A soul connection not only inspires us to expand, but also forces us to confront whatever stands in the way of that expansion….

While our absolute nature, as pure being or open presence, is timeless and changeless….our soul evolves and deepens through cultivating and embodying the seed potentials — for courage, strength, generosity, humor, tenderness, wisdom — contained in this larger nature. The essence of spiritual work is to realize and continually reorient ourselves toward our being, our absolute nature; and this is what leads to ultimate freedom. Yet spiritual realizations often remain compartmentalized, apart from everyday life, or become used as a rationale for living in an impersonal or soulless way. That is why, if we are to live our realizations and bring them into this world, we also need to work on the vessel of spirit — our embodied humanity. Soulwork is the forging of this vessel……If spiritual work brings freedom, soulwork brings integration. Both are necessary for a complete human life.

John Welwood, Love and Awakening : Discovering the Sacred Path of Intimate Relationship

The Frog Prince

January 7th, 2008

I’ve kissed a few frogs in my day, and many of them were indeed princes.

But my favorite story is of the geek girl who is asked to kiss the frog, and replies, “Cool! A talking frog!” and sticks him in her pocket…. although lately it has been turned into a male nerd joke. When I was a female in engineering, this was OUR joke:

An engineer was crossing a road one day when a frog called out to her and said, “If you kiss me, I’ll turn into a handsome prince.” She bent over, picked up the frog and put it in her pocket. The frog spoke up again and said, “If you kiss me and turn me back into a handsome prince, I will stay with you for one week.” The engineer took the frog out of her pocket, smiled at it and returned it to the pocket. The frog then cried out, “If you kiss me and turn me back into a prince, I’ll be your devoted boyfriend.” Again the engineer took the frog out, smiled at it and put it back into her pocket. Finally, the frog asked, “What is the matter? I’ve told you I’m a handsome prince, and that I’ll be your devoted boyfriend. Why won’t you kiss me?” The engineer said, “Look, I’m an engineer. I don’t have time for a boyfriend, but a talking frog……that’s cool.”

But the real story of the frog prince has nothing to do with a prince, but is about restoring the golden ball to the psyche and in return receiving what at first seems to be the burden of an awkward, useless frog to carry around. If one sits with the frog long enough (or maybe tosses it against the wall), it rewards you by becoming something magnificent. When you find “true love” for the things in your psyche that you think are ugly and unlovable, then you have truly come to self-acceptance and the rewards are indeed magnificent.

When we read fairy tales which tell the story of initially playing with a golden ball, then losing that golden ball, and ultimately recovering that golden ball, we are being told the story of the individuation process. Early in life we are, unconsciously, one with the Self, and life is golden. We lose that sense of wholeness as the Self recedes and the ego begins to realize itself – its limitations, its vulnerability, its smallness, its otherness. And then, usually at the Self’s instigation, the ego attempts, often through pain and defeat and suffering, to recover that initial relationship with the Self – the golden ball, if you will – although in a new and more conscious way. Each one of us had a golden ball when we were young, which was suddenly taken from us by fate or design, and here we are, at some stage in the process, whether we are in analysis or not, of trying to get it back. And it is possible. Fairy tales don’t lie. (Yes, it’s possible; but who’s willing to pay the price?)

“We can analyze someone for a long time and the dreams seem to discuss certain obvious problems and the person feels all right, but suddenly he will have a dream out of the blue which starts something completely new. A new creative idea which one could not expect or explain causally, has arisen as if the psyche had decided to bring up something new, and these are the great and meaningful healing psychological events. The symbol of the sphere or the ball primarily means this. That is why so often in fairy tales the hero follows a rolling apple or a rolling sphere to some mysterious goal. He just follows this spontaneous self-impulsiveness of his own psyche to the secret goal.”

You will also notice that balls, when they roll, will often take the most direct route to reach its destination, will yieldingly follow the natural gradient of the landscape, the path of least resistance, and because of its perfectly round shape, will roll as true as true can be. These are additional characteristics of the Self at work in the psyche. Jung stated that the Self, the unconscious, does not deceive us. It may use language that is cryptic and symbolic, but its intent is not to disguise its message. It communicates as truthfully as it can using the language and methods it possesses. Its roll is direct and true.

In the real world, there are some types of frogs that might be hallucinogenic to kiss:

Another possible connection to this process of liminality might lie in the ornamental carvings found on stone representations of the yokes worn during the contests. These yokes are portrayed with drawings of the Marine Toad (Bufo Marinus). Although this species of toad is inedible, its does secrete a fluid through its skin which is hallucinogenic and was probably used in religious rituals which sought to produce an altered state of consciousness. It is therefore thought that perhaps the appearance of this toad on the equipment of the ball players connected the game to the religious system which sought a momentary descent into the Other World. This connection might lie in the other-worldly, trance-like state the ball players would assume while playing, which separated them from ordinary time and thrust them into sacred time.

