Is It Really Better to Walk Alone

walk aloneToday is Tuesday, April 8, 2014.

Today’s quote has been a way of life for me for over 30 years, but I’m starting to think that it may not be a good fit for me anymore.  Let me explain.

The Dhammapada is a collection of sayings by the Buddha.  The illustrated quote for today (at right) is a simplification or modernization of a more elaborately translated quote.  (The link takes you to a PDF file of the entire document, translated into English.)

Here’s the quote in English that is perhaps a little closer to the original.  These are verses 329 and 330.

 

If for company you cannot find a wise and prudent friend who leads a good life, then, like a king who leaves behind a conquered kingdom, or like a lone elephant in the elephant forest, you should go your way alone.

Better it is to live alone; there is no fellowship with a fool.  Live alone and do no evil; be carefree like an elephant in the elephant forest.

 

I think I understand the reason for the advice.  People who are on a path of conscious spiritual growth soon learn that not everyone here is on that same path, even though we are all, essentially on the same journey.  We learn that it’s important who we choose to associate with and what kinds of vibrations we allow into our personal space.  The Buddha is telling his disciples not only that they must try to associate with “wise and prudent” people, but also that it is important not to follow the crowd in spiritual matters, just because you want some company.  Spirituality is not a social practice; it is a private, individual matter.

That said, I was looking at the modern version of the quote and applying it to my life as a whole, not just my spiritual life.  I divorced back in 1981, and when I left the marriage, I did not have anyone else waiting in the wings.  I left on my own and I stayed on my own.  That wasn’t necessarily all by choice, but I consoled myself that it was much better to be alone than to be in a bad marriage.  I still believe that.

It has been a good experience for me to be alone. I have learned to stand up on my own two feet in a way that many other women have not had an opportunity to do.  I am often told these days how much “courage” I have.  To me, it doesn’t seem that way, but then, I am privy to all the thoughts and feelings that I tend to hide from the outside world.   I do think I have made a lot of progress in acquiring the qualities of perseverance, self-confidence, initiative, poise, creativity, resourcefulness, and focus, all of which a person really needs when flying solo.  However, I am wondering now if it has been “too much of a good thing.”  I don’t think that humans are, in general, meant to spent several decades living alone.

As I’ve written elsewhere, however, our relationships with other people are what give a framework and impetus to the life lessons that we have agreed to learn in our current physical lifetime.  This is true, no matter whether the relationship is long-term or short-term, casual or intimate, formal or informal, regulated or spontaneous, sexual or platonic, in person or in cyberspace.  Any and all relationships can afford us opportunities to grow spiritually.  It’s just that long-term, intimate relationships such as family relationships and marriages or partnerships give us the most powerful opportunities.

When you walk alone, you don’t have anyone to “hinder” you, but you also don’t have the opportunity to learn how to get along with others on a daily basis.  You don’t have to modify your behavior in deference to anyone else.  You don’t have to consult others when making decisions.  You don’t have to wait for anyone when you want to go somewhere, or feel rushed because someone is impatiently waiting for you.   You don’t have to worry about what others think of your clothes and hair, your eating habits, your habits of cleanliness, or your sleep patterns.

Now that I have gained the qualities I was meant to acquire from being on my own, I’m thinking that I can perhaps afford to explore what it means to interact with someone on a daily basis, to share my life, to learn to walk in harmony with another person while maintaining my own individuality.  It’s time for me to assist another with his spiritual growth and accept his assistance with mine.  It’s time to focus outwardly a little more, rather than inwardly.  It’s time to widen my space a bit to admit others.

I’ve already learned to see myself as whole and self-sufficient.  Now it is time for me to see myself as someone who can play ball on running water, someone who can connect with others in her world and explore the wonders of interdependence and connectedness. 🙂

 

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Spreading Happiness, One Day at a Time

kindnessToday is Monday, April 7, 2014.

The Ripple Kindness Project originated in Australia in 2012.  The organization was founded “to provide opportunities, information, resources and education to assist people everywhere in experiencing the magic” of kindness.  Today’s illustrated quote comes from their Facebook page.  Lawrence G. Lovasik was a Catholic missionary priest of the Society of the Divine Word, but his words would just as well come out of the mouth of a Buddhist.  (The Dalai Lama famously said, “Kindness is my religion.”)

Try to make at least one person happy every day.  If you cannot do a kind deed, speak a kind word.  If you cannot speak a kind word, think a kind thought. –Lawrence G. Lovasik

This should be doable for everyone, even those who can’t get out of their homes much anymore.  I would add that if you can’t make another person happy, it is perfectly OK to make yourself happy.  The world certainly doesn’t need another grumpy person!

