Spiritual nourishment, personal reflections, and meditations for turbulent times from a much-loved self-help authorIn these 20 short chapters, Karen Casey explores what matters most about loss, unconditional love, security, surrender, powerlessness, peace, strength, and fear. Each chapter touches on how her own commitment to a spiritual path has had the greatest influence on her life’s direction.
- It's only within our relationships that we heal.
- Wherever we are is where we are meant to be.
- Every loving thought is true.
- Our lessons keep calling to us until we surrender to them.
- Those who share our journey are our teachers.
- It is our thoughts that cause us pain.
- Forgiveness is the key to a peaceful life.
Karen shares her personal experience with honesty and compassion. Her writing can help us make sense of our own lives and travel farther down our own spiritual path.
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Value Your Relationships
It's only within our relationships that we heal. This seems so obvious, doesn't it? In isolation, we are not faced with encounters of any kind, particularly those we deem unwanted. Living solitary lives seems safe. We feel protected, shielded. No one can hurt us. Many of us choose isolation all too often rather than confront the fear of being with others — any others. Even in instances when we have to cross paths with someone at work or on the street — even with acquaintances — many of us have developed clever ways to shield our vulnerability.
We can recognize this behavior in others as well. At times, it seems endemic. Perhaps social media has contributed to this ever-present condition. But we can't escape the truth that wounds — anyone's wounds — will not heal, cannot heal, unless we allow the "balm" of the presence of others to touch us, to comfort us. The doorway to relationship must be opened. Initially, it may only be propped open, and that's okay. But, as we prop open our own doors, we show others how to prop open theirs as well. Seeing others dare to be open shows us what is possible.
When I review the first four decades of my life, even though I wasn't physically isolated from others, I now see that I never embraced relationships, of any kind, as the gift they were. I separated myself even while in the presence of others. I stood aside. I vehemently maintained my position apart — both by choice and by the feeling of exclusion.
Prior to my life as a recovering woman, whenever I was with or simply around someone else, it was always about getting something — generally something that would make me feel valued. Not so invisible. I always made this necessary trade-off in my mind. Always. It didn't even feel like a conscious decision. "Do something for me and just perhaps I'll reciprocate." It was simply the way I navigated through life.
I did this for so many years that it became second nature; it was "me." So I can all too easily recognize the signs when others are navigating through their own lives in much the same way. Scared, hurt people are always looking for signs of acceptance. And just as often, these scared, hurt people don't even recognize the signs because they (we) are so self-absorbed.
Is it strange that so many of us choose to live at arm's length from one another? I think not. Often, our families of origin didn't prepare us for healthy relationships. Using my own family as an example, there was constant tension between my parents that sowed tension throughout our household. We tiptoed around emotions that were always just under the surface, except when my dad's anger erupted. And this became a way of life.
Never seeing honest expressions of love and acceptance at home set the stage for me never knowing how to model that behavior. Actually, I'm embarrassed to say that, far into adulthood, I wasn't particularly conscious of the value of these expressions or of their necessity to the human community or to myself. We don't know what we don't know, and not seeing good role models makes an indelible mark on us.
But we can't continue this practice of always distancing ourselves, of withholding who we have a chance of becoming, if we want to grow, to mature emotionally, to find the joy coupled with love that is inherent in the many thousands of encounters that wear our names. And that's the all- important key: Our encounters with others wear our names. This is what being willing to shift how we see and then embrace all relationships — those that are significant as well as those that are fleeting — can offer us. This is where we need to fix our attention. It's within these experiences that we find our true purpose. And that purpose is now, and always has been, to heal and show others that they can heal too.
If only I had known this as a young woman. If you are fortunate, you may perhaps already share this view. And yet I believe, now, that we learn what we need to know at the perfect time in our evolution. And acquiring this information at any time, saves time. We need not be troubled about our journeys — how they meander, how we often stumble because of our confusion — if only we remember: "Ah, yes, this truly is as it should be." We will always get where we need to be. Always. We will always learn what we need to learn. Always. The time it takes isn't what matters. It's our willingness that matters.
This may seem like an oversimplification of our relationships. It's certainly not how I looked at them for the first forty years of my life. In fact, initially, even after realizing this central truth, I couldn't fully embrace it. Too many individuals came rushing into my mind who could not all have been necessary learning partners. Not really. Could they? The relative who sexually abused me? The colleague who introduced me to street drugs? The series of strangers who found their way into my bed at the height of my alcoholic madness? Indeed, now I know that they did all have their place in the tapestry I was "instructed" to weave. And I am at peace with each episode, each thread of this tapestry. At peace, at last.
The good news is that the meaning of so many life experiences does change, does become transformed, if and when we are willing to open our minds to new information and new ways of understanding what happened earlier. And this paves the way for our willingness to be transformed again and again, even in the midst of what may be on our horizons right now. Today, I became open. Hallelujah. I hope you are moving in that direction as well.
