A Friend Indeed

Years ago, as a young executive, I had a friend who seemed to walk on water.  We hung out a lot, and I held her word as sacred. 

Often, I took her advice, even when the faintest still, small voice whispered that her way wasn’t best for me.  Sometimes, I could feel my body tense, my stomach rumbling and heart pounding.  My intuition attempted to guide me, but my intellect said, “She’s so much smarter.  She must be correct.”  Alas, to my own detriment, she was not.  

One day, I sheepishly approached a senior colleague and confided that the relationship felt “off” to me.  I knew that she understood when she said, “You feel ‘bad’ around her, as if you’ll never be good enough unless you do everything her way.” 

When we’re growing and learning, no matter our calendar age, our differentiation — the ability to remain true to ourselves and stay connected and compassionate, even during conflicts or disagreements — may feel “bad,” “lonely,” “yucky,” and/or “uncomfortable.”  Yet, we must differentiate because it’s paramount to our healthy spiritual growth and maturity.  And part of the process means that some relationships will end, while others will transform.  As we mourn these life passages, honoring them for what they were, we also can celebrate our capacity to make new friends.

To distinguish among bosom buddies, office pals, blessed mentors, inspiring teammates, and casual acquaintances, as well as false friends, we can:

  • Understand that having 1,000 friends or followers on social media doesn’t mean we have a lot of warm, caring friendships. 
  • Trust the gut.  If, for example, we repeatedly tune someone out, clench our jaws, or get headaches when we’re with them, it’s likely a signal that we’re out of sync.  We don’t need to analyze the circumstances, though we usually need to terminate the connection, especially if someone pressures us for money or romantic commitments.
  • Heed criticism lightly and consider all the angles, even if we truly value another’s insights and advice.  We’re all entitled to our opinion.
  • Avoid those who need to be “right” and make us “wrong,” or who gaslight, ghost, discount, diminish, turn away, and/or reach for their smart devices whenever we speak. 
  • Beware those who constantly:
    • offer unsolicited advice;
    • talk about themselves and never ask about us;
    • want to coach, correct, fix, and/or instruct us;
    • push their products or personal causes;
    • disregard our boundaries, privacy, and personal space;
    • need rescuing from another drama;
    • philosophize about how we could be, if we only did this, that, or the other thing;
    • gossip about others;
    • interrupt whenever we assert ourselves; and/or
    • know all the answers. 

Overall, remember that even if we feel lonely for a while, we aren’t alone.  Our inner spirit is strong, faith-filled, courageous, and capable.  As we trust ourselves and our intuition, we can take small steps forward into those places and relationships where true friends await, ready to love, support, encourage, and accept us for the divine people we are.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Give It a Rest

As the world seems to move faster than ever, many of us are trying to keep pace.  We ratchet items off to-do lists only to find more to get done the next day.  We’ll rest later, we say, when we’ve accomplished everything on that never-ending list.  Only when we reach the brink of exhaustion and overwhelm, or literally make ourselves sick, do we consider stopping.  

While we may falsely believe that we’re more valued for what we achieve, rest reminds us how precious we are because we’re God’s Beloved Creations.  Resting and renewing ourselves is the part of our spiritual practice which assures us that we’re divine human beings, not robotic human doings. 

So, as we work our practice, let’s give all these a rest:

  • Our Bodies: Some of us need the recommended 8 hours of sleep a night.  Others function well with 6 or 7, and an afternoon nap.  Whether we’re early birds or night owls, we can notice when we accomplish the most during the day and schedule our high-energy efforts for those times.
  • Shoulds: Society has all kinds of ideas about what we “should” have and do. These tiring norms can keep us living by perfectionistic standards and following outrageous trends.  As soon as we choose to stop “shoulding” on ourselves, we start recognizing our own true nature, the essence of our spiritual self.  Then we can set our own criteria for effectiveness and contentment, even if they differ from others.
  • Phones and Smart Devices: Blue lights are meant to draw attention.  At least one hour before bedtime, put away all devices, preferably somewhere outside the bedroom.  Then, wait about an hour after waking to return to them again.  Consider scheduling device-free times for prayer and meditation.
  • News, Information, and Feeds: Stop watching or listening to news, checking the latest tweets, or searching for online bargains at bedtime.  Rather than relax us, these rev our hearts and send our minds swirling.  Save news and searches for higher energy times.  Also, consider scheduling specific times mid-day to check social media sites.
  • Worry and Guilt: Worry is trying to foresee every detail of how the future will unfold.  Guilt is trying to rewind and relive the past.  Both prevent us from being fully present and feeling peace of mind now.  Whenever these creep in, especially at bedtime, we can remind ourselves that we did the best we knew how before, and since we know more now, we can act differently to create a better future.

