Category Archives: Psychology

LAYERS OF RAINBOWS

There is neither here-
     nor there.
There is only that which is written in the soul.
  And,
      That is what you must share.

When I think about a “regular” day, it is easy for me to get caught up in the mundane activity that the ego-driven mind has created.  Life as a formulaic, step-by-step process- it could be written down like a recipe, and if someone performed the steps they would be me.  Or, would they?

Within every moment there is more happening between me and the other side of the planet, my simple mind could not conceive it all, yet it is all happening in the instant, within the instant.  Life- constantly unfolding…changing…never stopping.  I had this snap shot in my mind after reading this statement by Thich Nhat Hanh in his book Awakening of the Heart on emptiness recently-

“Each of the 5 rivers has to be made by the other 4.  It has to coexist; it has to inter-be with all others.”

The five rivers being the five aggregates: form, sensation, perception, mental formation, and consciousness.  This being said, each aggregate or river flowing within us has to contain elements of the other aggregates or rivers flowing within us.  Nothing is independent of itself. And, we are “empty of a separate, independent existence.”

This being said, I felt like I was looking from above into a tall skyscraper with the top off.  And as I looked in, I could see a system like a corporation working.  Within the corporation are layers of departments each based on an idea, a subject.  Then, there are people working in each department supporting the idea, dependent on one another as they operate.  Each person has its own universe within them including the people they know and love.  Then, they have their own mind chattering away, all day- day after day.  Within their mind is their body.  Their body is made up of organs, tissue, cells, living organisms while the mind is dictating life, while the nature, the essence of this being is slowly, deliberately becoming more apparent in a form of awareness.  Thought becomes another thought- and then what?  Life.

As I stepped out of the gym yesterday, there was a large shift in the wind.  The sky was becoming darker, and as I turned the corner to get to my car, a rainbow was standing before me, filling the sky with its abundant beauty and hope.  This rainbow reminded me of so many other rainbows- and thus began a continuation of thought and life, ever changing and all encompassing, again.

One of my most memorable moments with a rainbow came when I felt completely lost and hopeless in my existence as a human, being.  I sat in my car at the grocery store on Columbia Pike in Arlington, VA, crying and asking my angels to please help me get out of my head and the funk of hopelessness.  I cried, and cried some more.  I finally felt a little relief and stepped out of my car, to again witness a large, brightly lit rainbow illuminating the sky in full color.  At that moment, I felt the hope of transformation and gratefulness chasing out my self-inflicted demons.

How often do we forget that we are not alone, that we are not independent of one another?  This is a reminder that no matter where you look, there is a rainbow somewhere giving hope to someone, who is deeply connected to you.  Just look around you, and listen to your heart.  You will see and hear whatever it is you need, to remember your essence, your divine nature.  It just helps to be open.  To be conscious of it, but it is always there.

REFLECTIONS OF THE SILENT WITNESS

Trees & SunIn a moment
In the silence of it all, I raise my heart to you
Dear, loving friend, solitary confidant.
A breeze carries the sound of love’s trinkets
And in an instant it touches everything around me.
All encompassing, all embracing…
I do not know what I am
But to open my eyes
Only when I want to close them.
The knowing-
The completion of this single, silent moment.
And I am everything.
Alone, and alive- I hear the witness inside of me.

Filling the sky with blue, and yellow
And kindness.
If only the need to know
Understood what it was to be whole.
Without anything lost, or anything gained-
I am the silent witness,
Once again.

GOOD BOUNDARIES, HEALTHY EMPATHY

BOUNDARIES– what does this word really mean?  I once heard a speaker at a spiritual conference refer to boundaries as a joke.  I remember hearing this person scoff at the word and laugh in front of hundreds of people while she issued her commentary on lifestyle magazines and their “silly” articles.  I remember immediately thinking- really?  I actually was quite surprised and felt sad that there were so many vulnerable people around me learning that “boundaries” in a spiritual context were something dreamed up by the mind and trying to maintain them was ignorance.

It bothered me because I was someone that had very poor boundaries growing up, and was still someone struggling to understand what they really meant in my relationships- particularly with my boyfriend (and past boyfriends).  That conference was years ago, and I am still learning- but fortunately, years later- I have really owned up to my lack of boundaries and my former lack of awareness.

