Mirror, mirror...

Last month at cslto was all about how unique each of us is, but despite this quality of “specialness” we each possess, we’re also one in the same. We all experience fear, love, anger, happiness – and each one of us is perfectly imperfect, with qualities that inspire, qualities that irritate, and those that remind us that we belong to a greater whole—that we belong to each other.

A couple of years back, I wrote about an experience in my local supermarket one day when the woman in front of me was about $0.80 short for her grocery order. I instantly took some change from my purse and handed it to her with a smile. Her body recoiled as she refused and I realized I’d offended her. I did offer her another compassionate look and reassured her to take it but she ended up removing some bananas from her shopping so she could afford to pay the bill without my help. I can understand how she felt and I respect that of course.

But truthfully, the first thing I felt was saddened. This situation showed my feeling of connection to her and her feeling of disconnection to me. I’m just a fellow neighbour who wanted to help her in some small way. I mean, who hasn’t been there? I sure have been in similar situations and would be appreciative if someone stepped up to help me in my time time of need.

But the real question is, would I?

This exchange has crossed my time several times since it happened and the woman in this story has shown me things about myself I needed to see, accept and possibly change.

We are mirrors of one another and one the main factors that inspired me to want to help the woman is that I saw myself in her. I have run short of money on occasion for various reasons and I can relate to her. But the other mirror she held up to me is that even though I like to think of my feeling of connectedness to others as a two-way street, it’s not really.

Theoretically, I would of course appreciate an offer of help from another. But would I accept the help? Often not, because we live in a culture of increasing separateness. We don’t want to burden other people. We feel embarassed by what we perceive to be our failures, but what are really just the qualities that make us human, and that make us the same.

We’re further alienated by the facade of perfection that other people portray, and we increase that alienation by wanting to portray the same facade—“I’m fine”, we think. “I don’t need help, I’m always fine, I will manage.” Yes, most of us do manage, but why should we need to when we have each other?

I realized a few weeks later when I found myself on the receiving end of a stranger’s offer of monetary help that I too automatically and politely declined but thinking back on the woman in the supermarket who offered me the mirror I needed to see, I accepted his help.

I do continue to struggle to accept help sometimes but I have become more consciously aware of this fear within me, and I mindfully try to accept help and offer help from my fellow humans with an equal degree of generosity.

This is just one example of many, but one of the gifts we offer one another as humans is that we can show each other our positive and negative qualities—and above all, we can see ourselves in others, because we are, after all, one in the same.

Try this: Think of someone you relate to—what about yourself do you see in them? Is it something you like? Something you dislike? Now think of someone whose energy gets under your skin in the worst way possible; what is it about them you can’t stand, and why does it bother you so much?

Fitting in is overrated

Do you ever feel afraid to reveal yourself? To share your unique talents, to stand out from the crowd?

In modern Western society, we're taught from a young age to fit in, to fall in line. Not to be too outrageous, too loud, 'too' anything. We're made to blend in, and avoid drawing attention to ourselves at all costs.

But as individualized expressions of God, why would we be taught to hide our unique brilliance? Many people are following a path they were told is the ‘right’ one, whether by a parent, a spouse or societal messages all of us internalize sometimes.

Often we realize desire is knocking at our door, a desire to do more, share more, be more (of who we really are, that is), but we're afraid. And if we do go as far as finding the chutzpah to take a step in the direction of our deepest desires, we're apologetic. We want to tread quietly, carefully, not cause a stir or make a scene—even when we know somewhere inside that it's our beautiful scene to make.

What scene is yours to make?

This month’s theme at cslto is Celebrate our unique oneness.

Try this: Think about what makes you unique. What about your uniqueness makes you feel proud? Now close your eyes, breathe deeply and, with your hand on your heart, ask yourself, 'what in this world is my scene to make?'

Join us for meditation and connection this Sunday at 1311 Queen Street East or online via our Facebook Livestream.

An integral whole...

I have always thought of integrity as living in line with my personal values, and it has always been important to me to do so.

But recently, I’ve identified a disconnect between my soul and my body. The idea that it’s what’s on the inside of us that counts is a message I’ve taken to heart throughout my life. So much so in fact, that after a period of unwelcome male attention, I learned to ignore my body to some degree in order to nurture and develop the person I am inside. This was my protective mechanism designed to invite only those who appreciate who I am into my life – but I’ve never thought of myself as ‘out of integrity’ because of it.

It turns out that being in integrity is actually more than living according to a certain moral code of conduct, goodness or being true to oneself. It is about being fully integrated with ourselves – it is about wholeness.

You can be a good person and living in line with your core values, but if you’re dominated by your intellectual sense, at the expense of your heart, or are led by your body but without the input of your mind or heart, you are still out of integrity in some way. I find myself often living mind and soul, with some input from my heart, but in a disconnect with my physical body: I’m not living as an integrated person. Living in disconnect isn’t an honest expression of the beautiful whole people that we’ve been created to be.

In fact, failing to express one of our integral aspects creates blocks within our whole. As I have grown older, I sometimes notice that when I feel deep joy, I am unable to use my body to express this joy through dance, for example. This is because my heart and body have long been living like strangers.

When I first started thinking about this, I thought it ironic that despite this lack of mind-body connection, it remained intact enough for my various stresses to manifest in tense knots in my physical body. But in writing this month’s blog post, I realize that it’s this disconnect that’s actually the cause of those knots.

When our emotions have no way to release, they become trapped in the body. This can take the form of knots in our muscles, or disease in our organs. Everything is energy, but energy needs to be free to flow. I tend to lock mine up, compartmentalizing the various roles I play in my life as a way of dealing with them all, but that stuck energy results in a tremendous amount of tension as I attempt to keep parts of my life and myself separate.

