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?

Hearts Are Made To Be Broken

 

Years ago I found a little hanging heart for the garden. It’s made of metal and there are two hearts within a bigger outer heart. It hangs off a pole that goes into the ground, and it moves with the wind.

Because it got broken beyond even all the repairs my husband could do, last year I got a new one. An even bigger one. But just like the first one, it got so banged up by the elements that my husband has already twice had to repair it.

When it happened the first time, I found myself saying, “My heart is broken. Can you fix it?” I immediately saw the deeper meaning behind what I was saying. As in, the world has broken my heart. Can it be fixed?

It’s not easy being human. There are so many harsh realities we must all come to face. So many ways we can be hurt. So many ways that the sensitive, loving parts of us can be broken, and driven underground. So many ways that our open-hearted innocence can be warped into anger, cynicism, fear, and victimhood.

It reminds me of something my yoga teacher once said in a training I was in when I was feeling particularly heart-centered, open, and vulnerable. He said, “The world will break your heart, but you are not your heart.” I have never forgotten these words. It is life-altering for me to know that despite how painful life can get, I am more than even the greatest of any heartbreak I will ever experience.

So now, my first little broken heart lives in the earth of my medicine garden. My newer and bigger heart swings around in the wind, shored up by my husband’s loving touch. I look at it every day out my study window as I write, or as I make my way to the chickens, while it stands imperfectly at the entrance of the path that takes people to our yurt, and I think, “Hearts are made to be broken, and the measure of a woman is how many times it can happen to her without her spirit being broken.”

Inner Authority

 

I think a lot about what it means to be healthy, and to heal. Over the years, I’ve come to see that there are the absolute biological necessities of life that must be met. These are the ones that, whether we do them or not, we’ve all heard about. The must-have’s like eating whole foods, getting the rest we need, staying hydrated, moving our bodies, etc.

What is less, or even not at all, talked about, are essential internal attitudes and perspectives that are the non-negotiable pre-requisites for health and healing. Mindsets, that if missing, will leave even the “healthiest” of diets or the most rigorous of exercise regimens lacking.

I want to begin this part of the conversation by sharing one of the most stunning things I have heard anyone say in a very long time: “The time for relying on outer authorities is over.”  Wow. OMG! What are you talking about? 

Whether you find this perspective enlightening or frightening, hear me out. Claiming inner authority for how we inhabit these bodies of ours is the New Paradigm waiting to be born, and it begins with Personal Responsibility and Self-Trust. How could it be otherwise? Who is the only one who lives in your body and has the capacity to care for it? Who is the only one who actually knows how it feels? Or what it needs?

It is your body. It is yours to take care of.

But this truth has gotten waylaid. We have become overly dependent on sources outside of us to tell us what we need. Just look at all the pharmaceutical commercials or the ever- burgeoning public health campaigns. One money based. The other politically based and fear-driven.

Of course, we need our helping professionals. But when we don’t trust our own body or when we hand over responsibility for it, while we may believe we are getting a guarantee or getting out of something too difficult for us, we actually lose a lot.

That being, living as a fully empowered adult who knows how to take care of, and trust themselves. When I mentioned this idea to someone not long ago, she said “That’s a big lift.” 

It is.

So maybe we can break it down into a more manageable, desirable even, way of being with our own health. I see self-trust and personal responsibility as two sides to the same coin. As in, the more I claim responsibility for the choices I make around my health, the more I come to have faith in my ability to make good choices in the future.

The more I trust myself, the more confident I feel claiming ownership of how I treat my body. Self-trust is the capacity to believe in your own body and its ability to heal. Personal responsibility is the capacity to respond to what your body actually needs in any given moment, in an authentic way. As in, not based in fear, doubt or the need to have someone make it better for you.

In a nutshell, this is the energy of meeting what your body is doing and needing, while serving as your own trusted adviser and confidante. This is the opposite of feeling so disempowered that you leave health decisions in someone else’s hands, or of being so afraid, confused and doubtful of your own body that once again, you are left only to leave it up to someone else.

Because we are literally swimming in a sea of belief systems that tell us it is “normal” to leave our bodies in the hands of experts and authorities, we need ways of breaking through the conditioning.

Here are some things to be on the lookout for: Do you feel like a little kid when you are with your doctor? Are you afraid to say certain things because it might upset them? Do they dismiss you when you have another opinion? Do you find yourself asking for their permission, or feeling like you have to justify an instinct or an intuition that you have about your health?

It can feel scary and overwhelming to take back what is yours. It can feel so very risky at first. Go slow. Start in low stakes situations. Observe yourself. Notice when you are trying to please or are over-explaining. We all have our histories with authorities, but suffice to say, we have become conditioned to be quite obedient and compliant in the presence of someone credentialed.

