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.   

Yoga Nemesis

Every Wednesday I take a yoga class in at a local studio. This is the only day each week that I practice with others. As someone who usually practices on her own, this means a great deal to me. There is so much that I learn each and every week. And while I go to this class to practice in community, and to be challenged on the level of physical yoga, it is often a great surprise to me what it is that I end up learning.

For instance, I get to see each week exactly what I want to happen, or wish would happen, and then, what actually happens; along with my response to the gap between my fantasized reality and the actual reality. I get to see that because this time is so special to me, I want others to feel and act the same way. I want them to line up with my version of how we should be together, what this should mean to us, and therefore, how we should act.

I most certainly do not want to accept the woman who comes in late almost every single week, and then disrupts the class while she gets her things, and then somehow manages to get other people to rearrange their mats for her, even though the class has started. I do not want to accept her side-talking with a friend, or the way that she takes up so much of the teacher’s attention, or the overall space in the room. And I definitely do not want to accept her sighs and her huffing and puffing when the teacher offers something she can’t, or doesn’t want to do.

Last week, 15 minutes into class, this same woman comes in and winds up right in front of me. Based on the configuration of the class, I am actually facing her. A mirror. Even with my eyes closed, I can see her. I can feel her. I am thinking about her. What am I thinking? I am thinking about how she, in her selfish self-absorption, is killing the yoga vibe. And right as I am about to self-righteously launch into how often in life the wrong things or the wrong people get all the attention, or at least the right of way, I am suddenly struck dumb in my thinking. What comes in behind the disruption of my thoughts is; I am the one who is giving the wrong thing attention. I am the one who is giving the wrong thing the right of way. I am killing the yoga vibe. I am keeping the wrong thing alive in this room within me, based on what I have chosen to focus on, giving it the right of way, and allowing it to take up my precious time, energy, and focus.

As my first yoga teacher used to say, “Keep your eyes on your own mat.”

The Apocalypse Is Upon Us

 

My daughter recently sent me a photo that she had taken on her college campus. The image shows a big expanse of space with lots and lots of students in it. What was the most striking feature in the shot? Everyone is on their phone. Beneath the photo she wrote; “The Zombie Apocalypse Is Upon Us.”

This so heart-breakingly exemplifies my experience of late teaching at the college level. For the very first time in over a decade, I am beginning to wonder how long I will continue teaching. I am questioning what I do not because I am burnt out, or out of passion for what I teach, or lacking in creative ideas for lesson plans. I am not considering life out of academia because I am retiring, or because I am wanting to do something else. It is purely because I do not know how much longer I can teach to students who are so rarely in a position to learn. Based on recent conversations with other teachers at both the college and secondary level, I am not alone.

Regularly, students come to class exhausted, sick and hungry. Regularly, students show up expecting the information to be predigested and then down-loaded to them. Add to this the technologies. Right up to the moment that they step into class, they are on their phones. And then, it is the first thing they go to when class lets out. Many have told me that even when it is not with them in the room (as it cannot be in the class I teach) it is what they are thinking about nonetheless. Recently a student told me that she cannot wait to get out of class to rush back to her apartment so that she can be freely on her phone without interruption. She has noticed how much she is just dying to get back to catch up on what has happened, on what she has missed for the last hour or two; only to be left too often with an empty feeling and a wondering about why it is that she is doing this.

I am watching myself very, very closely now. I am asking myself to be aware of when it is that I am the hardest working person in the room. I am also watching them very, very closely to see if I can discern when it is that they cross over into some place where there is no coming back from. A place where the human call can no longer reach them. A place where they officially have become zombies, interested only in the call of their master; the screen.

Fundamentals

 

Every Wednesday I take a yoga class where the teacher guides us through many postures that I know well. She also guides us in postures that not only have I never done before, but that I also have never seen or heard of. I like this. Why? Because every week lots and lots gets revealed to me about me, and the ways I most want to live.

For instance, lately I am seeing that there are those extreme, rare, and unique shapes to put my body and mind into that run parallel to what I encounter in life. And while I can sometimes believe that I need to prepare and know ahead of time how to approach or manage everything that comes my way, I can see that this is not true. I can see that there is another way.

