Friday, November 16, 2012

Like Riding a Bike.

Amster-damn! There are a lot of bikes!
He rested his head on my chest, ear positioned over my heartbeat slowing. I closed my eyes, wrapping my arms around his shoulders for a long, quiet embrace, drawing in a deep breath.

"I remember this. I think I remember this. Do I remember this? What do I remember about this? How does this work, again? What happens now?"

People talk with great flippancy about how picking some skills back up is "just like riding a bike." This simile doesn't work for me. When I was growing up, I had roller skates. At some point someone taught me how to ride a bike, but I only remember my skates. As a result of this, I reached adulthood being a less-than-adept bicyclist. It took an exhilarating, very late night, vodka-dampened ride through Vienna a few years ago to help me understand why anyone would want to ride a bike at all: it's incredibly fun. You also get places faster than walking and it's great cardio. Win win win!

Even after more practice, I'm still a bit of a wobbly-kneed baby deer every time I put my feet on the pedals. When your early foundation in something is weak, what you learned before does nothing to prepare you for being good at it later. It's "just like riding a bike" you say? What, so it's shaky, tentative and uncertain? It's going to make my palms sweat and my heart race? Sounds like a hoot.

This is a difficult place to find yourself, this not being good at things that you're supposed to have figured out by the time you reach adulthood. First, you have to admit that you're not very good at these things. This is a difficult step: Yes, I have a problem. Then, you have to do a searching inventory of everything you learned about these things up until now and root out the truthful, useful information from the misconceptions and lies. And make no mistake: some of your information is skewed and inaccurate.

During my intake session with my therapist earlier this year, I told her I didn't want to be in a relationship because they're just "so much work, so heavy." She replied by cocking her head to the side and asking, "Are they?" Experience is the most powerful of teachers and represents the absolute truth until it's cracked open by another experience. In the foreignness of new, it's easy to feel like a wobbly-kneed baby deer, mistrustful and anxious over this altered state of being. We know that our old, conditioned way of behaving isn't working, but the presentation of familiar stimuli can easily lead to a conflict between well established and burgeoning patterns.

"I remember this. I think I remember this. Do I remember this? What do I remember about this? How does this work, again? What happens now?"

How did you learn to ride a bike? Confident, committed, with both feet clipped firmly to the pedals? Shaky, with your left hand on the right pedal, right foot on the left pedal, like some bizarre, moving game of Twister? Not at all?

We have all come to this point in our lives with gaps in knowledge and ability. That's great! It means that we still have things to learn and master, and are therefore very much alive. You can expend a lot of time and energy denying this, or hating on yourself for being imperfect; see if anything changes. My suggestion? Be honest, gentle and curious. It'll be easier to figure out how to get both feet confidently on the metaphorical (or literal) pedals. Seek guidance from a mentor who does well what you hope to do well. With enough practice and the establishment of a solid foundation, most anything can become effortless and intuitive. Keep up.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sticking the Landing.

"At which point, at long last, there was the actual doing it, quickly followed by the grim realization of what it meant to do it, followed by the decision to quit doing it because doing it was absurd and pointless and ridiculously difficult and far more than I expected doing it would be and I was profoundly unprepared to do it.
And then there was the real live truly doing it.
The staying and doing it, in spite of everything." -Cheryl Strayed from Wild

She coached me patiently, explaining many different ways to approach the pose. When I gave up, she responded by telling me that I would struggle and practice and struggle and maybe fall over but keep practicing. She promised that one day, seemingly out of no where, I would arrive in the pose as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Later I would see that the moment could only be reached after a journey of an undetermined length that would involve a lot of work, learning though failure, celebration of small successes and deep strengthening. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Getting my feet up over my head has always been a challenge for me. That sounds wrong. Let me clarify: cartwheels, flips, handstands...all things that have seemed incredibly difficult or impossible, as if my center of gravity was simply too low to accomplish the trick. Perhaps it's indicative of my fear of falling or an underestimation of my body's power, but whatever the reason this became problematic a few years ago when I started practicing yoga again in a serious way. I was taking classes that featured fun inversions I wanted to be able to do. I would make feeble attempts but always ended up giggling nervously, palms sweaty, shying away.

"You have to give it all up," she said, "Empty your lungs, give it all away, and go for it." I ran her instructions through my head with each attempt and searched my belly for the courage to commit. Eyes fixed in between palms pressed firmly into the floor, wringing the breathe out of my body with each exhale, inching my toes up closer to my hands, my God the anticipation! Then! Springing up as lightly as possible, willing my feet to occupy head space. One foot still on the ground! Feet three feet off the ground! One foot on the wall for a second!

My body and I had been doing this clumsy dance for a while, creeping towards an inverted vertical way of being. One magic night something different happened, though. The whole time I had been working on the arguably more difficult handstand when I hadn't even really bothered to try a headstand. Having my head that close to the ground with all my weight right above it scared me terribly. But I'd found courage in my belly, so I set up for the pose. After some miss starts and a few exhilarating near successes, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, both my feet suddenly sprung all the way up the wall for the first time. In that place, I was met by a wonderful discovery; not only could I do the pose, but my body had become so strong that I could stay there, palms still sweaty, but giggling with glee. I had done the impossible. I had arrived.

This anecdote is teaching me a lot about any challenge that we choose to undertake.

1. "We don’t reach the mountaintop from the mountaintop. We start at the bottom and climb up. Blood is involved." -CS
There is a natural progression to all things. There are steps. Some steps can be rearranged or skipped altogether, or have to be repeated, but that's the work that needs to be done in order to get where we want to go. It's important to surrender to this truth right away and simply begin. One foot in front of the other (or up the wall) at a time.

2. Maybe blood isn't always involved.
Not all steps taken and work done will be grueling. In fact, you should take every opportunity along the way to laugh at yourself and the work and your struggles. Feet of lead cannot possibly rise above the head. When swimming in heavy, be as light as possible. There is humor and joy in there somewhere. Find it and let it keep you afloat.

3. Be humble.
If the step you're attempting to take is too far a reach at this time, just take a smaller one. The size of the step doesn't matter, only that you are taking it. All our efforts will eventually come together and it will be clear why nothing could've happened before it did. Don't allow pride to control your progress by attempting to force things at an unnatural pace. This leads to all manner of set backs, such as injury, or loss of time and money. Sometimes a step back is the only way forward.

4. Change it inevitable, patience advisable.
We are acutely aware of the end of things that feel good, but seem to forget that uncomfortable things end, too. It's only a matter of time. How much time? That remains to be seen. Put on your patient pants and breathe. This part of your story will finish eventually, I promise.

5. Celebrate every accomplishment, big or small.
No need to wait! Take pride in what you've done so far. Thank yourself for your efforts.

6. Comparison is a soul draining vortex.
Some people will appear to arrive at their goal with little to no effort. The reality is much more likely that they worked very hard and you are just seeing the polished, final product. Comparison distracts from the work to be done. If anything, ask them about the steps they took to achieve their success. You still have to live your own life, but they may give you some much needed inspiration.

7. "Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts." -Winston Chuchill
Do your best. It may not seem like enough, but it is. It will take you where you need to be.

8. Surprise!
Be prepared to have the outcome of your efforts look nothing like you expected. Just because you didn't arrive where you thought you would doesn't mean you failed, only that you achieved something different. Enjoy the moment, but don't become complacent. We are never finished. There are new things to learn and new ways to grow. You can always do better than settling.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Someone Saved My Life Tonight

Wednesday.
There are moments when something truly divine reaches down and gracefully intercedes in our lives. Like earlier this week when my front passenger side tire exploded going over a wild stretch of California highway. That car shook like the big one, like the whole damn thing was about to come apart. Graceful, divine intercession got me safely off the road, into a McDonald's parking lot and then another kind of magic took over.

I was sitting on the curb in shock, all rattled up, and no less than four people stopped to see if I was okay and offer their help. One kind man stepped in and threw the spare tire on for me, going so far as to take me over to the nearby gas station to put air in it. He even gave me a hug.

God makes miracles in all kinds of ways. Sometimes they are extraordinary, awe inspiring occurrences that ignite or reinforce faith. But far more often, they are subtle, quiet and quite ordinary, the result of the kindness and generosity of the people we encounter.

What makes these miracles extraordinary to me is the frequency with which they occur. I have come to rely on them, leaning heavily on the idea that people are basically good, that they can be trusted, that everything will work out well. I don't just rely on miracles, though, I expect them. I see the light in everyone and expect that they will shine for me. To me this is fair because I expect no less than what I strive to put out: kindness, gentleness, love. This is not always what gets reflected back, but people are nice to me so much of the time that I'm usually taken aback when they are not.

