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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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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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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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Content to be Content

21 Oct

I have 15,000 things to do today but the sun streams in through the windows, bouncing off the hardwood floor, and I am content to sit here. I am content to be content.

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Autumn is a time of sweet reflection. The heat breaks. The days are shorter and darkness drops in earlier inviting in cozy and rest. As a young girl, I loved being huddled under the covers in the bliss of childhood slumber. My mom would have to rouse me for school in the morning and I’d slightly protest, wanting to stay in the cave of oblivion that we only really get when young, cared for fully, and unencumbered by the pressures of the adult world.

In her recent memoir, “M Train,” Patti Smith writes, “The transformation of the heart is a wondrous thing, no matter how you land there,” she writes. “Oh, to be reborn within the pages of a book.” Although I read voraciously year round, I associate books with Autumn and Winter and the start of a school year. I also think of holiday foods, the crisp in the air, and cherished television specials and films. It is a time of reunion with loved ones, past and present. The smell of a turkey and fragrant pines, reminding us of people no longer alive and memories yet to make with new players on the stage.

Our lives move in seasons – seasons of darkness and depth and seasons filled with the lightness of being. It is the light and the dark that provides perception, depth, and contour. That makes our lives a living, breathing piece of art in the process of becoming.

Harvest. Pumpkins. Leaves and fading sun. Lessons stored and drawn upon like a squirrel’s cache of nuts for Winter.

This is not a season to be glossed over and rushed through. It is time to sip the hot mulled cider, to put one’s feet up and to rest after a considerable amount of work and exertion. It is time to prosper and be content.

 

For Some, For Others, For YOU….

19 Sep

I have a colleague who often self-discloses about a traumatic car accident she had when she was sixteen. Hit by a drunk driver, she almost died. It took months for her physical injuries to heal and significantly longer for her psychological scars to heal. She was afraid to drive and became increasingly isolated. Distraught, she asked her mother, “When will I be normal again?” Her mother looked at her and quietly said, “For some, for others, for you.”

What a beautiful way to conceptualize healing and recovery. There is no cookie cutter formula for getting better and there is no specific timetable either. My colleague’s mother was basically saying that normal might as well be a setting on a dryer.

The best thing we can do when coping with trauma – (aka life) – is to approach our process with curiosity and compassion rather than judgment. Instead of asking, “Why am I not over this YET?!!!!”, we can instead ask, “What is still hurting that needs love and attention? What do I have yet to learn from this irritation and sting? How can I soothe the pain and transform it into something of beauty that affirms my life versus negates it? How can I help myself, and in helping myself, help others?”

Although we can begrudge winter and wish it away, nature never adheres to our pleas for summer. On the day we curse the snow and chill, Nature typically shows no mercy. The frigid air remains. Yet in her own time, she rewards our patience with miracles.

Although all our lives are unique, the themes of death and transformation are universal. Snow melts and Spring explodes in splendor. The roads clear and the driving conditions improve.

Eventually, we feel like driving again. We find the courage and the desire to get behind the wheel, heading out on the lone country road. We might not know where we’re headed or whether we’ll pick up any passengers, but we are indeed in the driver’s seat once more.

It is always the journey and not the destination that matters. And taking the road less travelled is often the most exquisite ride.

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Who wants to stay stuck in traffic looking at a view of Target and WallMart? Why not take a much more glorious highway or side road while ditching the GPS?

For some, for others, and most important, for YOU.

Because Life is Too Damn Short

16 Aug

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Something happens to women in their forties. I call it the “I’m done with bullshit,” phenomenon. By the time you get to be a certain age, you’re just done with nonsense in all facets of your life: work, relationships, social expectations, etc. You simply stop caring what other people think and do what you want because you realize LIFE IS TOO DAMN SHORT. It will be over in a blink of eye, so why waste time doing things you don’t enjoy? Why not surround yourself with a tribe of folks who accept and celebrate your authentic self instead? Granted, we of course have to be responsible and tolerant and show up for our day to day tasks. Likewise, we learn and grow when relating to those who are not sycophants and who challenge us towards growth and transformation. But truly, we have far more choices in life than we realize.

I remember years ago a supervisor saying, “Lise, you’re working harder than your students. Stop it. It’s not serving them and it’s not serving you.”

There are things that I put up with in my twenties and thirties that I simply no longer have patience for in my forties. They say by the time you’re in your sixties, you go from not giving a damn to not giving a (insert your word of choice). Do you develop a foul mouth as you age? No. Of course not. And I don’t mean to insult anyone with my language. I am trying to make a point. As you age, you start to carve out the precious time to do what means the most to you and what adds premier value to your life. You surround yourself with others who “get” you and who support you in being all that you possibly can be. And you in turn want to do the same for others. A life of meaning and value is one of service but of the best kind – the kind that comes from choice vs. a sense of obligation that has no real heart behind it.

