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The Treacherous Voice of Comparison

Posted February 22, 2014

Ligety celebrates gold

When Ted Ligety won the Olympic gold medal in the giant slalom last week, the man who came in one second behind him languished in fifth place.

Those in between? Fractions of a second.

One second. Five men carving curves into the snow with their skis -- it made my knees hurt to watch them -- flew down a steep mountain in exactly the same amount of time, give or take a second.

If you had been standing at the finish line, you would have had no idea who won. It takes digital Swiss timing to tell the difference.

Then there was the poor Italian. “His legs are looking older,” the announcer said. “He's slow between the turns. Finishing way back.”

Turned out to be 1.58 seconds back. One and a half seconds. One Mississippi. Two Missi -- That's way back.

I've been watching the Olympics every night, and it never fails to amaze me how many ways humans have invented to compare themselves to each other.

Who looks best on the red carpet?

Who's going to the Super Bowl? Who's ahead in the political campaigns?

When one young figure skater jumped a double loop instead of a triple, Scott Hamilton called it “disastrous.” The petite teenager finished in tears.

How many among us could manage a double loop? Who even knows the difference in an axel, salchow or lutz?

I watch the figure skaters and thank God no one is judging me on creativity, execution, artistry and degree of difficulty.

Except that voice in my head. The Comparison Queen who notices the achievements of everyone else and assures me I am not going to win a medal.

Do you have that voice?

My informal, lifelong survey tells me everyone has the voice, some louder than others.

We could blame our DNA. Scoping out the competition and trying to best them helped us survive, whether we were hunting lions or attracting a mate.

We could blame advertising, which reinforces our fears of inadequacy. It has to pinpoint a problem in order to sell a solution.

We could blame growing up with spelling bees, math contests, brain bowls and of course, sports. We glorify athletic contests where we keep scores and stats and times to the hundredth of a second.

But no one had to manufacture competition when I was young. All I had to do was look around to see how others outshone me.

The thing is, I know now – and knew then – that I was smart and kinda pretty and had friends. But I'm afraid a part of me will always be in seventh grade, convinced that everyone is looking at me, and mortified just to be alive.

In his wonderful book, The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer describes this yammering internal voice as a crazy roommate. If a roommate sat next to you all the time or followed you around saying You're not good enough … You shouldn't have said that … You look awful today … Those people are smarter, younger, better equipped for life than you are … you would kick that roommate out! Or at least tune him out. You wouldn't take it seriously.

And that's what we can do with the critical voice of comparison. One of the most useful spiritual/psychological lessons I've learned is that I don't have to believe my own thoughts. Really. Just because I think it, doesn't make it true.

The very fact that you can identify the critical voice means it's not really you. It is separate from you.

YOU are the witness, the one who hears the voice, the one who knows the voice is mean and often inaccurate. The one who knows the voice is actually afraid for you and wants to protect you. The one who feels compassion for that suffering seventh-grader lurking within.

We are evolving consciously now. We can identify the survival instincts that no longer serve us. The work of our human lives is to recognize the divine in us and call it forth, to live from a higher awareness than we did in the cave.

I don't know whether living in higher consciousness will make us less competitive. I'm not against fun, but being heartbroken because a medal is silver and not gold seems, well, a waste of athletic prowess and youthful exuberance.

So here's to the nerds and the klutzes, the socially anxious and the obnoxious, the jocks and the cool kids, the aging Italian skier who lagged by 1.58 second, and anyone else carrying a label that sets him or her apart from acceptable. Each of them (us) is made in God's image.

The more we live and move and have our being within Spirit, the less our differences matter. Like the spokes of a bicycle wheel, we grow closer together as we near the Center. No contest.


A Life Well-Lived

Posted February 15, 2014

floating lotus

Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life? – Mary Oliver

One of my favorite church members died last week at 87, and I heard myself saying she had a “life well-lived.”

And thought later – what does that even mean? What makes for a well-lived life?

Is it family? Leaving behind children and grandchildren?

I used to think having children was required to justify one's existence, but I got over it! If children were the measure of a life well-lived, then even Mother Teresa would fail, no matter the good she did in the world.

What about fame and fortune as a life well-lived? Don't rule it out. Sometimes the famous or wealthy use their blessings to great advantage for others.

Of course it's possible to live well in poverty and obscurity. Indeed, most well-lived lives probably cause little ripple beyond family and friends. Think of the millions and millions of human lives that have played out on this planet, then vanished, leaving no trace for us.

Do we have to leave a legacy? Should our contributions outlive us? Or is being remembered even important?

