Where Happiness Lies

A lot of people think a life of devotion, a life of faith, means rigidity and strict rules. That to believe in God and submit to a higher Will makes you unhappy and confined.

That could not be farther from the truth.

My experience of Christianity, enriched by my community of Quakers, yogis, and mystics, is that faith opens everything up to greater depth and beauty and wholeness. It does not make everything easy. This human experience is hard, and we must go through it, warts and all. But there is a great Master that can hold our hand and guide us so we’re not alone.

There is a season for everything. There are times of hopelessness and despair, or relaxation, or joy. There are times where we wrestle with demons and questions and don’t know how to figure everything out. That is part of life, and there is no escaping it. It flat-out sucks. But if we open to Holiness, we have a force to hold our hands and hold our hearts and show us everything is going to be okay.

Despite how desperately we want to, we do not control our lives.

I say this from experience. That’s the only truth I know. My truth does not come through reading books or the Bible, though I do read the Bible as well as other sacred texts, and they all enter my heart and nourish me. I say all this from many, many heartbreaks. I say it because I’ve lost everything tangible in my life, and even, at one point, my own mind. And in moments of being flayed out and exposed, with no way to save myself on my own, I had to ask something bigger to do the work for me. I asked Light—begged it, in fact—to take over, to shut out the darkness. And that has allowed me to come to accept, simply, what is. That’s where happiness lies.

I have battled, and I have fought my way through life, looking so hard for solutions, trying so hard to do everything right, to keep problems from happening. I am a warrior. But I know now that I don’t have to fight that way. I don’t have to be tough and hardened to get through this world. Instead, I can use all that strength and wisdom to bow down and give myself over to something Large and Supreme. I can ask it to use me. Just use me. I say, You are better than I am, and Wholly Good. And I can’t even begin to understand or grasp it, so take over. I’ll let you guide the way.

Strength lies in surrender and gentleness to the One, not in force. But that doesn’t mean we don’t stand up when something is wrong. In fact, when we do have to stand up and step out and do something Good, when we have to battle the face of darkness, we can do it more effectively in the arms of a force greater than us. We do it with the force of Love. Love says yes, sometimes, and Love also says no. Love lets you in the garden, and other times, stops you at the gate. But trust that Great Love. It is a brilliant, majestic power greater than any I have ever known.

 

“DSC_0008”by angshah is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Hippie Love

Yesterday, my friend Lauren told me I was a hippie.

“Really?” I said. I don’t know how it came up, but somehow I was telling her that the house where I babysit has a sign that says “Hippies Welcome,” and my son asked what being a hippie meant. I didn’t know how to describe it.

“Just tell him, you,” she said.

I laughed as she reminded me that two weeks ago, when a few of us were walking through the city, I encouraged everybody to sit in the park and put their hands on the earth.

This new Jana is a far cry from the uptight twenty-something who sat in a Catholic school’s faculty room grading papers, obsessed with perfection. Back then, I was surprised when my colleagues told me I was Type-A.

But I can’t help who I am. It’s taken me a long time to get to this place, and I don’t know where I’m going after this. All I know is that it feels good to be me, fully, right now.

I want my bare feet on the earth. I want feathers in my hair. I want beads on my arms, stones around my neck. I sit on the steps of my porch and I burn incense and I smoke cigarettes, and I listen to music. I put amber oil on my skin. I stare out into the sky and I feel so much love.

In the morning and at night, I sit at the altar in my bedroom and I burn sage and palo alto and light candles. I pray to the one whose name is Holy, the one whose name I’m afraid to say out loud. (It begins with a “J.”) I ask him to fill my heart with Light, and when I pray hard enough, and when I say his name, his Light enters in. And I am healed. And I am whole.

My life is pretty magical.

If you want to feel a little magic, too, listen to these tunes.

“thrush_3”by Howlsthunder is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Pray with a Hungry Heart

Trust that whatever is meant for you, will come to you. Trust that whatever lesson that needs to be learned, will be learned in its time.

I have gone through my life desiring so many things. I wanted to find my dream job, but it became more and more elusive. I wanted to find the perfect man, but he wouldn’t appear. I wanted my book to be published so I could call myself a “writer,” but I got rejection after rejection.

