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The Importance Of Getting Off The Grid

29 Jun

I don’t know about you but there are many days when I’m on complete overload. Modern life has created a cocktail of stimuli that is maxing out our nervous systems. We are bombarded by noise, demands, choices, and activities. Unless we take specific actions to decompress on a daily and even hourly basis, most of us are headed for burnout.

 

Sometimes we have to get off the grid. For that purpose, I’ve created a wellness retreat that will take place in beautiful Ojai, California on October 5th, 6th, and 7th. I hope you’ll join me!

During the retreat, we’ll reflect on what brings meaning and value to our lives- separate from the unwanted influences of our day-to-day schedules. Learn to better manage stress, improve your wellbeing, and feel revitalized! For details on the itinerary and accommodations, visit my website.

Take some time to care for yourself and to get away! I hope to see you in October in Ojai!

What are You Starting and Stopping?

28 Dec

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This sign was placed at my regular trailhead recently. “How apropos for New Year’s,” I thought as I set out.

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As my feet began the familiar climb I reflected on the fact that the word “START” was placed on a sign known for signaling “STOP”.

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Then when I got to the first look out spot, I noticed the very familiar grafitti on this block of cement. Yes, God woke me up for a reason. What is it that I intend to do this upcoming year and during my life?

I take the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve very seriously. For me, it is a time to engage in serious reflection. As much as I can, I slow down and vacate the day-to-day rut of work and domestic life. I try to have very little agenda and a fair amount of solitude post all the holiday revelries. Whether it’s a hike or novels or Netflix, I try to just let myself be. In that process, I can think about the highs and lows of the year, let any residual “ick” float to the surface and release, and begin to imagine possibilities for 2018. And I often find myself pretty tired about now.

As is typical, I have a thousand projects brewing that all feel like they’re going to explode in the first few months of the year. For that reason, I resonate with both “START” and “STOP” for if we’re going to “START” some things, it might mean we have to “STOP” or at least “PAUSE” on other things. There has to be enough space in our lives for creation. And there has to be enough space in our lives to actually live.

It’s important to know when to start and when to stop because we can’t have the foot on the brake pedal and the gas at the same time.

It’s also important to simply look around while in motion. When I did this morning, I was greeted by this sweet friend.

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Here’s to 2018 and a wonderful New Year’s!

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Which Is More Stressful? Doing What You Love Or Not Doing What You Love?

29 Oct

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I’m a firm believer that following one’s dreams is not only life giving- it’s a necessity. When we don’t pursue our hearts we run the risk of growing old, resentful and disconnected from our life force.

That said, chasing a passion extracts a cost.

There is never balance. It’s a constant juggling act.

I remember a loved one suggesting that I consider art a hobby and not aim for it as a career. Creating for the sake of creating should be reward enough.

At some point toying with passion isn’t enough though. At some point, if you are serious about yourself and what you have to offer, you become serious about it all. It’s not about whether or not you actually hit the big time; it’s about whether or not you actually swing at the bat.

The funny thing about pursuing a goal is that it requires a degree of relaxation too. Trying too hard stunts creativity and spontaneity, so you have to loosen the grip a little. But if you want to be in the game, you have to practice, sweat, get dirty and deal with stress and exhaustion. That’s just the way it goes. No one who is remotely successful achieved anything by wistfully dreaming about it. Creativity requires risk and action. It will throw you off kilter and plunge you into the unknown. Forget security. It will require last minute decisions, schedule changes, and sacrifices. It will mean that not all will understand or even support you. In fact, most won’t even care. And that’s okay. Because the only person who needs to care is you.

Because which is more stressful? Doing what you love or not doing what you love?

Most new mothers would never go back to the hospital and say, “Thank you. I’m returning my child. I miss eight hours sleep.” While they might dream about eight hours sleep and miss aspects of their previous lifestyles, most wouldn’t trade their children in for simplicity and convenience. That wouldn’t enter most new mothers’ minds beyond mere fantasy.

So which is more stressful? Doing what you love or not doing what you love? And who and what do you make sacrifices for?

What Does It Mean To Spiritually Eliminate And Do You Need To Do It?

15 Sep

It’s a well known fact that elimination is vital to life. Without these biological processes, we would die. Our bodies discharge waste through complex physiological processes but do our bodies do this on a spiritual level too?

This question floated through my head during one of the most surreal yoga classes I’ve ever taken. Because focus was being placed on the first chakra, most of the exercises were geared toward the parts of our bodies dealing with physical elimination. “Think of this as spiritual potty training,” the teacher said. Yes, this is LA living. I’m lying on a mat reflecting on my anal sphincter…

The first chakra has to do with being grounded in physical life. It correlates to our physical health, basic survival needs, and personal safety as we navigate through day-to-day life. This particular teacher has been practicing yoga for years and also studied in India. I take her very seriously even though her comments sometimes make me laugh out loud.

