Running Your Own Race

 

Every Tuesday night, I run in a local road race. The course takes you through woods, fields and a river. It’s beautiful. While I love the scenery and the physical challenge, what really keeps me coming back are all the life lessons that show up for me each week.

I never know what lesson it might be ahead of time. But one thing I can always count on is that it will be something meaningful for my life and how I live it. This week was no different. Give me a moment here to set this up so you have an image in your mind.

Along the route, there are a couple of places where you have to veer off the main path for a bit in order to get the mileage to add up to a 5k. It doesn’t contribute a lot more, but it is part of the race.

In one section of the course, as I am gaining on the person in front of me, we hit one of those veer-off places. Only the woman didn’t veer off, while I did. This meant that the distance she was running was less than I was running. Meaning, that where I had been close to passing her, I lost that advantage.

Right away I noticed my mind pick up its pace. Should I call out to here and let her know? Maybe I should find her after the race to let her know she had missed a section? Maybe she was new to the course and didn’t know? Maybe she did it intentionally? Maybe she just forgot?

As I was watching the parade of thoughts go through my mind, it occurred to me how much this absolutely did not matter. What an incredible metaphor for life this moment was. We’re all running our own race, and it truly does not not matter what anyone else does in theirs. It only matters what you do in the running of yours.

Will it look like some people are cutting corners and maybe even getting away with it? Yes. Will some people be given an unfair advantage of one sort or another? Definitely. Might there be some outright cheaters? For sure. Might another’s actions degrade the race for all? Unfortunately, yes.

Now I know we could all argue that fair is fair, and that there need to be rules we all abide by. And I would agree. However, there is something even more important here at the end of the day. That “something more important” is the quality, the feel and the sanity of your own life. With that said, you’ve got to be willing to look at and let go of those things that degrade how it feels to be alive.

For my money, monitoring other people’s choices is at the top of the list when it comes to creating suffering in my life.

So while the justice part of me can often struggle with what other people are doing that I believe is unfair, none of it matters. What matters is that I run my own race and do the best that I can. What matters is that I keep my eye on my own pace. What matters is that I recognize the effort I am putting in and give myself lots of grace on the days when I don’t feel at my “personal best.”

We waste a lot of time each and every day worrying about and commenting on how others are running their race when that energy would be better served keeping us on track in our own lives.

What Are You Following?

 

I was taking a yoga class this week when the teacher posed the question: “Are you following your thoughts or are you following your breath?” In other words, are you chasing the thought patterns you have been ruminating on for literally years? Or are you here now, in this moment, breath by precious breath?

Where we put our attention holds the very key to life on earth being a kind of heaven or living hell. And while many of us believe and live as if what is going on outside of us, what others are doing, an epidemic, what other countries or the politicians are up to, is what creates either heaven or hell for us, it’s just not true.

What is true is that what you are habitually putting your attention on, especially when it comes to what you are thinking about, has the power to bring you everything you never wanted. Or everything you ever wanted.

How could it be any other way?

Your thoughts are what create the words that come out of your mouth. They create which actions you will take on any given day. They stand behind the energy and momentum of how you do and live and believe and love and hope and fear and eat and negotiate and relate and…

For instance, if you believe that your medical system, religion or political party has the lock on the truth, you will use your words to condemn those who don’t line top with your narrative. If you believe that the body is a machine that breaks down easily and requires a mechanic to keep it in line, you will never be open to how your thoughts and your health are one and the same.

To decide for heaven, in other words all those things you most yearn for, is to become intimately aware of, and responsible for, every single thought you think. This is a big job. Especially in the beginning when it can feel like a circus on crack inside your own mind.

That’s why it can be so instructively sane to break down the thousands and thousands of thoughts you have each and every day into a binary choice; allowing you to step out of the oblivion or the tug-of-war relationship you have with your own mind and all of its unchecked thoughts.

