Wrong Places & Wrong Times

 

I am at a yoga retreat a couple of weeks ago; one that I have been very much looking forward to as a way of not only deepening my own practice, but as importantly, affording me an opportunity to connect with others over something that means a lot to me, in a time out of time sacred setting. So, to say that I was taken aback by the nearly constant presence of smart phones and tablets across the weekend would be a massive understatement.

It begins and ends with the smart phone that sat on my teacher’s mat before him as we practiced, and then wound up being fiddled with in his hands during teaching sessions. It continues with the participants who immediately reach for their phones as soon as the morning practice is over. It shows up at the lunch break as the devices replace the beautiful outdoor setting, conversations with others, and time spent alone in silence. It creeps in during our afternoon talks as the woman next to me checks her messages, and at one point watches a video.

Across the weekend, three of the women spend a good deal of their break time sitting on a couch together sending each other pictures and comments about the amazing time we are having together. On the night that there was talk about a fire gathering outside, nothing materializes as too many of our little group are actively involved with what is coming across their screens. And on the last day, as we are walking down the driveway heading out for a short and known walk, several people have a gasp response when they realize that they do not have their phones on them. Not to worry, the teacher has his.

What reveals itself here is that despite all that we believe can happen via the technologies, there is so very much more that is not happening and that is never being given a chance to happen. Things are being lost without the recognition that we are losing them. Things like the impromptu conversations that take you somewhere you could not get to on your own. Things like the quiet reflection of nature and what it might reveal to you, or in you. Things like the universal knowing that there is a time and a place for everything, and that if we allow the technologies domination over all of our spaces, our losses will be too vast for words, and ultimately, too enormous to live with.

Where are you allowing wrong place, wrong time scenarios in your life with the technologies?

Letting Go

 

We are on the brink of a seasonal letting go. A time when the brighter, hotter, busier and more outward energy of summer will give over to the softer, cooler, slower and more inward energy of fall. Nothing in the natural world clings, fights, resents, or laments when it’s time is up. Day gives way to night. Summer gives way to fall. Blooms give way to seed. Leaves give way to their role as fodder for the next year’s growth.

Equally, we as human beings will always have things to let go of; old shoes, rotten food, household clutter, the breath, relationships, and ways of being that no longer serve us. Truly, the list is far too vast and continuous to capture in words. And still, we resist letting go of things we have a strong attachment to. We hold on when we don’t know what will happen next. At times we do let go of our grip only because it has become so glaringly obvious or painful that whatever it is just has to go. And then, of course, there are the times when things gets ripped from us without our permission or consent.

But what if there was a way to begin to cultivate an appreciation, along with a skill set, that allowed for a more conscious response to life in this regard; one that recognized that letting go regularly throughout our lives is as necessary, and ultimately easy, as letting go of one breath in order to make room for the next one to come in?

Swami Kripalu, a wise yogic master, once said that a yogi dies a little bit each day, and then death becomes the next thing. This “dying” that he refers to is not only death in the literal sense, it speaks also to all of the little and big releases we are required to make across a lifetime. When we can loosen a little bit of our hold on life, we not only prepare for the ultimate and unavoidable and big letting go, but as importantly, we make room in life for more ease and more alignment with the realities of life.

If we want some help learning the ins and outs of letting go naturally, rhythmically and cyclically let us look to those forms that know not only how to let go when the time is ripe, but equally how to fully inhabit and express the life they were given when their time is here. Each and every one of us will let go many, many times in one lifetime whether we want to or not. Each and every one of us will let go one last and final time. Why not choose to know this as the approach to living more fully, gracefully and truthfully?

Deprivation

 

Deprivation. The state of something being withheld. Most of us have strong feelings and associations about being deprived. Some of us using deprivation to punish ourselves. Others of us going to great lengths to avoid the experience of going without at all costs.

But, what if there is another way to think about this? What if the act of renouncing something was purposeful, conscious and meaningful? What if it was done for a greater aim or perspective? What if some distance from what we regularly, habitually and unconsciously do might benefit from some separation?

