Dance of Life

Building Resilience

Amidst wildfires, storms, governmental power-grabs, and rife despair, what are you doing to build resilience?

I'm not talking about building grim determination, though that might be part of what's necessary sometimes. I'm not talking about pretending to be fearless, though that can help boost your confidence on occasion. I'm not talking about hoarding resources or planning for doomsday, though the idea to do this has been increasingly tempting of late.

I'm talking about building true resilience, the ability to refocus on your own life, your own strengths, your own gifts, your own creativity.

I'm talking about building community resilience, through vulnerability, truth-telling, compassion, forgiveness, and kindness.

I'm talking about building global resilience through sharing economies, collective empowerment, and elevation of our common purpose: to live as well as we possibly can in these fragile, impermanent bodies.

How are you building your resilience? Are you allowing yourself the time and energy to nourish your body with good food, drink, pleasure, and play? Are your nourishing your mind with critical thinking skills, useful information, and care-full plans, as well as media breaks, meditation, and respite? Are you nourishing your spirit with art, music, and wild devotion to whatever you hold sacred?

Your resilience depends on you doing these things. Our resilience depends on us doing these things. Today, pick one resilience-building activity from each category: "I will give myself good food. I will stop myself from clicking the headlines that make me anxious. I will spend time at my altar. I will chant a mala. I will anoint myself with luscious scent or soft lotion. I will treat my body, mind, and spirit as if they are important to me and to the collective, because they are."

You are the Light

The Solstice is near, and every day, the sun sets earlier now. The gathering dark is a reminder of how important it is to rest, to pause, to nourish ourselves with quietude. In the dark, growing things germinate. In the dark, our shadows sigh with relief, grateful for a moment away from the harsh light that seemingly always finds our flaws. In the dark, we can be present with the truths about our vulnerability that we might fear to bring out into the public square.

When we are submerged in the dark time of the year, we can bleed the crisp edges of our mundane lives off the page a bit and become more magical, more diffuse, less judging, more generous, more magnanimous. For many, the nadir of the solar year represents a complex combination of revelry, love, stress, and critique of false or forced jollity. It's not simply the holiday season that brings this forth. It's something about the light, or lack thereof. The peaceable and inconvenient silence of the long night beckons us inward, away from inauthenticity, regardless of how many blazing neon signs leer and tempt us to fling caution to the winds and overindulge, overdo, overspend, or overachieve. We are, if we deeply listen, instead being called to just get very, very real, and love very, very much.

In the gathering darkness of this solstice season, and the gathering shadows of greed and systemic abuse in the world, it is tempting to vanish inward in a spirit of discouragement, fear, or sorrow. While these feelings are valid, they are not likely to accomplish much, so try your best to reframe your perspective so that your quietude is not torturous, but is rather nurturing and healing. You must not allow yourself to be overcome. You must remember who you are, and the power of one person's love.

How many times in your life has the kind word or gesture of one person changed everything in a moment for you? Countless times, to be sure. When you needed it, many times, loving people in your life came along and lit a lamp for you in your hour of confusion and murkiness. When you are feeling low, one of the most valuable things you can do is to recall those kindnesses, and to light your own heart like a candle, illuminating the way for someone else in pain for a while. Doing this may not end your own pain, but it can supply you with a different emotion for a while, and even that is enough. 

You can succumb to the glaring stressors and hide from the world, or you can soften into the glow of your own inner fire, warming yourself and others, even when times are tough. The choice is yours. Try it. You are allowed to emerge from the dark night of the year, and from the dark nights of the soul, feeling grateful for what you have and who you are, generous, pleased to participate in the joy of others, and aglow with the happiness that even a single moment of compassion can generate.

This winter solstice, and every season, you are the light. Don't forget.

Seed the world with magic

Part of the practice of taking joy in the joy of others is to actively create opportunities for others to experience their joy. But how can you find the wherewithal to do that amidst difficult times of your own? You shouldn't fake it. You shouldn't give up, either.  Instead, you can launch a personal campaign to seed the world with magic, and ripple it outward from there. Your magic does not need to involve wands or velvet capes, though if it delights you to bring these along, please do. Your magic involves actions taken to make the world a better place for others, in ways small and large.

