Message Received

“If you start to look around, you will start to see.” Anne Lamott

At times throughout your life, you might look around and see that where you are is not where you want to be. But now what?

In order to see ourselves and our place in the world with new eyes, we need to have some understanding of how we perceive our world and our place in that world right now.

And for me, there’s no better place to discover this than in Nature. Because Nature is constantly showing us all the signs we need to know in order to open ourselves to new possibilities.

Signs, which can include objects, images, sounds, thoughts, or feelings, often go unnoticed simply because we have not learned to watch for them and to make them meaningful in relation to how we navigate our daily lives. And you don’t need oracle cards or a crystal ball or a magic wand to learn to see the signposts along the way. You just need to notice what’s right in front of you and then – and here’s what might be a challenge–take a leap of faith that what you’re seeing is being presented to you and you alone for a reason. And then, if you choose, take action based on what the sign means for you.

How we interact with and react to the environment says a lot about how we perceive the world around us. Each of us interacts with the world from our own unique perspective. This interaction is built up of all our past, present, and even potential future experiences and dictates how we navigate our daily lives and take action. However, for most of us, we can be out in the world but not actually aware of it.

Try this experiment the next time you’re out and about, even just taking a walk: Stop, turn in a circle, and look around. Without thinking too hard about this because there is no right or wrong answer: What is the first thing you focused on?

Now ask yourself this: Why did you focus on that thing? For most people, the first thing they notice is a result of their five senses. Maybe the object is your favorite color or you saw a bird you liked or you noticed a dog because you heard it barking. Why is this important? Because how we construct our initial perception of the world is usually determined by our sensory organs and nervous system.

But now let’s go a step further and look a little deeper. Focus your attention again on the object. How does the object make you feel? Now we start to get out of our heads and into our hearts. Is this warm fuzzy? Or anxious, sad, elated? We tend to recognize the sense of a thing, but not the feel of the thing. But the feel of what we’re focusing our attention on is what often drives us to some kind of action. If you feel safe and happy, maybe you’ll walk further. But if you’re feeling anxious, you might decide to cut your walk short, go another direction, or just stop walking entirely. Your action is a reflection of your perception of the world around you and, in this case, how it makes you feel.

Here’s an example of how this works for me. One of my dogs is leash reactive. When I take him for a walk, I first see whether there are other dogs around. If not, I feel pretty calm and confident, and we’ll start walking. But if I suddenly see dogs, maybe on leash or, worse, off leash, now I feel anxious. So my perception now is that this place isn’t safe for us, and I leave. My action is driven by the feel of the place, whether conscious or unconscious.

“Some things have to be believed to be seen.” Madeleine L’Engle

So, how might we become more aware of our current perception of the world and how this is driving us to action? And more importantly, how might this new awareness help us choose a new course of action to get from where we are to where we want to be?

Remember the movie, “Close Encounters of a Third Kind”? Richard Dreyfus points to the mountain he’s carving into his mashed potatoes, and says with some anguish, “This means something. It’s important.” At that moment, he doesn’t know why it’s important, only that the feel of it is, and as a result, he’s driven to action. How he perceives the world—and how he ultimately comes to navigate through it—has fundamentally and irrevocably changed.

Let me give you an example that just recently happened to me.

Day One, I see a hawk perched at the top of one of my trees, not 50 feet away. I’m mesmerized and feel blessed that the hawk is there and close enough for me to really look at it. I do notice that he seems to sit there for quite a long time, but again, I’m simply thrilled.

Day Two, I glance back at the tree—and he’s there again. And again, he’s there for a long time. Now I ask myself, maybe this means something? So this time, I pull out my “Animal Speaks” book to find out what “Hawk” might mean from a “maybe it’s a sign” standpoint. Ah, there it is–Hawk reminds us to keep an eye on the big picture. It just so happens, I’m about to be laid off, and I’ve been trying to figure out what I should do next. So I think, “Got it, I need to consider all of my options when looking for another job.”

Day Three, I look up—and lo and behold the hawk is back. I think, “Okay, maybe I’m not considering other options, so now I’ll expand my job search criteria. Got it—thanks!”

