Thursday, December 1, 2011

Find Your Sacred Place, Continued

More to chew on from the discussion between Moyers and Campbell:

Moyers: This sacred place does for you what the plains did for the hunter.
Campbell: For them the whole world was a sacred place. But our life has become so economic and practical in its orientation, that, as you get older, the claims of the moment upon you are so great, you hardly know where the hell you are, or what it is you intended. You are always doing something that is required of you. Where is your bliss station? You have to try to find it. Get a phonograph and put on the music that you really love, even if it's corny music that nobody else respects. Or get the book you like to read. In your sacred place you get the "thou" feeling of life that these people had for the whole world in which they lived. 
That's it, but wanted to share this with you. I'm reading fiction almost every night (right now, it's "Master and Commander" by Patrick O'Brian) and I'm loving the feeling of just disappearing into the story. Music, books, art, silence, whatever it is... Campbell is onto something, so find your bliss station, and spend some time there!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Find Your Sacred Place

I've been toying a lot lately with the idea of committing to a consistent meditation practice. I know I need one: a place of stillness and peace where I practice awareness and breath and just sitting and *being* for a few minutes every day. I do have a regular yoga practice, but while complementary and integrated, they are not one in the same.

I've been returning to Joseph Campbell again lately, as he is the one voice who, for me, can cut through all the clutter and noise and remind me how to return to what is highest, truest and timeless. I found this exchange in "The Power of Myth" the other day, and it has given me new motivation to find my sacred spot in the day where I can meditate and fill my cup.

Bill Moyers: You write in The Mythic Image about the center of transformation, the idea of a sacred place where the temporal walls may dissolve to reveal a wonder. What does it mean to have a sacred place? 
Joseph Campbell: 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 will eventually happen. 
Doesn't that sound exciting?

Here's to each of us finding our sacred place, and experiencing "what you are and what you might be."


p.s. What ideas do you have for where or when your sacred place might be? How will you commit to being there each day? Since I'm serious about finding this, I'll post an update on how I've made this happen in my life.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Why We Need to Keep Asking Why

One of the most powerful practices you can enact is to simply ask “Why?” instead of giving into your most automatic impulses, thoughts and actions.

  • When someone says something hurtful to you, ask yourself why they feel the need to hurt.

  • When someone cuts you off in traffic, ask why they aren’t paying attention or why they are full of urgency or anger.

  • When someone dresses in a way you find goofy or scandalous or slovenly, ask why.

  • Then, ask why you are reacting as you are, or why you feel the need to examine others so closely. Know thyself first, right?

The thing is, we know so little, but we assume so, so much. We fill in the spaces of all we don’t know with our opinions, our emotions, our thoughts and our beliefs. We fill in the spaces with our family histories, our socioeconomic background, our race, our education, our religion. We fill in the spaces with our culture, our parents, our stories and our philosophies. We fill in the spaces with our egos.
Your curiosity is perhaps your greatest teacher, your best guide.

Your curiosity opens you up, accesses your observant awareness, closes down your impulsive, judging thoughts. Your curiosity is a path to your heart and your highest self.

My son hasn’t started asking “Why?” about the whole world yet (though he’s begun with “What’s that?” about many, many things!), but we all know the story about the child who drives his parents bonkers with asking “Why?”

When does that end? When do we stop asking why? Why do we stop asking why?

I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because we get frustrated once we realize that there are so many things we don’t know the answers to. Maybe we like living in a world of certainty more than we like having our minds and hearts challenged. To be sure, it’s exhausting to spend a lot of time in uncertainty. We don’t have answers, and we like answers, so we invent them, even if we must do so unconsciously.

I like answers. They are so satisfying. But they are not what the world and the people in it are here for. The world and people do not exist to give you answers.

We have so many answers in this world. Science and our faculties of reason and intellect have given us the path to almost as many answers as we want. Somehow, we have to reacquaint ourselves with mystery, and subsequent to that reacquaintance, we must find comfort in, or at least acceptance of, mystery.

This is one reason I love reading mythology or reading about it. Mythology is not, as is commonly explained, a way to explain a world before there was science. Mythology points directly at Mystery. Does its level best to deliver you into its midst, inasmuch as words and stories and art can deliver the ineffable.

Hmmm. How’d we get from judging less to talking about the Mystery? Are they related?

I think so. Because if we keep asking “Why?”, beginning with the most basic things – our bodies, our relationships, our world, our universe – we stay open enough to eventually arrive at the doorstep of Mystery. And there, knocking on Mystery’s door, but not really expecting an answer, content to gaze at the intricate carving of the door, the way the moon bathes the door in a bright and silver light, content to experience the profound peace that comes with accepting that the door has no key, no lock, no handle, we achieve a union with ourselves, with others, with Source, and that is the very definition of bliss as we can know it in this human lifetime.

One of the things I know now as a parent that I didn’t know before is that a newborn baby is an expression of the Mystery. Totally otherworldly, completely spellbinding. Open and beautiful and as close a window to the Mystery as we’ll ever get here on earth. Little by little, humanity overtakes them, and that is not to be mourned. But for a few brief weeks, these little sleeping, gurgling creatures are more like sprites or fairies or some other mysterious, magical being. Their peace (when not crying, of course!) is enough to move anyone curious enough to watch them to tears.

Many wiser than me have said that our spiritual journey here on earth is a process of reclaiming what we already know and have experienced – that we are one with Source, that our natural state is to be completely open and at peace and infinitely loving.

I agree, and advise that one tool we need on this journey is our curiosity. Of course, asking why can be a dangerous proposition: It can lead us to answers, and if we stop seeking, we get stuck, thinking we’ve found all we need to know. We stagnate there. We may be alive, but vitality stops. That’s why we must never stop asking why, why we must always make room for curiosity.


In what areas of your life have you stopped asking why? How could you engage your curiosity to revitalize those areas? Please share any thoughts in the comments.

Monday, November 14, 2011

How to Stop Judging Other People

Today I’m going to argue for a life of less judgment, especially of others. It’s a really strange trait, and we all do it to some extent, but I’m asserting that the less you judge others, the happier and more productive you’ll be.

It’s curious when this begins in our lives--this need to have an opinion on the goings-on of other people. In my 22-month old, I don’t yet discern any judgment of other people. He does judge food, or books or music – “Mama, turn it off” or simply “No” to an offer of a food he doesn’t want.

But somewhere along the line, we begin to watch what other people do and decide to have an opinion about it. What people are wearing. What they are reading or how they are dancing. What political party they subscribe to, or what sexual orientation they possess. How they raise their children, how they decorate their living rooms. Whatever it is other people do, we decide to pass judgment.

To some extent, I think part of this impulse is rooted in the ability of discernment—in other words, being able to differentiate objects or ideas or people for qualities. After all, at some point we must decide which of something to purchase, whom we should partner with, or what ideas or faiths or philosophies will help guide us through life. I’d argue that there is such a thing as quality, too. Some items, foods or people or ideas are better for us; are higher quality or superior to others.

What happens along the way is that we begin to care whether other people choose the same things or ideas that we do. It’s a funny thing, and I can’t say I fully understand the “why” behind this impulse. My best guess is that we are insecure about our own choice, and so we need to feel that others have chosen poorly. Another reason, I think, comes from economic impact. The argument, for example, that people who smoke cost us all money. (Of course, that’s more a problem of a socialized system. I’d argue that it’s a trade-off: If you want the “system” to pay for people’s expenses, you have to accept that people will be people and do things that are expensive, especially if they are aware that they will not bear the full cost. But that’s another topic entirely.)

In any case, I will say that I think that for whatever reason we do it, it would be in our best interest to minimize it as much as possible. Even, if in the above example, you can find a direct link to another person’s actions “costing” you somehow, or otherwise affecting you directly.

