Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Most Powerful Tool in Your Tool Box (No, it’s not a sledgehammer.)

If you’ve been with me for any length of time, you know I refer to my tool box often. It’s a constantly growing arsenal of lessons learned, experience gained, and skills acquired. During my recent book tour one attendee (who has been with me since 2010) suggest I change it from a “tool box” to a “tool shed” based on its ever-expanding size. She may be right.

However, I think one of the most important things I can do for my clients and readers is to help them create their own growing tool box. The key word being “growing.”

It’s essential for us to always be learning, expanding, and adding to our armory of useful skills and knowledge. However, it’s also important to know the difference between a sledgehammer and a screwdriver in order to best apply each tool to maximum effect. In addressing this practical aspect of our tool box inventory, I think it’s most important to know your most powerful tool, what it is and how to use it.

So, what is the MOST POWERFUL TOOL in your tool box?

It might surprise you, but it’s NEUTRALITY.

I suppose a more obvious answer would be Love or Compassion. Perhaps even Empathy. Certainly, my training and certification in Brené Brown’s work would suggest that Empathy is a very powerful tool. But it’s not the most powerful. Neutrality is.

But to fully understand Neutrality, we have to also understand what it’s not.

Neutrality is not a reaction, nor is it a response. Neutrality is not lack of connection, compassion, love, understanding or empathy. There is no “lack” in Neutrality. It includes all those things.

Conversely, Neutrality is not full of any one characteristic either. It’s not Love, and it’s not Empathy. Nor is it compassion and understanding – but it is a form of connection. In a way.

Neutrality is presence. And through that presence is a connection to your Self. Your inner knowing and your core essence. It’s not passive, rather it’s an incredibly active and deliberate way of being, of relating.

At its core, neutrality is 100% authenticity, wrapped in integrity, and expressed as presence.

Neutrality is a tool that allows you to be present, without giving away or allowing someone to take your power. It can be passionate in its sure-footedness, without being emotionally charged. It allows for the acceptance of “both-and” thinking where two things can be true (i.e.: someone can be behaving like a jerk, and also be a kind person).

For me, a lighthouse is the ultimate symbol of Neutrality. It stands its ground and does what it does really well. A lighthouse knows it can neither change the storm nor navigate the ship. A lighthouse allows for both the storm and the ship to pass as they will, without judgment. This, in turn, allows the lighthouse to keep being a lighthouse, free from the ebbs and flows of emotionality.

Power resides in this freedom, which is why practicing Neutrality is the most powerful tool in your tool box.

What Matters Most in Life (When a Fire Alarm and a Typo Became a Messenger)

How do we identify what’s truly important in life? (And why does it matter?)

There are always the quick answers, such as: happiness, family, and health, but these are somewhat theoretically cliché and intangible, however true. It’s getting to the more tangible answers that eludes many of us until we are faced with crisis and/or tragedy.

Last week I went through two unexpected situations which resulted in my having a direct and very clear understanding of what’s important in life (for me, anyway), and I found that there was an underlying message I needed to hear.

When I sat down to write this week’s InspireBytes™ I took note of what the Universe was trying to tell me through these experiences, which turned out to be this:

  1. Know your Self and your core, let the rest fall away.
  2. Slow down, prioritize, and make time for what matters most.

Let these be your guide.

But first, let me tell you what happened.

Early in the week we had a fire alarm in the house. For those of you who have been following along in my life, you know that my father had a stroke almost 10 years ago and is disabled as a result. A fire alarm is no small thing when you are able-bodied, but when you’re disabled, it can create a sense of helplessness and panic. A few years ago I wrote about the fire alarm that went off in my apartment building, and how it clarified for me what mattered most in my life. This was the same, except that now, instead of one animal there were four, and instead of one person there were three, one of whom was incapacitated and wholly dependent on others.

Why the fire alarm went off we don’t know, because there was no fire. No smoke, no flames, no emergency. But in the few moments between the alarm and the assessment, everything became very clear. What you take with you in a crisis or emergency is a cheat sheet to what matters most in your life. For me, it was anything that was breathing (people, animals), followed by a means of escape and shelter (car keys), and communication (cell phone).

The second situation, however, was a bit different:

Later in the week I received my mammogram results. It’s an annual event that, no matter how much I rationalize it, always generates some level of concern during the waiting period. Sadly, I think we all know someone who was “perfectly healthy” who received a life-changing result after their annual exam. It’s this knowledge that creates the background soundtrack of concern or worry until the results are in.

