Monday, November 28, 2011

The Tale of Two Brothers, Part I

I have an older brother.  3 years older.  We have not spoken in 10 years.  I have my story about him and our distance; a story that I’ve been telling for as long as I can remember.  This week I had the opportunity to rewrite that story and in the process heal a very old, very deep wound; one that I did not even know my heart bore.  Releasing the old story and healing the wound has allowed for a new story to emerge.  This is how it all started….
I grew up in a neighborhood of large families, except for my own.  Most of my neighborhood girlfriends had 3 or 4 older brothers and all of those families seemed very close; the brothers very protective of their little sister. 
Up until the time of middle school or so, my brother and I got along. He even played Barbies with me; spending what seemed like hours setting up the different households and telling the stories of each Barbie and Ken “family.”  We even set up a doll hospital in my chest of drawers and pretended we were doctors, healing my baby dolls.  At that time, I guess I felt like part of a “normal” brother and sister situation.  Something changed along the way and as we grew up, a distance grew between us.
Despite the growing distance, I looked forward to high school, when he would be a senior and I a freshman.  He would “show me the ropes”; I would have crushes on his friends and he would protect me from any boy who tried to break my heart.  Life would be just like I dreamt it would be!
That never happened.  He would have nothing to do with me. 
I was an over achiever in school, carrying a 4.0 GPA, active in social and service clubs and very active in my church.  My brother got into trouble and was told he didn’t “apply himself”.  The distance widened.
Sometime during high school, mom found a pot plant growing in his bedroom (possibly thanks to Miss GoodyTwoShoes here.)  The confrontation between my normally quiet father and my angry brother was loud and physical; with my mother crying and shouting for them to stop.
I don’t have a lot of memories of my brother after that.  I did my thing and he did his, spending a lot of time away from the house.  He graduated, moved out, fell in love and got married.  Dad passed away and eventually my brother cleaned up.
By this time, I was taking my own turn with drugs.  My brother, now clean and “holier than thou” made it his mission to fix me.  What resulted upon that confrontation was another screaming match that left my mother, again, crying and begging us to stop.
Life moved on, I straightened up and eventually my mom moved out of state to be with my brother and his wife.  She lived out her days there and our contact was spotty.   I only visited her there once.  It turned ugly very quickly with my brother screaming and demeaning both my mom and my sister in law while playing a silly board game.  My mom made excuses for his verbal abuse but I could not and would not sit and listen to it.  I was well aware of how he belittled my sister in law while they lived here.  Now I could see it how that  had intensified to include our mom.  I vowed to myself never to go back there as long as he was in the vicinity of my mother. 
My mom had a knack for playing the victim role, she was always getting “taken” by someone or some business.  I could see that she had just let that role overtake much of who she was now, letting him say & do whatever he wanted to her and she would justify it in her own sweet way.
My mom passed away 11 years ago, suddenly, while I was out of the country.   I made the trip north to go through her things a few months later.  It was the first time I’d seen my brother in I’m not even sure how many years. 
During the days I was there, I discovered he and I had some things in common.  We both loved photography and camping.  We had a similar sense of humor, no doubt thanks to our hysterically funny mother.  There was a glimmer of the possibility of a relationship.
But, out of sight, out of mind.  I came home and life returned to normal.  My sister in law did a good job of trying to stay in touch, with notes and emails – always signing both their names (though I’m not sure he even knew we communicated) but after a while, that dropped off too.
When asked about my family, I would readily offer up that my brother lived a somewhat reclusive, paranoid life (with lots of other juicy adjectives) out of state and that he was never really the big brother I had wanted  so I really didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything.  I’d never had it so I didn’t feel like it was missing it now.  Basically, I had written him of and had even “replaced” him long ago with a good friend who has always been like the big brother I’d dreamt of having.
Fast forward to earlier this year.  MUCH has changed in my life.  I found myself at my Spiritual community for the premiere of a movie, “Discover the Gift.”  The movie was inviting the viewer to discover the gift within that was meant to be expressed on the planet. It was a documentary film that changed lives, with more than forty of today's most influential transformational leaders explore how to discover one's own unique Gift, including our own Rev. Michael Beckwith.  Sounded good to me – I’d been wondering what my real purpose, my real GIFT was here. 
"Discover the Gift" was produced by acclaimed producer/director  Demian Lichtenstein and his sister Shajen Joy Aziz and it found its beginning in the healing of their relationship.  I remember thinking of my brother and wondering, “Do I need to do that?”  My mind quickly replied, “NOPE!  Nothing to do there!”
Ah…the fact that I had even had the thought really was an indication that there was work to be done there.  I just chose to shove it back into the darkness from whence it came!  But it grew, just as a seed grows in the darkness of the rich soil.  I was now in a spiritual community that regularly asked me to forgive in order to be free.  Every time I saw Demian at a service that little thought, that little seed, would sprout up just a tiny bit more.  And every time it did, I would try to shove it back into the darkness.
But, a seed only knows one thing – to grow toward its light source.  This seed had spent enough time in the darkness.  It was now time to come into the light.
(to be continued)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Plenty to Share - REALLY?

