Staying Human

 

I’m just back from a training in Ayurveda, the 5000 year old Indian tradition of health and healing. The focus was on the balance of the mind from an Ayurvedic perspective, with much of it centered around understanding ourselves at the level of our most basic, elemental Nature comprised of Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space.

In other words, the things that make up not just a human being, but all of Nature. With the understanding that unless and until we see ourselves through the lens of what we are made of and how to be in harmony with that, we will suffer. That our mind will be in a state of suffering because we won’t know who we are on the most fundamental of levels. Meaning, we will seek out all the wrong things.

Juxtapose this longstanding Ayurvedic knowing that to depart from who we are and what we are made of is to be ill, against the headline I saw when I got back: New research reveals that touch may help with anxiety.

My immediate thought was, How sad it is that we now need research to justify hugs. My second thought was, This is another example of just how far we have strayed from our very existence, caught up as we are in the world of the non-human. In other words, the machines.

We have truly fallen into a dystopian “reality” where we need research outside of ourselves to prove to us that we need touch. And then we wonder why we are not doing so well. While our inflated egos might say we are the most intelligent of any civilization, interestingly enough, we find ourselves on the brink of personal and societal destruction. And not because of some outside agent like a virus or a nuclear bomb, but because of our own denial of, and departure from, our truest Nature.

We see this in the fact that despite all the technological “advances” we have never been sicker, fatter or lonelier. We have never been more at odds with the Natural world, our own bodies and the bodies of others.

We have never been more confused, child-like and afraid of Life itself in the forms of the weather, bugs, animals and all things non-man-made. And therefore out of our control. Because we keep believing that it’s just because we haven’t found the right technological fix, and that it is the next generation of technology that will save us, we miss all the answers living right under our very noses.

The answers to what ails us being the breathing of fresh, outside air. Or the way it feels for your feet to be barefoot in the earth while you feel the joy of the sun on your un-slathered skin. Or how about the experience of being in wide-open spaces where there is not a man-made thing in sight.

None of this is complicated, and it’s all built right into our human-ness. So what’s the rub? It’s that we have forgotten what we never wanted to forget: What it actually is to be human. We are living as if we can bypass that. We are living as if we do not fall under the requirements of our deepest Nature. And we do so at great peril; the evidence of which is all around us for all to see.

Sometimes it takes getting so far away from what is real and true in order to see what is, in fact, real and true. Then it becomes the path of remembering. An intentional turning back towards your own skin and what it most hungers for. But of course, that would require that you stop being overly enamored with the world of the machines, believing them to be the highest of our expression. And instead, become entranced with your very own Nature in the form of your own body and what it needs.

Barking At The World

 

As I’ve written about before, I’ve had a cough that persistently remains despite all my tried and true remedies and approaches. Just when I thought it was on its way out the door, it has come back to teach me some more.

Now I know there are many who would say why not suppress it? Why not get some prescription to knock it back? Believe me, for the first time in nearly three decades of not using that kind of medicine, I have thought about it. I have fantasized about codeine cough syrup or some steroid. Really anything they have that would just make it go away. But I can’t stay there for long.

Why?

Because I know that when my body is expressing something, there is a very good reason it’s doing what it’s doing. And that’s a non-negotiable for me. Even if I don’t know why or how to resolve it. Even if it’s frustrating and uncomfortable. Even if it’s wearing my patience thin. Because what I know to be true is this: The last thing I want to do is to drive a bodily expression deep into my tissues; in effect, silencing its voice.

Which brings me specifically to the cough. If you are at all familiar with the work of Louise Hay, you know she brought forward a body of work that connects an emotional/mental/spiritual component to every illness  For a cough, what’s behind this symptom is a kind of barking at the world. A kind of see me. Listen to me.

So to suppress this cough feels like it would be a kind of re-traumatization to a part of me that didn’t get seen or heard in a way that felt good to me. Which is why I am wondering about where I feel unseen and unheard. Where it is that I suppress my own voice out of habit and fear. And where I am monitoring myself in terms of who I am and what I say around others.

Which means I am using this time as an opportunity to be with the cough and let it teach me. So far, every day has uncovered something new for me around being seen and heard. Feelings that have been unconscious and therefore unavailable to me before this experience. For me this is worth the frustration of something taking a long time to heal, because I can see that another part of me is getting a chance to be heard, which means it too will have a chance to heal.