This is the power of expectation. Someone wise once said that worrying is praying for what you don't want.. Worries are simply the fearful symptoms of negative past experience or conditioning, and the expectation that everything remains the same, which is simply not true. Everything changes; sometimes so subtly that it's imperceptible, but it does. If you are looking for proof of the contrary, that the world is always an unsafe, unloving place, then you will find it. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that.

However, I submit to you that we raise our expectations. Why not expect happiness, safety, trustworthiness, kindness? This is a spacious expectation. If a person is very small and mean and rude, this expectation opens up plenty of room around them to grow in to their potential graciousness. Like anything worthy of our effort, this requires courage. Being kind necessitates softening and this can be mighty scary when you expect to be hurt.

For a refreshing change of pace, though, perhaps we can begin expecting to be supported and loved. Why wouldn't we be? We are worthy of this, as well as capable of showing support and love to others. Some people are more skillful at this; they have begun to fill in the potential gracious space around them. We all have work to do, though, and having more work do to than someone else does not mean that you do nothing, that you give up. It means that you begin right now. So let's get to it...

It is my expectation that you will be good, because that's what you are. It is my expectation that you will do good, because that's what you are capable of. I accept that you are not perfect, but I expect that you will do your work, even if it's hard and scary. I will support you in the ways I can.

Of me, you may expect that I will be good, because that's what I am. You may expect that I will do good, because that's what I'm capable of. Please accept that I am not perfect, but expect that I will do my work, even if it's hard and scary. Please support me in the ways you can.

We can be such miracles to one another, far more remarkable than the awing, divine sort because of how ordinary and easy our miracles are. It doesn't always take a lot of time or effort to save a life.

Do what you can. Do your best. Do it with love.
You are a miracle waiting to happen.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Signs and Symptoms

When the going gets tough, how do you know? Is it time to fight or time to let go?

This was the question of the week, as I sloughed through my days as thick as post-deluge mud. It's a fierce storm with no eye and no end in sight. These in between places are the moment right before morning, when night is at its deepest darkest and the matches have run out.

Faith tells us to leave the house without a light. Maybe you'll try to bring along a map but you can't see it in the dark and even if you could it would be leading you someplace you aren't even going. You thought you were going there, that was your carefully laid plan, but you know what they say about wanting to make God laugh...tickle Her behind the knees.

In this place of struggle, where nearly every task requires far more strength than normal, one begins to wonder: Is this really what I ought to be doing? Am I being taught perseverance? Am I meant to be shown how hungry I really am to achieve this goal? Or! Are these challenges meant to be dissuasive? Am I being blown off my chosen course in favor of something far more fantastic? Rob Brezsny had this interesting point to make about possibilities:
"The game of tic-tac-toe is simple. Even young children can manage it. And yet there are 255,168 different ways for any single match to play out. The game of life has far more variables than tic-tac-toe, of course. You may be tempted to believe that each situation you're dealing with can have only one or two possible outcomes, when in fact it probably has at least 255,168. Keep your options wide open. Brainstorm about unexpected possibilities."

Over 200,000 possibilities! Well golly, that sure is a lot. And what if a few of those possible paths ended up being entirely more fun and/or beautiful and/or valuable than the one or two I envisioned? But the question still remains...

How do you know?

Do I let go and make room for the 200,000 other possible possibilities to emerge?
or
Do I rise to meet the challenge before me and see my plan through?
and
How do we know if we're doing the right thing? Is there such a thing as a "right thing"?

When I meditate on this, the wisdom that keeps coming to me is "Be Patient." Some people find the unknown to be thrilling. I am not one of those people. I want to know where I'm going but moreover, I want to know how I'm going to get there. Being told to be patient is infuriating.

But it's also unfortunately true. If there's anything I've learned thus far over my lifetime of nagging and pushing it's that nothing happens before its time, and anything that is forced unnaturally into being will simply not last. We have to get down with reality, putting a neutral, honest finger on the pulse of what is real, true and authentic for ourselves and others in every moment.

This sort of clarity can be hard to come by, as seductive as self-deception can be. But if you want to walk the road to real freedom, dishonesty won't do. We get free by digging deep to expose the roots of who and how we are, coming to understand what motivates us and all the ways in which we step in our own way.

Can you be honest with yourself? What is it that you're really hoping to achieve with your plan? Are you running away? Are you looking for power or a sense of control? Approval? Love?

Recently I heard a quote that went something like, "The Universe doesn't respond well to confusion." It's important to understand why you're doing what you're trying to do. Without this understanding, it's hard to move with conviction in the direction of your dreams, or to clarify that this is what you actually want.

After you've decided that, yes, you do want it, push into the challenge. Clearly show the Universe just how hungry you are for it. But also be patient. Our lives are massively complex machines with millions of tiny, interconnected cogs that must be aligned just so in order to create the future. That takes time. You can't rush a masterpiece. And perhaps part of the fun is not knowing how, but just watching with awe as your story unfolds before you.

...at least that's what I keep telling myself.

With hundreds of thousands of possibilities, something is going to happen to you. This I can confidently guarantee. It may not be the something you hoped for, but keep an open mind. Our stories are still being written. We don't know anything about the farthest reaches of the ripples that are rippling today. Years from now we will get to see a bigger portion of the picture and understand why we had to wait so long, why we were told No when we were hoping for Yes, why we took a different route to the bus on that Thursday so many years ago.

Until then, be patient. Things will happen to you. All the things that happened before led you here and prepared you for this. Take a big ol' breath and watch your masterpiece come into being. If it doesn't make sense now, it will later.

Probably...  

Monday, July 30, 2012

Forgiveness and Gratitude

"God, mom and dad! You're so embarrassing!!"
In the Hindu tradition, Ganesha is the Remover (or Supplier) of Obstacles and has many genesis stories. The predominant story is that his father, Shiva, beheaded him when he came between Shiva and his wife, Parvati, and replaced his human head with one of an elephant variety. In the midst of a conversation about our parents, my wise friend Rebecca pointed out, "Ganesha's dad cut his head off and replaced it with an elephant's head, but no where in the scriptures do you hear Ganesha complaining about his dad. This is what separates humans from gods."

The arrogance and staunch idealism of youth demand that our parents be perfect. On a practical level, this makes sense. When we're small, soft and vulnerable, we need our parents to be perfect. We rely on them for absolutely everything for many years of critical development. If they are unable to perform their duties for us, we may not survive. It's life and death.

The tricky thing is, when we are small every need we have feels huge and urgent. There is little distinction between vital needs and non-emergency needs. We need to be fed; this is mandatory for survival.. We need love and stability, but it feeds us in a different way than food. We may not grow up to be particularly well adjusted, but as long as we're being fed, we will grow up. We can survive without good emotional care but that doesn't mean we feel any less urgent about getting it. Brilliant writer Cheryl Strayed pointed out that withholding "makes the people from whom things are withheld crazy and desperate and incapable of knowing what they actually feel." If a parent is unable to take exemplary emotional care of their child, the child notices. They will not know why, but they will ache and writhe with need, knowing that something important is missing.

If we're lucky, we grow up. If we grow up aching and we're really lucky, we get to dig deep and excavate the ache. This is the work we do to become healthy, fully grown adults. This is how we grow up the small, soft, vulnerable parts of ourselves that still stomp little feet and pout little lips, demanding the sort of love they expected from their "perfect" parents.

In the excavation, we might unearth anger and arrogance, shame and blame. Hopefully, after a suitable period of raging against the inadequacy of our upbringing, we can learn to forgive our parents for all their failures, whether vital or non-emergency. Our parents are not perfect and neither were their parents or their parents before them. Parents are not gods. They are mere mortals loving you the best way they know how. Even Shiva cut his own son's head off in a fit of jealousy and replaced it with an elephant's. I don't know about you, but nothing my parents ever did wrong was as wrong as that.

There's an ache in me that's ached since long before I understood that I was aching. I just knew that something wasn't right, something important was missing. I have spent a lifetime being angry about it, writhing crazy and desperate, trying to feel better. Up until now I didn't see that the path to better is paved with forgiveness and gratitude. Forgiveness for all the ways in which I've felt failed. Gratitude for all the ways in which I absolutely was not. There were many things about my upbringing which were far beyond adequate and for which I can be deeply grateful.

This is where we start. We can muster the grace and courage required to let go of anger and youthful arrogance. Life is not "fair" and at this point in your life no one owes you anything, even your parents. We cannot make anyone give us the sort of love we want, not our parents, nor our friends or lovers. It's our job as adults to find gratitude for what our parents did give us, forgive them for what they did not, and open ourselves to someone who is freely offering what we've always wanted.

You can keep aching. It's familiar and comfortable. If this ever becomes tiresome, know that there's another way, a graceful, godly way in the style of Ganesha. There's a big, ancient heart in you capable of weathering the pain and vulnerability of forgiveness and gratitude. Soften. Drop the angry armor. Say Thank You. After all, this mess made you who you are...and you are glorious.

