Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thriving in the Holidays

This is my last post for 2011. Thanks to all who have stayed in touch with my blog. I trust that you received what you needed from it. After a short break over the Holidays I will write again. My first opportunity in 2012 is a teleclass on change that I am leading in conjunction with Brian Johnson's En Theos Academy for Optimal Living. All are welcome to join the class, which is using some cutting edge technology to create a truly interactive experience. Read more about the course here.
Most likely your attention is now focused on the Holidays, time with family and your own journey through Christmas. My writing this week has focused on these things. Take what is meaningful from the following-
1. An inclusive spiritual perspective on Christmas, read more here.
2. Four Agreements to help prepare for an awesome Holiday season. Read more here
3. Inspired by the Christmas story. But which story? Four Christmases, read more here. 
Above you are the stars. Beneath you is the earth. Within you is the light of life. Like the stars may your vision be clear. Like the earth, may your life be grounded. Like the light within, may your spirit shine.
Much love and gratitude, Ian.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Inner Clarity, Outer Vision

Helen Keller said, "The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision."

Last week I wrote about doubt. This week I wrote about clarity of vision. There are six articles. Feel free to explore any or all of them at your leisure.

1. Vision grows out of what you see inside yourself (click here for part one in the series).
2. Vision involves squinting at your own sacred essence ( click here for part two in the series).
3. Vision stretches you to see what lies ahead (click here for part three in the series).
4. Di-vision gets in the way of da-vision. Beware of double vision (hypocricy) and focus on authenticity more than size (click here for part four in the series)
5. Vision boarding is a practical way to clarify your vision (click here to read about vision boarding),
6. This visualization on your life five years back and five years forward will help give you perspective on your growth.

Remember that, in the words of Dan Zadra, "Your resources are always far greater than you imagine them to be." Wake up to all that you can be. Shine some light on a vision that may have been buried under a pile of fears for too long. Set out on a path that may feel hard, but you know it’s right. It’s time to emerge from your own dark age and shine your light.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Gratitude and Doubt

This week began with Thanksgiving and ended in Great Doubt. Its been said that successful people have doubts. They just don’t let doubt stop them. So my message this week is to doubt, and doubt boldly but don't let it paralyze you. Let your awareness grow beyond a shadow of doubt and take you from strength to strength. I wrote four pieces. Please peruse at your leisure.

1. Gratitude in ALL Circumstances, both the ups and downs, the doubts and clarity. This article is about gratitude and growth, through ALL that was, all this is, and all that is to come. Read more.
2. Doubt is often seen as a weakness. Reframe doubt as powerful and beneficial. Give yourself the benefit of doubt. This article describes the benefit of doubt both personally and socially. Read more.
3. In the third article, I spoke personally about working through Great Doubt at a Zen retreat in 2005, and outlines the five stages of enlightenment from Tozan. Read more.
4. The fourth article is on a different topic, the ongoing question of how to change well. This piece is about eliminating things that aren’t serving you and adding more of the things that make you feel alive and inspired. Read more.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Nelson Mandela said, "There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children."

This week I wrote about protecting children, in the light of revelations about the Penn State abuse scandal. There are five pieces to explore-

1. Honoring the innocence of children while teaching them about boundaries. Help kids to develop wise trust. Read more.

2. Protect children before protecting institutions like the church or college football programs. Read more.

3. Become a whistleblower for kids in danger. Learn to see the signs of danger, and empower kids to trust their intuition. Read more.

4. Learn to forgive yourself when you fail to see the signs or act on warning signs. Read more.

5. We need to believe that good people do bad things so that we are not blindsided by abuse. Read more.

In the end, it all comes down to what sort of world you choose to dwell in. I imagine a world where children are fiercely protected and people are mindful of the effect of their actions.

I love the ritual among the Masai tribes of African. Even though they were considered the most fearsome of all warriors, they use a greeting that is amazingly gentle. They greet each other with the words, “Kasserian ingera?’ which means “How are the children?” Even warriors with no children of their own would give the answer, ‘All the children are well.”

If the children are well, it is well with all. If the least visible and least powerful are well cared for, society as a whole is in a healthy state. Start by caring for the vulnerable child within who needs to be empowered with courage to heal from past choices and move on making powerful choices. Ask yourself often, “How is the child within?” May your answer be, “The child within is well.”

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

This week I wrote about transformation, particularly in relation to the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement that is gaining momentum. Please follow the links below to read each article.

1. Reform changes things at the surface. Transformation changes from the inside out. Click here to read more 

2. Getting beyond labels that divide. Spend less time defining who we are, and more time BEING who we are. Click here to read more 

3. Visualizing Transformation, a visualization for anyone managing change, using the analogy of a butterfly. Click here to read more. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011


I chose to give my creative mind a rest this week and only wrote once. The piece I wrote was on acceptance and living with no strings attached. The harp created my guiding metaphor, which led to a visualization which I found meaningful. I hope you do too. You can read the article and visualization here.

Throw yourself into every moment with no strings attached, with no assurance that your efforts will be rewarded. Plan your next steps with no certainty of the outcomes. Pour yourself into a cause or project you believe in without knowing where it will take you. Do it as an authentic expression of who you are.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

This week I wrote a four part series on authenticity and taking off masks. Jim Morrison, Doors frontman, said, "The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are." Please follow each link below to read the series as it unfolded.

1. The first article is about the power of authenticity. Click here to read.
2. The second is about authenticity’s payoff. Recover your born identity. Click here to read.
3. The third offers practical steps to live more authentically. Its exhausting not to live authentically. Click here to read.
4. The fourth piece is about the connection between living authentically and the needs of the planet. Masks and the Occupy Wall Street movement. Click here to read.

In order to BE yourself, you have to KNOW yourself. Once you start living authentically, life becomes filled with joy. And as Gandhi said, "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."

Have an awesome week of finding, living, loving and being yourself.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Last week I wrote about taking responsibility. I mentioned responsibility’s mantra, IF IT IS TO BE, IT IS UP TO ME. When you see something that needs to be done, get in and take responsibility. But is there such a thing as taking too much responsibility? What happens when you feel overwhelmed by the needs of the world? How do you persevere when it feels like you’re running backwards into a stiff headwind? How do you remove unhealthy burdens from your life? How do you keep caring without letting the pain destroy you? These are some of the questions I addressed this week.

Please follow the links to read more about

1. 10 ways to know if you are taking on too much responsibility. Click to read more.

2. 10 practical ways to overcome overwhelm. Click to read more.

3. What is the connection between empathy and overwhelm? Click to read more.

4. What does the phrase, “pain hurts more, but bothers you less” mean? Click to read more.

Have a great week, and live with awesome balance between care and acceptance.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Personal Responsibility

The Dalai Lama said,

Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life.
This week I wrote about personal responsibility. It seems to be one of the defining qualities of human evolution. I looked at four issues. Follow the link to read each article.

1. Response-Ability- What is personal responsibility? Learn to take responsibility for both your successes and challenges.

2. Empathy and Responsibility- The level of your responsibility will mostly match your level of care or empathy.

3. Spirituality and Responsibility- Take responsibility for your own spiritual path, your beliefs and destiny.

4. Responsibility and Awareness- Your responsibility stretches as far as your awareness reaches.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

New Beginnings

Last week I wrote about ending well. This week I wrote four articles about beginning well.

The first piece was about the opportunity for renewed authenticity in beginnings.
The second was about using nervous energy to your advantage.
The third was about the excitement of joining change at the ground floor.
The fourth was about setting the tone for your life by putting your best foot forward.

Below is an extract from part 4. Please follow the links above to read them in order.

