No

 

My husband is telling me about a sales approach he and his employees are working with where the whole point of what you are doing with a prospective client is to get to the truth as quickly as you can. Part of what expedites that process is recognizing that a “no” from someone is just as good as a “yes.” I absolutely love it when I come across honest and authentic teachings in the day to day, and sometimes, even from the most unlikely of sources. In this case, a sales method.

Can you imagine getting to the truth, whatever it was in your life, alone or with others, as quickly as possible? No hemming and hawing. No hedging. No blaming. No avoiding. And could you also imagine that responding with a “no” was just as valuable as a “yes” in getting to that very same truth? No need to pretend. No need to fear what it would mean about or for you. No need to defend your position, or form committees as a way to garner back-up on why you get to refuse what it is that you do not want. Or need. Or feel comfortable with.

I have to tell you that as a women, this one concept alone is so revolutionary that had I known it earlier, I would have saved myself a world of suffering in my interactions with others. Especially with men. For most of my life I did not even know that “No” was an option. Not even when it would have protected me, or been in my best interest. Or how about this one? That I had a right to it; without explanation or apology. Just because.

How often do we say yes when we really need to say no? We do it all the time. We do it because we do not think others will like our response. We do it because we do not believe we are worth more, or have a choice. We do it out of fear. We do it out of habit. And we do it because that is what we have been conditioned to do.

Think about it. Every time we take into ourselves, or our lives, something which does not belong, we violate ourselves. We override the truth of our existence. The refusal of what we really need or want diminishes the power and the vitality of what it feels like to be alive. It makes a choice, instead, to live smaller, unsupported, and bogged down by the wrong things.

Like the toddler learning how to use the word “No,” we might be a little clumsy in our early attempts to draw a line. And sometimes that is why we can’t get ourselves there. We are afraid of how it might come out. Maybe that is in part due to how many “No’s” we have squelched over a lifetime; creating a backlog that feels like it has the power to destroy if ever unleashed. It makes me wonder if this is why we have such difficulties as adults with young children when they first start to realize that “No” is a choice. They can be absolutely drunk with the power of it all; completely unconcerned that we are put off by their refusal of something that we want them to do.

Do we struggle with them around this because we have become confused over our own right to assert ourselves? Do we resent the idea that someone else gets to do what we have not been able to do for ourselves?

If getting to the truth as quickly as possible makes sense to you, the truth is, we have just as much right to say no as to say yes. A commitment to getting to the truth will always be facilitated by our ability to respond as authentically as we need to. And, our ability to authentically respond will always bring us to the truth in a far more direct and satisfying way.

The Animal Truth

 

Do you ever have the experience of imagining yourself through someone else’s eyes, and coming up really, really short?

One of the things I regularly do is watch my mind to see what it is up to. What it is talking about, imagining, or fretting over. Other people typically come up for me whenever I am in the midst of diminishing myself somehow. Recently, I have been saying to myself; “I actually don’t know what is in that person’s mind regarding me, but I sure do know that what I am thinking about right now is in my mind, does not feel good, and is something only I can change.” 

I see this as being one of the most critical things we can do for ourselves, one another, and our relationships together. That being, finding ways to get to the truth about our experience ASAP. Otherwise, we see ourselves through the wrong lens while believing that our misery is caused by how someone else feels about us, felt about us, or might feel about us; a kind of fear-based conditioning that we as people live under and use as a way to keep ourselves in line according to someone else’s standards. Very problematic unto itself.

But it goes even further than that. As mammals, we do have the capacity to sense and to know not only how it feels to be around another, but how they are truly feeling about us; beyond words. This is an essential capacity for all of our interactions with others whether they be ones we welcome or dread. This is the part of us that cannot be deceived or misled with words. Kids are really good at this. So are animals. It is only the adult human who struggles to make sense around how they are being received by a member of their own species.

In order to get better at receiving accurate information during an encounter with another person requires that we clean up our own act first. That we get a handle on where we make up things in our minds out of fear or past conditioning. It requires that we start to listen a little more deeply when we are in the presence of others. More like an animal or a kid would; not through words but through the tone and the feel of it all. Not through our thinking minds, but in an overall body listening kind of way. Easy examples are noticing a turn of the gut, a tension that suddenly comes up, hair rising on the back of your neck, or a general feeling of dis-ease when you are around someone.

