Ushering in a New Era
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December 27th, 2012

We have just passed winter solstice 2012, the date that some were predicting the end of the world. Some of us may have felt a sense of impending doom, while others treated this prediction as a cosmic joke. Now that this infamous year is almost passed, many of us scoff at the idea that a pre-industrial culture from so long ago could have known anything about a time so far in the future.

The ancient Mayan calendar which had 2012 as its end was not foreshadowing a sudden disappearance of our world as we know it. Rather they were describing the end of an era. I like to think of this as the end of a paradigm. A paradigm is to your thinking mind as the operating system is to your computer. It defines a whole reality within which we operate, based on a set of assumptions and beliefs that we rarely notice. In other words, a paradigm defines our world.

Our mental paradigm enables us to do an amazing array of things such as imagine, create, remember, think, and plan, just as our computer’s operating system enables it to do everything that it does. Yet a paradigm is also limited, as a computer program is limited, and cannot work outside of its prescribed format. I take the Mayan prophesy around 2012 to mean that our familiar paradigm is ending. While this may seem to be a relatively small event, like getting a new computer with a new operating system, the impact on us can be enormous.

Paradigms do not usually fall away easily. Normally the old belief systems that we cling to and define our lives by have to collapse before we discover a new way. And this is usually experienced as our world falling apart. Many of us know what this is like on a personal level, especially if we have been through a deeply traumatic event such as illness, injury, violence, betrayal, or divorce. This changes we are about to go through now will have some of the same characteristics, except it will be on a global level.

As the world around us appears to disintegrate, in whatever form that takes, it may help to remember that the old has to pass away before the new can be born. It seems obvious if we are honest with ourselves that our current way of being in the world is not sustainable and does not make sense on a fundamental level.

The modern industries that enable the lifestyle that many of us enjoy now are systematically undermining the ecosystems of our water, air, and soil that we absolutely depend on for our survival. We also face a troubled financial system and extreme inequality in incomes within our society, an epidemic of obesity and growing dependency on pharmaceutical medication, our continued reliance on war and the proliferation of nuclear and biological weapons, and our inability to get along with each other on the most basic level, as indicated by the ever-increasing rate of divorce and family separation.

I do not wish to point fingers of blame here, but merely to suggest that a pivotal change could be a very good thing for us. We have forgotten how to live in a way that makes us happy and fulfilled, and in our desperate attempts to address the endless needs and fears of our ego we are pitting ourselves against each other and tearing apart the very life systems that support us.

I welcome the ending of this paradigm as I have spent much of my life becoming aware of its limitations and toxic side-effects. I believe there is an entirely different way to experience life which enables us to feel joy, gratitude, love, and forgiveness rather than resentment, fear, anger, and despair. Didn’t many of us just celebrate the birthday of a great teacher who tried to tell us just that?

I have written more about this paradigm shift in my recently published book, Beyond Perception

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Finding Contentment in a Disillusioned World.
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You can find examples of historical paradigm shifts, as well a clearly articulated vision of where we are stuck and how to free ourselves. You will read about a startling and radical view of our current dilemma which points directly to the process of perception itself as a limitation we must overcome in order to access a greater degree of intelligence than we ever imagined possible.

Blessings to all for a New Year and a New Era,

Miles Sherts – Sky Meadow Retreat – December 2012

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Healthy Boundaries
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May 30th, 2012

Maintaining Healthy Boundaries While Including Other People

Miles Sherts – on Conscious Communication

Many of us who think of ourselves as conscious or progressive struggle with how to set clear boundaries that meet our needs, while also taking into account the needs of others. It seems that in the name of being more open or inclusive it is common to assume that ordinary rules or boundaries are not necessary or “cool”. When our intention is to be more loving and compassionate toward each other, we may assume that we don’t need to take care of ourselves and that others will automatically sense what we are feeling and needing and respond accordingly.

Not so. My experience is that no matter how much you care about another, the only person you can really take care of is yourself. Whether you are aware of it or not, most of the time you are primarily concerned with meeting your personal needs. And, contrary to the way many of us were taught to think, taking care of your own needs is not selfish, but is necessary for you to have the capacity to care for others.

