Creating space for our good 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.

Acceptance: a key to harmony

Harmony is in the blending of differences. We experience it in the coming together of various sounds in music, in the flavourful mixture of distinct ingredients in our favourite recipe.

But when it comes to harmony between people, between the various components of a person’s life, or harmony within ourselves, it’s easy to experience discord.

If we don’t like a song, we can choose not to listen to it. However harmonious it sounds to someone else, harmony is subjective. But perceiving harmony in difference is also a choice. When something is unfamiliar or unappealing at first, we can choose to accept the new, embrace the difference, and choose harmony over discord.

 If we don’t like the way a recipe turns out, we can make tweaks to improve it for next time; change is always possible. We have the control to change ingredients or measurements in a recipe, or to change the components of our lives. In cases where something is unchangeable or where we shouldn’t seek to change it (for example, in the case of another person), we can choose to change the lens through which we’re looking at it so we can shift our perspective towards a more harmonious one.

To be in harmony with each other, being open to new ideas and ways of seeing the world, being willing to try and understand differences or what we perceive as ‘otherness’, and embracing (or at least accepting) people for who they are rather than trying to mold them to our own ideals, is key.

To achieve harmony with our lives, we can aim for a comfortable balance between its various moving parts, and integrity between what our hearts desire those parts to be, and what they actually are. Where change isn’t possible, or where we choose the status quo, we’ll need to accept the path we have chosen, or the path that has been placed in front of us.

To find harmony with ourselves, we want to feel wholeness and alignment between our values and our practices. We want to feel connected with the different roles we play, or ‘hats’ we wear. And we want to feel good and proud of who we are, and what we think, so we can express it without worry, both in word and especially in action, so we can create the life we want to live.

Of course, this is all easier said than done. But wherever we are on our individual journeys, we can decide to move in a direction we feel happy about, however small or gradual our steps. We can feel gratitude for each stage we find ourselves in, and treat ourselves with acceptance, love and compassion as we continue to change, ebbing and flowing through our experiences.

The easier we find it to love ourselves, treating ourselves without judgment, the easier it will be to extend that kindness and empathy to other people.

Will there still be people we can’t stand? Of course. We are all human – but accepting that is what harmony is all about.

December’s theme at CSLto is Say yes to Harmony.

Try this: Close your eyes, and reflect upon an area of your life where you feel discord. Now create a plan of action for creating harmony in that area.

From duality to wholeness

Wholeness quote.jpg

We have the tendency to view the world in dualities—dark and light, good and bad. But the only truth is one all-encompassing way of being that is both dark and light, good and bad, and every shade and state in between.

We are created as whole perfect beings with the potential to behave well, and to behave badly—as well as the free choice to favour one of these dualities, oscillate between the two, or more than likely, move along a continuum of both good and bad, dark and light, in varying degrees.

We also extend this mythical duality beyond ourselves to our world. This creates divisions between the self and the ‘other’, and an illusion of difference which I don’t think is truly there.

I love difference—it makes our world interesting, lively, rich and vibrant. But I don’t think we’re as different as we are the same. To connect on a universal human level is the beauty of our oneness as a people, and a key to the wholeness we all want to feel.

A couple of months ago, our theme was Say Yes to Community, and I struggled to write this blog: in the end, I didn’t write it and our lovely spiritual director, Helen Valleau, shared a parable from her amazingly delivered talk at Sunday celebration that addressed community in a beautiful way that I think would ring true for every person trying not to get lost in our fast-moving society. But the idea of community is present for Helen in her every cell—she is connected with herself, with others, and holds the gift to help others do the same.

With all my own talents, I struggle with the concept of community, as became clear in my inability to write about it. I have given into the fear of connection as a result of past experiences of attachment and detachment, which I think many people can relate to. We have all heard the sage advice to make decisions out of love, not fear: yet, in practice, it’s hard to do.

Many of us are disconnected in some way: whether it be with our inner soul—who we are, what we like and dislike, what we want for ourselves, our lives and our loved ones—or with others. There’s a lack of wholeness in both of these ways of being. For me, I feel very well connected with my soul, and I connect with other human beings every day, in fleeting moments, feeling genuine love for each person I meet—as long as they don’t try to become a part of my every day life.

Each of us is on a personal journey, with consistent spiritual work to do to achieve and maintain wholeness, both within, and as a societal whole. Our theme this month is Say Yes to Wholeness. Accept and love your light and your darkness; your dynamic ability to move along a spectrum of what society labels as good and bad; and the free choice we are all lucky to have today (Lest we Forget). Embrace your role in the larger whole, and allow yourself to be comforted by our connectedness—I sure am working on this.

Try this: Close your eyes, feel your feet supported by the earth beneath you, breathe deeply—and ask yourself bravely and honestly, ‘What makes me feel whole?’