Seeing

 

A couple of weeks ago, I had an experience where a bug flew into my eye. This was unlike any other experience I have ever had of this nature. Without being dramatic, it felt like the equivalent of having acid thrown into my eye; leaving it red, painful, and swollen. Not only did the surface of my eye feel burned, it also felt as though I had been struck by a blunt instrument. For a couple of days, pus oozed out of it, and so, like an old school grandmother, I had to tuck a tissue into my waistband to have at the ready to soak up what was coming out of my eye.

Literally, for days there was not a single moment that the discomfort and the strain did not stand between me and whatever it was that I was doing. It was not until it had cleared, and an enormous sense of ease washed over me that I realized how hard I had been working; every single moment of every single waking hour. Until it was gone, I had no idea how much energy I had been expending. And while there was most certainly an uncomfortable physical reality, the real effort, and consequent exhaustion, emanated from the thoughts in my mind. All of the ways that I wanted it to be other than it was. All of the ways that I kept replaying what had happened over and over and over again. But most important and essential of all, all of the ways that I was focusing on the physical discomfort in an attempt to avoid the meaning underlying the experience.

Which brings me to the yogic practice of using the body as a doorway into a greater sense of who we are. A portal into deeper levels of our truest nature and our connection with All That Is. From this perspective, everything that happens in and to our bodies is an opportunity to travel a little deeper. Get to know ourselves a little better. Understand our connection to Spirit and our own souls a little more.This as opposed to getting hung up in limited ideas about what it means to be in a body. Getting caught up in the illnesses, ailments and accidents as if they were only something to be avoided, medicated against, done to us and gotten over.

To illustrate, I could just leave it at “a bug flew into my eye and it was an inconvenient, uncomfortable and sometimes socially awkward experience.” Or, I could tell you that at the exact moment that the bug hit my eye, I had gone from a very connected, open, grateful state of consciousness to a small, petty and resentful mind state. I could tell you that the experience was nothing more than some random thing that happened to me. Or, I could tell you that at the exact moment of contact, I knew that I had made a choice I did not want to get behind. I could tell you that The Universe played no part in this. Or, I could tell you that this was a Divinely guided moment to help me choose whether to look through the eyes of resentment, or through the eyes of love.

And while this may seem nutty or even downright untrue to some, the veracity of this is not the point. Nor is it up for grabs. The point is, and always will be, how we choose to see our embodied existence is always up to us. A choice we make each and every day. For the Truth is, where you wind up is most definitely based on how you choose to see.

 

Rock Boundaries

 

Away on retreat several weeks ago, I ran into the “Rock of Gibraltar.” This was the nickname given to an enormous boulder that sat at the junction of three trails meeting. It was quite a spectacle sitting there in the middle of the woods. So much so that someone had written a poem to this behemoth and staked it off to the side for people, or maybe it seemed for the rock itself, to enjoy.

I stumbled across this monument on one of my days out hiking, and I was struck by its presence. If ever you could imagine the physical embodiment of strength and grounded-ness, this was it. If ever you wanted an extraordinary example of steadiness, stillness and solidness, this was it. It was as if it knew its place and knew how to hold it well. It truly was the kind of thing that made you want to sit there and hang out with it for a while. And so I did.

What I noticed first was despite its rock-hard, exceedingly clear edges, things were growing all over it. Delicate little flowers. Florescent green mosses. And lots of things were crawling on top of it while other things were momentarily resting there. Yet none of this changed the nature of Gibraltar. Not by even one iota. It continued to be itself; unharmed, undisturbed, unperturbed and most of all, unchanging.

In that moment I was brought to think about boundaries. About how difficult it can be to know when and where to draw a line with others. About how often we either collapse our boundaries to acquiesce to some demand or expectation, or on the other end of the spectrum, how we harden up and armor up to protect ourselves. And then there is good old Gibraltar, doing the only thing it knows how to do. Be itself. Fully and completely. No apologies. No accusations. No explanations. No permission requested.

