Maybe I Don’t Always Need This

Our bodies reflect our inner worlds of thought patterns, beliefs and stress-levels. This is easy to observe in the extremes, like with the Type A personality. These characters tend to be driven, overworked, easy to frustration and anger. Dominated by these work patterns and hot emotions they are often disconnected from matters of the heart. Not surprisingly it is this type most likely to suffer a heart attack. Think about that… an “attack of the heart.” Who’s doing the attacking here? The heart, or the Type A approach to life?

Beyond the extremes, we can look to health and body patterns that habitually show up to cue us into what is truly happening on the inside. Plagued by hamstrings that have refused to heal, I am working with a practitioner to get to the root cause of the strain. When I began, I was imagining a physical remedy. By far, though, the leading edge of this process has been how the pattern in my body is reflecting longstanding ways of holding myself emotionally.

I lock my knees. It makes me feel solid, strong and stable; something I really needed growing up so I didn’t get knocked over physically or emotionally. I didn’t realize I was doing this and I didn’t realize how much of my internal world was bound up in this. I am being guided by the woman I am working with to wonder whether or not I always need this lock down. It seems like sometimes it might be important to get really stiff and sturdy. But it also seems like that tension is coming at the expense of spontaneity, fluidity and freedom. And not just in my body, but in my whole life! And that is how it works.  Despite what science in the West would say, the mind and the body are not separate, never have been. They are parts of one whole so deeply interwoven that to deny this is to deny the truth of who we are and what we experience.

Try this: Notice one place in your body where you habitually hold tension. Be with it without trying to make it go away or be different. It is there for a reason. Without even needing to know the reason ponder the following; “Maybe I don’t always need this.” Try it. Open to what is possible when you make room for something else to be there. Notice what happens, not just in the body but everywhere in you.

P.S. To sidestep the Type A in all of us, practice doing this with a light heart. Aaaaah.


Inspired by The Alexander Technique.

It’s Built-In

We are a culture of the quick fix; we love a pill, we’re up for the procedure, and we want someone else to take responsibility for our health and make it better for us. And while in specific instances, pills and procedures can be helpful, even life-saving, these approaches have their downside; troublesome side effects, financial costs, and ineffectiveness at  addressing the root cause of the problem.

I would like to add another drawback; they are external to us and do not require us to look at how we are getting to where we are in terms of our imbalances. When I think of my own personal medicine, before I go to anything outside of me, I try and check in with the inside first. What I mean be the “inside” is an approach that includes taking into account bodily sensations, thoughts, emotions and the state of my spirit. There are traditions that hold that when something shows up in the body, it is the final outcome of imbalances that began in other areas of our lives. And on some level, we all know this to be true. Often when we look  back, we can see how the path we have been traveling on has gotten us to where we find ourselves today.

So, how do we begin? Do we possess any built-in medicines that would enliven the body and help us to slow down enough to notice the path we are on? We do, and it is called the breath. Oxygen is our single most important nutrient, without it we die in a matter of minutes. And while many of us survive based on how we are currently breathing, we are often far from thriving. The breath carries the life force for both body and spirit. Without a body breathing well we struggle to utilize glucose, the body’s energy source. We miss out on the purifying nature of oxygen which destroys viruses, parasites and fungi (Think pools that use oxygen to sanitize instead of chlorine). And our ability to know a clear mind and a deep connection to Spirit becomes muddled in our neglected and restricted breathing patterns.

Try this. Once a day, pause wherever you are and take five, slow, deep breaths. As you breathe in think; “Long, slow, deep, breath in” and as you breathe out, “Long, slow, deep, breath out.” Notice what you are feeling, thinking and experiencing in the body. Notice and shift something. Anything, even if it’s as seemingly insignificant as the hair tie that is too tight.

