Browsing the archives for the Delighting in Delight category

Dad, Welcome As You Are!

Robert V. Taylor with his brother Paul and their Dad, Donald

This first appeared in TheAdvocate.com June 14, 2013

I was shocked when my Dad reached over to cradle my head and kiss me. It was a rare moment of emotional intimacy from a man who was not raised to express his emotions. His tender action followed by the words “I love you” was a gift that I still treasure three decades later.  Even though he is not alive, I listen to the stories I tell of my father and the new appreciation those stories reveal with the passage of time.

My Dad would be 84 if he was alive today, yet he continues to live in my heart and consciousness. He grew up in an era in which being a man meant that expressions of emotion were a “girl thing.” That was the work of tender, nurturing and gentle women.  Or so the theory went.

His mother, whom I adored, was a model of emotional frigidity married to a man who was more adept at expression emotions. It was an odd paradigm handed down to my dad on how to be a man. Adding to these murky waters was the rigid and oppressive climate of South Africa. Growing up in that country I assumed that manhood came with those proscribing conditions even though I yearned for something more.

After moving to New York in 1980 as a young adult I was stunned on my first Christmas to see my host kissing his sons and them responding with kisses in return. I’d never seen such a display before and felt at once uncomfortable and curious. This state of unsettlement kept occurring as I watched fathers and sons acting as if such displays of affection were normal. I wanted to be that kind of a man. I assumed that I could be, but not with my dad. At least not until the day of the kiss.

Two years after arriving in New York my parents came to visit me knowing that I could not return home because of my refusal to serve in the South African military. On the day of his return home my Dad stood awkwardly at the gate at JFK waiting to board his flight. In a surprising move he leaned in very close to me and said, “I don’t know when we’ll be together again.” There were tears in our eyes. And then he kissed me and cradled my head as he said, “I love you.” I assured him of the same.

It was a defining moment.  Perhaps the “girl thing” assumption about how my dad had been raised was not entirely true? Or was it an oppressive façade he had learned to live with for so many decades? And then the repeated boarding calls meant it was time for him to go. In my state of stunned shock and delight I felt the tears rolling down my face as he turned to wave.

Perhaps my Dad and I could forge some of that intimacy that I had discovered among American sons and fathers? But there was the physical barrier of being on two different continents. In the decade that followed, we only saw each other on two other visits he made to America. In the era before email, texting or social media my Dad was not much of a letter-writer preferring to leave that to my mother.

I was in a time of my life discovering that our individual stories are more than just a series of funny, embarrassing, cute or unexpected events.  I was learning that our individual stories reveal truth and wisdom in their familiarity.  Well, perhaps not as much wisdom in my twenties or thirties as I thought!  Beneath the familiar plot line of a particular story, the story points to the arc about our place in life that is larger than our own self.

So I turned to the stories of my life with my Dad in South Africa. I found willing listeners in some of my new American friends who like me were physically separated from their fathers because of their job or studies. I was beginning to discover that I can tell the same story line in different decades of my life but by paying attention to the story it presents new insights in each new season of my life.

When I was a young kid my Dad and I would take the train to the end of the line in Cape Town to a place called Simon’s Town. We’d carry our packed lunches and fishing gear and go clambering over rocks to find just the right spot to fish. At the end of these outings I’d express my exuberance about the day spent fishing with Dad. I was bragging about it!

In my teenager years I’d still go fishing with my Dad, although less often. I’d tell the same basic story line albeit with a much “cooler” adolescent level of enthusiasm. In those telling’s of the story I was much more aware of my refusal to ever kill a fish. And so my Dad would help me return the fish to the ocean or he would kill it while I looked away.

In telling the same story in my twenties, I would be aware that more than just being with my dad, the story revealed a kindness and non-judgmental love. He never demeaned or ridiculed me about my aversion to the kill. There was no name calling me as the dreaded “sissy” I thought I must have been.

In my late thirties and forties the story line offered new insight into my dad and our relationship. I understood that our fishing excursions were his way of expressing that he wanted to be present to and with me. He was doing what we all do, working with the tools he had available to him. And he did a great job at it.

In my fifties I tell that story and wonder what it must have felt like for my Dad to live with the assumed normalcy that expressing emotion and affection were not the way to be. I wonder what conversation we would have about that if he were alive to do so. I suspect he’d engage willingly.

The year that Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 was the year I was able to go back to visit South Africa and my family. They quickly became yearly visits in which I noticed a new tenderness about him reminding me of that unexpected kiss at JFK.

On each visit each he enveloped me with a bear hug and kiss. This was not the way the Dad of my childhood had behaved! He was not to be pigeon-holed. As my partner and I visited we did what we often do – we held hands in the living room at my parents’ home.  On one visit my Mom pulled me aside and in a very hushed tone announced, “It really upsets your Dad to see the two of you holding hands.” Funny, but I had not noticed any lack of comfort on my Dad’s part.