To be with yourself and your health in this way requires a few things:

  • A willingness to see symptoms as essential information you do not want to ignore or suppress. Not easy to do in a medical culture based on symptom suppression.
  • A kind of presence to yourself where you are watching the thoughts and reactions that arise when something doesn’t feel good in your body. This includes your fears and your default tendency to look to an authority figure to make it better for you.
  • The courage to make connections to what may be behind the symptoms on the emotional, physical, spiritual and psychological levels. This takes practice and a kind of radical honesty with yourself.
  • An openness to learning about the part of you that is ailing to figure out what its most basic needs and functions are. This doesn’t need to be complicated. Keep it simple.
  • Finding practitioners who support this process in you and who include all of you in the equation of your health and healing. You’ll know them by how well they listen and by the questions they ask.

By the way, what do I think was behind the cough picking back up again with a vengeance? An intense experience last weekend of feeling like there are those in the world being seen and recognized even though they may be lacking in skill or integrity; leaving me with an old reaction of despair around the unfairness and injustice of a world that gives voice to so many of the “wrong” things. This one goes deep and touched a very, very old wound that seems up for some healing.

 

Sleepless Nights

 

Did you ever have one of those nights that not only can you not fall asleep, but you just feel awful all around? Maybe something in the body hurts. Maybe the room is too hot. Maybe your mind is buzzing away or you are awash in fear.

I just had one of those recently and it left me prickly and surly the next morning. Mostly, because I could not run down the cause of why I had the night I did. Was it the late afternoon chocolate? The extra moments I spent watching something on a screen when I knew I felt like I was being assaulted? Was it the chicken I ate? Maybe it was raised in fear and that was what I was experiencing. Was it my husband’s restless sleep next to me or the storm blowing around outside? Or how about the volatile energies in the collective?

Maybe it was everything all together all at once?

It was like a tsunami of human experience ripping though me. At first I tried to sort through each one of the possible culprits to figure out what it was. But there were too many to know what was what. I went from deep and burning frustration right into despair. Not over what was happening per se, but because I just could not figure it out.

There it is. Being in the middle of a storm is one thing. Believing that you can manage it, or even understand its origins or purpose is quite another. That understanding right there is the difference between heaven and hell. Our need to figure something out, coupled with our downright refusal to say “Yes” to what is happening becomes our vote for hell.

Whether we know it or not.

I’m not saying it’s not important to run down the things that bring on a sleepless night. Or any other disturbances we find in our lives for that matter. Of course it matters. If only to learn to take responsibility for our own experiences, what it is the body needs, along with the consequences of the choices we make.

What I am trying to say here is that not everything can be figured out. Not everything can be known. Then what?

Do we fight like a fish on a line against what it is we do not want? Do we rail against the unfairness of it all? Or do we let go? Into the deep and demanding rigor of being alive in a body having all kinds of experiences. This requires going beyond our expectations and demands that Life be a certain way for us to be ok. It means going beyond us putting our stamp of approval or rejection on what is happening.

Lest you believe this means giving up, it’s just not the case. In fact, it is anything but. Instead, to let be whatever is happening is to align with the Truth that we cannot know everything, that everything is not within our control, and that to believe it is, is to create a kind of living hell.

Mostly, it is to forgo the peace that is available to us in every single moment. No matter what is happening.

Which is why the next day, I turned my attention not to the potential culprit of my terrible night’s sleep, but to my response to it. And what I found was a woman so bent on fixing something that she was not able to just be with herself, without demand, in the midst of a terrible storm.

Your Right To Your Own Health & Healing

Years ago, I was in a Holistic Health Counseling Training. It was one of the most profound and generous trainings I have ever been involved with. And I have done many. What made it so profound and generous was that we were offered every approach under the sun when it came to perspectives on health and healing. A smorgasbord of ways to approach things like diet, healthcare, spirituality, lifestyle issues and more. It was left up to us to sift through all that we were given; choosing for ourselves what worked for us, and what didn’t. 

Looking back, I can see that the founder of the school, beyond his desire to convey content, understood something vital, life-affirming and humane. An approach far too often missing in our conventional healthcare systems. The approach being, a basic trust in each other of our ability to choose for ourselves when it comes to what makes the most sense to our lives, along with what it is we personally need in order to be well. 

