Monthly Archives: December 2015

My Wish For You

This is the week that many people in the world celebrate the “Prince of Peace.” For millennia, numerous others have followed in his footsteps as peacemakers, from Gandhi to the everyday men and women who choose compassion, courage, and love over fear.

As one year winds down and we look to the hope of new beginnings, my wish for you is simple: I wish you peace.

peace

I will be taking next week off from writing InspireBytes™ to enjoy the many gifts of the season, and wish you all the best however you choose to celebrate this time of year.

xoxo,
Martina

Faith, Spirituality, and Religion (plus my thoughts on their role in terror, violence, and love)

Just after the San Bernardino mass shootings, I queried a trusted group of friends for suggestions for my blog – the one that was supposed to run last week. (Perhaps you noticed that I never wrote one.) You see, I found myself somewhat incapable of writing in the wake of such tragedy and senseless violence, again. Everything I wrote kept devolving into anger and frustration. I was mad. What’s worse is that I was aimlessly mad, and the arrows that were the words I was typing were not hitting any marks. I simply couldn’t coherently get my thoughts on paper without some random rants and expletives in the mix.

Instead of offering suggestions, however, my tribe of trusted souls encouraged me to share my thoughts and my process with regard to the violence. My friend, Tyler, said, I’d love to hear what you’re really feeling and where you’re at and how you’re working through it. The real-er, the better in my estimation.”

At the time, I couldn’t go there. I hadn’t worked through it. Like most of the rest of the world I was in shock and disbelief that yet another report of gun violence and a mass shooting had occurred. I have many more thoughts that I will eventually put to paper, but it would’ve been a disservice to my readers, and indeed to myself, for me to write an emotionally reactionary piece on the violence and instability of terrorism, both at home and abroad.

And then, this past weekend I had my first-ever Ayurvedic consultation. Paul, my consultant, said something so poignant to me that I think I stopped breathing for a moment from the depth and simplicity of the words. He shared a wisdom from his teacher, Maharishi, that went something like this:

‘If you are willing to go to war, kill, and fight in the name of your religion, you’ve misunderstood your religion.’

I am certain I have paraphrased, but you get the idea. Which is what has prompted me to write this week about Faith, Spirituality, and Religion. Because, frankly, I think it matters more than we’re admitting. When people are making statements and taking inhumane actions based on their “religion” it bears taking note and actually discussing the topic.

I’ve tackled these topics before, individually and sometimes together. There certainly is a lot of language “out there” about the difference between spirituality and religion. So let’s start there.

Colloquially, religion is thought of as the practice of one’s faith within set rules of doctrinal teachings, typically conveyed in writing or sacred texts. The best examples of this are: The Bible, The Quran, The Torah, and the Vedic texts. These writings hold the foundational teachings of their respective religions. Over centuries or millennia, they have been shared, taught, and, at times, imposed on people, with the mindset of exclusivity. This last phrase is where we developed our current understanding of the word “religion.” Modern understanding of the word revolves around keeping ourselves separate and apart from each other, by practicing “exclusive” rights to the Divine. (aka: My religion is better than your religion.)

But years ago, I attended a lecture by Pittman McGehee, D.D. at the Jung Center in Houston, and he proposed an alternate definition of religion that restores it’s original intent based on the origin of the word. Religion is akin to religare, which means to reconnect.

From this perspective, religion is about the act of reconnecting to that which we hold to be true and know in our hearts, which resides outside of us, and is not exclusive, but rather inclusive. For me, this is how we currently define spirituality.

Spirituality is, in my opinion, the knowing that there is something greater than yourself, that you can’t touch, see, or quantify, but is connected to all things, inclusively. The Druids knew this as the inherent wisdom in Nature. The Abrahamic religions refer to it as God, Yahweh, or Allah. Spirituality is an act of reconnection. It is an inclusive practice that recognizes the collective above all things, allowing each to practice his or her own faith, with respect for the intention of reconnecting to something greater, something to which we all have access, in myriad forms.

So, what is faith then?

Historically, and currently, faith has been used as a scapegoat for war, terror, violence, and oppression. “People of faith” have committed atrocious acts of horror in the name of their beliefs. Five hundred years ago, the Christians persecuted non-Christians during the Spanish Inquisition. Seventy years ago, the Jews were practically decimated, and now a statistically small group of Muslims are terrorizing the world in the name of their faith. But it’s not their faith that’s driving them. It’s their beliefs.

