Beginning Where You Are

Beginning where you are when it comes to what is happening in your body is the ultimate homecoming and an absolute necessity if you are to know what it is your body needs. To get there though requires accepting what your body is experiencing in any given moment. Even when you don’t like what is there.

This is not easy to do as it is only natural that we want our bodies to feel a certain way. But the truth is, as hard as this can be, there’s just no way around this one. For if you hope to live in a body you feel good in and can trust, you must be willing to actually be in it.

I know this might seem ludicrous, as in, where else would you be? But that’s the trouble with being human. We can be anywhere but in the body when the mind takes us into the past or the future. Thoughts of the past keep us locked in old fears, traumas and beliefs while thoughts of the future create an anticipation of all the things we don’t want to happen to the body.

Either way we have left our bodies. We have left them without a clear, present mind that knows how to see the realities of the body for what they are. Not what we have been told they are or fear them to be. For instance, if our family of origin had a lot of fears around something like cancer, we can find ourselves ruminating about whether or not that will happen to us. In effect, priming ourselves for something we definitely do not want. Or if you were raised in such a way that the body’s most basic needs for things like touch, sleep and food were met in unhealthy ways, you will automatically believe deprivation is the norm.

To begin where you are is to accept your body exactly as you find it. I mean this literally. You must be willing to acknowledge whatever is happening. Not because you want it to stay, but because that is what is so. This includes the thoughts, the emotions, the pains, the sensations, the urges, the instincts and all of the intuitions contained within you.

This is the equivalent of mapping out a road trip. If you don’t know where you’re starting from, if you aren’t in the vehicle to begin with, how can you possibly reach your destination? How will you know what you need to make the trip? How will you know if you’ve taken a wrong turn? How will you know when you need a tune-up?

Perhaps more than anything else, if you are not fully and all the way in your own body, how will you be able to enjoy all the sights to be seen while knowing the roads to avoid?

 

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

 

 

 

 



What Are You Following?

 

I was taking a yoga class this week when the teacher posed the question: “Are you following your thoughts or are you following your breath?” In other words, are you chasing the thought patterns you have been ruminating on for literally years? Or are you here now, in this moment, breath by precious breath?

Where we put our attention holds the very key to life on earth being a kind of heaven or living hell. And while many of us believe and live as if what is going on outside of us, what others are doing, an epidemic, what other countries or the politicians are up to, is what creates either heaven or hell for us, it’s just not true.

What is true is that what you are habitually putting your attention on, especially when it comes to what you are thinking about, has the power to bring you everything you never wanted. Or everything you ever wanted.

How could it be any other way?

Your thoughts are what create the words that come out of your mouth. They create which actions you will take on any given day. They stand behind the energy and momentum of how you do and live and believe and love and hope and fear and eat and negotiate and relate and…

For instance, if you believe that your medical system, religion or political party has the lock on the truth, you will use your words to condemn those who don’t line top with your narrative. If you believe that the body is a machine that breaks down easily and requires a mechanic to keep it in line, you will never be open to how your thoughts and your health are one and the same.

To decide for heaven, in other words all those things you most yearn for, is to become intimately aware of, and responsible for, every single thought you think. This is a big job. Especially in the beginning when it can feel like a circus on crack inside your own mind.

That’s why it can be so instructively sane to break down the thousands and thousands of thoughts you have each and every day into a binary choice; allowing you to step out of the oblivion or the tug-of-war relationship you have with your own mind and all of its unchecked thoughts.

Try this. Get in the habit of catching yourself throughout the day by asking, What am I thinking about right now? Once you are aware of the specific content, make a down and dirty assessment by wondering whether this thought creates a sense of safety or danger within you. Drop all the content and tune into the way this thought make you feel about yourself, others and the world.

And then make a choice.

If this is not a thought you want to harbor, put your attention on something else. Follow your own breath, look at the sky, smell something delicious. To choose where to put your own attention is to make the decision to stop following a thought that brings dis-ease, and to instead choose for a little heaven here on Earth.

What The World Is Really Here To Give You

 

“The world is not here to make you happy. It’s here to make you conscious.” I heard these words spoken last week by Eckhart Tolle, renowned teacher of Presence. It came at exactly the right moment for me as the words broke through the haze of being lost in a deep well of grief.

