At Odds

 

There is so much in the world that I don’t want to be happening. Some days, I feel like a fish on a hook. Desperately, relentlessly and ineffectively struggling. Fighting. Denying. Blaming.

I hate it. I hate the way it feels. Mostly I hate the way that it squanders my precious time here on Earth.

Several years ago, a friend told me how she chooses a word for the year. I loved the idea, so I took up the practice. This year my word is Freedom. Not a kind of fighting to be free, like a rebellious hands-on-hips teenager bellowing “You can’t tell me what to do!” But instead, an embodiment of a genuine, god-given freedom that comes from within, is transcendent of what is happening around me, and most of all, comes with no strings attached.

As in, not and never, ever bestowed by another.

This is big stuff. As in, Let no man steal your peace.” This sounds so great. I mean who wouldn’t want that? To be able to go around all day with nothing bothering you. Nothing getting to you. But here’s the truth, the wanting of it doesn’t even come close to what it takes to get it.

So what does it take to gain a sense of inner freedom? The ability to be with “What Is,” while taking complete ownership of how you respond. No blaming. No complaining. No victim.

I realize this is a tall order. I recognize almost none of us has had training in this. And yet, as far as I can see this is the only way to the lasting happiness and peace we all yearn for. Otherwise, we are left believing that every time the world does something that does not feel good or right to us, we are basically F*cked. Imprisoned by forces beyond our control.

I am so tired of being at odds with what is happening. Aren’t you? More to the point, so tired of being at odds with myself because the world is at odds with itself. Of course, this is literally the chicken and the egg. As in, which comes first? A world at odds? Or me at odds? Out there? In here?

In some ways, it does not matter because “in here,” is and always will be, the only place I have any control over.

So perhaps you will join me. If so, the next time you find yourself like a fish on a line, railing against what is, simply say, “Yes.” Acknowledge that what you do not want is here and decide that you get to do the only thing that you can do. Decide how you are going to be and feel about that. No matter what.

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.

If Only I Had Known

 

My husband and I are walking through a section of woods that has been logged over the past year. Where once I could have followed the trail blindfolded, I have no idea where I am. Or how to get from where I am, to where I want to be. It’s disconcerting.

I find myself saying, “If only I had known this was going to happen, I would have paid attention in a different way.” The magnitude of that statement stops me cold. For how often have we all said, across all times and spaces, some version of, “If only I had known…” 

In hindsight, with the evidence already clearly laid out before us, it seems a no-brainer. As in, How could I have missed this? How could I have not seen or known?

Herein lies the great dilemma around what is within our power of observation, and what is beyond it. I think much of the time, we have no idea. Instead, we muck around in places we have no control over, while simultaneously abdicating the power we do have. We dump all of our precious attention into worries, distractions, obsessions and fears; getting so outside of ourselves and what is actually there, that we, in effect, become blind.

We do not want to see things as they are. We want other people to be other than what they are. We want the world to be other than what it is. And we want our bodies, our lives and our relationships to be other than what they are. In the meantime, we miss the Truth of the landscape that we are currently occupying, and moving through. In so doing, we become disoriented, losing our way.

The Truth is, you will never know what to do next, or how to get to where you most want to go without first knowing where you are. Whether that is in the woods, in the world, or in the forest of your own mind, body and soul. We cannot be trying to get somewhere without first knowing exactly where we are. But that requires courage, and a willingness to admit when we have no idea where we are, what we are doing, or where we are even going.

It is hard work to be with where you are in any given moment. Harder still though is to live with the unintended consequences and the lost opportunities of waiting for hindsight to give you 20/20 vision.

Health & The Self

 

Last night, I taught a class focusing on health from an Ayurvedic perspective. (Ayurveda being the ancient 5000 year old healing tradition of India.) From this perspective, there is a well-known definition which outlines the fundamentals of health; going from purely physiological states all the way to a unification of body, mind and soul. But it all begins with the premise that one is “established in the Self.”