Try this. Get in the habit of catching yourself throughout the day by asking, What am I thinking about right now? Once you are aware of the specific content, make a down and dirty assessment by wondering whether this thought creates a sense of safety or danger within you. Drop all the content and tune into the way this thought make you feel about yourself, others and the world.

And then make a choice.

If this is not a thought you want to harbor, put your attention on something else. Follow your own breath, look at the sky, smell something delicious. To choose where to put your own attention is to make the decision to stop following a thought that brings dis-ease, and to instead choose for a little heaven here on Earth.

The Things In Life That Are Too Big For Us

 

This week, I heard someone use the phrase, “Too big to address and too big to walk away from,” in reference to one of the big issues we as a people are facing. I had never heard that expression before, but boy did it land for me; so aptly describing an experience many of us are having when we look out into the destruction and chaos of a world gone mad.

Too big to address and too big to walk away from.

At first glance, it may feel like being between a rock and a hard place. Nowhere to go. Nothing you can do. I think this is where many of us live these days. Stuck in limbo. Recognizing that a lot needs to be addressed, challenged and changed, but feeling like it is far too big for us to have an impact.

So we fall into despair. Apathy. Frustration. Cynicism.

Or maybe we throw all of ourselves at an issue. Working overtime. Dedicating ourselves to some external cause that we pour our heart and soul into. Doing more than our share and sometimes feeling resentful that others don’t care as much. Or are not pulling their weight.

In the face of the world’s “issues” it can be so easy to fall into “this is just the way things are now” or to kick into high gear and start trying to fix everything. But what if the issues that are too big to address and too big to walk away from are actually a visioning opportunity, a call from our very own soul? One that requires we go into our very own lives and handle our big issues, before we turn our attention to the world.

This inner anchoring in the face of world overwhelm grounds us and give us access to deeper ways of knowing beyond the knee-jerk reactions so typical of us when we confront big, scary issues. We need some kind of inner referencing because the truth is, neither apathy nor overwork are the path of wisdom. The way of thoughtful action. The way of understanding that always, and in all ways, anything out there big enough to be a problem, needs to be known in here, inside each one of us, first.

Otherwise, we add to the chaos and the confusion as we bring our own blind spots, fears and agendas to the situation at hand. To go into the bigness of your very own issues is to understand, in seed form, the big issues the world currently faces.

If this is so, it begs the question, “What in your life feels too big to ignore, and simultaneously too big to handle? We’ve all got one. That core issue that just won’t go away. The one that seems to be at the root of everything else. The one we work really hard to cover up.

Do you know what yours is?

I guarantee you something: Figure out what yours is, along with all of its ins and outs, and you will have a gold standard template for addressing the biggest and most intractable world issues. The ones we can’t seem to solve. The ones that overwhelm and frighten us the most.

Try it. Look to your own life. What are you pretending not to know?

Use this question whenever you meet up with your big life issues and watch how not only your life begins to change, but you start to have a much clearer sense of how to be with what is too big to address and too big to walk away from when it comes to the world at large.

 

A World Running On Empty

 

I had something happen recently that sums up what I often experience in our world of “convenience” with its emphasis on ease and the perfection of appearance. For my father-in-law’s birthday dinner, we had purchased a cake from Whole Foods. I was looking forward to it. But after eating a meal I felt deeply nourished by, I can only say I felt starved by the perfect looking little cake.

So starved, in fact, that I went back for seconds. Some part of me desperately believing that more of nothing would somehow magically bring me something.

It took me days to figure out what had happened. Despite the cake’s perfectly formed shape and the bullet proof container it came in… Despite the perfect little edging and the personalized lettering… Despite the “convenience” of not needing to bake it myself… It was empty. Empty of a taste that satisfied. Empty of sustenance. Empty of care.

That “little”cake has become a recent and poignant symbol for me of the emptiness that has crept into our daily existence.

Here’s what I mean:

Despite the rich assortment of ways we can be in touch with one another, the full and satisfying feeling of being in connection with others is ever absent and in its stead, a ghostly emptiness between us has grown as we draw back from the reality of relationships in real time.