I am no stranger to grief and sorrow. They have been traveling companions of mine for my whole life. Grief over the ways of the world. Sorrow over missed and lost connections in personal relationships. Sadness over how we treat ourselves and others.

At times, I have felt broken and victimized by how grief-stricken I have been over the ways our children’s innocence is being violated via the screens. I have been filled with sorrow over how we allow our lives to be gobbled up by distractions. And I have been heart-broken over how often the wrong things are in charge; despite the obvious destruction they bring.

This and more is what I have been revisiting of late, being “stuck in a grief loop,” as one of my practitioners so aptly put it.

But when I heard Eckhart’s words, something in me snapped to attention. Something in me knew immediately the Truth of those words. And all at once, I could see that the lifelong suffering around the grief and sorrow I have always felt has been not just because of how devastatingly sad all these things are, but because I have been expecting the world to take this sadness away from me by being other than it is.

Now, I know that our minds might go immediately to Well, what sane person wouldn’t want the madness of the world to end? What sane person wouldn’t want more respect for life? 

This is not to negate that healthy yearning. But it is to point out that when we refuse to acknowledge how things are, not how we want them to be, we suffer; fighting in vain like a fish on a line.

To see that there is something greater at play than even your most heartfelt and noble expectations of the world is to step into an entirely new game. It is to open to your spiritual nature and the real reason you are here. Which is to grow in consciousness. Which is to walk the path of remembering who you really are, and why you are here.

When I look at my life through this lens, I can say with certainty that this is so. For each time the world has not made me happy, and I have chosen to let it grow me, I have changed. And always for the better. Every unfairness and disappointment that the world has ever delivered to me, a blessing.

I guess it’s time for me to step out of the grief loop I’ve been in.

Tapping Into The Hermit Within

 

I write this blog on the day of the Winter Solstice. A time of year many of us dread because of the increased darkness with all of the scarier feelings of loneliness, low mood and more that can go with it. But there’s another way we can look at this time of year as we head into the winter season. A way of being with the much needed and seasonal rhythm of slowing down and going within as we send our energies into the roots that hold what most sustains us.

For a deeper exploration of the natural capacity to focus inward in this way, I turn to the archetype of The Hermit: The one who intentionally withdraws as a sacred act of devotion to the exploration of what lies within. The one who chooses consciously to retreat in the service of accessing and becoming more acquainted with the deep self. The one who decides to strip their existence down to the bare essentials in order to truly know themselves.

Sounds like an incredible recipe for a meaningful life. And it just might be the very antidote some of us are looking for in a world that is increasingly bent on selling us the meaningless and the superficial. A world organized around giving us the shadow side of The Hermit. That being, all of the ways that we can withdraw and check out in extraordinarily disconnected and destructive ways.

The “dark side” of The Hermit looks like socially isolating yourself; numbing out with substances, withdrawing from meaningful endeavors and connections, getting lost in the fantasy world of the screens. This is so easy to do because of all that we are bombarded with on a daily basis and because it is practically demanded of us that we “retreat” through the use of all the medications that have become the acceptable way now to withdraw in modern times. But when you truly understand the role and the power of The Hermit’s choice to withdraw, you’re more inclined to find your way back to the light-filled side of this archetype that withdraws, ultimately and always, in search of Truth.

That’s why The Hermit is never about checking out, but instead is a map for going below the surface of the conditioning, the societal pressures, the lies, the false realities, the obfuscations and the latest binge experiences being offered to us. This archetype is a direct route to reality with a capital “R.” A conscious and conscientiously chosen retreating as a way of respecting the complications and confusions of the realities of life in a body by giving yourself time out of time to align with true and life-giving versions of what this life is really all about.

This can be done formally by going away on a retreat. But it can also be something as immediate as your very own breathing, where you intentionally pause between one breath and the next in an effort to give yourself a moment’s withdrawal from the onslaught of the daily fray. You can carve out an hour for a walk, create a moment to step outside and look at the night sky, draw a bath, drive in silence or take a night off from the hypnotic and externalizing barrage of what comes out of the screens.