I have been fasting once a month for upwards of 36 hours since April. My plan is to do this until May of 2018 as preparation for a vision quest I will be doing at that time. As so many things go, I got into this for one reason, but have found many, many more reasons, side effects, and benefits along the way. And so, while I am doing this to prepare physically, mentally, and spiritually for a longer duration of fasting, this intention may be the least of what I gain from this experience. In short, fasting has brought me up against my relationship to hunger in all of its forms, how I use food in ways that are not supportive, and what it is that I do when I have needs that the world is not satisfying.

What do you habitually, regularly and unconsciously do that could benefit from some separation? Gossip? Screen time? Criticism? Alcohol? Sugar? Coffee? Judgment? Where do you overindulge? And while yes, there will be discomfort; physical, emotional and mental, and while yes, because of how we have been conditioned it might feel like punishment, it is anything but.

P.S. This is one of those things that you can only learn by doing. Or not doing, as the case may be.

Resonance

 

My son played a gig in our yurt last Saturday night. Today I was talking to a friend of his about what he enjoyed about the show. He was struck by how resonant the sound was inside the yurt, especially at the center. I value his perspective on this as he is a “techie” and knows acoustics.

We start talking about circular spaces and the beauty of being in one. He tells me that in certain cultures, besides the spiritual aspect, spaces were built round so that no matter where you were in the space, everyone could hear you from anywhere in the room. Makes sense. He then went on to add that if you said something negative, not only could everyone else hear it, but that you yourself would hear your words carried back to you!

My mind explodes with the possibility contained in this. What would it be like if each and every one of us could really “hear” any and all negativity that we put out into any room? How would that change the words that come out of our own mouth? Further, how could each and every one of us carry ourselves as a structure with such integrity that we reflected back negativity without getting personal about it? Or shaming. Or superior. Or combative. Or co-dependent.

Of course, that would require that each and every one of us got to know our own “you know what” so that we did not get caught up in what another person was doing. It would require that we find our own resonant center and hold that in the presence of whatever was happening in the room. Could we learn to be that impersonal? That objective? That established in our own experience?

To serve as a clear reflection for the world takes a lot of work. It means not reacting to another based on your own negativities. It means carving out enough time in your own life to get to know yourself and how your buttons get pushed. It means taking personal responsibility for how you are receiving what you are receiving.This is different than trying to get another person to be different or to stop doing what they are doing.

Try this: The next time you are in a difficult encounter, literally, take a step back. Not in a confrontational or dismissive way, but as a way of demonstrating to yourself your desire to step away from behaving in a way that increases negativity. Then, as best as you can, stay with your own experience, and for a moment, forget about what the other person is doing. Give yourself enough time to see the truth of your own inner response, and why it is that you do what you do. Then, and only then, and without any effort on your part, will you serve as a center of resonance in any room you inhabit.

Being Watched

 

“The only thing that Orwell failed to predict was that we would install the telescreens ourselves and that our biggest fear is that no one would be watching.”

 

Our children’s insecurities are mounting, magnified in part by their use of social media. They fish and maneuver for compliments and reassurances in the forms of “likes” and “followers.” They grow more and more comfortable spinning and marketing themselves. They remain ever-vigilant for feedback. They spend their precious days ruminating over getting their words just right, or their picture “flawless;” desperately needing others to see them as they most want to be seen.

I once read, “Men watch women and women watch themselves being watched.” This pierced me all the way through the first time I read it in ways that are not easy to articulate. Suffice to say, it spoke directly, acutely, and poignantly to my experience of growing up female in this culture.

I know what it is to watch myself being watched. To watch myself being watched through the eyes of a culture whose expectations, standards, images, accepted behaviors and social norms, of and for a woman, are degrading, disrespectful and dehumanizing. I know what it is to watch myself through the eyes of misogyny that is candy coated in layers of denials, justifications, and projections, and then rolled out as something I should want, even count myself lucky to be on the receiving end of.

For too many years, it left me unnaturally oriented to and even “at home” with being watched in all the wrong ways. It left me at home with being seen in ways that shattered my spirit, denigrated my sense of self, and sacrificed any ease or well-being I might have experienced in my female body. It taught me that my very existence, my right to be here, to be loved and appreciated, was conditional, always, upon what another saw in me. Men most especially. It felt to me like what they saw in me and wanted from me was who I was, and who I needed to be. Whether that was good for me or not. And whether what they saw was true or not.