A few days later Dad and I were on a walk to feed the ducks at a nearby pond and I said, “Dad, I’m sorry you’re uncomfortable with us holding hands.” Without missing a beat he said, “I’m not uncomfortable. I’m just happy for you and your love.”  There it was again, this generous, heartfelt and kind spirit.

In succeeding years I noticed a new level of emotional intimacy in my Dad’s close bond with a male friend that I could not have imagined in the previous decades of his life.  It was wonderful to watch. I felt glad and proud for him.

My parents were friendly with the couple who lived next door to them in their retirement community. Frank and my Dad began by looking out for another and performing simply niceties by delivering the mail or newspaper to one another.  As time progressed they would be found sitting on a porch together drinking beer and reminiscing about their lives or sharing their excitement for an upcoming rugby or cricket game on television.

On one visit my Dad expressed how glad he was for the choice he and my mother had made, albeit with obstinate resistance from him, to move into their retirement community. When I asked what made him happiest about the decision he said, “I wouldn’t have Frank as my friend if we weren’t here.”

Years later I sat in Frank’s living room with him and his wife drinking tea and discussing my Dad’s then recent death. Frank beamed as he said, “I miss your Dad every day. He was a true friend.” I was unprepared for the tenderness of what followed as Frank choked up with tears in his eyes and said, “You know Robert, I loved your Dad.” I received it as an elegant eulogy to my father and a blessing of the intimacy between Frank and Dad.

The quest for a more fulsome emotional relationship with Dad has come full circle. My yearning for a more authentic relationship with my father had led us to new ground.  But it wasn’t just about me. Dad had been a willing participant in his own story and search for what it meant to be a man.

I’m thankful for the journey we made together. We may not have fulfilled one another’s expectations to the fullest but we sure worked at it from a place of love, redefining our once limited perceptions of what it means to be a man. It would be nice to pull my dad in close, cradle his head, giving him a kiss and saying – “I’m not sure when we’ll see one another again. But I’m proud of you and love you Dad.”

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Cultivate Compassion Every Day!

Mesmerized by the audience at Stanford - Robert V. Taylro with James Doty of CCAREWe are hard wired for compassion.

Aware and awake to cultivating compassion in our daily lives is a choice.

The compassion choice shifts the energy of how we experience each day.

The Universe longs for our acts and words of compassion

Watch Robert on YouTube at Stanford University sharing his insights on expanding compassion every day – Conversations on Compassion with Robert V. Taylor

Post your comments below on the video or else post directly on YouTube

 

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Have you had your holy surprise today?

Robert V. Taylor

This piece was first published on Fox.com February 10, 2013

A holy surprise will grab your attention. Holy surprises are the events and people which interrupt the expected plans of your day. When you live with awareness of them your own humanity is enriched and expanded. Will you choose to allow them to punctuate your day with their invitation to playful delight about life?

For many people the work week, a job, family dynamics, a marriage or their own self-image is something to be endured.  They have become so practiced at “survival” that the endurance seems normal when in fact it is life and spirit sapping.  It serves no one for this to be your “reality.”

Instead, these four tips for choosing to be present to holy surprises invite you to a more enlivened experience of life.

1. Live beyond the “If only” half-script of your life.

I frequently hear people suggest that “If Only” a particular circumstance were different then they would be ready to embrace the yearnings of their lives. This only cedes your life to fear. It results in you becoming a bystander to your own being and purpose.

Holy surprises are the events and people which interrupt the expected plans of your day. When you live with awareness of them your own humanity is enriched and expanded.

It is on the edge of my fears that I am open to even small steps that become a pathway to transformed living. I once allowed my fear of failure to keep me from writing. I thought that if it was not excellent enough it would disappoint those around me and the institution I served. Too many of us allow others to keep us from our script.

A half-script is a gatekeeper to life. When we view events or people that rattle our complacency or awaken our fear of ourselves as a holy surprise we discover that they are an invitation to make choices to live into our own script. Our choice to respond to the surprise invites others to do the same and experience a life of richer engagement and delight.

2. Cultivate imagination each day

My maternal grandmother was born in Nazareth in the Holy Land. When I was young she would tell me Bible stories with graphic descriptions of the landscape and characters. They were tremendous!

Decades later I realized that her Bible stories often bore little resemblance to the book she was referencing. Her imagination engaged me and the kernels of wisdom and truth of the stories remade in her imagination seemed radiant.

Somewhere between the age of 6 and 8 many children are told to stop being “so silly” in exercising their imagination. In the creation stories of many religious traditions we learn that humanity is made in the image a Creator. But what if you think of yourself as being made, not in the image of, but the imagination of the ever-creating, ever-expanding Universe?

The closest word to “human” in Hebrew or the Latin homo is Adam which derives from the Hebrew root word for “imagination.” To be human is to participate in limitless imagination! Cultivating imagination allows us to experience the holy surprises that interrupt our days with new eyes.  Instead of disbelief, fear or resistance, we greet them as possibilities engaging our imaginative self.

