The Hardest Thing To Do

Devoting to a meditation practice reaps the highest rewards I’ve ever experienced. Sitting on a cushion, walking in the woods, gazing at the ocean ~ a practice comes in many forms, but time alone, emptying hamster-wheel aggravations, worries, conflicts…anything redundant and mindless…this quieting is luxuriously restorative.

Understanding that our outer world perfectly reflects our inner state is what we need to bring us back into the present moment and connect with stillness. Knowing all we have to do is let go and allow what will be, to be…without judgment or control is the hardest thing and the easiest thing to do. 

When I don’t meditate, I’m anxious, reactive, uncentered, and less trusting that everything will be just fine. I struggle, feel depleted, am problem-focused, and less empathetic. Miss Crankypants.

When I do sit in stillness, even for ten minutes, this is what happens:

* My natural rhythms of eating, sleeping, and being productive emerge and I feel energized.

* Making healthy choices (nutritionally, physically, and emotionally) becomes effortless.

* I see the world as resilient, miraculous, and peaceful.

* Incredibly talented, bright, and successful friends, creatives, innovators, optimists, and solution-creators enter my sphere. 

* I am increasingly recognized financially for my contribution and value I help create.

I don’t know who said this, but it’s so true: If you can’t find five minutes to meditate, then you need an hour.

How can I help you…begin to still your mind, shift you from struggle into ease?

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OMG. Can you BELIEVE what he just did?

It’s madness I say! All this talk!

Be yourself.

Follow your bliss.

You can be or do anything you want.

…and then…

Did you SEE that dress she was wearing?!

Yeah, but you can’t make money at your art. You have to get a real job.

THIS is how it’s done.

I’m not good / pretty / rich / smart / connected enough.

Pure insanity! …this cognitive dissonance of declaring that we simultaneously have freedom and also must abide. Can we not see the disastrous effects judgment – certainly of others, but most insidiously of ourselves – wreaks? Is there any way out?

I wonder…

What could happen if we:

* unfurl, instead of bind

* celebrate, instead of constructively criticize

* unarm, instead of protect

* radiate, instead of compete

* affirm life, instead of deny it

* loosen, instead of furrow

* shoot from the hip, instead of prepare

* witness, instead of evaluate

* accept, instead of tolerate

* breathe

What if we stopped judging every little damned thing we see? What if we stopped deciding if everything fits neatly into either the Good or Bad column? What if that voluptuous woman wore that dress like no one’s business, painted her way into a living, and did it all on her own terms?

THEN would we shut up that petty little voice in our heads?

What if, I mean, really now…imagine if The Last Judgment wasn’t some day of reckoning, some hierarchical accounting of our sins, layered with the gross humiliation of guilt and blame and deeply rooted shame…and instead was simply…

The very last time we ever judged?

No Mere Spring Cleaning. It’s Exorcism.

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My arms are crossed in front of me, straitjacket-style.  I grasp the wrists of my chiropractor friend, H, as we position ourselves back-to-back, preparing for the second in a series of three adjustments.  Slowly we each lean forward, away from each other, and the clatter of wooden blocks sounds out as my vertebrae align.

“That was easy!” he says.  “You must really be ready to let go.”

You’re not kidding!  I’ve been tossing stuff out of the plane for miles – a good five years, I’d say. Someone once told me we carry our fears, symbolically, around with us, so I break out my map-reading skills and turn to the topography of my corporeal landscape.  While the runway has seen lift-off, there are still dammed up rivers, buckling frost heaves, and muscular peaks crying out to be climbed.  Taking flight requires the lightest load possible, and I’ve already let go  in substantial ways:  Goodwill, my real estate agent and the zoo that houses former boyfriends have all benefited from my housecleaning efforts.  Flying’s been a long time coming.  My whole life has been rife with falling/flying dreams and now that I’m finally airborne, cutting cords and gaining altitude, clarity emerges like a 747 coming out of the clouds.  But wouldn’t you know that the more I ditch, the more that pops up. It’s like I stashed multiple carry-ons under every single seat and now I’m on cleanup crew.  Someone please deploy the slide and toss a couple of beers my way!

