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I Am Not A Damn Smart Phone; I Am A Body!

10 Aug

Today, in an act of defiance, I left the house for a hike and purposely left my cell phone at home. I typically take it with me even though I have a no-talking-on-the-trail rule. I like to have it in case I want to photograph something and because the hills are remote, it’s not a bad idea to carry it. Today however, I couldn’t bear to take the damn thing with me.

I debated at first. During the ten minutes it takes me to walk through the neighborhood to the mountain, I thought to call a friend I needed to get in touch with today. I also contemplated listening to a podcast. I could make use of the time and multi-task, right?

I’m so sick of multi-tasking! We reply to texts while our cars idle at traffic lights, we answer emails while we’re standing in line at the grocery store, and we talk on the phone while washing the dishes and cleaning the house. While all of this makes us extremely efficient, I am so tired of constant device time. I want to hear silence in my head for once and to look at something that is not virtual.

I never want my smart phone to become an appendage. If you look at people walking around these days, phones look like an extension of individuals’ bodies. I want my body to remain what it is – flesh and blood! I don’t want it to grow a selfie-stick or I-Phone.

On my hike, I started to feel a peace descend on me that I haven’t felt in awhile. I smelled sage, saw a butterfly cross my path as opposed to my screen, and felt myself sweating profusely in the Southern California sun. It reminded me of surfing because you can’t take your gadget out into the ocean, nor would you want to if you could. Your life depends on paying attention to what you’re doing – watching the tides and sensing the momentum of the waves.

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Our bodies too are like waves. Each inhalation and exhalation is a cycle. We need to be attune to them if we are to live in an embodied state.

For an hour and a half I was free- blessedly free. When I returned, I made breakfast and felt completely in the moment. I didn’t resent my work or my computer when I had to eventually get down to business. My body and mind had needed a break and they got one. I felt refreshed.

Seth Godin recently wrote in a blog post, “Every time I see a toddler in a stroller with an internet device in hand, I shudder.” Me too. Will that kid grow up knowing how to sense his or her body? Or how to access his or her imagination? The other day a friend and I noticed that little kids these days hold picture books and try to swipe the page or press a button. This breaks my heart. Will there come a time when books can’t hold a child’s interest because there aren’t any whistles or bells to stimulate the nervous system? Are we there already?

Technology robs us of boundaries and privacy, if we don’t set limits and reclaim quiet corners of our lives. For instance, when I was writing my book, I refused to answer non-emergency email except for during certain times of the day. I’m trying to get back to that personal protocol. I also have started to power down my devices by 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. unless I’m working on something special. I value my sleep way too much and am not a night person anyway. When I stay away from screens a few hours before bed, I sleep a full eight hours. This is something that matters to me. I am a body; not a machine.

We do everything in front of a computer. We work on-line, we pay bills on-line, date on-line, read on-line, make travel arrangements on-line, etc, etc. etc. Modernity isn’t going away. It’s here to stay. But I can carve out time for my body. I can power down, look around, and sense my surroundings. Because I am not my damn smart phone! I am a body in a human form and that is something that I never want to take for granted.

Are You Learning The Right Moves?

19 Jul

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I’ve been taking an intermediate ballroom dance class this summer. Most of the class members are retirement age. Other than the teacher who is young and cute, I am the youngest person there. And I’m a “woman of a certain age” so that tells you something. But dancing is ageless.

It’s the same people every week. Some are married and some come alone, as we always shuffle partners. It is a privilege to be around others who know how to commit to a practice and to each other. There is wisdom and grace in it.

One learns much from partner dancing. You have to know whether you’re leading or following and how to adjust to the nuances of the individual you’re partnered with. Much is intuitive and nonverbal. When you’re really in tandem with the other person, it’s easy and fun. It feels effortless and right. But sometimes you have to struggle a little before you get the steps and rhythm down. Dancing keeps you on your toes in more ways than one. You have to pay attention. You can’t check out.

We’ve done a gross disservice to civility and relationships by not maintaining dance as a routine social practice. In previous generations dance was something everyone did. Now ballroom dance is ascribed to those on “Dancing With The Stars” while the rest of America sits home watching. We’re no longer active participants in an activity that was once common ground for all.