A few years ago, I had a mini-scare that turned out to be just that (thankfully), and have a dear friend who went through that episode with me. I am aware, therefore, that the concern while waiting for results extends beyond the borders of my mind to people who care about me. Once I had the results in hand, which showed no sign of cancer, I felt relief and wanted to share that relief with my friend. In my haste to share the good news of my results, I typed too fast and had a typo.

My typo basically told my friend that the exam had detected cancer. Of course, having been emotionally blindsided, my friend called immediately. I didn’t understand why until the error was pointed out.

I felt truly awful, and though I chuckled for a moment (to relieve the strain of the heartache I had caused someone dear to me), it wasn’t funny. My friend was given an unnecessary blow, and it was all because I rushed.

In that moment, without hesitation, I realized what was most important to me: Life. Health. Friendship. Connection. And … slowing down.

The last year has been such a whirlwind with publishing my first book that I have developed a bit of a habit of either being overly rushed and pressured or somewhat detached and slow – probably to compensate for the stressful times. In fact, much of the last 10-15 years have been the same, for myriad reasons.

So, that was the message I was receiving loud and clear from the Universe: Slow down, focus on what matters, nurture that.

The week before, I had polled my friends about which blog they would prefer to read next, since I had two inside me competing to come out. The first was on Competitive Spirituality (which won), and the second was something I’m working on about Self-Promotion, which is still being finished because something felt off. I now realize what that was for me:

Trying to reconcile the rushed and detached states to arrive at balance; maintaining a sense of Self and presence while still engaging in marketing.

For me, Self-Promotion is about being who you are, not who you think you should be, and trusting in that. But in this noisy world of social media and 24/7 internet, cable and satellite channels, it becomes a gladiator-style arena of “fight to the death.” In this case, it’s the death of your voice, your brand, your presence – your Self. And it’s a shame, really, because there are amazing people out there, doing amazing things, whose voices are being drowned out by those who are louder, bolder, or have more money to put their faces everywhere.

And yet, it’s not. It’s not a shame, because it pushes and requires people like me to hold fast to who we are, the work we do, trusting that it is more than enough, that we are more than enough, and to nurture that. And if we do, if we hold true to our Self, and what matters most, I believe that at the end of our lives, we will reflect with gratitude and smile.

So, in the end, a fire alarm and a typo made me realize that what matters most to me is being true to myself, to who I am. It means being more deliberate and intentional in my relationships, my health, and my presence – especially with my Self. This connection is what drives me to keep working, creating, and helping others to re-connect to what matters most to them, to who they are. Too often we have lost touch with that knowing, but hopefully it doesn’t take a crisis to remind us.

Hopefully, we can get back to that by simply slowing down, making time, and re-focusing on that which makes us smile in gratitude and joy.

Competitive Spirituality

I recently had a conversation with someone who seemed to be trying to show me that their spiritual study was more advanced than mine by telling me something they knew and thought I didn’t know…in a somewhat condescending preachy way.

At the time, I was taken aback by the tone in their language as they tried to point out this deep understanding that they thought was theirs alone when I shared that I had gained a similar understanding. It felt like a virtual pat on my head accompanied by a “there, there,” as if they couldn’t quite believe that I had also grappled with this question and information myself.

Frankly, I was a bit shocked by the whole interaction, and it took me a few days to understand why. Because, here’s the thing:

Spirituality is not a competition.

It’s not a race. There is no great “finish line” in the sky or hierarchical set of milestones on the spiritual journey. We each have our own paths and our own measurements along the way. Heck, we even have our own timers and starting points.

We, ourselves, get to design, follow, and seek out the spiritual curriculum of our lives.

For some that follows a more pre-designed path, and for others it can feel like a wild goose chase. There are even paths that are laid out by following crumbs, not to mention the countless other ways people pursue faith and spirituality. All of which are equally valid.

The similarity between our paths is simply that all the “finish lines” are defined as the same place: connection with Source. (or God, or the Divine, or Allah, or the Universe, or Nature, etc.) The name we use is most important to us, individually. Collectively, the most important word is “connection.”

Our journeys are varied, and no one journey is more important or more advanced than another. They’re simply different. The teacher often becomes the student, and vice versa, because we are all sharing the knowledge of what we have individually understood in order to foster connection. Connection with each other, and connection with Source.

