Balance

 

Here we sit right at the Fall Equinox. A time of equal light and dark. One moment in time balanced on the turning of the outer Universe. Reflecting back into our own inner Universe what is possible when we align with what is most natural and true to who and what we are.

This is not easy. The human mind will take anything, even the concept of balance, and turn  it into something to commodify, sell, and then use as some impossible standard with which to beat ourselves up with.

The Truth is, there is no work-life balance. There is no magical place where everything is accounted for and taken care of. No place where you will finally have all the time, resources and energy to… fill in the blank. And there is no treatment, supplement, book or practice that will gift you with a final resting spot of eternal balance.

Instead, balance is a choice. A seasonal one. A daily one. A moment by moment one.

Balance is elusive, shifting, able to be found, unnerving, arduous and simple. Sounds like one big contradiction. That’s because it is. You cannot chase balance. You cannot make it happen. But you can cultivate the conditions for it to thrive. You can court it by inviting it into your life. You can shepherd a way of being that honors it.

Even so, you will lose it, find it and then lose it again. As my first yoga teacher said about the balancing postures, “You need to fall out of balance to know what true balance is.” That means we have to include it all. The times we feel balanced, and the times we don’t. And we have to be willing to study both, closely and intensively, to know what it takes.

What it asks of us.

That’s because balance is a living energy as opposed to something you purchase. One that cares not about your ideas, but only seeks to know itself through its opposites: Like night and day, male and female, off and on, right and wrong, good and bad, soft and hard, strong and weak, etc.

Imagine yourself as a set of balancing scales. Learn to notice which side of things you tend to fall towards. Too much busyness? Add a pinch of rest. Too much mental pushing? Add a moment of a hand over your heart. Too much talking? Be silent for once. Too much focus on others? Practice some selfishness. Too much screen time? Go outside for a breath or two.

It doesn’t take much. Just an intention to watch when the scales have tipped too far in one direction, and then being willing to add a dose of its opposite. As Ayurveda would say “Opposites balance.” So find what you do too much of, figure out its opposite and begin to weave it into your repertoire. It may never be your default or go-to, but it will go a long way to balancing your own inner light and dark.

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.

Your One Body

 

You only get one body, and you will be with that body for the rest of your life. The relationship you have with your one body will be the most enduring one of your entire embodied existence. Does it not make sense then, to cultivate a deep and trusting connection with this one body of yours? One that transcends doubts, self-loathing, fears, worries, distrust and agendas that undermine its healthy functioning, and your ability to feel good about being in a body. 

It can be easy to believe that our high rates of disease, illness and overall bodily disconnection are just the way it is now. But what if there is much, much more to this story? What if essential pieces have been left out when it comes to the basis of your health and well-being? And what if some of those missing pieces have to do with who it is that is actually responsible for your health, what your body truly needs and what it is that your symptoms are really all about? 

There is an ever-growing awakening that we have strayed too far from what is good for us, and that our current main‐stream medical approach appears to be incapable of saving us from the ill health and bodily disconnection that are far too common now, and that seem only to be accelerating; with greater levels of suffering on the rise now as we seek answers and quick fixes outside the realm of our very own embodied know-how. 

This can be hard to hear. It can feel so much easier to believe that the fixes we seek for the body will be in a piece of machinery, an expert or a pill. That what these bodies of ours need most will come in the form of something far more intelligent than these bodies of ours. Something more infallible, orderly and guaranteed. Something safe because ‘everyone’ else is doing it, or because our doctor says so. 

But what if this view is wrong? What if the reason so many of us are suffering so much in our bodies is because we have not started with what is real and true about who we are and what we most need? What if what we actually need is not complicated at all, but as simple and as close to us as our next breath? Or a well-placed question? Or a tending to one of our body’s most basic and non-negotiable needs like hydration, real food, rest, movement or connection? 

In a world that has normalized harming and mistrusting the body, sometimes even requiring this as a way to fit in, doing things differently from those around you requires great courage. We have such a powerful, survival-based need to belong that it can feel impossible to do anything but conform. To do what others are doing. To do what we are being told to do. No wonder it can feel so unsettling to trust these bodies of ours if it means doing things differently than those around us. 

But how good is it for you, or the community for that matter, to continue to go along with what does not serve the very best in you? Or that even downright violates your body’s most fundamental requirements and your trusting relationship to it? Learning to trust your own body is a lifelong process and is as basic and in the now as asking yourself throughout the day, What is my body experiencing, and what does it need?

Excerpted from my book, Trusting Your Body: The Embodied Journey of Claiming Sacred Responsibility for Your Health & Well-Being



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.

Making a Difference

 

This morning in practice, after spending some time contemplating how to better serve the world, I ‘randomly’ ran into a quote by William James.

“I will act as if I do make a difference.”

There it is. Once again we are back with us, even when we believe we are asking for others. It is another reminder to me that always, always, it begins with me. Not in some narcissistic, selfie way, but in a grounded, I can only help others to the extent that I can help myself, way.

More to the point here, I can only make a difference in the world to the extent that I can embody that who I am and what I do matters. A lot. But in the time of big splashy altruism, philanthrocapitalism, social media, influencers and having millions of followers, this can sound lame. Ineffective. Ridiculous even. As in, what does it matter what’s happening on the inside of you in the face of what is happening in the outside world?

And that’s why so many of us fall into despair, outrage, anger, fear and aggression. These are the responses of people who feel they have no impact in the world. That no matter what they do, nothing changes.

This is where an enormous paradigm leap is called for if you expect to see the changes in the world you yearn for. The leap of faith that must be made is going from believing that the changes need to occur outside of you, to knowing that the changes need to occur inside of you.

