Connecting to Spirit

My depth of my spiritual journey has been a surprise to me and likely others given my lifelong atheistic leaning.    Raised by Chinese immigrants, religion or faith was never discussed; we prayed at the altar of academic achievement.  Later in life my parents subscribed to the Buddhist philosophy, one which I might choose for myself if I ever felt I needed an organizing principle.

It’s hard to be completely divorced from religious influence in the United States.  I would guess that most Americans are at minimum cultural Christians (is that a “thing”?): Observing Christian holidays in a secular way, and hearing about Jesus as “the correct” prophet and the Bible and the sacred text.  I hear a range of views perspectives and varying levels of intensity from Christians.  Over the years I occasionally went to church with friends out of curiosity, but frankly, mostly it left me pretty dry.   Organized religion is just not for me, and from what I read, for an increasing number of others as well.

The problem with abandoning our faith systems, according to Joseph Campbell, is that organized religion can provide a sense of community and guidance on how to find a sense of purpose, be a good person, and live a good life.  Who or what provides that if we’re turning away from faith and toward our electronic devices?

I have felt for some time now that the new religion of our modern times is science and technology.  Perhaps that is why I was so drawn to positive psychology, the science of wellbeing.  I’m becoming more certain that positive psychology will provide the practices that modern society needs to live a good life given the diminishing role of religion in our lives and society.

I felt pretty competent in living a good life, until I discovered I needed something more to get through that horrible year 2018 when my beloved husband and sister died.  I knew that embracing a post-traumatic growth mindset would help, but even that felt insufficient so I decided to turn to the divine for support and inspiration.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It has been a wild ride and a beautiful journey.

The beautiful thing about being spiritual and connecting to Spirit, however anyone defines that, is that it’s individualized consistent with our personal beliefs, personality, and preferences.  There’s no one right way to do it, and my personal practices have evolved over time.

Admittedly, it was fairly experimental early on.  I had some rabbit holes and misadventures to explore.  But it was quickly evident to me that intelligence and consciousness were there, once I decided to be open to discovering it.

Openness is the most important ingredient to being able to connect to one’s Spirit Guides.  As a lifelong student of personal growth, and decades long coach for others on this subject, I know that when challenges feel insurmountable and we hit rock bottom, that being open to new perspectives and solutions is the only way to go.   It makes perfect sense to me that big challenge can bring big growth, sometimes involving faith and spirituality.

Even still, given my life-long atheism and scientific training (I have a PhD in a laboratory-based science), you can imagine my skepticism, amusement, excitement, and interest.  I once thought that everything could be measured and understood.  By accepting first that I cannot understand everything made it possible for me to detect and explore the mystery of the divine.

The technique which was most helpful to me was when I took an online class on how to receive message from one’s Spirit Guide, Higher Self (soul), and Guardian Angel. I was surprisingly able to receive message right away with a fair amount of clarity.  It does require a genuine openness to communicate with Spirit,  combined with trust in what is being communicated to you.  In essence, you start by asking to connect to your Spirit Guide, Higher Self, or Guardian Angel,  and then you write down whatever words flow through your head while being very present during the process.  If you’re not present, the message can come from our minds, which is more chattery and loud than the quiet and soft message that tends to come from Spirit.

Spirit messages are always loving and beautiful and supportive, and my first message from my Higher Self included a prayer to help guide me.

Spirit Guide help me to live this life with integrity and hope and good fortune.    Help me to realize my full potential.  Help me to be the person I am meant to be.  Help me to understand the nuances of my path and mission so that I may live it fully.  Help me to understand the riches that are available to me.  Help me to know what I need and ask for it.  Help me to find the truth and wisdom in every situation.  Help me to find my bliss and others too.  Help me to know what’s most important in a given moment.  Help me to find the strength and will when times are hard.  Help me to motivate others to do the right thing.  Help me to finally make peace with myself and my shortcomings.  Help me to know when to quit and move on.  Help me to naturally become who I’m meant to be.  Help me find the courage to raise the awareness of others to the beauty of Spirit.  Help me to find the way to accomplish these goals.  Help me to recognize when I am in the wrong.

Connectedness Strength Reconsidered

Five years ago, shortly after I became certified as a Gallup StrengthsFinders coach, I wrote a blog about the strength called connectedness, i.e., the ability to sense and notice how all things and events are related.  I reflected on how I was surprised that this was a “thing” that people felt was a strength that they used for success personally and professionally.

