Effort

 

Hips are my Achilles heel. The place where imbalances, misuse and conditioning all come together to form a perfect storm of discomfort, stiffness and pain. Recently, while noticing how clenched one of my hips was, I caught myself saying to myself; “I don’t need that level of effort to hold myself up.” The thought stopped me. And while I was talking to and about my musculature, it also served to reference a way of how I am in the world. As in all of the ways where I do more than my share, and then clench against the effort. The ways where I tighten up against what another is doing. Or not doing.

We all do it. “It” being the way we clamp down, tighten, stiffen, and over-effort. All of the ways that our bodies express and hold the tightness that our minds cannot seem to let go of. And while it is so very easy to be annoyed and frustrated by what the body is dishing up, it literally holds a truth the mind is just not capable of. But to know this takes practice and patience. It takes more than anything else perhaps, a willingness to want to know. To move beyond the inconvenience and the conditioning. To move even beyond the places where you feel like you do not know enough, or aren’t capable of this level of communication with your very own body.

So, next time some part of your body is sending out a strong signal of pain or imbalance, could you carve out some time, as soon as is possible, to be with your body for a few brief moments? Maybe it is in the bathroom at work, or right before you fall asleep, or sitting in traffic. Slow your breathing. Feel what your body is supported by. Then say, “If this part of me could speak, it would say…” And then really, really listen.

Do you hear anything being spoken by your body that in any way describes how you are doing? Or what you are up against? Some larger theme in your life? Where you are stuck? A place where you just can’t let go or move on? An effort that needs to be put down? A fight that cannot be won?

The body is a messenger, and as the old saying goes “Don’t shoot the messenger.” How about if we took this one step further? How about if we wholeheartedly embraced the messenger? Especially when we found the message to be impossible to bear.

What’s Left To Say?

 

“It’s the only thing that never lets us down.”

This is spoken out loud in my college class as heads around the room nod in agreement. “It” are the cell phones. “Us” represents the generations of children, teens, and young adults coming up now.

What is most alarmingly absent in this statement is another “us.” As in the grown-ups of this generation.

Need more be said?

Yes, as a matter of fact there is.

What could each one of us do, in our own way, to never, ever give the impression to another human being that a machine could be counted on more than us?

The Real Culprit

 

(This post was co-written with Joanna Silverman, a good friend and a long-term educator who specializes in children’s social and emotional development.)

It seems like almost every other week the ante around our children and the screen technologies gets raised. The most recent incident involved an Internet hoax known as “The Momo Suicide Challenge;” an outrageous and fictionalized viral legend purported to be encouraging young children to kill themselves via a maniacal-looking doll face that supposedly popped up unbidden in the middle of children’s shows.

As women who have been critically looking at the ways that screen use impacts the emotional, social, mental and physical development of children for years, there is a sad irony being played out here. Worried parents are posting all over social media about the dangers of this made-up scourge. The news has covered it. Schools and pediatrician offices have made public service announcements to encourage parents to monitor their children online; warning them of the possible dangers.The irony begins to reveal itself here when we are willing to notice that all of this frenzied activity goes on while we often miss the most obvious of all the culprits around our children and the hazards of being online.

While we both appreciate the fear that this has raised in so many families, we are left wondering why there is not such an outpouring around the very real dangers our children face each and every day. Dangers, by the way, which we willingly allow them to be exposed to. But because they do not initially or obviously present as menacing, or because we have come to rely so heavily on the screens as entertainers, friends and babysitters for our children, we do not notice. More to the point, we do not want to notice. For to do so would require work; a kind of work that far exceeds posting a warning to other parents via social media. A kind of work that might go unnoticed, and would certainly garners no “likes.”

For starters, what about the daily erosions to our children’s innocence as they watch content that is far too mature for their age. Examples of this abound and are most noticeably played out in the hyper-sexualization of our girls at younger and younger ages.  And because we are a culture that has become perilously accustomed to the use of violence as entertainment, our boys are daily killing, maiming and torturing others in their “games.” Even when we say it is disturbing and that we do not like it, we merely shake our heads. But we don’t stop it.

