Nancy Cole

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Posts tagged with "spirituality"

Be Courageous!

I’ve written a ton about truth here, and every day there is more learning, observing, and noticing of truth offered and held back.

Just this week I’ve had difficult truth delivered to me. It was known to be difficult, and therefore its delivery took a great deal of courage. Over time, the courage started to mean more, and the content of the truth meant less. Eventually, the courage, and ultimate honesty, is everything. In the moment of learning, however, the absorption of content takes over, and festers until time works magic by allowing absorption, processing, dissipating of content. That’s not to say that the processing of the information is easy, because its not. In the midst of learning, absorbing, processing there is sadness and a lot of anger. Calm moments that look sad, and angry moments that are visceral and loud. We are allowed our humanity and emotions at all levels, and we deserve a “full-bodied” experience.

However, over the last year in spiritual practice, I’ve experienced a shift in how I process information that is brought to me from external sources. I’ve have felt even more of an internal shift away from an ego position and fear response to one that rightfully leaves the content of information — the truth that has been hard to hear — outside of myself. Intellectually I’ve known that is what I’ve wanted to do for years. And I’ve felt myself doing it more recently. Growth.

Difficult and disappointing news, aka an external truth, is not a reflection on the receiver — on their value or importance. For me, given that spiritual practice and direction is one of my callings, the truth delivered to me with sincerity exposes another’s humanity and only magnifies love and empathy from me. I have immense capacity to love and understand when I am facing someone genuine and authentic. I’ve always known that. And now I know that there is really nothing that I could learn from someone else that would truly knock me off center in any sort of meaningful way.

"Discovery" and intentional hiding of truth doesn’t work for me, however, and its something that I can’t accept. In the past, I think I knew my boundaries somewhere inside, but not with such clarity that I would willingly, and welcomingly, change everything to avoid terrible surprises. I simply don’t understand dishonesty because authenticity and honesty bring out the very best of me — my passions, my love. (Tragic irony here: Protect yourself through fear with me and lose me. Bravely expose your truth, and be met in love.)

It all sounds sort of scary, but the power in knowing where I am and letting go is incredibly freeing. And that sense of freedom, and care for myself, allows me less fear via control, and greater compassion, empathy, and, ultimately, unconditional love.

Oh yeah… and its a work in progress! As always.

Reflection: The Human Condition

What resonated with me upon reading The Human Condition by Thomas Keating was the way it was organized: Where are you?, then… Who are you?. It made a lot of sense to me that Keating asked these questions openly and in that order. I thought it an obvious and very wise way to approach the journey. Obvious in that once I read it that way, I understood the wisdom of holding off on the “who” question until after I have identified “where”.

So often it seems therapy, self-exploration, spiritual direction, etc. seems to start with “Who Are You?” in an effort to get a person to (appropriately) connect with, respect, embrace and love self. But then it occurs to me that during those first few sessions with any spiritual sherpa, or, perhaps in the first few minutes of a session – depending on how open the subject is – the guide is really assessing where the subject is before all else, which is, of course, necessary. But I have never had the guide be transparent about what is going on other than some justified, but opaque, rigamarole about childhood. Their assessment is private, and in many cases that is wise since it is quite possible that the subject would feel judged by being placed somewhere on a self-discovery continuum by a near stranger. But, in fact, that is what is happening. The guide needs to know where before mentoring someone to who and unconditional love. Obviously. Wisely.

For me… I’m generally an open book. Where has not really occurred to me to be something that would need much sussing out. I am raw and open. Why? No idea. But I’ve always been told I’m direct (and, by my some unnamed co-habitators, loud and Italian at times), so it hasn’t occurred to me that there was anything to this part. But in reading this essay by Keating, and in reflecting on what I hear from my friends, and from my fellow Sacred Journeyers in class, I’m surprisingly unusual. Often it is very hard to confess fears out loud, but I generally know exactly where I am, and I understand now that not everyone even bothers to consider it. I use my position on the journey continuum as a weapon against my own thinking. I use it to move me forward, despite the realization that what I’ve just said about self-flagellation is a complete contradiction. But hey, I’m aware of it. And so the cycle goes. And one day I will laugh about it. And I will have moved onward. (Incidentally, on my good days, I’m there, and need to trust myself that I’m further along than humility allows.).

