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My intention here is to touch the universal “I.”
For the “I” who sits here in this chair, typing, to resonate with the “I” who sits there in your chair reading.
I feel most safe—at home and in my heart—on planet Earth as a “spiritual being having a human experience” when:
1. I recognize all challenges offer an opportunity for spiritual growth.
When my husband was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, we were in shock. A mediastinal germ cell tumor wrapped around his heart. How can we deal with this?
After three months of chemo and an “all clear” health report, we quit our 20-year careers in New York City and moved to TreeTops, our log cabin in the woods of Southern New Hampshire, thinking we’d take “a year out.” Ten years later, we’re still here. When Jamie meets someone new and his cancer story comes up, he’ll tell them his cancer was a gift. When confronted with our own death, it changes how we live our life, which is ironic considering we all have a terminal diagnosis. None of us are getting out of here alive.
2. I am able to take those challenges and alchemize them into art that connects me with the common humanity we all share.
Not long after we moved to New Hampshire, I was serendipitously led to a two-year interfaith seminary program where we explored spiritual principles from all of the world’s faith traditions, including indigenous faith traditions of Shamanism and Native American Indian spirituality. After nine months of daily meditation and centering prayer, one day, while in the silence, I heard, “You know you need to write.” But first, I had to cultivate the courage to create and then learn to create from presence rather than from my ego.
3. I recognize that any time I am triggered by someone, it represents a part of myself that I have not yet learned to have compassion for and love.
After plenty of therapy—something I believe all of humankind can be served by—I’ve learned how to process with a skilled friend any experience where I may have been triggered so that I may discover the dark parts of my own character. Once I can hold that part with love and compassion, it no longer bothers me when someone else expresses their own version of that part.
4. I cultivate an awareness of my own ego and recognize that it is not who I am.
My ego is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. When my ego cries, my soul rejoices. I told a friend in Amsterdam, “When your ego cries, your soul rejoices,” and he used it in a book he wrote. He told me, “Everyone wanted to know more about that concept.” Perhaps all over the world, we’re awakening to the damage and suffering that can occur when we’re identified with our ego. When we’re identified with the incessant, compulsive thinking that moves through our minds. Perhaps more and more people all over the planet are experiencing moments of no thinking—that space between thoughts where we feel immense peace, stillness, and contentment. That space where suffering cannot reach.
5. I spend time in nature, connecting with its living essence, and I observe the cycles of growth and decay that all of life endures.
It’s become increasingly important to me to celebrate the change of seasons. The autumnal equinox, the winter solstice, the spring equinox, and the summer solstice. The seven of us in my writing circle began with a winter solstice celebration last year and have now completed a full-year cycle. There’s something comforting about connecting with the cycles in nature. Perhaps on some deep, instinctual level, we know that Mother Earth will survive, even if the human species renders themselves extinct.
6. I cultivate friendships that honor my spirit.
Anam Cara friendships, or Kalyana Mitta in Buddhism, where we are committed to nurturing each others’ spiritual growth by holding the space for any feeling that may arise. Not necessarily acting on a feeling, but honoring that feeling and validating it. To have cultivated this kind of friendship in my life is food for my soul. It’s one of the most meaningful aspects of my life.
7. I eat vital and alive foods that have been grown or made with consciousness and care by loving and aware human beings.
We’re blessed to live close to an organic and biodynamic Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), where we visit each Saturday and Tuesday to pick up raw milk (unpasteurized and unhomogenized), fresh veggies, free-range eggs, and locally-made bread, cheese, and yogurt. Perhaps the planet will thrive again when human beings get back to locally grown foods.
8. I sit at my laptop and press my fingers onto black squares with white letters and know that the “I” in me is communicating with the “I” in you.
First, I had to get past my fear of putting myself out there, a concept created by my ego. Then, I had to get past writing from my ego to get to a place where I can simply “be the garden hose the water flows through,” as Joyce Carol Oates famously said.
9. I allow my heart to crack open and tears to well up as my heart melts.
I recently read a beautiful piece of writing by Laurie Easter, and one sentence, in particular, brought tears to my eyes. She writes, “Instead, he stopped what he was doing and looked directly into my eyes and said…” and the rest kept my tears flowing. Helena de Bres writes in her beautiful new book, Artful Truths: The Philosophy of Memoir, “Memoirists often claim of writing in order to finally be ‘seen’ by others, and perhaps also by themselves.”
Isn’t this one of our fundamental human needs? To be simply seen and validated by other human beings?
10. I have the courage to share my words.
I’ve come a long way with the cultivation of courage. And the other thing that helps me is to remember to be open to outcomes yet not attached to them.
Like it says in the ancient Hindu sacred text, The Bhagavad Gita:
“Focus your mind on action alone, but never on the fruits of your actions. Do not consider thyself the creator of the fruits of thy activities; neither allow thyself attachment to inactivity.”