Because the “dangers” to low self-esteem and poor body image do not have a gruesome face that can be easily posted in a way to make a parent’s blood boil, we let that one go. Even though how our children feel about themselves will inform every single thing that they do for the rest of their lives; their relationships, work satisfaction, health, happiness, and more. And what about their precious little bodies that require movement for them to be healthy in body and mind, but that we have somehow decided must not be that important as we put them in front of screens where they sit hunched and motionless. Literally frozen within themselves.

And even with the bigger issues like the link between anxiety (the leading mental health issue among our children) and the introduction of cell phones and social media with our kids, who is posting to start a movement on this one? Who is starting a campaign around the rise in self-harming behaviors among our children linked to screen use? Who is demanding public service announcements around eating disorders that are fueled by sites supporting and encouraging this behavior? And who’s post about the losses in childhood due to sleep deprivation, academic and behavior problems linked to screen use has gone viral?

If we were being honest, and if we were willing to look more closely, we would come to see that what we are saying yes to every day is far more likely to damage our children than any disfigured face.

Truly, the baddest boogey man of all can be found in the very things we are saying yes to on a regular basis. The very things that our children spend hours and hours each day doing with a screen. And yet, we do nothing. Why is this? Why are we so quick to push the panic button on a hoax, while we sit by watching the demise of childhood? Unfortunately, this says everything about us, and nothing about the ones who perpetrate such hoaxes. You see, we are ripe for the picking here. For in these rare and exaggerated moments we get to rise up, indignant, against the injustices being inflicted upon our children. Simultaneously, we get to keep doing what we are doing. No change required. No discomfort called for. And we get to give ourselves the congratulatory luxury of feeling as though we have really done something because we have posted something.

So the ante has certainly been raised. Again. And while it would be easy to make extreme occurrences the focus, what if we made the focus us? What if we got real with ourselves around why it is that we keep turning our children over to something that is not good, safe, or worthy of their childhood? What if the real culprit here is all that we are ignoring?

 

 

Now

 

Many of us believe that once things settle down in our life, once something changes, once someone starts or stops doing what they are doing, then, finally, we will get to what it is that we are really wanting to get to for ourselves. Maybe it is a book. A moment on our own. A new movement practice. A bath. Peace of mind.

Whatever it is though, we wait, or fight, or rage, or despair, hoping and praying that things will line up just so from the outside in so that we will finally have the space to be able to get to… Or to feel… Or get a chance to…

We may wind up waiting for a very long time. For some of us, that will be the equivalent of a lifetime.

Getting to what it is that we need to do for ourselves can only happen in any given moment. As in, right now. For the truth is, it is never an issue of some future configuration of things or other people’s actions, where the door will magically swing open, and there we will be; at the very place we have dreamed of. Finally.

Instead, what if it was about getting to what you need to get to for yourself, right now? With things exactly as they are. With not a single thing needing to be different outside of you.

If this makes sense to you, I offer you a powerful practice I have been working with. As I enter into my day with all that it asks of me from the outside world, I ask myself; “How can I make this work for me?” 

If you can get past the initial knee-jerk reaction that this is selfish, or that others will somehow be left out of the equation, or think ill of you, you will be gifted in the most unexpected and satisfying of ways. And literally, there is nothing you need to figure out or make happen. All that you have to do is to lightly hold that question in your mind as you move through your day. “How can I make this work for me?”

Try it.

 

 

Boredom

 

I am sitting in meditation in a yoga class. The teacher is giving her opening spiel around settling in and being with the troubling ways of the mind. At one point she says, “It has to get boring as hell for us to be able to notice, that it is actually, not.” Yes, I think. I know this to be true for myself, and for what I saw with my own children when they were growing up. The way that suddenly the inertia of the boring-ness will bust out into something truly vital and engaging if given half a chance; turning into something both mesmerizing and alive. Exactly the opposite of boring.

And then I think, What is to become of the ones who will never experience boredom? The ones who will never have the chance to bust through to the other side. The ones who are growing up now terrified and avoidant of ever getting anywhere near this experience. And the myriad of parents training their children to believe that boredom is akin to subjecting their kids to the plague; leaving them to run their children ragged with too many things to do, and too many ways to fill their minds.

