Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Fine Art of Surrender

The window of discernment that opens straight before making a big decision is transformative. This is where character is formed, with a heart-shaped lump in your throat, as you contemplate a leap of epic proportions. This is the school house of experience where you learn patience, urgency, courage and surrender. It is the moment after all the homework has been done, all the pro and con lists have been written, and advisers have been consulted. All that is left to do is follow that gut feeling. Jump! Do it! You know its right! But do you? What if you’re wrong?

So often at this point we doubt ourselves. We mistrust our intuition, and instead of surrendering to our destiny we close the window on possibility, draw the shades on opportunity and confine ourselves to a dark room called fear. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can relearn the art of surrender, trusting yourself but now with the added benefit of years of hard knocks in the school of life.

What can you do to train yourself to boldly leap through the window of opportunity? How can you learn to trust your instincts once again when walls turn into doors?
We’re all different when it comes to risks. I’ve always been good at rationalizing when taking risks. Before I bungied off Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown in New Zealand I calmed myself by saying, “Hundreds of people do this every day. I’ve never heard of a single accident.” This is also called blissful ignorance. Another method I use to calm fear is calm resignation. When I find myself on a particularly bumpy flight, I tell myself, “Even if we crash there’s nothing I can do about this so I might as well sit back and relax.”

On reflection, I think I am half right with my method. Your rational skills will only get you so far. Blaise Pascal said, “All of our reasoning ends in surrender to feeling.” Science tells us that decision making is 95% emotional and 5% rational. That doesn’t mean that surrender has to be ill-informed. You can prepare for moments of decision making by studying facts and preparing your attitude.

Surrender is like swimming in a riptide. If you tighten up and attempt to swim against the tide, you will tire and eventually drown. If you relax and go with the flow, you will survive. The first lesson of surrender is to stop fighting against the flow of life when it is clearly on a roll. It is the delicate balance between acceptance and resistance. Resignation and ignorance are too passive for healthy surrender. Add a little mindfulness and knowledge for healthy surrender.

Who are you surrendering to? By any name you are surrendering to your inner sense of wholeness, the deeper self that has intuitive wisdom and sees your potential. At the precipice of large decisions your ego wants you to play small and stay safe. Remind yourself to make decisions from your deeper sense of being part of the whole, one with life. You are part of a whole that is greater than all and yet pervasively present in each. Make decisions that honor this greater whole. It has incredible plans and you are an intimate part of her plans. Surrender the life you have planned to step into the life that is waiting for you. By leaving yourself open to the flow of an unknown future, you will discover new and unimagined possibilities.

The essence of surrender is a recognition that you can’t control everything. In fact there is very little you can control. Give up trying to control everything and you will feel a giant weight fall off your shoulders. You are dancing with the stars, flowing with the oceans and grounded in the roots of the earth. How could your future not unfold in perfect alignment with life?

Of course this is much easier said than done. But isn’t everything? If you’ve lost your job, learnt you have a serious illness or just generally feel at your wit’s end, try surrendering. Go with the flow and trust the adventure of being alive. Events may not transpire as you imagine or even hope. They could be even better. The open window beckons. Feel its gentle breeze. Take in the panoramic view. The world is calling to you, inviting your trust.

Ps, please check in at Soulseeds for awesome resources to help with surrender.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Non Judgement Day Is Here

Wayne Dyer said, “Judgment prevents us from seeing the good that lies beyond appearances.” Things aren’t always as they seem. Incomplete information and assumptions often color our thoughts and conclusions. These assumptions sometimes leave us in embarrassing or even worse, dangerous, situations. Imagine the freedom of truly seeing life as it is, unfettered by assumption and judgment. I can only imagine that a lot of self inflicted suffering would end instantly.

The classical Greek philosopher Plato told a parable about a group of men confined from birth to living in a cave, bound by chains to their feet and necks so that they can only look straight ahead. Behind them a fire burns constantly, casting shadows on the wall in front of them. Their whole reality consists of the lights and shadows that pass across the cave wall. Between the men and the burning fire, performers regularly carry figurines to create the affect of a puppet show on the wall. For these men, the shadows and the occasional sound of the performers behind them is their whole reality. This is all they know. Then, Plato says, suppose that one of the men is taken out of the cave and for the first time he is exposed to direct sunlight. At first it is blinding, but after the man adapts to the sunlight, a whole new reality opens up for him. He now sees that the sun is the cause of the seasons and the passage of time and also the cause of the shadows on the wall. His eyes slowly open, first with a squint, then with peering curiosity and then with wide eyed wonder. He has seen the light. He wakes up to reality for the first time.

