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.

Living Together In Small Ways

 

“How are we to live together?” I am wondering this daily. At the larger, societal level, it can feel too big for me to wrap my arms around this one. It can feel beyond what I can hold. Too big. Too troublesome. Too much effort. Too little return.

And so, I make it very small. Small enough that I can have an impact. Small enough that I can see movement. Small enough that I can accurately and rightfully claim what is mine to do, and then try to do it as best as I can.

I go inside my own life. I go to living with young adults who are in some ways very, very different than me. They look different. They smell different. They move differently through the world. They want different things than I do. They expect differently. They love differently. They eat differently. They relate differently. And yet, we are the same. They are my people; the ones I am travelling with. Because of this, I try. I try to understand. I try to be better than I have been. I try to not ridicule or demonize their ways. I try to bridge and ride and respect the differences.

Could we not bring this level of “smallness” into the living of our daily lives? Could we not recognize that we are all travelling together? That we are all each other’s people? It is so very easy and natural and human to focus on what is different. It is a survival mechanism. Different could mean danger. Could. 

To balance my  tendencies to experience differences as bad or threatening, I come back to two teachings:”Say ‘yes’ to whatever shows up” and “Everything is allowed.” Nothing denied. Nothing banished. Neither approach to living equals condoning bad behavior or agreeing to the wrong thing. Instead, these teachings serve as a remedy for what ails us. As a softening into the truth of what is before us, whether we want it or not. And as an attempt to align with perhaps the most powerful thinking we could ever hold regarding others;all life, no matter what form it takes, has a “right” to be here. Beyond how we feel about it and beyond how it chooses to be, think, move, act, speak or live.

 

A Long Hold

I once read “Change happens in an environment of love.” And I am told recently by a body worker who uses long holds in her work; “The holding is where the healing happens.”

This is so not how we often go about being with and handling change. Too often we go into change in our lives as if we are going into battle. We gear up. We resist. We fight. We complain. We are critical. We believe we are not doing it right. Or enough. We need another way. The pull yourself up by your bootstraps at any cost is just not cutting it these days. It no longer fits. We need a more mature version of what it means to be with shifting times.

So here it is. What if every luminary who has ever spoken had it right? By that I mean, what if it really is about love and compassion and forgiveness? Not as some lofty concept that sounds good on paper or meant only for the really holy ones. Not as some abstract ideal that gets held up as something to aim for but that is really not that practical in the day to day. What if it is about softening, loosening the grip, and letting go straight in the midst of what usually sends us into bunker mentality? What if it is about slowing down and doing less while the warning bells are sounding?

We are entering into a great shift. A time that is revealing what we often do not want to admit; there are no certainties and the ground beneath us is not as solid as we need it to be. We have two choices. We can enter this change as we always have, or we can try something new. Conventional thinking would say we must all brace ourselves for what is coming. It would say hunker down or get ready to fight. But what if it is neither? What if this was our chance for real, lasting and life-affirming collective change? What if a long hold in soft arms in an environment of love is exactly what we all need in the years to come? What if this is precisely what we need to do for ourselves and others? Even the ones we disagree with, or are afraid of.

The Heart

 

I wake recently to a mind on full tilt with all of its wonderings and worryings. At some point, the words “The heart knows the way,” comes in, and I am immediately quieted and stilled. It is the felt sensation of stepping outside after a blizzard where everything is muffled and the stillness and clarity against a vast blue sky is breathtaking.

Later, memories, thoughts and understandings flood into me filling in the blanks of the morning’s experience. There is the fact that the heart has 60 times the electrical charge of the brain. There are the teachings of traditions who locate the mind in the heart.There is the fact that the word courage stems from the French root for “heart.” There is the statement my teacher once made: “The world will break your heart, but you are not your heart.” And there is it; the call to live with a blend of the open-hearted innocence of a child wrapped in the strength and wisdom of life experience. Could there be any more powerful medicine than that?

There are so very many ways that our hearts have been broken, beat up, abused and misused. Sometimes by our own hand. And there are so very many ways that the world will push into those wounds, re-injuring and reminding us of what we are most desperate  to protect. And yet, more armor is not the answer. Getting them before they get you is not the answer. All of our fighting and armoring creates a kind of self-induced amnesia–where protection becomes so impenetrable that we forget what is underneath and come to believe that we are the armor itself. And so is everyone else.

Where do we start? Not with the world. Not with the ones from the past who made the first and deepest cut. The bravest of all choices is to go home to the places of our wounds, and own them. Name them. Tend to them. Claim them. Heal them. This requires that we allow ourselves to feel. This requires suspending judgment. This requires letting go of blame. This requires getting curious and most especially, RESPONSIBLE for our own hearts and how it is that we will walk them through the world. This is never an allowance or an acquiescence to bad things. This is a revolutionary act of self-care and of planetary contribution.

My sister once told me that bearing grudges, hardness and resentments towards those who have harmed us is the equivalent of holding a burning coal in our hand with the intention of throwing it at another. To walk the path of the heart is not easy. It is, in fact, excruciatingly difficult. It is not the path of least resistance. It does not come bearing gifts of easy comfort or lifetime guarantees. It is, instead the arduous path of alignment to Life Herself, Truth and The Greatest Good. We underestimate and infantalize the magnitude and the reach of the heart when we romanticize it or fear for its safety.