In so doing, your reward is great for The Hermit is the sage, the wise-one, the one who welcomes solitude and silence as the path for knowing how to be with all the seasons of Life. Even the darkest and scariest of them all.

To Trust Your Body Is To Trust Yourself

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Broken Unicorns In All Of Us

 

When I was a kid and had accumulated a little pocket change of my own, I would walk down to a place called Cushing Square to visit a tiny store that sold glass figurines. I can’t remember the name of the store, but I can still recall the display window that faced out to the sidewalk and what it felt like for me to go inside.

It was absolutely magical to be in this space and to be in the company of all those glass animals. They felt so mysterious and powerful to me. I wanted them all. But because the figurines weren’t cheap for a kid, I would have to save up for what I wanted. In the meantime, I would go into the store to visit with all those little creatures I felt such a connection to.

At some point, I acquired a three-level tiered stand where I could arrange these little friends of mine into different scenarios and configurations. No matter what I did in this regard, there was always one that stood out for me: The Unicorn. I felt moved by her golden horn and the clear see-through nature of her body. I looked at her every day and every night. She was the one I loved most of all.

So you might imagine how I felt when I came home one day to find her horn broken off. It was devastating. But worse than the devastation of something so important to me being broken, was that no one would admit to doing it. And no one saw that justice prevailed.

That day, something precious and innocent broke in me. I stopped going to the store and I don’t remember what happened to all the other glass animals.

Heartbreak and innocence lost is something every one of us will pass through. Not one of us will come to the Earth and leave unscathed in this regard. We all have had our “broken Unicorn” experiences and for many of us it will follow us around for the rest of our lives. It will color how we see the world. What we believe is possible. How safe or dangerous the world feels to us. What we believe will happen to us if we love open-heartedly.

As that old song goes, “the first cut is the deepest.” Very understandable then to go through life making damn sure it doesn’t ever happen again.

This is one way to live and it makes sense given how devastating it can be to learn as children what a cruel place the world can be at times. Unfortunately, when we hold onto this through life, not only do you lose out, so does everyone around you.

There is another way. But it’s a big ask to the child inside of us who got so hurt when we didn’t even know that kind of pain or disillusionment was possible. What is that “big ask?” To reclaim your innocence. To take back your wonder and sense of possibility. The road to get there is certainly long and arduous. And it will require that you feel what you never wanted to feel again. Ever.

But in the feeling you get to heal, and then you get to decide how armored up you want to be. And when. Because to live for our entire lives waiting to be hurt again is to live as a victim. And to live as a victim is to live shut down to the magic, wonder and possibility that lives in the world.

Want to give it a try? Think back into the past. Do you have a sense of where the mentality of the broken Unicorn began for you? That place where you felt wronged, betrayed or violated. Then observe with great kindness how that plays out now for you. Where and when it shows up. You don’t have to do anything for a very long time other than to just begin to make that connection.

Meaning & Purpose

 

I’m reading a book where the author has just finished describing a study where more than half of us feel the work we do has no meaning. No purpose. That many of us believe what we do has no real use. With this comes all kinds of things from depression to disease to a sense of despair and worthlessness. And with all of this comes greater levels of unhappiness, addiction and vulnerability to looking for meaning in all the wrong places. To being prey for ways of coming together with others that offer purpose through harm. Like the KKK and other hate groups, getting into dangerous social media challenges, or being part of social trends based on peer pressure and the narrative du jour.

Right down the road we have a neighbor who when we first moved out here knocked on our door and asked if it would be okay to pick up the apples on the side of the road by our home. He went on to tell us that the tree the apples came from, a Baldwin, was an heirloom and likely over 100 years old. He waxed poetic about this being the best tasting and cooking apple there was.

At the time, I had no appreciation for any of this. Not only was I in over my head due to the big move we had just made, it didn’t feel natural to me to consider eating food off the land I was living on. I indulged him in the moment, and forgot about it all pretty quickly after he left.

Cut to twenty years later when that same tree died, leaving me grief-stricken over the loss. Over the years, I had come to anticipate and cherish its bloom that only came every other year. It was the apple of my children’s childhood, and a precious offering we shared with others.

