Quantity vs. Quality

My children are in Nashville and Seattle. Sometimes we speak one or more times in a week. Sometimes several weeks will go by with no contact. I have no rules, nor any expectations around the number of connections we make within a specified time period. And when I am not holding myself up to what I often see happening around me, I feel the rightness of this for our relationship; for what I am personally after is quality, not quantity. What I am after is a give and take in relationship that honors where everyone is at; recognizing each person’s need for both sovereignty and interconnection, while understanding that that ebbs and flows over time.

This flies in the face of how many of us relate to one another now via our devices (With “to” versus “with” being the operative word). I hear this regularly from college students who text intimate others or parents multiple times a day; even when there is nothing to convey. It is less a communication than a neurotic, obsessive, dogged obligation. Too harsh? Maybe. But when you line up that for all of our ways to be in contact, too many of us do not allow, and are not allowed, any space to exist in the relationship outside of continuous contact, obligation gone bad becomes the most apt description of what is happening between us. For how else would we label how no to little time is allowed for anything of significance to arise or happen to us before we are back in contact again? How else would we label how we leave no to little time anymore to be on our own, or to digest an experience before we report it back out?

These same ever-in-contact students often talk about feeling harangued, dissatisfied, and burdened with so many obligatory and meaningless exchanges. But they find it impossible to break free as this way of doing things has become the new agreed upon currency of love and connection. Without which one risks violating a social norm of what it looks like to care. Without which one runs the risk of looking like there is not much of a bond between you and those you care about.

Why have we done this to one another? Why do we continue to do something that so burdens and diminishes what is between us? Why have we taken something so precious and so life-giving and reduced it down to a neurotic numbers game. Have we so little faith in each other? Have we so little faith in ourselves to experience life without immediately reporting out every last detail ad nauseam to anyone that we can text?

Texting is not talking. And quantity does not equal quality. It never has, and it never will.

Tall Poppy Syndrome

 

Years ago I heard someone talking about “The Tall Poppy Syndrome.” It was described to me as the way that we will make ourselves small; how it is that we will measure out just how far we will stick out beyond others. Always with an eye, consciously or unconsciously, to not get too big.

Why do we do this? Why do we minimize the truth of who we are and what it is that we do, want, or believe in? Why do we fear recrimination when we have done or created something positive in our lives or in the life of the world? Why do we suffer comments made by others, and even ourselves, the very ones that are meant to put us back in our place, without refuting the harmful put down? Why do we allow “what will they think?” to run the show? Why do we submit to the experience of “otherness” in our thinking and let that dictate how much we believe we can be? Or do. Or want.

This has come into full relief for me over the past week during a cleanse I have been doing with others. This is my first experience at this, and as such I was expecting what others had described to me; headaches, skin eruptions, trouble eliminating, cravings, dulled appetite, difficult emotions to wrestle with. And yet, not one bit of that has been my experience. In fact, it has been just the opposite. I have felt energized, clear, and optimistic. Excepting for Wednesday of this week; affectionately referred to by our leader as “hump day.”

It was on this day that I decided to email back the leader describing that surprisingly enough I had been feeling great; really vibrant and aligned mentally,emotionally, and physically. It felt like a good choice at the time to contact her. I, too, wanted to be part of the email exchange, even though I did not have difficult things to report. Prior to this day, I had been holding back because it seemed like maybe there was no place for my “positive” experience. This was my attempt to break through this feeling of self-imposed isolation. Only, shortly after I sent the email, I felt a vulnerability attack come over me. Why did I send that? I should never have done that. She’s going to be mad at me, or think I believe I am better than everyone else because I am not struggling.

This went on for a bit and then turned into the wildest mental food cravings; fried food, peanut butter cups, cup cakes, pizza. All the things I was going to eat as soon as I could once the cleanse was over. To hell with all the work. I just couldn’t wait to get to all of this food. At one point, though, a little wondering came in. What happened, I thought. How did I go from no struggle with food cravings to an all out orgy in my mind? Then it hit me. This was my unconscious attempt to dull myself down to fit in so that I wouldn’t be excluded or judged. And behind that was my fear that it was not safe for me to be OK while others were not. Truth be, it went even further than that and right into; Do I have a right to my own brilliance?