Let’s all lead a heart filled life, embracing each moment and squeezing all that we can out of life. This doesn’t mean avoiding sadness or pain because these are part of life. The more we can feel our own emotions, the more compassionate we are towards ourselves and others. Yet there is such grace in the ethers, if we let go of the bs in our lives and focus on what’s of integrity, joy, passion, and commitment. Sometimes that starts with ourselves, as we carve out time to appreciate God’s grace and settle into our authenticity. Then we can show up for others and support them in theirs as well!

The Roles We Are Vs. The Ones We “Play”

11 Aug

The other day I was in the drug store when I heard a girl who couldn’t have been a day over nine years old say in a sharp voice to her younger sibling, “You need to stop running around and get here in line with me, right now!” I did a double take. The girl’s voice was not her own. It was clearly channeled from her harried mother. Someone had put the girl in the mother role, expecting her to look after her sibling and she was pulling it off with a Meryl Streep performance. The incongruity of her little body juxtaposed with the adult posturing of  stress and impatience was astonishing.

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What roles do we play and which ones do we authentically own?

As a drama therapist, I encourage people to expand their role repertoires and to not always play the same parts. On the other hand, I believe in an authentic self that supersedes any roles we play or conventions life asks of us.

What about the roles we deeply long to star in that we haven’t been offered? How do we account for a career stalemate and/or turn our game around? How do we simply write and cast the movie, assign ourselves the lead and then pick the supporting players?

About two years ago, I listened to the poet David Whyte give a lecture/reading in Asilomar, CA. I had had the fluke chance to meet David a few months prior, but I had never attended one of his events. His theme centered on “the art of asking the beautiful question.” At one point he asked us to reflect on a couple of words that had resonance for us and/or that we wanted to better cultivate in our lives. He then had us write the words down. I scribbled “mother” and “lover”, two words I felt I could barely identify with, yet as soon as I wrote “mother”, I realized I completely resonated with the word. Although I had never given birth and my two cats had just passed away, I realized I was more than maternal. I had loved on and nurtured scores of young people in my life and had more innate, motherly instincts than many who have given actual birth. I was reminded of a statement a male friend once said to me. “Lise, anyone can fuck. Anyone can get pregnant. Not everyone knows how to shape and encourage a young person’s development.” He was right. If mothering was about shaping and fostering a young person’s strengths and potential, then I was a mother.

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But now this other word…. Lover… Shit. I hadn’t had a boyfriend or even been kissed for years. I felt completely bankrupt. How could I be a lover without a lover to love?

If you don’t know Asilomar, David’s event was held at a site along one of the most beautiful stretches of the Pacific coastline imaginable. Asilomar basically butts up against beautiful Pebble Beach, the 17 mile drive, and the famous golf course. During the afternoon breaks between David’s talks, participants were free to roam along the beach. After the session, I took a long stroll along the shore. It was a stunningly gorgeous day in January. The sky was a glorious blue, the sea greener than a cat’s eye, yellow labs played in the waves, and the sun brushed upon my skin as gently as a lover’s caress. I watched couples holding hands and then felt the pit of emptiness in my stomach. “I’m not a lover. I don’t have that.”

The instant this thought went through my mind, the Universe defied my thought distortion and challenged me to a debate. Simultaneously, the wind joined the sun, stroking my face. It was nature’s form of a menage a trois.  I found myself smiling at the pleasure of the moment. And I thought, “WHOA!!!!! I AM A LOVER! I am a lover of nature, of people, of the sea, of animals, of the things about which I am passionate, I am a lover of words and art and dance, and I am a lover of life. Nothing and no one can take that identity from me. Not only that, I am sensual and I express that, whether I am sharing my body with someone or not.”

From that day on I identified myself as a consummate lover. I was not a wife. I wasn’t even a girlfriend. But I was a lover. It was a role I’d played many times, but now I was fully embodying it as part of my authentic self with or without a co-star.

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Within two months after that, a real life lover materialized. And now, once again, I am a woman without a consort. Without a dance partner for sharing and enjoying romantic love. People tell me, “The best way to get over someone is to get under someone. ” I despise that phrase. I despite the whole idea of it. Sure. You can definitely shift your focus by pouring your love and sensuality into someone else. Sometimes this is healthy and a natural progression of life. A relationship no longer works and you step into one that does. But to naively say, “Reclaim yourself by fucking someone else,” is the most bullshit way to take one’s heart and power back. If love making comes naturally and organically and joyously, that is one thing. But to just scout out some lover in a bar to make yourself feel alive again, will only reinforce emptiness that can’t be filled by someone’s sperm or a few moments of ecstasy in the sheets.

A lover is someone who is passionate, powerful, sensual and compassionate. Another person may help strengthen these qualities and draw them out in us. But true love is sustained when we are these qualities with or without the body in the bed next to us.

Ladies, the sooner you figure this out, the sooner you’ll really understand the power of your own self-worth and what is truly sexy. You are the lover and player of your own life. Do not wait for someone else to validate that which is feminine within you. Honor it, embody it, and be it first and foremost for yourself. Then if you so wish to share yourself with someone who is worthy and who you feel delight in, more power to you. But the power is yours. Not the other way around.