If you need some inspiration, go to The Ripple Project’s website linked above for more information.  I’d like to share one more quote that appears on their website.

Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time.  We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  We are the change that we seek.  –Barack Obama

If you want to make a change in the world, make this change.  If you are a parent, make this a family project.  If you are a grandparent, tell your grandchildren.  If you are a teacher, tell your students about this project and encourage them to participate.  If you are a scout leader or youth group adviser, consider doing this project with your group.  Even if you don’t deal with children in your life, consider participating on your own.  Everyone can do this.  🙂

 

is to provide
opportunities, information, resources and education to assist people
everywhere in experiencing the magic this good old fashioned value holds. – See more at: http://ripplekindness.org/home/about-us/#sthash.TG4ILXOa.dpuf
is to provide
opportunities, information, resources and education to assist people
everywhere in experiencing the magic this good old fashioned value holds. – See more at: http://ripplekindness.org/home/about-us/#sthash.TG4ILXOa.dpuf

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Making Inner Changes: Use the Delete Key

delete keyToday is Sunday, April 6, 2014.

Stop pressing rewind on the things that need to be deleted from your life. –Trent Shelton on Facebook

I don’t think I’m the only one who has this problem.  There are a lot of us who have some of the same things go wrong over and over and over.  You get second prize in every race. You are always the last to get picked for the baseball team.  You like somebody but they aren’t “interested,” even if they think you’re a nice person.  You always mess up when you get up to speak in front of a group.  You always end up arguing with a friend and breaking up.  You always seem to be interested in a person who drinks too much.  You always manage to get taken advantage of emotionally or financially.  You always end up arguing with a parent or sibling.

Many of us have these recurring problems like this in our lives.  Even if we recognize the problem, we don’t quite have a handle on the solution.  Pretty soon we start to see these situations coming and we are afraid to go forward, fearing that the same thing will happen once again.  And maybe it will.

The key is to change something about ourselves, and when we are different, our vibrations are different, and we end up attracting a different situation.  It takes more than just an intent to break the cycle.  It takes an honest-to-God change in ourselves.  Change is the one thing that so many of us are afraid of.

How do you go about making a deep inner change like this?  Some people get into counseling or hypnotherapy.  Others begin a process of meditation and gradual awareness.  Some ask for the help of a Higher Power.  Some use techniques such as spiritual exercises, visualizations, mantras, affirmations, and journaling to effect change.

It’s important to be very clear about why you want to change.  How will your life be different after you have changed? Think about all areas of your life, not just one or two.  How will you be different?   Will you look different?  Will you relate to people differently?  Will you attract different people and situations into your life?  How will these be different from what is in your life now?  Be specific.

If you are going to delete something from your life, you will have to fill it with something else.  Think about what it is you want to fill the hole with.  (Think in terms of energy, if nothing else.  You want to fill the “space” with positive energy, not negative.)  Keep your new goals firmly in mind.  You can cut out pictures that illustrate the sort of thing you are aiming for, or you can leave yourself little notes on your bathroom mirror or the refrigerator in your kitchen.

Whatever method you decide to use to effect your change, it’s important to realize that change does not happen overnight. It takes time for the change to manifest itself not only in your mind (and we’re talking about your subconscious mind, here), but in your heart and your physical self.  The change has to happen from the inside out, and from the ground up.  You have to start expecting things to turn out differently.  You have to focus on a future that you do want and not one that you don’t want.   You have to change the both way you think and the way you feel.  You have to feel different on a daily basis.  You have to see yourself differently.

When you notice that things around you are changing, you can be sure you are changing, too.

****

Now, to follow my own advice… wink

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Shaking the Nonsense Out

shake nonsense outToday is Saturday, April 5, 2014.

Love sometimes wants to do us a great favor: hold us upside-down and shake all the nonsense out.  –Hafiz

God’s love is not all sweetness and light.  Often it takes the form of  “tough love,” and it tends to shake us out of our routines and beliefs at some of the most inconvenient times. This shaking is uncomfortable and sometimes frightening.  Everything you thought was true turns out to be false.  Or not true in your case.  I know all of these experiences were generated because of God’s intent that I evolve and grow to meet the challenges of life.  Still, the experiences of the “school of hard knocks” is not always pleasant, and it’s hard to remember, sometimes, that they are a function of God’s unconditional love.