Is faith belief? No. Belief is a choice. Faith is a knowing, a knowing that transcends choice. Faith is, above all else, a feeling that requires no justification or defense. It simply is.

Which is why I needed to take pause and write about this trifecta of theology. I think the horrific events in the world have caused many of us, myself included, to dig deeper into my faith, into what I know – and, more importantly perhaps, to challenge what I’ve been told (or taught) to believe. Beliefs can change. Inner knowing is constant. It’s what gives you hope when times are at their darkest. Faith is the seedling of Hope. It’s the flint that creates the spark that leads to the fire. And faith is all-inclusive. We can actually use logic to understand this concept.

Let’s assume for a second that I am God. If I were God, and I wanted all of my creations – but specifically my human creations – to find their way back to me, would I limit the paths to just one? Or would I want every human on earth to find me in their way, from their hearts? Would I plant a seed within them that would one day rise and grow? I would. I would be that smart. I would know that it would take billions of seed plantings – one for each human – to ensure each one had a path back to their knowing, to me, however that shows up for them, as they are ready and able to receive it. For some this is religion, for others it’s nature. For everyone, though, it involves some measure of faith.

So, logically, faith is infinite. Faith is what some call the God gene or the Divine DNA. We all have it within us. It springs to life in different circumstances and at different times, as we need it or pursue it. I’ve created an acronym to define faith. You may have seen me use it before. Faith is

Feeling
Alive
In
The
Heart

At this holiest time of year, celebrated from Pagan times as the Winter Solstice, on up through the various holidays we enjoy today, we find opportunities to explore and restore our faith, in ourselves, in each other, and in humanity. We are being called to unite as one, to hold onto hope in the light of tragedy, and be the beacons that guide others to that same light when they are shrouded in darkness. A darkness I found myself flirting with after the most recent tragedy at San Bernardino.

The process of restoration that I’ve undergone in the last 10 days has involved a fair amount of numbing, distraction, reflection, self-care, and pursuit of joy. I have taken walks, taken pictures, enjoyed a lot of tea, as well as a salt bath, listened to music, and restored my connection with myself, and with what I know – with my faith. Faith in action is my spirituality. As I explored and embraced what faith means to me, I wrote about it. I share that writing with you here.

What Faith Means to Me

Faith gives me something to hold onto
when I feel like I have no strength left in my hands.

Faith brings me peace when everything around me,
outside of my control, is in chaos.

Faith restores me to my heart when I’ve lost my way.

Faith reminds me of what’s important, what’s less important,
and helps me create those two lists.

Faith shows me what’s possible in a world
that would have me believe otherwise.

Faith inspires me, every day, to be the best I can be, even when that “best” involves staying in my pajamas all day, behind closed doors, licking my wounds. Especially then.

Faith fills me when I’m running on empty.

Faith offers me abundance when I’m feeling less than worthy.

Faith grounds me in who I am, what I do, and where I’m going.

Faith shares wisdom and truth with me through beauty and through pain.

Faith leads me forward through darkness, fog, and broken terrain,
as well as the smooth pathways and flowing pastures.

Faith provides me with a sense of self, a sense of purpose,
and a sense of inner peace.

And mostly, Faith offers me all these things and asks nothing in return.

Faith, spirituality, and religion have been used for good and for evil. They have been the life jacket and the straight jacket, the prison and the freedom. The difference in how they manifest lies in the practitioner, resulting in love or terror. When respect, inclusion, understanding, and unity are their hallmarks, this trio of theology is the very definition of possibility, hope, and love. It is up to us – all of us – to ensure this is the way forward.

Wishing you many blessings for a joyous and loving holiday season, however, you choose to celebrate. May the light of the season be yours, and may you spread that light forward in peace.

Finding Compassion Through Fatigue, Frustration, and Fear

(Or how to survive the holidays with your Self intact)

Last week was Thanksgiving – the official start of the holiday season. My social media feeds were flooded with musings on gratitude and pictures of family gatherings. It was, for the most part, a week of blessings and joy. But it didn’t start out that way, not for me.

The Sunday before Thanksgiving I got sick. Really sick. It was a 48-hour stomach bug that took me down for the count for the better part of the week. (Fatigue) It was not an ideal start to a week typically highlighted by food and festivities.

