It is Day of the Dead in Mexican tradition, and Samhain in the Celtic transition. How fascinating that separate cultures and traditions celebrate similar human experiences. It’s also a bit amusing (or perhaps disturbing depending on your perspective) that religions tried to either co-opt or quash the celebrations.
The Catholic Church tried to get people to stop celebrating Halloween in favor of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. But it did not work, and I think one reason the church has been successful in Mexico is that people simply adopt and meld both traditions in a kind of mash-up of pre-Hispanic and indigenous traditions.
If you want a charming and beautifully-rendered movie about the traditions of Dia de los Muertos or Dia de los Santos (Nov 1-2), check out Coco, a Disney Pixar film about the choices we make despite our families’ desires for our future.
But I digress.
What about illusions? Wasn’t that the topic of this post?
Yes. I am getting there.
The illusion that most of us live by, and what drives so much divisive politics is that we are all separate, as human beings, as cultures, as groups.
The reality is that we are all part of one miraculous and unlikely part of our earth’s existence: humankind. Whether you believe our origin is divine or a product of evolution, we are one species.
We are all in this together on this small planet. I believe we are becoming more and more aware of that as humans evolve. We are made up of matter and energy, swirling together in an amazing array.
Those who cannot see that perhaps lack the ability to look beyond their protective egos and reptilian “fear” brains to the wider world where we are actually just part of a larger story of the universe.
What if we dropped the illusion? What if we began to see each other as one amazing sphere of beautiful energy that can ebb and flow? What if we allowed for the mystery that we are all connected, in ways we are only beginning to understand?
What a world it could be. What a vision to embrace.
Okay, this blog is somewhat self-promoting, because Julie de Rohan mentions me in her post. But the topic is so relevant and I agree so strongly with the the concept that I want to share it with my readers as well.
Julie is a psychotherapist in the U.K. who works with clients who struggle with overeating issues. As this is a struggle I have faced (and also probably 70% of the women I know) I always find her writing and insights to be right on target.
I have recently re-listened to a favorite resource on this topic, an Audible book by Geneen Roth called Women, Food and God. Every time I explore another layer of this issue, I realize how much relationship with food is a microcosm of my beliefs about the world. But not until I excavated this issue in my writing and my meditations did I start feeling peace toward it.
Thanks so much for exploring this issue, Julie. You write about it (and many other topics we share in common) in such an accessible way.
Kellie is a fellow Minnesotan located in the Northwest Angle of our state, a rather unique place that I must explore someday.
She writes about life at the Angle, community, spirituality, wellness and gives s a lot of helpful tips on minimalism with the “minimize minute” posts.
I write this as I am packing to head north for a weekend in Bemidji. I really am intrigued by her descriptions of where she lives, and the politics in particular. I believe she is a kindred spirit and I am always thankful that the internet allows us to connect with others who share similar views and values. What an amazing time to be alive.
This month I was invited to participate as a guest writer in the “Making More Meaning” blog by Stephanie. I love her idea to invite several reflections from fellow bloggers on how we find meaning and I am honored to write on this topic.
The minimalists have led the way in our understanding that collecting more possessions is not what gives our lives meaning. I got a reference a few weeks ago to the book “Stuffocation: Living More with Less” from Lisa at the Simple Life Experiment podcast. James Wallman makes a compelling case for an experiential approach over materialism in the way we live our lives, and traces the history of this change in perspective.
Wallman helped me see how collecting things to show one’s status may have arisen from and evolutionary fitness marker display, which helps me have more empathy with this human impulse. At the same time, we have an ecological imperative to evolve away from this way of living, given worldwide population growth. Left unchecked, the manufacture, packaging and waste generated in making more “stuff” could lead to massive problems in the earth’s ecosystems.
I consider how I personally find meaning daily life. During my 20’s and early 30’s, my career was sometimes more about earning income to pay my bills, while I found true meaning in my volunteer activities. I am fortunate today to work for a company that has a meaningful mission to me: “alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life.” When focus on the patients we serve, and stay committed to the mission, I find a great deal of meaning in the clinical research that my team does every day in Latin America.
On the other hand, when a focus on short-term profit clouds leadership judgment on what is best for the long-term health of our department, it is much more difficult to be propelled by the mission. I believe people can profit from their work and add value to the world simultaneously. There is nothing wrong with making a fair profit. We can re-invest profit into further innovations. Profit and start-up capital are often required to develop new solutions for patients in a sustainable way.
Finding meaning and purpose is about making a contribution that aligns with our values and allows us to use our strengths and talents often. I like Brene Brown’s definition of spirituality (from her work in Rising Strong) to explain how meaning, purpose and spirituality intersect for me. She sees spirituality as something not reliant on religion, theology or dogma, but rather a belief in our interconnected-ness and in a loving force that is greater than ourselves. It is in this way we complete our connection to spirit, living as interconnected beings. We fully acknowledge everything we do has effects on other people, on animals, and on other life on our planet.
