Spiritual Baby Steps

"Doing" spirituality in the real world

My Dog Leash Aha Moment

I was walking my dog yesterday. I have a chocolate lab named Lucy. At four years old, she is still full of energy. The start of our walks usually involve her yanking and pulling, trying to go fast while simultaneously sniffing everything in sight. So I was using the technique the dog trainer taught us… saying the word, “steady,” as I gave a quick tug on the leash. Repeating… and repeating… and repeating and repeating… as needed. Usually at the beginning of our walk there is a lot of yanking and correcting going on. By the end, there is much less.

For some reason, I started thinking about how this technique could… and probably should… be applied to my kids. First of all, one of the first things you learn in dog training is… it’s not about the dog! In reality, the dog trainer is teaching the dog owner to behave in a way that is consistent and clear. So, if sometimes getting on the couch is ok… and sometimes it’s not… that is neither consistent nor clear. Similarly, as we try to implement house rules and guidelines for our children, we should focus on consistency and clarity. Much easier with dogs than children, I find! Is it really possible to have an exact bedtime that you enforce every night? If so, that skill has eluded me!  But the fact remains… if sometimes it’s ok to stay up until 10pm, watch TV for more than 90 minutes (Is that seriously the recommendation?) or have a sugary, caffeinated drink… then it makes sense that suddenly saying it’s not ok is going to be met with resistance!

As I was thinking about all of this, while continuously giving quick yanks on the leash and repeating the “steady” command, another analogy presented itself. It was right then that I had my dog leash aha moment. The dog trainer was very clear on the mechanics of this technique. It’s important not to allow the dog to pull you… if you do, the leash stays tight the whole time and the dog gets accustomed to the tugging and begins to ignore it. Right?!! Instead, you need to leave the leash loose… almost making it seem as though the dog is not on a leash at all… until the dog starts to pull (or get out of line) and then you provide a quick tug on the leash to provide some guidance and allow the leash to go loose again.

It made me realize that holding the leash too tight, whether it’s your dog (literally) or your kids (figuratively), does not allow for teaching. You have to allow the dog/kids to mess up, within reason, and then provide the quick and immediate guidance. If you just say the command, “steady” but don’t apply the quick leash yank, the connection is never made between the word and the action. On the other hand, if you hold the leash tight the whole time, again there is no connection between the misbehavior and the tightness on the leash. Now please don’t misunderstand… I’m not saying you should put a collar on your child, although I do think I may have seen that during a Disneyland trip once!. Nor am I implying that you should be physically inflicting pain in any way. What I’m saying is that providing quick and immediate feedback, with both verbal command and action (natural consequences of some kind) is a good technique to help your child learn what is acceptable behavior and what is not.

I’m imagining that, just like in dog training, the sooner you begin the process and the more consistently you apply it, the quicker you get results. I don’t actually believe that old adage, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks… so I’m hoping that it’s never too late to start this process. I have found with Lucy that I have to apply the steady/yank more in the beginning of the walk than towards the end. In fact, sometimes by the end of the walk, the verbal command is all that’s needed to settle her down and get her to stop pulling! Imagine that!!

So my hope is that this analogy is helpful to you, as I’m hoping it will be for me. Of course, it’s often (always?) much easier to learn than to apply. But alas, we can thank our amazing children for offering the ongoing opportunity to practice!

Love and light!!  ~Rashel

Your One Wild and Precious Life

You may know Mary Oliver’s poem, The Summer Day, where she asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. After having a health scare recently, the precious part is standing out more than ever! So much of our daily grind lends itself to forgetting the preciousness of every moment. Heads buried in cell phones 24/7… rushing from one important task to the next. Slowing down is no longer seen as something we deserve at the end of the day… it is seen as a precious luxury that somehow we just can’t afford. Shouldn’t all of our gadgets and gizmos be giving us more time rather than shrinking the line between work and play? What happened… and how do we get our time back?

And it’s not just the precious part that seems to be slipping away… it’s the wild part as well. The wild part… gives me pause. What does it mean to have a wild life, anyway? I don’t think Mary Oliver was referring to boozing and brawls. I think she was urging us to notice the daily opportunity we have to live on the edge. To push ourselves outside of our comfort zone and explore the wild adventure that is calling for us. Most of the time we’re too busy to notice… too caught up in daily chores and chaos to hear the calling. This busyness is hurting us. It’s cutting us off from the very nature that fills our soul… that makes us remember where we came from… and what we’re here to do.

