Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Power of Joy

"So I commend the enjoyment of life, For there is nothing better for a person under the sun to eat and drink and be glad"
Ecclesiastes 8:15

     It is a common saying that we are happy not when we get what we want but when we want what we have. To find joy in this moment when perhaps your house needs painting or you feel a bit frumpy is an incredible act of courage and strength. Our society tells us to always strive for more and there is nothing wrong with stuff. But why do you want stuff? Do you want that new smart phone because you think it will make you happy? It won't. Now certainly there may be a short lived thrill from the acquiring of an object, but the only possibility for lasting joy is to just accept your life as it is, warts and all. Just as desire can be a path to suffering, letting go of certain desires can be the path to joy. Joy is not happiness, which is situational, but rather joy is a clear eyed present moment view of your life with an acceptance of all the parts of it. To accept that you will never be perfect can unleash torrents of joy. To find beauty in your physical flaws and find compassion for your emotional shortcomings will bring you joy. It is acceptance and not plastic surgery, presence and not presents that we need to obtain this deep abiding joy. But why is it so hard to be happy? Why does scripture say "the joy of the Lord is your strength?" Because joy is an act of courage, an act of a whole hearted person.

     We have more stuff in our culture than we need and yet we are a nation of unhappy victims and polarized blamers. Why? Well, there is a power in being a victim. When you are unhappy many times people will rush to rectify that unhappiness. When you are bemoaning your victimhood people will sympathize and perhaps pat your back or hug you. But the attention that misery brings for you is short lived and in the end you end up alone and contracted into fear. no one can stand to be around a constantly miserable person. And not only that but like attracts like, so if you are using misery for attention you will end up surrounded by miserable people. No one intentionally rejects joy, but sometimes people do choose misery for the short term relief it provides as others sympathize. But beware, this path is made of quicksand that slowly sucks you in until the capacity for joy is gone.

     On the other hand sometimes choosing joy and telling others you are happy or just simply letting them know you are ok in the short term can leave you temporarily alone as people see you are ok. When my husband gets home from work he always asks how my day was. If I choose the misery answer I will have his attention for awhile but it tapers of as he grows tired of whine. If I choose joy and say my day was great often he will wander off to tend to his own needs and I am temporarily alone. But in the long run joy always bring connection and misery always brings loneliness.
But here's the crux of the matter, Joy is not situational. A joyful person finds light wherever they are and a miserable person is not changed by a magical environment. It always astounded me how many long faces I saw in Disneyworld! Joy is not easy but it is a nonnegotiable part of our spiritual growth. We have to deliberately stop coveting and comparing, stop looking at the dark side of our lives and intentionally grow in gratitude and joy will bloom. You do not grow muscles without working out, you do not grow joyful without some work. you must choose joy, but you must choose it over and over and over. And perhaps after a long time of choosing joy it will become your default. This is a practice worth investing in, for truly there is nothing better under the sun than to simply enjoy our lives.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Getting Schooled

"The first responsibility of love is to listen"
Paul Tillich

     Can you imagine paying a big price for a higher education and then sitting in class and just not listening? Of course not! Now can you imagine that not only was the professor your teacher but every other student was planted in class to help you learn? What an amazing scenario! What a privilege to be surrounded by so many teachers. And how silly it would be to cover your ears and close your eyes to their lessons. Now, I am not pretending I know much about matters of eternity, but what if your life is this school and everyone who crosses your path is your teacher? What is the whole reason our sweet souls occupy these bodies is just to learn from our moments?
When we constant allow our minds to time travel wallowing in the past of planning the future it is as if we are sitting in the school of life with ear covered. I do not know what your lesson plan is but I do know that the lessons are in this moment in time. Scripture instructs us to "think about what is true". well, neuroscience has proven that everytime we access a memory we subtly change the memory until that seed of a true memory has completely shifted into merely a fantasy. So I think its indisputable that memories are not solid truths. And, of course, thoughts of the future are predictions, fantasies, hopes and dreams nothing inherently wrong with glimpsing ahead for a moment but when we get stuck in future thought "I will be happy when ..." we get stuck in lies. The starting point for a good solid soul education is living in truth and that truth will be found in your moment to moment experiences.

     Now imagine you have a course you absolutely dread, lets say trigonometry! And a class you absolutely love, maybe theatre. So you skip trigonometry and you hang out all the time in the theatre classroom you love.  Well, soon enough you will realize you have missed a lot of lifes most valuable lessons by avoiding your suffering (trigonometry) but also by holding on so tightly to theatre that you never left the classroom all of the sudden your joys have lost some of their sparkle. One of the main reasons people suffer is that we do anything to avoid suffering and everything to hold on to pleasure. But when we avoid suffering, the lessons we are meant to learn from it will always manifest one way or another. And often the harder we work to avoid suffering the more intense the lesson plan becomes. And holding onto pleasures is the quickest way to stifle them. Trying to hold onto your pleasures past their time is like holding a butterfly in your closed fist. Allowing the constant flow of pain and pleasure and even perhaps boredom in the present moment is how we advance to the next grade.

