In the neighborhood?
Love your neighbor.
This practice might sound extreme or pushy, and I want to tell you what I mean by it.
Everyone has lots of neighbors, and they come in many shapes and sizes. Obviously the people living across the street are neighbors, but in some sense so are the people you live with. Friends, relatives, co-workers, all the people you know are neighbors. So are the people at the market or walking past on the street. Other living things are neighbors as well, such as cats and dogs, birds and bees, ants on the kitchen counter, and plants and trees.
There’s also a neighborhood inside each of us. The human body contains about 100 trillion cells – and at least as many microorganisms that are neighbors, too. Plus consider your mind. My own mind is like a village with many characters at different stages of biological and psychological evolution, chatting or arguing with each other. All the parts of your mind – the pushy internal critic, the playful child, the longing for lasting happiness, the calm voice that talks you off the ledge – are neighbors of a sort.
In the largest sense, the neighbors of your neighbors are your neighbors, which means that every living thing is your neighbor – and mine. Wow. Walt Whitman got it right when he wrote: “I am large, I contain multitudes.”
What should we do with our neighbors? Ignore or hate them? Or recognize and love them?
What does it REALLY mean to make choices from healthy parts of your personality? It’s not only when you observe that a fearful part of your personality is active (for example, one that is impatient), and you decide to act from a loving part of your personality instead (for example, one that is patient). This is the core dynamic of creating authentic power.
It also means proactively and consciously choosing to act from a loving part of your personality moment by moment – for example, a part that is grateful, or appreciative, or caring, or content, or in awe of the Universe as well as patient. When you do this, you will notice that you are naturally more giving, creative, and curious. You will feel your heart opening, and the joy of opening to others will fill your awareness.
After ten years of swimming, I stopped when Eleanor died. She was one of several dear ones who had left the Earth. There was too much to tend, and part of my heart had stopped, unsure how to continue. Everyone called it grief, but below the name, I felt that the fire in my center was beginning to smoke. I kept my appointments and did the endless tasks, but some part of me felt hollow.
Slowly, over many months, I began to feel the presence of those I lost in simple things: in the sudden sweep of tall grasses, as if Eleanor were whispering something I couldn’t quite hear; in the light on a pigeon in Washington Square Park while someone played a saxophone, as if my father were smiling on a bench just out of view; and in the closed eyes of our new dog Zuzu while asleep, as if our dead, beloved dog Mira were slipping inside her to tell us she was near.
“When the world is complicated, the simple gift of friendship is in all our hands.” — Maria
I’m so happy May is upon us because it’s a month that feels like spring. It feels light. It feels joyful. It feels full of possibility. Everywhere you look, you can see nature unfolding, blooming and becoming.
I’m feeling joyful myself this week because I feel centered and grounded in my life. My work brings me meaning and I have a mission that feels larger than myself. My children are healthy, kind, thoughtful and hard-working. (A day doesn’t go by when I don’t thank God for them.) I’m also feeling blessed that I get to meet so many inspiring and amazing people along the way. This week was no exception.
At the beginning of this week, my travels took me to a summit in Las Vegas to talk about women’s health and Alzheimer’s (I was the first woman to ever speak there!). Then, I traveled to San Francisco for the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards ceremony, which honored 21 incredible female entrepreneurs who are driving change through their development of impact-driven businesses around the world.
When deeper wants are recognized one feels seen and less likely to be reactive.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, what are the deepest wants of all?
See intense wants.
I did my Ph.D. dissertation by videotaping 20 mother-toddler pairs and analyzing what happened when the mom offered an alternative to a problematic want ("not the chainsaw, sweetie, how about this red truck"). Hundreds of bleary-eyed hours later, I found that offering alternatives reduced child negative emotion and increased cooperation with the parent.
Pretty interesting (at least to me, both as a new parent and as someone desperate to finish grad school). And there's an even deeper lesson. Kids—and adults, too—obviously want to get what they want from others. But more fundamentally, we want to know that others understand our wants—and even more fundamentally, that they want to.
