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When Being Off Balance Is A Start

1 Feb

Last night while doing tree pose in yoga, the teacher suggested we toy with our balance by closing our eyes or swaying our arms. Tree pose, if you don’t know it, entails standing on one leg while the foot of the other is tucked above the standing leg’s knee, resting on the thigh. I find the pose relatively easy but as soon as I closed my eyes, it wasn’t. “They say one’s yoga practice begins the moment you feel off balance,” the teacher remarked.

I started laughing- not because the comment itself was funny but because it was so akin to what I’ve been experiencing lately. Normally, we think of being off balance as a sign of overload and stress, i.e. not good. In fact, a sense of balance is something people typically strive to create in their lives. But what if being off-balance was neither good nor bad but a sign of growth and expansion? A sign of taking on new forms and letting go of control? Obviously, we don’t want to be so off-balance that we teeter over and fall but is a little disequilibrium a thing to avoid?

Personally, I hate feeling out of control. I like structure. I like knowing what is going to happen. I like being in charge with a plan, Only life doesn’t work that way. Trying to make it so is exhausting and futile.

The teacher’s statement reminded me of my go to: “Confusion is a sign of learning.” However, for me, learning is productive so I’ll take a little confusion if I know I’m expanding my mind or learning a new skill. But do I really want to invite being off-balance for the hell of it? What “reward” will I get from being off balance? In my day-to-day life, won’t that drive me out of my mind?

Perhaps. Overload is overload and sometimes too much is too much. But I’m reminded that in acting, a similar phenomenon happens in terms of being off balance. There is often a point in rehearsal or filming when despite knowing your lines, your mind drops them. This happens when you’re so in the moment with a feeling or a connection to someone else that you get flustered. It’s a moment of being off balance; off kilter; not knowing what is going to happen that leaves you feeling completely vulnerable and like you’re falling off a cliff. Every director I’ve ever had has loved it when I drop my lines. “Keep going, keep going,” they’ll say. “What you’re doing is brilliant.” And I’ll think – actually, I’ll not think – I’ll keep going – feeling completely out of my skin in free fall and delight.

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So yes, I guess it’s okay to be off balance even if it feels completely weird and counter-intuitive. It might actually be spot on!

The tree can sway and still stay rooted. It’s a sign of being on the path.

 

 

The Beauty of Boredom

16 Aug

Boredom isn’t really in my repertoire. Raised an only child, I learned to entertain myself at an early age and never really felt bored. I came to appreciate that there is plenty to do in life.

Yet every now and then, particularly when I’m super pooped like I am right now, I have to spend a day doing almost nothing. I always find this somewhat frustrating. I mean what could be more boring than just sitting on the couch or lying in bed when it’s sweltering hot both inside and outside? Just being is not terribly exciting, thought provoking, stimulating, or pleasurable. Nonetheless, I sometimes work myself into such a frenzy of career demands that the exhaustion comes with the territory.

I dislike these days yet I know there is beauty in boredom. Watching the hours tick away, not even reading or watching t.v., I find myself in a weird free fall. Just sitting here on the couch in the last hour I have noticed the sky change from pink to violet and now I see the moon almost full. I have painted two pictures and emptied my mind of weeks of teaching and travel. I have felt spaced out and my head has buzzed with a weird tingling vibration.

And I know this is absolutely vital to my physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

The other day I was so happy to be home I bought three bouquets of flowers for different rooms in my house. Today, I noticed each arrangement yield more to its blossoms. When we’re bored, we start to pay attention.

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Tomorrow is another day. The to-do list never ending. The I-want-to-do-list even longer.

Yet today I had moments of boredom and in those pockets of empty space, I heard the still small voice that beckons me. As always, I doubt where it will lead me, yet know I must find the courage to follow it. Without the down time, I wouldn’t have paid attention to its presence.

The Most Monogamous Relationship You’ll Ever Have…

6 Aug

“The most monogamous relationship you’ll ever have is with yourself,” my yoga teacher said to me when I asked her the yogi take on intimacy. After all, the word yoga means union.

How utterly boring I thought.

“The concept of romance just doesn’t exist in yoga,” she persisted.

Even more dismaying.

You learn to stay loyal to your heart.

