The great gift of losing something unexpectedly is realizing how much it is missed and how you assumed it would always be there. In the case of 2020, we lost everyday life.
Even those who chose to gather in large groups without masks had to feel and know that it was somehow different; and perhaps some if not all had a little gnawing doubt, that little niggling feeling, in the back of their mind or in their gut, that they were putting themselves or others at risk. Probably all knew that they were making a statement of belief, so it was no ordinary experience.
For most, what was not even a second thought in 2019 or the first couple of months of 2020—going to the grocery store, going to school or work, sports events, singing in a group, attending a movie or a concert, shopping in the malls, standing in line, travel, having a dinner party with friends, restaurants, weddings, funerals, visiting parents, and family gatherings—suddenly became unattainable “past life” memories.
The other day I watched a video of a flash mob at a grocery store. People were shopping, and they weren’t even wearing masks. When suddenly a rather large man standing in the produce section opened his mouth wide and began to sing “Finiculi, Finicula” and slowly individual shoppers throughout the store joined in chorus.
I watched nostalgically, thinking to myself, “That was so 2019.”
Knowing what is missing brings powerful feelings, a Niagara Falls of awareness, of what we have taken for granted. Gratitude for all those ordinary, wondrous, human interactions becomes hindsight, and an opportunity—an INVITATION—for foresight.
Shall we take this invitation for the New Year and hold this “future life” in our IMAGINATION, that not only will our ability to be with others safely, any time we want, any way we want, to travel, to embrace, but will be greatly enhanced—maybe even enchanted?
May we hold in our IMAGINATION and proclaim that because:
We now know how valuable are the things we ordinarily take for granted
How grateful we will be for their return
We accept our responsibilities for their existence
We will care for each other and the Earth
We will accept and celebrate our differences
We will lay down our animosities, our weapons, our territorial instincts, and…
Accept that we are one giant family.
And we will do this not only because we can, but because we must, if we ever intend to not only survive on this planet, but to
The best gift I’ve ever requested, over 30 years ago now, was the ability to learn my lessons without trauma or drama. And that gift has kept on giving until the past year or so.
So how do I now handle the moments of things gone terribly wrong, crazy prevails, and trouble sometimes comes with a capital T?
In retrospect, I welcome them.
I do not know that it is possible to live a life without any problems or discomfort. Perhaps some great spiritual masters transcend the ordinary vicissitudes of life. I do not count myself among them. And, maybe, those challenges, met with courage, forgiveness, and compassion are the very lessons that strengthen and brighten the soul and spirit until it shines. It is how we gradually learn to handle adversity that makes us masters. For that I am grateful.
In my 20s I bought a rock tumbler. I added different densities of grit at different stages over a month as the rocks rubbed against each other day after day. It was a long and noisy process–much like life sometimes can be–but at the end, I had a handful of beautifully polished rocks. I’ve long ago forgotten the rocks, but not the process.
Apparently, there are some stubborn traits I still need polished out. Or maybe there has just been so much to deal with in the past year or two that I am weary and do not have sufficient energy to learn my lessons quickly, and therefore, they get louder and way more annoying and gritty than they have in a very long time. In any case, though I truly don’t enjoy going through them at the time, those experiences are valuable. Compared to the adversities of many, they are slight.
I have a dear friend who welcomes everything and everyone. I have watched another take advantage of him, treat him badly, and I have pointedly asked him why he allows this. He is perfectly aware that this is happening. And he responds that all of it is a gift, and that each person, whether they treat him well or not, or are easy to be with or not, connects him to a world of other people and opportunities.
I like that.
And, although, I’m still going to request a renewal of learning my lessons without the trauma and drama, I’m going to add that I welcome all into my life that connect me to the greater whole that I am and that we are.
Wishing you beautiful gifts this holiday season and for the New Year.
Some neurologists say “fear” is actually a conscious state and it is not the same as the defensive survival circuits. In other words, we use the term “fear” interchangeably for the most fundamental survival reflex and also for a self-conscious state. It is the self-conscious state they argue that constitutes a “feeling” and that the survival reflex is so automatic that it doesn’t rise to the level of a feeling.
