“Blow Back”

 

My son will turn nineteen in just over a month, and is leaving for Nashville to make his way in the music world soon thereafter. In preparation for this next phase of his life, and because as a graduated senior our house rules on no cell phone have been lifted, he has just purchased his first cell phone. As he sits before me on that first day, new phone in hand, he is both beaming and apprehensive.

We talk the next morning over breakfast and he indulges me (because of course he has heard it all before), as I go over the hit parade of things to most watch out for. I tell him that if he will hear me out, I will leave him to his own after this; except of course if it interferes with our relationship or house rules. I remind him of things like not on your body, not near your bed when you are sleeping, and never when driving. I remind him of things like never anything typed over a screen you wouldn’t say in person, along with my plea to not let this dumb down his exceptional social skills and his ability to meet interpersonal challenges head on and in person. I encourage him to protect his relationships, listen to his body, and always remain present noticing how he is using and why. The conversation is a good one. My rational mind is satisfied that the information I most want to convey has been said. I feel confident based on how he has been raised and who he is as a person, hoping that all of this will serve him well in the enormous challenge that stands before him.

Surprisingly so, I am even happy for him. I can see how he is ready to go off to make his way in the world of music, and that this device will help him do business as business is being done. I can see he has been given a childhood, a before, and a strong and discriminating foundation. I can see that he is watchful, creating boundaries, and at this point, is even a little wary of how this is going to change things for him.

And I can also see that in a matter of days his world has dramatically changed. Suddenly he is tied to something. Suddenly his mind is occupied by something. Quite extensively, from what I can see. Now there is this thing he has to check. Repeatedly. Now there is this thing that has to be charged, brought with him, and referenced before he can do anything else. It is striking to be on the outside of this. It is unsettling to watch how in a few short days, his mind has reset so profoundly to something outside of himself.

As the days have worn on a deep heaviness, more to the point, despair, has come over me as I see how much he suddenly needs this thing he has been more than OK without. I watch him now as this is the first thing he does every morning, and the last thing he does before going to bed at night. I see that his focus and his attention is with his phone now; a thing has become more interesting than us, or anything that is happening in our home. 

Instead of a weekend morning stretching before us with room to catch up after he has woken up, maybe share some food, or connect over something in the moment, the screen captivates him now. It feels like I have to schedule time to interact with him, or wait for a time when he is not looking down at the screen. And what used to just organically arise and develop between us is gone. This is more than awful. Seeing it close up with one of my children for the very first time, I see that it is far, far worse for all of us than I have ever imagined, heard about, or observed. It hits me so hard that I am left without adequate words to describe the devastation I am witnessing; not just for him, but for all of our children and the families they are unknowingly distancing themselves from.

And while I know he is in the early throes of it all, and hopefully it will settle out in a way that best serves him, I cannot help but see that this thing owns him now in a way he used to own himself. And while this may be exactly what he wants and needs, to have something that catalyzes and firms up his severance from us, I can’t help but notice that this little piece of metal is being used as an avoidance of what is too difficult for him to be with. 

This is the very same person, by the way, who just a short time ago maintained his music career, drove a car, and got together with friends; all without a cell phone. This is the same kid who would be gone all day, and more on weekends, not getting calls or an email until he got home, and who now suddenly can’t go more than a few minutes without checking to see what’s come in. This is the same kid who used to call anyone without hesitation, and who now texts instead. This is the same kid who would go off and read or play music and who now seems more interested in being available to his device. 

It has become the priority. And even though, by many standards, he is making excellent and well thought out attempts at drawing good lines around when he is using it and when not, still, he is different to be around; beholden to, tied to, and enslaved by something outside of himself. I write this as my attempt to make sense of something that has the capacity to drive me mad with grief, despair and frustration. I write this as a way of reaching out. My mother’s heart is broken and bleeding, for him, for them, and for us. 

I realize that one likely response to what I have just told you would be to say, well, of course this is happening, he was “deprived” all those years. If you had just let him have one all along this never would have happened. I do understand why it would be so much easier and far more reassuring to believe that this is happening because he didn’t get it earlier. Only, it’s not true. How do I know this? I know this because all I need to do is to look at the ones who started early, recognizing that they and their families are suffering the same fate as my son. Just sooner.

