18 October 2016      

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Opening to Fear
Dawna Markova

Gratitude Eradicates Worry
M.J. Ryan

The Cults of Personality
tom walsh

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The ultimate test of a person's conscience may be his or her willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.

Gaylord Nelson

Success, recognition, and conformity are the bywords of the modern world where everyone seems to crave the anesthetizing security of being identified with the majority.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Courage is doing what you're afraid to do.  There can be no courage unless you're scared.

Eddie Rickenbacker


Opening to Fear
Dawna Markova

Fear is passion without breath.  How do we mother our passion?  To be fully alive, we have no choice but to finally move closer toward what we usually veer away from.  I have habitually ignored the black hole into which everything seems to disappear, the sterile void that, in my worst moments, I am afraid is at my core.  It causes me to approach life as if I always had to escape from some danger.

What would it be like to open our hearts to our fear, to befriend it with wonder, as one would a deer in the forest?  What if you could bring it right into the hearth of your awareness instead of ignoring it and thus allowing it to become an undifferentiated mass of demons that gang up on you in the murk?  Stuffed behind walls, fear becomes a horde--the Demons of Doubt who will trample you under stories of what others think, of your endless failures, impending humiliation, and lost control.  Together and ignored, they will drive you out of your own life.  But when you invite them into the layered light of your awareness, they can't join together and rule you from the shadows.

I am practicing opening to fear as often as I can when it arises.  I awkwardly release the constrictions and control I usually I usually use to numb the fear out.

Breathing in and out, I slowly become present to myself and my body, coming to my senses as I would with a terrified baby, noticing my breath, noticing sensations, refusing any interpretations.  I imagine the warmth of compassion sinking deep into the cold place where all of that fear and confusion lives, as if a woodstove is lit on a frigid hard morning.  The warmth from the stove fills the room, transforms the cold.

I imagine Wonder Woman here teaching all of us.  She holds fear at the edge of the unknown, which just happens to be our growing edge, what we most need to learn.  She peers over.  She feels fear, but she also feels alternating currents of fascination.  A bubble appears over her head as she asks, "What am I more curious about than I am afraid of?"

There is something highly passionate about living in conscious relationship to fear.  I have been practicing daily by venturing into the unknown and risking a reach.  Not just any old risk.  Only interesting ones.  Sometimes I do it on skis or snowshoes, crossing snowy terrain in early morning or right after sunset when there is a huge tense blackness in the world, when the wind seems like a language the mountains are speaking, when my wild feet break new white snow and write messages in large, exuberant prints.

Sometimes I do it with paint on black paper, not trying to make anything, but rather just for the experience of noticing what happens on that edge of uncertainty, what emerges from the black hole of the unknown.  Sometimes I just sit still with my eyes, hands, and ears empty, letting my thoughts warp, floating in the space between my breaths, my periphery getting wider and wider as it does at the ocean.

These little practices with risk and reach, fear and promise at my edge give me daily shots of vitality, the pump of adrenaline.  Everything else disappears, including any notion of identity or roles or images of who I'm supposed to be.  There is only the experience of being passionately alive.  Still, each time, prior to setting out, fear seems more justified than trust.

The hardest thing is to keep your horizons open, to keep exploring that green growing edge.  As I tremble there, I find myself wondering, "What do I love more than I fear?  How can I motivate myself by what I love?"

When I die, I want to remember the pulse of life.  I want to be well practiced in letting go over the edge of the known, holding on to that golden Wonder Woman rope woven of threads of love, and feel it untwining into a thousand directions.

When I die, I want my heart and soul fully seeded with rich stories and experiences.  I want to be moving forward, falling upward, leaving my body well worn.  I want to know presence, staying with what is hard until it softens, staying with what is narrow until it expand.  I want to know how to float in the silences between breaths and thoughts.  I want to know how to lift above and sink below the flow of life, to drift and dream in the currents of what cannot be known.  It's not so much about being prepared for death as it is being full of life.  I want to be so well practiced in crossing thresholds that dying is merely another step in the dance.  I want to be so comfortable with stillness and silence that I can root in them.