“Defensive survival circuits are evolutionarily wired to detect and respond to innate threats and to respond to novel threats that have been learned about in the past. As viewed here, defensive survival circuits indirectly contribute to the feeling of fear, but their activity does not constitute fear.”
Fear, they assert, is one of the “self-centered higher-order states” [that] “are essential for emotional experiences…”
When we feel safe, we do not experience fear. When spiritual teachers tells us to “stop fearing,” they don’t mean destroy the reflex survival circuit triggered by an immediate danger. They mean to affect a conscious choice (self-centered higher-order state) that we attribute to a given situation. This is what the expression, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” would have us understand.
Years ago, I met O. Fred Donaldson, the founder of “Original Play” on two occasions. Once at a conference and once in a workshop. I remember him saying that after he had learned to play with lions, bears, and wolves, that biofeedback equipment showed he had no subcortical fear response. He added an exception t0 that. He said upon facing a great white shark, he registered fear because he “saw only teeth and not God”. The likes of Fred, and realized spiritual masters, those few who have moved beyond identification with physical existence, do not fear for their survival in the same way as others.
For the rest of us, I suggest that fear is best applied on an “as needed only” basis.
Fred Donaldson made it his life’s work to learn to play and to do this from being with wild animals. He essentially annihilated the undercurrent of fear that lives in so many people and lurks behind a lot of dysfunctional and destructive habits. The thought habit of fear is why it is so hard for many people to meditate, to even sit still or stand in line—not doing anything in particular—without feeling uncomfortable. The mind races because it is seeking to control.
Stillness can come from radical acceptance—not arguing with what is. You certainly have the right and option to argue with reality. You need only be aware that regardless of your argument, you will lose. Fearlessness is letting go. It is accepting what is—not with a “couldn’t care less” attitude—not a “whatever” attitude–rather a mature understanding that this is true, this what’s happening now and I don’t control it.
I have devoted years to practicing this attitude (and I say practice deliberately for I have not yet perfected it) and call it “radical acceptance”.
It’s about embracing and and gracefully surrendering to life experiences that are not optional—experiences that, in a world of polarity, will range between those that you really want and those that you really don’t want. Nevertheless, it can become “thank you in all things” because experience is the gift of life. You develop a sense of play, a loving embrace of all that is. This becomes a powerful antidote to fear.
“This is expressed beautifully in one of the famous images of the Buddha depicting the night of his enlightenment. The Buddha is seated under the Bodhi tree, looking relaxed and contemplative, and apparently surrounded by a protective shield. Surrounding him are the maras, all of the afflictions that assail the mind. Some have spears aimed at the Buddha and some are disguised in erotic imagery, aiming to disrupt the Buddha’s concentration, trying to generate the fear that comes from being attacked. But the Buddha sits unmoved, with one hand on the ground, as if to say, “I have a right to be here.” The shield that surrounds him, that protects him from these afflictions, is his benevolence. His own loving-kindness shining out from him is the dissolver of all afflictions.” [Source]
Mastery over fear is possible and certainly a worthwhile goal. And, if one can’t master it completely, then at the very least it would be a wonderful goal to prevent anxiety, nervousness, and all forms of fear from dominating your life.
“Sri Yukteswar’s eyes twinkled ….“My mother once tried to frighten me with an appalling story of a ghost in a dark chamber. I went there immediately, and expressed my disappointment at having missed the ghost. Mother never told me another horror-tale. Moral: Look fear in the face and it will cease to trouble you.”
Living beings NEED fear. One of nature’s great gifts, its purpose ensures the continuation of life. Fear, like pain, is not pleasant, but it let’s us know something is wrong. Spontaneous, natural fear is healthy, such as the cat’s instinctive reaction to the cucumber (mistaking it probably for a snake). It may seem funny to us—and many practical jokes are played like this on humans as well—but it’s actually a very important and serious gift that keeps the cat safe.
However, when you allow yourself to be stirred up into a state of fear by politicians, pundits, the media, social media, or your friends and family, so that you are reacting as if you are in actual, present, in-the-moment danger, you are being hoodwinked. You are terrorizing yourself for no good reason, because in that moment you are not in actual life or death danger. Nevertheless, your sympathetic nervous system kicks in and stress chemicals cascade through you, altering your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, muscle tone, and thinking ability, as if you were currently being threatened.