That is when it really sunk in for me. How when considering or working on boundaries with others, we can make the mistake of believing that we need to begin with our edges. Or worse yet, that we need to begin outside of ourselves. Both are incorrect. We need to begin with our center. With the core of who we are. With the deepest essence of our truest nature. In a phrase, we need to be fully established in the truth of who we are, then the rest just naturally takes care of itself.

This is not easy to do. It would be far easier to believe that others should act the way we want them to. It would be far easier to believe we have to be at war with others, protecting ourselves against their violations and onslaughts. It would be far easier to just cave into the demands to keep the peace. And yet, to do any of this would be to violate our best and truest natures, which by extension, then goes on to skew and contaminate our interactions with others.

That big, beautiful rock stands as a powerful symbol for me. One that says it is possible to be in harmonious and symbiotic relationship with all of the life on us and around us when we never, not for one moment, cease to be ourselves.

Authenticity

 

Be yourself. Just be who you are. Sounds good, right? Like a great hashtag or something catchy printed on a t-shirt. Who wouldn’t want this experience? But the truth is, this will absolutely be the single most difficult thing you will ever attempt in your life. If you even make the attempt.

Maybe it seems downright ludicrous to even be discussing being yourself as on some level who or what else could you possibly be? As it turns out though there are lots and lots of facsimiles, cheap copies and low-grade versions of ourselves that we take on. We do this for all kinds of reasons, but the result is always the same; our real self left out of the equation, MIA, downgraded, degraded, ignored, drowned and left for dead. Being who you actually are is not for the faint of heart; those unwilling to take responsibility for themselves, or those favoring an easy way out. Instead, it is for the whole-hearted. The bold-hearted. The brave-hearted.

Why? Because if you make the choice to be who you are, you must pass through all that you are not. This part alone is why so many of us stop. Or do not even begin. It is just too painful. Too arduous. Too complicated. Too confusing. Too demanding. Too provoking. And right along side that, too magnificent, too out of the box, too empowering, and too liberating to bear; with either side of the equation feeling like too much to be with. And so, we choose lessor versions of who we are.

I once had a practitioner I was working with say to me, “You are honest and you are transparent, but you are not always authentic.” She hesitated in the delivery of this observation, cautious and wary of my reaction. But I knew instantly and exactly what it was she was talking about. More than that, I knew it to be true. Instead of feeling hurt or defensive, this comment brought light to something that had always lived just beneath the surface.

That being, the regular and daily ways where I was most decidedly, not myself. Not authentic. Not true to who I was. Not true to my experience of being in the world. Maybe it was in the ways I pretended to like something when I did not. Or be interested in something when I was not. Maybe it was in the way I would smile that tight, forced smile when I was really upset. Or said yes when I knew the answer was no. Maybe it was in all the ways I pleased, placated and performed to appease another, to belong, to fit in, to feel safe, to avoid rocking the boat.

To be yourself is to choose and to choose and to choose again. Each and every day in ways large and small. In ways easy and seemingly impossible. In ways obvious and in ways hidden. Given the magnitude of this, how do we begin given all of the habits we have gotten into around who we need to be? How do we begin given how tied we are to what others expect of us? We do it by getting clear, courageous, and firm with ourselves, not others, that this is our one and only life. Our one and only chance to be our one and only self.

And then, we begin to practice. Every day. How might that look practically? One idea to try is something you can do while lying in bed right before sleep. Go back over your day. Not obsessively or critically, but in a curious-about-you kind of way. Locate a moment where you were definitely not you. Put a little circle around it in your mind. A red one. And then place that red line through the middle of it. This is not a judgment or a punishment. It it an awakener. A marker to help you remember what it feels like to not really be yourself. Something you want to become aware of so that you can catch yourself before you go in too deep.

Next, find a place in your day where you really felt at home in yourself. A moment where you were genuine, true to your feelings, authentic. Put a circle around that one. Let it be whatever color feels most true to you. Notice how that moment felt. Choose to remember it in any way that makes sense to you. And then, build from there. There is absolutely a very distinct feel to the real you. One that you want to memorize, get comfortable with, call in, and grow as often as possible.

As silly as it may seem, we really do have to consciously choose to build our way back into the truth of our authentic selves. One experience at a time.