Take a moment to sense what that might even mean to you. This is a deeply personal exploration, and therefore, unlike what many of us have been taught to believe, there is no right or wrong here. So, what would it feel like to be established within your own self? For me, just thinking those words is a visceral experience. A kind of felt sense homecoming if you will, where I return to myself. More fully inhabit myself. Often, not even realizing that I have even left, until I am back.

For many of us, we are anything but seated within our own self. Our body is wherever we are flinging it around at hyper speed in any given moment. Or maybe it is collapsing somewhere in zombie-like fashion. Either way, our body being in one place, and our minds somewhere else sets up a kind of leaving. So whether we are fretting over or regretting the past, or anticipating the future and creating scary and unwanted scenarios, we stand divided. Abandoned. Unestablished in anything but misery.

Not quite what the ancients had in mind when they proposed that the very first aspect of health is to be seated in the Self.

In other words, as opposed to standing sovereign and unified within, we are instead bashing around inside of ourselves. Or, we have left ourselves. Like an abandoned building we no longer inhabit, and so falls into disrepair, and worst of all becomes inhabited by transient and vagrant energies, we are established nowhere; becoming lost to ourselves, and therefore the world.

If we are to truly claim the birthright of our health, we must be willing to go beyond what we are currently being offered. For it is outdated. If it ever was in date to begin with. I know this can sound harsh, or even scary. That is not the intention. Instead, this is not a bash as much as it is a reckoning. A willingness to recognize that we are anywhere but in health as a nation. Perhaps even as a world. And that to find our way back into a sane, sacred and healthy establishment within ourselves is to go back to the very roots of what it means to inhabit a body.

What might this look like for you? Perhaps it means asking yourself the fundamental question, Where am I right now? as you race through your day, watch disturbing content across a screen, or engage in the same old same old thoughts that always leave you feeling like shit. Or maybe it is to recognize that the schedule you keep, the people you associate with, the news you obsess over, or the work you are doing is so aversive to you on some level, that you can only try and get out of your very own skin.

We did not come here to leave. We came here to know ourselves. To create, contribute, and grow. To do so requires that we focus our lives establishing ourselves in what is real and what is true. When in doubt, ask yourself, what could a human being absolutely not do without? Leave the rest alone. At least, for the most part.

Opening & Closing Doors

 

Back in the spring, we had three doors replaced in our home. Partly, my husband wanted to continue to insure a net positive home. And yes, it would also open up the view. But mostly, he felt that having a tighter seal would keep the ladybugs out of the home he had worked so hard in designing to keep them out.

In any case, after the doors were installed, right from the start, I had to struggle to open and close them. I would have to use both hands to work the lever, while positioning myself, sumo wrestler style, to give myself the extra leverage I needed to lower the latch or lock it in place. Maybe I’m a wimp, but this seemed excessive to me.

My husband took a different stance. Maybe I should lift weights, he joked. It’s pilot error, he chastised. Even when one of his male friends was unable to get himself out the door after spending the night, literally trapped in our house until he found a door that had been left unlocked, still no movement on my husband’s part. No concession that something was off. What about your mother, I asked. Could she get out? Well, no. But so what, she doesn’t live here. Even the thought of someone he loved being unable to move freely in and out of our home did not move the needle.

Something was definitely not working here. Call me crazy, but in my world, one should not need to be working out at the gym to operate the doors to your own home. So why would a reasonable and rationale person cling so thoroughly to something in the face of evidence to the contrary? Why would someone deflect, project and ignore so completely the reality before them?

In a nutshell, personal investment and world view.

My husband had spent the first 3 years in our new home outraged every time the lady bugs got in because he had spent a lot of time, energy and resources making sure that would never happen. He was convinced that with these new doors, the problem would be solved. He had also spent a ton of time researching and speaking with the rep from the door company. Had even scheduled him twice to come back to make adjustments. To no avail.