And your dad never beheaded you, which is pretty cool. If nothing else, you can say Thank You for that.

Friday, July 13, 2012

With So Much Worry In The Way

A person can go a long long time thinking about themselves in a particular way and be mistaken. Sometimes the thoughts we think about ourselves are mean ones having to do with intelligence, body image, ability or worthiness. Other times the self-deception is harder to overcome because the thoughts are nice ones having to do with virtues possessed. For instance, I've spent the last 28 years thinking that I am a very open minded, judgement-free individual, and in many cases I am. When it comes to strangers in the world at large I'm extremely supportive. Everyone should be able to live their life in the best way they can, in the way that will inspire the greatest joy and the least amount of harm. The path of life is winding and I have all kinds of patience for people finding their own way in their own time.

This rule does not apply to my loved ones. I am invested in the way they feel to the point of holding great fear and judgement around the choices they make. I have a pattern of withdrawing my support when they are making a decision which may cause them what I perceive to be unnecessary pain or suffering. I pretend to know exactly what will happen and display great indigence over them putting themselves in a position which might cause them hurt, because it hurts me to see them hurting.

There are a lot of problems with this. First of all, it shatters the other self-delusion I've been harboring which is that I am more-or-less unconditionally loving. That nice Mother Teresa lady wisely pointed out that if you're judging people, you have no time to love them, and I dedicate so much time to judging the worthiness of my loved ones' choices it's incredible that I have any time left over at all for love. Ultimately there is love at the heart of all this activity, albeit perhaps a bit misguided. See, I love the people I love so fiercely and think so highly of them that only the best will do. I never want them to be uncomfortable or unhappy, so I attempt to control their experience of life with my worry and judgement.

Here comes another problem: suffering is important. Not forever, but for a time, in the process of learning something valuable that can only be experienced, it is vital to our "becoming." I would absolutely not be who I am today were it not for what I've suffered. With reflection, it's made me stronger, smarter and ultimately braver. Who am I to deny that to someone else? Because I lack the long term vision of a gifted psychic, I have no way of really knowing what the outcome of a choice will be. However, I have seen for myself how what started ugly ended up a beautiful blessing. The lotus emerges from the mud. There's just no way to know until you know.

The most compelling problem I see? If I'm all wrapped up in worry about the choices my loved ones make, not only do I have no time to love them, but I also don't get to enjoy them. Worry is fertile ground for resentment, anger and more judgement, and no one asked me to look after their lives for them. There is absolutely something to be said for voicing your concerns if you see someone you love making a choice that may be unhealthy or harmful. If you are going to do so, it should be done thoughtfully with great tact and care. After you do so, if they go ahead with their plan, you have some considering to do. Can you support them and not the choice? Can you love them unconditionally and enjoy them even if you don't agree? Can you gracefully admit you were wrong if things turn out well or gracefully avoid "I told you so"-ing if they don't?

If you cannot, are you prepared to let your connection go over a differing opinion? If you are not ready to stand behind the people you love through anything, it may mean losing them. These people we care about deserve our love and support, not our fear and judgement. There are cases where severing ties is healthier for one or both parties, but outside of extreme circumstances I think there may be a way to keep loving and supporting someone even if you don't love or support their choice.

My worry does nothing for the people I love and it certainly does nothing for me. We're all in the continual process of becoming and the only process that we have any business attempting to control is our own. Rather than drown in my worry, I want to learn to enjoy my loved ones as they are today. This means dropping my expectations that they change. It means dropping this sense of responsibility for other people's well being. It means getting comfortable with their discomfort and supporting them through it, rather than taking it on as my own. This is a healthy, helpful boundary to identify. Our experiences will be different and this is okay.

Imagine what sort of love could be possible without so much worry in the way. Imagine how much you could relax and enjoy your relationships. Is it worth it to try?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Ordinariness of Suffering

Your pain is a very ordinary thing. The details that make it up are unique to you, but the pain itself is so very common. Everyone has experienced some variety of trauma or loss and many people carry it around clutched tightly to their chests like a badge of honor. It is as if what we feel will be invalidated by acknowledging how typical it is to feel that way, so we wrap ourselves up in the feeling, in the old story, and guard our experience.

It's only when we pick our stories apart that we begin to see the connections between wounded hearts. My story and pain our mine, but they look an awful lot like so many stories I've heard and so much pain I've witnessed. I won't ever be able to fully understand what it was like for you to experience what you have, but know that I have suffered too, that I am also the walking wounded trying to heal.

Many hearts never get to heal. I have met countless supposed adults who still act like small, sad, hurt children. Some people are so attached to what they've already been through that they keep living it over and over, like continually breaking a bone that is right on the verge of knitting back together. Clinging to the past makes it impossible to grow ourselves up. If we live through our histories, we will never grow up our love or our sense of self. Are you living as a healthy, happy, well adjusted adult? What would that look like if you were? What would you have to let go of to achieve that?

You are welcome to continue to feel isolated in your pain, but know how incredibly normal it is. Healing is on offer if you are willing to do the work to drop your attachment to the past. It's not easy, but you'll be in good company among those who seek to grow themselves up.

The past is past is past. Your pain is not a treasure to guard. Will you let it go?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Lies They Unwittingly Told Us

 "He was, for once, trying to give me everything I wanted and I was trying to get everything I needed and it was way too late for either one. There would never be enough butter for me in my father’s house. I had to find it elsewhere in the world. Just like you." -Cheryl Strayed

How do we learn to be? How do we learn what is true?

From the moment our tiny eyes open (and maybe even before that), we are watching and listening. Whoever our primary caretakers were taught us about the world. They taught us how to use a can opener and how to love (or not...), how to tie our shoe laces and whether or not to trust money. Parents and grandparents, aunties and nannies, have so many important lessons and skills that they transmit to the children in their care. I submit, though, that the most important thing that caretakers teach children is who they are and what they're worth.

What were you told about yourself as a child? Were you a "good girl" or a "bad boy"? Were you readily given time and attention, or did you have to stomp your feet and scream to be seen? Did you do everything "right" and it was still never enough? Were you beaten or screamed at or both? Were you loved and supported without condition? Were your caretakers present both physically and emotionally? Did they take care of themselves and get their own needs met? Were you taught that that's okay, healthy even?

The way that our adult caretakers treated us as children taught us about ourselves and what we were worth. The degree to which they valued us taught us how valuable we were. Most of us then grew up continuing to believe what was impressed upon us so early on, without any consciousness that what we learned might not have been true. Childrens' huge egos cause them to internalize and take so much personally. If a child's caretaker is kind to them, the child feels good and interprets that they are good. Conversely, if a child is treated poorly, they feel bad and interpret that they are bad. Each child is a tiny sun with everything orbiting them, nothing happening outside of their influence.

This is simply a misunderstanding of the adult's action. The child cannot yet take neutral perspective, filter what is true and what is not. Everything said by the adults in their life is truth, and these early planted seed thoughts root so deeply into our psyches that we may not even realize that they were given to us, that they are not necessarily authentic to who we are.

Political or religious teachings, or ways of living tend to come under our harsh scrutiny as we mature and separate ourselves from our families of origin. But ideas about the self seem to go unchecked. We can gain our own opinions about all kinds of things in the world, learn to think critically and neutrally like we couldn't as children, but only about that which is outside us. It's rare that this light gets turned inward to reveal that we built a whole life around a totally false sense of self.

This is understandable. It's startling to realize that you have been operating for your entire lifetime with wildly misinterpreted information that you collected as a child. Where does this leave you? If you are suddenly stripped of who you thought you were, who are you? How are you not yourself?

The answer is, I don't know. Well over a month ago I started a daily practice of Kriya to Experience the Original You, which, combined with therapy, is deconstructing what I've known to be true about myself. As a result, I've entered an interesting sort of clean slate space in which I am free to learn brand new ways of thinking about and relating to myself.

It's not like becoming frustrated with the Catholic Church at 16 and picking up books on Buddhism at the library. These ideas I'm examining have wound their way around every interaction and decision of my life up until now. Everything has been colored by the very old, very untrue teaching that I am somehow inadequate and unworthy. The craving for acceptance and unconditional love, the question "Am I okay?", has been thumping along in the background like a second heart that I am now reaching into my chest and tearing out. As much as its hurt me, it feels like a terrible betrayal to reject this way of being and knowing that has been with me my whole life, that led me here.

Still, I am interested in being happy and I am not happy spending my life trying to make up for some imaginary lacking. The pearl of truth at the heart of all of this is, there's nothing wrong with me. Yes, yes, yes, I am okay. And so are you. No matter what you learned about yourself by seeing and feeling how your caretakers treated you, you are actually fine. Hopefully they were kind, gentle and attentive, and you in turn learned how valuable you are and how worthy of kindness, gentleness and attentiveness.