I urge you to stop… right now… and take a deep breath. It is these moments that we must hold on to… and return to again and again. I’m ending with a nested poem that I wrote recently…

This moment.

What I have is this moment.
What I have is this moment and nothing more.
What I have is this moment and nothing more is needed.
What I have is this moment and nothing more is needed for my one wild and precious life.

love and light to you!  ~Rashel

 

Hello Old Friend…

Hello old friend. Sitting over there calling my name. I’ve heard you calling for quite some time now. Oh how I’ve heard you calling. You thought I couldn’t hear you… but alas, it was simply fear standing between me and your outstretched arms. You would sometimes catch me unawares… with your beckoning stance. A quick catch of the breath… and a sigh… oh how I longed to return to you as if no time had passed.

But time has passed. And time has a funny way of skewing the innocent… the transparent… the simplicity of what is. It keeps me from falling easily into your arms and reconnecting with what was easy, simple and true. You see, now there are questions that stand between me and you. Between me and the outlet that you provide. The resonance that you give to my inner voice. There is a hesitancy in my gait… like a leg that has been broken… a composure that will never fully recover it’s stance.

The questions loom large in a broken space. What was? What is? The chasm that seems to extend to infinity between the two worlds. Who am I to write? What is it I hope to gain? What if no one connects? What if everyone connects? What is the value in exposing my own vulnerability? Is it an act of heroism… or hedonistic adventure?

I like the idea of re engaging in the world of blogging. I also know that life is a fickle, temperamental bitch who has way better boundaries than I am able to muster. We’ll see how it goes. Honk twice if you’re on board!! (beep beep!)

~love and light

Deep Down Inside…

I spent the day at a writing workshop. It reminded me how great it is to write! I sat with 4 other people who poured their heart and soul out on the page… and then shared it with the group. Such vulnerability… it was magical. Author and poet Roger Housden led the group.
I am sharing a piece from the day (unedited!)… I hope it inspires you to take a moment and consider for yourself, deep down inside… !

Deep down inside I know that there is much for me to give to the world. I am sure that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I need to be doing.

Deep down inside I don’t worry about whether I’m good enough or worthy of your time and approval because deep down inside I know that we are one.

Deep down inside I don’t question what I’m going to say, limit my words and thoughts, sensor my feeling and emotion. Deep down inside my true self is allowed to run free… to skip in the sunshine and swing from the tree branches.

Deep down inside the light shines brightly and I do not hide from it. I do not stay in the shadows and try to play small. I do not feel bad about being good at something or apologize for having an opinion.

Deep down inside I am good enough. I am not clouded by dark days. Deep down inside it is actually brilliant and filled with light. It sparkles as if studded with diamonds and glistens as if shimmering among pearls.

Deep down inside life is good… and whole… and pure. There is joy and contentment and an overriding desire to be of service. Deep down there is pain… but it is allowed to grieve and therefore does not become stagnant and all-encompassing. Deep down there is forgiveness and beauty and trust.

Deep down inside there is connection to all things. A current of source that flows through every cell. Deep down there is truth. A greater knowing of time and space that does not look like the time and space that we know up here… up here on the other side of deep down.

Deep down there is happiness and joy because happiness and joy cannot help but emanate from this space that is connected to source. This space that knows all and recognizes there is not so much good and bad… as much as there is “what is.”

Deep down inside there is what is… and “what is” is enough.

~Rashel

Smile

Smile

I just wrote a whole blog on death, compassion, self-acceptance and love. Then it got deleted. Then I couldn’t manage to recover it despite auto save. Then I decided my message should be… SMILE! and leave it at that. So… just do it! You’ll feel better!

My goal is to get back to blogging now that my art class has wrapped up. Maybe I’ll expose you to some of my attempts at art in future blog posts. Stay tuned!

Love, laughter, self-compassion, and light to you all! ~Rashel

Practicing Self Compassion…

There is a reason they call it a “practice”!!!

