Strong personality or aware and awake?

Recently I was told my child has a strong personality. My daughter is quiet, reflective, highly empathetic. She is hilarious and independent. She is wise.

I have been called a strong personality my whole life. It annoys me. I view it as a passive aggressive way to say you are intimidated by me or at least uncomfortable with me.

Ironically, it is usually women who say I have a strong personality. Men just call me strong.

How is it that a quiet child and her powerful mother both get labelled as strong personalities? I am exploring the idea that being independent and self aware put you outside “the system”. When I hear strong personality, I hear that I cannot be easily controlled or manipulated. I hear that I am not what you expect.

For years, I believed it meant I had to tone down. I worried I was not kind. And yet, people who meet me often comment on my kindness and generosity. Ultimately, I love myself and the growing embodiment of spirit that deepens in me every day.

So let me challenge you: what belief arises about YOU when you think another is a strong personality? Or, if you have been so labelled, who are you when you don’t exist in that label or belief?


How Retail Stores Commit Suicide

People are shopping online now more than in stores. What does that mean for retail?

Shoppers are willing to wait a few days for their purchase in exchange for convenience. But is it really about convenience? I suggest we need to reframe convenience into what the desired customer experience is.

The over-whelming majority of my shopping is done online. I buy my groceries online. I order clothes, shoes, books, and gifts online. If I have to stand in line to pay for clothes, I look up the item online. If I can buy it online before I move in the lineup, I do, and drop the items on the shelf. Most recently, if the store staff become overwhelmingly pushy, I leave and shop online.

In each of those circumstances, I am choosing online shopping for different reasons. If the physical stores understood the desired customer experience, they would get my repeat business and loyalty.

Forbes predicts: “Physical retail will be less about facilitating the pickup of a product and more about providing unique experiences. Frank shared an example where you imagine yourself as a customer walking into a Nordstrom and using augmented reality to try on clothing in a virtual representation of the wedding you’re attending next week. Retailers will win by knowing their customers better than their competitors and providing differentiated experiences. The key, however, will be making the experience so immersive that the customer wants to come back, instead of just a ‘cool’, novel feature that is only tried once.”

How retailers are committing suicide is by believing they know and can impose the right experience on the customer. For example, shopping for scented candles or scented oils is an in store experience. You have me because I want to try the scents, experience how they could be part of my home. I am not going to go online unless it is to reorder something I already have. I am coming into your store with a vision in my head of how I want that experience to go. It will be relaxing. It will be creative. It definitely will be ruined if you follow me around the store and constantly ask me if you can help me, if I’ve heard what the specials are, and if I need a bag. Once I have picked up the product and I am heading to the til to pay, do not use this as an opportunity to continue telling me the features of the product. Once the deal is done, stop selling. While those are all wonderful offers of help and customer service, they have nothing to do with the reason I am there. In fact, they are deliberately interfering with why I’m there.

Retailers need to understand two eternal rules: know your customer and what they want. And the customer is always right.

Cabernet Merlot, Peanut Butter and The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

Some shifts are so hard to describe that they only work with metaphors. On New Years Eve 2017, I stood silent amid the noise of the hundreds of people at the party we attended. I felt strong and at peace. I could feel the shift beginning from the rapids of 2017 to the calm stream of 2018.

I have an image of myself as some sort of traveller, although it’s less about travelling through locations and more about tides of energy and communities. Some times I settle in a village for a few years but I always know I will be moving down the road again soon. I have been told it’s an Aquarius thing.

I am readying for the next village. Some people will carry on down the road with me a ways, but eventually, like Robert Frost, I will choose the road less taken and we will part.

Tonight, I read my grocery list: cabernet merlot, peanut butter. Two essentials, when you get down to it. The cab merlot is part of my adulting, and the peanut butter is part of my momming. They were not in balance last year, as my child required extra care. So it is perfect that tonight they are balanced on my grocery list.

Tomorrow I begin a 108 day immersion program ending in a highly desired meditation retreat. It is the symbolic packing up as I head to my next village. I cannot wait.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

They Grow Up So Fast: Our First False Belief About Age

When I was a new parent, I heard over and over “Enjoy every minute – they grow up so fast!” At first, I bought into it. I recall looking through my child’s pictures on her first birthday and feeling panic over how much she had changed.

But then, I noticed her eyes in every picture. That soul, the essence I felt while carrying her and the essence I fell in love with the first time I looked in her eyes, was the same. It is eternal.

We change through out our lives. It is inevitable. That is what life is. But how do we relate to that change?

