Red Flags

 

This morning I did something I almost never do. I went online before my morning practice. It’s not like it’s an ironclad rule to never do this. It’s just that I know that when I start my day in reflection, I’m a different person. Closer to who I most want to be when I begin my day by checking in, as opposed to checking out.

But the allure today towards the screen was just too strong. A friend had told me about a meditation, and I got it into my head that this would make my practice better. Deeper. That maybe this would be what I needed to get over the hump of an obstacle I had been struggling with. Maybe it would get me closer to Source?

That right there should have been a red flag. But the temptation of the one-click-away to salvation was just too strong.

Once on the site and ready to buy the fix I thought I needed, for some reason the payment wouldn’t go through. So I tried it again. And then, again. And again. Actually a bunch more times. I even walked away for a minute, and then came back to try once more.

And so it was, with some sense of loss and disappointment that I headed into my morning practice. But not with my usual sense of commitment and eager anticipation.

Yesterday, I would have told you that I am far too experienced to believe that some meditation would fill some hole. Today I would tell you, some part of me does not know better. I would tell you that this whole business of what we need, and what we think we can get immediately via the screens is very, very seductive. In such an exquisitely insidious and invisible way that there’s a good chance you won’t even know it’s happening.

Why? Because the false promise of easy access salvation to a better life with just one click, flies under the radar of the rational mind. The part of us that believes we are in charge and know exactly why we are choosing what we do. What I am describing tells another story. One where our deepest longings, those places beneath the surface of awareness that drive us without us even knowing it, are easily hijacked by what is available across a screen.

It is so sobering to experience just how vulnerable we are to the belief that what we need is out there; in someone else’s hands, in an app, some purchase, a meditation download. This morning, I am deeply humbled by the ease with which I was hooked. Equally, I am deeply grateful for the daily reminder of my morning practice. Something that caught me today before I fell too far from Truth.

That Truth being, there are no quick fixes out there. No matter what form they come in. The real Truth is, it is in us. Whatever it is that we are looking for. Do we need help? We do. But the trick is, not to confuse the help (someone else’s map) with the answer we are seeking (which can only be found in the direct knowing of our own territory).

So yes, use what’s out there to spark you. But never, ever, believe something outside of you will do for you, what only you can do for yourself.

P.S. When in doubt about where you are in all of this, be on the lookout for the compulsion that you just have to have (fill in the blank) to be okay. Use that feeling of impulsiveness on your part to have something right now, as the red flag being flown to warn you off the lie you are about to buy into.

When The New Is The Old

 

Here we are at the start of a New Year. A time where individually and collectively we push towards new habits and new outlooks. But in the times we are living in, is it actually the wisest course of action to continue to push for what is new? Especially when you factor in that for all of our “new and progressive” ways, we have actually become quite barbaric in our treatment of ourselves, others and the planet.

Less healthy, less tolerant, less happy, less satisfied, less safe, less, less, less…

Maybe, just maybe, looking to the “old” is what we all most need more of in our lives. I recognize I risk being labeled old school, out-of-touch, an impediment to progress, irrelevant, etc. But when I look around and see the tipping point we sit at, I could care less about how I am labeled.

What I do care deeply about is how far off track, how far away from our essential selves, how absolutely destructive, unhappy and sick we’ve become. You certainly don’t need me to point this out to you. I know you see it too. And if you don’t, well, whatever I say here will not be for you.

But if you do recognize what’s happening and you’re willing to step beyond blame, fear, hate and the like, what are we to do? How are we to move beyond what we have agreed to that is not working for any of us?

I’d like to propose an orientation to our lives that harks back to the “old.” Not as a way to romanticize the past or ignore the requirements of the present, but to look for what has worked for us in the past. Not so much specific actions as tried and true ways of being that have supported us forever. And more to the point, actually reflect the Truths of our existence.

What might this look like? I’ll take you back to an enduring question I asked myself hundreds of times when I was raising children and trying to navigate lots of bogus and harmful have-to’s that the culture and those around me said my children must have in order to be okay and prepared for this new world of ours. That question was, and continues to be:

What does a human being absolutely need? What do we need that we could not do without on the most fundamental of levels when it comes to surviving and thriving? What universal and timeless must-haves need to be there that transcend the times, peer pressure, marketing, mandates and more?

This is a deep and natural exploration that takes us right back to some of the most essential Truths of being alive. So, check it out for yourself because this is indeed a very inside job. And then, align with what you find and learn to live it.

Higher Love

 

Last weekend I ran in one of my favorite road races. Maybe it’s the season and all the holiday decorations that make it feel so special. Or maybe it’s the funny and festive costumes that people not only wear, but run in. Perhaps it’s the brass band, the women drummers or the dance troup that line the course. Maybe it’s the people that stand on the side of the road with bells and other festive holiday accoutrements cheering you on. Perhaps, it’s a combination of all of the above.

