Monday, May 8, 2017

Everything Alive Inside You

He bought a gorgeous aboriginal throw as a memento and as the space for our afternoon work. We took it over the railroad tracks, down the winding, sandy path to a quiet place on the dunes, removed from the beach below. I lay down and he set to his task rhythmically delivering the most profound healing work I've ever received. Honestly, no hyperbole. I reeled for days after, tremoring, laughcrying in yoga, swimming in the ocean, rolling around on the floor, writing pages on pages all in an attempt to integrate the way my mind and heart had just been blown wide. It was a glorious surprise, by far my best travel souvenir to date.

The last time I experienced such a deep inner earthquake was nine years ago when I was diving into Kundalini yoga, and, as I like to quip, Kundalini made me quit my job, my relationship, San Francisco...etc. In a word, this practice was destructive. Anything that wasn't fully in alignment with my truth and well being had to go. And this saved my life.

Perhaps then you can imagine the gratitude I have for my new healer friend, and the attachment I found cropping up as our time together began to close. When one has met someone who matches them so neatly, who is attuned, readily vulnerable and open, it's natural to want to keep them around. There also arises the danger of attaching the healing you've experienced to the practitioner.

This happens across realms of healing. Sometimes people transition from hard drugs or boozing to yoga and attribute all their success to The Yoga. I've even just written it: "Kundalini yoga saved my life." While it is true that yoga and meditation generate actual, physiological changes, these practices would be entirely ineffective without disciplined commitment. As they say in AA, "It Works If You Work It." It is the work we put in and our willingness to heal that makes the difference. We keep coming back...and it works!

The Healing is grown and lives inside us. It is not a gift given outside of ourselves from a teacher, preacher, therapist or guru. The Healing is the fruit of our labor, the reaping of our sowing. "Healers" are truly facilitators, creating the space and giving the permission wherein you are able to do the work. This is a valuable art, but without your will, all is for naught. When they are gone, when you've stepped off your yoga mat or out of their office, your healing remains with you and the course of it is in your hands.

If you are in a practice or see a healer that makes their presence necessary for your continued equilibrium, RUN away. The healing practitioner's goal should always be to become obsolete to you. Healing tools should serve to strengthen us to the point where we no longer need them. When you reach the roof of the house, do you drag the ladder up with you? No. It has served its purpose. You let it go.

Just as our healing does, all our feelings and experiences live within us. Love, for example, is not an inert, scarce resource that can be given away, lost, stolen or otherwise possessed. Our love is not "wasted" for having been shared with someone who leaves. It is alive in everyone and everything, in abundance never ending. There may be external stimuli which help inspire love or joy, but those feelings were in you all along. Happiness really is an inside job.

On the other side of the same coin, we must contend with our pain, shame and rage as beings living inside us. This is not Inception. No one snuck in in the night and planted them there. They were there and something happened to activate them, but they still belong to you. If you refuse to take responsibility for them and remain mindful of their activity, you risk having them control you from the underground.

During some recent train writing, I had an epiphany about attachment: part of what makes letting go of relationships and moments so hard is the feeling of loss that accompanies this, but we're not seeing the whole picture. While the moment may be over or your loved one gone, you are free to pool the experience, and to retain whatever joy remains or lessons that serve you. Sometimes we keep trying to return to something we know we can't resurrect looking for validation of what happened. It was real and whatever happened therein has not gone away! You get to keep all the healing that you experienced in the mirror of this other person. Your love and joy still live inside you. The only thing we lose when we let go is potential future pleasure, but this never existed. It was never ours to lose.

It is all there.
All our loss, sorrow, shame, anger and regret.
All our healing, growth, joy, pleasure and fun.
Everything that's ever happened to us is written on bones and tucked between muscle fibers.

If we heal, it's because we've tilled and fertilized the soil, creating a nourishing loam for new life to grow. We commit to the work with courage and keep at it.
If we are angry, it's because the anger lives in us. Learn to be with it. Let it teach you something important about the state of your heart.
If we are happy, it's because the happiness lives in us, too. We choose it everyday.

You can choose to give this power and responsibility away, to anchor your wellness in another human being, but this is pure folly. As soon as they go- and we all go, in time- then what? The end result of operating under the illusion that someone else is the master of our destinies is deep dependency and instability. If we wish to be truly independent and free, we have to learn to, as Zen Master Osho suggests, "develop within ourselves the capacity to make our way through the darkness without any companions, maps or guide."

