Life Churns for Everyone so Why Swirl With the I?

As Pema Chodron says, “there is no way to make a dreadful situation pretty.” Often, I find myself searching for language that removes the dualistic labels of good or bad, happy or sad. For me, writing makes this somewhat easier for it affords a pause, whereas in conversation, I tend to forget the gap between thoughts and even my breathing is shallow.

These past few weeks have been full of opportunities for me to “make a big deal” out of situations or to remember that the underlying emotion of my experience is what every other human being feels at one time or another. Remembering that we are all in this together reminds me of what I have in common with all sentient beings.

My specific moments are unique to me yet woven into the undulating life “web that has no weaver.”* One week it was a car mishap and the next moment it was a family member facing a life-threatening situation. The illness was not entirely unexpected, unlike the car incident, yet both provided a life-changing moment. Life churned.

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The car is repaired but the loved one’s recovery remains uncertain. The human body, our personal vehicle, endures a life of dents, and occasionally, broken parts. We heal or get replacements but I suspect the heart and mind–and in that order–have more to do with longevity than repairs to the physical body.

Regardless of the wearing out/replacing of parts, all are allowed a life, a length of time known to none but allotted to each. The not knowing churns the emotional pool within each of us. Whether we choose to immerse ourselves in the eddies of emotion or await the stillness that comes with reflection is the ongoing dilemma.

“Like water which can clearly mirror the sky and the trees only so long as its surface is undisturbed, the mind can only reflect the true image of the Self when it is tranquil and wholly relaxed” (Indira Devi).

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Initially, I swirl within the emotional eddies more than I sit in reflective pause yet I know it is the motion that separates me from everyone else. The swirling, downward spiral isolates me in my own pain, unaware that my pain is what connects me to humanity.

“Shantideva said that since all sentient beings suffer from strong, conflicting emotions, and all sentient beings get what they don’t want and can’t hold on to what they do want, and all sentient beings have physical distress, why am I making such a big deal about just me? Since we’re all in this together, why am I making such a big deal about myself?” (Pema Chodron).**

Until we see in ourselves those emotions that we so readily assign to everyone else, we cannot pull ourselves out of our own pain to reflect on the pain that connects us all. In recognizing the human bond, we come to reflect on what is common to all.

We must dive deep to sit at the still waters of our own existence to reflect upon the life force that binds us all.

A personal note: As of this writing, my family member’s recovery continues to be remarkable as well as inspirational.

Text Notes:

*This phrase is from the title of Ted Kaptchuk’s thorough book, The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine. I highly recommend it.

**Omega Institute is offering another online workshop with Pema Chodron on October 25-27 with early bird pricing. The event is sold out for anyone wishing to attend in person. Click here for more information.

The Wisdom in Compassion, a Matter of Nuance

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The practice of compassion requires considerable courage, for the way of compassion is living an active life amongst all beings. Practicing compassion means we trust ourselves enough to connect to life completely, making ourselves vulnerable, a daring in its own right.  Such is the wisdom of compassion.

Compassion (Late Latin: com=”together” + pati “to suffer”) offers us a perspective on suffering. Its etymology—the peeling back of the layers of its life—reveals its nuance, allowing us a peek into its past. Much of the mystery of life lies in such nuance.

The practice of compassion is a commitment to connect with the suffering of all beings, including those we do not like. Connecting is not condoning but rather a revealing of the nuance inherent in every being. “It involves learning to relax in allowing ourselves to move gently toward what scares us” (Chodron).

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Moving toward what scares us allows us to soften rather than harden, to open to options previously hidden from view. In acknowledging that all suffer, we recognize that all know pain in its various guises. Suffering reveals our connection to all beings.

In practicing compassion, especially when to do so challenges us to our core, we appreciate the pain of other people. The nuance is in recognizing the suffering without judging the behavior. In this coming together with those who suffer— the etymology of compassion—we glean the wisdom inherent in living such a life.

Dr. Grace Damman terms this as the aligning of compassion with wisdom: “What I mean is that when I am served by other people who are driven by their own standards of excellence, and not by the demands of my ‘whiny self,’ then I am best served by them.” It is what she discovered in her recovery from a serious car accident, a truly vulnerable state.

