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.

Practicing Peace

Based on my writings, you might think I am in a continuously peaceful outer state, untouched by life’s vacillations. Well, sometimes yes, sometimes no. Mostly, I find my way to it, again and again. Peace is a practice for me, a daily connection to my innermost being, which plays out as occasional reminders to myself when my mind or emotions wander into uncertain territory. It’s easy to get lost in worry with one anxious thought. For instance: “What if it is rainy and windy on the day I fly?” An entire chain reaction of worries can follow: turbulence, zero visibility, plane crash. In a split second, fear can vividly project an imagined end to my life. Unless I consciously intervene with a deep breath and a return to peace (an ever-present part of my soul), my thoughts/feelings can take me on a rocky ride with no return ticket. Best to nip it in the bud.

My life is the fulfillment of a soul plan, a divine design. I know that with everything in me. I am not the designated solo artist of the big picture. It actually reassures me to realize I can’t control every outcome, to trust that a greater Presence weaves the cosmic tapestry. Yet, human habits of fear arise. We inherit them, as a species and as a member of a particular human family. The only real solution is conscious awareness and acceptance. We came to this planet to experience all the emotions—and then to reach a point of realizing their lack of substance, their temporary status. If we don’t get stuck in them, emotions pass right on through. What remains is stillness, where peace itself resides. This is soul territory.

Each time I take a deep breath and receive that deep inner soul peace, my entire world is also peaceful. Inner = outer. That’s how it works. Breathe consciously. Be grateful. You then move through your day in a quieter, gentler state of mind. Your heart opens to everyone and everything. You radiate the peace that is an integral part of your being. If each one of us on the planet breathed peace into our lives, consciously connected to our heart and soul, a shift would occur at a global level.

Of course, it is an ongoing practice. And by practice, I don’t mean struggling, efforting. Rather, gentle reminders throughout the day; it’s as easy as breathing. Take a deep breath; let go; accept what is; live in gratitude. The world outside reflects your inner world. If you feel fear, that is what you will experience. If you see wonder and miracles, that is what you will experience. Sounds simple, and it is. Just remember the peace that dwells within you always. Life can be sometimes bumpy, sometimes smooth as silk, but it’s all worth it. The exquisitely beautiful living mural that is our life on Earth can be clearly seen through the eyes of peace.
“There is no path to peace,
Peace is the way.”—A. J. Muste

Your Identity and Soul

Your identity and your soul dance with each other throughout your life. You are born as pure soul into a physical form and return to formless soul presence at death. Gradually, with each life experience, that form takes on an identity, made up of memories, thoughts, and feelings. The soul steps to the background as the identity experiences life in this way. It never disappears; it just allows the identity to follow the course of its destiny, the one the soul and God designed for you before birth. You chose to have certain life experiences, both joy and sadness, loss and celebration. Through it all your soul is a quiet voice whispering guidance. Sometimes you hear it, sometimes not. Either way, life continues.

Then at a certain point, your identity may reach a moment of awakening, perhaps through spiritual epiphany, perhaps through crisis. That crack in the seemingly solid form your identity has taken, opens the door for your soul’s more expansive presence. The wisdom of acceptance and surrender to the course of life events arises in your consciousness. You stop trying to control and begin to allow. A deeper love of life, of self, and of others comes to the fore. This is your soul’s greatest gift.

I have experienced much of this over the years, both through spiritual practice and through life’s challenges. A global pandemic and breast cancer were my greatest teachers about the inner peace that comes from acceptance. They occurred one right after the other in my life after many years of spiritual exploration and growth. With them, I felt my identity begin to recede a bit and my soul move to the fore. There was no sense of loss, but rather a profound peace and trust in all of life, as well as death and eternity. I had feared the latter since childhood. Perhaps it took actually coming face to face with the possibility of death for me to let go into trusting in an infinite consciousness that held me and all of the world in loving beingness.

This may sound like a fairy tale or wishful thinking, but I assure you this is what happened for me. It is not an instant transformation but rather a gradual opening to full soul awareness. Today, I feel more deeply aligned with my soul, trusting in the divine flow of the universe. Yet, my identity has not entirely disappeared. It is like a thread that tethers me lightly to this lifetime, present in a passing thought or feeling. I know my identity is not to be disregarded and discarded. It is to be loved along with everything else in my life. My soul gave me my identity so I could experience life fully. If I can remember that whenever I feel apprehensive about something, then soul trust arises and all is well.

Your identity and soul are partners, your life support system, linked in love. Your soul is eternal, your identity temporary, but together they fill your life with meaning and purpose. Acknowledging their interconnected presence allows you to experience life with full conscious awareness of the miracle and gift that is life on Earth.