Despite all the “choices” we have now when it comes to what we can eat, we have never had more food-like substances that leave us both over-fed in our attempts to make up for what is lacking, while simultaneously being under-nourished by all the empty calories.

Despite all the “advances” medicine is daily bringing to us in terms of the technologies, our interactions with our healing practitioners are too often characterized by an emptiness of care, time and attention.

Despite all the information we now have at our fingertips, our capacity for original thought is increasingly empty of critical thinking, tempered opinions and a desire to interact in lively and necessary debate.

Despite all the ways that AI can help us write an email, edit copy, write an article or (god forbid) a book, we have never been emptier when it comes to the  power of the word to heal, communicate, transform and inform.

Beyond the empty nature of the cake itself was the contrast I felt that night between it and the meal I had eaten. So much thought and planning had gone into the dinner. And because the family is blessed with many skilled cooks who can also work together quite well in one kitchen, there was a spirit of collaboration and love built into the food. Along with lots and lots of care.

That’s it. Both care and love were decidedly absent from the perfect little Whole Foods cake.

I have decided the supposed convenience of that perfect little cake is not worth the price of an empty experience. That it doesn’t even deserve to be in the same room as a well tended to meal. Going forward, I think I am going to learn how to bake birthday cakes. The kind that takes into consideration not just the preference for what kind of cake and frosting the person wants, but also for all of the dietary restrictions in the family.

Maybe it will be a bust. Maybe the frosting will get dinged up in transit without that perfect little container. Maybe it will be lop-sided and messy. But at least it won’t be empty of what matters most. Lots of care and love.

Because here’s the thing. What’s going to happen when we no longer have the substantial, essential and nourishing things in life still around to offer us a comparison of what empty looks and feels like. Will the generations to come, and even the ones here now, do what I did? Continue to go back to what is empty, hoping that somehow they will feel fed?

Do You Know When You Are Overdoing It?

 

Last night I taught a yoga class focusing on the Sanskrit word, Bramacharya, which translates into “energy management.” It seemed like a great class focus given we are in the middle of the holiday season where it is so very easy to get depleted because we are over-doing and over-giving. In other words, mismanaging our energy by spreading ourselves way too thin. And maybe even, for all the wrong reasons.

All in the name, by the way, of participating in the “most wonderful time of the year” as that old song goes. What a concept. Drain yourself in order to be part of the greatest season of the year. This alone should raise some red flags. But because so many of us have so wholeheartedly bought into the idea that to be with this season, we must overdo, we miss the fact that what we are doing is actually taking from us. Stealing from our vital and sacred well of deep energy reserves that our heart, mind and body depends upon to be balanced, clear and well.

Leaving many of us having a far less than wonderful time of year as we experience greater levels of burnout, anxiety, depression and overwhelm.

To remedy this is to shift away from participating in the overdoing paradigm which says how much we care is based on how much we do (or buy), to choosing to develop instead a relationship with our energy that feeds and honors its preciousness. A commitment that says, “I will take care of you because that is how important you are to me.” And if you doubt the importance of your energy, tune into the last time you didn’t have the energy you needed and how hard your life became. How hard it was to feel well, be patient, care and more.

How do we begin to make a shift like this? By paying attention moment to moment to how we feel as we move through our days making all of the choices we are making.

This might sound like a lot to do until you realize that we can break it down into one simple but profound question: Is this choice giving me energy or taking from my energy? Begin to use this wondering as a way to navigate through your day as you eat, do your errands, cook, watch something on the screen, converse with someone, talk to yourself, plus all of the other things you do as a matter of course without ever wondering how it is impacting your sense of aliveness and vitality.

Every single choice you make carries with it the power of feeling more energized or more depleted, and by simply paying attention to your energy levels in response to those choices, you are given a map for navigating an often draining array of choices in the world when it comes to what we are being offered. Choices that are often dressed up as something vital to us and what we need when actually the opposite is true. Like for instance the overdoing of all the sugary “treats” that leaves us bloated and gaining weight. Or how about all the over spending so characteristic of this time of year that leaves us anxious as to how we will pay for it all.

