What’s All the Fuss About?

“In the Buddhist tradition, there are stories of people finally reaching a state of enlightenment and being able to do nothing but laugh all day long, as though they had finally gotten the punch line to the ultimate cosmic joke.” Gurumkh Kaur Khalsa

A Soul is Born to Earth…into a simple and easy life. It’s all the human doings we think are important that make life seem complicated. We end up taking life way too seriously, keeping busy with things that don’t matter and masking the smooth flow that is our true nature.

img_7545I do this daily. That’s why I have reminders posted around my house about the truth of life. So that in all the busyness I can take a moment several times a day to breathe deep and remember the truth. It always helps me slow down and see more clearly.

I had a very serious childhood dealing with grown up issues way before my time. My parents divorced when I was a toddler; both were addicted to one substance or another on and off; my mom was in jail numerous times; I had a short stint in foster care; I started my period at age nine; I saw my first gynecologist at age eleven; and there was almost constant fighting in one form or another (I’ve witnessed both my parents in a fist fight). I think you get the picture. But I’m not blaming my parents for anything. I know without a doubt that despite their personal issues, they loved me fiercely in the ways they knew how and they always did the best they could. And I had it WAY better than so many others. Remembering those stories though, helps me realize the reasons I now need a little extra help most days in seeing through the illusion that is the drama we make up about life.

Both my parents, at times, were really fun and goofy too. My dad would wrap up decoy Christmas presents, like toilet paper and Kleenex boxes, just to tease me. And he loved singing silly songs with me, like “Rudolph the red butt reindeer.” My mom owned a daycare in my early childhood where we did craft projects and we’d sing and dance all the time. It’s perhaps more important to remember these times.

Now that I have children, they are my greatest teachers in everything, but mostly in how to lighten up and make daily life more fun. Especially in times where I’ve created stress around a situation (and all stress is self-created), I’ll think about how I can make it fun, like when rushing to put on shoes or brushing teeth. And if I can’t think of a way to muster up some fun, I’ll ask myself, does this really matter? Like when my littlest one wakes up four times while I’m trying to write this blog. In the end, does this post really matter? No. Does connection with my children matter by responding to their needs in positive ways? Absolutely.

Any time we’ve created stress around a situation, it helps to step back and think about what’s actually important, especially when it comes to trivial things: holiday decorations, how many clothes you own, the type of car you drive, who won the football game, the shape of your body, the latest and greatest of anything. It’s all just made up.

I think often of the story of the Buddhist monks becoming enlightened and laughing all day long. I want to be in on that, don’t you? I want to be that clear and light and free. It’s possible…for you, for me, for all of us, when we get clear on what matters, which I suspect is very little. And as gracefully as we can, let go of what doesn’t. It’s a moment to moment practice. Are you in?

So, What Does Matter?

“We should not let the projections of the past or the future break us down. They’re just ghosts. That’s why we train ourselves to always be in the present moment. That’s our practice. That’s our path.” Thich Nhat Hahn

img_7340A Soul is Born to Earth…to live for what matters. That is the basis of this whole blog.

So, what does matter?

I started really contemplating this at the end of last year as I was struggling mentally to keep up with an infant, a toddler, a house, a husband, my own basic needs, let alone my dreams. I was overwhelmed, sleep deprived, a little depressed, and anxious about how I would make it through this time in my life. How could I simplify? Where could I let go? So, here’s the “what matters most” list I came up with to focus my life, in order of importance: health, connection, learning, creating, enjoying.

In my view, health is number one. If our body and mind are not healthy, we have little room to focus on anything or anyone else. Illness and pain, both physical and mental, can be consuming. Just think back to the last time you had a major cold or flu. It knocked you down, right? You cared about little else aside from feeling better. Recently my little girl was sick and everything went on pause to attend to her needs. Her health was my first priority. But ultimately, if I wasn’t physically and mentally healthy I wouldn’t be able to take care of her. So really, my health is number one. I must take care of myself so I can give to those around me. There are millions of contradicting opinions on how to keep the body and mind healthy or how to heal from illness, heartache, emotional pain, etc. But that’s not where I want to go here.