At the time a former hard-core atheist, I was pretty curious about this idea.  I was also recently married to my now-late husband, Christopher, who had told me shortly after we met that being spiritual meant believing that there are things we cannot understand.  His frame on spirituality is really the reason that I went from atheist, very concrete about life being knowable and measurable, to Spirit-curious.

Years later, I could be characterized, at best, as Spirit Lite when we received his diagnosis of cancer.  Spirit Lite meant going to yoga, trying to be present, and being more open to the woo woo ideas and practices.  I listened with interest and openness to the conversations about crystals, healing practices, and guidance but rarely partook.

All that changed when I learned about Christopher’s stage IV cancer diagnosis.  I decided that I must dive into Spirit and post-traumatic growth to get through this.  I wrote about PTG at the start of the Silver Linings blog; it was a big motivation for me to start the blog to share the notion that all challenges are actually a chance to learn and grow.  The bigger the challenge, the bigger the growth.  After all, if it was easy, we would’ve mastered that topic already.

Christopher’s cancer diagnosis, occurring on the heels of the death of my sister Sabina, made me also realize that my current toolkit was just not enough.  I would have to take my learning to a new level.  Beyond positive psychology.  Beyond PTG.  To Spirit.

So this is my disclaimer and warning to those who don’t want woo woo in their lives, that the Silver Linings blog is about moving to the next (temporally) most important thing for my wellbeing, and that has to do with our connection to all things: Our purpose, ourselves, each other, Earth, and Spirit.  This interconnectedness, and fostering vibrant connections between them, is really at the heart of the mission of the nonprofit I started in honor of my late sister and husband (www.familyandcommunityhealing.org).  FFCH’s social media campaign focuses on our connection to Earth, and includes my personal blog discussing how Earth and the natural world provided support and healing for me throughout the tragic year of 2018 and beyond.

The Silver Linings blog focuses instead on a more personal discussion of the development of my connection with Spirit, and the strength, wisdom, inspiration, and support that became available to me when I did.  This recovering atheist has turned all woo woo, and I’m going to talk about it here, openly and honestly, just as I did when I started this blog in 2013 about my lessons as a recovering control freak and self-hater.

The original Silver Linings blog was too personal for some people to appreciate and/or grasp, since we talked about emotion and vulnerability.  This phase is likely this is going to be even more challenging or unapproachable for some given the nature of the topic.  I understand.  There are parts of this journey that, honestly, felt – and still feel – pretty crazy and unbelievable.

I’ve learned that faith is part of the process.  I do not fully understand that aspect of it.  After all, I’m a rookie given I’ve been doing this for only 18 months.  Admittedly I have been taking a deep dive during that period, where perhaps I’ve achieved a sliver of brilliance in my spiritual work, which is offset by so much ignorance on so many other levels.  I still have much to learn and so I hope that this can be a platform for shared learning where everyone can participate.

The Silver Linings blog is about creating a place to share our collective wisdom about thriving and becoming our best self despite our life’s challenges; this phase is about the spiritual aspect of our life which underlies our wellbeing practices taught to us by positive psychology.  The richness of this mysterious and often invisible part of us is the most important part of our lives whether we know it or not.  Uncovering and appreciating it means that we can add a transcendence and depth to our lives that was unimaginable to my former atheistic self.

I hadn’t realized it but I was already following my Higher Self (soul) most of my life.  My purpose required I excavate through the solid and intractable atheist beliefs, bit by bit, to what lies underneath:  our connection to each other, Earth and Spirit.  It’s actually not all woo woo because positive psychology’s exploration of the value and importance of religion and spirituality motivated me to select the topic of authentic purpose, or callings, for my capstone project  (shameless plug: see our book, Being Called).

Our calling or authentic purpose is what connects us and our lives to the divine, since it is a purpose that we are born into.  So shortly after Chris died, when I sensed that my purpose was going in a new direction and to a much higher level, I had to decide whether I was going to be a hypocrite and stay in my comfy, beautiful dream job at UGA, or to take a leap of faith and pursue a purpose that is definitely life-changing and possibly even world-changing.  Both are inexplicably linked because I can’t change the world if I don’t change myself.