I wanted this, and that, and to get there. Once I get there, I thought, I’ll be happy.

I have gotten so overwhelmed with my wants and my desires that I look up at God and I say, What the fuck? What do you want from me?

And God pats me on the head and says, Aw. Sweetie. I love you, but some things are not meant for you. I only want you to be free. 

Two years ago, I went to a psychic because I felt so frustrated by the turns my life had taken. I felt like progress was supposed to be happening, but it was not happening in time. She knew things about me, and was highly intuitive. She was going to help. She was going to use crystals and say all these weird prayers, and fix whatever was wrong so that the good things would come to me. I waffled about whether to believe her, but I dove in and tried it. I thought I had nothing to lose. I had questions in my heart, questions about what was destined for me and what was free will, and I suppose I wanted them answered.

Then shit got fucked up.

And it was perhaps the best thing that ever happened.

I realize that I do not always know what’s best for me, or what my destiny is supposed to be. My mind is small and feeble. I want, and I want, and I want. I try, and I try, and I try. I’m always trying to get there, to that place of happiness and fulfillment. But what God has shown me is that there is no there. There is only here. Everything that’s right in front of you.

This is all there is. No future. No past. No promise of forever.

But when you open yourself up to wisdom, and Truth, and Light, you will see astounding beauty, and feel richer than you ever thought possible.

This, the present moment, your life just as it is, is where happiness lies. It is all a matter of perception, of stripping away the labels and expectations and desires and longings and seeing what truly exists.

So embrace the people you love. Dance in your living room. As Jesus says, Love the Lord your God with all your heart,  soul, and mind. That’s the love that always reciprocates.

And pray for the Light to heal you.

You will always get an answer. It might not be the answer you expect. But it always, always comes to the hungry heart.

And what God reveals to you will be more brilliant and beautiful than you ever imagined, as long as you can accept it and receive it with openness and grace.

 

“broken heart #1”by Alcino is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Opening Your Life to Fullness

If we are to experience true happiness, and live in the realm of Spirit—or spirituality—we must be open to the stripping away of the many masks we wear until we see our souls naked as a newborn baby. When that happens, we begin to ask, What do we want? Who do we want it for? What are we doing on this earth?

Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, talk about “continuing revelation,” the idea and experience that once the Light takes hold in us, it shows us more and more about our lives and guides us from within. Our souls, sometimes, are captured in dark rooms. Our minds convince us of so many things that hold us back from becoming our true selves. It takes the Light to bring clarity so we can follow the longings of our hearts.

A lot of Christian mystics and Buddhists describe the time of prayer and meditation as a chance to “empty” ourselves before the One. But that language of emptying disturbs me. If I empty myself, I don’t know that I’ll have anything left. I don’t know where the me is. In the romantic relationships of my life, for instance, I have emptied myself so much that I’ve neglected my own needs and dreams. This is why I prefer the term “baring.” When the Light hits us, we begin to strip away all the masks and disguises we’ve been carrying. We become naked before God, releasing our job titles, our relationships to other people, the ways we’ve been defining ourselves of the narratives we tell ourselves about who we are. We expose our wounds, the places where it hurts, and see ourselves as we really are, as God sees us—pure, whole, good, an emblem of Love in all its manifestations.

If you’re lucky enough to be stripped, to be beaten down, to have had it with life, and you bare your soul to the Oneness that moves through all things, you’ll see how beautiful and delicate you really are.

The things that happen in our lives—whether we label them bad or good—are merely opportunities, chances we take to either form a harder shell around our hearts or soften them. When we get beyond shame, beyond hatred, beyond greed, beyond fear, we see we are Love. The same Love that makes up the trees, the grass, the flowers, the planets, and the sky.

In your vulnerability, in your pain, in your weakness—how could you be anything but beautiful?

In my life, it is not emptiness I want—though I do, often, empty my pain out before God, in the form of tears. Rather, I want fullness. I show up for God two times a day with everything I have—my wounds, my struggles, my worries, my pleasures, my daydreams. And my Creator accepts all of it, embraces me, and loves me fully, with no exceptions. My Creator does not say, “This is good in you, and not that.” No. My Creator says, Give me all of it. Every last piece of you. I want all of you. That is how deeply you are loved.