In my experience, Spirit is not subtle. When a sign appears and a message is sent, it’s meant to be heard loud and clear. Just because we do not get it at first doesn’t mean that it’s not there. Sometimes these messages will be sent repeatedly until we do get them.

Day Four, and I can’t believe what I’m seeing. Because there he is again. So, this time, I go back to the book to see if I missed something—and there it is. Hawk reminds us to see the big picture in order to stay grounded to find what we need. The hawk scans the world around it until it finds its prey on the ground. Why is this significant? Because right before the hawk showed up, one of my spiritual advisors told me that I needed to start doing daily grounding meditations because I was allowing the big picture to overwhelm me. I looked up at the hawk and said aloud, “Okay, now I get the message.”

Now, you may or may not believe that the hawk was a sign meant just for me. But to that, I can only say that for me, I took a leap of faith and believed that the hawk was a sign, and the message I received led me to decide that what I needed at that moment was to NOT find another job. My perception of the experience and my “feel” of it drove me to a new action.

Day Five rolls around, and the hawk is gone. Message received.

Now, you don’t need a mountain of mashed potatoes or a persistent hawk to put this to the test. You can simply try these few simple exercises to see for yourself how you might incorporate taking your own leap of faith into the unknown.

Spend the day paying attention to anything that resonates with you beyond the typical five senses: What do I mean by resonate? Something about the object seems “meaningful” in a way that can’t be explained by your senses alone.

Practice for a day what one of my other spiritual advisors, Sundae Merrick, calls drive by intuition. “Drive by intuition occurs when we are driving on the street and something draws our immediate attention. We don’t necessarily know why at first, but as we are looking around, we suddenly see it. It resonates with us.” What appeared to you? What caught your eye? Do you think anything had a special meaning for you? Remember that this isn’t about consciously looking for something. Let your intuition guide you. Ask yourself whether it’s possible or even conceivable that this might be a sign and a message just for you? And if so, might this help you change your perception of the world and how you navigate your daily life going forward?

“When our eyes are graced with wonder, the world reveals its wonders to us. There are people who see only dullness in the world and that is because their eyes have already been dulled. So much depends on how we look at things. The quality of our looking determines what we come to see.” John O’Donohue

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“I read a lot of things. You never know where the big idea might come from.” Meg Ryan, Working Girl

As a Therapeutic Storyteller, I’m always on the lookout for my next big idea. As many of you know, I’ve written five books, all intuitively channeled to me from my Team in Spirit of the Highest Light and Resonance. My books are a “collaboration” with Divine Source. Each book begins as an experience or an encounter in my daily life that provides new ways of thinking, which are to be brought forth and shared with others. Once the message is received, the book essentially writes itself. Divine Source holds the wisdom. I am simply a grateful messenger. Message received and delivered!

In order to make this symbiotic relationship work, I need to be open to whatever method the Universe chooses to present the message. It could be a conversation with someone, which was the inspiration behind my last book, The World is More Than We Know. Or, it could be a series of events that resulted in a new way of looking at something, which I wrote about in Will Work to Feed Dogs: Seven Steps to Identifying Meaningful Life-Work. It’s up to me to pay attention to the signs and synchronicities that Divine Source puts in front of me.

Since then, the biggest fallout from COVID for me has been the dearth of daily life encounters. I’ve lived largely in self-isolation since the beginning of the pandemic. My day job is entirely remote, I live in the country, I have little reason to drive into town. Which means that close encounters of any kind are pretty much non-existent these days.

No close encounters mean no stories to share. And no stories to share means no new books.

So where does a Therapeutic Storyteller go to look for signs and tune in for inspiration now?

Walmart, naturally.

“If you start to look around, you will start to see.” Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird.

In July, I was a guest on the podcast, “A View Beyond the Ordinary.” The podcast focuses on transformational stories of people who have taken the leap of faith into the unknown to pursue their calling, dream, or intuition. The goal is to provide a spark, wisdom, or inspiration to others to follow their heart’s calling.