I know something deep in my bones. I bet you do too. That being, whether they get it early or late, they are succumbing to the technologies in ways that take them away from themselves, their families, and even the friends they remain ever “connected” to via the machines. If we could be willing to admit to what is happening we would put ourselves in a position to adequately guide and protect them. So, while it might be convenient to imagine that what I have described is nothing more than blow back brought on by “deprivation,” that would be a lie.

What if we were willing to both recognize and act on the fact that the screen technologies are an extremely seductive and addictive force? Perhaps more than anything we as people have ever had to contend with. What if we agreed to use as our starting point the recognition that the technologies are beyond our children, and should never, ever, be left up to them? How then might we proceed?

Wild Teachings

 

Wild Rose has been in bloom for the past couple of weeks. She is pretty much gone now up our way. She is the plant of my heart. An ally. A teacher. A guardian. Because Rose’s flowering is so short-lived, I was making a mad dash to make medicine and personal care products before her time was up. One day, in the midst of making medicine, I was thinking that this powerful, natural and healing presence would be available to me all year long. On the heels of that thought came, “No, it won’t. I don’t have near enough for that to happen.”

And in that moment, instead of feeling a lack around this, I saw the beautiful necessity for me of something not being available whenever I wanted it. Everything is not supposed to be there for us constantly and in every moment. And while we might want this to be so, it is not good for us. More to the point; it is damaging. For us. For the planet. And for our relationships with others.

We people live like big shots on the planet. As if it is all here for our taking. As if anything we want should be easy, convenient, and accessible. All the time. And this mindset is only worsening through the proliferation of the technologies that make us feel as if everything should be instantaneous and ever-available.

What will we do in the face of this? How will we learn to govern ourselves voluntarily? Why should we if we don’t have to. Or want to. Because the wisdom that comes from Nature, of which we are a part, demonstrates over and over again that there is most decidedly a season for all things; a time for everything to be here, and not be here. Much as we don’t want to know it, limitation is a vital part of the cycle of Life. It serves as the bedrock for the conditions of Life to flourish, having absolutely nothing to do whatsoever with scarcity or deprivation.

Beats

 

When we are trying to hit a lot of beats in our day to day, it can be easy to believe that accomplishing our to-do list is the point of our living. With this comes the sometimes hidden hope or belief that when all of these things are done, then, finally then, we can get to… What our heart truly yearns for. Better health. The relationship that needs tending to. A habit change. Better care of ourselves. A life that makes sense to us.

And so we keep going. Running harder and faster. As a civilization we have never worked so hard to do more, keep up, and get ahead of it all, while simultaneously believing we are living the dream right in the midst of so much self-imposed intensity and suffering. The honest to god truth is; there is no keeping up. There is no getting ahead. There is no magical, restful, satisfying and fulfilling place that resides at the end of treadmill living; a place that we will finally reach and inhabit if we can just stay on the moving conveyor belt long enough and well enough.

The problem is, we cannot see this truth when we are on the treadmill because all of our energy is focused on staying on. That thing is moving so fast on its own and through our own added momentum, that if feels as though if we stopped running we would be flung off risking death, starvation, alienation and other injuries we most wish to avoid. And even if we survived all of this, maybe we would not be able to get back on. What would that mean?

The answer is not on the treadmill. It is not in a to-do list or other people’s expectations of us. It is not in the obvious and not so obvious deadly messages we receive from the culture about what the good life looks like and takes to get there. It is not in the past and what our parents told us. It is in this moment. Whatever this point in time calls for and whatever that looks like. And sometimes what it looks like is discontent, disease, and dissatisfaction. Oooh, who wants that? Better keep moving.

Or, you could look at how you are living. What hurts? What do you feel resentful about? What imbalances are currently manifesting in your body? Which relationships are not working and why? The trick here is two-fold. One. You must slow down long enough to feel more than the press to keep driving forward. Two. You must recognize that what is not working in your life is information and guidance so precious you want to find ways to befriend it.

P.S. I wrote this effortlessly and without any intention of doing so after getting off of my own treadmill in a time when lots and lots is stacking up. By making the conscious effort to honor the stillness and the space of a daily practice, I am regularly awed by the magic, synchronicity, inspiration and ease that happens when I stop. This is often most especially the case when the treadmill mentality would tell me that this is exactly the time I cannot stop. My advice to us all; Sit down everybody. Just sit down.

Somewhere Else

 

I am fasting every month for a day and a half for the next year. I am doing this in preparation for a Vision Fast I am doing in May of 2018 in New Mexico. I know this is going to be a massive stretch for me, and so, in preparation, I am trying to stretch a little bit at a time before I go.