Begin by making a short list of things you can do, quickly, quietly, and with minimal effort, to bring joy into someone's day. You can pay for the coffee of the person behind you in line. You can pick or purchase an inexpensive bunch of flowers or fragrant herbs and surreptitiously leave them in public places, tied with a piece of ribbon. You can bake or buy a cake for your co-workers and leave it with an anonymous note in the break room. You can compliment strangers on their good taste, cute smiles, or witty remarks. You can participate in a Little Free Library. Each of these small acts is a seed.

From there, reach higher. You can bag food at a local food bank. You can help with a fundraiser for a good cause. You can organize a beach clean-up day. You can light candles for those who are suffering. You can sing love-grams into the voicemails of your friends. You can jump on the bandwagon of someone's GoFundMe and spread it like wildfire. You can organize a group of friends to serve soup to the homeless. You can participate in ceremonies and rituals for peace, or lead them. You can remember tiny details about people that others don't usually remember, and watch them smile shyly when they realize you have. You can make the effort. Each of these acts is a seed.

From there, reach higher. You can start a business that creates joy for others through art, beauty, nourishment, and creativity. You can fill out the paperwork to create a 501(c) charity organization and provide services that are needed. You can help to build a temple or two, advise ethical organizations as they strategize for their futures, step in when you see abuse happening and refuse to back down, create a commune where artists can safely live and hone their craft. Teach yourself to build websites. Host epic parties that raise money for good causes. Each of these acts is a seed.

I used to think about how I could create happiness in the world, and I considered all of the items on this list. They intimidated me. My ego stepped in and tried to tell me my ideas were both frivolous and impossible.

Now, I have done everyone one of these things and I refuse to be intimidated by any dream I have of creating joy, no matter how frivolous or impossible it may seem. Instead, I look for new frivolous and impossible ways to create more joy. Not all of the seeds I plant take root, but I would rather scatter thousands and reap hundreds than stay frozen in fear of planting a single one.

Start where you are. Your magic is needed. Now is the holy moment.

Cultivating Awareness

Last week, I asked you if you were really and truly ready to understand what it means to "be woke." Have you been thinking about it? There is no better time than now to wake up from the dreams of delusion that govern the majority of our day to day lives.

Awareness is not automatic. It is not reflexive. It requires attention and cultivation, and a willingness to engage with discomfort as your brain begins to process what it might mean to accept reality. Otherwise, in the name of "self-care", a very broad term that occasionally thinly veils abject self-centeredness, we might be cultivating avoidance instead of awareness. Psychologists report that avoidance is related to anxiety, and that it is quite common. In finance, aversion to reality among investors is known as the "Ostrich effect." Our daily avoidance often amounts to simply numbing out by playing pretend, eating, drinking, rationalization, addiction to work, and refusal to engage with facts over feelings.

Putting things off, assuaging one's own fears with half-truths and platitudes,spiritual bypassing, and related phenomena might seem easier than making the decision to stay alert, pay attention, watch keenly, speak up, and be present for what is happening. Our world is not really set up to encourage us in our awareness. In the age of the Internet, when attachment, aversion, and indifference are merely a click away, we can follow our whims regardless of where they lead us. Our knee-jerk reactions can swiftly lead us down the path of obsession, down the path or avoidance, down the path of rage, or, with awareness, we can step off the intensity express and start walking down the path to enlightenment. 

Cultivating awareness of how, why, and to what we are reacting and responding in stress situations is one step in cultivating overall awareness. Enlightenment is the individual's capacity for total, limitless awareness, which perceives everything exactly as it is. The ability to see what is, and accept the reality of it, does not mean that we should allow oppression and persecution to stand while we bliss out listening to mantras on our headphones and congratulating ourselves on clear seeing; it means that we know what is happening, we know where we stand, and we know that we are ready to take compassionate action as needed to alleviate suffering.

In a universe made of suffering, where we are each veritably soaking in the suffering of our own lives and others, to truly "be woke" is to refuse to turn away from suffering in any form. It is easy to start cultivating your awareness of suffering among people with whom you agree. It is much harder to cultivate awareness of the suffering of the people with whom you rigorously disagree. Plus, when you work to cultivate that particularly difficult awareness, it is possible that you may engage in spiritual bypassing by removing your focus from the reality of their suffering and instead focusing on your own tepid, temporary version of "love and light." That's not the same thing as incisive awareness of the reality of their situation.

