Tag Archives: being in the moment

When Being Off Balance Is A Start

1 Feb

Last night while doing tree pose in yoga, the teacher suggested we toy with our balance by closing our eyes or swaying our arms. Tree pose, if you don’t know it, entails standing on one leg while the foot of the other is tucked above the standing leg’s knee, resting on the thigh. I find the pose relatively easy but as soon as I closed my eyes, it wasn’t. “They say one’s yoga practice begins the moment you feel off balance,” the teacher remarked.

I started laughing- not because the comment itself was funny but because it was so akin to what I’ve been experiencing lately. Normally, we think of being off balance as a sign of overload and stress, i.e. not good. In fact, a sense of balance is something people typically strive to create in their lives. But what if being off-balance was neither good nor bad but a sign of growth and expansion? A sign of taking on new forms and letting go of control? Obviously, we don’t want to be so off-balance that we teeter over and fall but is a little disequilibrium a thing to avoid?

Personally, I hate feeling out of control. I like structure. I like knowing what is going to happen. I like being in charge with a plan, Only life doesn’t work that way. Trying to make it so is exhausting and futile.

The teacher’s statement reminded me of my go to: “Confusion is a sign of learning.” However, for me, learning is productive so I’ll take a little confusion if I know I’m expanding my mind or learning a new skill. But do I really want to invite being off-balance for the hell of it? What “reward” will I get from being off balance? In my day-to-day life, won’t that drive me out of my mind?

Perhaps. Overload is overload and sometimes too much is too much. But I’m reminded that in acting, a similar phenomenon happens in terms of being off balance. There is often a point in rehearsal or filming when despite knowing your lines, your mind drops them. This happens when you’re so in the moment with a feeling or a connection to someone else that you get flustered. It’s a moment of being off balance; off kilter; not knowing what is going to happen that leaves you feeling completely vulnerable and like you’re falling off a cliff. Every director I’ve ever had has loved it when I drop my lines. “Keep going, keep going,” they’ll say. “What you’re doing is brilliant.” And I’ll think – actually, I’ll not think – I’ll keep going – feeling completely out of my skin in free fall and delight.

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So yes, I guess it’s okay to be off balance even if it feels completely weird and counter-intuitive. It might actually be spot on!

The tree can sway and still stay rooted. It’s a sign of being on the path.

 

 

Return to the Sea

9 Sep

Something happens to me when I’m in the sea. I am both the child I was splashing and laughing in the waves while my mom sunbathed on shore and the adult that I am now, yet free from everything. There is only the sun on my face and the undulations of each wave. The sea integrates my introspective nature with my wild one. It calms me and unleashes me simultaneously. For me, when the conditions are gentle and mild, it’s bliss; when they’re harsh and choppy, it’s utterly humbling and makes me bow down at the Maker.

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When I have had some time in the water, for the next 24 hours I feel a rocking motion within me that is the up and down of the wave now imprinted in my system. I feel my energy body entirely different as if I’ve just taken some type of drug or had a five hour yoga class.

Isak Dinensen wrote, “The cure for anything is salt water — sweat, tears, or the sea.”

This is true.

I surf but not for the thrills or danger. At my age, I don’t need to shred anything. I’m a long boarder and prefer mild, gentle waves like the Dumbo ride at Disneyland. I just want the calm ride in and to be free of injuries. Yet more than anything, I love to surf because it gets me in the water. You put on the little black seal suit that will keep you warm in the frigid Pacific and paddle out on your mini boat. Then as Jackson Browne sang, “Rock me on the water,” something does just that.

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Nothing will commune you more with life pulse energy than the wave. When you catch one, you are being pushed by a force that runs the universe. In a weird way, you become one with the Universe. You are moving and being moved by Nature. It’s thrilling, intimate and completely unpredictable. It is solitude and communion.

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I get in the water to make certain I’m more focused on living than dying.

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.

Running Water Over Stones

25 Mar

As I watched a group of neighbors dressed in black walk to Maudy Thursday services at a nearby church, I looked down and realized that I too was dressed in black. My yoga pants were black and so was my sweater. Only the neigbhors entered the church and I walked into the funky and traditional yoga studio near my house. “I’m worshipping at a different altar tonight,” I thought. However, for me, it’s all the same altar. Prayer, meditation, yoga, nature, church fellowship, and worship are all fundamental resources that help me feel connected to God.