The less you judge others’ choices or actions—and most especially people you don’t even know!—the more peace you’ll find for yourself.

Lately, whenever I find myself judging someone for any reason—for hairstyle, diet, different parenting style, whatever—I just say, “No skin off my nose.”

In other words, it doesn’t hurt me that they have chosen differently. Even the most charged of decisions can be handled this way: faith, politics, child-rearing. Because you should be concerned with yourself and your family, and make decisions for yourselves.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with observing someone else and wondering if they have something to offer you. Often you can benefit from learning more about what others are up to. Say your neighbors xeriscape their yard. Watch how the plants do. See if the maintenance would lower your water bills. If so, adopt what you admire, and leave the rest. If you decide it’s not for you and you think your front yard is just fine, no big deal.

The thing is, judgment is loaded with emotion. Namely fear, I think. Discernment, which is what the above process is closer to, is far less reactive and emotional, and more based in a calm and rational action. When you judge someone’s choices or behaviors, you become more distant from that person. Less kind, less forgiving, less helpful, less human. Less loving and peaceful.

Besides repeating “No skin off my nose,” something else that helps me when I’m tempted to judge is to remind myself that every single person was once a tiny, helpless baby. This is probably more powerful for parents than non-parents, but it opens my heart every single time. I remember to breathe, and I feel compassion and space for that person.

With this simple practice, I’m a far happier, more secure person. Almost no road rage. Less confusion. Greater focus. Better relationships. More patience and tolerance. After all, I think about how to take care of my own needs and wants first, and as I don’t waste as much time worrying about what everyone else is doing, I’m far more productive.

No skin off my nose. It’s such a silly saying for such a profound idea. But with practice, it begins to take hold, and once it does, you’re that much closer to bliss.


I’m curious what you do when you find yourself judging someone else, especially when you realize you’re being quite harsh. What is your internal dialogue with yourself like when you notice you’re judging?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

How to Try on a Big Decision

All of my advice on making a big decision came from a person who didn’t have children. Now that I have a child, I can see how my decisions affect this new life that I’m responsible for, and let me tell you, it does complicate things. I don’t think my prior advice is invalid, but I feel like it doesn’t account for this feeling of responsibility for a child’s experiences and development.

So, as a giver of advice on decision making, it turns out I have been a huge hypocrite for nearly two years. For two years, I have been avoiding a decision about work and staying home with my son. I have been avoiding this decision by trying to do it all: I stay home and take care of him during the day, and I do my freelance work at naptime and at night, after he’s in bed.

When my workload isn’t that heavy, this feels totally manageable. I spend a few hours each day on work, and then get to bed at a reasonable hour, with enough time to talk to my husband and even read a bit.

But when things really get rolling, burnout approaches very, very quickly, and suddenly I’m cranky, tired and just feeling overwhelmed. Then, just when I think I can’t take any more and something has to give, work slows down and I feel like I can continue on.

But even when things slow down, I recognize that I am just avoiding a decision. For our family, day care isn’t the right choice. I intend to homeschool/unschool my son, so why would I send him to preschool? He is the most amazing person on the earth in my eyes, so I find it very hard to pay other people to spend time with him, when I feel like they should be paying me for the privilege of hanging out with him! (I’m only half-joking!)

Still, with much agonizing, I’ve decided to hire a babysitter to come to the house for a few hours in the morning, starting once a week, to see how it goes. The agony is not because I worry about him: The babysitter is also a mother, a smart cookie (she was homeschooled) and is very mature and responsible, not to mention the fact that she also practices attachment parenting, as I do.

The agony comes in because I perceive time in a very expanded way, which makes the day-to-day feel more weighty, I think. I often envision myself, twenty years from now, reminiscing about my son’s adorable little hands, his enthusiasm for his trains, the particular timbre of his little baby voice, and I know that I will be so pleased that I soaked up every moment. I recognize that this is a season of my life, and that it will pass, and I will one day have all the time in the world to do freelance writing, if that’s what I should choose.

But then there’s my desire to remain engaged in my work, as it is satisfying, it certainly is a help financially (though not absolutely critical to our survival) and it is something that if I give up now, I wonder if I’ll be able to pick up again. I also think there’s the matter of my son recognizing me as someone with an identity outside of mother and wife.

All of this swirls in my head at night until I’m so confused and exhausted that I just drop off to sleep.

The point is, I’m trying on a decision. I will see how taking a few hours to do work during the day and during his waking hours will be. I’ve already envisioned everything I can envision, and I am stumped. The intellectual process I’ve described can only go so far in certain instances, and this seems like one of them.

Now, I will have to experience the decision, and, more importantly, see how my son experiences the decision. If he’s happy and there are no ill effects, I can feel more comfortable with this decision. If, on the other hand, he seems moodier, clingier or is restless in his sleep, I’ll have to reconsider. (Same goes for me: If I am moodier, clingier or restless in my sleep, it may not be right for us.)

What allowed me to try on this decision was the realization that very few decisions (though there are some, and they are biggies!) are completely irrevocable or do irrevocable harm.

If this decision to hire a babysitter and get some more daytime hours for my work doesn't feel good after a real trial period, well, then, I’ll know which decision is the best one for me and my family. Likewise if it does feel good and me and my son and husband are happy and doing well. 

It’s true that some decisions are easier to try on than others. Moving, for example, is more difficult than hiring a babysitter! Marriage is a decision, yes, but it is also (supposed to be) a lifelong commitment, and one I believe should not be approached with a “let’s see how it works out” attitude. So, there are some decisions that you can try on, and others that must be made with the intuition and leap of faith approach.

But, for those smaller decisions, or the big ones that lend themselves to a trial run, it’s so good to remember that you can take the step and see how it feels. And that it’s OK if you need to change your mind.

It’s also important to realize that, when you make a decision in good faith, there is no “wrong” decision. In any moment of deciding, you make the best decision you can at the moment you make it. Sometimes it turns out that you were missing crucial information about yourself or others, so you stop, take a deep breath, and reevaluate. And if it turns out that yes, this decision you’ve made isn’t working, you make a change and start on a new path.

Remember, your peace (and/or your child’s peace) is more important than protecting the ego that might be embarrassed at having made a human mistake.

If you are in the grips of paralyzing indecision, as I was, and you think you have a decision that is try-on-able, pick a path and start walking down it. You can always turn around and find your way back to where you are right now.

Peace to you,

p.s. I will update you all on how this decision I’ve made works for me and my family. Only the experience will settle this particular question for me, so we’ll see how it all goes!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Primal Bliss (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Eat Like a Caveman)

In the months since my miscarriage, I’ve been thinking a lot about health. My health, my husband’s health, my son’s health, and my parents’ health.

My health, because of the miscarriage: Not because I think I was in terribly poor health, but because I want to be in optimum health for another pregnancy, and of course just because it’s a good idea.

My husband’s health, because of course I want him around for a long time, and because, in conjunction with me, we serve as health role models for our son.

My son’s health, because I want him to have a radiant and happy life.

My parents’ health, because my mother is, for the first time in her adult life, taking responsibility for it, and because my father is feeling so poorly that he, too, is looking at making major changes, or facing curtains.

I realize ever more what an illusion “medical care” is. I think that it is wonderful in emergencies, accidents and a very few diseases, and I’m grateful that it exists. But too many of us, myself included, have trusted in medicine’s ability to swoop in and take care of our problems. This isn’t entirely our fault, as most of us have been trained in this mentality from day one.

For a host of reasons, beginning with the shockingly bad and careless treatment I received in the area’s “best” hospital after my son’s birth, I have started my own quest for personal responsibility in health, mainly so I can be healthy and happy and avoid as many medical practitioners in my life as possible. (As it becomes abundantly clear, too, that the system is hopelessly broken, it is in our financial interest to practice personal responsibility in health, too.)