It felt like all that it would take for me to be banished or reduced down to nothing, was one bad picture of me posted for all to see. A picture deemed so hideous in the eyes of another that it could only mean that that was the truth of me. Because of this, part of me could never, ever stop checking. Could never, ever stop posing and positioning myself in ways that I believed others would like. It felt as though my very existence depended on me knowing precisely what others wanted of me. I worked very, very hard to line up with this.

After I had been doing this long enough, all of the monitoring and the feedback that I had been receiving from outside of me, got installed inside of me. It felt necessary to my survival. I did not trust myself; only those watching me. I did not see myself as separate from being watched. To do this would have required me knowing that I was not what others saw. Since I did not possess that knowing, well, it was anybody’s game. Except mine. It is deeply disturbing to witness how much a woman will go against herself when she is wedded to watching herself being watched; bound by what they “see.”

What is it doing to our children to grow up needing to be watched to feel as though they deserve to exist?

Feeling

We are living in intense and overwhelming times, leaving us with a lot to feel. Simultaneously, we have never had more ways to not feel a single thing. From over-the-counter medications to pharmaceutical prescriptions to recreational drugs. From coffee to sugar to energy drinks to alcohol. And from a never-ending stream of distractions in the form of our screen technologies.

I am a yoga teacher in the Kripalu Yoga tradition. The namesake of the lineage, Swami Kripalu, once said that just when the right thing is happening, an aspirant will perceive it as being the wrong thing that is happening and end the practice. Just when, in all actuality, they are right on the edge of a breakthrough. This is why, he counseled, that it was imperative to receive guidance and support from someone further along on the path.

We see the way this plays out in life. Sometimes just when the right thing is happening, we will label it wrong, or not what we wanted, or expected it to be. It is so hard to imagine that difficult or unwanted feelings could possibly mean that we are onto exactly the right thing. But it is true nonetheless. Our feelings serve as guidance, and as such they are an important source of knowing in the world. Further, our unwanted feelings serve to let us know exactly how and why something is off in our world, requiring our attention.

That includes feelings of anger, anxiety, disappointment, sadness, rage, shame, grief and overwhelm. Can you imagine feeling what you are feeling without trying to medicate it away? Can you imagine seeing awful and difficult to bear feelings as guidance while allowing that perception alone to serve as teacher and guide? Can you see the possibility in this approach in a world gone made with pushing for exactly the wrong things and where it will only be our feelings of discomfort that will light the way for us?

This requires both great sensitivity and great strength. It requires your attention and willingness. And it requires your patience as you learn skills you do not currently possess. What you can expect from this level of effort is that some day, down the road, you will wake up to the realization that not only can you bear what you thought was unbearable, but that in the meantime you have gained great strengths, along with ways of perceiving life where you see the merit and the necessity in being with what is “too difficult” to feel.

Otherwise, we run the risk daily, individually and collectively, of creating over and over again a living hell. If you are feeling something there is a good and valid reason for it. What if you could see it as just that? And if all else fails, refuse to take guidance from anyone or any way of living that is more screwed up than you.

 

The Game

 

There is a way that we all play “the game.” One way or another. A way that we pretend we are enjoying something when we are not. A way that we believe we should want something that we do not. A way that we engage in Life according to rules that we do not believe in.

Sometimes we will fight against this; inwardly or outwardly. Sometimes we will smile our way through; acquiescing to it all. Sometimes we will put our heads in the sand; refusing to engage. Sometimes we will disappear; using invisibility as a way to get out of it. And sometimes we will be passive-aggressive; pretending to play a game that we are subversively trying to undermine. All of this is some form of hiding out; way of refusing to engage with what is not working for us, giving us just enough relief to continue on in a game we don’t want to be playing.

Believing that our only recourse in living is to be found in following rules that we find intolerable is never the answer. The answer lies in knowing yourself and living according to your own rules. The answer lies in completely, totally and even-handedly removing your energies from a game you want no part of, and then funneling all of those powerful, personal energies into a game that does make sense to you.

As someone once said to me; “If I throw a ball at you and you don’t catch it-the game is over.” Learning how to play your own game requires letting the balls drop that are not working for you. That takes guts. It takes trusting what is working for you and not working for you, without judging yourself to be wrong because you do not measure up to the rules of a game you never wanted to be playing in the first place.