About this time last year my life was in dire straights.   I was 3 months behind in my car payments (certified letter stating intent to repossess, thank you), my rent money for the month had been stolen (3-day notice, thank you building manager), I had maxed out the credit card a friend had let me use to cover my basic living expenses (causing a rift in the relationship and a lot of guilt and shame on my end), and my business was on very shaky ground between fully separating from my business partner and being unsure I could go it alone.  This was my bottom.

Ironically, I was gifted the money to take a class at my Spiritual Community called “Plenty to Share/Plenty to Spare”. (I think I’ve mentioned before that MY God has a ridiculously healthy sense of humor!) Apparently God – and someone in the form of a friend – thought I could use this.  Well, if by “plenty to share/plenty to spare” you mean troubles and bills and stress, well, I’d be HAPPY to pass some of that along out of my world!  Free for the taking!

Let me just say, that class MESSED ME UP!  All this talk about abundance and all-needs-met! Where the H-E-double-toothpick was mine?  I had to scrape together sofa-change, car floor-change and bottom-of-purse-change together for the gas to even GET to the class! A friend shared her reading materials with me because I couldn’t afford to buy the book!  Plenty my ass!

Each night of the class I fell deeper and deeper into despair. It was like everyone was “getting” it, having insights and revelations and moving through self-imposed blocks in their lives while I was gasping for air- there wasn’t even plenty of THAT for me to share! What was I doing wrong? Why was my life so messed up? How did I get to such a low point in my world?  I was in a spiritual community for pete’s sake – doing everything that was ever taught to me – praying, meditating, worshiping, KNOWING all is well. Well, in honesty, that last one was tough to wrap my head around as the crisis mounted.

In our smaller, breakout groups, called “pods”, one of my “podlings” shared that, in his life, the things that were no longer in integrity with his soul had to go – and he let it.  Yeah, that’s great, but we’re talking about ME here!  Did God REALLY want me to let go of my home AND my car?  (GOD! I wanted to smack him in the head for that comment!!!) A homeless, carless, spiritually-enlightened being who, without those things, could not conduct business and attempt to support herself?  Surely this could not be true….but it sure was headed in that direction!

Our teacher, the very wise Reverend Cheryl Ward, explained to me in front of the class, that when I have a strangle-hold on a particular “BIG” problem, I am really choking off the flow of good that wants to come through that area of my life (I am loosely translating what I heard).  If, instead, I move my attention from that big problem and instead try to deal with something smaller, manageable, then God can have Its full sway in the area of my greatest concern – once me and my big ego get out of the way. For me this meant that, while I might not be able to pay rent or car payments, I COULD pay my cell phone bill. 

OK.  So I tried it.  Then I tried it again. And again.  And another again.  At least I thought I was trying.  In reality, I was like a dog with one of those chew-ropes – holding on for dear life, letting it swing me around and around in circles but by god! I still had it in my clenched teeth!! No one and no thing was gonna get it out of my grip!

