knowing, growing, becoming
Rainbow Thunderbolt: Catalytic Keys
by Gary T. McCabe
Driving down a local highway one early afternoon, I rounded a bend to find the few cars on the road slowing to a near stop. Every driver was looking up. There, framing the valley, shining magnificently, was an enormous double rainbow! Suddenly, a tremendous multipronged thunderbolt, flashed through it. Overwhelming awe stopped my mind. I felt an inner knowing that it was a profound sign. For me, it perfectly symbolized the long-prophesied time of great quickening and simultaneous movement toward harmony.
There is no doubt that humanity has reached a pivotal moment. It’s as if the world is knowing itself for the first time. Some old ways and traditions have great value but may no longer work for current problems. New paradigms, attitudes and technologies may be more appropriate. Perhaps we need a blend of both. In any case, there is no question that we are clearly in need of solutions. Are there universally applicable principles which embrace yet transcend all cultures? Principles which don’t require years of discipleship or intense study to understand? After decades of searching, I’d like to share “hidden secrets in plain sight” or “catalytic keys”. Like the thunderbolt, they can cut through the chaos of these times.
Most of what I have written here is my synopsis of practical teachings I learned from a spiritual “channel". I know that sounds really weird to many but if you can keep an open mind, you may be surprised.
I believe these keys can place you firmly on a path to expansive living. Of course, this is my limited understanding of a small fraction of a body of work that spans decades. I’ve liberally used my poetic license which I hope is not revoked.
This essay will discuss the need for discernment, the role and power of choice and the use of clear intention and purpose on a daily basis. Then we’ll turn attention to ethics and assumptions before examining the catalytic keys of participation, interaction, exploration, creation and co-creation.
According to The American Heritage Dictionary, discernment is, “the act or process of exhibiting keen insight and good judgment.” Since we are all raised with conditioning and bias to one degree or another, it takes honest effort to cultivate discernment. Consider the process of becoming a connoisseur in any field. It is a careful cultivation of nuanced differentiation with less opinionated bias. This is crucial now because we are inundated with more information and sensory input than ever before. It seems that everyone and everything wants our energy and attention. Where do we put our precious time and energy? Without the ability to discern, overload and burnout can easily become the effect of modern living. This is complicated by the fact that we are attracted to “bright and shiny objects” like the newest technology.
Discernment can be intellectual, emotional, energetic, relational or even at the level of personal identity. Discerning what is true, important or relevant, what our issues are and aren’t is more vital than ever. For example, is it appropriate for us to say something to a rude person or not? Are we reacting out of fear or our absolute idea of how it “should be? Are we acting from an ethical choice or understanding that it is not our issue right now?
Being absolute or narrow-minded shuts down discernment. We see this today with the political arena being so polarized. It is easier to have the “my way or the highway” approach to our beliefs and thought processes but it is emotionally lazy to do so.
The Balanced Self
“I said: I’d like to be more spiritual so doesn’t that mean that I need to be more selfless?
The answer I received was surprising. He said: You are actually too selfless. I will explain with a story:
There is a cactus plant with only a few needles on it. Any predator can come along and take a big bite out of its essence. That is like being too self-less.
Another one is densely covered with long sharp needles but has a flower close to its skin. Anyone who tries to get too close gets pierced. That is like being too self-ish.
Then there is a most wondrous cactus whose thorns protect its essence but its flower extends beyond the needles so that everyone can enjoy it. That is like “Selfing” (the balanced Self) and that is what you get to learn.
When you are too Selfless or too Selfish, you eventually become invisible. When you are too self-less you feel like a doormat until one day you get fed up and swing towards being too self-ish.
Now that you are aware, the transformation towards Self-ing, is already happening. You can’t go back to being unaware.”
(My dear friend, Prissy Hamilton, wrote a wonderful children’s book on bullying titled The Three Cacti, based on this story.)