Our internal environment is our holy domain.
We are the kings and queens of our experience.
The things we most need are already alive inside us.
There is nothing missing.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Greed and Gluttony: Failing at Brahmacharya and Aparigraha

As an adolescent person beginning to look more deeply into the workings of things, I viscerally remember the depression I felt upon first encountering the Four Noble Truths. The world is filled with suffering and the only path to alleviate suffering is non-attachment? It felt so harsh and lonely to me, this idea of not being attached to anything and the assumption that this meant you couldn't love anyone. In my mind, the two were one in the same; the love I felt for my family was woven together with a desire that I would never be without them.

There's an old Taoist story concerning a farmer whose horse runs away one day. His neighbors express their sympathy and the farmer says, "We'll see." When the horse returns with more horses in tow, the neighbors are overjoyed for him. Once again he replies, "We'll see." The farmer's son takes one of the horses out for a ride, is bucked and breaks his leg. The neighbors are so sorry about this misfortune, but the farmer is unmoved: "We'll see." Soon the army comes around, conscripting young men for a war. Because of the son's broken leg, he is overlooked and left behind. The neighbors are again so happy for the farmer, but his reply is unchanged; "We'll see."

You may have noticed that what once brought you joy has the ability to transform into a source of suffering. It is near impossible to accurately discern which occurrences are "good" and "bad" because of the ever shifting nature of reality. Everything is changing, one thing turning over into another. It is also the case that frequently the joy has not become suffering. The joy simply becomes a thing that Was, rather than a thing that Is, and it is our clinging to it that causes us pain.

Many years ago, I became heavily attached to a man who brought me a lot of pleasure. I did not understand that he was not to be a deep well for me, but a happy hour shot of well tequila. What he had to offer was real and fun, but was limited to the moment, and I had yet to learn that the world is generous and abundant. Scarcity mentality combined with a strong predilection for feeling gooood trapped me in an illusion that he was the only source. It HAD to be him and if not him, surely I would never experience anything better. This makes for desperation and grasping, which ain't cute, kids.

It's not illogical to want to keep having fun when you're having fun. If you are able to connect well with someone, which is often half the battle in human relating, it makes sense that you would want to grow and maintain the connection. However, we have to be real about what's actually available. If you are at a restaurant that doesn't offer refills for your drink, what are you going to do? Scream at the server? Demand a manager? Write a nasty Yelp review? Perhaps, instead of causing so much strife, you could just enjoy the drink you had and if you're still thirsty, order something else.

There's a limit and lifespan to all things; bodies, relationships and pints of fancy vegan ice cream. I can't tell you how many times I've mourned something before it's even over, still in a place and already half-not-there. It's a way to inoculate oneself against the pain of loss, but it's also a terrible joy robber. My time with my old lover could've been a pure joy, still looked back upon with total fondness, if I had just welcomed it warmly and bid farewell with gratitude when it was over. I've managed this since then and it's a much healthier way to relate to people and moments. Open handed. Welcome, thank you, good bye!

It's also really fucking hard sometimes. Holy shit it is hard to gracefully embrace the reality of life when the reality is the absence of something that brought you so much happiness. I'll have strong words for the next person who assails me with the gross platitude Don't Cry Because It's Over, Smile Because It Happened(!!!) Seeing just how gluttonous and greedy you are capable of being can also be uncomfortable. I have stood outside myself watching myself, marveling at the sort of animal I have in me; unapologetically self-serving, insatiable, demanding and ungrateful. It does not feel like who I am, and is certainly not who I want to be. Yet I've found myself sending a fifth shrill text in a row, trying to get a bucket of water out of a well that's long run dry. Trying to manipulate reality to meet my needs. Suffering because of my attachment to what Was.

Zen Master Osho taught that when we cling to memories, we turn our back on the innumerable blessings available in the here and now. It is one thing to day dream a bit about the past, and another thing entirely to refuse to participate in the present because you're so sure that it will never get any better than what was. How will we know unless we try? Letting Go is an act of faith that the world is indeed generous and abundant, that the end of one joy is not the End of All Joy. This pain will become another thing which feels good and that'll become something else until we die and become the source of someone else's suffering in their missing of us. This is the way of things.