When my twentieth book was published, we had a party in our backyard. It was such a milestone. My wife, Susan, surprised me that day by having the incomparable folk singer, May Erlewine, play with her quartet. I was dumbfounded to see her in our driveway. As May played, her voice threaded through our histories and I could feel the weave of stories that have brought us all together. After her first set, I offered a reading, one piece from each of my books. I have read all over the world and, honestly, I’m never nervous, but reading in our backyard to our dearest friends, I was. As I took in all those loving faces, my heart swelled and I realized that what so touches me about May and her music, beneath all her gifts, is that when I first saw her play, she reminded me that I am alive and that the moment we are in has yet to happen. And standing before my friends, I said as much, adding, “I feel this with each of you. Every time we’re together, no matter the distance or time in between, I am reminded that I am alive and that all this has yet to happen. In this way, each of you holds up my heart. In this way, each of you opens my heart. In truth, anyone or anything that reminds us that we are alive and that this has yet to happen is a friend.” I could feel all these beautiful beings with their gifts and burdens, mirrored and softened by each other’s company. Insight often appears in the loving presence of others. It had happened again. Standing with friends on this raft of an afternoon after years of rowing downstream together, I could see that friendship is my religion, the constant practice of love in the world.
When healthy inclinations become "shouldas," then there is a big problem.
Is it really true?
The Practice: Forget the "shoulda's."
One time I watched a three-year-old at her birthday party. Her friends were there from preschool, and she received lots of presents. The cake came out, she admired the pink frosting rose at its center, and everyone sang. One of the moms cut pieces and without thinking sliced right through the rose - a disaster for this little girl. "I shoulda had the rose!" she yelled. "I shoulda shoulda SHOULDA had the rose!" Nothing could calm her down, not even pushing the two pieces of cake together to look like a whole rose. Nothing else mattered, not the friends, not the presents, not the day as a whole: she was insistent, something MUST happen. She had, just HAD to get the whole rose.
“When it’s all over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement.” — Mary Oliver
The other day, I was talking to a friend about the people who have most impacted our lives. She shared with me a moving encounter she recently had with a stranger and remarked, “Isn’t it odd that a total stranger had that kind of impact on me?”
I said it’s almost always a stranger that ends up shifting your life. In fact, my own life has been deeply impacted by several total strangers over the years.
My friend paused and was slightly aghast. “What do you mean? How can that be?” she asked.
Before someone becomes your friend or partner, they are a stranger to you, I explained. Something about them moved you and then you delved further into conversation — deeper into connection — and got to know them better.
Sometimes it might also be the words of a total stranger in a book or a poem that move you so deeply that you shift everything you thought you knew and embark on a different course.
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver, who passed away this week, came into my life just like that. Her words have touched and moved me so profoundly over the course of my life. Eventually, she went from being a total stranger to a loving, loyal friend and for that, I am forever grateful.
Does the idea of communicating with your loved one involve idle chit chat while gazing at the T.V. or glossing over your mobile device? Are you struggling with conflict and disagreements internally that show up as passive-aggressive behavior in yourself or others? What about with colleagues at work or even with whom you interact with on social media?
You’d think they are all different- that close relationship should count more, but why is that? Truly, anyone you communicate with deserves respect, kindness, and authentic dialog. No one needs to accept anything less.
Good communication is essential to having a loving, harmonious relationship. But, most of us were never really taught the art of relationship dialogue. Sure, we read magazine articles about finding the right moment to express our needs and how we need to learn how to compromise, etc. We try to keep trying to get them to hear our point of view and then get frustrated when our partner, colleague or friend doesn’t seem interested.
The following day my family and I were gifted the opportunity to visit a Horse and Human Sanctuary; Tierra Madre. As I opened the gate into the sanctuary we all felt the powerful healing energy. The gate protects everyone and everything in the sanctuary; only open hearts are allowed inside.
There was a small wild rabbit just inside, observing our entrance. Soon we were greeted by a dog. We learned the dog had been rescued from the side of the freeway. We found it easy to leave everything but love and inspiration outside. The sanctuary is a safe place for all.
Encourage love in all its forms to flow through you.
What's carrying you?
Guided by love.
Feeling both the world and myself these days, one phrase keeps calling: lived by love.
Explicitly, this means coming from love in a broad sense, from compassion, good intentions, self-control, warmth, finding what’s to like, caring, connecting, and kindness.
Implicitly, and more fundamentally, this practice means a relaxed opening into the love – in a very very broad sense – that is the actual nature of everything. Moment by moment, the world and the mind reliably carry you along. This isn’t airy-fairy, it’s real. Our physical selves are woven in the tapestry of materiality, whose particles and energies never fail. The supplies – the light and air, the furniture and flowers – that are present this instant are here, available, whatever the future may hold. So too is the caring and goodwill that others have for you, and the momentum of your own accomplishments, and the healthy workings of your body. Meanwhile, your mind goes on being, while dependably weaving this thought, this sound, this moment of consciousness.
Last week, as I was sitting in the back of the room at the World Dementia Council Summit in London, a woman about my age stood up to speak. She had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and wanted the world leaders to hear what it’s like to live with the condition first-hand.
