Learning to Fly

Live life to its fullest

Living with uncertainty May 20, 2008

This past week has been such a good reminder for me that life is what happens when you’re making other plans. My overdeveloped intellectual, masculine, left-brain side of me has been absolutely writhing with impatience as I’ve essentially accomplished nothing that I set out to accomplish. I had all these plans for how I was going to get back on track, or even better, how I wasn’t going to get thrown off track in the first place by my trip to Georgia. My intellect was already expressing disappointment with me that I hadn’t been blogging regularly and so I downloaded the 10th A New Earth webinar to watch on the plane with the intention that I would even post my comments from Georgia without missing a beat. The universe must have been laughing at me, for when I turned on my laptop at 30,000 feet the file was gone. All attempts to watch the webinar since I’ve been home have been derailed by everything from computer failure to 100 degree heat.

I’ve had similar experiences with most of the rest of my too long to-do list to the point where I just have to relax, laugh, and say, Okay, what do you want from me? When I sit still and listen, I receive a gentle response that comes from the spiritual, feminine, right-brain side of me reminding me just to be, to let go, to take care of myself, to be myself, and all the rest of it will fall into place. I’m reminded that now is the time for me to relax into the mystery of life, to learn to live with uncertainty, to focus on BEING instead of doing. This is my gift both to myself and to the world, because through being I can become what I came here to be, which really is just simply ME.

My life has always been fairly well planned. I didn’t have a sense of what I’d be doing 5 or 10 or 30 years from now, but I had a feel for the rhythm of it, for the texture of it. My ambitions would take me far in my work and I would be very successful. I believed in the common wisdom of climbing the corporate ladder, using my current job to get a better job, working hard so that I would be well rewarded. This was my DOINGness, my masculine energy, my left-brain intellect at play. But I was never happy in my work, never happy with the rewards, never happy with the success. It all felt empty and without purpose. I knew there was more to life than what I came to think of as “making other people rich.” I knew that my true purpose lay in a different direction, but this energy was so strong in me that I couldn’t escape it.

I left that world a little over 7 months ago, and it feels like I’ve been in a retraining mode all these months. It’s almost like I’ve been in physical therapy, strengthening my right-brain so that it can at least find a balance with my left-brain. In some ways, I’ve had to swing the pendulum pretty far in the opposite direction to get the energy shaken up enough that a balance can occur, and I may need to live from a place of BEING for a while yet before a balance is possible. I’m learning how to live my life without a plan. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a vision–in fact if anything my vision is much clearer, much stronger than it ever was before. But I’m not caught up in “how” I’m going to get there. My focus is on allowing a little bit more of the mystery to unfold each day, enjoying the ride, having fun with the process, finding peace in the present moment.

Are you at peace with the mystery? Can you find peace in the uncertainty? No matter how much we plan, how little uncertainty we think there is in our lives, life really is what happens when we are making other plans. Just like the present moment is the only one that is, life is nothing but uncertainty. We do not know what the next minute or hour or day or month will bring. When we learn to be at peace with this truth, we can truly appreciate where we are in this moment, and we can make room for BEING in our lives and begin to pave the way for what is truly important in our lives, begin to live our lives as fully and richly as possible, begin to be Who We Really Are. Namaste.

Photo: “What does this picture mean to you?,” originally uploaded by chema.foces

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A New Earth — Role-Playing: The Many Faces of the Ego March 25, 2008

Jenn’s thoughts and learnings from the fourth week of A New Earth: The Oprah Web Event.

“There are three words that convey the secret of the art of living, the secret of all success and happiness: One With Life. Being one with life is being one with Now. You then realize that you don’t live your life, but life lives you. Life is the dancer, and you are the dance.”
~Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

As always, Eckhart Tolle’s presence this week was very timely for me. I had lots of fresh material to work with as I was watching the podcast of last night’s webinar today. I appreciate so much Eckhart’s centered, grounded presence, and the natural way he is able to answer the questions as they come in. This week in particular I felt that Eckhart provided some helpful tools, for me anyway, in dealing with issues as they come up in the moment. I’d like to share a few of my favorites.

* Practicing the Presence. I always wanted to be like Brother Lawrence, practicing the Presence. What it used to mean to me was being aware of your connection to Source all of the time. I suppose this is what Eckhart experiences with his being fully in the present moment, being fully the awareness and the Presence instead of the ego. One caller asked about how to bring this more into our daily lives, into work and relationships and whatnot. Eckhart provided a handful of suggestions for consciously bringing Presence, beingness, awareness into your day, throughout the day, as a reminder of Who You Really Are–a form of practicing the Presence for the rest of us who are still in the process of awakening.

