On Being Low-Maintenance

The great thing about choosing a path of self-discovery is that you become aware of your strengths and weaknesses.  As time goes by and you remain open you are prone to bursts of insight that illustrate how it is you’ve arrived where you are.

Lately I’ve written or thought about writing things that are controversial or just not things we’re comfortable talking about.  I’ve thought about the risk.  I don’t want to offend or embarrass anyone  (and these ideas aren’t about specific people but rather topics and themes, so please don’t worry that I’m plotting to write about you).  In ruminating on the risk, I’ve also remembered Stephen King’s writing advice about telling the truth.  I want to take his advice, but I don’t want to bother anyone.

With all this on my mind, I had one of those light-bulb moments the other day.  I identified that I have spent the majority of my life doing my best to stay out of people’s way, make sure they are comfortable, and be as low-maintenance as possible.

In high school I managed to accommodate everyone in my life.  I rebelled just enough to have a good time with my friends, but not so much that I sent my parents over the deep end.  I kept my grades up, always made it to class on time, turned in assignments, and followed the school rules.  I’ve never been one to ask a lot of questions…who has time for my questions right?   If I find myself in the middle of an offensive conversation, you might see me nod or laugh politely even if I’m inwardly seething.  When I was dating, I was the girl who’d order the cheapest thing on the menu and eat all of it so as not to appear wasteful or inconsiderate.  I take pride in my ability to be able to get ready for an evening out in 30 minutes or less.  I also never (or very rarely) pamper myself with spa treatments or shopping sprees and when I do splurge on a retreat or workshop it is not without a little guilt.  Somewhere along the way I must have decided that I wasn’t really deserving of people’s time, money, help, or consideration.

A couple of years ago I had gone to a party held by a friend.  At the party I’d had more than a few drinks.  Later on my friend conveyed the following observation about me that a fellow party guest had made (and I am paraphrasing).

“Leslee is always the same, easy going person.  Whether she is happy, sad, mad, or drunk, she is always the same.”

At the time, I took it as a compliment.  And I do think it was meant to be a compliment (otherwise my friend wouldn’t have passed it on).  But now I think about that and realize it is just another way that I stay out of people’s way…by always being even-keeled.

Over the year and a half that I’ve been at this blog I have taken more risk than I ever have in my life.  Some of my relationships have taken hits because of it.  I’ve shared truths that people didn’t agree with or just didn’t want to hear.  I’ve had moments of deep sadness because of those reactions.  But I have grown tremendously too.

When I look at my life, I must admit that I will probably continue to be low-maintenance in a lot of areas.  This “click” will not lead me to start scheduling massages and manicures or having public outbursts of emotion.  But when it comes to my writing, I will apply the lesson I learned here.  I will be honest and fearless, and it’s very likely that some people won’t like it.  But it will be real and to quote Wayne Dyer “I would rather be loathed for who I am than loved for who I am not.”

Stages of Spiritual Growth

I’ve been feeling inspired to write this post.  I’m writing it solely based on my own experience and the various books and ideas I’ve studied.  I’m only an expert in my experience, so if you feel I get something wrong in this entry keep that in mind and (kindly) throw your 2 cents in.

It appears to me there are stages in our spiritual growth.  They are rungs in a ladder that elevates us to the highest levels of consciousness.  The most obvious examples of this highest point is what we know of Jesus and the Buddha.

Here is my interpretation of what seems to me as three stages.

1.  Survival-If you are into energy stuff and yoga then you will understand when I say this is associated with your first Chakra, also called the root chakra.  So this stage is all about security and safety.  In this stage you may find yourself depending on outside sources for your protection and comfort.  I don’t know about every religion but I can say that at least Christianity (or some aspects of it) speaks to people at this level.  It offers an eternity of comfort and security by setting up rules to follow.  If you behave in a certain way or at least beg for forgiveness when you veer off track you will be rewarded even after this life.  At this level we are driven more by fear than anything else.  We work jobs that we don’t love (or even like), cling to our relationships, build kingdoms out of material possessions (b/c stuff=wealth and wealth=security), and hope and pray that our house of cards doesn’t fall.

2. Master of Your Domain-At this level we start to get it.  This is where the William E. Henley quote comes in.  “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” At this phase we become less afraid of the BIG BAD WORLD because we understand that our thoughts, beliefs, and ideas create our lives.  When your boyfriend dumps you instead of crying that he’s an asshole and you’ll be alone forever, you think what am I going to do with this opportunity.  You understand that there is a power within you that you may or may not call God.  You question religious dogma and in some cases leave it behind.  Here you begin to use the laws of nature and the power of your thoughts to bring good into your life.  You are in the driver’s seat and in essence are the God of your own experience.