On Being Lost

 

Away on retreat recently I got lost in the woods. Really lost. For hours I bushwhacked until I finally made my way to a trail system, which eventually took me out of the forest and into the car of a very nice man who got me back to where I was trying to go.

The next day I made my way back to the trails I had stumbled upon and spent the morning exploring the main branches and all of the little ancillaries that would eventually dead end somewhere. And even though I did not necessarily know where I was going, I had a familiarity that I did not have the day before. This gave me more confidence and a sense of groundedness to be back at least somewhat knowing where I was, where only the day before I had been utterly lost.

Along with a better sense of where I was, I also brought better supplies. This time I was more prepared, resilient, and therefore, at ease. This allowed me to settle into myself; no longer being in a kind of survival mode. No longer having to work down self-generated, along with realistically-based, fears. And it got me to thinking.

Even though the day before had not been what I had signed up for; having originally intended to do a little effortless exploration (which explained my lack of preparedness), and even though I had had moments of thinking I might be spending the night out in the woods unprepared and unwilling, somehow the experience had gifted me with something.

What that something was showed up as an opportunity to dig a little deeper inside of myself to separate fact from fiction. For instance, when lost, I would catch myself in a kind of made-up panic. Almost like given what was happening, I was supposed to be freaked out when in fact, in any particular moment, I was actually perfectly OK. Warm, dry, fed, able to move, able to think and reason.

Or I would start running some story about what this meant about me. How it wasn’t how I wanted to be spending my time. What others would think. When in all actuality, the truth was, I was just a woman wandering around in the woods, knowing that at some point I was going to come out somewhere. I mean really, who cares where I came out as long as I came out?

Through being lost, I see the beauty of the metaphor it affords us all. That being, that when we find ourselves not knowing where we are, we have a choice. We can go down the rabbit hole of fear, judgment and self-recrimination. Or we can be where we are until we know where we are.

Just Being

 

No clock. No phone. No schedule. No running water. No computer. No talking. No electricity. No hair brush. No datebook. No mirror. No make-up. No doing for anyone else, but me.

I am away on a self-generated retreat for 5 days and 4 nights in an off-the-grid cabin in the woods. I am commemorating the 1 year anniversary of a vision fast I did in the desert last year at this time. It is tradition to mark the experience. And it is more than that. I feel called to take the time to reflect on the past year in a way that is free of the usual obligations, and most of all, free of the expectations I carry of myself. The ones that no longer serve.

While I was away, my theme was “getting to just be.” As in having a chance to see who and what I am when I am not linked into all of the things that I do every single day. Like how I look to others. Or when I am supposed to eat or sleep according to a clock. Or how I need to feel at any given moment. Or how I use my words. Or keep my commitments. Or smell.

This kind of experience carries with it the power to take us back to a natural and unself-conscious way of being within ourselves. Something that is actually a birthright and was present to us as children before we were conditioned by the circumstances and experiences of our lives. To a place inside where we innately and instinctively know exactly how to move and breathe and think and feel and want and need and voice and exist; according to rhythms simple, truthful and authentic. And while it is there waiting for us, always and in all ways, it takes time to peel back the layers. To quiet the critical and limiting voices in your head. To give yourself the permission.

And it takes practice. Lots of it.

Do you ever wonder what is beneath all the doing, the structuring, and the tending to the cultural, relational, and personal expectations around who you need to be? Want to find out? If so, how about scheduling your own version of a retreat to “Just Be.” You don’t have to go far. Your own home could do as a start. All you need is some space on your own. Whatever that looks like for you.

Turn everything off. Chuck the schedule and the have-to’s. Let yourself lay around. Let yourself be directed by simple basic urges like bathroom needs, hunger, thirst, comfort, rest, and movement. Let your mind do what it does without taking it too seriously. Or better yet, put it on vacation mode. Include lots and lots of Nature. She is the greatest teacher of all around how to just be naturally.

So whether you have an hour, a day, or a weekend, what would it be like to give yourself over to the experience of just getting to be? No apology, justification or explanation required. Or even allowed. Can you imagine giving this to yourself? Time to just be? Moment by moment. No matter what the mind might throw up saying this is stupid or that you do not have the right, or that it is too much or a waste of time.