The Animals Have It

Lately the focus of my practice has been on the third chakra. In the yogic tradition this center is located at the solar plexus and is the home of our self-esteem, self-worth and self-appraisal. Many years ago, I attended a training on the chakra system. During a guided visualization, I was shown an image of the most beautiful dancer I had ever seen. She was fluid, deeply feminine and mesmerizing. In the midst of reveling in this experience, the powerfully destructive and cataclysmic question “What will they think?” tore in. In its wake, the dancer was obliterated. I sobbed in desperation at losing her and for the realization of how much of me I had lost over the years by allowing this question to so occupy me.

The symbol for the third chakra contains an image of the ram. To me, the presence of the ram reminds me to take my cues from the animals and other living creatures. To look to them and learn from them regarding how to feel about myself in the presence of other people. You will never find the worm feeling poorly about itself because it disgusts some of us. You will never find the moose self-conscious about where it chooses to leave its scat. As a matter of fact, you will never ever find any wild animal acquiesce to what we think it should be or how we think it should behave.

Just as the wild kingdom takes its cues from a deep and abiding knowing of its own truest nature, for truly it can be no other way, how might our lives change if we could do just the same? For practice, begin with the urges of the body. Find times within your week to allow yourself to begin from within. Notice physical cues like hunger, thirst, the need to slow down, rest, etc. Let these states be your guide. Who knows what may happen when there is more of “what do I feel/know/sense” and less of “what will they think?”

What Matters Most

My brother Patrick died of AIDS right before his 30th birthday. In the aftermath, I came upon a profound truth; our lives are comprised of reminders and distractions. Reminders being those things that help us to remember what is most important to us. Distractions being those things that divert our attention from what matters most.

These days we seem to be on an accelerated course of distraction as we play with and marvel at all the new “opportunities” we have via the screen technologies. This is nowhere more evident than with our children where the technologies offer continual and seemingly infinite avenues of distraction from their bodies, relationships, homework, time spent in nature, creative and reflective time, and on and on it goes. But how could they possibly know anything different given the way the grown-ups and the influences in their lives have made the technologies mean so much. And too often, too much.

In the work I do with families and college students around the impact of technology on their lives, I have literally amassed hundreds and hundreds of pages full of ideas, musings and suggestions. Indeed, I am regularly overwhelmed by the enormity of influence the screens are having on our homes and in our lives. However, when I cut through it all, it distills down to one essential question; “Do you know what matters most to you in all the world and are you living into that?” Knowing the answer to this is what provides us with the clarity and the protection we need to be in the presence of such powerful and pervasive distractions.

So, do you know what matters most to you? And while you may have an answer you would give in the tender and vulnerable moments of your life, are you actually living that, day to day? If someone followed you around day in and day out, noting what you did, how you spent your time, money and energy, what would they come up with? What would your kids say in an uncensored moment?

We teach our children the wrong thing when we teach them to live in a perpetual state of screen distraction. And, just like my brother, we will all die. The question then becomes; will we have lived and taught our children to live lives that mattered?

The Roots Have It

Stress is a fact of Life. All Life. Yet, without an orientation, and without strategies for optimizing the power of stress in  productive ways, we end up sick, exhausted, bitter and alienated from our own lives and the lives of those around us. Where then can we look for help? How about in the roots.

By the roots, I mean the root vegetables; the ones with the ability to grow long past the time when the other crops have yielded to the stresses of cold temperatures. In response to frost, our root friends send out sugars to protect themselves, rendering them hardy and sweet to consume. How can we do the same?

The next time you feel the tension building, catch yourself. Focus on your breathing. Let go of just one tension in the body. Breathe and notice. Say “yes” to whatever is in front of you, for no other reason than because it is. (Could you imagine the carrots refusing to accept that the temperatures have dropped?) Then, ask yourself, “What is possible here?”

As the Zen proverb goes, “The obstacle is the path,so too could we go, knowing that  nothing needs to be avoided, only included. What a sweet path with the stressful “frosts” of life we could walk.