Tag Archives: the unknown

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.

 

 

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.

 

Wrestling with Waiting

6 Jul

Most of us have done a fair amount of waiting. It’s a part of life. Yet there are times when waiting starts to feel like we’re living in a &^%$# production of “Waiting For Godot.”

There are so many ways in which we wait. “Your time will come,” people will say while one waits for a job, or a meal, a paycheck, or a diagnosis. We wait for good or bad news, for the traffic to lift, for the storm to clear, or for that lucky break. We wait for others to change or for love to finally arrive.

Waiting becomes harder for us in today’s instant gratification culture. We can no longer tolerate standing in line at a store without checking our phones or making calls. When we arrive at the counter, we nod to that checker as if he or she were a mere servant inconveniencing us and then we promptly ignore him or her.

The most excruciating period of waiting I ever had was the seven days in-between receiving a suicide note from my mom and the news that she was dead. July 11th – July 18th, 8 years ago.

How do we wait and is there any benefit in the process? Is there a way out of existential angst or are we relegated to it like a form of purgatory? Can we sex, drugs, and alcohol our way out, or do we chin up like a little tin soldier? Do we collapse and fall apart or scale the mountain to greatness?

In yoga, the space between the breaths is viewed as quite significant. It is the transition point. The point were inhalation gives way to exhalation and then gives rise to inhalation again. That is the practice. Learning how to sit through the transitions of felt sensate experience without repressing or collapsing. It is its own Gethsemane. We typically endure alone while the disciples sleep. We die and are reborn in each impasse if we allow ourselves to breathe through it. It is the road to Spirit and to Grace.

It’s not fun to feel. But it is this arc, this wave that gives rise to desire, to momentum, to action, and to transformation. It is what ultimately brings joy. Without it, there is no art. No creation. No change. And no intersection.

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Seeing the Blind Man

19 Feb

The other day I was pulling out of a gas station in Los Angeles and noticed two women helping a young man learn to navigate on his own using a walking stick for he was blind. They walked slightly ahead encouraging him on with their voices. The older of the two women saw me in the car and signalled to the younger woman to have the boy wait. But the younger women shook her head vehemently and motioned for me to halt, which I was planning on doing anyway.

She wanted the boy to keep moving forward. To keep claiming his path and his right to be. She wanted him to be couragous. Dauntless. Cars could wait for a blind pedestrian.

Only cars don’t always wait anymore. Not for blind people, or little old ladies crossing the street, or veterans in wheel chairs. The older woman knew this. The younger one did too. But the younger woman wanted the boy to become fierce. For him to fully live his life.

It’s terrifying to walk straight into the unknown. To not be able to see where we’re headed. The blind boy and the two women took my breath away. They were the most beautiful thing I’d seen all day.

An hour later I was on the highway and found myself behind a truck. Written on the vehichle were the words, “Helping Hands for the Blind.”

Do we have the faith of the blind? Can we walk with ease on paths we cannot see? And who guides us as we step out? From where do we get our vision and courage despite the risks?

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Transitioning

16 Feb

We are all in a state of transition, sometimes incrementally, sometimes more dramatically. What does it mean to move on? Whether in this life time or on into the next?

My Grandmother, perhaps the person I have loved most in my life, made her transition yesterday on Valentine’s Day. I found that very fitting. She has always been fiercely in my heart but now will be there more than ever on February 14th.

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Again, we are all in transition, eventually.

This Valentine’s Day I also said goodbye to Minou and a host of people who mean the world to me. I said goodbye to the town where I was raised and the home I’ve lived in for the last ten years.

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When we leave behind people, places and things we deeply cherish, it’s discombobalating. But in order for new experiences to emerge, we sometimes have to transition. To transition is to evolve perhaps in a spherical sense – we move forward, yet we integrate the previous and include it in our present domain.

Transitioning entails dying to what is known so that we can fully embrace new life.

 

 

I Love Waiting Around – Don’t You?

11 Mar

The time waiting for a Super Shuttle pick up is always tenuous. It’s not like you can really relax and do anything because you know they’re coming. Any minute. Only if you’re like me, you start waiting for them an hour before they arrive.

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I have never liked the time before heading off to the airport, particularly when I was a kid waiting to fly home from after a visit with my grandparents. Despite being happy to go home, I’d always be melancholy. I’d tear up knowing that a time was ending and that my heart felt tender. I was also that kid who was sad when school let out for summer… I am no different today. While I don’t get as sentimental leaving a hotel (although sometimes I grow fond of a place), departures and arrivals become microcosms of the transitions in our lives. And no matter how much I travel and how much I’ve both endured change and thrive on it, I also simultaneously resist it.

As I get older, I am even more aware of transitions. Some visits become our last. There suddenly are no grandparents to visit but one and no parents to return home to. The scenery changes as do the seasons and the years.

So what do we do in the gap, in this transition between one situation and the beginning of another? The Tibetans call this the bardo state. By definition, the word crystallizes the process of transition itself and its resulting chaos. Bar means “in-between” and do means “suspended” or “thrown”. It is “a continuous, unnerving oscillation between clarity and confusion, bewilderment and insight, certainty and uncertainty, sanity and insanity” (Rinpoche). In yoga, this is the space between the breaths; the shift from one position to the next.

In this space I believe we free fall, we notice, we surrender, we become. And so yes, I have to come to love waiting around as much as I hate it. How about you?

On the Road

25 Jan

When writing, we take a journey, thinking we’re going to wind up one place only to discover that we take an entirely different route. I have found that the best writing occurs when we allow ourselves to deviate from the plan. While it’s good to have a general feel for the direction we’re headed, we don’t have to have it all figured out. It’s better to risk getting lost and to find alternative routes.

Thus, I find it fascinating that poet Richard Blanco’s parents wanted him to become an engineer because his writing would “never take him anywhere.” How ironic then that his writing took him to the White House where yesterday he read his inaugural poem.

I’ve never been one for GPS.

Here’s to being on the road…and not always knowing where we’re going or how we’ll get there. But how exhilarating to roll down the windows, breathe in the fresh air, and enjoy the ride.