I have fasted three times now, and every time has been different. Sometimes physical discomfort has been the leading torment. At other times, it has been the incessant wailing of my mind. Wherever I have landed in this, each and every time I have caught the scent of a running theme in my thoughts. That being, the regular instructions coming out of my mind telling me to endure my experience in a way that gets me through it, or past it, to a time in the future when things will be better. Easier. More to my liking and comfort level.

Years ago, my yoga teacher spoke on the difference between experiencing our lives, and enduring them. Through the fasting, I have been face to face with how I endure. I feel the endurance as an inner tension; a way of trying to steer and manage, protect and get away. In the body it reveals itself as a clenched jaw, a tight gut and a body armored against what is happening. In the mind, it shows up as a big, fat “NO!” to the experience at hand.

In the midst of last night’s 3 a.m. mental and physical suffering, I had the obvious revelation that I had, in fact, chosen to have this particular experience. That contrary to the opinion of my ordinary mind, “it” wasn’t being done to me. Therefore, I had a choice about how to be with this, and more to the point, the recognition that I always have a choice about how to be with anything. And so, I chose to say “YES” to the sensations in my body and to the chaos in my mind. And then I took it further by choosing to pour it all into an intention for what I wanted. Even further, I chose to devote all of what I was doing and experiencing to Something More than me. With that, I fell asleep and awoke in the morning at ease, despite the hunger.

There is something so very powerful about choosing to experience the moments of our lives exactly as they are, while channeling it all into what we most deeply want out of Life. Add in devotion to Something More than yourself, and you have valuable instructions for a life fully lived. And isn’t that what we all want? The ability to be with all of ourselves, while being connected to Something Greater.

The Way Is Narrow

 

“Narrow your life down to this moment.” This is my mantra, and it is bringing me more peace and clarity than I could have ever imagined. No small feat given the fullness of my life at this time.

Running into this simple instruction from the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle a couple of months ago could not have come at a better time for me. It showed up right in time for the perfect and beautiful storm of internal and external upheaval and shifts that started to brew in the wake of endings and new beginnings.

Returning to this phrase over and over again has settled me down in the most profound of ways. A pressure has been lifted. And within the words, I feel more than words could possibly convey; I feel a Truth so simple that is it incredibly easy to miss. That Truth being that anything that you need is contained both right in front of you in the form of this moment, and directly inside you.

Try it. Try letting go of “later.” Try letting go of using your mind to create endless scenarios around “What if?” and “How am I going to do this or make that happen?” Instead, every time you find yourself spinning out into the business of trying to manage the future, say to yourself; I narrow my life down to this moment. Watch what happens.

The Simple And The Profound

 

I have recently finished grading papers for the college course I teach. I always look forward to reading what the students have to say around patterns they have discovered about themselves, along with how it is that the techniques we have been practicing are making a difference in their lives. They always surprise me. Sometimes it is because I get to see a side of a student that I did not see in class. At other times I am awed by their desire to change, and by how committed and creative they can be when given a little guidance.

At the beginning of each semester, I tell  them that what we will be doing together, more often than not, will be both simple, and incredibly obvious. So simple and obvious, in fact, that it is easy to miss or discount its power. Based on their initial responses, I have sometimes gotten the sense that there are those who believe me to be the village idiot; some naive fool believing that we can be healthy, connected and expressed in this lifetime. Some of them even outright admit to as much.

But I will tell you that after more than a decade of working with students in this way, I am more convinced than ever that what it takes for us to live our lives well is indeed quite simple, and extraordinarily obvious. Not easy, but absolutely available to each and every one of us. However, because we as a culture have become so accustomed to making things more complicated than they need to be, along with our proclivity to believe that the fix exists outside of ourselves, what I am proposing here can feel anywhere from naive to downright dangerous. It is neither.

You would be astonished by the number of students who shift or resolve longstanding mental, emotional and physical conditions and issues through the simple tending to obvious and straightforward needs in body, mind and spirit. It is inspiring to read of changes in anxiety, depression, insomnia, panic attacks, digestive disorders, self-esteem issues, relational problems and more. And over the years of working and re-working what I offer and what I have witnessed and experienced myself, I have come to know that until the following conditions are met, not only will health and happiness elude us, but we will not know what we are dealing with when out of balance and will, therefore, be left pursuing the wrong “fix.” The following is what I know to be true.

Every day you must:

Breathe fully and deeply.

Be hydrated.