For many years my neighbor tried grafting so he could propagate offspring from this ancient tree. It never took. Then I didn’t hear from him for a handful of years until the day I got a letter in the mail. He wrote that he had found other Baldwins and had successfully grafted them onto root stock, and was wondering if my husband and I would be willing to plant some of these tress on our land.

Besides our answer being a resounding yes, when he came up to bring the trees, it almost felt like we were adopting a baby from him. Not only did he have very clear conditions and instructions for the trees, he was very concerned about where they would go to insure they had a chance to survive the modernization of our world. At one point in the conversation, he told my husband he believed this was his purpose in life: To protect and continue the survival of this great tree.

This man is an exemplar of what it means to live with meaning and purpose. His actions were never based on what he was going to get out of all his efforts. His only drive being to answer a deep call from within. He is a wonderful living demonstration of how unique the expression of meaning and purpose can be in a person’s life. And my relationship to him and what I gained points to the unknowable and uncontrivable ripple effects our actions have on others when we find what we truly care about and live it all the way through.

None of this looks like, or “measures up to,” the criteria of our modern world where we have come to believe that for your life to have meaning and purpose, it must be about you and what you get. That you must have a million followers, that your efforts must be splashy, and that you must be ridiculously paid for what you offer to the world.

(The book I referenced is called The Psychology of Totalitarianism by Mattias Desmet)

Retreat

 

I am heading out for retreat on the day I am writing this, and it has got me thinking about a quote from Joseph Campbell. Years ago his words gave me permission to retreat; well before I could articulate what I was doing and why. The quote goes like this:

“This is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”

This is why I go away, and this is why I maintain a daily practice. Exactly because of what he wrote. The experience is not something you can read about, watch on Netflix or hear about from another. It is not always easy. It is not always popular. You run the risk of being labelled selfish or indulgent.

Most of all, you run the risk of discovering aspects of yourself that you may not want to know about. Qualities, thoughts and emotions that you have kept hidden from the world. Interestingly enough, at first it will seem like there are only dark things you keep hidden, but if you stick with it long enough, you come to see how you also hide your light, your gifts, your superpowers.

True retreat is not about distracting or indulging yourself. It is about one thing, and one thing only: Being with yourself through it all. Discovering the Truth of who and what you are. From this place, you are in a position to truly live. From this place, you are in a position to truly contribute.

Anything less is just a continuation of the same old, same old conditioning that has created the endless loop of suffering and misery we all struggle with. So why not take the chance of going off by yourself to see what there is to be discovered?

Holy Rage

 

A conversation that seems to be cropping up more and more between my husband and I centers around some version of how to hold the “irritation,” the “frustration,” the “impatience,” dare I say it, the “rage,” that we are both experiencing when we look out at the world and see what is happening.

I put all of those hot button words in quotes to draw our attention to something I believe is crucial here. That being, the so-called “negative” emotions, the very ones we are most afraid of, and have been the most conditioned to suppress, are often sacred inner guidance coming to reveal something to us about what is happening. Like when a firm stand needs to be taken because the behavior or the circumstances are so off-base and out of alignment. Or because something is in violation of what should be inviolate; like when it comes to what supports Life, and what does not.

To work with such intensity is to say Yes to claiming enormous personal responsibility for how you understand and let these emotions inform you. For at their highest use, they are incredibly powerful and life-changing. But it is like learning to work with fire. Things can get burnt. Things can get out of control. Which is why so many of us are afraid to recognize and honor the message that is being conveyed to us by the fiery ones.

To be clear, this is not an excuse to go off on others, or to give you a pass because you are over tired and don’t have the bandwidth to be more patient or tolerant. Instead, it is an exercise in getting to know yourself so well that you can distinguish between a holy message and an out of balance response on your part.

To work with such charged emotions means opening up to the possibility that these seemingly troublesome feelings have a place; without indulging them or defending harm done. This requires developing a lot of self-awareness because god knows we don’t need one more of us justifying our rage as something useful and deserving in the world.

At their best, these fiery emotions can be a kind of holy rage that wells up from within. A kind of wild and transformative fire that is born of a steadfast commitment to a better way; offering up renewal and rejuvenation in its wake. But here is where practice and self-reflection comes in. For to wield fire is to know its power and its limitations. It is to get clear that this is never personal to another person, only to the behavior. And it is never about the reckless, self-indulgent “raging” driven by social media, party politics, victim mentality or a need to be right.