The problem is that we often define our needs merely in terms of the ego, which always wants more and is never satisfied or secure with what it has. The things that truly nourish us – our real needs – are much broader than the endless cravings and fears of our ego. Our real needs include being connected to other people, belonging to a community, and being able to help others effectively, as well as the obvious needs for food, shelter, love, recognition, and respect. In fact, many of our most basic needs like safety and security are only fully satisfied when we realize that we inherently belong to something much larger than just our individual self.

It is common to think that being more spiritual, “new-age”, or progressive means minimizing or sacrificing your own needs. In fact this was the paradigm of conformity in the 1950’s that so many of us rebelled against. Now we have a new paradigm of individual creative expression that often leaves us bewildered about how to be in relationship with others and still be ourselves.

The answer is healthy boundaries. We all need some boundaries to meet our basic needs and establish the safety required for deeper intimacy. The problem is that many of us do not know how and when to set a boundary, and how and when to let down our boundaries. This is a dance that requires practice if you want to be connected with other people and maintain your independence.

Most of us tend to either have a fixed boundary that always keeps other people at a distance, or to have no boundaries which invites other people into our space without regard to our real feelings or needs in the moment. In the first case we may feel safe, but we sacrifice our need for connection. In the second case we may feel more connected, but we sacrifice our need for safety. In the end both of these common ways of approaching other people don’t really satisfy our needs for safety or connection, and usually lead to more distance or tension with other people over time.

One of the basic skills of Conscious Communication is Supportive Listening, which enables you to include another person by recognizing and validating their basic emotions and needs in the moment. Another is the skill of Assertion which enables you to take care of yourself and establish a personal boundary by expressing your own emotions and needs without blaming another person or making them responsible.

As you experiment with both of these skills you will begin to feel the natural ebb and flow of relationships. You will learn to sense when the other person is emotionally charged and needs understanding, or when you are charged with emotions and need understanding. Some of you may find that asserting and drawing clear boundaries is easy for you, and your stretch may be to learn how to receive other people’s experience and offer them understanding and acceptance. Others will find that listening supportively and making space for other people comes more easily, and your challenge is to assert your own feelings and needs.

The idea of communicating more consciously is simply to become more aware of your communication and recognize that how you approach a conversation with another person may determine whether you get your basic needs met at that moment or not. Remember that you do not have to sacrifice your need for safety so that the other person will like you, nor do you need to be chronically defended in order to be safe.

Consider too that one of our most common basic needs is for understanding and empathy. Having your feelings and needs recognized and validated does not fix whatever problem you are having at the moment, yet, it can greatly soothe your fear and anxiety because you feel a connection to another person. When someone offers empathy, you know that you are not alone dealing with your dilemma in isolation and this can give you the courage to find your own way through the challenges facing you.

Many of us want to be of service and want to do whatever we can to help other people. Yet there are times when you simply cannot give them what they want. Remember that if someone else is having a difficult time and they seem to be upset, you can always offer them understanding and empathy. Even if you have to say no to their request, you can first receive and validate their emotions and needs.

If your partner tells you they want something from you that you are not giving them for example, instead of getting defensive or trying to fix the problem right away, you could say;

“It sounds like you are upset with me right now because I am not giving you what you want”

Remember that at this point you are only offering understanding and empathy, and this will only work if you set aside your own judgments or agendas and focus on their immediate feelings and needs. Listening supportively in this way helps the other person to feel connected to you and usually calms them down because it makes room for their emotion to discharge. Then you can often have a more reasonable conversation about their request and think together of some other ways that you might help to meet their needs. Even if that persons needs are not able to be met in that moment, they will leave the conversation feeling more connected to and supported by you.

This process of supporting and asserting is the basis of healthy relationships. If you practice these skills you will find that each encounter you have is an opportunity to meet your own need either to be of service, or to be recognized and understood. When you are able to receive and recognize another person’s feelings and needs without offering your opinions or solutions, and express your own feelings and needs without blame or defensiveness, you will leave a conversation feeling more connected and less alone. And isn’t that what you really want in the end?