However, I’m not into quacks, charlatans and other health gurus. That’s just making the same mistake of entrusting your health to a different subset of people. So it’s not really a move into “alternative health” that I’m making, but rather an alternative approach to health.

What that leads me to is that I am considering evidence—all evidence—from credible, science-backed sources and weaving that into a plan for what works for me and my family. I’m proceeding carefully and also radically into a mode of self-experimentation, starting with diet and fitness.

In short, I’m eating and exercising like a caveman.

Actually, after months of research, I’m following the majority of the advice behind the “Primal Blueprint” and a month in, I am shocked at how much better I feel (and look).

Before I go into what results I’ve gotten, I’ll just say that it’s a no-brainer that your health should be your biggest priority in life. If you are living in a way that shortchanges your health, short-term or long-term, you will have many obstacles on the path toward living your bliss, simply because so much of your time will be taken up with illness, discomfort or more serious problems. Trust me. I know how much time my dad spends at the doctor’s office. It’s mind-boggling.

And the thing is, I don’t think most people (my dad included) are lazy, have poor impulse control or are gluttonous overeaters. I think there is something wrong with the way we’ve been taught to go about fitness and diet and it is just not working, as evidenced by the chronic illness, obesity epidemic and even just people like me, who had minor, chronic ailments, despite doing everything “right.”

My troubles really began after my son’s birth. I had no problem losing the weight from pregnancy (which wasn’t much to begin with: about 25 pounds), but keeping my blood sugar stable has been a challenge for the last two years. I had a couple of hypoglycemia incidents that had me sick, nauseated and in bed feeling so bad that I contemplated going to the ER. Then the constant feeling of being run down. Granted, a newborn will do that to you, and since he didn’t sleep through the night until he was 15 months old, that had some hand in it, but I knew instinctively it wasn’t the whole story. Then, despite a regular walking/running exercise routine, yoga, “healthy” food and being hungry all the damn time, I realized I wasn’t heavy or overweight, but just puffy. If I was doing everything right, why wouldn’t I be in great shape?

I’m open to radical ideas; it’s just the way I am now. I listen to something, and apply my own analysis and do my own research to see if it’s credible or not. I am not interested anymore in “knowledge” that is received or common.

So I found the blog Mark’s Daily Apple linked from a favorite website and here I am.

I don’t eat any grains. None. No wheat, no rice, no corn, no oats – you get the picture. No refined sugars, either. I eat plenty of veggies. Lots of grass-fed, organic meats with lots of fat. Wild fish and shellfish. Pastured butter and organic heavy cream. Eggs. Nuts. Olives. Some cheese. Lots of coconut and coconut products. Fruits, some chocolate and some alcohol.

I follow the exercise advice, too: Move frequently at a slow pace. Lift heavy things. Sprint once in a while. That’s it.

In one week, I stopped being hungry all the time. Before, I couldn’t go two hours without a snack. Now, I could probably go from breakfast to dinner without eating if I wanted to. No more blood sugar crashes. No more foggy brain. Better sleep. Most of all, just so much more energy. My mood has improved, and I am happier and more even-keeled. I just feel better all around.

As if that weren’t enough, how I look has changed, too. My skin looks more radiant and is clearer than it has been in two years. (I actually got carded recently, which hadn’t happened since becoming a mama!) I think my hormones have balanced out, too, which helps with the skin issue. I’ve lost eight pounds, and my body fat percentage—immovable for years—has finally started declining. I can see muscles in my legs that I’ve never, ever seen in my life. My stomach is flatter, and my clothes just fit better.

I can’t wait to see what the next few months bring. I don’t expect that I’ll never ever eat another slice of cake or a piece of pizza, but I don’t plan on going back to the way I used to eat. If I should get pregnant again, I can add in some quinoa, sweet potatoes and other high-nutrition carbs to round things out. (Pun intended, ha ha.)

The point of this post is to share some anecdotal evidence with you, and challenge you to look at what advice you might be following regarding your health that you have never questioned or analyzed and see if there is room for changes that might improve your life.

Health--good or bad--is not permanent. I realize that simply because I have found a way of eating and living that is working for me does not mean I will never fall ill or get injured or what have you. But what it does mean is that I am comforted that I have found something that I can do, that I have taken responsibility for, and that the rest is out of my hands.

When I feel good and have my health and do daily work to maintain good health – that is part of the path toward a blissful existence. When I don’t feel good and have fallen ill or injured - that is the nature of being alive, so I will not agonize over it, but will do all I can to heal and feel my feelings and accept what is.

I wish radiant health and happiness to all of you.


p.s. If any of you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them in the comments.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A quick hello...

I'll be back very soon with new posts. Have been very busy with work and travel. But fall always brings new insights and new ideas about how to shift into a more bliss-oriented life, so stay tuned...

For now, I will leave you with some images from my recent trip to Maine. (Which, by the way, was so good for my soul.)

Monday, August 8, 2011

How I Healed After My Miscarriage

Some lives are long, and some are very, very short, but they all make their mark.

That’s the sentence that came to me from somewhere that felt very much outside myself in the days after we lost the little sprout that we believed would be our second baby.

I’m a fairly private person, so I’ve struggled with how to discuss this here. But I talk so much about finding bliss and equanimity and peace even through the hard days, and there were no days I’ve had that were as hard as those.

So I’ve decided to open up a bit, and share how I found my footing and began to heal after this loss.

Note: If you don’t think you can handle hearing the details of a miscarriage, this isn’t the post for you. I have decided to do something scary, and that is to write honestly, which is something I am tired of being afraid to do. That’s a topic for another post, but suffice it to say, this will be a post that does not hide from life’s more uncomfortable realities.

First of all, miscarriage is something very few people talk about, but it is very common. I think it’s so difficult to discuss because it most often happens well before you begin to look or even feel pregnant. We had only told our families, and so in a sense, unless we said to everyone, “Hey, we had a miscarriage,” it was invisible to almost everyone, making our pain private and lonely. (I actually wrote to my closest friend in the days afterward, telling her, I said, so that she could be witness to this event in my life. I’m so glad I did, as I could not let this little life go without my closest friends helping me to acknowledge it.)

1. Reach out to friendly ears. Don’t go it alone.
When we found out we were pregnant again, we were stunned and happy. We were hoping to have a second child, but we were surprised at how quickly it happened, since our son took us some time to conceive.

I knew I was pregnant for a week (but I was 6 weeks along), and I wish I could say that I spent every moment being grateful and thankful for this new life. Instead, I found myself thinking about how I would fit a new child into our home, how it would affect my relationship with my son, even—gulp—what it would do to my body, as I felt I had finally gotten it “back,” whatever that means. In other
words, I wasted more time than I care to admit in useless worry and what-ifs.

Once I saw the spotting, the fading line on the pregnancy tests that I took once I realized this pregnancy was unlikely to continue, and finally, the bleeding that told me that I’d never see this particular baby’s face in this particular lifetime, I was filled with regret, with remorse, for every second I spent not being grateful for this new life.

2. Won’t do that again.
Because it was an early loss, I trusted my body to do what it needed to do. No doctors. Just some ibuprofen for pain, and normal life. After all, I have a beautiful and energetic son to take care of, and a toddler, thank god, doesn’t stop for anything. Life went on as normally as possible, until…
Until I discovered my lost baby’s embryo. That’s what happens, isn’t it? One day an embryo was in my uterus on its way to being my second child, and for reasons I will never, ever know, that path ended, and it couldn’t stay inside my uterus any longer. And there, in the wavelike folds of toilet paper, I was forced to say goodbye to more than just an idea of a baby.

