Meditation and the Monkey Mind, Part II: What the *@!# is wrong with me?!

In the beginning stages of meditation, it often seems like the mind is completely out of control. This is commonly referred to as “monkey mind.” In fact, it may seem like mental chatter gets worse during meditation. While there may be some truth in that, due to the nature of mind, mainly what’s happening is that we are turning up the volume, so to speak, on all the garbage that our minds are churning out at us on a regular basis. We are focusing in on it, noticing stories and recurring themes.

Sometimes those who are new to meditation feel very discouraged because they have difficulty maintaining focus for for than a few minutes. In fact, it’s perfectly acceptable to sit for short, manageable periods of time. In the Kundalini Yoga tradition in which I teach and practice, meditations are done for as little as three minutes. Even three minutes is long enough to begin to experience the benefits! You can build to longer times as you develop an increased ability to focus. The important thing is consistency and building a daily practice: meditation is a process.

It’s important to realize that you don’t need to stop your mind in order to meditate. The process of surrendering to whatever arises, moment by moment, in meditation, is what creates a set of circumstances in which the mind can be at rest. Yogi Bhajan, the Master of Kundalini Yoga, said, “It is not meditation that stops the mind. It is the surrender of the mind to the soul, and the soul to Truth. It is when you prefer the word of Truth to the word of your own intellect.”

It’s common to notice a lot of so-called negative thoughts and emotions: anger, selfishness, jealousy, fear, self-righteousness, and the like. Meditation prompts us to ask the question, “Who am I?” Am I my thoughts? Am I my beliefs? My experiences? Am I my emotions? Swami Bodhananda, of the Vedic tradition, says, we are “sat chit ananda,” pure bliss, and that meditation can help us connect with an awareness of that which we truly are. In other words, the rest is just a distraction.

One of the most important benefits of meditation is that it clears garbage from the subconscious mind. By garbage I mean the chatter or “commotion” that goes on at a level we are not consciously aware of, the stories and false beliefs that have an impact on the way we behave in the world. Meditation is like a shower for the subconscious.

Meditation also gives the practitioner an opportunity to develop mental clarity and inner peace which facilitates the dissolution of habitual ways of being which may no longer serve the highest good. As we develop a greater ability to observe ourselves in our practice and our daily lives, we may notice these small changes. For example, one way in which the change may enter our awareness is by creating a gap between a situation that we find challenging and our urge to react to it out of our habitual programming. Meditation can, over time, give us the tools to respond differently to the challenges we face.

Meditation and the Monkey Mind

I can’t tell you how often people say to me, “I’ve tried to meditate but I just can’t.” When I ask why not, the answer is usually something like, “Well, I just can’t stop thinking.” It seems like the real issue here is not that all these people can’t meditate, but that there is some inaccuracy in the popular definition of meditation, some fundamental misconception about what people actually “do” in meditation. In this post, I’d like to dispel some myths about meditation as well as provide a more accurate explanation not only of what meditation is, but of what the practical benefits are.

First, it’s important to understand that saying “I practice meditation” is about as specific as saying “I practice yoga.” There are about as many different types of meditation as there are styles of yoga; thus, there are a number of vastly different practices which people commonly refer to as “meditation.” One of my first pop culture images of meditation (still my favorite) was Richard Dreyfuss in The Goodbye Girl.

Chanting “Om” , as in the video clip, is one type of meditation using a mantra. Mantras are sacred sounds or prayers which help focus the mind; there are a wide variety of mantras, some short and some long, in different languages and traditions. A similar practice, which uses vowel sounds as opposed to words, is often called toning. The practice of chanting mantras or toning does several things: first, it creates a sound wave, a powerful vibration which can affect the physical being; second, it creates a focal point, which is useful for letting go of stray thoughts; third, chanting activates energy channels (or nadis) through the placement of the tongue on the roof of the mouth. Many practitioners use a mala (string of beads) as a way of counting repetitions of the mantra. In that sense, meditating with a mantra has some similarity to the Catholic practice of praying the rosary. (By the way, incense is not required.)

