Selfishness…

Tuesday was a busy day.  We had new carpet put in to replace the nearly 20 year old carpet that was in our bedrooms.  We spent the day moving around furniture and belongings.  I blinked and it was dinner time.  After dinner I went to see Eat Pray Love with my friend, Kelly, and it was during the movie that I realized I hadn’t written or scheduled a blog post for Wednesday.  Luckily I was watching a very inspiring movie.

I read the book Eat Pray Love over two years ago.  I remember liking it, but not loving it.  The spiritual aspects of it spoke to me, but I’ve never dreamed of being a world traveler so with the exception of the ashram in India I didn’t feel any envy on that front.  That being said, I LOVED the movie!  I don’t know if I’m just in a different place now, but it was moving, funny, and I really loved Liz and the whole cast of characters in her life.

That brings me to the title of the post.  Last week I read a scathing review of the movie.  Pretty much had I never read the book and just read this review, I might not have paid to see the flick.  The overall criticism of the movie was that the main character was selfish and narcissistic.  I’d put the link to the review here if I could remember, but I can’t.  The reviewer was so convincing that she even had me vaguely remembering the self-involved nature of the author in the book.  But guess what?  It was a memoir.  The purpose is for the author to write about her life experiences and her personal reactions to those experiences.  Of course it would have self-involved overtones.

So I went into the movie with this review still in my head and plans to pin point all those horribly narcissistic moments on the big screen.  The thing was, I didn’t see any.  I saw a woman with her own problems, dealing with them in the only way she could.  A big argument made by detractors is that she “had it all” and was so selfish that she left it to find something else.  It was made clear in the movie that her big dream was not to be a wife and mother, so how can we say she had it all.  Sometimes we make decisions based on a mold created for us by our families or our culture, sometimes we make decisions for ourselves and simply change our minds.  It was mentioned that Ms. Gilbert so thoughtlessly left behind her family and loved ones to travel the world, but all I saw was a woman who was given the perfect opportunity to have an adventure.  There was no one in her life that NEEDED her in order to survive and thrive.  In fact, the people who thought they wanted her went on to find more success and happiness once she was out of the picture.

I think it’s sad that people tend to jump on the label “selfish” every time another person does something specifically for their own well-being, sanity, and happiness.  We have no idea what other people are actually thinking and feeling.  A small problem to us may be a devastating obstacle to someone else.  A person who appears to “have it all” may in fact have not one thing that makes them feel good about living.

I, for one, find Elizabeth Gilbert inspiring and no more narcissistic than anyone else in the world.  (We’re all a little narcissistic and selfish right?)

Tessa’s Dad’s Click

@Tessasdad is another great person I’ve been following on Twitter for some time now.  He is a stay-at-home-dad and blogger.  After you’ve read his click you can find more on his blog here and follow him on Twitter here.

April 4 of 2009 was all at once the happiest, most exciting and anxiety-producing day of my life.

It was the happiest because I got to fall in love instantly with my beautiful daughter Tessa.

It was the most exciting because I waited nine months to finally meet her, hold her and tell her how much I loved her.

It was the most anxiety-producing because now that Tessa was here, I was a father for real now. I was a first-time father a month away from my 37th birthday. I was also a first-time father that was going to be a stay-at-home dad. Most scary though was that I was a first-time father who wasn’t really confident he was cut out to be a good father.

All sorts of voices were in my head trying to convince me that this was a huge mistake. “You’re too old. You’re too selfish. You’re too used to being able to do whatever you want. You don’t know how to be a father. You don’t have any idea what a good father is. How can you be one?” Over and over these things ran through my head – until later that day when I saw Tessa’s head turn at the sound of my voice.

At first I didn’t think I saw what I thought, but my wife, Deb, noticed it too. She commented about how Tessa had been listening to me for many months now and knew who her Daddy was.

It kind of hit home then. Tessa and I were starting out fresh. There was no history, but only today. All she knew was that her Daddy was there to hold her, soothe her, kiss her forehead, and change her diaper. We were starting our first day together and with me being a stay-at-home dad, we were going to get to know each other really well, really soon.

(Insert Your Name Here)ism

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with my friend, Ray, and he brought up an idea he had presented me with before.  It was the “ten years from now plan” and in his picture he saw me as a minister.  I responded by saying that I do kind of like the idea of it, but I don’t really think I fully align with any one particular church or religion.  I mentioned a comment from an old post where someone said I was trying to create my own religion-Lesleeism.  I told Ray that if it was the church of Lesleeism, I could definitely be the minister, but otherwise I’d just have to go with the flow and see where it leads.  He responded with the idea that we all have our own personal religions, he has Rayism, and everybody else has their own “isms.”

