Friday, February 22, 2013

The Art and Challenge of Practice Makes Progress

Knowing a better way isn’t enough to improve your life. How easy is it for you to put a new way of being into practice?

Even though I’m spiritual rather than religious, I’d like to start with Matthew 7:24-27, a segment Matthew writes as being spoken by Jesus about practice: Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain cam down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

First, I certainly don’t mean my words; I mean the words you hear and feel in your own heart, the words that speak to you and your spirit, the words spoken directly from Source to you. Second, I’m not calling anyone foolish; though, each one of us has our turn at practicing foolishness at one time or another. That’s just part of the learning and growing experience, whether we like it or not. Third, as I opened with, knowing something is not the same as practicing it, ever; and practice really does make progress. It forms the solid rock foundation of self-trust and trust in Source, even or particularly when we feel ourselves temporarily in the valley rather than on the mountaintop.

How do you learn or train yourself to practice what will improve you or your daily experience of life? You start by deciding what it is you wish to practice, say, “Choose inner peace.” You likely don’t have to wait long to have an experience where this choice would be a good practice, and you forget, maybe for a day, week, month or longer, because emotions run strong. Once you’re calmer, you remember you did make that choice. You think on this, perhaps admonish yourself for forgetting, which I don’t recommend. I prefer a gentle reminder like, “Okay, I forgot to remember this time; but eventually I will remember my choice.” Maybe you forget a few more times until one day, when triggered, you do remember and say to yourself, “New program: Choose inner peace.” You figure out how to do that and put it into practice. Please keep in mind that practice does not mean “perfect.” It means practice.

Each time, it becomes easier to choose it, that is, to practice your choice, to engage your new program, even if following through presents challenges that ask for more or different inner work, insight, and creativity on your part. As you practice, you feel your evolution and personal power, as well as your relationship with yourself and Source move up a notch. And it feels good. It feels right. You find you pay attention for other opportunities to practice your choice, or other opportunities to make similar beneficial choices. The new practice, and the evolution it causes in you, starts to feel more natural, more comfortable than not practicing or evolving, despite challenges.

We tend to make an external change first, when we desire improvement, which may work for a while. Then we revert back to the original behavior, because Change Happens from the Inside Out, never the other way around. We may even talk to others about how we’re going to change. There is a school of thought that says if you tell others your goal or intention, you stick to it. But that isn’t always the case, is it? And if you don’t stick to it, you feel not-so-good about yourself; and you may waste energy fretting about what others may think of you.

I recommend you get to know yourself. Maybe it works best for you to tell others what you intend. Maybe it works best for you to keep silent and do what’s required then speak about it only when people comment on what’s different, improved, and ask what you’re doing. Maybe it works best for you to share the inner-work process you’re experiencing as you continue to where or how you intend to be.

Example: You want to lose weight, so you diet. Diets work only so long, because of our tendency to revert back to familiar behaviors, and because we tend to not like to feel uncomfortable and limited. But once you have a different mindset about wellbeing, you’ll make lifestyle choices that have greater and lasting effects no diet alone ever promotes or provides, especially if you feel you suffer in some manner from a diet. It’s the same for any change in yourself or your life you desire, intend, and commit to. Right practice leads to improvements, not suffering.

Here’s something most of us don’t want to hear: Practice requires experiences, and not all of them are ones the ego-aspect would prefer. But, you don’t learn math if you never experience it and put it into practice. You don’t learn how to forgive or be forgiven without one or more experiences that open this opportunity to you. It’s the same for inner peace, joy, love, wellbeing, fulfillment, having quality relationships, a relationship with Source, and so on.

It is never about knowing (mind) what to do only; it’s about putting what you know into practice (heart). It’s about head-and-heart alignment about the practice, which can lead you toward the improvement you desire. Here’s a question: Are you improved in some measure at the inner level (mindset, perspective, self-trust, inner peace) from what you were a year ago? Even some improvement counts. No perfectionism, please.

When it comes to Practice Makes Progress, I’m reminded of a line in the movie, “Eat Pray Love,” where Julia Roberts’ character comments about a man whose continual prayer-plea to a saint was, “Please, please, please - let me win the lottery.” After years and years of this, the saint, exasperated, finally said to the man, “My son, please, please, please - buy a ticket!” Roberts’ character says she finally got it. We are often like the man, imploring if not pleading with Source for what we want, but not doing what WE need to as our end of it. Practice, especially the spiritual-in-nature inner work, is very often if not always, our ticket we need to “buy,” or rather, buy into.