How I see each relationship now, regardless of how fleeting it may be, is 180 degrees different from how I used to see every one of them. The clerks at the supermarket, the crew mowing the lawn, the UPS delivery man all represent opportunities for me to express attentiveness, acceptance, and kindness. All are necessary experiences in the process of healing each and every relationship.
And the long-standing relationships that I consider significant beyond question allow me to hone the characteristics I was born to embody. Knowing to the depths of my toes that no encounter, even those I have labeled as fleeting, is superfluous to my journey — that no one dances across the screen of my life without a reason — gives me a sense of quiet well-being. Wherever "we" are, regardless of the scenario, is a necessary thread making its contribution to my tapestry. This is a universal truth that can be celebrated by all of us. The tapestry we each are weaving is evidence of our commitment to healing.
Relationships exist for the benefit of both or all parties concerned. "Benefit" is the operative word here. A relationship is not owned by either party, but is rather the link that encourages growth for both people. Actually, it's more far-reaching than that. Every person touched by each party in the relationship can be a beneficiary as well. That idea was beyond my ability to grasp for decades. My insecurities, which were significant, pushed me to cling ever so fearlessly to the partner I'd taken as my hostage, and then attempt to control that person's most minute movements so I'd never be left to fend for myself. I feared abandonment so much that I inadvertently triggered the very thing I feared by myincessant need to put a stranglehold on him, no matter who he was.
I revered relationships for all the wrong reasons. I assumed they were for my sole benefit, my security. From my first serious relationship in high school into the early years of my current marriage, I clung, and clung tightly, lest I be discarded for the next skirt that crossed the room before my partner's eyes. The notion that we had work to do, that our coming together was for a far larger purpose than the one my ego had imagined, was beyond my comprehension. And yet all the "mistakes" I made along the way didn't really throw my journey off course. Detours are normal. Destinations are inviolate. All our lessons are necessary — sometime, someplace.
It has become like a breath of fresh air for me to embrace the idea that my particular lessons will seek me out — if not in one relationship, then in another. Thus the entire meaning of relationships and how they are meant to serve us and humanity has changed significantly for me as I have aged and matured emotionally.
When I began thinking about the underlying topics for this book — the truths that I had come to rely on — I admit that I wasn't sure if they would ring true for others. But being willing to sit and listen has begun to offer me the confidence I needed. I can't promise these truths will satisfy all readers; I can only promise that my own life has been healed as I've grown to embrace them.
This is much like the direction we receive from the God of our understanding on any one day of our lives. Our willingness to listen is what is necessary. Nothing more than that. But nothing less either. I wasn't a listener in my youth. Nor did I listen very attentively even in the early years of my recovery. My own ego was far too loud, far too busy trying to direct my life and everyone else's as well. It hasn't entirely quit, even now. And it probably never will. But now it takes a back seat far more often than it did earlier in my life.
And I do know that what I am here to learn and do relies on my willingness to listen to the quieter voice in my mind, the one that made the pact with each person on my path. I also know that the primary assignment with each one of these encounters is to listen to that voice, to be attentive and kind and open to whatever information has found its way to me.
That relationships have often been the bane of our existence, as well as necessary teaching tools, should give all of us a moment's pause. We have needed every one of them — those that hurt, regardless of the depth of the wound, right along with those that were joy-filled. When we are in the midst of a relationship experience, we can never decide its value to us now or in the future. All we can know for certain is that it has come because it is necessary. And it will leave its mark, just as every past relationship has done.
My willingness to see each of my relationships — those that are nearly forgotten and those I will never forget, as well as those that continue to captivate me — is the sum and substance of what I need to celebrate about all relationships. It doesn't matter when we come to understand what the real value of a relationship was or is. As a matter of fact, we don't ever have to know a relationship's true value. All we have to accept, finally, is that it was meant for us. For our growth. For our benefit. For our healing. And for the specific contribution we have been born to make.
There are no accidents. There never were any accidental visitors on our paths. And whomever we meet tomorrow is our very next gift. As we are theirs. This I believe whole-heartedly.CHAPTER 2
Learn from Life
Your past always informs your present, which gives birth to your future. "I'm going to be a working lady. I don't want babies." According to my mom, this was what I insisted when I was about eight. I've been amazed any number of times that my inner self was speaking my truth decades before my adult self caught up. The trajectory of my life actually never did veer in the direction of child-rearing. Like most young girls, I babysat as much as possible. Not reluctantly, but also never because I loved taking care of kids. I did it for the twenty-five cents an hour that I earned. And I still remember how nervous I was when I made the decision to raise my rate to thirty-five cents an hour. Would the parents balk? They did. Recently, I was at a neighborhood gathering and learned that the going rate for babysitting, at least in my neighborhood, is now ten dollars an hour. And no balking!
