Regardless of the conditions, regardless of our job or our partner or our kids or the economy or the state of politics or whether there is a pandemic or, or, or….we are always in choice. ALWAYS. Period. End of issue.
Being triggered, feeling afraid or disappointed or worried, these are all true and real. We must feel the contrast in order to be invited into expansion. But then we have to flow with what is expanding!
We can remain stuck in the muck and argue for our limitations and declare, “I’m not going! Don’t you see you terrible this is?”
Or we can decide, “I’d really rather be somewhere else. What am I being asked to consider? I will use this place of unwanted to move towards what is wanted. And it’s my responsibility and birthright to choose better. Right now. Right now.”
What are you choosing today?
“Don’t let conditions fool you. You’re a vibrational being and you’re emanating a signal at all times.
Whatever you’re doing is causing you to emanate vibration that Law of Attraction is matching. To be consciously aware of what you’re giving out is such a helpful thing. But not what someone else wants you to give out; what [Source does].
You get back what you give all the time. Every emotion you feel is about the relationship you have created with yourself. It’s never about anyone else.
Don’t look for the condition to guide or soothe you. Look to your [aligned] self.”
Yesterday, Sean was at CHOP for some tests he is required to undergo every three months. One of his appointments was with audiology. The technician, Travis, directed Sean and me to a soundproof room, sat Sean in a chair before a large window, and fitted him with headphones. I sat off to the side behind him. Travis then closed the heavy door and sat at the desk on the other side of the window, facing Sean, from which he played a variety of sounds and words.
For most of the test, Sean was to repeat the words he heard. It was the beginning of the test, though, that caught my attention. Instead of instructing Sean to raise his hand every time he heard a sound, Travis advised, “When you hear the beep, say, ‘Heard it!'” So, for the next few minutes, I watched and listened as all kinds of beeps moved through Sean’s headphones, he loudly proclaimed this response, and Travis offered many a cheerful thumbs-up.
I realized, observing this otherwise simple scene in a room so quiet I could hear my heartbeat, that the relationship between Travis, my son, the beeps, and Sean’s responses was strikingly similar to a more personal relationship: our awareness of, and intimacy with, Source.
When we are connected with Spirit in its purest, most loving form, when we are aligned and in flow, even for a moment, it is as though we are wearing special headphones. We become acutely aware of the energy and information passing through them, through the veil of ego-based projection and low vibrations, to the deepest interior of our true selves. We experience pristine clarity. We consciously, attentively listen. We are alert and attuned and aware. We are in the receiving mode of “pure positive energy” (Abraham).
How can we more frequently and fully cultivate this connection? Simply put, by paying attention to it. What if we decide to become more engaged with this relationship, this process, and respond in a similar way Sean was advised? As we feel the warm sunshine on our face during a walk, “Heard it!” As we cuddle our dog, “Heard it!” As we feel the tenderness of our child’s small hand in ours, “Heard it!” As we listen to a moving piece of music, “Heard it!” Responding this way, out loud or in our hearts, we are affirming that we are in the receiving mode. We are declaring our connection to the Source energy that is simultaneously always calling, and living in, us.
The more often we choose to consciously respond in this way, the more accustomed to listening we become. This is law, after all. This is Law of Attraction and Alignment in their purest forms. What’s more, as we open ever wider and deeper to this energy, we also then become more alert and engaged with Source, expecting to hear, see, and feel the signs and information that surround us in every moment.
Unlike the few minutes of beeps passing through Sean’s headphones, the Grace that invites our attention and response is always calling us. She is constantly speaking, beckoning. The only question is, are we engaged and listening?
Will you put on your headphones today? When you do, get still, create the spaciousness of the soundproof room in your soul, and listen for the beep. Never fear; it will come. And when it does, whether in a whisper or a resounding clang, pronounce, “Heard it!” Source will hear you, too, and as Travis did with Sean, She will offer you an affirming thumbs-up.
Two trees stand side by side, tall and adorned with the saturated brilliance of autumnal golds and oranges and reds. Here, in this field, they exist, just as they are, strong and true. But today, the sky is grey. The clouds cloak the sky, momentarily hiding the sun, as a mother hangs a curtain over a bright window to allow her babe to sleep.
