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Embracing the Mystery

20 Dec

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I’m going to be in Venice for New Years. Not Venice, California. Venice, Italy.

When a friend-of-a-friend invited me to stay at her Venice apartment this winter, I was reminded to not turn away the gift horse. As Sheryl Sandburg wrote in her book, Lean In, “When you’re offered a space on a rocket ship, you don’t turn it down.” You jump in no matter what is going on in your life, no matter how inconvenient. The dance doesn’t alway come around again.

Going to Venice is not convenient. It’s sandwiched in-between the holidays, a writing deadline, and a teaching trip in Memphis immediately afterwards. I’ve also been gone for the last two weeks teaching. But when is boarding a rocket ship ever convenient?  You either say, “Carpe Diem!” and do it or you stay safe right where you are, never fully becoming who you meant to become.

I like order and control, particularly as the old year transitions into the new. I like to mastermind my goals and get my ducks in a row. I work on my taxes and await the New Year with quiet respect. I don’t party it up with horns, streamers, and confetti.

In Venice the locals drink champagne in St. Mark’s square. I’ll work on my tip sheet for the publisher while downing a beautiful cappuccino and I’ll map out my goals walking along the canals. But then I’ll drink champagne too, gesticulating like the Italians as we embrace the wild beauty of the night.

On the way out, I’ll pass through NYC where I’ll have an apartment to stay on 5th Ave. near the Met and the Guggenheim thanks to a friend’s sister who is a film producer. They are leaving museum passes on the counter and instructions regarding my stay with the maid. There will be two Parisians there too. Do not turn away the gift horse.

My expenses are maxed out at present but the trip was paid for almost entirely by miles. Do not turn away the gift horse.

I will be tired and jet lagged and discombobulated teaching so soon after it all but this is life. Instead of trying to capture, control, or manipulate the Mystery, we must learn to bow to it. When she beckons, we follow. We do not know where we are going. All we can see is the magic and mist and romance of it all.

*Photo credit – Laura Sousounis

Lost in the Woods?

1 Dec

I’m convinced that the most exciting times in our lives are those in which we don’t know where the hell we are or where we are headed. They are also the most scary because the unknown can make us feel so lost.

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Dante wrote, “In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost. It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear. It is scarcely less bitter than death: but, in order to tell of the good that I found there, I must tell of the other things I saw there.”

Most of us want order and control in our lives. We want to know how much money is in the bank, who we’ll fall in love with and when we’ll retire. Sometimes we want this kind of certainty more than wonder, joy, and mystery because let’s face it: the latter three invite more ambiguity. Wonder, joy and mystery can’t be structured, manipulated or planned for and they can disappear as quickly as they make an appearance. They aren’t the by-product of a game plan. They are the ball soaring through the air but when you least expect the touchdown.

Direction typically emerges out of intention. What is it that you most long for? What are your passions and how do you want to live your life? What do you want to be remembered for and what do you want to give to the world? Who and what do you love and who and what loves you? As 2016 draws to a close, instead of thinking about New Years resolutions, perhaps it’s more wise to reflect on these questions because out of the questions answers emerge. Out of the undoing and the not knowing comes clarity, focus, and manifestation.

 

 

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.

The Crawl-Curse To Finish Lines

13 Aug

Finish lines nearly always kill me.

I remember running long distances with my dad. The last half mile was especially brutal. Our street, called Shadow Knolls for a reason, was a steep incline reminiscent of San Francisco hills. My dad would sing army songs so that I wouldn’t quit.

“I’m gonna be an air borne ranger, live the life of thrill and danger! Here we go! Here we go!”

Yeah, right.

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There are small and large finish lines in life.

Some people struggle with procrastination, yet I seem to have no problem starting things. I prepare my taxes first thing in January. I make lists and get things done. I write daily like a good little soldier. Discipline and routine ground me. Yet when it comes to that last fifty yards, for accomplishments that are significant, that’s when I suddenly want to quit.

To cross the finish line means something.

There is a reason athletes tear up on the podium at the Olympics and we tear up watching them. To cross the finish line is to acknowledge the journey traversed and the lessons learned along the way. It’s important to honor one’s hard work.

To finish we have to dig deep down within for that last spurt of energy. We have to call on that reservoir of power within that we don’t actually think we have. We must realize that we are bigger than we think and worthy of personal investment.

We also have to deal with the responsibility that comes with success and the flack that often accompanies it as well.

All of us have patterns that don’t serve us. Farting around with finish lines is mine. I’m not afraid of hard work. I’m afraid of finishing.

When I finished my masters in psychology I basically told no one and simply went to work the next day. I almost didn’t take my licensing exams because there was so much paperwork to fill out and did I really need the credential? My book is now pretty much done and I have a potential publishing date for Fall 2017. Do I really want it out there? We’re finishing post-audio on my film after hiring a composer to write beautiful music. Do I really want anyone to see this thing? I have three more classes to finish another masters. Yet what is the point? The degree won’t do anything for me.

Resistance always rears its head wanting to sabotage us.

At the end of the road every mishap that can happen, most likely will. This is just to see if we not only have it in us to finish, but if we have it in us to finish with dignity.

Quite frankly, I’d rather act like a four year old diva and have a tantrum or meltdown. Because finish lines suck.

Yet they are significant markers that help shape us.

So suit up, show up, and don’t let up.

It’s important to finish.

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.

Weird And Uncomfortable Are Invitations…

11 Jul

“Weird and uncomfortable are invitations; pain is a signal,” my yoga teacher said one evening in class. We were lying on our backs with blocks positioned under our rib cages and necks. This left the heart cavity rather open and exposed. We moderns have a tendency to hold the exact opposite posture. Sitting at desks hunched over our computers we often collapse our chests into concave positions. Furthermore, many of us unconsciously guard our hearts by wrapping our arms around our bodies self-consciously.

When we do something new it often feels weird. We can interpret that strangeness as an error. Yet my teacher suggested something entirely different. While pain is always a signal that something is wrong (and that we should stop doing whatever is inflicting it), different or uncomfortable often leads to something better.

Remember that first time you took a sip of coffee or had a bite of avocado or sushi? They might have seemed a little “off.” Well, I can’t speak for you but I worship avocados and sushi and can’t wake up without my morning coffee.

Why then do we resist the weird and uncomfortable? When these could be portals to the unknown, leading to something affirmative and good, what are we afraid of?

When we break patterns we become disoriented. What was once engrained and regular gets deconstructed and then reintegrated into a new form. This is the essence of transformation. It demands that we break outdated modes of being.

Observe children having their first experiences in water outside the womb. Infants being given their first baths often wince in distress while babies at swim lessons cling to whomever is holding them. Yet within moments they’re splashing, laughing and smiling. Suddenly the creatures in plastic diapers are now fish.

My cats used to sit in front of the screen door meowing with longing. They were desperate to chase the birds. Yet whenever I scooped one of them up in my arms and took them outside, my little tigers became terrified of the big wide world.

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All learning requires discombobulation. I remember a school teacher once saying, “Confusion is a sign of learning.” My little mind thought this was a complete contradiction. How could learning be confusing? It was supposed to be clarifying. But not always. On the road to mastery, we scramble our pre-existing knowledge base. We stretch our minds outside of their comfort zones. I once studied Greek and recall saying many times in frustration, “This is Greek to me!” Then suddenly Greek was Greek to me. I could read it. The hieroglyphics made sense.

Weird and uncomfortable are invitations. Pain is a signal.