The Struggle for Peace

water

Another BayArt.org blog post resonated with me that I wanted to explore my feelings on, and share here. What really stands out to me is the messiness of the spiritual journey. This path of healing that I want so badly to be easy and carefree, well it’s exactly the opposite. For me, strength and courage haven’t come during the times of joy and peace. These things don’t happen when I’m breezing through life effortlessly. When life is easy and comfortable, I don’t search for peace, compassion, strength, joy.

If you’re looking for a message of hope and inspiration, you won’t find it in this post. I am at what I hope is rock bottom, and I only write this so that I can remember how hard it was when life gets better in the future, so that I can empathize with others during their hard times, and hopefully be of help to someone one day. Maybe it will be a comfort to someone else out there who’s suffering a similar hardship. I don’t know.

This thing that I’ve invested so much time and energy in, this thing I’ve wanted so badly, clung to, fought for… I just don’t know if I want to continue the struggle. It’s just too hard, and I question whether it’s worth it. Is this really how I want life to be? Yet I am so afraid to let it go, because I know that life is hard no matter what path you take, and at some point you make a decision to stick to your decision no matter what, because you know you’ll just run into different problems that are just as frustrating at a later date. I know this for a fact because I’ve been there.

All I know is that something has to change. I have to change. I want so badly for things to just go my way. I want it to be easy. I want safety and security and stability, and that just ain’t happening right now. I have a support network yet I feel totally alone. Who can I call right now? I’ve called everyone I know, I’ve been to every support group meeting available right now, I went to church, I meditated, I called my therapist, my acupuncturist. I decided to keep my money rather than visit a psychic, as badly as I want to know the future, how this is all going to play out, because on some level I know I’ll be given some vague story about how it will all work out. And I know that it will. The problem for me is that I don’t know if it will work out the way I want, and that’s what’s so painful to me.

This is my spiritual journey. It’s not rainbows and unicorns in the sky with glitter and stardust and angels or my dead mother telling me she’s with me and everything’s going to be okay. It’s me sitting alone in my bedroom at 8am on a Monday morning balling my eyes out trying not to sob too loudly while my roommates sleep soundly in their rooms, and my loved ones are far away in their own world of pain that I cannot do anything about, and in fact I seem to just ruin it because I’m in too much pain myself to be of use to anyone else right now. It’s me crying alone in my room praying to God for help, mercy, grace. If Mom were alive, I could call her, and I’d feel better in the moment talking to her, but I still have to fight this battle on my own. No one else can save me. Her being alive would not change that.

Yesterday I reached a new level of understanding, of realizing I cannot wallow in self-pity, I cannot blame Mom’s death or expect everyone else to understand and pause for the next year or two or five or however long it takes for me to process this grief.

I don’t know if going back to school is the right option. I’d love to feel confident in my decision, secure in knowing this is what I want, and faith that it will work out for the better, but I only feel that this is the only option, the last option. I simply do not know what else to do. I am 40 years old with a master’s degree in field I cannot get a job in, working at a grocery store, making barely enough money to get by. So I registered for classes next semester, even though it’s the last thing I want to do right now. I don’t want to spend all my free time studying a bunch of shit I can’t remember later for a job I don’t know if I can get or will like once I do get it. But nothing else is presenting itself to me right now. So this is it.

If I had any hope or strength to offer, it would be this:  ask yourself as you go through the day what you can offer to life rather than what life can offer to you. Say some positive affirmations, no matter how hard it feels, no matter how untrue or fake it feels. If there’s something you enjoy doing, but you just don’t want to do it, do it anyway. This is where growth happens. The journey is not a straight path. It’s a narrow and winding road full of hills, but we will get there. It may not feel like it right now, but we will.

Keeping Faith in Hard Times

The deadline has passed for returning to school next semester and if I want to return next year, I may have to reapply. I’d decided I didn’t want to continue but now I question that choice. There’s an overwhelming feeling of doubt and uncertainty. Lost. I don’t know what to do. Is this really it? The lack of stability frightens me. No one else can save me. No one can tell me what to do. Why not just be satisfied with my decision? Can I just be okay with this, now?

There are no guarantees in life. Even if I chose to return to school and become a nutritionist, the sense of security I might feel would be false. The choice I made was to live a simple life. There are a lot of low-paying jobs available that I’m free to apply for at any time should I choose to, or be forced to. Right now I have a job with a 401k and health insurance. One day I can get my own tiny house or even an RV camper should I choose to, or need to. If I decide to return to school at a later time, I have that option too. I have options. I will be okay. I am okay.

Each experience provides an opportunity to gain wisdom and compassion. We can bring our own experience to others in similar situations, to offer insight. When we tighten and feel that no other options exist, that we’ve reached the last option, we’re limiting ourselves. No one knows what’s around the corner. It could be something miraculous.