This is the new theme of this blog, my spiritual journey that changed me and that I hope will bring about the change that is needed to create the world that we all have hoped and dreamed about.

I’ve taken a leap of faith to take action to make this change, investing most of my personal and financial resources which reflects a commitment that screams that I can change the world.  It is also to inform you, possibly to your surprise, that you can too.

The time is right for this change.  We cannot wait any longer.  It is a leap of faith, but Spirit is here to guide every step and inspire me to be bigger than I can imagine.

You are bigger than you imagine too.

In fact, the world needs your passion, talents, and gifts.  The world needs your hope and optimism and vision for a better world.

If you want guidance, you will have it.  You only have to ask, and you will receive it.

If you aren’t ready to ask, notice the invitations that are all around you each day, beckoning you to begin your Hero’s Journey, which is after all, the summons for you to bring back the lost wisdom of your generation, for it is urgently needed by all.

It’s a beautiful journey.  It’s unsettling, and inspiring, and awesome, and it makes me feel so incredibly alive and hopeful.

Join me.  Share with me.  Teach me.  Learn with me.  Start now by posting a response about your own journey and hopes for the future, and then share with others who might want to join too.  We can create this change together.

 

Next blog:  What is Spirit?

The Sense of Being Human

What does it mean to be human? As the planet’s most intelligent species (we believe), sometimes it feels that our thoughts define who we are. Eckhart Tolle, author of the Power of Now and spiritual guide, would say that our thoughts do not define us or our humanity. Instead he argues that we can only sense our true selves once we look beyond our thoughts. After all, we are still human when we finally shut off our brains.

Tolle also recommends that we focus on our “inner body,” or the sense of the energy being that inhabits our physical self. It’s something you must feel and sense, not visualize or imagine.   I had a sense of my inner body for the first time when, a number of years ago, I tried a meditation where you focus on feeling parts of your body, one limb at a time. I realized during that exercise that I spent most of my day, actually most of my life, ignoring to how it feels to inhabit my body. In fact, when I first started this body-meditation exercise, there were some parts of my body that were hard to feel at first, demonstrating how disconnected I tend to be.

It doesn’t seem being in our body should feel so weird, but perhaps you’ve had the same experience?

Consciously taking note of being in my body for the first time was an adventure. I notice random bursts of energy, sort of like a chill or tingling, that course through my body fairly frequently. I also notice that I tend to carry a lot of tension around my chest and neck area. I must specifically relax my chest area to most effectively sense my inner body, especially my heart region. When I do, as Tolle suggests, it’s a delightful but unusual sensation that’s somehow hard to maintain for very long.

There has also been more discussion about biofeedback and heart rate variability (HRV) as a method for improving your energy, health and cognition.   You can intentionally improve the quality of your HRV by being aware of your heart and then imagine breathing slowly through your heart.   For those of us who are in our heads most of the day, shifting attention to a body part (yeah, even our heart!) feels like a huge paradigm shift.

Focusing more on the corporeal side of the human experience actually makes me feel more human.   I’m not just my thoughts, nor am I just my emotions. I’m not just my body either though I tend to take that for granted. There’s an awareness that underlies all of those parts of me that I usually am even less in touch with than my body. That awareness is quiet, wise and connected to the wider world. I have to go digging for her, and sometimes I cannot access her at all, but she’s worth every bit of effort that I invest in noticing or connecting with her. She is larger than my problems, thoughts and feelings. She is the divine within me that connects to all else.

This greater sense of connection has been the primary benefit of my spiritual journey.   In the past, as a practicing atheist, I couldn’t even conceive of this phenomenon. Yet now that I’ve developed an appreciation and practice for connection, I find that it’s a sense that provides me a sense of peace and inspiration.   It also makes me more aware of that interplay between body/mind/emotion/world/universe. Just like realizing I should start using the right side of my brain, why not access and appreciate my connection to everything else? Somehow realizing that I’m just a tiny piece of it makes me feel more complete.

 

Note: Dear friends, you may have noticed that I’ve taken the spring off from blogging. I needed some time for reflection and rest, and I believe I am now ready to share with you my recent journey. I hope to get caught up on yours!

Things I Don’t Understand

I often write my blogs about things I don’t understand. The thing I probably understand the least are matters related to spirituality, religion and the divine. I have called myself an atheist for most of my life, yet the topic has been of great interest to me lately. I sense that this is an important subject, but my scientific brain just cannot wrap itself around it.