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Welcoming the Darkness
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January 10th, 2012

Descending

In January the decent into darkness finally overcomes me. The celebrations are over and the northern winter has arrived. Below zero temperatures make a walk to the mail box or drive to town feel like an expedition. The fire in the stove draws me close and my world shrinks to a few rooms.

Occasional forays into the frozen landscape focus my attention, as crisp, sharp air fills my lungs. Simple pleasures take on new meaning – the flush on my cheeks when I come in from the cold, soaking in a hot tub, or snuggling into bed under a pile of down.

Oh, and there is the incredible beauty of the pure white blanket and the infinite variety of ice crystals. I marvel at the way tiny rainbow sparkles appear on the snow when the sun finally makes an appearance and I can billow smoke rings in the air with my breath.

Yet the sun seems far away – low on the horizon and quick to fade behind the distant mountains. Shadows are long and the light is barely enough to offer hope. Fire is the only comfort. A meager replacement for the golden majesty – it is the source now.

I remember to gently surrender, lower my expectations, and give myself up to this terrible darkness that still frightens me. I think of Jesus surrendering to the cross, or the handsome black and yellow caterpillar that hangs himself upside down and waits for his body to split wide open. Without doing anything (except for surrendering all) the caterpillar transforms into a stunning emerald chrysalis, gilded in gold, from which finally emerges the Monarch butterfly.

From Denial  to Awe

I was not raised to respond to shadows this way, but rather to avoid and deny them. I was taught to distract and numb myself against the nameless void that seemed to hover always around the next corner. No one suggested that there may be a purpose or meaning in these times of grief and loss. Pain and fear were to be disregarded as quickly as they appeared. We had to push ourselves harder and harder to outpace the emptiness that constantly threatened to shroud our lives in darkness.

I had to learn to embrace the shadows and see them as allies, by gradually releasing my resistance and surrendering my habit of denial. I spent some winters in a tipi, a simple cabin, a small cave, and finally a hut I dug below the ground, the size of a small bedroom. I learned from the plants and animals around me how to go inward and be still, finding pleasure in breathing and satisfaction from the simple sense of being alive.

By living close to nature and no longer insulating myself from my environment, I saw how all life forms in the north go through a quiet, dormant phase in winter. This enables them to burst forth in spring with a breathtaking vitality that can only come from death and rebirth. Nature taught me that everything that appears to die is reborn, and I needn’t be afraid of this mysterious cycle.

A few years living on the land, beholden to its seasons, taught me to trust in the perennial capacity of life itself. I came to regard spring with wonder and awe. Even now, as winter seems destined to go on for eternity and I am seduced into despair once again, at the first signs of spring my memory is jolted and I  awaken from my dream of perpetual gloom with the gentle laughter of surprise.

A Time for Healing

In our mad rush for more comfort and distraction, we have forgotten to allow time for healing. We think that if we stop and wait in stillness, the great dark storm will overtake us and we will be swept away in its fury. We have few elders to tell us this is not true. So we fight off our fear of the unknown and insulate ourselves in our controlled comfort zones, disregarding the cycles of death and rebirth going on around us.

To deny death, the most certain aspect of life, is to reduce ourselves to a level of ignorance that can only make us feel impossibly small and tight. As we turn our backs on discomfort and habitually deny pain, we cut ourselves off from the vital signals that direct our completion. By avoiding the darkness, we disable our own fulfillment.

This is not an easy lesson to learn. You cannot get it by someone telling you, or by repeating what you have heard. You have to live it yourself. You have to confront your fear of the cold and expose yourself to the undertow of darkness, until you see for yourself that it is a necessary passageway to contentment. Whatever form it takes in your life, you have to stand and face your fear.

Then, slowly, it becomes apparent that this was not the end you imagined. Your life does not disintegrate beyond repair. Instead, the shattered pieces reform themselves and something new appears that you could not have imagined. What was lost was merely an idea of perfection that never existed in reality. And what replaces that charade is a vital living current that makes everything new and filled with wonder.