Maybe love is the measure of a life well-lived, but how can it actually be measured? By how many others a person has loved? Or how deeply?

I always cringe at the end of the movie when the Wizard of Oz gives the Tin Man a heart and tells him, “A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.”

That's a recipe for people-pleasing and codependence if I ever heard one! You could spend your whole life trying to wring love out of others, lest your heart be judged inadequate.

On the other hand, a life well-lived does often evoke love from others.

Maybe no interaction with other people is required at all. Think of reclusive Emily Dickinson writing hundreds of poems without leaving her parents' home, or Henry David Thoreau hanging out alone at Walden Pond.

I suppose we should ask whether any kind of life is not well-lived. Or not worth living.

Some people do considerable damage – criminals, abusers – while others are so broken physically or mentally that we might wonder why they are alive.

But does a departure from the norm cancel out a whole lifetime? And if our souls are playing roles for each other's spiritual edification, maybe the most difficult people are performing exactly as they promised.

It's beginning to sound judgmental, isn't it, trying to determine whose life is well-lived and whose is not.

I'm pretty sure we will never be able to tell from the outside looking in. Who knows the soul purposes at work in a given lifetime, or how they might be met?

All we can know for sure is whose life touches ours. Who has inspired you, loved you, encouraged you, or convinced you that you can be more? Whose life uplifts yours? Whose passage on this planet have you watched in admiration?

And what about your own life? What would make it well-lived? Creativity? Productivity? Recognition? Leaving a legacy?

If your answer is love – in what way?

I know the simple fact you are alive makes you worthy. I know your essence is divine. But what, by your standards, would make your life well-lived?

I would love to hear from you.


The Great Conspiracy

Posted February 8, 2014

When I look up from my computer, I see a red postcard on a high bookshelf that reads: The Universe Is Conspiring in Your Favor.

I've heard that for years, and it never fails to cheer me up. It reminds me that elements of my life are being handled and arranged outside my conscious knowing. The road into the future is being paved for me.

WHO or WHAT exactly is doing this for me? Um, really don't know and don't care.

Most of the time, I like to picture a staff of angels flitting around on my behalf. (If you haven't read a little book called Hiring the Heavens by Jean Slatter, you'd probably love it.)

But it could be my higher self, pulling strings for me. It could be the energy that Abraham-Hicks calls The Attraction Manager, which arranges the perfect manifestation of whatever we focus on.

Imagine that! The power and mystery of the universe swirling together to produce your perfect life. Perfect in the cosmic sense, offering whatever you need to meet your deepest desires for learning and growth.

This is not a new thought. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in the 1800s, “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”

Oops, I keep forgetting I have a role in this. “Once you make a decision…” That means the Universe needs some clarity from me about what I want.

Do you think that's true? Isn't it possible just to relax and let the divine provide whatever is best for us?

Yes, and … I think our lack of clarity might explain many of the ups and downs in our lives.

Imagine you are the Universe and your job is to reflect to someone whatever she wants. You have the capacity to surprise and delight her, to fulfill her desires in ways she never dreamed.

But what you're hearing from her are things like this:

I want a man in my life, but I don't want to risk getting hurt again.

I want that fabulous job opportunity, but I don't want to move to a new city.

I want to lose 20 pounds, right after this next cookie.

How exactly would you reflect her desires to her? My guess: You couldn't. Nothing would happen. You'd have to wait until she decided what's truly important.

Then you could go to work to dazzle her! The synchronicities, the miracles, the chance meetings, the books falling open for her, the teachers showing up for her. Until the next time she said, “Naw. Maybe not.” Then you'd have to back off again.

I think that explains those frequent times in life when we think something is happening, then it doesn't. You're offered a job, but then it's on hold, but then it's back on. Your relationship with someone blows hot and cold.

Could those ups and downs simply be a reflection of our own ambivalence? We get close to what we want, then relapse into fear and uncertainty?

No wonder prayer doesn't always seem to work. Whatever we ask for in prayer might be counteracted by a day's worth of doubting that it's possible or listing all the ways it might go wrong.

Which is why I like my little sign: The Universe Is Conspiring in Your Favor. It helps prevent me from falling back into doubt. It keeps me confident that my good is being readied to pour into my life.

This is my definition of grace, by the way, that the universe is biased toward our good. Most things work out well. Even tragedies can bring gifts, and pain can be healed.

Grace is usually defined as undeserved blessing, but as divine beings and part of God, there is no blessing we don't deserve. There's only good we can't accept. Yet. Until we make the decision.


The Soul Speaks - Are You Listening?

Posted February 1, 2014


What if someone you loved were shouting your name, and you didn't turn around?