And you, my friend?  I am wondering, if you were writing these pages, if you crossed a chasm of hesitancy and there were an immense release in you, what words would flow from your pen, after beginning the sentence, "When I die, I want. . ."

May we all learn how to love well.  May we all find something to love that is larger and more powerful than anything we fear.


In a thoughtful and poetic
form, I Will Not Die an
Unlived Life
teaches us
how to navigate our lives
from the inside out so
that rather than being
at the mercy of life's
changes, we are able to
offer to the world the
gifts that are ours alone
to give. --M.J. Ryan


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Gratitude Eradicates Worry
M.J. Ryan

If worrying were a paying job, I would be a rich woman.  Somehow during my childhood, I got the idea that worrying could actually stave off future disaster, and as I entered adulthood, I became convinced that if I were to stop worrying, took my eye off the ball, as it were, that something dreadful would happen.  If I worried enough about being poor, I wouldn't be.  If I worried enough about my partner's safety, nothing would happen to him.  If I worried enough about my stepson's health, he wouldn't get sick.  There was no room in my heart for happiness because worry took up all the space.  (Indeed I was convinced that if I were too happy, it would somehow hex the situation.  If I got too happy about love, for example, I wouldn't worry sufficiently and therefore it would be taken away from me.)

In my forties, I have been working on letting go of my compulsive worrying, and I have been amazed at how swiftly a sense of gratefulness banishes the worry warts.  And I've tried many other things--asking myself what is the worst thing that could happen and imagining going through that to a new place; noticing without judgment my worry; indulging it; pushing it away.  None of these has been as effective as tapping into a sense of appreciation in this moment for what I do have.

Worried about money?  I  focus on the fact that so far, I have always had what I needed and right now, I have enough.  Worried about health?  I focus on the amount of good health I'm thankful to be experiencing right now.  Worried about--my favorite--a loved one being taken suddenly in an accident?  I focus on how grateful I am that they are in my life right now.

I think tapping into the wellspring of gratitude works for two reasons.  First, worry is always about the future, if only the next hour of minute, whereas gratitude is in the here and now.  Cast over your list of worries.  Aren't they always about what might or might not happen?  You are worried about the reaction of your boss tomorrow to your presentation.  You're worried about how you are going to afford to send your son or daughter to college.  You're worried about the test results.  In every case, you project yourself into the future and imagine something bad happening.  As André Dubus points out, "It is not hard to live through a day if you can live through a moment.  What creates despair is the imagination, which pretends there is a future and insists on predicting millions of moments, thousands of days, and so drains you that you cannot live the moment at hand."  Gratitude brings you back to the present moment, to all that is working perfectly right now.  Tomorrow may bring difficulties, but for right now, things are pretty good.

Gratefulness also eliminates worry because it reminds us of the abundance of our universe.  Yes, something bad might happen, but given all that you have received so far, chances are that you will continue to be supported on your journey through life, even in ways you would never have guessed or chosen for yourself.

In Attitudes of Gratitude, M. J. Ryan teaches us how to unlock the fullness of life through the expression and exercise of a grateful heart. In a series of brief, evocative essays, she inspires us to discover and distill a sense of gratitude in every aspect of our lives and offers practical suggestions to help us focus on all that we have, rather than our perception of what may be lacking.


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Autumn is youthful, mirthful, frolicsome--the child of summer's joy--and
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autumn flings whole pots of paint about in wild carelessness.  The crimson
and scarlet colours reserved for roses and tulips are splashed on the brambles
till every bush is aflame, and the old creeper-covered house blushes like a sunset.