When I first started hearing about this word “boundaries”, I remember feeling like it was a word from an alien language.  I eventually learned that as a very sensitive person that learned to be the balancer in my group of siblings, I had a real problem blurring the lines between my feelings and someone else’s, leading to a deep lack of understanding that other people are capable of taking care of themselves and I am not responsible for how other people handle their consequences and reactions.  I lived a life of co-dependent relationships, lacking the ability to provide any accountability for behavior that was not in line with my definition of integrity.  I constantly compromised myself by being in relationships with people that also had bad boundaries and would do things that didn’t feel “right” to me.

It is easy to take the nihilistic point of view here and interpret the understanding of emptiness in a way that can be extremely dysfunctional.  Things do exist in the way that we see them from our point of view- but that is our reality and it does not mean that our point of view is any less skewed than another person’s because if we are living in an ego-driven reality then we are all delusional.  But it is also important for extremely empathic, compassionate people to understand that we are not responsible for another person’s choices and all we can do is stand in our own integrity and simply love by loving the Buddha nature of that person.

When we hold someone in that space, we are doing more than we realize, and we don’t always have to do anything else.  When we correct our mind, we help others correct their mind as well.  If we choose to not engage in another person’s drama and allow them to experience their karma through their gift of free will, yet love them by healing our inner-divide, we are doing them a greater service than trying to be involved in a relationship with them that is based on you being accountable for their state of mind.  For me this was revolutionary, and for the first time in my life I had real clarity when I was able to say in my heart that this person before me was capable of being responsible for their reactions, not me.

One morning in my journey to work I heard a clip on the radio from the interview with Rihanna and Oprah.  In the interview Rihanna was talking about how all she really cared about was that her abuser was happy in his life, and that was what mattered the most to her.  As I listened I realized how co-dependent this person still was, and it made me feel deep compassion for her.  I also felt sad that this was not brought up by Oprah in the interview because it seemed so clear to me.  She was still living out the same pattern with this person- and she was still feeling accountable for how this person felt- whether it was happiness or sadness.  This is the reason many people stay with abusers- another blurry line.

That speaker I heard years ago can mock me too if she would like to, or compare me to a silly lifestyle magazine.  But I feel it is extremely important in my work as a life coach and teacher to remember that there is a gradual process in understanding how our ego-driven mind can block us in understanding what the Buddha nature is within ourselves and how we share it with one another as spiritual beings innately connected with one another.  Until we can heal that which is broken within us emotionally, we are blind to our oneness.

It begins with recognizing the Buddha nature within our hearts and having compassion for our own suffering, then others.  And compassion is not about giving your power and energy away in an effort to ease someone’s suffering.  It is about seeing someone’s suffering and understanding that it is your suffering as well.  It involves seeing that we in our ignorant mind may not understand fully the dynamics of a karmic situation, but we can end dysfunction through the free will and choice that we have, and choose to live our life in a healthy way free of dysfunctional self perception.  This leads to forgiveness and no attachment, and without attachment we are able to see our true nature, our Buddha nature.

My Inner Charlie Brown

My Inner Charlie Brown
By: Jessica Burnham

How many of you grew up watching the famous holiday cartoon- Charlie Brown’s Christmas? Or, reading the loveable character’s foibles in the comic page of your newspaper? Charlie Brown always felt depressed- and usually his depression came from his commonly chattered statement “I can’t do anything right!” Just recently as I trudged through my own inner turmoil regarding my life’s ups and downs, I heard myself saying just that. Tears streaming down my eyes, fear and frustration curling over me like a heavy blanket, I roiled “I can’t do anything right!”

I took a deep breath as I observed myself engaged in this belief system. I realized that I had to embrace this part of me, my inner Charlie Brown. And the tears came tumbling down at light speed! What can I say? In the daily work we all engage in called life, we have this perception of ourselves. We know we are working hard and trying to deliver what we envision as our greatest self- so why is it that when something doesn’t go as we expect it to go, it is so easy to spontaneously combust over our self judgments? It is so easy to attach to what someone says about us and then to take the flag running into our self inflicted fire.

