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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.

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?

 

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.

 

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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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.

 

Longing for Simplicity

7 May

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Last May I spent time in Lancaster, PA, home of the Amish and much beautiful farmland. What drew my attention wasn’t the attire of the Amish or the sight of horse drawn buggies chugging along the roads. Instead, I was struck by the beauty of the landscape and families working together in fields.

I spent my childhood summers in Wisconsin so this terrain was somewhat familiar. While staying with my grandparents, I visited many farms and sung songs to myself while playing in cornfields. Lancaster reminded me of this and left me with a haunting longing for a life more attuned to nature. Looking at some cows sitting in a field of flowers, I thought, “Wow. What a nice gig.”

It is a year later and although I am in a radically different place, the same yearnings persist.

Like last May, I continue to struggle with social media.  In fact, I actually de-activated my FB account. About social media, last May I wrote, “What the hell? What price are we paying for our obsessions with the Internet community? On my deathbed will I care how many followers I have on Twitter? Or will I instead be glad that I produced quality work, even if it never gets recognized? I have no answers because as much as I longed for simplicity as a child, I also yearned to have influence. Yet I wonder if ambition causes us to miss the mark all together.”

Last year the gifted Maya Angelou passed away – a woman of remarkable talent and endurance. How did this woman leave her imprint? When I think of famous people I wonder if they desired to be players on the world stage, or if they yielded power because they acted from integrity. If we embody the vision, does visibility organically follow?

And in the end, what is it that we’re living for anyway?

I ask the same questions and I still want simplicity, serenity, and farmland.

What Being Off FB Taught Me

3 Apr

I gave up FB for Lent. My use had become increasingly toxic. When I saw Ash Wednesday on the calendar, I thought Lent was a perfect opportunity to exercise some discipline. I knew I needed to put my focus more on God than on something that had become an idol.

For the most part, I have stuck to my spiritual practice. While it’s true I have occasionally viewed the feed and I have continued to post my blog updates via Hootsuite, for the most part I have not been active on FB for two months. I haven’t posted any mundane status updates, kept up with people’s lives, or interacted on threads. At first, not doing so felt weird, lonely, and irritating. And then like with everything of late, I found myself surrendering to the emptiness and not fighting it so hard.

Prior to the fast, I’d become one of those people who checks her FB phone app constantly. I also had become one of those individuals who logs onto FB the minute I opened my eyes in the morning. Gone were the days of leisurely making a cup of coffee, being with myself (and/or others if with loved ones), and slowly letting my brain wake up. Instead, checking on what other people were doing usurped my serenity.

It’s not that FB is bad or that people using FB compulsively and habitually is any of my business. But my own FB use had become my business. I knew my FB use was no longer working for me.

Being off FB meant I had to sit with myself more than I have in a long time. I had more time to read, more time to write, more time to pray, and more time to cry. I had to acknowledge that aspects of my career need focus and that this is going to entail attention and risk taking. I also realized that my social network in the flesh and blood needs some serious revamping and that when going through hard times, texts with emoticons from people are absurd forms of comfort. We are souls living in human bodies that need to hear voices, see people’s eyes, and be touched skin to skin. What I realized is that we are living in an increasingly abstract, cut off world. We seem to have more time to post selflies than we do maintain true relationships. After all, posting a selfie takes one minute. A conversation can take an hour. Very few of us have an hour anymore.

It’s easy to joke and play on social media. It’s witty, fun, and ego-gratifying. But it’s like candy vs. meat and potatoes. If we are to have long term, committed relationships with friends and family, it means we actually have to spend time with folks in a focused, unplugged manor. And if we are to have an intimate relationship with ourselves, we also have to unplug and sit with our hearts, minds, and souls too. Otherwise, we’re just filling the void and perhaps using others in the process.

Yes, I will re-engage with FB but I will do so much more consciously.

In “Eat, Pray, Love,” Richard tells Liz at the ashram, “If you clear out all that space in your mind…., you’ll have a vacuum there, an open spot – a door way. And guess what the universe will do with that doorway? It will rush in – God will rush in – and fill you with more love than you ever dreamed” (p.150).

As I sit realizing today is Good Friday, I also think of this quote from the same book: “Look for God like a man with his head on fire looks for water” (156). Being off FB taught me that I had disconnected from Living Water and that as a result, I was suffering. On this day that Christ once suffered, I hope to be reminded that in the suffering comes new life. But new life isn’t going to spring from me posting anything on FB. It’s going to come from a much deeper Source.

 

Will You Play With Me?

9 Mar

The other day within an hour of being around a family friend’s child, the little boy approached me and with quiet earnestness asked, “Will you play with me?” As I nodded yes, he gently led me to the living room where his toys were scattered and we began to play. Although the toys were appealing what fascinated him most was the switch that could dim the lights. As he lowered the lights, making the room grow dark he pronounced, “Now it is night.” Taking my cue, I rolled over on my side and began to gently snore. Then the lights came back up. “Now it’s day.” I stretched out my arms and sighed, opened my eyes and said, “Good morning.” Looking at him I continued, “I’m hungry. Are you hungry? What shall we have for breakfast?” We settled on pancakes and bacon and then went through the procedure again. The lights dimmed, I snored, the lights came back up, I awakened and then we ate pancakes. We did this at least ten times proving yet again that Freud was not entirely clueless for repetition compulsion is most definitely an aspect of children’s play and a mechanism through which they can explore the events they observe on a daily basis.