In yogic philosophy, union stems from integration of the body, mind and spirit. Anything else is an illusion and takes one further from the desired goal of true connection with self and others.

Yet union is always available.

Sigh.

The task of staying present with compassion is the hardest work on the planet.

Yet this is the true invitation to intimacy.

And it is indeed an art form and a practice.

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Just Breathe Through It

18 Jul

Many of us have been in a yoga or exercise class where the teacher serenely says, “Just breathe through it,” while we’re swearing beneath our breath because they have us holding some ridiculous position or are asking us to do endless crunches that make our stomachs burn as if on fire. “I don’t want to breathe through it!” we often scream in our heads. “I just want this *&&^%$ pain to stop!” What do the teachers mean when they say, ‘Just breathe through it,’ like a bleeping mantra? What is the breath and why is it so powerful?

While breathing seems so simple, it’s actually something we resist when we are scared or in pain. For some reason, we’d rather not “breathe through it.” We’d prefer to avoid it – whatever that it is – and breathing makes us feel it.

The irony is that the feeling is there whether we surrender to it or not. If we hold our breath thinking we can by-pass pain, we’re actually deluding ourselves. It requires a considerable amount of energy to keep something down. In fact, pain magnifies when we suppress it. Like damning up a river, once the floodgates open, the feelings will flow forth in full force.

If we weren’t breathing, we’d be dead. Yet if we invite the breath in more consciously and more fully, we ease the process considerably.

Why is a woman in labor told to breathe, breathe, and breathe! Because she’s pushing new life into being. When she holds her breath, she makes things more difficult for herself and the baby. When she breathes, she can push more easily.

All of this sounds nice but when we’re going through excruciating times, we’re like the woman in labor who wants to tell everyone around her telling her to breathe to “f— off!” Transformation is brutal work and sometimes the labor is so long and tenuous it feels like we will die. When the healing needs are global how do we breathe through rape, violence, illness, betrayal and injustice? It’s hard to go all yoga-zen in these moments. How do we as humans endure?

On a practical level we need to actually breathe versus intellectually reflecting on it. We don’t have to engage in fancy complicated breathing exercises. We can simply imagine our breath coming in and out like an ocean wave – back and forth, back and forth. There is nothing to control, fix, stop or judge. There is nothing we have to “do.”

When we “breathe through it”, we can feel the breath’s power to cleanse, sustain and revitalize every aspect of our being. In fact, the words breath in Hebrew (ruach), in Greek (pneuma) and Sanskrit (prana) are synonymous with the words “spirit” or “wind.” This indicates a link between our breath, being, and the divine. Our breath is the life force that helps us fully embrace and enjoy the moment. It is also the conduit of transformation.

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Wrestling with Waiting

6 Jul

Most of us have done a fair amount of waiting. It’s a part of life. Yet there are times when waiting starts to feel like we’re living in a &^%$# production of “Waiting For Godot.”

There are so many ways in which we wait. “Your time will come,” people will say while one waits for a job, or a meal, a paycheck, or a diagnosis. We wait for good or bad news, for the traffic to lift, for the storm to clear, or for that lucky break. We wait for others to change or for love to finally arrive.

Waiting becomes harder for us in today’s instant gratification culture. We can no longer tolerate standing in line at a store without checking our phones or making calls. When we arrive at the counter, we nod to that checker as if he or she were a mere servant inconveniencing us and then we promptly ignore him or her.

The most excruciating period of waiting I ever had was the seven days in-between receiving a suicide note from my mom and the news that she was dead. July 11th – July 18th, 8 years ago.

How do we wait and is there any benefit in the process? Is there a way out of existential angst or are we relegated to it like a form of purgatory? Can we sex, drugs, and alcohol our way out, or do we chin up like a little tin soldier? Do we collapse and fall apart or scale the mountain to greatness?

In yoga, the space between the breaths is viewed as quite significant. It is the transition point. The point were inhalation gives way to exhalation and then gives rise to inhalation again. That is the practice. Learning how to sit through the transitions of felt sensate experience without repressing or collapsing. It is its own Gethsemane. We typically endure alone while the disciples sleep. We die and are reborn in each impasse if we allow ourselves to breathe through it. It is the road to Spirit and to Grace.

