Step Outside…

In the past couple of years, as the planet has been experiencing a frightening pandemic, intense political conflict, and extreme weather patterns (among other things), many of us have found ourselves hesitant to leave our apartments or houses. We learned to work at home and avoid crowded public places, which held potential dangers. Even now, as we begin to venture out more, a kind of post-traumatic stress seems to linger in our consciousness. We have to break through a fear barrier just to go outdoors. It takes a real effort to walk to the corner store, let alone take a plane to another city.

We have collectively fallen into the habit of fear-based inertia, believing it is safer and easier to stay put in our living rooms than to go out into the risk-ridden world. We choose the simulated reality of Netflix or social media over the shining, ever-expanding world outside our doors. This scenario is unlike anything we have ever experienced in our lifetimes, and as we look into the future, we can’t foresee it changing. Perhaps it is we who have to change. Choose to open the door instead of lock it.

For example: On a winter’s day in February when cold or snow could trap you indoors, fearful of the icy sidewalks and the frigid wind, go outside anyway, even for ten minutes. Walk around your neighborhood or in a local park. Breathing the fresh air will clear your lungs—and your mind. So many things have kept us indoors recently. How about using a peaceful but invigorating walk as the daily movement challenge to get you beyond your door, whatever the weather? I promise you it will help break the stay-at-home inclination and also make you feel a lot better physically.

I am finding that when I begin to feel tired or depressed and unwilling to move, that is exactly the time when I need most to take a walk outdoors. If I consciously remind myself how much better I feel when I go outside, then I am able to make the extra effort to walk out the door. And every single time I am rewarded with some special moment in the world around me. In spring it is colorful flowers and newly green leaves; in winter, tree silhouettes and wild geese against brilliant blue skies. Always there are bird calls and the smell of fresh air. And the faces of individuals I pass on the street, who smile brightly if I say hello. All of this is a refresher jumpstart for my body and soul, which I would have missed entirely if I had stayed inside.

So next time you feel incapacitated by the gravity that keeps you immobile in your own living room, not fully engaged in life, make an effort to break free. Step outside and breathe in the beauty of the planet you live on. It’s not as scary as it might seem. In fact, it is still the wondrous place it always was, filled with a variety of climates, habitats, and people. We are just going through birthing pains on our beloved Earth. See them as temporary. Look up at the sun and the always changing sky, listen to the birds singing, smile at your neighbors, and you will start to walk with a sparkle in your eyes and spirit in your steps.

New Year(s)

We think of each new year as a chance to start over, to begin again and get it right this time. A clean slate, a fresh calendar of days, a whole new, more perfect you. But what if everything is already “right,” and you are already “perfect”? What if the world and each of us is exactly the way we are meant to be for the universe and humanity to evolve and shift to a full conscious awareness of our own being, our own integral presence in the fabric of life?

Though we have created vast networks of knowledge and laws and religions, we actually know nothing. We are guessing at the reasons for our existence, who we are, and why we are on Earth. We construct elaborate stories to explain everything and then we blame ourselves and each other when we don’t live up to how we think things are supposed to be—our belief systems. We argue and fight wars over all the various interpretations of human life and human behavior. We think that will change things.

In truth, we are actually following a design set in motion before we were born. We are souls on a path of becoming. When we recognize that and see the softness of soul in each other, the world will become a softer place. That awareness is coming; it is in fact arising more and more every day. When you witness a random act of kindness in your day, there it is. When a stranger smiles at you, there it is. When a friend tells you they love you, there it is.

The other day I noticed our mail carrier giving treats to two dogs as they passed by with their human companions. She said she loves dogs and has 40 on her route that she brings treats for every day. There it is again. A friend with limited funds told about how the person ahead of her in the grocery line paid for her purchases when they saw her slowly and carefully counting her bills. And there it is yet again.

People are not as selfish and mean as we sometimes think they are. Perhaps they are just wounded and lost and need a kind word or generous act to help them feel hope again. We each have the opportunity to do that for someone else in our daily lives. And for ourselves as well. The saying goes that love is stronger than hate or fear, and I believe that is true. Despite what you may feel sometimes about the state of humanity, inside we are all vulnerable beings with tender hearts. Moment by moment, individual by individual, heart by heart, we are opening to that deeper truth, the soul design we came into this world with.

