From Caroline’s 2012 Salon
I prefer going down a path of wonder, hope, and possibilities. I can see quite clearly that our world is spinning in potential flames and chaos. But I am also mindful that I need to make my own decision as to where and how I invest my own consciousness, much less my time and creative energy, each day and it is on behalf of that theme that I dedicate this first Salon. I thought I would ask you the same questions that a group of my close friends asked each other as we approached midnight on New Year’s Eve. We wanted to generate a rich discussion among ourselves. We wanted to stir our own inner pots, so to speak, to see what was brewing inside. Like a self-styled, spontaneous retreat, we pursued these questions in a spontaneous manner but they resulted in reshaping how we thought about the way we would travel through the new year. Perhaps they will do the same for you.
Question One: What do you hope for this coming year that is different from other years?
This was a very thought-provoking question as it required that we consider first of all if we were harboring something deep within us that we were “hoping” for, either consciously or unconsciously. Were we hoping for a change in our lifestyle or for a new relationship, or in one case, for a divorce to finally happen? Before we even opened up that discussion, however, we talked about the nature of hope itself. What is hope and what does it mean to invest hope into something or to decide that something is hopeless? Does it matter, for example, to hold in your heart or mind the value decision that a situation in your life is hopeless?
So, we went around asking each other if we had any inner situations that we had already listed as “hopeless” in our hearts and surprisingly, everyone did. Situations that got onto the “hopeless” list included relationships that had reached the end stage and illnesses in the family that had reached the terminal stage.
But one friend said in a type of sad voice that she realized she felt hopeless about her ability to feel positive about new possibilities in her life, given her age. She is now 67-years-old. We laughed and said that 67 is the new 47, but still we could feel her sense of hopelessness spill into the psychic field as she released her feelings now that we were speaking about the unspeakable – aging in a society that is age phobic. What should she invest hope in, she wondered? Should she open herself to thinking that she could actually meet someone and fall in love again? Should she dare even open that door? Should she ignite hope in her heart that she could emerge from her well-known pattern of seclusion and find a new community of friends?
Naturally we encouraged her, for what is the grace of hope about if not for igniting cosmic sized dreams to lift off? And, as one among us so dryly pointed out, hopelessness is not a viable alternative.
One among us was hoping to move forward with a divorce. She had danced around her plans for divorce for years. Again, our dry-witted member reminded her that hoping for a divorce rarely got anyone to court. She had to help hope along with a commitment to action. Then she added that she was “hoping” that this dear friend would follow through with this divorce – which, by the way, she has.
Hope is a powerful grace, a potent force that keeps us going through changes that we just don’t think we can endure. But we do.
Hopelessness, on the other hand, is devastating. I think we all need to reflect on whether we have unconsciously committed parts of our dreams to the category of “hopeless” and if so, let me encourage you to review that category in your heart to make certain you really want to think about that part of your life as “hopeless” forever.
Question Two: How do you want to improve your life this year?
Improvements in our lives do not happen on their own. It’s a funny thing about us humans but we frame the dynamics of life in such a way as to imagine that change in whatever form somehow gets delivered to our door. That is, we don’t realize how much we have to be the initiators in the positive changes we want to see come into our lives.
I, for one, sometimes picture myself with one of those toned bodies that walks out of the gym after a two-hour workout. This is the gym that I belong to, of course, but do I actually go? That would take time … right? So while I would like to improve my body – and who wouldn’t want to improve their body – once again, what am I willing to do to get it?
All of us discussed the dilemma of the improvements we would like to initiate into our lives this year but we focused on how and why we sabotage ourselves somewhere along the line. Relating to the Saboteur archetype is so easy for me as I am a natural at finding excuses not to take my dog on long walks, which she should have given her high energy. Instead, I tend to take the shorter walks because I am always time-driven.
At the end of the day, we agreed that each year of our life was either fated to disintegrate the quality of our life or destined to become better in some way. The choice was ours, and it was a choice. Not to choose, to just let things go along in the same unsatisfactory routines as always is a passive, negative choice that will result in some form of disintegration by the end of the year. Owning that at the beginning of the year highlights your responsibility for how well you take care of yourself and how well you actually care about yourself.
Question Three: What do you want to contribute to your community to make it a better place?