Eckhart suggests that you make sure you’re bringing your spiritual practice out into the world with you. While all practice helps you ultimately become aware, it easier to focus on your awareness, your aliveness when you’re at home alone than it is when you’re, say, at work. Take a few moments throughout your day to just be. You might allow your phone to ring two extra times, breathing in and noticing the aliveness within you before answering the phone. Or put a flower on your desk by your computer, periodically turning away from what you’re doing to appreciate the beauty and aliveness in the flower and feel its aliveness in you. Even one conscious breath, in and out, is a short meditation. There’s no need to wait until you’re home alone or until you feel you have plenty of time to meditate–you can bring it with you wherever you go.

* The awareness gap. I’ve heard many people over the years, myself included, be frustrated when they don’t find themselves applying their awareness enough in advance to avoid falling into an old pattern they thought they’d already let go of. Eckhart reminded us that the first step is awareness in any form. If you find yourself identifying with a role, behaving in ways that don’t serve you, or any other form of falling into old patterns, the first step is to become aware of it, even if it is after the fact. As you become more and more aware of what you tend to do, the gap between the act and the awareness begins to shrink until you find yourself becoming aware of what is happening while you are doing it. And as you continue to practice awareness, you will get to a place where you can see where you are headed even before you get there. So have a little patience with yourself, celebrate your awareness whenever you are having it, and the gap will keep shrinking until one day it vanishes.

* Facing challenges. I don’t know about you, but I definitely have areas of my life where it is easier to practice what I know and areas where I seem to keep tripping over my own feet. Eckhart says most people face one big challenge in their lives, whether it’s an illness or a traumatic event or a person. When we come face to face with that challenge there are really two ways we can react to it: 1) we can fall into our old patterns, our old ways of being–like if someone gets angry with you and you join them in their unconsciousness, getting angry back; or 2) we can allow the challenge to wake us up even more, becoming even more present and aware in the situation and taking steps to disconnect from the ego’s desire to react and just be. We can rail against a situation or we can surrender to it and go with the flow. We can get sucked into someone’s drama or we can just be with them and provide them a space to get it out of their system. One of Eckhart’s suggestions that I just loved was to pretend that you are transparent and just let whatever it is pass through you. He recommended practicing with a loud noise like a jackhammer, feeling the noise but allowing it to pass through, without reaction, without irritation. The more we practice with those smaller challenges, the more we can see the gifts in the bigger challenges and rise to the occasion.

* Guardians of being. Anyone who knows me knows how much of an animal person I am, and a cat person in particular. A caller asked about why it is that she always seems to be more present when she is with her dog. Eckhart spoke about pets (cats and dogs in particular) generally being more present than we are. I personally think it has to do with the way their memories are structured, but if you watch an animal, you can see that they are completely invested in the moment, fully present wherever they are. Right now my cat Morgan is cleaning herself in a sunny spot — she is completely focused on the task at hand, so much so that usually she only cleans one paw, like there aren’t three others for her to think about. Our pets become “guardians of being” when they bring that beingness to us. I think part of it is that as we engage with them we become fully present really in whatever it is that they are doing. But I also think that they elevate the level of beingness in the space, and when we occupy the space with them, we join them in that beingness. I didn’t really need another excuse to love having cats more, but it is always a good for me to remember the special spirits they are.

* Focus brings success. Perhaps my favorite part of the webinar was when Eckhart was clearing up a misconception from last week. A lot of people had come away with the idea that there’s no room for planning and ambition in the Now, and they wanted to know how you can still have a life of passion. He spoke about how much greater the passion and joy are when you stay in the present moment, when you stay focused on what you are doing now. The more you focus on where you want to get to, the more your passion degenerates into stress. Make plans, set intentions, have dreams, but then live each moment as it comes. Everything in life requires steps to get there, however the delusion is in the idea that the fulfillment somehow only exists in the future. As we’ve talked about before, life is a journey not a destination. Enjoy the ride.

Eckhart told a story from a Zen master that I think applies well to all of life. The gist was that if the archer focuses on winning, he steps out of the present moment and his need to win drains him of his power, keeping him from being able to hit the target. Mastery comes from being in the moment. Live each moment as it comes, experience the energy that moment contains, then let it go and move onto the next, experiencing it with just as much focus as the last. This is the path to true success, to true enjoyment of life, to true passion, to living life fully. Namaste.

Photo: “Masked figures,” originally uploaded by Frank K.