The first time I had the nonsense shaken out of me was when I got married and realized that my girlish fantasies were not going to come true.  My marriage was not going to be like “Ozzie and Harriet” or “Father Knows Best” on TV.  It wasn’t going to solve all my problems, and it wasn’t going to be the “meeting of the minds” that I longed for, either.  And it wasn’t going to involve motherhood.  Instead, the experience of marrying a man outside my culture and living in his country had the effect of peeling me like an onion, until I began to recognize what I really believed in and what I could let go.  Being in a relationship with a man who was not an intellectual was another challenge for me.  It made me, ultimately, more sensitive to people who don’t function on the mental plane, and I think I have come to a sense of appreciation for such Souls.  Not that I would want to marry a non-intellectual again.  Once was enough.

The second time I got the nonsense shaken out of me was after my divorce, when I had to face the reality of having to get my needs met all by myself.  If I wanted something, I had to earn the money to buy it myself.  If I wanted something fixed, I had to fix it myself or find someone else who could – for a fee, usually.  If I wanted company, I had to go out and make friends.  I learned to make important decisions all by myself, but I also learned to value the advice and help of others.

When I returned to the United States, I had some more nonsense shaken out of me.  I thought for sure I’d find a nice American man to marry.  Wrong.  I thought I could teach in the public schools without getting a master’s degree.   False.  I thought the trend of teaching Japanese in public high schools would continue.  Not.  I thought I could get along without learning to drive.  No way, José.   I stayed single, got my master’s degree, found a job teaching English as a Second Language with the growing Hmong population in St. Paul, MN, and finally learned to drive and bought a car.

Cancer shook a lot of nonsense out of me, too.  I learned what I could and could not expect of my friends.  I learned what I could and could not expect of myself.   I learned that no matter how spiritual a focus you have in your life, you have to take care of the body. Period.

My latest “shake” has been these last few years as a retiree.  I have learned that if you haven’t saved money before you retired, you will just have to live on less.  I learned just how important it was to get out of debt before retirement.  (I did, just barely, and I’m so glad!)  I learned that you have to re-define yourself when you retire, and that you have to re-build your life from the ground up, especially if you have no grandchildren to cozy up to and if you move away from your friends.   I learned that I am who I think I am, and that I am not who I was a few years ago.  And I am learning that anything is possible.  🙂

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Two New Perspectives on Forgiveness

forgiveness in the mindToday is Friday, April 4, 2014.

I’ve been thinking about forgiveness recently, and have come across two different memes on Facebook that present forgiveness in a different light from the way most of us view it.  Of course, it’s always possible to forgive yourself, but let’s talk for a moment about the usual case, which is forgiving someone else for something they have said or done.  The ideal seems to be for the person who did wrong to admit their wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness from the person who was wronged.  The person who is wronged ideally agrees to forgive the transgressor and thereafter everything is just peachy keen.  Right?

Most of the time, that is not the case.  First of all, the person who has done wrong doesn’t always realize it, due to simple lack of awareness.  Or the person refuses to admit it because he is in denial.  Sometimes the person has moved away – or we have – and we can no longer locate the person, or we just don’t move in the same circles anymore.  Sometimes the person we need to forgive has already died.  Whatever the reason, the people we need to forgive don’t always ask for our forgiveness.  Does this mean we can’t forgive them?  The answer comes in the form of this first quote from Louise Hay, an expert in healing on all levels.

The act of forgiveness takes place in our own mind.  It really has nothing to do with the other person.

I do have a person to forgive right now.  This person has done something to someone else that I cannot condone, but I realize that an act of forgiveness on my part is not really for him.  Nor is it for the person he has harmed.  It is for me.  Karmic justice will be done in the fullness of time, and he will deal with his own issues when he is ready to, in this life or some future life.  I need to allow that to happen and wish him well.  I need to erase judgmental thoughts from my mind and allow life to work the way it is supposed to.  My challenge is to acknowledge what he has done and wish him well, anyway.  Further, my challenge is to offer him unconditional love at the level of Soul, while cutting my connection with him in  physical life.   In any event, it is I who have inner work to do.  I need to take care of my own inner work and leave him to take care of his when he will.

forgive change the futureThe second piece of wisdom that has come my way recently comes from Bernard Meltzer, host of an advice call-in show on the radio, called “What’s Your Problem.”

When you forgive, you don’t change the past.  You change the future.

This answers my question about the actual act that I wish to forgive the person for.  I can’t change the past, and neither can he.  But I can change the future – not his future, but my own.

In my own future, I will be lighter and freer, unencumbered by this piece of baggage that is my judgmental thoughts and the heaviness that I feel when I think of the negative consequences of his actions.  I want to move forward without this baggage, without the heaviness, without the icky feeling.  I can’t change the past and I can’t forget it, but what I can do is disconnect the negative feelings from the memories.  I can quit putting energy into feelings of judgment and anger and put that energy elsewhere.  And I can allow this person the space he needs to make his changes, if that is his choice.