I do this not only to cope, but to remain present and fully dedicated to each role and space of my life. I don’t want ‘the flow’ to distract me from where I am and result in my attention being divided, or in me being the type of person who blows around like the wind with no firm footing in anything I do. I think I will still struggle with this, and this is all part of my spiritual journey.

But one thing I know for sure, is that integrating our mind, body, heart and soul is as essential to being whole as keeping ourselves open to love and connection is. Sometimes we put up walls to protect ourselves emotionally from pain, but we inadvertently also numb ourselves to joy–the net result actually being more pain and further disconnect, both within ourselves, and in the collective whole of which we have all been created to form an integral piece.

This month’s theme at cslto is Integral Integrity

Try this: Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and imagine different aspects of your being as puzzle pieces. How closely together do these pieces of your puzzle fit together? Now imagine yourself as a whole puzzle piece, and other people in your world as distinct puzzle pieces; do you fit together? Notice the connections and disconnections. Now breathe in loving connection, and breathe out separation.

Join us for meditation and connection this Sunday at 1311 Queen Street East or online via our Facebook Livestream.

Creating space to shine

An age-old question is whether we are essentially good or evil. Or whether we're blank slates with the potential for both of these, which is another perspective that was recently brought to my attention by a beloved person in my life.

I have always known in my heart of hearts that we are all cut from one cloth, and that we all have a beautiful loving energy within us. But I also live on this earth plane, and am painfully aware of all the evil doings and goings on in our world.

These two clearly conflicting certainties have long posed a struggle for me and they are one of the reasons I refuse to take in the news in anything but small and irregular doses. It's important to know what's happening in our world, yes.

But as the all the wonderful, beautiful and hopeful actions and events are not recorded as news, we receive a lopsided, disproportionately negative picture of not only our world, but ourselves as human beings. This is disturbing, discouraging, soul crushing, and, frankly, highly deceiving.

So if what I suspect is true, and we really are essentially good, or at least hold the potential for goodness, what causes all of the evil we see and hear about every day?

In an insightful talk this month, our spiritual director at the cslto, Helen Valleau, identified three of the barriers we as human beings build up inside ourselves against the love we seek externally, but that has existed within each of us all along.

These barriers (among others) are fear, anger and resentment. She highlights fear as worry about the future, anger as a form of resistance to the present, and resentment as holding onto anger from the past. The more we hold onto these feelings, the more they accumulate, taking up valuable energy and space within us, and the less the love that is the essence of who we are has room to grow and express.

This is the first time I feel I have a possible explanation for the conflict that exists between my knowledge about our world and my knowing about our people.

This month's theme at cslto is 'Revealing our common good'. While some among us may have too many barriers to reveal their good at present, most of us reveal our good every day. Some of this revelation takes place through the type of 'uplifting service' (note: cslto theme for 2019!) that had members of this community lovingly packaging and delivering care bags to Toronto’s homeless people. Other revelations of good are felt in small interactions between us, whether in the form of smiles, laughter, or just a knowing look from a stranger that reminds us that we are all one, and that each and every one of us ‘gets it'.

Try this: Place your hand on your heart space, close your eyes and breathe deeply. Ask yourself, how do I reveal my good? Then ask, what good can I see in each person I meet?

Ways to live better...

Learning about spiritual principles is commonplace at any spiritual centre, but embodying those principles is harder to do. Often in life, we have theoretical beliefs about what’s right, but the way we live our lives and the actions we take aren’t always in alignment.

 When I was about 14 years old, I developed a close friendship with a 16-year-old girl at school who was in my grade. She had failed 2 years of school, her parents struggled with substance abuse, and she was in and out of group homes because her parents weren’t always around. But we found a reliable consistency in each other, a non-judgmental friend (often in short supply during adolescence), and an unconditional acceptance. We would have fun over music and laughs, and talk about life’s more serious issues too. There was something real, vulnerable and honest between us. We didn’t need to pretend, and we knew that no matter what we revealed to one another, the other would love us just the same.

 But my father didn’t want me being friends with her. He said she would be a bad influence on me, and he didn’t feel comfortable with me spending time at her house and around her parents. Now that I’m a parent of two young children, I can understand his nervousness. But I feel glad that when I was 14, I didn’t understand. I fought to maintain our friendship, insisting to him that rather than thinking she would be a bad influence on me, he should have faith that I could be a good influence on her. The truth was, we were a good influence on each other, because everyone needs connection, acceptance, laughter, openness and love. These are some of the things that we found through our friendship.

Ironically, at the time, my father worked in a group home with troubled youths. So he knew better than anyone, how unfair it is to judge or isolate a person because of their background, upbringing, circumstance or family. He also knew that because of these factors, she needed my support and friendship even more. But even though he went to work and compassionately supported the youth there, wishing that others would treat them as people with love and without judgment, when it came to his own daughter, his fears got the best of him. So I called him out on it. He admitted it was true that my friend needed my support more than ever, but in practice, he was too afraid to embrace her presence in my life, because of the issues she brought with her from which he wanted to protect me.

 This became a pivotal moment for my father, and one that we often go back to in our conversations about living in alignment. It isn’t always easy to embody our principles, but opening ourselves up to this is a part of living out our higher truth, and serving others by extending the love we all possess.

January’s theme at CSLto is embodying spiritual principles. Here are some spiritual principles to live a better life: Acceptance, Living my truth, Gratitude, Service, Laughter, Presence, Generosity, Forgiveness, Openness, Love.

 Try this: Choose one of these principles to focus on this month. Create an affirmation around it, post it around your house and in places you will see it often, and recite it at least once daily. Note how you are embodying this principle in your daily life.