3.  Surrender to Something Bigger-I know I probably lost a few people when I jumped from 1 to 2, but here is where a lot more will drop like flies.  Because this is where I say that I believe in an Omnipotent and Omnipresent power and it is not Jesus.  (So right there, I lost my Atheist and my Christian buddies.)  Jesus was a human who happened to make it to stage 3.  And this tells you a little bit about what your life looks like when you reach stage 3.  At this stage you are merely an instrument for the Divine.  The force that guides the Universe also guides you.  It is at this stage that you fully come to that realization.  Here you stop inserting your own will and start living from the Christ consciousness.  There is no more duality.  No more right and wrong or good and bad.  Life is love and love is life.

Traveling through these stages is not a clear cut process.  To see the full picture you would have to pull the lens way, way, way, way, way back.  At that point you might see that it takes hundreds or thousands of lifetimes to progress through them.  I also know from my own experience and others around me that we hop around the three.  Just in the past month I’ve had moments where I’ve been scared to death that my whole world would crumble at the loss of a loved one, I’ve used sheer will and determination to get started on a project, and I’ve “let go” and allowed the Divine to speak through me.  There is also the idea that we can be in different stages in different areas of our life.  Someone could be a stage 1 in relationships and a stage 2 in their career path.  I would also venture to say there is a lot of space to play with in between each stage.

Anyway, thanks for reading my theory here and please keep in mind that I did not consult any textbooks or experts.  All of this came from within me (except for the quote), so if you have anything you could add I’d love to hear it!

Human Behavior

I’m laughing a little as I title this post because there is a Bjork song with the same title and Mark teases our dog by singing it to her.  Lilly is now pretty much conditioned to switch into attack mode as soon as she hears him belt out a note of it.  There was also a period of time where the girls would watch the video on YouTube and Bella found it quite frightening.  In most areas Callee is more like me then her father except when it comes to teasing.  For a long time Callee would say “Hey Bella you want to talk about human behavior?” and Bella would immediately get scared.

But quite frankly, human behavior is scary and I’m not talking about the Bjork video.  We’ve been watching the series The L Word on and off for the last year.  After finishing season 2 we decided it was too cheesy and melodramatic, but ultimately we got reeled back into it and just finished season 3.  During season 3, I just kept thinking and asking “is this how people really are?” The show is focused around a group of women who are all either Lesbian or Bi-sexual.  The real heart of the show lies in their human-ness and the way they react to their life experiences.  Sometimes it is just plain difficult to watch…which is what brought me to my question.  Are people really like these characters?

What seems to dominate the character’s lives is FEAR.  Almost every move they make comes from that place.  One character sees her girlfriend flirting with some men and she runs over to her ex’s house and spends the night.  When the truth comes out she apologizes by saying that this is just who she is.  Her MO is to be an insecure womanizer…change isn’t in the cards.  The girlfriend is terribly hurt but instead of communicating and forgiving she seeks revenge by also cheating.  You watch these two characters react, react, react until they have completely undone all the good between them and have no relationship left.

Another couple has a daughter and are deciding to split up.  They scream, yell, and curse at one another as the little toddler sits on the floor and watches.  They each threaten the other with getting sole custody of the little girl.  They can’t seem to find any peace, they are too busy blaming one another for the demise of their partnership.

In this show the characters make all sorts of decisions trying to make themselves feel better.  Each one seeks outside of themselves.  When faced with the loss of a friend they cling to the nearest warm body and make irrational commitments.  At times when meeting their fears they give up, too unsure of their ability to follow through.  When people challenge them they defend themselves with anger as their uniform.  They let every emotion lead them down a different road.  And still in the midst of the chaos, it is never their own choices that led them there…always someone else’s fault.

I do believe that the show illustrates what a lot of people are really like (although with some added Hollywood drama).  I know that I’ve been like this at various times in my life.  I have been guilty of seeking revenge.  I’ve been guilty of making assumptions about what other people were thinking or saying in respect to me.  I’ve been incredibly insecure at times.  I’ve been clingy after experiencing a loss.  I’ve lashed out at people who love me.  I’ve been a quitter and at times even a little self-destructive.  I’ve looked to the world to fix me.  And I’ve probably, at least on an occasion or two, blamed someone else when it didn’t.

