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.

 

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.

“The Fight”

For the past year or so I have been noticing a tendency within myself which I have come to refer to as “the fight.” It all started when I became aware of a kind of tension that seemed to be running just beneath the surface; showing up in my mind and body even when there was nothing to be tense about. I really noticed it in my jaw. When I began to pay attention to the way I hold this part of myself, it linked me to a whole set of thoughts built on the belief that I needed to be regularly defending myself. Regularly coming up with an air tight argument. Regularly girding myself against some possible verbal attack. Regularly protecting myself from something that might violate what most I loved and valued in the world.

I would catch myself engaging in fantasized conversations with select people from my life.  Do you know the conversations? I am talking about the ones where you tell someone off. The ones where you stand up for yourself in your own mind in ways that you cannot in the real world. I would feel so justified in my anger and in their wrongness. And that is when it hit me. I was just rehearsing something. I was just trying to become more masterful at representing myself and a way of life that mattered to me. But more than anything else I have come to see  that whatever it is that I would say to another in those moments is something that I need to know for myself. I was the one who needed to know what I stood for, and what it was that I would do to represent that. I was the one who needed to know that I would protect what I valued. I was the one who needed to know what was truly life-affirming and decent while claiming that for all the world to see. It had nothing to do with the other person and what they were or were not doing.

It is a kind of addiction that we get ourselves into where we keep ourselves preoccupied and focused on that thing outside of ourselves that we are convinced keeps us from being who we most want to be, or living how we most want to live. We tell ourselves  that if that other person or thing would just go away, or just line up with how we want it to be, then we would be OK. Then our lives would be as we want them to be. This is a very childish way of being in the world. This is the view of the disempowered. Of the victim. Of the one who believes that their happiness and well-being hinges on what another does. Holding the need to believe that we cannot be OK as long as the world is not OK places us regularly in “the fight,” along with all of the tension and misery that accompanies this. Worse yet is that there will never be an end for us because there will always be someone doing something, somewhere, that feels offensive or threatening to us.

Can we learn to be OK even when others are not behaving well? Can we learn to be OK with others holding beliefs that feel in violation of our needs, wants and values? Can we learn to be OK when our most deep and heartfelt code of decency is being challenged? For many of us, this is the precipice we find ourselves on following this election.

So, will we spend our energies in “the fight,” or will we choose to stand clearly focusing our energies on what it is that we want? Will we fall into despair and apathy or will we come to accept the  challenges and the responsibilities of taking our place at the table no matter who else is there? This is no easy task. It requires that we let go of blaming others as a solution. It requires that we let go of returning the insults and the smears, justified as they may feel to us in the moment. It requires a degree of personal accountability rarely encountered in our world. For here is the truth; if you bash up against hate, fear and misogyny meeting it with blame, ridicule, hate and fear of your own, you have just created more of what you say you do not want.

Victor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search for Meaning, and a prisoner in the worst of the Nazi death camps, reminds us that the last of the human freedoms is our ability to choose our own attitude. That no matter how horrible the outer circumstances, no matter what has been done or taken away, this is the one thing that can never, ever, be taken from us.

Unless of course we allow it to be.

The Medicine Of Belonging To Yourself

 

Isn’t there a way that we can find our place in the world while still being true to ourselves? A place where we do not need to make apologies, give excuses, dumb down, tone down or hide? This is always on my mind these days, and as fate would have it I ran across something I wrote a while back  that I would like to share with you. The piece reflects my experience as a mother who chose to strongly limit the influence of the screen technologies in my children’s lives. I believe that it speaks directly to how the process of living the truth of our lives opens the door for belonging.

Making choices that were different from how I was raised, and different from those around me, challenged me down to my very core. I grew up believing that if I did not do it “right” according to others, I would be banished. Kicked out. When I began making different choices than those around me it pulled up all of my fears around belonging and affiliation. I thought I would be driven out of the group for doing things differently. I struggled terribly, and at times still do, with the sense that others might be offended, upset or threatened by my choices.  For a long time I was very defensive and protective about our life, believing that others held the power to destroy what was so important to me. I tried so hard for so long to stay above reproach, in the minds of others, so that I would not be rejected or criticized.