So don’t give up hope, don’t lose heart. Trust that you carry the “new year” with you in every precious second of your life. You and every other being on this unique blue and green globe circling through the heavens. We don’t know why we are here with our minds, but our hearts know it is for the love we share and then pass forward into the future. Happy New Years!

Timeless Slow Motion

The experience of calendar- and clock-oriented time has seemed to fade and often dissolve completely over the past two to three years of radical changes in the world. I find that many people I know comment on how they often have no idea what day or month it is until they stop and think about it. Life has given us the opportunity to live the ancient wisdom of present-moment awareness in which time does not exist. Now is timeless. There is only Presence. It may be hard to get used to at first, but gradually there is a letting go into a greater sense of being alive, one that is not constrained by human parameters or mental constructions that explain the world. Being alive and being aware of life is all there is.

In 2018 I moved from Massachusetts to Florida; in 2020 I moved back. Within that span of time, a pandemic brought the world to a standstill. Busy-ness of all kinds subsided. My own life became mainly morning meditation, yoga, writing, and daily walks on a nature trail outside my door. Most other things fell away. In 2021­–2022, as I lived through a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, even my past identity began to dissolve. I let go completely into appreciating each second of my life. Today, as people try to get back their pre-pandemic lives and return to “normal” activities, I find myself reluctant to become “busy” again. My entire being wants to move in slow motion and be fully present with a minimum of activities, such as writing or walking in Nature. I am most at peace then.

There is no time in Nature. When I walk quietly among the trees, listening to the call of the wood thrush or cardinal, I do not count the minutes and keep track of how much time has passed. I am fully in the moment and nothing else exists. The color of the sky and the movement of the clouds engage my heart and soul. I frequently stop and just stare at the beauty around me. A flower, butterfly, or bee is a tiny miracle; if I walk swiftly, I miss them entirely. “Slow” is a gift; “timeless” is a gift. I am grateful for all that happened in my life that brought me to this space of just plain “being.”

Major events, whether personal (like cancer) or global (like COVID), shatter reality and give us the opportunity to see the world and ourselves with fresh eyes and no past frameworks. If we remain in this open space without refilling it with previous mindsets that keep us spinning in place, then limitless possibilities open up all around us. The most powerful of which is just to see the world each morning with clear vision and no preconceptions.

Allow the present to move you; don’t try to control it or force it along a particular mental path. When you accept each moment as it arises, your soul can guide you in living a life that peacefully flows and flowers, even in the midst of illness or extreme changes in the external world. Indeed, maybe this is why crisis comes to humans—to teach them fluidity and gratitude. Perhaps our souls chose these particular lifetimes on Planet Earth to help humanity evolve into full conscious awareness of timeless presence and connection to something greater in the universe. Slow down, smile, and watch time disappear.

Don’t Lose Heart

Life on Earth is not easy. Sometimes it feels like we’re on an endless runaway roller coaster. The polarities of love and hate are constantly playing out: Woodstock and 9/11, rainbow lights on the White House and January 6. Celebration and crisis. Elections. War and peace. It can feel overwhelming. I wonder at times how we ended up on a planet with so much conflict and duality. Then, I remember why—to experience it all and be a bridge to our next evolutionary phase. The key is not to lose heart. Because our hearts are the entry point to everything.

A heart-centered life runs on the energy of love. It leads us to places and events we are destined to experience, people we are meant to meet.  If you are walking down the street, and a stranger smiles and speaks, your spirits lift. If you see beautiful flowers in a neighbor’s garden, you can’t help but smile. When a friend is in tears from a life event that causes them pain, a hug can help you both feel better. If you can reach the point of laughing together at some passing silliness, the world seems less sad and overwhelming. This is what it means to let your heart lead the way. 

What happens when you smile or laugh out loud? Your energy changes, your heart opens. Suddenly, your entire view of life shifts. That’s why it’s called a “hearty laugh”—it’s full-out engaged with life and freely expressed. These are the moments that crack the shell of negativity or mental downswing that we are often prone to these days as the world twists and turns with change. If you can smile, even in the face of fear, conflict, or crisis, then hope is not lost. The human spirit takes a deep breath and continues. From a soul view, everything is unfolding as it’s meant to. The soul is always smiling because it sees the big picture; it sees the evolution of humanity.