New beginnings are a privilege, and not to be taken for granted. The opportunity to start over, start new, rewrite the script, build something from the ground up, set the tone for an intention, are all part of the forgiving nature of the universe. Second, third and seven hundredth chances are built into the nature of life. When you truly believe that, you can set about living on purpose and without regrets. You are not alive at this time in history with your unique blend of experience and skill by accident. You are not reading this article at this time in your life by accident. There are things that you still need to express and manifest in the world, and your next thoughts, words and actions will set the tone for the rest of your life and help to create the future for all. Your kindred spirits are others who believe in second chances and fresh starts, and live their lives putting their best foot forward. Imagine the love revolution if more of us lived this way.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

This week I wrote four articles on ending well. We all face many endings in life and they bring an opportunity to end well so that you can begin again well and fully without baggage and regrets.

I encourage you to read them all on my Soulseeds blog.

The first part looked at impermanence.

The second looked at ending well, especially in the case of divorce or relocation.

The third looked at assumptions.

The fourth part looked at making peace with time.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

F.E.A.R False Evidence Appearing Real

This is part 3 in a series on 9-11, fear and healing memories. Please visit Soulseeds to read the whole series.

 Fear is the memory of danger. It serves a purpose, often keeping us out of danger like not touching a red hot stove top, but in many ways it’s a dinosaur. The fight or flight response of fear is a hangover from ancient times when people had to avoid flying spears and hungry mammoths. It created the urgency to act before thinking. Life doesn’t hold the same dangers for most of us now, and yet our brains still hold the same capacity for fear. Our challenge is to separate healthy fear from unhealthy fear. This is part of the process of photoshopping memories- updating the information and reframing the challenges behind fear.

Healthy fear gets you out of the path of a speeding car, and checks in with the doctor about a strange lump. Unhealthy fear is F.E.A.R, false evidence that appears real but is mostly a fabrication of the reptilian brain and the ego that wants to keep you imprisoned in your own mind, unwilling to be fully alive because it’s too risky to venture out. Overcome this unhealthy fear, and you will wake up to an inner security that will put external threats in a new perspective.

TS Elliot said, “I will show your fear in a handful of dust.” 9-11 showed us fear in a skyline of dust, an urban wasteland. Ten years later, the dust has settled, but the fear remains for many. Unfortunately, some politicians, most branches of the media and too much religion tap into the reptilian fear impulse and encourage unhealthy fear. Whole systems of so called security are established to create the façade of safety. One of the ways we can photoshop the awful memories of 9/11 is to update some of our information and reframe our workdview.

I flew out of American on Christmas Day, 2009, the same day that the famed “Underwear Bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab strapped explosives to his underwear and attempted to blow up a plane over Detroit airport. As a result, I passed through the tightest air travel security regimen that the world has ever seen. Countless hours and dollars were poured into patting down 7 year old girls wheeling Dora the Explorer backpacks full of Christmas toys and crayons. (I always thought there was something fishy about Dora, her evil side-kick Boots and that cunning talking map.)

Update your information about air travel. In the past decade there have been a handful of terrorist related incidents on US airplanes. Most of them failed or were foiled by other passengers. If you look at the total number of passengers on planes in the last decade, the odds of being on a flight with a terrorist incident is 1 in 10 million. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are 1 in 500,000. Here is a stark way to reframe the events of 9/11. You are more likely to die from falling out of bed than as the victim of a terrorist on a plane. Or to reframe this in a positive context. Your odds of finding true and lasting inner peace skyrocket when you rid your mind of irrational fears.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to have air travel security measures. We need to take precautions. But there is a world of difference between precautions and paranoia. A precaution is taking a cell phone and GPS on a long car trip. Paranoia is not leaving your home. There are few things in life we desire more than security, and yet it is often like chasing the wind. Just when you think you’ve caught it, another gust comes up from behind and knocks you down. Security has an elusive charm that keeps you searching but can leave you vulnerable to surprise attacks and missed opportunity.

Security is tightened at major national airports, leaving the gate open for someone to enter the system in one of the smaller, less secure, airports. It’s like double dead bolting your front door, but leaving the side French Windows wide open. There are gaps in the border walls to Mexico. There are loopholes to laws and tax systems. Bottom line, there is no perfect security system. You can surround yourself with the greatest military might on the planet and still not feel secure.

After ten years of tightened security measures, do you feel safer on an airplane? Maybe. But at what cost? While so much focus is on air travel, what other security threats are being ignored? The ultimate question is- Are you prepared to sacrifice personal liberty for the illusion of security?

As long as you frame life against an expectation of security, you will never feel safe. When you frame your life and memories against a backdrop of freedom and personal responsibility, you will be at peace. To live is to risk. To love is to risk. To risk is to surrender. To surrender is to find peace of mind.

Updating memories with new information is one step in reframing traumatic memories. The chance of something happening on an airplane is slim. The risk in visiting New York City is negligible. People wearing turbans are no more or less dangerous than those without turbans. If 9-11 teaches us anything, surely it is to live while you are alive, and not allow the illusion of security and the frame of fear to hold you captive.

Recently I discovered that someone in our neighborhood has built a bomb shelter. I could understand this during World War 2, but in our quiet town in 2011 it verges on paranoia. The same person moved from the other side of the state for safety reasons. The desire for security is insatiable. There is nowhere to run and hide from life. It demands to be lived. There is no place, no travel, no system, that can satisfy the ego’s desire for security. The biggest problem is bomb shelters of the mind, the protective layers that keep you locked in a small perspective.

F.E.A.R- come back to the false evidence part of the equation. Change the frame.

There is a parable about a man who wakes up in the middle of the night to find a poisonous snake coiled next to his leg at the foot of his bed. He lies awake all night, frozen in terror, praying that the snake won’t bite him. As dawn breaks, and light begins to shine on his bed, he finally realizes that it’s not a snake at all. It’s a belt he forgot to put away when he went to bed. Once he knows the truth, the snake disappears, the memory of the night is reframed, the fear is gone and he is filled with relief.

Until he had seen the light, so to speak, his imagination got the better of him and he imagined his own demise at the hands of the snake. When you shine a light on the memories and call them what they are, you can make unconscious emotions conscious and reframe false evidence.

This is one of the ways we can honor the loss of 9/11. Call it what it was, but not more than that. It was the tragic loss of life at the hands of a few extremists. Insane people with insane beliefs can knock buildings down and kill people to further their agenda, but they can’t win inside your head and heart which is the engine room of your life, unless you let them. Choose love over fear.

The choice is there for each one of us- continue to reenact the fear, and you will live your life in a bomb shelter of your own mind. In this case the terrorists win. Or else put events of the past in perspective, and reclaim your power. Live with courage, which is not the absence of fear but the choice to proceed despite the fear. Sometimes your worst fear becomes your greatest opportunity.

Where do you find the strength to persist despite the fear? This simple story illustrates a profound truth. A mouse was in constant distress because of its fear of the cat. A magician took pity on it and turned it into a cat. But then it became afraid of the dog. So the magician turned it into a dog. Then it began to fear the panther, so the magician turned it into a panther. Then it was full of fear for the hunter. At this point, the magician gave up. He turned it into a mouse again saying, “Nothing I do for you is going to be of any help because you have the heart of a mouse.”

Have the heart of a peaceful warrior and nothing outside of you can conquer you. Therefore there is very little to fear. You nurture the heart of a peaceful warrior with the rock solid inner stillness that accepts change without attaching to outcomes.

The stage is set for an incredible evolutionary leap beyond reptilian fear and you and I are a part of this shift. As more people make a choice to live with inner freedom and personal responsibility, the very DNA that defines our fear impulse will be recoded. As we reframe the ego’s insatiable desire for security, we will stop looking for things that don’t exist and start truly living while we are alive. This is the greatest way to honor the loss of 9-11.

Let these words from Native American poet, Joy Harjo sink deeply in. She writes from her personal experience of fear. Change the details to match your experience, but keep the essence of her message.