It’s not fun to feel. But it is this arc, this wave that gives rise to desire, to momentum, to action, and to transformation. It is what ultimately brings joy. Without it, there is no art. No creation. No change. And no intersection.

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The Power of Blue

4 Jul

There is nothing like staring at waves.

They are breath, they are desire, they are perhaps God.

Initially just subtle movements on the horizon, they slowly build.

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Sometimes the energy peters out dissipating almost to stillness.

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Barely perceptible to the eye, the blue keeps moving though. A quiet persistent heartbeat.

Until….

Momentum builds again crashing into shore.

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I’d forgotten the power of blue.

If there is a God, I believe this might be it.

Mighty, eternal, surging, and gentle. Always there, mysterious, strong and beautiful.

Yes, this is the power of Blue.

What’s On The Other Side?

27 May

My father was a huge Steinbeck fan. When I was as young as five years old I was subjected to listening to entire passages read from the author’s novels. Wanting to watch cartoons or to read myself on a Saturday morning, I’d instead be interrupted by Dad as he puffed on a cigarette, sipped Coca-Cola and played James Taylor on the turn table.

One passage from the “Red Pony” perplexed me because my dad said it was beautiful and I didn’t understand why. Beauty to me had to do with pretty dresses I saw in fashion magazines. In it a boy asks his father what is on the other side of the mountains. “More mountains, I guess. Why?” “And on the other side of them?” “More mountains, why?” “More mountains on and on?” The dialogue goes back and forth with the young boy asking if anyone knows what is in-between the mountains. “Oh, a few people do, I guess. But there’s nothing there to get. And not much water. Just rocks and cliffs and greasewood. Why?” “It would be good to go.” “What for? There’s nothing there.”

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I always think of this passage when I hike. I find myself asking, “What’s on the other side?” as I move up and down the trails.

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It is good to go even when there is nothing to “get.” In fact, it is best to go with no intention of getting at all.

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I love the little boy’s inquisitiveness and insistence. I also love the strength and majesty of the mountains.

I look up and they are always there. They have not moved. They shape the confines of my life the same way a good parent’s presence stands gently in the backdrop or the way Spirit gently graces one’s experiences.

We humans are always looking outward curious about our surroundings – where we came from, where we are, and where we’re headed. I take to the hills to guide me through my journey the same way I grab a board to propel me through water’s motion, time, and space. What’s on the other side and in-between is the Mystery – so much grander and bigger than us and so much more miraculous.

 

My T.V. Little Girl: On Motherhood and Mother’s Day

13 May

There is nothing more masochistic than going to church on Mother’s Day, yet I do it every year. I do it to remember that I had a mother and that we all came from the womb of a mother. I do it to pay tribute to holidays that celebrate family life and community. I do it so that my heart doesn’t calcify. I do it to stay connected to a mother who loved me despite the tragic way her life ended.

It’s never a fun day really. No matter how much I think that enough time has passed, the tears start halfway before I get to church. It’s one of the few days I think about my mom’s suicide yet it’s important to remember it. I go into the sancturay wearing sunglasses and sit at the back of the church by myself. Although I am alone, I know something Higher sits there with me, as it did the day the police called asking if I could identify a body. I had waited five days for that call after receiving a suicide note in the mail.

At church someone always puts a foot in the mounth. Someone always wishes me happy mother’s day and then retracts it when he or she discovers I’m not one.  And that’s okay. I’m used to it. I’m there anyway because I want the connection to humanity. I want to remember when I visited church with my mother on Mother’s Day and to focus on the fact that motherhood is a creative force vital within all of us. I also feel enormous gratitude to the myriad number of women who have mothered me over the years.

Recently I had the opportunity to play a mom in a t.v. commercial. Although I’ve “mothered”  many as a therapist, teacher and nanny, I’ve never played the role or had the title. Yet in the commercial, I am the MOMMY. How I love that word. All the real life mommies were off set, while this MOMMY was on camera. It was the most surreal moment because for a brief moment in time, I lived a dream I’d always had. For the morning, I hosted a birthday party complete with balloons, screaming kids, and a daughter certain her parents were aliens. It was wonderful.