Roger Wray


The Cults of Personality

When I was younger, I thought that we as a society would outgrow our fascination with so-called "stars"--the actors and athletes and writers and models and other people who are fortunate enough to become "famous."  Unfortunately, though, as time  has gone on we have become even more obsessed with these people, and we're spending more time and money and energy now focused on other people who just happen to be in the spotlight.  In the meantime, we're spending less time focusing our energies and resources on our families and friends.

It's important that we realize just what we're focusing on.  There's a reason that these people are in the news and on the screens, and it doesn't have to do with their talents or the contributions that they're making to the world.  The reason is simple:  other people are making lots of money off of them.  The airways are filled with mediocre songs by mediocre singers because those songs sell because people like the singer or group behind them.  We see poorly made movie after poorly made movie because people like a particular actor or actress for the time being.

These people, though, are just like you and me.  Most of them struggled to get into the business they're in, and they're very fortunate to have what they have.  Somewhere along the line, somebody else with money realized that they could make even more money with this actress in their movie, or having this singer make albums, regardless of the quality.  (We see that the abilities of singers is limited, for example, when we look at the number of artists who use what's called Autotune, a computer program that actually corrects a singer's pitch when he or she misses notes.)  While many of them do have tremendous talents, the truth is that they're just like you and me, and our obsessions with them simply aren't justified.

When I look around me, I see people wearing more and more overpriced shirts that are basically ads for their favorite teams or singers.  I hear people spending time talking about TV shows or singers or athletes instead of talking about themselves and each other.  We focus a lot of time on the latest song or album from our favorite group or on how a team got robbed by the refs yesterday, but little time talking about our own hopes and dreams, little time talking about our own problems and trying to come up with solutions to them.

When I was young, I had hoped that this sort of phenomenon would have passed, but it's getting stronger and stronger as the people who want to make money spend more money advertising and trying to convince us to follow their team or their stars.  They create television shows that they call "reality" shows that really have little or nothing to do with reality, but which function basically as ways to get performers' names and images in the public eye so that they can sell more songs or movie tickets and dvd's.

More and more of our money each year goes towards the goods and services that these people offer.  Less and less of our time each year goes towards our families and friends as we focus more and more of our time and energy into following the "stars."  Why would I write a letter to a friend when I can watch a new episode of American Idol?  I can't buy my kid a new coat because it cost us $300 to go to that football game last week.

Being a fan isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Being obsessed with someone we've never met, though, is.  As time goes on and we become more aware of the ways that we spend our time, energy, and resources, I hope that people will one day be spending less money on tickets to baseball games and more money on their communities; less money on movies and home entertainment systems and more time and money on their kids and their friends.  Perhaps it's just a pipe dream of mine, but it definitely is a dream.

More on silence.


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It is very often asserted that fear is destructive.  Yet this is not entirely true; when fear is felt about things that truly threaten security, it is protective.  It is very fortunate that humans have an almost unlimited capacity for learning fears; otherwise we would have been eliminated long ago.

Smiley Blanton


Two friends were walking through the desert.  During some point of the journey they had an argument and one friend slapped the other one in the face.

The one who got slapped was hurt, but without saying anything, wrote in the sand:  "Today my best friend slapped me in the face."

They kept on walking, until they found an oasis, where they decided to take a bath.  The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and started drowning, but the friend saved him.

After he recovered from the near drowning, he wrote on a stone:  "Today my best friend saved my life."

The friend who had slapped and saved his best friend asked him, "After I hurt you, you wrote in the sand and now, you write on a stone.  Why?"

The other friend replied, "When someone hurts us we should write it down in sand where winds of forgiveness can erase it away.  But when someone does something good for us, we must engrave it in stone where no wind can ever erase it."


Notice what happens when you doubt, suppress, or act contrary to
your feelings.  You will observe decreased energy, powerless or
helpless feelings, and physical or emotional pain.  Now notice what
happens when you follow your intuitive feelings.  Usually the result
is increased energy and power and a sense of natural flow.  When
you're at one with yourself, the world feels peaceful, exciting, and magical.

Shakti Gawain


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