3. Expect life to engage you with unexpected people.

Our own story is not a personal treasure for only ourselves and those within the circle of comfortable friends. When we can hold the diverse elements of our story together – including wonder, shame, regret and joy – there is a seamlessness about who we are that reveals wisdom and truth in the arc of our story. The result is a new and heightened compassion for yourself and others.

When you share your story with others you experience curiosity about their story. It becomes a common, sacred meeting ground with unexpected people who are not in the usual orbit of your life. Real differences may still exist with unexpected people on this expanded field of life but it is marked by anxiety making room for delight.

The professional and business groups I work with yearn to know how a story can be used to engage more authentically with colleagues and clients. Whether it is in your professional or personal life, the holy surprise of engaging with unexpected others through story allows suspicion to give way to insights previously unimagined. Oneness with humanity is no longer a theory but a delight.

4. Choose to bring new life to others and yourself.

When you engage in acts of generosity or self-giving your happiness index increases. Instead of being overwhelmed by seemingly inextricable problems in the world or your community be open to a holy surprise inviting you to respond with a simple action.

Walking on a Florida beach I was surprised by a bevy of volunteers marking off sites on the beach with stakes and tape. They were protecting the loggerhead turtles’ nesting ground in the sand. One volunteer told me he was inspired to do this work after learning that only one of every one thousand eggs laid results in a surviving turtle. I marveled at his simple yet joyous response in becoming a midwife to the turtles.

The surprise is often presented by an opportunity. A grandson noticed his 84-year-old grandmother’s delight in surfing the Internet and using Facebook to keep up on her large family. He knew that her old computer could not be used for watching the videos posted of her great grandchildren. He decided to buy her an iPad. The grandmother relishes the new tool she has for connection and learning.

Will you allow these four tools for embracing holy surprises to grab your attention each day? Your own well-being will be expanded by the playful delight you discover.
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Loving Abandonment

Robert V. Taylor

This article first appeared in Watkins’ Body, Mind, Spirit (UK) Spring 2013 issue

If there is to be a day of reckoning the only question to be answered is, “Did you love with abandonment?” Living life awake to that question is where we discover a new way to be human.

The disengagement and helplessness that so many people choose makes them bystanders to their own lives and the world. It does not have to be so. Instead, it is possible to choose a new way to be and discover that the world desperately needs your voice, story, imagination and delight as much as you do. It is an invitation to a spirituality of being fully alive.

The Holy or sacred is infinitely more expansive and generous than the often narrow confines of any one religion. I admire those who are spiritual but not religious for engaging in life-changing practices of love and compassion that religion often only tips its hat to. I experience awe in observing the way in which the seven pathways of A New Way to Be Human find expression in those who mindfully live lives of generous compassion and profound inter-connection with others.

So what are some of the stepping stones to anchor your life in loving with abandonment?

In my first one-on-one meeting with Desmond Tutu in 1980 I asked for his advice on how to survive imprisonment for refusing to serve in the South African military that enforced apartheid. I was unprepared for his question, “Tell me about your life Robert – not what you’ve done, but who you are.” It transformed how I think about and experience life.

In the story I told Tutu we discovered an unexpected connection and through it a sacred meeting ground that revealed not our difference, but our shared transformation decades apart. With that he organized for me to leave South Africa immediately and head to New York City.

“Tell me who you are” is an invitation to know your story with all of its many elements – joy, shame, wonder and regret. Appreciating and integrating each of these elements we develop tenderness and compassion toward ourselves and therefore toward others. It opens up a life of curiosity, attentive listening and delight in the connecting stories that surprise and remind us of our oneness. In the arc of your story ancient wisdom and the Holy are revealed. If that is true for you, how can you resist discovering those truths in others?

All too often we live behind an enclosure in which we allow others – perhaps family, religion or culture – to squelch our voice and keep us from being participants in expanding divinity. Claiming and celebrating your voice often takes you to the edge of your life where you discover the center.

Claiming and celebrating your voice often takes you to the edge of your life where you discover the center.

Your journey to the edges is what disturbs others as they try to clutch on to life as they know it. Their bad advice is not offered because they are bad people but because your journey to a more generous, expansive life disturbs them. In suggesting “should, would and could’s” about your life they attempt to enclose you from the journey in which generous love, compassion and courage are revealed in claiming your voice.

This is important because grounded in your story and voice you enter into oneness between yourself, the Holy and the Universe. There you discover that you are made in the imagination of the ever-expanding, ever-creating Universe. Cultivating and celebrating imagination alive in you invites you to be an active participant in the enterprise of loving with abandonment.

A New Way to Be Human, Career Press

The Universe yearns for your imagination to be fully alive acknowledging the sacred within you and becoming a midwife to the expansion of divinity. The old way of being seduces you into believing that your voice, actions and imagination do not matter. The new way to be says that your every contribution is of inestimable worth to the ecosystem of life.