Me? I had no skin in this game whatsoever. (Unless you call being able to get in and out of a door without breaking a sweat an agenda.) I hadn’t been the one to design or build the house. I had not done all the research or spent all that time on the phone. But mostly, I had no illusions about the power and the intelligence of a ladybug getting to where it wanted to go; despite my husband’s best efforts.

As you can imagine, his investment was immense. This approach just had to work. There was no other way. It just had to be the fix. Only. It wasn’t. Not only were the doors not working, there was no guarantee that they would even do what he believed they would do once the ladybugs returned in late fallFor as they say, “Life will find a way.” 

So here it is. Whenever we have decided something, spent a lot of time putting our energy into something, believing we have found the solution, invested ourselves fully in something, that’s it. There is no considering another way. No looking at other options. No considering the facts. Even when they are right in front of us. It’s the whole cognitive dissonance thing: either you factor in new information and adjust your world view. Or. You deny, ignore and take whatever comes your way and distort it enough until it justifies your decision.

The ability to shift perspectives is to admit fallibility, and is the hallmark of an open and confident person. One who understands that our limited view of the world must be acknowledged. And it ultimately speaks to someone possessing a certain kind of mental flexibility: A capacity that makes for great leaders, trustworthy friends, even-handed partners, and a sane populace.

And it is what the world is begging for right now.

So if you are up for looking at your own ability to shift perspectives, look for the places where you feel everything inside of you physically tense up when things are not as you want them to be. Look for the place inside of you where you cannot bear to hear the other side of something. And then, see what it would be like to include one piece of what it is you cannot accept. One shade of grey you have been denying. One other avenue that might, in fact, work.

P.S. My husband has shifted his perspective. Now it’s the rep who can’t square what he sold us with how it is actually playing out.

 

What Actually Makes Us Better?

 

I am driving on the Mass Pike recently when I see a billboard that simultaneously blows my mind, saddens and outrages me, and brings me right up against the world we are living in. It goes like this: “Springfield is better with Cannabis.”

What The Bleep Are We Doing?

What is happening to us that we would even make a statement like this? Never mind proudly putting it up on a highway for all to see. Including our children. Is this what we want to be boasting about for our communities? Are we so desperate that anything that brings us money is touted as something great? No matter what it is? Are we so overwhelmed and compliant that the best we can hope for is to medicate entire communities into oblivion so that we will not notice what is happening to us?

And what about our children? What message do we send them when we equate drugs with making things better? Especially in cities like Springfield, where like many large cities, they are already ravaged by the ills of poverty, drug abuse, and disenfranchisement. Core societal issues that must be faced and resolved before any city can claim its Greatness. This one example alone exemplifies just how disposable we have come to accept that certain communities are.

Truly, the absolute disregard and disrespect for what makes us great, is staggering.

Like so many things in our world, we are not thinking this one through. Opting instead to take the very, very short view. As in, a populace numbed out? Yes. Coffers filled for some? Sure. But Great? I don’t think so. Not even close. 

Watch closely the words that are being used by others to describe the state of our world, and what it is that we should want and can expect. And then ask yourself, “Is this actually as good, and even great, as it gets?” If it’s not, do not comply. Not in your mind. Not in your words. Not in your actions.

 

 

To Whom Do You Belong?

 

Figuring out to what and to whom I belong has long played a central role in my life. In my early years, there was only one choice: Conform to belong. To not conform was to be left without emotional connection. It was to be penalized. When I hit my teenage years, I had had enough, and so I ceased to conform. I rebelled, hard, against what never felt right to me to begin with. Though this left me on the outs with a parent, I kept going in an attempt to break from what undermined who I authentically was. At the time, I thought I didn’t care what they thought. But I did. So, even though some part of me needed the fight, the boundary, the definition, rebelling against conforming never got me what I needed because I was still defining myself against what I didn’t want. Still trying to belong from the outside in. Still on the outside of a kind of belonging that made any sense to me.