The adult self is learning that while attachment and love are not mutually exclusive, they are also not the same. One can be very attached to something that they don't actually love, and love something deeply that they are able to let go gracefully when the time comes. A high degree of attachment does not denote a superior sort of love. This is an ego trap. If you can't stop thinking about someone and/or feel that you can't live without them, this is unhealthy and bound for pain. In fact, the only way for something you love to never become a source of suffering is to remain unattached to it.

This is a pretty idea. I would love to be able to love this way; without need or grasping. Pure, free and perfect love. This is a tall, challenging order. There's a greedy, gluttonous sort of animal inside me who is slow to tame. Life will continue to present opportunities to practice this in the form of pleasures transformed into pain. Perhaps, someday, I'll be a very good yogi and master the yamas; brahmacharya (non-excess) and aparigraha (non-greed). Perhaps I'll be able to smile because it happened, to love with open hands and non-attachment. Until then, I will be an evolving human doing her best and that's okay.

My love isn't perfect but it is strong and sweet.

May we be able to let what comes, comes, and what goes, goes,
with equanimity, grace and gratitude.


Monday, March 6, 2017

The Fiery, Alchemical Force of Love

"Just like our organs, our anger is part of us. When we are angry, we have to go back to ourselves and take good care of our anger. We cannot say, 'Go away, anger, I don’t want you.' When you have a stomachache, you don’t say, 'I don’t want you stomach, go away.' No, you take care of it. In the same way, we have to embrace and take good care of our anger."
—Thich Nhat Hanh

When I was in yoga teacher training, I let all my hair grow. For half a year, I didn't shave or cut any of it off. It was in part a respectful nod to the Sikh tradition of not cutting any hairs on the body, and part an experiment in self-love. Having been raised in a culture which shamed the presence of hair on certain parts of my body, could I let that hair be there and still feel happy and comfortable in my skin?

Since then, I have vacillated between shaving regularly and going long periods of time without. With the ebb and flow of my body hair has grown a sense of almost militant pride in who I am and this logical conclusion: I was born in a female body and this hair grows out of my female body, so how is it unfeminine? How can that which occurs naturally be unnatural?

Diving beneath skin deep, we can apply this same logic to the whole of our beings. We must lovingly care for every part of who we are, for what we recoil from in ourselves we will not be able to embrace in others. What we reject in ourselves will not leave. Repression forces our anger, pain, shame and brutality into the darkness, where it will remain until we muster the courage to face it. It will not be silent and inert; it seeps out and controls our behavior from the underground. These repressions are a festering danger.

Recently, I had a challenging relationship with a coworker. They were often harsh and demanding, rigid and determined to be right, no matter the cost. Experience has taught that most times we can either be happy or right, but not both. I would rather be happy than right, but sometimes had to strongly stand for myself in the face of attacks to my character. After a few exchanged blows and displays of my might, my coworker began to respect me more and it became easier to work with them.

It also became apparent overtime that they were operating from a place of fear, exhaustion and scarcity. They badly needed help but didn't feel comfortable surrendering any control to anyone else- they had been burned before, they cannot rely on anyone but themselves. With an equal mix of firmness and thoughtful care, I began to take control of what I could to ease their burden. I encouraged them to take time off to play, to take care of themselves. I consistently, excellently showed up and held the weight down, and they were able to soften and relax a bit. Through the alchemical force of my fierce love, I was able to transform the lead of our relating to gold.

Love is an alchemical force that turns lead to gold.

Love is the only force on this planet that can coax our anger, pain, shame and brutality out into the light. If we are to heal ourselves and others, we have to step into a place of softness and allowing. We must make friends with every part of ourselves, especially the parts that are hard to face. It is the difficult to love feelings and the difficult to love people that need a strong, steady embrace most of all. We can never be truly free until we are able to welcome anything that arises with gentleness and curiosity. "Hello! Welcome! What have you come to teach me?"

The first yama (code of right living) in the Yoga Sutras is ahimsa, to do no harm. While it's my sincere desire that all living things would feel totally loved in my presence, there should be limits to what one is willing to accept. As some yogis cheekily state, "Do no harm but take no shit." Love is often mistaken as a weak thing, but if you've ever witnessed a parent defend their child, you know how ferocious love can be. 

