Tag Archives: soul

Listen to Your Soul

 

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So much about our world today is making our souls shudder.

I’m referring to things like unleashed hatred, brazen condemnation of differences, unbridled exploitation, an emerging epidemic of violence, rudeness and disrespect in all forms.

Increasingly, we’re seeing that a cold-hearted mentality is valued—even admired—over a kind and warm heart.

These disturbing elements have been around for eons—though only faintly visible, so they’ve been easily ignored and denied. That convenience has evaporated. We’re forced to own some harsh truths about “us” and the evolving character of our world. Daily examples are displayed on every screen we own. They’re rampant in the entertainment industry, on social media, in the news and in the political arena.

Outrage, revulsion and anguish are natural responses, but we can’t bear to experience such emotions for sustained periods of time. So we have coping mechanisms that make reality seem a little more palatable. Here are a few:

  • Resort to anger and then blame or attack. Anger is a numbing agent. It gives us the illusion of power and control.
  • Discount the truth or seriousness of certain circumstances. We downplay or deny their existence.
  • Rationalize. We humans have a tendency to reflexively justify and side with the status quo . . . even when it’s wrong.
  • Adapt. That is, we get used to or oblivious to disturbing and unpleasant occurrences or conditions.

I have a recent example of adaptation in action:

Not long ago, while making a purchase in a department store, the background music was . . . well . . . let’s just say hard to take. The longer I stood there, the stronger my empathy grew for the employees, including the one waiting on me. “That music has got to get annoying after awhile,” I said. “Not really,” she said flippantly. “I’ve learned how to tune it out.”

We humans are wired with an ability to adapt to almost any annoying situation. It saves us from unending and sometimes unbearable torment. That can work to our advantage, as in the case of the sales clerk. But adapting has a downside. Consider what happens when we ignore the weeds in our garden. Not good.

Closing our eyes to troublesome realities doesn’t serve us very well. Things go wrong. In essence, the weeds get out of control.

We see this happening when we put Band-Aids on problems at home, when we ignore wrongs at work, and when we turn a blind eye to what our soul finds repugnant on the national or world stage.

Robert Bly, acclaimed poet and author, has garnered attention for his thoughts on the collective human condition—how we behave as a society and how that impacts the human psyche.  There are people, he says in Men and the Life of Desire, whose souls shudder when exposed to “the cruel things people can do to each other.” He also points out that “when you learn to shudder, you can’t take part in it any longer.” To illustrate, Bly used the movie Casualties of War. The character played by Michael J. Fox couldn’t bring himself to participate in a gang rape despite the fact that he was harshly ridiculed by the other men for refusing. Such men, according to Bly, are “not men, but bully boys.”

Fox’s character went against the gravitational pull of conformity and listened to his soul instead. I label that courage.

Bly goes on to say that our culture discourages shuddering. Let’s face it, we’re paying a stiff price for that—personally and socially.

In one of my posts from a few years ago, Be Brave and Speak UpI wrote:

Every time we ignore or neglect to speak out against unkind acts, we allow one more piece of debris to contaminate the collective spirit of humankind.

In other words, weeds multiply.

 

(c) Salee Reese 2017

 

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After Grief

Misty path thru the woods

One of the hardest parts about a loved one dying is the sense of disconnection. I can relate to that awful feeling—I’ve experienced it many times.

A special person comes to mind. For nine full months, I grieved his death. It seemed like all color had left my world during that time. Joy was virtually nonexistent. In fact, I think I avoided joy—clinging to grief instead. I somehow believed our connection would stay intact if I remained in that grief-space. Not only that, I thought that moving on seemed like letting go . . . even dishonoring what he meant to me. A betrayal of sorts.

I was wrong.

At the end of those nine months, I came to realize something: Joy—not misery—is the space of connection.

An image of him in my mind prompted that sudden shift in my perception. He was looking lovingly into my eyes . . . and he was joyful. Radiant, in fact—a far cry from miserable. I smiled back and a warmth I hadn’t felt for nearly a year filled my entire being.

This is how they communicate, I thought.

I can’t see, touch or hear him anymore, but I can experience nearness.

Now when I think about him, I smile. That smile immediately ushers me into a joy-space. It’s the only space he can be in and the only space where I can find him.

That comforting image of him wasn’t new. It had penetrated my consciousness before, but I’d ignored it.

I’ve discovered that others have experienced something similar.  When I tell people I saw my sister and my father smiling ear-to-ear after their deaths, invariably they start nodding knowingly. We then begin to share our stories.