We have more choices than ever before. Fifty years ago, most Americans ate and drank similar things. When I ordered a “regular coffee” back in the day anywhere in North Jersey, it was understood to have whole milk and two white sugars. Today, a high maintenance Starbucks customer may order a Caramel Macchiato, Venti, Skim, Extra Shot, Extra Hot, Extra Whip, Sugar Free beverage.
A trip to the supermarket or a click on Amazon confirms changing palates and world- wide influences. We have access to every kind of diet, supplement and once rare herbs. Interdependence is an irrefutable fact of life. This becomes more evident when we consider how the exponential speed of technology, record population growth and depleting resources are transforming the human landscape. Our individual choices affect the collective more than ever. Honing our discernment will help us deal with all of the important choices in life individually and collectively.
I believe it was a class given decades ago in which “The Storyteller”, stated that we have three choices:
1). choose to do something
2). choose to not do something
3). choose to let life choose for us.
The worst choice is the one made from fear. Why is choice so important? Feeling like you have no choice is anxiety and stress provoking while knowing you are choosing and consciously making that choice, is self-empowering.
I often wonder why many who have been raised by this idea still feel and act like victims, especially “in the land of the free”. After all, can’t we choose to be different at any moment? Can’t we choose to change our routines, thoughts or conditioning?
Yes…., but how many do?
There are forces that would like to make you choose what they want for their benefit. Right now, data mining your digital footprint has reached unprecedented levels. Major companies have poured enormous sums of money into researching exactly how to most effectively use this information. Even the content you see on your PC is tailored to your online history. In effect, we are increasingly surrounded by scams and con artists. Choose vigilance!
The Power of Words
Our choice of words has a pervasive impact on ourselves and others. How often do you use “should” when speaking or when thinking about your own actions? What is a “should” besides a judgmental statement? What happens when you substitute “could”? Notice how different it sounds and feels to say “you could” or think, “I could” instead. Here is another common example: how often do you say “I can’t” when you really mean, “I will not”?
If you start thinking about all the things you have to do, it can become stressful very quickly. When you do, notice your physical reaction to that thought. See if you can change the perspective from “I have to” to “I get to”. You don’t have to but you get to. If you let that sink in, you'll notice the difference in your body. If you think about it, most things are a “get to” as long as we are “above the ground”!
Would you rather just react or be able to respond? Some people think they have no choice but reaction. But as you get older it is easy to see that many things which once triggered you, no longer do. With reaction you jump into automatic mode and may regret your actions. There is wisdom in taking a moment to pause, breathe and reassess. This simple choice can turn you or the situation around.
Ethics and Assumptions
When I studied Cultural Anthropology, I learned that ethnocentrism is judging other cultures from the standards of your own. You can easily be ethnocentric and never even realize it. There was a period when social sciences were attempting to legitimize themselves as real science. Science is supposed to be objective yet how can human beings be objective when it comes to studying themselves? It was posited that the very lens we are looking through is already distorted. Since, being a “participant observer” was one of the primary methodologies used to study other cultures, some made efforts to become more objective. Many did not, and their bias was evident. My mentor, Dr. AKB Pillai, devised an extensive model for understanding and diminishing “culture-boundedness, religion-boundedness , ego- boundedness” and other forms of conditioning. He believed the journey to this clear seeing was very similar to what an authentic spiritual practitioner goes through to attain liberation.
Our assumptions may not reflect reality. Are your assumptions based on outdated models of science, prejudice, or low information? What about your subconscious motives and how you believe the world works? For example, do you think you created the life you live today? Was it really all you? We live in a “me” culture that worships the singular hero. Yet, the reality is that most things involve co-creation. Someone taught you how to talk and think in the context of relationships.
Assumptions from our early conditioning may not feel right until we choose to consciously examine them. When we do, we might discard some and embrace others. This aspect of choosing ethics and living by them is part of the autonomy of becoming a responsible adult.
Studies have shown (Amy Cuddy, Presence), that when people are given the task to write the core values they truly embody, their self-value, confidence and positive outlook all improve more than if they engaged in positive self-talk. Becoming clear on core values helped them prioritize and make self -empowering choices.