When we cultivate awareness, truly, we begin to see that our opinions aren't actually very reliable. We begin to confront the stories we have been told, and the stories we have been telling ourselves. The fact is, lack of education begets suffering, but education itself can also force you to confront unpleasantries and therefore cause suffering. Poverty begets suffering, but so does wealth in that it ripens one for paranoia and greed over time. Loss begets suffering, but so does an overabundance when one is unprepared for it. Pain and stress cause suffering, but so do ennui and boredom and cynicism.

The key to acknowledging the reality of suffering is to acknowledge that all beings, regardless of their circumstances and privileges, experience suffering and wish for that suffering to end. From this point of acknowledgement, we are free to then address the causes of suffering. We can address the suffering of the oppressed, and we can also address the suffering that caused people to become oppressors. We can address the needs of victims, and we can also address the needs of perpetrators, who may be mentally ill, or might have been victims of abuse themselves. We can address the suffering of the poor who constantly experience fear and pain over their basic survival, and we can also address the suffering of those who, burdened with more than their fair share, have become cold-hearted and callous, effectively limiting their ability to participate in the act of being human.

Not all methods of addressing suffering are gentle, and this is why we must assiduously avoid spiritual bypassing, because the alleviation of suffering is not merely about how we address emotions and feelings, but rather is about how we address the causes of suffering. Seizing power from a dictator will certainly make him and his followers feel unhappy, but it will ultimately alleviate his suffering, and the suffering of many others. Sometimes, compassion is a splash of freezing cold water upon the cosy warmth of privilege.

There Is Only One Work

What do you define the word "work" to mean?

Is your job your "work"? How about your household duties? Are your children "work"? Are your hobbies and activities "work"? How about your friends- are they "work"?

If we think of the word "work" as meaning labor for which we receive compensation, then the word has a very narrow scope indeed. Alternately, we might view work as anything that requires effort. "If I'm not sitting on my couch in my pajamas eating bonbons, then it's work," is something I have said from time to time, not entirely in jest. But that, too, is limiting because if that is true, then everything is always work, all the time, and our brains start to feel cramped and panicked. 

Parenting is undoubtedly some of the most demanding, confusing work anyone can possibly do--there is no set job description, everything is at stake, and the pressure of constant physical and emotional labor can be exhausting. Yet many people proudly proclaim with every bit of their hearts that becoming a parent is the best thing they have ever done. So then, is that technically "work" or is it something else? Is "work" the word for it?

When you volunteer somewhere, does it feel the same as when you go to your job, or does it feel lighter, freer somehow, because money does not enter the equation? When you sit down with friends to play a game or do an art project, you are clearly exerting effort...but is it "work?" When you clean your house, your payment is a clean and enjoyable space, so was it "work" that yielded that result, or something else?

The word "work" is a vast-and-yet-reductive way to describe "doing stuff" in a wide variety of categories. When we use the word in different contexts, it means different things. Your personal filter also has a lot to do with what you think is "work" and what you think is play, or something else.

The reality is, there is only one Work. It is the Work you came here to do. It is the Work of your heart, your spirit, and your relationship with the divine. It is unique and it is essentially, permanently yours. You express your Work in everything you do, from your job to your parenting to the time you spend with friends to your hobbies. It is all one Work: the work of being YOU. You get paid for some of it, but not all. You enjoy some of it, but not all. You share the labor of some of it with others, but not all. Some of it feels like duty and some of it feels like pleasure, but all of it is Your Work.

If you need respite from labor, take it. Put it on the calendar and defend it from your own or others' expectations. If you need child care, pay someone reliable or find a friend in the same circumstances and trade so you can have a day to do your own thing. If you need a break from socializing, thinking and pondering, do something mindless for a while or turn off your phone or close your door and let the world wait.

But do not allow yourself to succumb to feelings of exhaustion due to Your Work, because living your life is the entirety of Your Work until you die. If you are not dead, you are thus still suited to doing The Work of being yourself, along with all of your choices, karmas, and unforeseen realities, and there is no use in letting that weigh you down. 

Do what you need to do to care for yourself so that you can do Your Work with a whole heart, whether it pays you in money, pleasure, frustration or pain. In fact, if you are truly doing Your Work in earnest, it will eventually pay you in all of these things, and just like the work you do for money and the work you do for free, all of these things have inestimable value.