3. There is no denying the reality of death.
Do you know how you know you’re married to the right man? When he comes home that night, and you show him the little box (shipped to the house carrying the beneficial insect eggs he’d ordered for the garden—lovely green lacewings) into which you’ve nestled an embryo that you could identify from a drawing in a biology textbook, but that is your fused DNA, your lost baby, your lost daydreams, and he gets so profoundly sad, as sad as you’ve ever seen him, and you know that somehow, even though this is the most painful moment you’ve ever shared with him, that you are really, actually indivisible, because your sadness is a shared sadness that is so deep it could consume you both, but instead, your love begins to pour into the hole, filling it from the bottom up.

4. True love is salvation.
But it was into a hole, dug by my husband, that our lost baby’s embryo went, under a live oak tree in our yard. Watching my husband go to the garage in a deliberative quiet, retrieve the shovel, and then start digging a little hole with such skill and care made me fall in love with him in a way that had nothing to do with charm or wit or physical beauty or any of the things that people focus on when they’re younger. The seriousness and care with which he treated this tiny resting spot for our sprout is something I will never, ever forget.

In the dark, we kneeled and cried. We cried so, so much. There was a baby, supposed to be inside me, that was now under a tree. We said we were sorry we would never get to meet him or her, that we loved and wanted this life and that we would never forget it. And then we said goodbye, and placed dirt, and finally a rock, over our lost baby.

For the next few days, we cried and we talked, and we stared into space and cried some more. We needed to. We felt our feelings when they asked to be felt.

5. Feel your feelings.
So much of life consists of not knowing, and yet we try to pin life down, to find reasons for the way it is. I do this all the time, and it is normal, but misguided. I see a young girl on the playground with cancer, and I want there to be a reason: exposure to environmental toxins? Genetic mutations? How could it be that she was just unlucky?

Making this more complicated are the swirls of studies and scientific reports that seem to imply that toxins or genes can be the cause of cancers, or that external factors—controllable factors—can cause death, illness, disease. As though those things would not happen if we could eliminate all those factors.

The guilt I felt for the miscarriage was what descended on me in the next few days. I’d had a glass of wine. I am still nursing my toddler. I have been dehydrated a lot lately. I am maybe nutritionally depleted. I read an article that said nursing, for some women, is linked to miscarriage. I showed the article to my husband, and I started sobbing. Curled on the floor, my face buried in my hands, I cried, saying: “I killed my baby.” Because at that exact moment, that’s how I felt. So again, I felt my feelings, entrusting them to the most trustworthy person in my life.

He smoothed my hair, and just held me. No, you didn’t, he said. You don’t know why this happened.
Over the next several days, I realized that the suffering, the guilt, was based in my trying to find a reason that I could control. If I could figure it out, I could make it never happen again. But, once I felt those feelings and let them pass through me, I realized that I didn’t know anything for certain. Somehow, I had to accept that I would never, ever know why we lost this life. Sure, I might have suspicions, or theories or thoughts about why, but while I am alive, I have to accept the unknowing.

6. Know what you don’t know.
And I got to that acceptance by grieving fully and totally for something I have no power to change. Even if I could have prevented it, I didn’t, and so the baby that I loved from the moment I saw the pink line is still, sadly but surely, irretrievably lost to us for all time.

I had already gotten so attached. Imagining this little boy or girl playing with my son, imagining how his or her features would differ, what sort of personality I’d get to meet. I thought about the little toes I’d now never get to kiss, the little mind I’d never have the privilege of exploring, the giggles and tantrums I’d never witness. I kind of wanted to not think about these things, because every time I did (and even now, many times that I do) I had to experience an intense, painful sadness that brought me to tears. I was giving this nascent life its due, and in the process, letting myself be sad enough that I could properly say goodbye.

7. Purposefully meditate on whatever it is you can hardly tolerate thinking about.
The next few days I walked around in a fog. I was just numb, checked out. I was able to take care of my son and his needs, but I was less able to focus, and off in a netherworld that felt shadowy and gray.

I don’t know what was going on inside me, but whatever it was, I just let it happen. Almost as though after such intensity of feeling and awareness, I had to power down in order to restore a normal level of functioning.

And at no particularly important moment, I just started feeling better. I could laugh again. I could look at the world and not take it or myself so seriously. I could return to yoga and reading, my body and mind again willing and able. I began to pursue the care I needed—contacting a midwife for counsel, herbs and what I could do to prepare my body and mind for a healthy pregnancy, whenever we were ready. I could appreciate how many blessings I had, as well as appreciating and accepting all that I had lost.

8. If you’ve felt your feelings, time does heal.
No one wants anything bad to happen, and I don’t think there’s a “reason" for why things happen the way they do. I think that life is inherently a rising and falling wheel of fate that we can ride in one of two ways. 1) We can ride on the rim of the wheel, attached to good fortune and crushed by bad fortune, clutching and avoiding and suffering all the way or 2) We can crawl toward the center of the wheel, and witness the rise and fall from a place of equanimity, seeing it for the impermanent journey that it is while still being a part of it, while still fully experiencing it -- and embrace it.
Not that that’s easy to do, but, you know, that’s the way I think makes the most sense, so it’s what I practice at.

I have a friend whose nephew died when he was very young. I can’t imagine. How much grief I went through for an embryo of 6 weeks, so much more a child you have loved and nurtured and known. No one can mindfully say that there was a “reason” for his death, just as there’s not a “reason” for my miscarriage, or for that little girl’s cancer. That’s not the spiritual universe I subscribe to. My god has a little “g” and is not a being, is not wrathful or rewarding, is not a parent trying to teach me a lesson.
What I’ve come to is that bad, truly awful things can happen to us. And, if we can survive them, and feel our feelings and grieve our losses fully, we become new people in new territory. And like any new journey, we will come upon trials as well as gifts. Why spurn the gifts, especially if they are so hard-won?

I would never have chosen to go through the abuse I went through when I was younger, I would never have chosen to go through the miscarriage. I hope I won’t go through another one. But since I have gone through those things, and since I am irrevocably on the other side, I choose to accept whatever positive changes these great trials have brought with them.

The deepened love for my son and my husband.
The greater sense of self-knowing.
The gratitude for the many blessings I have.
The reminder of the shortness and sacredness of life.
The knowledge that I can deeply love another child, even one I will never meet.
The heightened awareness of impermanence.

Some lives are long, and some are very, very short. But they all make their mark.
About two weeks after the miscarriage, my yoga teacher closed class with “Keep Me In Your Heart” by Warren Zevon, which he wrote while dying. Eyes closed, on my back in savasana, I started to cry. I cried and cried. And then I felt an incredible lightness, a peace. At the end of the song, my yoga teacher said, “I like what Rumi said: ‘We haven’t truly begun to meditate until we cry.’”

Not only do I like what Rumi said, I think it is true.

I don’t know what the future holds for me and my family. Right now, I am choosing to stay as close to the present moment as I can, and find my balance by trying to move toward the center of that ever-rolling wheel.

Peace and love to you,

For those interested in reading how my healing process continued, check out this post: The Experience of Life

And, for those who want to do something good for your body after a miscarriage, try 3-4 cups of raspberry leaf tea per day. I'll blog soon  I've posted about my experience with that tea, and why I think it's a good idea for healing and pregnancy preparation. All my love and best to you...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Returning soon...

Just a quick update to say that I am doing better, and that I am working on a post that will not only talk about the reason for my recent hiatus, but will also mark a turning point in the direction of this blog, I think.

Just been really, really busy with work and family and travel and healing, but look for my new post very soon.

Thanks for your patience and support.


Monday, June 27, 2011

A Brief Hiatus... I recover from something I'm not yet prepared to write about. I will return to this space as soon as I'm able, and in the meantime, many thanks for your patience and any good wishes or prayers you feel able to send my way.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How to Have a Flash of Insight

I had this post basically prepared before the thing I don't yet want to write about happened, so I figured I'd publish it now and give you something to ponder while I'm on hiatus. Hope you enjoy it.