Luckily I now have a tool that helps to lift me, even if in brief intervals, out of the madness of my humanity.  Because I seek within and find moments of silence, I’ve learned to see my old patterns and break them.  I’ve learned that I don’t have to have an MO that stays with me forever.  Life is about growth and change that cannot be found outside of us…

An Ego Named Charlie

I am back from an amazing weekend at the Amrit Yoga Institute.  It was everything I hoped it would be and possibly a little more.  I’m not sure how much of it I will share.  I made a beautiful (in my eyes) painting and an amazing “goddess” sculpture.  I do want to write about and share a picture of the sculpture at some point when I get the photos taken and downloaded.   I may keep the painting just for myself this time and only share it with those who happen to come into my bedroom to sneak a peek of it hanging on the wall.  I did want to share an activity we did today because it might be helpful, or at least entertaining.

We were told to pick an animal to represent our ego.  Once we had the animal we were to name it.  The first animal that popped into my head was my dachshund, Lilly.  I resisted this at first but nothing else came to me.  I thought of Lilly’s neediness, the way she growls a little when she wants to be petted and barks constantly at your feet when you are looking out the window in the hopes that you will lift her up and let her see too.    But Lilly is tough, she sticks up for herself when her brother, Oscar, is bugging her.  She has a huge voice for her little body and could rally a whole stadium full of doggies.  Lilly didn’t exactly fit my ego.  But I decided the dachshund was a good representative.  I thought of how we keep our dogs crated when we are away or sleeping.  They put up a fuss when we close the crate door, but we know if we left them unattended and gave them free reign of the house they would piss on everything and get into all sorts of mischief.  Yep, that sounded a lot like an ego…

Next was the name.  Charlie popped into my head.  When I was a kid on occasion we’d go to Charlie’s Here, which was a convenient store up the street.  We’d get candy and sodas to carry along on an outing.  I’d usually wolf my treats down, never stopping to savor them.  I was always left wanting more and wishing I’d taken the time to enjoy what I had.

So there I had it.  My ego is a Dachshund named Charlie.

We were then asked to think of a question we have about our life.  My question was “What should I focus on in my life right now?”  We were told to close our eyes and inwardly ask our animal.  I was a little unsure on this one, but I did as I was told and to my surprise I received an answer.

Charlie said as he eagerly hopped around: “Make them love you, make them love you, make them love you.”  And with that I was shown a few of the ways I could do more or change to make the people around me love me more.  Yep, sounds about right.

We were then told to close our eyes and ask the same question, only this time direct it to Spirit.  I closed my eyes and did as I was told.  Spirit immediately said:

LOVE YOURSELF!!!

And with that the floodgates opened and tears poured from my eyes.  It was true.  I can’t make anyone else love me or love me more, all I can do is love myself and from there it will grow in my life and in the lives of those around me.

Roles

I have been thinking quite a bit about healing relationships lately.  There are relationships in my life that need to be healed and there is also a need for healing in a few relationships of people close to me.  As I began to think of how to initiate the process, I realized I first needed to look at the cause of the rifts.  I think that more than anything it has to do with our roles in relationships.

I believe we have a slightly different way of being with each person in our life.  In some relationships we give more, in some we take more, in some we feel more confident, and in others more insecure.  With one group of friends we may be a boisterous leader and with another a shy follower.  For the “seasonal friends” or the people that come and go throughout, our roles don’t become that vital.  If we change, it’s OK, we move on and let go.  With our life-long relationships any change in our roles can become make or break.

Change is inevitable.   We outgrow ideas and shift our perspectives.  But change like this is threatening to relationships.  If a subservient wife starts reading The Feminist Mystique, it might just scare the hell out of her husband.  If a straight A student starts getting C’s, alarms go off.  If the middle-aged chubby guy buys a convertible and starts hitting the gym, there’s a good chance his wife might start to question the motives behind these actions.   In these moments we must realize the change has nothing to do with us and everything to do with the path the other person is on.

I thought of a couple of examples to use to illustrate.  I know there are a lot of families or friendships that thrive on gossip.  So say you have two sisters who talk often and almost always share stories about what the other family members are doing.  One sister makes the decision that she wants to be more positive in her thinking and speaking.  This isn’t something she discusses with others, but just decides to do.  In the following week she gets a call from her sister, Sally Sue.  The very first thing Sally Sue says is “You won’t believe what our brother, Bob did this week.”  And goes on to tell the story.  The sister responds with a simple “that’s interesting” and then asks about the weather.  When the conversation is complete Sally Sue is left feeling hurt and confused.  She and her sister have always connected this way and she immediately begins to think her sister is mad at her and pulling away from their relationship.  In reality her sister is just trying to make positive changes in her life.  Now it is up to the sisters to shift their relationship or allow it to sink.  The roles have changed whether they both wanted them to or not.