I have probably watched Charlie Brown fall apart over his disappointing Christmas tree a couple hundred times. Yet every time I watch it I feel great compassion for his character. How many times does Charlie have to stumble upon his belief that he can’t do anything right? How many times do I need to stumble over this same belief system about myself? I sometimes find myself wishing (foolishly!) that I also had an inner tape recorder that released a statement to my mind like a red alert every time I start to go into this story- “Jessica, please take a look at yourself- do you really believe you can’t do anything right?” And the answer would be “YES” from my mind’s point of view. But it is just that, a point of view. And just like all points of view, they can easily be adjusted to create a journey that is more empowering and in line with what you ultimately deserve in this life.

I have full confidence that since I have chosen to accept the part of me that truly believes and lives this belief system every day, “I can’t do anything right,” I will be able to choose something that aligns with my heart. I have lived this work deeply over the past two years, so I know I can trust this process. I now have the choice to feel compassion for the Charlie Brown that lives within me instead of judging him like Lucy or any other of his harsh critics. Life is difficult enough as it is, juggling everyone else’s belief systems and projections. How much easier could my life be if I opened up to what is available from the universe that sees me for who I truly am? Rather than always seeing myself through filters and lenses that are attached to points of view?

Nietzsche has been quoted as saying “There are no facts only interpretations.” Interpretations, opinions, points of view- are they not all the same? My dear friend’s grandfather taught her growing up that one of the most important ways of being in life was silence, to not open your mouth. This is something I look at with the deepest awe. To not respond with an opinion, an interpretation about our behavior, as well as others, gives us the space we need to experience the emotions of being human without sacrificing the truth of who we are. And the truth of who we are is not an interpretation or a limit- it just simply is- bound by nothing, open to the possibilities of the universe.

Because I’m a Pisces!

Because I’m a Pisces!
By: Jessica Burnham

Recently, I was helping my step daughter in her ballet lessons from home. With her competitive nature, comes the desire to always find a way to blame her teacher for bringing her down whenever the going gets tough. I noticed this occur when she first took karate, and now, even with the sport she loves the most, she still does it. In her frustration with a teacher who told her she had not been paying attention, I asked her this question- why aren’t you paying attention? You would think I had just set off a bomb within her mind. Her response was lots of tears and an excuse that I loved- “but I’m a Pisces!”

I was so surprised by her responses! But why should I be surprised? Children are amazing mirrors for us, and they innocently show us the workings of the mind without so much internal manipulation as an adult. Adults are more masterful at hiding their shame and making excuses for themselves. So here was a child already learning different ways to avoid responsibility for not paying attention by actually blaming her inability to pay attention on an astrological tendency.

What?

It brought much laughter to me later. This laughter existing, because we all do it, just in different ways. All of us make up excuses for ourselves in the most complex ways to avoid taking responsibility for our emotions, actions, lack of action, and beyond. Most of the time, we are unaware of it because we have become programmed machines doing it as an automatic response any time we feel discomfort or want to avoid something. How amazing would life be if we could see our selves from the outside perspective, like I could see my step daughter so clearly, and laugh at ourselves rather than allow our mind to hold onto its rationalizations for dear life in pure dramatic form?

Sometimes I think of that scene in the movie Meet the Parents, where Ben Stiller’s character is on the airplane near the end telling the flight attendant that the only way she is going to get his bag from him is if she can take it out of his kung fu grip. His reaction is like the pure manifestation of our mind’s kung fu grip to old belief systems and judgments. How do we obtain the openness and flexibility to be able to confront such a grip on reality? What kind of structures can we place in our life to assist us in seeing ourselves from the observer point of view when we start to go to that place of denial?

In my coaching work with the Ford Institute, one of the ways we do this with ourselves is to write down all of our typical excuses, rationalizations or justifications in advance so we identify what they are from a point of awareness. Once they’re out there, it shifts something and it makes it more difficult to give power to them when we know what we are doing on a whole different level. We recognize as the observer of the mind that this is something we really do; it is not just something someone is telling us they see. There is power in observing from our own awareness. When others tell us what they see, the mind usually reacts discordantly. There may be more resistance, more stress.