https://offpeaklife.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/sleestaks.jpg?w=300This unfettering process isn’t confined to bone-cracking, closet-purging or journaling; yoga has also been integral. Pranayamic breathing  into joints and muscles bound tight like the foot of an 18th century Chinese woman highlights my avoidance tendencies and thankfully, their growing obsolescence.  Headlining as Houdini in many relationships, I mastered the art of unshackling (not in a good way) but what I fled from usually switchbacked and burrowed deep into commissural crannies, latching on like a stubborn Lyme-ridden deer tick.  In private session, I explain to my yoga instructor, Rachel, the quest to stop skipping over what I didn’t want to feel, and together we face the cave dwellers, those emotional Sleestacks hidden in my shoulders, hips, and spine.  Plank to Baby Cobra is near impossible without my shoulders wincing, so I rush the pose with no precision or grace.  Complete lack of presence.  But I know it’s possible if only I stop dodging the strain and flow through each micro moment.  It’s the anticipation of pain, more than the actual pain that freaks me out.

She guides me to hold each pose for more minutes than I think I can and breathe ever so deeply into the stretch. It’s not as hard as I imagine; time seems to slow and surprisingly, brings relief.  I exhale fully.  What I’ve stuffed into tight spaces loosens and – lo! – starts to dissipate.  Breathing room is redefined.  All this spaciousness created in pigeon, eagle, and other totemic asanas has superseded intellect and provided an escape hatch for ancient toxins.

photo manhole steam

My nemesis, anger – always a knotty one to metabolize – has been most toxic in dark and forgotten corners of my body, sabotaging with putrid, silent stealth.  Now that I’m hushing my mind, quieting my environment, and quelling stimuli,  I see the wreckage and teach my inner fires to warm more and inflame less.  Like receding winter snow, any sense of feeling wronged has nowhere left to cling and transforms the ground beneath.  Now when ire spikes, I let it sting.  Really feel the power surge, and breath.  Then I investigate and almost always when another is involved, I imagine what it must be like on the other side and compassion instantly washes over me.  It’s hard to stay angry at someone when you realize there is no ‘other.’  We’re all in this together, and besides, do any of us really know what the hell we’re doing anyway?

photo road sign squeeze meTry this:  grab a sock or a pen in your dominant hand.  Facing it down, squeeze.  Squeeze a little more.  Now squeeeeze with all your might.  And…………………drop it.

Which was easier?  The letting go, of course. Yes, I know, it’s easier to do when you’re ready, it’s the getting ready that’s difficult.  It’s taken me years.  It’s been gradual, uncomfortable, and replete with pitfalls and backsliding, but I’m traveling atmospherically these days and I hunger to go higher and faster, still.  So I’m dedicating this month to boot camp-level exorcism.  I’m calling upon all therapies – Feng Shui-ing, digestive sand-blasting, African drumming, sitting at the altar of Ganesh, marathon-training. April is spring cleaning month and I’m giving myself a psychic colonic.  Ready?  Set.  GO!

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The Eightfold Path Of The Super Moon

Perigee Moon March 2011

photo courtesy of Elizabeth Henkel Poisson, Rocky Coast Ramblings

We pay our rent or mortgage on the 1st of each month, contribute to the electric company’s coffers every 4 weeks, and re-up our cell phone minutes on a 30-day rotation.  This cyclical recurrence nearly resembles the orbit of the moon, and places us close to a cosmological rhythm, but isn’t there a better way for us to metronome time, one that doesn’t give ourselves over to the Gregorian calendar but instead relies on a truer beat? Why not attune directly with regular lunar movements?

Several years ago, on sage advice from a trusted astrologer, a friend and I embarked on a monthly ritual to routinely review our mutual progress along life’s meandering and convoluted spectrum, all on the night of the full moon.  Not only does this accentuate a natural order to the vicissitudes of our fortunes, but doing so is like cataloguing our journey, with a trusted and loving witness by our side.  Horizon-sighting is what we call it.

Often we’ve met for dinner, although occasionally our lifestyles necessitated meeting by phone.  We ramble on about our work, our loves and passions, our responsibilities, and our dreams, letting any and all come forth.  (Usually wine is involved; nothing pairs better with Old World pagan mysticism like a good Grüner.)  After a few hours of lubricating our imaginations, we end the night by individually naming what we see on our horizon, as far out as we can reach – a real-time report on what we know to be true, what we already believe inhabits our future.

