Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Peace ...

Hello, Everyone,

I've finished the cards, the gift wrapping, the baking and the house-cleaning and I'm now looking forward to a few lovely days of sparkly lights, familiar carols, shared meals and the warm hugs of family and friends.

To each of you, whether anticipating a happy Christmas or one of weariness and stress, I wish a deep sense of peace, the peace that transcends understanding and that is so well described by Goethe in his beautiful poem, Peace:

There is only silence
On the mountain tops
Among the tips of the trees
You perceive barely a breath
Even the birds in the forest
Keep still and are silent
Wait then
Just a little while longer
And you too
will find peace at last.
                   (JW von Goethe translated by Patrizia Collard) 

May each of us find the peace we seek this holiday season, whether in the quiet of Nature, the beauty of a religious ritual, the arms of a friend or at the bedside of a loved one.

With love and deep peace to you all,


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Welcoming What Is ...

Hello, everyone,

How are you feeling today?

The winter holidays are times when we can experience a wide range of emotion from excitement, anticipation, hope, pleasure and joy to guilt, loneliness, anger, regret and sorrow. It is our natural human tendency to embrace the joyful feelings and to ignore, push away or brace against the painful ones. Unfortunately, resisting our painful feelings only makes them stronger.

So, what if we made the counter-intuitive decision to stay present to whatever we feel, whatever is, and even to welcome our painful feelings? What if we decided to practice a kind of "inner hospitality", responding to each painful feeling as we would a small child -  noticing it, acknowledging it, welcoming it, letting it be but not letting it overrun the house? Paradoxically, what we might find if we engaged in such a welcoming practice is that the painful feelings would begin to soften or shift of their own accord.

This notion of "welcoming" is found in different forms in many schools of psychology and spirituality. Basically, it comes down to a few simple, though not necessarily easy, steps:

1.  Focus and sink in. Feel the feeling. Don't ignore it, run away from it or fight it. Stay with the experience until you really feel a connection to the physical sensations of the feeling in your body. 
2.  Accept and welcome the feeling. In the midst of your upset, accept and welcome how you feel. Embrace your feeling with love, kindness and warmth. Say, "welcome", to it and experience the welcoming home of this part of yourself.  "Welcome, fear." "Welcome, anger." "Welcome, sorrow." 
Remember that you're not welcoming an event or circumstance but rather your feeling response to it. For example, the welcoming practice is not about welcoming an illness or injury or losing your job or being abused but about welcoming your feelings about those circumstances.
3.  Swing gently and slowly, back and forth between sinking into the experience and welcoming it, until the feeling softens or shifts or, as one writer says, "until the knot begins to dissolve".

This welcoming practice is not about analyzing or justifying our feelings. It's not about trying to change or fix them. It's about be-ing with them and welcoming them home so we can receive their messages and make them part of our wholeness. When we welcome our feelings in this way, we can stay present to ourselves and what is, no matter what our circumstances. And, as we stay present, we will find that even our painful feelings are ultimately transient.

The 13th Century poet, Rumi, seemed to understand this idea of "welcoming what is", into our lives. Here's how he described it in his poem, The Guest House:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

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

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

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

If you would like to know more about the idea of welcoming painful feelings, from a couple of different perspectives, you could read Eugene Gendlin's book, Focusing, or Cynthia Bourgeault's writing on the Welcoming Practice in Centering Prayer.
Caveat:  This welcoming practice is probably not the best practice for anyone who is acutely traumatized, actively misusing substances, in early recovery, clinically depressed or with a history of psychosis or difficulty tolerating their own feelings. If you fall within one of these groups, talk to your family physician or therapist before beginning an ongoing welcoming practice.