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Occupy Wall Street – A Good Place to Begin
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October 28th, 2011

As I listen to the news about the fledgling movement known as “Occupy Wall Street” part of me is delighted. There is a direct, common sense being applied here that is so often missing in the spin of our political world. A glaring problem in our society is that 1% of the people in the United States control 42% of our wealth, according to statistics from 2007 (see charts below), and 5% of us control almost 70% of our wealth. Add to this the near 300% growth in after tax income for those 1% over the past 30 years, and the yearly incomes of the top .01% , so called “war profiteers” which boggle the mind at over twenty million dollars!
I consider going down there for a moment to lend my support and voice my outrage, and then I remember the carrots still needing to be harvested in our garden, the potatoes and apples to be put into our root cellar for winter, and the firewood I need to cut for next winter.
Over thirty years ago now, I chose to remove myself as much as possible from a system that made no sense to me, where corporations control our choices and governments cater to corporations. I saw where it was headed, and today it is no surprise to me that the system is breaking down – with extreme wealth concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people, while 80% of us are struggling to make ends meet.
My concern for the courageous few protesters occupying public spaces in our largest cities is that angry outrage is the easy part. We have been here before and seen how protesting against something only goes so far. It is relatively easy to know what we do not want, and this is a good beginning. However, it is much harder to know what we do want and have a real way to get there.

Weeding the Roots of the Problem

My suggestion to this protest movement is to unhook from the system. That means providing for yourself what the corporations and governments provide for you now. This is where a movement like this can get traction. And this, of course, is the hard part.
Few corporations or governments are concerned with real democracy or strengthening the power of the people. Instead, we are blindly caught in a paradigm of competition where most of us are trying merely to secure our own individual survival, and this takes the obvious form of accumulating wealth and power- because it can.
If we each believe in this common assumption that we have to look out for ourselves and live in a world where our individual existence is constantly threatened, of course we will end up exactly where we are now. We can rage against the inequality, greed, and hypocrisy in our system, and change governments if we want. Yet if we do not change our basic assumptions, we will find ourselves here again all too soon.

Undoing Our Own Ego

The power that corporations hold over us is that they have what we want, and often need, for our survival. An obvious solution to this dilemma is for us to provide our needs for ourselves, and separate our basic needs from all the things we think we need or want. Much of our endless wanting comes from an out-of-control ego that tells us we are not enough or we are in danger, and compels us to grab for more. Even as we may decry the obvious greed and selfish behavior of the top one percent, we will find this same impulse within ourselves if we look honestly.
This is not to justify the extreme greed and aggressive behavior displayed by the corporate elite, but simply to acknowledge that most of us would do what they are doing, if we thought that we could. It may be moral restraint, political values, or “sour grapes” that keeps us from lunging for more wealth and power. Or it may be that we have given up, believing that we have no chance to compete for the top. Yet, this is not the same as rooting out our instinct for self-preservation and impulse for competition, which is arguably at the bottom of all this mess.
By suggesting something as radical as undoing our survival impulse, I am not saying that we should not care about ourselves. If we truly care about ourselves, and our long term well- being, it behooves us to recognize that we are part of a larger system that we depend on, and see that our survival depends on the survival of the whole. This is the missing insight in the rampant drive for more wealth that is tearing us apart at the seams.
Each honey bee in my hive knows that it cannot survive alone. When one of them happens to be caught outside the hive for too long, it withers and dies. We humans are like that too. We live in a world today that enables unprecedented personal independence and creates the illusion that we could make it here alone. Yet, if you consider this possibility for a moment, you will see that it is not so.
All of the things you depend on for your basic daily needs, such as food, shelter, warmth, clothing, and water, come mostly from other people. Left to our own devices, few of us could survive for long without the systems that support us now. And this takes me back to my original suggestion that we begin to take control of these systems back into our own hands.
Over the past century we have gradually been lured into total dependence on an industrialized economic system where money is needed to buy even the most basic necessities such as water or food. Without income, industrialized agriculture, corporate grocery chains, or municipal water, we would not last long. An obvious step in securing real freedom and independence is to take these basic systems back into our own hands. This does not mean we have to do everything for ourselves. It does mean that we need systems that are local and on a small enough scale that we can sustain them cooperatively within our own communities.
This is only a starting place. Real freedom comes when we know that we are part of a larger whole and our individual survival is not the “holy grail” worth fighting each other for. Each of us is temporary. Just like each bee and flower, we all eventually die. Where does all our accumulated wealth and power go then? What does it get us after this body is gone?
As we stand up to corporate greed and power, let us do so with wisdom and grace. Let us understand that “they” are “us” and we all share this shadowy ego that makes us do things which in the end do not really serve our best interests. We can say “no” to the greedy insecurity of others with more power and strength when we have effectively said “no” to our own greedy insecurity.