And then of course, there are the screens, and their glowing  promise to keep any of us from ever having to experience such a difficult and noxious state. But what if this is all wrong? What if boredom holds something truly precious for each and every one of us in the most quintessential of human ways?

What if boredom was exactly the state that would bring us back to noticing The Great Mystery? The truly precious nature of human existence? That which is beyond the busyness and the drive to be entertained 24/7. Would we accept boredom then?

Boredom is defined as the state of being weary and restless through lack of interest. Maybe this is exactly what it takes. A kind of weariness and restlessness that arises out of the absence in our lives of anything that truly grabs our attention, that we may then go on to find what it is that is actually worthy of that very same precious attention. But in order for us to make use of this valuable and necessary information we would actually have to leave some space in our lives; making a commitment to not fill it up with something. For armed with this kind of knowing we are primed to build and build and build in our discomfort until it finally reaches a critical mass that serves to propel us forward into something more life-affirming.

But now, because there is always something in the form of a screen to fill that void, immediately and continuously, that fertile space of boredom never gets a chance to pull us in, and then to sling shot us back out into that which captivates and motivates.

And herein lies one of our biggest problems in The Age of Technology; how can we notice the lack of something not happening? How are we to notice that because there is no space, there is no boredom, and therefore no compelling experience towards what we did not even know we are missing out on? This is the trade-off now that we are up against.

It sounds kind of crazy to even suggest what I am about to suggest. To even be living in a time and place where we actually have to create space to be bored, but here we are. Could you imagine it? Could you imagine making a point in your life to be bored? Could you imagine not filling the gap when the urge arises with a screen? Could you imagine when your children came to you and said, “I’m bored,” you said, “Great,” and then left them to their own devices (and not the electronic ones)? Could you imagine not filling the space for them out of guilt or some preconceived idea that they must always be entertained?

Taking on boredom willingly just might be one of the most revolutionary things any one of us could do not only for our own lives, but for the greater good of all. A kind of antidote and balm to all of the incessant doing and filling of the paltry empty space any of us even has.

Ironically enough, even with all that we have to occupy ourselves, look around and notice how many of us appear “weary and restless” despite our most obvious lack of boredom.

Settling Down

I am in the woods with my husband on a clear cold day. We decide to sit on a log that crosses over a little stream to meditate. The setting is idyllic. The sounds from the water soothing. The company stellar. My body comfortable and cozy. I have nowhere to be but where I am.

And yet, the mind. Oh, how it goes. Everywhere.

As I am sitting, supposedly meditating, I start to notice the pressures and the disturbances of my thoughts. It begins to dawn on me that even when the external circumstances couldn’t be more supportive, it just takes time for some things to settle down inside. And when there is no judgment about how long this takes, or the particular forms that it arrives in, there is no problem with this; on any level.

From this perspective, it just becomes a really, really good thing to know. For if I can recognize this about myself, that it sometimes takes time, even a lot of time, to settle down, it gives me the courage to stay. And in the staying, I leave myself open to what comes after the disturbance, the chaos, and the confusion.

Many of us never put ourselves in the position of just being with whatever is happening in the mind; instead, working our tail off to get out of it. Or change it. Or fix it. Or obliterate it. Or cover it up. The “it” being all of the things that we simply cannot tolerate. The things that we just do not want to be there. And because we cannot be with “it,” we never give ourselves a chance to come through to the other side, and have that experience.

So maybe the issue is not what many of us would say it is. That being the impossibility or the difficulty of being with the disturbances and the chaos of the mind. But maybe instead, it is about our willingness to ride it out. Our faith even, that this too shall pass.

The thing with this one though is that you cannot get there merely by thinking about it as an idea. You actually have to experience it, by doing it. You have to practice waiting it out. Sitting there. Counting to 10. Watching the intensity of the thoughts as they pick up steam towards some unseen crescendo, and then start to come back down again.

From a practical standpoint, you might even time yourself in increments. As in for today, I am going to sit un-moving and un-changing, being with my thoughts as they are, for 1 minute. And if that is too much, half it, and then half it again. Because if it really is about the willingness to stay, any amount is just as good as any other amount of time.