After reading over my last post and contemplating Ariane's great comment, I realize I was only half-right about the need for an introspective process as you work toward finding your bliss. Introspection alone will only get you about halfway to where you need to be. To break through the ruts and habits of what you think you know, you need the sudden flash of insight, and getting there cannot be done by your rational, intellectual mind.

I'm a big fan of the show House, wherein a brilliant diagnostician (whose character is based on Sherlock Holmes) solves baffling medical cases. But if you know the show, despite House being an ardent believer in reason, intellect and logic above all else, those tools rarely (if ever) solve the mystery. Usually he's talking to his best friend Wilson, or goofing around with some prank when he discovers the missing piece of the puzzle that allows him to finally make the correct diagnosis and save his patient's life.

Of course, it's a great irony -- in this man devoted to logic and intellect -- that it would be his subconscious that does the really heavy lifting. This is one of his character's tragic flaws--one that prevents him from having healthy relationships. In privileging reason above all else, he denigrates the subconscious and all its associates (insight, emotion, spirituality, etc.), never making the connection that this is his most vital asset as both a diagnostician and a human being.

So what I'm saying is: Don't be like House.

I know that introspection and analysis alone can't get you to bliss because it is true in art and it has been true in my own life. Of course, like House, I often forget this, and the more intractable a problem becomes, the more stubbornly I set my rational mind to solve it. This rarely, if ever, works.

I'm kind of laughing at myself, because as big a fan I am of mythology's power and Joseph Campbell, you'd think I would remember this truth and apply it in my own life. But, if you are smart, and your brain has gotten you good places before (good grades, into a good school, accolades at work, etc.) you can easily be deluded into thinking it has ALL the answers.

What most people (myself included) often forget is that your brain can also get you into as many bad places as it can good ones. This isn't a given, but people can rationalize the worst behavior in the world, truly deluding themselves into thinking that what they are doing is clearly justified.

As Steve Ross says in "Happy Yoga", thinking is addictive. And, like any addiction, when thinking reaches this compulsive level, it's not good for you.

All of my most significant epiphanies, my most life-changing realizations, have happened when I have given my brain time off--when I'm dreaming, daydreaming, meditating, creating art or engaging with art or just playing in the true sense of the word--allowing for spontaneity and creativity and surprise and not indulging a rational process.

Lately I've been feeling burned out. Trying to keep up with a very alert, active and engaged 17 month old all day, a house in a constant march toward disarray (the forces of entropy are much stronger in a house containing a toddler!) and a part-time freelance career--not to mention relationships, friendships, administrative tasks, cooking/eating and my own health and creative life--well, I've just been feeling tapped out.

Usually, when my baby naps or goes down for the night, I get on the computer and catch up on work, email and other tasks, getting sucked into the news or Facebook or other useless distractions. This week, I just couldn't. I used the time to read a book, daydream, even just sit and breathe deeply and notice how I felt. Last night, while watching the movie "The Fighter," I solved a mystery that I've been trying to solve basically my entire life. Suffice it to say, it's about my family of origin and the dynamics of it, but suddenly, all the pieces clicked and a lifetime of non-understanding melted away. It was truly a sudden flash of insight.

So without further ado, this is how I think you can allow both your brain and your subconscious to help you have important insights of your own.

  • Write down all the things that you think you need to do. Get the to-do list out of your mind and onto paper or a smartphone or someplace you can access readily. If you feel like your mind doesn't have to remember the daily tasks (grocery shopping, paying bills, laundry) and the bigger tasks (birthdays, taxes, deadlines for work or school, etc.) you will free your brain of that clutter.

  • Do your daily work efficiently. Whether this is for a job, or school or work in the home, try your best not to get distracted by time sucks like Facebook or annoying, unproductive phone calls or surfing news sites. The only exception is when you find a site that you really get something out of. For me, that's Arts & Letters Daily. It's a site that fuels my imagination and my intellect with articles that are mostly the equivalent of a gourmet meal. In other words, cut out the junk. By doing this, you are more productive and can set aside greater chunks of time for the next step.

  • Unplug your rational, productive, practical mind. How to do this? First, take a deep, full breath, all the way down to your belly button. OK. Now, there are many paths that help you unplug. Yoga works well for me, but so does visiting a museum or gallery, or reading a novel or watching a really good movie. (Again, popcorn movies are fine here and there, but they don't feed your subconscious in the same way movies with convincing characters and authentic narrative do. You're letting your subconscious chew on art, which leads it to play in the realm of dreams and myths and archetypes, which helps it to make connections to your own life.) Or, go for a walk, jog or bike ride. (Without your iPod!) Lie down on a blanket and watch the clouds go by. Play games or do puzzles, but without attachment and intention. Just to see what happens. Become a detached observer. And whatever you do, remember to breathe deeply and fully. Sometimes, the answer is to sleep. Not just to have dreams, though those can be great aids to the flash of insight (or can be the insight themselves), but also, you simply can't relax and maintain alert awareness when you're exhausted and feeling unwell.

  • Be patient. Like anything we can't control, the subconscious will deliver your flash of insight when it's damn good and ready. You can't force it, or rush it. If anything, you can only create the conditions that are favorable to having insights. So, if you catch yourself thinking, "OK, I went to yoga this morning, and then I took a walk, and then I watched the clouds for thirty minutes, so why haven't I figured anything out?", then you are back to compulsively thinking again. Breathe, let those thoughts go, and try again. The beauty of meditative work and play is that the more you practice it, the more natural it becomes, and the more often you simply find yourself with a clear, aware presence, rather than a compulsive monkey-mind. It shouldn't feel like work to do these things. Rather, it should feel like a letting go. Like a release of weight. If it feels like work, you are probably trying to use your rational mind to make something happen that you can't make happen.

  • What about money, illness, fill-in-the-blank? When you have a stack of bills you can't pay, or your health is dire or your relationship is on the ropes, it can certainly feel like there's no room for such frivolity. For whatever reason, we see much of this time spent on art or daydreaming or play as silly, childish. My response to that is to say that it is. And that's exactly the point. As children, we need play. We need to dream. Why should that need, so fundamental, so essential, simply go away at what, the age of 12, 14, 18? Now that's a silly thought. Yes, we have responsibilities, and we do not play or daydream all day. But we must make room for some of it, to remember the lightness that is not just possible, but is actually what we are. Steve Ross met a lot of enlightened yogis and gurus in his travels, and he says that all they do is laugh. So no matter what your objection, make a little room for lightness and breath. If nothing else, it will help you cope with whatever your problem might be.
Again, you can't force an epiphany. But you can improve the odds by cultivating the right conditions in your mind, body and behaviors.

In a sense, all this boils down to giving yourself permission to play and be free of your worries for a while. Permission to be present and enjoy whatever is happening now. If a flash of insight decides to make a visit, so much the better, but even if it doesn't, well, at least you get to have some fun.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Are You Introspective? You Should Be.

If I’ve made any progress at all in this journey of mine, I think it is mostly due to introspection.

One of my earliest memories of this process was as a young girl. I think I was maybe 10 or 11. A friend of mine pointed out to me that I liked to blame external causes for my problems, leading me to, frankly, whine a lot or not take responsibility for my actions. I was a terrible athlete, and every time I did poorly in some athletic event—either in school or with friends—I found some external reason for why I failed. I was terrified to face the truth that I simply wasn’t talented or well practiced enough to be good at sports. What she said stuck with me, and I just stopped whining about being bad at sports, just stopped accusing others of cheating, or whatever else I was doing that was not helping me get better and was in fact just helping me to accumulate enemies.

