I’ve been a mom for 8 months long enough to know that waking up with a cranky baby means long day ahead. She was beside herself. Meanwhile, my mind continued to monkey around. What could possibly be this upsetting when you aren’t even 250 days old?
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“Can you please not waste any more of my time?” he said.
“Wow.” I thought, out loud, slamming the car door shut behind me. Does he realize how painful it feels to be called a total waste of time?
I don’t know about you but this time of year doesn’t always feel warm and fuzzy. The giving season often highlights one of the most difficult acts of giving, forgiving. A real F word if I’ve ever heard one. Maybe because deep down the pain beckoning us to let it go burns just as much as the first time.
Have you ever felt something, “to the bone”?
Henry David Thoreau said, Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw at it still.”
If there is one thing I’ve observed in being human it’s that we all grapple with our “bones”. It’s difficult to live fully exposed. It’s difficult to believe we are deserving of a deeply meaningful life, that the purpose we feel underneath it all is something worth sharing, yet our bones remain the scaffolding of our physical existence. I’m reflecting on all of this with a revived appreciation for the jazz genre thanks in part to, A Night in Tunisia. Listening to Dizzy Gillespie on the trumpet you know jazz music is not just in his fingers and his breath–it’s in his bones. As natural as it was for Dizzy to pioneer the Bebop Era, you and I are pioneers of something natural and meaningful. What’s in your bones?
While structure is essential, it can’t move without muscle. So much of our strength goes to the gnawing and burying and unearthing and gnawing again. Mindfulness practices help us penetrate through the layers of doubts, fears, torpor, cravings, and aversions dominating our energy.
Lately I’ve been going toe-to-toe with torpor. Such a thick layer of slug I feel like I’m buried under! I’ve blamed my kaphic dosha and my baby and my job(s) and the enigma that is time, but often it really boils down to me hiding behind my lethargy. There are many days I’d way rather be in my bed than on my mat, and in Child’s Pose if I make it. This week I had one of those days. I show up to class, defying the repetitive thoughts in my head tired, lazy, lazy, tired. “Breathe” she says. “Listen to your breath. The point is to give yourself a break from the constant thoughts that repeat themselves over and over again.”
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali mentions obstacles are a natural part of the process, as well as their consequences. Sutra 1.32 goes on to say:
One-pointed focus is the best way to prevent the obstacles and their accompaniments.
Many of the muscles we strengthen through conscious practices are unseen. Muscles like awareness, focus, self-compassion, and non-reactivity help us generate stillness and get back to the bone.
No matter how many times we bury them there is good news: bones are stronger than mild steel and alive, comprised of living cells and nerves and blood vessels that allow them to continue growing and repairing themselves. The other news flash? Every human framework is unique. Get to know your own skeletal variation. When the water is still, you can see the ocean floor. By creating stillness we can navigate through the natural obstacles that are generating waves in our lives. Whatever obstacles you’re up against, find your one-pointed focus and feel again, to the bone.
When earthquakes happen, what do you do?
It was just shy of the ambrosial hours on Sunday in Oakland, California when the rumbling began. In a dreamy state of half-consciousness my thoughts became all sorts of interesting manifestations of worry; animals on the roof? A late season tornado whipping through The Bay, unannounced? A freight train on the loose? Apocalypse after all?
Nope, an earthquake.
It wasn’t that dramatic really, 11 seconds in total of feeling like we were housed in a tent during 35 mph winds, yet 11 seconds long enough to shake out my rug and leave me reflecting on the dust that had been unsettled.
What if something had happened to my partner, does he know how—and how much—he has inspired me?
What if the house came tumbling down, does the 27-inch iMac even matter?
What if something happened to my barely 5 month old baby girl, have I fully embraced what an awesome and humbling and deeply fulfilling level of exhaustion she’s helped me achieve?
What if something happened to you before I had the chance to thank you for being?
What if something happened to me, have I said all the things I needed to say, have I done the things I wanted to do, have I lived the life I have been charged to live?
A truthful pause broken. Broken by the wholeness of being with a gentle but firm, “N-O”.
Life has a way of shaking things up from time to time, of awakening us in ways we didn’t even realize we were sleeping. Earthquakes are natural—nature made—wake up calls. We need such riveting moments to bring us back to life, to fix our attention on being here now, to remind us that this isn’t a rehearsal, this is the real deal playing field on which no matter how prepared we might be for the game we will never entirely understand what nor whom we are up against, to serve as an impetus for us to recommit to our own unique dharma: life’s purpose, and its continued discovery.