Truly, when we forgive, we change ourselves, not the other person.  🙂

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Debunking a Dozen Myths About Autism

myths about autismToday is Thursday, April 3, 2014.

Autism was first recognized in 1908, but because it is a “spectrum disorder,” it is actually a group of conditions that have some common elements.  Autistic people show a wide range of symptoms, so it is a very hard condition to pin down, and understandably, there has been a lot of misinformation tossed around.  Research on autism spectrum disorders did not gain momentum until the 1970s and 80s.  Autism was initially thought to be rare, but it is now thought to be fairly common, with as many as 1 in 50 children affected in the general population.

At first, some doctors thought that autism resulted from poor parenting, but recent studies have confirmed that at least 15-20 percent of cases of autism are linked to a rare genetic mutation.  There are still many parents who feel that their children’s autism was the result of mercury poisoning from vaccinations, although several studies to date have not borne this theory out.  It is still possible that there may be some environmental cause for autism, but if so, we have not discovered it yet.

For a little over a decade, I worked in a school building in St. Paul, MN, that had a special ed program for autistic kids.  There were two rooms.  One was for the kids who had severe symptoms.  Most of those could not talk.  The teachers wore special aprons with symbols on them.  The kids would point to a symbol to tell the teacher what they wanted.  At least one kid would have a complete meltdown each and every afternoon, complete with crying, screaming and kicking.  In the room next door, there were kids who were considered “teachable,” who were learning life-skills that would lead to jobs (albeit menial ones) and allow them to take care of themselves to some extent.  Then there were a few kids who were higher on the scale of teachability – including some with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a very high-functioning type of autism.  These kids were mainstreamed into regular classrooms and given special help for a short time each day.  Each child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) was slightly different.  Some of these mainstreamed autistic kids had an aide with them all or part of the school day.

Here are some myths about autism that you may have heard of, followed by the truth as we understand it today.

1  People with autism don’t want friends.   It’s not that they don’t want friends.  The problem is that autistic people struggle with social skills, so they don’t always communicate or interact in acceptable ways.  Also, they may have trouble interpreting your words or actions.  Remember that there is a wide range of symptoms, so there are people who cannot use language at all and those who can talk.  The talkers communicate differently because their perceptions are different from those of normal people.  Some people with autism don’t like to be touched (at least, not without warning) because it over-stimulates their brains.  Each person’s symptoms are different.

2  People with autism can’t feel or express any emotion.  They can, but they may express their emotions differently from the way normal people do.  There is a separate condition known as APD, which has been called “Affective Personality Disorder,” “Antisocial Personality Disorder,” or “Avoidant Personality Disorder.”   This is a completely different type of disorder.

3  People with autism can’t understand the emotions of others.  It’s not that they can’t understand them.  It’s an interpretation issue.  They don’t always pick up the normal body-language cues or the tone-of-voice cues that people use to express how they feel.  As strange as it may seem, some autistic people don’t make a connection between smiling and happiness, or rolling your eyes and impatience, for example.  And they may not be able to filter out the sarcasm in your flip remark – so they may take what you said literally, with unfortunate results!  It’s important to communicate very directly and literally with autistic people so that they understand.  Most people aren’t used to communicating their feelings quite that bluntly or directly, but that’s what works.

4  Austistic people have no sense of humor.  Not true!  Their sense of humor may be different from yours or mine, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have any sense of humor at all.  Here and here are links to two videos on YouTube that bear this out.

5  People with autism cannot have relationships.  They can, but they do have more trouble with relationships than those of us who are not as withdrawn as autistic people tend to be.  Obviously, there has to be a great deal of understanding on the part of both partners, and a willingness to learn and adapt, but it can be done.

6  Autistic people can be dangerous.  If they are over-stimulated, it is possible for them to lash out at others, but autistics generally tend to keep to themselves.  Some of their ritualistic behavior is more dangerous to themselves than to others.  In schools, kids who are mainstreamed are accompanied by an aide at all times if there is any indication that they might be a danger to others.  The other kids in the class are told in no uncertain terms not to touch or tease the autistic child.  Each person has different things that might potentially “set them off.”

7  Ritualistic behaviors should be stopped.  These are behaviors that the person repeats in exactly the same way every time, every day.  Sometimes they are annoying, uncomfortable to watch, or even dangerous (such as head-banging.)  They are really attempts by the person to make sense of the world.  Some rituals involve a sequence of activities, which, if interrupted or changed suddenly, can be cause for severe anxiety.  If the activity isn’t hurting anybody – or dangerous to the autistic person, it should be allowed.