According to Keating I learned everything I need to know between the ages of four and eight about how and why I react to anything the way I do. Perhaps this sheds light on why I have such a yearning for, and fascination with, spiritual self-awareness. My parents enrolled me in TM – Transcendental Meditation – work with the Maharishi when I was eight. I remember bringing him oranges and rice and having no idea what was happening, but I went through the ritual, and had a mantra that was not to be shared. Relevant? Who knows and probably not. It brought confusion to a soul instructed to unfold but under a hyper-critical and judging parental eye that meant every layer and more got folded back upon itself into a tighter oragami flower which would subsequently open wantonly and readily in generous conditions; and close back up righteously and effortlessly at the mere suggestion of judgement. But judgement starts to matter so much less. It is given, and received, in weakness.

Back to the book… The whole (25 page!) second half of the book asks “Who” am I? This is where the book becomes challenging, but then, in the last sentence, so very simple. Again, we ramble around the questions of having “faith”, and of identifying and owning our feelings and reactions in the context of “where” we are, but allowing that in the end, “who” we are is unconditional love. So, while the book was incredibly short, it might have been a whole lot shorter because if we have faith in our spiritual selves, then we understand that we are not our reactions or emotions. We are reacting and behaving, but what we are, and what faith is, is unconditional love. In the purest form of our true selves, and the knowledge that nothing – no external energy – can knock us off of that incredible feeling of depth, peace, and pure love that is just exactly what we are.

Intellectually easy; and in practice we stretch, reach, touch, retreat, extend, glimpse, and sometimes, on our best days, we bask. And its all worth it.

To bring the conversation out of “we” and to “me”…. For me, I recognize the spin up and reality of everyday fears. Where I am and what was locked and loaded in my psyche as a four-to-eight year old is still felt, wrestled with, resented, and enjoyed. But I am much faster to recognize what is happening — to quell, breathe, and see that what is before me is not real in cases of fear-based emotion. I have developed the power and clarity to know that there is almost nothing that can permanently (temporarily sure, until the realization that the truth is true sets in) pull me down from who I am. And that is unconditional, golden aura, love.

Feb 7

Stepping Out

Time for a change!

I want to let everyone and anyone know that I have made a job change, and am no longer working for PhotoPhilanthropy (save for a few hours to help out with their presence at a couple of upcoming conferences - SXSW and NTC). It’s been another exciting and adventurous start-up effort, and they are growing and changing rapidly, with many new programs in store including several high-profile exhibitions and a new non-profit grant program. I look forward to watching their development closely and will continue to promote and support them as I can via social media.

However, I’ve decided to work on my own projects across a variety of interests. Stepping out on my own to freelance is definitely somewhat frightening, but it feels like the right time and place to make the effort, and I’m excited to make it work with the help of my network and relying on my experience.

So what can I do for you? Here is the list of specialties from my newly edited LinkedIn profile: Philanthropy, Relationship Management, Social Media, People Connections, Events & Conferences, Fundraising, Writing, Corporate Administration for start-ups. I’ve also added a page here on this blog that offers an array of projects for which I am qualified. And why might you choose to work with me over someone else? Integrity, determination, intelligence, and tenacious attention to detail.

In addition to freelancing in the fields at which I’ve worked for nearly two decades, I’ve been experiencing, and training to work in, spiritual direction and guidance for the past year, following Buddhist and Eastern-philosophy. My intention is to develop a practice to work with individuals one-on-one in spiritual friendship, and I welcome the opportunity to connect with you during my training. You can read more about what all of this means on another new page on this blog.

So reach out, retweet, and keep me in mind for those professional or personal challenges that need to be addressed, but which don’t warrant a new hire or a therapist respectively.

Have You Seen Sunlight?

I had a messenger come to me in the form of sunlight through sunlight-colored hair, at an all-brass bar, at the Driskill Hotel at SXSW last March. She was ordering beers at 11am. I saw her from far off. I was dreadfully hungover, and remember the sunlight streaming in from the windows opposite the bar, lighting her up. The person she was meeting was on the phone, so I, acting as interim hostess, said hello, and signaled my departure to leave them to…. meet. And she wore hot pink tights.

But her tights didn’t enter the scene last night when, during a deep breathing, guided meditation session, she appeared as just sunlight, brass, and sunlit hair. I was at a section where love, warmth, compassion — all that is right with the world and all that I am inside — was radiating, through guidance, from the heart center — the fourth chakra, Anahata Chakra, representing unconditional love and compassion. As the sunlight radiated from Anahata, and as the warmth washed over me, the image from last March of this messenger from a distance, of the light, came to me, showed itself, visited, left, and I continued my same pace of slow, warm, deep, loving, breath.

