“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.

Darkness as Medicine

 

Years ago I was doing a shamanic training. It was an intensely deep, personal and arduous experience. Suffice it to say that when I began this inner exploration there was a lot I ran into about myself that I had been keeping from myself; both the light and the dark. A shaman is said to be one who sees in the dark; one who goes into those places most of us do not want to go because we are afraid of what we might find. Rightly so. At one point, utterly and completely overwhelmed by it all, I was wisely told, “This is your power coming towards you.” Nothing about my experience felt empowering. It felt dark, scary and beyond me.

When looked at from a certain angle, we are living in very, very dark times. And we are most definitely at the end of something. The evidence is everywhere. Every form of life is crying out in one way or another. We are drowning in violence. We are saturated in suspicion and hate for those we do not understand. Our bodies are screaming in pain and with great alarm. Nature rebels.

We have a choice to make, each and every one of us. How will we choose to be in this time of great upheaval? Will we put our heads in the sand, refusing to see? Or will we turn towards the pain and violence we see all around us and do the bravest thing of all; find it within ourselves. I have built a life on choosing to see. Deciding to know, no matter what. I will tell you that this one decision alone has brought me the greatest comfort, joy and inner confidence that I have ever known. Equally it has brought me the greatest fear I have ever known. It is terrifying to look at those things we have shoved beneath the surface. But like anything pushed down long enough, it will makes its way back to the surface at some point, with or without our consent.

Whatever is breaking down in you, let it. Whatever is dying, say good-bye and thank you. Whatever is struggling, hold it tenderly and then allow it to release. Do not try and get past this. As I was once told, “When all that can falls away, what remains is true.”  We need to let what needs to, fall away. We need to become the ones who can see in the dark. The ones willing to become familiar with those banished places within ourselves. For only in knowing the dark places within will we be in a place to understand the totality of who we are. And in knowing this, we will understand and shift what is happening all around us.  As the saying goes, “As within, so without.”

Wounds as Medicine

 

Six weeks ago I was running in the woods and thinking about what I had seen one of my chickens do, which was to leap up in the lightest and most graceful of ways. I was trying this as I jumped over things in the forest. It was fun. I felt so alive and young. Then, WHAM! I was on the ground. Somehow as I was leaping over a log, one foot stepped on a branch fixing it into the earth while my other leg came down on top of it. Pain shot up my core and for a minute I could not breathe. I was caught so unawares. That alone made me sob.

When I looked down at my shin, I swear I saw bone. It was grotesque. I couldn’t bear to look at it so when I got home I put a band-aid on it without even cleaning it out. I left the band-aid on for two weeks. While I felt an almost continuous sensation there, I just could not look at it. Finally, in the presence of other people, I did look. It was a little gross, but getting better. I regularly showed “my wound” to my husband like I was a kid with a boo-boo. He would put on his concerned face. This helped. Then the scab came off, revealing a whole new level of wound underneath the scab on top. There is still a bruise which runs the lower half of my shin and is sore to the touch. But it too is healing. I am seeing that even though the worst is over, there are still some things I need to do to help this along.

This experience has paralleled for me the first real “wham” that we get in the world when we are young. The one that cuts the deepest simply because we were innocent to the possibility of its occurrence. At first, it feels like it’s too much for us, so we cover it up with false stories, behaviors and defenses because we are too afraid to look at it directly. And then slowly, if we are lucky and starting to wake up, we look beneath what we have covered up; hopefully in the presence of caring and compassionate people. We start to look at the hurt, becoming aware of what caused it along with noticing the ways that it has radiated out into our lives. And if we are smart, we learn to tend to ourselves lovingly; all the way to the end. No matter how long it takes.

This morning, I was out running the same loop. Just as I became aware of judging my body through cruel and misogynistic eyes, WHAM!  I’m back on the ground again. This time with bruised palms and a scraped knee. I start to cry. The thought immediately comes,  “I’ve gotta stop doing this to myself.”

The truth is, those original kid wounds were inflicted by others, and yes they cut deep. But, worse yet, are the wounds that we daily inflict upon ourselves.

When Did You Stop Dancing?

 

Recently I was away at a dance gathering. At one point, we were asked to reflect upon why it is that we dance. Many, many reasons quickly came to mind. I feel more open and free when I dance. I feel more attuned to my body and connected to others when I dance. These reasons were all true, but were somehow less than the ineffable gift that dancing brings to me. After letting that question rattle around for a bit, the truest answer spontaneously came. I dance because I am more of who I most want to be.