8  Autism is an intellectual disability.  Sometimes, but not always.  Again, it’s a spectrum disorder, so people at the “high” end of the spectrum have a normal or even very high IQ.  Some autistics have exceptional talents, and may excel in math, music, art, or some other area.   Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie, “Rain Man” is one example of someone with special talents.  He was what they call a “savant.”  (He could count the number of toothpicks spilled onto the floor instantly.  And yet he couldn’t tell the doctor how much a candy bar cost.)  It’s important to remember that not all autistics can do this sort of thing.

Autistic people are not interested in sex.  They are.  However, that said, there are some, as I mentioned earlier, who find it hard to process being touched, so it’s an individual issue.

9  Kids will grow out of autism. As they learn to deal with the world, some of their symptoms may be controlled or they may learn to communicate in a more normal and socially acceptable manner, but autism is a lifelong condition.  Early and intense intervention is definitely recommended.

10 The incidence of autism is increasing.  This may seem to be the case, but remember that research into this spectrum of conditions is still relatively recent.  People in the past may have been diagnosed differently, or their condition may simply not have been formally identified.  I know of one adult whose parents and teachers were aware of his issues, but he was not formally diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome until adulthood.   Right now, approximately 8.4% of our kids are autistic.  That’s still a pretty low number.  And remember: autism is not contagious!  You cannot “catch” autism from other people.  You are either born with it or not.

11 Autism is a brain disorder.  The fact is that many autistic people have other conditions, such as gastrointestinal disorders, food sensitivities, and allergies.  These symptoms may or may not be related to a brain disorder, but the fact is that autism is not just a “mental” disorder.

12 Treatment for autism is covered by insurance.  Before passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), autism was excluded from most insurance policies, and only half of the 50 states required coverage for treatments of autism spectrum disorders. Fully half of families with autistic children and teenagers reported that their health insurance failed to meet their needs.  Under ACA rules no one can be turned away because they have autism spectrum disorder, and individuals or families who have an autistic child cannot be charged higher premiums.  There is a cap on out-of-pocket expenditures.  Plans must cover behavioral health treatment, habilitative services, and prescription drugs.  (Some states will require an applied behavior analysis.)  If your claim is denied, there are new rules for appealing the claim.  All children are entitled to ASD screening at ages 18 and 24 months, and this screening is available without cost-sharing.  Families can purchase a separate, special health plan solely for the child.  Plans must cover pediatric services, including dental and vision benefits.  Young adults can stay on their parents’ plan until age 26. Adults may be eligible for expanded Medicaid services if their state permits it.

For more information, visit the following links,  🙂

Developmental Disabilities Institute

National Autism Association

Health and Human Services website – Autism Information

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I Knew You’d Come!

tournToday is Wednesday, April 2, 2014.

In his book Soul to Soul: Communications from the Heart, Gary Zukav tells the story of a soldier who wants to go back to rescue a buddy of his who’s been shot.  The sergeant tells the young man that this buddy is as good as dead, and his heroics will only get him shot, too.  Ignoring his sergeant’s orders, the soldier runs into the clearing where his friend was shot and drags him to safety, braving enemy fire.  By the time the soldier gets his friend to safety, he is dead, and the sergeant shouts at him.  “I told you so!”

The soldier’s answer is stunning:  “When I got there, he was alive, and he said, ‘I knew you’d come.'”

These days almost everyone has heard of the idea that Souls make agreements with each other before coming into physical life.  We enter into all kinds of relationships with these special Souls.  We may be parent and child, spouses, lovers, best friends, or partners in business.  We may spend a lot of time together, the way Orville and Wilbur Wright did, or we may simply meet for one special moment in time.

Zukav’s story reminds us that we are not necessarily meant to “save” each other.  The interaction between Souls may not seem “successful” by any normal measure.  Sometimes we are simply meant to “be there” for another person.  Or we may be meant to go the extra mile for that special Soul, whether or not our effort seems successful.

In the case of the soldier who attempted to rescue his buddy, the effort, itself, was the important thing, and the fact that the buddy died knowing that his friend was truly “there” for him.  What a precious gift it was, even though the buddy died!  Perhaps that was the agreement, to make a supreme effort for another person, without thought for his own safety.  In fact, if you think about it, the buddy who died may have been the one giving the gift – an opportunity for his friend to step up to the plate, to make that supreme effort, and to prove to himself what stuff he was really made of.  🙂

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