The criticism of spirituality is that it is often obsessive about self-realization with little accountability or connection to the human family or Creation. Self-worth is only as worthy as the ability to place extraordinary value on the lives and worth of all. The new way to be assumes that we do not and cannot live in isolation from the human family and Creation. It is in the very circumstances, cruelties and joys of daily life that we are invited to imagine the world not as it is, but as it might be.

When I seek my own well-being and happiness I intuitively want those same things for others. When that grounds my way of being every word, action and choice that I am awake to becomes part of polishing the world. Imagination, love, compassion and well-being are part of a circle that cannot exist without you, me or any other sentient being. In loving with abandonment the luminosity of our oneness is revealed.

On this journey the risky invitations that upset the imagined course of our lives or the hairpin curves which disturb our journey are invitations to go to the edge of our fears. The doubts that our fears reveal are grand birth-givers of new consciousness. The disillusionments we fear reveal unexpected blessings.

These pathways are not revealed or entered into in one moment of nirvana or in elegant order.  They’re experienced like the path to the center of a labyrinth whose surprising curves invite us to pay attention to where the center will be discovered. If that center is love, we are invited to know what grounds our heart. Your own story reveals the many places and people who illuminate your heart center. It offers a choice between detaching from the hubris and noise of life-draining energy and choosing the life-giving energy of those people and places that ground your heart and make it your home.

Your own story reveals the many places and people who illuminate your heart center. It offers a choice between detaching from the hubris and noise of life-draining energy and choosing the life-giving energy of those people and places that ground your heart and make it your home.

Each of these pathways is illuminated by cultivating a spirituality of delight, wonder and playfulness.  It is vital to your well-being and that of others. Lucy, my chocolate Labrador, is a constant companion reminding me to take time from my work to enter her exuberant joy in a walk or playing fetch.

Although I relish preparing meals for friends, strangers and family it is in the ordinariness of everyday encounters that I feast most often. Each day I invite myself to be present to the delight and wonder of a simple feast experienced in being present to another person over tea or coffee or in conversation with the salesperson in the grocery store.  In moments of feasting, playfulness or awe I am reminded that the holy surprises of delight are as much fuel for my journey as the more obvious transformative moments of my journey.

The new way to be human is a path of spiritual generosity and loving abandonment discovered by living in the now of each day, receiving it as a gift. My doubts and fears may still be real but they are companions of truth inviting me to stop clutching at life and enter into it. It is a journey in which being fully alive is embraced and welcomed with the abandonment of loving oneness.

Robert V. Taylor is a speaker, teacher and author. His book A New Way to Be Human: 7 Spiritual Pathways to Becoming Fully Alive has been endorsed by Deepak Chopra, Desmond Tutu and Bernie Siegel. He is Chair of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation in New York City. Robert lives in Seattle and on a farm in rural Eastern Washington State.

 

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To change your life in 2013 choose a new word

Robert V. Taylor

This first appeared on Foxnews.com as an opinion piece December 30, 2012

The New Year is an invitation to enliven your spirit and life rather than making another burdensome resolution that will quickly be consigned to dust. Choose a word as your guide or mantra for the year – a word that reflects your yearnings or takes you to the edge of your fears.

Your chosen word becomes your pathway for experiencing a new way to be in the year ahead. My resolutions from years past filled a closet with wistful longings as easily abandoned as the cheap pronouncements with which I had made them.

Eventually I gave up on the obligatory ritual and enjoyed the peace that ensued from avoiding unrealistic self-inflicted pressure.

But something was missing.  Like many who I have worked with over the years, the start of a new year kept presenting a nagging invitation to re-examine and recalibrate my life. Acknowledging the importance of ritual in our lives, I wondered if a different possibility existed to embrace a new year.

In conversation with a wise friend we discussed the importance of language and the inherent power revealed in the nuances and interpretations of a single word.  In that moment I wondered about choosing a single word to focus on for a year. It was a liberating moment of almost giddy glee!

In the intervening years a few constant themes have emerged in my conversations with those who embrace this practice.  People describe a desire to move beyond resignation about their life and choose pro-active steps that enliven their lives. The willingness to go to the edge of your fears because you know that is where the journey to the center of your heart and spirit is most often revealed. Appreciating that cultivating your imagination, playfulness and heart space is a journey of spiritual growth.

How to choose the word can be a predicament and a richness of blessings.

If the New Year is an invitation to new growth and a deeper appreciation of how we choose to be in the world the word chosen becomes your mantra, compass or theme by which to respond to the invitations of life.

Openness, balance, compassion, delight, creativity, expression, time, love, friends, goodness, gratitude are among the words that I and others have selected in years past.

Choosing the word is not unlike trying on shoes or gloves for the perfect fit.  As you try on several words you instinctively know the one that appears to invite you into its presence.

This matters because choosing a word for a new way to be in the year ahead is not a passive activity. You will make daily choices to be present to the word and in the process it will become your truth-meter, challenger, comfort, friend and companion for twelve months.