When people say “they grow up so fast”, what belief is operating? Here are some possibilities:

1. They grow up and I am not ready.

2. They grow up and I was too busy with other things.

3. They grow up and I must constantly adapt to how they change – and I don’t want to.

4. They grow up and I experience loss as they do.

In all cases, the painful belief is with the parent. Most children can’t wait to grow up. Certainly a child may be exposed to too much responsibility or pressure that results in lost innocence but that is not about age. Life begins to provide the circumstances essential for our growth immediately.

So how does that phrase impact how we view aging? I believe our attempts as a society to prioritize youth is our fear of dying. “Buddhism teaches that we should not shrink from the fact of death but squarely confront it. Our contemporary culture has been described as one that seeks to avoid and deny the fundamental question of our mortality.”- SGI

The wonderful thing about gaining years is it becomes harder to sustain identification with an egoic self. You will experience career change, physical change, intellectual change and emotional change your entire life. If your goal is to live forever, these changes will be viewed as loss.

There is a Buddhist tenet that life is about readiness for death. “From the Buddhist perspective, life and death are two phases of a continuum. Life does not begin at birth nor end at death. Everything in the universe—from invisible microbes in the air we breathe to great swirling galaxies—passes through these phases. Our individual lives are part of this great cosmic rhythm.”- SGI

Every change in life exist as part of a larger flow. Nature is living and dying in every moment. You can never walk the same street twice as the trees, the grass, the flowers all change every moment. Leaves bud and die. Grass browns. Flowers bloom and seed and die. We accept this even if we are not conscious of it.

Even music dies. The silence between notes is the end of one sound and readiness for a new one. In essence, it is all energy flow.

When we are in flow, we don’t resist what is. Children don’t grow up too fast. Lives are not about aging. There is gratitude for every moment.

Signifying Nothing

I am grateful when friends tell me their stories. As I listen, I notice two things: a feeling of compassion for the person as they work out their relationship to the story, and an awareness that it is all story, signifying nothing. This is true of my own stories. And I am so grateful for that.

“When you read a novel, and you read about various characters, you may like some and not like others. Or when you watch a movie, think about your relationship with the characters. You might like them; you might not like them—but you’re not finding your sense of self in them. You’re not referencing your self-worth by the characters in a novel or when you turn on the TV. You just have your thoughts about them.

But imagine if you turned on your TV or you read a novel and you actually completely derived your sense of being and your sense of self from one of the characters. Immediately your perspective is very different, isn’t it? Now your perspective has gone from something that’s very vast to something that’s very limited, seen only through the eyes of the character. Sadly, that’s how most human beings spend their lives. They have this little character in their mind called “me,” and they’re actually viewing that “me” as personal when it’s not.”-Adyashanti

One realization that has been significant for me is that nothing is personal. It all just is. The sunny day is not personal. The drive to work is not personal. My job is not personal. The bills aren’t personal.

Where I still struggle is in how I relate to people and those I have deeper relationship with like my daughter. My love for her seems very personal. Yet I understand in some way that I am experiencing a state of love in relation to her. Or drop the pronouns: there is just love.

Or, how do I relate to people when it is very personal for them? Their broken heart, their work, their stress and anxiety? So far, all I have is compassion. I get irritated sometimes, either because I wish more peace for them, or because they are speaking to a place that still upsets me too. It’s hard to remember sometimes that the story signifies nothing.

To some, the phrase “signifies nothing” is depressing. It might bear the bleakness of the full Shakespearean quotation. For me, when things are not personal, when we don’t project meaning over them, the whole world changes.

“You don’t lose the character; you just gain the whole novel of life. It’s not like you lose anything. You just gain the whole book. You gain the whole universe.”- Adyashanti

My Sister Pleiades

My spiritual partner has a powerful way of connecting with me when I am in my process of awakening. After listening intently, with her whole being, she says, “I see you.”

When I was in counseling, I found words to describe my childhood. It was a childhood cut short by assuming the adult and parental role at 13. I was responsible for the care of 4 people while holding some twisted privilege for this. It was a cycle of codependency I replicated in my significant romantic relationships. So for most of my life, I felt invisible.

I was drawn to men who were equally invisible, who needed me in some way. Generally, I saw and supported who they could be and they showed me gratitude. I confused this for love and connection.

The end of those relationships marks the most significant turning point in my path of consciousness. With fierce Grace, I embarked on deep retreat and committed to my path of awakening. Everything in my life dissolved and then realigned behind this intention.