We humans often get stuck in the day-to-day dramas of life. We think that’s all that exists, and when we are feeling pain or sadness, we believe it will never go away. Yet emotions are always in motion; if we allow them to flow through us, they dissipate. If we are lucky enough to have a funny friend who makes us laugh in the midst of our upset, we see how everything can suddenly lighten up when humor is introduced. This is probably why comedians play such a key role on Earth–to keep us from taking ourselves too seriously. In truth, life is a constantly shifting reflection of your inner state. What you are experiencing is very much tied to how you see the world.

That may sound simplistic, but it actually plays out in a very real way. If you consciously shift your viewpoint, your experience of events changes too. And smiling and laughing with each other can be catalysts for that shift. Countless popular songs are written about smiling, laughing, or “singing in the rain.” Poets and wise teachers remind us that facing life’s challenges together, hearts linked, keeps our perspective lighter and more positive. So, no matter what is happening in your life or in the world, remember that your gentle heart is the wisest guide you could possibly have; keep it wide open and you will not lose your way.

“Stay gentle, keep the eyes of a child
Don’t harden your heart or your hands
Know to find joy in the darkness is wise
Although they will think you don’t understand…
Stay gentle, stay gentle
The most powerful thing you can do
Oh, gentle, unbreakable you”
—Brandi Carlile

Do No Harm

The phrase “first do no harm” has been associated with the Hippocratic Oath, principles that physicians and the medical profession in general have been called to adhere to. The exact wording varies, depending on sources, but it probably first appeared in the 1700s. Over the centuries, it has remained part of the collective memory bank. Yet is this powerful moral directive lived out fully and consciously, not only in medicine but in everyday life? Immediately I think of the countless TV ads for drugs to treat various physical conditions, all of which include a long list of dangerous possible side effects. Doctors believe the benefits outweigh potential risks, but do the drug companies prioritize possible harm over their profit margin? I have had allergic reactions and side effects from drugs ever since childhood. There has to be a better approach, one that is harm-less. Homeopathy, herbal remedies, or acupuncture, for example. More conscious guidelines for drug manufacture. Or better yet, stopping much illness and disease at the source: environmental pollutants that compromise our health.

There are many ways to apply that simple phrase: First do no harm. Today, our physical health and well-being are of growing concern on this planet as pesticide use and industrial waste poison our land, water, and food sources. The numbers of songbirds, bees, and butterflies are declining. Toxic chemicals are creeping into clothing, cleaning products, and toys our children play with. Cancer cases continue to rise. Organic and regenerative farming address some of these issues, as do activists who call out those who sell products dangerous to health or who allow the water supply to be polluted through intentional neglect. Residents of Jackson, Mississippi, are currently working together to find ways to provide people with clean water because the state and city infrastructure has failed to do so. Same occurred in Flint, Michigan. Communities of color are at particularly high risk for the poisoning of their water, air, and soil.

What about air quality and climate change? So many industries (including coal, oil, and gas production) habitually pollute the air we breathe and cause possibly irreversible damage to the global environment. Individuals often feel helpless to stop the extent of this harm. Yet each step counts: clean affordable energy sources like solar and wind power, stopping use of equipment like leaf and snow blowers which fill the air with fumes and make the air unbreathable. Not to mention noise pollution. Convenience comes at a cost (health and habitat destruction), one that people are learning they may not be willing to pay. Corporations and governments have monetary and political clout, but people together have collective power for change once they realize what’s at stake and that there is no “other,” only “we.”

Many groups and individuals are working on so many levels to create a harm-free planet. The difficulties can seem insurmountable at times, especially when addressing things like gun violence or war. Where to begin? Perhaps it’s about compassion and interpersonal peace in our lives as much as laws and treaties. When human hearts open, everything will change. If each person, organization, and country lives with the code “first do no harm” in every area (thought, word, and deed), the world will shift to a more peaceful livability. There is a better way, and we know it in our hearts. One without ill health, environmental destruction, violence, hatred, or self-serving monetary goals. One in which loving-kindness is our first impulse. It begins with you and me. Kind actions, kind words, kind thoughts. Within kindness and heart-centered awareness, harm falls to the wayside, obsolete. This is a future we can live in if we so choose. First do no harm.