Somebody or something has put a cucumber in your path.
And you let that happen over and over again, to your own detriment.
We humans have, like the cat above, instinctive fear reactions, one being the startle reflex. When something suddenly appears in the field of vision, or unexpectedly touches from behind, or there is a nearby, sudden, loud sound, these sensory (informational) stimuli, if intense, may cause a heightened response in which we jump, shriek, run away. Or if it is a milder surprise, less dramatically, the reaction is to freeze, withdraw (contract) and often touch the center of the chest, and focus attention. If we are mature, we quickly assess the danger, decide if it is real and how to react: to stay put (freeze); to engage the danger (fight); or to get the heck out of there (flee). Or, in the case of the cucumber, or someone playing a practical joke on us, relax or even laugh as we realize there is no danger here. A less evolved animal (like the cat) or an infant will react without immediately assessing the danger. But even the cat will eventually figure it out and might even start eating the cucumber.
Don’t let a cat be smarter than you!
Stop jumping every time somebody tries to manipulate you.
In cases of real—rather than imagined danger—fear is your friend. Your reflexes are designed by nature to respond to immediate, in-the-moment threats (or a perceived threat until it can be evaluated). When the proprioceptive system (literally “perception of self” or body in space) and the vestibular (balance) system are functioning well, and reflexes are well integrated, there is generally a physiological sense of safety—enough comfort in the body to go about daily routines without giving them a second thought. In the present moment there is no need for fear. The unconscious or subconscious awareness effectively says, “I’m OK. I know how to take care of myself.”
When we feel safe, life is generally easier, healthier, and more pleasant.
Sometimes, when we are bored or want an adrenaline rush, we seek fear, perhaps in order to feel more alive. Halloween scary houses, practical jokes, or watching horror movies are examples of our desire to experience fear as a thrill. That’s OK if it is not routine. But putting ourselves into a steady fear state May be likened to addiction. Adrenaline and cortisol might be natural drugs, but they are not meant by nature to be used so much so often.
Ask yourself: Do you experience realfear—leading to positive, natural reaction responses—or unhealthy states that mimic fear (bad fear)? In the case of bad fear, the word “fear” is actually used inaccurately, and covers up or clouds the real, underlying condition. There are many better words to use to distinguish between fear (the unconditioned, innate, mechanism built into our neurophysiology) versus learned, and usually dysfunctional, conditioned states that come from memories or projections about the future.
Let’s call “bad fear” what it is: insecurity, worry, anxiety, preoccupation, trepidation, nervousness, dread, distress, dismay, unease, foreboding, angst, apprehension, unrest, perturbation, disquiet, discomposure, concern, malaise, or even, in the extreme, paranoia, etc. And, even though anxiety, as an example of one of these, like the others is usually considered an emotion, it is not. It is a repeating thought that becomes a state of sensation that masquerades as emotion.
The above conditions cause sensations such as shivering, twitching, trembling, shuddering, quavering, quivering, jerking, fluttering, “butterflies in the stomach”, etc. None of these sensations function to protect us. They are not healthy reflex reactions, but rather symptoms of an uncomfortable state and are not natural or healthy responses to actual situations.
These thought-derived past memories or future projections run along as subconscious programs that can feel like emotions and then cause unnecessary stress resulting in biological and physiological reactions. These undercurrents of imagined or remembered dangers become dysfunctional patterns and habits that often hold the body in unnecessarily tight, protective postures. Such apprehensive states do not allow for the kind of ease and stillness from which peace, joy, and ease arise.
Think of the animal kingdom or even human infants. They exhibit innate fear, but not “bad fear.” For example, perhaps your dog hates thunderstorms and reacts with shaking, hiding, whining or other symptoms of distress; but when the thunderstorm is over, the behavior stops. It is very unlikely that your dog then spends any time or energy “thinking” about future thunderstorms or “remembering” past ones. The dog’s fear is bodily/sensory stimulation; but that human’s “bad fear” is from mental activity. Animals and infants have no vocabulary for their experience, only the experience itself in its raw form.