Those who use this practice often put the chosen word on their refrigerator, nightstand, dashboard, vanity, desk, office door or even screensaver as a reminder of the choice that has been made. Many choose to speak their word out loud at the start of each day, perhaps over their first coffee, in the shower, on their commute, between appointments, at a store, exercising, cooking, readying themselves for sleep or in prayer and meditation.

In each of these ways you avoid enclosing the chosen word with your predictable understanding of it. Instead, you allow it to percolate and surprise you as your engagement with it reveals new insights and truths.

When I first embarked on this practice I wondered how steadfast a companion I would be to my chosen word. Like others, I have shared my word with a trusted friend or mentor, inviting them to hold me accountable to be present to how the word shapes my experience of choosing a new way to be.

The endless repetitions of old conversations and the negative energy that we unwittingly allow into our lives frequently derail the year long journey with the selected word. Awareness of these realities allows you to identify, name and detach from them in order to allow the spaciousness of life-giving energy to be present.

Appreciation and thankfulness are markers of the yearlong journey with your word. When you express daily or weekly gratitude for the insights of your word you begin to notice the seemingly small ways in which you embrace and make life-affirming choices.

Choosing a new way to be in the New Year with a specific word may not have the sweeping grandeur of a short-lived ephemeral resolution. It will be a choice of slowly revealed substance that deepens your appreciation of yourself and others.

It’s a choice I keep making with anticipation each year. As I prepare to greet my 2013 word – Awe – I expect it will be a source of surprise, renewal and new discoveries of how to be.
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Beyond Holiday Stress: Steps to Reclaim the Holiday Spirit

This blog first appeared on Huffington Post December 17, 2012

If you’re feeling a growing low-level anxiety about holiday stress, you are not alone! The season of joy, peace and goodwill can be reclaimed for you and your family with five intentional choices. The holidays do not have to be endured. Instead, they can be reclaimed by the choices you make!

Rethink family obligations. Like many families, Emily and Carlos have spent many Christmases on an endless shuttle with their kids, going from one family gathering to another. With both sets of their parents divorced and remarried, they felt obligated to attend four different events. After addressing the dread of this stressful routine and the crankiness it produced in their three children, they realized they had a choice. They’ve since chosen to alternate spending the holidays with two sets of parents each year. They have noticed that their choice has already relieved anxiety and stress in thinking about the holidays.

Reclaim joy! Explore possibilities for less stressful holiday experiences by expanding the season. Think about gathering friends and family for a tree-trimming party that might include an activity for children to make decorations for the tree. If your extended circle of family is scattered over the holidays because of travel, consider a January holiday party that has child-friendly games or activities. The spirit of joy is often best experienced when we do not try to cram it into one or two days!

Make a goodwill choice. Talk with your children about what the goodwill of the season means. Listen to their ideas about an act of goodwill that you can make as a family. One family volunteered at an animal rescue shelter because their 6-year-old daughter wanted animals to celebrate the holidays. Another volunteered as a family on a local river cleanup project because their 10-year-old son thought it would be a Christmas gift to the earth. A goodwill choice can become both a family experience and a teaching moment about the spirit of the holidays.

Celebrate peace. The holidays provide an opportunity to talk over the kitchen table about how you and your children think about the holiday theme of “peace on Earth.” The Hebrew understanding of peace — meaning the well-being of all — offers an entry point to conversation.

One 13-year-old expressed his concern about a classmate who was being bullied. He was looking for guidance on how to stop the bullying.

A 7-year-old said she wanted to ask her friends to bring cans of food to their Christmas party because people needed to be fed.

Inviting your family to think about peace and well-being offers the opportunity for unexpected answers from your children and the forging of a family commitment that lasts well beyond the holidays.

Expand your thinking about gifts. In this economy, many families are stressed about how to afford the multitude of gifts that they have been accustomed to buying in the past. For others, the sheer volume of gifts seems overwhelming and stress-producing. One couple has asked their family to join them in only having one wrapped gift for each child. Another has invited their family to buy gifts for only the children in the family. Others have created a holiday ritual of family gift-making, from cookies and jams to artwork. Instead of allowing gift pressure to derail and stress your holiday, creatively rethink how gift-giving can be appreciated and celebrated in new ways.

Any combination of these five steps can become part of a conscious, mindful choice to lower the stress level of the holidays for you, your children and your extended family. Instead of being a victim to holiday stress, choose a proactive path that allows you to enter their spirit and enjoyment!

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De-Stress the Holidays

This blog first appeared in the Huffington Post, November 16, 2012

Holiday stress is an ironic reality for many. The anxiety that such stress produces is a sharp counterpoint to the holiday spirit of joy, peace, goodwill and gratitude! The good news is that instead of being captive to the stress, our mindful choices invite a de-stressing that is life-giving.