Expressions of Our Love

23 Jul

Years ago at a funeral, when someone wiped away a tear in embarrassment, the Rabbi facilitating remarked, “Tears are expressions of our love. It is the most natural thing in the world to cry. It reflects how much we cared.” 6’4″ and built like a giant, he had a soft European accent and the kindest demeanor. To witness such a physical representation of masculinity endorse tears was touching.

Too often, we judge our tears thinking them a sign of weakness or indulgence.

My grandmother has never been one to cry much. Raised on a farm with only brothers, my grandmother’s life wasn’t necessarily easy. She talks about how she wasn’t allowed to hang around where the male farm hands were working because she would hear them cussing, yet she cooked for them. When a baby horse was separated from its mother, my grandmother observed the pony’s sadness and heard the animal whine. She was told that horses don’t have feelings. She knew differently, yet nonetheless, adopted the stoicism of farm living. Although tender, she has always expressed more thanks than tears and has maintained her sense of humor. At 95 she still thanks the Lord for another day of good health, although she was just placed on hospice care.

Yesterday, as I looked out the window of my hotel, which overlooks a baseball field, I noticed a golden lab running around as someone mowed the greens. The dog exuded pure joy. Despite my tears at the news of my grandmother’s change in condition, I had to smile despite myself. Dogs will run and play and suns will rise and set no matter what is happening. Life is always in a state of perpetual moving on. Yet I think of my grandmother’s observation and knowledge that the pony missed his mother. “I knew from then on that animals have feelings,” she once told me. Loss impacts our hearts whether we are humans, horses or dogs.

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“Tears are expressions of our love,” the Rabbi told us. “You should never be ashamed.”

 

Momentum: When The Tide Quickly Changes

23 Jun

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The other morning I went surfing. As is typical of summer, the waves weren’t doing much. The sets were coming slow and when a wave did break, it had little gusto. I had to paddle hard to catch it and when I did, the wave’s momentum often just petered out, leaving me standing on my board like a gymnast on a balance-beam poised for dismount.

Summer surfing can be frustrating when you have too many mornings like this. After all, the whole point of surfing is to catch a wave and feel the rush as you ride it all the way to shore. There is nothing on the planet like it.

Sometimes, I don’t mind the slowness. It’s nice to be out in the water and have days where I can simply sit on my board and think (or not think) while the gentle lull of the sea rocks me back and forth. It’s nice to feel like a baby in the cradle with God looking down from above. However, sometimes this lack of action irritates. I don’t want to sit around waiting, or to feel the initial thrill of catching a wave, only to have it take me absolutely nowhere. Then I think, “Why didn’t I go to Pilates this morning? It would have been better for my back.”

Yet yesterday morning took me by surprise. As I positioned myself for a wave I felt certain wouldn’t break well, I found myself shocked into awareness that the tide had changed. This wave had speed. Its momentum took me by surprise and ended up knocking me off my board after I caught a bit of its buzz. As I tumbled in the surf, I could feel its foam rage above me. This wave was going forward whether I was prepared or not.

Surfing is a crapshoot. So is life. You never know what you’re going to get. You can get a mushy, little wimpy wave that does nothing for you or one that almost drowns you. Sometimes you get one that is perfect and takes you all the way in. The best are the ones that excite you without throwing off your balance and that have no one else riding it. Then there is just the right degree of safety, comfort, delight, and edge. Those are the cowabunga days where you thank your lucky stars you got off your lazy ass and put on that damn seal suit.

Surfing reminds me that there is nothing more important than suiting up and getting in the water. If you stay on the shore, you will never catch a wave. Yes, surfing can kill you, but I’d rather die playing than never playing at all.

I Found God in an Airport Bathroom Stall

16 Jun

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Instead of finding God on the corner of First and Amistad, I found Him in an airport bathroom stall. Yes, an airport bathroom stall. Or at least as I came out of one.

I’d been crying. Sitting on a toilet with my hands in my face. It had been a year of crying in airports or wherever else my damn psyche wanted to let loose. I had no shame anymore. If the grief was waving through, I found somewhere to sit and let the emotions have their way.

As I came out of the stall, I noticed myself in the mirror. I looked like a drowned rat with puffy eyes. All the beauty and vitality were washed away like the mascara that had come off my face.

I thought I was all alone yet I wasn’t. I sensed her presence. A young woman approached me. She too had no shame. “Do you need a hug?” she asked. I simply nodded. I’d learned long ago that when someone offers kindness, you don’t refute it.

The young woman put her arms around me and I started convulsing with sobs. The kind that make you sound like a dying animal. She simply stroked my back like I was her baby that needed soothing. Oh, how I needed soothing. She didn’t flinch or pull away. She waited a full five minutes until the wailing subsided.  When I pulled away, I saw that she was crying too.

They say that God cries when we cry. Perhaps that is true because the angel that touched my heart cried tears of compassion and anguish too even though I didn’t say a word.

Resurrection comes in funny places. Even in airport bathroom stalls.