autumn beauty in the kettle moraine forest

Don’t ask what the world needs.

Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.

Because what the world needs is people who have come alive…

– Howard Thurman (from howardthurmanfilm.com)

Greetings, friends.

Autumn is well underway, here in Wisconsin. The hummingbirds have been gone for weeks already, the leaves are turning colors and falling fast, the squirrels and chipmunks are scurrying everywhere, gathering nuts and seed.

It’s such a beautiful yet melancholy time of year, with the hours of daylight slowly but surely surrendering to the dark hours of night, and the temperatures dropping.

This year with the shadow of the coronavirus hovering over everything, things seem even heavier than usual, and here in the USA with the social unrest and the elections around the corner, it is a pretty intense time!

 

How are you holding up?!

 

I hope you are managing to continue to look for – and find! – the “gifts” in what for all of us is a time of great stress. 

I know you don’t need any more advice on how to deal with the intense challenges we are all faced with! I’m sure you’ve heard enough about emotional and physical self-care and about how to handle the various uncertainties that are pressing on all of us.

 But I do want to share something I have been reflecting on deeply during these months.

 “Thanks” to all the changes and pressures, people – myself included! – have been moved to dust off projects they had set aside, or take on challenges they have been wanting to face but until now didn’t feel they had the time or energy to actually tackle. 

 Some are dredging up the courage to really question some of the self-defeating ways they handle their existential fears, uncertainties and stress – depending too much on others or trying to control and change them, overuse or abuse of alcohol/drugs/sex/nicotine or other “substances” including sugar, overwork, and conflict – and get the help they need to shift what in many cases are not only personal life-long habits and addictions, but have been passed down through generations.

 Others are deciding to invest time, energy and money in projects they have dreamt of tackling for years, but just never seemed to be able to prioritize. 

 Many – some because they have lost their jobs and are forced to, some because the increased “downtime” offered by the pandemic has allowed them to really take a look at their lives and realize they are not truly satisfied with what they are doing – are looking at how to either renew existing careers or change them completely, to allow themselves a better quality of life. 

 Personally, I have been making an effort to spend time on my art, be it my music, painting or writing … ( Click here to listen to a song I wrote some years ago – it’s fun and upbeat and a reminder that “falling in love” can happen at any time, be it falling in love with another person, or with whatever really excites us in life…!)

 All of us, in one way or another, are finding ourselves being challenged regarding our place in society and many are becoming willing to change our “stance” regarding how we are accustomed to seeing ourselves.

 Those who have traditionally seen themselves as powerless victims are standing up and challenging that, and many who are used to standing back and defend their privilege are beginning to wonder if money and “stuff” are really something that satisfies their souls. 

 The easy certainties of our daily routines have been shaken to some extent for all of us, and as this “veneer” is taken away, it seems that many are understanding that it is exactly in times like these that we are “nudged” forward to discover more about who we truly are and what we want to do with our “one wild and precious life“, in the words of poet Mary Oliver (click here to hear her read her beautiful poem, “The Summer Day” … I know, it makes us nostalgic for the summer just past, but it’s about much more than just ‘summer’, and worth reading at any time of year!).

 Many tell me – “ok, Martha, it’s a great idea to try to discover who I ‘really’ am and what I would ‘authentically’ like to do, but I have a family and other obligations, and plus I have to earn a living!”

 Yes, I know. It is a very tricky and complex thing, this business of learning to live “authentically”. 

 But believe it or not, the first important step to becoming “alive” is to find the courage to look at how we are truly feeling about our lives, and, if we are not feeling “alive”, we have to find the courage to look at this Truth squarely, and acknowledge it. 

 If we can admit we are not feeling fully “alive”, and we need to explore how we can resuscitate ourselves, we are already well on our way!

 Many of us push down these feelings of not being alive for many years. We think it is what we have to do, to be good people, and to survive. 

 Stepping into the truth of our “deadness” – often confused today with “depression” – is the first step, because it helps us realize that only we can make ourselves come alive, and while we may very well need help (in reality, no one does this alone and the ones who say they do are either not seeing their allies or are not being truthful!), this is work that no one else can do for us.

 Once we have found the courage to admit we are feeling out of alignment, the next step is asking ourselves:
what brings me joy? 

 This is another passage that can be a little tricky. 

 “Joy” is not simple pleasure, or an absence of pain or boredom. Joy is not related to buying material things we have been wanting, nor is it the feeling of relief we have when a difficult situation ends.

 Joy is the unforgettable feeling of being in deep harmony with our Selves, our Souls.

 It is knowing we have done “the next right thing”, be that facing a difficult challenge we were afraid to face, finding the strength to confront our fears and pain by reaching out rather than locking ourselves away in self-defense and self-reliance, going back to school or changing careers, picking up a project we abandoned long ago, or even getting out of a relationship or job we know is not good for us.

 A. Mercurio calls the kind of soul-growth we experience as we transform ourselves and our traumas into new Life, “Secondary Beauty“. This Beauty fills us with a feeling of wellbeing and confidence as we learn to truly love our lives and care for them properly, and it inspires and energizes others to do the same. 

 Those who live following a desire to create new kinds of Beauty – which is always informed by Love, by the desire to enhance Life, rather than limit or destroy it in oneself or in others – emanate an essence that has a ripple effect on their environments.

 They uplift others not by what they say, but by how they live. 

 They are by no means “perfect”. They are human, full of all the complex emotions and contradictions that make up our human experience. 

 But the difference, when we are striving towards Aliveness and Beauty, is that we don’t get stuck in our mistakes and imperfections. We learn to look at them honestly and do what we can to right the wrongs we have committed, towards ourselves and others, and to move forward, even if moving forward is just one tiny baby step towards a better life. 