Unlike the sleeping baby, though, the one tree is sad. It misses the warmth and brightness of the fall sun. It feels a chill in the air and regards the smoke-colored sky as unjust. It says to the other tree, “How am I to endure this depressing sky? It is making me so very sad. I am a tree, strong and beautiful with leaves the colors of jewels, but not today. How can I express my beauty when this infernal grayness dims me so?”
The other tree responds, “What is this you say? How is it that the sky depresses your color?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” the other tree answers. “My leaves are dull; I need the sun to shine upon them so that everyone might see how brilliantly colored they are. Without the light I am nothing.”
“I see,” said the other. “That does sound very grim, indeed. I can understand why you feel so sad. I wonder, how do I look to you? Do believe the clouds darken my appearance too? Is my beauty so censured by the gray sky?”
“Oh, I assure you, you are still beautiful,” answered the tree. “Clearly, you are different and cannot be influenced. Your leaves are as lovely as ever. In fact, the grey somehow enhances your beauty. The colors are changed somewhat, indeed, but their hues are true and rich. You are clearly luckier than I, to be sure.”
“That’s interesting,” answered the other. “So, I seem unchanged to you, but you feel different and reduced by today’s weather?”
“I will tell you this, friend,” she continued. “Even today, when the clouds hide the sun, when the autumnal light is faded, you are still brilliant and beautiful. You might not be able to see it in yourself, but I can, just as you see it in me. And this is why. Whether the sun shines on us or the clouds roll across the sky to cover its light, we still stand as we are. The conditions of the air, this field, the animals in it, everything around us–they do not dictate who we are, how we stand, and the color of our leaves. Yes, when the sun warms us and ignites our color, our beauty is undeniable to all who see us. But when it does not, we are not less magnificent. We are what we are, unconditional in our being. As long as we stand here in this field, for as many decades or centuries as we are in this place, all we need to know is this: to live independent of conditions is the only way to true joy, which is our very birthright, given to us by Nature, herself.”
“It is alright to feel sad. It is understandable to witness how conditions can alter how we feel about ourselves. But just remember, your truth does not depend on anything outside of you. In your very nature, you are as an extension of the universe itself, which is ever only abundance and love and eternal beauty.”
The sad tree listened and accepted these words. The cool breeze rustled through her color-soaked leaves and she looked up at the passing clouds. She knew all of this to be so. And she was able to rest in this truth.
The only way to raise our vibration is to reduce our resistance to what is unwanted, find alignment with Source, and allow our energy to flow with it. All wisdom teachers and spiritual traditions describe this as the method of moving towards our true selves, spiritual oneness, and enlightenment.
Until we become practiced in how to find alignment and what this even means, however, it is a concept and practice that can be understandably challenging. With what are we seeking alignment? Is this a manner of just trying to be positive? How am I supposed to do this when I feel terrible? Fearful? Depressed? When what reality is showing me makes me feel sad and hopeless?
To put it simply, we are seeking alignment with the highest vibration energies we can find at any given moment. These include, for example, eagerness, happiness, joy, love, and passion. This is never a matter of just trying to think positively. Saying to ourselves, “I just won’t think about that,” or “I’m only going to think positive thoughts from now on,” never works. As we attempt to talk ourselves into feeling better (but not really yet believing it), we are actually pushing against feeling bad, and so the result is simply more resistance and frustration. Sometimes, when we’re really feeling down and the momentum of lower vibrations such as fear, grief, envy, or unworthiness have gotten hold of us, the best we can reach for might be boredom or contentment. But that’s okay. At least for a while. The most important thing is to allow the energy of emotions to flow in an upward fashion, continuing to elevate until we find joy and love. The more practiced we become, the more quickly the energy will move.