Especially when we feel they have knowledge we don’t possess. But did you know that the first definition of “expert” is “experienced?” That’s it. This “expert” status is available to you and is as basic as getting some more experience with your very own body. It truly is as simple as learning to pay a little more attention to what your body likes and what it doesn’t.

Forget about all the information about how to take care of yourself. (Most of us aren’t doing it anyway, or we use it to beat ourselves up with.) Instead, begin and end each day by asking your body “How’s it going?” And then, just listen. This kind of listening and being with yourself is the very foundation of personal responsibility and self-trust: A capacity that extends well beyond your health.

Embracing Obstacles

 

It’s not easy being in a body. There are so many sensations, pressures, thoughts, beliefs and experiences that go along with how we feel about our bodies, and what it means to inhabit them. That’s why it can feel preferable to “leave” them. Or let someone else be in charge of them.

It has become a socially condoned way of “living” to leave our bodies and what it is we are experiencing. Take my college students and the way that they “party.” The way they use drugs and alcohol to knock down the stress. To keep them from feeling what they don’t want to feel.

I know this place. All too well. It was how I lived for years. Partying, eating and exercising to excess and as punishment. Self-loathing and worthlessness arising out of the choices I was making. It was only when I began to feel how horrible what I was doing to myself felt, that I was able to shift. Only when I was willing to encounter the obstacles to good and fulfilling connection with my body did things, slowly and steadily, begin to change.

While incredibly difficult, excruciating and sad to come up against the obstacles that were keeping me from myself, it was real. Most of all, it was true. Obstacles are an absolutely unavoidable and essential part of the journey of being at home in our own body. So that’s where I began. With what was real by way of what was in between me and my body. In between me and my ability to be at home in myself. 

I know the current thinking is to get away from what feels bad. I would even go so far as to say that it is built into us as mammals to get away from what causes pain. That it is a necessary part of our survival and coping mechanisms to avoid what hurts. This life-giving tendency most certainly has its place. However, in modern day living where our pains are often self- and culturally-induced, with no connection whatsoever to real physical survival requirements, our wires have gotten crossed when it comes to avoidance. 

The basic, primal instinct of avoidance has gotten flipped on its head, and is now bringing harm rather than relief, while being met by a world all too happy to sell us things that keep us from ever having to feel what it is to be in our own bodies. 

Given the cultural mindset that says “Take this to get away from feeling what you are feeling in your body,” to hear that in order to be at home in yourself, you must go towards what you typically avoid, can sound paradoxical. Or even insane. But if we don’t include this part of embodiment, we’ll miss out on some of the most important information we need when it comes to the body and how it is that we are treating it. Not to mention that it is pure fantasy to try and avoid what we would rather not know. 

Acting as if something is not there, does not make it so.

It is only when we include what does not feel good, what is not working, what is keeping us from a good relationship with ourselves, can we see that what we’re doing is actually not working. Maybe even hurting. That any of the denying, diversions and medicating we’re engaging in, outweighs any “benefits” they may bring in the short-term. Worst of all, that what we’re choosing through our avoidance may actually become the impediment itself to healing what ails us.

In the end, keeping us from not only the health we desire, but the opportunity to know ourselves fully through the empowered journey of learning to trust and care for ourselves. 

 

Love

 

There are those who say, and have said since time recorded, that Love is the very fabric, energy and pulse of the Universe. If that’s so, it seems important enough to ponder what it is beyond flowers, chocolates and jewelry. Wouldn’t you say?

I know we use the word. I know we see it “represented” in emogees and on cards. I know we will say we love things like cake or our iPhone. I know we are expected to love certain people more than others, and that we are instructed to “Love thy neighbor.” And even our enemies.

But what is it exactly that we’re doing here? Do we even know?

It has been said that love heals. That love conquers all. That love is blind. And that love can move mountains. Still. What is it?

Personally, I know that love is not money. Nor is it things. I believe many people would agree to that, and yet those same people, at any given moment, might equate love to something too small to be it. As in, the bigger the diamond the more he loves you.

I know it’s not words, though words can express it. And I know that saying “I love you,” can be used for many, many reasons other than love. I also know that since the advent of cell phones, it is used liberally. Becoming a must-have way to say good-bye whether you are feeling it or not. A needy gesture to the other person serving as a desperate stand-in for how little we show it.

It’s almost like the more disconnected we get from each other, the more the words replace what it would actually take to create the connection and the closeness we all long for.

I find it harder to say what it is, then what it is not. As in, it is not desperate, anxious, or manipulative. It does not fill a void. It does not demand anything. Nor does it make up for personal lack and insecurities. It does not punish, withhold or humiliate. And it never, ever forces another to engage in a particular action to prove itself.