The likelihood, though, is that one or more of your adults failed to accurately instruct you in your incredible perfection. Whether intentional or not, their actions taught you to be a beggar, and this small, hungry, child-version of yourself lives on, desperate in one way or another to be fed.

We are not children anymore. As grown people, we have the ability to turn our matured reasoning skills to examine what we learned about ourselves with the same critical eye that we use to examine what we were taught about God, food, money and how to live life. It's incredibly hard work. Our self-beliefs are Inception, third dream level-deep, and in the end the top may or may not still be spinning. How do we know what's real and true? How am I not myself?

Here's a new seed thought I'm attempting to incept: that even though my papa seemingly chose alcohol over me when I was a little girl, that I was "good," that it had nothing to do with me, that I was (and am) worthy of both physical and emotional presence.

After creating and believing in a world based on the contrary idea for so long, it's hard to allow this to be true. The old way of being is so much a part of me and creating a new way of being takes incredible focus and discipline. It becomes habit through steady repetition, making the choice over and over to do something I'm not even sure how to do yet. There is so much fumbling awkwardness in this, so much frustration and pain. Still, it's the work to be done. We act as someone wholly healthy, happy and holy until one day, perhaps this is what we become.

In the meantime, remember that you are teaching the children in your life how much they are worth. Be good, be sweet and be present to them so they come to know their immense, inherent value. They are worthy of this, as you were and are.

Yes, you are okay.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Practice of Becoming

"Bring the man you aspire to be, the one who already has the love he longs for. Play every piece of yourself and play it with all you’ve got until you’re not playing anymore. That’s what Cary Grant did. The lonely boy who lost his mom in the fog of his father’s deceit found himself in the magic of wanting to be. 
His name was Archibald Leach." -Cheryl Strayed

Working in the same city as your company's world headquarters has some unique perks. For instance, the president of my company spoke at our all-staff meeting this week, espousing some simple wisdom that rocked my world. He told the story of becoming who he is, which started with a clear goal followed by a series of conscious choices. He asserted that in order to achieve a dream, one must act as if they have already arrived to the place they hope to reach. Once you decide what your goal is, you begin to ask yourself over and over, "What would someone who has achieved this mastery do in this situation?" and act accordingly. The theory is that if you are acting as if you already have it, you are bound to get it.

It's a simple idea, but when you really apply it to your life it can have a profound effect. I've begun asking myself, "What would a strong, powerful woman do?" looking to the strong, powerful women I know for guidance. It turns out that the strong, powerful version of myself that I aspire to be has very low tolerance for compromising compromises. She has struck a balance between humility and confidence, having intimacy with her shortcomings and soft spots but refusing to allow that to decrease her sense of value. She does not feel entitled, but rather worthy. She's kind of a badass and I'm already more than a little in love with her.

Like so many transformations, it's incremental and requires practice. The example that the president used was people joining our fitness club to lose weight. Statistically speaking, people who come to us focused on how much weight they want to lose typically don't reach their goal. When trainers focus their clients on a goal to be healthy and help them learn to make choices based on "what a healthy, fit person would do," they are much more successful. It's kind of a Field of Dreams effect- if you build it into your life, you'll eventually have a whole new way of being to come into.

What's your dream? Who or what do you want to become?

First of all, know how worthy you are of creating and living the life you want. Secondly, wrap your arms around your already extraordinary perfection. You are a living, breathing (hopefully dancing and rabble rousing) miracle. This moment is an ideal jumping off point for even more magnificent acts of greatness that started with your first, gigantic new born gasp. Seek out role models who are living what you want and watch what they do. Not all their choices will work for you, or lead to your eventual success, but they will be like lighthouses in the fog until you get better at embodying your best self. Practice and practice until one day, maybe without even realizing, you become what you imagined.

Pause for a moment and marvel. You are both the lump of clay and the skillful sculptor. Create and become.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Shake It Out

"Let yourself be gutted. Let it open you. Start here." -Cheryl Strayed

The body is a garden bed, rich and earthy, seemingly simple yet actually a whole universe unto itself. Our human experience burdens our bodies with all manner of trauma and garbage, leaving debris tucked in between muscle fibers and in deeply carved neural pathways. For better or worse, what happens without changes what happens within.

As adults, we are in charge of tending our own gardens and of asking for help when we undertake a project which is beyond the scope of our expertise. We all have different ways of taking care of ourselves, each offering varying degrees of healthfulness. Regardless of when and how and with whom, there is work to be done if we want to be able to grow and nurture anything in our bodies. We have to till the soil, reaching deep into the darkness to root out the unconscious hurts that still sting, even though we've forgotten why we wince.

All our stories and secrets are there, written on our bones, waiting to be held to the light and examined. When they resurface, we have the chance to test the validity of what we know to be Fact, to clean up the messes that were made and immediately buried in pain and shame. It takes a powerful, inner earthquake to shake the detritus from the dark corners it clings to. Confronting these ghosts is an exercise in courage- sitting with them and stifling the ego-driven desire to banish them once again.

This is the only way. Ignoring and denying our darkness doesn't light it up. Pain and shame and anger cannot live in the body forever. Eventually these feelings will present themselves to you in hair loss or cancer, some weird, undiagnosable autoimmune disease or depression. They poison our garden beds, making them inhospitable places for anything to flourish, least of all Love, which of course is all there is.

Courage is the only way. If you cannot be courageous, you can shake in your boots until you get stronger and braver. Shake for how frightened you are to see into your depths and shake at the far worse fate of living so burdened for any longer. Shake so hard that you dislodge the mac truck of bullshit you've been dragged behind for so long and let that sucker go. Till the soil long and deep until you've uprooted all the winding roots and rocks and weeds. They belong in the past. They don't have to live in your body or mind any longer than you'll allow. Are you ready to let them go?

The Solar Eclipse is a golden opportunity to look deep into our bodies and unconscious minds to unearth the wounds and unproductive habits and thought patterns that linger unhelpfully. It is a point of completion and awakening, transformation from one way of being to another. It's a reset button. If you'll let it be. Allow this powerful energy to catapult you beyond who you were so you can become who you really are- authentic, eternal and so worthy.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Delusions, Hormones and Untrue Stories

"I feel like such a heifer. I had two bowls of special K, three pieces of turkey bacon, a handful of popcorn, five peanut butter M&M's, and like, three pieces of licorice."












"Do you want to know your body fat percentage?"
I've been walking past the sign at my work for weeks. On Friday one of the trainers and I had some coinciding downtime and I asked him if he would evaluate mine. He moved around my body, pinching areas of skin with an instrument that felt so reminiscent of a piercing gun that I couldn't help but flinch. After inputting his findings into an online form, he printed out the results, dramatically circling a series of numbers. "This is how much your vital organs, bones and blood weigh. You need all those things. This is how much fat you have. You need all but 2-4% of that. Right now you're athletic. You could lose maaaayyyybe a few pounds but any more than that and you'll cease to be healthy."

Woooah.

Sheepishly, I told him how I was recently considering purchasing diet pills from LifeBooker. He shook his head violently, "No no, that would be terrible. Terrible! Don't do that." I hadn't. Instead I had opted to try cutting gluten out of my diet. Much to my dismay, I've watched and felt my body change. Turns out that it's much happier without gluten in it. What I needed was a change in diet, not diet pills. Pasta, bread, cupcakes...why you gotta do me like that?

The way that I look at my body has changed in a matter of days. As much as I love hippie feel good talk, I'm a rationalist at heart and having a professional tell me that I need all but 2-4% of my fat was a revolution. As a body professional, I understand the importance of (healthy) fat to essential body functions. And since I love myself and want to do right by my body, any crazy diet pill thoughts have been put to rest. I had a light bulb moment: "Oh I need that fat! Oh okay! Of course. That makes sense." I'll still go to the gym every other day and do yoga in between, but I'm doing so for preventative maintenance, not weight loss. Because, apparently, I don't need to lose weight, and this sadly seems to be news to me.

This is the power of unchecked personal stories. From time to time we have to review the things we believe to be true, the Gospel According to You based on your powerfully influential experience. You may find that as you grow, change and have new experiences that your old stories are no longer relevant or applicable. There was a point at which I had weight to lose but that time has gone. In order to remain healthy, I have to learn a new story in which my weight and body composition are athletic, and the fat I have is friendly, helpful and, above all else, completely vital. I have to live with it, can't live without it.