This is something I aspire to embody in the health and healing approaches I offer to the world. I am not being falsely self-deprecating here. Instead, I fully understand how difficult it is to not try and influence another when you believe you have the fix for them. When you believe you know better than they do about what is going on for them, and what they should do. Even must do, from certain “modern” public health perspectives.

But I want something more than to persuade or coerce another into my belief system. The “something more” is not just for me, but for all of us. I want a world where we trust each other at the level of recognizing that each of us truly does know what we are doing. Even if it cannot be understood by those around us. Even if we ourselves do not fully understand it. 

But why take that chance with one another? Because this way of being creates a world where we pay homage to the journey each of us is on. No matter what we might make of it. Because when you trust deep down inside that another has within them the capacity of inner wisdom to know their life, their body and what it is they need, you give them the great humanitarian gift of empowerment, agency and personal responsibility. 

The sacred act of you having faith in them, including your willingness to set aside your opinions and dogmas, carries the capacity to inspire and to help another move mountains in their own life. For when a person can trust themselves, what it is they are knowing and sensing from the inside out, you support them in becoming their very best. When you can stand in with another who is lost and confused without trying to get them to do what you think they should do, giving them the space to come to something on their own, they will exceed all expectations you, and even they themselves, might have of what they are capable of.

This is what changes lives on the personal level and what then goes on to change the life of the world.

Each person’s health and healing is unique to them and it is a deep, deep disrespect and a fundamental undermining of another’s humanity to try and take this from them. To ever try and co-opt the journey they have chosen for one of your own making. Each person’s journey of health and healing far exceeds a moment in time merely focused on a cure at the physical, mental or emotional level. Instead, the journey each of us is on is our soul’s deepest expression in physical form. 

To interfere with that expression by trying to manage, control, legislate, or mandate what another does in this regard, is a sin against humanity. 

(If this resonates, consider taking a look at the upcoming program I’m offering called The Healer Within.)

 

 

To Trust Your Body Is To Trust Yourself

 

I talk and teach a lot about trusting your body. Sounds nice. But the truth is, given how we have been conditioned over the last decades to do anything but trust our bodies, this can be a hard sell in a world encouraging the abdication of this sacred connection to the technologies and the experts we have come to put more of our faith in than these bodies of ours.

This is problematic on many levels. But perhaps the most problematic of all, is that if we don’t trust our very own body, we will not be able to trust ourselves, and we will not be able to trust life itself. Without a steady belief in what we are experiencing and knowing through our own body, we will be adrift in terms of how to navigate the changing waters of the world. And without a reliance on how life flows through these bodies, we will be at odds with ourselves over what we can expect day to day in terms of a greater support and guidance that is available to all of us.

It’s such a strange thing to be talking about trusting your body. As if it is somehow separate from your very existence and how you live. And yet, this is where we are: So horribly removed and disconnected from what is innate that we find ourselves having to do some kind of rehab to remind us of what is not just built in, but that forms the very basis of who we are.

We are mammals, and there is not a mammal out there, other than us, that does not exist without complete and utter trust in what it is experiencing, and what it means to be in a body. The good news is, this is an authentic and powerful place to go to to re-learn where to take our cues from. What I mean by this is that just by turning our attention to that which is most inherent and most basic about being in a body is the way back to trusting your body, yourself, and all of life.

Best of all, it’s not fancy, expensive, complicated or beyond your reach. It is quite literally, as close to you as your next breath. As close to you as the next time you sense thirst, hunger or exhaustion. What I am talking about here is a kind of reacquaintance to your body’s most basic and non-negotiable needs. Those things you could not do without and still survive. Those things that a newborn baby must have in order to live.

The very things modern life has taught us to put on the back burner, but that still remains alive and well inside of us and can be found by wondering to yourself, “What could I absolutely not be able to live without?”

It’s not your cell phone, Netflix or social media. It’s not a new pair of shoes, a fancy trip or a new car. It is quite literally your breath and your ability to feed yourself. I know most of us would say we already know how to do this. But do we? Do we actually quench our thirst with life-giving water or do we flood ourselves with caffeinated drinks? Do we feed ourselves what our body really needs to be well or do we consume lots of processed, fake, and ever more bizarre substances masquerading as food? Do we get the rest we need or are we more interested in staying up late to watch the latest bit of noise coming out of a screen?