Frederick Douglass said, “It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.”
Maybe your wake up call is an actual 6.0 on the Richter scale. Or maybe it is hearing about the shooting of another unarmed man of color on the 6 o’clock news, or witnessing a different crime on the streets, or losing a job or someone you love. Earthquakes come in morphing forms of sickness, injury, accidents, disorder, disasters—all sorts of unexpected fill-in-the-blanks that force us to reevaluate our existence and our presence in thereof.
What if we stopped keeping our later lists and pursued the fullest expression of life right now?
I’m telling my partner today that I live with less because he’s taught me that it can actually be more. I’m loosening my grip over materials that pale in the presence of meaningful experiences. I will hold my baby in the middle of the night tonight and say thank you for this unspeakable joy in my arms as she wails while her burps get stuck in the coils of her growing intestines. Thank you too, for sharing even a few moments of this lifetime with me.
As earthquakes inevitably come in your own life may you be vulnerable enough to let them rattle your cage in a way that brings pause, and ultimately leaves you journeying towards an existence that feels shared, expressive, authentic, and complete.
When was the last time you celebrated the sun’s birthday, the birth day of life, the leaping greenly spirits of trees, the blue true dream of sky, and gave thanks for most this amazing day? We spend so much of our time in the past which is dead and the future which has yet to be born. What about now? These types of connections are for the living, and the present is the only time we are fully alive.
Before you send the eyes rolling and write this one off as some more idealistic whimsical new age cow dung being regifted, hear me out.
I get it.
I’m not exactly high on life all the time either. I too am working overtime and often feel the elusive balance of existence. It hardly feels like there is time to take a breath let alone actually feel it! And that is the point. So often we place these types of mindful moments–and feeling in general–on the later list and overlook the possibility of mindfulness as a way to be. When we start to see mindfulness as the plate itself rather than another item on it, we start to understand its value.
To be mindful means to be fully present in the moment, without judgement. In her book, Daring Greatly, Brené Brown defines scarcity as the greatest cultural influence of our time. Scarcity, the “never enough” problem, is the judgmental default belief system we all perpetuate inside and out. As Brown states, “We get scarcity because we live it.” There is never enough time, or money, or confidence, or power, or certainty, or support, or…
We wake up each morning already feeling inadequate, and our own belief in inadequacy enables that in each other. The weight of each moment becomes too heavy to bare.
So how do we lighten the load?
A good start is by considering the opposite of scarcity which is “enough”. By continuing the practice of acceptance in each moment, just as it is–just as we are–we create an opportunity to expand the experience of the now, unadulterated. Who knows, maybe we will wake up to the birth of wings upon us and the gay great happening illimitably earth. Or maybe it will take a while for our days to feel that poetic. Either way, a step towards mindfulness, a practice that has been shown to help relieve stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and even reduce gastrointestinal difficulties is indeed a positive one.
Mindlessness is the flimsy foam picnic plate as mindfulness is the fine china. Like anything worth keeping around, it requires some elbow grease to create. Before porcelain can be made impermeable and non-porous it must endure glazing and fire. To be here now takes effort and the enduring commitment to be nonjudgemental, no matter what life serves us. This level of vulnerability is uncomfortable yet something found admirable in anyone wiling to expose themselves so uninhibitedly.
What does being vulnerable mean to you? What’s on your plate, and how could mindfulness help you handle it with more care? How can you live more openly?
I need your openness as much as you need mine, and the entire world needs our full exposure of everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.
Start by being vulnerable to yourself. Breathe and feel, observantly. Strip yourself down and dance with the unimaginable You. Let’s meet in the field beyond right and wrong doing that Rumi speaks of and share our own poetry.
Preface: I’ve been saying I need a wardrobe overhaul for a while now. My attentive partner, knowing my love for creative and thoughtful experiences, hired a fashion consultant as a gift for my 30th birthday. She came over this past weekend to help me clean out my closet. This blog is dedicated to him for all the many ways he has inspired me to let go.
“Let’s start with the dresses,” she said, pulling them out of the closet and sorting them into two distinct piles labeled, “casual” and “formal”.
There it was.
