Sunday, December 26, 2010

Conditioning.

If you want to figure out who you are, move home. Live with your family- watch and listen. You might find, as I have been, that you are, to perhaps a frightening degree, deeply a product of your environment. I'm sure that Nature plays an important role in our formation, but anyone who denies the impact of Nurture clearly isn't paying attention. Begin to examine your values, your morals, your stories about the world and "how things are" and I guarantee you will begin to see your family reflected back somewhere in there. This isn't always a bad thing. I am appreciative of many of the excellent habits, ideas and values that my family helped to instill in me. For instance, how would I have learned to be an excellent hostess if it were not for watching my family warmly greet and over feed strangers? "Joe just met you at the bus stop and now you're here to have Thanksgiving dinner with us? Great! Welcome! What can I get you to drink?" That kind of gracious, openheartedness is a gift to have been raised with.

There are other habits and patterns that we learn that don't serve us as well. Within the family group everyone tends to take on a role, and this is especially prevalent in groups with substance and/or physical abuse issues. Unless properly examined we can get stuck in these roles in other settings and play out the same scenarios over and over again. I have a growing personal theory that when we have unresolved issues with a parent, we'll find romantic partners that are similar to that parent and try to work out those issues with them instead of with our parent. Of course this is all subconscious, but it still raises interesting questions about how our conditioning, intentional or not, shapes the rest of our lives. Take a look at your current partner, or partners past. Do you notice any patterns? Are there things about these people that didn't work, and are those things similar to issues you have with your parent(s)? Remember, the one thing all your past partners always have in common is you. We are attracted to certain people for a reason.

The term "daddy issues" has become almost a slur, but I don't think there's anything shameful about having issues with one or more of your parents. Parents, bless them, are by no means perfect and even the "best" parents can still accidentally screw their kids up. All families are dysfunctional in some way because families are collections of people and people have shit. Our parents, bless them again (they need it!), have issues with their own parents that can transfer down. And because our parents are our primary point of contact when we're small and soft and impressionable, it's only natural that the impression they make would run very deep. As we grow older and develop consciousness around how these relationships impacted us, it becomes time to realize that our parents are human and to forgive them for not being everything that we needed them to be. Once we become adults, we can learn to take care of ourselves in the way we wish they had, and to form healthy romantic partnerships with people who will treat us in this way, too.

Living with my family again is offering me the opportunity to deconstruct my personality and determine what's really me and what traits or ideas belong to my conditioning. There's this old Zen story about a lion that was brought up by sheep. He is unaware of his true nature until he is captured by an old lion and shown his reflection in a pond. What have we been taught to believe about ourselves, or the world, that is simply not true? What behaviors have we picked up that are contrary to our true nature? I am becoming observant of moments when an idea, behavior or characteristic feels uncomfortable and out of sync with my natural rhythm. Upon closer examination, I am finding that some of these things were learned through observation and I can unlearn them. In letting go of these old patterns, I get to establish new patterns that more closely match the person I am, and am becoming.

Now is a good time to take a good look at your own reflection. What do you see? Did you develop your thoughts about yourself and the world through experience, or were they given to you? Question whether or not your conditioning is still valid and serving you. Perhaps you'll find that it's time, as an adult person, to recondition yourself.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

2011: Conscious Relating and Communicating

The time has come! With 8 days left in the year, I'm beginning to craft and refine my learning goals and intentions for the new year. My 2010 list served as a helpful touchstone throughout the year and I am pleased to find that while some of my goals and intentions were not mastered (not reasonably master-able in a year...), I made many important steps forward. This year I have been challenged, taught and grown by surrender, communicating my truth, living my reality and committing to my spiritual practice. I found God vibrating in every atom of my being and this revelation spurred a whole series of events involving growing/glowing self-respect, steadiness and faith. I have let go of a lot of nonsense that stood between myself and my Self. This has been a year of softening and blossoming.

2011 represents a time for coming into full alignment with our highest Self. Thus far I am interested in bringing consciousness to communication in all its forms and to my relationships, particularly those of the romantic variety.

Communication Goals:
-Communicate clearly, concisely, compassionately and honestly in all interactions
(Dropping negativity, judgment, half truths)
-Speak my truth freely, with steadiness under pressure
(Dropping muzzling, concern about being nice/pleasant/likable)
-Practice daily creative expression through art/writing/singing
-Listen, quietly and patiently.