Here are four de-stressors that I and those I work with have experienced as transforming practices for holiday get-together s.

Appreciative Energy. As you prepare for a holiday gathering of friends or family, engage in “appreciative energy.” Visualize each person who will be present and then express your appreciation of one quality about her or him to yourself. For some, you will appreciate several qualities. For the challenging or quirky people in your circle, the act of appreciation allows you to step beyond life-draining energy that the relationship causes and instead allow yourself to enter into life-giving energy.

Be present and aware of the thing you are appreciative of in each person as you get ready to attend the holiday gathering. Your stress level decreases as you allow appreciative energy to ground you.

Spiritual Association. At work in my kitchen preparing for a celebratory gathering I realized that tension among a few guests had created a low-level anxiety and stress in me about how this might be played out in public. As I cooked I used a familiar practice of turning to images from a variety of spiritual traditions and associating one or more with each guest.

The images I associated with each guest included the “One who Plays” and the “Flute-Playing God” from the Hindu tradition, the “Nourisher” from Islam, the Sikh “Destroyer of Fear,” the Christian “Lover of Souls” and the Jewish “God of the Womb” and “God of the Breasts.” These playful, nurturing and tender images created a space in which I could mindfully anticipate each guest. While I could not repair the tension among a few, my stress dissipated in the images revealing something magnificent in each one.

Story Power. If there is a bigoted wildcard among the guests at a gathering, allow your stress to be replaced by the power of your authentic stories. One person I worked with said she was on the verge of withdrawing from family gathering because of the racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic comments of a few. Instead she chose another path. In response to anti-immigrant comments she told a story about the undocumented Latino family she worked with at a local community center. When faced with anti-gay jokes she told the story of attending the wedding of two women colleagues.

Your own story is filled with stories that reveal your joy and delight in the human family. Instead of trying to rebuff the bigot in the family share a story. You will be inviting another person to an unexpected meeting ground of oneness.

Detox Choice. If there is a person whose toxicity is untenable or threatening in some way, make a choice. You are not compelled to attend an event with them or obliged to invite that person to something you are hosting. Remember that in French, the root word for love and courage are the same. If your choice involves invites courage from you it will be an expression of love for yourself and your other guests. And love for yourself and others will be expressed in the courage to choose to detox a gathering.

Holiday stress is an oxymoron. Your choices can de-stress the holidays and allow the spirit of joy, goodwill, gratitude and peace to be present. Along the way seek out those who are grounded in delight, playfulness and wonder. They will become a mirror reflecting those qualities in you.

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Freedom to Marry – the Moral & Spiritual Arc of Inclusion?

This blog first appeared in  Huffington Post September 19, 2012 and the Seattle Gay News September 21, 2012

I came to the USA in search of freedom and in admiration of a country whose foreign policy in 1980 was viewed through the lens of advancing human rights. When voters in Washington State approve Referendum 74 this November giving lesbian and gay couples the freedom to marry, the moral and spiritual arc of the Universe will once again bend towards inclusion. New light will be shed on what human rights and freedom.

My husband and I have a vantage point of living both in Seattle and on a farm in rural Eastern Washington. Three years ago when we made that decision many Seattle friends worried what it would be like for us to be in what they labeled “Redneck country.” Surely, they said, it would be difficult to live outside the progressive liberal bubble of Seattle.

Yes there are differences between these two parts of the State. But our Eastern WA circle of acquaintances which includes farmers, cowboys and ropers as well as people in the wine industry, never makes us question our full inclusion as a couple.

Some whom we know will be voting for the Romney-Ryan ticket and to approve the referendum that will permit the legislation allowing same gender couples to marry to become the law of the State. While I cannot understand how someone can vote for a Presidential ticket so adamantly opposed to LGBT people as they vote to approve R-74, I have come to appreciate a factor that is at work for such people. In their eyes R-74 is about upholding the intrinsic values of freedom. For many of those, freedom to marry is colored by the loving relationships of gay and lesbian couples they personally know.

The latest tracking polls reveal that there is a statistical dead heat among voters in Eastern WA about approving or rejecting this November’s ballot initiative. To many in the Seattle area this is staggeringly good news about a part of the State that they had written off with dismissive labels.

Some religious leaders, including the notoriously homophobic Ken Hutcherson of Antioch Baptist Church in Kirkland WA, are promising to launch a new petition drive to overturn the law if the voters approve referendum 74. The organization Preserve Marriage Washington is actively recruiting conservative pastors with advice on how churches can avoid an IRS audit for financially supporting the defeat of the initiative.

Joining these groups, the State’s Roman Catholic Bishops opine that approval of freedom to marry is an assault on religious liberty. This, in spite of the fact that the legislation in question makes explicit exemptions for religious organizations retaining the existing conscience clause to choose whom to marry or not. In defiance of Seattle’s Archbishop, his own Cathedral and two parishes have refused to distribute materials from the Archdiocese urging rejection of the referendum.