To come to know what is actually working for you, often means noticing what is not. It means taking stock, without judgment, after a choice has been made to see whether you feel better for it. Or worse. Just by charting whether you feel filled or depleted, you can use this vital information to shed some light on your tendencies to do more than is either necessary or good for you and your life-giving energy.

A More Honest Existence

 

After returning home from being away for Thanksgiving, I find myself naturally drawn to cleaning out the refrigerator, food drawers and cabinets. Then I take the cleaning out and organizing into my office and bedroom closet. This goes on all week. It feels good.

In the process, I feel a deep connection to people from other time periods who would be clearing out the previous year in order to make space for storing what was needed most for the winter to come. A kind of necessary and life-saving taking stock if you wanted to survive a long, hard winter. “Taking sensible precautions” as I heard someone say recently, to ensure you and yours had what you needed.

In a world of “anything and everything” at your fingertips 24/7, all of the stuff being just a click away, the necessary practice of taking stock to survive is no longer a lived reality for many of us. But it should be. In fact, it really, really needs to be.

Why?

Because whether we think we need it or not in modern day existence, taking stock provides a deep reality check. One that promises to keep us honest and in alignment with the Truth of existence.

So even though taking stock in this way may not, at the moment, be an issue of imminent survival as it was for our ancestors, there is something so fundamental and so very necessary about lightening up in a world accelerating at a faster rate than any human being has ever lived through before.

It stands to reason that if we are going to successfully, joyfully and honestly align with the speed of change happening, whether we like the pace or not, we must be willing to jettison the stuff. I include here not just the material things we accumulate (often unnecessarily) but also all the ideas, beliefs and habits that keep us trapped in denser and slower versions of the reality that stands before us; both what is possible and what is required of the times we find ourselves in.

This is not easy. We love to cling to the familiar, to what has always brought us comfort. Whether that is actually so or not. I would argue that a great deal of the stuff we accumulate has very little to do with real comfort, or survival, for that matter. Instead, being more about living on the receiving end of too much advertising and too much belief in something external giving us what we truly need in order to be okay.

I began writing this piece on the day of the full moon. Full moons are often associated with releasing and letting go. But in order to do this, we have to first be willing to look at things as they actually are. Then we must be willing to ask ourselves some very hard questions when we see that maybe, just maybe, what we have bought and bought into, isn’t working for us.

I know this can feel like a lot, but it promises a lot to get clear about our lives and how we are living. So instead of focusing on what is too hard to get clear on and let go of, what if you focused on that clear light feeling you get after cleaning out the closet or the garage or the basement? That feeling of greater spaciousness and inner ease when you let go of what no longer serves.

That sense of freedom and inner order that you experience after the physical clearing out is something that also translates into more room for an expanded awareness of possibility, the Mystery and a greater sense of preparedness around how to be in the world in these times. Add to this the vow we often make, after taking the time and energy to clear out the stuff to be more conscientious about not filling the space back up, and you have yourself  a commitment to choose differently from now on. More intentionally.

If this resonates, you could add a little affirmation into the mix to make it all so much more powerful and likely to stick. For instance, “I freely release what I no longer need in order to make room for a more honest existence.”

 

 

Modern Day Confusions Around Productivity

 

I step outside at the end of the day to bring the laundry in when I catch my mind wondering how “productive” I’ve been on this supposed day of rest. The thought stops me cold.

And not because the thought is so off base given that I have hung laundry, made ghee, meatballs and sauce, planted garlic, closed the yurt for the winter, brought in wood for the week, and submitted an article for publication. But because it is such a modern day ailment/indulgence/obsession/anxiety to even be having a thought such as this.

At another time in history, or even now in another place on the planet, the idea of being productive enough would have been something real; an actual matter of life and death even. Needlessly making up ideas around whether or not I had done enough would not have been something I would have had the time, luxury or inclination to do.