When we celebrate our freedom to choose and learn to choose wisely, we honor the precious gift of human life.
Clear Purpose and Intention
When you think of purpose, do you automatically think of the purpose of your life? Many people get stuck for years trying to figure that out. I know I did. Purpose is more general than intention but it doesn’t just have to be about life purpose. Your purpose may be to find a job but your intention may be to find one that is enjoyable yet challenging. If we bring the focus of both purpose and intention into, “‘one day at a time” or even one hour at a time, it is easier to use discernment and the power of choice to take your next step. If this is done with a sense of empowerment even the smallest step expands who you are, like the hiker who is in an entirely new place with each step. When you intentionally choose in alignment with your purpose, you gain strength and diminish chaos. A clear intention and purpose, without excuses or justification, is a powerful tool. When you choose to take steps that are truly yours to take, it is worth repeating, even the smallest step expands your life. The key is to feel that expansion and celebrate it rather than judging yourself for not taking a bigger step or not reaching your goal sooner.
A crucial distinction to keep in mind is that you can become overly focused on exactly how something will turn out and lose the flow of possibility. Clear purpose and intention while being open to outcomes is a better option than needing your exact picture.
Keys to Fulfillment
There are universal keys to fulfillment and growth. They are:
Participate, Interact, Explore, Create and Co-create.
When these are implemented, your life will be transformed.
Participation. It is important to realize that participation is not about being busy or how what you do looks to anyone else. There is a passion to participating that can be felt. That sense of involvement is what draws you in. Let’s say there is a participation scale which goes from interested on the low end to passionately participating at the high end. Starting wherever you are, you can increase your level of participation.
In my early 20’s, long before Yoga was popular in America, I heard there was an extraordinary Master who was offering a ten-day Yoga Retreat. I decided to jump in, not really knowing what it entailed. Having read, “Be Here Now” by Ram Dass, I choose to be fully present and participate 100%.
The first rude awakening was that they didn’t serve coffee, the second was that their day started at 4am!
Each day was filled with hours of yoga asanas, breathing techniques, devotional chanting, ecstatic dancing and deep meditation. I even opted for the three-day watermelon fast. My body became more and more limber. My mind clarified and my spirit soared. That retreat and the decision to fully immerse myself- changed my life.
If you recall some of the more rewarding experiences of your life,
you’ll understand the kind of participation I am talking about. Please take a moment to think of something you did that seemed unimportant to others but not you. Whether it was walking a labyrinth, trying unusual cuisine, or Rock climbing, can you remember your sense of delight? What it looks like on the outside doesn’t matter at all. Sometimes, I get an enormous rush of sublime feelings from a Tai Chi movement done very slowly. In some cases, participation might appear more passive, in others, extremely active. The take away is yours either way.
Interaction can be everything from initiating a good morning smile with a stranger to intimacy with your romantic partner. Again, you can move from less involvement to much more. There are many interactions which can be intense, besides those of a romantic or sexual nature, like playing music, team sports, research or work projects. Learning how to interact in a positive way is essential to our humanity. At a primal level, we are social animals. We need relationships and intimacy to be healthy. Research has shown that actual face time is much more important than electronic device time.
I was a shy kid in school and was terrified to be called on in the classroom. I was introverted in those situations but fortunately
had the freedom to play and cavort with neighborhood friends after school. Nevertheless, in most new social settings, I didn’t feel comfortable.
Fast forward to college. My Cultural Anthropology Professor and mentor skillfully nurtured my intellectual curiosity and ability to express insights in the classroom. During this period, I went through my worst fear during a presentation. I completely froze in front of a live audience and was unable to speak for what seemed like eternity. Thankfully, I managed to break through that cold sweat with the support I felt. When I began to accompany Dr. Pillai in field study, exploring what he termed “the fabric of human relationships”, my worldview really shifted. He had an amazing ability to quickly get people to open up and reveal their innermost thoughts and feelings. In Denmark and Sweden, while having a strategic part in interview after interview with incredibly honest and open people, I actually felt something like an energetic bubble of defensiveness burst in me. It was an explosion of unfettered joy! I experienced the beauty of authentic interaction and intimacy at a deep visceral level.