I wasn’t feeling especially inspirational or transformative that morning, and I was more than a little concerned that the audience was not going to find me spark-worthy, wise, or even entertaining. But I was feeling hungry, so I made a quick run to Walmart.

Now I happen to hate the music that’s piped into stores. It’s usually too loud and just generally obnoxious. I’ve learned to block it out so I can hear myself think.

But THIS morning, when I went in, and before I had chance to put on my mental earplugs, I realized they were playing the theme song from the movie, Flashdance. And what was that movie about? A young woman who dreams of becoming a dancer, but gets tripped up along the way while she’s just trying to make a living. But the choices she makes – like becoming a steelworker whose boss happens to know someone on the board of directors at the dance school she wants to attend – get her an audition, which she never would have gotten based on her application alone.

Okay, I thought, message received and delivered! Granted, I’m not sure if I managed to sound inspirational on the podcast later that day. But I was grateful for the sign I was given.

Today, I’m at a crossroads. The means by which I’ve earned a living for the past 19 years is coming to an end in a few short weeks. And, as of this moment, I have no big idea what I’m going to do next – literally, no idea. I’m trying to stay optimistic and know that everything’s going to be okay in the long run. But I have my dark moments and my doubts. This is new territory for me. I’m a planner by profession, and not having a plan for what could be the next great leap of faith I’m about to take is unnerving to say the least.

But not so unnerving as to make me lose my appetite. So, once again, I head off to Walmart.

And once again, Divine Source is playing loud and clear. This time, they’re playing, “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac.

“If you wake up and don’t want to smile
If it takes just a little while
Open your eyes and look at the day
You’ll see things in a different way

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow
Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here
It’ll be better than before
Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone”

I just stood there in the dairy aisle and laughed. Have faith – everything IS going to be okay. Message received and delivered!

And maybe this experience isn’t book worthy. But it’s certainly blog worthy.

Which I wrote as soon as I got home. Here it is.

Want to know more about transforming limited thoughts and beliefs into limitless possibilities? Check out my Examine–Envision–Emerge Personal Transformation Book Series. Each book explores a particular aspect of thought healing. Find yours online at Amazon and Smashwords!

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Perception is a Matter of Choice

From 2002 to 2012, I shared my life with the love of my life: a plush-coat Czechoslovakian Shepherd named Kona. He meant everything to me, and I couldn’t imagine my life without him.

He wasn’t the dog I was “supposed” to get. I wanted a solid black male. When the litter that I had placed a deposit on was born, there were two males, and one of them was all black. See, I told myself, it was meant to be. I had first pick of the males, and so I chose Black Boy. Fortunately, the Universe knew better than I did.

About a week after the puppies were born, the breeder asked me if I would consider taking the other male. Apparently, the family who had also placed a deposit on a male from this litter used to have a solid black that had passed away just a year before, and they were still heartbroken. “The kids have their hearts set on getting another black Shepherd,” the breeder told me. “So would you consider taking the other male?” I certainly wasn’t going to add to some child’s heartache, so I agreed to let them have “my” puppy.

And so, in the end, I got the dog that I really was supposed to get. Because he would turn out to be the dog that would change my life.

I love dogs. Charles Schultz said it best when he declared, “Happiness is a warm puppy.” Although in my case, “happiness” didn’t begin to describe how I felt about my Kona. Because what I felt for Kona took my breath away.

At night, I would lay next to him, listening to his quiet breathing, and sometimes stroking his long, soft fur. Every single time, my heart would fill with joy and gratitude that such a wonderful dog had come into my life.

Kona, on the other hand, didn’t feel quite the same way. He would sleepily crack open one eye and give me that look that said, “Yes, Mommy, I love you to the moon and back, too. But, I’d like to go back to sleep now, if you don’t mind.”

Life was unendingly good.