I Give You Back By Joy Harjo

I release you, my beautiful and terrible fear.

I release you.

You were my beloved and hated twin, but now, I don’t know you as myself.

I release you with all the pain I would know at the death of my daughters.

You are not my blood anymore.

I give you back to the white soldiers who burned down my home, beheaded my children, raped and sodomized my brothers and sisters.

I give you back to those who stole the food from our plates when we were starving.

I release you, fear, because you hold these scenes in front of me and I was born with eyes that can never close.

I release you, fear, so you can no longer keep me naked and frozen in the winter, or smothered under blankets in the summer.

I release you I release you I release you I release you

I am not afraid to be angry.

I am not afraid to rejoice.

I am not afraid to be black

I am not afraid to be white.

I am not afraid to be hungry.

I am not afraid to be full.

I am not afraid to be hated.

I am not afraid to be loved,

to be loved, to be loved, fear.

Oh, you have choked me, but I gave you the leash.

You have gutted me but I gave you the knife.

You have devoured me, but I laid myself across the fire.

I take myself back, fear.

You are not my shadow any longer.

I won’t hold you in my hands.

You can’t live in my eyes, my ears, my voice my belly, or in my heart

my heart my heart my heart.

But come here, fear.

I am alive and you are so afraid of dying.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Feed Your Soul by Geneen Roth

Geneen Roth wrote the outstanding book, Women, Food and God which was featured on Oprah. I included one of Geneen's articles on Soulseeds' Seed Exchange. This article was first published in Good Housekeeping.

There are some things in life you take for granted: Your children will outlive you. No matter how tough it gets, you won't poison your spouse with arsenic-laced toothpaste. And if you have a best friend, you will attend her wedding.

But life sometimes upsets our most basic assumptions. And although I haven't resorted to the arsenic (yet), I did have this surprise: My best friend from college got married today and I wasn't there. Never in a million years did I think I would miss her wedding. We'd been talking about it since we were 18. And yet, when it came down to deciding about making the trip from California to New York, I did something radical, something I rarely do: I took my own needs into account.

I stepped away from my notions of what a good person would do, what any loyal friend would do, and considered the facts: I'd just returned from teaching an exhilarating but exhausting weeklong retreat; I had a broken ankle and a sprained back and could barely walk; my friend decided to get married rather suddenly and told me she wasn't expecting me to come. And I realized that although I would miss seeing her walk down the aisle if I didn't go, I would be a hobbling, exhausted wreck if I did. So I stayed home, sent champagne, and wrote my friend and her new husband a wedding story. It was an agonizing decision but not nearly as painful as the tale I told myself about it: If I don't go to my best friend's wedding — the very friend who held my hair back the night I drank a bottle of Cold Duck and threw up on the sidewalk — people will finally discover how selfish I am and I will lose every friend I have. I will spend my dying days alone, dribbling Diet Coke on my chin with no friends or family around. As soon as I realized I'd made a leap from taking care of myself to visions of dying alone, dribbling and friendless, I understood that I considered looking out for my own needs a radical concept — so radical that it scared me to (a pathetic, lonely, and potentially sticky) death.

I should know better. In working with tens of thousands of women over the last two decades, I've found that there is a whole set of beliefs called "the bad things that will happen if I take care of myself." I've heard things such as, "My son will choke on a fish bone the minute I leave him alone and take some time for myself." "My husband won't be able to make friends without me if I stay home from this party and rest." "My friend will hate me if I don't make brownies for her bake sale."

Think about this: Do you feel it is right to put yourself at the center of your own life, or is your secret fear that if you consider your own needs, you'll alienate the people you love and end up homeless, rifling through old chicken bones in a dark alley? Are you afraid that a "me first" attitude will get you drummed out of the "good people" club?

Most of us secretly believe that good people, especially women, take care of others first. They wait until everyone else has a plateful and then take what's left. Unfortunately, most of us make decisions based on our ideas of who we think we should be, not on who we actually are. The problem is, when we make choices based on an ideal image of ourselves — what a good friend would do, what a good mother would do, what a good wife would do — we end up having to take care of ourselves in another way.

Enter food. When you don't consider your real needs, you will likely fill the leftover emotional hunger with food. (Or another abused substance. Or shopping. But most of us opt for food.) You eat in secret. You eat treats whenever you can, because food is the one way, the only way, you nourish yourself. You eat on the run because you believe that you shouldn't take time for lunch; there's too much work to do. You eat the éclair, the doughnut, the cake, all the while knowing this isn't really taking care of yourself. But to really take care of yourself, you have to think of yourself first.

"Is that possible?" you ask. "What about my children? I'd die for them." Have you ever considered why, on an airplane, the flight attendant tells you to put on your own oxygen mask first, before you help your children? It's because your kids' well-being depends on it. If you aren't grounded, present, calm, and able to breathe, there is no one to take care of them.

What would your life look like if you acknowledged the truth that working nonstop for 10 hours, taking care of other people, leaves you so spent and weary that there really isn't much left of you for your kids, let alone yourself? What would your life look like if you realized that you need to set aside time every day to fill yourself up — even if it's only by taking a few 15-minute breaks during which you stare at nothing or go outside or lie down? What would the pace of your life be if you went on "soul time" instead of clock time, even just a little?

It's possible. A few days ago, I spoke with a first-time mother. Her baby son had colic, and she was completely exhausted. She was so afraid she wouldn't be there when he needed her that she couldn't sleep even when he was napping or with her husband. And she was turning to food to calm herself down. I asked her what it would be like to do something very simple for herself: to sit down and breathe. That's all. No big deal. Nothing to achieve. Just let the body do what it was already doing and give herself a break. She said she could try that. She just breathed.

At the end of five minutes, I asked her how she felt. She said she was relieved, immediately calmer. She said that since she'd had her baby, she had forgotten all about herself and her needs, and while some of that was natural ("I'm so in love with him," she said; "I've never known love like this before"), she was not serving him best by exhausting herself. She said that caring for herself was doable — maybe not in the same ways she did before she was a mother, but in new ways. Taking small rests. Eating well. Going outside for even five minutes while he naps. "I can do this," she said. "I can treat myself with the same kind of care that I give him."

"Now you're talking," I said. "And the better you take care of yourself, the more he will know as he grows up that it's fine for him to take care of himself, too."

If you operate on what you believe a good mother/partner/friend would do and you leave yourself — what you need, how you feel — out of the equation, your relationships will suffer.

I'm here to tell you that cherishing yourself by making yourself a priority in your own life is possible. You can take care of your needs and your relationships with family and friends can thrive. I know, because I am making this my daily practice, and I am confident I will not go out either alone or dribbling.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Six Degrees of Separation

This is the first part of a four part series on oneness and interconnectedness. Visit Soulseeds for all four articles.

The idea of six degrees of separation is that anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet by a chain of no more than five acquaintances. In 1967 the American sociologist Stanley Milgram created a test called “The small-world problem.” He randomly selected people in the mid-West to send packages to a stranger in Massachusetts. They were told only the recipient’s name, occupation and general location. They were instructed to send the package to someone they knew only on a first name basis, who would then send it on to another, and so on until the package finally got to the recipient. While it was expected that the chain would be at least 100 people long, Milgram actually found that the range was from 2 to 10, with 5 being the average. His study inspired the phrase, “Six Degrees of Separation.”

Various forms of the theory have been tested and confirmed in the decades since. Most recently, Microsoft analyzed 30 billion Instant Messenger conversations in one month in 2006. They claim that they captured about half of the whole world’s IM communication for that month. They confirmed that the average chain of connection between IM users was 6.6. Yahoo and Facebook are now creating their own test of the theory.

