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.

Leaving

 

I am preparing, as I have been since April of last year, to go on a vision fast in May; traveling further from home than I have ever gone before. I am intermittently terrified, expectant, and ready. As I get closer, I am being asked by others why it is that I do this. I can see that the questions, and even the skepticism, is serving as a kind of preparation; with the questions posed reminding me, and even schooling me, on why it is that I do this. Why it is that I put myself out there. Why it is that I invite discomfort and risk exposure of all kinds.

I do this because in the safe haven of an environment that is built to support growth and transformation, I am always brought to the very best in myself; despite, or maybe because of, any struggle, doubt, confusion, or fear I encounter. There is just no substitute for being surrounded by outer circumstances that support your deepest work, and therefore your fullest expression.

I do this because whenever I set and then live for a time with a strong and clear intention for my life, without exception, I get whatever it is that I am intending, in the most profound, magical, mystical, and beyond my control of ways.

I do this because in the structure of a retreat experience, I can better allow everything to be exactly as it is; including it all and weaving it in through my intention. Through this level of focus and inclusion, I am made whole through the experience, no matter how difficult it might be. As a matter of fact, quite often the intensity of my emotions and experience is exactly what it is that breaks through the old conditioning, and lands me in a place that is new and ripe with possibility.

For a very long time, I did not understand why I was so compelled to put myself through all of this. Now I know. I do this because this is how I want to live in the day to day; focused on what I most want, embedded in what is real, and guided by the Great Mystery. I do this because in order to reach certain understandings about myself and Life, I must put myself in novel situations; recognizing that the more unknown the better when it comes to breaking away from old thinking and habit patterns.

And ultimately, I leave so that I can return.

Shaping The World

 

My husband recently gave me a card that boldly stated; This is your world. Shape it or someone else will.  He gave me this card as a reminder. He gave me this card because I had forgotten. What had I forgotten? How powerful the force of one person’s life-affirming focus can be on not only their own life, but also on the life of our world.

In the times we are living in, it can be so easy to forget that everything great that has ever shifted humankind has begun in the mind of one. And then, through association with “a one,” these different ways of seeing and being in the world have gone on to grow in the minds of enough of us that the balance finally gets tipped in a new direction. This has happened in all of our historically great social movements; causes that had to initially withstand ridicule, nay saying, disbelief, suspicion, and violence.

And while each “cause” that has ever moved us has had to make its way through and past what was unjust, unfair, and ignorant, ultimately, each movement has had to come to define itself around what it stands for; what it is trying to build and create and spread in the world. Ultimately, it has had to decide to live by a different truth, no matter what consensual reality is saying or doing.

Pick your pet peeve about the direction the world is spiraling in. What could you do to withdraw your energies and attention from what you do not want, and instead, direct them to what you most want in the world? Could you maybe watch less news? Could you maybe not spend time connecting with others over the injustices and the horrors of the world? Could you maybe not spend your days going over and over and over again inside your own mind all the things that terrify you about what is going on? Where could you be brave enough to stand for what you want as opposed to silently colluding with, or being a victim to, around what you do not want?

Try this: Unless something is working for you, don’t choose it; in any way, shape, or form.

P.S. Notice all the ways that the mind will tell you that to do this means that you will be unsafe, uninformed, ignorant, or naive if you do not link into the current “realities.” This is never about denying what is there. It is instead about choosing to focus your energy and attention on what it is that you most want to grow, be, and stand for in the world. Who will be brave enough?

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.

Deprivation

 

Deprivation. The state of something being withheld. Most of us have strong feelings and associations about being deprived. Some of us using deprivation to punish ourselves. Others of us going to great lengths to avoid the experience of going without at all costs.

But, what if there is another way to think about this? What if the act of renouncing something was purposeful, conscious and meaningful? What if it was done for a greater aim or perspective? What if some distance from what we regularly, habitually and unconsciously do might benefit from some separation?

I have been fasting once a month for upwards of 36 hours since April. My plan is to do this until May of 2018 as preparation for a vision quest I will be doing at that time. As so many things go, I got into this for one reason, but have found many, many more reasons, side effects, and benefits along the way. And so, while I am doing this to prepare physically, mentally, and spiritually for a longer duration of fasting, this intention may be the least of what I gain from this experience. In short, fasting has brought me up against my relationship to hunger in all of its forms, how I use food in ways that are not supportive, and what it is that I do when I have needs that the world is not satisfying.

What do you habitually, regularly and unconsciously do that could benefit from some separation? Gossip? Screen time? Criticism? Alcohol? Sugar? Coffee? Judgment? Where do you overindulge? And while yes, there will be discomfort; physical, emotional and mental, and while yes, because of how we have been conditioned it might feel like punishment, it is anything but.

