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Revolution From Within

2 Jul

I have been silent about politics for quite some time. Not out of privilege or apathy or laziness, as some would accuse. I stopped speaking out because in the same way trauma renders people without power or words, I had none.

After years of advocating for external political change, the famous feminist Gloria Steinem wrote a book called, “Revolution From Within.” The book examines how inequity can crush self-esteem but that ultimately, true power stems from within. Steinem espouses the importance of inner strength, particularly when the outside environment does not change and continues to subjugate.

Somewhere in my life, I learned that life is not fair or a fairy tale. More often than not, the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, all the isms persist, and women will always be the second sex. While I want to think otherwise, sadly, human ignorance, greed and evil will probably repeat the narrative of marginalization and exploitation until the end of time.

So how then do we not despair? How do we uphold civil values and justice and dreams for a better world?

We do as Steinem advocates. We start a “revolution from within.” We work on ourselves. We stumble to find our worth in a world that wants to beat it out of us. And we help others to see their worth. We find meaning and value right now in the small things and we discard all the nonsense that wounds and separates. We hold our heads up high and know that real power is something no one can ever take away from us even when humans hurt each other beyond measure.

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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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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.

Self-Pity’s Cousin

10 Aug

If self-pity had a cousin, its name would be “lack of personal responsibility.” In addition to the deep pain that is associated with self-pity (underneath the kvetching), there is often a great fear or inability to take control of one’s life. If we constantly complain about our circumstances, we end up with no time, energy or focus for creating a magnificent life.

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But it takes tremendous courage to own one’s life. It’s much easier to blame the world for our woes. The problem with this approach is, while it’s true that life can be cruel, unfair, and brutally painful, fixating on what has been done to us leaves us with little will or motivation to effect change. No transformation can occur without an authentic grieving process, but part of grieving entails action and creative movement towards the unknown.

The challenging thing here is that if we take active steps away from self-pity and toward empowerment, our demons will most likely come out to haunt us. Every false belief we have, about ourselves or the world, will come back IN STEREO to try and persuade us that we can’t own our lives and create change for the better- and like a hero or heroine in a fairy tale, we will have to get out our swords and slay these dragons. The monsters aren’t just in our heads, either. All the people around us who are on some level committed to us staying stuck, whether conscious or unconscious, will feed us the same lies: “You can’t do that. Most people fail at that. Who do you think you are?”

Owning our lives is hard work. We actually have to do something. Whether we’re trying to change careers, start a business, get out in the dating world, fine-tune a skill, or break a habit, we have to invest in the process. Like children learning to walk, we stumble and fall, and even if we have skinned a knee in the process, we need to get back up and try again. We have to lace up our sneakers and hit the pavement whether it’s raining or snowing. We have to invest in our goals, though there’s no guarantee of success and certainly no guarantee of a supportive team cheering us along. It’s much easier to sit on the couch, eat bonbons, and feel sorry for our selves. When it comes to the places where we have been the most wounded, it’s very scary to create a new reality. Yet stepping in this direction activates a source of true power.

 

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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Are We Our Stories?

13 Jul

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The other day I posted a narrative about my mother’s incarceration on my blog. It’s an old story. Many people in my life are familiar with it. And like that news story that airs too many times, the story can grow very old.

Why then do we tell our stories? What is the point? It is to our benefit or detriment? In the telling do we transcend our narratives or reinforce them?

These are fundamental questions in the world of psychotherapy. Narrative matters. It’s important to communicate and unburden traumas. It’s important to share and to be witnessed. In fact, the primary solace of narration often comes from having an audience. We no longer are fully alone in our stories that caused pain and made no sense.

Yet retelling a story over and over can paradoxically reinforce it.

It’s a super fine line. Some feel adamantly that we share until we no longer need to. Period. It’s no one’s business to tell us when we’re to be done. And it’s certainly no one’s business to tell us what we do or don’t feel because our stories are etched into the landscapes our psyches. Those traces remain.

Freud wrote of repetition compulsion where people keep enacting aspects of the trauma with the hopes of mastering it yet often don’t. However, in play therapy, repetition compulsion in children’s play usually gives way to new narratives. Kids eventually get bored with the old “play” and create something new.

Is it possible though to start identifying with the narrative to the point where it defines our lives and limits possibilities? Is it easier to keep telling the same old story because it’s familiar and has become our identity? Do we do this because it’s too terrifying to face the blank page and not know what the hell the story is? What if the new story is terribly boring? With nothing juicy or dramatic?

Who is the auteur of our lives and who decides the story’s end?

There needs to be a story arc and we get full creative license to shape it.

We get to decide where plots are headed. Unlike with the original stories, we have so much more power and control than we realize. By deconstructing our narratives, we move into the imaginal realm and transcend ourselves. We get to become.

In fact, we are NOT our stories. We are not even the characters we play. These are all aspects of ourselves, which is why people so readily relate. They see parts of their experiences too. Yet as soon as I’m done writing a complete story, from beginning to end, or after playing a character, I have moved on. I’m looking for the next story.

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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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.

 

 

Just Say No!

17 Apr

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When I was in middle school and high school I was expected to get up at 5:30 a.m. to water the plants and take care of our animals before going to school at 8:00 a.m. This was in Southern California where delicate potted plants needed to be watered in both the morning and late afternoon. Much of our shrubbery had automatic drip and spray sprinklers but the plants that didn’t would easily die within a few days without consistent care, particularly the fragile, moisture loving flowers such as orchids and fuschias. These varieties are tropical in nature and not meant for an arid dry climate.

This was also the era of Nancy Reagan’s, “Just say no!” campaign to help young people not sucuumb to drug use. I think of that phrase now. As direct as Nike’s, “Just do it!”, “Just say no!” is a great motto, if you can adhere to it.

I bring this up because these days many of us the minute we wake up log onto the computer or our phones to check text messages and emails. There is little division anymore between work and private life. It’s all mushed into one undifferintiated mass.

I’d rather water plants at 5:30 a.m. and walk and brush two magnificent large dogs like I did when I was young than look at a screen the minute I open my eyes. It’s a more humane way to wake up. It’s more embodied; more centered; more intimate. It’s a semi- equivalent of a toddler jumping on your bed or a lover kissing one awake. When outdoors at 5:30 a.m., you see the sunrise and the way the colors shift with an ever increasing degree of light. Even if engaged in a type of physical labor, there is something balanced in it because it involves the body fully vs. sitting sedentary at a screen.

I was raised with a Midwestern, farm mentality work ethnic and that ethic is in my DNA. However, that ethic can be brutal when it’s not mixed in with nature and natural rhythms and interpersonal relationships.

Sometimes we just have to say no to work and to technology and to get into our bodies and into nature. This actually feeds productivity because relaxation restores the mind and soul. It opens new vistas. As all farmers know, sometimes you have to let the fields lie fallow in order to create a better yield. If you demand the goose that lays a gold egg each day to produce more, she can stop producing all together.

Creativity always demands a tension between inner/outer, surrender/will, rest/activity. There is day and night, light and dark, life and death, order and chaos. There is a reason on the 7th day, the Lord took a break. We must take a moment to see, “That it was good.” Otherwise, we miss the show all together.

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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.