Just as the word “fear” is used inexactly, many of the above sensation words are mislabeled as emotions in mainstream psychology. Regardless, it’s truly important to have a highly developed vocabulary for these experiences, sensations, patterns and habits of thought and behavior. Imagine going to your doctor and saying, “I have a pain.” The doctor says, “Where.” You reply, “In my body.” “What part of your body?” “In my leg.” “Which leg?” “My right leg.” “Which part of your right leg?” “The lower part.” “Which lower part?” … until finally the area of the ankle is identified as the problem area. Then the doctor asks, “What kind of pain?” “Bad,” you answer. And so on and on. Being precise in definition requires a vocabulary that correctly isolates and accurately identifies and details the issue.
Please realize, however, that with an adequate understanding and vocabulary, these states masquerading as fear can serve—IN THE SHORT TERM—to accurately identify a problem and to be used consciously as a valuable protective mechanism.
If you have been threatened by a hurricane or tornado, for example, worry about future hurricanes or tornadoes would make you more likely to take necessary and beneficial precautions. Perhaps you need to buy insurance, to have fire drills, draw up an escape plan, or to check that tools and machinery are working properly.
If you have been diagnosed with a serious illness, worry or concern can make you change your behaviors, have regular health check ups, get your affairs in order. These kinds of thoughts and sensations can focus you.
However, continued worry without taking appropriate action, serves no purpose, other than to wreck havoc on well-being, depleting the intrinsic pleasures of being alive, and impeding personal growth. If we allow a concern to serve as an impetus towards positive action, it too can serve as a positive, so long as it does not linger beyond its functional value. Once we have taken whatever precautions we deem necessary, it is time to let the worry go. Once we have taken appropriate action, we have essentially trained our conscious mind to tell our subconscious mind and our neurophysiological system, “It’s OK. I know how to take care of myself.”
Meditation is a way to stop the “monkey mind” (a Buddhist term for uncontrolled and confused thinking) and to learn how to “properly play” this great “spiritual instrument”: the brain. But, many people struggle with meditation (and its many forms) because if they try to stop thinking they crave thinking even more. Thinking then takes them over. Thinking controls them and not the other way around.
When we attempt to exert conscious control, a subconscious horde of arguments rise up fighting our resolve. This is why New Year’s resolutions are usually so short-lived and ineffective. Sometimes resolutions and affirmations backfire and make the habit or pattern worse. You intend to go on a diet and exercise and almost immediately become tired and hungry, thinking of all the “wrong” foods you want to eat. The fact is the 5% of the conscious identity is fighting the 95% subconscious, unconscious self that directs and thrives on repetitive thoughts. The conscious, full-of-itself-self (ego) thinks it’s the CEO but ideally would be the perfect Administrative Assistant to the wiser, healthier Higher Self. But the ego hates and fights that demotion.
My philosophy professor at university called the constant, non-stop chatter that generally passes for thinking, “grocery list thinking.” I understood that he meant by this the repetitive, rote nature of thoughts that deal with everyday “taking care of business” and the thoughts that are a bunch of already-been-thought thoughts. What we call thinking is often just repetition of thoughts already thought over and over again until they become thought habits, thought patterns, and thought belief systems. Ultimately they become thought addictions. To not think these thoughts or to have someone challenge them is painful and can cause strongly adverse reactions such as hurt, denial, anger, argument, aggression, or internal stress.
Repetitive, out-of-control thinking is stressful and impairs life because it fails to listen to anything but itself. It’s the thing that keeps people awake at night and causes knots in the stomach.
To remedy this common problem, spiritual teachers and healers have over thousands of years created techniques to calm and master thinking and gain awareness of other ways of being. Some techniques are designed to stop thoughts. Others, because it is so difficult to stop thinking, are designed instead to give distance from thoughts. Centering Prayer for example works by witnessing thoughts. An example would be, “I am worthless.” [implied statement of fact, but really a belief]. In Centering Prayer, one might witness the thought and think, “I am having a thought that I am worthless.” (This begs the question who is thinking and who is observing the thinking).
[Next blog: different kinds of mediation and the subconscious saboteur.]