Perhaps love with a capital “L” is beyond words. As ineffable as the Source from whence it comes. Something available to us, something we can pass on, but never of our own making. So maybe the very best we can do is to open our heart to its Presence and its desire to flow through us.

Whether we ever say those three little words, or not.

 

A Manifesto

 

I am in the midst of exploring, very deeply, what health is. What supports it. What undermines it.

The deeper I go, the more I come to see that there are fundamental perspectives that must be embraced first. That before we can even decide what healthcare or medicine looks like for each of us, we must first develop a way of being in relationship with ourselves and all of Life that comes as close as we can to working with basic truths around what it actually takes to be healthy and to thrive.

Here is my attempt. Run it though your own system. What resonates? What challenges? Where could you begin?

 The Embodiment Manifesto:

A Revolutionary Commitment To Redefining How We Care For Ourselves

Mission: To explore what is possible when we learn how to recognize and honor real human needs, live according to life-affirming values, express the Truth of who and what we are.

As Fully Sovereign & Embodied Beings, We Believe That:

  • Who we are and how we live matters.
  • Our health is our own responsibility.
  • The single greatest contribution we will ever make to the world is how we take care of ourselves.
  • Honoring real human needs is the basis for how we know and care for ourselves.
  • Self-Care is built-in.
  • Everything is Connected.
  • The body is Intelligent & any signs or symptoms we experience are worthy of our attention.
  • Claiming bodily sovereignty is a healthy act.
  • Valuing our own life is valuing all Life. 
  • Good Medicine is always in the hands of the people: For the people, by the people, and of the people.

 

The New Paradigm: Foundations 101

 

Your health and well-being is the single largest contribution you will ever make to the world. Or, as Ram Dass once put it, “The only thing you have to offer another human being, ever, is your own state of being.”

I recognize this can feel daunting. Perhaps beyond your reach and capacity. It might even feel like hogwash. And simultaneously true. All at the same time. I also know that to ignore this is to put ourselves at odds with not only our own and truest Nature, but also with Everything and Everyone around us.

From this perspective, this is no small thing we are talking about here.

Of course, I did not always know this. Early on it never occurred to me to consider how I was living was impacting others. Makes sense given that I did not even know how it was that I was impacting me. Never mind everyone else I came in contact with. But I know it now, and I watch it play out. Meaning, that when I am healthy, resourced and clear, the quality of my interactions is always of a higher caliber. The healthiness of the engagement prioritized. Even when, and perhaps most especially, when it is a difficult encounter.

Our health and well-being is not only the very foundation of our lives, and what it feels like to be alive, it is the very foundation of our lives together. How could it be anything else? Individually and together we create the collective. The whole will always only be as good as the sum of all of its parts. There is no “in here” that does not reflect “out there.” For to live out of balance within ourselves is to create the very imbalances outside of ourselves that we all abhor. And fear.

So here’s the million dollar question, “If it were true that my health and well-being is the single most important contribution I will ever make to the world, what then?

Without trying to find a quick fix answer, without discounting this as too airy-fairy to be of value, and without succumbing to an internal paralysis because it feels like too much or because you wouldn’t know what to do, what if you just asked yourself that question? A lot. What if you let that question and your intention to contribute from a whole place, guide you?

What then?

 

The Stories We Tell

 

I am recently told a story of a woman who travelled to Peru to be with a local shaman. She went seeking answers as to why her life was such a mess. I imagine what it took for her to get to this place. To be so unable to understand what was happening for her, and what it was that she needed to do. To feel the anticipation and the hope that there would be a magical transformation performed by a seer in a life-altering ceremony in a mystical nation.

He told her she needed to stop drinking.This was not what she expected. Or wanted. This was most decidedly, not what she came for.

She came seeking a transcendent explanation and experience as to why her life was not working out. She came believing that delivery from her own personal hell would come neatly packaged up and “performed” for her by another. Someone wiser. Someone more “hooked up” than her.

But that is not how growth goes. Change is hard, and it is messy. Despite our child-like fantasies of an external savior, the one who knows all, the one who knows more and better than we, and the one who takes it all away, that is not how real change works.

I am involved in a year long somatic training. Right now we are fully immersed in all of the behaviors we engage in to bypass the pain we cannot be with. It is excruciating. And it is liberating. To be in a place where you are nose-to-nose with the truth of your own behaviors is humbling. To see them in the light of the protective functions they play in your life is nothing short of breathtaking.

You see, we all have perfectly good reasons for doing what we do. Even, and maybe most especially, when what we are doing hurts us.

Look into your own Life. What’s not working? Could you be so brave and so wise as to notice a behavior, a feeling or a thought, one you wished was not there? Locating it, gently say to yourself, “It’s okay that you’re here.” 