To bring this right down into the body and out of the machinations of the mind, try this: Once a day pause and take a full deep breath in as you feel some sensation in your body. Then ask yourself, “What do I need right now?” If you can get in the habit of starting there, I will guarantee you something; over time as you turn more and more back to your most basic needs, a fundamental trust will form with your body which will then extend out to how well you trust yourself. And life as well.

Where Your Attention Goes…

 

Have you ever found yourself trying to make sure something didn’t happen? Put all your energies into the avoidance of something? Got very internally tight trying to keep something from occurring? Built your life around making sure the thing you didn’t want to happen, didn’t?

How’s it working for you?

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself bumping up against a mindset which I will call, “trying not to be sick.” This was a surprise to me as I value being sick and the ways it gives my immune system a stretch, offers the necessary genetic upgrades my body needs to be in harmony with the world I live in, as well as teaching me so much about myself. Not to mention, I have lots and lots of tried and true go-to’s that I lean into when I am not well and that I trust implicitly.

So being sick is not something I typically fear. Or so I thought. For lurking far beneath the surface of my awareness, beneath years and years of aligning to a belief system that trusts my body in illness, there it was. I was doing my damndest, not to be sick. It got me to thinking about a whole bunch of things, a couple of which I’ll share here: One, how incredibly intractable old belief systems can be even after you thought you had moved beyond them. Two, how terribly, terribly wrong we’ve got it as a collective when it comes to what it means to be alive.

For the Truth is, there is a vast difference between trying not to be sick, and focusing on supporting yourself back to health. An absolute chasm between allowing your body to be ill and do what it needs to do, and trying to make something go away. An enormous gap between seeing the gifts illness has to offer, and refusing to notice what it is your body is trying to tell you.

Look around. Listen to the conversations you have with others. Mostly, pay attention to the thoughts you think inside your own mind when it comes to getting sick. Is there a sense of opportunity in what you can learn about yourself, or do you live terrified by what is or can happen to your body? Do you see illness as an opportunity to reset and take better care of yourself, or do you believe something is being done to you? Do you follow the bread crumbs of your days back to learn how you got yourself out of balance, or are you just annoyed with your body and looking to slam it back into production?

And these days, do you pay attention to what you need to be well, or have you picked up the recently ill-conceived co-vid narrative that to be sick is to be an enemy and a danger to those around you?

Avoiding being sick is not the same thing as paying attention to the signs and signals your body is giving you. It is not the same thing as taking a hard look at your life to see where you have gotten out of harmony with the truest needs of your life. It is not the same thing as using an uncomfortable experience to inform and guide you back into balance.

This is one of those enormous paradigm leaps where we go from the earth is flat to the earth is round; putting into action the belief that we create our own reality and that where our attention goes, our energy flows. Meaning, what we focus on matters. A lot.

Sick or not, every minute of every day, you have a choice about where you put your attention; on what you want or what you don’t want. If this makes sense to you, get in the habit of paying attention to the mind chatter. Is it encouraging you to go for what you actually want, or is it demanding that you listen to, and act on, what you don’t want?

Then, choose. Over and over and over again. Until you get your mind in the habit of orienting to what you most want. Does it take time? Yes. But what better way to spend your life than devoting your precious attention and energy to what you actually desire?

What Enlivens You?

 

The day is magnificent. The sky a deep clear blue. The temperature crisp with leftover night frost on the windshield, but with the promise of a warmer day on the way. I am going out for a run for the first time in weeks. It feels like a big deal, because it is. This is much more than an act of habit, or getting some exercise. This is an act of me staking a claim for my own aliveness.

I am choosing for what brings me energy, as opposed to for the conditioned fears of my own mind or what conventional “wisdom” might say. You see, after getting sick recently, I have been left with a lingering cough. The kind of cough that seems it could go in any direction. A cough that has been defying all my attempts to clear it. A cough that has got my fear-based mind conjuring up all kinds of scenarios.

Bronchitis? Pneumonia? Maybe the things I know to be true about how a body heals don’t apply here. Maybe it’s my age and this is just what I can expect from here on out.