Speaking of harboring stories so outdated they turn into delusions, I have a cautionary update to my last post. Awhile back I developed a craving in my body for something my mind had already disregarded as "dysfunctional." Because I wanted it so badly with every cell of my being, I chose to interpret this feeling as a mystic, cosmic sign that it was meant to be. Of course I know better than this. I have had cravings for and obsessions with all kinds of things and most of them have been neither cosmic nor mystic. Most of them were downright unhealthy to get or even to think about at length. Still, all wise experience aside, I allowed my whole body to begin humming with desire. Bzzzzzz! Want want want want!

After about a week of this, I tuckered myself out and the desire began to wane. I was too busy to spend all my waking moments and some of my sleeping ones thinking about this. I had to let it go. And I did, mostly, until the exact same time a month later. See, during this time my friend Rebecca turned me on to an app, The Hormone Horoscope, whose daily notes have made me acutely aware of what's happening hormonally in my body. To my utter astonishment, I realized that this intense, supposedly cosmic craving I was having wasn't cosmic at all, but hormonal. I had asserted so firmly, with so much conviction, that this was my destiny. It turns out that my hormones really did make me do it!

Of course, I don't know conclusively that this dysfunctional thing which my hormones occasionally demand is not my destiny...but that's beside the point. The point it, I've allowed myself to listen to my body to the point of allowing delusion to reign.

Unless you're being stridently honest with yourself, this "right feeling" that you're having might not be telling the complete truth. Even though we're in our own heads, it's still surprisingly easy to lie to ourselves. I look at my own body in the mirror every single day but I don't see athletic even though I'm told that that's what's there. I know that this thing I want is dysfunctional but I tell myself my desire for it proves how "cosmic" it is, instead of proof that I need to go to therapy more.

If you find a desire in your body for something your mind has rejected, allow this to set off an alarm in your head. Similarly, if you believe something about yourself and people who you trust and respect are contradicting your belief, allow that to give you pause. The Ego weaves wide webs, bent on keeping us uncomfortably, cozily trapped in the same stories forever. Bring your stories and ideas and beliefs to the people you trust and respect and ask them to fact check for you. You may suddenly realize that the way you've been thinking about money or relationships or your body does not line up to reality and has been limiting the way you live your life. In this realization, you are freed to write a new story, based on how things are today, right now.

Our stories are meant to evolve as we do, and we are meant to...personally and collectively, long before you and I arrived and on and on until the sun explodes and burns our ancestors up if there's anyone left here to burn. Beyond delusions and hormones, we each have a truth that we're continually unveiling as we evolve with grace and clarity into who we already are. You cannot evolve while living in your old stories. They are an ill-fitting skin that you are meant to shed. Find them out and shake them off. Free yourself to live the happy, fulfilled, blessed life that is your birthright. You are so much more than you were. Grow up and out of it. It's time for a rewrite.

"Let go or be dragged." -Zen proverb

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Body of Wisdom

"Trust your gut. Listen to your core. Know that lives within you and interpret it. That's your job here." -Cheryl Strayed

Yoga has given me so much, and changed me inside and out. This yoga drug does indeed work. A common experience in the practice is that yogis gain a stronger sense of the subtle sensations of their bodies. We get tuned in to the place where the mental/emotional/spiritual selves meet the physical; our bodies begin talking to us and the further you dig in to the practice, the harder it becomes to ignore. I like to say that Kundalini yoga made me quit my job because within two months of beginning the practice I woke up to how horrible it felt to go there everyday, sit in a cubicle with no sunlight and have so much contact with paperwork. I had a sense of this before, but the feeling suddenly became so acutely uncomfortable that I had to get out.

Since then, yoga has "made me" quit relationships, habits, living in San Francisco and many other jobs. As soon as I start to get a funny feeling in my body- sometimes in my heart, sometimes in my gut- it's only a matter of (sometimes very brief) time before I'll be gone. Of course, you don't have to do yoga to receive information in your body about a situation or person. Knowing something in your heart or having a gut feeling are common expressions used by many people to describe this experience.

Yogi or not, it's up to us to pay attention to the inner wisdom that gets communicated through our bodies. Our Highest Selves are taking the time to share what we need to do in order to stay safe, healthy and in line with our destiny; shouldn't we listen to them? This is sounding esoteric so let's think about a time when you've experienced anxiety over something you were thinking about doing. The typical indicators of the stress response kick in; your mouth might dry out, your breathing might get shallow, maybe your blood pressure rises. The anxious feeling and the response that it's paired with are information. Being in tune with this enables us to stop and ask ourselves, "Why am I feeling anxious?" Perhaps this anxiety is indicating that the thing you're thinking about doing is not right for you in that moment, or at all. Or maybe you're facing a big decision that you know will have a positive but highly transformational effect on your life. Regardless of the reason for the feeling, it's there, and giving it some time and attention can help us clarify what is right or so totally wrong for us.

There's a therapeutic technique called Somatic Psychotherapy which integrates the mind and a conscious experience of the body. I've been seeing a somatic therapist for a while now and am finding it to be a natural, highly beneficial complement to the work I do as a yoga teacher/student, and in massage. My therapist calls attention to what is happening with my body as I talk to glean the mental/emotional information on offer. If she sees a change in posture, facial expression, tone of voice or speed of talking, she'll point it out and we'll process what's happening internally.

My massage experience thus far has taught me that the body holds our history and will tell all our secrets to those who are trained to hear. Anyone can train themselves to listen to and interpret the messages delivered to their physical body from the realm of mind and emotion. It's as simple (and alternately complex and exhausting) as becoming very sensitive to changes in the body- temperature, breathing, heart rate, posture, etc. Once you have this awareness, you can begin to interpret it and to see the way that your body changes based on how you feel on the inside.

We all have powerful, clear, natural wisdom grounded in our bodies. Shh, listen! What is your body trying to tell you?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Powerplay

Let's do a little word association. When I say "power" or "powerful," what comes to mind?

When I was in yoga school, we did a meditation during which Yogi Bhajan appeared to me and told me, "It's time to own up to your power. Stop bullshitting." This was well over two years ago and I'm just now getting around to this point on the agenda. See, when you say "power" or "powerful" none of my immediate associations are good ones. When I did this exercise, the following came up: oppressive, controlling, dominance, taking advantage, lording over, manipulating, sleazy, misuse of, irresponsible use of, politicians, warlords, kings, dictators.

Of course there are all kinds of expressions of power and people who yield that power gracefully with benevolence. But none of this springs to the forefront of my mind. It's no wonder that I shy away from power- and I don't think I'm the only one.

For me, Power feels like a dirty taboo. Being a powerful person means hurting and/or taking advantage of others. I haven't fully deconstructed why that is, but I'm sure it is at least in part due to "The Media" and the focus placed on people doing horrible things to each other. Ideas and events and people gain power from the attention that's paid to them, and because we live in a morbid, "can't look away from the car wreck" society, we feed dysfunction and pain and violence with our unquenchable thirst for this sort of coverage. If the content of the news and reality TV is any reflection of the mental well being of this country, we're in extremely poor shape.

Even in the spiritual realm you see examples of people misusing their power and influence, sometimes very seriously. Pulling from recent headlines, I knew of John Friend vaguely before his scandal broke, but you better believe I knew a whole lot more about him after he became yoga infamous. It's a shame because Anusara is a lovely practice and it would be sad for people to give it up or not try it due to this. In so many instances where the leader of a spiritual practice has ended up being unforgivably human, the practice itself and the teachings are wonderful.

When I was diving into my Kundalini teacher training, I came across all kinds of salacious and scandalous information about Yogi Bhajan and 3HO (The Healthy Happy Holy Organization). I went through a phase of being really angry about this, and feeling betrayed and misguided. I refused to read Yogiji's lectures, asserting that he was a big fraud and couldn't be trusted. Overtime, I came to realize that while he was perhaps not a perfect man, he was a great teacher. Much of what he had to say was wise, well grounded, elevating and, ultimately, totally worth listening to. I forgave him for not getting it all right in his personal life because the teachings he courageously shared have transformed me in essential ways. It's the teachings that matter. The person who delivers them doesn't have to be spotless to make them valid.

We all contain immense power. That's the basic truth. Our words and actions affect other people. Think about how a small word or a glance can crush or uplift. Owning up to our power allows us to do a few essential things on the path to practicing ahimsa (doing no harm).

First of all, owning up to our power allows us to understand that we are powerful and  that we do have the ability to affect other people with our words and actions. Once we're being honest about this, we can study just what sort of effect we're having. Bringing consciousness to this brings a whole new power because now we know how we influence those around us. This is where things get messy with the John Friends and Yogi Bhajans of the world, with rock stars, politicians and countless Catholic priests, even with the non-(in)famous. People who have realized their ability to get what they want with their power will sometimes use that power to disgraceful, unsavory ends. They may test the limits of their power by seeing how much they are able to get away with before people begin to push back. The longer and further they go, the more powerful they are.