Am I saying that thinking has no value? Of course, I’m not saying that. Of course, thinking has value. It is, along with the opposable thumb, one of the great gifts of humanity. But thinking has been elevated to an importance that exceeds its purpose; and now what often passes for thinking has fallen into a state that often renders it far less valuable than intended because it lacks insight, creativity and wisdom, and is merely a “laundry list.”
As I stated in the last blog, we do not need to think in order to BE. We do need to BE in order to think. The higher value goes to BEING. When I switch off my workaday thinking and enter into the silence then the thinking that follows is fresh, new and creative. The empty mind is open to inspiration—to creative thought. The brain becomes then the spiritual instrument it was always intended to be.
Nature is a constant process of creation and destruction only to create again and destroy again–an exquisite cycle of being. Empty becomes full only to empty – over and over.
This ability to be in Silence and Stillness was made easy for me by a profound near-death experience when I was 27. During that experience I lost my identity as a temporal being (and consequently returned with partial amnesia). Admittedly, it left me ill-prepared for daily life. It took me years to remember words, personal biography and to be able to read and write again. The challenge also contained a gift. The gift that has remained is being able to be at one with all that is. Despite the practical necessity of a persona (which took me years to re-establish), I did not and I do not possess a spiritual, emotional or intellectual desire for a separate ego identity. My persona (ego) is an instrument that serves me.
Close your mouth, block off your senses, blunt your sharpness, untie your knots, soften your glare, settle your dust. This is the primal identity.
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (56)
In my “meditation” (which is really just showing up to Being) the result goes way beyond watching the thoughts drift by like clouds. My experience informs me that we are meant to transcend the clouds—the appearance of forms—to emptiness where Silence and Stillness resides, to Rumi’s field (see last blog). To say it another way, at the point between light and dark, true and false, good and bad, there is nothing to judge or interpret and therefore no need to think.
He who defines himself can’t know who he really is.
“Stop thinking, and end your problems….I drift like a wave on the ocean,
I blow as aimless as the wind.”
[excerpt Lao Tzu, Tao Te Chin, verse 20]
A Cup of Tea
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
How often have you experienced a revelation, had an “aha” moment or had a new or startling thought? It is absolutely necessary to empty the mind (take out the trash?) regularly in order to create space, most importantly, to just be a being. A being doesn’t need thought to be. It simply is. An infant doesn’t need to learn how to be or to think about being.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about
Genesis 2 says that God created Adam out of the dust of the
earth. World myths (Greek, Sumerian, Egyptian, Chinese, Babylonian, Hindu,
Maori, Inca, etc.) depict people, male and/or female made from clay. Even
Wonder Woman was sculpted out of clay by her mother Hyppolita! A Jewish Talmudic legend portrays Adam as a golem (clay figure–a body without a soul) for
the first 12 hours of his existence.
It is safe to say that we all have proverbial “feet of clay” even before we left the Garden of Eden. If we were already clay or dust were we of heaven or of earth?
A long time ago I surmised that the
reason we Earth beings left the Garden of Eden was because the divine actually wanted
us to go—a reason and a purpose. Perhaps we had developed enough that it was
time; or perhaps we hadn’t developed enough and needed a challenge course for
So, as the Genesis 2& 3 goes, an apple tree was planted in the midst of other fruit trees in Eden and the young’uns were told you can eat the fruit of any tree except the fruit of the tree of knowledge. As any parent knows, if you put something where the child will regularly encounter it and then say, “don’t touch”, the temptation is irresistible. But even then Adam and Eve didn’t eat the fruit, so a serpent had to be devised to seduce them. And, voila! Success! Humans who lived in an eternal state of BEING fell into BECOMING. Birth, biography, death.
“What could you not accept, if you but knew that everything that happens, all events, past, present and to come, are gently planned by One Whose only purpose is your good?”
A Course in Miracles
Not knowing its source, I kept that quote on my refrigerator for years so that I would see it often. And, because I am aware that BEING is “One”, I concluded that I was an integral part of the planning.
“Is willing to accept that she creates her own reality except for some of the parts where she can’t help but wonder what the hell she was thinking.”