What if a gift were sitting outside your door – something you desperately needed or wanted – but you kept the door shut?

What if the answer to your most pressing problem were handed to you, and you dropped it?

We all do it, I think. We miss or misread the communication coming from our souls.

Think how our poor souls must feel! What does it take to get your attention?

I suspect what's ailing many of us as individuals and as a society may be failure to communicate with our own souls. Call it inner wisdom, higher self, the divine within, or even God. It's the part of us that is always tapped in, tuned in, turned on, the part that is ever-connected to All That Is.

It speaks to us constantly and could help us tremendously if only we paid attention.

So … I heard a wonderful call the other day on this topic that reminded me how many, many ways my soul tries to communicate with me. When I'm feeling bereft and adrift and alone (poor me!), it's likely I just haven't been paying attention.

The call was with Lissa Rankin (Mind Over Medicine) and Rachel Naomi Remen (Kitchen Table Wisdom), both doctors who are trying to heal the world from the inside out.

Here are some of the ways they said our souls speak to us. I'm not tracking them exactly because, of course, I had to add my own thoughts and commentary. I was relieved none of these involved sitting on a meditation cushion!

Persistent thoughts that might seem irrational.

Yep, I've always said God is a nag. That's how I got to ministerial school – it was an idea that just wouldn't go away, no matter how crazy it seemed. We've all got stories of ignoring these thoughts and being sorry, or following the guidance and being glad. Going to a party against your will, then meeting the love of your life. Turning a different way to drive home and avoiding an accident (which you might never know). Too often, I have argued away these thoughts with logic and talked myself out of something good.

Dreams, especially if you're not paying attention when you're awake.

Dream interpretation is its own specialty area, for those who dream in vivid fantasy landscapes or mysterious symbols. My dreams are more prosaic. Late for church. Taking an exam and realizing I never attended a single class. Preaching to an audience that is wandering away.


More natural for some than others, it might take a bit of quiet distraction to let intuition bubble to the surface. Sitting at a red light, taking a walk. The trick is to believe the thoughts, to follow the nudges. Where did we ever get the idea that what's real comes only through our five senses or can be proven in a lab?

Physical symptoms.

Losing your voice before an important speech. Waking up dizzy on the first day of a new job. Of course, Louise Hay (You Can Heal Your Life) became famous connecting physical symptoms to what your soul is trying to tell you. I was mysteriously sick the whole time I worked in Washington, D.C. Enough said.


How often do you look at the clock and see 11:11? Does seeing a particular bird or finding a penny mean something to you? Signs are personal and so is their meaning, but I assume they mean I'm on the right track. Or at least that I am seen and loved, as if angels are saying, “We're with you.”

Voices and visions.

Voices may be human or not. Sometimes exactly the right comment comes from a stranger or a child. Other times, the voice resonates within or might feel like a shout from the ethers. Visions, too, might be within or without.


Rachel Naomi Remen mentioned this one, and I had never thought of it as a message. Have you ever seen someone in a crowd and thought it was someone you knew? Turned out not to be, but you could have sworn… That might be a soul communication. What did the person you thought you saw mean to you? What were the circumstances when you knew that person? What did you learn or wish you'd known? Those answers might apply to some current condition.

Synchronicity and coincidence.

When things fall neatly into place, I figure I'm on the right track. And the more amazingly everything works out, the more divinely guided I feel.

Failure and rejection.

Hurts, doesn't it? But how many times has a big cosmic NO turned out to be exactly the right thing? You were spared from something that would have been harmful. You were redirected to something better. I'll never forget how I cried and cried when I didn't get an editor promotion at the newspaper. Truth be told, I didn't much like editing other people's stories and wasn't very good at it. Within six months, I had returned to reporting and covered politics all over the country, which defined my journalism career.

You know many more ways you might receive messages from the divine: A book leaps off the shelf or falls open to a quote; a song on the radio says just what you need to hear; a license plate, bumper sticker or billboard seems directed at you personally, or even a silly sitcom contains just one line of dialogue that opens you to new vistas.

I have, I confess, made fun of people who see divine signs in every feather and are swept off their feet by evidence of God in every chance remark or random event. But at least they are open to being amazed.

I am grateful to be reminded that the guidance I seek is seeking me, and the voice is neither still nor small. My soul is ever-available and downright chatty if I pay attention.

Name one way you know your soul speaks to you. I'd love for you to share it below.

PS -- Being a word-person, I connect easily with my soul in writing. If you're the same, check out Writing Down Your Soul by Janet Conner. Her talent is in asking the questions that yield answers from deep within.


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