I love the politeness of couples dancing. The women tend to wear dresses and the men nice dress slacks. Sure it can be saucy and sexy but there is always a sense of respect and a very clear boundary. There is an intimacy that is both sweet and appropriate and men and women seem to enjoy one another’s company. Tonight someone’s pet poodle sat on the sidelines as we swirled to Frank Sinatra and Mr. Bubule. Community matters and so does dancing with the people in it.

 

 

On Aesthetics

2 Jan

The first time I was in Venice I was sixteen years old. While traveling, I had a major crush on the high school water polo who couldn’t give me the time of day. In the end, it was the British tour guide who got my heart despite a ten year age difference between us.

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His influence on my life over a number of years dramatically impacted my intellectual education.

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Yet there comes a time when recognizing beauty becomes in-bred. Your own beauty suddenly radiates from within. There is no longer a need for someone else to draw it out – as lovely as that is….

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It’s the beauty that has always been there waiting for its turn on stage.

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The Italians know that beauty is eternal despite how it alters with time and light.

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Italians also love company. They are always together. You rarely see anyone alone. They find beauty in being together and in being.

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They take their time, no one gets things in to go cups, and everyone drinks lots of wine and coffee.

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Italians also flirt. I was in the company of this man for five minutes and you’d think we were long lost lovers.

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Beauty is important. It’s one of the conduits to heaven and reminds us of the Divine present among us. In drama therapy, we say that the aesthetic choice is usually the more healing one.

Embracing the Mystery

20 Dec

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I’m going to be in Venice for New Years. Not Venice, California. Venice, Italy.

When a friend-of-a-friend invited me to stay at her Venice apartment this winter, I was reminded to not turn away the gift horse. As Sheryl Sandburg wrote in her book, Lean In, “When you’re offered a space on a rocket ship, you don’t turn it down.” You jump in no matter what is going on in your life, no matter how inconvenient. The dance doesn’t alway come around again.

Going to Venice is not convenient. It’s sandwiched in-between the holidays, a writing deadline, and a teaching trip in Memphis immediately afterwards. I’ve also been gone for the last two weeks teaching. But when is boarding a rocket ship ever convenient?  You either say, “Carpe Diem!” and do it or you stay safe right where you are, never fully becoming who you meant to become.

I like order and control, particularly as the old year transitions into the new. I like to mastermind my goals and get my ducks in a row. I work on my taxes and await the New Year with quiet respect. I don’t party it up with horns, streamers, and confetti.

In Venice the locals drink champagne in St. Mark’s square. I’ll work on my tip sheet for the publisher while downing a beautiful cappuccino and I’ll map out my goals walking along the canals. But then I’ll drink champagne too, gesticulating like the Italians as we embrace the wild beauty of the night.

On the way out, I’ll pass through NYC where I’ll have an apartment to stay on 5th Ave. near the Met and the Guggenheim thanks to a friend’s sister who is a film producer. They are leaving museum passes on the counter and instructions regarding my stay with the maid. There will be two Parisians there too. Do not turn away the gift horse.

My expenses are maxed out at present but the trip was paid for almost entirely by miles. Do not turn away the gift horse.

I will be tired and jet lagged and discombobulated teaching so soon after it all but this is life. Instead of trying to capture, control, or manipulate the Mystery, we must learn to bow to it. When she beckons, we follow. We do not know where we are going. All we can see is the magic and mist and romance of it all.

*Photo credit – Laura Sousounis

Lost in the Woods?

1 Dec

I’m convinced that the most exciting times in our lives are those in which we don’t know where the hell we are or where we are headed. They are also the most scary because the unknown can make us feel so lost.

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Dante wrote, “In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost. It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear. It is scarcely less bitter than death: but, in order to tell of the good that I found there, I must tell of the other things I saw there.”

Most of us want order and control in our lives. We want to know how much money is in the bank, who we’ll fall in love with and when we’ll retire. Sometimes we want this kind of certainty more than wonder, joy, and mystery because let’s face it: the latter three invite more ambiguity. Wonder, joy and mystery can’t be structured, manipulated or planned for and they can disappear as quickly as they make an appearance. They aren’t the by-product of a game plan. They are the ball soaring through the air but when you least expect the touchdown.