Some meditation practices are silent. Either they do not include a mantra, or the mantra may be repeated internally as a way of focusing the mind. Meditation practices which do not use a mantra often have some other focal point, such as a candle flame. Other practices use the breath, or a particular breathing pattern, as the focal point. Still other practices use a concept or intention as a focal point. There are also some traditions that use movement as meditation (such as walking meditation, for example).

The point of meditation, so to speak, is to develop observational awareness, to cultivate the inner observer. Sometimes this is called “mindfulness.” You might be happy to learn it is not necessary to stop thinking in order to meditate. It is only necessary to be patient with yourself, to cultivate your ability to focus, and to engage in the process of training your mind. To that end, a couple of techniques may prove useful to the novice:

  • Regard thoughts during meditation as clouds in the sky, passing with the breeze. Or as cars on the highway, passing by your field of vision. Notice them, but do not become attached to them. Do not try to follow them, or be angry with them for being there.
  • Develop an attitude of loving-kindness toward yourself. It is almost like training a puppy. Certainly, you will lose focus and you may wander off after stray thoughts. It is only important to bring your focus back each and every time you are aware that you have wandered off, without judging or berating yourself. Consistent correction and patience are key.

The practice of meditation also seeks to develop a present moment orientation, discussed in popular books such as Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now which was featured on Oprah. This can be tremendously empowering, as so many of us sacrifice our energy and sometimes our very well-being to ruminating on the past or giving free rein to our anxieties about the many uncertainties of the future.

More about this topic in part II of this post.

Telling the Truth

Last weekend I attended “Michiana Monologues 2012: A World of Difference” at IU South Bend. Inspired by Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, these are true stories by local women submitted anonymously and read on stage by members of the community. Michiana Monologues is a benefit for local organizations such as SOS, the YWCA, and Planned Parenthood.

If you’ve never been to an event like this before, hearing women tell their stories – sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking – is an  incredible experience. Many of the topics addressed in this year’s performance (violence, rape, homosexuality, poverty, choice, work, discrimination, marriage, divorce, motherhood) evoked a strong response from audience members. It’s empowering to speak the truth.

When we discover that we share some common experiences with others (especially when it comes to topics most people are reluctant to talk about), it’s remarkably liberating. It frees us from the weight of that silence. Things we don’t talk about fester. We often feel ashamed of the things we feel we can’t talk about; sharing – being heard and acknowledged – decreases that shame, frees up energy, and allows healing to occur.

In his series Conversations with God (Book 2),Neale Donald Walsch identifies five levels of truth-telling: “First, you tell the truth to yourself about yourself. Then you tell the truth to yourself about another. At the third level, you tell the truth about yourself to another. Then you tell your truth about another to that other. And finally, you tell the truth to everyone about everything.” By that definition, a show like the Monologues encompasses truth-telling on several levels.

The Monologues generally attract a primarily female audience, because they address topics that truly hit home for women. But this show is more than a catalog of the kind of violence we all know exists. It’s truly a celebration of all aspects of the female experience; it’s an opportunity to be a witness, and in doing so, to participate in community and in the healing process.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that “Things like that don’t happen here.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you missed Michiana Monologues at IU South Bend, you still have one more chance to see the show on February 25, 2012, at 7pm in Elkhart at the Historic Roosevelt Center (215 East Indiana Avenue).

Tell your story: Submit a monologue for next year’s show.

Recommended reading

Getting Real, by Susan Campbell PhD

Hopes and Dreams

“Hope is so important, but this post [The Power of One] begs the question: how do people distinguish between hope and false hope? How do you balance the desire to follow dreams and aspirations with pragmatic realism? How can we come to know, respect, and even appreciate our own limits?” – Posted by cjdeldotto

Any endeavor must be grounded if it’s to succeed. This means that consistency of action is required. It’s not enough to meditate and visual success. It’s not enough to wish and hope and dream. Those early stages are important to focus and clarify the dream. But if it’s to be realized, the consistent action – the follow through – is essential.