Would the man ever want to go back in the cave? Not after seeing what he had seen. After waking up to the radiant light, he would never want to go back into the prison of the cave. But he would, just to share the experience with his friends, “Things aren’t as they seem” he would say.”There’s so much more. All you are seeing is shadows of something better, more direct and real.” His friends would think him crazy, until they too had some exposure to the light of direct experience.

The truth had set him free, and his life would never be the same again. Do you know the experience of being set free to see reality as it is, and not as you wish it were or as others expect you to be? Today is the day. Whether you are in the closet of suppressed sexuality, or trapped in the cave of a self limiting belief or some self imposed exile, today is the day to come out and live an authentic life. It’s time to wake up to who you are and who you are destined to be in the world. It’s time to let your light out from the behind a bushel and SHINE! The shackles of closeted living may be comfortable and familiar, but you don’t want to go back in there other than to tell your friends that there’s more.

The Trail Blazers

Don’t imagine that you are alone. We stand on the shoulders of the many warriors who have gone before us, faced the truth, woken up to their brilliant light and come back to tell us the good news. We pay tribute to pioneers like Alexander the Great, Richard the Lionhearted, Francis Bacon, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Michelangelo, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Rainer Maria Rilke, Ellen Degeneres and many other long hidden people of the rainbow who have blazed the trail of authenticity. We pay tribute to our own local hero, Oak Reed, transgendered kid from Mona Shores High School who was voted homecoming king by his peers before having the title stripped by the school’s administration. School mates started a facebook page that now has over 12,000 fans from around the world. We have come so far and we can thank these and other heroes for their courage.

Inclusive spiritual community is about so much more than welcoming gay and lesbian and transgendered people. It is about that. But it is about so much more. An inclusive spiritual community stands on the shoulders of the heroes who fought the freedom fight when it was politically and socially unpopular, and we stand in the footsteps of their courage. We learn from their authenticity and we pledge to create a world alongside them where people no longer have to hide their sexuality and suppress their love, a world where all people can choose to marry if they wish and who they wish, where people can serve openly in the military no matter what their sexuality. We work for a world where same sex couples have equal employment opportunities, full adoption rights and health benefits. We long for a world without homophobia and bullies, knowing that this will happen once each person wakes up to their own reality and stops projecting their fears on to whoever is standing out and shining a light on the bully’s insecurities.

Truth and Freedom

Many, many people around the world are waking up to the essential oneness of life, but there is more work to be done. As long as teenagers are committing suicide because they are bullied for their sexuality, there is more work to be done. There is more work to be done because each of us has more coming out to do, whether it’s around sexuality or fulfilling a deeper vision or exercising a hidden passion. The truth will set you free but it probably won’t happen all at once and it will be different for each person. It’s a process, like the gradual opening of eyes after a long sleep.

It is one of the best known phrases in the Bible, “The truth has set you free.” It’s a very profound saying and is even more meaningful when you understand that it came out of the same Greek world that brought us Plato’s cave. The classical Greek word for truth used in John’s gospel is al├ętheia. It’s a word that means “not hidden” or that which is beyond appearance. If there is a word in the Bible that most closely corresponds to coming out of the closet it is al├ętheia.

It’s a word that indicates the true nature of a thing or a person. Truth has little to do with being right and everything to do with being transparent. You know the experience. You admit to a friend that you are depressed, and even though your friend can’t heal your depression, you feel the burden lift from your shoulders. You are not alone. You have spoken the words that were destroying you inside and now they don’t have so much power. The truth of transparency has set you free. You tell your colleagues that you hold inclusive spiritual beliefs and even if they don’t agree with you, you enjoy the freedom of authenticity. And of course, you tell your friends the truth about your sexuality and even if it takes some friends a while to process the news, you are free. You have spoken your truth and your light is radiant.