However, before we lambast John Friend for his misdeeds, we must consider that he never would've become "The Yoga Mogul" without the attention and affection of over 1,000 teachers and 200,000 students worldwide. I'm sure it helps that he's charming and savvy- he has apparently realized his power and how he can use it to get what he wants, like so many others before him. Because of Anusara's meteoric success over the last 15 years, some have (somewhat) jokingly referred to it as a cult, but maybe there's something to that. It's a familiar story: Charismatic leader takes money from and advantage of students who are seeking that inexpressible, intangible "something" that is promised by every religion and spiritual practice. But those seekers followed him, and a leader is nothing without followers.

Which is not to say that people haven't found that inexpressible, intangible "something" while doing Anusara, or Kundalini, or during Catholic mass. Again, we shouldn't immediately disregard teachings just because the ones who spoke them did so with a dirty mouth. My suggestion is to be thoughtful about what you're feeding with your attention and who you're giving your power to. One of my favorite quotes on personal power comes from Viktor Frankl: "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances." Frankl was a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps and wrote about "the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread." Even in these most extreme circumstances, suffering this extreme abuse of power, these people refused to give up their personal power, their ability choose how to approach the situation they were placed in.

Owning up to our power can be a struggle for so many reasons. It forces us to take responsibility for our lives in their entirety- for what we do, how we feel, where we go and how we affect other people along the way. It forces us to confront our own preconceived notions about what it means to be powerful, which is a particular challenge if everything you believe about powerful people is negative. For those who have traditionally been disempowered, if forces them to reckon with their feelings around power of unworthiness and/or guilt and/or fear and/or shame.

On my path, owning up to my power is difficult because of how visible I'm afraid to suddenly become. The psychic lawyer told me that I was hiding my true self, that I wouldn't let anyone around me really see me, and it's taken me two years to admit that he's right. I've been trying to hide my light under a bushel, I even realized it last year, but the joke's on me because everyone around me already sees me, much to the horror of my self-consciousness. According to my Kunda yog numerology, the key to fulfilling my destiny in this lifetime is to be radiant and whether I like it or not, I am. Everyday someone tells me that I'm a bright light. I've spent years trying to diminish my light through various methods of self-harm, but it never worked. Like my blue eyes, photographic memory and love of ice cream, my light is an integral, natural, unchangeable part of myself. My one and only job here is to Shine.

Perhaps that's the source of true, sustainable power: realizing our purpose and living in accordance with it in every moment of our lives from that point on. Real power has nothing to do with controlling or manipulating others. Real power has nothing to do with anyone else but ourselves. Real power is bringing our internal environment (and as much of the external environment as is reasonable) under our compassionate control. Real power is actively engaging with our ability to choose, and choosing well.

Power is...
honesty, compassion, surrender, self-control, purposefulness, authenticity, choice, discipline, consciousness.

Power is...
you & me.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Gift of Confirmation

"He saw that the Soul of God was his own soul. And that he, a boy, could perform miracles." from The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Two years ago I went to Washington DC for the first time on a trip I ended up calling "The Tale of Two Psychics." The first was a lawyer, Anthony, on the plane between Detroit and DC. The second was a professional psychic, Miss Tina, who did $5 palm readings for my friend Cathleen and I in her living room above Mr. Yogato (p.s. we participated in Rule #3). Anthony and Miss Tina both gave me shockingly accurate once overs that left me reeling, mostly because I gave them very little information about myself. They sensed the transition I was entering in to and the accompanying major changes, and that I was tentative and non-committal- as Miss Tina put it, "You haven't put both feet in." This struck me in particular because the week before my friend's mom gave me a piece of advice that ended with, "I learned that closing my eyes and jumping in with both feet is way more exciting." Anthony called me out for refusing to completely give myself to and invest in anything, telling me that I hadn't achieved what I was capable of because I hadn't been able to commit. The message from all sides was clear: Put both feet in.

Anthony and Miss Tina also told me that I'm a Healer, that this is my great purpose in this life. I remember being so incredibly uncomfortable with this title, stammering that, no, they're wrong, I just facilitate. I'm not really doing anything. Anthony assigned reading- The Alchemist- and instructed me to write him an email about it when I understood what he was trying to communicate to me. I devoured the book on the flight back to San Francisco and wrote to him promptly, believing that I had grasped the meaning. And in some ways I had- it's some easily digested, heavy handed allegory. In hindsight, it's clear that while I may have gotten it intellectually, practically speaking I had no clue. The tremblings and wear of time and challenge would reveal this.

In the six months that followed that first trip to DC, I got and gave up a job I loved, met several people that heavily influenced my life, and moved out of my home of many years and back in with my family. In the time that's passed since then, I have floundered desperately, miserably, without discernible purpose. I became small and sad and selfish, wanting nothing more than to withdraw from my life and hide away. This, of course, is the exact opposite of putting both feet in. I took both feet out. I wanted nothing to do with my power and potential. "Me, a healer? Please! I'm a MESS!" And in many ways, I was.

Thankfully, nothing is permanent. When living (or not living) this way became too much to bear, I lowered a jaded, tired toe into the water and began rebuilding my life. I opened a new bank account, got my driver's license, began a workout program and found a real job- one day of massage a week at a health club that would give me a gym membership, just like I had envisioned.

On my first day of work, at the end of my first professional massage in over a year, my client looked me straight in the eye and said, "So you're a real healer." I was utterly flabbergasted and once again stammered, "Oh no, well, you know, I just channel or something, I'm not really doing anything." She laughed and told me that she had met a lot of self-professed, so-called "healers" with no actual talent for healing, but that I am talented and what I'm doing is authentic. Taking this in was a nasty, foul tasting medicine. It hurt to thank her. I wanted so badly to reject what I knew to be true, what had been prophesied two years before and was now being confirmed by a stranger with no obligation to tell me anything.

Despite my discomfort, her words planted themselves like a tiny seed in my heart that has been nurtured by the continuous confirmation that I have received since. Over and over I have been told that I am good at this, that I am doing the right thing, that I must keep doing this because, as one client put it, "You're doing the Universe's work, girl!" Each time I hear it, I am able to smile and say thank you a little more graciously with a little less discomfort. My one day of massage a week has blossomed into many days at three locations. I added the second location with some hesitation, not sure how deep I wanted to get into this. By the time I added the third, I was a woman on fire. I had a hunger so deep and a motivation so purposeful, there was nothing that could stop me. This all happened over the course of two months.

This is what becomes possible when you move out of your own way. This is what happens when you give all that you have and all that you are to your purpose. This is what it looks like to put both feet in. Denying my power and resisting my purpose left me lost and miserable for over a year. Since stepping onto the path, I am working the hardest I've ever worked, but I am inspired, energized and motivated. Before arriving at this moment, though, I had to get desperate. Desperation starved out my ego, leaving nothing but humility. And in this space, surrender became possible. My future became possible because I was finally able to fight for my Personal Legend, as Paulo Coelho calls it. Two years later, I can truthfully answer Anthony the Psychic Lawyer, "Yes, I understand what you meant for me to understand."

Confirmation of our purpose is a miraculous gift, but according to Rob Brezsny it's also our right. He has a bit about this in his brilliant new book PRONOIA Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings:
"You might call it the special mission you came to Earth to carry out; the divine blueprint that contains the open secret of how to be perfectly, unpredictably yourself; the master plan that is your heart's deepest desire.

Would you like help in deciphering it? The Divine Intelligence Formerly Known as God is always on call, ready to help. It's your birthright to ask Her a specific question every day about what you need to do next to express your soul's code; it's also your birthright to receive a response.

The divine revelation may not be as unambiguous as a little voice in your head. It might appear in the form of a TV commercial, an odd dream, or an encounter with a stranger. It could be demanding and difficult, delivering information you'd rather not have to deal with. Or it might show up as a clear and simple feeling of knowing exactly what to do, and it could be easy and fun."


So ask. Ask God (or the Spaghetti Monster, depending on where you stand on that) what you need to be doing to live out your purpose. Ask. And then wait, watch and listen. Be patient. Be open. Be ready to act. Be grateful when you receive your answer. Always be grateful. Your purpose is a blessing and living it is the key to a vibrant, fully embodied life. It's why you are here. Get at it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Value of Discomfort.

Over the past few years my life's work has slowly come to center and settle around helping people have a conscious, joyful experience of their bodies in their lives. I want everyone to feel really good as much of the time as possible, and I'm an expert facilitator. Aside from my lifetime of practice being the Soother in my family unit, I have a deep, abiding appreciation for everything beautiful and pleasurable, whether it be delicious food or a stunning sunset. I'm good at feeling good and even better at helping other people get there.