I learned that I had a problem, and then I figured out how to apply what I learned to make the problem go away. Applied introspection.

This is also how I figured out what to major in. I knew myself well enough that I’d be miserable in anything else but a life devoted to words, so I ignored all the calls to major in Econ or Comp Sci or plan for a career in law, and simply studied what felt effortless to study. (I also studied evolutionary anthropology, which was fun at the time—learning for the love of learning—but has since allowed me to do a lot of science/technology writing and editing, and given me an interesting background for fiction and other creative projects.) As it turns out, I have found success, independence and a decent degree of financial remuneration doing what I love.

When it came to love, I had one major and several minor failed relationships. After each one, I came to understand why the person was a poor match for me, and also what I had contributed to the relationship’s demise. When I finally met my husband and fell in love with him, thanks to all that introspective work I’d done, I was ready to commit to him -- the right person –- the person for whom I had authentic feelings, the person who had the qualities that I’d discovered I valued and who I was certain loved me for who I was, not who he hoped or imagined me to be. (You may know someone who falls for the same type over and over again, always ending up in heartbroken ruins. Happily, I avoided making this mistake, going for a more varied let’s-give-this-a-chance approach, and I attribute that broad-mindedness to this introspective process, which revealed more and more about what I felt, needed and wanted and who I was with each relationship.)

So by now you have guessed that I believe introspection to be one of the most valuable qualities to possess if you are to find balance and bliss and love in your life.

However, the question remains: Is introspection innate, or can it be acquired?

I don’t really know. I believe that people are blessed with certain gifts and talents that are just part of who they are, and that other personality traits are developed, nurtured and even instilled over time.

Is introspection an intellectual gift, or simply a learned behavior?

On this blog, I talk a lot about taking the time to mediate and examine the world and the self with a high level of analysis. I’m certain you can get better at introspection by practicing these things, but I wonder if you can become introspective if you’ve never been before. Maybe after a brush with death, or some similarly life-changing event?

I’d wager my readers here are a pretty introspective bunch. I’d like to hear from you: Were you always introspective? Do you think it is only innate or that it can be acquired?

More than anything, I'm curious about this process. Whenever I dispense advice, such as it is, it usually presumes that an introspective process is available. But what if it isn't always? What then?

I'm looking forward to any thoughts or ideas about this most fascinating of psychological and spiritual practices.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My Dog, the Very Advanced Yogini

The other morning, I saw god in my dog’s eyes. My son and I and she were all outside in the backyard, and after a quick game of fetch, she laid down in the cool, shaded grass, sphinx-like.

She wanted nothing, needed nothing. Fed, watered, exercised, and near her family, she simply sat, peaceful, with no agitation.

While my baby busied himself with his sandbox, I sat next to her, and she looked at me, and I looked at her, and I swear I experienced a look of pure awareness.

Now, she’s a pretty intelligent dog, but the look I saw wasn’t her sharpness. It was a look that revealed her source, our source. It was god, in the most ineffable sense of the concept of god.

Now, dogs are generally pretty good at being in the moment, but they, too, have a kind of consciousness and bodily needs and instincts and even desires. In this moment, she was not subject to those, and thus I got a glimpse of the truth that religions and yoga and spiritual journeys are always pointing toward.

It’s hard to see this in another human’s eyes, I think, because we’re all so caught up in the illusions that our minds create for us to want or fear or hold onto. Our eyes, even if the outer, defensive shield is dropped, still retain yet another curtain that prevents most people from seeing more deeply, prevents us from being transparent to the transcendent. So that’s why it was a real privilege—this truly sacred moment—to see into my beautiful dog’s eyes and receive her gift of revealed awareness.

I’m not sure that she hasn’t given me this gift before, but if she has, then I know I must not have been able to see it, blinded by my own shortcomings and fears, needs and wants. I am hopeful that my ability to witness this, to actually notice it, means that I am shedding some of those obstructions to truth and awareness.

I don’t believe animals are here on earth to serve us, per se, but I do believe that incidental to our symbiotic relationship, they can offer us a whole hell of a lot that we’re probably usually too busy to accept.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Beyond Right and Wrong

So my last post was about Ric Elias' TEDtalk. In his talk, the video and transcript of which is in the previous post, he says that one of the things he learned in his encounter with what seemed to be near-certain death, was that he wanted to eliminate negative thoughts, negative energy from his life.

As he said, "I don't try to be right, I choose to be happy."

A friend of mine told me a story about another friend who had a really awful relationship with her mother. Her mother was cold, distant and unloving, as the account went. And so this person sought therapy, and this was one reason. One day she was airing her grievances against her mother. And the therapist said, "Yes. That's all true. But you can be right, or you can be happy."

How interesting that Ric Elias' sudden flash of insight should approximate so closely this therapist's words.

It seems to me that both Elias and the therapist are on to something: For someone to be right, someone else has to be wrong. But what if you simply chose not to be concerned with being right or wrong? What if you decided to look at everything with the eye of awareness open? Sure someone might cut you off in traffic, or yes, your mother might have been a cold, heartless headcase. But what do you gain by dwelling on this? What if you just look at it as the way of the world, much of which you have no control over? Your set of problems may be bad, yes. But you can't pick your mother. You can't control the guy who cut you off in traffic. And besides, someone else has different problems, which you were fortunate enough to avoid. The point is, there's no escape from problems. Everyone has something, or someone, that "wrongs" them. But what if you look at these things as your unique path, the things you need in this life to help you learn and grow?

You can choose to be right, or you can be happy.

I am rereading yogi Steve Ross' "Happy Yoga," and he's able to say all of this far better than I am, so check out his book if you're interested in seeing how you can transcend the ego's need to be right, to be in control. More and more, I surrender my ego, and when I do, I am choosing to be happy. It works. (Conversely, I recognize that when I fail to surrender my ego, and I think I'm in control, that is when I suffer most.)

(This, by the way, does not mean you should suffer the things that *are* under your control. If someone is hurting you, you have choices you can make to remove yourself from that situation. If you are in a bad job or are having financial problems, there are steps you can take. Learn how to discern what you have control over and what you don't, rather than wasting energy trying to control the things you can't.)

Ric Elias said he was given the gift of not dying. The chance to be on Earth and love and live and breathe is so incredibly rare! Of all the life forms on this planet, humans are a tiny percentage! Here you are, with a consciousness and a spirit and a body that can experience and sense this miraculous play of the divine. And you choose to yell at inept motorists? And you choose to linger in memories of an unhappy past? Even if all the facts are true, and you are "right," that is cold comfort when compared to what you could have--a life lived in blissful acceptance and surrender to the Mystery.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"I don't try to be right, I choose to be happy."

This man is Ric Elias, and the title of this TEDtalk is "Three things I learned while my plane crashed."

He sums up, in just five minutes, what he took away from surviving the "Miracle on the Hudson" plane crash.

Please watch this talk. It is simple and short, and powerful in its truth. In my next post I will offer some additional thoughts on what he has to say here.


Updated to add the transcript below. I know some people have an aversion to watching video, or simply can't, for whatever reason. So here's the transcript. Read it or watch it. I think it's that important.

Imagine a big explosion as you climb through 3,000 ft. Imagine a plane full of smoke. Imagine an engine going clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack. It sounds scary. Well I had a unique seat that day. I was sitting in 1D. I was the only one who could talk to the flight attendants. So I looked at them right away, and they said, "No problem. We probably hit some birds." The pilot had already turned the plane around, and we weren't that far. You could see Manhattan. Two minutes later, three things happened at the same time. The pilot lines up the plane with the Hudson River. That's usually not the route. (Laughter) He turns off the engines. Now imagine being in a plane with no sound. And then he says three words -- the most unemotional three words I've ever heard. He says, "Brace for impact." I didn't have to talk to the flight attendant anymore. (Laughter) I could see in her eyes, it was terror. Life was over.