In the environment, frogs are also an indicator species of the health of the environment. Frogwatching has become a way to help track environmental damage and pollutants.

So you might want to check on whether your internal frogs are healthy and lovable, and maybe cool, or if they might need some loving and kissing….

Cool Loneliness

January 2nd, 2008

I first discovered this article in May of 2003. I did a search on my posts for the word “present”, and this is the second post that came up. The first is this one on a trip to Disneyland. This seems to be around the time when I actually began to wake up from my deep depression.

Perhaps what it is really all about is simply learning to be present, to be here now, as they say. It seems trite, but once you’ve really learned that, everything else becomes so much easier. Just to be present with yourself, with how you really actually feel in the moment, seems to be what makes us most alive.

Shambhala Sun – Six Kinds of Loneliness

The experience of certain feelings can seem particularly pregnant with desire for resolution: loneliness, boredom, anxiety. Unless we can relax with these feelings, it’s very hard to stay in the middle when we experience them. We want victory or defeat, praise or blame. For example, if somebody abandons us, we don’t want to be with that raw discomfort. Instead, we conjure up a familiar identity of ourselves as a hapless victim. Or maybe we avoid the rawness by acting out and righteously telling the person how messed up he or she is. We automatically want to cover over the pain in one way or another, identifying with victory or victimhood.

Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It’s restless and pregnant and hot with the desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company. When we can rest in the middle, we begin to have a nonthreatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.

There are six ways of describing this kind of cool loneliness. They are: less desire, contentment, avoiding unnecessary activity, complete discipline, not wandering in the world of desire, and not seeking security from one’s discursive thoughts.

The Handless Maiden

December 15th, 2007

(Note this is the brothers Grimm version, not Estes version)

SurLaLune Fairy Tales: The Annotated Girl Without Hands

A CERTAIN miller had little by little fallen into poverty, and had nothing left but his mill and a large apple-tree behind it. Once when he had gone into the forest to fetch wood, an old man stepped up to him whom he had never seen before, and said, “Why dost thou plague thyself with cutting wood, I will make thee rich, if thou wilt promise me what is standing behind thy mill?” “What can that be but my apple-tree?” thought the miller, and said, “Yes,” and gave a written promise to the stranger. He, however, laughed mockingly and said, “When three years have passed, I will come and carry away what belongs to me,” and then he went. When the miller got home, his wife came to meet him and said, “Tell me, miller, from whence comes this sudden wealth into our house? All at once every box and chest was filled; no one brought it in, and I know not how it happened.” He answered, “It comes from a stranger who met me in the forest, and promised me great treasure. I, in return, have promised him what stands behind the mill; we can very well give him the big apple-tree for it.” “Ah, husband,” said the terrified wife, “that must have been the devil! He did not mean the apple-tree, but our daughter, who was standing behind the mill sweeping the yard….”

The Little Match Girl

December 9th, 2007


Rachel Isadora

Hans Christian Andersen: The Little Match-Seller

IT was terribly cold and nearly dark on the last evening of the old year, and the snow was falling fast. In the cold and the darkness, a poor little girl, with bare head and naked feet, roamed through the streets. It is true she had on a pair of slippers when she left home, but they were not of much use. They were very large, so large, indeed, that they had belonged to her mother, and the poor little creature had lost them in running across the street to avoid two carriages that were rolling along at a terrible rate. One of the slippers she could not find, and a boy seized upon the other and ran away with it, saying that he could use it as a cradle, when he had children of his own. So the little girl went on with her little naked feet, which were quite red and blue with the cold. In an old apron she carried a number of matches, and had a bundle of them in her hands. No one had bought anything of her the whole day, nor had anyone given her even a penny. Shivering with cold and hunger, she crept along; poor little child, she looked the picture of misery. The snowflakes fell on her long, fair hair, which hung in curls on her shoulders, but she regarded them not.

Lights were shining from every window, and there was a savory smell of roast goose, for it was New-year’s eve—yes, she remembered that. In a corner, between two houses, one of which projected beyond the other, she sank down and huddled herself together. She had drawn her little feet under her, but she could not keep off the cold; and she dared not go home, for she had sold no matches, and could not take home even a penny of money. Her father would certainly beat her; besides, it was almost as cold at home as here, for they had only the roof to cover them, through which the wind howled, although the largest holes had been stopped up with straw and rags. Her little hands were almost frozen with the cold. Ah! perhaps a burning match might be some good, if she could draw it from the bundle and strike it against the wall, just to warm her fingers. She drew one out—“scratch!” how it sputtered as it burnt! It gave a warm, bright light, like a little candle, as she held her hand over it. It was really a wonderful light. It seemed to the little girl that she was sitting by a large iron stove, with polished brass feet and a brass ornament. How the fire burned! and seemed so beautifully warm that the child stretched out her feet as if to warm them, when, lo! the flame of the match went out, the stove vanished, and she had only the remains of the half-burnt match in her hand….


