Chutes & Ladders

“No matter what one believes in, there is something wonderful about blessing things.” -Kathleen Norris

One of the games I played with my sister as a kid was Chutes and Ladders. For those unfamiliar, its a simple board game where you hit the spinner to move x number of spaces up the board to win. Sometimes you land on a ladder which would allow you to take a shortcut and move up even higher than what you’d spun. Other times, you’d land on a chute (or slide really) that caused you to lose ground. As I recall, one of us would throw a fit if we hit too many chutes in one game… I don’t recall who it was. It’s not important. He was good kid, overall. 😉

This childhood game came to mind today as I sat in the chair today for my fourth chemotherapy treatment. I’ve been thinking about how much we can manipulate our environment with small things that have huge impact. Bringing people/things ‘up’ and bringing people/things ‘down’.

One of my favorite little games in the hospital (compulsions?) is to make the nursing staff laugh. Chemotherapy isn’t a carnival of lollipops and sunshine. People DO NOT LIKE being poisoned. I watch these medical professionals have to deal with a lot of scared, depressed, anxious, frustrated, and sometimes just plain angry people. No doubt there are exceptions to this, but I often notice that folks tend to at least be fairly somber. Hats off to the nurses who in spite of it all, face each day with a smile and greet patients with joy and positivity. I’m looking at you Megan Prentice! 😉

I made a decision early on that no matter what, I was going to stay positive. I knew there would be rough days. There have been many! But there is always a choice to how we perceive things, and I’ve decided to bring my best optimism to my cancer journey. The fun part is noticing that you can change the atmosphere of an entire room just by speaking positive words.

It made me remember that epic book by Don Miguel Ruiz, THE FOUR AGREEMENTS.

Agreement number 1 is “Always be impeccable with your Word”. Now, at first glance, you can assume this means the old axiom of letting your yes be yes and your no be no. Like “do what you promised” and such.

That’s good advice, and I’ll admit that’s part of what Ruiz gets at, but its so much more. In that chapter he talks about how the words we speak have power. They are literally like blessings and curses. Reminds me so much of all the verses in many sacred traditions about the power of the tongue and how we direct our language. No matter your tradition, you’ll find the sages of that tradition imploring you to watch your tongue.

The Hebrew Bible speaks of God creating all that is by speaking.

The Christian Gospel of John explains “the Word” as the Ultimate creative principle that called the Universe forth.

Hinduism takes this a layer deeper by suggesting that even beyond words, sound itself is powerful,  “by sound vibration, one becomes liberated.”

And I love this Zen precept: “Whatever a monk keeps pursuing with his thinking and pondering, that becomes the inclination of his awareness”

Which gave way to this Chinese proverb:
“Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words.
Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions.
Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.
Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.
Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.”

**************************************************************************

One of my favorite phrases has been attributed to many authors as well as philosophers including Heschel and Wittgenstein. It is the phrase;

“WORDS CREATE WORLDS”

Here is how Dr. Tarragona at Wholebeing Institute describes the power of our words,

“A representational conception of language rests on the premise that there is an objective reality that we perceive, and words can capture and transmit it just as it is, like a mirror would. A constructive conception of language posits that words don’t represent the world objectively, but rather, to a large extent, create our experience, as if they were lenses or filters. Some thinkers (sometimes called “hard constructionists”) believe this is true for all reality, even the physical world. Others, “soft constructionists,” propose that what language builds or creates is the meaning that we attribute to our experiences.”

 I’d have to agree with the constructive conception. We create our reality by the way we describe it. Ask any behavioral therapist or for that matter, any 1st grade teacher… We literally cast spells of blessing or curses on the psyches of children that begin to shape them in profound ways. This is why I am so passionate about what passes for “Orthodox Christian Doctrine” being so damaging to the world. Teaching young children that they are sinners and God should send them to hell (by nature of being born human!) unless they can convince themselves to believe – beyond a doubt – in a metaphysical truth claim that cannot be objectively verified… sheesh. But that’s another topic for another blog post.

Bottom line, our words are packed with power.

They can be used to liberate or dominate.
They can be used to heal or hurt.
They can be used to amuse or abuse.
They can be used to inspire or incite.
They can be used to create or destroy.

“Those who pooh-pooh the lethal power of words are forgetting the horrific results of deadly orators such as Hitler and Mussolini. History is replete with examples of political leaders who used their words to incite hatred, start wars and lead their people to commit genocide.” – BJ Gallagher

This is why there are those people in your life who after being around them, you just feel ‘drained’. Like they suck the life right out of you. The way they ‘create worlds’ is desolate and lifeless. Like the “Nothing” from The Neverending Story. Many religious traditions and spiritual modalities use vibrational language. Positive, life-giving energies being of the higher vibrational frequencies and the lower-end vibrations being negative, soul sucking, and depressing.

Our friend Carly posted the other day about another mom at a restaurant coming over as she left to tell Carly what a wonderful mother she was because of how loved her boys are. She posted a beautiful short essay on how it burst her heart open and I loved how it inspired her to share the love and encouragement with others. THAT. LADY. WAS. A. HEALER. That is wisdom. That is truth.

On the other side of the spectrum, another friend of ours posted that while shopping at Target, her son was crying (like our kids do!) and some random lady came over and gave her a verbal lashing about her son and her parenting. As if being a mom isn’t hard enough! Good grief!  I was relieved to see our friend getting positive support from her community.

Make note: nothing is more contagious than human emotions.