These charts and quotes below are taken from the internet and represent some version of how wealth is distributed in our society. Like any numbers, they can be argued and proven wrong from a different angle. I present them not as “absolute truth” but rather as an indication of where our society is going. Please consider these as a “wake up call” to motivate your own investigation. Even if these statistics are partially true, the situation they highlight is alarming and deserves our attention.


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Wealth distribution chart


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War industry CEOs make tens of millions of dollars a year, putting them in the top 0.01 percent of income earners in the U.S.

  • Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush made $22.84 million last year.
  • Lockheed Martin CEO Robert Stevens made $21.89 million.
  • Boeing CEO James McNerney: $19.4 million.
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The Sweet Longing
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June 26th, 2011

Summer Solstice 2011

Long days
Infused with light, color, sound
Lush green
Flowers and bird song

Hard to imagine the darkness of winter

Yet underneath this celebration
An emptiness waits
Longing to be filled

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a wet spring

Taking Time to Feel the Longing

Ah, the longing – a relentless yearning for our heart’s desire.

Many of us live within a culture which defines progress solely in terms of material comfort and offers little wisdom for the perennial unrest of the heart. We try to fill this vacancy inside with food, sweets, intoxicants, stimulants, possessions, wealth, fame, and endless dramas. Our holy grail is romantic love filled with passionate sexuality. And as each fix fades into the veneer of memory, we keep searching for the next.

The truth is that, despite an affluence and material abundance unprecedented in human history, most of us in the developed world are starving. We simply have not found a way to address our emotional and spiritual needs beyond drowning them out with denial or over-stimulation. The spirituality we are offered through the traditional church or temple is often defined by antiquated superstitions which bear little relevance to our life here and now. And our real religion of science, though it has given us a remarkable handle on our physical world, has nothing to say about our hunger for meaning and purpose. The natural yearning that comes with being human is largely misunderstood, displaced by our frantic efforts to establish more material security and comfort.

Western culture is spreading now throughout much of the world due to the zealous conquering of our European ancestors and the relentless seduction of modern day corporate advertising. Yet as we gallantly proffer the “good life” to our less fortunate neighbors, some of us are becoming increasingly aware of the shadows inherent in our model of civilization. We see the cracks in the wall and rightfully question the sustainability and wisdom of our approach to development.

Amidst this gaping lack of deeper wisdom in industrialized societies a new spirituality is being born, inspired by ancient teachings from cultures around the world. A doorway opened in the cultural upheavals of the 1960’s that allowed some light to shine into the shadows of Western civilizations insatiable drive for material advancement.

This ancient wisdom re-packaged for the “new age” is naturally marginalized by main-stream society just as all radically new movements of truth have been throughout human history. Consider how Galileo was mocked and imprisoned for suggesting that the planets in our solar system revolve around the sun, Columbus was ridiculed for his assertion the earth was round, and Jesus was disgraced and crucified for saying that he was one with God.

Today we know that these seers were telling the truth and we celebrate them as heroes, along with many others who were once considered too far out to be taken seriously. So we can justifiably assume that this strange spirituality incubating in the midst of our frantic industrial development will one day be the basis of a new paradigm for humanity. The new forms are slowly developing and spreading like mushroom mycelia, those invisible strands weaving a fabric below the forest floor. And occasionally, when the conditions permit, they flower into sight, just as a perfect mushroom appears suddenly where there was nothing before.

Sky Meadow Retreat is one such mushroom blooming in the hills of northern Vermont. Incubated 22 years ago when I purchased this broken down hill farm, and born in 1999 in time to usher in the new century, the seeds for the retreat were planted in the mid-1970’s as my life was radically transformed in a Buddhist monastery in Sri Lanka.

