Saturday, December 20, 2014

Two Questions

     The Joy of the Lord is My Strength
Neh 8:10

     I know the way to build a blog is to be regular in posting, but writing is something that I enjoy and I will not force myself to do it. Words whether spoken or written have the power of life and death in them and our words must flow from a place of love and gratitude for them to have the power to shift us positively. So, that was a round about explanation/apology for my month long silence, but it really is better to say nothing at all than to just put words out there for the sake of a blog, or being avoiding silence.There is a popular saying that it is better for a man to keep his mouth shut and be though a fool than to open it and prove that he is a fool.
     The path of the spiritual seeker and wanna be mystic can be fraught with twists and turns that distract or divert our attention from the moment and from love.  This is simply part of being human to turn our necks and check out accidents or to spend too long watching cute kittens on YouTube. We are made to transcend and live miraculous lives in the spirit that is true but on the way we must make peace with the parts of us that are fleshy and hungry and sometimes downright dirty. Trying to suppress our humanity can lead to complete breakdowns and into addictions and neurosis. It really is best to embrace our darkness and coexist with it as we cultivate our light. We all need help and tools to guide us along the way to light and love. We need friends to tell us we are being whacked. We need words to guide us and we need consequences to teach us. Lately I have been heavily relying on two questions to be spotlights shining on the path ahead. The first "What is my next loving act?" has guided me both to embrace my light and also to embrace my darkness. let me explain.
     Every life is about balance. You know at some point in her life Mother Teresa did something unkind and at some point Hitler did something nice. We are all naughty and we are all nice, just how it is. Again trying to suppress our darkness only reinforces and strengthens it. So sometimes when I ask myself "what is the next loving act?" the answer is to meditate or pray or do yoga and sometimes the answer is to allow myself that martini or kitty video. The question I have been asking myself is not "what is the next spirit building act, or what is the next 'good' act" But rather "what is the next LOVING act?" and in that question I take into account that sometimes it is loving to forget myself and do an act of service for someone else. Sometimes the loving act is to feed my highest self and perhaps just be really present while doing my chores. But every once in awhile the loving act truly is to allow my humanity. To remember that on one hand we are gold and at the same time we are dust. and before the dust settles there may be a mess. Love the mess, it is a part of you.

     The second question I have been using to guide my actions is "Am I doing this resentfully?" What we do is  less consequential than how we do it. The quality of our energy is everything. it is better to sit and do nothing joyfully than it is to do acts of service with resentment. When we do stuff resentfully thoughts like "I should" and "there's no one else to do this" often alert us to an underlying resentment. Resentment is an insidious energy that drains us and everyone around us and it is better to leave chores undone than to fill your home with resentment. It is better to leave a blog untended than to resentfully write something because you "should". It is better to leave a sink full of dishes than it is to simmer in resentment as you wash them. We have two things we must master to grow. Our attention and our presence. The first question "what is the next loving act?" tells us where to place our attention. The second question "Am I doing this resentfully?" will cue us in to the quality of our presence. This blog was my next loving act and done without a stitch of resentment and I hope in my thoughts you find your questions and keep reaching for the light. Happy Holidays fellow seekers.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Just Do This

Very little grows on a jagged rock. Crumble and become ground so wildflowers will come up where you are. you have been stony for too long.
     Whether or not you have a child you can probably picture how a toddler will repeatedly chant "mom mom mom mom" when it wants your attention and usually the minute the desired attention is received the child relaxes just a bit. Your body is a lot like this chanting toddler in that it really does want your attention. When our necks get tight or our low back spasms perhaps we can consider that this may be your body yelling "mom mom mom mom ." and just perhaps instead of numbing or ignoring we can listen for a moment to the wisdom of our body. It has a lot to say.

      This morning I got to work with a fairly new client for the third time and from the first session I could tell that intellectually she trusted me, but her body did not. When a body has been abused or repeatedly bullied it often adopts a posture of self protection that may include a surface tension, a hard alertness, a clenched jaw, sometimes clenched fists and buttocks, this is body is protecting against an expected blow. And so often the blows are body receives are not from another person. So the first few times I worked with this person we just did really gentle stuff and while I prioritized paying super close attention to her body I also gave her some cues to apply compassionate awareness to her body as well. Today was the first time her body trusted me and it was an amazing moment of softening and exhaling. I wanted to share this story not to brag about what a great therapist I am, but because this scenario is way too common these days because our bodies don't trust us. We have been bullying them  I don't mean you have been hitting yourself, it is more subtle, Making your body hunch over a computer for hours without standing is a kind of bullying. Working out until you throw up is another.
      And with the "just do it" culture, the "kicking my own ass" mentality and the "suck it up" messages we give to our bodies why should they trust us? Would you trust a bully? And why is it that we can be so gentle and compassionate with others but when it comes to our own bodies we turn a deaf ear? It is time to stop all the self bullying that has bloomed under the umbrella of busyness and excessive work. The challenge is that we do live in an excessively loud world and our bodies voice is very much a whisper. Often we don't listen to our body until it just stops, either by passing out or sustaining injury. And then only sometimes do we listen but mostly we try to alleviate the symptoms. Well, this habit of self bullying and turning a deaf ear to our body is a learned pattern and any learned pattern can be unlearned. It is not a quick or easy journey but would you rather the alternative, bullying your body all the way to the grave? I know this is strong language, but like people who speak up for abused animals, I feel the call to speak up for your body. it deserves better.