Sometimes we are our own biggest barrier to realizing our dreams. By that I mean that many of us have habits that hold us back, like procrastination for example. Or limiting beliefs, about ourselves or others, that stop us from taking action in the direction of achieving our goals and realizing our dreams. It’s interesting that despite the proliferation of a number of different technologies designed to save time and make our lives easier in the last decade, many of us seem to be more busy than ever. But it’s worth asking the question, what are we busy doing? Are we busy doing the things that reflect our real values, our true priorities? If our gadgets save us time (and whether or not they do is dependent upon how we use them), what are we doing with that time?

It’s often a question of motivation. We are a culture that loves the quick fix. Take a pill to feel better. Get rich quick. Buy now pay later. Lose weight fast. We are a culture that wants results. Now. But real change is gradual – it’s a process. What didn’t develop overnight generally won’t disappear overnight either. In the age of Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and the like, where an overwhelming amount information is at our fingertips, what is sometimes lost is depth of thought and real staying power. When we don’t see immediate results, many of us lose interest in the process.

Of course, there are other times when what appears to be a lack of motivation or commitment may be simply be a reflection of Maslow’s Hierarchy. Self-actualization is at the top of the pyramid for a reason. If basic needs aren’t being met, it’s not going to be possible for an individual to focus on achieving goals in the big picture, however much he or she might wish to do so.

In order to know our own limits, we have to truly know ourselves. This is svadhyaya. Being able to see ourselves clearly, to understand and accept who we are and where we are in our personal development takes time. One of the tools that can help with that is meditation (to be discussed in more detail in a future post). Meditation is an umbrella term that covers a variety of techniques for raising consciousness and developing awareness. It’s a practice, and a process that requires patience and dedication over a period of time in order to experience the benefits and see results.

Recommended reading:

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey


The Power of Love

Earlier this week I attended the workshop “What is Love?” offered by Diane Winn and Tom Searcy of Through Eagles Eyes at the Center for Spiritual Growth in South Bend. Tom Searcy opened by identifying love as one of the most practical, powerful, and useful energies that there is. He noted that having a loving relationship with self and others makes one happier, healthier, and more abundant. And that love is more than an energy, it’s a verb. In other words, we demonstrate the energy of our love through our actions.

It’s an interesting perspective because I think most people, if asked to define love, would identify it first as a feeling. But if love is just a feeling, what happens when we don’t feel it? What do we do when the baby’s crying, and we’ve been up all night? When our significant other doesn’t seem so love-able? Where does action arise? From the feelings of the moment? From our commitment to our values? In the moments when we are most challenged by our circumstances, it becomes more important than ever to act from (and indeed, to act on) our internal commitment to the ideals (and to the people) that we hold most dear.

Pose the question “What is Love?” to someone of my generation and you’re likely to be met with a rendition of the Haddaway song featured on the popular Saturday Night Live skit starring Will Ferrell and Kris Kattan.  “Baby don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me. No more.” All kidding aside, those words are a strong indicator of popular fears about love. It’s a strange phrase, isn’t it? Aren’t fear and love antithetical?

Emotional states have vibratory energy. According to Dr. David Hawkins, different emotional states vibrate along a scale of consciousness. On Hawkins’ scale which is (1-1000), love has a vibration of 500, while fear vibrates at 100. A few key points on the Hawkins scale of consciousness look something like this:

  • 600 peace
  • 540 unconditional love
  • 500 love
  • 400 reason
  • 200 courage
  • 100 fear
  • 50 apathy

In the Hawkins paradigm, one must move beyond science, beyond reason, to achieve a love vibration. He draws a distinction between Love and Unconditional Love: mainly that love encompasses a set of demonstrable qualities (goodness, purity, humble-ness), while unconditional love signals more of an overall paradigm shift. Hawkins specifically associates unconditional love with compassion and devotion as a way of life that facilitates healing on many levels.