She came to me a messenger of me, and brought me to what I am at the hearts center — compassion and unconditional love. I can’t call her an angel (after all, I only said hello, and I need more guidance) but she delivered to me the message of the angelic. She came into my life that day only for me, and for no one else. That was why she came. I truly believe that.

Can You (I) Handle the Truth!?

I just finished writing a book reflection for class on A Sacred Voice is Calling by John Neafsey. Below is an excerpt.

I’m developmentally stuck on this chapter: Authenticity: To Live as though the Truth Were True. I’m incredibly authentic insofar as I am generally quite honest, trustworthy, and live with integrity. But I have lost my ability to recognize the truth from others over time and through several well-metered, just-when-you-thought-it-was-safe-to-go-back-in-the-water examples. And this, of course, is the lesson. Forget others. What is my truth? I get so terribly mixed up, hurt, angry, and muddled trying to figure out a level of honesty or inauthenticity in others because I’m so busy responding to what they are saying and feeling. And somewhere along the line, I decided it was much easier to believe the worst case scenario because then I’ll know how to respond. Responding to no outcome, or believing that what someone is telling me is true EVEN if its a positive outcome… that is hard because it involves trust, risk, and leaves one open to being proven wrong.

Protracted dishonesty, big and small, just pisses me off, and scares me into a protective place. I have more thoughtful writing on this here. As Neafsey says, truth is freedom. I believe that, and know for sure that I can “handle” the truth from others much more easily than something less as it offers me the power to move through life with full awareness.

So, rather than sadly and often unfairly expecting a lack of truth in others, I can only look to my own heart, and this presents a big paradox for me. The web created from inauthenticity around me, and through me by example, for such a long time has had me lacking trust in my own judgment and recognition of what is real for me. I have a burdensome ability for empathy, compassion, and intuition that borders on prescience. This leaves me open to enmeshment, and losing myself in others. It means emotional intensity leaves me utterly debilitated, exhausted, taking advil, and sleeping.

Living as though the Truth were True “only” asks that you know your own truth. How hard is that?? For me it has seemed very challenging due to my response to others, but is very likely easy and obvious. With glimpses, the truth in love, should become more practiced and eventually effortless. That IS the goal. You can’t look for it. You have to feel it in your body. If you do, then no one can take it away even if they try.

When Giving Gives Back

I wish I had time to teach my children better what I profess to do as a profession. I mean really teach them, including by example. I have this vision of them “getting” the soul-nourishing aspects of giving as they look oh-so forward to what they will get for Christmas. And aside from writing some measly checks, and having them clear out stuff for donations, I’m not really offering much to go on.

So much busy-ness, so much harried-ness, means that that which is my best intention I don’t have time for myself, let alone take the time to teach others. Intentions just don’t cut it in terms of spiritual payoff.

This time of year, when the requests for cash support to great organizations are many (and one of which I’ve written and sent myself), I reflect on all of the other ways I would like to be involved and haven’t been. And yet I must be kind to myself for what I do, which, by many accounts is “too much” as defined by the number of times I hear “I don’t know how you do it.”

When life throws you a curve ball and you’re forced to focus on where the ball landed (or maybe the ball whacked you in the head) you begin to realize how priorities might have shifted earlier, and so you re-order things, shed things, and ostensibly tread a “saner” path. Personally, I’ve spent a lot of time over the last several months looking inward to open up to myself. Centering, and working to stay there, resisting old habits to be pulled away from myself because if you can stay centered, even the best/worst curve ball will have you standing firm. Decisions are clearer. Respect from self and others greater.

And then life spins up again. Especially at holiday time!

It’s easy to then get caught up in the same cycle, responding automatically to the many requests and interests that plead for attention, and putting ourselves off because surely we know exactly where we are. However, in so doing, we are tempting life to come back and force a reminder of what is important, and to shock us back to discerning ourselves. And so I live in the desire to be leading a “normal” life, but not to let my guard down so much as to lose myself, become complacent, and stop discerning decisions, actions, and my responses.

Giving is a way to stay connected. It may seem antithetical to say that giving to others brings you closer to you. But by all accounts, researched and felt, giving contains an emphasis on personal awareness combined with a balanced awareness of community, social justice, and the world around us. We give through a sense of what is important to us.