The Wandering Mind

In Western culture, we learn to let the mind direct us, as if it were the designated all-knowing leader on a journey through the uncertain jungle of life. The mind is ever-busy, looking for problems to solve, but it often gets lost in the looking. The mind’s focus is always shifting, past or future: looking backward with regret or forward with trepidation. Rarely present, it leads us down a path of endless, restless movement, never at peace with life as it is. The expression “your mind is wandering” is a fairly accurate description of our usual mental state—unless we find a way to break the habit of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

If we happen to meet a Buddhist or yogi on our life path, we may encounter a different way of looking at the world: focusing on the present moment, one breath at a time. This changes everything. I began a meditation practice (insight meditation) about 40 years ago, and it has gradually shifted how I see the world and how I live day to day. Or rather, moment to moment. All the wise teachings I have encountered over the years have emphasized present-moment awareness, the key to peace of mind. This is accessed through the breath—because you can’t breathe in the past or future. Focusing on each breath, I am brought back to the now, and peace arises within me. My mind stops wandering, and I experience the peace of presence.

It is not an instant overnight occurrence; it is a practice. And I am still practicing, reminding myself to return to the breath, to the present, to peace. This may be the greatest wisdom of my spiritual journey—to rest in the peace of mind that arises from that deep awareness. Whenever I find myself worrying about some future event or regretting something I did or said in the past, if I can remember to take a deep breath and come back to the moment, I am at peace again. And nothing else exists but that peace. The more I repeat this process, the deeper it is ingrained in me, and the more easily I shift into it.

Basically, that means aligning with my soul, because the soul never feels fear or regret. It lives in the present moment, and there, there is only peace. The soul is always with us throughout our lives to gently remind us of that peaceful space within us. Perhaps that is the reason for all life journeys: to discover the peace that is the source of all life on Earth. In peace, there is no suffering. No judgment or fear or struggle. We can look in each other’s eyes and see the light that connects us all to a greater universal peace. We let go of fear and allow trust to arise in our hearts.

There is a wonderful animated film called How to Train Your Dragon. In it, the main character, a young Viking, turns away from aspiring to be a dragon slayer when he looks into the eyes of a dragon he is about to kill and sees the same vulnerability and fear that is within him. Instead, he reaches out and touches the dragon, and they become lifetime companions, each looking out for the other. The Vikings and dragons gradually learn to live in peace and harmony with one another.

Many of us live with a dragon of fear and mistrust within us, on the defense against past or future danger and misfortune. Our minds have learned to be our defenders, ever wandering in search of problems. If we befriend that dragon and “train” it to trust life, we can live in peace. With each breath, we have that opportunity. The mind can stop wandering and rest in the beauty and peace of the present moment.

Fear and Trust

We all live with both fear and trust inside us. Fear is the residue of past painful events and the emotional triggers that can make us relive them and think something similar may happen again. Today the entire world lives with the fear engendered by a global pandemic and the illnesses and deaths that have accompanied it. In addition, political discord divides our planet. Each of us handles such fears in a variety of ways: distraction, denial, depression, nervous apprehension, sadness. Or just allowing the feelings to flow through and accepting them. The acceptance arises from a trust that lives deep within each of us. We were born with it.

Trust is the spirit of life itself. It is a connection to something greater than the specific events of your life. Some call this God or Universal Consciousness, but it is beyond labels and even beyond human understanding. The longer you live, the more opportunities you have to remember this connection and open to trusting it.  Sometimes in the midst of a very frightening or sad experience, you may realize that acceptance is the only thing that brings peace of mind. A peace that sidesteps the mind’s attempts to understand and control the situation. Acceptance opens the door to trust. Trust that comes from the wisdom of the heart and soul.

I have had many opportunities to get in touch with acceptance and trust in recent years. I’ve moved from one part of the country to another and then back again, my sense of “home” in constant flux. A dear lifetime friend died unexpectedly, and I felt my heart break. I have also lived through the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Each of these life events affected me immensely and ultimately taught me to let go at the deepest possible level. Cancer, in particular, was a teacher of the most profound wisdom with regard to acceptance. When I accepted that cancer was indeed part of my soul’s path for this lifetime, I was able to move through the experience with trust instead of fear. It has been a year since my diagnosis and treatment, and the deeper truths I learned inform my life daily.

Simultaneously, COVID too has been a major factor for me in living with acceptance. The specter of COVID and its variants forms the background for our lives now, whether we try to ignore it or think of it continually. Perhaps it has come to teach us on a grand scale that there are things we can’t control and that only acceptance will bring peace of mind. Whether it is a hurricane, a pandemic, or a physical condition, there are always events we just have to surrender to and do the best we can to live through consciously. Life is a drama that includes every extreme. At times it feels overwhelming, and we want to rewrite the script, forgetting that we designed our life path before birth.

Everything is happening for our awakening and expansion. If you can embrace this truth, it puts you in touch with the peace at your core. A peace that gently moves you through fear to trust. Trust in the events of your life, however they may appear, and trust in your self and your soul’s journey. You may think everything is chaos in your life, but your heart and soul know better. It is all a sacred passage into the light of peaceful awareness.