Tag Archives: spirituality

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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Feng Shui the Psyche for 2018

20 Dec

Call me superstitious but I take the transition between one year into the next very seriously. How one spends New Years’ Eve isn’t so important but the period leading up to it is: the week between X-mas and New Years can be a valuable time to take stock. It’s an opportunity to think about all that has transpired and to set a template for what one wants to create.

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The only way to do this though is to carve out space in our schedules and psyches for contemplation. Who can think straight when our minds are running a million miles a minute and when our bodies are bone tired from pushing to the limits?

In Chinese thought, Feng Shui entails “a system of laws considered to govern spatial arrangement and orientation in relation to the flow of energy (qi).” To have qi moving with ease throughout a home or office, the furniture needs to be arranged in a way that optimizes its flow. If we were to apply the same concepts to our lives, we need enough spatial freedom in our schedules and psyches for qi to flow at maximum efficiency. If the Feng Shui of our inner lives is inadequate, some rearranging and prioritizing of how we’re spending our time and energy might be in store.

The last two Decembers I’ve had to consider, “If I’m this tired now, how will I feel in the New Year?” I want to start 2018 with a feeling of vim and vigor but I can’t if I’m emotionally, physically, and mentally depleted. How do I hit the re-set button? What can I stop doing or take a short break from?

I don’t think I’m alone in these feelings. Modern life is pushing us to move faster and faster. Our smart phones keep us constantly connected to work, friends, family, and information. Rarely do we get a break unless we turn the damn things off. Even when things are wonderful, we’re over-stimulated and taxed. Abundance of any kind comes with stresses too. We have to manage the bounty on our plate and even nutritious food is unhealthy if we’re stuffed to the gills.

If we don’t take stock, we suddenly find ourselves crushed under a wheel of demands and stresses we can’t manage. Then the feeling of being victimized by “it” only adds to the stress.

But pain is information. It’s trying to tell us something. We can take cues from when our energy feels blocked, gummed up and low. Usually, that is a sign that it is time to practice some feng shui. For me, that means slowing down and doing less. It means not going to the gym but to the hills for a walk instead. It means spending more time in quiet and less time in the car. It means telling people I’m getting off the grid for a bit and that I might not be so quick to respond to calls, emails and plans. But I can only put rest into practice if I clear space for it.

Before the new year starts, it can be good to write down what we want to release from 2017 and what we want to create. But we also need to consider what is realistic when mapping out our goals, projects and intentions. Rome wasn’t built in a day. So perhaps we focus on a few things for January, February and March and then concentrate on other items during the remaining months. The key thing is that there is enough psychic space to keep the energy moving through freely. Otherwise, we don’t think well, sleep well, or relate well. Perhaps new years intentions aren’t so much about goals as about how to live and love well and how to embrace our passions without losing ourselves in the process.

 

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.

 

 

Attitudes of Gratitude

22 Nov

This morning, I tried hard NOT to flail my arms out in African dance class as I had surgery last month and don’t care to rip stitches out prematurely. But how can one not feel joy when you hear a drum beat? Drums are akin to our hearts. They are the pulse of life itself – lub dub, lub dub. Years ago when music therapists and myself would bring drums into groups at the Hebrew Home for the Aged, even acute stage Alzheimer’s patients would tap a hand or a foot, despite being practically comatose and near death’s door.

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I have the privilege of taking African dance with a magnificent teacher. I studied African dance fairly extensively in college, so it’s part of my blood. However, the reason I love my teacher is because she understands dance as a form of worship. She practically radiates something higher than herself.

Dance is a way to express joy and praise; a way to mourn and rage.

I dance so I don’t forget I have a body that is often far superior to my mind. The body has its own knowledge and its own divinity. As Whitman wrote, “I sing the body electric!” and as Hafiz waxed eloquent:

Every child has known God, Not the God of names, Not the God of don’ts, Not the God who ever does anything weird, But the God who only knows four words and keeps repeating them, saying: “Come dance with Me.” Come dance.

This is the week of giving thanks. Dance reminds me of the vitality inherent in gratitude. Often, thanks is pretty basic: I slept well last night. This coffee tastes terrific. Friends make me smile. Strangers can be kind. Let me give you a hug. The dog wagged his tail. I’m doing what I love. It rained in LA. Sunday is football. People still care.

Amen.

 

 

Battle Scars

3 Nov

I  had surgery on Halloween. Nothing like being told that the risks of surgery include that 1) you could never wake up and 2) you could sustain nerve damage. Talk about fright.

My surgery was preventative and minor. Thankfully, I am extremely healthy and well and for that I am most grateful. But to put your hands in the hands of another human being is probably one of the most terrifying things you can do. You have to give up control and you have to TRUST. The surgeon said to me, “I get it. I don’t ever want to lie on that table.” But they wheeled me in anyway.

A friend asked if I got to take home the golf-ball-sized clump of cells they removed. “Put it in a jar as a souvenir,”he suggested.

No, thank you, although they did put it on ice.

They called me yesterday and it’s benign.

I got what a wanted.

But I also got more than good news. I was reminded of people’s kindness and the preciousness of life. Nothing should ever be taken for granted for we simply don’t know how long we have on this planet. We struggle and have our issues and conflicts but at the end of the day, love and joy are all that really matter.

I was also reminded that when we go through experiences we incur battle scars. Thankfully, this one is going to heal very nicely.

Every thought and event of our lives becomes held in the body – for good and for bad – so removing actual tissue triggers contemplation.

“What’s being removed? What is healthy and what is pathological? Were there little pockets of negativity lodged in that lump that needed excision? What do our bodies carry in their consciousness? What do our bodies and souls actually need to thrive and transform?”

I recall a woman I once worked with who had had a mastectomy. She was experiencing phantom limb, plus an enormous amount of grief. To help express and understand her feelings of loss, I had her dialogue with her missing breast and actually give the breast a voice. I wanted to hear what it was thinking and feeling.

That breast held a lifetime of memories for her – sexual pleasure, breast feeding, and her beauty and identity as a woman. She felt lost without it but once the breast’s consciousness was respected and acknowledged, her symptoms abated.

Perhaps, at Halloween, we dress up in scary costumes to remember the mess that comes with being in a human body and living out the human experience. Yet El Dia de los Muertos is also a day to remember and honor the spiritual journey of souls.

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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.

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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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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