Artist: Basko Tamara, 14 years old, the pupil of the children’s art school of P.I.Chaykovskiy. Title – picture: The little Match Girl

Out-Create Them

December 7th, 2007

For Ronni…..

“There is a very hidden aspect to most collectives that encourages oppression of women’s wild, soulful and creative lives, and that is the encouragement within the culture for women to tell on one another and to sacrifice their sisters… to strictures that do not reflect the relatedness found in the familial values of the feminine nature. These include not only the encouraging of one woman to inform on another and therefore expose her to punishment for behaving in a feminine and integral manner, for registering appropriate horror or dissension to injustice, but also the encouraging of older women to collude in the physical, mental, and spiritual abuse of women who are younger, less powerful, or helpless, and the encouraging of young women to dismiss and neglect the needs of women who are far older than they…”

“we also learn that the wild, because of its energy and beauty, is always eyed by somebody or other, something or other, some group or other, for trophy purposes or as something to be reduced, altered, ruled on, murdered, redesigned, or controlled. The wild always needs a guardian at the gate, or it will be misused…”

“When the collective is hostile to a woman’s natural life, rather than accept the derogatory or disrespectful labels that are placed upon her, she can and must… hold on, hold out, and search for that which she belongs to– and preferably outlive, out-thrive, and out-create those who vilified her…

“The trap within the trap is thinking that everything is solved by dissolving the projection and finding consciousness in ourselves. This is sometimes true and sometimes not. Rather than this either/or paradigm — it’s either something amiss out there or something awry within us — it’s more useful to use an and/and model. This paradigm allows a whole inquiry and far more healing in all directions. This paradigm allows women to question the status quo with confidence, and to not only look at themselves but also the world that is accidentally, unconsciously, or maliciously pressuring them….”

“If you are striving to do something you value, it is so important to surround yourself with people who unequivocally support your work…”

“Creating one thing at a certain point in the river feeds those who come to the river, feeds creatures far downstream, yet others in the deep. Creativity is not a solitary movement. That is its power. Whatever is touched by it, whoever hears it, sees it, senses it, knows it, is fed. That is why beholding someone else’s creative word, image, idea, fills us up, inspires us to our own creative work. A single creative act has the potential to feed a continent. One creative act can cause a torrent to break through stone.

— Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run with the Wolves

Don’t let them control you, Ronni – out-create them.

I also found out Clarissa blogs at The Moderate Voice.

The sum of all fears: organized religion

December 3rd, 2007

Golden Compass trailer here. Looks amazing. Box set of the trilogy here. These books were one of the things that brought me through the long dark night of my soul. Lyra’s strength and courage would be inspirational to any young girl.

The sum of all fears: organized religion

With any luck, and if “The Golden Compass” turns out to be even half as wondrous as the book, it will hopefully fuel a surge in sales of the “HDM” trilogy in America and, perhaps, inspire a new literary awakening among young readers, darker and more complex and even (gasp) slightly sexual, far beyond the clever but innocuous magic of Harry Potter – which, by the way, had its share of religious bonk-jobs calling for its destruction, as wizardry is clearly the dominion of the devil. We all know what a huge drop in sales that protest caused.

But there is another note of good news from this tale of fear and whining and outcry, and it takes the form of another delightful rule upon which your soul can happily rely, as well as a heartfelt lesson for trembling ultraconservative sects everywhere.

It’s this: If your ancient, authoritarian, immutable belief system is threatened by a handful of popular novels, if your ostensibly all-powerful, unyielding creed is rendered meek and defenseless when faced with the story of a fiery, rebellious young girl who effortlessly rejects your stiff misogynistic religiosity in favor of adventure, love, sex, the ability to discover and define her soul on her own terms, well, it might be time for you to roll it all up and shut it all down and crawl back home, and let the divine breathe and move and dance as she sees fit.

And the Pullman books are wondrous — I loved reading them. Perfect for that young adult reader looking to have the courage to follow her soul.

And I have a tiger daemon

Contagion of the Heart

December 3rd, 2007

Woke up with this phrase in my head this morning from my fuzzy dreams. After yesterday’s vivid lucid dreams, today’s were fairly tame, but in the last one I was enjoying an excellent dinner of steak and green beans with Tom and Jonathan and some wonderful beer. I have no idea what that means dreamwise but it was a great dinner… maybe I was just hungry.