A small piece of my pain in the form of a BCBGMaxazria dress in taupe that was purchased in attempt to cover up what I wasn’t ready to deal with at the time.
“This color doesn’t do you any favors.”
Yeah, I know. Taupe, a dark tan, the french word for mole. That’s about right. I suddenly found myself plowing down memory lane to a time in my life I felt every bit deserving of the haute taupe dress that didn’t do me any favors.
Then there were the lavender ruffles, a desperate cry for my femininity to return as I felt through the fatigue of doing it all on my own. Those damn creativity-stifling responsibilities. Lavender ruffles.
We came across a green and teal and black satin number that I’ve had longer than I can remember, circa 2002, around the time of my high school graduation. As if that doesn’t say it all, the kaleidoscopic pattern exploding from the seams held captive my bright and shiny anticipation of a promising future, reminding me of my present-day clinging to youthfulness and all of its naive optimism, though I haven’t worn it for years.
“What do you think of this one?” Silence. What do I think of this one. The one I remember buying specifically because it was expensive, it had sex appeal, it promised fulfillment in the empty well I carried of feeling noticed and valuable and attractive. The one that adorned some of my lowest moments after I’d reduced my self-worth to nothing more than nylon, spandex, and polyester. It was definitely worn. “Well I think you are better than this.”
One by one we inspected each dress, every skirt, and shirt, and shoe, and jacket. We tossed out the larges–and extra larges–that were purchased from the dysmorphic lens of my bruised self-consciousness. We piled on items that have had their time, that have traveled the world and clothed my curiosity on the streets of Dubai and Mexico and Ecuador and Turkey. We let go of the pieces that were kept strictly for their materialistic value, those whose closet real estate had been preserved to mask the guilt felt for how much money was wasted on the attempted purchase of class and significance.
Funny how all of that was still hanging in my closet.
Thich Nhat Hanh said, “When we give ourselves the chance to let go of all our tension, the body’s natural capacity to heal itself can begin to work.”
I anticipated getting rid of some things. What I grossly under-anticipated was how much insight I would gain through the process, and how healing it would be. It’s amazing how much our stuff embodies our stuff. We created an impressive pile of physical materials to surrender, yet the metaphysical pile that was there was immeasurably more impactful.
My closet now holds empty space, the kind that is full. It no longer feels dingy and difficult to navigate. Inner spaces that were once warehousing tension I didn’t even realize I still had have also been liberated.
What kind of stuff is lingering in your stuff?
How can you let go of unnecessary weight and tension?
May every door be opened. May surrender remain one of our greatest strengths. May you too discover the fullness in emptying.
Sometimes life brings you lemons.
Between the growing pains of parenthood and an unexpected job change, my partner and I decided it was time to make some lemonade. We packed up the car and headed out on the road for a 10 day camping trip–2 month old in tow.
John Muir said, “Keep close to Nature’s heart and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
Whether it’s pregnancy, adjusting to a newborn child, a significant job change, or something else life changes both big and small have a way of challenging stability. They quickly provoke concerns surrounding the mundane minutiae of daily living which can feel sometimes like your succumbing to shallow waters rather than staying connected to the deeper abyss of the Self and your life’s purpose. From the, “how will we make ends meet?” to, “why is she crying again?” or,“where is the diaper bag?” and, “when will I have some time for myself?”, there is this overwhelming rush of superficial unknowns that can become dispiriting, deflating, and even manifest as sickness and dis-ease in mind and body if given enough time.
There is a relatively new form of therapy, ecotherapy, based on the hypothesis that many of our health issues as a society including depression, anxiety, and stress are due in part to our alienation from nature. Some statistics suggest that the average American spends 90 percent of their days indoors. In times of stress, this can become even further inflated. The term,”biophilia”, meaning the attraction one has to the living or living systems, is the study of our natural desire to connect with living things and continues to reveal that even a brief period of time in their presence–such as a walk outdoors or a few minutes basking in the sun–can positively impact our health and wellbeing.
Far before such terms, statistics, theories, and the advocacy of nature’s preservation by John Muir, humans have had an affinity towards nature and have relied on it for healing. Thinkers have retreated there for clarity, artists have turned to it for inspiration, physicians have scoured it for remedies. With origins that date back to 5,000 BCE, Ayurveda has been subscribed to for centuries as a life science emphasizing the use of plant-based therapies to achieve balance in being. These practices are founded on the belief that our bodily vessels house the soul of all that is, and from gross to subtle everything is made up of the same elemental constituents. As stated in ancient Vedic scripture, “As is the atom, so is the universe. As is the human body, so is the cosmic body. As is the human mind, so is the cosmic mind. As is the microcosm, so is the macrocosm.”