Then I went back to class, unsuccessful in my attempt at “letting go.”  The air around me was becoming less and less available to me.  I was completely unable to grasp this teaching, find relief, answers   - anything that would allow me to NOT wake up in the morning gasping for air that was becoming thicker and heavier and less satisfying and nourishing to my body.

Then Rev. Cheryl shared a personal story with the class of how she was “invited” to demonstrate her faith and her beliefs that she had spent many years practicing.  ( I love how we Agapeans say “invited” instead of “forced” or even “asked” – because really, it is ALWAYS a choice and there’s no judgment if one declines that invitation in that moment.) It involved her daughter, knocked unconscious at school and now in the ER across town.  As she got behind the wheel of her car, anxious and worried, she drew upon her spiritual practice.  “Either God IS or God ISN’T.” In that moment everything shifted for her and she leaned on the knowing that God IS.  And, if God IS, and God is in everything and everyone and every situation, then surely God was in the mix of this seeming injury and in the doctors and nurses and technicians treating her daughter; in the flow of traffic that got her across town in 15 minutes, and in every other moment of this experience. Ah….exhale.

I began to hear Rev. Cheryl’s voice in my head firmly declaring “Either God IS or God ISN’T!!!”  Man she’s got a voice on her!!! Slowly but surely, I began to breathe again and breathing required I let go of the chokehold of the problems I was trying to fix by myself.  I began back at the beginning: Gratitude.  Then Surrender.  I began to lean into the Truth that God Absolutely just, plain and simple, IS.  God is in my struggles and God is also in the resolution of those struggles, whether I can see a way out now or not.  And thank GOD! God is in the celebration and freedom and JOY that shows up once I get out of the way.

It literally started with that first waking moment of my day: the moment when I would become conscious and gasp for air upon realizing I still couldn’t pay all those bills. After that thought passed, I would think of something for which I could be grateful.  In the beginning, it was literally just for air, heavy and oppressive as it may have been.  I was, in fact, still alive.  I would try to find 5 things to be grateful for before I got out of bed.

On one of those days, it was time to release and surrender the impending repossession of my car.

I sat on my sofa in meditation, breathing that air that was now becoming more available to my body, inhaling “I surrender (my car)” and on exhale “I let go.”  It was all I could do.  With each breath my lungs took in more and my body became more calm and relaxed.  I kept going and going until my body felt completely clear and at peace with this pending event.   When I looked up, it had been 1 hour and 45 minutes of this!  But I felt great! Not to say that losing one’s car and the shame and blame involved with it is something I would encourage anyone to feel, but from my spiritual perspective I was now realizing that it was blocking me due to the stress it was putting on my daily life.  If, in releasing the car back to Nissan that meant I had new energy to place on something I COULD do in my life, well then I should probably be grateful.  And, truly, I was.

Then my prayer partner called.  After nudging and nudging me to tell her what was going on (she apparently could sense something) I told her about the car.  We prayed together and then she said she’d check on me later that day.  I took a shower and washed all the residue of my body and soul and returned to arranging to drop my car off at the dealership so I could avoid the embarrassment of the repo man coming to my home.  Then my prayer partner called. 

She had immediately gone into prayer and meditation about my situation and felt strongly that she was to give me the money to bring my car payments up to date.  I did NOT see that coming – but then again – I got out of God’s way and released my attachment to the car and the whole situation just earlier that morning. God showed up as my prayer partner.  I received the good that wanted to flow to me – FINALLY! 

But wait! There’s more!  At around the same time another dear friend of many decades wrote me a check to cover my stolen rent money, knowing that I didn’t know when I could repay it.  Again - God showing up in my life as my friend.

Now, don’t for one minute think that I just accepted the good flowing from these 2 souls and went about my way! Oh NO!!! I experienced so much GUILT and SHAME over needing to rely and depend on someone else, it totally wiped out the relief I momentarily felt!

Just as, when I put one foot in front of the other, a way is made; the ground rises up to meet my feet, so goes the opportunities to grow through and explore emotions.  I went from anxiety – to release – to peace – to abundance all the way back down to guilt and shame – and that was all before breakfast! 