Some people might disagree with me on this.  They will promise they are true to their religion.  But what I see when I look out into the world is that most of us straddle the line instead of walk it.  People pick and choose what works.  It’s all about Jesus’ birth at the Christmas Eve service and all about Santa Clause on Christmas morning.  We “forgive those that trespass against us” until we come face to face with someone with different political or religious beliefs.  We remind those around us of the importance of upholding the commandments, as we break them daily or hourly in our minds (which if I understand correctly the bible says is the same as actually breaking them.)  We teach of the power of forgiveness through salvation from Jesus, but we hold grudges that often follow us to the grave.    (It seems all my examples are from Christianity, sorry about that, it’s all I know.)

So what is my answer to this seeming hypocrisy?  OWN IT!!  Admit that religion is not a “one size fits all.”  I don’t think any one person can mold themselves to perfectly into one religion and trying to is simply putting you out of integrity with yourself.  When I was young and was taught about Hell, it absolutely broke my heart.  I just couldn’t rationalize it.  I didn’t get how an evil person could recite the words “I accept Jesus into my heart as my savior” and be admitted to Heaven, while someone good and charitable who may not know or get the opportunity to say those words would burn for eternity in Hell.  It didn’t make sense.  The world is too big and there is too much diversity for that to be true.  Because of this idea and others, I left God behind for years.  When I learned new ideas, one being that we all experience the same thing when we die no matter how “good” or “bad” we are, I could embrace God and spirituality again.  What rang true for me was the idea that our human existence is like school.  We are here to learn and evolve and we keep coming back until we meet the goals and can graduate and return to “God.”  But that one idea, that feels right to me, could absolutely assault the sensibilities of someone else.  And that is OK!  I am not asking anyone to take my words and beliefs as truth, I am suggesting you simply ask yourself what YOUR truth is.  It will probably not be the same as mine and if you’re completely honest with yourself it may not even be the same as your religion’s.

So I encourage you to find your own truth…create your own religion, one that makes you feel loved and happy!  Grab a plate and partake of the buffet of spirituality!

Discipline

Discipline is a concept that has been popping up for me over and over.  And it is something I have been resisting over and over again.  Yesterday during my book group someone mentioned discipline and for the first time I began to open up to the idea.

I’ve been viewing discipline as some sort of controlling force.  I should be able to just follow my heart, go where the wind blows me right?  I don’t need to be disciplined….do I?

What has occurred to me in the last couple of days is that maybe the wind is blowing me down the path of discipline and that perhaps it is the key to finding true peace and happiness.  Over the past few years the times I have felt the most success is when I have maintained a regular practice in the areas of my life that are important.  I feel a great level of connectedness and inner peace when I make time for daily meditation.  For over two years, I did this every day, twice a day, no matter what.  Over the past months I have let this practice slide and sometimes go days without meditating.  Needless to say the peace and connectedness is not so consistent anymore.  I used to wake every morning and write in my journal.  I have a years worth of notebooks filled with my thoughts.  When Bella started Kindergarten, I stopped making the time to journal.  Now the thoughts fly through my head all day long and rarely end up on the page.  In 2007, I wrote a 100,000 word novel in less than three months.  I made a decision to write three pages a day and I stuck with it.  I wrote no matter where I was, or what was going on.  I had never felt such a sense of accomplishment as I did at the end of each writing session and especially when the book was complete.

I’ve let myself believe that discipline is a bad word.  My ego has fooled me into thinking that I don’t need it, that I can continue to do nothing and yet still accomplish something.  What?  That doesn’t make any sense.  Luckily, I am aware enough to read the signs.  Yesterday I walked into my friend’s bathroom.  I have been in this room many times, seeing as I always arrive at her house with a full bladder from too much coffee.  For the first time, I noticed a sign hanging in that room that said “Determination.”  Determination and discipline go hand in hand.  Discipline is simply about making a choice that gets you where you are determined to go.

Life is filled with hills and valleys.  What matters is the decisions we make from day to day and moment to moment.  If we want to be healthy we can choose to eat right and exercise.  If we want to be happy we can choose to look for the good all around us.  If we want to be successful we can choose to take the baby steps that get us closer to our career goals.  If we want to live a spiritual life we can choose to do those things that connect us to God or spirit.  Discipline is about figuring out what choices help us to become who we want to be and then making those choices over and over again.

Enjoy!

Passion, pleasure, bliss, ecstasy….