But GOOD NEWS!! You don’t have to fall prey to that or those kinds of people anymore. You can stop being a safe harbor for their negative anti-matter. You can resist the gravitational pull of their black hole of negativity. And you can do this by cultivating what St Paul called “higher mind”. At its most basic, this is simply the choice to stop AGREEING with the worlds that people are creating. Their reality doesn’t have to be yours.

“He is most powerful who has power over himself”-Seneca

Again, here’s Don Miguel Ruiz, “Attention is the ability we have to discriminate and to focus only on that which we want to perceive. We can perceive millions of things simultaneously, but using our attention, we can hold whatever we want to perceive in the foreground of our mind.”

Energy Intuitive and Reiki master, Marie Manuchehri talks about curiosity as a high vibrational energy. Simply pausing to ask open-ended and positive “what if?” questions in the middle of the onslaught of low vibrational energy can open us up to creating worlds that LIFT us and keep us in healing and healthy modes of being. What if this person attacking me is really hurting right now? What if this layoff is the beginning of the best season of my career so far? What if the loss of this friendship is freeing me up make time for friends who inspire me? What if this cancer is part of waking me up to a deeper dimension of my life?

We can cultivate positivity and higher vibrational energy when we invest time and attention by making space for seeing, imagining and hoping in the good, the true and the beautiful.

Ruiz again, “You will only receive a negative idea if your mind is fertile ground for that idea.”

Many of us know this intuitively and have even taken time to “weed” the garden of our relationships as to remove from constant contact, those people who simply bring us down over and over. To stop arguing and fighting with those who want to set up camp in the land of hopelessness and fear and anxiety and let them have their own journey so we can move on into spending time with life-giving people, places and activities. This saves us from using the soil of our life for negative people to grow their world in ours.

I love my friend and mentor, Rob Bell’s advice below on using imaginative prayer to ground yourself and to create boundaries when you identify toxic relationships and environments for yourself…

“Imagine yourself rooted and established in love…If you are surrounded by small and brittle and narrow and petty voices, stop listening to them. If you are part of a group or community that sucks the life out of you, stop going. If you have someone who keeps telling you all of the ways you’re not whatever they think you should be, kindly tell them that you have heard them and it is now time for them to cease their chatter.”

The truth about our personal power is that the way we CHOOSE to perceive our life and the words we choose to speak over it, and toward others are packed with potentialities. The future is an infinite field of possibilities and our lives and psyches remain open to shaping every moment.

We can decide here and now whether we want to be a ladder in the lives of people or a chute. Will we lift up, elevate, heal, encourage, liberate and speak life into others? Lets push this aspiration even further! What if we not only took the active posture of speaking words of life, but what if we became shamans who transmute the negativity into positivity. Or to use St Paul’s phrase, let us “overcome evil with good.” Let us absorb the hateful spewing of religious fundamentalists and trade back peace. Let us hear with grounded love the anxiety of the lady at target and respond with patience. Let us be misunderstood, misrepresented and maligned and refuse to return with anything less than faith, love and hope.

This is why I adore the metaphor of the crucifixion as the final shamanic act of Jesus. Before you freak out, read the text! Jesus performs miraculous healings, resurrections and exorcisms. He alters the weather, communicates with other dimensional spirits, the Apostle’s Creed has him traveling to the realm of the dead, and the Gospels record him being continually accused of being a sorcerer!

People ignorant of shamanism struggle to get past the stereotype of a shaman ONLY being a Native American medicine man or woman or an African witch doctor, but shamanic consciousness is transcultural, community-centric, and its purpose is to bring healing and wholeness to an individual or (and certainly more often) a group. They are mediators who connect the community to Spirit. Hello!!!!!

Caring and curing is the work of the Shaman. I can hardly imagine a more beautiful way of describing the ministry of Jesus. The Jesus who preached abundant life for individuals and communities – yes even the whole world!

To read the story of the cross, what you see is horrific hatred and violence being inflicted upon Jesus and what does he do but offer mercy, grace, forgiveness and love to his torturers. With not only deed, but word(s). He prays a prayer of forgiveness over them. Knowing they are only doing their best from their level of consciousness. “…for they know not what they do.”

This is the impossible, unmistakable and undeniable power of self-transcendent love. The kind of love, my friends, that will heal the world. The kind of love that we need right now.

And you don’t necessarily have to die a brutal violent death to follow in the footsteps of this Jesus. But you will have to crucify your ego in order to become a “ladder” for others to climb out of their depression, their hatred, their fear, or their hopelessness. You may even end up a scapegoat for their own inner brokenness. If you follow the Jesus path, so be it.

Ladders offer their strength to others so they may take an energetic short cut on the magic carpet of your higher vibrational mode of being.

Don’t be a chute anymore. Stop lowering your awareness and spreading the malaise and distrust and fear. Don’t be fertile ground for small-minded petty squabbles and and don’t fall for the war drums of tribal or nationalistic hatred of the ‘other’.

Be a ladder.

Spread hope and love and faith and joy and laughter. Not because life is easy,
but precisely because it ISN’T!!!

I choose to be a ladder.
I won’t always succeed.
But this is my aim.
I invite you to join me.

Let’s let Don Miguel Ruiz send us away with this Benediction:

“Just imagine what you can create with impeccability of the word. With the impeccability of the word you can transcend the dream of fear and live a different life. You can live in heaven in the middle of thousands of people living in hell because you are immune to that hell. You can attain the kingdom of heaven from this one agreement: Be impeccable with your word.”

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