Anyway:

Contagion

The act or means of communicating any influence to the mind or heart; as, the contagion of enthusiasm.

Emotional Contagion

Emotional contagion is the tendency to express and feel emotions that are similar to and influenced by those of others. One view of the underlying mechanism is that it represents a tendency to automatically mimic and synchronize facial expressions, vocalizations, postures, and movements with those of another person and, consequently, to converge emotionally (Hatfield, Cacioppo, & Rapson, 1994). A broader definition of the phenomenon was suggested by Sigal G. Barsade- “a process in which a person or group influences the emotions or behavior of another person or group through the conscious or unconscious induction of emotion states and behavioral attitudes”.[1]

I’ve always been a bit immune to this kind of emotional contagion myself, although I’m almost hyper-aware of other people’s feelings (not that this stops me from stepping on them sometimes). I get suspicious if my mood seems to be changing for no apparent reason (a necessity in people who live successfully with bipolar), and end up doing a “heart check” to see if that is something I’m really feeling or just something someone else wants me to feel. So then I get called “distant” or “withdrawn” or “reserved” or whatever and people think I am not connecting with them. But I do see what they are feeling, and perhaps even deeper than they know. I’ve often known when someone’s latest love of their life was a passing fling, or when it could lead to bigger things for them. I’m the one who will be whispering, “careful” when another is about to tread on someone else’s sacred ground, or hook into a skeleton woman they really aren’t ready to handle. And I try to put in a “yes, THIS one!” whisper when a friend is with someone who really lights up their life. But when I attempt to dampen a flame, I end up losing friends, so I’ve stopped doing that. Sometimes you really just can’t tell people anything and you just have to let them find out for themselves what a mess they are making of their lives.

And it is one of my leading clues when I’m starting to slip into a “manic” state if I find myself more and more caught up in someone else’s emotions and problems, or worse, hyping my own mania by feeding off other’s emotions until it moves into the hypo-manic state. So I tend to require a lot of quiet time, time by myself and just to reflect, not only on my own emotional state but that of the people around me. I think it’s one of the reasons I surround myself with golden retrievers, because they are so sensitive and aware of other’s moods and emotions. Their reactions help me to judge and figure out my own emotions and those of other people. If they are shying away from someone, that certainly isn’t anyone I’m going to be getting near. On the other hand, my pest control service lady just stopped at the door and asked if she should do the back yard or not, since they are re-doing the drainage for the patio today, and she ended up petting Darwin for the ten minutes she would have spent on the yard and thanked us for the therapy time.
He was really cuddled up with her, so she must have needed it.

I’ve been reading about Skeleton Woman and how she draws flesh from the beating of the heart of the fisherman, and also reading Daniel Goleman’s “Social Intelligence” where he talks a bit about this way we directly connect through the amygdalya with the emotional expressions of other people. Apparently Goleman believes there is a direct link from our eyes to the amygdala and we can pick up on other people’s feelings even before we are actually aware of what we are looking at. Pretty fascinating idea.

It seems to have evolved into a bit of a pop psychology thing right now, sadly, where people are trying to force salespeople to be cheerful good-mood spreaders, or emotionally “handle” their clients, etc… Then there are those people who can’t stand to be around others that “bring them down” and want to remain in the perpetually cheerful state that eventually drives everyone around them crazy and leads to their own mental breakdown (after which they turn into wonderful truly joyful people)… as well as the “Eeyore” types that refuse to be happy no matter what and end up dragging everyone else down with them (but who are also full of great compassion and can be wonderful friends and lovers)… developing a healthy balance for one’s own heart and knowing yourself well enough to realize when you’re in danger of “catching” a wave of fear or panic or whatever is important.

And this time of year there’s the idea that we are all supposed to be happy and jolly when in fact it is a very difficult time of year for many people who have to deal with losses or unhappy holiday experiences of the past. For me, this time of year invokes more quiet reflection and watching the emotional “snow” settle in on my heart as I think of all the people I miss at this time of year, family who are gone and the friends who decided I wasn’t going to be allowed to be part of their lives anymore. We tend to have a small party to celebrate with those friends we hold dear, and that is always a bright spot in the dark nights for me, along with the beauty of Christmas trees and lights and the thoughtful, gorgeous Christmas music. I can rarely hear or sing “Silent Night” without a few tears. But really, the inflatable Santas and lighted reindeer and Jingle Bell Rock I can just do without, please.

So please make your holidays whatever you need them to be, and don’t give in to those who try to force you to make it into that happy jolly fun time you’re not wanting to celebrate, or the drudge through all the family history with drunken relatives again if you’re not up for that. But don’t be the Grinch either. Open your heart to the things that really matter and are important to you, and connect with the deep spirit of this season in the ways that will mean the most to you.

Namaste.