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Count Your Money March 19, 2008

Filed under: inspiration,prosperity — jennsheridan @ 8:55 pm
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I did my taxes today. It was an interesting experience in staying present, in accepting the situation without negativity or fear. I’d been expecting a sizable refund since I didn’t work in the fourth quarter last year, but it turned out we owe money because not enough was being withheld from my husband’s checks. I turned to my book The Wealthy Spirit for a little inspiration and was reminded of a great budgeting method Chellie Campbell includes. I put together my own versions of the Low, Medium, and High budgets she describes and I already feel better about my finances. I’d like to share her wisdom with you here today–maybe you’ll find it as useful as I did!

Count Your Money
Day 18 of The Wealthy Spirit by Chellie Campbell

“A man who both spends and saves money is the happiest man, because he has both enjoyments.”
~Samuel Johnson

To achieve success, you must think positive and send out ships. But if you want to achieve financial success, you have to add the third step: count your money. Keeping track of how much you’re making, how much you’re spending, and how much you’re saving will tell you how effectively you’re doing the first two steps. In other words, budget.

I suggest that everyone should have not just one, but three budgets, all with complicated names: Low, Medium, and High. You start with Medium Budget, which is the average income and expenses that you have right now. Then you create Low Budget–this is your bare-bones plan to reduce expenses if you have an unexpected financial problem such as a bill or reduction in income. Then create a High Budget–this is your goal budget, how you’re going to spend the money you plan to make in the future. If you don’t have a plan for how you are going to spend and save it, you won’t have a reason to make it, or if you do, you might fritter it away on low priority items. These flex-budgets will give you a written plan to follow, no matter what happens with your money. And each budget is only for one month.

People hate budgeting because they’re afraid of Low Budget. They think that’s the only budget there is and that they’ll be stuck with it forever. Who’d want that? No wonder people don’t do budgets. But Low Budget is never forever, it’s just for now. Anyone can go on Low Budget for a month! And when you’re on it, stay light-hearted about it and double up on your prosperity affirmations. Make it a game! See how much money you can avoid spending each day. Look for opportunities to trade or barter services. Clean out your home and have a garage sale. What work can you do part-time that would also bring in extra cash? What can you fix instead of buying new? Create new outfits to wear by mixing and matching separates in new ways. And each day you succeed in conserving your cash with creative ideas, congratulate yourself on your wisdom and money mastery.

The real fun is creating High Budget. This is your Prosperity Plan. Spend some time each day looking at it and feeling rich. What do you want to have and do when you’re on High Budget? Go shopping and price-compare for the best values. (Just because you have a lot of money doesn’t mean you have to spend it foolishly.) Get pictures and brochures of the things you really want and put them on your wall. Start a special savings plan for major purchases. Be specific: if you want a new car, what make, model, and color is it? What features and options does it have? Smile and feel the pleasure now as if you already owned it. Affirm your ability to create this abundance in your life. It won’t be long before it shows up!

Today’s Affirmation: “I spend money wisely and happily, blessing myself and others.”

Photo: “money roll,” originally uploaded by zack Mccarthy

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The last lecture March 11, 2008

Filed under: inspiration — jennsheridan @ 5:08 pm
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It seems like this video has been making its way around cyberspace rather rapidly (I got links to two different versions of this yesterday alone), but if you haven’t had a chance to watch this video yet, it is definitely worth 10 minutes of your time. A great reminder about what’s important in life. (Warning: tissue alert.)

 

Unprocrastination March 8, 2008

Filed under: practice — jennsheridan @ 12:06 am
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I’m not sure which pattern of mine I would consider most debilitating. Is it my perfectionism? My habit of living in the past or for the future? My procrastination? Or are they all distracting enough to warrant constant vigilance? The degree of success I have in shifting my behavior in relation to these patterns definitely depends on the day.

Today was all about unprocrastinating. I realized a couple of days ago that I’d allowed a lot of paperwork and phone calls to pile up over the course of the past few months. For someone who puts considerable effort into living in the present, I’d allowed a whole whallup of past to build up until it had become a palpable burden, one that needed short-term relief and long-term realignment. I got to practice some of my recent success in mindfulness as I sorted the mail, paid bills, made phone calls, ran errands, and did laundry, which meant I had ideas bubbling up all day for what to write about, new things to try out, classes to teach. And I also had a beautiful sense of release, of being in integrity, of aligning with the order and harmony I desire to manifest in my home and my life.

While I had let things slide lately, I do have a variety of tried-and-true methods I recommend for the recovering procrastinator as you attempt to come into the present (and stay here):

* Do your least favorite thing first. Half the battle with procrastination is getting over the dread of what’s to come. If you start with the thing that sounds the least fun first, you quickly realize it isn’t as bad as you think and everything that follows flows freely. Sadly, I did not follow my own advice today and it was late morning before I realized that if I had just gotten the stuff I’d been dreading out of the way early, my morning would have been one heck of a lot more fun.