Remember to ask Source to assist you. Source always assists you, but it makes a difference to and in you if you become comfortable with asking; and, Source wants to be asked. Your asking is like an expression of appreciation born of trust in Source. Your practice can help you stay in or return more easily to a state of appreciation. Commit to the practices that lead to progress, with Source’s assistance, and you and your life will improve, perhaps gradually; but that’s always better than the opposite. Buy your “ticket.” It’s a good practice, one you’ll appreciate.   

Practice makes progress.
© Joyce Shafer

Friday, February 15, 2013

The 3-in-1 Path to Any Desired Outcome

One simple question that includes the 3-in-1 path, asked consistently, can lead to your desired outcomes. Do you know what it is?

I won’t make you wait. Here it is: “Do my thoughts, words, and actions lead me toward or away from my desired outcome?” Pretty straight-forward, don’t you think? I do want to say something about desired outcomes: it’s best if they’re aligned with and for your highest good or the highest good of all involved. Negative or out-of-harmony intentions always find a way to bite you on the bum!

Let’s look at the 3-in-1: Thoughts, words, and actions. Each are important, but one always affects the other two, and all three always work together as one energy transmission to yourself, others, and the Universe. You won’t speak or act in anger if your thoughts are peaceful or appreciative. And your thoughts won’t be peaceful or appreciative if you speak and/or act from anger. This is, of course, true for any emotion or feeling.

Just so you’re clear, I’m not saying anger (or any emotion you don’t desire to feel) is a bad thing and that you shouldn’t engage it; after all, it’s there to get your attention on what’s not working for you. I am saying you can feel anger (or any emotion you don’t desire to feel) and still communicate what you need to from a place of inner peace, or at least a calmer demeanor, even or especially if you need a bit of time to get into this “space”. Thoughts, words, and actions can be and are choices, and choices always create results or consequences. This is one reason the question works in and on your behalf at all times. So, let’s look at the three aspects.

Thoughts are about more than just having them; about more than just thinking positive. They are also about deeper contemplations that lead you to make significant connections, like connect-the-dots drawings, to reveal and see the bigger, holistic picture you, others, and Source are a part of. They’re like one of those starter fire logs: potential is within them once lit (with enough energy provided, that is), for desired or undesired outcomes, depending on what you do with them. We usually turn thoughts into words.

Words have power. They can heal, they can harm, they can create. They can uplift and support or they can suppress or crush. The moment you speak, you’ve added fuel to the fire, whether that’s kindling to build a cozy fire that provides warmth and comfort, and even to cook, or gasoline that causes an explosion or a fire that burns out of control until time runs it out or something is done to put it out. Thoughts have power. Put them into words and you’ve enhanced or amplified their influence on your cause-and-effect outcome. Speaking words is also an action, as much as any physical action is.

Actions are like pushing down on the accelerator of a car. You’re in motion until you put your foot on the brake to deliberately stop or pause (or you run out of fuel). If you’re on a “good road,” you more than likely have a good travel experience. If you’re on a road under bad, unpleasant, or unfavorable conditions, like ice, you go into a skid or flip, and don’t know the outcome, good or not-good, until you do.

Desired and undesired outcomes don’t come about only as a result of what we think, say, or do deliberately. They also come to us as a result of how we respond or react when under pressure, which shows us what we’ve worked on about ourselves, as well as what still needs work. Both of these paths show us a great deal about what our relationship with ourselves, others, and Source is. Note: every relationship with others and with Source is ultimately a reflection of the one we have with our self. This fact may not be comfortable, and may even be scary, but it is accurate.

Observing ourselves in these ways is a handy assessment tool or method. This isn’t meant to be used for self-judgment, just self-assessment and conscious, deliberate inner work. It’s like an eye exam. You take an eye test, not to pass or fail it, but to take measurements. The results of the measurements show you where you are and what you need, to help you maintain or adjust your vision. It’s the same for your vision of you and your life, others, and Source.

Too often it’s too easy, and even endorsed by society to be “clever” with our comments or opinions, to say or spew whatever we think without thinking about it first. I recently shared a quote on social sites (attribution unknown) that expresses a misunderstanding some people or society in general often have: “Don’t ever mistake my silence for ignorance, my calmness for acceptance, or my kindness for weakness.” People who practice silence, calmness, and kindness are sometimes viewed in a negative manner, as though personal power can be expressed only through aggression, when the opposite is true and aligned with Truth. Sometimes we focus more on what our ego-aspect thinks it can gain through being “clever” or hurtful or the “winner”, than what we might lose.