As soon as I had this realization, the orgy thoughts immediately went away and I was back to feeling good again. It really does pose a couple of very serious questions for us as human beings living and interacting with one another, as well as human beings here to express the truth and totality of who we truly are. “Just how far will we go to not stick out, to dim our light, to top ourselves off? Just how far will we go to keep others in their place; not allowing them to grow beyond us?”

If we have any hope of being happy and fulfilled individually, and if we have any hope collectively of living together here on the earth in harmony, and with an eye towards making things better for all of us, we truly need to figure this one out. Right now, more than anything else, we need for the tallest poppies in all of us to grow up and step forward.

 

Monsters

 

I am in the check-out line at the co-op this week. I often enjoy this time as I get to interact with all kinds of people; many of whom are twenty-somethings, and I love to hear what they are into. Some days it truly inspires me. Some days it truly breaks my heart.

On this day, when I ask the young woman how it’s going, she responds by saying, “Tired.” She then cheerfully adds, “But that’s OK-I’m always tired.” Even though I know that social etiquette would say that now it’s my turn to say something, I pause. She then picks the conversation back up by saying, “Well, it’s my own fault. My hobby keeps me up all night.” Hmm. At first I am wondering if it’s something like reading, knitting, cooking, or art. But because it somehow doesn’t seem to fit in with being up all night, I ask, “What’s your hobby?” She smiles a big, wide grin at me and says, “Gaming.” Pause. Pause. Pause.

Truly, I do not know how to respond. Where would I even begin? Since when has spending time in front of a screen been given the lofty designation of a hobby in the life of a human being? Since when did we collectively agree that depriving your body of one of its most basic and health-promoting needs is something to be proud of? And since when did women start jumping into a pathologically imbalanced male-dominated arena, leaving us now just as vulnerable as the men in making the wrong thing essential? It is so eerily reminiscent of women trying to be like men in the work force; ultimately putting us on the same level as them when it comes to rates of stress and heart disease.

Because the woman part hits me the hardest, I decide to wade into the pool on this one.

“Oh,” I say, “I haven’t run into many female gamers.” She tells me that’s because up until a few years ago it was really hard to break into the gaming circles if you were a woman, but that now it’s gotten way easier. “Why’s that?” I ask. Because, she tells me, the companies have figured out that they are losing money by not including women, so now they are much better at monitoring these sites and squelching bad and exclusive behavior on the part of male gamers.

“As a matter of fact,” she tells me, “there was a recent study that proves that the number of female gamers is the largest growing group. Even bigger than teenage boys!” She is absolutely glowing with pride as she tells me this. Pause. Pause. Pause. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. “Now they’ve got the women,” is all that I can think. This is truly terrifying.

This precious young woman has not even begun to consider what this “hobby” of hers is doing to her physical health, and her ability to be in her real life in any kind of a meaningful way. She has not stopped to consider that the open access that the companies have created for her and other women like her is being done at the expense of not only her body, but her very heart and soul sensibilities as a woman. She has not stopped to consider that this league of which she is now a part is a littered graveyard full of wasted human potential.

The irony of it all? Her favorite game is Monster Hunter. What she loves most of all is the skill set she has developed. The one that allows her to identify where the demons are and, even getting good enough to be one step ahead of their clever, demonic, and dark adaptations at eluding extermination. Would that she turn these skills on the very real monsters that haunt and elude her in the real world, she might just have a chance of getting out with her very own life.