Now a small family business, we see ourselves as catalysts for the transformation of humanity being called forth from the chaos of a world which is largely in denial of our real human potential. We have chosen to practice and teach a simple Buddhist meditation form that cultivates presence and inner peace, and a set of skills for meaningful relationships that we call Conscious Communication. These are some of the practical tools that we consider essential for our personal and planetary evolution.

We are also establishing a sustainable relationship with the earth through organic farming and forest management. When we are not serving guests on retreat, we spend our time in our gardens, orchards, and woods, cultivating as much of our food and winter fire wood as we can from the natural resources around us, while becoming intimate with this land that we call home.

In addition to teaching basic skills for developing presence, the purpose of Sky Meadow is to provide a place of stillness enabling you to feel again the deep longing tugging at your heart. This urge for truth can so easily be obscured beneath the pressures of daily life, and most of us rarely take time to allow it to bubble to the surface. Beyond any focus or teaching presented here is simply an opportunity to come back to your senses and get in touch with what is most important in your life. This may take the form of unanswered questions that loom larger than any one problem, and for which there are is no immediate fix.

We are not here to answer these questions for you, as that would be impossible. Rather, our intention is to provide a sacred space where you can explore these questions for yourself, and begin to discover the peace and certainty that lies beneath all the swirling complexity of your life. In the quiet of nature, the things that are most important become apparent, and you can realign yourself with what you most want. We invite you to visit us for a workshop or retreat, a self-directed solo, or private couples retreat.

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Celebrating the End of Winter on a Vermont Homestead
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March 25th, 2011

It’s been a long cold lonely winter

If you live in a snowy climate, like I do, and your life is connected to nature, as mine is,
winter is a big event.

Winter here in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom is not just a “put on a coat and hat – and don’t forget your boots” affair. Winter for us is a campaign, a crossing, a decent, and a threshold. In this forgotten place where “progress” has been slow to erode the fabric of community, people are still  beholden to the forces of nature. Each winter in the rural north, nature displays it’s power and might in a way that demands our respect and obedience.

I moved here because this place seemed a bit immune to the diseases of affluence and the inevitable arrogance which our mistaken notions of success engender. People here seem to maintain a bit more humility and the intense winters are one reason why. It is clear that we are not in charge, and a force much larger reigns over us.

I think we humans need to know this for our own sanity, and ultimately for our own security and peace of mind. As much as we have railed against this notion, we need desperately now to recognize that we are not an isolated force in the universe having to fend for our own survival, and that there is something much greater that we are merely, yet intrinsically,  part of.  Our culture, and perhaps humanity as a whole, has lost this knowledge, and that is why many of us are so fundamentally unhappy and insecure.

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In this fringe place that we like to call the “Kingdom”, this epidemic of isolation from our immediate surroundings is a bit less rampant. In these parts, it matters how long someone has lived here, and what you came here for. There are still a lot of people in these hills whose families arrived generations ago and who feel like they are part of the landscape.

Newcomers like myself are sometimes referred to as  “flatlanders” because we mostly come from places south where the land is not defined by mountains. I think a more apt term would be “pavers” because of what we did to so much of the urban and suburban metropolis that many of us fled to come here.

In a perfectly natural and respectful way, Vermonter’s tend to measure each other by how many winters a person has spent living here. This measurement may seem arbitrary and unfair to most of our culture because we don’t view the world in the same way. But then, most of us did not grow up with four months a year of frozen white landscape stretching in all directions just outside our door.

I don’t believe that any kind of measurement is helpful when it comes to people because of the way this instinctive habit of sorting each other out distances us from each other and makes it more difficult to recognize our common humanity. Yet, despite my protests, people continue to find a plethora of new ways to categorize, judge, and minimize each other.

We may have made some incremental steps toward realizing true democracy in recognizing the equality of women or people of color – which I would call true progress – yet we still cling to such childish prejudices as valuing people based on how much money they earn, how beautiful they look, how popular they are, or how much education they have.

Compared to the myriad superficial measurements that predominate our modern culture, measuring a person’s place in a community by how many winters they have stuck it out seems a bit more mature and grounded.  I think it is simply a way to tell if a person has integrity and substance and is likely to stick around and be part of the community in the long run.