I may have mentioned before that I am participating in Leo Babauta’s Sea Change Program, where ever month there is a small behavior change that you commit to incorporating into your life. For the month of May, this tiny habit that we are attempting to incorporate is self compassion. Seems like an easy enough endeavor… but I’m here to tell ya… it’s trickier than you might at first imagine!

What I’ve noticed is that, despite my initial compassionate, loving words to myself, I immediately follow said compassion with a smidge of negative chatter that is like adding a “yeah, but” to my attempts at self-healing. I yelled (spoke sternly is probably more accurate, but it might as well have been yelling with the tone and the eye rolling that accompanied) at my son the entire drive to school this morning. I was very irritated because he made me re-tie his shoes 3 times due to the laces not being the correct amount of “tight.” I was explaining (do you like how I’ve relabeled the yelling to explaining now?!) how he needs to take responsibility for being on time to school and that, at the ripe old age of 9, he really shouldn’t need me to be tying his shoes… let alone insisting that I retie his shoes numerous times in one morning.

When I finally dropped him at school, he slammed the door and never looked back. I can only imagine what was going through his head. I’m pretty sure it was not along the lines of, “thank goodness I have such a great Mom who helps me understand the error of my ways.” In the great irony of a good day, I realize that the very thing I told my son he needed to do, which was to take responsibility for himself (from my viewpoint, this meant getting out the door on time), he was actually doing (from his viewpoint, making sure that his shoes were tied in a way that worked for him). Funny… that whole irony thing.

Anyway… back to self compassion. After a bit of verbal self-abuse, I did manage to remember the habit for the month. I congratulated myself for having the presence of mind to remember that beating myself up over the events of the morning was not actually going to rewrite the events of the morning for the better. Instead, I took a moment to acknowledge how difficult it is to be a Mom who is trying to balance consciousness and reality! I am, in fact, very thankful for this month’s sea change habit of self compassion. I think it is an easily overlooked habit that can have the potential to hugely impact our lives for the better. After spending numerous moments today offering myself compassion, I have to say that it feels pretty good to be loved… even if, and maybe especially if, it is by my very own self.

Wishing you gobs of love and self compassion!    ~Rashel

What Makes You Happy?

Do you know what makes you happy? What makes you really happy? What feeds your spirit and makes your heart sing? 

It seems like an easy enough question, doesn’t it? I think most of us think, at least on some level, that we know what we like… what makes us feel good… what makes us happy. But honestly, most of us are just not that good at truly figuring it out. We think we know, but we’re wrong. 

There are so many examples of this in our daily lives. We live in a constant state of more-is-better mentality… and it’s confusing the heck out of us. We’re under the impression that if we just get a little more of this, that or the other, then we’ll be happy. I’ll be happy when… I make more money… I lose some weight… I get a different job… I have more time.

“The purpose of our lives is to be happy.”   ~Dalai Lama

So, how do we figure it out? What’s the secret, magic formula for happiness? Ha! If you watch TV, read magazines, listen to the radio or in any other way are exposed to advertising… then you know it is as simple as buying the next widget, gadget or gidget. Or is it? On some level, we all know it’s not. And yet, if you’re like me, you are continuously sucked in and often succumb to the message that we are just not good enough and won’t be happy unless we have the latest this, that or the other. Perhaps we don’t spend enough time really contemplating our happiness. If happiness is the purpose of our lives, it surely gets short shrift compared to the numerous hours, days and years we spend on less important tasks. So, what’s the first step?

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” ~Rumi

I won’t pretend to have all the answers. To be perfectly honest, I struggle with this as much as anyone! I’ve bought my fair share, and then some, of self help books, audio programs and new age magazines in an effort to find that magic pill… experience transformation… be good enough… be happy! It’s a little ironic when you realize that you’re doing all this searching but you’ve never really thought very much about what you’re trying to find. Happiness is a somewhat vague concept that needs to be personally defined by each person.

I’ve heard that one good way to recognize your joy is to find activities that lead to losing track of time. When you get caught up in the activity and 2 hours feels like 2 minutes, then you know you’ve found something that makes you happy. But… a recent jaunt on FB has me questioning this concept just a bit. I’m not so sure spending hours online checking FB, pinterest, and playing words with friends is exactly my call to joy. But if I step back a bit, I can see that connecting with others and being social is joyful for me and makes me happy.