Relating Goals:
-Undertake only authentic, thoughtful, intentional romantic relationships
(Dropping rushing, fantasies, unconscious choices)
-Project neutrality
(Dropping manipulations, murky intentions)
-Save physical intimacy for said authentic relationships
(Dropping emotionally unsafe behaviors)

Misc:
-Stay mentally and emotionally flexible
(Dropping rigid structures and ideologies)
-Move from the heart ("Rest in reason, move in passion." -Kahlil Gibran)
-Commit to regular strenuous physical exercise (at least 4 times a week)
-Commit to continued excellent self-care (real food, acupuncture, yoga, water)
-Live in reality

What are your goals and intentions for the new year?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Word (On The Naad).

My alma mater, San Francisco State, has a fun, upper division unit area called Segment 3 that requires students to take classes from a subject area outside of their major. When most people chose Human Sexuality, I decided that what I wanted more than anything was to learn about Judaism. I grew up Catholic and realized that I knew very little about what it is to be Jewish, but I wanted to find out. This curiosity led me to read some incredibly beautiful literature, to cry every week with Laurel in Holocaust and Genocide class, to spend a summer attempting to learn Hebrew, and to fall head over heels with The Word. I've been writing for fun since I learned how to form letters, but I never realized how magic words are until I was reading the Torah in my Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism class. God spoke and the words formed existence! That is some serious stuff.

That same semester I started performing the poetry I had been writing. I was in theatre for a dozen or so years routinely performing other people's work, and this was the first time I had ever done so with my own. My palms would get clammy before I went up and I would shake throughout my reading. It was awful and I was unprepared for being so nervous after years of other nerve-free performances. I kept doing it, though, because they were weighty words and there was something so (en)lightening about having other people bear witness. I began to let my words out and immediately eat them, weaving the expression into my very fabric. I became the poetry. I was inspired and affected by my own work and the beautiful words of the poets I kept company with. Although I didn't understand how, we were doing something important that mattered. We were making a ripple with every syllable, even if it was just for each other.

Two years or so later, I received first hand experience with the pure, raw, creative potential and power of The Word. I was introduced to Kundalini yoga and from the first time I tuned in, all the atoms in my body began to vibrate differently. When I realized that I had already been chanting for years ("Our Father, who art in heaven...") I dove head first into mantra, meditation and chanting. I've become addicted to the sound the words make, the shape they take on my lips, the way they all feel differently when I chant them, even when I'm chanting silently. Above all else, I am forever awed by how different it feels in my body when I am done. There is research out there about how meditation and chanting affects the brain and maybe someday I'll read it. For now, the proof is in the vibration.

This past year two of my many learning goals were to "communicate clearly, concisely, compassionately and honestly in all moments" and to "speak only kind words to and about myself." When I made these goals I was about halfway through yoga teacher training, deeply into the naad (essence of all sound) and gaining real consciousness about how important words are. Ironically, in the year that I have been working on expression I developed a thyroid condition, which has only served to deepen my commitment to communicating my truth. While committed, I have struggled with always communicating in an entirely elevated manner. This year I have said things that are unkind, been entirely too verbose when I really needed to be quiet and not always been completely honest. However imperfect, though, this exercise has brought a consciousness to my words that I have never experienced before. I have become more careful and thoughtful about what I say, especially when making promises and giving advice. I know that my words matter. They are heard by the people I encounter and they have the power to make some variety of impact. I can't control how they will be received or interpreted, but I can make a real effort to do no harm when I speak (or write!). This has taken some serious restraint on my part (especially in learning to suppress angry emails) but I am finding that there are so many occasions when it's so much better to say nothing at all. It turns out that silence does speak louder than words.

Lately I've been working on manifesting a very specific vision for my immediate future and doing a lot of chanting to this end. I had no idea how creative my word is, though, until a couple of nights ago. We were listening to internet radio and cooking dinner when a song came on that recalls sad memories for me. I said aloud, "I don't want to hear this song right now." A beat and a half later, our router stopped routing and the song was silenced. I started laughing, almost manically, and then realized with terror how careful I have to be when making requests. I just reread a portion of my teacher training manual about sound and mantra and here's a relevant excerpt...
"We are creating with every word we speak, and even with every word we think. When we chant a mantra we are choosing to invoke the positive power contained in those particular syllables. Whether it's for prosperity, peace of mind, increasing intuition...simply by chanting them we are setting vibrations in motion that shall have an effect."

