Leaving

 

I am preparing, as I have been since April of last year, to go on a vision fast in May; traveling further from home than I have ever gone before. I am intermittently terrified, expectant, and ready. As I get closer, I am being asked by others why it is that I do this. I can see that the questions, and even the skepticism, is serving as a kind of preparation; with the questions posed reminding me, and even schooling me, on why it is that I do this. Why it is that I put myself out there. Why it is that I invite discomfort and risk exposure of all kinds.

I do this because in the safe haven of an environment that is built to support growth and transformation, I am always brought to the very best in myself; despite, or maybe because of, any struggle, doubt, confusion, or fear I encounter. There is just no substitute for being surrounded by outer circumstances that support your deepest work, and therefore your fullest expression.

I do this because whenever I set and then live for a time with a strong and clear intention for my life, without exception, I get whatever it is that I am intending, in the most profound, magical, mystical, and beyond my control of ways.

I do this because in the structure of a retreat experience, I can better allow everything to be exactly as it is; including it all and weaving it in through my intention. Through this level of focus and inclusion, I am made whole through the experience, no matter how difficult it might be. As a matter of fact, quite often the intensity of my emotions and experience is exactly what it is that breaks through the old conditioning, and lands me in a place that is new and ripe with possibility.

For a very long time, I did not understand why I was so compelled to put myself through all of this. Now I know. I do this because this is how I want to live in the day to day; focused on what I most want, embedded in what is real, and guided by the Great Mystery. I do this because in order to reach certain understandings about myself and Life, I must put myself in novel situations; recognizing that the more unknown the better when it comes to breaking away from old thinking and habit patterns.

And ultimately, I leave so that I can return.

Reflections

 

Once, in the midst of struggling with how I was being seen and received by another, a practitioner said to me; “They are not a clear reflection for you.” Whew. That took an enormous load off to be given permission to not have to reference the wrong source. That truth allowed me to see that who I was, was separate from what another thought or reflected back to me. This has stuck with me ever since, and I find myself referring to it whenever I wind up in that struggle between me and another over who I am. And at times, more poignantly, who I am not.

In knowing ourselves, we tend to go back to the very first reflections we ever got regarding who others thought we were, or should be. In other words, our families, and other early teachers. To the extent that there was distortion in what was being reflected back to us, we will struggle with the truth of who we are because as children we usually do not recognize dysfunctional feedback as being off base And even if we do, we somehow agree to it one way or another. In order to stay in relationship. In order to stay safe. In order to stay valued. In order to keep from being kicked out. In order to be loved.

Worse yet, we tend to go through life winding up in the same reflecting pools, ensuring that we continue to see the same things about ourselves; even if they are not true. Even if it is harmful. Even if we have changed. This damaging and insidious feedback loop not only harms us, it robs the world of us.

I once received from a trusted teacher, the following practice. Put a mirror on your alter, or any other space that feels special to you. Gaze into your own reflection. What do you see? As a companion practice, you might also try saying some version of, “I see you for who you truly are,” every time you see your own reflection in a mirror.

A little terrifying at first, but absolutely necessary in the journey of creating a clear reflection.

Existence

 

The owl shapes its world without apology. Without needing a reason. Or permission. In so doing, it contributes to a more life-affirming ecology where its fullest expression benefits the existence of those species it shares space with; no matter what it looks like to the outside world.

This can happen only because in the animal kingdom there is no distortion around need. There is no past that warps an animal’s place in the world, or how it goes about expressing itself around others. And because it belongs to, and interacts with a larger community, where its full expression is balanced and in harmony with the full and non-judgmental expression of others, there is no movement, no struggle here that does not somehow fit the moment, and therefore, benefit the whole.

Humans, on the other hand, feel a need to justify, beg for, and apologize for, their right to be here. Their right to take up space. Their right to do what is in their best interest. We see this in the approval seeking so common to our species. We see this in our need to be other people’s version of us. We see this in the rules we play by that have nothing to do with our sanity, happiness, purpose, health, or, by the way, the common good. By choosing to live like this, not only do we warp, twist, and distort ourselves, but we do the very same with those sharing space with us.

Because we do not have a clear and accurate idea of who we are, and what it is that we actually need, we wind up doing great harm to both ourselves, and to others as we bring all of our distortions, blind spots, and histories to every single interaction we have. If you buy this, then, there is no greater legacy that you can leave to the world than to get clear on what your truest needs are, and then find healthy and balanced ways to meet them. There is no greater effort that you can engage in than to know who and what you actually are, and perhaps more importantly, what you are not.

CAUTION: This requires understanding and accepting that you may not always be the most beloved animal in the woods, but you will certainly be authentically and fully whatever you truly are.

Shaping The World

 

My husband recently gave me a card that boldly stated; This is your world. Shape it or someone else will.  He gave me this card as a reminder. He gave me this card because I had forgotten. What had I forgotten? How powerful the force of one person’s life-affirming focus can be on not only their own life, but also on the life of our world.