Resistance

 

Nothing in Nature resists itself; what it is, what it needs, where it belongs, what it is experiencing. Nor does it resist what comes its way; responding instead, according to its own capacity, on an as needed basis; doing what needs to be done as things come up. In other words, all creatures in the natural world know what they are to their very core, what they are capable of, and not one of them expects the rest of Nature to do anything other than what it does. We, as humans, on the other hand, can spend days, weeks, years, a lifetime even, resisting what it is that we do not want to see. Or cannot be with. Or do not want to be happening around us. And it shows in both body and mind in all the ways that our minds tighten, and our bodies sicken.

Recently, I came smack up against a pattern of resistance in my own life, and it came voluntarily. We are building a room onto our existing home, and the lead carpenter was going to be working alone, though he really needed some help. Since it’s my husband’s company doing the work, and since I had the time, I volunteered to be the unskilled labor for the day; doing whatever grunt work on the ground needed doing. Only. What the carpenter needed me to do was not only not on the ground, it was up on the highest ladder he had, standing on the top step, the one you are not supposed to stand on (his words), all while reaching and stretching myself out beyond the safety and stability of the ladder, while using a power sander to get to beams located at cathedral ceiling height.

Right off, I knew I was in trouble. But I thought, “Well, maybe it won’t be so bad.” Only, it was. As bad as I remembered it being, and worse. Just to be clear, it wasn’t like my mind was thinking;“This is dangerous, I might fall.”  That, I could have worked with. No, this was different. My entire body was lit up with fear. More to the point, paralyzed; absolutely refusing to move. It felt as impossible and unreasonable to my body to be up on that ladder as putting an elephant in a tree and asking it to move around doing something. Not natural. Not reasonable. Not possible.

So, there I was clinging to the ladder, just being there with my frozen self. Through the intensity, I could feel that I was at a crossroads; one of those make or break moments in life when you can decide to do what you have always done, or do something different. What I “normally” would have done would have been to clench my teeth, bear down, and force myself through it. But on this day, something was encouraging me to move beyond old habits and stories of the mind. Something was urging me to stay exclusively with myself and what was happening in that moment. And what immediately arose was, “I can’t do this.” This simple, honest, true statement was enough in and of itself. As a matter of fact, it was more than enough. It was downright revolutionary for me, a woman who has rarely considered “I can’t do this” to be an option, to take that reality in so easily, and so directly.

At another time, it would have felt like life and death to me, and therefore not an option to opt out. At another time, I would have been stuck in the past where “I can’t do it,” would have been the equivalent of not only whatever it was not getting done, but that some threat or danger would have arisen over the lack of completion. At another time, I would have made it mean something about me that I was not able to muscle my way through this level of overwhelm. At another time, my first thoughts would have been not about me, but about potential responses from the carpenter, my husband, or other people in the company.

But on this day, as if by magic, the arising of “I can’t do this,” was so real and so true that nothing else, past or present, mattered. There was no explanation necessary. No apology required. No self-flagellation to go through. Nothing to resist. Nothing to feel badly about. No world coming to an end.

So, how did all of this happen? By not resisting the reality that stood before me. Through the pure, simple pleasure of being with what is, as it is. And because of it, a longstanding, old survival pattern around being the one who always has to do it, no matter what, gently slid off me as easily as rain sliding off the roof, as I crawled back down the ladder and uttered out loud, “I can’t do this.” And right behind that amazing utterance came the joyful recognition of all the people who can do this. And that it doesn’t have to be me.

This story is my plug for a regular practice. It does not matter what you do, so long as you find daily ways to catch up to the truth of what it is you are experiencing. A kind of truth that is beyond habits, beyond the past, and beyond what anyone thinks of you, or how you should be living. And while the moment I described was truly magical, a moment like this only happens through lots and lots of practice.

Freedom

I was away at a training last week studying a yogic text called The Bhagavad Gita. It is the “story” of a conversation between a student and a teacher, and it takes place in the middle of a battlefield where the student is stuck; unable to move forward in his duty as a warrior. Essentially, he cannot figure out how to act, or if he should act; leaving him with no clear cut way to see through the dilemma that stands before him. That being that both sides of the battlefield are arrayed with his kinsmen and his teachers, and duty would say he must choose where to fight. And yet, he cannot imagine how to act without causing harm; to himself, to others, or to the code he has established around how to be in the world.