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Life is wondrous. But the imagination even more so because it allows us to live many realities. I also had another little girl on screen recently who was equally delightful.

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I go to church on Mother’s Day to remember my mother and to remember that I am still a daughter who loved being a mommy when I played pretend.

 

 

Running Water Over Stones

25 Mar

As I watched a group of neighbors dressed in black walk to Maudy Thursday services at a nearby church, I looked down and realized that I too was dressed in black. My yoga pants were black and so was my sweater. Only the neigbhors entered the church and I walked into the funky and traditional yoga studio near my house. “I’m worshipping at a different altar tonight,” I thought. However, for me, it’s all the same altar. Prayer, meditation, yoga, nature, church fellowship, and worship are all fundamental resources that help me feel connected to God.

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Although I have taken yoga classes for twenty years, it has only been in the last few that I have started to understand yoga and to realize why having a practice is vital for my emotional, physical and mental well being. Yoga teaches me not just about my body but about how I hold stress and negative thought patterns and how I can stop the constant gripping.

I went to class last night because it was a restorative one. Restorative yoga is different than active yoga. It is specifically designed to calm the nervous system. By using props (a bolster, blocks, blankets, and a strap), you put your body in resting, open postures and hold them for a good ten minutes, if not longer. As you relax into the poses, you can actually feel when the body begins to melt into the floor or the props; you start to notice when the body begins to surrender its never ending push for control and hyper-vigilance. You notice when it starts to release the defensive and protective armor that no longer serves.

“As humans, we are always pushed into stressful states yet the body cannot hold stress and relaxation simultaneously. If we train our bodies to relax, it is physiologically impossible to hold stress at the same time,” said the teacher.

“In growth and transformation, there is always a degree of discomfort. So when you hold new poses, you might initially feel uncomfortable.” I burst out laughing. Yeah, growth and transformation can make one a wee bit uncomfortable.

The first pose we did was called something like “running water over stones.” At least this is the imagery the teacher talked about. Lying on our backs with bolsters and blankets propped to put our spines in their natural curvatures, our bodies were akin to stones that stay  solid and stationary as water runs over them. That water, that ever pulsating movement of life can wear down the stones, yet if we are solid and stationary, the water doesn’t have to push us around. We can be in harmony with the flow of life.

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There are some restorative yoga poses where the props are meant to be intrusive, pushing the body to open and stretch more actively; others that are designed for the body to simply melt and surrender.

There is also the inhalation, the exhalation, and the space between the next breath. That space is vital; it’s where the next beat of life and creativity spring from. That is the space I am most interested in harnessing, yet it is the whole flow of breath that keeps one moving through transformation and growth.

“Relax, relax!” the Saturday teacher always says to me when taking the hatha yoga class. “You’re making it too hard.” If he only knew. If he only knew how often I can make things too hard or how hard I can be on myself. It’s good to take a look in the mirror sometimes. Yet he also says like a kind grandfather (and with a twinkle in his eye), “That’s beautiful. You’re holding the pose beautifully.” It’s also good to note our progress.

Seeing the Blind Man

19 Feb

The other day I was pulling out of a gas station in Los Angeles and noticed two women helping a young man learn to navigate on his own using a walking stick for he was blind. They walked slightly ahead encouraging him on with their voices. The older of the two women saw me in the car and signalled to the younger woman to have the boy wait. But the younger women shook her head vehemently and motioned for me to halt, which I was planning on doing anyway.

She wanted the boy to keep moving forward. To keep claiming his path and his right to be. She wanted him to be couragous. Dauntless. Cars could wait for a blind pedestrian.

Only cars don’t always wait anymore. Not for blind people, or little old ladies crossing the street, or veterans in wheel chairs. The older woman knew this. The younger one did too. But the younger woman wanted the boy to become fierce. For him to fully live his life.

It’s terrifying to walk straight into the unknown. To not be able to see where we’re headed. The blind boy and the two women took my breath away. They were the most beautiful thing I’d seen all day.

An hour later I was on the highway and found myself behind a truck. Written on the vehichle were the words, “Helping Hands for the Blind.”

Do we have the faith of the blind? Can we walk with ease on paths we cannot see? And who guides us as we step out? From where do we get our vision and courage despite the risks?

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