 

“P8250111”by Jez_P is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

 

The Light Feels Lighter

Being shown the Light is a gentle and surprising experience.

The Light is always gentle. Trust what’s gentle in your life.

We think of Light as a color, but it’s also a lack of weight. It’s a feeling in your body. If there’s something in your life weighing you down, give it up. Feel lighter. See what happens.

This life is about setting our hearts free.

But it doesn’t look like what we think it’s going to look like, and we have to be open to that.

When I was fired from a job several years ago, a job I loved, the immediate feeling I got was a sense of release, of a heaviness being taken from me. After that, my ego kicked in, and I was hurt. I was ashamed, and confused, and wondered what I should have done differently. But the job was a cross I had to bear for a time, a duty I had. And then, thankfully, that duty was released so I could move onto things that liberated me.

I had a similar instance when I got divorced. On paper, everything looked like shit. I had no money, no job, no way to keep my house, and three kids to take care of.

And yet I spent many months dancing in my kitchen. I was a bird let out of her cage.

We go through this life striving toward what we think is going to make us happy. Often, we think it’s in acquiring things. A nice house, a nice car. A nice-looking person that everyone approves of. Prestige, status, titles. A big fat checking account. People looking up to us.

And it can all go away, just like that.

So what’s real?

What’s real is what is in our hearts. It’s our experience. It’s what stirs us, what moves us, what opens us up.

The Light is safer than anything I’ve known, and yet to an outsider, it looks damn scary.

When Jesus came on this earth, he tried to help people see and hear, but very few saw and heard. He said the same thing we need to realize today—Get rid of your rules. Give away your money. Love other people.

2,000 years later, and a shitload of Christians have elected a raving, blasphemous narcissist as the leader of the free world.

Love other people. Give your money away. Stop following the rules.

Set your heart free. The rest will take care of itself.

“Babula – pendant lamp S” by KROOLS ., Yury Ustsinau, Fabrice Pöhlmann is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

The Helpers

This morning, as I was talking to my friend David on the phone, I stared out the window mindlessly at the cars passing by on the road in front of my apartment. And I watched an accident happen. A grey SUV pulled into the middle of the street, and a red pick-up truck with a lawnmower on the back crashed right into its side. My mouth opened as I watched, as David kept talking. And I wondered what was going to happen next.

The grey SUV was in the middle of the road, so the driver slowly pulled across and off to the side, to the curb. And I wondered what the red pick-up truck was going to do. I had a sense about him. He was waffling, unsure, I could tell.  He started to move forward, seeming like he was trying to figure it out. And then he just kept going. He didn’t stop. And he was gone.

The woman in the grey SUV saw this at the same time I did, and she got out and ran to the street and put her hands to her head. This man did something wrong, he caused damage, and then he just took off, seeming not to care who he hurt, or what was left in the wake of his actions.

Then it was my turn. I had to figure out what, if anything, I was going to do.

I got off the phone with David and decided to walk out there. I grabbed my keys and my phone in case the people in the car didn’t have one. And I saw a woman walking across the grass to the SUV just as I was on my way. That heartened me. See? I thought. People care.

When I got to the SUV, I asked the two women if they were okay. Luckily, despite the damage to the car, no one was hurt. Two men working on a house across the street made their way over to see if all was well. And I did the only thing I could do—I asked the woman in the car if I could hug her.

She was clearly distraught, but she accepted my hug. I put my hand on her arm and told her, “I know what that man did was mean and wrong, but that was one man, and there are four people who came here to see if you’re okay. Remember that.”

She nodded and thanked me. As I stood there with the women, I realized this was a lot like the presence of God.

People do bad things. They always do. We all have choices to make, and sometimes people choose wrong. Sometimes people choose from a place of darkness instead of a place of light. People, every day, make choices based in fear.

But there are others who reach out, who help, who care.

We have to decide what we’re going to focus on, what’s going to get our attention. The poor actions of other people, or the ones who come to us with open arms, ready to help.

The helpers, in my opinion, can make you believe in God.