Now I want to share with you three things I learned about myself that day. I learned that it all changes in an instant. We have this bucket list, we have these things we want to do in life, and I thought about all the people I wanted to reach out to that I didn't, all the fences I wanted to mend, all the experiences I wanted to have and I never did. As I thought about that later on, I came up with a saying, which is, "I collect bad wines." Because if the wine is ready and the person is there, I'm opening it. I no longer want to postpone anything in life. And that urgency, that purpose, has really changed my life.

The second thing I learned that day -- and this is as we clear the George Washington Bridge, which was by not a lot -- I thought about, wow, I really feel one real regret. I've lived a good life. In my own humanity and mistakes, I've tried to get better at everything I tried. But in my humanity, I also allow my ego to get in. And I regretted the time I wasted on things that did not matter with people that matter. And I thought about my relationship with my wife, with my friends, with people. And after, as I reflected on that, I decided to eliminate negative energy from my life. It's not perfect, but it's a lot better. I've not had a fight with my wife in two years. It feels great. I no longer try to be right; I choose to be happy.

The third thing I learned -- and this is as your mental clock starts going, "15, 14, 13." You can see the water coming. I'm saying, "Please blow up." I don't want this thing to break in 20 pieces like you've seen in those documentaries. And as we're coming down, I had a sense of, wow, dying is not scary. It's almost like we've been preparing for it our whole lives. But it was very sad. I didn't want to go; I love my life. And that sadness really framed in one thought, which is, I only wish for one thing. I only wish I could see my kids grow up. About a month later, I was at a performance by my daughter -- first-grader, not much artistic talent ... ... yet. (Laughter) And I'm bawling, I'm crying, like a little kid. And it made all the sense in the world to me. I realized at that point, by connecting those two dots, that the only thing that matters in my life is being a great dad. Above all, above all, the only goal I have in life is to be a good dad.

I was given the gift of a miracle, of not dying that day. I was given another gift, which was to be able to see into the future and come back and live differently. I challenge you guys that are flying today, imagine the same thing happens on your plane -- and please don't -- but imagine, and how would you change? What would you get done that you're waiting to get done because you think you'll be here forever? How would you change your relationships and the negative energy in them? And more than anything, are you being the best parent you can?

Thank you.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Remove the Arrow: A Reminder

In my last few posts I've been exploring the idea of practicing patience, no matter what life throws at you.

I want to follow up and say that while I think the six points of the Mahamudra and Practice of Patience are all very useful and very good, some are better suited to certain kinds of suffering than others.

For instance, a reader pointed out that my kidney stone pain was a sort of pain that was hard to reimagine as pleasant to someone else. While I maintain that all points can be utilized, the "This too shall pass" item was maybe best suited to maintaining calm and patience in that scenario. (At least once I knew what it was--for a time I had no idea.) Think of the six points as options, and use whichever is best suited to allowing you to cultivate patience when you really need to.

Now, it a good idea to remember that some things that cause suffering we have no control over. Kidney stone pain is one of them. (Assuming there's nothing you know about yourself regarding diet or other ways to avoid the stones, you kind of just have to suck it up and allow the body to deal with it.) Many illnesses and the loss of others in our lives fall into this category.

However, there are plenty of kinds of pain and suffering that you do have control over. Namely work situations and relationships, and bad health--physical, emotional, or financial--that's self-inflicted.

There is a relevant Buddhist parable that I'll sum up here: A man is shot with a poisoned arrow. It is causing him great pain. But before he'll have it removed, he wants to know who shot him, why they shot him, where his assailant was from, what the arrow is made of, what sort of string the bow was strung with, etc...

The point is that knowing the answers to those questions do not alleviate the suffering. Indeed, in this scenario, the man might die and still not get the answers to all his questions. The only rational, clear-headed way forward is to remove that which is causing the suffering.

So, when considering your problem, pain or suffering, ask yourself if it is something you have control over. If not, practice patience.

If, on the other hand, it is something you can change--then there is no need to martyr yourself. You have both the power and the responsibility to love yourself enough to end the suffering.

Remove the arrow. You might still have questions, but the first order of business is to draw out the poisoned dart. Then, and only then, can an inquiry into why you've been shot or how it happened begin.

Good luck, and may all beings everywhere, including ourselves, be happy and free from suffering.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Feel your Feelings

I’ve been thinking a lot about the last two posts and my advice to take the Mahamudra and Practice of Patience in its entirety, and apply it to whatever problem you might be having.

I’m going to hold to that, but add one final thought: Even in recognizing that pain or suffering is temporary, that someone would find it as pleasant, that you can use your problem as a path, etc., you are still allowed to feel your feelings.

So, what I mean by this is that if you are suffering from physical pain, and you are scared, you don’t have to pretend that you aren’t scared and put on a happy face. Indeed, the chance of you moving through fear to a place where you can practice equanimity and patience is much higher if you say to yourself, “Yes, I’m scared.”

Or, if you are working through feelings of anger toward someone who wronged you, it’s OK to acknowledge your anger, and feel angry.

The difference between feeling your feelings and wallowing in them, I think, has to do with your willingness to be honest with yourself and first identify what emotion you are experiencing, and then being able to let the emotion be felt and then dissipate—being able to let go. It is in this second step that we cease to identify ourselves with the feeling, and realize that our feelings do not make us who we are.

And of course, this goes for good feelings, too. Many of us (especially women) think we must be happy and upbeat at all times, or else we are somehow broken or high-maintenance. If you feel happy, good, but it is an emotion like any other, and does not define you. Indeed, trying to hold on to the good feelings can be as damaging as holding on to the negative ones.

I know that for a very long time, I was afraid to feel anger toward those who had betrayed me, because I thought that meant I was failing somehow. I prided myself on being able to bounce back from almost any obstacle, always the one who could hold it together.

How did that work out for me? Fine, for a while, as a coping mechanism. But feelings have a funny way of trying to leak out of even the most tightly sealed vessel. I was suffering. I was causing those I loved to suffer. I sought therapy, and as I began to explore my feelings and my past, I found a well of anger that I had never been allowed (as a child) to express. As an adult, I had never allowed myself to express that anger.

One night, I began writing about these angry feelings. What started out as a simple journal entry became a fury that I scratched into paper. The more I wrote, the more anger I felt. I started to cry. I was feeling my feelings, finally.

After I finished writing, I felt lighter than I had in many, many years. I could not believe how much anger was within me, waiting to get out. Because I realized where this emotion was coming from and who I was mad at, I felt no confusion or a need to take the anger out on someone else. It was clearly identified, and very obviously needed to be let out and then let go. My body relaxed, my mind cleared out, my spirit began to heal. (Incidentally, if you suspect you have feelings you need to feel, seek professional help. You need a therapist like a novice white-water rafter needs a guide. The force of these pent-up emotions can be scary and dangerous, and you don’t want to go it alone.)

So, your spiritual practice will help you center yourself in awareness and a peace-filled consciousness, but that doesn’t mean you should alienate or renounce or ignore your human self. You are a human and you feel feelings. That is as it should be. That is perfect.

Survivor of abuse? Feel your feelings. Cancer patient? Feel your feelings. Injured athlete? Feel your feelings. Grieving widow? Feel your feelings. Just got pulled over by a cop? Feel those feelings too.

But don’t dwell on them. They are not you. Feel them and then make space for new feelings. Feel them, and be a fragile, fallible, mortal human, and then let them go, and inhabit your beautiful, perfect, endless spirit.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

You Must Save Your Life

And sometimes, a poem just sums it all up.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

© Mary Oliver. Online Source

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Who Do You Think You Are?