* Sort your mail immediately upon arrival. These days, more than half of what gets stuffed into our incredibly small mailbox makes its new home in the recycle bin. Newsprint advertisements from the local grocery store, political flyers, “you are already approved!” credit card applications. While I appreciate the validation, I definitely do not need more credit, thank you very much. These things can all be thrown out immediately. Everything else should be opened right away and filed into its proper home. I very rarely get bills any more since I pay mine online, so most of what I receive are things that can be displayed (i.e. cards), things that can be filed (i.e. insurance papers), and things I have plans to use in the relatively near future (i.e. coupons). As part of my recent organization efforts, I now have homes for all of these things, so I can quickly put them where they belong for easy access when I need them. FYI, if you’re interested, there are campaigns afoot for the reduction of junk mail so it doesn’t even make it into your inbox, like www.stopjunkmail.org. Sign up today and begin reaping the benefits!

* Just make the call. I don’t know about you, but my cell phone is a mixed blessing. I really do not enjoy talking on the phone and never have. I tend to leave it in my car or turn the ringer off or whatnot and when I pick up the phone I’ve missed several calls and have many voicemail messages. Half the time a quick 5-minute call is all it would take to take care of the business at hand. When I put them off, the calls pile up until I have a whole slew of them and I am dreading them, especially when they entail anything official. Today, for example, I had to call a former insurance agent. By the time I made the call I was so full of built-up dread that I felt a little ill. However, I set my intention beforehand for a smooth transaction and had taken care of my business very pleasantly within a few minutes. If only I’d called them days ago I could have relieved myself of the stress in the first place. Now I am remembering my motto, to just make the call–it is never as bad as you think it is going to be, and instead of allowing it to gum up the works, you can be in the flow of life again before you know it.

* Take care of your priorities first thing. Many of the things that are most important to me personally have a habit of getting shifted to the bottom of my to-do list when things that appear to be more important to the rest of the world get taken care of first. Meditation, walking, stretching, journaling, meal planning–you name it. What I’ve learned is that if it is a personal priority then I need to take care of it first. Not only does my day go more smoothly because I’ve started out on the right foot for me with my spiritual practice, but I end up being a lot more productive when it comes to the rest of the list. It’s a win-win for all!

* Life is too short not to spend it doing the things you love. My senior year of college, I had a lot of the required courses for my major out of the way and I began to explore the rest of what my university had to offer. I took art courses, feminist political theory, African history–not necessarily things I wanted to deep dive into but things I was interested in. I had so much fun, my grades automatically improved, and I actually retained much of what I learned. Looking back, I wish I’d understood that when I went into college. Education is about more than what you major in–it’s about exploration, trying things on for size and seeing how they fit, learning about who you really are when you take away the requirements and start to have fun. As adults we tend to allow our work to suck up so much of our energy we don’t have enough left over for our families, let alone our hobbies and our passions. How many people do you know who talk about traveling when they retire? That is not a way to LIVE, it’s a way to just get by. So start living your life today–sign up for that Greek cooking class, learn a new language, take a wildflower hike next weekend. Whatever it is you’ve been saying you didn’t have time to do, remember that this life is yours to truly live it, and there’s no time like the present to get started.

Nike’s famous “Just Do It” slogan has made them millions for a reason–it is simple and effective. What is it that you are procrastinating about in your life? What action can you take today to begin moving you away from surviving towards thriving? Why are you still here reading–go do it! And then come back and share what methods have you come across that help you to act instead of avoid so we can all learn the joys of unprocrastination. Namaste.

Photo: “just-do-it-blade,” originally uploaded by Brandon Baunach

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Step 6: Come Out of Hiding February 29, 2008

From the Steps to Learning How to Fly series.

When I woke up this morning, the world was covered in a blanket of fog. I love mornings like this, when it looks like I’m all alone on top of the hill and there’s nothing past the edge of my balcony. As the morning progresses the fog lifts and ultimately burns off, revealing the beauty of the world it was hiding from me earlier. While the fog is beautiful in its own right, what lies beneath contains a much deeper, more vibrant beauty. Very appropriate, then, that today I get to talk about coming out of hiding and unleashing your inner beauty that is begging to be revealed.