We can argue that my router experience was possibly a coincidence- I am not narcissistic enough to think I can take down the internet with my Jedi powers. However this does raise valid points about expression. This year I have managed to eradicate almost all of my negative self-talk and it's made an enormous difference in my confidence and self-worth. Our reality, the way we view life, is formed entirely by our words and thoughts, and when we are thinking and speaking kindly, honestly and respectfully it creates a kinder, gentler reality.

We are important and our words carry weight and significance. It's not just about how we speak to and about ourselves and the people around us, though. We must be especially thoughtful when making promises. When we say things we don't mean or make promises we can't/won't keep, our word begins to lose its value. We may initially have to disappoint someone by telling them something they don't want to hear, but the disappointment is so much less so than it would be later. This is the basis of true integrity- our words and actions match up and there is no question that we mean what we say.

In the new year I will continue to work on making my word compassionate and impeccable. If you solicit my opinion, you can trust that it will be honest, and if I make a commitment to you, you can trust that I will follow through. It may not seem like much, but you'll thank me for it later.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Settling. Or not.

After writing about the mancation I'm indefinitely taking, I got to thinking about settling. Why is it that I've been so unwilling to accept the reality of everyone I've ever been romantically interested in and instead crafted fantasies about these people? Is it desperation that leads people to need to see everyone that strikes their fancy as their romantic salvation? Or maybe its strong social programming that causes me to always be in search of someone to "complete me" and build a nuclear family with. That's it, I'll blame society and the media, and while we're at it, my parents.

The silly thing is, I'm not even that hot to get married and procreate. Someday, sure, but not immediately. It totally gets in the way of my current plan, which involves no responsibility or ties and no planning. More than anything else, I think the idea of marriage and babies is comfortable- something I could do to slip back on to some kind of a normal, grandma-approved life plan. But even that is a cop-out. My grandma is progressive when it comes to women's roles and loves me although I've yet to offer hope of great grandchildren. She would be happier, I think, if I went to church more regularly, but I digress... Why am I so willing to jump on board with someone who I am not at all on the same page with, who sometimes doesn't respect me and is occasionally deeply disappointing?

The optimist in me says that I'm simply being too optimistic and naive about these men. I see the best in them  and censor out all those handy red flags until they are too glaringly obvious to ignore. I want them to be someone I can be happy with and to heck with the reality. I'm like one of those sobbing, big haired women who falls in love writing to serial killers in jail, screaming into the news camera, "I can CHANGE HIM!" Insert southern accent.

But, again, why put myself through the inevitable heartbreak that follows dating someone who doesn't really exist? It's like having a real imaginary friend who can actually hurt your feelings. Of course, if I give up the fantasy then I can't enjoy the squishy, delicious rush that comes when we meet someone new. Oooh, ahhh, the unadulterated possibility of greatness! We see what we want to. Because it's easier. Because if we dig too deep the shadowy stuff comes up and this perfect new person ceases to be perfect. Because we may figure out that they have drastically different values and plans that they will not change for us. So we think, "Oh well, she says she doesn't want to have kids, but I'm sure she'll change her mind!" "He says he doesn't want to be in a relationship but I'm sure he's just scared. He'll come around when he gets to know me." And sometimes people do change their minds. But I'd venture to guess that more often than not, these optimistically and/or stubbornly ignored early warning signs wind up in a lot of frustration further down the line.

Or worse. We decide that what was once important to us (going to medical school, getting a dog, traveling to Antarctica) is no longer important. And sometimes we might genuinely have a shift in priorities and values. But once again I'd venture to guess that most of the time this ends in people squashing a dream in the name of niceness compromising...which is just a nice way of saying "settling." Do you not deserve to get a dog if your heart is truly set on that? Do you not deserve to chase penguins around in a parka? How do we decide what dreams or values or priorities are okay to part with? When is it really okay to settle?

This is going to sound cold, but here goes: I really don't care what you do. So long as you aren't hurting anyone else, go for it! I'd like for you to enjoy life as much as I do, but I'm in no position to decide what's best for you and certainly not in any position to judge. Coming from the "everything is a gift and an opportunity" camp, I don't believe in accidents or mistakes. However, I am beginning to understand how important it is to have values and dreams, and that it's okay to be rigid about the ones that are really important to me. For instance, I have some baby names in mind, but I can be flexible about that. And I now know that I am only interested in sharing intimacy with people who I am exclusively committed to, and it's okay if I meet someone who doesn't want this. They should keep doing what feels right for them, and I will date someone else. Simple.