Yes, grief has its place. It sets the stage for an intimate connection with ourselves and with the truth and depth of our feelings. In a way, grief can be comforting as it shuts out the noise and artificiality of everyday life. It’s a silent walk down a gray and misty path.  We need that for our goodbyes and reminiscences.

(c) 2016 Salee Reese

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Be Bigger Than Fear

Othersideoffear

 

To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose one’s self.

Soren Kierkegaard

Sad to say, many of us choose playing it safe over living fully.

Spencer Johnson, M.D., addresses this condition and offers a solution in a delightful little book, Who Moved My Cheese? The story’s setting takes place in a maze. Four characters, each desiring cheese—essential for staying alive, live in this maze.

Initially, all four hang out in Station C, a room where the cheese was plentiful. Therefore, no one had any motivation to leave Station C. An idle, settled-in existence suited them just fine . . . until, that is, everything changed: the cheese supply began to dwindle for no apparent reason.

Two of the characters, realizing that maintaining the status quo was riskier than venturing out, began searching for new cheese elsewhere in the maze. The other two, Hem and Haw, stayed put, torn between the need to seek new cheese and the desire to play it safe with the familiar. They let fear rule their destiny.

The story beautifully illuminates how we compromise the desires that spring from our core. Often preferring to remain snug in our cherished comfort zones, we have a tendency to resist change, even if our soul is suffering from malnourishment.

Figuratively, cheese can mean different things to different people. It can symbolize peace of mind, a rewarding job, a loving relationship, travel, health, a possession, running a marathon, taking up art—any of a myriad of things.

Johnson’s story highlights how our inflexibility can be our undoing, resulting in handicapping our spirit.

Stagnation occurs when we let fear rule us. Johnson poses this vital question in his book:

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

Finally fed up with stagnation, Haw decided to release himself from fear’s grip. Hungry and weak, he took the courageous step of venturing into the unknown in search of new cheese. What he discovered was astounding: when you move beyond fear, you feel free.

Sprinting through the corridors, energized with courage, Haw was now thinking in terms of what he could gain, instead of what he was losing. Invariably, “he was discovering what nourished his soul.” It had to do with “letting go and trusting what lay ahead for him,” Johnson writes.

Interestingly, after finding the new cheese, Haw was happy and fulfilled—not so much because his belly was full, but because he was no longer letting fear control him. Taking a risk brought him to the wisdom that “the quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you’ll find the new cheese.” Haw wrote that statement—along with many other epiphanies—on the wall as he journeyed through the maze.

Recording his realizations on the walls served as a reminder to himself, but Haw had a secondary purpose in mind. He felt bad about his friend Hem, and was hoping the messages would act as a trail marker and also provide encouragement if Hem would choose to follow Haw’s example. He worried, though, that Hem would opt to stay hemmed in.

I like what Mark Twain had to say: “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.” We can’t ever expect to banish fear, but we can become bigger than fear. This was Haw’s ultimate triumph.

If you take a look at your life, you will notice just how many times you were able to get bigger than your fear. Up to this moment, your life has consisted of a series of advances that involved laughing at fear. You couldn’t have grown past playpen stage if you hadn’t exercised your courage. Just learning how to walk required you to overcome your fear.

Imagine the courage you mustered when you bravely raised your tottering self from a crawling position for the first time. That courage still resides within you!

Yes, we all have a Hem and a Haw inside. There’s always a part of us that wants to go forward while another part resists. But, in reality, we have little choice. The alternative is stagnation and a life without “cheese.” That’s not living.

(c) 2016 Salee Reese

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Heart Connections Live On

colorful heart

“You don’t grieve to distance yourself from a loved one, you grieve so they become a part of your heart.”

I just love that thought! It was one of the many insights my friend, Pat, shared with me several months before her body lost its battle with cancer. Throughout my life, I’ve had to say goodbye to numerous loved ones, and as you all know, it’s never easy. Grief is a pain like none other, and it doesn’t just go away by wishing it gone. It lingers until it’s darn well ready to leave.

Grief is inevitable and often necessary for the healing process, but prolonged torment is preventable.

Grief, I’ve found, is worsened and perhaps prolonged when we believe our connection to our loved one has been cut. The result is an intolerable sense of separation. That was my experience when someone I dearly loved died. I suffered for a long time until I realized that being miserable was the separating factor—not his death. That experience, along with a strong desire to relieve suffering in others, led me to write a book, When the Cage Dies, the Bird Lives. In it I write:

The death of your loved one

is a tragedy as long as you

experience it as

severing.