Love can be very soft and sweet, but it can also manifest as a fiery roar. It was a ferocious self-love that defended me against my coworker, that empowered me to stand strongly for myself and be unwilling to let another do harm to me. It was a fierce love that thoughtfully supported that coworker in their well being, while also holding them accountable for their maladaptive behavior. It is my desire that I will do no harm, but best believe that I will also take no shit. It's a fine line worth testing and a balance worth perfecting. 

May we cultivate an inner spaciousness that allows for both:
Embracing, allowing, softening, gentleness AND
Healthy boundaries, firmness, accountability

May our love be both sweet and fierce.

May we do no harm,
May all beings feel loved in our presences,
But may we also take no shit.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

You Are Already Rich and Blessed

If you're reading this, it's likely that you own some sort of electronic device- a computer, a smartphone. It's also likely that you have a home to live in with functional electrical outlets that allow you to charge those devices, light switches to flip to illuminate the darkness, clean water that flows endless into cups, bathtubs, tea kettles.

These things are such an easy, natural part of life in many places that we tend to think of them as a given. We know that there are places in the world, sometimes very nearby, where people do not live with such ease. They don't know where their next meal will come from, or have a safe home or clean water. For a moment we may be #grateful for what we have, conscious of the grace that holds our lives together. Following hot on the heels of gratitude, though, is the ever-creeping, gaping gnaw of awareness of What's Not. We push aside our blessings and look only at what we don't have, what we have not achieved.

Dissatisfaction is a powerful creative force. It has inspired incredible innovation and progress in science, art, technology and human rights. There are some things that we should certainly not accept. But what if we are also refusing to accept a deep sense of comfort having our basic needs easily met? How much joy are we missing out on by refusing to acknowledge and celebrate What Is already?

This quote from Jack Gilbert is a favorite of mine that speaks to this:
"We must risk delight! We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world."
Lately it has been effortless for me to feel held and nurtured by the simple things that come easily. I'm living
on three acres of verdant Hawaiian jungle overlooking the Pacific. Everyday we pick and eat what the land has grown; avocados and mac nuts, very free range eggs, lilikoi, pomelos, tangerines, bananas and papayas. We make juice and marmalade and bread. We churn our own ice cream. We Ooh and Ahh over one gorgeous sunset after another. We hike down to the bay and swim with dolphins. It is what some might call "an embarrassment of riches." There is such an abundance of goodness that we literally can't consume it all (seriously, we have hundreds of pounds of citrus).

Yes, it is easy for me to sit here in the outdoor kitchen with a nice breeze and feel calm, nourished, content. All my needs are met. The coffee is strong. The avocado toast is daily. There is good yoga nearby. Wintertime and the living is easy. There is very little struggle and there are no bad days.

This is not like life in other times and spaces, I know. I usually live in New York, where we wear our struggle like a badge of honor. We may bitch and moan about the subway or the weather, but at the end of the day we are so proud to be able to make it there. We are strong, savvy and ambitious. We strive for the next greatest thing.

The world is so loud, busy and competitive that it's possible to overlook What Is and focus only on What's Not. What I've discovered, though, is that this leads to a perpetual mental state of Lack. What I have, who I am and what I do are never enough. Striving leads to strain. I feel anxious, unhappy, unsupported.

However, this isn't my reality. Even in "normal life" in New York, there are still things big and small that go right everyday. I am supported in ways that I may never know by people I will likely never meet. I don't have an unlimited free supply of tangerines and avocados, but I can buy them at Whole Foods and that's okay, too. It's not as effortless, but New York has perks that this rural jungle town does not, like functional public transit and sushi delivery.

Every time and space has its drawbacks, but there are also gift and opportunity on offer in every moment. I remain present to this by keeping a daily record of gratitude. It's a running list of everything fun, joyful and pleasurable that happens in my life that I find useful to reference. When times are lean, I am reminded how rich and blessed I already am. When times are lush, it serves to stack my joy exponentially. I smile and giggle at my rabid fondness for Mexican food, long walks, dogs and travel. I recall these moments of delight that I would otherwise forget and my life is made better for it in ways I can't full describe. It's a deeply nourishing, enriching practice that I highly recommend.

Let's start right now. Take a moment to write out (by hand, on works better that way) at least three things for which you are grateful. You can start with the "givens" if you like, then expand out to other areas.

But maybe you stop at the basic and obvious. Maybe you walk into the kitchen, pour yourself a glass of clean water and savor it. Maybe, for a moment, you feel totally supported and cared for by the ease with which you are able to access something so vital.