Eat whole, clean, fresh foods that have been prepared and eaten in a loving and stress-free way in a relaxed environment.

Get all the sleep and rest your body needs. Every day.

Move in ways that feel great to you, letting go of the numbers, the gadgets, the “shoulds” and the experts.

Find ways to recognize, challenge and re-work negative, habitual and conditioned thinking.

Associate with those people who have your best interests at heart, who are doing interesting things, and who lift you up.

Do work that is meaningful to you and that allows you to express your reason for being here.

Consider more than yourself and your own life.

Sense into, align with and live by your Connection to Something More than yourself.

Slow down. Sit down. Listen.

Profoundly simple and profoundly challenging to get to, but get to we must if we wish to fully live.

 

 

 

The Life Within

 

I am in morning practice; dancing. The music is loud. At a pivotal moment, I notice a robin outside the window. Even though I am moving around, it stays where it is for quite some time. I can see its beak opening and closing in song, though I cannot hear it. During a lull in the music, I decide to open the window so that I can hear its song. Without hesitation, it flies off. This one encounter encapsulates all that I need to know at this time.

It does not matter who does or does not hear your song. Or like your song. You sing it because you can. And because that is what you do.

When you feel uneasy or  threatened, you feel it only in that moment, and you do what you need to do to protect yourself. Without hesitation, doubt or apology There is no story to this. And there is no carrying the moment of threat forward into the rest of your existence.

Most importantly, only your life is contained within yourself. It does not matter what another wants, expects or has imprinted on you. It does not matter what the world is or is not doing. It only matters that you fully and completely inhabit the life you have been given.

Inspiration From A Friend

 

Recently I asked a friend if she would talk to me about her decision to get her two girls a cell phone. Part of what prompted my request was a conversation we had, along with us both seeing Screenagers; a documentary which follows one family’s journey to getting their 12 year old a smartphone. Here is what she wrote:

I went back and read my journals, and the drafts of the contracts Mike and I drew up together, and remembered the dozens of conversations I had had with friends and family, and I thought, actually we did a lot of due diligence and deliberation around this. And still, it wasn’t enough. Maybe, though, it was never meant to be a one shot deal? Maybe there was no way to perfectly foresee what transformations we would undergo?

I have been really wrestling with this; what I can control and what is beyond me. So, when we got together with my brother and his kids over Easter, he and I agreed on a phone moratorium during the family holiday. We were both expecting a certain amount of unholy blowback, but were strengthened by our mutual resolve. And then, the blowback didn’t happen! The kids were completely fine about it, and didn’t do any of the addictive dry-drunk manipulation I was cynically expecting. We did puzzles, hung out, talked politics, and hiked. We had a lovely time.

The anticlimactic result of all my worry made me realize that a huge part of the problem is us. I think parents, myself included, make technology into this incredibly powerful force in our lives and shudder to think about what would happen if we tried to take it away. Even my brother expressed this sort of supernatural awe when we were talking about kids and phones and he said: “I don’t think it is enough to limit access to the I-phone. I feel like we need to drive a stake through its heart!” I too have this fantasy of incinerating them all in a big cleansing fire, freeing ourselves in some all-or-nothing, magical way from this infestation of Silicon Valley succubi. 

This black or white thinking has characterized my approach to technology up until now– either roll over and take it, or rage against the machine and ground everyone because I am convinced that it is destroying us. But you know what? Nothing is black or white. I can’t turn back time and undo everything. Some things are here to stay (at least for now): AIDS, CO2, overpopulation, mental illness, technology, addiction, capitalism. I am realizing that the cognitive distortion of “It’s evil incarnate and I am helpless before it’s insidious, invidious power!” is just not a helpful position for me to take. 

And so I meditated on all of this for a while. And I talked to Mike. And I looked at the phone contract we had made together 3 years ago. Then I called a family meeting and said we needed to revisit this because things have morphed considerably since our original agreement. I told the girls; “There is no blame or punishment here, because that is what living things do.They morph.They push the limits.They test the waters. And these objects are designed to make themselves indispensable and send little pellets of dopamine to our hungry brains every time they vibrate or ding.” 

I forbore going into all the research around the effects of technology on developing brains, although I was tempted. Instead, I kept it simple. I said, “we miss you.” I told them how I had noticed that when each of them had lost phone privileges recently how happy I had felt. Not because they were suffering, but because I didn’t feel like a second class citizen in my own house. Because I didn’t feel like some invisible string was always pulling them away from me and toward this infinite, horizonless, virtual feast; no pavlovian yank on their chain every time a text came through. No involuntary swivel of the eyeball.