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Although I have taken yoga classes for twenty years, it has only been in the last few that I have started to understand yoga and to realize why having a practice is vital for my emotional, physical and mental well being. Yoga teaches me not just about my body but about how I hold stress and negative thought patterns and how I can stop the constant gripping.

I went to class last night because it was a restorative one. Restorative yoga is different than active yoga. It is specifically designed to calm the nervous system. By using props (a bolster, blocks, blankets, and a strap), you put your body in resting, open postures and hold them for a good ten minutes, if not longer. As you relax into the poses, you can actually feel when the body begins to melt into the floor or the props; you start to notice when the body begins to surrender its never ending push for control and hyper-vigilance. You notice when it starts to release the defensive and protective armor that no longer serves.

“As humans, we are always pushed into stressful states yet the body cannot hold stress and relaxation simultaneously. If we train our bodies to relax, it is physiologically impossible to hold stress at the same time,” said the teacher.

“In growth and transformation, there is always a degree of discomfort. So when you hold new poses, you might initially feel uncomfortable.” I burst out laughing. Yeah, growth and transformation can make one a wee bit uncomfortable.

The first pose we did was called something like “running water over stones.” At least this is the imagery the teacher talked about. Lying on our backs with bolsters and blankets propped to put our spines in their natural curvatures, our bodies were akin to stones that stay  solid and stationary as water runs over them. That water, that ever pulsating movement of life can wear down the stones, yet if we are solid and stationary, the water doesn’t have to push us around. We can be in harmony with the flow of life.

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There are some restorative yoga poses where the props are meant to be intrusive, pushing the body to open and stretch more actively; others that are designed for the body to simply melt and surrender.

There is also the inhalation, the exhalation, and the space between the next breath. That space is vital; it’s where the next beat of life and creativity spring from. That is the space I am most interested in harnessing, yet it is the whole flow of breath that keeps one moving through transformation and growth.

“Relax, relax!” the Saturday teacher always says to me when taking the hatha yoga class. “You’re making it too hard.” If he only knew. If he only knew how often I can make things too hard or how hard I can be on myself. It’s good to take a look in the mirror sometimes. Yet he also says like a kind grandfather (and with a twinkle in his eye), “That’s beautiful. You’re holding the pose beautifully.” It’s also good to note our progress.

I’m So Old School….

30 Oct

While bemoaning about my dislike of texting as a primary communication form, a friend of mine said, “I’m so old school, I actually answer the phone.” Taking the bait, the banter continued:

“I’m so old school, I actually answer the phone even when I don’t recognize the caller ID.”

“I’m so old school, I don’t text and drive.”

“I’m so old school, I actually turn off my phone in the car.”

“I’m so old school, I actually write letters.”

“I’m so old school, I actually have stamps.”

“I’m so old school, I actually read books.”

Well, here’s today’s addition to the list: “I’m so old school, I actually want to wait in line at the bank and talk to the teller while depositing a check.”

Every time I go into the bank to deposit a check, a clerk comes up to me and says, “I can help you outside at the ATM, Miss” (usually it’s the same employee). I always turn to the individual, smile and say, “Thank you, but I’d actually like to make an in-person deposit.” Then we get into a power struggle until I acquiesce and have the person show me what to do.

I know what to do. I just don’t like sending my checks off into a black hole. I also know how to deposit checks using my phone and the bank’s app. The thing is, “I’m so old school, about once a month, I like to cue up inside the bank, so I can stand at the teller’s window and deposit a check before the teller and the window are obsolete. It’s a nostalgia thing for me. I also want a few minutes to just vedge out while waiting for my turn.

You know what? I’m also so old school that I prefer to interact with a real check-out clerk at the grocery store before he or she no longer has a job. It makes no sense to me to hire someone to “assist” customers as they check themselves out. I also occasionally want to talk with a customer service rep instead of pressing 1, 2, & 3 on my phone’s keypad until I’m so frustrated I start screaming obscenities into the cell phone. (And yes, I miss my land line and preferred it to my crappy cell phone reception where everyone sounds like they’re mumbling).