“We don’t want your pity,” she told them firmly. “We also don’t want your fear. All we want is for you to ask us, ‘What it’s like to be you right now?’”
The room fell silent.
This woman’s words really struck me. I’ve been thinking a lot about them ever since.
It’s never an easy thing when friends or family you were close to or once loved grow out of your life.
It can be quite painful.
You might feel some guilt or false loyalty if you feel you have outgrown them.
Or you might feel abandoned, betrayed, hurt, sad, angry, grief. Or a combination of all of the above.
Understand that you initially attracted your friend into your life because:
A) You were vibrating at a similar level of consciousness and were a vibrational match at that particular time.
B) You had certain lessons to teach each other’s souls. Your friendship was an opportunity learn those lessons and serve each other’s growth.
Friendships last as long as both of your souls need, as long as your personalities think they should.
You know you're squabbling when you find yourself getting irritated.
It's one thing to stick up for yourself and others. But it's a different matter to get caught up in wrangles, contentiousness, squabbles . . . in a word: quarrels.
Similarly, it's one thing to disagree with someone, even to the point of arguing—but it's a different matter to get so caught up in your position that you lose sight of the bigger picture, including your relationship with the other person. Then you're quarreling.
You know you're quarreling when you find yourself getting irritated, especially with that sticky feeling that you're just not gonna quit until you've won.
Quarrels happen both out in the open, between people, and inside the mind, like when you make a case in your head about another person or keep revisiting an argument to make your point more forcefully. We quarrel most with family and friends—imagine that! But also with people on TV, or politicians and groups we don't like. We can even quarrel with conditions in life (such as an illness or tight money) or with physical objects, like a sticky drawer slammed shut in anger.
However, they happen, quarrels are stressful, activating the ancient fight-or-flight machinery in your brain and body: a bit of this won't harm you, but a regular diet of quarreling is not good for your long-term physical and mental health.
Plus, it eats away like acid on a relationship. For example, I was in a serious relationship in my mid-twenties that was headed for marriage, but our regular quarrels finally so scorched the earth in our hearts that no love could grow there for each other.
This week, try not to quarrel with anyone or anything.
Friendliness is a down-to-earth approach that is welcoming and positive.
Friend or Foe?
Friendliness is a down-to-earth approach to others that is welcoming and positive.
Think about a time when someone was friendly to you — maybe drawing you into a gathering, saying hello on the sidewalk, or smiling from across the room. How did that make you feel? Probably more included, comfortable, and at ease; safer; more open and warm-hearted.
You are allowed to outgrow people.
It doesn’t mean that you don’t love them. It just means that you are growing.
Not everyone will stay with you an entire lifetime and that’s ok. Holding back your light to make others feel comfortable is soul suicide.
The greatest gift that you can give the world is to be magnificent. You don’t need to make an excuse for your greatness. You don’t need to hide your light in order to fit in.
You attract people into your life because they were a vibrational match at that particular time. They reflected parts of yourself back to you.
However, as you grow and evolve, unless they grow and evolve, likely your connection will no longer be in alignment.
It can be painful to feel that you and the person that you love have gone in different directions and no longer connect in the same way.
We often hold ourselves back from growing out of false loyalty, over-responsibility and fear.
Not too long ago, someone asked me why I hadn’t published my book, “I’ve Been Thinking…,” sooner. After all, I’ve been writing these essays and sharing them in The Sunday Paper for years, so I could have easily published it a year or two ago.
But, as I told that person, and as I’ve told others on this journey, I honestly couldn’t have put it out any sooner. This book came out when it was supposed to for me. It came at just the right time.
I think so many of us are in a rush these days. We’re in a rush to get on with things. A rush to get over things. A rush to be where we think we are supposed to be.
But, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that stuff happens when it’s supposed to in our lives, not always when we think it should. At least that’s been the case in my life.
Continuing the theme of exploring relationships this month I’ll ask this question. Do you remember a time when you thought you met “THE ONE” and felt so strongly that you had met your soulmate, only to see this special relationship go up in flames, and you on your knees sobbing and confused?
This can apply to best friendships too not just romantic relationships. I’ve befriended a few people I was convinced would be my friend for life only to see it all unravel and disintegrate in a short time. Perhaps this may have happened to you too?
The truth is these are soulmates of a different kind, harbingers of true healing and what I like to call Shadow teachers. Through these powerful connections we get to see how our unprocessed wound-patterns still can cause us to be in denial when we choose to follow through on our attractions.