How do we find alignment, though, when our reality, the people, events, situations, in our present, are indeed scary, threatening, depressing, or seemingly hopeless? This is the very essence of living a conscious, awake life, isn’t it? How to live with joy in a world that consistently presents us with challenges and pain is at the very core of all spiritual traditions. So, again, in the simplest of terms, when we look at something that’s hurting us in the “now,” the only way to find alignment is to either find elements of that thing that hurt less and can elevate our vibration (for us and the object of our attention), or to look away entirely–to refocus on something that requires less resistance and allows the energy to flow.
The trouble with what we call our reality is that it demands our attention, doesn’t it? It is very difficult, if not sometimes impossible, to look at the thing that upsets us and at the same time reach for contentment, let alone joy. But just because this is so doesn’t mean it’s not the way. All healers, all wisdom teachers, have revealed that only by seeing wellness when there is illness, showing compassion where there is hate, being a source of light and love where there is darkness and abuse, can these lower, even destructive energies, move and find resolution. It is not that we deny the suffering; we put our attention elsewhere. We decide to feel other than we actually see. For if we understand and accept that energy is constantly in motion and that reality is merely a reflection of our inner truth (our mindset and expectations and preconceptions about life), then it must follow that what we “see” can also shift and change.
This is not just the essence of spirituality, mysticism, and religion. It is also at the very core of science and quantum physics. Most of us have this backwards and upside-down. It’s not the thing we’re observing that determines what comes next. It’s our perception, our energy, that creates a field of infinite possibilities. In other words, that thing can change; it can become whatever we decide it to be. As Einstein declared, “The field is the sole governing agency of the particle.” Infuse the field with fear, the particle will reflect fear. Infuse it with love and the particle will reflect love. It must be so.
In the photograph above, the tree stands strong against the clear blue autumnal sky. The sun shines brilliantly upon it, its rays streaming towards it. Over the past couple of weeks, the top of the tree has become saturated with hues of red and gold and yellow. Most of the lower leaves on this great tree, however, maintain the deep green color reminiscent of reflecting the former reality of hot summer days. They do not yet feel the effects of the fall sun and the transformations and transmutations that the tree is experiencing within its trunk and branches and within the very veins of the leaves themselves.
So what can this tree teach us? If the sun is Source, representing joy and abundance, indeed the “field,” as Einstein describes it, the tree surely reflects each of us as we move through life, seeking alignment with it. As the topmost leaves reach towards the sun and allow the light and heat to penetrate them, they are changed. They are transformed. They are aligned. But what of the lower leaves? They are still green. They would be perfectly right to declare, “What sun? What Source? We don’t feel it. In fact, we don’t believe there is such a thing as the sun. It doesn’t come to us. It might never come to us. Things will never improve for our lot. Some leaves are just lucky. They turn brilliant colors and transform. But we don’t. We are stuck here in eternal greenness.”
And what might the sun answer? “I am always here,” it might say. “I shine everyday. I am warm and bright and calling you every minute. Even on cloudy days, although you might not see me, I am here. The leaves above you have changed, because they are facing me directly. They are reaching towards me and have accepted my warmth and nourishment. But so can you. For I shine on you, too. And in fact, even if you don’t feel my rays directly, this magnificent tree, with which you are integrally connected, does feel my warmth and encouragement. When you are ready, you can begin to feel the light and color and warmth moving through your very cells as well. And when you feel called, you, too, may allow this glorious transformation. For it is yours when you are ready. You already have these glorious colors within you? Did you know that? You were born with them, even if you didn’t know it in your beautiful greenness. They are always there, just as I am. And so you will be changed when you are ready.”
We know this to be so, for what will happen in a period of days and weeks to come? Slowly or rapidly, however the tree decides it to occur, these leaves will soon be transformed. Every leaf will be saturated with autumnal colors, and we will witness this magnificence as a reflection of Source’s powerful flowing through every living thing.
Let this be a vision for us as we seek to understand what alignment is and how we discover it for ourselves. Source, truth, wisdom, God, whatever name we use, is always calling us. In our despair, She is there. In our fear, She is there. In our confusion, She is there. We need only turn towards Her, and allow her light and love to transform our hearts. We must, and are called to, do this for ourselves. For only in first discovering our own alignment, feeling this flow of infinite love and possibilities, can we then share it with others. Only by living in a place of oneness and love, can we fully support them as they journey to their own truth and joy and wellness.