If you’re sensitive like me, the wrong things people do really hurt. They hurt for a long time, and we may worry we’re never going to heal. We might shut people out and burrow down to protect ourselves. And that makes sense.

But then there are the helpers.

One bad driver. Four people who came over to help. The good outweighs the other.

Nearly two years ago, I ended up in the hospital unexpectedly. I stayed there for a week, unable to take care of myself. It would have been easy to burrow down in loneliness and fear. Instead, I was fortunate enough to be in a state where my heart was cracked wide open, and all the love of the people around me poured in. Friends visited every day. At home, my aunts went food-shopping for me and ironed my clothes. My grandmother (I think?) ran the vacuum. My mother got in touch with my employer and arranged for me to be on leave. When I got home, I got cards and food from friends, all who wanted to take care of me, all who loved me. And I let that love in. I had never known people felt that way about me, especially through all my hardships and pain. But then I knew that it was only in my darkness and brokenness that I could see Light, and there was just so much of it. Pure abundance. Everywhere.

I think about that hospital stay every day of my life, remembering what I saw and felt and what people did for me. I know there are plenty of people out there who do bad things. People hurt other people. I don’t know why they do it, and it’s not up to me to know. But there are so many more who offer help, who offer love. And I am learning to receive that love, graciously. I do not wish to take, and I do not wish to steal. I only want to accept what’s offered with grace.

Once I started to see all this more clearly, everything in my life changed.

 

 

“Hands”by Kat05 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Chasing the Wind

For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone? –Ecclesiastes 5:6

Here is what I’ve discovered recently:

I know nothing.

And that’s kind of awesome.

I’ve been going through life like a student, thinking that I need to get everything right. I approach my hardships like a test, assuming that if I figure them out, or put together the meaning behind them, I’ll reach what I’m searching for. And what is that? Enlightenment? Bliss? Happiness?

It all fades. It comes and goes like the money in your wallet. It’s merely chasing the wind.

All we can do in this life is love other people and let go of the outcome. Stop grasping, stop needing. Enjoy our time on earth. Sit back and celebrate.

No one knows what’s going to happen next. We will certainly die, and no one knows what will happen when we do.

There is a God, and that God is amazing, but no one can know God’s hand, or what God wants, or what God has planned for you.

No matter how much you google or read books or talk to friends and therapists, there is no knowledge like the knowledge that you don’t know a fucking thing.

So love other people and don’t get attached. We come into this world with nothing, and we leave with nothing too. The only sure thing is that our bodies pass away.

And what world awaits us after that? Who knows?

At this point in my life, I am going to stop trying to figure everything out, looking for meaning and signs and symbols everywhere lighting my path. I am like a child who wants approval, who wants a pat on the back. “You did a good job, onto the next level!” The problem is, there’s always a level after that, and another level, and then I’m left wondering what I did wrong to get me back into the same place.

The solution is to let go of the outcome. To embrace and accept myself and my experiences for all that I am, and to breathe and sink deep into love. I will be gentle, and kind, and open-hearted, because that’s who I am. I will take time each day to meditate and pray so I can listen to the songs in my heart—songs of sorrow and songs of joy, the flow of life. And I will dance to the tunes.

Letting go doesn’t mean being lazy. It means doing your duty and letting go of what’s to come. It’s about living in the present moment, being awake and open to being fully alive with no judgment here or there. Let go of opinions. Let go of assumptions. Embrace the beautiful, complicated creature you are.

I’ve searched so fucking hard. I’ve gone to classes, and I’ve visited therapists, and I went to a shaman, and I sat while energy workers did an intuitive healing or a reiki session on my body. And each time, I’ve grasped onto what I think is the answer, to what I think I’m supposed to be, or how I’m supposed to act, or what I’m going to do that helps me get there. To what? I don’t know.

The answer has been right in front of me all along. It’s inside me. It’s here. All I have to do is let go of the mental acrobatics, the attempts to find answers to solutions, the desire to put together the pieces. Instead, I’m just going to embrace my fleeting, precious, abundant, wonderful life.

Aaaahhh.

This feels good.

 

“Géométrie Pigeonnière” by Angelo Beaini is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0