I think of the couples whose unions I have blessed since the 1990’s and their joy in having their love and partnership receive a sacred blessing. I suspect most of them yearn for the day in which a second-class status gives way to the freedom to choose marriage. They, like my spouse and I, have no desire to deprive or infringe on the freedom of others when we know too well the costs of the journey to freedom.

Tiers of freedom in which some are relegated to a lesser status is no freedom at all. Alongside the great movements to end slavery, extend the vote to women and the successful struggle over Civil Rights, freedom to marry expands what it means to be part of the human family.

The radiant promise of freedom and human rights that drew me to the United States in 1980 will become brighter when the voters of Washington State affirm that freedom affirms the freedom to marry. It will be a celebration of the moral and spiritual arc that always bends toward inclusion!

I invite you to post your comments below!

 

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Slaying Emotional Vampires

Robert V. Taylor

This blog first appeared on Huffington Post, June 12, 2012

Emotional Vampires are drawn to people with positive energy, insatiably soul-sucking your words and energy. They’re toxic and you do nothing positive to help them or yourself when you succumb to their insatiable needs. Detachment is good for you both.

It was a chilling question from the person who asked if I would get real and talk about slaying the emotional vampires in our lives. Slaying conjured up images of a drone attack or a video game. It conveyed an aggressive hostility that is at odds with detachment.

I responded by telling a story. When I first arrived in the United States I knew that I could not return home to South Africa because of my refusal to serve in the military that enforced apartheid at the time. For my own well-being I understood that I needed to create an extended family from scratch in my new home.

Shaun was one of those whom I believed would be part of this new family. My proactive engagement with him brought with it a slowly dawning consciousness that his energy was life-sapping. On my weekly calls to Shaun I would listen to a litany of complaints about those who had wronged, injured or offended him in some way that week. I would unthinkingly move into rescue mode and offer suggestions for how he might engage differently with the world around him.

After many months it dawned on me that the phone calls were unidirectional and that Shaun had little interest in making different choices in his life. In a moment of new awareness I realized that not only could I not save or rescue him but, all importantly, that was not my job! His toxicity was poisonous to me and my well-being as much as it was to him. I was in the presence of a soul-sucker.

Almost thirty years ago, it became my first intentional experience of detachment. I offered our acquaintanceship and the intention for Shaun’s well-being to the Universe. With love I released this relationship hoping that he would in time seek his highest good. It was a liberating moment for me. I later learned that it was for him too, free at last of listening to my well-intentioned advice!

There was a companion detachment. I detached from my own single-minded need and focus on creating extended family. With new awareness I discovered freedom in becoming mindfully aware about opportunities for organically extending my new American family. Instead of clutching at an idealized goal I was free to be embraced by and embrace the life-giving energy of those with whom mutual bonds of relationship occurred more seamlessly.

Two decades later Shaun and I reconnected. He observed a new ease about who I am. I discovered a man who had done equally important interior work resulting in his anger and distrust of others making way for a more expansive, generous way of life.

Instead of slaying emotional vampires, detachment allowed room for each of us to flourish and cultivate our own well-being. It is easy to understand the reactions of those who respond to the emotional vampires in their lives with umbrage, anger, ridicule and pain. Those feelings are real but in choosing to nurture them we imprison ourselves by connecting an IV line of life-draining energy to our own lives.

As I recounted this experience my questioner’s perplexed look gave way to an insight – “I don’t have to choose to do battle with the vampires do I?” she asked rhetorically. Indeed not! The mindful choice to detach is an infinitely more courageous, life-affirming choice. For all involved.

Join the conversation – post your comments below

Robert’s new book A New Way to be Human is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and your local Indie bookstore

 

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Discovering a New Way to Be Human and Polish the World

This blog interview appeared on the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation website on June 11, 2012

We don’t often stop to think about how the way we choose to manifest our unique humanity impacts ourselves and the world around us.  We are not conscious of the limitations we place on ourselves by old ways of being.  Yet we live in a world that needs our courage, creativity and imagination.

In his best selling book, A New Way to Be Human, nationally recognized speaker and author Robert V. Taylor explores the question of how we can each leave a footprint of compassion in the world by tapping into our personal spirituality and innate values.  We had the opportunity to talk with him recently about his ideas for more fully realizing our human potential.

 

DTPF What motivated you to write A New Way to Be Human?

RVT To invite readers to be happy and change the world. The sense of helplessness and disengagement that so many people feel about the world – “My voice doesn’t matter; my actions don’t really count” – leads you to clutch at life. There is another way! To live into the fullness of being human; to discover your magnificence and the truth that the world needs your active engagement as much as you do. The book invites readers into a more fulsome, happy and engaged new way to be human.

DTPF You speak in your book about connecting with stories – our own and those of others. How do we know which stories are the most important to share?