Now, whether you subscribe to the Hawkins paradigm or not, it’s worth considering the ways emotions affect our personal energy levels, as well as how they impact those around us. In terms of personal development, it’s well-understood that we must love ourselves before we can begin to love others. But how do we truly love ourselves? I think it goes back to svadhyaya, or self-study, which I discussed in an earlier post. In that sense, love is a process.

Hawkins asserts that movement along the scale of consciousness can be facilitated by exposure to different energy vibrations. If you want to move up the scale, say for example from reason to love, exposure to a higher vibratory energy can precipitate a shift. Thus, it would seem that we each have, to some degree, an opportunity: Have you ever noticed that some people can make you feel good, really good, just by their mere presence? And that spending just a few short minutes with certain other individuals can leave you feeling really lousy?

I think it comes down to this question: “What kind of world do you want to live in?” There’s a reason people so often quote Gandhi, who said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It’s easier said than done, but well worth the effort.

Recommended reading:

Power vs. Force, by David Hawkins

The Power of One

Last weekend I attended The Team’s February Seminar at the Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek, Michigan, which featured Chris Brady as the keynote speaker. Team is the group that launched The Life Business in November 2011 which includes prominent leadership gurus such as Orrin Woodward. The business of Life revolves primarily around self-improvement, networking, life coaching, and community building: becoming job-optional and manifesting the life of your dreams.

Chris Brady’s keynote challenged audience members to ask themselves: “What difference have you been called to make?” As well as, “How do you define the business you are in?” He encouraged his listeners to not play small, but rather to “get busy about things that matter in the big picture.” He also made a point similar to one I’ve discussed in an earlier post, to focus not on WHAT you do, but on WHY you do it. In other words, it’s the motivation and intention behind actions that’s as important, or even more important, than the actions themselves.

Furthermore, Brady argues that one’s “true self” is what emerges under pressure, and that we must engage in the process of developing character and substance. This is a concept that resonates strongly with me, and one that was also discussed in one of my earlier posts. One of the key concepts in The Life Business is the idea of developing leadership ability. This relates to the concept of building community: a strong community requires real leaders, people of substance and character. People who have risen to the challenges of their life situations and transcended them by moving beyond their own limiting beliefs and habits.

One of the things that struck me about the seminar was the number of people in attendance (I estimate as many as 2000) who really seemed excited and inspired by the ideas that Brady and the other founders of Life are talking about. Concepts like:

  • One person can make a difference.
  • Freedom produces prosperity.
  • Your focus determines your reality.

Now, Life is a network marketing business (also commonly known as a “pyramid scheme”). That said, an important aspect of what Team is doing involves bringing true and empowering concepts into people’s lives in a concrete way. Inspiring them to make positive changes not only to their own lives but to their communities. So many people, everywhere I turn right now, are without hope and without help. They’re depressed and discouraged about their lives. They are, in a word, dis-empowered. So the ideas which are the foundation of Team and the Life business offer a new direction and constitute a significant contribution.

It’s interesting to me that so many people I’ve talked to seem to have a negative view of network marketing businesses, especially when these businesses seem to revolve around the concept of real profit sharing. It strikes me as odd that people might get uncomfortable when an acquaintance shares an idea or product that has had a positive impact on his/her life. Probably because, on the other hand, many of these same people have no strong objection to the massive amounts of advertising, corporate marketing, and the like that we are all exposed to on a daily basis.

What are big businesses and big corporations selling? If we stick with the concept that most businesses are selling an idea more than a product (even if it seems like they are selling a product), then what is Wal-Mart selling? What is McDonald’s selling? What is _______ selling? (Fill in the blank with any big business or corporation…this is not directed at any one in particular.)

Pretty much every business is selling an idea (sometimes disguised as a product) in exchange for money. So, in that sense, when we spend our money on something we are voting for what we want to see more of in the world. Are we making the CEOs and the people at the top rich? When we buy from almost any big business or big corporation (network marketing or otherwise), of course we are. But then the question becomes, what ideas are we buying? What types of thinking are we supporting? And it also begs the question, are we supporting leaders who truly have something to share and something to give back? Are we supporting people of real substance and character?