I’d like to propose a first step. Spend some time pondering and writing about happiness. Play with the statement “Happiness is…”

The next step, once you’ve gotten a bit clearer on what happiness is for you, is to notice your daily actions… how you spend your time. Ask yourself, as you move through the day, whether or not your actions are supporting your happiness. Now… I’m not saying that every single action in your day is going to be a joy-fest… but in some way, the actions and activities we engage in should align with our values… what’s important to us… and what makes us happy. Doing laundry, per se, is not necessarily joyful… but I can take a moment to be thankful for the clean, beautiful clothes that I possess. While I may not be elated with every detailed task I perform at my job, on a higher level, I believe in the mission of my company and know that my work contributes to the greater health and well-being of many people.

“When hope is not pinned wriggling onto a shiny image or expectation, it sometimes floats forth and opens.” ~Anne Lamott

So call forth your joy. Summon your giddiness. Explore what makes you happy with life… really, really happy… and spend time doing it. Pay attention to your daily activities and ask yourself if they align with your values… your true desires… your river of joy. (then tell me what it is so I can try it out myself!)

Love and light to you!  ~Rashel  

 

What’s Your Story?

We all have stories. Stories are what we believe to be true and what we tell others about our lives. Rumi says… “Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” I find it interesting that he does not say, “unfold your own story,” or even, “unfold your own truth,” but “unfold your own myth.”

I was listening to an NPR podcast the other day and they were interviewing Tony Robbins. He mentioned something about stories that really struck me. He revealed that he was beaten as a child. Apparently he shared that truth with some kids when he was doing a talk in order that they might relate to him… to understand that even if you have a troubled youth, you can still turn your life around. The point he was making on the podcast was that he had consciously chosen not to perpetuate that story… that he worked hard to create a new story that he had shared with the world. Until that time, and only for the very specific purpose of relating to those kids, he had chosen not to share that story of himself and his life and to share and communicate a new story… one of empowerment and strength rather than victim hood and struggle.

Sometimes I think we get very caught up in what’s “true.” Reality, if you will. But what that realization illuminated for me is that we can choose to focus on other parts of our lives that are just as true and real without perpetuating the parts of our story that do not foster our own growth and development as a human being. Now, I am not advocating for a life of lies. I am not implying that everyone should wake up tomorrow pretending that their past is non-existent and acting as if the sky is green. I’m simply saying that we all have choices. Choice about what to share… what to focus on.. what to pay attention to on a daily basis. In any given day, there are as many, if not more, positive occurrences as negative… so why in the world do we feel so inclined, when asked how we’re doing, to list the 2-5 things that have gone wrong in the day? I know it’s not just me who does this because I walk around hearing of everyone’s issues on a regular basis. I’m not complaining, mind you… I’m just recognizing that we are very much hard-wired to focus on our negative story instead of perpetuating the positive aspects of our day and lives. I’d say we can’t help it… but that might be seen as taking on a bit of victim mentality, no?

What is your story? How do you feel when you tell your story? Does your story focus on the amazing, wonderful events that have shaped your life… or does you get caught up in the negative, difficult details? Do share your story!

Love and light!  ~Rashel

Gratitude Revisited

I’ve read, listened to, and even written about the value of gratitude. How appreciating what you have can make you happy. I believe in gratitude wholeheartedly, and in fact, I think I realized something tonight that helped me wrap my brain around this concept in an even bigger way.

Let me start by supplying some context. I have a nightly ritual with my kids that includes back rub, neck rub, ear rub, leg rub, arm rub, shoulder rub, head rub, and, if they’ve showered, foot rub. It’s quite a process, as you can imagine, and on more than one occasion over the past 8+ years, I’ve wondered what the heck I was thinking in creating such an elaborate ritual. Would it have been so bad to follow the reading with a quick hug and call it a night?  I mean, seriously, it can sometimes take 20-30 minutes for me to put each kid to bed with this particular routine. But, alas, it was the routine we established and, for the most part, it is the routine we’ve followed night in and night out.

Then, a couple of months back, without any pomp or circumstance, it happened. I headed in to my daughter’s room, and before I could even get fully through the door she called out to me, “I don’t need a rub tonight, Mom.” Uh….. say what? I have to say, I was very proud of myself for keeping my composure as I leaned down, and in a cool and collected voice uttered, “a simple hug and a kiss, then, shall we?” Meanwhile, I felt like one of those cartoon characters whose head is spinning wildly… steam coming from my insides… complete chaos descending!! What the heck just happened here? Was this a fluke? A one-time thing? Would our relationship be changed forever?