In an article for “O” (Oprah’s magazine), Catherine Newman wrote: “…life isn’t about avoiding trouble; it’s about being present, even through the hard stuff, so you don’t miss the very thing you’re trying not to lose.” When we don’t use the 3-in-1 question, we tend to lose something, whether that’s the desired outcome; traction; any advance we’ve made; or confidence or faith in ourselves and/or the process; trust in Source; or even something remarkable within us waiting to be discovered, revealed, and expressed.

You could say the desired outcome to be in harmony and productive collaboration with ourselves, others, and Source is a good and even ultimate one to have. It covers a lot of ground, an expansive territory we call life and our experience of it. The way to attain or accomplish this is to consistently ask: Do my thoughts, words, and actions lead me toward or away from my desired outcome? It’s a good practice, one you’ll appreciate. 

Practice makes progress.
© Joyce Shafer

Friday, February 8, 2013

When Asking WHY Is and Is Not a Good Idea

Something happens, and we want to know Why me? Why this? Why now? But those are not the best questions to ask. When is asking Why the right question?

When something unpleasant happens, we tend to ask why; and often, negative stories quickly get attached as our ego-aspect starts rifling through old emotional files or starts imagining new, equally unpleasant (or worse) scenarios. The ego-aspect tends to embellish what-is, makes it even more dramatic, as though what-is isn’t already enough. If we have difficulty dealing with what-is, we won’t or don’t do better if we make our feelings about what happened even more intense in our mind.

What happens the first time we ask WHY and attach negative stories (or any time we practice negativity) is akin to the earth shifting a bit underfoot. We look down and see we’re standing in a shallow indent. Each subsequent time we follow this mental path, the hole gets a bit deeper. Do this enough times, and with enough emotion, and you eventually find yourself in the hole up to your neck, if not deeper. You may perceive or feel that you’re in so deep that you believe you can’t get out. That isn’t true, though; you can get out. If you’re in really deep, you may have to ask for assistance; but as long as you’re alive and conscious, you can get out.

One way to get out, perhaps the best way, is to change your why question to a how question: How can I heal from here or How can I move forward from here? Just keep in mind that “here” means you start from where you are, not from where your ego-aspect thinks you should be. You don’t have to wait for conditions to be a certain way or for someone to say or do a certain thing: you can start where you are, because it’s an inner journey first and foremost, no matter what.

Another helpful thing to do is to choose peace. This doesn’t mean an outward demonstration of it when you don’t feel it. No “Fake it till you make it”, please. You want genuine inner peace, which opens you in more ways than you might imagine, and leads you into natural, effortless outward demonstrations of the inner peace you feel. Responses you get from others and life when you are peaceful, as opposed to when your emotions are or stay roiled, are as different as night and day. If you want peace, be peace. Easier said than done? Sometimes; but it’s an excellent touchstone or guiding star.

How you attain inner peace is as much a part of the process as having it: it’s something you have to determine for yourself. “Why aren’t I peaceful?” is an unhelpful question that causes the mind to search for and find many things that upset you, in order to respond to your question, but not provide any solution or resolution. “How can I be peaceful?” or “How can I be peace” are effective questions that open your mind to find a better path to follow. A quick answer to this latter question: choose it.

There is a time, however, when WHY is a good question to ask; and it comes from an interview I watched of Evanna Lynch, the young woman who played Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter films. She’d read the books in print at the time, and was familiar with the character. When she saw the casting call, she thought, “Someone has to be Luna. Why not me?”

Someone has to be happy, serene, kind, peaceful, peace-promoting, forgiving, generous, spiritually aware, content, loving, fulfilled, in a right relationship, successful, creative, inspired, fun, having fun, employed or employed well, spiritually and emotionally strong, and so forth. Why not you? Think of your own words and follow them with, “Why not me?” The first thing you have to do to receive your good is be open to allowing it in. This “why not me” question unlocks the door.

It’s a question you can apply to anything you imagine or dream about, but perhaps feel some doubt about attaining, achieving, or accomplishing. If you think about it, why not you; especially, if someone has to fill that role, whatever that role may be.

Our inner work is as much about equipping ourselves to move through and beyond challenges with as much grace as we can muster, as it is to smooth some of the rough spots ahead of us on the path before we reach them. Change your questions and you can change your experience of life. It’s a good practice, one you’ll appreciate. 

Practice makes progress.
© Joyce Shafer

You are welcome to use this article in your newsletter or on your blog/website as long as you use my complete bio with it.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Do You Count?