When I hear those words my knee jerk emotion is the opposite of the feelings behind any of them.  Something within me thinks the search for any of the above would be indulgent and downright selfish.  My happiness should not be important.  The only thing that should matter is that my family and friends are happier because of what I do for them.  This results in an endless cycle of guilt, because frankly I can never do enough.  I mean I can’t buy Bella that horse farm she wants, provide sundresses warm enough to keep Callee from having to wear pants in the winter, and build an extra sound proof room onto the house for Mark to practice his music in.    Like Leigh said in a comment on Monday, I am not Superwoman!

I am learning that I can put aside the shoulds and the guilt and try to nurture my soul and my spirit by daring to enjoy my life.  There are certain activities we are drawn to.  When we take part in them we might just experience passion, pleasure, bliss and even ecstasy. This is OK… Experiencing those feelings is a lot like hitting the jackpot.  It means we’ve connected with a vital piece of ourselves.  It provides us with insight about our life’s direction and contribution to society.  Right now I love to write this blog, read spiritual/metaphysical/new age books, meditate, and engage in conversations on various related topics.  Sometimes I wonder where these activities are taking me.  Despite the joy I get from a conversation about spirit guides and chakras, I wonder if I just have my head in the clouds.  But when I stop doing these things, when I try to read normal books, lurk around on the internet, and stick my nose into other people’s drama, I find I am no longer in-joy.  There is no pleasure, passion, bliss or ecstasy.  All of that is replaced with agitation and unease.

The agitation and unease that comes with neglecting my soul’s desires affects me and thus affects my family.  When I’ve wasted my time and energy all day without doing anything that fulfills me, I am empty and often grumpy during my time with them.  When I’ve been inspired and engaged passionately in an activity I feel excited.  Yesterday, for example, after going to the gym I came home and had a great meditation session, finished reading an interesting book, and worked on blog stuff.  I felt incredible and the time zoomed by.  Our family time that evening was truly quality time because I wasn’t in my head thinking about the things I wished I would have accomplished.

I am going to make a point to acknowledge the moments I feel pure joy.  I’m also going to ask to be shown more ways to experience passion, bliss, pleasure, and ecstasy.  If I have learned nothing else from the great loss I experienced last year, I’ve learned that our time here is not guaranteed and happiness is our birthright if only we are willing to claim it!!  So what about you…what’s waiting in the wings to bring you joy?

Thomas Paine

The following are quotes taken from “The Age of Reason Part One” in The Thomas Paine Reader.

“I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.”

“I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavouring to make our fellow-creatures happy.”

“…the creation we behold is the real and ever-existing Word of God, in which we cannot be deceived.  It proclaims His power, it demonstrates His wisdom, it manifests His goodness and beneficence.”

Ray’s Click

The following is written by a dear friend, Ray.  I met Ray at Unity Eastside where we were co-teachers of the Uniteens.  Like others I have mentioned before, I consider Ray one of my spiritual companions!  He has also been a dedicated reader of this blog from the very beginning!

 

It was a Friday and I had just returned from a conference in Palm Beach where I had been part of a team that had facilitated a workshop for those with developmental disabilities.  I was full of myself and couldn’t wait to share my successful experiences with my wife of two years and my newborn son as well as her two boys.  Imagine my shock when I walked into an empty, newly purchased home.  She had left me.  I walked around in a daze for that weekend and felt that on Monday my life would again reflect some kind of normalcy when I returned to work.  Upon arriving Monday, the Program Director called me into his office and told me that the program was going in another direction and  my position was being eliminated. My world was turned upside down.  Suddenly all the things that I thought provided meaning in my life were gone.  I had no savings, no means of support, and no future prospects. What was I to do? Life has a way of providing solace and opportunities to grow if we listen to our indwelling spirit. But then I knew nothing of an indwelling spirit.  I lived totally from my ego self which I defined as the sum of all the learning and experiences that had occurred in my life.  There was no other source that defined who I was. In an alone and depressed state, messages or guideposts started appearing in my life.  I had no idea where they came from but there were suggestions that I was to act on certain impulses.  I learned to trust and follow those impulses. This was, I learned, the inner higher self that we are all created to be but which is smothered by the conditioning (or programming) that has occurred since birth. Slowly, and I mean over a period of years, I began to change.  In retrospect, this is what I’ve learned.  I must pay attention to the higher consciousness in my life.  That higher consciousness has only one request. I must express love.  To do so, I must overcome the lower self judgments that I’ve learned here in earth school.  I must guard my thoughts and discern events in my life through a filter consisting of “is this an expression of my higher self or predicated upon conditioned programming?”. So where am I right now?  Well, I’m still here and learning lessons every day.  My purpose is to express joy and happiness to all that I meet and to live passionately in service to others.  I’m sure there will be other changes in my life and I look forward to them with a positive expectancy.