I will act as if what I do, who I am and what I believe in makes a difference is the non-negotiable shift that must occur. A kind of internal mantra that must get paired every day with a penetrating question like: What can I do today to live like who I am and what I do makes a difference?

Ask it before getting out of bed in the morning. Ask it when you encounter a difficult moment with the world. Ask it when you find yourself falling into despair or outrage. Ask it when you feel too small to make a difference. Ask it when it all feels so unfair and unjust.

And then look for the most mundane of moments in your life to live like what you do matters. As in, how you talk to yourself and others, how you spend your time and money, how you handle disappointment, horror and greed, how you nourish yourself, how you…

I will act as if I do make a difference.

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?

Rethinking Harm

 

I am these days, as dare I say all of us are, aware of, alert to, and afraid of, lots and lots of what is happening in our world. Lots of what feels out of my hands, and certainly nothing I would ever knowingly create.

And yet, here I am. Here we are. Now what?

Let’s start with the obvious, and then make our way to the not so obvious. There’s a lot of harm going on in the world. That’s obvious. From here on out is where we start to get into the ‘not so obvious.’

While it’s easy, maybe even natural, to believe that someone else is causing the harm and that we are the innocent bystanders caught up in something not of our own making, what if this is not the whole story? What if there is way more to this narrative than meets the eye? What if we have more responsibility in the harms being caused in the world than we would like to admit?

This can be hard to hear. Offensive even. Especially if you have never considered how your state of being contributes to the ways of the world. But hear me out. To be with this in a meaningful way, you have to stretch your lens and be willing to see the underlying connection of all things.

Let’s start with an ancient perspective on how all things are connected. Since the dawn of at least recorded history, all of our wisest and well-known teachers have espoused some version of “As within, so without.” In other words, whatever is going on within you, me, or us, is exactly what we will find going on outside of us in the world.

For instance, maybe you never have or never would murder someone, but have you ever felt a rage so deep within yourself towards another that felt beyond your control? Or perhaps you would never rape someone, but have you ever tried to control another person and get them to do what they didn’t want to do? Maybe you’ve never created a war, but do you ever go to war with other people in your own mind?

If you’re willing, there are lots of ways to play with how your inner life is connected to the outer life. But it takes a kind of openness and compassion on your part to look at what is outside of you that you find deplorable, and to see if you can find it in yourself. To root out the harm in your inner world in the service of transforming that harm into something else for the outer world.

But I will tell you from firsthand experience, it’s not easy to get this honest with yourself. Perhaps the hardest thing we will ever do as human beings is to look at the places in ourselves we hide from. The very same places that we will disown by projecting them onto somebody else. As in, that’s horrible, I would never do that. Only to find upon closer examination, that in your own way, yes you do.

Because this can be so tricky to be with, I offer you something a very wise woman offered to me years ago. It seems that in the port town she lives in, the war ships would come in and out. This greatly disturbed her and left her feeling powerless and angry. So she made up a little prayer and it goes like this: “May no harm come to you, may no harm come from you.”

I have found this prayer to be a beautiful way to defuse the inner fears and hostilities that can arise in me in response to a world bringing harm. In the meantime, it creates the space I need to rethink how I might be, in my own way, bringing harm. If even ‘just’ through my own thoughts and inner reactions.

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.

Every Single Bit Of It

 

“All of it gets to be here,” is a practice I come in and out of using. Right now, I am back in.

I both love and hate this practice. I both resist it, and know it to be true. Beyond true, I know it is the directest route to healing my own body/mind separation, the splits that divide us as people, along with the false personas we mistakenly claim as being who we are because we don’t feel we have a right to be all of who and what we are.

This is what gets to be here in my world. The wasps and the ladybugs that infest my home each year. The people defrauding our government, and the ‘entrepeneurs’ bringing us closer and closer to the brink of extinction with their GMO’s, chemicals, surveillance technologies and fake foods. The policies that deny anyone free will over their own body. The people I feel have hurt me. Any and all of the ways that I believe the ‘wrong’ things are in charge.

The list goes on, and it’s enormous! But all of it, every single bit of it, gets to be here. Day after day. Year after year. It’s maddening to include what I don’t want to be here. And frightening. It can feel depressing and risky to believe, to know, that it all gets to be here. That pain that won’t resolve. The lingering illness. That unresolved conflict. The corporation bringing harm.

All of it gets to be here.

I am in no way suggesting that I want these things, like them, or am giving them a free pass. What I am suggesting is that when I take this attitude my life changes for the better. This sounds hard to do. Impossible even. You might even be wondering, Why bother? What’s in it for me? In a word, PEACE. A literal oasis in a desert of fighting against everything we do not want, but that is here nonetheless.

Think about it. How often are you fighting something within your own mind? All the things you don’t want to be here. All the ways that you resist and try and manage ‘what is.’ The weather you don’t like. The traffic you rage against. The annoying co-worker or boss you wish would just go away. A family member not supporting you. The government or a political party that just makes you want to scream.

On and it goes. All day, every day. Big and little wars within that go on to create our outer wars in the places we inhabit together. For as the old adage goes, “As within, so without.”

If this makes any sense to you, give it a try in low stakes situations. For example, ‘let’ the weather you don’t like be here. ‘Allow’ another person’s bad mood to be here. ‘Accept’ that those you disagree with, even vehemently, get to be here.

Instead of looking around at how the world will fall apart because it’s not going according to your plan, watch what happens inside of you when you can honestly and truly let what is here, be here.

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.