A Happy Family

I am at our local co-op when I run into the mother of one of my son’s friends. We catch up a bit, going back and forth about how the summer is going, and what we are both up to. When I let her know I am spending my time finishing a book on the downside of technology and kids, she lets me know about a trip she and her family recently took.

She tells me how she consciously chose a vacation spot where there was no Wi-Fi access. And she specifically required beforehand that everyone leave their phones at home, not bringing them on the trip. She admitted to being worried about how they would respond to this, as well as how long it would take for her two children to settle down into time together without their devices.

With a big smile, she told me that they had adjusted immediately! How they had talked and sung together as a family for the whole ride up, and how wonderful it had been to be with them without the distractions and the intrusions of the phones. She told me she had pondered creating some kind of a requirement after they got back around times for no cell phone use at home, but felt that it was probably too late now to impose such a thing as both kids would be going off to college in the fall, and were perhaps too old for that kind of thing now. For a moment she paused, appearing to be pondering something. She ended our conversation, speaking more to herself than to me, by saying; “We were a much happier family before the cell phones.”

What do you say to something like that? Everything this woman, or any of us for that matter, needs to proceed around technology and our families is contained in that one heart-wrenching revelation.

Resentment

Resentment: a feeling of persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, an insult, or an injury.

How many of us live resenting the very requirements of our day to day living? This question surfaces in my mind as I pick raspberries. For the longest couple of weeks, I kept checking and checking to see if they were ripe. Nope. Then, in less than a 24 hour time period they went from “nope” to bursting. So many, in fact, that I will not be able to get to them all this day. That’s OK. I am really here hoping to get just enough to make the very first raspberry jam of the season. And while I will be doing this between now and September, many, many more times, this first batch is always special to me.

As I am picking, I am feeling how grateful I am to have the time, the space and the inclination to be doing what I am doing in an unhurried way. And while I do have things to get to, beats to hit, right now I have an abundance of time to be here. This as opposed to hurriedly, maybe resentfully, cramming what I am doing in between other things. (Or worse yet, needing to assign this task to a reluctant teenager who might just poison the bounty with discontent and ill will.)

Along with the gratitude, I am also aware that if I were overly busy, this thing that I am doing which so matters to me, would be experienced as a resentment. I would be feeling as though this chore was some insult to my time; an overwhelm in my day. This awareness leads me to think about us as a culture and how often it is that we resent the very things that make up the fabric of our lives, all because we have set up our lives where we have too much going on. Because of this, things like self-care, home-cooking, taking care of another, doing whatever needs to be done, or what matters most, can only be experienced as one more thing to do in a too long list of things to do, all because we have made certain things more important than the basic and simple necessities of life and of living.

With enough space in our lives, chores lose their edge, caring for ourselves is juicy, and supporting another fills us. Our busyness, over-scheduling, and technological time-sucks leaves us resenting what we most need to do for ourselves and others. So, if you find yourself resenting the necessities of what keeps your life going, and what it is that makes for a good life, pause for a moment and ask yourself; If I had all the time in the world, how would I feel about what I am doing right now? And then, the hardest question of all to ask, and then, to answer; What would need to change in my life to make enough space and time for what needs doing?    

Nothing

 

“Nothing to fix. Nothing to figure out.” I’ve said these words countless times to others. But when I hear these words spoken from a teacher in a class I am taking, it goes all the way in. Not as a compassionate thing to say. Not as a syrupy New Age platitude. But as the purest instructions for freedom. The most resonant Truth around our experience of being alive.

Contained in these simple, honest words lies the possibility of taking whatever you are experiencing and holding it up to the light of there being nothing that needs to be done. Nothing that needs to be changed. That can almost feel heretical in a culture that is always pushing and doing and fixing and managing. Everything, every, single day.

And when we run this past our rational minds, this way of being can feel like a lot of you know what. Or dangerous. Or lazy. Or… Despite that response, nothing  we are experiencing is inherently bad or wrong or undesirable. It just is. Can you imagine what it would be like in any given moment to just let yourself be? As is? To say “yes” to how you are feeling? Whatever that is? As scary or unfamiliar as it might feel, can you see the power in not resisiting what is in the form of the sensations flowing through you, or the circumstances you find yourself in? Words cannot possibly convey the magnitude of this shift in terms of how it leaves us feeling about us. This is one you cannot read about, but instead need to practice as your own personal medicine for freedom and well-being.