The heart grieves

when the mind tells it

that a cord has been cut.

But the mind is wrong!

The heart’s yearnings are right!

cords between people

~heart cords~

can’t sever

Ever.

My thoughts turn to Kay, a client whose seventeen-year-old son, Jerod, died in a tragic car accident. “He was my life!” she wailed repeatedly. I have to say, it was heartbreaking to hear such raw pain.

Kay was a single mom and Jerod her only child. For years, a major portion of her life had centered around his schooling, including various activities and sporting events. She was on a first-name basis with all of his friends and their parents. She knew each of his teachers and his coaches.

“A year ago, before the accident, I was into everything . . . I was an extrovert,” she said. “But now I don’t want to be around anybody. I just go through the motions. I’m not really present in my life anymore.”

She wanted to share memories about Jerod. She needed to. As she talked, she would sometimes cry. At other times, she would break out in laughter. I cried and laughed right along with her.

Later on, I brought up the subject of moving on. “What new doors have invited you in?” I asked. “If you view your life as a storybook, what does the next page have to offer? What would you like it to offer?”

She shook her head vehemently while blurting out: “I don’t want to let go of Jerod!”

Kay’s logic told her that moving on was equivalent to letting go—severing a connection with Jerod. And for that reason, she had chosen to remain stationary in an attempt to freeze time.

To offer some degree of peace, I drew upon Kay’s own belief system. I asked her if she believed Jerod was more than his body, or whether he ceased to exist when his body perished. She was adamant that his spirit lives on.

If that’s the case, I explained, Jerod wouldn’t be shackled to the past. Under such circumstances, we’re forced to ask ourselves: Is reality a stagnant pond or a flowing river? Staying stuck in one spot—holding on to the past—isn’t an answer. It can’t provide relief. “That’s because Jerod is no longer in the past,” I said. The past is gone; the present moment is all there is.

“In your view, Kay,” I asked, “what is the meaning of life?”

“God gave us unique gifts and a purpose,” she responded. “We’re here to use those gifts and to fulfill our purpose. We are to touch people’s lives. Jerod touched people’s lives.”

Kay proceeded to describe Jerod as a kind-hearted person who radiated a warm glow wherever he went.

“Okay,” I asked, “how can Jerod continue to touch people’s lives through you? And how has Jerod’s touch—his coming into your life—fertilized your being and purpose? How can he enrich it yet?”

And in so many words, I added this:

Suppose death doesn’t mark an ending but the beginning of a whole new phase with souls—invisibly linked—engaged in some common purpose? Is it possible that the grandeur of your bond with Jerod has morphed into new and heightened meaning?

Tears slowly trickled down Kay’s face. The tears were different this time.

Healing won’t be an easy path for her. The death of a child is considered to be the greatest loss a person can endure. One client with a similar loss put it this way: “Sometimes the pain is so deep and so dark, you’re just drowning in it.”

I know that to be the case personally. I witnessed such pain in my parents when my older sister, Susan, suddenly died at the age of twenty-one.

Profound loss results in profound grief. The pain may never completely go away, but in time its sharp edge tends to dissipate, along with the accompanying shock and paralysis.

The people who recover their inner radiance are those who carry the confidence that love survives death. Although they can no longer see or touch their loved ones, they maintain a heart connection, not letting death be a barrier to their bond.

As for Kay, she’s finding relief through the growing realization that moving on is the act of letting someone in instead of letting someone go.

Names are changed to honor confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2015

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No Limits

 eagle

There are those among us who put things in clear focus even when not intending to.

I cross paths occasionally with a woman confined to a wheelchair. Several years ago, she lost the use of her legs due to a car accident. I chuckle over that word “confined” when I describe her because nothing could be further from the truth. The agility I witness as she opens doors and maneuvers corners and tight spaces puts me in a state of awe. She whizzes from here to there with that wheelchair like it’s an extension of her body . . . not a hindrance. Actually, it’s an extension of her spirit—free and determined.

And … AND, I might add, she does all that with a baby strapped to her chest!

The world sees her as confined. She doesn’t. Therefore, she isn’t.

My client Bob was just waking up to the fact of his wheelchair-less confinement. You can read about it  here.

If we believe we are confined in our life—in any way—we are.

 

What do you think? How do we needlessly limit ourselves?

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2009

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You Create Your World

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So You Create

Your thoughts are setting the stage for things to come.

As you think, so you create.