When I became willing to see this about myself, I was able to shift my perspective recognizing how brave it was of me to be doing what I was doing and risking what I was risking. It taught me the power of affiliation and how often, and under what circumstances,  we will betray ourselves and our values to stay in connection with others. It showed me the painful dilemma this puts all of us in regarding the choice between being who we are and belonging. And it showed me that at its best, there is no choice to be made; that when we are fully ourselves, we can be anywhere and with anyone. In the end, it continues to motivate me to stay true to myself, trusting that there is always a place for me when I am at my authentic best. 

It is so easy to believe that belonging lies outside of ourselves. That if and when the outside offers permission and acceptance of who we are and who we most want to be, then we will be given our place at the table. Belonging begins from within and is without condition. Belonging is a state of mind. Belonging arises from the knowledge of who you are and who you are wanting to be. It originates from within and radiates out to include all who we encounter. It is never about whether or not others will include us, but whether or not we will include ourselves.

The Medicine Of Self-Care

 

Yesterday was my first day back teaching at a local college after four months of being “off” for summer break. Being back in a fast moving, regulated system with lots of people, and lots of expectations and beats to hit, is always a reminder to me of how difficult it is to take care of yourself. The external pull for how to show up is so great that it often seems like you need an act of God or Nature to break free from the gravitational force of “do more, faster, and more perfectly.” It was only Day One of classes, and yet, many (most?) had already hit the ground running.

There is no lack of information out there on what we are supposed to be doing to take care of ourselves. We are supposed to manage our stress, eat a healthy diet and exercise more. I do not think there is a single person within earshot of the Western world that has not heard that advice. We read about it. There are programs for it. We can download apps to help us be better. Only…we are not better. We are sicker, more stressed, more overweight, more sedentary and more unhappy then we have ever been. We can look to multiple causes for the situation we find ourselves in ranging from the environments we live and work in, to how we feel about ourselves, to lack of direct experience around how to actually take care of ourselves.

Self-care is always a choice. Based on what is all around us though, along with what we have been taught, it is certainly no easy choice. It requires that we go against the grain; the grain of our own habits and beliefs, and the grain of a culture that makes doing the unhealthy thing the automatic, easy, and “right” choice. So what are we to do? Maybe we can get clues by looking more closely at the word “self-care.” The dictionary has many, many meanings for the word “care;” protection, charge, temporary keeping, an object of concern or attention. One definition of “self’ is a person’s nature. I would like to propose that we think of self-care as a way of serving, honoring and safeguarding our truest nature. And while that may seem like a tall order at first glance, it actually is not because what we are really talking about is a return to something that already exists within each and every one of us; the capacity to choose on behalf of ourselves. And how we get there may be simpler than you think.

While I was “off” from teaching this summer, it became very, very clear to me that in any given moment I had a choice to make. On the one hand, I could notice and respond to how I was feeling. On the other hand, I could act on what I was “supposed” to be feeling based on longstanding beliefs or what others expected I feel and do.This is the crossroads we all reach each and every day; will you honor what your truest nature is feeling and needing or will you do what looks good on paper? It is the difference between listening and ignoring. It is the difference between being authentic and automatic. So, what would it be like if you learned to listen way down deep and then chose to act on that? What would it be like to notice when you are hungry, tired, and thirsty regardless of what the environment pulled for? How might you serve yourself by noticing that the way you have your life set up is too fast, too demanding, too inhumane? How might your life improve if you just chose to trust that even though it might not look like anything you have ever seen, or for that matter anything anyone else has ever seen, it is your way nontheless?

I often tell my students that taking care of yourself is not a chore. Nor is it a burden. It is not some dry and obligatory way of “have-to” living. It is not built on guilt or shame. It is not about “being good” or “being bad.” Instead, it is a celebration. Of Life. Of your Truest Nature. It is a way of choosing on behalf of yourself.  It is something you get to do.