When we see a “guru,” “teacher,” or “minister” espousing truths, we automatically assume that they are more “enlightened” than we are. But why? The fact of the matter is that they may have acquired different knowledge and understanding than we possess due to study, which they are then able to share in an accessible and digestible way. Their sharing allows others to remember and re-connect faster. The guru does not hold a secret key to the Universe; they are being the connector that they signed up to be. They are fulfilling their role: to study and share in a meaningful way, thereby helping others. It is a profession in the same way a doctor or web developer is also a profession. Their knowledge is not “better” – it is different, and it’s their job to share it. (It’s our job not to put them on a pedestal and make them un-relatable.)

It’s somewhat easier to understand Competitive Spirituality when talking about “gurus” or “teachers,” because there is an identifiable role. But what happens when it’s a friend or family member? An acquaintance or a classmate? Why do some people feel the need to one-up their neighbor in spiritual pursuits?

I can admit that I have been guilty of this in the past, partially out of genuine excitement for something I recently learned and understood, and partially out of a misguided desire to help others by trying to get them to bypass their own path. (And yes, if I’m honest, partly out of ego and insecurity.) 

I know that I have previously engaged in this practice that is now so out of integrity to me, which is why I truly needed to ask the question: “Why do we make spirituality a competition?”

It would be easy to say it’s ego, but I think it’s more than that. I think ego combines with our natural desire and inclination to reconnect and “know” who we are and where we came from, in order to make sense of it all. It’s an existential question that has intangible answers, which leaves us in unknowing and therefore trying to set up some sort of system or measurement, resulting in competition.

Unknowing is uncomfortable, and yet spirituality is a process of

unknowing – remembering – knowing – understanding – questioning – and unknowing, once more.

It’s this process that develops our faith muscle, which is the source of spirituality. When faith becomes a knowing there can be no measurement, no competition, only the desire to remember more, for remembering’s sake. And then, ultimately, to help others who cross our path and continue on their journey as we continue on ours.

Perhaps what matters most, therefore, is understanding the simple truth that spirituality is not a competition and then choosing to live our lives from that perspective. We accept that our knowledge and experience is not better than anyone else’s, it’s different. As it should be.

Because, at the end of the day, if we all consciously knew everything at the same time, how could we help each other or undergo experiences to learn and grow within ourselves, and collectively as a society or community? If all paths were the same, traveled at the same time and pace, how would we experience feelings of joy or sadness? Triumph or failure?

We wouldn’t.

We would lose what it would mean to be human, which means we would also lose our inclination to reconnect with each other and Source. Our nature would be lost; we would be lost.

So, for me, even though I was vexed by the interaction, I had to see it for what it was and then choose a different way. It became an opportunity for me to validate and remember my own path. What a gift!

It was a strange gift, of course, but a gift nonetheless. A gift which resulted in understanding the simplest of truths, which will now be emblazoned on my virtual wall of reminders:

Spirituality is never a competition.

And… if we make it into one, we are lost.

spirituality

The Key, The Door, and The Path

I recently started learning Transcendental Meditation (TM). This form of meditation has been said to have huge health benefits. Whether physical, mental, or emotional, the research has shown that a TM practice is generally good for your well-being… and who couldn’t use more of that?

So, I decided to investigate further, and I found it interesting. I met two local TM teachers who were available to assist me in learning this technique, and (due to a recent health scare) I have a lovely benefactor who offered to pay for my instruction. In my world, that’s all about the Universe showing up and making the path forward very clear and easy to follow. So I did.

TM is a very deliberate practice that basically contradicts a lot of things I previously thought meditation was supposed to be. In other forms of meditation, thoughts are almost an enemy. “Monkey mind” (as it’s called) is the antithesis of good meditation.**

But in TM it’s different. Thoughts simply are. There is nothing subjective about them. Neither good nor bad, they exist, they bubble up, and they release. This one difference made a HUGE impact on my understanding of meditation. The lack of judgment was liberating.

So, as I sat down in my first few days of TM, engaging in my practice twice daily, I found that I experienced the spectrum of thought presence. Sometimes there were few, if any, and other times it was like a TV section in an electronics store with every set turned on. And both experiences were perfectly right. See? Liberating.

What I found most interesting, though, was the epiphany I had during my very first meditation of the training.

As I typically do, I conducted some research prior to starting something new. In my readings I found the key element of TM to be a mantra. The mantra is given to you in the training, it’s personal to you and you alone, and it’s not a specific word with a specific meaning. It’s something altogether different. So, of course, I thought to myself: The mantra is the key to meditation.