The tricky thing is being willing to commit to living in reality. Reality can be just as uncomfortable as it is blissful, and while it's all a blessing, some moments are simply more fun than others. It's disappointing to realize that this perfect other we are crushing on is a terrible match for us. So sometimes, in the name of maintaining the lovebuzz, we lie to ourselves to continue to see this person as we want them to be. I think that our brains start to function in starvation economy mode and we forget that there really are other fish in the sea. The whole single soulmate thing probably isn't real. You can relax. It's going to be okay.

The key, I suppose, is to approach meeting people with more neutrality. To not get overly excited, nor be pessimistic. To approach every possible connection as just that...here is an opportunity to connect with another human being and maybe learn something new. And maaaybe fall in love and all that. This takes pressure off the meeting ("Husband? Husband?!?"..scary) and gives us the clarity to see this person as they really are- not to judge or be critical...just to observe and see if their bottom line values and priorities match ours. You should not have to sacrifice something important to you (particularly your self-respect or safety) in order to be with someone. When it comes down to that, it is much better to be alone. There's this Canadian poet, Andrea Dorfman, who wrote a really beautiful poem 'How To Be Alone' that someone made into a brilliant and inspiring youtube video you should watch the next time you are lonely (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7X7sZzSXYs).

Until you meet that special someone, you are a wonderful person to be with. Enjoy your own presence and be careful what you settle for. If you sell yourself out, you will not able to trust yourself and then it's impossible to love yourself. And a life without self-love is, in my humble opinion, hardly worth living. You deserve to be in love with yourself and to heck with the fantasies.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

I quit.

Yesterday, in typical fashion, my friend Laurel called and inspired a new perspective on life. She ran the numbers on how many hours she spent thinking about, pursuing and dating men and came to the conclusion that for the usual outcome, her investment was not worthwhile. She then brought up the important point: imagine what we could accomplish if we just stopped. She has decided that for the next two years and three months (the length of her previous Peace Corps service) she will refrain from any type of romantic involvement with anyone. She is allowed to hang out with and get to know people she could potentially date, but will be keeping things on a strictly platonic level with the hope that if anything romantic should grow, it will do so from a strong foundation of friendship.

After having mulled over Laurel's fresh outlook all day, I shared it in a late night conversation with my friend Kaitlin. Today she sent me the link for a This American Life broadcast from 1995 about Quitting (http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/7/quitting). Being one who has little to no problem walking away, I enjoyed hearing the different perspectives on what it takes and what it means to quit. I had never thought about it this way before, but quitting is a form of letting go that opens up space in our lives for something new that could potentially be healthier and make us happier. Although quitting tends to destabilize my life, I do not regret quitting any of the things I have, whether they be jobs, living situations or relationships. When I sense that the situation is reaching its natural conclusion, I will be gone (or begin the process of leaving) almost immediately.

What has eluded me thus far is quitting behaviors. The behavior up for eradication now, thanks to Laurel's new program, is the compulsive need to find a suitable mate. She and I actually gave it a clinical name, Lamppost Syndrome, because we could theoretically be capable, under the right circumstances, of falling in love with anything. Like lampposts. Stop signs. Can openers. You get the idea.

All this is totally counter intuitive for my generation of women, raised in our formative teen years on the women-can-have-sex-like-men, casual relationship approach glorified by that show about four single friends in New York City. On one hand, we want to be in a committed, loving relationship, but we're not supposed to think like that because it apparently scares men away. So we pretend to be cool with a casual somethingerrather when we're actually neither happy nor fulfilled by this. Eventually we become resentful because the relationship is not on the level we want and the dude's reality in no way resembles the fantasy we crafted to make him a suitable mate for us. Fighting and breaking up ensues, then too many women blame themselves for wanting the "wrong thing" and feeling what they feel, and the cycle continues. Because they don't stop wanting to be with one person and continue not to date men who do.

Boys and girls are different. Duh. This is an old, well covered topic, and I'm not up for a big gender politics debate. What I would like to propose is that men could make an attempt to be more flexible. Women in relationships with men consistently bend their will, their desires, their needs around their partner's. We make great attempts to better understand and act like men. But I rarely meet men who are genuinely interested in better understanding women and using that knowledge to connect with them. Very generally speaking, it's within a woman's nature to be more mutable and flexible (like the moon), and within a man's to be consistent and unchangeable (like the sun). It would be terribly refreshing, though, to see men actively working on becoming more worthy partners for the graceful women they date. But perhaps that's what happens when a man really falls for a woman- she inspires him to his greatness. It's a mystery of chemistry that I'm still trying to understand.