"This sometimes means looking at things we would prefer not to look at and feeling things we would prefer not to feel.” ~ John Neafsey

It may seem overwhelming to take a clear, hard look at the state of things, but to have a dream for humanity, according to writer and teacher Sharon Daloz Parks, “depends upon serious engagement with the truth of the world, the universe as it is, including ‘things that should not be so.’” Then, its required that we lift our wide, open eyes with a realistic hope and a sense of what is possible. Not naive utopia, but rather a measured and balance awareness of what can be done when we individually and collectively “imagine what is possible” for our souls and for our world.

I look forward to moving beyond intention into action on what I imagine to be possible not only for myself, but for society in 2012 and beyond.

"Denial: Setting oneself free by saying ‘no’. It is denying, not the thing or the person, but one’s dependence on the thing or the person, so clearing a space for genuine communion….

… Affirming a greater love, and transcending one’s cravings for the sake of that love…

Tourism is great for a break. But it is a sad way of life. It means never unpacking one’s suitcase, so never knowing the meaning of ‘home’…. a million sensations, but no inner growth; at best, there is the nostalgic ache for what might have been if I could have stayed longer…. It takes courage to ‘stay with it’; not to move on when I do not like it any more, but instead, to stay with it and let what is no longer novel disclose its unsuspected depth.

This is ‘sense’: sensory… hostage to one’s own needs… enslaved to each next moment.

If, however, a person chooses not to fill the hole with one more sensation, not to flit to another relationship or a different project, but to see this one through, life can transfer to a whole new level….

This is ‘spirit’: the availability as a person for communion; the space for the gift of awareness, self, universe (God).

- Gems from my latest readings by Iain Matthew

Resting on Life’s Path

Does immersion in all things spiritually enlightening and expansive every really soak into our skin, through our bodies, and into our soul? Spiritual direction, meditation, yoga, buddha, burning rituals, soulseeds, all manner of reading…. and some days I worry about being impervious.

Some days it feels like baby steps forward, and then giant steps back. It can be exhausting and discouraging, and the steps backward seem so big (whether they are or not is hard to tell), and are generally called out. Steps forward are almost hard to notice, and are generally not called out by others (although if we’ve moved forward far enough, then, of course, we don’t need others to notice).

The uphill path toward self-actualization, awareness, fearlessness, and letting go is fraught with obstacles (some of which we carry on our backs), unsure footing, sliding sections, and the occasional mud puddle. Sometimes I need to just sit down where I am on the path, brush myself off, look around, and then close my eyes. Do I have the energy to get back up and keep going knowing that I am not likely to reach the pinnacle (assuming one exists) given my humanity and lack of ashram time? How does it feel to be another mile ahead? Worth it?

Maybe tomorrow. Today I need to sit here wanting to enjoy the view from where I am, but unable to open my eyes.

The Invitation

The classic and timeless poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.’

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

Jul 1

The Importance of Being Unimportant

A paradox? A goal? Enlightenment? Tragic?

What does one do in the face of not being a factor in someone else’s thinking? Does it matter? You are a factor in your own thinking. Does it count if anyone else considers you… is considerate… caring? Or is the goal that we need no one and all that really matters is that we have ourselves?

I believe it to be a combination. Monks live in seclusion for a reason. Spiritual enlightenment absent the demands of interpersonal relationships is a very different, and very antisocial, road to go down. Admirable, yes. But less admirable, and less rewarding, than the fulfillment achieved through the integration of relationships, offering compassion, empathy, and, ultimately, intense gratification and real love.

The line between the selfish heart and the selfless heart is very fine. While it may seem like the selfless person is not looking out for themselves, and is being weak or taken advantage of, I would argue that that person, if true of heart and spirit, is opening up to letting go of what they assume to be in their self interest — letting go of what looks like something that needs grabbing hold of. In the letting go, that person finds their own spiritual power in the lack of need, the lack of holding, grasping, demanding.

They might find that in letting go, and becoming empty of importance, the caring and compassion for others fills them with what is really important. (Mother Theresa comes to mind here.)

Do we exist to make sure we get what we need, inserting our demands without regard to what happens to those around us? Or does the gift of compassion become what fills our soul. It is a fine fine line that only our intention can identify.

Can you give without resentment or expectation of return? Should you? Can I? Should I? Only when done pure of heart should it be done. A lofty goal, not for the faint of heart.