Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Are You An "Old Soul?"

Have you ever heard the term “old soul” in reference to someone who appears to be wise? This term is used frequently. Why do some people appear to be older souls than others?

Is it really that some of us have had many more previous lives than others, or is that we have integrated our life experience and have gained strength as a result?

As I observe people, I notice that some of us choose to become powerful as a result of our experience, while others of us choose to hold onto our “pitiful me” story and play victim.

An old soul may be someone who has dealt with their experience, faced it, and integrated it. When we do this we become powerful as a result.

In contrast a younger soul may be someone who has never let go of their fear, anger, and grief. Their victim story has become their identity. They let their fear control their life. They may even be negative to be around because they project their fear onto others.

How we act as a result of our experiences determines how we are as people. Some of us use our experiences to become stronger. We become powerful and live productive lives. Some of us get stuck and feel helpless to change our life.

Many seemingly “young” souls do gain an “old” soul perspective after reaching a breakthrough point. I can think of several who have become spiritual teachers, and who today appear to be old souls, who reached a breakthrough point to become who they are today.

Neale Donald Walsch is one example. He was a homeless person before he wrote the extraordinary series of books Conversations with God, which taught millions about consciousness. Was he viewed as an old soul before he became a spiritual teacher? Probably not. Would he be referred to as an old soul after writing the books? I know I see him that way, especially after watching the movie Conversations with God (which is available on DVD).

Eckhart Tolle described his experience of feeling suicidal in The Power of Now. He thought to himself, “I can’t live with myself any longer,” then he realized that “I” and “myself” were different, which was a the doorway to realizing present moment awareness. Today many would view Eckhart as an old soul.

For most of us there’s a breathrough point at which we become what we generally think of as an older soul. In other words, it may be that how we respond to our experiences determines whether we are an older or younger soul, not how many times we may or may not have reincarnated, if in fact reincarnation is how our growth occurs.

It’s when people bring presence to their experiences, allowing themselves to feel their pain and integrate it, that they become the kind of centered and calm person who appears more wise.

In other words being an old soul may not have anything to do with how many previous lives we have had. Being an old soul may be a question of how we handle our experiences—whether we show up in our life, or whether we decide to play victim.

If you’d like to go deeper into this, I recommend Dr David Schnarch’s book Passionate Marriage. It’s not just for those in relationships. It’s all about how we truly grow ourselves up into “old souls.”

Sunday, June 21, 2009

It's Not Just You

Ram Dass and Eckhart Tolle both say that if we want to find out how conscious and grown up we really are, we just need to pay a visit to our family of origin.

Well, I recently went home to visit family after an absence of two years from them. My mother, God love her, is a wonderful person but sometimes gets stuck in the past. When I go home, she always brings up how difficult I was for her to deal with when I was a child.

I expected this to come up again on my recent visit and knew it would be a challenge for me not to be defensive or reactive. As Michael Brown, author of Alchemy of the Heart, would say, it’s not easy to avoid being emotionally triggered. My two brothers were there, whom I hadn’t seen in years. One of my brothers had a new girlfriend with him.

During dinner, what I had expected faced me: we started talking about the town and mentioned the local children’s home. When I was a child and acting out, my mom would drive me to this children’s home and pretend to leave me there. She at times even drove away for a several minutes, though she would always come back.

Mention of the children’s home opened a can of worms, leading into stories of my childhood tantrums. I felt my body cringe, felt the urge to react and be defensive. I even felt like hatefully saying, “Mom, you always do this to me. Please change the subject.” Instead, I simply sat there. That was a step in the right direction at least.

Then my brother stepped in, rescuing me from my distress. “Don’t worry, “ he encouraged, “your brothers have been dropped off at the children’s home many times also. It’s not just you.” I was thankful for this, and my tension then released.

When I realized my mother was like this with both of my brothers, it became apparent to me that I simply hadn’t been differentiated enough as a person not to personalize and internalize her actions.

My older brother seemed the most differentiated. My mother started to nag him about his twenty-four-year-old son living with him, which led to everyone else questioning why his son was still at home. Before we knew it, we were all lecturing him. In fact, it became the primary subject of our visit.

Finally my brother said, without emotion, “I didn’t come all the way from Texas for this. I would like just to visit and enjoy the family.” Because there was no emotional charge to his statement, we all woke up to what we were doing. It was powerful for me to see how calmly he handled the situation. Had it been me, I would have reacted.

Another scene came up a little later when we started to talk about his divorce. My mom kept asking why he was even attracted to his ex. What was he thinking to be with such a woman? He calmly responded, “Now I am with my present girlfriend, and that’s all that matters.” Mom again realized what she was doing.

I learned through this that responding rather than reacting is the most powerful form of being, difficult as it may be to pull off sometimes.

My brother even said this himself. “When we react to others,” he explained, “they don’t hear the words, but feel the emotional charge, which only makes things worse.” When we respond without an emotional charge, getting the point across is much easier.