Direction typically emerges out of intention. What is it that you most long for? What are your passions and how do you want to live your life? What do you want to be remembered for and what do you want to give to the world? Who and what do you love and who and what loves you? As 2016 draws to a close, instead of thinking about New Years resolutions, perhaps it’s more wise to reflect on these questions because out of the questions answers emerge. Out of the undoing and the not knowing comes clarity, focus, and manifestation.

 

 

Attitudes of Gratitude

22 Nov

This morning, I tried hard NOT to flail my arms out in African dance class as I had surgery last month and don’t care to rip stitches out prematurely. But how can one not feel joy when you hear a drum beat? Drums are akin to our hearts. They are the pulse of life itself – lub dub, lub dub. Years ago when music therapists and myself would bring drums into groups at the Hebrew Home for the Aged, even acute stage Alzheimer’s patients would tap a hand or a foot, despite being practically comatose and near death’s door.

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I have the privilege of taking African dance with a magnificent teacher. I studied African dance fairly extensively in college, so it’s part of my blood. However, the reason I love my teacher is because she understands dance as a form of worship. She practically radiates something higher than herself.

Dance is a way to express joy and praise; a way to mourn and rage.

I dance so I don’t forget I have a body that is often far superior to my mind. The body has its own knowledge and its own divinity. As Whitman wrote, “I sing the body electric!” and as Hafiz waxed eloquent:

Every child has known God, Not the God of names, Not the God of don’ts, Not the God who ever does anything weird, But the God who only knows four words and keeps repeating them, saying: “Come dance with Me.” Come dance.

This is the week of giving thanks. Dance reminds me of the vitality inherent in gratitude. Often, thanks is pretty basic: I slept well last night. This coffee tastes terrific. Friends make me smile. Strangers can be kind. Let me give you a hug. The dog wagged his tail. I’m doing what I love. It rained in LA. Sunday is football. People still care.

Amen.

 

 

Battle Scars

3 Nov

I  had surgery on Halloween. Nothing like being told that the risks of surgery include that 1) you could never wake up and 2) you could sustain nerve damage. Talk about fright.

My surgery was preventative and minor. Thankfully, I am extremely healthy and well and for that I am most grateful. But to put your hands in the hands of another human being is probably one of the most terrifying things you can do. You have to give up control and you have to TRUST. The surgeon said to me, “I get it. I don’t ever want to lie on that table.” But they wheeled me in anyway.

A friend asked if I got to take home the golf-ball-sized clump of cells they removed. “Put it in a jar as a souvenir,”he suggested.

No, thank you, although they did put it on ice.

They called me yesterday and it’s benign.

I got what a wanted.

But I also got more than good news. I was reminded of people’s kindness and the preciousness of life. Nothing should ever be taken for granted for we simply don’t know how long we have on this planet. We struggle and have our issues and conflicts but at the end of the day, love and joy are all that really matter.

I was also reminded that when we go through experiences we incur battle scars. Thankfully, this one is going to heal very nicely.

Every thought and event of our lives becomes held in the body – for good and for bad – so removing actual tissue triggers contemplation.

“What’s being removed? What is healthy and what is pathological? Were there little pockets of negativity lodged in that lump that needed excision? What do our bodies carry in their consciousness? What do our bodies and souls actually need to thrive and transform?”

I recall a woman I once worked with who had had a mastectomy. She was experiencing phantom limb, plus an enormous amount of grief. To help express and understand her feelings of loss, I had her dialogue with her missing breast and actually give the breast a voice. I wanted to hear what it was thinking and feeling.

That breast held a lifetime of memories for her – sexual pleasure, breast feeding, and her beauty and identity as a woman. She felt lost without it but once the breast’s consciousness was respected and acknowledged, her symptoms abated.

Perhaps, at Halloween, we dress up in scary costumes to remember the mess that comes with being in a human body and living out the human experience. Yet El Dia de los Muertos is also a day to remember and honor the spiritual journey of souls.

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Sobriety of Mind

6 Sep

It’s astonishing how obsessed we can become with our own thoughts. It’s an addiction not really discussed but we’re all susceptible to it. Our thoughts can take us down quite literally. I have seen in it myself and I have seen it in others. Sobriety of mind is a noble undertaking.