How this shows up on the mat is that when I am practicing never before encountered poses, what is required of me falls into two categories. First, I am asked to engage in a kind of presence, openness, willingness and receptiveness as the leading response to what I am involved with no matter how challenging, foreign, or out of my comfort zone.

Second, these out of my comfort zone experiences demand a kind of baseline strength, balance, and flexibility that is honed through my daily habits and practices. What this looks like on the yoga mat is that the fundamental skills that I have developed over years of practice put me in a better position to attempt, be with, and oftentimes be “successful” with postures that I have never done before.

What I am suggesting here is the dual work of daily finding opportunities to both open and strengthen yourself in ways that allow you to be with all of you, and with all of life’s challenges. This approach relies on the development of a kind of inner strength and confidence that is built on attending daily to what needs strengthening in your life. To what is calling for more balance. And to what is demanding more flexibility on your part.

Adjustments

 

I am laying in bed, not sleeping for the umpteenth night in a row. Why? Because I am brainstorming about how I can take care of the excessive light that is coming into our bedroom at night. Since moving into our new home, we have gone from  a dark cave to a brilliantly lit room. Lovely during the day. Intrusive at night.

On one particular night, I catch myself. I hear what is underneath all the ruminating I am doing in my mind about this. Beyond the realities of the importance of a dark room for a good night’s sleep, I begin to sense something else. That being, that all of this trying to manage something is my way of trying to get it all just so, so that I can finally be OK.

The sheer recognition of this loosens something inside, creating enough inner space for me to wonder; Even with things as they are, could I still choose to be OK right now without anything needing to change? Could I choose to make the adjustments that are within my power to make, when the opportunities to do so present themselves, and then be willing to be with things exactly as they are? Could I let go of all of the obsessive fixing, fussing, and rearranging that I am doing in my mind? Could I let go of needing things outside of myself to be a certain way? This is no easy thing to do, programmed as I am, to believe that life must line up just so in certain areas of my life.

It is such a human thing to try and improve upon things in our outer circumstances. It is so very normal to imagine how things could be different. In and of itself, this is not a problem. The problem arises when we live as if we cannot be OK unless… Or until… We can even go so far as to build a whole life based on trying to get things to turn out how we think we need them to be.

Again and Again

 

I am about to teach my Wednesday night yoga class when I hear that a young man from our town has died of an overdose. He was 19 at the time of his death.

The news sits heavy on my chest as I teach. It begins to dawn on me who this boy was. My husband coached him in basketball. My two children went to grade school with him. As I am brought back to memories of my own children at that age, it is almost unbearable to imagine the fate of this young man through the memory of the boy that he was.

At some point, my mind turns to my 19 year old “boy.” Now enough of a young man to be living on his own in Nashville while he follows his dream of making it in the music world. Thinking of this world, and its proclivity to destroy lives through drugs and alcohol, I feel a hungry mother’s need to hear his voice. To be assured that he is OK. And while I don’t necessarily enjoy sharing this kind of news, I am yearning to connect with him through the feelings that have been stirred up through the news of this death.

Only. He has already “heard.” Seen actually.  “Someone posted it.” Days ago as a matter of fact. And here we are again. And again, and again, and again. With seemingly no end in sight to the ways that the technologies can disconnect us from the intimacies of our lives together, derailing us emotionally and relationally.

What is deep, private, personal, and meant to be life-stopping gets transmuted into what is shallow, public, impersonal, and just another piece of information in an endless news feed; nothing whatsoever available through this medium that would set this event apart from sexy pics, political rants, sports stories, cute sharings and narcissistic ramblings.

Inch by inch, or more to the point, post by post, the most precious, holy and noteworthy between us is being swallowed up in a technological sea of sharings so vast, continuous and muddied that it drowns out and obscures what more than anything else requires the respect of human conveyance in real time and on a human scale. And so, in the end, what will it matter that we can post every single detail about our lives immediately, while simultaneously not being known in the ways that matter most?