This is not to say that you like it or want it to stay. This is a courtesy, and an honesty that you extend to yourself where you do not turn away, but instead turn towards, what is not working. This is done in the Spirit of a kind of reconciliation with your past. How it is that you got here. This is done with the understanding that the codes for changing anything, lie embedded within us.

And it all begins by learning how to be with what is.

The Limitations of Certainty Seeking

 

A friend of mine introduced me to the phrase, “certainty seeking.” It means just what it sounds like.

While it is so natural as a human being to want a high degree of certainty guaranteed, when it comes to how things in Life will go, it is an illusion. As a species we seem to be the only ones on the planet who not only do not know that there are no such guarantees, we go so far as to demand that it be so; compounding an already dangerous and misguided notion.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what to do. While terrifying to hold at first, this orientation to Life is a true one. A real one. One that lines us up with reality, thereby allowing us to be with things from a clear starting point. Meaning, we are much more likely to respond with accuracy and in a right-sized manner.

This past week, I had a surprising turn of events in that suddenly my back was spasming with such intensity that I could barely walk. I could not take a deep breath. Nor could I get my pants on by myself. In the midst of the worst of it, my husband found me sobbing, “I don’t know what to do.” All of my usual approaches and remedies had fallen short. Nothing was working.

Later, working with one of my practitioners, he uttered the phrase “trapped vulnerability,” which initiated another round of sobbing. There it was. The physical pain was nothing compared to the deep existential vulnerability of being alive that I was up against. Now the question became, “How am I going to be with this?”

What has unfolded over this week is that my deepest vulnerability is bound to my deepest power. That giving way to vulnerability and uncertainty puts me back into alignment with Truth. The doorway in being, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what is going to happen.” It is from this place that I create an opening. A portal if you will, where things I never thought of have a chance to reveal themselves. Where unimaginable support has a chance to come in. And where the most unbearable pain turns into Strength. Possibility. Healing.

We are living in times where a kind of dogma of certainty has settled over us like a plague; settling in us and between us. The message? This, and only this is what you are allowed to believe in. If you do, you are guaranteed a certain outcome. And while to many of us this certainty can feel so reassuring, it is illusion. One that is robbing us of Truth and Possibility.

To believe that another can offer you the certainty you seek is a fool’s errand. An existential foreclosure. Worst of all, somewhere deep inside, you know it is not true. To trade in this lie is to set yourself against the forces and the powers of the Universe. The very same One, which never has and never will, offer you that type of guarantee.

The Future of Health

 

Not long ago, I saw a commercial which seems to sum up where we are, and where we are headed when it comes to health. Unless, that is, enough of us decide for something else. Something more True. More Real. More Life-affirming. More, well, human.

The commercial opens with the following tagline: “The future of health is on your wrist.” We are then shown a woman operating at warp speed in her life, while being continuously reminded by the device on her arm to “Relax.” Then it tells her to “Run.” Then “Swim.” Then do “Tae Kwon Do.” Then “Dance.” I watch in horror as she manically leaps from one instruction to the next; all directed by a tiny machine she is wearing on her arm.

If this weren’t so alarming, it would be funny. Saturday Night Live parody funny.

But it’s not funny. Not when we consider how many of us take health advice from people trying to sell us something, and whose mixed agenda includes delivering messages of “health and well-being” while bolstering their the bottom line by keeping us ever insecure and doubtful about our own ability to go it without them. It becomes even less funny when we break down the messages that are being taken up by viewers regarding what it means to be healthy. Images that are telling us that instructions from a piece of technology are what we need to be listening to. That somehow we will not know what we need, or what to do, and that it is best to outsource that knowing to something non-human.

In our infatuation with, and now indoctrination into, all things technological in order to stay healthy, we are losing the main and central ingredient to health and well-being. That being, it is built in and is predicated on a personal knowing born of experience and attention.The “knowing” of which I speak is inborn, and yet it requires both cultivation and protection. It does not take its cues from a commercial. Nor does it require a machine in order to stay well. In fact, the abdication of this personal knowing is what is at the heart of a deep and dangerous disconnect from the natural and healing wisdom of our bodies.

The future of health would do well to consider not only what is presently happening in health care, but to take a good, hard look at how it is that we have arrived in a place where so many of us are so sick and so disconnected from the most basic principles of how to care for a human body. For before we can talk about the future, we must weed out what is currently not working. What is outdated. Misleading. Harmful even.

Do you want to know what the real future of health is? IT IS YOU. It is your inner and personal knowing restored, trusted, and acted upon. And it is so, so basic. As basic as paying closer attention to yourself. For instance, how often do you see something advertised that is claiming to be able to improve your health, and that you jump at because you think either this will be easy, or because “they” must know better. Watch the impulse to outsource your health and well-being while getting into the habit of checking in with yourself, asking, “Is that really what a human being needs to be well, or am I being sold something?”