So, if you’re up for it, the next time you’re experiencing one of the so-called fiery, and even to many of us, dangerous emotions, wonder to yourself, “What’s this all about?” You will need to be relentlessly honest with yourself. You will need to be clear about where the emotion is coming from. And you will need to hold that however it’s used, it’s being done for the highest and best good of all.

P.S. If you catch a whiff of “they deserved it,” you’re in the wrong place. At its most balanced there is a clear and steady flame to holy rage that never feels out of control and never carries an intention to harm.

Intentionality

 

I have been trained in and have practiced Yogic and Shamanic techniques and philosophies for many years. In ancient times, both were part of one root in India; sharing essential world views and spiritual sensibilities. While I love so much about both traditions, perhaps my favorite of all is the concept and practice of intentionality that I use to create a foundation for how I live.

Living with intention is a deep practice; resulting in the ultimate knowing that the “how” and the “why” of what we do is more important than anything. The “what” of how we live pales in comparison to what lives behind it.  Every single time. This is vastly different than the way modern living is obsessed with the “what.” What you look like. What you do. What you give. What your credentials are. What others see in you.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve seen the ways that the “what” of something can be very deceiving. How it can be a false representation of someone’s true intentions. In other words, something can look very, very good in the what and be an absolute abomination when it comes to the intention behind it all. Easy examples are the marketing strategies that convince us that the companies care about us or the planet when all they are doing is trying to sell us something. Or how about the leaders in life, on all levels, who present as so caring when all they want is your vote. Or your silence. Or to remain in charge without challenge.

In a world that so rewards the “what,” even when it costs us all far too much than we should ever pay, it can feel like too much work to be fully intentional in your actions, your thoughts and in your exchanges with others. There may be no immediate reward, no external benefit or prize given. It may even cause you lots of extra effort or cost you in terms of something.

Why?

Because to live with more intention requires a kind of honesty and whole-heartedness that the world does not always recognize, or appreciate. And because this way of living demands an unwavering focus on getting to the bottom of why you do what you do, why what matters to you matters to you, and then cleaning up your act when you are out of alignment between the why and the what of how you live.

Motherhood was by far my greatest and most strenuous teacher in this regard. Interestingly enough, as the world grows more and more insane, I find myself at the threshold of another time of great teaching in terms of what it means to live with intention. No matter what. What this means for me is that I cannot use the outer circumstances of the world to dictate to me the why of my what.

Instead, I am working on building my muscle of intention ever stronger by being as focused and deliberate as I can be; even in the midst of destructive and unreasonable times that would say there is nothing I can do.

Maybe you’ve noticed it too. All the ways that there are more and more demands being placed on us to live a certain way, to believe a certain thing, to line up with a particular narrative or ideology. With the penalty being, if you do not express the what in the way it is mandated, you are a (fill in the blank with the latest of social media’s accusations du jour).

The antidote to this is to choose “for” something, and then to line your life up with that. Every thought, every action, every word. This is not easy to do in a world with so many damaging choices and so many harmful demands to slot into the what of someone else’s ideas of what your life should look like.

Being intentional is to be discerning. It is to be fearless in the face of your own fears around how others will feel about the why and the how of what you do. It is to stare down the voices within you that would say you do not have permission to choose your why and how you live. It is to know when you are crumbling in your attempts to live with more intention because you do not know whether or not you are worth such an elevated existence.

But the Truth is, it’s already there inside you. If you doubt it, just look at the ways you admire those in life who have really chosen to focus their attention to live more intentionally. Maybe it is an athlete. Or an artist. Or a great teacher. More likely, it is someone you know living a “regular” life. To see this in another is the experience of the seed recognizing the plant. So I would ask you, what is it that you admire about them and then look beyond “the what” to their why and how for clues as to how you might proceed.

Finally, since you already possess within you the seed of living with greater intentionality, what is one small thing you could do today to tend to that seed? And then, what is one small thing you could do tomorrow? And then, the tomorrow after that, and after that…

For to live intentionally is a lifelong pursuit.