Note: For more on alignment and the Emotional Scale as discussed here, see Abraham Hicks.
I have recently been thinking a lot about something called “fixed mindset.” In her audiobook, Walking the Walk, Pema Chodron discusses the attitude of this state of being, which is characterized by closed- or narrow-mindedness, absolute thinking, judgment, a sense of “I’m right and you’re wrong,” and ultimately an inherent inability to be present in a meaningful way.
So what about the opposite, what she calls “freedom from fixed mind?” Well, this is an attitude of openness, open-heartedness, ease, curiosity, generosity, and kindness. Pema states that this freedom can emerge as much from quiet moments of experiencing beauty as it can from trauma–times when we’re suddenly caught off guard, scared, worried, or surprised by something troubling.
This is what I wanted to reflect on here. I can, for example, recall with great precision the moment Sean was diagnosed. I remember the events leading up to it, as well as the arrow to the heart, so to speak, when the ER doc told me from across Sean’s bed, rather matter-of-factly, that he had to be transferred immediately to another hospital. Of course, this was just the beginning of a long journey, comprised of many large and intricate parts. Many of these elements are still influencing our lives today.
What I came to understand and for which I now have specific language, is that it was in fact this trauma that invited me, launched me, into “freedom from fixed mind.” Just as encountering a beautiful butterfly on a walk (which just happened to me yesterday) can capture our attention for a few moments and focus us into presence of mind, so can suffering do the same. Of course, the thoughts are usually dissimilar, as are the initial emotions. At the moment of the onset of suffering, there is most likely acute pain. But as we become more practiced at consciously witnessing the ebbing and flowing of our feelings, we can actually experience and evening-out, an opening, of these emotions, which translates into freedom, loosening of constriction, and even curiosity and kindness.
It is in this space, as we’re sitting at the bedside of our child, waiting for a test result, or even driving to the hospital for treatment, that it is possible to detach from the clenching, choose to breathe into the “trenpa,” or presence of mind, and find the spaciousness within us, which quite literally allows us to connect to the love and goodness around us.
In other words, the energy of loving-kindness flows from us outwards, touching others, and inviting them to experience this freedom themselves. If we choose, we can become the initial drop in the still water that creates ripples of goodness and wonder and love. We, even in our pain, can become a conduit of wholeness and possibility.
Does any of this resonate with you? How do you feel about the idea of freedom from fixed mind?
I figure two of the greatest questions in life are, Why do we suffer? and Where is God? Even further, if there is a God, why do we suffer? And further still, in our suffering, can we even find God?
Certainly, wiser people than I have grappled with these question for millennia. I am not here to strike down a proverbial gavel of truth to tell you I have discovered the answers.
I am, however, writing to share some brief thoughts, born out of study and contemplation and experience, that might be useful.
Father Richard Rohr teaches that, according to the Franciscan worldview, several tenets are true. First, all matter is evidence of the Incarnation of Christ. The Universal Christ (distinct from Jesus, whose last name was not Christ, by the way) is everywhere and in all things. The Divine permeates all matter. Following the way of St. Francis, Rohr states, “Let what you see…talk back to you. There is the discovery of the mutuality, the univocity, of being.”
Second, the particular leads us to the universal. In other words, the more we pay attention to the details of our own journeys by asking questions, going deep, investigating the workings of our own souls, the more connected we become to the universal issues of the same themes. Our micro leads us to the macro and, again, to the interconnectedness of every living thing and every larger, more comprehensive system.
Third, the only way to see the evidence of the Divine in everything, the Incarnation of Christ, is through suffering. This is the way to “experiential salvation,” as James Finley describes it. Only through pain and sadness can we truly know we are actually connected to the Divine. Only when we experience disconnection can we, at the same time, understand that we are inherently aligned with God.