RVT Listen for the ones that make you feel alive, along with those that scare you. Pay attention! When you know your story and can be compassionate about every part of it – the wonder, regret, shame and joy – you tell it knowing that eternal wisdom and truth is revealed through you story. You then find yourself listening compassionately to the stories of others, attentive to the eternal truths and wisdom being revealed. Not every story is safe to share with just anyone but you will know that intuitively. Sharing your story you discover common ground with the most unexpected people. As you share who you are – not just what you do – your stories remind you that we need one another in order to be human. It’s a life-changing way of living each day and claiming your voice in the world.

Archbishop Tutu & Robert V. Taylor

DTPF One of the ideas you discuss in A New Way to Be Human is the limitations – enclosures – that we allow ourselves and others to place around us. What is the best way to recognize the enclosures we experience in our lives so that we can address them?

RVT Become aware of the things that you resist doing or think you’re not good enough or loved enough for. Beware of choices that are driven not by your passion and desire but by the needs of others or the habit of pleasing them. Each of those things constrains you, holding you back from your magnificence. They squelch your voice and cramp your compassion. You serve no one’s good by hiding behind whatever encloses you from being fully alive, happy and engaged. The book offers practical tools for stepping beyond what encloses you from your fullest self.

DTPF You talk in your book about reflecting the imagination of the Holy and “polishing the world?” What exactly to you mean by that?

RVT Our greatest failures come from a lack of imagination. When you chose to embrace your imagination life is different. Instead of looking at the world and accepting it the way it is you imagine the way it can be. That’s engaging and enlivening! Every seemingly small action that you do to make something better in the lives of others, in your community, school or in world helps to change and polish the world. What you do matters! Your actions allow the humanity of others to flourish. Lives and communities have a new shine to them!

DTPF One memorable story in your book has to do with your friend Joe who had stopped following the news because it ultimately made him feel helpless. This is something that many people experience today. Can you tell us how Joe was able to turn that deeply felt negativity around in his life?

The Los Angeles launch of A New Way to Be Human at LACMA

RVT Joe heard the challenge of a good friend to stop being disengaged and to see in the news an invitation to be part of changing the story line from bad to good news! Of course there are lots of terrible things in the world. But when we sit back we give them power. We are hard wired for love and compassion and we know it when discover life-giving energy by choosing to do something. As Joe responded to his friend’s challenge he found that he was drawn to stories about girls and young women denied education in many parts of the world. The bad news of those stories led him to learn about people and organizations doing something to give women access to education. It is probably one of the most transformative changes imaginable for the human family. So Joe got involved in an organization working in partnership with local organizations to provide that access. It’s changed his life. He’s no longer a helpless victim of life. He’s become an active participant in change and says he’s more fully alive because of it.

DTPF Many of us grow up being told that to think of others is virtuous, but that thinking of one’s self is not. How can your book help us better understand the difference between looking inward with love to learn who we are versus just being egotistical?

RVT Loving yourself is the greatest lesson and gift you will ever receive! You develop tenderness for yourself – warts and all. When you love yourself without conditions you want your own well-being. That’s where you discover happiness and how to be happy. With each step you take you become more compassionate about yourself. But none of this is a personal treasure to hoard. You discover that other people are loveable too – with all of their quirks. You can’t help but yearn for their well-being too. You desire happiness for all people. Loving yourself is the exact opposite of being egotistical! It makes you more fully human and alive because you realize that we need one another, that we’re inter-connected. Self-love becomes a generous outpouring of love for others.

DTPF You share a great quote in your book related to “limitless imagination.” You shared the story of a woman, Zelda who, because of the demands of her corporate career, was denying the “invitation to let go of the pause button” on her imagination. How can each of us learn to let go of the pause button on our own imagination?

RVT Listen to the tweets that your passions send you! There may be just one thing that you’re passionate about, that makes you feel alive. Pay attention – it’s the Universe inviting you to live life fully with whatever your gift is. That’s where you discover limitless imagination. When you choose to not listen to your passions and imagination you hit the pause button on your life. Imagine if any of your heroes had paused their imagination – the environmental, civil rights, gender equality, LGBT and other movements exist because of imagination that is alive and engaged! The world needs your imagination at work every day as much as you do – it’s how change happens.

DTPF How would you describe being “at home in your heart” to a group of young people today?

RVT Listen to your heart! Science reminds us that our heart and brain are connected and when we only live in our head space we miss out on our heart pointing us to happiness, purpose and meaning. Celebrate the people and places who make your heart space alive and detach from the toxic people whose energy limits your ability to be at home in your heart. Allow your heart to feed your intuitive response to the people, places and causes that make you at home by filling you with life-giving energy.

DTPF What is the most important idea your book can offer a young person who wants to better their lives and those around them?

RVT Love yourself and share that love! Be kind to someone today, speak out on something you care about, take an action to make the world a more just place. Love – it’s in your DNA. Love like it’s the best day of your life.

Post your comments below or join the conversation about this interview on the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation website

Robert’s new book A New Way to be Human is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and your local Indie bookstore

 

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