P.S. This is one of those things that you can only learn by doing. Or not doing, as the case may be.

Feeling

We are living in intense and overwhelming times, leaving us with a lot to feel. Simultaneously, we have never had more ways to not feel a single thing. From over-the-counter medications to pharmaceutical prescriptions to recreational drugs. From coffee to sugar to energy drinks to alcohol. And from a never-ending stream of distractions in the form of our screen technologies.

I am a yoga teacher in the Kripalu Yoga tradition. The namesake of the lineage, Swami Kripalu, once said that just when the right thing is happening, an aspirant will perceive it as being the wrong thing that is happening and end the practice. Just when, in all actuality, they are right on the edge of a breakthrough. This is why, he counseled, that it was imperative to receive guidance and support from someone further along on the path.

We see the way this plays out in life. Sometimes just when the right thing is happening, we will label it wrong, or not what we wanted, or expected it to be. It is so hard to imagine that difficult or unwanted feelings could possibly mean that we are onto exactly the right thing. But it is true nonetheless. Our feelings serve as guidance, and as such they are an important source of knowing in the world. Further, our unwanted feelings serve to let us know exactly how and why something is off in our world, requiring our attention.

That includes feelings of anger, anxiety, disappointment, sadness, rage, shame, grief and overwhelm. Can you imagine feeling what you are feeling without trying to medicate it away? Can you imagine seeing awful and difficult to bear feelings as guidance while allowing that perception alone to serve as teacher and guide? Can you see the possibility in this approach in a world gone made with pushing for exactly the wrong things and where it will only be our feelings of discomfort that will light the way for us?

This requires both great sensitivity and great strength. It requires your attention and willingness. And it requires your patience as you learn skills you do not currently possess. What you can expect from this level of effort is that some day, down the road, you will wake up to the realization that not only can you bear what you thought was unbearable, but that in the meantime you have gained great strengths, along with ways of perceiving life where you see the merit and the necessity in being with what is “too difficult” to feel.

Otherwise, we run the risk daily, individually and collectively, of creating over and over again a living hell. If you are feeling something there is a good and valid reason for it. What if you could see it as just that? And if all else fails, refuse to take guidance from anyone or any way of living that is more screwed up than you.

 

The Game

 

There is a way that we all play “the game.” One way or another. A way that we pretend we are enjoying something when we are not. A way that we believe we should want something that we do not. A way that we engage in Life according to rules that we do not believe in.

Sometimes we will fight against this; inwardly or outwardly. Sometimes we will smile our way through; acquiescing to it all. Sometimes we will put our heads in the sand; refusing to engage. Sometimes we will disappear; using invisibility as a way to get out of it. And sometimes we will be passive-aggressive; pretending to play a game that we are subversively trying to undermine. All of this is some form of hiding out; way of refusing to engage with what is not working for us, giving us just enough relief to continue on in a game we don’t want to be playing.

Believing that our only recourse in living is to be found in following rules that we find intolerable is never the answer. The answer lies in knowing yourself and living according to your own rules. The answer lies in completely, totally and even-handedly removing your energies from a game you want no part of, and then funneling all of those powerful, personal energies into a game that does make sense to you.

As someone once said to me; “If I throw a ball at you and you don’t catch it-the game is over.” Learning how to play your own game requires letting the balls drop that are not working for you. That takes guts. It takes trusting what is working for you and not working for you, without judging yourself to be wrong because you do not measure up to the rules of a game you never wanted to be playing in the first place.

Nothing

 

“Nothing to fix. Nothing to figure out.” I’ve said these words countless times to others. But when I hear these words spoken from a teacher in a class I am taking, it goes all the way in. Not as a compassionate thing to say. Not as a syrupy New Age platitude. But as the purest instructions for freedom. The most resonant Truth around our experience of being alive.

Contained in these simple, honest words lies the possibility of taking whatever you are experiencing and holding it up to the light of there being nothing that needs to be done. Nothing that needs to be changed. That can almost feel heretical in a culture that is always pushing and doing and fixing and managing. Everything, every, single day.

And when we run this past our rational minds, this way of being can feel like a lot of you know what. Or dangerous. Or lazy. Or… Despite that response, nothing  we are experiencing is inherently bad or wrong or undesirable. It just is. Can you imagine what it would be like in any given moment to just let yourself be? As is? To say “yes” to how you are feeling? Whatever that is? As scary or unfamiliar as it might feel, can you see the power in not resisiting what is in the form of the sensations flowing through you, or the circumstances you find yourself in? Words cannot possibly convey the magnitude of this shift in terms of how it leaves us feeling about us. This is one you cannot read about, but instead need to practice as your own personal medicine for freedom and well-being.

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.

 

 

 

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.