     So, what about those awesome student teachers we are surrounded with? If you paid a therapist to tell you where you were a little neurotic I'll bet you would listen and try to shift from that valuable advice. But everytime someone cuts us off in traffic, doesn't it uncover a little neurosis? Everytime your family uses a sharp finger to push your big fat buttons, isn't that a valuable time to self reflect?
I know its been said so many times, but every person who crosses your my path really is just a mirror reflecting back our goodness and our fears. But so often instead of heeding the lessons of these teachers we retreat to an empty classroom of blame or victimization. Everytime you hear yourself blaming someone for something just know you are wasting an opportinuty for growth.

     I had a big "aha moment" a few months ago listening to Princes "Doves Cry". In particular the lyric "Maybe you're just like your Mother, she's never satisfied" How often do we catch ourselves in a "grass is always greener" mentality? When I am alone I often want to go hang out with a friend and when I am surrounded by people I often long for solitude. I could list probably a couple thousand examples of this greener grass scenario and so could you. So, my intention is no matter what a moment brings, whether its a big belly laugh with another sweet soul, or a icky moment scrubbing my toilet that I will simply be satisfied. Every human will find themselves more pleased in certain circumstances and less in others. but what if we could come to the point where in every moment we are satisfied that what is happening is our lesson? What if we really paid attention without pushing away circumstances or trying to hold onto them? If you listen closely to your moments and let life flow you may find that your life is a spectacular song.

Monday, March 2, 2015

I Am Not Surprised

How abundant are the good things
that you have stored up for those who fear you
that you bestow in the sight of all
on those who take refuge in you
Psalm 31:19

     God did something pretty freaking miraculous yesterday and I am grateful and humbled and excited and refreshed, but I am not surprised. God is love and love is generous and over and over God lavishes love on those who rest in the Divine Mystery. So when someone I've known just a little over a month handed me a large check today I was a lot of things, but surprised is not one of them. Ok, so some backstory might be in order after a teaser like that!

      I have had Quiet for three years now and I am so grateful that it is growing at a slow but steady pace, but perhaps I should have been a better business woman and prepared for the landlord to go up $400 in rent. I anticipated the standard 3-5% annuals rent hike, but did not anticipate what was actually happening and this last lease renewal he priced me right out of the building. So I sent emails to two groups I'm in looking for leads on a subleaser or a new space and I posted the same request on FaceBook. I should have known better than to narrow down my choices to A and B when God has been working with me on that lesson. There is always a choice C sometimes and most times the choices are unlimited. I am absolutely humbled by the kindness of the people who reached out with encouraging words or offers to spread the word or help me find choice A or B. Sometimes at Quiet I feel kinda lonely but the sometimes invisible community is kind and loving and really filled my heart with humility with their gentle replies.

     Unbeknownst to me God had put it on the heart of one person that they needed to help me a few weeks before I sent out these requests.  So, this person shared that they spent days praying and didn't know what to do. This to me is as precious as gold and as sweet as honey. that a near stranger would lift up my efforts to God makes me beyond grateful. In scripture the Holy Spirit is called the Advocate who weaves together humanity. I didn't know what I needed and this person did not yet know what I needed but God did.

     Besides Quiet being priced out of my range I had also recently learned halfway through my yoga therapy training that to finish would be a lot of additional money, not a happy surprise and I was contemplating just giving that up as well even though I could feel the desire to continue burning in my heart. So I mentioned that I was excited. The check this stranger handed to me was enough to cover the rent increase for a year and put a deposit on the end of yoga therapy training. So, yes I am refreshed renewed and excited to continue learning, growing and serving.

     So, some way back story: over a decade  ago in the parking lot of an half abandoned strip center I found the pay envelope of an undocumented worker. At first finding an envelope with $1600 in it with no identification except a latin sounding first name made me pretty darn excited. I was young and that was bank! But I prayed before anything and God's still small voice whispered "This is not for you". So, in an amazing (but not surprising) adventure God lead me miles across town straight to this person. When I asked their name and why they were frantically searching their car I knew what I had to do and as I drove away they were standing there pay in hand jaw gaping. So, this time of course I prayed again. it is a big thing to take a lot of money from someone. Not in Gods universe, but in my head there were a few stumbling blocks. But this time the still small voice simply whispered "this is for you".

     I don't know what I can add to this amazing story. I want to cry from the gratitude that cannot be contained in this small human vessel. I want to jump up and down at finishing yoga therapy school. But mostly I just want to hold space at Quiet for one more year. I am a whirlwind of emotions this morning, but no surprise is not one of them. The same God who fills the fields with color in the spring and the sky every night with stars is the same God that loves you and I and this abundant amazing Divine Mystery longs to lavish love on us all. Sometimes the love is small, a glance of gratitude from someone, a doggie kiss and sometimes that lavish love is large. And this was one of those large lavish times.