Never be satisfied with intolerable conditions. Fight oppression in all its forms. Fight for the rise of all bodies. But also be comforted and delighted by everything that is basic and easy.

What you have and who you are are already enough.

May your 2017 continue to be blessed abundantly!


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Lines of Credit and Debt Collection

He wasn't supposed to be there. He was supposed to be in India, but his visa was denied, and so there we were in a bar in Bangkok listening to Beatles covers. So much hurt had come up between us, but the last time we'd connected it was sweet, life-giving, even. How wonderfully weird and novel to see him half a world away from our homes.

The music was loud and he sat close, telling me stories and catching up. His friend suggested that we all go play pool. My friends were tired and wanted to go back to the hotel. They got in a tuk tuk. I would catch up with them later. Just as they were out of sight, he turned to me and asked, suddenly so irritated, why I hadn't left with them? I should've left with them. But wait...what? Aware of my unresolved feelings for him but still entirely guileless, I stammered that I thought we were going to play pool...? We were not, he said, as if all this was obvious and I was that willfully obtuse. We are fighting on the street of a foreign city half a world away from our homes. I am alone in a tuk tuk, sobbing, embarrassed and confused.

A month or so passes before I reach out to him. I am in Cambodia and have decided to forgive everyone of everything ever. I know him better than this. He is not cruel. He would not gaslight me. Surely, surely, something else must've happened. I reach out with equanimity, grace, love. I extend a line of credit to an account that is already severely overdrawn. I get no response.

Weeks later I am on Bali. It is Nyepi, the new year, a day of silent prayer, meditation, atonement. Again I reach out. I apologize for anything I might've done wrong. 

Weeks later, I am back in the states and apologize again, this time remind him that we have mutual friends, we will see each other again. We have to work this out. 

It will be months until I see him, and only because those friends are in town. 
It will be months until I see him, and hear whispers about his relationship with cocaine. 
It will be months until I see him, and finally understand his behavior in context.

But I will still reach out, twice more. Once, I offer my friendship for healthy things, for walks with my dog and meditation class. Once, I check to see if, perhaps, we're ready for some heart mending. I will get no response. He does not want to mend.
In 2013, I began developing a relationship principle that one might use to assess the relative health of their relating. Are you and the person you're in relationship with both willing contributors to the relating? Do you both, more often than not, make more deposits into than withdrawals from your joint emotional back account? Are you both, more often than not, able to meet each other's normal, human need for healthy attachment
Yes? Super! No? Ruhoh...

Had I followed my own principle, I would have long ago cut off the guy in the story. He had, on more than one occasion, actually told me that "All I can offer you is tonight." Come ooonnnnn. Seriously? Let's tune into some Maya Angelou real talk: 

"When people show you who they are, believe them the first time." 

He literally told me that he was not a sound investment for anything but the short term, and I offered him high value, long term loans. I extended him one line of credit after another, hoping that he would experience a radical shift and show up at the Bank of My Heart with deposits enough to fill our account, cover overdraft fees, shore it all up. I hounded him for awhile, full of righteous anger about what I was owed. I tried to collect on the debt. 

As Sallie Mae will eventually have to do for the whole Millennial generation, I will have to write this debt off as a loss. He does not want to mend. If he ever did, I'd be happy to do that work with him, but I have to assume that he will never make this right. He will never humble himself on the altar of I'm Sorry for leaving me alone on the street in Bangkok. I have nothing left to give; no apologies or equanimity or righteous demands, and certainly no credit.

I am not a debt collector. 
I am an artist. 
I am here to create more beauty.
I am here to tell the truth.

Stop extending lines of credit to accounts that are already overdrawn.
Find a better place to invest your love.
It's precious.
And so are you.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Finding Some Fucks To Give: A Primer on Empathy

This piece began a while ago when some white folks hit Twitter to complain that the Netflix production of Luke Cage is racist because it doesn't feature enough white people for their liking. Never mind that entertainment has all but ignored people of color, going so far as to utilize white actors to represent characters meant to be people of color (I'm looking at you...Ghost in the Shell/Aloha/Doctor Strange/Gods of Egypt/Argo/etc etc etc). Luke Cage is a story about a black hero rising up out of a black community. Harlem is gentrifying, but it's still a black neighborhood. When I lived in Harlem, I was the only white person I ever saw on my block. Luke Cage accurately represents the Harlem I know.

