Category Archives: Enlightening Practices

Releasing Expectations

This post was inspired by my “3 Months” post in Hip Adventures. I am struggling with releasing my expectation that I would be all better by now. I realize my expectation was that I would be back to all my normal activities by now and would be mostly pain free. I’m not. And my other hip is going. I am disappointed, sad, frustrated, and angry.

This morning in my meditation I reflected on Buddha’s wise observation, “Attachment is the root of all suffering.” This is one of the basic tenets of Buddhism. As one of my favorite teachers says, “Pain in life is a given, suffering is optional.” He liked to use a great mental picture to demonstrate this. He said, “We often cling to our pain and our stories and dramas about our pain, like clutching a burning ember in our hands. It would be better if we dropped all of it, including the ember, and soaked our hand in cold water.”

My version of doing this is to have a really good cry and let my tears be the water soothing my burning emotions. I let my tears wash away all those painful feelings, acknowledging them as they go. That’s what I did Monday morning when I finally allowed myself to admit that my left hip is failing. After this emotional thunderstorm, the clouds burn away and I am able to see sunlight again, to look on the brighter side of the situation.

This always requires releasing the expectation that things should be different than they are. In this situation, it means letting go of the expectation that my right hip should be healed and pain free by now, and my left hip should be ok for another few years. This is not reality. And I promised my left hip I would not bury my pain in denial, like I did with my right hip. It serves no useful purpose and it causes unnecessary suffering.

Once I feel my feelings and release my expectations, I can then focus on the positive aspects of the situation, marshal my resources and make a sensible plan of action. I know I am not ready to have another surgery right now, but I think I could manage it in the spring. I’ve made a deal with myself that if I have more problems with my left hip by the end of February, I will make an appointment to see Dr. Shukla and take it from there.

Since making this decision, I have felt more peaceful. There is less emotional turmoil and railing against what is happening. The “woe is me” story is fading. Yes, I do still feel all those feelings at times, especially when I hurt, but now they pass through more easily. This is simply “what is so” at this moment. It is so much easier to release my expectations and be with it, holding myself with compassion and keeping my teddy bear handy.

Giving the Gift of Presence

I’ve been away from my blog for awhile, but it’s been for a good cause. I’ve been giving the gift of presence by spending quality time with the people I love. If they live near me, we sit face-to-face and talk, often sharing a meal. Otherwise, we talk on the phone, Facetime, or email each other.

Presence is my favorite present to both give and receive. It is about showing up COMPLETELY for another person, with ears and heart open and cell phone off. We reminisce about the year past, ponder the year coming up, and express our gratitude for our relationship and all we have shared together. We eat good food, drink good wine, laugh, shed some tears, smile a lot and nod. Sometimes, we reach across the table to touch each other’s hands. And we always part with a big hug. If we are on the phone or writing an email, we send our love over the lines and we don’t allow distractions or interruptions of this precious time.

Sometimes, we can get lost in the hustle and bustle of the Holidays and forget to be present, to be loving. We can get caught up in giving material gifts at the expense of human relationships, becoming short with our partners, children, co-workers, the driver in front of us or the clerk at the store. Let’s stop in these moments and remind ourselves that the season is about love and kindness.

The Practice: Show up for the people you love, COMPLETELY. Be present. Be loving and kind to everyone you come across, even if they are aggravating you. Smile. Listen. Wish them well. Send out into this world what you would want to receive back.

Gratitude

Blessed Thanksgiving! Today we turn our attention towards what we are grateful for in our lives. It’s my favorite holiday.  This topic fits nicely with the thread of my previous posts and it’s the perfect day to reflect on the practice of gratitude. Gratitude is the attitude that takes the edge off judgment and comparison and helps us see with the eyes of the soul. It is the best antidote for negative thinking I’ve found. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could practice thanksgiving every day?

When I have a bad day or go through a hard time in my life, I try to find something to be grateful for and shift my focus to that rather than dwelling on the difficulty. For example, when I was diagnosed with hip dysplasia, I remember feeling very grateful that I had 51 good years on my deformed hips. Many people with dysplasia have to have surgeries very early in their lives, often just to get them by until they can get a total hip replacement. Yes, I could have felt sorry for myself and railed against how unfair life can be, and I did have moments of profound sadness, but I saw no purpose in staying there. I needed all my positive energy to move forward with the surgery and recovery process.