I told them that what we needed was some space between us and our compulsions, because in the end awareness is the best protection we have. Therefore, the phones would to be staying downstairs from here on out. All the time. Except maybe for an hour or so before bed time if they wanted to talk to someone privately in their room. I went on to say that they were not be used anymore until chores, home work, exercise, dinner, etc were completed. Further, the phones were not to be used during homework, because, contrary to everything our culture tells us, multitasking does not make us smarter, more efficient, or better. And, you know what, it seemed as if the girls were expecting this, even wanting me to say all this. When our talk was over, it was as if a spell had been broken.

Now, the devil is in the details. I am all too aware of how slippery a slope this is. The work is never really done. But that makes it like just about everything else in life. As long as we don’t delude ourselves that this is the final word on the subject, we will figure it out as we go. I think the realization here for me was that my vulnerability has real power, and that connection is recoverable. Saying what we want, what we long for, what we want to rebuild is speaking from strength. I don’t think I quite believed that before.

 

What’s It All About?

 

I am not sure if it is my age, having two kids about to leave home, where we find ourselves at this time in history, all of the above, none of the above, or something I have not yet considered, but I will tell you, I am perplexed these days as to what we are all doing and why. If we could cut through all the surface details, the shoulds, the past, our personal and societal conditioning, the distractions, the dictates of the times, what is this thing called Life really all about? What are we doing here? I feel so corny even writing those words, but it is the truth of what I am feeling. And asking.

A friend recently reminded me that it will only be when the proverbial shit hits the fan that we will be willing to notice, and change, and commit to what matters most. Personally, I don’t want to wait that long. And I don’t want to wade through that much suffering. Is that really the only way that we will wake up? I recognize, and have experienced that that is one way to go. But there is another way. There is the way of love and devotion to something more than yourself. There is a way of being in the world that honors Life on all levels.

The only place I have experience doing this is with my kids. Somehow because of my love and devotion for them I was able to do things I could never do on my own. I was able to sidestep needing to suffer before I would change. I was able to become a different person through the experience of not only considering and stretching for them, but of growing big enough to be worthy of their trust. And their lives. And therefore, Life itself.

And so, these days, I am wondering, what is the equivalent of this in the world, and with the world, for me? Where is that place in all of us that knows the way and that just wants to express what it knows? Without needing to be knocked to our knees before it can happen.

What Are We Really Choosing?

 

I once heard someone say that whatever is behind any choice that we make is, in fact, what we have signed ourselves up to receive more of. Regardless of what we wanted, or thought we were going to get. In other words, if you make a decision based on fear, you have just signed up for more fear in your world. If you make a choice based on scarcity, you have just signed up to learn the lesson of lack. If you choose and act based on trying to appear better or different than you actually are in order to fit in, you have just signed up to learn about deceit and alienation.

Look at your life. Closely. How many times a day do you make choices that are not coming from what you really want, but are instead based on you trying to protect the downside? Or you trying to keep something from happening. How many times a day do you make choices that come out of reactivity, overwhelm, stress and busyness only to be met with more of the same? How often do you choose based out of denial, avoidance and disconnection? Have you ever linked up your motivations and mind states to the results that you are getting?

In the yogic tradition that I hail from, it is never about what you do. Instead, it is always about why you do what you do. This is the exact opposite of what we, and our children, are creating through social media where the “what” something looks like reigns supreme and above all else. Under the auspices of “connection,” what I would define as a mutual and reciprocal coming together for the benefit of both parties, more times than not, our use has more to do with spinning, glamorizing and inflating the self. Instead of a give and take in our interactions with others, there is a kind of side by side marketing of ourselves to each other and how it is that we want to be known.

What if we could really see that that every time we try and get people to see us through untruthful ways, we have just signed up for a falseness between us. And that every time we try to get a greater sense of belonging by garnering more likes and followers through misrepresentation, exaggeration and obsessive preoccupation with the wrong things, we have just signed up for an experience of isolation, fragmentation and dissatisfaction.

The technologies push and magnify our social buttons; our deep-seated and innate needs as human beings to be seen and to belong. For there to be any chance of the technologies benefiting us in this domain, we must become aware of the “whys” of the “whats” that we are engaging in. Further, we must recognize that our children are not yet capable of this distinction.