Haven’t we all been there? That place where no matter what you might choose, seems to carry the burden of harm? In these times, who do you choose for? What do you choose? Does choosing for yourself mean you are choosing against another? Does choosing for another mean you are choosing against yourself? This is one of those seemingly unsolvable paradoxes that as human beings, we will all face at different points in our lives. And because it is so difficult to solve, we often try and boil it down to rights or wrongs, this side or that side, as a way of trying to manage something that feels too hard to be with.

But what if, as in the Bhagavad Gita, everyone on the battlefield represents an aspect of the main character? In our own lives, that main character, would be us. From this level of understanding, it can no longer be a case of me versus you. Instead it is really about all of the “me’s” within me. And while our dilemmas with others can feel so real, so external, and so about them, the truth is that when we really go for resolve in our lives, we will often find ourselves at the crossroads of a paradox; something that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense, and yet, perhaps, true.

But don’t take my word for it. Instead, try this. The next time you are in a difficult moment with another person, or even something transpiring on the world stage, label what it is that feels difficult or unsolvable to you. Fear, violence, insanity, insensitivity, unconsciousness, greed, meanness, etc. Then, and the hardest part of all, find it within yourself. Do not be fooled that it has to show up in the egregious form you are encountering outside of yourself. See if anywhere, in any form, you can find something that smacks of you in the battle you find yourself engaged in with what is outside of you.

To do this requires a commitment on your part to step beyond blame, infantalization, and victim consciousness. And it requires a softening of the part of us that could never imagine, never mind admit to, something so horrible belonging to us. But if we could do it, can you imagine the possibilities in our lives and in the life of the world? Can you imagine how things would change for you if you could no longer blame an external source for what you had to… Or couldn’t…

Because if you could, you would find the only real freedom there is to be had on the battlefield of Life.

 

Everything Else Can Wait

 

The snow storm is just really getting under way by the time I make my way home. Somewhere between getting the groceries in, and sending out an email to cancel the evening yoga class, I feel a deep pull starting to build within; a nameless urge to be in the woods and in direct contact with the extraordinary beauty and power of the snow. I know I must respond. I know I will respond. But first, there are the overly rational and fear-driven parts of the mind that must be dealt with.

There are cold and frozen foods that need to be put away. Right now. They might go bad. Your husband is away, so if something happens to you while you are out in the woods, no one will find you for days. It’s getting dark. This is not a good idea. What if an animal gets you? On and on it goes. This part of me always has something to say. Always a fear, or a harsh reminder of my responsibilities, or a “what if,” that it throws out with increasing intensity to keep me in line. To keep me adding up to other’s ideas of me, the culture’s standards, and even my own worn out versions of who I am, and what I need to be.

But on this day I know better. And what I know is this. The rational mind with all of its demands, fears, and shoulds will never be enough to satisfy the longing I feel within. It will never take me to the magic, the mystery, and the freedom that my soul yearns for. Demands, in fact, and must have in order for me to experience the vitality and the connection of this one life to Something More. It is so easy for that hunger to get drowned out in everything that must be done, believed in, and attended to, according to the rational mind.

But on this day, the woods mesmerize me with their magnificence. All of Nature is outlined and lit up in glowing white against a darkening sky. Every edge defined in light. Tunnels made by heavy snow and bowing limbs create endless passageways for me to move through. Thresholds into another world. The air is brushed clean, and so is my mind. Every noise but the sound of snow and wind has been subdued into submission to something greater. Time takes on another quality, and a honed presence emerges. So deeply still is this place, that I am swept up into it; dropped into an effortless meditation that never wants to end.

Over and over, in this place, I am reminded of what I am. And though I know I will forget, every experience like this brings me a little closer to the Truth. I need this. I ache for this. Everything else can wait.

Why The Abdication?