How many ways do you count in life? Sometimes you need to count; other times, you could let go of that need, in order to feel peaceful and on purpose.

We live in a global society that counts darn near, if not, everything. We count the odds, percentages, money, calories, wins, grievances, friends on social sites, who has what and if it’s more or less than we have, our “chickens before they hatch,” and so on. What are your reasons for counting what you count? What does some of your counting really mean to you: a way to keep track of what needs to be managed, or a way to establish self-worth in the eyes of others?

Minister Joyce Meyer spoke about a bible reading class she took in the early days, where participants were to read so many chapters a day in order to read the entire book in a year. She was quite self-pleased at all the checkmarks filling the days on her calendar positioned on the fridge so everyone could see it. She was reading but not learning, reading but not receiving and absorbing the messages in the texts. But the checkmarks were adding up, that is, until life got in the way. Then there were so many days without checkmarks, and those blank spaces kept adding up, until she was so far behind there was no way to catch up. Soon, she felt quite the opposite of self-pleased, which is a common result of counting the wrong things or counting for the wrong reason.

How often it is that we count things in life in order to prove to others that we count so that we can, we hope, feel that we do. Or, we do this so that our ego gets stroked, rather than so that we can share, or grow, or be of true service through significance. We do this because we believe the opinions of others before we believe in ourselves or the Truth about Source and from Source about how significant a contributor to the overall scheme of life each of us is.

Too often, we count in reverse; that is, we count what we perceive we lack. So much focus on lack causes us to ignore or forget what we could appreciate. As I thought about this writing, I kept hearing in my mind, Bing Crosby singing a lyric line from a song: “I go to sleep counting my blessings.” How often do you count your blessings? How often do you count the ways Source assists and supports you, not only at certain times, but every day?

One school of thought is that we should express gratitude for the thing we ask for, before we receive what we ask for. It’s a good practice. However, because of the way our ego-aspect sometimes thinks, this method trips us up because there’s more to this than just the words: there’s the FEELING we have, which is where the energy is that gets matched or fulfilled in ways appropriate for us, or holds our good at arm’s reach from us.

When we keenly feel the lack of something AND our foundation of trust in the Universe (Source) to support us in ways for our highest good is faulty, such a statement of gratitude-before-arrival feels false, unbelievable. The Law of Attraction is clear: we receive what we believe. Yes, you can state thanks before you receive what you ask for; but the most effective, authentic, and genuine expression of this is when true appreciation is attached, for what you already have and for how the Universe provides, especially once you get limiting beliefs out of the way and allow it to assist you.

Instead of saying, “Thank you for (whatever you’re asking for)” ahead of receiving it, it may work better to say, “Thank you for everything. Thank you for always knowing what I really need and providing it in right timing.” In fact, this is my preferred way of expressing appreciation to the Universe because inherent in it is absolute trust that the Universe has more information and resources than I do, and will connect me with them as and when it’s right.

I find it effective to pause and appreciate what I have, to recall and re-appreciate the numerous ways the Universe demonstrates its resourcefulness and creative ways of supporting me, despite how others apply their counting system to my experiences and life, which often has nothing to do with how the Universe views me or my experiences. I’m thankful for the ability to choose my thoughts, and for ALL the experiences that have helped me to learn how to do this better, which is all of them.

Recently, a new method to respond to internal complaining, counting, or negative thoughts has emerged in me. When any of these types of thoughts surface, I find myself switching into appreciation mode. I know a choice is made to do this, but the shift happens so quickly, I’m not aware of having made the choice, at least, this is the case a good deal of the time. I can only imagine this is a result of LOTS of practice about this.

These days I’m feeling the power of appreciation more and more, something we’ve been told (and told, and told) to do deliberately. And it isn’t a power used to get stuff (though, that’s an outcome in ways appropriate for me), but a power that creates serenity and joy in me. And to me, this is priceless. It’s a more in-flow way to be. It’s become a way to count my blessings, to bless my life, to bless others. It’s soothing, joyful, and has and serves purpose.

This week, pay attention to what you count and why, as well as how many times and ways you count in or contribute to the lives of others. Ask yourself, or feel in your heart, whether what you count assists you and your purpose, maybe even lifts you up, or whether it pulls you down. Any counting that leads you into deeper appreciation, and into it more often, is worth keeping count of. It’s a good practice, one you’ll appreciate.  

Practice makes progress.
© Joyce Shafer

You are welcome to use this article in your newsletter or on your blog/website as long as you use my complete bio with it.