In any case, it's high time I quit this insidious Lamppost Syndrome and free up time and mental energy for all those other things that I'm passionate about. Like, uhh...oh yeah! Yoga, writing, cooking, traveling, live music, and figuring out what to do next with my life. I'm not sure that I will complete the full two year program, but it will be a relief to stop trying to find a mate long enough to realize that I deserve to be with someone who is amazing in reality and not just fantasy. I've spent an inordinate amount of time cultivating excellent skills and traits, and I have a lot to offer a partner. I'll be on a Dating Romance Blah Blah Break until I meet someone who brings as much to the table. Come on, fellas. Make me an offer I can't refuse. I'll be over here being awesome while you evolve.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Looking back to move forward.

Thomas Wolfe thought you couldn't go home again. I have gratefully been able to. I was nervous to move back in after living on my own- and alone- for so long. Communal, family living seemed to me to be something I could never return to- I've been (not really) joking for a long time that my husband and kids were going to have to get their own apartment. However, I've been pleasantly surprised by how nice it is to be "home." And thanks to my family's generous offer to urinate in the hall outside my room and jump out from behind doors to keep me on my toes, it's just like I'm back in my old neighborhood. It's an immense blessing to be welcomed back by people so warm and funny. Even the suburbs, rich with red yellow orange leaf rain and epic hillside sunsets, are prettier than I remember and invite runs through the park and smiling at strangers. My brother and I cooked dinner for the family tonight, producing a gourmet meal from our little kitchen like the champs we are, and I was reminded how much I like him. Being in this place at this time is the absolute best possible thing.

All that being said, I am beginning to experience the restlessness so common for me when Mercury turns retrograde (for those unfamiliar... http://www.astrologycom.com/mercret.html). It entered its shadow period the day after I finished moving out of my apartment and as it slows I can feel my life slowing down, too. I've closed the last chapter and am awaiting the beginning of the next in my childhood bedroom.

Aside from the aforementioned pleasures of being in the suburbs, it seems fitting to return to my family for this last Mercury retrograde of the year. Mercury retrograde offers us the chance to slow down, take a long look back and reflect on the past in order to bring us more clearly and effectively into the future. People complain about the snare ups in travel, communication and technology, and I've definitely fallen in to that- particularly while trying to navigate Italy last spring (trains and buses and international cell phones, oh my!). However, I've come to understand that it's just easier to acquiesce and learn the lessons Mercury has to offer. We have to get comfortable in this quiet, in between space and sort through all the old mental junk that we are now being cosmically supported in examining. Communication, the technology that helps it and travel all get gnarled because we're supposed to be having a still moment to explore our inner life. Resisting that is what will get you into trouble.

How excellent that this retrograde period ends on December 30th, just in time for the new year. This is the perfect time to consider old habits, old relationships, old aspirations and determine what is still serving you, dropping the things that are not. I like to also take the month of December to reflect back on my year and set learning goals for the new year. There are so many things to learn, but what is especially important for me to master at this point? Where do I need growth in order to really serve God?

The hardest part for me in all this is the waiting. I routinely show up to the airport moments before my flight because I hate waiting at the gate. As much as I love to cook, most of the time I would rather eat something quick to avoid waiting to finish the meal. So perhaps cultivating patience is a good way to allow myself to be grown during this Mercury retrograde and in the new year. I am reminded of a quote from Osho that is very applicable...
"We have forgotten how to wait; it is almost an abandoned space. And it is our greatest treasure to be able to wait for the right moment. The whole existence waits for the right moment. Even trees know it-when it is time to bring the flowers and when it is time to let go of all the leaves and stand naked against the sky. They are still beautiful in that nakedness, waiting for the new foliage with a great trust that the old has gone, and the new will soon be coming."

Despite my impatience, I'd like to see this time for what it is: a cozy, sweet opportunity to be with my family and mine lessons from my past to wisely inform my future. Somewhere in me I know that everything is happening perfectly and that right now is the right time to be exactly where I am doing exactly what I'm doing. At the exact right time in the near future, my life will rocketship forward, perhaps with more momentum than I anticipated, so for now I can enjoy the stillness. Patiently.