An important distinction must be stressed to not ‘see’ something  we don’t feel to be true yet, nor call out what we would like to see, or what our fantasies might be.  No affirmations or other forms of ‘acting as if’ are invited.  This isn’t about pushing boundaries or manifesting, but about getting a clear vision of what we already know is possible, all under the regaling light of Diana, Roman goddess.

After we share what our scouts have eyed, we say private prayers of gratitude for the accompanying challenges we know will come, and the comforting guidance they’ll bring, once we surpass them.  It’s amazing when we look back at the previous month and see how far we’ve traveled, or not, and we explore the whys and why nots together.  It’s one of the most enriching activities I’ve ever done.

When I stepped outside this past Saturday, with the closest moon in a score of years, shining substantially brighter, I immediately felt a more powerful presence, and knew this was special.  It didn’t necessarily look bigger, but its light was intense, a brightness that was hard to take in.  I felt I could soar right up to it, that I could be an astronaut, that in fact everyone on Earth could become whatever they wanted to with a moon like that.  So much more seemed possible than ever before.  The night sky was transformed;  more shifted than just tectonic plates.  Indeed, I felt new paradigms crouching imminent on the collective skyline of humanity.

Back inside, I sat hundreds of miles away from my horizon-sighting friend this time and performed our ritual solo.  I clearly saw a finished play on whose research I’m just embarking.  This is a surprising new development along my writing path, for I never considered playwriting a genre within my capabilities, but there it is.  I also saw more joy and happiness than I’ve ever imagined, and although I’m not clear on the details, there WILL be dancing!  There was a simple, off-the-grid house: custom-designed, fresh and airy, filled with beautiful and generous people existing in harmony.

I don’t know how to get there, but it all awaits.

Sometimes we do shine more brightly, the closer we get to our core, and the other night dazzled, both above me and within me.  I felt bigger (and not just because I was bundled like an overgrown snowman against the cold night air.) My horizon tilted vertical, then towered.  The Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism appeared anew:  a way to be in bright relationship, not just right relationship, dwelling in and of the earthly world as I do.

  1. (B)RIGHT View ~ I am finally beginning to see things as they really are (or so I think ;))
  2. (B)RIGHT Intention ~ I am committing to the dissolution of anger, desire, and harm, and replacing them with positive, conscious intent.
  3. (B)RIGHT Speech ~ This is hard and easy.
  4. (B)RIGHT Action ~ Integrity is rooting. Walking the walk isn’t as simple as it sounds.  Maybe I should try bouncing?
  5. (B)RIGHT Livelihood ~ The selling of intoxicants is past;  the future is about effervescently expressing what is true for me.
  6. (B)RIGHT Effort ~ This takes unwavering dedication, no small task.  However, my will can be unbreakable when I choose it to be.
  7. (B)RIGHT Mindfulness ~ Not even the super moon can illuminate this mastery, currently.  Maybe I need a tea ceremony.
  8. (B)RIGHT Concentration ~ The monkeys are frolicking! The monkeys are frolicking!

As I choose to orbit farther and farther outside of convention and spin closer and closer to who I really am, I am struck by how easy it is, and how blessed I am to be able to say in all the chaos of present times, “Goodnight, Moon.”

Open (Screen) Door Policy

I stand in the doorway this bright, blue sky morning, holding open the screen door so that nothing comes between me and the young man outside with telltale pamphlets tucked under his right arm. Smiling awkwardly with his silver-braced teeth and acne, he greets me with practiced lines and hints of nervous eagerness.

“Hello!” he chirps.  “How are you?”

“Hi,” I reply, “I’m fine.  How’re you?”

“I am well, thank you.  I have some magazines here for you to read, if you’d like…” he trails off as I politely cut him short.  I am familiar enough with Watchtower News and Awake! to know I am not interested in prolonging his discomfort and our conversation.  I send him on his way back down the icy driveway to the dark sedan that awaits, older couple in the front seat – his parents perhaps, or Witness elders.  They back out and drive to the next house.

Instead of feeling relief, I hesitate and pause to wonder:  was I too hasty?  Why not invite him in and hear what he has to say.  Rather than supposing a one-way conversation, I could have offered the benefit of doubt, made my assumption charitable.  Why not entertain the possibility of dialogue, and if it didn’t materialize, then I could say goodbye knowing I stood open, and listened.