The Greeks (specifically the Stoics) were fatalists which means that they believed that everything happens by necessity and life has its own course and there is little we can do about events other than look within to the way we respond to those events. In other words you may not have chosen your life situation, but you CAN choose your response. Hence your freedom. Relating this to sexuality, sexuality is something you are born with. You don’t choose it. It’s your lot in life. It has its joys and its challenges. But coming out is a choice, and staying in the closet is a choice. And what a powerful choice it is. It’s the choice of being fully yourself and expressing this freely in the world.

The truth that sets you free is the acceptance of life as it is, not as it seems to be or as you wish it were, and not as others expect it to be, but as it is. From this starting point you claim the power to respond in a healthy and authentic way.

Freedom and Hatred

Another major influence from Greek thought is the idea that divine light exists in every person, and not just in some favored people. John’s gospel describes it as a light that is born within each person. Without going into too much detail, this provides a foundation for the liberal philosophy of John Locke and others and The United States Constitution which asserts the equality of all and the right of ALL people to free speech and expression. Its part of a social contract we enter into in western democracies whereby we look to the state to protect the rights of one person or group from being denied by another person or group.

This is the basis of the right for LGBT people to come out and speak their truth, and also the right of LGBT groups to see that no one is discriminated against or bullied because of their sexuality. It also protects the rights of individuals and groups to hold conservative moral views about sexuality. So what happens when one person or group’s rights clash with another person or group’s rights?

This very question has been brought to the surface because of Fred Phelps and his funeral protests of fallen soldiers. Phelps runs a fundamentalist church in Kansas, where he teaches that military deaths and victims of natural disasters and even the Gulf oil spill are all ways that God is punishing America for its moral depravity, accepting things like homosexuality. He carries signs at funerals that say things like “God hates fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers”. His website offers a running tally of how many people God has put in hell since you have been on the page. Is he allowed to exercise his free speech even if it disrupts the rights of another person to an honorable farewell?

Most of us would agree that it’s not okay for bullies to verbally and physically abuse people because of their sexuality. This is clearly a hate crime. So where is the line? It’s going to be an interesting test of the First Amendment as the family of a fallen soldier who had their funeral disrupted by a Phelps protest are suing Phelps.

In my opinion, the situation with Phelps shows that there need to be limitations on speech that incites hatred. He is bullying people at tragic times of grief. The state should protect families at funerals. If there are competing rights to discern, respect should take precedence over hatred.

Beyond Appearances

John’s gospel speaks about people like Fred Phelps who fail to recognize the divine light within others. Of course things aren’t always as they seem, and I would guess that people like Phelps have some unresolved inner frustration that gets played out as hatred towards others. This is also known as homophobia and it ends up with people getting hurt. We have all had experiences where we are exposed to other people’s fears and insecurities.

When we first moved to America I bought a PT Cruiser with a purple top. Once I was driving my parents to the airport in Chicago. The three of us were chatting in the car when my Dad pointed to the truck next to us and said, “Look, there’s a man blowing kisses at you.” Being new to Michigan, I first thought this was a sign of old fashioned, local hospitality. But soon I realized the kisses were poisoned with sarcasm. Everyone in the car was laughing hysterically. It took a while to work it out, but eventually realized that it must have been the PT. If you drive a purple top PT Cruiser, with your parents and a Dora the Explorer backpack on the ledge behind the back seat, you must be gay and being gay is hysterical to a man driving a truck with a bumper sticker that says, “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

Little harm was done in this case, but harm IS done by this sort of bigotry. There have been four high profile teenage suicides because of bullying just in the last month. Lives are at stake when people act like cavemen and bullies. We can do so much better.

So here’s a challenge for coming out day. Step out of the cave long enough to enjoy the warmth of direct sunlight. Come out, come out, whoever you are, wherever you are and whatever it is you are ready to come out about. Come out of the cave, and then go back in to shine some light in the darkness. You don’t have to do anything earth shattering. Your presence and inspiration will automatically liberate others to be all that they can be.

I honor the unchanging spirit in you, beyond form and shadows and circumstances, the spirit of oneness. Namaste.