Lately, when my recovery is not going as fast anymore, I can get frustrated and focus on what I can’t do. In those moments, I turn my attention to what I can do that I couldn’t do a week ago or a month ago. I focus on my heart and feel gratitude for how much I have healed. This shifts my focus from what I can’t do to what I can do and then everything changes.

During my recovery, I have been constantly moved by the generosity of so many people who have helped me along the way. I’ve softened and grown closer to my beloveds, especially my beloved Scott. I am so very grateful for his presence in my life. I am grateful for the loving family and friends that have supported me, through my whole life.

None of us are an island–we all need others to survive. Today we celebrate with our friends and families. We enjoy delicious food. Many lives and hands brought us the gifts we receive today, and every day. We all face challenges. But it’s easier when we are grateful for the many blessings that carry us through and sustain us.

The Practice

Start and finish each day with a gratitude. Find something, anything and focus on that for a few minutes. When something challenging comes your way, seek something to be grateful for in the situation. Notice what changes in your life as a result of cultivating gratitude in your life.

Another great practice is to make a list of all the things you are grateful for and read some of it when you feel negativity getting a hold of you. Today is a great day to make a gratitude list.

Comparison

This week in my conversation with Debs we talked about comparison–a close cousin to judgment. She asked me to write something about this subject. Upon reflection, I would have to say my experience is that comparison comes before judgment. We compare ourselves against another (or others) and then we judge who is right, wrong, better, worse. We tend to attack the wrong/worse one and put the right/better one on a pedestal. This creates suffering for both us and the other. We can also compare situations, people, things, animals, etc. with similar results.

What creates the suffering? Isn’t it true that some of us are better at certain things than others, or we possess qualities/things others don’t? Isn’t it so that we like some situations, people, things, animals better than others? Sure. It’s what we do with that information which can cause suffering.

I learned the most about comparison on my yoga mat, so I’m going to go there for some examples. My teacher said to me, “Be on your mat in each moment with your body as it is in each pose. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, including me. Your business is on your mat.” It was then that I became painfully aware that I was always on everyone else’s mat. How were they doing compared to me, me to them? Was I more flexible or them? Who was stronger? Who could hold their balance longer? If I came up less than, I attacked myself, put them on a pedestal and felt envious. If I came up better than, I put myself on a pedestal and looked down on them. This goes against every principle and value of yoga there is! OUCH!

Then began a long practice of staying on my mat. More and more, I can be there. And then a new challenge will come and I stray into comparison again. Lately my challenge is my new hip and all the changes it has brought into my life and onto my mat. I am not as flexible, strong or balanced as I was before. Now my comparison is with a previous self who no longer exists. Who, honestly, may never exist again, not in her previous form. This causes me great suffering and I can weep on my mat. But, it is my choice to make this very unfair comparison and find my current self lacking.

Another choice is to be with where I am on the mat in each moment without comparison and judgment, but with discernment and compassion. What can I do? Where is my new edge? What happens when I drop the judgment about that edge and just breathe into it, embrace it, wrap lovingkindness around it, be grateful for what I can do? Well, my muscles relax and I can drop more deeply into the pose because I am not fighting my own body. My body can trust me and stop pushing against me in order to protect itself. Sometimes it tells me to do another pose, or to give it a rest and just go straight to savasana (relaxation pose).

I have found when I stop pushing on other people or animals, I get a similar response: relaxation, trust, warmth, a drawing closer instead of pulling away. We often compare others with who we wish they were or with someone else we like better.  We can wish we were with someone else, somewhere else, or that we were someone else if we are on the short end of the comparison stick.

Debs called me at this point in my writing this post… She asked me to talk about lasagna vs. grill cheese sandwiches (that woman is all about food). She finds herself craving “lasagna” both the food and people she loves who she considers the “lasagnas” of her life. But she finds cheese sandwiches boring, both in food and people. When she’s with a cheese sandwich, for example, all she can think of is the lasagna and why can’t this person be more like the other one I prefer?