I took away two things from that evening with my family: when there’s reactivity, it’s not just me; and it’s much more effective to respond than to react—a practical reinforcement of what I had been learning recently while reading Michael Brown’s Alchemy of the Heart.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

"All I want to do is die"

“God, I am sorry. I’m so sorry,” she said as she lay on the procedure table with tears rolling down her cheeks. “I am giving up on life and all I want to do is die.”

She had been a dialysis patient for years, the result of an inherited condition. Born with faulty genetics, she was finally at the point of giving up altogether.

In her mid thirties, she had a daughter and a husband she loved. Although she went to dialysis three days a week for four hours a day just to stay alive, as most people on kidney dialysis do, she was even able to hold down a job.

But now her condition had become far more extreme. As a result of many fistulas and grafts, over the years her veins were beginning to clot and narrow, causing her life lines to slowly diminish.

When she discovered that one of her last life lines, which was a graft, would no longer work and was infected, she was in despair.

This is when, tears rolling down her face, she protested that she was finished with trying to stay alive. “I just want to go to sleep and never wake up,” she sobbed.

It was one of the saddest moments the staff had encountered, and it made everyone realize how much we take our own lives for granted.

But even if we have good health and don’t have to go through the painful experience of this young woman, many of us nevertheless find ourselves in a life situation we aren’t happy with.

Perhaps we aren’t in the career we imagined or don’t live in the nice house we dreamed of. We may even wish we weren’t with the person we are with—or wish we were with someone but find ourselves all alone.

When things don’t go the way we hoped they would, we tend to go through life fighting our situation. Perhaps we get irritated with our loved ones, or we are grumpy and snap at those we work with. In all kinds of ways, we show our discontent.

The trouble is that none of this changes anything.

It doesn’t matter what precise form our discontent takes, at times of disappointment, frustration, or outright despair, there’s only one helpful response: complete and total acceptance.

I can understand the feeling of wanting to die because I have been in enough pain to wish the same thing as this young woman. In extreme pain, it’s an understandable and natural reaction, and I feel for people when they are going through a situation like this. But if we get stuck in the reaction, it isn’t helpful to ourselves or to anyone else.

The fact is, we really don’t want to die: we want to be out of our pain, unhappiness, misery. We want peace.

An amazing thing happens when we stop fighting, quit resisting, end all complaining about what we are going through.

In total surrender to our life situation, we find ourselves entering into what Jesus called the “peace that passes understanding.”

It really is beyond understanding, because it isn’t the kind of peace that comes from everything going right in our life, or from affirmations we tell ourselves, or any other method of trying to be at peace.

The mind, no matter how we manipulate it, can’t bring us peace. We can’t think our way into a peaceful state.

Inner peace is a state that has always been with us. It’s always been with us because it’s our very nature.

Even in our most painful or stormy moments, beneath all of the things we are experiencing, our peace has never gone away. We simply haven’t entered into our inner being, where alone we can experience it.

In the moment of surrender, our anxious thoughts and turbulent emotions die down. As we come to a place of stillness, we unexpectedly find the peace that is an aspect of our very being arising and suffusing our life.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

"Are You Controlling Me?"

“I am an independent women and I don’t want anyone trying to control me!” Sounds a bit egoic, doesn’t it?

I felt this way a few weeks ago; however, I learned a huge lesson about control recently. I’ll relate this vignette then discuss my new insight.

My new partner and I went to Stonehill winery in Missouri. It was so beautiful, and we ate at a delicious German restaurant. We tasted the wines in hope of drinking them for the remainder of our weekend. As we were in line to buy our chosen wines, I went to get a wine glass with the winery name on it.

This isn’t something new on my winery visits. When I go to a winery, I buy a souvenir glass with the winery's logo on it. I enjoy having a collection.

As I was reaching for the glass, my new boyfriend of six months told me not to get the glass. I said “Why?”

He said, “Don’t get it because you will not be able to take it on the plane and we don’t want to check bags in.” I listened and instantly felt myself feel reactive. At that moment I didn’t actual react but put the wine glass back.

When we were in the car, I felt a bit of anger in myself. I told him, “You just tried to control me and no one controls me. I am not someone you can control. If I want a wine glass, then I will very well get one.” (As I drive away without the glass!)

It was a reaction not a response. Once I cooled off and reflected on this, I saw it as funny. People can be controlling, and the wine glass issue could have been controlling, or there may have been a valid point there. There is a fifteen dollar charge for checking in bags now on the airline we flew back on. Either way, it didn’t matter.

The point is that when we react to things like this, we are not clear because we have an emotional charge. I reacted because I have a fear of being controlled. This situation brought an awareness to something deep within me that needed to be dealt with.

Looking back on the situation, it wasn’t about being controlled at all. If I really wanted to get the wine glass, and if I had a hold of myself, I would have had the winery send it to me. However, I didn’t have enough presence to even think of this because of my reactive state.

What I learned through this experience is the only reason we feel like someone is controlling us is because we are not in control of ourselves. No one can control us if we have a firm rein on ourselves—if we are solid in ourselves.

After calming down and realizing I had reacted, on the same day at the second winery, I bought a souvenir glass! :)