In the times we are living in, it can be so easy to forget that everything great that has ever shifted humankind has begun in the mind of one. And then, through association with “a one,” these different ways of seeing and being in the world have gone on to grow in the minds of enough of us that the balance finally gets tipped in a new direction. This has happened in all of our historically great social movements; causes that had to initially withstand ridicule, nay saying, disbelief, suspicion, and violence.

And while each “cause” that has ever moved us has had to make its way through and past what was unjust, unfair, and ignorant, ultimately, each movement has had to come to define itself around what it stands for; what it is trying to build and create and spread in the world. Ultimately, it has had to decide to live by a different truth, no matter what consensual reality is saying or doing.

Pick your pet peeve about the direction the world is spiraling in. What could you do to withdraw your energies and attention from what you do not want, and instead, direct them to what you most want in the world? Could you maybe watch less news? Could you maybe not spend time connecting with others over the injustices and the horrors of the world? Could you maybe not spend your days going over and over and over again inside your own mind all the things that terrify you about what is going on? Where could you be brave enough to stand for what you want as opposed to silently colluding with, or being a victim to, around what you do not want?

Try this: Unless something is working for you, don’t choose it; in any way, shape, or form.

P.S. Notice all the ways that the mind will tell you that to do this means that you will be unsafe, uninformed, ignorant, or naive if you do not link into the current “realities.” This is never about denying what is there. It is instead about choosing to focus your energy and attention on what it is that you most want to grow, be, and stand for in the world. Who will be brave enough?

Personal Responsibility

 

Because of the way that we can keep track of our children, they are losing essential opportunities to grow into responsible and trustworthy grown-ups. When did we trade a childhood-long apprenticeship, seasoned with our guidance, for turning them into objects of surveillance? When did we forget that for healthy responsibility to develop, our children must be given time and space to figure things out on their own? What kind of citizens are we molding when their every move is being monitored and tracked by the technologies we possess? Which by the way, can be gotten around.

It puts me in mind of the college student who leaves her cell phone in her room at night while she goes to sleep over at her boyfriend’s apartment. Why does she do this? Because her mother is tracking her. So, while this mother sleeps soundly at night “knowing” that her daughter is in her dorm room, reality tells a different story. Not only has deception been installed in the relationship, this mother has eroded her daughter’s opportunity to learn how to live with a code of conduct based on a developing judgment and growing integrity that can only come through careful tutelage under an adult, coupled with increasing opportunities for un-monitored experience.

When we place our children under surveillance, they may learn how to go undetected, but never will they learn how to take what we have given them, add in their own life experiences, and move towards taking greater and greater levels of personal responsibility. Their lives, and our world, needs people who have developed an inner code of conduct that they can navigate by; whether someone is watching or not.

Additionally, we are training our children to be comfortable with being monitored, watched, and followed. How will this serve our children and the collective good? Big Brother really misses the mark here. For their future and for the future of a democratic nation, we must be intent upon raising a citizenry, who through years and years of training, guidance, and support, learns how to take personal responsibility for their choices. Not because they are being watched but because they have come to the conclusion that this is the kind of person they most want to be. Because they have internalized the best of what we have to pass on to them. Because they have learned to think about more than themselves. And because they have matured into understanding the cause and effect relationship of their actions in the world.

How will our children learn self-regulation, independent thinking, and trustworthy behavior, all aspects of personal responsibility, if they rely on being watched in order to do the right thing?

 

Parallels

 

Last weekend I ran in a road race that included me and my closest 6000 friends. This is so not my type of race. I am much more built for the small, “mom and pop event;” preferably one that would take me through the woods. And yet, I love this race. Why? Because of the visible and palpable displays of inclusion, camaraderie, support, and good will.

For instance, there were the pairs of runners where one friend, mother, father, or mentor gently and steadfastly encouraged along their struggling protegee. There were the festive and exuberant cheering spectators whose enthusiasm and energy, as my husband noted, “Lifted you up and carried you along, further than you could get on your own.” And there was the visible call for justice as evidenced by the signs that many runners were wearing on their shirts; most poignantly moving being how many men came out in support of abused, disenfranchised, and dis-empowered women.

Running along and taking all of this in got me to thinking about the parallels for living in a more just and supportive world. A world where we encouraged one another along. A world where we spoke out against injustice. A world where everyone was included in the race; where every shape, size, ability level, age, and color was welcome and got all mixed in together in a wildly colorful display of human beings moving together towards one goal. A world where, as my husband said, “It’s amazing how little time it takes for everyone to finish.”

This is why every year I come back. This is why every year it sneaks up on me and leaves me crying at the finish line. This is what I want. This is what I want.

What Are You Plugged Into?

 

We all have our ways of plugging into the wrong things to “light us up;” to make us feel alive. For some of us its food or alcohol or shopping. For others its screen time, gossip, or working too much. And for others, its dysfunctional relationships or being stuck in the past.

Somehow, somewhere along the way, we stopped experiencing the aliveness that flows within us naturally. A kind of uninhibited vitality of living that does not require permission, cajoling, or anything outside of ourselves.