Exploration is what we do naturally as children until we are told not to! Kids are always getting into things. Exploration is vital for every kind of development. Science has proven the importance of diversity and adaptation in everything from brain health and regeneration to physical fitness. It seems that people typically forget this as they get older, settling for routine and convenience.
When you explore, you are excited, effortlessly in the moment and alert. It could be anything from scholarly research to meeting new people to an adventurous trek. When your exploration includes participation and interaction, it has an even greater power and effect.
One day, while eating at a local Chinese Restaurant, I noticed a waitress whose poise and graceful carriage encouraged me to ask if she happened to know anyone who taught Kung Fu. I was interested in a little-known style and asked, if by chance, she had heard of a good teacher of Baguazhang. As fate would have it, she said she studied with a Master of this very style in New York’s Chinatown. She gave me her teacher’s number. Even though I took a bus to a train, then walked 15 blocks, I decided that it could be fun to explore. It was. I ended up studying with this teacher for over five years, learning several Taoist arts and having some wonderful adventures.
Seeking vs Exploring
I sought, found and studied with Yogi’s, Masters, Mystics, Shamans, Healers and teachers of human potential for over 30 years. I was a serious seeker who wanted to know the truth of life and experience “Enlightenment”, hoping it was a perpetual state.
I found that there are just as many absolutes in new age, spiritual and philosophical circles as there are anywhere else. Eventually, I realized that all my seeking had a sense of lack tied to it. Exploration replaced seeking and continual expansion replaced some idealized, static enlightenment. Everything, even loss, can be seen as adding to you, expanding who you are.
At some point, after achieving a semblance of emotional balance, I became aware that my essence is already naturally peaceful and happy. The trick was to notice this presence by being open and quiet enough to feel it when I could. Having a more peaceful center along with an explorer’s mindset, has made it easier to neutralize some of the struggle in life by seeing everything as part of the journey.
Creation used in the context of this formula doesn’t refer to creating art, music or literature exclusively. It refers to the expansive feelings you get from anything you do by choice. It can be a conversation, a non-verbal communication or even how you choose to regard yourself right now. By choosing to exercise this ability you release the feeling of being a victim, powerless and hopeless. It is extremely empowering to know and use your abilities to create your moment, your life.
I took a Creative writing class in college to fill some prerequisites.
When our Professor indicated we could all be poets, I didn’t think it was possible. Even if it was, I really wasn’t that interested. In describing our homework assignment, he told us to think of an intense emotion and hold that feeling while writing freely to express it with no editing of any kind. He said: just let the feelings flow onto the page. When I did that, for the first time in my life, a floodgate of creativity gushed through words. I stared at the page in amazement, feeling tremendously liberated. In that moment, I realized that creation is not about what anyone else thinks.
Co-creation is where we really accelerate the fun. There is an energy to co-creation that is sometimes very palpable. Those who are sensitive to this dimension talk about energy fields, auras, Qi, devas, spirit etc. Everyone can agree that emotions are felt so it is unnecessary to sense “energy” to co-create and enjoy the result.
It is simply creating with others. Finding a clear purpose and a common want is the foundation. After that, the sky is not even the limit.
Most experienced high school teachers will probably agree that each graduating class has a unique character and perhaps even, a kind of energy. I know that was true with my class. I went to a strict Catholic High School 1967-71. We all had to wear uniforms; a white shirt and tie for boys; a plaid dress and white blouse for girls. An Irish Catholic Monsignor was in charge. Nuns still wore habits.
Our class was loaded with talented athletes. The football team was excellent every year and undefeated Senior year. We also had a girl’s Intermural basketball team which had mascots, a theme and a great deal of buzz. We won the “Spirit” award all four years. The whole school had tremendous spirit so we had to really raise to roof to win. It was an unbelievable experience to be part of the all-out cheering for those events.