Things Worth Keeping

 

While there are so many benefits to and efficiencies brought through the use of our screen technologies, I am often struck by the things that are being lost. Sometimes what’s going missing comes in the form of the really big and more readily identifiable as important things in our lives; obvious losses that are more easily apparent. Ones that we would want to be on the lookout for. At other times, though, it comes in the form of seemingly insignificant things and ways of being, that while subtle, actually add up to much greater losses than what we might initially imagine.

Lately for me, this reveals itself in the simple and dependable form of a dictionary.

Because I write every week, I run into my dictionary on a regular basis, along with its invaluable counterpart, the thesaurus. I know I could do all of this online. I know I could save myself “the trouble” of getting up; choosing instead to sit un-moving in front of a screen. I know that it might appear to someone else as inconvenient, too effortful or old- fashioned to do something by hand that the computer could take care of. That perhaps my choice would appear as unnecessary from a modern technological standpoint.

But in the nitty-gritty of what it feels like to be me in my life, I find that I actually do not care about any of the rational reasons around this. Why? Because I know something else to be true. And that something else is that the use of these two amazing books gives back and feeds me in ways that no device ever could.

I love the fact that I have to get up to go get either or both of these two inspiring writing companions. I love opening the door to the cabinet where they live. It feels as if I am going to visit wise and trusted friends who sit patiently waiting to offer their help as I need it. And while the distance to the cabinet is a mere few feet from where I sit, I love the chance to stand up, stretch, and move my way over to what I need; getting back into my body by getting upright, bending over, getting upright again, and then remaining standing while I look something up.

I love the way that my mind needs to change gears as I sort through the letters and their particular order to get to the specific word that I am looking for. And then once finding the word, slowing down in my thoughts and movements as I pause and ponder over what I am looking at. All of those possibilities there for the choosing. All of those definitions and interpretations that will assist me in clarifying and enriching what it is that I really want to say. While I am doing all of this, it is not lost on me that as I wonder and integrate what it is that I am reading I just feel differently than I do when I read off of a screen. Better somehow, in all ways. (Not to mention the side benefit to my eyes which naturally soften and relax back as I switch from the screen with all of its light and intensity, to the soft and powerful written word on a page.)

And then there is the love for the feel, and especially the weight, of each of the books; a kind of intimacy brought through the physical holding of the content at hand. A satisfying experience of turning pages, and a visceral reminder for me of being in a body. A shared encounter between me and this body of work. An experience of being with, as opposed to sitting in front of. An experience of a deep and quiet exchange as opposed to the feeling of being in the midst of a loud and unruly crowd.

This experience always serves to remind me that I am, in fact, embodied; immediately changing me from the one who is hunched over and robotically pecking away, to the one who stands in herself and holds something vast and significant in her hands. Weirdly enough, I even love the old book smell. I love knowing that these texts have been around for a very long time, and that other people that I am connected with have held and used these books in the past. Just as I am doing now.

Most of all, I always feel more myself when I am done. More in my body. More slowed down. More me. And sometimes I even get the added benefit of being taken on a ride, a flight of fancy, into unknown places as my eye catches other words along the way that teach, inspire, connect, inform, and sometimes even offer the most astonishing of synchronicities.

Truly, I cannot imagine writing without these books. I cannot imagine risking the loss of not only all that they give me in any given moment, but also all that they represent. As in, a most exquisite and quintessentially human experience of being alive.

Isn’t this all exactly the point here? To find ways, in our own way, to stay human in the midst of all of this? To be the ones who decide what gets to stay and what gets to go? To be the ones who get to choose what things are worth keeping? Not because they make sense through the lens of modern day ease, convenience or progress, but because they just feel good, right somehow, and are therefore, worth keeping.

And so I say, in the spirit of preserving what is truly worth keeping, isn’t being in the daily weight and feel of our own lives one of the most important things we all need to be holding onto?

Blue Sky

 

Last night as the snow started to come in, I couldn’t help but think of how blessed I was to be inside; warm, protected, able to enjoy the snow as a spectator sport, as opposed to it being some kind of a threat to my survival or comfort. It got me to wondering about times and places where we as a people had to live much, much closer to the truths and realities of the natural world with all of its raw power, strength, beauty and struggle.