Nature helps us nurture our interconnectedness. It awakens a sense of responsibility to our part of the whole. When change happens and our size and depth and stability are challenged, it has a way of broadening our purview and reminding us we are much bigger. It helps us effortlessly reconnect with the feeling of being alive.
From the towering sequoias to the gaping canyons, from sandy shores to mountainous peaks, it’s evident after only a short time in the wilderness that nature–despite its vulnerability to environmental extremes–has a deliberate preservation of equilibrium and inherent intention to exist harmoniously. To observe this while it so gracefully embraces impermanence does indeed offer insight, inspiration, and is a remedy in itself.
Our human nature too is one of homeostasis. Although we may not always feel in balance, the natural world is a reminder of all that we are capable of, naturally, in the world within. As we continue to experience life and its fluctuations may we lean outward long enough to feel empowered inward to root, grow, bend, evolve, and endure it all with a rejuvenated spirit of capability.
I’d say the lemonade turned out pretty great this time around.
As the one month mark of motherhood quickly approaches, one word comes to mind in particular: humbled.
My loving partner tells me I’m beautiful which is not the first word that comes to mind as I look in the mirror at my postpartum body dressed in spit-up soaked sweats that I’ve been wearing since Sunday, blemished face adjusting to hormones and parenthood, hair that looks like it hasn’t seen seen a brush or a pair of scissors in months, the list feels endless–as any new mother surely can empathize.
The collision of disruptive sleep [at best], sore breasts and body, energy deprivation, a haphazard diet, and sedentary lifestyle sans asana has proven to be a sobering one. I find myself questioning, “Is this what they mean by, ‘letting yourself go‘?!” Then reality answers; with a child solely dependent on your love and care for survival, you inevitably haveto let some things go.
C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”
Truth. Entry into motherhood has been a sincere invitation into a selflessness that I’ve never known. Sure, I’ve done for others and sacrificed my own wants and needs for the greater good but let’s be honest–nothing like this. There is though something strangely validating and inspiring in knowing this being that you co-created is dependent on your ability to put yourself aside. I’ve begun to recognize this as both the underlying challenge, and the ultimate gift of being a parent. I’m thankful for the opportunity to think of myself less, to put someone else’s existence before mine, and the challenge that comes with that in not thinking less of myself through the process.
There is a quote in the Bhagavad Gita that reads, “Yoga is skill in karma.”
Karma, a way of acting, thinking, and doing by which one aligns with self-realization by acting in accordance with one’s duty (dharma) without consideration of personal self-centered desires, likes, and dislikes. The karma of being a mother is a reminder that beneath the clothes, and the skin, and the hair, and all the exterior forces that draw us outward, there is indeed a beautiful self unfolding on the interior through the selfless service of caring for your child.
And so, as I return to exploring the stretch and strengthening that comes with nursing, laundering, diapering and the like I bow, humbly, to my 25 day-old teacher. What a different yet deepening yoga practice it’s been so far.
A memorable line from one of my most influential yoga teachers. In fact one of the most influential practices I’ve gained from the mat, that resounds like Big Ben at the top of the hour every time I feel my insensitivity start ticking. A melodious reminder of how much time and energy criticism can squander, and a wake-up call to start again: find your breath, observe rather than condemn, and with awareness move on.
As Walt Whitman said, “Be curious, not judgmental.”
Curiosity is defined as a strong desire to know or to learn something. It has the cosmic powers to convert calloused insensitivity into mindful vigilance. It’s curiosity that inspires us to cultivate a deeper understanding of our own behavior and habits while judgement often becomes a barrier enabling our habitual self-defeating behaviors.
Whether it be losing focus in meditation, striking a match with my partner, neglecting the exercise routine [again...], I’ve learned to grow curious. Through this commitment meditation has become a more sustainable practice, relationships have become humbling teachers, and I’ve discovered that there are a slew of other physical activities more engaging for me than running in place on an endless belt.
How would your day-to-day differ if you too committed to being curious?