We must do some inner work on ourselves, to be sure that our intentions are not coming from a place of needing to “prove our worthiness” to anyone. We are inherently worthy of love and belonging, just by being born. But the gratitude that flows from this realization gives us generosity of spirit that feeds our energy and our commitment.
We are also wired to be in relationships with people, animals and other living organisms. Research shows that we benefit from being in nature, though there is some controversy on whether it is nature itself, or being in community with others that really boosts our well-being. Healthy relationships have been shown to decrease your chances of dying prematurely by 50%. Support offered by caring friends can buffer the effects of stress. In older adults, loneliness is a significant predictor of poor health.
Note that it is about quality and not quantity of your relationships. Even if you have 500+ facebook friends, this does not substitute for 2-3 close friends (or family) in your life that you know you can truly count on when you need support. As an introvert, I know that it takes a lot of energy to maintain many relationships, and so I cultivate them selectively, and in a deeper way.
Is it possible that the “meaning” of friendship gets diluted if you have too many friends?
I will leave you to ponder that one, while I get back to some work I must complete this week. I would love your thoughts or comments.
Yesterday I read a line from a book by Sue Monk Kidd’s “Dance of the Dissident Daughter” that gave me a chill. It describes something about the transition state where I am in life right now and it summed up my feeling so perfectly.
When you can’t go forward and you can’t go backward and you can’t stay where you are without killing off what is deep and vital in yourself, you are on the edge of creation (page 100).
I took a deep breath when I read those words. Yes! Yes! She is describing how I feel right now. This was the end of her chapter on “Awakening” where she describes her journey out of a patriarchal understanding of her world and her religion into something deeper and mysterious.
There are times in our life when we may recognize there is something deep and mysterious calling to us. We sense that we are less of a “fit” with our old lives, and the systems in which we play a role. We know we will make a change of radical proportions, but we seek to understand the implications in our lives.
We begin to understand that wisdom is not something “out there” that we must find, or receive from someone else. Wisdom is here, inside of us, calling to us as though from an ancient source. When we begin to access that source, it has powerful consequences.
For so long, with images of God portrayed as a masculine figure in the sky, and religions that ordain men and not women, we as women begin to shrink from our own wisdom. We forget to question how patriarchy and dominant religion are entwined. In many indigenous spiritual traditions there are divine feminine and divine masculine figures. They coexist together, yin and yang energy.
To me, that is a more natural sense of divine presence. When I feel disconnected from source, I realize I have cut off my feminine wisdom that exists within my heart and my soul. Perfectly understandable, I suppose. The culture might radically change if we honored both masculine and feminine qualities, in a divine dance, rather than always viewing one as “in charge.”
Even that very model, as a hierarchy rather than a partnership, as top-down rather than in a network form, seems artificial and constructed to me. As a scientist, always questioning what nature might reveal to us if we were to pay attention to her, I realize my spirituality is undergoing profound change. Paying attention to this inner wisdom rather than subscribing to a “Father knows best” world means taking responsibility for my life.
Nobody else can tell me where my soul needs to go. But I know at a fundamental level, paying attention to her is what I must to do honor what is deep and vital in myself. In time, she will reveal what is next. There is no hurry, but I am ready to listen.
This morning I woke up very early (3 a.m.) , a byproduct of the time change perhaps, or maybe that 2 phase sleep that humans used to undergo in ancient times. Some historic investigations of human patterns in sleep indicate that we did not expect one long sleep prior to the invention of electronic lighting and an industrial economy. Typically there was a “first sleep” at night for about 4 hours and a period of wakefulness for a couple of hours followed by a “second sleep” or morning sleep of another 4 hours.
When I learned about this pattern, and as I have really worked on getting better quality sleep in recent years, it relieved some anxiety about the morning wakefulness I sometimes experience. I am a morning person, and these beautiful, quiet, spacious times are actually welcome for me, when I get to bed early enough. Today I will attend a meeting on behalf of my boss, who opted not to travel here from Miami on Health Economics and Value Based Healthcare from 9-5.
Since my director volunteered me to attend this all-day meeting on his behalf, I was not able to turn down the opportunity. I am trying to get myself psyched up for it, since I will likely see a few of my less favorite colleagues there, one in particular that always seems to challenge my patience.
So instead of trying to get back to sleep this morning, I surrendered to the wakefulness, knowing I love my morning solitude, my writing time, meditation and personal journal time. I am unwilling to sacrifice these when called upon for professional responsibilities, so sleep is sacrificed for a day. I can cope in the short-term, and I will be gentle with myself.