Then came the years that I thought I would try and go it alone. That I would keep myself at a distance from belonging; having come to the conclusion that being in relationship meant I had to negotiate myself in ways that felt harmful to me. That in order to belong, I had to leave really important parts of myself behind. Or at least, in hiding. While this represented another layer in the evolution of my belonging odyssey, in the end, this wasn’t the way to go either. Sure, there were things I didn’t have to negotiate, but there were also important and essential experiences missing.

It was only when I began to turn back towards myself (perhaps for the very first time in my life) that I started to discover who I really was and what I actually needed in belonging. It was a new and vastly unexplored territory to connect with something deep inside me that had nothing to do with my ideas about what I thought I needed to do to belong. This journey has been decades in the making, and continues still, even as I write about this. But at this point, I am so in. Why? Because it has taught me many, many valuable lessons about what it means to balance the Truth of who I am, while belonging in ways that equally support that, and simultaneously, contribute to the Greater Good.

This seems like an unresolvable paradox to many of us. That we actually get to be who we are, and belong. Without negotiation of what is most central to us. We believe this because most of us have been taught and conditioned to believe you either have to choose for yourself (and be selfish and alone) or choose to belong (and give up who you are and what you need). Nary shall the two meet in most people’s world view. And so we usually hole up on one side or the other of the equation of autonomy and belonging.

But here it is, you cannot belong to anyone or anything else until you firmly and completely belong to yourself. First. This is not easy to do. Our most deep-seated, and often unconscious feelings, about belonging go all the way back to being babies and young children where in order to literally survive, we had to belong. No. Matter. What. That meant we instinctively did whatever it took to stay connected to those around us; whether it was good for us and what we needed, or not. Now, as adults, what we think belonging means, and what we believe we must do to belong, has its roots in the minds of infants and babies. In other words, preverbal, and below the reasoning of the grown-up mind.

That is why it can feel so hard to get back to. Or why it is that we do not even recognize it, or feel like we have a choice.That is why it feels so necessary and so compelling to keep belonging in the less than satisfying, and even harmful, ways that we do. How we belong now is what we felt like we had to do back then. What this means is, our very ideas around survival are tied to belonging. From that stage of mind, it would be dangerous to not fit in. The desperate need, often against our better judgment or even our own health, to compromise and negotiate ourselves away to keep from being judged, abandoned, aggressed upon, or ostracized, has its origins in the past, and its expression in the present.

Which brings us to the times of Co-vid. Yes, we are back here again. For to ignore what is being played out on the main stage, would be to deny both how things have gotten derailed, and what it actually is that can bring us back on track. Meaning, we must be willing, each of us, to look at how what it means to belong has been commandeered; centering around outward behaviors that we do or do not do. A kind of “social currency” that we garner, or not, through following a mandate.

This is dangerous to not only personal autonomy, but to your ability to bring a healthy sense of who you are to the group. For the Truth is, we do not belong to other’s expectations of us. Not to their demands, mandates or ideas. We belong to Something much, much greater than that. To begin to question what belonging means to you is to do the work of the Ages. It is to intentionally separate yourself from group think in order to find the Truth within, that you then offer back out as the very foundation of True Belonging.

If this makes any sense to you, begin to notice yourself more closely in relationship. Where do you sell out? Why? Be gentle as this is the work of retelling the little one in you a new and updated version of a story you have long held. Not unlike when a child finds out for the first time, there is no Santa Claus. In that noticing, when you come upon that place where you are locked in an old pattern around what it means to belong, either fighting for your right to be or acquiescing your life in order to fit in, say to yourself, “I belong to Life as it runs through me and from whence it came. It is safe to know this.”

P.S. If you are looking for more structured support in distinguishing between your True Self and what the culture expects of you in order to fit in, check out The Way of Integrity: Finding The Path To Your True Self by Martha Beck.