You do have the right. As bestowed upon you by Creation itself to be fully and authentically a being who gets to just be.

 

Longing

 

Longing: a strong desire, especially for something unattainable.

Sometimes I am unexpectedly brought back to dreams and longings I had as a child. Feelings which some might categorize as idealistic. Maybe even naive. And yet, somewhere deep inside of me knows that those yearnings are something to be on the lookout for. Something I can trust.

I don’t know about you, but there are so very many things that I long for in this world. And maybe it will turn out to be true that these strong desires of mine will never be attained. Somehow though, I do not think that matters.

Lately, I am caring less and less about that part. Caring less and less about how I might look attempting to do something that may not happen. Embarrassed less and less by how foolish, naive or ridiculous even I might appear. Less and less afraid to go all out; willing, instead, to take the risk that I may not be met.

I am feeling this way because I cannot bear the thought that I will leave this world without at least trying. At least believing. At least taking a chance that what my heart longs for might just be possible. And so I pray for the courage to not only open to these longings, but to take steps in the world on their behalf. For they want to be born. Allowed a chance to live. Allowed a chance to be felt, seen, recognized and experienced.

Here are some of the things I long for:

A world where it is safe to be fully and completely who you are.

A world that protects children.

A world that puts real human needs first.

A world that loves the planet and acts accordingly.

A world where corporations are in service to Life.

A world where we can believe different things and still get along.

A world where telling the truth is the gold standard.

A world where any and all of our most basic survival needs and rights are fully and lovingly met.

A world where those doing the most valuable and precious work for the good of all are the ones most heavily rewarded.

A world where we lift one another up.

A world where individual expression and group affiliation are in harmony.

I could go on, but how about you? What do you long for?

It is so easy for us to be embarrassed by our need, conditioned to limitation as we are. So easy to feel laid bare by our desires out of the fear that they will never happen. So easy to feel stymied by old hurts that imprinted us with the wrong information. So easy to be cautioned into submission by what will they think? Or, who am I to be so bold as to long for…?

But what if the whole point here is less about the actual getting, and instead all about what becomes possible when we decide to go for what we long for? It is a daring and bold thing to hold the reality, the rights, and the responsibilities of being an adult right next to longing. A kind of head meets heart. Experience meets hope. Maturity meets innocence.

Can you imagine?

What Women Want

 

For 8 weeks this past semester, I taught a yoga class for women sponsored by The Counseling Center at the college where I teach. The aim of the series has been to empower women as a basis for preventing sexual abuse and exploitation. We have covered areas like self-care, stress, self-esteem, boundary setting and more. Last week’s topic was sex.

At first, I could not for the life of me figure out how I was going to blend sex into a yoga class. And while I know there are those practicing a kind of California-germinated-tantric- yoga-sex thing, this is not my understanding of Yoga. On the surface then, it seemed that maybe they did not go together in a way that I could make sense of and teach to. And yet, upon further exploration, I found that they actually do. Quite well as a matter of fact.

For if we begin with the premise that any valuable and satisfying sexual experience with another begins with our own ability to be present to ourselves, what it is that we are feeling and wanting, then the connection becomes a no-brainer. Yoga offers a deep and meaningful opportunity, through practice and various techniques that are fundamentally built to bring us into relationship with ourselves, to connect to who we are and what we are experiencing. And from this place, we will know exactly what we want in a sexual encounter with another. Along with what we do not want. Nor ever want to tolerate.

Best of all, this approach to sexual intimacy is based in the body and born of the moment. This as opposed to being pressured by misguided internal and external perceptions and expectations about what we as women are supposed to want, and do, and look like. You know the drill.

This approach with the young women struck gold. For when we were done, they spoke openly of what they are up against in The Age of Technology; all of the images and expectations that they feel they must match up to in order to be desired. Hot. Wanted. The sense that it is more important how they look during sex, then how they actually feel. More important to present as something then actually enjoy the experience.

They spoke of yearning for connection but finding that dismally lacking in the “hook-up” culture where all too often their male partners were expecting them to act like they were in a porn film. Or, at the very least, that both they and their partners had skewed expectations around how their bodies were supposed to look, along with how it was all supposed to feel. A kind of sex based on all of the images and conditioning they have seen across the screens in their very short lives.