If you believe your dreams are attainable, so you create.

If you anticipate failure, so you create.

If you imagine being smiled at tomorrow, so you create.

If you predict rejection, so you create.

If you envision having a good time, so you create.

If you view your child as a problem, so you create.

If you expect to have love in your heart

. . . for everyone you meet today, so you create.

—Salee Reese

 

What world do you want to live in? We all have a choice.

When we venture deeper than the surface of our lives, we notice that life is a tapestry and we’re the artists. We use our selection of paints to color our world. Life isn’t always controllable, but how we respond to it is—how we look at it and how we react. That’s the world we create.

Here’s another anecdote that illustrates this creative power inside each of us. It’s an excerpt from Pema Chodron’s book Awakening Loving-Kindness:

A big burly samurai comes to the wise man and says, “Tell me the nature of heaven and hell.” And the roshi looks him in the face and says: “Why should I tell a scruffy, disgusting, miserable slob like you?” The samurai starts to get purple in the face, his hair starts to stand up, but the roshi won’t stop, he keeps saying, “A miserable worm like you, do you think I should tell you anything?” Consumed by rage, the samurai draws his sword, and he’s just about to cut off the head of the roshi. Then the roshi says, “That’s hell.” The samurai, who is in fact a sensitive person, instantly gets it, that he just created his own hell; he was deep in hell. It was black and hot, filled with hatred, self-protection, anger, and resentment, so much so that he was going to kill this man. Tears fill his eyes and he starts to cry and he puts his palms together and the roshi says, “That’s heaven.”

 Let’s go with heaven today, shall we? 🙂

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Be Brave and Speak Up

 

sunrise

Ever find yourself in the midst of a group of people engaged in a bashfest? Some unfortunate individual is being maligned or trashed behind their back.

What to do?

Join in to feel a part of things? Or stand there, silently uncomfortable? Either choice makes our soul uneasy. It feels like we’re participating in a betrayal of sorts. And we are. It’s a betrayal of the person being targeted and a betrayal of ourselves at some deeper level.

Not long ago a friend of mine, Tina, found herself in one of those situations. The conversation started out as idle chit-chat, but then regressed to bashing other people. “It didn’t feel good,” she said, “but I didn’t know what to do.”

The model for what to do arrived in the form of a woman who happened upon the scene. The first words out of her mouth were:

“Enough feeding the darkness. What are you doing to feed the lightness?”

The woman didn’t wait for an answer to her question. Without a moment’s hesitation, she took charge of the conversation, redirecting it to a positive topic. “It was amazing,” Tina said. “The energy shifted immediately.”

Simply put, the atmosphere morphed because one person decided to feed the lightness.

I love that story of courage. I call it courage because it’s so very difficult to speak up and risk others’ scorn.

Years ago, I was at a picnic, and sitting near me on a blanket was a happy two-year-old. Characteristic of her age, she was a bit squirmy. Eventually, she stood up, clearly eager to do some exploring. But her mother immediately gave her a spanking while uttering these harsh words: “You sit down, young lady, until you eat all your food!”

The little girl’s cheerfulness quickly evaporated, replaced with tears and a crestfallen spirit. It hurt to watch. Like many of us in such situations, I asked myself: What can I do?  I wanted to say something but was frozen, lacking both words and courage. I didn’t feel it was my place to say anything, and I imagined the woman coming back at me with this response: “How I raise my children is none of your business!”

I left the picnic with a sour taste in my mouth, not because of food, but because the incident left me heartsick. Unable to remove it from my consciousness, I pondered the question: Is it really none of my business?

My conclusion: It is my business. How fellow human beings are treated is the business of everyone. That’s because we’re all members of the same family—the human family. And how we raise our children shapes the world we inhabit together.

Every time we ignore or neglect to speak out against unkind acts, we allow one more piece of debris to contaminate the collective spirit of humankind.

If I could redo the picnic scenario, what would I say to the spanking mother? I would hope to muster the spiritual courage to say: “Oooo, my heart aches for your little girl. How bad she must feel, and probably doesn’t understand what she did wrong. It’s so natural to want to explore at her age.”

I would hope that my response would provoke thoughtful reflection and perhaps make a difference. There’s a chance it wouldn’t, but remaining silent would ensure the latter.

I‘m expanding my blog to include a new category, Random Acts of Courage. I invite you to share with me your experiences with courage—times when you’ve successfully fought the temptation to keep silent in the face of unkindness, or when you’ve witnessed others successfully doing so.

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