This critical response, and so much of what is happening right now, highlights the need for us to pay respectful attention to stories that are unlike our own, of which we have no part. If one is open, you can learn from these stories and enjoy the wider perspective that they may afford you. After all, it is impossible to take in everything that this life has to offer. Engaging with other people's experiences gives us the opportunity to understand something outside our personal universe. This is a form of empathy and an expression of humility. I will never know what it's like to live in another body, and to be born in another time and place, but I can take interest in other people's narratives. I can learn.

On the flip side are those who must constantly have everything around them mirror and affirm their existence. Their identity is wrapped up in being the center of the dominant narrative. They are the leads. They are the heroes. Anything presented outside of that storyline feels like a threat. They have been in full possession of the limelight for always, and are unwilling to give even an inch so that someone else's story may be brought forth. They don't care if this dominance means the erasure of other worthy stories from the pages of history. Their personal experience is Universal Truth. Anything outside of this is Unknown Other, and Other is always wrong. Unknown is terrifying, and fear is alchemized into anger.

This anger is sometimes, horrifically, alchemized into violent action. Marginalized groups have always faced threats to their well being, but those threats are reaching a new fever pitch. As was the case before, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, there are some who continue to insist that everything is fine. They say we live in a post racial society, they site black on black crime rates and statistics about false rape accusations. They shriek that #ALLLIVESMATTER, ask others to "Give him a chance!" and call others sore losers for protesting the rise to power of a dangerous demagogue. Some well meaning folks plead with everyone to "OMG just like love everyone! Like don't hate you guys!!! Keep it positive!!!!!" all the while continuing to ignore the voices of those whom are in real, actual danger...still.

Absolutely nothing is accomplished by hiding your head in the sand and refusing to humble yourself before real life experiences which you don't share or understand. This may overwhelm you. You may suddenly find yourself plagued with guilt and the knowing that at best, you've been a silent witness to oppression, and at worst, you've been an active participant. You may be so overwhelmed that instead of asking how you can help and beginning it, you decide to disengage. You cannot face the enormity of this. It's too hard and too scary. It's a confrontation of your identity as a person who is sooo totally not racist. It means owning up to your own biases, your own subtle sense of superiority, all the parts of yourself of which you are not proud. It means facing your own shame, which is a brutal beast. Instead of employing courage for this difficult transformative work, you choose to deflect. "They're being dramatic. Everything is fine." "I'm an optimist. Let's just see what happens."

Meanwhile, black and brown bodies, lady bodies, trans bodies, Muslim bodies, queer bodies continue to be the target of a swell of harassment and aggression. You don't have to believe in any of this for it to be true. You can pretend that it's liberal media hype, but we know different. The bodies of people I know and love have already bore this brutality, before and after the election. We have tried to let you in on this narrative. You couldn't hear it. Hearing it meant being cracked open, changed, pushed to action, and the discomfort was too great.

We must find some fucks to give one another. We must take interest in stories that are completely unlike our own. We must give them space and time, respect and credence. People everywhere are hurting, desperate for change. There is a sickness among us and it is the distancing of ourselves from those unlike us, as if we were made of different materials, as if we all don't just want to live well. People need to able to earn a living to support their families. People need to be able to practice their faith, or love who they love without fear of violence. Not everyone will look like you, or live the same way as you, but they are still worthy of every liberty and protection on offer. There should be no second class citizens here.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a dream that one day soon we will reach out across party lines for the sake of our shared humanity. I have a dream that we will soften and humble ourselves before an unfamiliar story, let it change us, let it be a call to action for the dignity and well being of another. I have a dream that we will unite over an insistence that each body in this country will have the benefit of clean food and water, healthcare, shelter, a good education, and honest work. I have a dream that we will muster the courage to give some fucks about people we may never meet who may be very different from us.

Unanswered needs are still needed. Unattended suffering gnaws away. Those who are desperate remain desperate until something is done to help them. Name calling and blame placing doesn't feed a hungry belly. It's time to get practical. It's time to ask the people what it is they need to thrive and figure out how to make it possible. There is a way through every block. We can do this.

How are you hurting? How can I help?

All bodies rise, together.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Ahh Eww That Lives In You

Over the summer I went out to see some live music. The performer was talented, even a bit over qualified for the small venue in which he played. He had solid showmanship, quipping between songs and telling little stories. Many of his stories centered around women that had done him wrong. While I, too, am guilty of using romance as fodder for writing, I also know this talented performer and his romantic life over a period of years. One night a girlfriend of his did too many drugs and I had to babysit her while she told me her numerous stories about him. Wrong doing is often a two way street. I see you, broseph.