I was somewhat glad/nervous that my masters program discussed spirituality and religion as a topic that is becoming less taboo among researchers. Science shows us that spirituality and religion are overall good for individual and community wellbeing (e.g., Iftzan, 2013) and that humans are spiritual beings by nature. I confess that I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t dismiss the subject outright, and that at some point I have to confront my ambivalence about being a spiritual creature.

The topic engaged me enough to where I felt the need to focus my capstone on finding your calling, a topic at the secular interface of religion. A summary of the capstone is now a chapter in a book called, Being Called. Scientific, Secular, and Sacred Perspectives, which addresses the emerging knowledge on callings.

Fortunately for me, Chris has been my spiritual interpreter and guide, or I would not have even been able to even conceptualize the topic. His definition of being spiritual is being open to the concept that there may be forces that are beyond our comprehension or detection. The book refers to spirituality as “one’s personal relationship to transcendent realities” whereas religion has more to do with spirituality within the context of an organization and its traditions (p. 47).

That sense of spirituality and self-transcendence implies a connection to something greater, thus providing meaning and purpose. That sense of spirituality and connection, whether to yourself, forms of human expression, other people, nature, or the divine, help us to be successful and thrive. The VIA and Gallup strengths assessments identify those personal qualities, called spirituality and connectedness, respectively. According to the Gallup organization, people with connectedness have “faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.“

That need for connection and meaning appears universal, even outside the context of religion and spirituality. Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, describes connection as being comprised of love and belonging and  a source of purpose and meaning.  According to Brown, fear of losing connection is the essence of shame, an emotion that we all feel on some level. Those that are particularly resilient to shame, the Wholehearted, tend to be high in spirituality.   Though spirituality can include connection to nature or God, Brown limits her discussion to connection with and feeling seen, heard and valued by others.

Finding and fostering meaning through connections is something we all can do, regardless of whether we buy into notions of self-transcendence and ourselves as spiritual beings.   Valuing relationships, nature and our natural world, truth, peace and justice are spiritual qualities.   Grow them. Nurture them. Consider expanding your sense of connection to the wider world or universe. This is your spiritual practice; it may have benefits beyond your comprehension.

Are We Responsible For Others?

This ambiguous and loaded question may have elicited a gut response from you. I would guess the answer is probably yes since anyone who is caring for or supervising another will feel appropriately responsible for the health and wellbeing of that person. Without you, someone may go unfed, unclothed, or unemployed. If you don’t do your job, whether or not a salary is involved, someone else may have trouble meeting their basic needs. When it comes to children, those basic needs go beyond food and shelter and include intellectual, psychological, social, spiritual and physical development. Not only are parents responsible, but it’s one of the most important roles we’ll ever play.

However, where do the lines of responsibility fall beyond the above circumstances? Are we responsible for making sure our adult family members, friends or co-workers make the right choices for their health, safety or wellbeing?

What about our neighbors and those in the community? Does it matter if people in the community are living in poverty or are suffering if we don’t have to witness their pain each day?

I’ve surprised myself to realize that my opinion on these matters have done a 180 over the years. The old me would’ve spent a lot of time trying to control and influence those around me to do the ‘right thing’ while feeling fairly sheltered from the issues in the community or even nation. My little bubble was pretty small and I was going to make sure it and everyone in it was just right.

I’ve since learned that I unequivocally do not know what is right for other people, no matter how wrong I may think they are. (This pertains to matters that affect only them – I reserve the right to have an opinion when others may be adversely affected). These days, I try to be more curious about their perspective, explore their assumptions and beliefs with them, and start a dialog rather than telling them what they should or should not be doing. Instead of getting them to conform to my definition of happiness, I now try to support them as they pursue their own. As a result, I am a better listener and support for the other, rather than a judgmental antagonist.

I also feel very differently these days about the strangers around me. I’ve blogged before about how we’re all connected in an unseen, unknowable way. Though I still have a tendency to be a bit in my head (constantly amusing myself with the interesting swirl of thoughts), it’s harder for me now to treat the occasional stranger or the person on the news as someone who does not affect me.