The Kevin Bacon version of the experiment shows that all actors are connected to Kevin Bacon by an average of less than 3 connections. It turns out Bacon isn’t even the most connected actor. That award goes to Rod Steiger. By virtue of his five marriages, Steiger might invite a new version of the game to see how many marriages each couple is separated from every other couple. The mind boggles. It’s a small world, but as comedian Steven Wright said, “I wouldn’t want to paint it.” You can do your own Six Degrees of Separation exercise. When you’re at a party or work function, strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know, and find out how many degrees of separation there are between you. Ask questions about where they live, where they exercise, hair dressers, doctors, schools, what town they grew up in etc until you find a common acquaintance.

The idea of six degrees of separation is incredibly empowering. That elusive answer you’ve been looking for, the guidance, connection, support, inspiration, are all closer to you than you imagine. Sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and connect with someone new or some new place just to remind yourself that you live in an awesome universe that is open and generous, and that sometimes strangers or unlikely acquaintances bring you surprising gifts. There is enormous value in connecting with a diverse group of people and travelling to new places. It expands you and your experience of life. It reminds you that you live in a small but miraculous world and there is always more to learn.

Six degrees of separation is also motivating. If you understand the power you have to influence others, you can choose what you want to share. Because studies now show that happiness is literally contagious across your extended network, up to three degrees of separation. One study showed that if you are happy, your friends are 25% more likely to be happy as a result and your friends’ friends are 10% more likely to be happy even if they don’t even know you. So, given that we are all connected by six degrees of separation and happiness reaches across three degrees of separation, two people at opposite ends of a social network should be able to pass happiness back and forth among the network like a vibrating chain. Choose to share happiness and optimism. Spread it like a virus for good. Interconnectedness is not just a human experience.

David Lusseau, from the University of Aberdeen, UK, performed a similar experiment on 130 dolphins living off the coast of Svotland. He found that it takes an average of just 3.9 steps to link any two dolphins by the shortest possible route through mutual flipper friends. This is a good reminder that the six degrees of separation is not just about linking humans. All beings are intimately related. The notion of six degrees of separation reminds us of one of the fundamental laws of the universe and a profoundly spiritual truth. We are ALL connected and intimately related to each other. This is the foundation for compassion, morality, gratitude, wonder, vision, the law of attraction, paying kindness forward and so much more.

This week I will write each day on different aspects of six degrees of separation, including the gift of “weak” connections, the effect of the parts on the whole, the need to reconnect widely and culminating in an article on 360 degrees of connection.

Swami Vivekananda, the 19th century mystic credited with bringing Hindu philosophy to the west offers the perfect summary of the theme, All differences in this world are of degree, and not of kind, because oneness is the secret of everything

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Light in the Tunnel- Change Management

This post first appeared on my blog at Soulseeds, and is the first in a four part series. All four articles are on the Soulseeds blog.

I have whiplash from following news of the economy in recent weeks. One day I read an article titled, “The top 10 reasons the U.S. will not see a double dip recession”. On the same day I read another report titled, “The top 10 reasons a double dip recession has already begun.” So which is it? Everyone has an opinion, and everyone is so sure they have the truth. In order to keep a little perspective in the madness, here are 10 lighthearted ways to know that we are in a recession.

10. For his birthday last week, President Obama asked for cash gifts….in Canadian dollars.

9. Angelina Jolie and Madonna have begun adopting American babies.

8. You now receive pre-declined credit cards in the mail.

7. Paris Hilton has changed her name to Paris Holiday Inn.

6. When you order your MacDonald’s burger, the server asks “Can you afford fries with that?”

5. When the ATM declines your transaction, you don’t know if it’s because you or the bank have insufficient funds.

4. You take your sales clients for a round of miniature golf.

3. A picture is now only worth a hundred words.

2. Wall Street has been renamed- Wal-Mart Street.

1. The light at the end of the tunnel has been switched off because we can’t afford the electric bills.

The economy is not a laughing matter of course, and many people are feeling its devastating effects. I don’t mean to minimize the difficulties in any way. However a little fun can release some of the tension and offer a little perspective. When you get up each morning, as you eat your Credit Crunch for breakfast and before you watch the so- called news, remind yourself that economic change is in itself a gift. Every economy, strong and weak, creates new, and unforeseen, opportunities. Many jobs today were not even imagined 20 years ago. A recession is an awesome time to get innovative, bolster your resilience and believe in the power of change.

There IS light at the end of the tunnel (and it’s NOT a train). It’s an LED bulb, which incidentally is one product that is selling well this year. This in itself is a sign of optimism. People are making a change to their energy habits after all the focus on sustainability in recent years. Change is happening like it always does and we seem to be finally catching on. Go with change because the light is calling you to make empowered choices and live with optimism. The darkness of the tunnel; your personal shadows, blind spots and forbidden thoughts, are punctuated by glimmers of light. Embrace the time in the tunnel, whether it’s a recession, an illness or a loss. The light is there in the tunnel, waiting for you to see it.

Optimism is the light at the beginning, middle and end of the tunnel. No matter how dark it feels, stay focused on the light which flickers with a reminder of your strength and brilliance. When you stare at light, you still see it when you look away. It’s the same when you focus on your inner light. It colors everything you see with optimism. With optimism, it’s ALL light and no tunnel, just open space and possibility. Follow the light of your intuition and you will arrive at new and exciting opportunities.

Where do you look for optimism? There is an ancient Sufi story about the trickster Nasrudin who loses his keys. His friends find him on his hands and knees under a street lamp. They ask him, “What have you lost?” “My keys”, he says. After a while, one of his friends asks him if he is sure this is where he lost them. He says, “No. I dropped them over in the next street but the light is so much better here.”

As the Zen proverb says, “If you can’t find it where you’re standing, where do you expect to wander in search of it?”

The shimmering new realizations arrive where you are because they ARE you in some new form.

Rumi wrote about light,

The lamps are different.
But the Light is the same.
So many garish lamps in the dying brain's lamp shop, Forget about them.
Concentrate on essence, concentrate on Light.
In lucid bliss, calmly smoking off its own holy fire, The Light streams
toward you from all things, All people, all possible permutations of good,
evil, thought, passion.
The lamps are different,
But the Light is the same.
One matter, one energy, one Light, one Light-mind, Endlessly emanating all things.
One turning and burning diamond,
One, one, one.
Ground yourself, strip yourself down,
To blind loving silence.
Stay there, until you see
You are gazing at the Light
With its own ageless eyes.

Trust the opportunity of change. If we learn nothing else from the ebb and flow of economies, let it be a reminder of the inevitability and opportunity of change. It’s those who adapt best to change who thrive on the waves of life. It is those who are able to stay present to the loving silence of the moment who find the treasures of change.

In recent weeks I have been writing about change that is forced on us by external circumstances- grief, job loss, divorce, physical pain etc. In these situations you can’t change the circumstance; you can only change your attitude towards them. I turn my attention now to a different sort of change, change that you help to create. These are the opportunities that present themselves for you to get active and get involved. They might be changes to your lifestyle or health, they might be changes to your consumption or energy efficiency, or they might be changes to the way society functions. Whichever it is, similar principles apply. The goal is to live and express beauty, truth, justice and love in your own life, and intend those same virtues for the entire planet. When you do this, you transform the world with light from the inside out.

In the coming days I will outline a three point plan for how to be an agent of conscious change, or in other words how to effect change in the healthiest way possible. It’s the AAA plan for change management that involves

1. Awareness,

2. Acceptance and

3. Action.

There is an article on each step at Soulseeds.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Transforming Grief

This is the fourth part in a series on grief. Please visit my blog at Soulseeds for all four articles.

Having allowed all the full range of grief’s emotions to move you, mess with you, mould you and make you who you are today, you may feel ready to pull yourself out of the funk and move forward with a greater sense of peace. You will never be the same again. But that is true in every moment, with or without grief. The question is whether you have the courage to live with the disappointment of an imperfect experience. Anne Lamott sums it up brilliantly-

You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.