And so I guess it should have come as no surprise that when I stepped out to go for a walk the next morning, so excited at the prospect of being in the woods in what I had imagined in my mind as a magical fairy tale stroll through a beautiful, white, lacey forest experience, that I would run into another reality.

Because the 6 inches of last night was soft and powdery, it did not protect me from sliding on the ice that was below it. Nor did it keep me from breaking through a hard crust in other places; creating this jarring experience where I kept thinking one of my knees was going to shoot out the back of my leg each time I broke through the upper crust. And because I had so many layers on to combat the cold, and had not anticipated working so hard, the effort, stress and heat of it all was kicking off hot flashes in my body which then went on to trigger intense inflammation in my mind.

Why I am here? Why did I do this to myself? It is not supposed to be like this. Oh, my God, this again?? I was so hot and bothered on my “magical” walk that I could barely  stand myself.

And then, in the midst of all the heat, somehow it occurred to me to stop. Just stop. And that is when I saw the sky; that kind of clear and vibrant blue that only comes in after a storm has cleared everything out. Seeing that cool, cool blue cooled me out enough to realize: I had a choice. So I took off my coat. Things began to change after that.

I slowed my pace to compensate for the conditions. I started noticing tracks: deer, moose, rabbit, and coyote. I looked at the sky. Again and again. I talked to the trees. I loosened my legs and softened my shoulders. And each time my mind would jump to how it should be other than what it was, I stopped; standing there until the truth of what was around me brought me back to where I actually was. So much so that when the noise of the chain saws of the loggers down the road made their way to where I was, it did not alter one bit the magic of the forest.

We believe that things have to be just so, so that we can be OK. This is one way to live. But there is another. One that says; be here just as it is. One that says; learn to include it all. One that says: teach yourself to pause and make the necessary adjustments. One that says; get out of your comfort zone so that you can see the sky.

Truly, there is no finer teacher than the natural world. If you really want to line up with what is; get outside. As often as you can. And as often as you can, let yourself be moved by something real, raw and beautifully uncomfortable; knowing that there is truth in discomfort. But only if you can remember to pause long enough for it to reveal itself to you.

Keeping The Sabbath

Intense. Strange. Overwhelming. Larger Than Life. Chaotic. Overly Dramatic. Extreme. Over The Top. Violent. Sexualized. Disturbing. Undermining. Noisy. Fast-Paced. Exhausting. And lots more of the same.

These are the words that come to my mind as someone who was recently watching TV,  while being that same someone who has lived within our home without TV for many years. These are the words and feelings of someone not used to this experience anymore. This is what I go through though each and every time I get back in front of it again; which I usually do several times a year, with the most recent experience being to watch the Patriots in a playoff game.

Each and every time I get back in front of it again, I have the same thought: What is happening to us? More to the point, what is happening for those of us who never get a break from this? Those of us left to base our thoughts and wants and beliefs on the all too often very strange images coming across a screen?

Most importantly of all, what is happening to the ones growing up now with so much intensity? The ones who will never know anything else but this. The ones believing that this is normal. And maybe even the best that they can hope for around how to spend their lives.

Contrast this to a woman I recently spoke with who keeps the Sabbath. For her this means no electronics for an entire day as part of her observances. And then there is another woman I know who is writing a book on keeping the Sabbath as an approach to living; a way to bring the mindset and practices of this sacred day into the day to day.

Sabbath is defined as a time of rest. And rest is defined as peace of mind and spirit. Is this not what we are all really looking for? More than anything else even? More than even what the almighty screens have to offer?

So how about it? What would it be like to designate a day? Or part of a day to going screen-free. You will need to give yourself enough time to stop feeling as though you are missing out on something. You will need to give yourself enough time to settle in, settle down, and forget about it. To watch how long this takes is, in and of itself, some truly valuable information. Not as a way to scold yourself, or feel bad about your choices. But instead, as an opportunity to see clearly the hold that it has on you, and then to go on to decide whether or not this is OK for you.

Get creative. Maybe your Screen Sabbath means not being in front of anything when you are with friends or loved ones. Maybe it means nothing right before bed or upon awakening. Maybe it means a TV-free night. Maybe it means you leave the emails at work for one or two designated times, and spend the rest of your day, well, working.