The Life business is new, but judging from what I’ve seen, this movement is growing and people are excited about it. From where I’m sitting, it looks like the founders have already given something valuable to their members: hope. And hope is something rare and precious and valuable in today’s world. So what Life is really selling is the possibility of positive change – and that’s something people can get excited about.

Secret Single Behaviors: A Party for One?

One of my favorite television shows, Sex and the City, featured an episode where the characters discussed their secret single behaviors, such as eating saltines with jelly while reading fashion magazines, for example. While I’m not much for fashion magazines in general (or saltines, for that matter), in light of the last couple of posts discussing relationships, I do want to take some time to focus on the benefits of being single and on the value of solitude. This relates to a question posed in one of my earlier posts, “What legitimizes your life?”

Is a Friday evening spent perusing fashion magazines inherently less valuable than a Friday evening spent at a club with friends? Or in the arms of a lover or a spouse? For a lot of people, the presence of others is legitimizing. “How do I know I had fun on Friday night? Well, I have the stories of my friends to prove it. We were all there (wherever there is) and we all shared an experience.” Now, I’m not denying the value of shared experience, but there seems to be an overall misconception about the value of solitude. Solitude has gotten a bad rap: we’ve all heard the stories in the news where some unsavory character or another is described as a “loner.”

Being alone is scary for a lot of people. Some of this has to do with social attitudes toward being alone, which feed the fear that alone-ness means being unwanted or unloved, or indicates some fatal character flaw or, worse still, some level of mental illness. Achieving a basic level of comfort with alone-ness may well require examining or deactivating these fears. Just as there’s a strong mythology around the process of coupling, there’s an equally strong mythology around being alone.

When we’re alone, we only have ourselves for company. And when we are alone, we have a greater opportunity to see ourselves more clearly, particularly if we don’t engage in distractions like television or the internet. There’s always the chance we might not like what we see. Regardless, it’s an important opportunity to get comfortable with the different aspects of ourselves, to actually make friends with ourselves.

Self-study or self-knowledge, called svadhyaya, is an important aspect of any yoga practice. Svadhyaya is really about having a relationship with yourself. Understanding your likes and dislikes, also known as attachments or aversions (depending on the degree of emotional response involved). Asking important and sometimes difficult questions: “What do I not want to give up, and why? What do I avoid at all costs, and why? And, do my attachments and aversions serve me?” Part of svadhyaya is being curious and non-judgmental toward yourself, even going so far as to make peace with parts of yourself that you may not like.

Having a solid relationship with yourself is a foundation for building satisfying relationships with others (romantic or otherwise). Knowing what your own preferences are helps make it easier to communicate with others about what your needs are in a relationship, which is vital to establishing successful relationships. Being without a significant other is an opportunity: to discover who you are, what you prefer, and to be, in a word, selfish. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Relationships involve compromise; with a foundation of self-knowledge, it’s possible to know which compromises can be made generously and gracefully, and which others come at the cost of fulfillment, peace, or well-being.

So, rather than looking at those times without a relationship as periods of limbo, where we wait for our “real” life to start, we can begin a process of legitimizing them and valuing them. We may even choose to be alone for certain periods of our lives, recognizing the benefits that solitude can provide, especially for scholarly pursuits, creative endeavors, or periods of healing and emotional growth. If we approach alone-ness as a state that has value, we truly have the potential to make it an opportunity for growth and development. And, to make it an opportunity to do whatever it is we love to do: to create our own “party for one.”

Recommended reading:

Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto, by Anneli Rufus

Solitude: A Return to the Self, by Anthony Storr

A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf (full text version). Written in 1929. Focuses on the topic of women and writing.