“Fuck that” is the conclusion I finally came to this morning. Why am I going to give over my precious life to made-up fears? Why am I going to link up to cultural narratives that I abhor? Why am I going to diminish my own aliveness and what is possible by playing it safe? Why am I going to link into the widespread addiction of fearing my own body?

And so out I went. Not in defiance, and certainly not in denial. But instead, I went out with myself to see what this body of mine was up for. Not to push it or control it, but to be with it and what it had to say.

And you know what it said?

“This is great and you’re doing great!” It feels so good to be out here. So good to be feeling the sun and the rhythm of my own feet on the Earth. I’m so happy. So grateful to be alive!”

We all know how to be fearful, cautious and careful. But do we know what brightens our Spirit? We all know how to dull our aliveness through anxiety, worry, eating too much and more. But do we know how to feed our own life force? We all know the cheap sense of aliveness we get from drugs, alcohol and the screens. But do we know how to nourish the sacred energy that flows through us?

What brings you alive? Do you even know?

It’s not hard, and it doesn’t cost a thing (other than your interest and commitment). Step outside. Feel the sensation of temperature and weather. Let go of judging that it’s too this or that for you. Instead, tune into the fact that each sensation lets you know you are here. You are alive. And that you have a choice about how to be with it all.

Staying Close To Your Body

 

Last weekend I was in the mountains hiking with a friend. Recounting some of my history with hiking and why I feel the way I do about it, I was brought back to the early days of getting out onto the trail. At the time I was in my mid-twenties and living a very destructive, disconnected, and I would even say, abusive, relationship with my body.

Really, I could not even call what I had with my body back then, a relationship. It was more like I was some foreign exchange student visiting a frightening and overwhelming country where I didn’t know the language; leaving me confused, scared and frustrated a great deal of the time.

But out on the trail, and by necessity in order to be able to do what I was doing, I had to learn to be with my body in ways I never had before. I actually had to pay attention to it if I expected it to be able to get up and down a mountain in one piece. I actually had to stop overriding the messages it was sending me to be able to keep going.

What did that look like?

Paying attention to basic signals of thirst, hunger and physical sensation. I had to notice before I got depleted physically what my body needed by way of food and water. I had to tune into the twisted shoulder strap, the crinkled sock or the fact that I was overheating or cooling down too fast.

Otherwise what was something small and manageable in the moment, became too big and unmanageable to compensate for later on. The body is amazing in its endurance, resilience and redundancy out on the trail, but pushed beyond its limits in uncaring and unthinking ways, you will pay the price. Every single time.

Because I was first getting into hiking well before cell phones and from a time when we were all a lot heartier, the expectation was that, except in the most dire of circumstances, you got down under your own steam. It wasn’t just you out there. It was also those you were with, as well as those who might risk coming out to rescue you. So you better be able to do what needed doing.

This meant that I had to learn fast how to stay close to my body because attending early to something calling for my attention got me one kind of a hike, while waiting until the messages had become wildfires that were out of control got me another kind of a hike.

For me, and from the very start, hiking is and always has been a metaphor for life in a body. Not just with myself, but also in terms of what I “owe” to others. What I need to pay attention to out there is not unlike what I need to pay attention to in the day to day. Both for myself, and others.

Here are some simple “trail” instructions:

Stay close to your body and its most basic needs, while attending to imbalances and physical urges early and often. Remember you have a duty to those you are traveling with. A duty to hold up your own end.

Which can only be done if you know how to take care of your own end to begin with.

Intentions

 

Intentions are a powerful way to focus a mind that loves to dwell in the limitations and pain of the past, along with the apprehensions and anxieties of the future. But more than anything, intentions put you into direct contact with what you really want in life. Which then puts you into direct contact with all of the ways that you undermine what it is that you really want in life.

This past year, I have bumped up my intention setting to include a monthly ritual on each new moon to get very clear about something in my life based on the astrology we are in. Basically, I am aligning myself with my own energies as well as larger Universal forces; helping me to accelerate whatever it is that I am navigating towards.

Then, I spend the following weeks bringing myself back over and over again to what I have intended. This helps me to navigate by a True North (what it is that I most want) and gives me something to align with when I have gotten off course (what it is that I don’t want).

Given the long list of distractions and addictions available in the culture at this time, without a clear intention of what you most want in Life, you will be doomed to keep repeating over and over again what is not working for you.