Vermonters tend to treat us outsiders with basic respect much of the time, but if you pretend to be one of them simply because you have spent twenty winters here, you are likely to hear the amusing adage: “Just because a cat has her kittens in the oven, that doesn’t make ‘em muffins”  In case that leaves you scratching your head, it means that it takes more than a generation to call yourself a true Vermonter. “Sticking around” in Vermont terms is a long term proposition – one that lends itself to identifying with the land and making peace with the forces of nature that control so much of our existence.

While I normally bristle at any kind of exclusion or division among people, this one doesn’t bother me so much. I think it has something to do with why I moved here. I got sick of trying to measure up to someone else’s idea of success, and “threw in the towel” when I was just 20 years old. Thirteen years later, I ended up here, trying desperately to tie myself to the land, knowing that my sanity depended on reconnecting that vital link that the shortsighted leaders of our modern industrial movement were so determined to break.

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The Promise of Spring

It looks like I am about to add another winter to my belt, and move one tiny notch up in the pecking order of rural Vermont community.  But then if I went and said that, my neighbors would tell me not to rush things. When I mentioned to my snow plow man that I thought the end was near, he informed me that we get more than half of our snow here in March.

So, maybe it is too soon to put away the snow shoes and air out my swim shorts. The pond is still covered with thick ice, and we only glimpsed a few patches of bare ground last week, before this last snow storm. But our sap buckets are out and the sweet elixir from deep beneath the frozen earth has been boiling for days on our wood stove, filling the whole house with it’s wonderful sugary-maple smell. And there is no mistaking on a clear day that the sun’s power is growing, and the mountains of snow around the house and barn don’t stand a chance against its steady heat.

One thing I know for sure. There is no more magical and inspiring an occurrence than the explosion of life that happens on our land after a long Vermont winter. Sap spills out of the trees in its mad rush up, and green shoots begin to pop up everywhere the day the blanket of snow is pulled back by the sun.  If ever we need reassurance that there is a force greater than us, of which we are inseparably a part, witnessing this unbridled frenzy of new growth gives us at least a glimpse. Better than any fleeting rainbow, the earth coming alive again after a long, cold, lonely, winter fulfills the promise of enduring life that so often is obscured beneath our vulnerability and fear.

If you need to know, as I do, that we are not alone here – that there is an intelligent and all powerful source behind all this – and that we are included in the ever-renewing cycle of life – pay attention to what is happening right before your eyes all over the northern hemisphere right now.  Spring is a miracle beyond comprehension that lifts our spirits as quickly and easily as good coffee, but without side-effects.

For a moment now, stop looking at this screen, put away your distractions, and go outside. Breathe the air and notice the change that is happening slowly all around you. Take a moment to really look, and feel the presence of pure life energy as it awakens like a sleeping lion from the seemingly barren ground beneath your  feet. Forget everything that you think you know and allow yourself to simply wonder at the mystery and magic of such a rebirth.

It does seem like years since we’ve been here.
And here comes the sun.
And I say, it’s alright, it’s all right indeed!

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Who needs a heart, when a heart can be broken… ?
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February 28th, 2011
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Miles

What’s Love got to do with … anything?

We all want love. I don’t mean just the juicy romantic, sexual, kind of love, although there is nothing wrong with that. The problem with romance, however,  is that it is so temperamental. This sort of love does not come with a guarantee, as our tumultuous times make so clearly evident. How many marriages do you know where the love is steady, constant, and secure?

If we have learned anything from the epidemic of broken marriages and the heart crushing betrayals demonstrated daily in our divorce courts, it is that romantic love is just a shade away from a kind of hatred that can turn the blood cold. Of course this kind of experience, or the fear of it, would make us guarded and suspicious of love itself.

The tragedy of our understandably skeptical view of love is that we end up defended against the one thing we all desire and need the most. Our resistance to love is like being afraid to drink water or breath air. After a while our life force begins to wither and fade.

We naturally conclude that other people are the problem. They can’t be trusted. We cannot ever fully give our heart to another. Given all the ways that we have been betrayed, it does not make sense to be vulnerable again in this way. And so we become wary of people, and of love itself.