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What happens is we project into the future, we look at now as forever, we sense impending doom—in my case that maybe I’ll become homeless and destitute. We forget to appreciate what’s in front of us, what’s happening now. Right now I have an opportunity to be helpful to someone else, but instead I’m worrying about my own plans and projecting into a future that will probably never happen.

I met someone who spends her life dedicated to helping others. She can’t find a job after 43 years of working at the same hospital as a nurse, because she’s now past retirement age, having been pushed out of her previous job without any retirement. Yet she has a lot of love in her life. She’s not homeless, though she doesn’t have much money. Who do you know that serves as a role model for you? If not someone in your immediate presence, perhaps a spiritual leader.

When times get hard, an opportunity presents itself. What can I learn from this experience? What can I do right now, in this moment?

Some days that’s all you can do:  just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving.

Peace

A white woman of about the age of 50 came into the store yesterday and talked to a young African American man (technically he’s biracial, in his late 20s) about what’s going on in America today. I did not catch all that was said, just that this normally cheerful young man became visibly shaken and irritable. The woman had good intentions, and was letting him know she’s on his side, blah blah etc. He said that no politicians will fight for the people; the people must fight for themselves. He pointed out how no politicians are doing anything about what’s going on at the Dakota Access Pipeline.

So that happened.

Another customer at work reminded me recently about the law of attraction, that whatever’s in here (he pointed to his head), is what happens out there. Our fears create our reality just as much as positive thoughts can. The wolf you feed is the one who wins. One might hypothesize that if you fear an apocalypse, maybe that’s what created the apocalypse. If you believe something good can come out of tragedy, then you will find something good that came out of that tragedy. Some of us—maybe all of us—have to lose everything to then start over again with a new lease on life. It’s like the St. Francis prayer, which I’d previously taken metaphorically, but now think of in literal terms as well, in light of my mother’s death:  “It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.” Another version or translation reads like this:  “It is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”

The other night I watched “10 Questions for the Dalai Lama,” a documentary from 2006 in which the Dalai Lama offered a profound answer to a question that really resonated with me. The question was this:  How do you react in the face of violence? At what point do you fight back?

The Dalai Lama said that if someone’s hitting you, hit back. But he added that if you kill someone, if you participate in the destruction of someone else, you’re ultimately contributing to the destruction of yourself, because we are all interconnected.

This is what it means to me to surrender. Let go of your tight grasp on the way you think things should be, and let life flow. We have no way of knowing the outcome, so all we can do is focus on being in this moment. My intention for today is to see where I can be of service to others. What that means is being present, offering help where I can, and being kind in the process. I don’t need to be phony in my cheerfulness, nor do I allow others to walk all over me. At the same time, I do not have to retaliate with aggressive or vengeful words, thoughts, or actions. I can focus on being present in the moment, and not lost in thought of how someone else wronged me or how I will take revenge in the future. Those kinds of thoughts only serve to keep us imprisoned.

Finding Gratitude In the Face of Challenging Times

“All challenges are an opportunity for growth and I am thankful for the chance to evolve.”

This quote, taken from a blog post at BayArt.org, rings especially true for me. Lately I’ve found it difficult to write because I’ve been stuck in a downward spiral of negativity, so I want to focus on what I’ve learned about staying positive, which the BayArt blog post so eloquently puts it.

The holidays can be a difficult time for those who’ve lost loved ones, perhaps more so for those of us who are spending the holidays for the first time without the one who recently passed on from this world. This can be an especially challenging time for those of us who may be experiencing outside negativity due to reasons that may or may not be related to the loss of our loved one. The world moves on; it doesn’t stop to comfort us or make life easier in the face of loss—or perhaps in some ways it does for a short time, but then life keeps happening. Strangers, friends, and family members have their own problems, and they may not be able to be there for you, or see your side. If they’ve never lost someone who was dear to them, they really do not get it. And there’s nothing you can do to make them see, so don’t try. We cannot control people, places, things, or events. You can only change yourself. Whenever this happens to me, these days I say to myself, This must be what it’s like to have teenagers. I suppose you could replace that with something else that you may not have experienced but which seems difficult. It’s a situation in which I learn compassion for others who may have, for example, been in war, become disabled, raised children. The reason I use the teenagers example is because most teenagers can often be selfish and lacking in empathy, but as a parent you must show love and compassion regardless, and understand that they won’t see it your way, so there’s no use trying to make them. I am not a parent, so I don’t really know… just an observation from watching my mother.

To show love and compassion for others regardless of how hurtful, selfish, or different they might be, you ask questions. When customers come into the store where I work, I can tighten up and become annoyed that I have to explain something they don’t know, or I can take a step back, open my heart, and realize that not everything is common knowledge, and I too don’t know or remember much. When someone wants to complain about a personal issue, I can be a listener, instead of a joiner, or someone who wants to change their opinion. When a particular issue comes up repeatedly, I can stop and ask what lesson there is to be learned here, because there’s a reason why this issue keeps returning.