And so, here we are again. One more example around how the unchecked and unconscious uses of the screens are distorting our children’s childhood. Insinuating its ugly messages right in between our children and their most intimate of experiences with another.

When will we learn? When will we as a culture begin to make some difficult and long overdo protective changes to what it is that we are allowing our kids to be exposed to? When will we say enough? When will we understand what it is that we all actually want, and then work our hearts out to get it and give it to one another?

Being The Difference

 

“I will act as if I do make a difference.”  William James

How often do we live our lives as if what we do, does not matter? Resigned to the status quo of our own limitations. How often do we believe that the problems we face in the world are beyond us? Someone else’s issue or doing. And how often do we feel so small and so insignificant that it seems like our actions would never amount to anything worthwhile? Noteworthy. Impactful. Or resounding.  And so, we do nothing. Or worse yet, we blame and complain.

To know that you make a difference is to know that you matter. And to know that you matter is to know that everything you do, and do not do, counts. One way or another.

The ancient yogic seers named the time we are now living in as the Kali Yuga. The Iron Age. They predicted a time of great difficulty and struggle with the prevailing attitude being apathy. As in, lack of feeling, interest in, or concern. Indifference. A kind of inertia of action. A resignation of the mind. A numbing of the Spirit. A disconnection from the Truth of our very existence.

Do not allow it. We cannot afford it.

And while the pull can be great, the cultural conditioning intense, the personal wounds deep, the time is now ripe to step beyond the old apathetic patterning. Everything, everything is calling, cajoling, pleading, begging; Please, step forward. In whatever way you can. Please, Step Forward.

If you resonate at all with this, but are unsure of what it would look like in your life, try saying to yourself each and every day, “I will act as if I do make a difference.” Watch what happens. Watch what happens when you open yourself up to this level of Truth. Watch without agenda. Watch with a curiosity around what might be possible when the irons of the age of apathy are lifted.

Choosing To Be Alive

 

Alive: Having life: Not dead or inanimate.

Many years ago I attended a yoga conference where the theme was living fully alive. Some part of me was intrigued. And some part of me just did not get it. As in, obviously I am alive. Otherwise I would not be here. Therefore, what’s all the fuss about? Why focus an entire conference of multi-day workshops and keynotes around this obvious and undeniable reality?

I’ll tell you why. Because it is one thing for the body to have a pulse, and quite another to live an experience of being fully alive. Fully expressed. It’s so strange, really. Everything that comes into existence on the planet, whether a dandelion, baby animals, insects or trees, all come in bursting with life. Fully programmed to live, without exception, as completely as they can, the full potential of whatever they are. Knowing nothing other than this, until they no longer exist.

We humans are the only ones, in all of existence, who can be alive on paper, while not being meaningfully alive in a truly vital and authentic way. We see this in how we don’t speak up when everything in us is screaming to. We see this in the way we stay when it is really time to go. We see this in the way we take on the feelings, dysfunctions and responsibilities of others. We see this in all of the big and small ways that we diminish ourselves each and every day by the thoughts we harbor about ourselves.And we see this in all of the ways that we lie to ourselves and to others about who we really are; accepting and imposing false and imprisoning expectations around who we get to be.

Lately, it occurs to me that being born, truly the first choice around me being alive, did not require a conscious, active agreement on my part. But that now, it does. A pact that I, in fact, need to make with awareness moment by moment around how it is that I will show up in my life. A compact between me and Life itself that must transcend the past, with its deadening load of conditioning, pain, constrictions and limitations on my aliveness. A contract that I make with myself that must bypass and ignore what other people think, feel and believe about how I should live; about how alive I get to be. An absolute and stalwart understanding from within me that must rise above the zombie apocalypse I witness each and every day as more and more of us choose screen life, busyness, stress, numbing out, checking out, over-scheduling, fear and more over true aliveness.

Think about it for a moment. Look at all of the ways there are to medicate ourselves against the experience of being alive through food, alcohol, drugs, devices and more that deaden us to the experience of being fully alive.