Scare-City and the Single Life: The Future is Now, Part II

Jessica Bennett’s article about polyamory, entitled “Only You. And You. And You” which appeared in Newsweek in 2009, is clear evidence that a growing number of people are dissatisfied with traditional coupling and seeking alternatives which allow them to write their own relationship stories. Polyamory is the practice of responsible non-monogamy involving multiple partners, literally “many loves.” Unlike swinging, which is a multi-partner lifestyle with an emphasis on recreational sex, polyamory is focused on the creation of long-term relationships grounded in emotional intimacy; it’s based on the idea that “there’s more than one way to live and love” and that there are “choices beyond the options society presents.”

As discussed in the previous post, motivations for creating structures outside of couple-dom may be practical in nature (fewer available and marriageable men) and personal in nature (acknowledging a need for both intimacy and autonomy that traditional marriage may not meet). Long-term relationships are, more often than not, about people wanting to get their needs met (which may include needs for companionship, community, stability, financial support, emotional support, and sexual satisfaction). As one polyamorist interviewed in Bennett’s article describes her lifestyle, “It’s about making sure that everybody’s needs are met, including your own…And that’s not always easy, but it’s part of the fun.”

Although we’re undoubtedly all familiar with the benefits, both anecdotal and research-oriented, of coupling, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention here some of the drawbacks and limitations of conventional coupling. As Bolick points out, one of the potential dangers is that “a married couple becomes too consumed with its tiny nation of two to pay much heed to anyone else.” She goes on to discuss the phenomenon of “greedy marriages” and how research has shown that often married couples do less to participate in the lives of their extended families and friends than their non-married counterparts do. Thus traditional marriage has the potential to be antithetical to community building in the larger sense. And of course, there’s the important question at the heart of Bennett’s article: “Can one person really satisfy every need?”

One of the biggest challenges to establishing a relationship structure outside of couple-dom is the scarcity of healthy, grounded, successful examples of people living alternative relationship structures. In other words, a lack of role models. While this can be extremely daunting, at the same time, it’s an opportunity. If we are willing to discard traditional rules that we have determined, through experience and reflection, don’t work well for us, we are free to begin to create our own models, our own templates. It’s both exciting and scary. It may involve trial and error, refinement, rethinking, and restructuring. All that said, I maintain that it’s worth the effort to engage in a process of discovering who we are and what structures allow us to grow more fully into ourselves. In short, what do we feel good about?

This is where process orientation becomes very important. This is a different mindset than traditional marriage-oriented dating, which operates something like this: “Until I get a ring, all dating is a waste of my time.” In this paradigm, marriage is the holy grail, and dating or relationship experiences that don’t end in marriage are failures or, at best, time-wasters. In process orientation, these experiences become opportunities for learning, for refining and redefining our needs, boundaries, intentions, and goals. And in essence, this is what spiritual practice is all about: an ongoing process of learning about ourselves and growing, in all areas of our lives.

More food for thought…

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, a utopian novel about a community of women written in 1915 (full text online).

The Oneida Community, discussed in this article from the New York Times travel section, practiced group marriage in New York in the mid-1800s.

Scare-City and the Single Life: The Future is Now

I recently read Kate Bolick’s article “All the Single Ladies” from the November 2011 issue of The Atlantic, in which she discusses the present unique situation of single women in America and how much male-female relationships have changed over the last few decades. As a 30-something single woman, I find it fascinating to learn that there’s statistical backup for the things that I hear my single girlfriends say, usually along the lines of “there are just no good men out there.”

According to Bolick, there actually has been a significant drop in the number of available men. On top of that, many of the men who are available are now less educated and making less money than ever before. Mere decades ago, it was almost expected that a woman would marry a man who would take care of her, in a variety of ways. And now, based on my own personal observations, and those of Bolick, this is less likely than ever to happen.

I’m inclined to ask, “So what’s the problem?” I don’t mean to be obtuse. I know what the problem is: My girlfriends want to get married. And not just my girlfriends. Many, many women are out there looking for Mr. Right. But it strikes me that the problem is not so much the scarcity of Mr. Right, but rather a lack of imagination and initiative in creating other options. And it’s really not single women who are to blame for this. Virtually our entire social structure is based on “couple-dom.” Movies, music, and television shows about the trials and tribulations (and finally, the rewards) of finding The One abound. In other words, there is a vast mythology surrounding the process of coupling.