“I love and accept my family exactly as they are right now.” This is the quote that showed up on my Louise Hay “I Can Do It” cards that I bought a few months ago in my quest to live a more positive life. The word “family” can also be replaced with “friends” or “others.” The opposite side reads, “I am ready to be healed. I am willing to forgive. All is well.”

The question is, how long do you want to stay in pain? I am tired of pain. It’s exhausting, energy-sucking. Am I finally ready to give it up, and choose love? And how?

Well, for one, do things that make you happy. Look at pictures of baby animals, listen to upbeat music, read inspirational stories or quotes, watch inspirational movies, pray, meditate, call a friend or family member and ask them how they’re doing, take a walk, make a gratitude list. Do something. Get outside of yourself.

These are the words I write for myself as I go through this difficult time in this journey we call life. I hope these words help someone else out there who may be experiencing the same thing.

When Natural Disaster Hits

My concern for my mother’s things took a turn yesterday when the wildfires in the western North Carolina area grew to 3,000 acres, still with only 15% containment. Not only that, but wildfires are raging for thousands of acres in the surrounding areas:  South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia. As of last night the fire was spreading north and west, away from my sister and stepfather, but now towards my best friend of 23 years. For a couple of hours last night it dawned on me that I could lose more of my loved ones, right now. What if the winds change and the fires drift back towards my sister? What if they get so big they reach my best friend? What if they all get trapped and cannot evacuate? Everyone will be leaving at the same time, with only a few different routes and only one or two lanes out of there. I couldn’t help but think if my mom was still alive, they would’ve been out of there days ago. That being said, they have not been told to evacuate yet, so they are safe for now.

I am praying for rain.

One thing that happens to someone like me, someone who’s spent her early life without any big losses, is that we have this belief that we and everyone around us is immortal. We get this idea that we’ll live to be in our 80’s or 90’s, which seems so far in the future we don’t really think about it. But after someone close to us dies, the truth sinks in, that everyone must die someday. I cannot take another big loss right now, so soon after my mother’s passing. But the reality is that I am not immune to suffering another big loss. This kind of thing happens all the time. People lose entire families. We may think, Why me? But really the question is, Why not me?

My boyfriend, thank God, is a survivalist. He has everything one might think of for any emergency situation. This makes me feel safe. On the one hand, I don’t want to live my life in fear. On the other, I would rather be prepared than stranded. With all of the natural disasters that continually hit the globe—most recently an earthquake and subsequent tsunami in New Zealand—it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. In our area, the power can go out for days after a thunderstorm or snowstorm—a minor inconvenience compared to the displacement so many others face when, for example, a tsunami or wildfire hits. After I got stranded in my car for eight hours once in a snowstorm, I know now to pack a bag in my car every winter.

Here are some websites I came across in my search for what kind of supplies to have on hand in case of an emergency:

Home Kit List

Car Kit List

Red Cross Kit List

CDC Kit List

FEMA Kit List

You can even buy a fully-assembled kit online. I don’t care how crazy it sounds—I would rather be prepared. Also, another brilliant idea just occurred to me. This makes an excellent gift for those of our friends and family who do nothing to prepare. They may not like it at the time, but if disaster strikes, it could save their lives, or at least make their lives easier in the meantime. So for any of my friends and family who may be reading this, I’m sorry to ruin the surprise element of your Christmas.

In the meantime I will try to breathe, pray, and accept whatever happens. Like I said, I don’t want to live in fear, nor encourage others to do the same, but at the same time, please. Be prepared.

Peace and love,
TCH

 

Healing Comes From Within

The wildfires in western North Carolina continue to rage and are growing fast, with only 15% containment as of last night. My sister and stepfather live in this area with their dogs, in the house my mother lived in, with all of her things. When I was there a few weeks ago, I took only a few small items, not ready to go through her things yet. I’m embarrassed to admit that was my first thought:  Mom’s things. She just died and now her house may go up in flames. It’s a reminder that things are just things. My family is in no immediate danger as of right now. The real concern is their safety, the safety of others, and the wildlife in that area. In a small fire the animals can relocate, and I assume they’ll do so regardless, but when there are thousands of acres on fire, where then do they go?

Before my mother and stepfather moved there 10 years ago, they considered weather, location… but no one really thought of wildfire. Wildfires are not common in that area. Lately there’s been a drought, and arson is now suspected. Who would do this, and why? I’m hoping these are just rumors.

And my stepfather’s insurance doesn’t cover fire. Sigh. If you believe that everything happens for a reason, which I do, I have to see my mother’s death as good timing, for her, and in some ways, for us, so that we don’t have to witness the pain she’d have experienced. The events over the last few days might have killed her—she really stressed out about these kinds of things, understandably. She’d have gone down in such a tragic way, deeply saddened and fearful. But the way she went, she didn’t know what hit her. For that, I am grateful.