Any way you do it, could you imagine creating that all-important old school boundary referred to by some as the Sabbath? A regular time and space in your life when only certain things are allowed in? And as importantly, a time when many things are given no admission at all. Not because they are bad, but because every human being seeks peace of mind and spirit. And because tradition would tell us that one of the ways that we get there is to draw some very clearly defined lines in our lives around the technologies as the royal road to our own version of keeping the Sabbath.

Trembling

 

“God is in the trembling.” I read this, and it gives me peace. Imagine it. What if God truly were in the things that we found most difficult? Overwhelming. Unbearable. Gross. Messy. Shameful. Painful. Unsightly. Unseemly.

Personally, I resonate most with the healing and spiritual traditions that make lots and lots of room for being human. The ones that teach that for us to know our divine nature, and for us to have any chance of feeling at home here in our own bodies, is to embrace and be with the density and the muck of our humanity. The ones that say that if we travel straight into the heart of the very experiences that feel like too much to be with, this is where we will find not only our connection to All That Is, but a greater sense of ease about who we are, and how to be here.

This is not meant to be known as a concept, an idea, or even as a set of instructions that you follow, but instead, as a felt sense. Something you can feel and know in your gut. As in I know this to be true in every single part of me; from my brain to my bones and beyond. A  direct experience of what is actually happening for you in the form of the trembling, the sorrow, the physical sensations, the irritations, the fears, and more.

This is an experience that is separate from what the rational mind or other people say is OK or how it is that you need to be socially in order to fit in. It is a kind of knowing from within that penetrates and permeates the totality of who we are. A kind of going in wherever you are, and then coming out on the other side. But it can be a very long trip from standing in the trembling to coming out the other side. Therefore, how do we make our way?

We begin by noticing what we will not allow in ourselves. And ever so gently, we begin to inquire why that might be. We begin to notice the ways that we want absolutely no part of some parts of ourselves. And then we do the inconceivable. We give whatever is there, permission to be there. As is. No strings. No demands. No time limits. No hiding and no shaming.

This runs so contrary to our collective beliefs that we must be continuously on guard against something arising which we feel should not, cannot, must not, be there. It runs contrary to the thoughts that say if I accept this about myself I will be kicked out, worthless, the object of ridicule, a deserving recipient of shame, unsafe. Or. If I allow this to be here, it will never go away. Or. Agreeing to it being here says I want it.

We have come to believe that only by achieving some other, “better” version of us will we be OK. More acceptable. More worthy. More…whatever. Many of us spend our entire lives trying to be good enough, holy enough, moral enough, worthy enough, smart enough, thin enough, young enough. It might be one thing if this actually worked. If it ever did produce a real experience of feeling more whole. But far too often, it just doesn’t.

Why is that? Because as soon as you have satisfied one condition of being better, another one pops up, and you will forever more find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to constantly monitor and upgrade. Monitor and upgrade. Monitor and upgrade.

It is a finish line that just keeps getting moved. A terrible and endless trap. Demoralizing and maddening at best. But ultimately, and at worst, the absolute wrong idea of who we truly are, along with what it is that is happening for us.

Recently, I began experimenting with something I picked up out of Brene Brown’s book Braving The Wilderness. In it she tells a story about right before she went on the Oprah Show; how she was freaking out around all the ways that she wasn’t enough of this or that. To counteract this awful and soul-crushing inner and made-up experience, she sat down and wrote herself a permission slip. Old school. Just like the ones you used to write out and sign for a kid going on a field trip.

Only this one was for her. This one was to give herself permission to be exactly who she is. Give it a try. The next time you find yourself fretting over how you don’t measure up, give yourself the permission, verbal or written, to be exactly who you are. As you are. And what you are, in any given moment.

P.S. In case there is any confusion, this is never about acting out on yourself or others “the trembling.” It is instead about feeling and recognizing what is there. Often, we are afraid to be with what is there because we are afraid of what we might “do.” Remember though, feeling something and acting something out are two entirely different things. To feel what is there is to take responsibility for. To act out what is there is to project your experience outside of yourself; the opposite of taking responsibility.

Truly, what an important distinction and practice for the times we are living in.