But then, in 2008, Kona was diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition. The prognosis for dogs with Kona’s diagnosis was bleak at best; one vet told me that the longest any of his patients had lived after the diagnosis was three weeks. He also said that the dogs usually died instantly and with no warning—sometimes in their sleep or, more often than not, while playing or even just taking an easy walk around the block. He warned me that the only chance Kona had of surviving was to keep him quiet, avoiding stress, stimulation, excitement, and exercise of any kind. And he cautioned me not to get my hopes up for any reason because Kona’s situation was, in fact, hopeless, and only a miracle could save him.

To say I was devastated doesn’t come close to describing how I felt. I barely heard a word the vet was telling me, and I cried for two days.

I kept trying to imagine my life without him, but that turned out to be as hopeless as Kona’s prognosis. After all, Kona was my protector (I lived alone in a remote area, but never felt afraid), my constant companion, my confidant. My soul-puppy.

And now he was going to be taken from me?

No, I thought, I can’t bear that.

And so, I decided that I had no choice. Whether or not I liked it, whether or not Kona liked it, we would have to do exactly what Kona’s vet said had to be done if Kona was going to “live,” even though it didn’t seem like it would be much of a life for either of us. And, having decided this, I didn’t know which was worse—thinking that I had no choice, or picturing how awful and fearful every moment would be from this moment on.

But then, something miraculous did happen. Just not the miracle I was “supposed” to get.

I thought about something that Kami Garcia wrote in Beautiful Darkness, “We don’t get to choose what is true. We only get to choose what we do about it.”

And at that moment, I realized that I did, in fact, have a choice: I might not be able to change the situation, but I could change my perception of the situation. And, simply by choosing to change my perception, I could also change how I felt about it and what I could do about it.

And so, I wondered, if that’s true, then what choices do I really have?

Well, I could choose to let this news fill me with fear every remaining moment I had with Kona. I could, as the vet suggested, lock him in the house, never take him for long walks again, never let him chase birds or rabbits, never leave him alone for a single moment “just in case.” The only exercise he would have from this moment forward would feel like one slow, inexorable death march.

Or. . . .

I could choose to be grateful for every remaining moment I had with him. We could go on as we always had, him racing after the rabbits, excitedly barking at the cats next door, flushing the birds out of the trees, trotting alongside me on my morning jog—aware of the possible consequences, but consciously choosing to live our lives to the fullest.

Nelson Mandela said, “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” And so, I chose my second option, and decided to live life as hopefully and as free from fear as possible.

Which Kona and I did—not just for three short weeks, but, miraculously, for four more spectacular years!

Which is not to say that I didn’t have to come up with a plan for facing my fears and dealing with Kona’s condition realistically for however much time we had left together. Kona had good days and bad. He saw a posse of specialists monthly, and underwent quarterly monitoring to record the rhythm of his heart. And each time we went to the vet, each time a new test was run, and I waited nervously for the results, I was faced with the same choice: see this as a blessing, not a curse. Be glad for our time together or live in constant, never-ending dread that our time was drawing to an end.

Admittedly, I am optimistic by nature. But the choices I had to make during those final four roller-coaster years with Kona went far beyond trying to keep my cup-half-full attitude. Because there were countless days when Kona’s long-term prognosis was that his cup had run dry. Nights, when I stroked his lovely fur while he was sleeping, and my heart would fill with joy and gratitude, like it always had—except that now, it was for a different reason: simply because he was still breathing.

And when each new day dawned, and Kona had survived another night, I would chose, once again, to continue on as we had the day before.

Epictetus said, “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment. It is not so much what happens to you as how you think about what happens.”

Surely, there can be nothing more powerful, and empowering, than knowing we can choose how to perceive, and then respond to, whatever life throws at us. And, when things happen to us, the potential to turn them into good things is always available. Not always easy, but always possible.

Perception is a matter of choice. I have a choice every day regarding the perceptions I will embrace for that day. Learning to change my perception has helped me more readily accept and engage the difficulties of life and how I respond to the experience.

I don’t always choose wisely. But I choose. Granted, some choices are easier to make than others, like what to wear to work or what to have for dinner, than, say, choosing to quit a job or end a relationship. Choosing not to give up, no matter how dire or hopeless or just plain unmanageable things may seem.

Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” My years with Kona taught me the most valuable lesson I can ever hope to learn: No matter what happens, I can choose how to perceive the events that make up my life. And, it is this power of choice that makes life endurable, worthwhile, joyful, just plain manageable—or miraculous.

Today, I think I’ll choose miraculous.

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Not Everything Old Is New Again (And That’s Okay With Me)

“At my age of 63, there are a lot of things that are no longer likely or possible. I’ll probably never go up Mt. Kilimanjaro or run another marathon. I won’t spend a winter crewing on boats in the Caribbean. Won’t learn to play the piano. Might learn another language, although that’s a long shot. But I’ll tell you one thing that is possible. You can walk across Scotland and put your feet in the sea.” David Brown, excerpted from “Sea to sea: a hillwalking ‘challenge’ across Scotland,” Washington Post Sunday, October 11, 2015

My first experience with recognizing that something was no longer likely or possible “at my age” was during a hike, not across Scotland, but on the Aiea Loop Trail in the Keaiwa Heiau State Park on the island of Oahu.

This was my first time trying this hike, and since I was alone, I did my homework first about safety for solitary hikers. I was encouraged, plus the idea of this being a “loop” meant that I would probably not get lost since, sooner or later, I’d end up back where I started from.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was not, strictly speaking, a “loop.” You begin in one area and end in another. Of course, I didn’t realize this until I was finished—and, by that time, the hike had nearly finished me off.

The first portion was nice (read, “How easy-peasy, so glad I decided to do this”), but the middle had lots of mud and/or water puddles that had to be negotiated (read, “jumped over or waded through”), and the last portion was more enclosed (read, “more isolated and scary than I expected”) by a narrower trail and lower trees.

Plus, there were very few benches or even just a place to pull over to take a break; the trail was not well-marked other than the well-worn main trail; and there were a lot of side trails that you could easily (the only easy thing about this) wander off on, never to be heard from again. Oh, and by the way, it’s not a bad idea to be aware of the sheer drops here and there.

Did I mention that I believed I had done my homework beforehand?

About 90 minutes into the hike, I came across a downed tree that was completely blocking the trail. I had no choice but to climb over it. Which is what brings me to the moment when I realized that something that used to be easy for me had, unexpectedly, become near to impossible: I barely had the strength to hoist myself up and over, and, once over, I became seriously concerned that I wouldn’t have the strength to finish the hike.

Of course, since I’m writing this now, you know that this story had a happy ending. I did manage to finish, especially lifted in spirit when a young mother and her very young son lapped me soon after the tree (I might not have had much strength left, but for heavens sake, I did have my pride!).

At the time, I remember being very discouraged by the knowledge that hiking—at least, this kind of hiking—might no longer be possible for me. And, for a time, I was discouraged about my life in general. After all, baring a miracle, I realized that, in all likelihood, I now had less time in front of me than behind me.

But then I decided I had a choice. I could either close the book on my bucket list OR I could simply change the entries. And I have a lot (although winter crewing on boats in the Caribbean has never been, nor will it ever be, on my bucket list).

So, what’s on your bucket list? Are you constrained by the things that are no longer possible? Or are you energized and motivated by all this IS still possible for you?

Think about it!

Want to know more about transforming limited thoughts and beliefs into limitless possibilities? Check out my Examine–Envision–Emerge Personal Transformation Book Series on Amazon and Smashwords and my YouTube videos.

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You Are Here

“If you want to change your life’s direction, you need to direct your intention, which means first being honest about the thoughts, rationalizations, intentions, and attitudes you already have.” Robert Altman, The Mindfulness Code

You hear about a shoe store opening up at your local mall, and you decide that you simply must have a new pair of fabulous red shoes. Off you go to the mall but you have no idea where the shoe store is in the mall. So you start with the Mall Directory. Looking at the map, what are the two things you need to know to get you on your way to that new pair of fabulous red shoes?

  1. Where you are now.
  2. Where you want to be.

So the first thing you do is find the bold YOU ARE HERE marker on the map. Why begin at this point?