This is not easy to do because most of us have gotten out of the habit of listening and responding to this kind of information. Most of us discount those sensations because we cannot prove them, articulate them necessarily, or because it would be ever so socially awkward and inconvenient to act on that knowing. Many of us have even had this innate capacity actively conditioned out of us when we were young by the adults who found that level of truth too threatening and far too inconvenient.

It puts me in mind of something I once read by Anodea Judith where she spoke of when we are told that we have no right to feel what we are feeling or know what we are knowing, a lie about our basic existence gets created and instilled in us. Really take that in. When you refuse, or feel unable, to live and respond from what you instinctively know, you obliterate the truth of not only what is happening, but who you are.

That is what we are really talking about here. How is it that we will live with the truth of who we are, and what it is that we are experiencing, while being in authentic and satisfying relationship with others? This will always be a moment by moment, in the presence of others, kind of experience that cannot be ultimately figured out except in relationship. And except by giving yourself permission, and by taking chances around how it is that you get to respond.

 

Discomfort

 

I am up in the middle of the night and feeling so desperately uncomfortable. The bedroom has gone unbearably hot and humid since the electricity went out. It is this awful combination of a stifling and suffocating physical experience smashing right up against an oppressive inner dialogue that just won’t quit.

At one point, “I’m so uncomfortable!!!” bursts out of me. Tears come. And like a good thunderstorm clearing out the heavy, muggy, “oppressive” weather, something breaks. Something clears. Just that simple. And in that moment, beyond the physical and emotional suffering, I recognize that my biggest pain stems from the belief that I do not think this should be happening. I do not want to feel the way I am feeling. I cannot stand the fact that I cannot get it to be otherwise. And I cannot stop my mind from anticipating how my nighttime struggle is going to ruin the next day for me.

One of the things that we can absolutely be guaranteed of as human beings is that discomfort is part of the experience of being alive. Regularly. Daily. Sometimes even moment by moment there is a good chance that something just won’t feel right. Maybe it will be sensations of hunger or thirst. The need to eliminate. Temperature changes. Emotional ups and downs. Fatigue. Physical or mental pain. Tension. On and on it goes. All throughout the day. Every day.

It seems only natural to want to get away from what doesn’t feel good. To push hard either into effort or denial to try and make what is bothering us, stop. Likely for as long as we have been around and conscious, we have tried to come up with ways to alleviate the experiences too uncomfortable for us to be with. And while there has absolutely been an upside to this in our attempts to bring more ease to the experience of being alive (think indoor plumbing, heated homes, transportation, grocery stores, etc), it is not without its costs to try and re-make whatever it is that is bothering us.

Why not just try and get out of it somehow? What would be wrong with that? What’s the problem with trying to get away from what brings us misery? In a nutshell, the problem is, we often do not have the slightest idea of what it is that is actually causing us to suffer. No sense of the very root of our struggle. Instead, we focus on wherever our tendency to blame goes. It is the equivalent of shaking an angry fist at the weather as opposed to pumping out your basement. It is energy, focus, and attention misplaced, and misused.

If the weather would just be cooler. If the power would come back on. If my husband would stop snoring. If my mind would settle down. If I’d stop being such a baby and just get over it. If I could just rise above it. If those utility people would make us a priority instead of last in line.

I am not suggesting here a kind of martyrdom or masochism. Instead, what I am suggesting is that being with life, all of life, including the things we do not want, is a skill set best developed. More to the point, it is an absolute reality best accepted and honored. For no matter how crafty, skilled, rich, resourceful, or creative we might be, there is no getting rid of everything that makes us upset, uneasy, or uncomfortable.

The best instructions I ever heard on this one are: “Make all of the adjustments you know to make. Do all of the things you can do.  And then, surrender.” 

This is so very easy to say and often so very seemingly impossible to do. We think doing what we can do means being in control; having it our way. And we think that surrender means defeat, weakness, or giving up. It is none of this. Doing what you can do requires making an accurate assessment of both the reality that stands before you, and your skill set. But because so many of us deny what the existing reality is, and either underestimate or overestimate our sense of agency in the world, we are left unprepared to be with life as it shows up in the ways that do not validate the versions we have created.

As for surrender, that would require not only admitting our limits, but appealing to, and leaning into, something more than just our own individual wants.

What if instead of trying to create the world as we need it to be, we made the commitment to develop a skill set that included a clear sense of what was happening, coupled with our actual ability to meet it, and an understanding that there are larger forces at play than our own individual will?