This notion is difficult for some people to understand – I still struggle with it. Just imagine, for instance, how it feels when you walk into a room full of angry or upset family members. Then imagine if that anger or fear continues below the surface for months or years, even if that family lives far away. Now imagine that the emotion is joy or peace. What impact does that sustained emotion have on you? It’s not something you can see or touch, but it has an impact on others whether they’re in the same room, same neighborhood or different state. It’s stronger the closer the bond, but make no mistake, it exists even if you’ve never met the person.

My current reaction to the question above, are we responsible for others, is a bit of confusion. It’s a complicated question and the answer is not what I once thought. I suppose 20 years from now it may be 180 degrees different in yet another direction. Stay tuned!

The Truest Honor

Big money. Awards. Accolades. Perfect grades. Compliments. An amazing career.   Yes, these are all true honors for those who are lucky to receive them. For some, these are daily occurrences. For others, they happen intermittently at best, but the euphoria may quickly wear off and then we’re thinking about the next honor.

I’m as guilty of this as the next gal.   When I let my deprivation mindset take over, I’m only looking for where I’m not measuring up or not as successful as the most successful person in the room. But when I allow my abundance mindset to prevail, I see affirmation everywhere.

Affirmation need not come in the form of an award or even a compliment. Recall the concept of positivity resonance. It’s a moment or even a micro-moment of connection between two people. Barbara Frederickson, author of Love 2.0, calls this love. That micro- or even macro-moment of connection is even more meaningful when it happens with someone you care about – whether a loved one or a friendly acquaintance. They’re even more amazing when they occur following an interaction where there is mutual respect, trust and companionship. If I can have that type of interaction when using my strengths and following my passions, then there is no better feeling on earth. None.

Connection. Passion. Trust. Impact. Positivity resonance/love. Really. That is the truest honor.

Connectedness Strength – Scientific Evidence

‘We are all connected’ always had a squishy, metaphysical, woo-woo kind of connotation to it until I learned about it as strength that helps people to be successful.   There are times that I have also had that sense of connection, completion, one-with-the-universe (OWTU) feeling though I usually have not associated it with any specific use other than feeling great.

But there is new research around this phenomenon, which is called coherence.  Coherence refers to connection – whether between individuals and their environment or within one’s self.  The phenomenon of coherence results in positive emotion and a sense of unity or oneness.  Physiologically, coherence produces synchronous communication between heart and brain.

Since this psychophysiological connection appears to be mediated through the vagal nerve, coherence can be indirectly measured through physiologic variables such as  heart rate variability (HRV).  HRV is believed to sensitively reflect heart-brain communication and to be a strong measure of health and well-being, especially as it relates to heart health and stress management.  Apparently, HRV reflects the balance between the sympathetic (flight-or-flight) and parasympathetic (housekeeping) nervous systems.

Personality types (as measured by the Big Five and temperament inventories) influences one’s ability to maintain a low HRV (the less variability, the better).     For example, do you tend to respond to stress with fight-or-flight or a sense that you are OWTU?  Your personality, to some degree, dictates that response.

Ah, I feel a bit vindicated now!

But I’m not off the hook. Though we may not want to change who we are per se, we may want to moderate and manage our personality so that we may be most effective in all aspects of our lives.  That’s sort of what maturity is all about, right?   Indeed, I spent much of my misspent youth doing the fight/flight response to some of the smallest of life obstacles instead of responding with equanimity and wisdom.

Given that I do have some choice in my behavior, personality not withstanding, I can foster this connectedness strength, even though it’s not high on my strengths list. For example, coherence is produced by slow, deep breathing, relaxation, sleep and positive emotion such as appreciation.    For me, simply being mindful and using perspective helps me to cultivate a healthier response to stress.  As you might imagine, responding with aggression or avoidance tends to have the opposite effect.

In other words, effectively managing stress fosters that heart-brain coherence and ultimately, health, resilience and well-being.   In a wonderful and ironic win-win, the sense that we are all connected also helps me to take life in stride.  Our interconnection also implies that I have a responsibility to you to maintain my equanimity in the face of adversity.  I shouldn’t give you my emotional crap.  And visa versa.  So if you can’t take care of yourself for your own sake, do it for those around you.  It’s not selfish to take care of yourself.  It’s necessary for all of our benefit.  Our heart-brain connections thank you!

Resource:  http://www.heartmath.org/research/research-library/research-library.html