I would have been far too involved in doing what I actually needed to do to keep myself and my family alive, warm, fed and protected. In other words, surviving. And maybe in some seasons, even thriving.

These days, we use the idea of productivity as proof of our worth, as something we judge ourselves by. As some kind of endless justification treadmill we get on to prove to others and ourselves that we are worthy of our existence. This as opposed to ensuring our existence.

And while there is only the difference of one word between these two phrases, they could not in reality be further apart.

At another time, we would have needed no proof that we were productive. We would just be doing what we needed to do. No prizes. No “likes.” No neurotic comparisons. No bragging rights. No fretting in some self-indulgent way. No “adulting.”

What am I saying here?

I guess I’m wondering if it is possible to live with all the conveniences of a modern day existence, while remaining simple and true to the reality of life on the planet in a human body. Grounded in what is actually necessary in the midst of all the pushing around what our “best lives” look like.

Detached enough to recognize when and where we are incessantly trying to live up to some standard that says we must prove and establish our worth by being recklessly and continuously busy.

 

Find Your Way Back

 

I’m out driving and I turn the radio on. This is something I rarely do, but I was in my husband’s truck and he has all these stations that carry the soundtrack of my childhood, so I decided to see what was there.

At the same moment I’m tuning to the station I want to listen to, I’m thinking about us as a people. What it is we make important, the fears we have, the ways we make the wrong things matter more than they should. All the thoughts and wonderings that are often on my mind, but that over the years, and especially of late, are taking on an accelerated position in my life, and an ever-growing clarity in my heart and mind.

At the exact moment all this is occurring, a song comes on that begins with how long the road has been, how heavy the load has felt, and how this person is just trying to get back home to their heart. At this point, I’m already crying. Moved by the synchronicity of the message coming through the lyrics; reflecting what was just on my mind and in my heart.

By the time the song is into the chorus, I am weeping as they sing “Find your way back. Find your way back. To your heart.”  The emotion is not sadness as much as it is more of a deep longing. An inherent yearning for me to live like this. For all of us to live like this. A kind of organic knowing, beyond all the wounding, that this is not only possible, but why we are here.

I believe this longing is one we all feel. Way down deep inside. A hunger to get back to who we really are. And a deep desire to return to the Truth of what we are meant to be for one another.

I know this runs contrary to either how we feel inside at times or what we see when it comes to other people’s words and behaviors. But I think that all the stuff we do to hurt ourselves and one another is an expression of soul sickness. I think we ache so bad to know who we are and how to be with one another, that when we can’t get there, for all of our reasons, we default to hurting. Either ourselves or one another.

But if we could take that hurting and see it as something that needs healing, instead of creating more armor, more blame, more separation, we would find our way back. To Our Heart. And in that place, we would know what the heart knows, and what the mind does not. That it was never personal, we were never abandoned, and we have always mattered.

It is from that knowing that we find our way back to our true home: The Heart.

Which Role Will You Play In The World?

 

This week I taught a yoga class based on the Sanskrit word “sama.” It translates into “same or equal,” and is experienced as the ability to emulate the Divine whose Presence is equal in all matters concerning the world. What it looks like for us is described in one of the central yogic texts that guides us to be “even” in our ways of dealing with life. To be the same through pleasure or pain, good fortune or misfortune, praise or blame.

There are no clearer, nor more liberating instructions, for the times we are living in, than this.

For to be at the mercy of the rise and fall of the ways of the world, is to suffer. It is to never know lasting peace because there will always be another tragedy, another horror, another injustice. And it is to play out one of the three big dominant roles we choose in our interactions with others. That of the victim, the persecutor and the savior.

The victim is the energy of being harmed, overpowered and without agency in the face of greater forces. The energy of the persecutor is that of dominance, aggression and oppression. And finally, the energy of the savior is that of the rescuer, the fixer, the one that everyone comes to to solve their problems.

Depending on the day and the circumstances, we can play any and all of the three depending on what’s being triggered in us. You are in victim whenever you are in the role of the overwhelmed and bullied child who needs saving. The perpetrator, when you are forcing and coercing another to your own will. And the savior when you are being the one who makes things better for others because it seems like they can’t do it for themselves.