If we don’t work our way out of this predicament, we spend our lives perpetually caught between our desire for other people’s affection, and our fear of their rejection. We settle for seemingly safe relationships where we don’t risk too much. Yet this also means that we don’t gain too much, and we end up secretly starving for love and appreciation.

So, what is the answer to this seemingly impossible situation?

Platitudes like “we each have all the love we need inside” or “we need to love ourselves first” are useless. These nice sounding ways to approach our despair simply hide it beneath a veneer of affirmation. They allow us to pretend to find a way through the shadows of a loveless world without actually facing our fear. You may be able to shore yourself up for a while through beliefs like these, but sooner or later they will collapse and leave you more desperate than before.

We don’t find the source of love by some whimsical hope, wish, or fantasy. Yet this doesn’t mean that love is not real. Don’t believe it until you see it for yourself, but do have faith that it is there. Our habit is to look for love outside of ourselves. We believe that it can only come from other people. This is our fundamental problem.

It is not that love does not come from other people, or that we have to isolate ourselves to find it. However, we do have to be disillusioned in order for love to reveal itself to us. The usual ways that we seek for love have to fail us, and we have to give up looking outward, before we can look inward. Our illusions about love have to be shattered, and this is obviously going to be painful for many of us.

When our heart breaks, it also opens. If we can resist the tragic story of betrayal and the temptation to see ourselves as victims of another person’s carelessness, we can ask why. Why is this happening to me? Why is love so hard to find? The trick is to open to these questions without immediately filling in the answers. Accept for a moment that you do not know, and keep asking, believing that there is an answer.

Go into your fear. Go through it. Head directly for it, instead of always turning away as your instinct tells you to do. Trust that love is real and is there for you, even if you cannot see it. Don’t look for that love to come from other people. Find the source inside of you, and don’t settle for anything less.

Then, perhaps slowly, a way opens up. It gradually becomes apparent that we have a choice only to love or not to love, and that being loved is beyond our control. If we choose to withhold our love, thinking that this will protect us from further pain, we start to shrivel up inside. We cut ourselves off from our most essential need.

The paradox is that we need to activate love from our own reserves in order to access it. We have to give it away in order to recognize that we have an endless source inside of ourselves. There is nothing rational or logical about this process. We have to take a leap and trust something beyond our perception – something we cannot see yet.

If we are willing to stretch ourselves, something shifts.  Discovering the source of love in this way hurts a bit,  the way a good  exercise or diet or yoga routine hurts. This kind of hurt does not damage us, but rather makes us stronger and more resilient. We have to go through some discomfort, and we have to learn to use painful experiences to grow and expand ourselves.

To get beyond the simplistic and superficial platitudes, you have to make yourself work a little. You have to give, even when you don’t feel like it, and when you don’t think you have anything left to give because it has all been stolen from you.

Just try it.  Give it away anyway.  At this point what do you have to lose? Once you have locked yourself up in your grievances and fortressed yourself against love, can it get any worse?

The trick is to give love away without making it an exchange. We have to let go of our habit of demanding an equal return on our investment. Most of us are stuck in this way of thinking which obscures the source. We have access to an infinite source of love – the thing we all want and need more than anything else – yet we cannot see it because we think love is something to be exchanged between people.

Don’t trust what your head tells you on this one – rather, trust your heart. Once you start giving love away, it starts to flow again inside you, and you feel better – instantly. There is nothing magical or mysterious about this, and it is not superstition or fantasy. The love is there and it is real. In fact, it is the most real thing there could be. We just have been looking for it in a place it cannot be found.

I find that simple practices such as meditation

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and conscious communication
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help me to unblock the natural flow of love.  When I take time to breathe and relax my mind into the present moment sensations of my body, I notice that the love is there – always. It was merely my stress and attachment to my own story that made it seem as though the love was gone.

Likewise, when I set down my judgments or defensive reactions and listen to another person to see things from their point of view, I find myself caring about them, even as I may feel threatened by their behavior.

If all this seems to impossible or “pie in the sky”, perhaps it is time to take a retreat

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. Getting away from your ordinary life responsibilities for several days can sometimes provide just the opening you need to see things from a new perspective.

The Dilemma
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The Dilemma

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Posted in Relationships as a Spiritual Path
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