There will be cold days when your grief feels arthritic. There will be other, more limber days, when the spring in your step will surprise you. Dance with a limp, live with the pain and roll with the punches. What else can you do? Trust what the experience of millions has confirmed; that grief comes in waves and like a wave, grief does subside with time. When the wave of grief feels overwhelming, stay with it and remind yourself that “this too shall pass”. Fight the waves, and you will exhaust yourself. Go with them, and they will subside more quickly and you will become stronger with every passing wave. Nothing can be transformed until it is fully accepted.

This brings me to the fourth truth of grief. The first truth is to feel the pain and let it transform you. The second truth is that you are not alone, because you have a unique version of a universal experience. The third truth is that grief follows its own timetable and patterns. The fourth truth of grief is that it is ONE part of your life, and even if it feels all consuming at times, you are more than your grief.

E-motion- Energy in Motion

Grief, and all of its associated emotions, are energy in motion. They are always on the move. Grief is not one, unchanging thing. Grief turns on a dime. Stay alert to the alchemy of grief. Burned in the fire of sadness, strength is born. Elisabeth Kubler Ross offers a visual analogy for changing emotions. She says that grief emotions will come and go. When they knock at your door, let them in, and say “Oh. It’s you. Come on in.” Entertain them, get to know them, talk to them. Let them have the run of your house for a while. Maybe keep some space apart from them. Don’t set a space at the dinner table for them.

Transformation takes place when you realize that emotions come and go. You can witness them, talk to them, feel them. But there is a “you” that is doing the witnessing, talking and feeling. At your essence, you are more than any emotion and more than any experience. Emotions and experiences impact and mould you, but they don’t fully define you.

Grief usually visits as part of a group of changing emotions. Hurt, disappointment, sadness, regret and so much more. Emotional mastery is to know what emotion is what, where it is coming from, to be present to them all, but not get stuck in any one emotion.

Rumi’s Guest House captures it well-

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Shaken not Stirred by Change

This is the fourth part in a series on change. You can read all of the posts at Soulseeds.

Marilyn Monroe said,

I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they're right…..and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.

Change is inevitable. That is the first truth of change. The second is that the future is open, and you can help to create it. The third truth is that chaos and change bring gifts of growth. The fourth truth of change is that there is something that remains stable while all else around you changes. It’s this unchanging spirit that gives you the courage and perspective to see the gifts of change. To paraphrase 007, change may shake, but not stir you.

Try this exercise. (of if you prefer, you can watch me demonstrating it here )Take your right hand and hold it out palm facing up. Something is about to change. Your hand will soon be facing palm down. It’s a 180 degree change. Conventional wisdom would say that it can’t be done without twisting your wrist. You are about to turn your palm down without twisting your wrist. Your wrist will remain stable while your hand changes direction. So, hold your right palm out in front of you with the palm facing up. Without turning your wrist, bring your palm up to your face. Then fold it down over your heart. Then take it out in front of you without twisting your wrist. Then bring it up to your face. Now hold it over your heart. Finally take it out in front of you. Now it is palm down. You did it without twisting your wrist.

In this illustration, your wrist is your unchanging inner spirit. You just changed without becoming limp wristed or losing the core of who you are. Everything can change around you; circumstances can be 180 degrees changed in your life. But you always retain the freedom and ability to choose your response. When this response comes from an inner place of peace, or equanimity, then you are not rocked by change. In fact you may even enjoy it.

Do you have something that needs to be released, some change that you feel brewing in your life? Hold your palm out, face up, so that what you need to release can fly free. Is it a relationship, a career path, a religious belief, a political hope? Let it go. Let it out. Let it fly free. Do it from the part within you that is completely free, the spirit that is still and peaceful in the midst of change. Everything is in perfect order. Reality is unfolding in perfect time, and you have the privilege of co-creating this reality as it unfolds.

This quote from Ken Wilber’s book One Taste is challenging but gets to the heart of that which is unchanging-

There is no inside and no outside, no in here versus out there. The nondual universe of One Taste arises as a spontaneous gesture of your own true nature. You can taste the sun and swallow the moon, and centuries fit in the palm of your hand. The pure I-I, the great I-AMness, breathes into infinity and creates a Kosmos as the Song of its very Self, and oceans of compassion fall as tears from your own very Original Face.

This is how I understand this beautifully poetic thought in practical terms. The lines on your palm change throughout life. The wisdom that some people believe you can discern from your palms is only a snapshot of who you are becoming in each moment, rather than a prediction of your future. There are other marks and signs on your palm; calluses from hard work, scars from injuries, etc, all reminders of your unique life experience. Some of these marks last a long time, but still change over time. I had a birth mark on my left palm that only started fading after 40 years. But there is something on your hand that is unchanging- your finger prints, the distinctive mark you leave when you shake hands with life. Your finger prints represent your unique human expression.

You do indeed hold centuries in the palm of your hand. Generations of genetic and environmental lineage make you who you are. You are changing from moment to moment, just as life changes from moment to moment. An open palm indicates that you aren’t hiding anything. You are ready to surrender to change with all of your vulnerable humanity. With an open palm, you give and receive, let go and begin the process of taking up again. An open palm is also snug. It signifies that you are okay with who you are becoming. This acceptance is the essence of your unchanging spirit. Everything can and will change around you. You will change; your mind, your direction, your path. Others will change. Systems will change. But through it all you remain grounded and stable.

To quote George Orwell, as he marveled at the human spirit that no system can squash,

The thing that I saw in your face no power can disinherit: No bomb that ever burst shatters the crystal spirit.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Trust Yourself Even When Life Hurts

This article was first posted on Soulseeds, where I post most days. Please visit Soulseeds for regular inspiration and encouragement.

Maybe you feel jaded because your trust has been betrayed and you have built high walls of protection around your heart. Thats understandable. Life can be harsh, and people can be cruel. Now you have a choice. You can either let the betrayal define you and become closed and bitter, or you can rise above the hurt and become even more determined to do whatever you can to create a world of unconditional love. Trust without any guarantee that your trust will be respected. Love without any guarantee that your love will be returned. Be kind without any guarantee that your kindness will be appreciated. This is the dance of authenticity, the risk that being completely yourself will open you to the most satisfying of all relationships.

Learning to trust an unpredictable world changes your whole outlook on life. It makes the world a more open, inviting and friendly place. Don’t give your trust recklessly. Give your trust mindfully; aware that there are no guarantees and there is always the chance you will be hurt again. In your calmest moments, you know that the risk to keep your heart closed is nothing in comparison to the joy of sharing love.

Are There Any Guarantees?

It seems backward, but the first step to building trust in relationships is to accept that there are no guarantees. As Comedian, Randy Millholand said, “There are people I know who won’t hurt me. I call them corpses.” Trust offers no certainties, or else trust would not be required. But don’t give up working on trust no matter how jaded you feel, or else you might as well be a corpse.

Find your balance. Being jaded and being idealistic are equally dangerous when it comes to relationships.

Be realistic. I have presided over too many weddings where young couples stand before me with stars in their eyes and no idea of how much they will likely hurt each other at some point. Some of these same couples have knocked on my door within weeks or months with awful stories of broken trust.

If people truly realized the intensity of making vows of commitment to another human being for life, they would wear a crash helmet to the wedding. Not a veil, but a crash helmet. Love is an act of faith. I sometimes feel like sending couples out with the instructions, “Do not try this at home without a safety net. It’s risky!”

Be realistic. There are risks involved. But also believe. Believe that there is something stronger than the risk- that is the joy of dropping your guard with another person, letting that person into your private wthoughts and dreams and making a commitment to love each other through thick and thin. Risk your trust in return for the adventure of being in love. Trust opens the gates to love.