I am old school. I miss human interaction. Yes, the modern way might be – and I repeat – MIGHT BE – more convenient and faster, and yes, the world is changing and I need to adapt, but gosh darnit, let me have a little bit of the old fashioned stuff before it is gone.

I actually prefer having a glass of wine with people in person vs. with strangers on the Internet or with folks far away via Skype.

I miss seeing movies in the theatre instead of streaming them.

I believe in practicing psychotherapy in person vs. on the phone.

I like children interacting with people and toys vs. I-pads and Game Boys.

I like looking out the window on an airplane instead of watching an in-flight movie.

I like sitting in front of a real fire feeling its heat and hearing the crackle of its flames vs. watching an image of a fire on screen (and I want real wood and newspapers vs. some Duraflame log).

Basically, I prefer real life intimacy in all its shapes, forms and delights vs. virtual reality.

While working with the bank clerk today, the ATM couldn’t read one of my checks because a signature was below a certain part of the check. Thus, we had to go back inside after already spending ten minutes at the machine. To finish the transaction, we had to do an old fashioned deposit. While waiting for the gentleman to finish helping me – help I hadn’t wanted in the first place – I glanced at the bank teller’s line. There was none. Had I stayed in the line, I would have finished five minutes earlier. It would have been faster and more pleasant to do it the old fashioned way.

“I’m so old school, I miss the old fashioned ways.”

I’m ready to ditch the cell phone and move to a remote village in Italy. I’m ready to eat pasta and dance and laugh morning, noon and night. No, I don’t want to be a slave to status updates or stat reports. The only selfie I want is one with loved ones printed out in a frame on my desk.

I’m so old school, I want to embrace and enjoy and squeeze every ounce of potential out of my life. I want photographs posted on my heart and soul and not necessarily on-line.

How old school are you?

 

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.

 

Nature’s Wisdom

2 Jul

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I sometimes work with people who provide health care in rural environments. They often mention that individuals in their regions struggle with substance dependence and depression because they are so removed from the stimulation and opportunities of a big city. While part of me understands this phenomenon, part of me is always a little bewildered and saddened by it, for I always feel a profound sense of peace in nature.

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What are we missing in our lives that causes us to feel despair or emptiness? What creates a void in our hearts and souls? And how can we fill it? I find that if I but listen to the wind in the trees and feel the sun or rain on my face, I am not alone. I am in fact very much a part of things. How do we stay connected to the now and the mystery? This is after all, all we have and within it is magic. Deep, profound magic.

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I am no more sage than anyone else. I stumble and fall; suffer and cause others to suffer. Yet I know that when I stop trying to interfere with life and instead simply start embracing it, life is much more generous and gracious.

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There is deep beauty in the moment and the moment is all there is. In this moment is life and it contains all that came before and all that is to evolve. My deepest life lesson is to be here now. To not play God. And instead to enjoy what God has placed before me. I must take nothing for granted for it is all a gift.

At the end of the day, no man or woman is an island. We are all part of this beautiful world. Even in life’s most trying or tragic moments, there is healing and there is grace.

 

 

Shoot the Dying Animal

21 Jun

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Years ago a psychic told me that once I got over my longing for a traditional nuclear family complete with white picket fence, I would be truly content. I was recently thinking about her words.

The American obsession with romance and marriage paradoxically kills any beauty left in these institutions. I believe in both, yet the way our culture distorts and abuses these, makes me realize how hard it is to sustain love,  marriage, and happiness. How then do we embrace well-being and union, for these are deeply human needs.

When I think about the best moments in my life they have always come when I have surrendered any attachment to outcomes. Instead, happiness has come from stepping out of my comfort zone and simply connecting with life, no matter how it is presenting itself to me. These moments are subtle. They don’t include the contrived glamour of being handed a rose. They don’t always include passionate love either. More often than not, happiness results from connection with friends, neighbors, strangers, pets, and work.

These moments come like waves rolling into shore. They are the ones unfolding in the here and now. These are the moments to nurture, not the fairy tale notions of happily ever after.

This is the happily ever after. Right here. Right now.