No matter what needs rest in our lives, let’s remember that no one accomplishes or has it all.  And the beauty of developing spiritual maturity is realizing that who we are and what we have is enough.  As we stay faithful to our own journey, we recognize our true desires and top priorities.  Then, we can rest in peace, savoring each day’s success.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Higher Caliber Connections

As more people died from gun violence this past week, more terror, shock, and disbelief set in.  While many turn to thoughts and prayers, these feel meaningless and shallow because they propel few of us into transforming ourselves and our communities into places of inclusion and compassion. 

While many also want more conversation, the conversations only succeed with those truly willing to: listen to and behold other people as Beloved Creations of God; check agendas, fears, judgments, and opinions at the door; and stay open to possibilities for long-term, universal gains, not what is most profitable, expedient, or convenient now.

If we hope to transcend the violence, political rhetoric, accusatory outbursts, finger-pointing, and name-calling, then we also must deepen our connections with people who, at first, seem different from us.  We must decide whether deadly weapons, exclusive clubs, and closed gates, are more valuable than the sanctity of all human life.  Not just some lives, in particular places, at certain times. 

The truth is: No matter what others may do, we decide whether we’ll change the caliber of our own consciousness to pave peaceful paths.  Each of us can do this, if we’re willing to push the edges of some comfort zones, step out further in faith, and rise in spiritual maturity.

If you’re ready for this journey, here are some steps you can take:

  • As you pray, include those hurting from grief and loss, as well as those hurting from anger and outrage.  Remember that our prayers don’t condone others’ behavior.  Rather, they open our hearts to feel more compassion and free ourselves with forgiveness.
  • If you support gun control legislation, also support those who advocate for mental health care reform and crisis management.
  • Get involved with civic, ecumenical, and interfaith organizations dedicated to inclusivity, hospitality, and generosity which celebrate common ground and shared values among all people. 
  • Attend churches, synagogues, and mosques which provide opportunities for shared connections.  Many hold gatherings for people of different faiths or ethnicities to break bread together, enjoy sacred conversations, and establish life-long friendships.
  • If you live in a city/municipality which has signed the Charter for Compassion, support their activities and educational outreach.  If not, seek ways to establish your hometown or company as a compassionate place of equity and inclusion.
  • As much as you may be tempted, preserve your valuable energy and avoid heated arguments and drag-down debates with those who aren’t ready to connect with you and listen to your views.
  • Focus on your own positions and what you wish to achieve, rather than attacking “the enemy.”  Remember that spiritual masters are social activists, not re-activists, who strive to love, even when they don’t like others’ choices. 

Above all, remember: God is in the midst of whatever is occurring within us and around us.  Know that in every moment of our journey, we can choose — again — how we’ll express the Presence of God we are and how we’ll serve the best for all humanity.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Free in the Feeling

During a recent gathering with friends to share our latest achievements and family tidbits, one person removed their phone.  They flashed an image for us to see, commenting about personal fragmentation, political polarization, and societal demise.  They leaned forward in their chair, arms waving faster, voice escalating, and face reddening with each word.

I viewed the image.  Though I didn’t share its sentiment either, I didn’t feel our friend’s rage.  And as they continued, I observed that their intellectualizing halted our conversation and shattered our connection.  Where we’d been invited to celebrate some joys, now we were bystanders in a discourse about the world’s problems.

When I asked our friend how they felt, they paused.  They stared at me and repeated what they already said.  Then I realized: They couldn’t tell me how they felt (I imagined anger, horror, sadness, shock, among others) because they were disconnected from their feelings. 

Alas, this is true of many people, especially those in certain clinical, political, and spiritual circles who believe that personal feelings are mushy emotions we must eliminate and transcend as quickly as possible.  