The best way that I know how to do this is when in the midst of the discomfort, learn to notice your agitation. Then, practice asking yourself; What is really bothering me about this moment? What is it that I really cannot tolerate? Finally, ask for help. Open to a larger version than your own personal story of how the world should turn.

The only way to be with Life, including discomfort, is to actually be with it. This cannot just be thought about. It must be experienced. It must become a commitment, a kind of daily practice, to notice yourself when things are not going the way you want them to. It is about opening to a larger perspective that includes seeing that without discomfort, there would be no incentive to grow. And that if reality went the way we wanted it to go, we would not only shortchange ourselves, we would create a perfect storm for the exact wrong things to come our way.

 

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.

Within

 

Surrounded by so much information, so many images, so much noise, so much busyness, and so much cultural expectation of how we should be living, how are we to find ourselves living the lives that are only ours to live? In other words, how is it that we can come to orient ourselves more and more to what is within us as a way of navigating all of the nonsense, harm, and de-humanization that the world is offering up at ever-increasing rates, distracting us from the truth of who we really are?

The more that you can learn to look within as opposed to what others think you should do, the more you offer yourself a map for what it looks like, and more importantly, takes, to be the author of your own life. In turn, there is no greater gift that you can extend to another than to steadfastly choose on behalf of your own life. Sound selfish? Sound problematic? There is no doubt that there is much to be navigated here. There is no doubt that there are pitfalls and mistakes to be made. There is no doubt that you will have to create inner and outer litmus tests of integrity. There is no doubt that this will take a lot of work. And there is no doubt that there will be those who will not take kindly to you deciding for yourself how it is that you come to live.

If being your own person appeals to you, you must develop ways to bring opportunities for the discovery of who it is that you truly are, directly into your life. Regularly. Daily, even. One way to begin is to find some time when you can be with your own thoughts. Sit for several moments just breathing. Nothing else. Then, without thinking about it too much, or worrying about how another would respond, ask yourself some version of; “What do you want me to know?” Focus on your body as best as you can, while working to set aside unhelpful or critical thoughts.

Does something grab you in the belly or at the heart? Does your head hurt? Does something feel tight? Do images arise? Memories? What emotions present themselves to you? Keep feeling around inside. Use all of your senses and instincts. Notice that a part of you may want to get away from this. See if you can allow that to be a part of the exploration. Pay particular attention to emotions that arise that you typically avoid. They carry valuable information and guidance if you can learn to stay open and get curious about why they are showing up now. This takes practice to get skilled at navigating through all of this information and, you cannot do this wrong.

Allow this experience to transcend right and wrong, what others are doing, self-doubt, or what it is that the culture is selling today. These, and more, are all things you must learn to wrestle with in order to come to think for yourself. Learning to reference an inner knowing is no small feat and it requires your time, your commitment, your trust, and your courage.

Make a regular habit of sitting quietly, breathing, and noticing. The guidance and the information we receive in these moments is nothing short of miraculous in its capacity to cut straight through to the Truth; for if we are to have any hope of living well and living in integrity, both individually and collectively, the capacity to see what is true is an indispensable one indeed.

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Reflections

 

Once, in the midst of struggling with how I was being seen and received by another, a practitioner said to me; “They are not a clear reflection for you.” Whew. That took an enormous load off to be given permission to not have to reference the wrong source. That truth allowed me to see that who I was, was separate from what another thought or reflected back to me. This has stuck with me ever since, and I find myself referring to it whenever I wind up in that struggle between me and another over who I am. And at times, more poignantly, who I am not.

In knowing ourselves, we tend to go back to the very first reflections we ever got regarding who others thought we were, or should be. In other words, our families, and other early teachers. To the extent that there was distortion in what was being reflected back to us, we will struggle with the truth of who we are because as children we usually do not recognize dysfunctional feedback as being off base And even if we do, we somehow agree to it one way or another. In order to stay in relationship. In order to stay safe. In order to stay valued. In order to keep from being kicked out. In order to be loved.

Worse yet, we tend to go through life winding up in the same reflecting pools, ensuring that we continue to see the same things about ourselves; even if they are not true. Even if it is harmful. Even if we have changed. This damaging and insidious feedback loop not only harms us, it robs the world of us.

I once received from a trusted teacher, the following practice. Put a mirror on your alter, or any other space that feels special to you. Gaze into your own reflection. What do you see? As a companion practice, you might also try saying some version of, “I see you for who you truly are,” every time you see your own reflection in a mirror.

A little terrifying at first, but absolutely necessary in the journey of creating a clear reflection.

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.

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.”

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.