I recently experienced a profound image around this. I saw a figure climbing higher and higher into the Universe. Wearing a backpack, she was very focused on the climb; on “getting there.” It suddenly occurred to her that it did not matter where she landed in the world, only that she knew her place, and inhabited it fully.

At this point, her place was a star in the heavens. Sitting there she noticed electrical cords coming out of the back of her star and plugging into all sorts of things; what others thought, misguided attempts to create safety, limiting expectations she was living by. While looking at all the ways she had restrained herself, a shooting star streaked across the night sky in a blaze of light and mystery coming seemingly out of nowhere, and moving back into the vastness of the cosmos. She heard the words; “Every time you see a shooting star, know that someone has pulled free from being plugged into the wrong things.”

We are not here to be plugged into false sources of ourselves, but to discover The Source that most allows us to find our place in the Universe, and then, to spend the rest of our lives inhabiting that “star” as fully as we can.

Undying Attention

It is as though our children have a kind of technologically induced ADD. Their focus shifts all around and is anywhere but where they are. They leap to the sound of every ping, chime, and buzz no matter the circumstances, no matter who they are engaged with. And even when it looks like they are listening, they are not; far too prone to utter the words “Wait, what?!” when someone is talking to them. They scroll, check, text, and post in the middle of whatever they are doing; seemingly unable to stop themselves.

Because there is always something else to devote their attentions to, some other choice, another place to be, another thing to see or “share,” another person to be with, they are rarely focused on where they are, what they are doing, or who they are with. Why expect or train the mind to settle on one thing when being scattered is the most easily accessed, and most socially accepted form of attention now? Why should they bother to hone their focus? The machines do not require that of them, why should anyone else?

Who knows, maybe they’re right. Maybe it is better to lay back into the screens when you have trained your attention to be so short-lived, conditional, non-existent, and where the constant offering up of increasingly louder and more stimulating ways to grab your focus is so readily available. All of this and more is theirs without expecting anything of them, or asking anything in return. Except of course, for their undying and short-lived attention.

Teachings

 

I am in morning practice recently feeling quite overwhelmed by the world, and its ways of late. While my mind spins, I find myself automatically going into tree pose. Immediately, I feel more rooted. This welcomed grounded-ness holds me despite the wavering of my upper body. Once established in  balance, I look up only to be met with the purest of reflections from all the trees outside my window.

I sense, feel, and intuit guidance from what I am looking at. I hear how some things in Life are meant to remain beyond the reach of the changing world. Equally, there are some things that are ever-changing. I wonder to myself how it is that I can stay sourced in those things that are meant to remain fixed. And I consider how it is that I can access those places that know how to bend, flex, and are meant to be mutable.

I realize that these polar opposites, taken together, are the qualities of a life well-lived. A life fully expressed. A life that recognizes when to stand firm, and when to yield. A life that nourishes and is nourished. A life that dies and is reborn.

Some of the very best teachings I have ever received have come from the natural world. This requires, though, a kind of slowing down, openness, and receptivity to seeing beyond the daily; beyond the man-made. And so, if you were to be open to the teachings of the trees, one question might be; How could you hold yourself both more flexibly, and with greater conviction?

Here

 

As awe-inspiring as it is to take note of the capacities of the thinking that has created the technologies, we must also include the ways in which our creations have magnified and exacerbated the troublesome sides of the human brain. One example of this is the ordinary mind, and how often it believes that some where, some one, or some thing else, is better than here. More desirable than where we currently are, or are with.

As someone who has been watching her mind for decades through a combination of practices, including mindfulness and meditation, I daily, and sometimes even moment to moment, watch how my mind will tell me that there is another place to be; a more superior place to be than wherever I am. I see it when I am sitting in meditation thinking that when I am done, and getting to have breakfast, that will be better than where I am. I see it when I am doing errands and catch myself believing that when I get home, it will be more of where I most want to be. I see it mid-week when I start to feel that when the weekend is here, and I am done teaching, then I will finally be in the better place.

Only… What I regularly notice is that whenever I get to the some where else, or some thing else, or some one else, not only am I not necessarily better, there arises a whole new set of places, conditions, and circumstances I would rather have or be experiencing. I am even doing it now as I write, believing that when I am done with this section, that life will be better. That it is somehow more desirable for me to get on to the next thing instead of being exactly right here; where I am.

Enter the mobile devices. The ones that travel with us through all of our here and now’s. The very same ones that connect us to an infinite array of some other place, some other person, and some other thing to do. If we choose, this can happen in a virtually non-stop kind of way. And when we use the screens in this way, it feeds the distorted notion that there is not much value in being fully wherever we are; compounding our tendency to try and escape what is happening, or who we are with, or how we are feeling. With the devices, there is always a way out. There is always a way to pacify the part of the mind that needs to have another experience, feel another way, attain the happiness it seeks someplace else. Anywhere else. Except of course, for here.

But the truth is, no where is better than here.