There is also the parent/child relationship.  A father may raise his son always under the guise that he is the adult and he knows what’s best.  Eventually the son grows into a man.  As a man he is very educated and knowledgeable.  He learns a lot about his father’s interests and tries to offer advice.  His father is unwilling to see his son’s perspective and refuses the advice.  He is trapped in his role of “father knows best.”  This refusal to shift his role puts a wedge between him and his son.  The son was only trying to help and even gain respect but is instead was left feeling belittled and unimportant.

There comes a point in everyone’s life where they want to do things differently.  It may come as a response to growing resentful of some of their roles.  A caretaker may become exhausted by always giving and reach a point of feeling they deserve to be taken care of for a while.  It could be an answer to a calling of wanting to have a bigger life, be a better person, or contribute to society.  That kind of calling will shift the personal relationships because it forces a person to pull away and examine their essence.  But if we truly love those that are closest to us, those who hold these life-long positions in our life, we must be willing to seek to understand the change and hopefully embrace the new roles that are created (knowing that those roles may not be the last either).

Living the Questions

Recently someone commented on an old post.  It gave me the opportunity to reread that post and the comments on it.  A friend of mine had left the following quote in her comment.  She’d read it and thought of me.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions”

I remember that when I read it the first time I had thought It sounds very lovely, but I don’t really get it. What does it really mean to live the questions?

So yesterday I had a very emotional day.  I reconnected with two old friends, one in person and one by phone.  I didn’t express everything that was in my heart with either of them.  I knew that if I’d opened my mouth to actually speak what I was feeling I would just turn into a weeping mess.  The gist is that I realized in talking with them that I had unintentionally and unknowingly pushed them both away.  In the past couple of years I have been so busy seeking the answers, that I’ve let important things and people slip away.

At the end of the day I was thinking more about it and this quote popped into my head.  I had lost friendships and connections because I wasn’t “living the questions.”  I don’t need to have the answers and in fact the harder I look for them the less likely they are to come.  The answers will find me when I am ready to receive them.  It’s just like the quote.  I didn’t get it at first because I didn’t need to.  Maybe at that point I was too immersed in my seeking to appreciate the powerful message my friend was presenting me with.    But now, I GET IT!

Living the questions to me is to ask, expect to receive when the timing is right, and LET GO of the need to know.  Get back to living and loving while the Universe gets to work on the how and when.  The answer will arrive and you will just KNOW it’s time to take action.  I am going to stop acting like the kid in the back seat saying “Are we there yet?”  I am going to be present in my life and have confidence that I’ll be led to the right step when I am truly ready to take it.

Steps…

I have mentioned my goals here before.  I think even in one post I stated how the first time I attended my Unity church and listened to Rev. Jean give the talk a little voice within me whispered “I want to do that.”  When I first started on this journey a few years ago, I seemed to make a lot of progress quickly.  I was ready to shout from the rooftops about all I’d learned and the positive changes I’d made.  I would imagine myself giving talks at church and leading workshops.  Aside from facilitating a book group, no other opportunities arose for me to be a “spiritual teacher.”  And over time, I realized there was a lot I needed to learn.  There still is a lot I need to learn.  In fact, I hope I never stop learning and questioning.

Last week my book group gathered for the last time.  We’d spent seven weeks asking ourselves questions and exploring them through journaling.  I was reminded of what I really want to do, which is be a messenger.  I have answered that calling by starting this blog.  It’s easy for me to share my thoughts and ideas in writing.  I would also like to share them through speaking.  If I take fear and self-consciousness out of the equation…that is what I want to do.

This summer Rev. Jean is taking a sabbatical.  She will be away from church for eight Sundays.  Today she announced that there is a sign up sheet and congregants are invited to volunteer to help out while she is away.  One of the ways you can help is by offering to present a Sunday message.  A part of me responded.  Here’s your chance. It was quickly shot down by the fear voice though.

So what I’d really like to do is overcome the fear.  It seems like this is an opportunity that I can seize or miss.  If I miss it, I’m sure to regret that more than I would anything embarrassing that might happen during my talk.  When I first heard about the sabbatical I’d wondered who would fill in for our minister.  I’d even secretly wished someone would personally ask me.  You see, if I’m personally asked, don’t I have to say yes?

So I’m still not really sure what I’ll do.  Maybe next week, I’ll put my name on the clipboard or maybe I’ll give in to the fear.  If I take this step, it feels as if it is getting me ever closer to where I most want to be…