Because you need to know where you are now in order to figure out how to get to where you want to be.

Now, take a closer look at that YOU ARE HERE marker. What it doesn’t say is as important as what it does say. It doesn’t say, “You are here. . . .but you have no business buying yet another pair of fabulous red shoes.” It doesn’t say, “You are here . . . .but once you get to the store, there probably won’t be any fabulous red shoes in your size so why bother?” It’s an objective statement of fact. It’s simply an indicator of your present circumstance, that is, where you are in the mall at this very moment. No more, no less. YOU ARE HERE – it is what it is.

You’re probably thinking, so what? Of course it doesn’t say that, McDowell, it’s just a sign.

But now let’s look at how this might apply to how we think about ourselves outside the mall.

When you think about where you are right now, how often do you attach some type of subjective, usually negative, judgment to your current situation? Maybe you’ve lost your job in this crumbling economy and haven’t been able to find another one no matter how many resumes you’ve sent out or job fairs you’ve attended. When someone asks you how your job hunt is going so far, do you reply, “I haven’t found anything yet,” and just leave it at that? Or do you say, “I haven’t found anything yet . . . and I’m sure it’s because I’m not qualified, there simply isn’t anything out there, no one is hiring, I can’t afford to take such a huge pay cut.” Do you make the objective statement – “no job yet” – only to follow it up with the subjective judgment – “and at this rate, I probably won’t find a job” – which, of course, makes you feel even more depressed and desperate and (if you’re like me) worthless than you already do? And then, to make matters worse, you allow the subjective judgment to determine your next steps, and so now you stop applying for certain jobs because you “just know” that you aren’t going to get hired anyway.

I am, for the most part, a “cup half full” person. But if I had a nickel for every time I added a subjective judgment onto an objective statement about my present circumstances, I’d be living in a sumptuous beachfront house in Hawaii wearing simply fabulous red slippahs (okay, I can hear my spiritual mentors whispering, “McDowell, it isn’t the money that’s keeping you from living in Hawaii, it’s your intention,” even as I write this, but that’s another topic for another blog!). Unless I am “thought-diligent,” unless I am mindful of what I’m thinking about when I think about my life, it’s very easy for me to negatively judge my present circumstances – and, as a result, chart a course of action that will not help me realize my goals – instead of making peace with my present circumstances in order to move forward with positive intentions.

Over the last few years, there has been an explosion of information about how we can use the power of our thoughts to improve our health, attain wealth, attract love, live longer and better. These are truly powerful messages that can – literally – transform our lives.

But I think there is a necessary first step that we must take before we can fully realize the changes that we want to make in our lives by harnessing this power: To know where we want to go and figure out how to get there, we must begin with identifying where we are right now. Knowing where we are helps us identify WHAT needs to be changed and the reasons WHY we want to move away from our present circumstances towards a new life. As an empath, my work is about getting people to have the courage and energy to look at and accept themselves – their wants, feelings, needs, desires, darkest thoughts – in order to move from their current state to a desired future state.

None of us is immune from subjectivity, ignorance, or denial. But it has been my experience that if we can understand our situation from an objective, nonjudgmental standpoint, we have a better chance at finding ways of responding positively to our present circumstances. We must begin by doing what Altman describes as “cultivating a neutral and nonjudgmental awareness, which allows us to witness and observe events without attaching to them. Our subjective emotion needs to be developed into objectivity in order to determine both the need for change and our ability to change.

Perhaps we cannot remove all the ups and downs of life. However, we have it in our power to alter how we perceive our lives, how we interpret YOU ARE HERE, in order to change our perception of the experience of our lives – which ultimately influences our decisions and our actions. This is in no way to imply that your present circumstances might not be daunting, painful, or even life-threatening. Rather, identifying what our lives consist of now, and making peace with our present circumstances, means that we are more readily able to accept and engage the difficulties of life. Once we objectively acknowledge our present circumstances, we can determine where we need to be, and then begin to chart a course of action for getting there.

“If you truly want to change your life, you must first be willing to change your mind.” The Mindfulness Code, Donald Altman

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