Story People, Almost New Age
Is our world is a virtual reality of our own design? This idea is closely aligned with the ancient spiritual tradition of India that we are living in “maya” (roughly translated as “illusion”). There is the beautiful maya of the natural world that is there to appreciate it and to meditate on its many mysteries, to teach us and help us grow spiritually. But it is the human maya that becomes our role play—our charade–and leads us into believing that this Earth life is our only true identity. However, it is not. It is a merely temporary reality.
: “Reality is an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
Any cursory exploration of quantum mechanics reveals that modern Western science has met ancient Eastern tradition.
Wordsworth captured this knowledge and the inevitable destiny of ego development in Ode on Intimations of Immortality. An excerpt:
“Being is always there; it is what we are in the most fundamental way”. –
A. H. Almaas, The Pearl Beyond Price
I see no reason why spiritual awareness or self-realization must be incompatible with a personal human life or that being an ordinary human, flaws and all, must be a hindrance to self-realization as an illumined human. Embracing humanness may very well be essential to spiritual awakening.
There was three year old child who kept insisting that she had to be alone with her newborn sibling. The parents, concerned that the older child through sibling rivalry or just lacking awareness might harm the infant, refused the request. But the child kept asking, insisting over and over again on time alone with the infant. Finally, relenting, the parents stationed themselves outside the closed door, having set up video and sound monitors in the room. Not being a religious family, imagine their surprise when they saw their daughter lean over the crib, put her head close to the infant’s head, and say:
“Please tell me about God. I’m starting to forget.”
Most people cannot remember anything prior to age three. Sense of self, or self-concept, is something that develops with time and experience. Children become self-conscious (showing signs of embarrassment or shyness) around age two to three. Also until around the age of three the child often doesn’t understand the concept of “I” and speaks in the third person (e.g. “Sharon want toy”).
The splendid innocence of the infant is that physical birth marks only its bodily separateness but not its differentiated psychological self. Over time the personality evolves through enculturation, experience and increasing levels of choice into a separate sense of itself—a self-concept. Self is constructed. As that self continues to grow and become stronger, it creates a kind of amnesia of the Essential Being, its spiritual home. Veils descend that allow the ego to assert and sustain itself.
Time & Space: Relative Existence
Many who have experienced a near-death experience report that time does not seem to apply to reality. As one experiencer, Jeanie Dicus, put it, “Before we’re born, we have to take an oath that we will pretend time and space are real so we can come here and advance our spirit. If you don’t promise, you can’t be born.”
The tale of Er in Plato’s Republic gives us the image of souls returning to Earth drinking from the River Lethe (Lee-thee), the “River of Forgetfulness” that ran through the caves of Hypnos, so that they would forget from whence they came. The implication of the Greek myth is that we are hypnotized out of remembering our true nature so that we can adopt a new human identity. This would suggest that developing that identity is actually important.
Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity explains that time is subjective. An amusing anecdote, wrongly attributed to him, is supposed to explain this theory:
“When you sit with a nice girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.”
While this is relatable and generally subjectively true, in this case time has not changed at all, only the perception of it is different, as can be measured by a clock.
The actual theory is that in the space-time continuum time does not move or flow. All of time is now. Time just IS; and passage of time is a result of limited human awareness.
“People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion”.
Albert Einstein, 1955
If the spiritual world is timeless, the physical world is not. Not only is time called into question but so is space or locality. We have an awareness of solidity, and yet we are both wave and particle. We occupy a location, but exist in a quantum state of non-local entanglement. Another way to say this is that we merely appear to be here. There are fundamental contradictions between what are scientifically understood as proven realities. The cognitive dissonance that this creates—that existence itself is a paradox—can only be resolved by accepting that two (or more) contradictory realities can and do exist simultaneously.
The material/spatial/temporal world is real. Deal with it. Study it. Understand its laws. Be in it, grow and learn with it. Embrace the experience of being fully human. Later, you will be mature enough to learn that it does not define you.
The spiritual/non-local/timeless world is real. Deal with it. Be with it. Understand that this is a larger, truer you. Your earthly biography, like a story, has a beginning and an end. Don’t believe that the story of you is you. But don’t allow that awareness to prevent you from having a human life.
It’s something you might expect to happen in a favorite children’s story or perhaps a cartoon. I can imagine Winnie the Pooh doing it, wandering the 100 acre wood, or maybe Calvin with Hobbs.