But there is another way. That of the Sovereign: One who is free of external control and therefore the up and down nature of the world. The one who charts their own course, choosing to meet the world as it is. The one who decides how she will be moved by the world, and who consciously chooses to be grown and hewn by all the experiences of Life. No questions asked.

The Sovereign is the one who allows that everyone deserves the right to live out their life as they see fit, without being forced into something or rescued from something. And is the one who is even enough within herself to bear witness to the world, without choosing for or against. Instead, choosing to be with.

This can be felt and known by all those around her. For instance, there is growing research demonstrating that we can feel the electromagnetic energy of the heart’s field. And now Quantum Biology is demonstrating how our physiology is experienced by others. In other words, when we are at peace, when we are “even,” it is a palpable experience for all those around us. This is vastly different than being part of the big drama game of suffering we all like to play. One that activates a deadness or a hardening of the heart, while ramping up the physiology of stress that then emanates into the world.

If this resonates, practice where it is easy. Try being more neutral when it comes to the small things in your day like the weather, the seasons, or the traffic. Or how about practicing a kind of internal same-ness whether you get the recognition or not, win the lottery or not, have an argument go your way or not.

Your opportunities to work with this are endless as you go through your day, and are presented to you each time you feel yourself in a less than “even” emotional place.

How Are You Creating The World?

 

There is an old expression that I believe comes from the Talmud. It goes like this, “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.” Take a moment to really, really let that sink in.

If this is so, how committed are you to spending the time to recognize that who you are, impacts your perceptions of life?

We live in a very, very sick society. I know that on some level, we all know this. How could we not? It’s everywhere. But because it’s everywhere, it begins to take on a kind of background hum and a sense of fait accompli. But if you’re willing to see how things are, you can see it in the poisons sprayed on our foods that we give to our children. You can see it in the collective worship at the alter of the screens, and the ways we refuse to keep ourselves from what is devaluing our lives. You can see it in the ways that we have begun to mandate which medicine people must use in order to be part of society. And you can see it in all the ways that we have never been more ill in body, mind and soul.

There is more. Much more. More that we have come to accept as normal. Even as it visibly sickens us.

But it’s not true. This isn’t normal. And somewhere deep inside we all know this. I believe it comes down then to what someone recently said to me about “calling the ghost by name.” A willingness on our part to name what is messed up and broken.

Because here’s the truth, who you are is not separate from the sickness of the world. You are merely one aspect of the way things are. Because when you add it all up, what’s out there is based on the sum total of each and every one of us. Of all the messed up and broken aspects of ourselves that we will not be with.

This is not a New Age cliche. It is Truth. For as we change our inner perceptions, and change what it is that we ourselves are being, the world reflects that. How could it be otherwise?

For instance, how do you contribute to the harmful food supply out there in terms of what you consider food and feed yourself with? Where do you place a screen above all else and even engage in that which is less than what you actually need and deserve? Where do you hold that others should do as you do when it comes to how people live and take care of themselves? And where have you been less than willing to address what ails you?

When you recognize that you are out of alignment with your values, you shift the ethics that run the world. When you change the way you feed yourself, you shift what nurturance is available to all of us. When you decide to stop all the scrolling and make the people in your life a priority, the world begins to prioritize people over machines. And when you decide to finally commit to something you need to do for your own health, the world begins to heal.

Today I read something that feels like the antidote to all the sickness. An author was making the point that in certain traditions, beauty was less about the physical appearance of a person, and everything about how well you knew yourself. That’s the guide. How well you know yourself. How well you know the “are” of you.

I know it seems like a lot, and maybe you are even wondering how what’s out there is connected to what’s in here. But if you see this as a lifelong exploration of getting to know yourself and what it is that makes you tick, you are halfway there. And then, if you’re willing to simply consider that what you’re seeing out there, is in here, you will be all the way there.