You have no idea how hard I’ve looked
for a gift to bring You.
Nothing seemed right.
What’s the point of bringing gold to
the gold mine, or water to the ocean.
Everything I came up with was like
taking spices to the Orient.
It’s no good giving my heart and my
soul because you already have these.
So I’ve brought you a mirror.
Look at yourself and remember me.
As I am writing this article, I am in bed, which faces a mirror on the dresser. Reflected in its surface is the pale yellow wall behind me. I can see pictures mounted on its surface. Many are gifts from beloved friends. One is a butterfly painted by a high school classmate with whom I re-established connection after many years. Two others were brought back by another on a trip to Ireland. Yet another came from a former co-worker when I left my hospital job. Suspended from the ceiling are a dream catcher, two angels and a faerie. They are solid symbols of relationship with these people and with the energy the objects contain.
Mirrors are meant to be tools into which we gaze for the purpose of seeing beauty. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it, because often we use them to find fault. When I bring a mirror into workshops I teach and pass it around, asking people to ask themselves, “Who’s in there?” they often grimace as if looking for imperfections. Louise Hay encourages people to do mirror work and instead, tell themselves how wondrous they are. Not always easy.
Consider fun house mirrors which distort the image intentionally. Many live their lives as if that is reality. Stretched and out of proportion with the truth, which is that beauty resides within and radiates outward. Sometimes, even that radiance is too much for others to take in.
I have come to accept that each person in my life is a mirror, reflecting my own magnificence and yes, sometimes mayhem. There have been instances where their looking glass and my own are smudgy, as if finger prints have been placed on them and not cleaned off. When that happens, I turn within and ask myself what part of me are they bouncing back that I find distorted. So much easier to blame another for not being the way I might want them to be. So much ‘truthier’ to accept that they are me in that moment.
I woke up this morning to discover that a man who epitomized standing in confidence and standing up for what he believed in would stand no longer. Muhammad Ali passed into the land of his ancestors at the age of 74 on June 3 , 2016. Parkinson felled him when opponents couldn’t. A few years back, I had written an article about him for Beliefnet, entitled The Greatest. In it, I shared how boxing had come into my life with the experience of my father who was a Golden Gloves boxer in the Navy; something he was proud of. Being a pacifist, I never understood the allure of beating someone to a literal bloody pulp in the name of sport. At the risk of sounding like I am dissing his athletic accomplishments, know that I am not. I much prefer the idea of martial arts as a means of self defense, used with discipline and an element of spirituality. This is so of those in my life who practice the various forms.
It wasn’t Ali’s prowess in the ring that impressed me, rather it was the way he used his notoriety in the face of bigotry and his values to express a sense of integrity.
Even after retiring from boxing with the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, which also took my father’s life, so I am aware of how incapacitating it can be, he devoted much of his time to philanthropy. He revealed the diagnosis in 1984, and helped to raise money for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix, Arizona. He was an ardent supporter of Special Olympics and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. As I did some research, I discovered that the doctor who diagnosed him, indicated that ‘pugilistic brain syndrome’; getting hit in the head one too many times, is what caused the debilitating condition.
I also valued his vocal expression of his own abilities…the line “I am the greatest, ” was no empty boast. He really was the best at what he did. I imagine that this mantra fueled his purpose and spurred him on. He owned his greatness and used it in service to the world. I asked my social media circles to share what it is they are willing to offer the world with their inherent greatness and was delighted with their responses.
- “To be the best version of me I can possibly be each day….hopefully better then the day before.
- “My Golden Glove is to support clients and students around the world with my movies and mentoring.”
- “Called out by the Bliss Mistress in public! Whoa! I have two Golden Gloves! Takes two to be in the ring right!? My first is I help people pinpoint and release core subconscious blocks so they can bring forth their best into the world and the second is with my music. I am a voice that stands for the people, the planet and for peace!”
- “I shine my love light.”
- “I forgive. I cheer. My love is forever. And the world can count on me to sing the truth of hearts.”
- “Trying to find the positives in situations.”
- “My mother loved Cassius Clay (as she called him). As a child I listened as my mother sang his praises and watched him with just as much awe when he had a boxing match. No wonder I still love boxing today. This past week the universe extended to me something that I felt and saw as expanding my greatness – my gift to the world. “Oh goody” I was clapping my hands in delight – “I’ve arrived.” “Not so fast” the universe said. “We aren’t sure you are ready yet”. Of course in these situation one wonders, I wondered, why something would be placed before me and then taken away. And after I read this article, it hit me. Am I to dream bigger? I don’t know what my gift is in one word. All I know is that I’m able – willing – ready to live it.”
- “To share through an open book our shared story of humanity. Within these books, in someone else’s story, is our own path home.”
- “To be the reflection of you – your greatest Joy, your greatest Love, your greatest Truth.”
- “My compassion and kindness to those in need of healing and my love for my family.”
- “Sharing the gifts I have been born with.””To look for the ‘pearl of wisdom’ in every situation.”