Yes. …And no.

Over the years, in all the meditations I’ve learned, engaged in, and taught, none have relied solely on a mantra; therefore, I assumed this is what set TM apart. The mantra is the key to the meditation. It’s also more than that. So, this was the epiphany I had as I was doing TM for the first time:

The mantra is the key, the door, and the path.

It invites us in to the inner world of consciousness (the key), almost effortlessly (the door), and then helps us stay in a flow state the entire time we’re there (the path).

There are few things in life that serve as both catalyst and conveyor, but in this case it is absolutely true, which makes it easy.

TM is by far the simplest form of meditation I have ever learned. My biggest challenge will actually be prioritizing it as a twice daily practice. But, in order to see the worthwhile benefits reported in the research, it seems like a very good idea for me to overcome that hurdle.

The truth of all learning is this:

It’s not enough to simply find a key, you must use it to unlock the door.
​It’s not enough to just unlock the door, you must open it.
​It’s not enough to just open it, you must walk through it.
​And, it’s not enough to only walk through it, you must keep walking.

A good example for this is that it’s one step to attend a workshop or lecture, another to take notes on what you’re learning, and even better to take action and embody what you have understood.

If you want to create positive change, you must keep going. There are milestones on this journey, for sure, but there is no exact finish line.

It’s early days for me, but I look forward to being able to report back to you on what I find as I continue to move forward with this endeavor. As always, I’m human, and so I’m sure I will get a little messy with it, but that’s ok; because the only way to have a “bad” TM practice is simply to not do it. Feels like a win-win to me. I’ll let you know. 😉

Finally, I now have a new level of awareness in my life. I am looking to see what else might be both catalyst and conveyor, because I think that there’s something there to be discovered. I think the more we are able to combine the two, the easier it will be to stay in authenticity, integrity, and inspired flow. What do you think? Let me know if you think of any!

**Post-Note: A good friend pointed out a different understanding than the one I was originally taught about the “monkey mind.” In other modalities, I was taught that the goal of meditation was to increasingly silence the monkey mind, whereas in TM, there is no goal.

To me, silencing something over time (as a goal), puts it in the realm of something undesirable, which becomes something to push against. This is why TM was so different for me, and works better than other forms of meditation for me – there is no goal. There is no monkey mind, or clouds of thoughts, or leaves in a river to notice as the float by. These were all things I was taught in other forms of meditation, that simply weren’t as effective for me. In TM, there is nothing to notice or not notice, no clouds or leaves, or anything. Everything just is. There is only an allowing, with a gentle return to mantra. In fact, thoughts are seen as the byproduct of some stress releasing in the body. Nothing more.

I appreciate her pointing out and sharing her experience and wisdom with different meditation. It reinforces that there is no “one way” or even one understanding of one way. We each have what works best for us, and the key element to all of it is prioritizing the practice. I encourage you to find whatever way works for you. And frankly, TM is just one more tool in my ever-expanding toolbox. Big thanks to my friend for chiming in! xo

I’m Just Me.

Last week I wrote a poem, but hadn’t decided when/where or if I would share it. I showed it to a friend and she said, “Oh my gosh I love it!!! It has a bit of a Dr. Seuss feel to it which I love. I can see this accompanied by some great illustrations Way to go!!! xox”

Then I woke up to this news: It’s Dr. Seuss’ birthday today! He would have been 112. So, in light of that synchronicity… I give you

“I’m just me.”
——————
I’m just me and that’s all I can be.
You’re just you and that’s all you can do too.
And it’s more than okay
for us to be that way,
Because we don’t need to be other stuff to make us enough.

We don’t need the praises, the things, and the approval.
In fact, too much of that stuff is cause for our removal
From who we are inside, what we know to be true,
Like when you look at me, or I look at you.

When we look in the mirror, too often we stare with fury.
We don’t see the love, the joy, and the beauty.
We stress over what we are not, or wished that we were,
Like him, or them, or anybody… especially her!

We notice the hurt, the pain, and the flaws.
We only see blemishes, while craving applause.
We want what we think will bring peace to our hearts.
We search for the answers in everything that keeps us apart.

Apart from ourselves, apart from each other,
Forever in competition, one always better than another.
There is no judgment, no comparison to be made,
Because we are all perfect – inside and out – in our own ways.

So, you just do you, and I’ll just do me,
And together we’ll make this world
A happier place to be.

©2016 Martina E. Faulkner

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