I’m reading Michael Singer’s The Untethered Soul, and the part that stands out to me is this idea of how we hold energy around our hearts and block ourselves from pain, which closes our hearts and keeps us from love. Singer suggests that one must live with an open heart, and feel the feelings that come, whether painful or joyful, and then release them. What we try to do is hold onto joy because we don’t want it to go away, and then when pain comes, we try to push it away, ignore it. Singer suggests that we allow pain and joy to flow through us freely. I am not sure yet how to do this, nor do I know how one does it in the workplace. What does it mean to release the pain you feel in the moment? Do I allow myself to start crying when a customer gives me a hard time? Do I lash out at someone who just hurt my feelings? Somehow I don’t think this is what Singer has in mind, but still, I envision myself making occasional outbursts (“I don’t know the friggin answer! Look it up on Google!”), followed by trips to the bathroom, crying in the stall. The joyful part may be even more challenging. Do I dance in the aisles? Some people do that. Now that is real freedom.

This approach is one I am trying to learn, specifically with the results of the election. For me, as well as for millions of others, the outcome of this election has reached a very personal level:  my family. Most of them are on the opposing side of my view, and that’s okay. We do not all have to agree. What I don’t understand is the animosity. The outright hostility. One side sees the other as sore losers, the other side sees the winners as gloating. You catch more bees with honey; violence is not the answer. Maybe this was the beginning of Doomsday, maybe not. Maybe that beginning has already been in process. Maybe this had to happen in order for change to take place. What are you going to do about it? What can you do when the world around you is on fire, literally and figuratively?

I, for one, will start with me:  opening my heart to love and peace, being of service to others. As my sisters say, true healing comes from within. As paraphrased by Gandhi:  Be the change you wish to see in the world.

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Finding Peace

img_2114No matter what the circumstances, it’s possible to find peace and happiness. It can be easy to forget gratitude, but if we make a concerted, ongoing effort, we can find it.

This weekend I’m spending in New Mexico with my sister and her kids. I’m nervous about going, for reasons I don’t completely understand—I think it’s because usually Mom would be with us, and now she’s not—but the good thing is that I get to spend time with my loved ones. The most valuable gift you can give a person is your time, which is a good thing because I can no longer afford to buy them expensive gifts. What I can do is show up.

The holidays won’t be easy this year for those of us who’ve lost loved ones. Their absence will be felt more strongly. But the beauty of that is that we can allow ourselves to feel the depth and strength of the love we feel for those we’ve lost. We can be grateful for our loved ones whose physical presence is still here, and we can know that those who’ve passed live on in our hearts.

My belief is that most people are inherently good. Our actions may not always show it, but we want to do good. Some of us have different ideas about what that means. We have no control over what another person says or does, or how events play out. All a person can do is her part. We can cast our votes and then accept the results. That doesn’t mean not to take action. Now more than ever I want to get involved in being of service to my community. No laws prevent us from helping others, going to rallies, or engaging in peaceful protests.

Not everyone is a thinker or a spiritual seeker. Perhaps most people are not. Many of us spend at least some or all of our time numbing ourselves out with television, food, alcohol, or one of the other many addictive behaviors our culture encourages. These behaviors are soul-killers. They prevent us from being who we truly are, our highest selves. They prevent us from getting close to God, Tao, Allah, or a higher power, or our inner/higher selves, or whatever you want to call this power greater than ourselves. Not everyone is interested in this higher power, but for me, it’s how I find peace. That doesn’t mean I don’t like to indulge in a good TV show now and then.

However, lately I find that it’s hard to do anything that involves words and people. One reason could be that the words that I read and write are too negative, or too much, or too little, and that’s why I haven’t posted every day. Our brains are wired to the negative for self-preservation, but this evolved way of thinking no longer serves us. Neuroplasticity allows us to re-wire our brains for the positive. Lately I find peace in painting, Buddhist chants or instrumental music, preferably uplifting sounds. I love to watch documentaries about wildlife. I no longer want to live in the negative.

Some other ways in which I find peace, things that I feel grateful for, are this:  nature, watching birds, taking photos, looking at photos of animals, spending time with loved ones, reading inspirational books, sipping cinnamon rose tea.

At night I go to bed with the intention of having a dream that will expose truth to me, because I believe dreams can do that. Last night I dreamt I saw a chalkboard and on it was written:  God. This is it. My interpretation is that God (or whatever word you use—I use “God”) is the answer; God is here. No matter what we do or whether or not we acknowledge it or feel it, I believe a higher power exists, and is right here, now. For me to find peace, I must access this higher power, and access it on an ongoing basis. It’s easy to forget, especially when times are happy, but we can always come back to it… Peace and namaste.