You might be asking yourself, what does any of this have to do with spiritual practice? I promise you it has everything to do with it! One of the tenets of spiritual practice is non-duality. This essentially is the opposite of an either/or mentality: rather a both/and approach to life. An integrated approach based on holism and acknowledging polarities, being not only willing and able to acknowledge conflicting needs within ourselves, but being comfortable doing so. In short, what’s needed is an ability to know what’s true for each of us, intrinsically, to acknowledge its ever-shifting nature, and simply to let it be, relating authentically to others in the moment.

In the article, Bolick touches on her own desire for both “autonomy and intimacy.” And why shouldn’t she have relationships that include both? Now that women have more education, more earning power, and more autonomy than ever before, why shouldn’t they – why shouldn’t we – use that power to create the relationships that meet our needs, to write our own relationship contracts, so to speak?

How can we do that? First of all, it’s important to establish a present moment, process-oriented mentality. In other words, the future is now. Life doesn’t start when Mr. Right shows up. He may never show up…and it really doesn’t matter. Why? Because you don’t need Mr. Right to start meeting your needs and to create the life of your dreams. Bolick herself observes, “If I stopped seeing my present life as provisional, perhaps I’d be a little…happier. Perhaps I could actually get down to the business of what it means to be a real single woman.” This astute observation gets to the heart of a very important matter, which centers around the question, “What legitimizes your life?”

The mindset that being single is illegitimate, that people who are unmarried or exist outside of couple-dom don’t have “real” lives and therefore are to be pitied, is simply outmoded and no longer useful. Marriage is no longer a given, as evidenced by the rising number of singles. Let’s begin the process of letting go of our fantasies of Mr. Right and Happily Ever After, and celebrate the fact that we no longer have to fear becoming old maids. Let’s begin writing our own stories: It’s time to start imagining and creating the lives we want…by exploring paradigms outside of couple-dom.

More on this topic in my next post.

It Is Well With My Soul

At the end of last year I almost died. It was in the news, but that’s not really the point. The short version of the story is that I took a trip in a friend’s small plane which ran out of fuel. We were fortunate to land successfully on the highway. It was, to be sure, a scary experience that would encourage anyone to re-evaluate his or her life goals and choices – or at the very least, make one leery of flying again anytime soon.

Those tense moments between realizing we were out of fuel and landing remarkably smoothly in the midst of traffic seemed to go on for a very long time. During them, I was surprised not by what did happen, but by what didn’t. I didn’t feel panicked or afraid of dying (though I thought we likely would all die). I didn’t see my life flash before my eyes. I didn’t think of all the things left unfinished, unsaid, or undone in my life. In short, I was ready. Don’t misunderstand me, I didn’t want to die. But I felt that my life was complete. I wasn’t thinking of all the things I had yet to experience, or all the changes I wanted to make.

Here’s what did happen: I remember breathing. I remember asking silently for help. I remember checking on the people I was with. I remember encouraging our pilot. I remember being surprised and grateful when we landed safely, as smoothly as we might have on a runway.

Later, my traveling companions commented on how calm I had been throughout the experience. It’s probably relevant for me to add here that I have not been, historically, a calm person. In fact, when I first began my own spiritual practice in 2003 it was to cope with anxiety and depression. After further reflection, I realized that my practice has benefited me in ways that were surprising, even to me.

In the last 8-9 years I’ve experienced my share of frustration, loss and disappointment. But fundamentally, it would seem that everything is in its right place, in divine order. While my life doesn’t look the way I thought it would, or the way I wanted it to, I’m living free from the tyranny of the past: free from intense regrets or incompletes that drain my energy. I have a history of authentic and varied relationships and life experiences. Most importantly, I’m living the choices that reflect my values. And these are the true benefits of a spiritual practice, examples of what it means to live a whole life.

I’m happy with who I have been, who I am now, and who I am becoming.

It was – and it is – well with my soul.