 

In the wake of the most recent school shootings, there has been a strong and widespread response from our teens for #NEVERAGAIN. They are taking to the streets, and to their social media outlets demanding that what is happening be addressed. Now. Some postulate that with these teens coming into voting age in a few short years, this has the potential to shift politics; putting our politicians on notice that they had better get serious about making changes around gun laws. Or risk being voted out.

So much possibility here. And if this were to come to fruition, how amazing that finally we would see some real movement on an issue long overdue for change. And yet, one question aches to be addressed and answered. Why have we left this up to the children? Why has this generation been so systemically left on their own? Why have we, as the adults, not been the ones protecting them? Not being the ones to get this, and other things like it, done on their behalf?

There has been a strange and harmful reversal of the roles between parents and children afoot over the last generation. Instead of the adults claiming their position as the ones to be the grown-ups in the relationship, we opt to be their friends. Instead of us setting and enforcing, necessary ground rules around what they eat, when they go to bed, how many activities they can sign up for, and how much technology they can use, we ask them if it is OK, or what they think we should do around limit setting. Instead of us drawing lines in the world on their behalf to protect them, we look to them to change the world for us. And for them.

What has happened to us? Are we too busy? Too distracted? Too overwhelmed? Too brainwashed? Too addicted? Too afraid? Too disempowered? All of the above? In order for our children to be able to take a healthy stand in the world, they must first have the experience of someone standing up for them in a healthy way. Too often, as a culture, we are dazzled by all that our children can do and have taken on without recognizing that we have forced the bud; and with it all of the consequences associated with putting children into the role of the grown-up long before they are emotionally mature enough to handle that level of responsibility.

Could this be why so many of our young people are so disproportionately suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, sleep disorders, along with the overwhelming and bizarre fears they experience like no other generation has held in the way that they do? Let us never forget that when it comes to our children and the world they inhabit, it is always, and always will be, up to us.

Ice

 

It is a beautiful, blue, clear-skyed Sunday morning. It snowed several inches last night. My husband and I are going for a run, and I am pulling to do the “big loop.” Because it has been months. Because I am feeling it. And because with the snow topping everything, it will feel magical-mystical to be in the woods.

On the trail, there is so much beauty. And so much ice. I have already fallen once before getting out of our own driveway. It had not occurred to me that the trail will be a skating rink beneath a couple of inches of light, fluffy, easily moved past, snow, that will result in my footing being non-existent. But once I am in, I am in. Besides, I think, it can’t possibly be like this the whole way around. Oh, yes it can. As a matter of fact, each time I imagine I will get a reprieve, it only seems to get icier; at times so slick that it is near to impossible for me to move forward without falling. I stop counting how many times I have hit the ice-covered trail.

At some point I walk, which helps some, but not nearly as much as you would think, or more to the point, that I had hoped for. Even though I am crawling along, I am still wiping out. My husband has pressed on. I have thoughts that he may need to be coming back only to find my body shattered against some snow-covered rock. Mostly though, I am so frustrated. This is so not the vibe I thought I was going to be partaking in.

As uncomfortable as this is, I count on this. I need this. I need to be reminded over and over again that life is not supposed to line up with my version of how things should go. No matter how lofty my plans. And the natural world, with her complete lack of interest in bending to my will, keeps me honest, humble, and in my place.

With our need to control, with our need to technologize everything, with our growing fears and lack of tolerance for what is wild, free, natural, and beyond the scope of man, what will be big enough to remind us over and over again that we are not the most powerful force in the Universe? What will we have done to ourselves when we have eradicated everything except what we ourselves, in our limited vision, have created?

Where You Come From

 

I am taking a class with a woman who knows about the body and its original wisdom in a way I have never experienced before. And while the focus of the class is on movement that is organic, integrated, and effortless, I often find myself carried away with the metaphors around how she languages the body.