In reaching for the wisdom within compassion, our perspective broadens, leaving us less susceptible to shenpa or getting hooked by our emotions. When we are hooked, we soar with our neuroses, oblivious to objectivity. We sever our connection with all beings, hearing only our own demands, our own needs.

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The churning of our emotions slips us into solitary confinement with our suffering, devoid of compassion. We sharpen our selves, harden our hearts to resist what scares us–creating the classic boomerang effect—the life of the infinite loop.

When we finally stop and peel back the layers of our pain, we open up to compassion, softening into the realization that all suffer. We connect to the nuance of life. The practice of compassion is not for the faint of heart but for warriors—bodhisattvas—who trust their vulnerability, for they know it is their connection to the wisdom of existence.

“We cultivate bravery through making aspirations. We make the wish that all beings, including ourselves and those we dislike, be free of suffering and the root of suffering” (Chodron).

Such is the way of a life of compassion.

After Silence, Music Expresses it Best

The power of music was the Bloggers for Peace challenge for August. It brought to mind Aldous Huxley: “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”
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Throughout the history of humanity, music has permeated barriers often considered impenetrable. Music unites continents, as the deeds of humanity are recounted in song. Human existence is the song of the ages written across bars of hope and measures of peace.

From Paleolithic time onward, every major tradition—Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism Tao, Hinduism—embraced song as one way to reveal the stories of human existence. Combining music and story, each of the major traditions expressed compassion for all in the community as a way of daily living. Similarly, each tradition warned of the pitfalls of hoarding riches and extolled the virtues of giving to the least among us.
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In each verse of the song of community, all give and all receive, the song of the ages expressing the inexpressible.

For many in my generation, “We Shall Overcome” was the song for civil rights for every American as well as every citizen of the world. We are still singing this song, still committed to overcoming what divides us in order to live with what unites us–peace. Globally, it is the melody of the human heart, expressing the inexpressible. Within its coda is the constant vigilance required for compassion and thus, for coexistence.

Peace is not passive but like compassion it is alive, an aria to overcome what we have yet to accomplish in twenty-one centuries: to live with one another in the harmony of acceptance sans the labels of race, creed, color or any dissonance that divides rather than unites.

Since we began composing the story of human existence, there have always been notes of hope. Perhaps the power of music and its ability to express what we cannot will one day lead us to a vigilant, vibrant life of peace and compassion.

It is and always has been to our great credit that we sing.

If memory serves, the video clip of Joan Baez singing “We Shall Overcome” is from the 1969 movie, Woodstock.  There was a time I would have recognized it immediately. Well, I still know all the words.

Other Bloggers for Peace Posts:

Grandmalin: The August Post for Peace

Rarasaur: One Little Candle Burning Bright

The Seeker:  Music That Will Make You Smile

Rohan Healy:  Alien Eyes

Electronic Bag Lady: Music and the Brain

The Mirror That is All of Us

What is it we see when we look into the mirror of humanity, the oneness that is all of us? We recognize traits in others because we know hints of them in ourselves. In our oneness, we are mirrors for each other, reflecting the world to all.
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There is a Sanskrit “great saying” or pronouncement from the Hindu Upanishads–Tat Tvam Asi–that is often translated as “you are that” or “that you are.”  Essentially, the idea is that each one of us is unique and our uniqueness is essential to the oneness of all existence.

Oneness never diminishes the individual but rather, each is part of the whole, occupying a unique space in a single moment of existence.  That is the gift of oneness, allowing us to mirror the world for one another. It is how we recognize ourselves.

If we celebrate our relationship to one another, our focus shifts to what connects us and not to what separates us. Imagine the possibilities in this 21st century. For the first time in the history of humanity, we have the technology to create global awareness one person at a time, the only way change is ever truly affected.