The caveat to this is the Consciousness component of my mission. Anyone who's ever been spanked by reality knows that being aware is (at least occasionally) deeply uncomfortable. There are myriad distractions of various levels of healthfulness that we chase to keep feeling good or to get good and numb. While I do want everyone to feel really good, I don't want it to be at the expense of their authenticity or health.

Above all else, I think it's vitally necessary to our happiness to be honest...with everyone, but especially ourselves. Sometimes this means cozying up to our rage or bitterness, sadness or desperation. This is a full time job in and of itself. It can put great strain on our relationships and requires tremendous courage. And it is the work to be done.

This past weekend I had the honor of holding space for and bearing witness to this work being done by 400+ brave and beautiful souls at a day long meditation workshop. One woman in particular struggled throughout the exercises and I spent the day wanting to take her up in my arms like a baby and make her feel better. I watched with awe and my own level of discomfort as she walked not over or around, but straight through the heart wrenching center of her own intimate storm. By the close of the day she arrived all on her own at the other side of her experience. I didn't need to soothe her, or attempt to save her from her pain. Sitting with her pain was ultimately empowering and transformational. She did her work.

This is an important point for caretakers and anyone who aspires to help others. Do your own work. Save yourself. If you do your work, if you do it with absolute courage and conviction and honesty, you can become an inspiration and a guide to help lead others through this process. But Listen very carefully as I say this: You cannot do other people's work for them. There is no substitute for the experience of struggling through your own intimate storm. Everyone will do this in their own time, in their own way, and we are not allowed to attempt to control how and when.

That being said, we all have work to do to become the best, most exalted versions of ourselves, and putting it off won't make it any less vital to your development. Maybe you're not ready today. Maybe the perceived enormity of the work to be done overwhelms you before you even start. When I was a little girl and it would be time to clean my room, my mama would sit me down in one spot and tell me not to even think about the rest of the room until that one spot was clean.

That's my suggestion to you: pick one point to be examined and healed, and begin your work there. You are smart and brave and capable enough to handle whatever arises as you walk through your own intimate storm. Don't cheat yourself out of this chance to awaken to a real, conscious experience of your life. This is the first step on a winding path to true freedom and sustainable joy. Dive on it.

Friday, March 23, 2012

That Which Becomes Undeniable

Every few months I used to get an absolutely undeniable craving for a donut. I called it my "quarterly donut" and would always allow myself this indulgence, taking the following months to forget how awful my body always felt afterwards. As my yoga practice picked up, I began to change in ways obvious and subtle. Yoga does indeed work, that much is clear, but I still don't grasp exactly how. Somehow a flow of asanas translates into shifts in the internal environment that are separate and yet intimately linked to what happens to the physical body.

The first big change centered around food. Aside from a feeble attempt at a kitcheree cleanse one fall, I've never kept a special diet. I always allow myself to eat whatever I want, which used to entail a huge volume of empty calories. I stopped eating meat years before meaningfully engaging with my yoga practice, but would still crave it from time to time. As I linked breath to movement on the mat, I didn't consciously change my diet, but my body began to demand different things. In my mind, meat has become a non-food item, the very idea of it disgusting and absurd. Cravings for junk food have transformed into cravings for beets and lentils and greens.

Which is not to say that I don't eat junk food still. I had dinner at the most fantastic mac'n'cheese restaurant the other night and I will likely go back before long. I'm still borderline obsessed with ice cream. This is just not the way I eat every day now, like when I was a 19-year-old new vegetarian who ate nothing but mac'n'cheese and ice cream for lack of cooking prowess and body awareness. These days sometimes I wake up thinking about salad. Seriously. I make a mean salad.

The cravings that interest me most are not those for food but for engagement in unhealthy situations. While I have learned to identify my donut craving for what it is (usually low blood sugar), I am still having trouble viewing the emotional choices I make with such clarity. I will want to do something with such conviction and certainty that I'm able to talk myself into it, despite all the indications that it's not in my best interests. These are the donuts of my mind; the things that cause me discomfort later but which I do anyway strictly for the fleeting satisfaction they bring. In these moments my mind becomes like a screaming child and I respond as the permissive parent, giving them whatever they want just to get them to be quiet. Who's in charge here, anyway?

As Osho would remind us, it's these habitual responses to the stimuli of life that keep us "stuck in old blueprints that (we) would have already outgrown if (we) hadn't been so busy clinging to what (we) have already been through." Yoga has woken me up to these blueprints, making me acutely, sometimes painfully aware of how uncomfortable and ill-fitting they are for the person I hope to express in the world. I've been given the gift of a clear vision of my true nature, which makes it impossible to live in a way that contradicts that. Okay, it's not impossible, but with this understanding of what I'm capable and deserving of, I know that I'm bullshitting myself. In eating all these damn donuts I'm settling for that which is so much less substantial and real and nourishing than what I need to be happy. And happiness is extremely interesting to me.

Do whatever you want but don't expect anything new to happen if you're working with old blueprints. Perhaps misery or rage or hurt is so familiar it's comforting and it seems impossible to divorce yourself from it. Maybe you're not even aware how unhappy you are- I wasn't. Yoga brought me into a conscious experience of my body and my life, which meant facing truths that became undeniable. You can try to refold the map, but it will never be the same.

Welcome to your reality. Will you celebrate it and the empowerment the knowledge of your truth gives you to nourish yourself? Or will you eat a damn donut, even though you know it'll sit like a rock in your stomach?

What do you need to be truly, ridiculously, abundantly happy? Don't wait around for someone or something else to give it to you. Reach in that direction.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

If you waver, that just means you're really bad at life...and other falsities.

Today in yoga Austin asked us not to make it so hard. What we were doing felt hard (holding poses for so many breaths in 90 degree heat), but he asked us to stop telling ourselves it was hard and just let it be. Just be in it without making it any harder. Stop gripping your toes, clenching your jaw, holding your breath. Drop your shoulders. Smile. Breathe!

Like all yogic lessons, it's not really about yoga but about life (which is yoga for some of us). How many situations in life do we complicate significantly by making them harder than they actually are? How often do we hold our breath and grip fiercely when relaxing and letting go would serve us far better? Could we avoid frenzied emotional drama and instead stay neutral and calm?

This is what Austin teaches while we hang out for awhile and sweat in Warrior II- you don't have to be so dramatic about it. It's just yoga. He often jokes that if you waver or fall over in the pose, that just means you're really bad at yoga. I think we could consider life in the same way. It's just life! Yes, it's important and there are some very heavy realities to it, but long range vision tells us that in the end most things don't matter. We are all going to waver and sometimes we're going to fall over, but it doesn't mean you're bad at life. We're all just learning how to be- to get our voices heard and our needs met, to give and receive love, to find purpose and passion. Along the way we're bound to be a bit ungraceful. It's just a part of the process of becoming excellent at living, which, like the mastery of yoga, takes a lifetime (or three!).

Recently I've been attempting to apply this long range vision to all my interactions. I hold in mind what Yogi Bhajan said in regards to communication being not about wrecking today but about creating a better tomorrow. I am deeply moved by the Ram Dass quote, "We're all just walking each other home," and the sense of oneness and connection it elicits as I move about in the world. I watch strangers interact aggressively with one another with new amazement. In the past, in a moment of unadulterated frustration, I have absolutely unloaded on a stranger. However, these days I just want my communication to create friendships, connections, and the feeling of being loved and cared for in the other. I am beginning to understand how much strife and unhappiness is generated when one doesn't consider the future when they act and speak. One way or another our words and actions are creative, so I ask you, what do you want to create?

There is a common story in America that says life is a struggle from cradle to grave, that nothing is easy, that you have to fight for everything. Like a yoga pose held for a long time in high heat, sometimes life is naturally difficult, but why make it harder? Sometimes gripping and breath holding, drama and aggressiveness is about shielding ourselves from hurt. Sometimes it's about clamoring like a little kid to get our needs met, devolving into a big ol' mess of stomping feet, shouting and pouting. These old blue prints of behavior can be like small, tight knots that are so uncomfortable but feel impossible to undo.

This moment will end and transform into the next, maybe so seamlessly it goes unnoticed. We will become the future versions of ourselves, who are now nothing but pure possibility. It is for the sake of our future selves that we must learn how to live more easily, to loosen our jaw and our grip, and give ourselves a shot at happiness. Let's make our experience here easier by remembering that we're all in this together. "We're all just walking each other home." Then let's be kind and patient to ourselves and to each other. Life is hard enough without people being mean. And life does not need to be so hard.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

An Open Letter to Angelina Jolie

Angelina Dearheart,
You first made an impression on me in Tomb Raider. I was 17 years old and awkwardly, painfully fumbling through existence in the womanly body that I was not yet mature enough to inhabit. You had this totally bangin', healthfully athletic figure, and even if they were rubber suit sculpted and not entirely real, girl! You had some boobies. Then you factor in the strong female lead part and you became the kind of role model that every 17 year old girl needs: ass kicking, fiercely independent, powerful, and above all else, healthy. I was so ill at ease in my skin but watching you filled me with a hope that I, too, would someday be just as strong and confidently embodied.