Two days later, on Tuesday, I started dog sitting for a friend who was going out of town with her family for five days. Her dog, Brutus, is almost 17-years old, and is totally deaf and partially blind. He’s lively and perky most of the time, which is great, and the plan was for me to stay at her house with my dog. Unfortunately, things don’t always go to plan.

On Tuesday night it became clear that my dog and Brutus weren’t exactly keen on sharing space. I had to send my dog home and work out a new plan with my friend, which resulted in my coming and going throughout the next 5 days to take care of Brutus and keep him company, while also being home enough to take care of my dog and life. (Frustration and Fatigue)

That would be enough to make me feel overextended during a holiday week that started out with illness, but it didn’t end there.

Brutus started coughing the day before my friend left town, but it seemed fairly benign…nothing to worry about. By Wednesday night, I was concerned. By Thursday morning, it seemed clear to me that there was a problem. (Fear)

Brutus was hacking stuff up, and it seemed like it was getting worse. By Friday we were at the vet so they could watch him and give him antibiotics. Brutus had the beginning of pneumonia, but we caught it early. He seemed better that evening, but got worse overnight when he vomited the little food he managed on Friday, including his antibiotic. So, on Saturday morning we went back to the vet, and my friend flew home a day early… just in case.

Throughout the six days from Sunday to Saturday, I struggled to find compassion. I was frustrated, fearful, and fatigued. My mind was on overdrive:

What if my dog got sick from that one night with Brutus? (Frustration)
What if Brutus died on my watch? (Fear)
What if I am making myself worse, having started the week out so sick? (Fatigue)

Did you see all the “what if” statements in there? Yeah, that’s where I was. My head was wreaking havoc with my emotions, exactly because I was so tired and overextended. I joked with my friend that my parasympathetic nervous system was overwhelmed, but it was no joke. I had no more bandwidth for anything, physical or emotional, to be added to my plate. My frustration levels had peaked, my fatigue had maxed out, and I was living with fear.

Somewhere in the process, though, I had a thought as I looked at the helpless little dog in front of me:

Where has my compassion gone?

I knew that all my buttons had been pushed and that compassion was clearly absent, for myself and for Brutus. I knew it. And I knew I had to do something about it, but what?

As I cycled in and out of conscious thought on the subject, alternating my presence with my overwrought absence, I allowed ideas to percolate to the surface. It was then that I asked myself the question: How would I want my dog to be treated?

Breakthrough!

I stepped outside myself and thought of another, someone I love dearly, and asked a simple question. I took perspective.

I pulled Brutus next to me, covered him with a blanket and rubbed his back. When he coughed, I gently patted his back and pet his head softly so that he knew I was there. When he curled up on his bed, I sat next to him on the cold floor. I even hand-fed him some food so he could take his medicine.

I did all of this, even though I was tired, scared, and annoyed at how the week unfolded, because it was the compassionate thing to do. It was the kind thing to do. I did all of this, because I was tired, scared, and annoyed.

I talk a lot about being in authentic alignment with who we are as a path to wholeness, peace, and joy. Fear has no place in my authentic alignment, nor do frustration and fatigue. They simply are not expressions of who I am at my core, but kindness is. Compassion is. And yet, I’m human.

When fear, frustration, and fatigue took over it was very easy for me to lose connection to myself, to who I am at my core.

Taking perspective allowed me to find compassion through these challenges. It may seem like compassion is all about someone else, but compassion is also a guaranteed path back to your heart, to yourself. It returned me to me.

The important lesson I received last week was not in being “good enough” while managing a stressful situation, but in knowing that even when I am pushed beyond my capacity, barely managing, and overextended to the point of feeling wholly out of alignment, there is always a path back. What mattered most was that I was willing to acknowledge it and, subsequently, do something about it. For me, that meant asking a perspective-taking question. And I think that’s true for most of us, actually.

Brutus was just a dog, and the situation was certainly not extraordinary, but what if…

What if you took the same idea and applied it to family gatherings this holiday season? Or work situations?

Or… What if we applied the same premise to the refugee crisis? To homelessness? etc.

Fear, Frustration, and Fatigue are guaranteed to take us away from our best Self, from who we know ourselves to be at our core, in our hearts. When we pause and allow ourselves to take a different perspective – to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, if you will – we swing open the door to compassion and kindness. Compassion is the first step to returning to alignment when we’ve lost our way, both personally and globally.

Brutus

Brutus – happily resting by my side :)