Trust is more important than love. Saying to another person ‘I trust you” is often more profound than saying “I love you.” You may not always trust the person you love, but you can always love the person you trust. Trust is a gift. When you offer someone the gift of trust, you create an opening for something greater. Trust frees you from your fears and helps you give birth to love.

Building Trust in Relationships

Stephen Covey, son of Stephen Covey who wrote Seven Habits of a Highly Effective People, is the author of The Speed of Trust; The One Thing that Changes Everything. He offers the analogy that every relationship has a trust account. When you build trust, you make a deposit. When you break a trust, you make a withdrawal. The withdrawals are typically larger than the deposits. Therefore the fastest way to rebuild the trust account is to stop making withdrawals. The other way to rebuild trust is to make new deposits.

Here are 10 practical ways to build trust.

1. Practice with small and safe deposits first. There are big things to entrust to someone, and there are smaller things. How many people would you trust with your life savings? Probably very few. What about telling someone a secret, or starting a new business with someone? Again, very few. But would you be prepared to trust someone with a smile, or a kind word, even knowing that they might abuse your vulnerability? Start by making small deposits into your trust account and build confidence from there.

2. Gather information to get the greatest return on your investment. Trust, to a certain extent, is built on information. Instead of taking a blind leap of faith, take a calculated risk. Gather as much information as you can before you trust, but keep in mind that trust implies incomplete information. Wendell Berry said this- “Knowledge, like everything else, has its place, and… we need urgently now to put it in its place… Let us…abandon our superstitious beliefs about knowledge: that it is ever sufficient, that it can of itself solve problems… Let us give up our forlorn pursuit of the ‘informed decision.” Gather information, but also be prepared to take a leap with incomplete information.

3. Be transparent. Suspicions often emerge in relationships when people act in a way that is outside their character or routine. Even if you don’t know why you are behaving the way you are, or if you don’t know why you are pushing love away, just express that you are going through something and need some space. Transparency leaves less room for imagination that can easily create unnecessary drama.

4. Be consistent. Make sure your words match the way you live. Mean what you say and say what you mean. There is nothing that can devastate trust more quickly than inconsistency.

5. Believe in the strength of your partner. He/ she can deal with your feelings and doubts and questions. Express yourself as lovingly as you can, and trust your partner to stay with your honest thoughts and feelings.

6. Agree to boundaries with other family and friends. Your relationship has its own intimacy boundaries, and this has as much to do with sharing private information and personal feelings as sexual intimacy. If you are telling a friend something that you haven’t or wouldn’t tell your partner, you may have crossed a line into emotional infidelity. This can create major barriers to trust.

7. Don’t confuse trust with forgiveness. They operate differently. You usually forgive people well before you trust them. You might forgive an apologetic jewel thief, but not leave him alone in a jewelry store. You might forgive people who have hurt you, but not leave them alone with your heart. If there has been a breach of trust, work at forgiveness as the first step towards trust.

8. Each person has their own trust account. People operate their trust accounts differently. You need to deposit into the other person’s trust account in a way that speaks to that person. Garrison Keilor tells a story about a couple who had been married for many years. The woman wrote a sonnet to her husband that amongst all the things she loved about him it was when he was working on the broken washing machine that she gained a “trust for tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.” Be clear about how trust accrues, and ask direct questions to know how trust builds for others.

9. If you have breached a trust, don’t make things worse by lying about it. Take responsibility quickly, and begin regaining broken trust. The more time that passes, the more tangled the web, the harder it is to come back from broken trust.

10. If in your situation the broken trust is too deep, then work at a healthy ending to the relationship. There is more at stake than the relationship (and kids if there are kids involved). Your ability to trust yourself and get back on a path with integrity is the biggest issue at stake. Work towards loving and leaving the relationship, giving thanks for what it has meant, forgiving life for disappointing your expectations and moving forward positively.

Trust – What Are You Ultimately Protecting?

A Zen Master lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening, while he was away, a thief sneaked into the hut only to find there was nothing in it to steal. The Zen Master returned and found him. “You have come a long way to visit me,” he told the prowler, “and you should not return empty handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.” The thief was bewildered, but he took the clothes and ran away. The Master sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow,” he mused,” I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.”

The beautiful thing about this story is that the Zen Master wasn’t holding on too tightly, so trust was easier for him. Be generous in your relationships. The more freely you give, the less you will feel that you have to lose.

Maybe you don’t need a crash helmet after all. Life is generous, and always offers second chances. People are flawed, but there are always opportunities to rebuild trust. You have an inner courage to get back up after being hurt and keep loving anyway. Let go, trust the adventure of being alive and enjoy intimacy without defensiveness.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Living "as if"- the Power of Intentions

This article first appeared on Soulseeds where I post several times a week, along with many other articles and resources.

When I was 17 and finishing high school, I wanted a career in property. So I wrote to the CEO’s of every major property investment firm in Sydney. Most of them sent back form letters thanking me for my interest but declining an interview, but a few kindly invited me to call and schedule an interview. I had to scramble as I had no suitable clothes, no resume and no experience beyond my paper route, although in my defense I had visited a lot of properties delivering papers. When the day arrived for my first interview, I thought I had thought of everything. I had researched the way business people dressed and what they carried. My intention was to turn up looking and sounding like I was already a business person. Half an hour before I was due to leave home, I realized that I had forgotten to buy one crucial piece of my outfit- a pair of black socks to match my gray suit. There was nothing even close in my closet. Not to be put off, I had what to this day may remain my craziest idea. I took a black marker and scribbled some socks on my ankles. I put my shoes right on top of my bare painted feet and went off to my first job interview. During the interview I looked down and noticed that the marker was smudging. Holes were growing in my fake socks right before my eyes. I kept both feet planted on the floor and no one seemed to notice.

By the time I left the interview, I had my first job offer. 3 weeks later I turned up for my first day at work….with REAL black socks on. Within one year in this job, another altogether different passion took hold of me and I left that job to set out on a path towards my calling as a spiritual leader. I learnt something profound from my brief foray into the corporate world, something that I intuited before the interview, about the power of impressions. The spiritual truth is that the first person you need to convince is yourself. The third big life lesson was that sometimes you have to improvise to reach your dreams. If you have a dream to be someone, the place to begin is to live as if you are already that person. Live as the person you aspire to be and start now. In the words of the 18th century German writer Goethe,

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

Attracting Your Intentions

Over the past few weeks I have been writing about the power of intentions. First I wrote about imagining the end point and working backwards. In this my last article about intentions for the time being, I want to focus on the potential to be who you want to be right now and work forwards. In between the first article and this one, I wrote about the power of perseverance, creative inspiration and relationships in setting intentions.

My intention here is to inspire you with examples, from my own life and others, ordinary stories about fake socks and cocktail napkins, of people who have embodied their dreams. No matter how old you are, you are too young to give up on your ideals. No matter how overwhelmed you feel, you have more resources than you imagine. No matter what obstacles you see in your path, this is the time to get clarity on your dreams and begin making them a reality by living them, walking them, dressing in them, thinking them, talking them and breathing them with every breath.

I know someone who took this advice to extremes. She had a deep desire to be in a relationship with a man but there was no one in her life at the time who rocked her boat. Before she met her future partner, she bought him birthday cards and anniversary cards, and even went so far as to buy two tickets to some upcoming concerts. Sure enough, she met him within weeks. Now I’m not saying this always works out so neatly. We can’t always explain why and in whose timing things do or don’t turn up in our lives. There is power in living AS IF things are already true. If at some point, you change your path or alter your course, then clarify your new dreams and make your new dreams a reality.

I love the story about a man with a passion for singing. He was good, but couldn’t land a singing job that paid the bills. So he improvised. He found a job that paid the rent, where he could sing all day long to his heart’s content. He became a bus driver, in fact quite a famous bus driver in Chicago. People would time their trips in the hopes of catching his bus. He said in an interview, “I drive the bus to get a captive audience every single day”, and no one seems to mind one little bit.