When I met up with my prayer partner to receive the money for the car payments, I expressed my less-than-excited-state of being with her.  In one sentence she summed it up: “Plenty to Share/Plenty to Spare.”  She had more than she needed and she was sharing it.   But I had to “BUT” my way back into the shame. “WHY do I have to KEEP receiving money from everyone? I am TIRED of receiving!” 

WHOOOOA!!!!! Back up the bus!!! Did I REALLY just say I was TIRED of RECEIVING?!!!

At Agape we learn the absolute law of circulation – that which you give comes back around to you, multiplied.  It is a circuit and just as with any mechanical circuit, if one cuts the flow from one area, the flow stops.  Doesn’t mean it’s not there; just means the flow is haulted. I was unconsciously cutting off the flow of my good, my abundance, with my attitude of “I don’t want to receive from people anymore.”

So, I’ve got to say it: SHIFT HAPPENS!  In an instant I was again invited to examine this “law” I had created for myself.

I started to think back on all the people I have helped along their journeys.  The homeless man & his dog that I dropped off a bags of groceries and dog food to by the side of the road; the countless friends who “couch-surfed” in my home while in between cities, jobs…lives; the hours of quiet listening to friends going through their own suffocating moments of life; the hugs I gave when it seemed no one else was there.  Most of these didn’t involve cash-money but ALL involved the giving of energy; positive loving energy.  And that brings me back to my understanding of God: Pure love, intelligence, beauty and peace.  Money is sometimes the manifestation of this energy but it is not the thing itself.  I finally realized that all the good that I have shared with the world and with my little circle within it was being circulated back to me – in a form that in this time and space I could clearly understand: Money.  Again, God’s Supreme Sense of Humor teaching me to laugh at the irony of it all.  Turns out I had a karmic savings account I wasn’t aware of!

With each person who helped me, from the friend with the credit card, to the friend who covered my rent, to the friend who paid for this class and shared her book -  and several meals, to the prayer partner who felt moved to see that I kept my car, to the "podling" that spoke his truth which is now my truth too, to the amazing teacher who didn’t force a belief down my throat but instead let me find my own way while she held the truth about me: THANK YOU from the bottom of my never-ending soul!  
I now know this truth the Rev. Cheryl knows about me, about herself and about all of YOU:  We are all divine and unique emanations of the ONE SOURCE of all: God.  Because of this, we are all heirs to all that there is; all that we could ever hope for, dream, manifest or desire. HOWEVER, we must ACCEPT all of the good that wants to flow to and through us.  If we turn it off, it will just sit there, behind the valve, patiently waiting for us to turn it back on again and again it will flow, without judgment or thoughts of “well, you wouldn’t let me flow yesterday so I’m not sure I will flow today for you.” 

Why write about this now? Aren’t things peachy-keen now with abundance flowing freely in every area of my life?  Haven’t I “arrived?”

Truth is I still have issues with money.  It flows in fits and starts and as I write this, my car payment is again late – though only by a few days. So what is different? My perspective (aka my chokehold on my problems!) No one ever truly arrives.  We are ever-evolving, different today than yesterday – or even a paragraph ago. For this I am truly thankful because each and every second is another opportunity to grow through something that baffled me yesterday.

The reason I share this now is because I have several friends who are experiencing very similar situations in their lives right now, as I did last year.  I want to stand up and be counted as one who believes these spiritual principles, who has been through the wringer of life and can still say “All is truly well.”  From the outside my life may look exactly the same as it did a year ago.  On the inside, it is quite another story.  I am here to say to anyone struggling through this life that tomorrow WILL be better.  In God’s Mind it already IS better.  Hold on and at the same time let go and let God.  Surrender to the idea that God has a plan and has it under control! Don’t limit God to show up in just the one tiny way you think it should – as I did for so long.

And if you can’t know it for yourself right now, that’s ok too.  I will know it for you, just as Rev. Cheryl knew it for me and continues to know it for and about me.    I continue to demonstrate this Law of Circulation as I share my story with all of you.  I pray you find something in it – in you – that makes you want to hold on another day. There is great love for you here.