And for sure, personally, this year there was the deep, deep appreciation I felt for my body for being able to run after having not been well enough to run for a couple of weeks.

Whatever it is on any given year, there is such an overwhelming feeling of goodwill that each year as I cross the finish line, I burst out crying. With joy. With a deep appreciation for being alive. With the knowing that this is what I want to feel more of when I am around other people.

This year the words from a Steve Winwood song, “Bring me a higher love” were blasting over the loud speaker as I finished. It felt so perfect and so expressive of what I was feeling. Being out there with people of all types, all shapes and sizes, in a harmonious way, reminds me of what is possible when we are all running our own pace, in the company of others, while we all focus in the same direction.

It doesn’t matter what you look like, what gear you have, how fast or slow you are, how fit or not you are, or even, believe it or not, whether or not you “finish.” Instead, it’s about being together, as is. Side by side. No questions asked. No judgments meted out.

We could do this. We can do this. But it will take each and every one of us making a decision to see the one before you, next to you and behind you, as worthy of your appreciation. Worthy of your admiration of how great they are doing, no matter what it looks like. This is not to excuse bad behavior, but instead to acknowledge that running the race of Life can be arduous and at times, overwhelming, and that no matter what it looks like from the outside, we all really are doing the very best we can in any given moment.

What if we decided to have the wisdom to greet each other with a kind of higher love? As opposed to expecting the worst. Or looking for flaws. Or greedily confirming our inherent judgments and biases in an attempt to feel “right.”

Goodness

 

For the past several months, in the weekly yoga class I attend, we have been working with something called The Mother’s Symbol. It represents various faces and powers of the Divine Feminine, as well as twelve qualities, or virtues, to cultivate in life.

The virtues include things like Sincerity, Humility, Gratitude and Perseverance. This past week, we focused on Goodness. In the exploration, the teacher quoted the words of a great sage who wrote of “goodness for the sake of goodness.” In other words, not being good to get something, or to appear a certain way to others, and certainly not to use being good as something to lord over others.

For the whole class, all I could think about was us as a collective. Us as a culture that has come to weaponize goodness. Current day ideologies that have taken what it means to be “good,” and narrowly defined it to fit an agenda which is then used to call out and convict those who do not measure up to a biased and destructive definition.

But if we come back to “goodness for the sake of goodness,” we would see that this is never a virtue to claim for an external reason; whether to look good to others, get something, or keep from being cancelled or attacked.

Instead, real goodness is cultivated from within for its own sake; transcending outside agendas and our own personal fears. Goodness from its purest perspective is only about our own evolutionary and spiritual progress. Only about our connection to Something Far Greater than us.

Only about a return to the Truth of who and what we are, and where it is that we come from. This is vastly different from the social agreements and ideologies we commit ourselves to, or are forced into.

If we really knew this, we would never, ever, use goodness as a weapon against ourselves or others. We would never, ever, use it to try and control our own behavior or that of another. For that would be in violation of, a desecration of, the most fundamental and sacred aspect of our very Nature. That being, the inherent Goodness that lives within.

I am left wondering, as I often do, if in the world of social media, extreme and polarizing ideologies and party politics, if we will be able to find our way into our own inherent goodness. I pray for all of our sakes that we can. For without experiencing the Goodness within, how will we be able to see that in another, or know the Truth of who we really are?

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.

Devotion

 

I was talking with someone recently struggling to take better care of herself. Despite “knowing better,” she just can’t seem to get there. Each time she “fails” it seems to solidify something negative about her in her own mind. I think we can all relate.

How many promises have you made to yourself around health and self-care, only to break them?

I would tell you that it is not due to a lack of willpower, or that your intention was not a good one to begin with. I would tell you that it’s not that you don’t have the right diet, app or gear. Or that the program you were trying was faulty somehow. I would tell you that any of the above, as well as any like them, is not why what you’re doing is not working.

What then?

I would tell you that it is a lack of devotion to the preciousness of your own life that stands in your way.

OMG! Are you kidding me? That’s too much. Too esoteric. Too sad. Too hard. I’d rather go back to having the wrong outfit or signing up for the wrong diet! I get it. Changing something external about our lives seems so much easier, faster and more convenient. But it’s a lie to believe it will be the fix for a broken sense of how precious you are.

More than that, Why has it become so difficult to really, really devote ourselves to the value of our own life?

The truth is, if you keep avoiding the fact that the very reason why what you’re trying isn’t working is because down deep, you don’t think you’re worth it, not valuable enough, you will forever stay on the miserable, ineffective and shame-inducing hamster wheel of seeking external solutions. Ones you will have to try, over and over again. Ones that will cost you; both monetarily and in terms of how you feel about yourself.