In my last post, I discussed the idea of someone finding your problem, your suffering, as pleasant. It’s a challenging notion to most of us, but, if you are going to accept it for one problem, I think you have to accept it for all of them.

Recently, I talked to a friend who seemed to be asking for help with her problems. She usually comes to me to get the hippy-dippy take on things. According to her, that’s my specialty, where she privileges reason and logic above all else. For the record, I actually am quite fond of logic and reason, when properly balanced with intuition and emotion.

Anyway, in discussing this idea with her, I brought up some examples of my own experiences of pain and suffering, like I discussed in my previous post. She embraced this reframing of problems—until she mentioned a problem of her own.

I gently suggested that she try to find a way to think of someone who would find her problem pleasant. At that point, she became defensive and certain that this problem and the suffering it has caused was something only someone who hated themselves could find pleasant. In other words, she missed the point, and interpreted that finding her suffering “pleasant” meant a kind of masochism born out of self-loathing.

Though I admit that it is a challenge to think of things that are the worst pain in the world (a loved one dying, fighting addiction, surviving terrible abuse, etc.) I don’t think that there can be exceptions if you are going to adopt these ideas as part of your spiritual/psychological practice. Kind of the whole point is that it challenges you to break out of what you think you know about your life and your capabilities and the roles you play.

And anyway, why would she get a magic exemption from having to do the tough, but healing, spiritual work that leads us to greater peace, love and equanimity? And further, why would you want that exemption, even if it existed, unless, of course, you were afraid to let the suffering go? A question to ask might be: Who do you think you are?

More and more, I think the goal of any spiritual journey (note I don’t say “religious journey”) is really the burning away of the trappings that keep you from revealing yourself as a luminous being that radiates love. The ego, the knee-jerk reactions, the devotion to material things over life, the compulsive/impulsive behavior that is born out of fear or anger. These things have to be stripped away.

So. Everyone suffers. You are not unique in this respect. It is true that everyone suffers differently, from different causes. And yet, you are not unique in what is asked of you, even in knowing that your suffering is excruciating to you.

So, on the spiritual journey, if you mean to take one: Yes, even your problem, no matter what it is, is something someone would find pleasant.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Someone Would Find Your Suffering Pleasant

In my yoga class last week, we got a handout on "Mahamudra & the Practice of Patience."

Here are the six points of the practice as listed:

  • This too will pass.
  • I cannot control this in the present moment.
  • I have put this and myself here.
  • There is somebody who would find this pleasant.
  • I can use this problem as a path.
  • We must be as gardeners.

All are worthy of contemplation, but the one that spoke to me particularly was the fourth, about finding something uncomfortable or upsetting as pleasant.

What a wonderful way to reframe pain or suffering, whether it be emotional, mental or physical!

I thought of the most physically painful experience I've ever had, which was childbirth.

No surprise there, except for I purposefully went into it refusing any drugs of any kind. Not because I enjoy pain or am some kind of martyr, but primarily because I wanted to be fully aware, fully functioning and, of course, because I didn't want my baby to be influenced by anything unnecessary. Millions have given birth without medication, and I knew it was possible.

It's a personal choice, of course, but in knowing this—knowing I didn't want pain relief—I had to do some serious work to prepare mentally for something all-consuming, painful and completely involuntary. There is no way to run away from childbirth. In classes and through reading and self-study, I worked with my breath and with pain-coping techniques. But above all, I had my mindset.

After that experience, I had no doubts about the whole "mind over matter" thing. Indeed, though each contraction was intense, overwhelming and painful, I never once countenanced the notion of getting drugs, because my mind was made up. (And a good thing I was prepared, too: my labor was so fast I would not have been able to have an epidural if I'd wanted one. Imagine if I had wanted one, and how great my pain would have seemed to me when compounded by dashed expectations!)

Still, it was painful. But thinking "Somebody would find this pleasant" casts the pain in a whole new light.

Who might find it pleasant? Someone who wants nothing more than to be a mother, but who is struggling with infertility or who has miscarried. Someone who has been paralyzed from the neck down. Someone whose body has been injured or is deformed such that a desired pregnancy is impossible.

Even in the moment, I knew the pain was for something good. But, what about pain nearly as bad, but that has no seeming benefit? A few months ago, I had kidney stones. (Misdiagnosed, so at the time I didn't know why I was writhing in pain.) It was excruciating--just horrible. I was so scared, because the doctors didn't know what was wrong with me. At the time, I had nothing positive going on in my head. But imagine if I could have at least tried to mitigate the clenching in my body and breath. Maybe I could have seen the pain as something positive: A body trying to let me know something was wrong--and therefore the chance to heal. If we didn't experience pain, how would we know to address whatever was causing such an insult?

At the furthest point, you can always look at suffering this way: Because of this suffering, I know I am alive. This requires that we look at life as a gift, no matter how tough. (I imagine that can be very difficult in very extreme situations, but that's a topic for another post. For now, it's worth thinking on as a thought experiment. How might even the worst situation be something we can be grateful for?)

Or from an emotional perspective: Remember the couple I discussed a few posts back? The pain of an impending divorce must have been overwhelming, depressing. But who might have seen it as pleasant? Perhaps a woman in Afghanistan, whose rights are so curtailed that divorce (no matter how terrible the husband) is not an option?

I think you can see the direction of these thought experiments.

So, I invite you: Look at your pain, your suffering, your problems, whatever they are, however transitory or permanent.

Now ask yourself, who would find your problem pleasant?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Please Do Touch

If you’re an American (or know one), you may already know how little affectionate touch we receive or give on an average day. Somewhere along the line, we decided, as a culture, that touch is meant to be romantic or sexual, and that was that. Touch became taboo.

I’m here to say fie on all that, and to encourage you to do the same.

When my son was nine weeks old, I took an infant massage class. With a small bottle of sweet almond oil and some basic instructions, I began figuring out how to give this tiny, wiggly human gentle, caring touch.

Now, a year later, not only does he ask for massage—carrying the little bottle of oil to me and signing “massage”—but I gladly give it. It is one of the most calming, sweet and peace-filled moments in my day.

I relax. He relaxes. He breathes more slowly, more deeply, and so do I. I feel boundless love and warmth for him, and he smiles the serene smile of a baby Buddha. It is divine and beautiful.

Of course, I feel good around my baby most of the time, but I know that this daily, affectionate touch is good for anyone, even (and maybe especially) those you are having difficulty with. (No, I’m not suggesting you offer your boss a massage, though if touch weren’t so proscribed in our society, we’d all probably get along better!)

What I am suggesting is that you begin with people you feel safest and closest with, and explain why. (So, don’t start hugging or massaging someone without letting them know your intent behind this new behavior.)

I think touch builds trust, strong bonds, and understanding, not to mention kindness and empathy and love. It is a form of nuanced communication that we hardly ever use, which is a damn shame.

This is a big button pusher for some people, because we’re so uncomfortable with it. But why should we be? I think exploring this is very worthwhile precisely because we’re so uncomfortable with it. My yoga class often does partner work, and it is always awkward at first. To help get around this, my teacher recommends touching someone with the idea that they can read your thoughts. So, if you’re thinking something lewd, or just being distracted or careless, that will come across. Good touch is open and honest and selfless and kind. It is given freely without expectation. By the end of partner work, usually everyone is much happier and relaxed and just grateful.

My son loves to give hugs. He just runs up to people, the dog (to her eternal annoyance), his stuffed animals, and hugs. It is innate. It is only through social conditioning that we squelch that need for human contact.

So, if you have a friend or partner you trust, start with more hugs. Play with the person’s hair. Massage tired hands and arms, or simply sit closely, head on the other’s shoulder.

Touch more. Be not afraid to utilize this great sensory gift. You will benefit. Your close relationships will benefit. You will be happier and more at peace when you meet this intrinsic human need.