Do the best you can to align your intentions with your reality. Let your intentions and who you are become hand and glove, and you will find a way to manifest all that you want to be in the world. Your life will sing and people around you will enjoy your authenticity.

Try it out. When you get up in the morning, after brushing your pearly whites, get dressed as the person you want to be, the person you know yourself to be beyond all the self doubting voices and negative talk. Walk as that person. Be that person. Live that person’s life.

Intentions Overcome Obstacles

Very often when you live AS IF something is already true, you turn “as if” into I AM and I CAN. During the week I was trying to write and it just wasn’t flowing. So I decided to take a break and turned on the TV in perfect time to see part of the memorial service for Betty Ford. I received the inspiration I needed. I caught a clip from Presidential Historian Richard Norton Smith. He spoke movingly about Betty as someone who broke the mould of what you expect from a First Lady. In one nice turn of phrase he described her as “The feminist next door, a free spirit with a dress code.” She overcame her own obstacles to create the possibility of recovery for many. Smith told the story of a time before the Betty Ford Treatment Center had opened. She was on Frank Sinatra’s private jet and conversation turned to funding for the new center. She had no pledge cards on hand, so she improvised and took the first pledges for the Betty Ford Center on Frank Sinatra’s cocktail napkins.

She had clear intentions and nothing was going to stop her. That’s the way with clear intentions. You find a way and often improvise on the details. Betty Ford also believed through her own recovery that she was serving a Higher Power. She held her intentions accountable to this higher purpose. This is part of what makes it possible to overcome obstacles. When you are fully committed to a worthy cause, some higher energy moves with you. Doors open that you couldn’t have imagined, hurdles turn into spring boards to make giant leaps and gains. You can call this higher energy any number of things, including God, but whatever you call it, it is a conspiracy of coincidences that colludes to make your intentions inevitable.

Talking Up Your Intentions

Do you ever catch yourself, saying things that sabotage your intentions? “It’s never worked before”, “Others have tried”, “I don’t expect this to work but….” If you are truly serious about making your intentions a reality, then align your language with your intentions.

There is a You Tube video that recently went viral about a blind guy who was sitting on a street corner asking for money. He had a sign that said, “I’m blind. Please help.” A woman stops at his mat and writes something on his sign. He doesn’t know what it is, but quickly people begin leaving more and more money in his jar. Later the woman comes back and says to him, “I wrote the same message with different words. Finally the sign is revealed, “It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see it.”

Frame your intentions in the most positive, empowering, optimistic language. Take the same three sabotaging sentences and turn them around.

It’s never worked before becomes, “I will now do something new and exciting.”

Others have tried becomes, “I will continue what others have started and do it in my own unique way that no one else has ever tried before.”

I don’t expect this to work becomes, “I’m going to give this every chance of success.”

Find Your Authentic Swing

When it comes to setting intentions, you have to be willing to try, swing, miss, change, try alternatives, try again, and make choices. You need to see various paths unfolding in front of you, and choose the one that is most authentic. Let me end with an example from golf. I’m no great golfer, but the times I have played golf I never could understand the practice swing. I have the sort of golf swing that you don’t want to practice. The less I repeat that swing the better……

When I saw the movie based on the novel The Legend of Bagger Vance, I came to appreciate the practice swing. A great golfer, Ranolph Junuh, is left traumatized from fighting in WW1. After the war, Bagger Vance becomes the voice of his Higher Power, the voice of intention, as he overcomes his demons to play golf again. There is a description in the novel of a conversation between Vance and Junuh about the swing of another golfer, Jones.

Around Jones, encompassing his body in vibrating concentric fields, spread an aurora of energy. It seemed to be his body, but expanded, augmented. It was a field itself. Then there were other fields, an infinitude of them. You could see his will, as Bagger Vance said, his intention select the field he chose, which was the fairway and the target line. Lines of force, which were chromatic not just visually but aurally as well, vibrating like music, extended from Jones' intentionality down the fairway to the target area. But there were at least two exceptional aspects to this will and to the force lines it apprehended.
First, the force lines seemed to exist outside time, independent of it. And second, they seemed to exert an intentionality of their own. Let me try to be precise, for this is exceptionally important.

Jones waggled now and set himself over the ball. I saw his swing before he swung it. But it was not a single swing, as if predetermined; rather it was a number of swings, I would guess a hundred, two hundred, all vibrating simultaneously in Jones' field, as if in alternative futures. Possible futures. They were all recognizably Jones' swing. But some were duffs, tops, skulls, and so on. Bad swings. I could see Jones' will search among those swings, like you or I would hunt through a file drawer for a patient's chart. Jones seemed to settle. To still himself. The auroras surrounding him consolidated. The bad swings fell away, evaporating like a dream; colors intensified around the swings he had intentioned, until there were only half a dozen very closely arrayed swings remaining. As Vance had said, intelligence seemed to pour from Jones' grip, from his hands ("educated hands" no doubt). Receptive intelligence, searching the Field, drawing from it and upon it. Then Jones swung. In actuality. You could see his motion in the physical dimension track along the motions he had intentioned, not perfectly, but very close to those pre-swings that existed outside of time. I was numb, dumbstruck; I couldn't absorb it. The ball rocketed away down lines of force, with everything humming and glowing and vibrating in some keen cosmic harmony.

I must remember that the next time I play mini golf, as I try to plan for the ball to ricochet off a windmill before going down a shute, across a bridge and into the hole in one shot.

Setting intentions is like preparing for a golf swing, rehearsing a speech or making a pro and con list. There are a number of paths your intentions could take, and they are all possible. Few, if any, of them would be a mistake. But one of them is your most authentic path. Finding that path is the gold. When you find your authentic path, nothing can stop you. It will be true in that case that you can do your work and step back, letting go of the outcomes because you have already succeeded.

In that sense it is true that if you follow your heart and build what fills you with passion, the right people will come at the right time and for the right reasons.

The Sufi poet Hafiz once said, “I should not make any promises, but I know that if you pray, somewhere in this world -- something good will happen.”

If you set intentions that come from your highest self, align your life with those intentions, live and breathe them with perseverance, then something amazing will happen, somewhere and sometime.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Getting Ego Out of Intentions

This article first appeared on Soulseeds where I post several times a week.

Yesterday I rode 50 miles on my bike to watch an Australian rugby team beat a New Zealand rugby team. Not that there’s any rivalry between Aussies and Kiwis :). But it was a glorious day and made extra special by being with the only Kiwi I know in America. Isn’t it funny the way we feel some sort of pride when our team wins? As if I was on the field……

Just in case my head swelled too much to fit into my helmet, I was brought back down to earth with a thud on the ride. I thought I was doing pretty well until an 80 year old man pedaled past me like a streak of light. He was pulling two kids in a buggy behind his bike, and they were stopping at garage sales along Lakeshore Drive. Every time they stopped at a sale, I rode past thinking to myself, “How do you like me now old timer?” Sure enough a mile or two down the road, he flew past me again, now with dolls houses and scooters from the sale piled on top of the kids in the buggy. It was my ride on the inner roller coaster called “Ego”. This was supposed to be a relaxing ride on a beautiful summer’s day and a nice time with friends. That was my intention. But a tiny word with a massively sinister plot threatened my enjoyment until I realized what was going on.

Intentions are so much more powerful and effective when you are aware of the role of ego. This is part 4 in a series of articles on intentions. First I described the power of visualizing an end that excites you and then working backwards to make it happen. Then I wrote about perseverance, where you find whatever resources you need to continue moving towards your vision and no matter what the obstacles you keep going. Third, I wrote about creative inspiration when you tap into a power that is within and around you with effortless effort. Now I want to take the conversation a little further by looking at the role of ego in setting intentions.