Before that, a desperate part of myself once said I would stand before My Then Love once I was fully healed and ask him to see me, to love me. What I didn’t know is that as I deepened in healing and awakening, I would not want to stand in front of him or ask anything of him.

So why is it so powerful when my spiritual partner tells me she sees me? Possibly because I am not asking her to. Possibly because she sees my awakened self and my egoic self equally and with love for both. Possibly because seeing each other is the foundation of our partnership.

In my deepest core, I believe we could go for decades without talking, and with a single moment of connection we would see each other. It reflects what is true on our path. It reflects our lack of attachment.

There is no greater gift.

(I have a few Sisters who have grown in spiritual partnership with me. This piece is not a diminishing of my love for them. What I have in essence in partnership with them is such as this too. The title references the 7 sisters who were with Artemis, and honors all my Sisters).

Repaired With Gold

gold pot

One of the fun parts of my incarnation is that I fall a lot. When I was a teen, I would fall going UP the stairs. In university, I would run for the bus and slip on grass. I have fallen down stairs and broken my wrist. I fell when climbing a fence a year ago, and hurt a few spots. This month, I fell on my own knee while planting my vegetable garden, and bruised my ribs. Bruised ribs and broken ribs feel the same, but have less risk when bruised.

I have a high pain tolerance, yet these ribs tested that. I would say my pain history in life would go: broken wrist, child birth, bruised ribs.

And yet, I am deeply grateful for this injury. I learned how many people love me in my life – a reflection of how Life loves me. I had friends show up out of no where to help. Some picked my child up from school because driving was too hard and probably unsafe for me. Some friends fed me. Some friends watched my pets. Some friends checked in on me and sent me love. As much as my rib could not support me, my circle DID support me.

More than that, it was a deeply spiritual experience. No one but you can explore your relationship with pain. For the first time, I understood what my teacher, Christopher Wallis, meant when he said that you get to a point in life of being grateful for everything, even dog poop. My gratitude for what this has opened in me is profound. When I shared that with him, he wrote this to me:

“You’re more beautiful for having been broken.

People tend to think that something has gone wrong when they’re wounded, or hurt, or broken, and that healing is fixing that wrongness and getting ‘back’ to a good or ‘normal’ condition. But consider this: just as, in the context of weight training, the muscles need to actually tear (get damaged) in order to rebuild stronger, why not consider the parallel possibility that we actually *need* to get hurt/wounded/broken in order to grow stronger and more compassionate?

In that light, nothing ever goes ‘wrong’. And being wounded can be a gift.

The Japanese have a word for this, from the context of artfully repaired pottery: kintsukuroi, “more beautiful for having been broken.” – Christopher Wallis

When I told a friend I could not visit her because I needed to rest, she offered to do healing work with me. I turned her down, because I was loving the work I was doing on my own. I shared that with her, and she commented I was handling it with ease and grace and a smile on my face. I absently agreed, but inside I knew that was not the truth of it.

To handle it with ease and grace and a smile would be to deny what is. The pain is. Sometimes I am at ease. Sometimes I am not. Sometimes I am smiling, and sometimes I am irritable or crying. Why should I be at ease and grace and smiling? That is some form of spiritual overlay on how we think spiritual people are – these detached spirits walking on air and sunshine. What is true is that I am not suffering from the beliefs I lay over the pain. I remember the quotation: In life, pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. – Haruki Murakami

I like the words of Matt Licatta on what happens as we grow spiritually and heal:

“There was an idea that as you healed, you would feel less. That as you awakened, the emotional spectrum would narrow, into some safe, consistent, happy, resolved calm. But you are seeing that love continues to ask you to feel more, to hold and metabolize the full-spectrum of a broken open world.

There was an old hope that as your heart opened, the vulnerability would diminish, the shakiness would fall away, the tenderness would yield… but you are more raw now than ever before.

There was an old belief that as you deepened on the path that you’d be more detached, untouchable, not care so much about others and the world, resting as the great “witness” beyond it all, in some safe, constructed place of observation. But somehow, everything and everyone matter now more than ever, in spontaneous, unexpected ways.

Something new is being born inside you, but something else is dying. Rather than prematurely forcing rebirth to emerge, turn into the uncertainty, the contradictions, and the purity of the death of an old dream. For it is here that the womb of new life is to be found, where the raw materials of resurrection are woven into being by the Great Weaver herself.

While this level of trust may be disorienting to a mind longing for resolution, the body knows… the heart knows. Trust in the fires of disintegration. And the birth that can arise only from the ashes of that level of grace.” – Matt Licatta