However, when we analyze, criticize, and theorize, we keep life at arm’s length, pushing away such feelings as anguish, confusion, disillusion, grief, heartbreak, and sorrow.  Sometimes, to bypass the feelings, we make things about “someone else” or “another.”   Then the pain can root, grow, and fester in our bodies as headaches, backaches, bellyaches, limps, rashes, or ulcers.  Furthermore, our reactions can detach and disconnect us from ourselves and those we love most. 

When we’re willing to acknowledge our feelings as the divine messengers they are, we become free to experience life differently, even when we don’t like some of it. 

If we’re ready for such an adventure, we can contemplate these questions:

  • How do I feel about the particular behavior, circumstance, and/or situation I’ve experienced?
  • How are the behaviors, etc., different from mine?
  • What, if any, similarities do I see?
  • What am I willing to do to mourn the past and accept what I cannot change so I can heal, move on, and invest my time and energy elsewhere?
  • Where are the openings to get more of what I love by changing myself or my own perspective?

These questions aren’t easy to answer.  They require the introspection and sacred conversations which encourage us to grow in spiritual maturity.  They invite us to use the feelings we once believed would hinder us to discern what we need in our lives now, what we love most, and how we want to serve others by contributing our gifts in this world.  Especially, they free us to rediscover life’s simple pleasures as we embrace more of the beauty, joy, and wonder we find on our way.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

A Label, By Any Other Name

One day during a planning meeting, someone appreciated my organizational skills and said, “My Virgo feels so much better now.”  Then they asked about several future activities.  I said we’d get to those in a few months, after we completed other steps.  They exhaled and checked something off their to-do list.

Later, as I reviewed my notes, I wanted to ask, “What comforts your Virgo?”  I imagined how stifled they might feel within the stereotype of detail-oriented Virgo.  I also wondered whether their Virgo labelled other colleagues or me, if that Virgo perspective is the only one they hold. 

Even as we can be almost anything, live nearly anywhere, and learn about any culture in one swipe, many of us still live according to labels designated to separate and diminish us, rather than connect and empower us.  Sometimes we keep ourselves in these labelled boxes, perhaps because someone told us that’s where we fit — and we never questioned it. 

Consider some of the labels:

Black, Tan, White, Yellow

Agnostic, Buddhist, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Sikh

Bi, Gay, Lesbian, Queer, Straight, Trans

Destitute, Poor, Privileged, Rich

Educated, Uneducated

Aquarius, Gemini, Leo, Scorpio

Enneagram: 4, 3, 2, 1

Communist, Democrat, Libertarian, Progressive, Republican, Socialist

Artist, Chef, Criminal, Entrepreneur, Teacher, Unemployed, Veteran

Cousin, Dad, Mom, Sister, Uncle

Carnivore, Vegetarian

Fat, Short, Tall, Thin

Athlete, Couch-Potato

Homebody, Traveler

Loser, Winner

Sometimes we classify one another, like specimens in petri dishes, saying, “They’re this way because they’re an ‘Introverted, Radical, Vegan, Architect.’”  Then we imagine we know their whole story.  We may spend tons of money and time assessing ourselves and others based on classifications which can become self-fulfilling prophecies.  We may struggle within those labels to meet some standard, trying on other labels for size, like new clothes, to see whether they suit us better.

Often, institutions put us through the demoralizing process of labelling to determine our rank, credit score, and net worth, as well as our aptitude to enter a specific school, live in a particular neighborhood, or drive a certain car.  We’re evaluated with algorithms and metrics to determine what kind of risk we might be to their security and how we conform to societal ideals. 

And among all those labels, we forget the only important one: Beloved Creation of God (or whichever name we use for God), Beloved Creator of all things.  Being one of God’s Beloved Creations means we’re divine just as we are — and so is everyone else.  That divinity, indwelling in each of us, is expansive.  It allows us to rise beyond the limitations of all other labels.

As soon as we begin discarding labels, we grow in spiritual maturity.  No matter what we’ve believed about ourselves before or which paths we’ve traveled already, we feel free to embrace both the depth of our divinity and the strength of our humanity.  We live from a greater sense of compassion, understanding that everyone experiences pain and loss, as much as joy and success.  And, as we know the divine within us, we know it in all others, too.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Get the Feeling

In the movie classic, Tootsie, struggling actress Sandy (Teri Garr) is furious with her friend Michael (Dustin Hoffman) and distressed about her failing career. After trying to be sweet and “nice,” pretending that everything in her life is “fine,” she captures a truth about knowing oneself.  She rants and declares: “I’m going to feel this way until I don’t feel this way anymore.”