It is not unusual to have strangers rap on the door here, and that’s heartening – real world places still exist for strangers to ask for invitation and to receive it.  How easy it is to keep the door closed, to ignore a request for connection as our inboxes are overflowing and our bills are mounting – we’ve got pressures to parse and stress to manage.  But what if something meaningful was behind that knock?  What if relief lies just outside our door?

When I’ve turned that doorknob, kind people, always, are on the other side, trying to make their way in the world, just like I am:  a woman looking for a friend’s house, someone wanting to buy the truck in the driveway, or a man wanting to lease the back fields for farming.  We rely on each other to show us the way when we’re lost, to offer financial opportunity when we are in need, or to join in a new, sustaining venture.  The can-do attitude is alive and active here, and in a climate of economic scarcity and struggle, old-fashioned grassroots door-to-door isn’t just a way of making a living or promoting a cause, but of connecting to the people around us – it can pick us up and remind us that we are all in the same boat, if we would just stop putting different names on them.  In true exchange at my dining room table, I might find income, friendship, community, or just simple human contact with someone I wouldn’t meet otherwise in our tight-knit circles.  The world would get simultaneously larger and smaller.

I remember sitting at my back porch table years ago and my roommate, T, was writing out a mission statement.  I had never heard of such a thing before, so she detailed its whys and hows to me, and of course I wanted one, too.  At my last job, the mission statement was an important tool, a measure of the space between who we said we were and how we were actually operating.  Whenever I faced conflict or dilemma, I asked what stance or action would best serve that mission statement.  Clarity almost always swept in on those wings.  Now that I’m creating a new paradigm for my life, one where everything underscores my integrity, truth, and desires – no more clocking-in-clocking-out jobs, no more being who you want me to be, no more swallowing bitter pills of the cults of consumerism, conformity or competition – I must distill my belief system down to one guiding star.  Easy?  Try drawing a straight line without a ruler.  Then pull out that microscope and look even closer…

Once I write it, I wonder, will I be drawn to knock on doors to spread the word?  Probably not, but I empathize with missionary zeal – when you’re full of excitement and clarity don’t you want others to share in your happiness and peace?   Perhaps, but I believe it’s better to lead by example, lead by invitation, lead with liveliness and verve, while trusting each other to craft our own routes, or roots, even.

There are many forms of missionaries – diplomatic and religious ones initially come to mind, but don’t overlook the less obvious embodiments that are spreading their worldview, and want us on board their bus: for-profit corporations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), patriotic nationalists, New Age spiritualists, political ideologues, climate change environmentalists, organic farmers, 2012 Mayan Chicken Littles.  It’s not that wanting to share your point of view is good or bad, but we tend to duck when the dogma flies.  The end is nigh!  Buy now, save later!  You’re with us or against us!  Save the children!

It is a full spectrum, with chewy morsels on which to ruminate the entire length.  I have found usefulness in all platforms.  I’ve sought out and worked for a corporation that provided me with health benefits, a stable paycheck and some of the best colleagues I’ll ever know.  I’ve participated proudly as an American citizen, and a global one, too.  I’ve contributed to and benefited from both governmental programs and NGOs.  I’ve embraced capitalism and railed against its bottom-line mentality.  I’ve gleaned wisdom from traditional holy books, and rejected chapters that didn’t resonate.  The world is dynamic, complex and interwoven – and I find myself choosing more and more the kinds of preachers I want – based not on ideology, but on intention and how I feel when I hear their message. As much can be gleaned from a blade of grass as in the mire of our trillion-dollar deficit.  It is not enough to adhere to the saints or the sinners, to the left or the right anymore – I want to run my fingers along the spine of life and feel each bump and valley, the skin that covers it, and the pulse that beats beneath us all.

So I sit and craft words of meaning and truth until I come up with these:

My mission is to listen and obey my intuition, and when I falter, to correct myself with forgiveness and compassion, and treat others with the same. I will practice non-judgment and equanimity.  I will unceasingly look to see the positive and I will remember to have as much fun along the way as I can.

It’s a work in progress and in the meantime, I’ll maintain that open door policy.  Feel free to knock anytime, come in, and tell me your story.  I promise to listen this time.

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