We live in a fractious and fearful world but our moment, our time is unique to us, just as it was for all who came before us. That seems to be the way of existence. Yet unlike previous generations, we are able to criss-cross the globe electronically, offering ourselves to relationships we would never know otherwise. Technology brings us closer to one another than we have ever been.
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It is not an opportunity that has come before, and perhaps it is not an opportunity that will come again. The world grows smaller as we grow closer to one another. “It is only by risking ourselves from one hour to another that we live at all” (William James). Such is existence.

Each moment is rife with infinite possibilities if we are aware, completely present to what is occurring, giving it our complete attention. In becoming more aware within ourselves, we let go of past ideals and future wishes to look into the mirror of what is, the present.

In the present, we recognize that we are always in relationship no matter where we are for we are always connected to life. That is our connection to oneness, our sharing of life with every pollinating bee, blade of grass, drop of water, and mountain peak. Everywhere we look, the world holds itself up to us.

The reflection of all that connects us is so much more than what separates us. If nothing else, such a look in the mirror that is the world broadens our perceptions for rather than being attached to only one way of being, we are presented with the life force that flows through all beings. It seems so worth the risk.

Bits and pieces of this revised post originally appeared as “The Mirror That is You.” 

Dear ?: A Peace Letter

July’s Bloggers for Peace Post is to write a letter for peace, which was a real challenge for me beginning with the salutation. The forpeace6question mark is preferable to a mere blank as there is an acknowledged mystery in the question mark as well as an implied unknown and perhaps uncertainty. Yet, as mindfulness or present moment awareness reminds me time and again, it is in this unknown and uncertain realm where the infinite possibilities lie.

Dear ?:

This is a letter to existence, the life force that runs through everything on the physical plane. Deliberately, I have settled for a punctuation mark rather than a name, although there are many from which to choose, but more and more, I am convinced that putting a label on anything only excludes.

Now that I am past the salutation, there is the body of the letter that contains my current thoughts on peace. Like existence, peace is ever undulating, for peace is not a destination or even a goal but rather, a way of being.

“Peace begins when expectation ends”

~ Sri Chinmoy~
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The onus is on us, where it always has been, yet the planet seems so much smaller now for we crisscross it on a daily basis through images and words on screens. It is reminiscent of when the world wrote letters, and the challenge still is to respond rather than to react. Pen and paper required more of us physically and may have delayed reaction time somewhat.

The ability to communicate instantaneously to almost anywhere in the world has brought us face to face with ourselves. Ideals, illusions, and even institutions have been shattered as we find ourselves in immediate relationship with so many voices from so many places. There are few gaps between thoughts.

Peace is not some sort of lofty ideal nor is it an illusion or an institution. Peace is not a finite but an infinite state of being. Peace is not a one size fits all but is unique to each one of us. The oneness of peace is the acceptance of all of us just as we are for then—and only then—have we removed expectation. The possibilities are infinite.

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As always, I am overtly optimistic, which is not to say that I am not aware of how taxed our planet’s resources are or how many species are either being pushed to the edge of their existence or are already extinct. I am only too aware that “the world is too much with us” to the point of making my head explode but then I remember:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has

~Margaret Mead~

We begin from within, putting our own house in order from the inside out, which is a lifetime task. And that is how the world changes for we cannot give the world what we do not have within ourselves. If we are not at peace with ourselves, we are not in peaceful existence with the world.

It is no wonder that peace eludes us for we look everywhere except where it resides, within our own existence. It may seem more practical to fix ideals or institutions but change—impermanence–is the nature of all existence.

Discovering our own oneness is how we recognize our connection to all of existence. When we love ourselves completely and compassionately for the beings that we are, recognizing our faults and forgiving our mistakes, then our house is in order for we accept our own existence, unconditionally.

It is the task of a lifetime and always has been.

Yours in Impermanence,

KM Huber

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Humility: The Art of Being Enough

The art of being enough begins with the complete and total acceptance of ourselves (maitri), without labeling our shortcomings or our strengths. There are no credits or debits within the flow of life.

“All streams flow to the sea

because it is lower than they are.

Humility gives it its power.”

 ~Lao Tzu~

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The art of being enough is accepting that we meander with the river of life on our way to the sea. Each horseshoe bend of life is the forgiveness of ourselves and others so essential to the flow of being enough. Each bend reflects a challenge met, yet another way discovered.