It never fails to amaze me how much children yearn to play and need to play. It is not to be underestimated. The therapeutic benefits of play are profound which is why some of us psychotherapists use it as a central part of our work. But it isn’t just children who need to play. We all do. Animals. Children. Adults. All of us benefit from the intimate contact that comes through play as we enter the portals of our imaginations with another. So in a way, those five innocent words – “Will you play with me?” are like a secret password that if taken seriously initiate us into a very specific form of delight, exploration and experience of each other’s company.

The above words are a re-post from two years ago. They came to mind as I revisited the role of play in my own life. While all humans have the capacity for spontaneity and joy, life experiences can hinder the prominence and regularity of play in our lives. Trauma in fact, can abort it. I look back at my childhood and see patterns where play simply stopped. I think of the adults who would routinely say, “Not now, honey. We’ll play later,” and I remember when my mom started drinking to the point of black out. Focusing on my mom’s well-being became more important than slumber parties or dress up.

As adults, many things interfere with our abilities to play. We are told to grow up and get serious. There are bills to pay, chores to do, and things to look after. In my life, these attitudes were passed on to me in my DNA, costing me an acting career because to act for a living would be the height of frivolity, right? For many of us, play is something that comes at the end of the to do list and sometimes simply gets channeled into sex, the consummate form of adult recreation. We forget the deeper needs behind the simple words, “Will you play with me?” Instead of inviting others in, we tune them out or tell them they aren’t playing right. We tell them to get off the playground or that they’re not good enough for our team. Some of us break the rules and hurt others.

Play comes into our lives when we invite in the energy of the Divine; when we look at the ocean and see the way it dances.  Play comes when we can relinquish worry and reclaim deeper pieces of ourselves. It is in fact, a serious matter.

It is serious play and how we master life.

Life is a Gift: Use it Accordingly

26 Jan

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All of us have played the White Elephant game at holiday parties. You know the one. Everybody brings a cheap, nonsense gift. Once all the presents are opened, participants decide whether to keep the gift they were given or to steal someone else’s gift. Rarely do we want what we get. Something always looks better.

What happens when we don’t get the life we want? Can we trade it for another one or do we work to be satisfied with what we have? What happens when we try as we might to be grateful, we remain unhappy? Is this a sign of supreme entitlement or a mood state that is hard to mitigate? Or, is it time to make a shift, if we are capable?

Life is a gift. A friend’s daughter recently had a baby. To celebrate this wonder, there were actually four baby showers. You can imagine the number of “likes” the baby photos drew on Facebook. The baby’s new life is a gift. Yet time can tear away at the gift. Just this morning I read an article about an African American man held at gunpoint by police officers as he came out of the Yale library. The man is an innocent student at Yale, yet the police assumed he was a wanted criminal because of the color of his skin. This is one of a jillion examples that can wear down our sense that life is an awesome present. Life can knock you down and point the barrel of a gun at you for simply going about your business.

Injustice and despair are real and they can erode the soul’s spirit. They urinate on the precious gift leaving us enraged or weeping or numb.

It isn’t just the dramatic tragedies that can threaten our sense of passion and purpose. Day-to-day concerns and struggles can eat away at our joie de vivre as well.

Remember the little wonders of childhood? Getting excited when a mother brought in cupcakes for someone’s birthday, or watching snowfall for the first time? When I think of life’s hardships, I also think of its magic, for it is the wonder of life that is the true gift. This is why we go ga-gah over babies and puppies. New creatures are in awe of their surroundings and remind us to be. I watch my neighbor’s one-year-old child. Every time she steps outside, she points at a bird, or a flower with a huge grin on her face. Then her little voices squeaks with delight.

Life is a gift. While we can’t have a lobotomy to erase despair, we can work to repair brokenness around us. I hear the birds sing as I write this and realize it is their voices that help make us whole.

Are You Daring To Bloom?

25 Oct

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The other day, while out on a walk, I passed by this flower. It seemed to be saying, “Here I am in all my glory, and I am not ashamed of how magnificent I am!”

There was nothing pretentious or narcissistic about this flower’s attitude because unlike humans, it had none. It was simply fulfilling its genetic encoding. Given the right soil conditions, and enough water and sun, the plant was doing what it was designed to do: It was blooming.

I am fascinated by nature. I love that there are a gillion varieties of plants and flowers and that none of them compete with one another about who is better. The rose doesn’t try to act like the daisy, and the orchid doesn’t wish it was a lily.

I believe that like this flower, we are here to boldly live out our true nature. We are all here to actualize and to express the Glory of our Maker. Each of us is unique and has something special to do, according to our personality, loves, and talents.

Not all flowers bloom on the same time table. Their blossoms unfold when they are ready . The conditions also have to be right, and we, like good gardeners need to be aware of the environment. Is there enough fertilizer in the soil and is there enough light? Is the garden too crowded, and if so, how can we gently make more room, so that roots aren’t tangled? How can we work with the entire garden to ensure its overall beauty?

We bloom when the time is right. The poet Hafiz wrote: “How did the rose ever open its heart and give to this world all its beauty? It felt the encouragement of light against its Being. Otherwise, we all remain too frightened.”

Yes, we most definitely need love and light for our essence to unfold. Yet we must also dare to bloom. It’s not all about the outside environment. We also need to express our personal DNA.

There is no shame in taking space. In fact, we have an obligation to share our beauty with the world.