Whether you are aware of its presence of not, each of us has something special, something unique to share with the world. As children, we often learn that being different is a bad thing, and yearn to be just like everyone else. We ask our parents to dress us in the same clothes the other kids are wearing, enroll us in the same activities our friends are engaged in, watch the same TV shows and movies, play the same games, eat the same foods. Even when we rebel we tend to do in along some socially acceptable guidelines, just falling into another clique with its own rules for how to fit in. As adults, this same idea shows up in the kinds of work we do, the places we live, the cars we drive. This conformity is all outwardly focused as we worry about how other people view us, looking for external accolades to make us feel like we’re really doing okay.

Your uniqueness, your specialness often gets hidden away in all of this, which is somewhat ironic considering the surest way to really feel like you’re doing okay is uncover your gifts and share them with the world. There are quite a few forces at play here–need for approval, discomfort with vulnerability, lack of belief in yourself, fear of commitment, of making a mistake. I know for me that the process of eliminating these issues is ongoing and somewhat circular–the more I learn about myself and the world I live in, the more what I know to be true really sinks in, the more I can release these issues and allow the real me to come out and play. For me coming out of hiding is a practice, like meditation, that I make a priority every day, with three primary pieces to it:

1. There’s no such thing as a mistake. I don’t know where I first got the idea that mistakes were something to be avoided like the plague, especially since now I recognize there really is no such thing. When I look back over my life I know now that I would not choose to have anything play out differently, because each moment in time makes me who I am today. The relationships that turned sour, the jobs that didn’t lead where I’d hoped they would–I learned so much from each of them, knowledge I get to use now as my life unfolds in the direction of my dreams.

The natural extension of this is that there is no such thing as failure. The world’s most successful people are also the world’s biggest failures in the sense that they have explored many different avenues in life until they found the one (or the many) that worked for them. Without that experimentation, those supposed mistakes and failures, they would not have discovered where their true talents lay, where their success would be. The lesson I take away from all this is that I need to explore more, try more, put myself out there as much as I can. Not everything I attempt will result in success, but that’s okay–I know to keep learning, keep trying new things, keep exploring until I find what works, and then explore some more in order to expand that success into new realms.

2. What you think of me is none of your business. There are days where I need to write this in foot-tall letters and display it prominently around me. The gist here is that we do not need external approval. Seeking the approval of other people means you’re living someone else’s life, not your own. The point is to discover what makes you happy and then do it. If people want to approve or disapprove, that’s their prerogative. Trust me, even when you’re doing things that impress those people whose approval you’re seeking, they often find ways to disapprove anyway. How they feel is about just that–how THEY feel and what’s up for them right now–it really doesn’t have anything to do with you.

Harold Whitman offers me better inspiration: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” I try to ask myself this question everyday–what makes me come alive? Some of my answers so far: loving my friends and family, myself, my world; connecting with people, with Source; dancing (with and without music); learning new things; living consciously; making a difference in other people’s lives, in the world; creating just about anything; being in nature; and, perhaps most of all, laughing.

3. Will the real me please stand up? One of my daily goals is to allow the real me to stand up and announce its presence with authority. In fact, that was the first sentence I wrote when I was putting together my initial notes for this topic–this idea just speaks to me in such a huge way right now. The persona I developed as a child was shy, with very few opinions of her own, a follower. I was somewhat surprised to discover that my natural state, although always open to learning new things, was to be very clear on how I feel about things, to be a teacher and a leader, and while I am introverted in the sense that I get my energy through my time alone, I love to meet new people, to spend time with my friends and family, to share and connect.

I’ve learned to stop labeling myself, to stop trying to pigeonhole myself, to allow myself just to be who I am with all of my quirks and differences, and I’m learning to apply that concept to others as well. What I’m still working on is integrating all of the different parts of me into one cohesive whole, and then showing up as simply myself when I go out into the world. I am spiritual, I am playful, I am peaceful, I am powerful. The more I show up like this, the more clarity I have about my choices, and the more the universe seems to open up, provide me with the answers I’m looking for, and say “Yes, please!”

What parts of yourself have you been hiding from the rest of the world? What gifts do you have that are still waiting to be shared? In what ways are you not showing up authentically? What seeds are you ready to plant today, and what is ready to blossom inside you? What makes you truly come alive? Start asking yourself these questions and others like them today. Begin the process of exploring, of experimenting, and come back and let us know what you’ve learned!

Recommended Reading:
The Holy Man, by Susan Trott
Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by M.D. Herbert Norton
Risking Everything: 110 Poems of Love and Revelation, edited by Roger Housden
What Should I Do with My Life?, by Po Bronson

Photo: Coming out blues, Originally uploaded by Jurek Durczak

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Thoreau Quote December 18, 2007

Filed under: quote of the week — jennsheridan @ 8:00 pm
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I have learned this at least by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

~Henry David Thoreau