A long time ago my mama taught me something valuable about personal responsibility: If you have similar problems with a variety of people, YOU are the common denominator in every situation. It's not them, darling. It's you.

One particularly heady autumn evening years ago, my friend Rebecca and I met a handsome stranger on the streets of San Francisco. I was immediately attracted to him, and would only later realize that he's a very charming, yes, very handsome, yes, very alcoholic man. They all are. If I had a "type" it would be emotionally stunted and addicted. During one of my stints in therapy, I cried about how incredibly pitiful I feel not being able to trust myself. Even after the depth of heart work I've done, I continue to experience this uncanny ability to find the most beautiful, broken man in the room. Just as recently as a month ago, amidst a big crowd, I zeroed in on a tall drink of architect who is predictably, yes, an alcoholic. The difference this time is that I recognized the red flags and didn't pursue the impulse. Progress!

This is a worthwhile consideration when one desires to change their experience of life. If you are fed up with the way things are, you have to be honest about what part you've played in making them so. There may be factors outside your control, but as the saying goes, we pray for the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. We cannot change the circumstances of our birth, or what happened to us in the past, but we get to decide how we are affected by that going forward. Will we continue to let our wounding color how we see ourselves and the world around us? Or will we do the difficult, courageous work of reshaping our sense of self?

This can be quite the undertaking because the wounds we unearth in the excavation are the source of so much pain, shame, anger, sadness, fear. These are not easy feelings to sit with. Whether we compassionately confront them or not, they continue to live in our bodies; they are fugitives being harbored in between muscle fibers and folds of grey matter. They can continue to influence our behavior from the darkness or not. It's up to us.

You can be an emotionally unavailable man, confused by and fearful of the natural need in others for healthy attachment. When this need arises in a romantic partner, you can slur her as needy or, if you withhold love long enough, crazy. You can ache with loneliness, because despite not understanding *how* to nurture others, you retain the need for nurture. You're only human.

You can spin through a series of unfulfilling, disheartening relationships which serve to reinforce how unworthy you are of love. You can pursue the same archetype of person over and over, unwilling to admit that this is but the tip of the ice burg. Deep beneath the surface lies the origin story of your pain. But who would you be without it? Deconstructing this fundamental piece of your identity is mind melting. You can grasp onto your pain like a piece of broken glass; it will make you bleed but you won't have to suffer the tiny death of change.

You can resign yourself to any manner of cyclical unhappiness, not getting what you need because you secretly can't believe that happiness is *for* you. Because that's what this boils down to, isn't it? Whether we cannot give good love, or have trouble receiving it, it's a question of worthiness. We will be drawn to what is familiar, to what reinforces our version of reality, even if that is hurtful to ourselves or others.

The big jewel in meditation is the cultivation of curiosity and compassion for our more challenging feelings. It took me a long time to get this component. I became adept at acknowledging and naming feelings, even digging to their roots, but I couldn't love them. I could not make them welcome. They remained fugitives in my body which I tried to evict with anger and frustration. There is a lot of wisdom and information attached to our feelings. Anger, fear, sadness and shame all have much to teach us about how we're hurt and how we have to heal. They can strengthen and empower us by helping us learn how to move forward. Conversely, they can drain us if we continue to funnel energy their way in our resistance. What you resist, persists. The way forward will always be softness and surrender.

This begins by recognizing patterns, and understanding that no matter what other elements are present, we're the consistent variable in every situation we enter. If every woman you date is crazy or every man you date is an addict, consider that these are all unique individuals. They may have things in common, but the one and only thing they *all* definitely have in common is you. Let that sink in for a moment.

We are the Captains of our own joy...or not. Without understanding and taking responsibility for what lurks around your heart, you may find that some aspects of life consistently disappoint. Watch for patterns. When charged, powerful feelings arise, don't push away. Make them welcome. Honor their presence by asking what it is they have to teach. They may feel like poison, the instinctual response being to purge them. However, with courage and patience, we slowly dissolve them and find that at the heart of the poison is the antidote for it. This is productive suffering.

Your pain can poison you, or it can heal you and set you free. Love it up so it can love you back.