More than that, you will miss the beauty of you and what you are really all about. This blindspot will also have you missing the sacred preciousness of Life all around you.

But if you can see that the reason why external attempts fail is because denying yourself the necessary devotion you have a right to, will always undermine your efforts, you are starting in the right place. If you can see that the external fix mentality, capitalized on now by a multi-billion dollar wellness industry, banks on you failing to keep you coming back for more, you begin to free yourself.

There is no external fix for a belief system that says I’m not worth it. I don’t deserve it. My life is not precious.

Learning how to honor, value and love yourself is the very foundation for self-care, and it is non-negotiable. Once you begin to engage with yourself in this way, the specifics of what you’re doing more naturally fall into place through an organic alignment with what is devotional and life-affirming. In other words, when you are no longer bouncing around from “solutions to solution,” you are instead guided to what you most need.

This is a powerful and far-reaching orientation as the long-term health of your life and those around you hangs in the balance. And it is as close and immediate as your next choice. That’s the place to start.

Your very next choice. 

When you’re about to decide the next thing to put in your mouth, the time you will go to bed, that person you will spend your time with, the outfit you put on, how much you give to work, the way you spend your money, whether you go for that walk or not, spend time on yourself or not, ask yourself these essential questions:

Does this choice reflect the preciousness of my life? Is this an act of self-devotion?

And if it’s hard for you to devote yourself in this way, find a picture of yourself when you were little. Look at your younger self and pose those very same questions while giving yourself all the time you need to catch up to what is, and always has been, Truth.

Your life matters. You matter. You are precious. A life lived with devotion to that knowledge changes everything in ways they most need to be changed. From the inside-out.

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.

Simple Requests

 

I think a lot about what it means to live in a way that honors myself, while also living in harmony with others. As you can imagine, there is no shortage of opportunities for me to practice, in real time, how to actually live this.

I got another chance recently when one of the men doing some work on our farm brought his dog. When he asked me if it was okay for the dog to be here, I said, “yes.” But that was only a partial answer. I really wanted to say “Yes, as long as you keep him out of my medicine garden.”

But I didn’t. Why? Because I thought he would think I was uptight, a bitch, not a dog lover. And if I’m really being honest, it’s because I thought there was a chance he would be angry. Not because he had shown any inkling of behaving that way, but because that is an old imprint of mine: I make a reasonable request to a male and I get exploded on.

This leaves me not saying what I need to say in certain situations. And because I didn’t say what I really needed to say, when the dog did go into my medicine garden, I vacillated between seething and feeling like I didn’t have a right to seethe. This led to all kinds of unkind thoughts towards this unconscious man and his unruly dog. Which then led to unkind thoughts about myself.

It all felt terrible.

Then, I got an opening. When I had to leave a note for the men for something else, I added the part about doing their best to keep the dog out of the garden. The response? Both men profusely and sincerely apologized. No one flipped out on me. This left me able to spontaneously and naturally say to them, “I just wanted to let you know so that I would’t be secretly pissed at you and your dog.” We all laughed.

Something very old and afraid in me lifted through that honest exchange.

More than that, saying what I needed to say has allowed me to enjoy having their dog around. Interestingly enough, as I write this, he is standing outside the glass door looking in at me. Now it could be the two raw eggs I gave him this morning, but to me it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that by speaking up when I needed to, not only did I not have to live in fear or resentment, I see, once again, that every time I speak up from a place of clarity, not only am I better for it, we are all better for it.

But this takes effort, and an enormous amount of personal responsibility. We all refrain from saying what we really feel because we are afraid of the reaction we might get. What’s important to know is that any time you are trying to make a simple and reasonable request, and you are afraid to speak it, the past is in play.

That’s where the responsibility part comes in. It’s your job to run down what that is for you so that you do not project something onto another that doesn’t belong to them. The result? We learn to honor ourselves and to live in harmony with others.

Through Whose Eyes?

 

Seeing ourselves through another’s eyes has its benefits. It can help us see what we cannot on our own; guiding us though our blindspots and limitations of self-recognition, while giving us the kind of reflection we all need to see ourselves, our circumstances and life in general in a more clear-eyed way.

Seeing ourselves through another’s eyes also includes a deep and dark shadow. As in, what if who is doing the seeing is unwell, afraid, biased or driven for some reason to keep you from being seen in your fullness?

As children, how we were seen by the adults around us created how we then went on to see ourselves. If that early seeing by another was clear, loving, kind and fair, we got one image of ourselves. If that seeing was distorted, wound-filled, mean or chaotic, we got another image of ourselves.

Recently, I got poison ivy all around one of my eyes. Not only did I get the telltale blistering, but because the eye is so sensitive, I also got all this swelling on my eye lid, and on the side and under my eye. Every time I looked in the mirror, all I could think of was that movie, The Elephant Man. I felt like his daughter.