I pointed out that we all need a balanced diet to be healthy, both when it comes to food and people! We need grilled cheese, lasagna, fruit & veggies, chocolate, granola, wine, and the list goes on. Even though we may have preferences for lasagna over cheese sandwiches, it takes all of it to make the world go round, give us the experiences and nourishment we need, and help us appreciate lasagna.

Then she said something very profound, “I need to be the lasagna. Then I’ll bring more lasagna into my life.” This is another golden truth about comparison. Sometimes it leads us to see, usually through envy, what it is we would like be.

Today’s enlightening practice:

Drop the comparison stick. When you find yourself comparing, be aware that is what you are doing and STOP. Breathe deeply into your belly and focus on your heart. Open it. Open your mind. Find something you can appreciate and be grateful for in yourself, in the other, in the situation. Shift your focus more to your gratitude than what is lacking. Be 100% present in the moment with acceptance of what is.

NOTE: Sometimes we are in a situation or with a person where our discernment tells us to get out of there, to withdraw, to move away from. In those situations it can be unskillful and dangerous to remain trying to find something good to appreciate! I personally find my body, especially my gut, is a good indicator and I’ve learned to trust it.

NOTE 2: If the comparison stick has helped you realize that you need to cultivate some quality in yourself that you envy in the other, stop despairing and get to work!

What I will do today:

Go eat some lasagna at my favorite Italian restaurant with my sweetie!

Judgment vs. Discernment

Yesterday, I had a fascinating conversation, as I often do, with my friend, Peggy. We got on the subject of judgment vs. discernment. What’s the difference? We came up with some good distinctions I wanted to share.

Judgment often comes from an ego-based place and it tends to have a hard edge to it. When I’m judging, I notice tension in my jaws, tightness in my heart, narrowing of my eyes. It often comes out as criticism of another’s thoughts, actions, beliefs. “I can’t believe she could think that!” “How could he have done that?”  “Who could hold such a belief?” It is about condemnation from a self-elevated place. In this place I have forgotten “judge not lest ye be judged.” I want to change the other to be more like me, because I’ve got it all figured it (ha!). There is a strong element of righteous indignation that makes me feel superior to whomever or whatever I’m judging. It is about force, forcing my opinion on someone else. The other thing I notice about judging is that I’m often judging something in myself that I have projected onto the other person (remove the log in your own eye, before seeking to remove the splinter in your neighbor’s). If I’m particularly riled up about something, I can be sure it is a reflection of something I’m doing myself that I don’t like.

Discernment is related to judgment, but it comes from a different place. Here’s a good definition I found online: discernment is perceiving without judgment and with the intention of obtaining spiritual direction and understanding. It is about Seeing with the Eyes of the Soul (previous post). Discernment seeks the truth from a higher perspective and it is softer than judgment. When I am discerning, I am not tense, my heart is soft and open, I am curious about the other’s thoughts, actions, beliefs. I ask questions and listen for the answers, not to pounce on them in order to correct, but to better understand them. Meanwhile, I’m also checking in with myself, hopefully my Higher Self, and my heart and gut. I’m trying to better understand myself in relation to the other (I’m also seeking the log in my eye). Out of this practice, I may be influenced to change my mind, or to refine or reframe  my thinking. I see the other’s way of seeing/being/thinking as equal to my own, not less than. I may also decide that my perspective rings more true to me and works better and that I’m sticking with it. But, I don’t go the extra step of judgment and try to force it on the other. Often this is a place of agreeing to disagree and moving on. It is about mutual respect and empowerment to make different choices and hold different beliefs, and still like each other. It doesn’t mean we go along with something we disagree with in order to please or remain connected to another. Sometimes discernment requires us to withdraw from an activity, group or relationship.

How I will practice discernment today:

When I feel the hard edge of judgment in my body and hear it in my words and thoughts, I will STOP and softly bring my attention to my heart. I like to hold the image of one hand on my heart and one hand on the heart of  the other. From this place of compassion, I will seek to understand both of us and empower both of us to be in our truths, whatever that may be. I give myself permission to be changed/influenced by the other. I also give myself and the other permission to decide to back away or disengage if that serves Truth. If I decide to disengage, I will do it with lovingkindness and not harshness.

See with the Eyes of your Soul

This post is part 2 of my inspiring phone call with my friend, Debs. We were talking about seeing life and others through the eyes of our souls, rather than through the ego-mind’s filter of judgment.