This month the new moon was in the sign of Virgo. I have a special feeling for this sign as it is all about the body. Not only one of my favorite topics, but the very cornerstone for everything I do in life. And this doesn’t just apply to me. We cannot be here without a body. Nor can we enjoy ourselves or have energy to create what’s important to us when we are in a body that feels like crap.

Does it not make sense then, to create a special relationship with this one body of yours?

One way to begin is to let yourself imagine what it is that you really want when it comes to your body. This month, I did that by creating an intention for myself at the new moon: May I know what it is to live in this body feeling fully blessed, loved, protected, understood and seen.

As I go through my days, I can pinpoint the moments when I am in alignment with this deep desire, and when I am not. As always, it breaks down to my state of mind. Am I in an old place when experiencing my body, an anticipated future, or am I here right now? And when I am here through the lens of the present versus the past versus the future, what is my experience like in each state when it comes to how it feels to be in this body of mine?

I will tell you something that holds true for all of us. No matter what your body is feeling or experiencing, when you are only in the present moment with what is happening, not only is the experience doable, you will find more sustenance and support than when you are imagining past or future scenarios about what it all means. Further, only when you are in your body now, as is, can you experience feeling fully blessed, loved, protected, understood and seen.

No matter what is happening.

Nourishment

 

What Is Nourishing To You?

Have you ever really thought about what nourishment is, or explored it for yourself? Last night, in the monthly group I facilitate, this was the question I was exploring with some other women. The conversation we had is still reverberating with me so I thought I would continue it here.

The dictionary says that to nourish is to “support, maintain, promote the growth of.” Personally, this definition does not even come close to what the act of nourishing feels like to me when I am really doing it. The dictionary version feels too dry and disembodied to describe the deep, deep down feeling I get of being tended to in the most sacred of ways when I am really nourishing myself. 

Which is why I am proposing an exploration of your own. One that truly taps into the rich and luscious possibilities of discovering what nourishes you, along with what does not. And maybe most important of all, why you are not.

As with all things related to the health of mind, body and spirit, there is never any one-size-fits-all out there that could ever do justice to the experience of feeling fully nourished across all the changing moments of your life. To believe that would be to not only rob yourself of the greatest of experiences of learning to be more present to yourself, it would promote the rationale for believing that you are being nourished when in fact you are only accepting sloppy seconds. In other words, using sub par substitutes for what you most need and desire; believing that that is all there is for you.

So, how do you know? How can you tell whether something is truly nourishing or just some “facsimile of” masquerading as what you most need? Can anything be nourishing? Can something be nourishing in one moment, and not in another?

While I can’t answer those questions for you, you can. But the only way to do that is to learn to be in your body more and more often as you go through your day making all the decisions you need to make when it comes to that which nourishes, and that which does not. This is different then the habits you have, the thoughts you keep, the opinions of others, expert advice or what your past has to say.

Just writing that brings up how much there is when it comes to truly figuring out what is nourishing to each and every one of us. Which is why it can be easier to start by identifying the places in your life that it is not.

Nourishment is not, and never will be, a post on social media, a hashtag or a meme. It is never a way to beat yourself up or keep up with the imaginary Jones’s. It is never about medicating yourself or pleasing another.

Instead, this is a daily ritual of returning to yourself as often as you can remember to, while seeing that the choice of what you give to yourself is always yours. This takes time and practice. It also takes a lot of courage to put the pause button on long enough (despite the noise in your own mind and all around you) to connect to whether or not something or someone is feeding you. Or taking from you.

Here’s a practical way to get started. Make it a point once a day to catch yourself in a choice you are about to make. It could be eating, having a conversation, being in front of a screen, doing something on your to-do list. Pause. Ask yourself, “Does this feel nourishing to me?”

If so, keep going. If not, take note. Get curious, not judgmental. If you can, wonder to yourself, “Is there a way I can shift this to something more nourishing?” Maybe that means leaving the last bite of dessert untouched, excusing yourself from a depleting conversation, allowing yourself to be done even though the to-do list is not finished or being brave enough to disappoint another.

There is no good or bad, right or wrong here. Your only litmus test is whether or not you are honoring what you need in any given moment with something that is truly nourishing to you.