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A toddler experiences potty training to learn how to effectively eliminate and to gain increased autonomy from her care-takers. How do we learn to effectively eliminate the “crap” from our lives that stores up as we digest “stuff” throughout the day, week, month and year(s)?

The spiritual correlation isn’t too different from the physical dimensions of our bodies. If we don’t have control over our elimination system, things will get impacted causing constipation and blockage and/or things will move through with no control. What is this crap and how do we discharge it efficiently?

All day we take things in – some of it is nourishing; some is the equivalent of junk food. We take in conversations and information, relationships and experiences. We take in work demands, personal crises, and personal joys. Our systems perceive all kinds of stimuli – positive and negative that needs to be processed, metabolized and released. In today’s modern world, we have the equivalent of spiritual pollution: exhaust from social media, our devices, traffic, arguments, reality t.v., US politics, etc., etc.

Increasingly, I need to gauge how well I’m digesting and eliminating what is not necessary; what is waste; what isn’t vital to my spiritual and nutritional health. It’s part of my health regime. At a certain point, I can’t take in anymore without completing maxing out my nervous system or soul.

Today I went for a hike. I’d had enough of the computer screen and to do list.

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Tonight, I will do a little more work and then power down. Enough.

If we’re wound too tight, we can’t let go.

What helps you unwind? Clear out? And get back to health?

 

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.

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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Practice Creates Possibilities

15 Apr

As both an artist and psychotherapist, I have long been interested in the interplay between process and product. While we strive to create a consummate product, so much of life is about the process itself. My personal belief is that honoring and surrendering to the process creates the best outcome.

Is there such a thing as perfect? And do we even want it? The quest for perfection can kill freedom, spontanity, and creativity. Great work often comes from exploratory failures. My acting teacher always says, “It’s your job to throw up. The editor will clean it up.” In essence, just let yourself be open to the flow happening – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

My yoga teacher said a similar thing last night. “There is no perfect in yoga. That’s why we call it a practice. And the minute you think you have “it”, the moment will be gone. Then you open again to the not knowing, the fumbling, the tension, and the pushing. Then you find “it” again but for a moment. The beauty though is that the practice creates possibilities. Without a practice, everything shrinks. There are few possibilities.”

This comment really struck me because there are certain things I’ve been “practicng” all my life, one of which includes acting. Now all that practice is creating possibility. I wrote, produced, and starred in a short film and just acted in my first commercial. The film is being submitted to festivals and I am auditioning regularly for new projects. Step-by-step, or as Anne Lamott would say, “bird-by-bird.” Practice creates possibilities.

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For those of you wondering about the break in these e-newsletters and my blog, I moved to Los Angeles in February and have been getting settled here while placing focus on acting and film production. In addition, I have continued teaching Mental Health First Aid instructor trainings and have maintained my private practice. I also set a firm intention to finally get my book published by 2017.

Yet I am reminded over and over again that we need to practice “being” in the midst of the doing and that ironically when we engage in that “practice” of rest and relaxation, many opportunities emerge from the resulting spaciousness. It’s a constant tension between being and doing, process and product, will and surrender. And it is our breath and spirit that sustains us through these explorations. It is always the journey that gets us to the eventual destination. Namaste.

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.

Too Busy To Be Grateful?

18 Nov

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The other day my friend/neighbor texted me, asking if I wanted to go for a walk when she got home from work. I was delighted to realize that yes, I could go for a walk. I didn’t have a commitment at the hour she suggested, nor did I have pressing work that needed to be finished.

Years ago, when my friend’s dog was alive, we used to walk at least a few times a week. Deb would call (texting hadn’t been invented yet) to tell me that she was leaving her house and that she’d meet me at mine. This routine kept us up on the details of each other’s lives. We knew all the strange cacti of the neighborhood, as well as all of the dogs and cats. It was a way to reflect on the beginning or the ending of the day.

Those walks set a precedent of neighborly connection not thought of as the norm in Southern California. Yet despite our nice friendship, weeks and even months can go by without Deb and I walking or even talking! The demands of work and personal lives interfere with spontaneity, spaciousness, and leisure.

I have been too busy. And when I’m too busy, gratitude is the first thing that goes out the window for me. I don’t notice the canyons, or the flowers, and I don’t hear the birds. Instead, I experience a chorus of worry and resentment unheard of in a third world country. Many people would be grateful for my life, as well as my problems. I have my health, food in my belly, and a roof over my head. I have meaningful work and people that love me. What’s not to be thankful for?

As we enter the pre-Thanksgiving period and start to reflect on all we have to be grateful for, I am reminded again and again how my sense of appreciation somehow rises exponentially when I have a little inner spaciousness. For me, if I’m too busy, I forget to be grateful. Instead, I’m exhausted and cranky like a child in need of a nap. Slowing down increases my awareness and causes me to give thanks. Time is a precious commodity and one of the things for which I’m grateful this season.