What does it mean to see with the eyes of your Soul or Spirit?

For me, this means that I rise out of my lower, ego-mind perspective and into the higher perspective of my Soul or Spirit or Witness. We all have different words for this part of us that is connected to God/Source/Spirit (we all have different words for that too). I personally like Spirit, and at times, Witness. So, the idea is to see a situation not from the narrow and often self-serving perspective of Rhonda Ashurst, but from the higher perspective of my Spirit.

Questions that help me get there:

“What is in the highest good for all Beings, including myself?”

“What do I need to be aware of in this moment?”

“How do I see this through the eyes of Compassion?”

Situations in which I use the questions:

  • Meeting new people and discerning why they have come across my path and what is the highest response I can make to them. (Sometimes this leads to engagement with them and sometimes it leads to avoidance or choosing not to respond.)
  • Considering the next action to take. Stay or go? Pray or do something? Email or read? Connect or disconnect? Exercise or rest? Eat/drink this or don’t? Say something or listen? And lately, ice or heat? 🙂
  • Choosing what response to make, including which words to use, or none at all.
  • How I will frame my attitude about a challenge that has appeared in my path.
  • Well, and the list goes on and is endless, but you get the idea.

How I will practice seeing with the eyes of my soul today:

As I move through my day, I will be mindful of the decisions/judgments I am making and I will lift up my perspective into my Spirit/Witness to do what is in the highest good for all to the best of my ability. I will remind myself to be compassionate with myself and others and my precious body.

Free yourself from the prison of judgment

This is my first post in a new theme (Enlightening Practices) inspired by my dear friend, Debs. It was part of a long conversation we had last night and she encouraged me to share it here. Thank you my sweet soul sister for our many years of friendship! This is dedicated to you, a person who faces a multitude of daily challenges with humor, perseverance, playfulness, courage and a wild sense of adventure! Drop the judgment and you will be free.

One of the things I have learned both through 25 years of meditation and many wise spiritual writings and teachers, is that we are very judgmental. Our minds continuously label, judge, analyze, compare. They can become tyrants that literally run our lives with their litany of “shoulding.” They literally imprison us within a jail of judgment–our own and our projections onto ourselves of others’ judgments. “You should be more like him/her.”  “You shouldn’t have said/done that.” “You should be stronger, smarter, thinner, richer, sexier, more at peace, blah, blah, blah…”

Under the “shoulding” is judgment that says we are lacking, that we’d be better if we were someone other than who we are, if we were somewhere else, if we were doing something else with someone else. Then we do it to others, especially the people we love.  And, we allow them to do it to us. You know, we have the power to stop this insanity!

We are rarely here, now, in this moment, simply enjoying it and being grateful. That’s why we call these “peak” moments. They are usually the stuff of our fondest memories when we are lost in the beautiful flow of life and forget to judge. In these moments, we know it is all perfect, and we are free.

And then we forget again.

So, this is the enlightening practice:  

Try living this day (or as much of it as you can, hey, a minute is a good start) without judging anything that occurs. Accept whatever comes across your path. Be curious about it. How did this end up in my day? What is the best way for me to embrace this? Remember that what we resist persists, what we reject with judgment keeps showing up. Sometimes, what seems like a bad thing turns out to be good, and what seems like a good thing turns out to be bad.

What I personally am going to work on today:

I am judging my walk. I still walk with a limp and it hurts and I’m frustrated. I expected it to be better by the 6-week mark. But I’m about where I was pre-surgery. I have been fighting this by pushing myself aggressively to strengthen weak gluteal muscles, so I can walk normally and without pain. Ironically, I’m causing myself more pain and setting myself back. So, today, I will embrace my walk just as it is and be thankful I can walk at all. I will be thankful I can walk without a walker or a cane. I will be thankful for all the amazing things my body can do 6 weeks after a hip replacement. I will be kind and gentle, while I’m helping my body grow stronger. Today, I will rest and I will cultivate peace and gratitude for exactly where I am in my healing process. And every time I “should” on myself, I will stop, breathe and remind myself of this practice. I will also be mindful of my tendency to judge others, and will send blessings for whatever is in their highest good instead.