Today I was speaking with a woman I now think of as a ‘heart sister’. Her name is Katelyn Mariah and we initially connected on Facebook. We share a pivotal event that changed our lives forever. Mine occurred nearly two years ago in Pennsylvania and hers something like two months ago in Minnesota. The trajectory we were each on led to an inevitable outcome. Both were ‘heart-broken-open’ experiences that manifested in the form of a cardiac condition. Both had us questioning nearly every aspect of our lives. As I observed her journey that she explained in various postings, I found myself nodding in recognition. Our histories are similar in some ways, divergent in others. We had each worked in the mental health field and had a predisposition to care-taking and self sacrifice. As we chatted today, we acknowledged as well that we are independent women who have had a challenge being in receptivity mode with others, particularly men.
One of the dynamics I have been exploring lately is that of the undefended heart. For so many years, I had kept mine pseudo-safe under a protective shield, kind of like bubble wrap that would pop if you squeezed too hard.
So many heart-revelations over the past few days. Realizing, as I approach my second cardiaversary on June 12th, that for many years, I had kept my heart sheltered, shuttered, armored and shielded. It might not have appeared that way to others, since I do my best to be ‘open-hearted’ out in the world. Only those who know me well, have seen what a challenge it is at times to remain visible and vulnerable. Scary stuff. I make it look like I have it all together, fearing that if people saw behind the curtain, they wouldn’t trust me or feel safe with me. I have been the go-to person, the liaison, the link, the connector, the rock to lean on. That is such a dichotomy, since I relish that role. I want to be seen, known and loved for who I am, not just what I do. I need to do that for myself too. My pattern has been to allow myself to have ‘almost’ what I want and get right to the edge and then it changes and I need to adjust. It has been so in relationships and career mostly. It feels like a tease from the Universe, but then I remind myself that is not some external force at work. It is me and my own limiting beliefs that I need to face. It carries along with it, a sense of embarrassment for wanting what I don’t have.
The way the heart works is that there needs to be both an inflow and outflow of blood. I am willing to receive the inflow of love as well.
“The descent into addiction actually comes quite easily. It is the journey back that is difficult.” This line comes closest to describing the ride along as if a hitchhiker experience that author Charles Bynum takes the reader on in his book entitled The Other Side of Hell. Although I am a rapid and voracious reader, I found it breathtakingly difficult at times to keep turning the pages, as much as I wanted to. There was so much pain that the author was exuding as if from his pores, as the personal became the universal. I needed to take breaks along the way, to come up for air. Even as a therapist and addictions counselor for decades, I had never heard such raw and real descriptions of drug use and prison life.
Is there anyone who hasn’t felt a myriad of emotions, sometimes simultaneously that were tidal wave overwhelming and they sought desperately to staunch the flow? For Bynum, the ‘solution’ at the time, felt like drugs; meth in particular. Thus, he had immersed himself in despondence and depravity the likes of which he might never have imagined.
Depression and anger were two states of mind that enveloped him in darkness. The book begins with his frustrating dialog with his psychiatrist who seemed rather condescending. It continues with naked honesty about every step along the way. He had resisted the guidance initially and was ‘hell-bent’ to prove that what he was doing wasn’t the cause of his suffering, but rather, he felt he was at the mercy of external forces and people. Bynum embodied the classic definition of insanity of doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. His choices; whether conscious or unconscious led to jail time. Behind the clanking prison doors lay redemption via the concept of here and now, in the moment mindfulness, rather than mind-full to overflowing with all of the beliefs he held onto that were holding on to him. Meditation became one key that unlocked the internal prison doors.
Wisdom came in the form of his first cellmate named Ray. Very much like the character of Socrates that Dan Millman writes about in Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Ray offers his perspective, in an unfolding, sometimes gentle, other times firm way. Ray helped him to see that he indeed had choices; the proverbial love vs. fear conundrum. He had the opportunity to become a monster or the man he wanted to be, when encountering another inmate who he felt dissed him; learning that he could be at the mercy of the anger or could master it. He transcended the rage that had been fueled by his belief in his own victim-hood and became a victor over it and a thriver as a result of it. Although he was still literally behind bars, experiencing de-humanizing treatment, he embraced his humanity and freed himself.
A major shift took place toward the end of the book, that belongs on the shelf of anyone who is in the addiction, mental health or law enforcement fields. He had been at odds with his idea of what/who God is and came to a sense of peace about it as an unfolding concept. He refers to spiritual practice in a way that resonates with me. “Spiritual practice is whatever you have to do to accept things as they are.” Surrender to what is became a theme in the second portion, as he opened his journal for the reader to peruse.
Bynum now gives back by speaking with others in recovery, as well as veterans with PTSD.
Although he would tell you that he doesn’t have the answers tied up in a nice, neat little package for anyone, what he has gleaned from the tour through the inferno, offers good guidance for anyone locked in the prison of their own making. It is possible to ascend to the heaven of our choosing, as a result.