 As Lao Tzu, the great Chinese Master said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” 

 And, I would add – it continues on, one step at a time…one day at a time … one small choice regarding the thoughts we think, the actions we take, the people we spend time with, how we treat our bodies with food and drink, etc. etc.

 In times like these, it becomes very clear that the choices we make, from moment to moment throughout our days, either in relationship to ourselves or in our interactions with others, are either creative or destructive

 This is not to point the finger and blame ourselves or others. Blaming and shaming do not lead to new choices, to new levels of Love and Beauty! 

 But awareness does. Becoming aware that every day we make many little decisions that lead us in one direction or another, and that we are the ones who actually CHOOSE the direction we go in, and that choice is a cause that produces further effects, onward down the line … 

 This awareness – that we are the ones who choose the quality of our thoughts and actions, and that if our lives are not how we would like them to be, we need to look inside, first of all, to see what beliefs are holding us in situations that no longer serve our Highest Good – is the first step in cultivating our most basic “Freedom”the freedom to choose what we place our attention on day to day, what we “feed” ourselves mentally, emotionally and physically, and what we put out in terms of thoughts, words, and actions.

 No, we do not have total control over our environment – if nothing else, the coronavirus has reminded us of that! – nor do we have even “total control” over ourselves.

 We are, yes, “victims” of our past, of societal and family pressures, past and present, in the sense that we are absolutely affected by them, in both positive and negative ways.

 But we remain victims only for as long as we refuse to look at what we, ourselves, are doing to perpetuate our enslavement to conditions we do not want.

 We need to own up to this truth, and realize that even small destructive choices add up, and lead to suffering, in one form or another, whereas creative ones always lead to greater inner peace and soul-felt Beauty, and, eventually, outer peace and beauty, as well.

 If it is not clear to us what the difference is, we can simply ask ourselves: does this improve my life and wellbeing and the life and wellbeing of others, or not? 

 Sometimes there can feel like a very fine line between the two, because, for example, when we are used to soothing ourselves with something that feels good in the moment but that can cause us problems later, like that extra scoop of ice-cream, or that comment made in self-righteous judgment of others, it’s not always easy to think a little further ahead at what the consequences may be. 

But if we do stop and think for a moment, we can remember:
that extra scoop of ice-cream can lead to not feeling good with ourselves and can eventually lead even to more severe health problems; our self-righteous judgment of others, even when we don’t speak it aloud (our thoughts carry energy, and others can feel it, even if they may not know what, exactly, is happening…), can ruin a friendship or even elicit a violent response.

 There is a simple phrase that Antonio Mercurio coined a while ago and that I never tire of sharing:

“Today is a new day,
and I choose Love and Beauty”.

This reminds us that even if yesterday we chose ugliness – destructive choices made towards ourselves or others, no matter how big or small – today we can choose differently! 

We can let go of what happened yesterday, and gently shift our attention to whatever it may be that brings Love and Beauty to our own lives, and/or to someone else’s life.

It can be as simple as choosing to think kindly of ourselves, even though yesterday we had that extra scoop of ice-cream or did something else we know was not right for us, or think kindly of our neighbors, even though you don’t agree with what they believe or how they live their lives.

From shifting our thoughts, we then can begin to shift our actions, and, moment after moment of new, loving and creative thoughts and actions slowly add up, and make a new Life.

 Every day we are creating our own lives, and as we do so we are contributing to the greater Lives we are a part of – our intimate relationships, our families, our neighborhoods, our nations, the Earth itself.

****

 And that brings us to the words – and life example – of Howard Thurman, as quoted at the beginning of this newsletter. Thurman was an African American theologian who inspired generations to stop grasping for spiritual perfection and instead start cultivating, day by day, reverence for Life by getting in touch with one’s deepest Self.

 The Divine works within us, and if we connect with it by discovering our deepest desires for Self-expression, we can become truly “happy”, and whole, and thus contribute something of real value to others and Life itself.

 Individual human beings that get in touch with these deepest voices and find the courage and strength to express them are bringing in a precious gift, not only to themselves and the communities they live and operate in but to the great “energy field” of life itself.

 And as we do so, yes, the “money” – the resources we need to support our lives and our endeavors – really does follow, even though it can take time for that to happen, and sometimes it happens in ways that are different than we imagined, and so we can not quite see the gifts that Life is bestowing on us.

Getting in tune with this very different way of thinking is not easy. It requires great patience and persistence to live ever more in tune with our Authentic Selves, but it is well worth every effort we make. 

 It requires a consistent effort to listen deeply and keep moving forward, rather than get pulled back into conditioned, tribal or “mass” thinking, which tends to be principally concerned with our material survival and how much others like us (or not). 

 There is nothing wrong with wanting material wellbeing and technological advances that make our lives a bit easier and also allow for greater connection across the globe, and of course we all want to have people in our lives whom we love and respect and who show the same consideration towards us.

 But if our preoccupation with material objects or others’ attention or approval stifles or distorts the inner Artist, that part of ourselves that is always striving towards greater expression, deeper harmony and Beauty, we need to find the courage to face this uncomfortable truth and step deeper into the amazing invitations that Life is proffering us, through our deepest desires for wholeness, for Aliveness, for authentic self-expression.

 We evolve through conflict and pain, and so this is clearly a time of great evolutionary energies coming to the forefront. 

 My hope is that today you can grab on to them and make some even tiny choices to affirm Love and Beauty within you, to move towards being truly, fully Alive.

 From my Inner Artist to yours,

 Martha