Finally, Sandy reaches the place which many on the spiritual journey do, when we realize that we can no longer maintain false poise or hold one more forced smile.  Instead, we choose to feel our feelings, accept and embrace them, and use what we’ve learned to transform our lives.

To say that we’re never afraid, angry, anxious, broken-heartened, disappointed, discouraged, embarrassed, overwhelmed, upset, or a myriad of other feelings, is to pretend that we’re robots.  It denies our humanity — and ultimately, our divinity.

Theologian and philosopher Augustine of Hippo asked: “How can you draw close to God when you are far from your own self?”  So he prayed: “Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know You.”

Our awareness of ourselves and our relationship with God are inextricably linked.  If we deny ourselves sacred time for self-connection, through contemplation, meditation, prayer and reflection, we disconnect from God.

Furthermore, we struggle with life, believing that we’re emotionally healthy and spiritually mature because we deny our “negative” feelings and refuse to acknowledge them.  Sometimes we stuff them deep down inside where they begin to destroy us, in body, mind and spirit, from the inside out.

No matter where we are on our life’s journey, when we deny our feelings, we stall.  We avoid the divine messages our feelings provide.  We forget the truth: That God is always with us and within us, even when our candidate loses; we don’t get the job we wanted; we labor to release an addiction; our children or grandchildren don’t call or text; our “forever” sweetheart doesn’t love us anymore; an ailment doesn’t heal as we expected or desired; we have an accident; a friend moves away and forgets us; no one likes our social media posts; we watch a loved one die.

Yet, as we grow in spiritual maturity and emotional health, we realize that the feelings we believed would hinder us actually help us discern what we need and how we’d most enjoy living.  As we acknowledge the feelings, we also discover that they draw us closer to God, divine creator, unconditionally loving, infinitely compassionate, eternally grace-giving.

Ultimately, our feelings are part of our divinity, allowing us to know and embrace the truth of ourselves and others, too.  When we feel sad, confused, excited, joyous, or anything else, we’re feeling the life of God within.  We know that we’re alive – even when it isn’t fun.

Let us get the feelings.  Then, they won’t get us.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Whose Rules? – Part 1

Many years ago, I saw a poster which began: “With all your heart, say out loud, I want to live a happy life.  Listen to what you just said.”  I read each subsequent phrase to the end, which said: “Take chances.  Be real.”   Then, I cried.

In that moment, I knew.  Those colorfully designed phrases arranged by artist Julie Evans heralded the end of an old life.  My heart was calling me to something else, including the journey to follow something called Rules for Life.

I know many people bristle at the word rules.  They’re frightening because they might constrain us.  Yet, they’re also liberating.  Consider the expression: “When we know the rules, we’re free to live within them.”

When we know our own Rules for Life – the kind Jesus and all other spiritual masters and mystics lived by – we’re free to be our authentic, divine selves.  These rules are usually counter-cultural, because they put us and our relationship with God before anything else.  Ideally, they help us travel a continuously expansive, rich, joyful, fulfilling faith journey.   They invite us to go deep, as Jesus and all mystical masters have done before us.  So, we remember our divinity and our true calling.

Our rules keep us from chasing other people’s dreams, living by unattainable standards, saying things we don’t mean or believe, and buying things we don’t want.  Our rules inspire our authenticity, so we don’t live a lie.

That’s why I believe it’s important to remember that resurrection isn’t a one-time event.  And why some of us travel the faith-filled journey called Eastertide, the 50 days which led from Jesus’s resurrection to Pentecost, when his disciples and followers went forth — deeply grounded in spiritual power — to live their sacred calls.

This part of the journey invites us to choose which rules truly support us in growing more emotionally healthy and spiritually mature.  Slowly, step by step, we can do the inner work which nurtures the divinity we are.  So we live and express the truth of our being.

The process for determining which rules are ours is powerful — and sometimes painful.  As we journey, we discover that we have some flaws, just as the silkiest tapestries, finest crystals and rarest diamonds do.

Sometimes, the flaws show.  So, establishing our own rules requires tremendous faith and courage.  It also means we stop wasting our precious personal power pretending to fit in or make do with a life which saps our energy and stifles our creativity.  As the saying goes, We “get real!”

In Part 2, some practical steps we can take to be real and establish our own rules for life.

 

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.