I know what you’re thinking… calm down… it’s a back rub, lady! But it is so much more than that! It is our connection time. Our nightly ritual where words are shared that otherwise might not get spoken. I’m not even sure what it means to stop, but I know that it feels like my baby is getting ripped out of my arms. And it doesn’t feel good. And, to top it off, it wasn’t a fluke. The next night, and the next, I heard the same thing… “No rub tonight, Mom. I’m good.” But instead of “I’m good,” my ears heard, “I’m not your baby anymore. I don’t need you like I once did. You can go.”

Of course I realize that this is all part of the growing up process. I get that this is exactly what’s supposed to happen and it’s healthy and good. It’s just that… even though it’s one of those things that you know is inevitable… it still catches you by surprise. I’m not sure how, but it just does. And it makes you think to yourself… I should have been appreciating that even more! In fact, maybe I should add belly button, knees and elbows to my son’s routine, since he has not yet banned me from this nightly ritual!

But, and here’s where the expansion part occurs… I’m realizing the gratitude can remain, even when the circumstances change. Gratitude for… a daughter who’s gaining independence… a daughter who still accepts a hug and a kiss, despite the release of the full ritual… a daughter who can speak up for what she wants and needs. All good. AND… as I was grateful enough to experience tonight, staying open to gratitude has allowed for openness and flexibility in my daughter… who informed me tonight that she, “could really use a rub.”   

As I rubbed the back, legs, ears, arms, and shoulders, (no feet cause no shower tonight – gratitude or no, I have boundaries!) of my 11-year-old daughter, I felt tired (cause it’s late) and grateful. Consider what you do or have now that you would miss… and decide to be grateful… in this moment… before it slips away. 

Wishing you love, laughter and light!  ~Rashel

 

 

No Pain, No Gain

When I was young, the mantra of my gymnastics instructor was… no pain, no gain. I believed it at the time… but then I got older… got married… had kids… and started to question this mantra. Maybe that’s just for kids… or young people… or athletes… (of which I am none!). Perhaps pain is just an illusory signal that progress is being made… but not necessary to actual progress? I became a big fan of small steps… small changes… no pain!
In my yoga class last week, the instructor asked us to feel into the discomfort of holding a pose longer than what was comfortable. He encouraged us to recognize the difference between good pain and bad pain. As I took a deep breath, I thought to myself… huh? Good pain…. what the heck is that?! The instructor went on to explain that discomfort is normal as we learn to move into new positions… as we break down muscle in order to build up more muscle. This is how we build strength… how growth occurs.
AHA!
It hit me like a ton of bricks. Building muscle is a great analogy to building a strong, healthy life. Pain is necessary to break down muscle in order that more muscle can build up. However, and this is BIG… you have to recognize the difference between good pain and bad pain. Good pain helps you grow… while bad pain puts you out of commission. Good pain pushes and stretches just enough… bad pain pushes and stretches too much.
It seems to me that this is perhaps one of our most difficult tasks… distinguishing between the good pain that will help us grow and bad pain that is actually hurting us. In yoga, as in sports, the difference between good and bad pain is potentially a little more obvious. As you bend over to touch your toes… you feel the stretch… the tightness… the discomfort in your legs and thighs… good. As you lean into a stretch or pose and the discomfort becomes painful… well… you guessed it, bad!
In life, this distinction between good and bad pain seems more elusive. I think that others, like me, tend to think that pain, any kind of pain, is bad. And yet… if we apply the muscle building analogy… it’s not that all pain is bad, it’s that we need to distinguish between good pain and bad pain. Easier said than done! How long do I stay in this relationship… job… friendship… when does it change from being a growth situation to a bad situation? How do we know? What are the signs?
Unfortunately, I don’t have all the answers. What I surmise from my yoga/sports analogy is that discomfort is ok, but true pain is never good. I think with some things, it could possibly take some time and practice to figure out where that line is drawn and to recognize where one line ends and the other begins.
Here’s to pain… or discomfort, if you will… as a route toward growth!
Love, laughter and light to you!! ~Rashel

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