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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.

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 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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Emotional Heroism

3 Aug

This horse and I had a couple of moments. They were only a few moments but life is comprised of moments. It is the moments that make or break us.

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Studies show that the bond between humans and animals directly impacts our evolution as a species.

Specifically, exchanges between owners and their pets release high quantities of oxytocin, which profoundly impacts mood state and biochemistry. The process is highly similar to what occurs  between infants bonding with adults. When owners and their pets observe and are observed by each other, oxytocin releases that fosters feelings of calm and increases concentration. These are the opposite impulses that tear us apart. Excessive aggression, dissension and isolation become lethal for civilized society.

Linda Kohanov, a pioneer in the field of equine therapy and its effect on interpersonal relationships speaks specifically about what animals can teach humans regarding how to interact in ways that preserve vs destroy the herd. Horses are animals who wield enormous amounts of power yet still take care of their own. Kohanov writes, “Using power well is not a soft skill. Even so, it requires a sophisticated integration of leadership and social intelligence to channel potentially explosive forces into a focused and benevolent source of energy” (from “The Five Roles of the a Master Herder, p.4).

Linda recently spoke at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. In the audience were people with vested interests in how horses enhance humanity’s humanity, including a much beloved actor from a much beloved t.v. show. Probably more than anything during Kahanov’s talk, I was struck by a term she called “emotional heroism” to describe the act of keeping one’s heart open even while knowing that the inevitable result is heartbreak. She uses the term to describe when an owner has to make the excruciating decision to euthanize an animal or when bonding with an animal may result in some other painful separation. She also mentioned this concept in conjunction with the risks entailed in various stages of relationships. For instance, within a herd, animals play different roles including nurturer, sentinel, dominant, leader and predator. All animals play the different roles at times to ensure the herd’s well-being. We humans have much to learn from what animals know about how to look out for one another. Likewise, learning to embody these roles fully is not for the faint of heart.

To be connected to others requires presence. It is a dance of interaction. Of the observed observing the observer. It also demands that we drop our social masks and be authentic. Horses can read through the bullshit we put out and so can most people. Horses are straightforward. They step away from you if they don’t like you and walk towards you when they do. What you see is what you get. They will also show deep concern for you if you are in pain and will invite you to play if you want to join them.

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We are becoming disembodied as a culture staring into our little screens and taking selfies of ourselves instead of looking out at the world around us. Increasing disparities in power and social isolation bring pressures often with little relief. So there is no shame in looking to nature for solace and sanity. It may be the thing that leads us to a higher evolution than we’re currently headed towards as a people.

 

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.