As I consider what my day will involve, I open myself to the possibility of learning something new. I am very interested in value based healthcare conceptually. Though sometimes the economists cause me to grit my teeth in the way reduce human health to cost effectiveness models, I strive to be open to an understanding of how we best can serve patients while creating sustainable health care.
The concept of surrender came to me again in a recent insight I have had regarding an issue I want to solve with my family. I have been obsessing and tossing and turning it about in my mind, looking for a solution. It has kept me up at nights, and clearly it agitates me. But when I was lying in savasana on Sunday night yin yoga class, I had this strong sense of an inner voice asking me to surrender that problem. Surrender it? To whom? To what? Permanently?
Some inner knowing may be nudging me toward backing off from the problem, and allowing it to unfold. I am not sure, but some of us with a tendency toward worry or anxiety can allow our minds to run rampant with playing out scenarios. I realize I have a tendency to do this, probably a learned tendency from parental figures.
We have to acknowledge sometimes that we are not in control of everything. No matter how much thought and energy we put into some outcome we may want, at some point we need to allow things to unfold. Some people put their trust in God. I am not sure how I feel about that. I do believe there is some higher power, some creative and loving force in the world. I have felt this presence at times, and it is nothing less than miraculous.
Right now, and considering other obligations I will handle today, I will surrender the worrying on that particular issue. I will pay attention to my distractions, and notice when my mind wanders. And I will stay mindful of being in the present moment with the intention of learning today. Now that I have gotten my writing done early and prioritized the daily routines I most treasure, I can move on.
Have a happy Wednesday, peeps. Remember, it’s pi day – 3.14! Treat yo’self! 😉
I just love Brené Brown’s work on how to use what she calls “Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice.” She is a Texas born and bred professor, researcher and storyteller who studies shame, wholeheartedness and how we use story and narrative to shape our lives. Her Ted Talk on the power of vulnerability has been viewed over 33 million times. It is one reason I decided to start this blog.
Her definition of spirituality as a belief that humans as inherently interconnected, and in a loving force greater than ourselves is something I truly align with personally. Brown’s work is starting to make its way to families, government and leadership in large organizations. Her approach has wisdom that has been profound for me.
She uses a term coined by Anne Lamott which is a personal favorite, the “shitty first draft.” Her process of identifying the stories we get “caught” in, and realizing they are stories we make up in our own heads to explain things, but that they are not reality, has helped me enormously. I wrote on this theme last week, but I want to explore it from a different angle here, since I finished re-listening to her audio program again recently.
The idea is that we need to recognize when we are in a difficult emotion (the reckoning). Instead of eating it or damping it down with alcohol or buffering it by numbing out on facebook, we get curious. We examine those feelings, own our story, and “rumble” with it. This step means we get honest about the stories we are making up, challenge them to determine what is true, what’s self-protection and what needs to change.
The final step is the revolution, in which we write a new ending to our story based on the key learning from our rumble. We then use this new, braver story to change how we engage with the world and to ultimately transform the way we live love, parent and lead. (summary from page 37 of Rising Strong).
Some of us who have been to therapy recognize this is something that counselors do while we are figuring out what is causing pain for us in our lives. When suffering from depression or anxiety, it is critical skill to understand that it is our thoughts that cause us emotional pain, not our circumstances. Sure, if we are experiencing grief or loss or a traumatic event, then there will be pain. This is human, and though we are terrible about allowing grief as a culture, it is absolutely necessary for healing.
The tricky part is that we often add to our pain by layering shame and self-hatred on top of those life experiences. “I should be happy” we tell ourselves. “I should feel grateful” all of the self-help books tell us. But “shoulds” are not helpful. Feelings are what they are. They are not good or bad, they are part of being human.
Feelings often provide some helpful clues to us on what and who we want to move towards or move away from in our lives. Brené Brown makes the point that we often believe we are people that THINK and sometimes feel. But the actuality is that people always FEEL and sometimes think. Perhaps this is a remnant from the Descartes’ idea that “I think therefore I am,” but it is inaccurate.
Neuro-biologically we are wired for emotion. We are wired for story. Our brain actually gives us a dopamine hit when we create a story that explains whatever disparate facts are in front of us. It makes no difference whether the story is true, it just takes comfort from making sense of the world. The stories we tell shape our lives. And when we tell them enough times, they evolve into theories about how the world works. Any theory we belief for long enough becomes a belief.
The awesome thing about humans is that we can choose to believe new things. When we encounter a belief that is causing us pain, we can unpack it, question it, and possibly change it. We often find we believe things we may have been taught when young, or observed in our family systems.
What if we write our stories as though we are the heroes and not the victims? What if we are able to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we made, and the mistakes others made? When we can free ourselves in this way, we free our energy to stop living in our past and to take brave steps into the future.
If you want a free link to this roughly 3-hour audible presentation on this topic, where Brown explains her work, and also answers questions from the audience please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am happy to share this with anyone who may want to do similar personal work.