All in all, we had our share of problem kids but the group dynamic was powerful. We got away with pushing the limits and changing the dress code every year. By the time we were Seniors, boys wore dungarees and flannel shirts with no tie. Girls wore shorter and shorter skirts. Was it just the changing times? After all, nuns “kicked their habits” during the same period. It turns out that the year after we left, they reinstated the old dress code and uniforms.
When have you co-created? It doesn’t require a large group, just one other person. Play is one form of co-creation we are all familiar with. Wouldn’t it be nice to play more? There are so many creative ways to be co-creative.
Notice that no money in any form is needed to use these inherent gifts (participation, interaction, exploration, creation and co-creation= PIECCO). They are free and natural expressions of being human. In fact, I would argue that the appropriate use of these keys are the new “coins of the realm”. They can transform the world and happen to be deeply satisfying….Soul satisfying.
How can these elements work and add value to your life? Let’s say one day you come across information about a plant that is reputed to have almost miraculous health-giving properties. Your interest is piqued. You start to study everything you can about this intriguing plant and the myths surrounding it. In your excitement, you begin talking to others about it. Your knowledge and enthusiasm grow each day. You find that people from Colombia have long held it in the highest regard. As you talk to more Columbians, you begin to establish friendships. You become more connected to their culture and language. Turns out someone knows someone’s Aunt who used this plant as part of a remedy and they are going to the Amazon to collect more. To your delight, you are invited. Next thing you know, you are trekking through the Amazon completely enthralled. What started as interest became passionate participation, interaction, exploration, creation and co-creation because you had a purpose and took appropriate steps of action along the way. You can also see that interaction and exploration fed back into the participation. Delving more and more deeply into each of these elements can have a synergistic effect. Synchronicities often become much more common.
The example given is easy to understand, however, applying these keys doesn’t have to be exotic, extreme or separate from daily living. The art is how you uniquely weave them into this day. The more you do, the more abundant, free and fulfilled you are because you realize that you already have everything required for a life of joyful expansion. When you are living them, they will immediately add a sense of aliveness to your life. Of course, discernment is needed to apply them in a balanced way while keeping agreements made in relationships.
If you are “going through the motions” of a dead-end job, you can still begin to apply PIECCO while shifting perspective. Reframing your job in terms of the larger purpose it serves or as a stepping stone to your passion will give you a different feeling about it. If you are already participating and interacting, adding exploration, creation and co-creation as often as you can, will result in larger shifts. For example, how can you respond to someone in a way that is not just cliché? Can you go beyond that response to more interested conversation? What are you really interested in that you’d like to explore? You might have to take an emotional risk to do so, like going to a dance class or workshop alone. If you can convince someone else to take the risk with you, that might even be more interesting. When you play with all these elements more frequently, you realize how they can change you and all relationships.
To the discerning mind there are signs that society is slowly starting to embrace these catalytic keys. There was a time when everyone who participated in a passion might have looked a certain way, dressed similarly or were part of the same ethnic or socio-economic group. Consider the predominately white, middle class, long haired, vegetarian leaning, liberal hippie Yoga practitioners of the 70’s. Now you find Yoga practitioners of every ethnicity, religion, race, economic status and gender. They could be meat eaters, vegan or anywhere in between. The point here is that their passion binds them. Their participation is the unifying force. This is becoming more and more true for all kinds of pursuits. Tai Chi, Dance, Zumba, Yoga and the Olympics are good examples.
There are so many elements I’ve discussed which need detailed explanation. This is why I offer personal training to implement these principles in your unique circumstance. For example, I mentioned the concept of “Selfing” or the balanced Self in the story about the cacti but how can you create a balanced life in detail? How can you live with more satisfaction and harmony during these transitional times?
Everything I teach, from Acupressure to Qigong, Tai Chi and holistic wellness, is informed by this philosophy.
Participation, Interaction, Exploration, Creation and Co-creation are the external elements. The internal elements of living a more fulfilling, free life have to do with shedding light on your fears, conditioning and defensiveness. But that is a story for another time.