If the Christian perspective and tradition resonate with you, I imagine you will be comfortable with using “God” in these contexts. But in truth, the veracity of these teachings is independent from the name we give to this greater presence. If Source or Source Energy feels more comfortable, then use that. Or perhaps you prefer the Divine or Spirit or Oneness Consciousness. It doesn’t matter. The only important thing here is that we agree we are part of a greater whole. At the same time we exist in form, we are also infused with spirit–with the “energy that creates worlds” (Abraham). As Jung explains, “God named or not named still is.”
All of this brings me back to my musings on all of this and specifically to a short interaction I recently experienced with Sean and his sisters. He received his First Holy Communion two weeks ago, and on the way to the church I explained this to his sisters and him. I told them that, according to our faith, we receive the Body of Christ for the first time when we are around 7 or 8. That before that, we are not permitted to receive. This is why it is such a special occasion and an important Sacrament.
But then I added this. Even though this is what our faith teaches us, I want you to know, as I tell you all the time, that God resides in your heart always. You belonged to God, to Source Energy, before you were born, and you were, are, and always will be one with the Divine, because He lives in you. So let’s enjoy and celebrate your First Eucharist. And at the same time, I personally choose, in accordance with the desert fathers, contemplatives, and Catholic Mysticism, that it is a reminder, an affirmation, of what is already true. You are already the tabernacle; you are already the vessel for eternal “One-ing,” as many contemporary mystics call it.
For the past 18 months, Sean has been my greatest teacher. His sweetness and sensitivity and kindness have always affirmed for me that the Divine resides in all things. But it was his experience through cancer that clarified my worldview. Sean’s journey affirmed for me how the particular and the personal lead us to the universal–how the details of our own lives resonate with others and theirs with ours and that the result, if we walk wholehearted and open, is our enhanced capacity for compassion and understanding. These months with Sean also revealed to me how suffering, unexpected, unwanted, and often blindingly scary, in its ability to break us open and expose us to vulnerability, is the very seed of, indeed an invitation to, growth and evolution.
My contemplation upon the Franciscan worldview, particularly its tenet on suffering, recently led me to this explanation from James Finley, which resonates deeply with me:
These struggles….remind us of [our humanity]. We are not exempt from the human condition. There’s a kind of humility in the willingness to walk with our limitations….But if we let them, [these struggles], they become our teachers. They help us hand [them] over to God–accept ourselves as we are. [For] we learn to do for ourselves with God’s Grace. God [helps] us by transforming us with His love. There is a heightened capacity to be spaciously present. This love is qualitatively richer than what we were capable of [experiencing] before. We can see the changes happening. And we can be more that way, [loving and open], with others.James Finley, Turning to the Mystics Podcast, St. Teresa of Avila, Fourth Mansion
We may often remark how growth or learning is the result of pain in life, but here James Finley goes further in his explanation of how and why this is. It is not just that we become stronger from adversity–a true but in truth tired and obtuse expression. The process is a true “leveling up,” as Martha Beck calls it. First we must be willing to be humble in the face of struggle. Next we accept the love of Source and allow it to permeate and fill the spaciousness within us that was born of the pain. Finally, we are prepared for, and open to, true transformation. It is here that we find ourselves “qualitatively richer” than we were before the struggle came upon us.
All of this to conclude that, although words are useful for helping us express and share these ideas, as Richard Rohr often says, “Words don’t teach.” It is only through experience that we can become intimate enough with these ideas that we might then be able to integrate them into our personal worldview.
Sean’s answer to my question, Where is God? for me epitomizes experiential knowing and salvation. Yet still a child, his understanding of inherent goodness and his own alignment with the Divine are real and profound. Should we be surprised that such truth emanates from children? From those who are so much closer to the mystical and spiritual than most of us so-called learned adults?
Yes, Sean. God resides in your heart. May we all take the time to be still, go within, and understand this eternal truth and mystery.
Today my heart is breaking open. Again. It’s Sean’s 8th birthday, and he is not with me.
I’ve been thinking a lot about “breaking open” in recent years. What defined the wholeness before the break? Do we have to break? Do we remain “broken?” Can we actually heal and become whole again? And will we continue to break, or at the very least periodically crack, or can we find perpetual wholeness?