The next time you find your self hung up on shortcomings and throttled by self-defeat, without judgement, start again: find your breath, observe, and begin to reshape your debilitating cycles into spirals of continued growth and expansion. Start small, start today, and if for some reason you don’t…
It works every time.
That’s right, I am a two-for-one-deal. A yogi twofer. A soldier awarded the Medal of Honor gone AWOL while waging the battle between Self and self. A wise old owl, and a tireless woodpecker. A Saint of the 21st century and a Bonnie, desperately searching for her Clyde. I am often blue, but sometimes red, with unpredictable streaks of jet black. I am the seasoned teacher and new kid in school alike, and the best lesson I have every taught myself is that I-and i–still have a heck of a lot to learn.
Friedrich Nietzsche was a twofer too. As the great philosopher said, “Whenever I climb I am followed by a dog called ‘Ego’.” I know that ascend; it’s that summit of self where you feel you’ve finally “made it” despite the canines chomping at your ankles, and then you take a step back to survey the landscape realizing you’re not quite sure this is it.
And is it ever?
When it comes to the climb towards betterment, liberation, moksha, nirvana, disillusionment–whatever you want to call it–it often feels like the journey is never-ending. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are all traveling with the proverbial monkey on our back, as the notorious yoga Sage Patanjali suggests, blemished by the dot of asmita: egoism.
The ego is defined as the driving force behind maintaining and enhancing favorable views of oneself, the ultimate, “fake it ’til you make it”. We’ve all done our fair share of wrestling in this arena. The fatigue that comes with this facade can actually help us soften to the idea of no longer suppressing our fears and insecurities. Quite oppositely, allowing them to fully manifest and serve as a trusted guide up the mountain. There was a saying that struck me while contemplating this very subject with a yogi friend of mine in India, “There is no need to pick at the unripe fruit, first let the fruit ripen. Ripened fruit falls from the tree itself.”
Connecting with this idea from a real and vulnerable place allows liberation to evolve from an end, to the means to an end, when we are willing to embrace experiencing and expressing where we are in the ripening process of being completely, shamelessly, unapologetically, freely.
There is said to be an Asian tradition that when something is broken, its cracks are mended with gold because that which has cracked and broken appreciates in value. And so it goes for our cracks too. I have come to revere the valiant fails and destructive streaks, the constant pecking and the humility in not knowing. I have discovered that a bit of red mixed with blue blends into a divine shade of purple after all, and in the end, all of this is golden. It turns out that my own inner challenges and skewed perceptions of Self known collectively as “i” have served me immeasurably as one of the greatest teachers I have ever known. Is there ever a final peak, a pivotal point in the merging of our two selves? I cannot say for certain. I do know however that for now, there is plenty of trekking to endure and enjoy with the ever-blemished me, myself, and I–and i.
In my latest meandering through Oakland, California I ended up at a local bookstore and stumbled upon the timely text, “This Is Water”, a commencement speech and book written by David Foster Wallace including some pragmatic thoughts about living a compassionate life. The opening pages hook you with one of those, I’m-talking-to-you kind of stories:
“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?'”
I found it touching, actually more like a throttle to the neck, inviting me to take a few steps back from the granular focus of getting settled into a new home and city and its nuances like, “what kind of couch should we get?” and, “where should we hang the owl?” and, “should we prioritize the bed or the coffee table?”, and connect with the bigger picture. As Wallace alludes to and as evidenced by my own lived experience, many of the most obvious realities are those most difficult to see and talk about. In this case, the reality that the difference between California and Georgia is actually a state of mind; the unsubtle truth that perception is reshaped through embracing change, a challenging and often painful process of letting go and opening yourself up in new ways; the reality that stuff is a dime-store security blanket, material focus a momentary distraction from the emotional turmoil of “starting over”. Clearly it’s much easier–and has admittedly been preferred lately–to remain focused on the sheet set and table linens.
As I connect with the bigger picture however, I feel incredibly moved by this move. The awareness I am gaining is watering the seeds of compassion and courage that have been enduring a winter of complacency buried in the soil of the deep south. I suppose there is merit to the expression, “southern comfort”, after all. Awareness in any place and time is water, and water is necessary for growth. What are you swimming in? What’s withering in your life? What are you staring right in the eyes and not seeing? Be fearless in facing your own bigger picture. Notice what your unconsciousness has been camouflaging. Expand as you experience reality reminding yourself repeatedly, “this is water“.