Recently, as we were working with a particular range of movement, she said; “In any movement, you can only come from where you come from.” Obvious on one level in terms of what the body is capable of doing. And at the same time, it reads like a set of instructions for how to live in both mind and body. For instance, to her words, “you can only come from where you come from, I added and where you come from in any given movement is created and guided by your habits, your skill set, your intentions, your quality of mind, your past…” And on and on it goes. Where we move from today is based on everything that has come before.

We are an accumulation of all the movements of the past. Equally, there is so much more to come, which in turn will be based on what has come before. It’s a loop that keeps circling and circling. And so, if we want our current movement to come from a place of greater integrity and ease, it requires awareness, adjustments, and the permission to move in new and different ways. This could mean a change in how or what you eat. It could mean interacting with yourself or others differently. It could mean shifting how you think about yourself or what you believe is possible. Movement in this way can come from anyplace, and be in the service of anything.

Where you move from in any given moment is always a choice, and the choice is always yours, and yours alone to make. And so, even though where you are coming from is based on where you are which is based on where you came from, there is always a point in the circle to make the choice to begin anew. It’s like the old saying; “If you keep doing what you have always done, you are going to get what you always got.” But when we learn to do other than what we have always done, we are guaranteed to get something new.

Right now, where in the endless loop of your movement through life is there a place to disrupt the conditioning of what came before in the service of creating a brand new way of moving, and therefore where it is that you ultimately come from?

Don’t You Dare…

 

I was at a family gathering last Saturday, and because it was the day before the Super Bowl, and because there were Tom Brady fans in the group, the conversation easily turned to this man and what he has accomplished, and continues to accomplish; despite the odds, his age, the naysayers, or the consternation experienced by those on the other side of him. At some point, someone in the group said, through a thinly veiled layer of contempt, that Tom Brady had gone off the rails believing himself to be immortal. As the person speaking continued with this line of reasoning, a subtext began to form and reveal itself. That being, that it won’t be long before Tom Brady gets his well deserved comeuppance, henceforth bringing him back to where he belongs; on the same level with the rest of us.

I pointed out that I do not believe that immortality is what he is after, but instead the fullest expression of what he is capable of. And that, yes, he is challenging the status quo and ideas around aging that wrongly decide ahead of time what a person will live like; even before they have lived it.

While in that moment I said what I needed to say, this individual’s response continued to rattle around in my mind, bothering me long after the conversation was over. Something inside of me felt so disturbed that I was unable to drop it. Then, in a glorious moment of revelation, what was bothering me revealed itself under the banner of; Don’t You Dare!

Don’t you dare be extraordinary. Don’t you dare go for the impossible. Don’t you dare challenge my view of reality. Don’t you dare show me up. Don’t you dare do anything that makes me uncomfortable. And don’t you dare make me come up against what I have not dared to do in my own life.

Why do we do this to one another? What are we so afraid of and so angry about that we would be glad when someone got their “just deserves,” bringing them back down to the level of mediocrity?

I’ll tell you why. We are threatened by what it reflects back to us about what we are and are not doing in our own lives. Otherwise, we would only want to see another person be as magnificent as they can be because it would remind us of what is inside of us as well. We would understand that when one person achieves greatness, when one person breaks the limitations of the status quo, when one person dares to reach for their own possibility, we are all lifted up and carried along to higher places.

Too many of us have forgotten this. Too many of us choose instead to attack, mock, or denigrate what is different, outside of the norm, out of the box, outstanding, and daring, in another. Too many of us sit on the sidelines content to watch greatness while we look for opportunities to tear it to shreds; using our precious life force to annihilate what is truly unique and amazing in another for no other reason than because we have not shown up for our own lives; finding it preferable to project our own failings onto the greatness of another.

Can you imagine a world where we support the very best in one another? I can. And I will tell you that I for one sure could use, and could have used my entire growing up, that level of support and protection for my own budding magnificence. And that each and every time I was on the receiving end of Don’t You Dare, it cut me to the core, took me down a peg, and made it that much harder to get back up and do what I came here to do.