It’s been my experience that not many people think about their place within their community. Parents may get involved in the schools their kids go to, but schools are only a part of one’s community. Community is made up of the people in your neighborhood, schools, churches, local businesses, and the well-being of your neighborhood in general. I had an eye-opening experience when I purchased my home around eight years ago. Prior to that time, I lived in a small townhouse for seven years in the same neighborhood. I only met one neighbor the entire time I lived in a townhouse. Within two weeks of buying my present home, I received a letter from a soon-to-be neighbor welcoming me to the neighborhood and inviting me to be part of a circle of history buffs. I was stunned at the warmth of the letter but also that this person knew I adored history.
As the years went by, being a part of the neighborhood began to feel important to me. I liked knowing my neighbors and talking to people when I walked my dog and knowing the names of the people on the block. I gradually felt a growing sense of responsibility for maintaining an interest in the politics and policies of the local government and the rulings that affect the lives of all us living in the village we share. I decided to upgrade my commitment to the business of our local government, attending the community board meetings and keeping up to date on all the activities that my neighbors actively email about. If they devote so much of their energy to making my neighborhood a special place, then I owe them as much.
Question Four: How do you want to be different by the end of the year?
This is a rich question and again one that requires reflection. This is not a question that you should reply to without serious thought because you really are setting an inner course for yourself. Think about this: How DO you want to be other than the way you are now? Do you want to release an addiction? Or do you want to have finally settled a conflict with someone? Or do you want to have finally learned something about astronomy by signing up for lectures at the Planetarium? Or do you want to challenge how you think about the Middle East by learning more about that part of the world?
Or, do you want to be a kinder and more thoughtful person? One of the women in the group said that by the end of the year, she wants to be out of debt. Fair enough. Goals are powerful anchors for us. They keep us focused and they give us a center point around which to make decisions.
Question Five: Whose life do you want to improve and how will you do that?
This is a fascinating question and it was one that took more time than some of these other questions because the answer involved another person. You have to think about someone other than yourself in a way that says, “I am consciously choosing to help this person.” As many of you know, stepping into the life of another person has to be done carefully and with great wisdom. It is not wise to blast into someone’s life, offer to take charge of their problems, and then vanish. It’s not wise to offer to do more than you can do.
I prefer to act anonymously. What has always worked for me is to find a child that needs a scholarship and to contribute to his or her support. I am also great at networking, helping people meet contacts that can assist them with their creative endeavors. Again, I do this carefully.
Some people have the time to do person-to-person care of another. I do not. My way is different. We each must find our own way but all ways of helping another human being make the world better.
Question Six: What changes are unfolding in your life that you need to cooperate with and what does that mean?
Again, this is a very personal question for you to reflect upon. If you say that nothing is changing in your life, then you are not evaluating your life clearly or deeply enough as change is always unfolding. We are always moving through cycles of death and rebirth, crucifixions and resurrections, endings and wondrous new beginnings. From the release of plans and paths you were meant to look down but never to walk, to arriving at the beginning of an enchanting idea that has your name written all over it, your life continues each day to present you with variations of all of these archetypal themes.
Each one in our group presented three examples of changes presently unfolding in his or her life. Then we did a type of micro-analysis of observing how we could tie every choice we made and every thought and feeling to these changes. That is, every inner psychic movement we made, whether intellectual or emotional or in the silence of prayer, was breathing itself into all the many changes happening in our lives. We can’t escape our “one-ness.” Therefore, what quality or attitude do you want to breathe into the changes unfolding in your life?
Realizations such as these, along with such thought-provoking questions, are the reasons why contemplation is seen as an essential practice within spiritual communities. The more aware you become of all your “inner activity,” the more attention you must pay to the quality of your inner activity – which leads us to our last question:
Question Seven: In what way or ways do you want to deepen your spiritual life?
Here, again, you are left to yourself to answer this question. But I will leave you with this insight: A spiritual life is not – repeat not – a mental, intellectual experience. It is a prayerful, contemplative, mystical, reflective journey that, in fact, draws you out of your mental world. Your mind is the last place you want to be as you contemplate the nature of what is real in your life and what is of value. What good is your mind when it comes to those questions? You’ve programmed your mind to tell you what you want it to tell you. Your mind is filled with the values you put inside of it. What can your mind possibility understand about the mystical realm? Nothing –
So be wild and wondrous on your spiritual path. Fall in love with silence and stop fearing it. Stop looking for the distractions of sound and business and phone calls and computers. Stop trying so desperately to stay “connected” – get “disconnected” and if you can endure the ego-shattering transition into being “de-Internetted,” return to silence and quiet.
Then ask yourself, “What is of value to me? Do I really pray? Am I comfortable in my spiritual skin? What do I know about God?”
That should work …
Have a blessed beginning to this new year.