“Because Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.” –The House at Pooh Corner
One can do it on foot, in a car, or any other form of transportation. I imagine one could even do it in a dream or a daydream—to coddiwomple that is.
Coddiewomple is reportedly an old English slang verb meaning to wander purposely but with no clear destination.
Often I used to get in my car (each car had a name, sometimes male or sometimes female); and I might say it even out loud, “Roger, take me somewhere.” And then I would let the car choose directions and turns. Of course, this was just a ruse to use my intuition. Though one time it brought me to the house of a colleague and when I started the drive I did not know where she lived. From that visit, we became friends (now 30 some years) and I am her daughter’s godmother.
So, because I’ve been coddiwompling for so long, forgive me that I convert the verb to a noun, and say that I love “to take a coddiwomple” much in the same way as someone might “take a cup of tea”. To take a coddiwomple is to allow the possibility of discovery, to explore the unknown. I do this very purposefully, especially when I have no idea of what I want to discover. Rather I want something (much like Pooh’s poetry and hum) to find me, so I must go somewhere.
Meditation is like this, too. I sit down and purposely get as quiet as I can and then some surprise usually shows up in this journey of silent attention.
As a frequent world traveler, I usually set out on foot and wander. My purpose is to explore the place and allow the surprise of what I find and the people and situations I meet. My first time is Paris, staying the Marais (near the 5th arrondisement), I set out on foot with a friend along the right bank of the Seine.
We had no special destination in mind, just to walk this so very walkable city with its amazing light, sights, sounds and food. At one point I needed to find a restroom and walked for quite a while in search of one and had begun to feel urgency about it. Finally, I saw what looked to be a large administrative building and I said, “Let’s go in there. Surely they will have a bathroom.” That building was the Louvre, and it was a Tuesday and it was closed.
Fortunately, there are free and pay public restrooms sprinkled (pardon the pun) around Paris. So after a brief pit stop and resting on the steps of the Louvre gift shop to take in the scene, we turned left and continued walking. We found ourselves in the Tuileries Gardens. There we enjoyed the statues (and the birds sitting on them), the flowers that were in bloom at that season, and the people enjoying the park.
We continued walking in the same direction and found ourselves on the famed Champs-Elysées. I remembered thinking of this as such a romantic place when I was an elementary school student doing a report on it, and was disappointed to find that it was basically a very wide street with a lot of upscale shopping, including a Disney store.
At the end of the Champs-Elysées was an underground passageway to the base of the Arc de Triomphe which stands at the center of the Étoile (Star) roundabout. Circling around the Arc, we took a left and continued walking for quite a while, eventually and surprisingly finding ourselves viewing the Eiffel Tower. To get to it we crossed one of the many bridges over the Seine.
There was no pre-determined destination to this journey. We simply coddiwompled—purposefully moving with only a vague destination. Unintentionally, we saw so many of the main tourist attractions and so much more that we might never have seen if we predetermined our journey.
Over the years I have coddiwompled in much of the U.S. (especially the mountains of Colorado), Madrid, Hanoi, Danang, Singapore, England and the Netherlands.
Have you ever wondered something your whole life only to discover there’s a word that answers the question?
For me, that word is resilience and it answers the lifelong question, “Why do some people overcome all obstacles while others fall apart at the smallest stressor?
Are some people naturally resilient? My best guess is, yes.
Is there a resiliency gene? My best guess is, no.
Even raised in the same family with the same life lessons, some siblings are more resilient than others. Some see failures and challenges as opportunities for growth. Others see failures and challenges as a threat to their identity.
Can resiliency be learned? Probably.
Knowing a resilient person and watching her model resiliency does not guarantee that another will adopt resiliency as a lifestyle. However, knowing such a person who teaches a program that fosters resiliency increases the likelihood.
I have been blessed to know such a person, who has made it her life’s mission to “Choose Love” and to teach others how to do that through a proven step by step program of Social Emotional Learning.
Scarlett Lewis is the mother of Jesse Lewis who was one of 20 children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14, 2012. I met her in February of 2013 when the trauma was freshly palpable. Over the years although her loss and pain will likely never pass, her resilience has increased manifold.
So, I present to you, Scarlett, the world servant.