So while there has been a fair amount of itchiness and physical discomfort, it has been nothing compared to the psychological discomfort. Dozens of times each day, especially when I am encountering other people, I find myself rehearsing what I will say to whoever I encounter. Some part of me wants them to know what’s going on here. A kind of compulsion to make sure they know this is not how I usually look. (This is also still the case with people who know how I usually look??!!)

So they won’t think…What? What am I working so hard to keep them from seeing?

That there’s something wrong with me? That they will be turned off by my appearance? Then what?

The “then what” is where it actually gets juicy because whether we know it or not, this is what we all suffer under. The belief that another won’t like something about us. And if they don’t like a certain something about us, they won’t like us. They won’t think well of us, include us, take care of us, give us what we need, that we will be left alone, made fun of, maybe even harmed.

All because we believe that if someone doesn’t like what they “see” about us, somehow, somewhere, we’re screwed. Which is why so many of us work so hard to manage how others see us. Hoping against hope that if we can just get them to see the “right” version, we’ll be loved, safe, happy…

But if you have been at all paying attention in your life you know exactly how this plays out. You know exactly how ridiculously hard you need to work to measure up to all the different seeings by all the different people. And you know exactly how often you must betray yourself to measure up; creating all kinds of inner tension, misery and inauthenticity.

As a human being who needs to be seen and to belong, I am susceptible to what others see in me. But because I am equally, if not more, committed to something more than acquiescing to old dysfunctional relational patterns, I have been doing an experiment. I have been intentionally not mentioning my appearance. Intentionally giving no explanation. Even when I know they are looking at my face and thinking about it.

Even when I feel nervous about what they are thinking about.

Something to consider. Whenever you find yourself explaining yourself, your behaviors, appearance, motives, it is a dead giveaway that you are trying to mange how another sees you. A dead giveaway that you are back being a kid who is worried about how others see you in terms of belonging, safety and survival.

That’s when you have a choice. Stay with the old pattern of letting who you are be reduced down to what another does or does not see. Or decide to see what it would be like to see yourself.

The Mind & Its Ways

 

As someone who has been observing her own mind for decades, it’s truly fascinating, sad, maddening, and more to watch how often I can catch my mind in some version of “I’m not doing enough.” Sadly, we all do this.

I know some of us would say that it drives us to do better; to be more of this or that. Sure, we get productivity out of this orientation of the mind, but what about the downside? What are the costs of “motivating” ourselves (if that is even what we are actually doing) by focusing on “not enough?”

This “less than” version of the mind is old. Very, very old. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t even ours to begin with. These were the thoughts and beliefs of those around us growing up, which we took on because it was what we thought was real and true about us as children.

I think of this part of my mind as the taskmaster who believes that by keeping me under its thumb, I’ll do more. I’ll do better. I’ll be safe.  But at what cost and according to who? My past? The number of “likes” the world is giving out? What everybody else thinks? A conditioned sense of unworthiness?

While these costs are certainly enormous, they actually pale in comparison to something we often miss. That being, that through the lens of “not enough” we miss our truest selves. Our beauty, fortitude, kindness, grit, generosity, and more; literally robbing us of the opportunity to experience the Truth of who and what we are.

To live under the mean and unfair taskmaster of “not enough” is to miss the very experience and essence of us.

This can show up for me, in all places, in my daily spiritual practice. It creeps in in the moments where despite having just spent an hour or more in deep contemplation, prayer, and connection, I’ll find my taskmaster mind saying that I’m not doing enough when it comes to the physical portion of my practice.

It sounds like this, “You’re cutting short the posture flow. You’re not doing more challenging poses. You didn’t do a full breathwork practice. You only sat in meditation for 5 minutes.” Blah, blah, blah.

It’s truly laughable and absurd to watch this parade of criticism go through my mind. My standard approach these days to the mind in this place is, “Sure, whatever.”

We need lots and lots of ways to work with the taskmaster mind. So if you’re up for it, any time you want to work with the mind, begin by catching yourself thinking. And when you catch yourself in a loop of “I’m not doing enough,” try the light-hearted “Sure, whatever” approach I just mentioned. This only works though if you keep a kind and light attitude towards the criticisms. Like you know what is being said has no merit, and you don’t feel any need to prove it wrong. 

Then, if you want to really change the mind’s orientation and start to rewire all those neural networks into something new and uplifting, try a phrase I use with myself to not only create a balancing response to that old tape, but to create a mindset that will take me back to the Truth of me.

It goes like this, “In this moment, instead of seeing “not enough,” I choose to see a woman who is…committed to her daily practice and devoted to doing deep inner work. Try it for yourself, filling in your own blanks, while you notice, with the criticizing mind held at bay, what do you see now?