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Ultimately, recovery is a process. We can never completely free ourselves of our thoughts. It’s the nature of the mind to look for trouble. To cling and grasp, catastrophize, and create drama.

We can gain some degree of sobriety though. We can learn to tame our minds. We can alter the way our perceptions tyrannize. And we can practice serenity.

I weary though of talking heads who say we create our reality and that everything external is a reflection of our internal perceptions. To a degree that is true but tell that to the woman diagnosed with cancer. You’re basically telling her that her diagnosis is all her fault. Tell that to the little boy sitting stunned in blood caught in the crossfire of war whose photo went viral. It’s a cop out to say something like that as it reduces life’s crap and evil to simplicity and allows us to abdicate any responsibility for helping others in situations far less fortunate than our own.

If I get hit by a bus, the reality is that it is going to hurt. I am going to have to deal with the aftermath of the accident. While I have some measure of control regarding how I deal with that reality, it’s still going to have to be dealt with. If my legs get broken, they’ll have to be fixed. Pain is a part of life. Our minds will react to circumstances and stimuli.

So where is the line between addiction and sobriety? When do our thoughts make us spin out of control into complete excess? And what do we do about it?

It’s not as simple as mind over matter or willing ourselves out of our feelings. Emotions are crucial because they give us information that something is wrong. As the brilliant Sufi poet, Hafiz wrote, “The Heart is right to cry even when the smallest drop of light, of love, is taken away.” Quite frankly, it’s not the tears that are an issue. That is just energy releasing that ultimately frees us. When we move the energy out we break long held karmic patterns of hurt the yogis refer to as samskaras. Instead it’s our thoughts that can keep us stuck, prisoners in our heads.

When we cling to what happened or what could happen and then dissect every angle of something completely beyond our control, we are simply grasping for control. And that is absurd.

We want perfection out of life. We want everyone to like us, for there never to be a mishap, and to micromanage ourselves and others. This will never be attainable yet the mind will keep questing for it. Why we build an alter to worship at it, I will never understand.

There is no constancy, as much as we long for it. There is our breath and this moment. That is it. The more we can move from one moment to the next without clinging or rejecting, then we achieve a degree of sobriety.

It’s okay to have pleasure. It’s okay to say, “F— it to worry and pain.” The pain and the worry will always be there because we are masters at it. We can ruin even the happiest of moments with obsessions but we don’t have to live with drama 24/7. For a bit, we can let go. We can enjoy ourselves.

Lady, You’re Gonna Get Wet!

1 Sep

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Sometimes, all you can do is laugh. This morning a woman in a water aerobics class started screeching at me for “splashing too much”as I did laps in the lane next to the class.

I didn’t understand what the problem was until the life guard approached me, embarrassed, and told me the woman was upset by my swimming. “I don’t understand,” I said. “If she wants me to switch lanes, I have no problem but how am I to swim without splashing?”

Lady, if you’re going to get into a swimming pool, chances are you’re going to get wet!

I switched lanes. The lady continued to scowl. The man in my new lane smiled. I smiled back. Because you’ve got to keep a sense of humor.

When people are that angry you almost have to feel sorry for them.

The woman didn’t understand that I’d just received a string of bad news and that I’d come to the pool to try and feel better. It didn’t matter. As I get older I just can’t be bothered anymore with bs – my own or other people’s. When I’m embroiled in my own, I have to shake myself and say, “Stop it! You’re driving even me out of my mind.” Because none of us knows how much time we have on this planet and I want to enjoy as much of it as I can.

Here is the thing. We are going to get splashed. We are going to get our hair messed up.

Why be alive, why sit by the pool, if you’re not going to get in it?

 

The Breath of Connection

24 Aug

If you hold your breath, a horse will not come toward you. He or she will sense danger or trouble of some sort. If you allow yourself to breathe and be present, this is an invitation to encounter. Anything can happen. It’s the ultimate acting exercise. It can be pure intimacy if in allow.

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If you approach a horse, the horse sets the boundary. If a horse approaches you, you set the boundary. Would we learn how to play this game with humans.

I think horses are conduits to another plane of energy.

In a world where we’re all glued to our gadgets, it’s nice to hang out with completely sensory, intuitive beings.

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