I once heard of a tribal custom where when someone would fall ill, the healer would ask a series of questions. One of the questions was; “When was it that you stopped dancing?” Here, dancing can be viewed literally or metaphorically. Really what is being asked is, When was it that you stopped doing what it is that makes you feel most alive? Traditionally, that absence was recognized as a blueprint for illness and disease; a kind of soul-sickness that eventually makes its way into the body.

When I look back over my life, the times I was dancing reflected periods of both great freedom and a sense of belonging. So whether it was the years of ballet, dancing alone in my room, sneaking into clubs to dance when I was underage, teaching aerobics or finding my current dance form, I am never so charged with life as when I am dancing.

What is it that brings you most alive? This is not a should. This is not done as a means to an end. It is not a job you parlay into something else. It is, instead, something that lights you up from within. It is something you do just because of how it makes you feel, not because it gets you anything.

If you don’t know what it is for you, look back to childhood. Back then being charged with the sheer joy of doing what we enjoyed most of all was all we knew how to do.

Trust As Medicine

“Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live.” Goethe

Learning to trust yourself is perhaps the greatest evolutionary leap you can take. It is a powerful and revolutionary act to decide to have faith in yourself. But… Maybe you know almost nothing about what it means to trust yourself, having never considered what it would take or feel like. Maybe trust was broken with you when you were young, and so you never established that level of faith within yourself. Maybe you are so busy, frazzled, and screen addicted that you do not know where or how to begin. Or if you even have the strength to begin. Perhaps it feels easier to let someone else be in charge of your life.

If we are to be the authors of our own lives, we must develop a faith in ourselves that is bigger than what is outside of us. Trusting our inner capacities comes from within and takes time to cultivate and develop. Maybe you think it is not enough to trust yourself.  After all, you’re no expert. Who are you to decide the rules? Or how things should go. Who you are is the only one who will ever know what it is that you need to do to live your life. The scary and overwhelming truth is you are already deciding. Each and every day we decide what to trust; either what is inside or outside of us.

We must remember that we are the ones who know what we need. We must learn that we can listen to, and trust, that small, quiet voice within. We must learn to lean into the uneasy, nagging feelings that tells us that something is off. This is so much easier said than done. We are inundated with external information about how to live from sources ranging from the benign to the opportunistic. This can leave us feeling as though others know better than we do. Most of us have had no training in this regard, furthering that feeling that it is natural or at least easier to follow another person’s rules, ideas or influence. And yet, if we are to serve as the guardian of our own lives, we must turn towards ourselves and develop a deep capacity for trusting what comes from within. The stakes are high. We are talking about the only life we have.

This is an important place to pause and to point out that as a culture we tend to be very, very hard on ourselves while expecting things to be quick and easy. There is nothing quick, easy or guaranteed about this process. Your way will take time and be unique to you. And while we must allow for this to take the time it needs, we must also simultaneously hold that the clock is ticking. Nobody else knows what you should do about your life, but you do. You do. Your only task in this regard is to find ways to access that knowing while allowing for the missteps, mistakes and miscalculations.

Daily, we have gut feelings about what is happening all around us. The next time you have one of these sensations, pause and take note of it. What does it feel like? Where is it located? Maybe even say something out loud to yourself about it. Then, notice the way the rational mind will try and turn it into something else. Be aware of both sides. Then, make a choice and see what happens.

 

 

Change

 

Look around at all there is before us individually and collectively. Whether we are talking about peak oil, global warming, financial instability or health, all signs point to the same requirement on our part; a willingness and an ability to change. And yet, even when change is obvious, necessary and ultimately inevitable, it can be the one thing that we sometimes just cannot do.

Have you ever really, really wanted to make a change and just couldn’t get there? Have you ever recognized the damage that your current habits bring to your life but are still unable to shift? So much goes into how we have created our current habit patterns. There is childhood and the things that we were taught. There is the way our belief systems and identities are bound up with what we regularly do. There is the way that we want to fit in with those around us. And there is so much more.

In order to make lasting change, we need more than just information. Contrary to popular belief, the culture of information overload we currently live in does not automatically equate to change. As a matter of fact, it often serves as a distraction from the work of real change. What we need is a way to get below the noise, the resistance and the distractions. We need a way to access what is beneath the surface, what is unconscious, what has been left unnoticed. Without this, our conscious mind can state that it wants change, but it is the unconscious that needs to choose, as it is this part of us that serves as the invisible motivator of our behavior.