What the world needs now, at this troubled time, is for many people to step up with bold intentions that serve the common good. Too much of what we see right now is ego driven. The news about Rupert Murdoch closing down his News of the World paper is an example of egotistical intentions catching up with a business. His intention to run a media empire of epic proportions led him to compromise acceptable standards of ethics and stoop to hacking into private voice mail systems, a strategy that interfered with the investigations of missing children. What began as a worthy intention, ie to inform the public, was hijacked by ego and led astray by an insatiable desire for power and profit.

Modern day capitalism is a brilliant and worthy intention. In itself it is not egotistical. It supports economies and efficiencies that have the ability to create common wealth and serve the common good. But when ego takes over, in the guise of an insatiable desire for size and power, capitalism becomes a destructive force; industries fix prices, companies avoid tax, bribe officials and control the outcome of elections. In these cases, ego gets in the way of the intention of running an efficient and profitable business and comes back to haunt all of us; such as banks that have to be bailed out because their collapse would destabilize global systems.

It happens at an individual level as well. The desire for control in relationships is insatiable. When one person sets the intention to get what they can from a relationship or a work colleague, no matter what they have to do to get it, it becomes destructive.

There are other subtle ways that ego infiltrates intentions. Setting intentions based on prestige or appearance is another example of the ego’s insatiable desire for importance. If you desire more money or prestige because you think it will complete you as a person, this is a trick of the ego. Ego says, “If only I have this amount of money, this property, or this partner I will be happy.” You need to turn this sentence around for healthy intentions. Once I get happy with who I am right now, then I will start manifesting my highest intentions.

Healthy intentions follow the golden rule. If you are looking for more money, then be more generous and participate in the easy flow of money. If you are looking for more acknowledgment, then acknowledge others and participate in the easy flow of praise or encouragement or positivity. Whatever you are looking for in life, start by giving to others and you will avoid ego’s traps.

Enough of the ego driven intentions. We’ve had enough destructive intention, enough corruption, enough violence- enough EGO. Whether it’s the imperial intentions of media magnates or the personal intentions of individuals like you and me, the world is crying out for intentions that serve the common good. The first step is to ask some questions of your intentions. Shine some light on them to see why they are important and who they are serving.

The Motivation for Intentions

We get some clues about this from the world of super heroes. My favorite super hero has always been Wonder Woman and not just because of her star spangled spandex speedoes. She was a ground breaker, bringing women into the super hero realm and paving the way for Zena Princess Warrior and Lara Croft and others. One of Wonder Woman’s secret weapons was her Golden Lasso, an unbreakable rope that corrals the truth of out of people like a cattle herder. When her mother gave her the Goden Lasso, she said,

This is the Golden Lasso. Besides being made from an indestructible material, it also carries with it the power to compel people to tell the truth. Use it well, and with compassion.

Maybe in the past you were taught that God is like a cowboy in the sky, ready to lasso you if you slip up and bring you back into line. God as John Wayne or Gene Audrey, and you as the cattle. That’s not what I’m talking about. The Golden Lasso is a personal thing. It’s also known as your conscience. Swing it round in your mind and consciousness like a lasso and it can garner all the inner truth you need. Use it well and with compassion.

The Golden Lasso is the foundation of the Golden Rule. Once you realize at a deep level the truth that you are one with others, you transcend the ego’s delusion of separateness and set intentions that benefit everyone involved. The Golden Rule becomes completely natural and effortless.

Lasso the truth of your intentions’ motivations. Are they self serving, or do they take into account the broadest circle of concerns possible? Be truthful with yourself, listen to your inner motivations, and act on your highest intentions that come from a place of self awareness and an authentic desire to see the world change for the better.

Healthy Sense of Self

When you set intentions, the point is not to remove your ego. The point is to have a healthy sense of self. Zen master, Shunryu Suzuki said, “How much "ego" do you need? Just enough so that you don't step in front of a bus.” That’s a good starting point, but I think we need more ego than that. You need enough ego to get out of bed in the morning. You need enough ego to believe that you can make a difference in the world and you need enough ego to trust that you have a unique calling in the world.

Where ego becomes a problem is when it tries to convince you that you are a self made person, separate from all others and that your actions don’t impact others. You aren’t a self made person. You are made up of all sorts of other people. Ego becomes a problem when it convinces you that your intentions are more important than other people’s intentions, or that your intentions don’t affect other people.

I remember being in a prayer meeting in rural Australia many years ago. Someone in the group prayed for a dry day so that they could enjoy their family picnic. This was in drought stricken territory where another dry day would mean the loss of another farm. This is an example of an egotistical intention.

A more extreme example was something I heard about after the Columbine shootings in 1999. It was a chain email written by a girl who was in the school on the day of the shooting. Even though she was in the firing line, miraculously bullets sprayed around her and she was not shot. She claimed it was because she was part of a prayer group which met in the school and as the shooters moved around the school she was praying for protection. If her assessment was correct, this would mean that God caused the same bullets which narrowly missed her to, in turn, hit and kill 13 other teenagers.

However you understand God, it makes no sense to me that God would play Russian roulette with people’s lives choosing for some people to be saved while others die. However you understand the universe of intentions, it’s egotistical to set intentions that don’t include the widest group possible. The universal field of intentions wants good for everyone, even if we don’t always understand the timing or unfolding of events in our life. Regardless of your perspective on the cause and origin of intentions, set intentions that serve the greatest good for the greatest number.

It’s Not All About You

When it comes to setting healthy intentions, it is always about more than yourself. Occasionally I play a game with the kids when I drive them to school. We set the intention to drive all the way to the school without stopping. There is only one rule- it has to be legal. This sometimes involves slowing down well before a red light so that it changes before we get there. Everyone in the car is literally on the edge of their seats.

There is one flaw in the game, and it’s an important truth that relates to setting intentions. There are OTHER people on the road. If you set intentions that ignore other people, you are likely to end up in a car wreck. There are things you can’t control, like traffic lights and other people’s actions. Set intentions that include as many stakeholders as possible. Don’t play Russian roulette with other people by setting mindless intentions.

What this means in practice is that if you set intentions that disregard the people around you, it will end in disaster. It also means that if you are in a relationship where one partner is setting healthy intentions and the other person is not participating, it won’t work. If you have the most awesome intentions and strategies for parenting, but your kids are not participating, it won’t work. The right idea at the wrong time won’t work. The wrong idea at any time won’t work.

Set healthy intentions that take into account true empowerment for as many people as possible. Begin with your own motivations.

Bold Intentions For the Good of Humanity

I’ve given plenty of examples that describe intentions wrapped in ego. Let me end with a wonderful example of intentions that include a healthy sense of self. The more I understand of the life of Betty Ford who passed away this past week, the more impressed I am. She was a true super hero in the mould of Wonder Woman. After dealing with her own demons, she set the intention to make a difference in other people’s lives. You would think that having the highest profile drug and alcohol treatment center in the country named after you might be an ego trip.

On the contrary, apparently she agreed to her name being associated only reluctantly. In fact, it was a matter of accountability for her. She said this, “The center's name has been burden, as well as honor. Because even if nobody else holds me responsible, I hold myself responsible."

I like to believe that so many people have been helped by Betty Ford and her treatment center because she set healthy intentions to begin with, and did so with a healthy sense of self and a desire to genuinely empower people in their recovery just as she was empowered.

What are your bold intentions for yourself and the world? Whether you set large scale intentions like treatment centers or whether it’s the intention to live in more peaceful relationships or the personal intention to live with greater balance, get your ego out of the way and get on with the business of being the change you want to see in the world. Participate in the raising of a global intention, galvanizing the collective power of millions of kindred spirits, to bring healing to the world, one person, one community and one nation at a time. There is an abundance of the resources that matter most. Together we have the power to transform entire systems for the greater good of all of humanity, for generations to come.