Bending with life rather than letting life bend us is the power of humility, a delicate balance of keeping our thinking subordinate to our heart. The strength of humility is not denying our uniqueness but in expressing it, although those waters seem murky at times. Ego will do that.

When we allow our ego to supersede our heart, we cut ourselves off from the flow of life. Essentially, we are saying we are not enough. Continuously, we add up what we are and are not—our debits and credits are never enough–and with our abacus of self, we total up the world’s worth, which also falls short. There is never enough for ego without a heart.

The art of being enough regards life as an adventure with infinite possibilities. Rather than adding up life as a positive or negative, in humility we pursue life for the pure experience of it. We are not trying to mold it to assure a certain outcome; we bend with the possibilities, trusting the flow of being enough.

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How we live our lives is our unique contribution to the oneness of existence. Sooner or later, we become enough. Perhaps the best illustration of this is the story of the Hindu master and his apprentice.*

The apprentice is constantly complaining about life, how it measures up or does not. The Hindu master grows weary of the apprentice’s complaints and sends him to purchase salt.

Upon the apprentice’s return, the master tells him to put a handful of salt into a glass of water and drink it. Immediately, the apprentice pronounces the taste of the water as bitter. The master smiles and informs the apprentice they are going to the lake.

At the lake, the apprentice is told to throw a handful of salt into the lake and then take a drink from the water’s edge. The apprentice says the water tastes fresh. The master tells the apprentice:

“`The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain… remains…exactly the same. But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in.’”

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There is a grace in learning to bend with life, and perhaps in bending, we just may discover that our unique purpose is to do just that, express ourselves in the meandering flow of life on our way to the sea.

In the words of the Hindu master, “`…the only thing you can do is…enlarge your sense of things….Stop being a glass. Become a lake.’”  You are enough.

*The story of the Hindu master and apprentice first appeared in a January 2012 post; all citations are from Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening.

On My Way to the Way With Everyone Else

Single Path 0313I do not believe there is only one way for everyone—never have—but rather, we are all on our way to the Way. We have various labels for the Way–Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism—regardless, the Way always has been and always will be.

“The Tao is both named and nameless. As nameless it is the origin of all things; as named it is the Mother of 10,000 things” (Tao). Our path is our experience of the 10,000 things of the Way: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

Everyone practices in order to find out for him or herself…how to be balanced, how to be not too tight and not too loose. No one else can tell you. You just have to find out for yourself” (Pema Chödrön, The Wisdom of No Escape).

Any and all of the ways teach us, no matter what label resonates individually: God, the Universe, the Source, the Unified Field, Spirit, Creator, Krishna, Buddha, or the eternal phenomena of the Chinese “web that has no weaver.”  The unique expression that is each of us is also our connection to one another.

Deepak Chopra says “we are all God in different disguises”; God is having a unique experience on the physical plane through each one of us. As such, we are the energy that is God, the Oneness that is our connection to one another.

It seems we should celebrate our connection to one another but often we separate rather than celebrate, disconnect rather than connect, although we are hardwired to love and belong—it is in our DNA. When we separate from our own way, we leave the path to the Way, and we suffer.

We all know suffering–no matter how we label craving and clinging—weThick of it 0313 do not have to know others’ experiences nor they ours to feel what  DNA is tugging on us to do: connect with one another. When we are separate, we do not trust our way to the Way.

Going out and changing the world doesn’t work for me…It only feeds into the same judgmental energy….Instead, letting go of attachment to any way of believing or thinking has made me feel more expanded and almost transparent so that universal energy can just flow through me. More positive coincidences happen in my life when I’m in this state of allowing” (Anita Moorjani, Dying to be Me)

The need to connect with one another keeps us in search of our way to the Way. Our journey begins at birth. We bring our own bits of light and dark to the being that is our life. The darkness and lightness of each of us is what we offer to the world, what we come to know as our path to the Way.

We do not have to live as labels for it is in our Oneness with one another that we find our way into the Way.