At this very time eight years ago, I was still “whole,” “intact.” I had just arrived at the hospital to birth someone new into the world. When I reflect on this now, the planned nature of the introduction strikes me as somewhat ironic. Just hours before I left for the hospital, I went for my morning run, and a neighbor boy, probably not more than 10 at the time, yelled out to me from his porch as I passed him, “Hey, Mrs. McGlinn! Aren’t you having a baby today?” I distinctly recall smiling back at him and answering, “Yes, yes I am.” I was to be induced, you see, due to my AMA–advanced maternal age. And so, in my routined and disciplined fashion, I decided to keep to my schedule and take my run. I had planned to then gather my packed bags and go have a baby.
And that’s what I did.
Only several hours later, Sean Albert Lindner McGlinn introduced himself properly. No longer was he an image on an ultrasound. He was, as Pinocchio claimed himself at the end of the story, “a real boy.” Although his birth was scheduled, this was the first unexpected revelation on my journey with this child. I admit, my deepest self knew he was going to be a boy, but apparently she didn’t share with the group. I had assumed Sean would be a girl, my third girl, and so I had absolutely nothing for him. No “boy” anything. I can still recall ordering clothes and decorations for his nursery from the hospital bed. There was a certain excitement about all this. Beneath it, however, I was asking myself, What am I going to do with a boy? I don’t know anything about boys.
The breaking open continued. My body had opened to realize new life, and when it did, a new energy had emerged in me as well. This brand new human had called forth a new spirit from inside me. I had been birthed again. I was being called to a renewal of myself–one that can only result from, yes, a breaking open, both physically and energetically.
For a long time now, I’ve asked myself, How do I manage the ever-changing conditions of a heart that is sometimes whole and full, and then responds to suffering and sadness by cracking and shrinking? The answer today is the same as ever. If the heart wants to, let it crack and shrink and ache. Let it do as it will. Accept the feeling. Sit with it. Allow it to be. Invite it to whisper it’s secrets or fears or worries. As the waves flow towards the shore, they also recede. This is the cyclic nature of energy, of the life cycle.
And so back to the present and how I’m feeling today on Sean’s birthday without him. These past eight years have been full of sufferings and joys, retreats and renewals. I have witnessed and experienced the dissolution of a marriage; single parenthood; Sean’s walk through cancer. As I have traveled these life paths, I have come to know this for sure. Life doesn’t call us to ease and success or even happiness. These are all wonderful when they occur, and they do. They will. But the purpose of life is to live. It is to break open, expand, flourish, get quiet, retreat, and begin again. Over and over and over. This is evolution. This is growth. Nature reveals it everyday, in every new branch, every new bud, every new baby bird that breaks free from its shell, gains strength, and flies away from its nest.
Today my heart hurts, and the cracks are palpable. I long to tangibly hold my little boy, look in his eyes and tell him how proud I am of him and how much I love him. But that is not to be today. It is, though, this very suffering that at the same time invites greater conscious, spiritual strength, and evolution. Like the actual birth process, it is through pain, the breaking open, that new life, ready to live and thrive, comes into the world.
As I reflect on this, I am reminded of Kintsugi, the centuries-old Japanese art of repairing broken pottery. In this tradition, indeed an art form, rather than reassemble a broken vessel with an invisible adhesive, the pieces are joined with a gold-, silver-, or platinum-dusted lacquer. The result is a vessel, which, with its visible, organic, non-linear “flaws,” appears even more beautiful, valuable, and stronger than it was in its “whole” unblemished form.
As I sit with these feelings today, as I share them with you, I will continue to reflect on how my breaking open and healing assist my evolution. I will witness my own sadnesses and joys and choose contemplation and compassion over sustained depression and self-criticism. I will remain committed to living this life with all its whole-hearted happiness and cracks of disappointments. Because in the end, the point is not to live unscathed, but rather, to remain open to elevation and meaning.
Is it possible to live in a state of perpetual wholeness? No and yes. Broken hearts are inevitable, but even when we experience them, we can also choose to remain open to love and goodness and compassion. And as they flood into the broken places, like the glimmering elements of Kintsugi, they fill the cracks, soon to make us whole and vibrant and full of life once again.