From the Buddhist perspective, we have slowly become addicted to the mind’s power and the wheel of karma. There is so much suffering, yet we still engage in the same behaviors that cause us suffering without regard to the deeper consequences- the karmic ones. Reincarnating countless times, until finally our awareness evolves to a level deep enough that we just touch on the surface of enlightenment. Yet our laziness and resignation to the mind’s way of constantly dragging us into the past, into our worries of about the future, and its need to be right pops us in and out what we truly are like a contestant in a pinball game. The lights go on, the noise distracts us, and we give away our power to move in a certain trajectory to wounds that never heal.

Taking the step to acknowledge our weaknesses and make the commitment to become more aware of them is the beginning of liberation. Once we start to question the mind’s addictions and its constant wasting of energy, we start to bring the power back in and see how choice can enliven the soul. The choice to say- I’m not going to react in autopilot today. Let the liberation begin! Namaste.

Knocking on Death’s Door

Knocking on Death’s Door
By: Jessica Burnham

Think not disdainfully on death, but look on it with favor, for even death is one of the things that nature wills.
Marcus Aurelius Antonius, Meditations

The notion of death can be perceived in many ways. Kali the Hindu goddess is deemed the bearer of death and destruction. Many fear the idea of death and destruction that Kali embodies, without thinking about how important it is to our life. Without death and destruction our lives would not be a mirror for our evolution at all. We would remain without growth, enlightenment- and nothing would ever end. We would be living Bill Murray’s life as the eternal weather man in the film Groundhog Day, only it probably wouldn’t be quite that funny.

The great thing about Murray’s character in that film, is that he finally gets sick of trying to die and end everything without ever growing and seeing beyond his self centeredness- and realizes that he has this great opportunity to become something worth living for and for others. Would it not be amazing if we could look at our present life as the eternal Groundhog Day? That this life will continue on after our death, only in another form, and we would still experience the same old crap that we currently experience unless we decide to take hold of this amazing gift and use it for the highest good of all sentient beings?

Grace has given many of us experiences that show us how fleeting our current life is, and the wisdom to take heed. We can choose to use this life to its maximum capacity for our growth as evolving beings, and not only change the world in which we live in- but change the world others live in as well.

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. Mahatma Gandhi
This quote by Mahatma Gandhi says it all. “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” He certainly did, didn’t he? The thing is, we will live forever and if not in this life, or maybe in the next, we will all experience what we are meant to experience- the understanding that every moment is a moment of dying or ending. Only it is not the way our ego perceives dying. It is the end of something completed, only to give rise to the next step, phase, experience; yielding to us the present moment- a moment without attachment to anything in the past or future.

In my coaching work, we are taught to ask this question- what are you willing to risk or give up in order to accomplish your goal. I often think of this as- what are we willing to end? What pattern or addiction that we are attached to keeps us chained to our monkey mind’s demands- and does not provide opportunity for growth and evolution?

In Buddhism, they teach a lot about attachment. I was sitting on a plane returning home after visiting family for the holidays. I was reading a book about anger by Thubten Chodron, a Buddhist nun, and I looked over at my significant other wanting affection. I gave him affection- hoping for some in return and it was not granted. I felt bad inside, but didn’t say anything. Then I looked at my book and began reading again. I immediately came to a paragraph about attachment to relationships, and how they feed an expectation for affection. I laughed inside at how amazing the universe delivers these little tidbits when we need them most.

I chose to look inside myself and say- it is time for me to give up this attachment to this personal relationship, and all others. I can love without attaching my expectations and desires to this person. I made the choice for this addiction to end. And hopefully it will not carry over into the next life, if I can continue with my dedication to let go of my mind’s attachment. It is our attachment that makes death appear so daunting. If we were not attached to anything around us, then the idea of death would seem very simple- wouldn’t it? The fear of destruction would end- because change would be okay.

Think about it- this psychology- the fear of ending the fear of something ending. I know that sounds confusing at first- but it is a reality. How many of us really are afraid of ending the attachment to what fear does for us? What does your fear do for you? How does it give you the opportunity to hold onto things that you’ve outgrown? It is like having a co-dependant relationship with your inner demon. This co-dependant relationship is what creates our perceptual hell. Many people are afraid of death, because they don’t know what will happen after they die. But the truth is, we never know what will happen from moment to moment. All we can do is continue our evolution by letting go of our attachment to the fear of the unknown, what some people call death or destruction.