Thursday Tidbits: Digging Deep for “Meraki”

This week’s Thursday Tidbits considers meraki, a modern Greek word for that “extra something” we add to whatever we’re doing, no matter the task. Usually intangible and often inexplicable, meraki helps us immerse ourselves into whatever is at hand. We dig deep for meraki.

Over the last few weeks, I have had to reinvent my diet, in fact my entire daily way of being. Thanks to Prompts for the Promptless, I now have a word for it, meraki, which actually is often associated with cooking, that hard to identify ingredient or quality so essential to adapting to life.

Although I thought I was on a Slow Boat to Fitness, it seems it was not my boat at all. Last November, I began supplementing Meraki Momentmy diet with a few legumes, bread made from brown rice, and a few fruits. I was able to tolerate the extra carbohydrates but steadily the inflammation increased as did the discomfort. Only apples are still allowed.

At first, I thought it was the yoga so I modified my practice yet eventually, I had to stop. I continued with my walking but as the inflammation and discomfort increased, my distance lessened. Yet, after five months, I finally had a meraki moment.

Did I gain weight? Yes one day and no the next and then yes again, the usual roller coaster that has been my experience with the inflammation from degenerative arthritis and lupus. Overall, my weight did not change, which I attribute to the doshas of Ayurveda, of which I am kapha, mostly. Ayurveda eased me into my meraki moment regarding my food.

The ancient art of Ayurveda is not concerned with classifying carbohydrates, proteins, and fats but concentrates on the six tastes found in food: the hot tastes of pungent, sour, and salty; the cold tastes of bitter, astringent, and sweet. Those tastes carry different messages to the body and it reacts accordingly. Ayurveda is so much more than that but I am just beginning.

For me, Ayurveda provides a way to practice my meraki with maitri or loving-kindness as I let go of a diet that I enjoyed but did not provide my body the fuel it must have to fight inflammation and support my joints. I was looking outside myself for answers that were always within me:

If you look for the truth outside yourself,
It gets farther and farther away.
Today walking alone, I meet it everywhere I step.
It is the same as me, yet I am not it.
Only if you understand it in this way
Will you merge with the way things are.” ~ Tung-Shan ~

Meraki helps me listen to my body rather than sending it commands to which it cannot comply because it does not have the energy. A return to yoga is actually relieving some of the discomfort in my joints, and the walking is easier.

With meraki, which always involves one’s enthusiasm for life, I have added daily trips to the delightful blog, Zen flash, an online temple offering daily posts of solitary images and transcendent lines.  It is a part of my morning meditation practice but I also visit at other times to remember:

“Everyday life

is not divorced from

the Eternal State.

~~Sri Ramana Maharshi

In the spirit of Zen flash, this week’s video offers Schumann’s Opus 15 as a moment of merkai from me to you.

Thursday Tidbits are weekly posts that offer choice bits of information to celebrate our oneness with one another through our unique perspectives. It is how we connect, how we have always connected but in the 21st century, the connection is a global one.

Joy Without the Hangover

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The “trust in our fresh, unbiased nature brings us unlimited joy– happiness is completely devoid of clinging and craving. This is the joy of happiness without a hangover” (Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You, 2009).

To experience the unlimited joy of every moment, we trust the innate goodness of our open heart. Joy is no more an adrenaline rush than it is an attempt to keep a moment from passing, no hanging on or yearning allowed, only gratitude. It is a matter of equanimity in all matters in all moments.

In revisiting Buddhism through Pema Chödrön, I am reminded of just how basic joy is and just how difficult. As Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Nowhere is this more evident than in practicing the “four limitless qualities” of joy, equanimity, love, and compassion where ego never dares to tread.

In this past week, I knew moments of suffering in the Buddhist sense–any feeling or action outside the four limitless qualities–I also knew moments of happiness. In either, I did not want the hangover of holding onto the happiness or avoiding the suffering. I just wanted to be.

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Unexpected as the events were, I practiced staying and not straying from each moment, difficult as it was. Equanimity in any moment—trying to remain unbiased—allows us to receive what each moment offers. We look within ourselves to our open heart for our compassionate response.