What I did want as a young girl was independence. I wanted to make my own decisions. I wanted to be in charge. And I wanted distance. In fact, I wanted it from the toddler stage on. According to my older sister, I never shed a tear after tumbling down two flights of stairs onto the cold, hard cement of the basement floor when I was two years old. When she came running to pick me up to comfort me, I pushed her away. I didn't want help. Had I already determined that putting my trust in others wasn't wise? Sometimes it still troubles me. Why did I push love away when it was so freely offered?
Not unlike millions of young people, then and now, I knew I wanted to be different in many ways from my family, and specifically from my sisters initially. It wasn't that I didn't like them; on the contrary, I did. I simply wanted a "bigger" life. I didn't want to work at the tiny corner grocery across the street from our house that was owned by our uncle.
It was assumed I would follow in their footsteps, but I adamantly refused. I wanted to work downtown, in a department store, where I could chart my own path unsupervised by any family member. So at age fifteen, to the chagrin of my parents, I marched into the largest department store in Lafayette, lied on the application, claiming to be sixteen, and got my first real job. I was a salesgirl! With a time card and an employee discount. I had arrived!
Even though I had a job I loved and was good at, I lacked confidence in so many other areas of my life. Was I genuinely liked? Was my boyfriend planning to reject me? Was I making the grade with my friends and in my classes? Was I going to be truly special to one man someday?
Truthfully, that was the all-important concern. Would someone want to marry me? I hate to admit how focused I was on that, but it undergirded my decision to go to college. That's where marriages were made in the Fifties. I had seen it happen with my sisters. In that one regard, I did want to be like them. I did want to be chosen, and who "the chooser" was wasn't even important. I didn't want to be left standing on the sidelines as the bridesmaid again and again.
My early years foreshadowed who I was to become — something that is true for all of us, I believe. As is true of most young girls, I played teacher to my dolls and then to my friends. And I eventually became one: first an elementary school teacher and then an instructor on a college campus. My evolution was perfect. I was always in the right place at the right time.
My first book was a testament to that as well. In grammar school, I began writing stories about a girl with a life more interesting than mine. Most important, her parents didn't argue all the time. There wasn't an undercurrent of tension in her home that touched each person. Living "through" this fictional family gave me palpable relief. This family also gave me direction and hope, and a determination to reach beyond where I was.
Every book I have written over the last three and a half decades has grown out of my determination to create a new reality — the very same determination I had as a nine-year-old. I realize now that these stories were akin to the vision boards I would be inspired to create as a young recovering woman. Vision boards are like the story boards that screenwriters use to create dramatic plots. The difference is that vision boards can help to project a real, not a fictional, narrative. With vision boarding, I believed that if I could see it, I could make it real. If I could write it, it could materialize in my life and help others too.
The most profound experience I had with vision boarding, and why I believe in its power, happened the very first time I tried it. Every picture I placed on my first carefully considered board did, in fact, manifest. One picture showed a woman playing tennis; another showed her playing golf; a third picture showed her wearing a business suit and carrying a briefcase. And central to them all was a woman standing next to a dark-haired man. He was building bookcases against a wall in a home. A little more than a year later, I realized that the dark-haired man was the man who was to become my husband. And he actually built the wall of bookcases for me. As I watched him do it, I fully understood the power of envisioning an experience I wanted as my own.
A vision board's power can be remarkable. I had never really taken to heart what I had heard so many others say about sending out to the universe that which we hope to experience. Do we actually need vision boards to send out our requests? Probably not, but the process of making one creates its own magnetism. It requires being pensive, prayerful, actively hopeful, and expectant. All four of these qualities lend weight to the request we are making. And the creation of the board is our invitation to the universe to manifest our vision, along with our decision to let the fretting go.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "20 Things I Know for Sure"
Copyright © 2019 Karen Casey.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Value Your Relationships 1
Chapter 2 Learn from Life 9
Chapter 3 Just Open the Door 19
Chapter 4 Surrender to Spirit 27
Chapter 5 Turn Your Back on Fear 33
Chapter 6 Open Your Heart to Love 39
Chapter 7 Choose Peace 47
Chapter 8 Own Your Lessons 53
Chapter 9 Change Your Perspective 61
Chapter 10 Hear the Voice of Spirit 67
Chapter 11 Heed Your Fellow Travelers 73
Chapter 12 Seek Oneness 81
Chapter 13 Strive to Be Truly Helpful 89
Chapter 14 Embrace Forgiveness 95
Chapter 15 Sit Quietly 103
Chapter 16 Cultivate Loving Thoughts 109
Chapter 17 Pause … 115
Chapter 18 Journey with God 121
Chapter 19 Forget About Being Right 127
Chapter 20 Just Let Go 133
Closing Thoughts 139