Here is an approach to try for getting beneath the surface. Sit quietly with pen and paper in hand. Close your eyes. Think about a change you would like to make. Let yourself bear witness to things you have tried and struggles you have encountered. Then, ask yourself; “What is the downside of changing?” Yes, the downside. List out all of the negative aspects for you of making a necessary or wanted change. What will you lose? What will hurt? Let yourself write as much as you need to, uncensored. Next, ask yourself; “What is the upside of staying stuck?” Yes, if you can believe it, there are positive reasons for you to stay where you are, no matter how much it hurts. Suspend judgment as best as you can while you write.

Change happening to us is something we can absolutely count on. We are living in greatly accelerated and accelerating times. And with that comes the necessity to navigate ever greater and ever more frequent changes occurring in our lives and in the world around us. With this acceleration comes the opportunity to learn how to be more creative and nimble in our approach to inner and outer change. With a shift in perspective and skill set, change becomes the fuel to power us towards our greatest expressions in the world.

 

Inspired by The Tapping Solution by Nick Ortner

Fear as Medicine

 

Fear is a powerful motivator. From a yogic perspective, fear, along with anger and lust, are considered to be the most powerful energies in the body. They are associated with our animal nature and are beyond the rational mind. The enormity and wildness of this level of power terrifies us. One yogic tradition, however, saw the value in harnessing this energy by calling fear and God by the same name, believing that the ability to ride and transmute fear was the directest route back to God. In shamanic traditions, power coming towards you is understood to initially manifest as fear. In order to claim the next level in your work or personal growth, you had to find a way to work with fear in a way that did not overpower you, but instead fueled, focused and enlivened you.

In this culture, there is no end to the amounts of distorted, manipulated and imagined reserves of fear being generated all around us. And there is no end to the ways in which we can call these fears unto ourselves. As the technologies advance, this scenario increases exponentially. We must learn to recognize when fear is being sold to us in the form of “news”, entertainment and “public service information” which comes to us as de-contextualized and hyped-up information. To be in the presence of this type of information puts us in chronic states of arousal where we can only see the world in black and white; me vs. you, survival at any cost. This is a dangerous state to put the body in as it promotes imbalance and disease. Believing the enemy to be everywhere, it destroys the healing power of our relationships. And it robs us of ourselves and our ability to live life fully and wholeheartedly, at peace in the world.

Consumed by fear, we cannot manifest the gifts that are ours to bring to the world. Bound tightly in tension and protection, we are driven to overwhelm and despair, to playing victim or violator. We wind up afraid of everything. Afraid of life itself. Afraid of the workings of our own bodies. Afraid of the differences between us and and our differences of opinion. Under the sway of survival mentality, we are destined to obsessively check the weather, crave safety notifications, seek out unhelpful amounts of health testing and procedures, and all the while, we ruminate about ISIS. We long to put a safety helmet on everything we value and scrub it all down with antibacterial soap.

If we desire another existence, it will require us to do the unthinkable; to look squarely in the face of our fears and see them for what they are. It will require us to take responsibility for our experience as opposed to projecting our terrors out into the world and onto other people. It will require us to know the ways that the animal fear helps to keep us safe and alive while the distorted and made-up ones keep us from living. It will require us to say no to disturbing and terrifying content. It will require us to become more animal-like; trusting the instincts and intuitions that all mammals possess and rely on without thought or question. All those, of course, but us.

Appreciation

 

I attended a yoga class right before January 1st, where the focus was decidedly and unusually not on our New Year’s resolutions, but instead on appreciating what it is that we have been and done over the past year. No goals to be had. No diets to be tried. No personality quirks to work on. It was amazing! The appreciation that ran through me had a palpable effect on the fluidity and grace of my body. And as for my mood? Ease, lightness and joy were in abundance.

In New Age circles, there is a body of work known as the Abraham Teachings. Underlying it all is the belief that appreciation is the closest vibration we humans have to Divine Love. This flies in the face of the attitude that says we must keep ourselves under our own thumbs with our noses to the grindstone. What if it were true that appreciating who we are and what we have done, as is, was the path to Love, Truth and Connection to All That Is? What if we were not supposed to be beating ourselves up?