In opening ourselves to our own worth, each of us finds our way “to the truth that we have always been warriors living in a sacred world” (Chödrön). Within our truth is “the ongoing experience of limitless joy” if we will just trust ourselves within that experience.

At the beginning joy is just a feeling that our own situation is workable. We stop looking for a more suitable place to be” (Chödrön). When we stop looking outside for what is inside us, we immerse ourselves in reality. No matter what is occurring, we are alive, and we rejoice in all that we have and all that we are for “it is easy to miss our own good fortune” (Chödrön).

The practice of unlimited joy is our life’s work in every moment we have. “Rejoicing in ordinary things is not sentimental or trite. It actually takes guts… Everything we see, hear, taste, and smell has the power to strengthen and uplift us” (Chödrön). All we have to do is show up and be amazed, moment by moment.

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As unique as each one of us is, we are all connected in our suffering and happiness of our everyday lives, our source of unlimited joy.  “In a nutshell, when life is pleasant, think of others. When life is a burden, think of others. If this is the only training we ever remember to do, it will benefit us tremendously and everyone else as well” (Chödrön).

Our connection with one another is the expression of our love for the unlimited joy inherent in life, in whatever way it is served to us. We keep life simple, as it is, and not simpler, making it something it is not.

This simple way of training with pleasure and pain allows us to use what we have, wherever we are, to connect with other people. It engenders on-the-spot bravery, which is what it will take to heal ourselves and our brothers and sisters on the planet” (Chödrön).

To face every moment with equanimity is not always possible but doing the best we can with what we have lessens any hangover and increases unlimited joy.

Thursday Tidbits: The Inner Wolves

This week’s Thursday Tidbits is my February post as part of the Bloggers for Peace movement. At least once a month, over 100 bloggers dedicate at least one blog post to peace and its many facets.forpeace6

On this blog, I explore peace fairly frequently including the fascinating fact that critical mass consciousness is now possible through the technology that connects the world. Imagine the possibilities for the world if we let peace begin within each one of us. Yet, how to secure the peace within….

There is a Cherokee story about a conversation on life between a grandfather and his grandson. The grandfather tells a vivid tale of the battle between his inner “black wolf and white wolf.” The two wolves are constantly fighting each other no matter what the grandfather does. The grandson wonders which wolf will win.

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Here is the grandfather’s reply:

“If you feed them right, they both win.

“…the white wolf needs the black wolf at his side. To feed only one would starve the other and they will become uncontrollable. To feed and care for both means they will serve you well and do nothing that is not a part of something greater, something good, something of life. Feed them both and there will be no more internal struggle for your attention.

“And when there is no battle inside, you can listen to the voices of deeper knowing that will guide you in choosing what is right in every circumstance.

“Peace, my son, is the Cherokee mission in life. A man or a woman who has peace inside has everything. A man or a woman who is pulled apart by the war inside him or her has nothing.

“How you choose to interact with the opposing forces within you will determine your life. Starve one or the other or guide them both” (Beyond the Conflict of Inner Forces at www.awakin.org).

No matter what characteristics you attribute to your inner wolves, they are the two halves of the one that is you. Your left and right halves of your body make up the physical you; emotionally, your ego provides the context of your life, surrendering only to compassion, gratitude, love and joy. In peace, there is no reaction to chaos, only response out of stillness.

For me, the Cherokee story is also another way to view the paradox that is duality: Oneness originates out of opposites becoming one, equal in every way. Only in equanimity is there peace, which requires lifelong attention to the light and dark that is in each one of us, where peace begins.

Once again, my thanks to Kozo at Everyday Gurus for this mindful way to spend 2013 as well as every moment we ever have.

Thursday Tidbits are weekly posts that offer choice bits of information to celebrate our oneness with one another through our unique perspectives. It is how we connect, how we have always connected but in the 21st century, the connection is a global one.

Blogs of Interest:

Kozo on Peace Practice

Radical Amazement on The Presence of Peace

Bullzen on How to Save the World (Abridged)

Grandmalin on The Global Family