What I really want to focus on is connection. It may actually be tied for first in what matters most, from my perspective. If we are not healthy it’s hard to connect in meaningful ways, but at the same time, genuine connection with others helps us heal and stay healthy on all levels.

There are an infinite number of ways we can connect with each other but I’d like to propose that the number one way to connect is through wholehearted presence – our time and full attention. Your presence is the most precious gift you can give to anyone. It’s the best way to say, “You are worthy. I see you, I hear you, and what you say or do matters to me.” You know how it feels when someone is giving you all of their awareness when you’re talking – it feels like you matter. And I’m sure you’ve also experienced when someone only half, or a third, listens to what you have to say. It’s tremendously frustrating and devaluing, right?

Going a layer deeper, how do we cultivate our awareness to stay present with someone? The greatest tool we have for staying fully in the moment is the breath. Even one, long deep breath can refocus our attention to the Now. It is the link between the mind and the body. As you slow the breath, you’re mind and body will respond with greater space, clarity and a calmer vibration. If you’re with someone and you notice the wheels of the mind spinning out to the past or future, pause, take a couple conscious deep breaths to settle the mind and come back into the body. Breath brings Presence brings Connection.

As I’ve explored many different spiritual practices in the past decade, mostly centering around forms of yoga and meditation, I’ve come to realize they are all pointing to the same thing – that presence is the only practice we really need for living this life fully and finding the truth we’re seeking. They each offer different techniques to get us there, but following the breath is the foundation of the practice in presence. The result is connecting with the moment, with those around us and seeing reality clearly. Put into practice for day-to-day living, this is how it translates for me: I stay at home with my kids, but how much am I actually with them? When I ask about my husband’s day, am I really listening? Can I put my phone down to look my son in the eye’s when he’s talking to me? When I’m driving, showering, washing dishes, doing all those automatic activities during the day, where is my mind? How often am I really connecting with my breath? How am I being in all these doings?

So, what’s on your list of the things that matter? Have you even thought about it? I’m guessing if you’ve read this far you probably have at least a vague idea of what’s important to you? The real question is, are you living it? Are you really creating space in your life for what matters most? Because as I like to say often, mostly to myself, these days are numbered my friends. This could be your last day, week, month, year. What are you doing that’s actually meaningful? How are you being in your doings?

I am by no means living perfectly and continuously in the present moment. And I may be the only person who ever needs to here these words on this blog, but at least in writing them, I’m thinking about what matters and focusing my mind energy in the direction of positive change in my life. And by that, changing the lives around me in positive ways. Isn’t that how all global change starts? In one person’s heart?

“When you know how to generate your own presence, you can make a gift of it to the one[s] you love…It is easy to do, it costs nothing, and it can be done very quickly. You do not have to practice for years to see the results. One minute will do.” Thich Nhat Hahn

How Do We Trust Our Instincts? 

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.” Steve Jobs

A Soul is Born to Earth…to trust the human instincts given as a guide to navigate this ever changing world – for survival, for day-to-day decisions, and to find and thrive in our given purposes.

My Soul was Born to Earth…to learn this lesson again, and again, and again. Although I know there really are no mistakes, just life lessons, in some ways it feels as if much of my life has been one big lesson in not following that intuitive whisper inside. This one is personal. Recently some deep truths have surfaced for me that I’ve worked hard to keep buried. But like hot lava covered with tissue paper, they keep bubbling up as anger and resentment toward myself, yet projected onto others. I’m finally listening. Here’s a light example.

I’m not a dog person. I’m a full on cat lady. I never had a dog growing up, and in fact, I was attacked by a Doberman Pinscher at 18 months old. I don’t consciously remember the incident, so that’s not the total part of my aversion to dogs. I just prefer the quieter, slower, less needy nature of cats.

