Practicing a New Year of Consciousness

beach 2The days leading up to New Year’s Day are usually filled with reflection: newspaper stories run the top stories of the year; web sites run the top photos of the year; most of us in one way or another reflect on the year past. When we make our resolutions for the coming year, it’s usually about giving something up, forcing ourselves to change things that seem harmful.

For most of us, the year has been a mixed bag: grief and joy, failures and celebrations, deaths and births, fierce storms and delicate sunrises. We have prayed for peace and hoped for an uplifting of consciousness in a seemingly futile gesture.

What if nothing needs to be forced to change? Forcing ourselves to change is the very thing that gets in the way. What if changing only means practice? For example, to learn how to type on a keyboard, you have to practice.

Perhaps the best thing any of us could do for the collective lifting of consciousness is to change our focus from the “collective” to self.  What if, instead of hoping the world will change, we change ourselves and the way we communicate to the world through others?

What if we were to practice bringing awareness into our communication? Anytime we use language, we have the chance to practice a different way of using it. Self-observation helps us discover what needs to change and how to go about practicing that change.

What if we were to add something to each and every communication pattern? For example, adding the practice of a quick pause before saying something. What if, in that pause, we’d practice taking a breath to give ourselves time to respond instead of immediately reacting?

If we were to practice saying, “Help me understand what you mean when you say…(fill in the blank)…” instead of assuming we know what the other person means because of our own experience, might we avoid so much of the discord in our families, loves, lives, work relationships?

Another phrase to practice might be, “This is what I heard you say…(fill in the blank). Is that what you mean?”

By acting (speaking) and therefore, being, different, can we change the world’s consciousness? What if being was about being eternally present?

Some call this “present” witnessing consciousness; others say centering prayer. The words for it aren’t important—the practice is.

Daily life with all its changes spins around like a storm circling. But we can stand in the calm center. We might not be able to avoid all the debris falling around, but we can, with practice, constantly return ourselves to a calm center, constantly lifting consciousness, one person at a time.



Butterflies in Metamorphosis

Opening Wings

As summer progresses, butterflies begin finding their way into the yard, searching out the butterfly weed and the coneflowers. It’s what I’d always intended when I began the whole gardening thing – a sanctuary for birds and butterflies.

It’s not easy being a butterfly. About the only thing going for you is a bad taste in your wings. That’s some help from predators but not a lot in buffeting winds or hail. It’s not even easy to become a butterfly. Forget about the ugly duckling becoming a swan – to be a butterfly, you have to begin as a worm. Then you wrap yourself into an impermeable cocoon, and you wait. Well, no, you don’t wait. Inside the cocoon, you’re busy transforming a squishy worm into glorious wings. And THEN you come out. Little by little. Just to see what the weather is like. Hopefully, it’s a nice day, because after getting yourself out, you have to find a twig and hang upside down with your wings open so they’ll dry out and not stick together. If you don’t, you die. Earlier than expected.

And you thought your life was difficult these days?

We, as in the humans on this planet, are in the midst of a huge transformational time – a metamorphosis, if you will. There’s no way to stop it except dying – and then the rest of humanity will still have to toe the mark and lift the chain, etc. etc. – or we can be a part of it. This morning, when the rain began, the sirens began. Car accidents of some sort or another, perhaps, – someone not paying attention to the world around them and the necessity to be our brother’s/sister’s keeper.

The intense changes in the world are mirrored in our personal behavior.

Beginning this week and for the next ten days, the Dali Lama has gathered tens of thousands in Washington D.C. to pray for peace. It’s an ancient ceremony called Kalachakra, the first such ceremony is more than five years.

Research has shown that even five thousand people meditating for peace can change the violence level in a city. Imagine what could happen with tens of thousands meditating in Washington D.C. for peace. Congress might even decide they need to work together! Such miracles can happen.

And then there’s the other side of peace and peaceful gatherings: ‘”It’s no more going to establish world peace than Live Aid or one of those things, or any average rock concert. I’m all for freeing Tibet. But there’s nothing particularly Buddhist about that,” said Brad Warner, an Ohio-based Soto Zen priest and author.” In other words, he’s more willing to find fault than to pray for peace?

Many of us are caught in  our own polarization: torn between responsibility and freedom, between staying and leaving, between family and work, between possibility and disappointment. Congress is only the most visible of the conflicts, but we have the same conflicts every day in our own personal lives and in our communities. What we’re really angry about is the lack of control. Look at how politicians blame the Army Corp of Engineers for the massive flood coming down the Missouri River. Gotta blame somebody. Can’t admit to climate change. Can’t just be the massive snowfall in the Rockies in mid-May. Oh, oops. Can’t just do what you have to do to help people (and besides it’s going to cost massive amounts of money in disaster relief) and work with what is.

I guess we can all get in the habit of blaming the stick that’s not handy to hang upside down on, rather than look in another direction.

The choice is ours, again and again and again: we can either hang upside down and trust we’ll soar or we can stay firmly stuck. Be the butterfly. Go visit a garden.

Pray for peace.