I so want this for myself. I so want this for all of us. And yet, I also see what we are up against. Where are our role models? Where are the societal structures that offer the support we need to live in bodies energized, minds illumined and spirits soaring? Unfortunately, what we are up against all too often are the false highs provided by external substances and things like shopping or watching something titillating on a screen. But where are the genuine, natural and healthful outlets for an organic experience of aliveness? One that arises purely out of you being here. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Check it out for yourself. If you really chose to be alive, what would that look like for you? Would you settle for food that dulled you out? Would you acquiesce to keeping company with those that brought you down? Would acquiring things serve as the highest use of your precious time? And while we all know how to overstimulate ourselves, do you even know the down deep feeling of being animated and full of life, just because?

If you have no clue about what I am talking about, or even where or how to begin, start with what feels like a restriction, a bind, a shackle, an imposition. And then, as Bob Marley did, give yourself the instruction; “Open your eyes and look within, are you satisfied with the life your living? And if not, could you be courageous enough and alive enough to choose for that which animates and enlivens? Could you throw off that which deadens? As easily as a tree letting go of a diseased limb.

 

What Really Needs Cleansing

 

A couple of weeks ago I did a spring cleanse where all of the usual things that I might eat were laid aside for 5 days of eating a mono-diet consisting of rice and greens. Morning, noon, and night. Personally, I love both. But I have to tell you that at some point, it gets old. Really old. Where all you want to do is to rip into something truly satisfying like a cheesy pizza, a fudgy brownie, a turkey burger with avocado and mayonnaise or a glass of ginger ale. At least this is where my mind went to as I contemplated another round of rice and greens.

Interestingly enough, I couldn’t even tell you what was a legitimate call from my body, craving something it truly needed, and what was the fabrication of my mind born out of boredom, old habits, and food choices used to dull emotional experiences too difficult to be with. And this is why I cleanse. I cleanse because I recognize how often I lie to myself about what I really and actually need in the food department. How much it is that my body requires, and which choices would serve it best.

You might think, as many of us do, that this is about right or wrong, good and bad foods, rules, caloric restriction, shame and guilt. It’s not. It’s about honoring ourselves. It’s about being honest and true to ourselves. It’s about showing up for ourselves in caring and supportive ways.

It puts me in mind of something a friend recently said. That being, “When you stop lying to yourself, you start to see what you are all about.” How many of us hate liars, but lie to ourselves every day about what and how we are eating? How many of us make promises to ourselves about what we will change in this department, but never seem to get there? Beyond guilt or shame, can you take in the message you give yourself every time you do this? The disappointment. The let down. The betrayal. Not intentionally or consciously done, but done just the same every time we lie to our one and only self.

What would it take to change this? What would it take to give yourself a chance to really see what you are all about? I’m a big fan of every once in a while shaking things up around how you eat, not as a punishment or a deprivation, but as a way of seeing what happens when you take something out of your diet that you do all the time. For instance, how about sugar, coffee, take-out, alcohol, or anything else that you use for less than nourishing reasons?

And then, watch what happens. Count on being distressed. It could be a little. It could be a lot. You might even think of the amount of distress you are experiencing as being the equivalent of how much this food choice is helping you to lie to yourself. If you notice this, try not to do so with criticism, but more with a sense of what might be possible if you let yourself discover what is underneath this choice or habit.

What I am proposing here is not easy. We all develop maladaptive habits for very good reasons. Often because, quite frankly, this is just what we have always done. Perhaps we do not even know we have the capacity to do anything else. Challenging something long-standing like this by going without for a time becomes the very place where the magic happens. For when we choose something different, and are able to do it, even for a moment, we create a new pathway. We set the template down for a possibility that did not previously exist. A new way of being presents itself. An opportunity to see what we are really all about arises. Along the way, we might even surprise ourselves in the process.

And if you really want to add some power to this, set an intention for the experience. For instance, “I willingly set (fill in the blank) aside today in the service of being more honest with myself about who I am.” Make it big. Lofty even. Putting a focused effort behind anything we do, creates a kind of strength to hold us through the difficult times, while serving as both the space and the catalyst for seeing what we are all about in bigger and more unexpected ways.