As the years have gone by, I've followed your work and have been particularly moved and inspired by your involvement with the UN. Even if I kind of hated the deeply disturbing Changeling, you have always held a special place in my heart for what you represented to me as an adolescent.

This week everyone is talking about your right leg and the fabulous velvet Versace around it, but I want to know about the rest of you. Like Bill O'Reilly, all I could see on that red carpet was your skeletal frame. It was so shocking to see you this way that I gasped. The dress is fabulous, of course, and you are still so beautiful...well, what's left of you. Where did you go? Are you okay? No, really. You seem to have been struck by the same diminishing disease that plagues so many once-healthy-weighted celebrity women. I'm all for being conscious of what you eat and staying physically active, but honey, I can see bones of yours that I shouldn't be able to see so much of. You nearly have a post-Auschwitz thing going on. What happened to your body?

Forget about being a role model to women. We have Christina Hendricks, Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson to show us how to confidently rock curves. I am concerned for your well being. I can only imagine the intense pressure of being under such constant scrutiny, but nothing matters if you lose the healthy function of your precious body. You and your life matter in ways that have nothing to do with your status and celebrity. You have a mess of babies to raise with care. This is the most important job in the world. Also important is the role you play giving voice to the voiceless in your humanitarian work. And you have a marriage to tend to like a garden, it's vibrancy (or lack thereof) affecting the way your kids approach love and relationships as adults.

Being a loving parent and spouse, and a responsible, active planetary citizen are such vital contributions and guess what? It doesn't matter what you look like. Everything in you has been trained to think otherwise. There is a strange Hollywood non-reality that sells slimness over substance at any cost. Every time a voluptuous woman enters the scene, it breaks my heart to watch the diminishing disease get her until her body is barely recognizable. Yes, sometimes it's good for people to lose weight. My life's work is to help people have a real, conscious, joyful experience of their bodies in their lives and I will support anything which contributes to that.

But it seems like there are always 5 or 10 more pounds, a few more inches or dress sizes and then! Then I can love my body. It's as though we are constantly at war with this sacred space that is the only permanent home we'll ever know in life. I've been taking a lot of group fitness classes at the gym recently and find my attention unconsciously lingering on my form reflected in the mirrored walls, mentally pummeling my gently rounded belly or the place where my thighs touch. For as far as I have come in literally and figuratively embracing myself, in some ways I am still very much the young woman I was when I first met you, shy and ashamed.

My mind keeps returning to a beautiful quote from an article about Bikram yoga I read months ago: "The mirror is there to ask you a single question: Do you love me?" I have been working on taking the mental reins and changing my answer to the question so that I can look myself directly in the eye and say, "Yes, I love you" over and over...and mean it!

There is something I am coming to realize, darling: there is no magic number or size that you can reach which makes you worthy. We are all inherently worthy of love and respect and kindness, regardless of how many holes deep you are on the belt loop. Yogi Bhajan asserted (and I agree) that happiness is our birthright and I would extend that to include being happy in our bodies just as they are, right now.

Your body belongs to you and you alone. Your body does not belong to the paparazzi, to your agent or your husband or your directors. You have a right to enjoy your body, to be gentle to it, to be at peace with it, to be completely comfortable and at home in it. You have a right to the flesh that surrounds and softens your bones, making them less of a hazard to one of your many children. You have a right to eat amply in this land of plenty- let's be real, I know you have money for food. You could even pay someone to buy and prepare it for you.

At some point someone decided that women had to be skinny to be beautiful. We made a collective agreement that this would be the case and the agreement is continuously reinforced, but for a handful of women in the business with great T&A. Why? Why do we keep reinforcing these standards that can be so harmful and aren't even representative of that many women? Why are so many people and their senses of self-worth under the thumb of so few?

Let's have a Radical Revolutionary Occupation of the Body. For the very little that it's worth, I give you permission to tell the whole world to fuck off and put back on the weight you lost that made you look like a very pretty Skeletor. Go for it! You have important work to do in this world and I know how badly impaired my cognitive function becomes when I'm hungry. I give you permission to practice radical self-love, throwing off the repressive agreements about beauty and celebrating everything about you that is so naturally gorgeous.

Above all other rights, you have the right to dictate the terms of your own life. Decide for yourself how you are most genuinely happy and live that with every ounce of passion and guts you have. As far as I'm concerned, it's your passion and guts that make you most beautiful. It's what gave me hope that I could grow gracefully and powerfully into my womanly body. You never seemed to care before what anyone else thought. This would be a great time to start not caring again. It's not like you'll stop being a household name anytime soon. Do whatever is best for you. As Dr. Seuss would remind us, "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."

Love,
Kirsten

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Heartbreaking Act of Staggering Difficulty

He asked me for money and I said no.

I'm from a place where I'm asked for money sometimes a dozen times in a day by all manner of people raising money for all manner of causes, including but not limited to: drugs, booze, a room for the night, a Greyhound ticket back to [__________], and The Environment ("Do you have moment to talk about The Environment?" "No, no I do not."). Sometimes I'm asked if I have four quarters for a dollar. Sometimes it's just a mumble mumble shuffle shuffle incoherent. Sometimes it's the guy in the suit who got mugged and just needs $25 to get his car out of the St. Mary's parking garage before it closes for the night. This happens to him at least once a week, poor guy.

After years and years of this sort of dialogue my policy became to never give anyone money unless they were playing an instrument or otherwise performing in some way that enriches the urban environment. I acknowledge people minimally with eye contact and a smile, sometimes with a meal purchased or a warm embrace. Compassionate touch is vital to human health and it hurts my heart to think of people going days or weeks without being touched in a loving way. Hugs are valuable currency and I am rich with them.

A long time ago, weeks after moving into the Tenderloin, a ragged looking woman approached me on the street and asked if I would buy her a flask of vodka. The quaking in her frail body was evidence of the DTs and I knew she could die, so we went to the liquor store. Her name was Margie. We stood talking on the corner for a while as she winced down the flask and told me to get a knife to protect myself. It's a mean neighborhood.

He asked me for money and I said no. I had given him small amounts before, always for bus fare or something else legitimate sounding, but I have no idea what the money actually went to fund. Someone once told me that when you give someone money for which you do not expect repayment, it's a gift and it becomes none of your business what they choose to do with it. He promised he would repay me and of course he never did.

He asked me for money for cigarettes and I said, "No, I love you...No, I love you...No, I love you," to each repeated request, his ink blot eyes darker than usual, belying not the slightest hint of meaning. Somewhere in those depths is a man that makes me quake with laughter like Margie with the DTs, like the ground beneath our feet reminding us to stay loose. This shadow person pressed and I pressed back with all the neutrality and love I could muster because that's what he deserves. There's still a good man in there and I'm going to keep whispering, "I love you," until he remembers what it's like to feel love.

He left in a huff, telling me he'd just have to buy a pack of gum, that this was the second best option in his situation. I gave him a hug on his way out and repeated, "I love you." He said nothing. The tears came easily, mixing with the soapy dish water sliding down the drain, brimming over to blinding, knees buckling under body quakes like Margie with the DTs, like the ground beneath our feet reminding us to let off some steam.

The moment recalled another moment a few years ago when I split my own heart open with the words, "We can't be together anymore." As I writhed and grieved in the night, bleeding immediate regret and unimaginable confusion, there was a small, strangely comforting thought, "I'm alive I'm alive I'm alive." There was no denying it.

Margie disappeared from my block for a long time. I didn't see her again until weeks before I left the Tenderloin. She was still frail, still quaking and impossible to forget. If she continues to survive the little daily quakes, she is probably still there living from one cheap flask of vodka to the next. I wonder what would've happened if I had said, "No, I love you" instead. You can't sway the will of an addict bent on using with any amount of love or fear or guilt. People are going to do what they're going to do until they want to do something else. But we can make the choice to look deep into the void of the addiction disease, find whatever shred of humanity is left and repeat, "I love you" until they remember what it's like to feel love.

This is what it means to relate to and act in the best interests of someone's highest self. It takes courage. They may always think of you as the monster that wouldn't lend them $5 for cigarettes in their hour of need. They certainly may not thank you later. In saying "No" you may be breaking your own heart but it must be done. Regardless of how far gone someone is, they always deserve to be treated as the human they still are and not the disease that drowns them.

Don't give the disease what it needs to survive another day, give the human what they need in order to remember what it's like to feel love. And sometimes the most loving word is No.