SoulBEarth dogs life leo lessons a soul is born to earthWith that said, here’s our dog, Leo, as a puppy. He’s a sweet, innocent, loving animal. My husband, Andy, was in a serious car accident in December 2012. He was laid up at home and he doesn’t do well just sitting around for long. So, somehow he convinced me to get a dog (with an adorable puppy picture and the promise to fully train Leo himself while he was at home healing). But there was a persistent whisper inside me saying, “No, no, don’t do this. Listen, this is not a good idea.” My chest feels tight right now as the anger is surfacing again. I’m nervous sharing this and a bit embarrassed of how silly it seems in the big picture of life, but I can’t keep pushing it down anymore. There’s barely any room left. Owning a dog is relatively insignificant, but cast in the light of a recurring life lesson it appears fairly important on the day-to-day, I-have-to-live-with-this-animal level.

Long story short, Andy was home for about a week with Leo before he went back to light work. He just can’t be home for long and I knew this about him going into it. That was another whisper I didn’t listen to. Do you think Leo was fully trained in one week? Right, no. Who then became the primary caretaker of the dog? Right again, me, the cat lady. I rearranged my flexible work schedule, which I loved, to let Leo out so his little puppy bladder wouldn’t piss on the floor, or worse, which happened anyway. I felt anxious all the time. My peaceful, clean home was turned into a mess of fur and poop and scraps of stuff he chewed. I’m the only one who walked him, brushed him, tried to brush his teeth (that doesn’t happen anymore), and attempted to semi-consistently train him. Part of the self-made stress I created around Leo was about how well I wanted to take care of him because he really had stolen my heart. I mean, who doesn’t love puppies? As I was searching for pictures of him for this post, I ran into the 200 page photo album filled with just Leo before he turned one year. What? Why? I don’t have the answers.

I’m not blaming Andy or claiming to be a victim here. I had choices, and still do. I agreed to get Leo. I could have easily researched harder and taken the time to train him very well. I could have spoken up for my needs, asked for more help, and voiced my resentful feelings, but instead I fell angrily silent, which I think is the real lesson here, and perhaps, my biggest life lesson of all. That’s a topic for another day though.

SoulBEarth dogs life leo lessons a soul is born to earthJump forward almost five years, add two kids, more responsibilities, subtract time for Leo’s needs and you get a dog craving attention by chewing on all the kid’s toys and me trying not to freak out on him daily, with little success. But there has been progress. I’ve been able to let go of things that I see now as not important, like brushing him (that’s what the groomer does), feeding him exactly at 7am (I’m happy if I remember before 10) and walking him daily (hahahaha). Both Leo and I have calmed a bit and learned a little. Do I sometimes fantasize about him dying peacefully of natural causes? Sure. Or giving him away to another loving family who can give him more attention? Yes, daily. But now I love him so much, I can’t give him away. Just look at that adorably loyal face, who never asked to be sent to our family and who just wants love like the rest of us.

On the other side of all this, I can see how his existence has been a blessing, even if a painful one at times, as he continues to shed light in my shadows. What I call the “Lessons of Leo” are too numerous to name. So, here’s where my limited mind gets hung up. If we’re always being guided by our intuition, and we’re never really off our unique path, and there are no mistakes…then isn’t every decision we make the right one for our life? Every choice is actually what we were meant to choose – one part of the perfect whole. Each choice and the consequences are teaching us a little more along the journey. Can’t we see how everything has lined up perfectly in the past? How a seeming mistake turned out alright after all? Why can’t we trust it will all work out in the future? Why the fear and worry if we really trust we’re being guided to the best outcome for us?

SoulBEarth dogs life leo lessons a soul is born to earth finding doryEverything is speaking to us in big and small ways, with relative significance. A daily reminder of this for me is the “Finding Dory” calendar in my son’s room. Every month gives me a new light but deep insight. Last month the message was, “Let your heart lead you home.” This month is, “Let the shells guide your way.” Exact right timing for writing this post and in line with other messages coming to me recently. But if I weren’t paying attention to how life is speaking to me, I’d miss it. So, how is life speaking to you? Are you present enough to notice it? Is the same message coming to you from multiple directions?

I don’t have all the answers. They lie within each of us. All I know is each day I’ll just keep showing up, doing the best I can at being present, listening, going as slowly as possible, being gentle and easy with myself and Leo as we learn along the way, with a lot of deep breaths. Because I know deep down Leo still has a lot to teach me, even if I don’t want to admit it some days. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned for sure, my next pet will be a cat!