     So, where to start? A good place is just by sitting perhaps for 3-5 minutes a day and observing your bodies sensations. Pretty soon you will discover that you are a sea of ever shifting sensation and that your aches and pains are not solid or permanent. This raising of awareness itself helps to soften your body, but the attention you pay to the body must contain both the elements of friendliness and curiosity. When we are curious and friendly towards our body it senses that awareness and relaxes. Perhaps you could take it a step further and begin to notice how emotion affects your body. What energetic and muscular sensations accompany joy or sadness, anger or fear? Have you ever noticed that when you get close to someone you trust your shoulders soften and when we are suspicious of someone our chest tightens? Our body had a thousand messages for us, but they are quiet and we have to listen. The more you listen the more wisdom you will glean and the more effectively you will abide in yourself. Your soul is not encased in a vehicle to be run but rather in a soft, warm, smart animal that deserves our loving attention. So, where to start is by sitting quietly and listening and when to start is today. Won't you join me on this journey home? How does your body feel in this moment? You are not alone in this body disassociation and you are not alone on the journey home.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Coming Home: A Body Story

A Spiritual Journey
and the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles
no matter how long
but only by a spiritual journey,
a journey of one inch
very arduous and humbling and joyful
by which we arrive at the ground at our feet
and learn to be at home
Wendell Berry
     I suppose to appreciate where I am I should share where I come from. Where I am now is that I have become a consciously loving occupant of my body listening to it and tending to it with utmost care. This is not where the journey began. In my late teens and early 20's I assaulted my body on almost every front. I was a bulimic with a low point of forcing myself to throw up seven grilled cheese sandwiches I had just binged on. I was a drug user who experimented with almost ALL of the drugs available. I did not honor my body sexually but was pretty promiscuous and finally I got into a violent relationship which culminated with me in the emergency room with a broken face. The slight scar over my left eyebrow is a constant reminder that I had abandoned my body on every front. I technically lived in my body but in no way did I have a relationship with it. My body mind relationship consisted of my mind alternating between numbing out and self bullying.
Today when I think of where I was and where I am I feel it in my body. I feel the compassionate warming in my chest, the relieved relaxing of my shoulders the calm slowing of my breath. I have come home and there are not sufficient words to convey how grateful I am to live in my body now. I  make more choices that nurture and grow my body rather than continually bombarding it with expressions of self loathing. But this has been and still is a long and winding road ...

     My body/mind/spirit healing journey began with a deep spiritual longing that led me to believe in and have relationship with God. This part of the journey needed to grow for about 10 years before the spirit led me to the breath and mind. As a massage therapist spending seven or eight hours a day in silence I knew I needed to find a positive mental focus or I would lose my mind. So I started linking mantra to breath as I worked. For a long time the breath was just linked to quieting the mind, but then one awesome day I began to notice how the breath moved the body. So my first introduction to my body was really just watching it breath. Around this time a wise woman noticed how much I loved my dog and asked me if I would consider applying the same compassion I had for my pet to my body. Those few words were pivotal and powerful.  After a few years of watching my breath it was clearly time to "find" my physical body and I was led to begin with the feet. Finding your feet is so important in so many ways, but I will mention just two. First when you find your feet it grounds you to the earth making you feel a little more solid and resolute and courageous and second when you find your feet you find your present moment. You become present in the here and now. I mean who thinks of their feet in terms of past or future? And it is in an awake present moment that growth occurs.

     I really want to  flesh this out but I want to cover a lot of ground in one page! So, then my foot awareness led me to the realization that I clenched my glutes all the time. It took a few years for them to relax but when they did my low back quit yelling at me. Simultaneously with the "glutes journey" I learned to find my core and began to trust the inner wisdom that lives there. Then my body led me to my jaw. When you unclench your jaw you often quit holding on to so much anger this in turn led me to notice my throat was constricted. This part was a little funny, I thought at first a constricted throat meant I wasn't speaking my truth, but really the truth was I was a lousy listener and once I learned to use my ears my throat softened.

     My journey continued as I spent some time contemplating how many times we are instructed in scripture to not be "stiff necked" and as I learned to relax my neck I noticed a funny correlation with my knees unlocking  Relaxed knee joints are crucial for whole body health, but in body mind language locked knees are a sign of stubbornness and as I unlocked them I became more emotionally flexible. Then my once broken face got my attention. As I learned the relationship that the nervous system has with the facial muscles I began to really apply myself to relaxing my expression and as my brow and cheeks softened anxiety began to leave. When your face is relaxed your body is not a friendly home for anxious thoughts. My spirit has led me to God and to the belief that if you really love God you have to love people and be a light to them. Well, turns out being a light to people begins with upturned lips and a relaxed face. The next steps in my journey are pretty current and on going. I am learning to cooperate with my nervous system. The nervous system is controlled mostly by our breath and our thoughts so a good access point to nervous system control is to cultivate a smooth long even breath. Also it is helpful to notice the effects different thoughts have on your body. Some thoughts harden us and some thoughts soften us. Focus on the softening obviously.
As I learn nervous system regulation I am simultaneously learning to observe the flow of prana in my body. If you vigorously rub your palms together and feel the heat you generated that is prana. But this life force acts much more subtly than that in every cell in our body and as you learn what nourishes your prana and what drains it you learn to live more responsibly in your body.

     This journey is on going and not linear. At times I feel awakened and transformed and other times I think I am back near square one and just want to stuff something in my mouth. But the regard I have for my body has bloomed into a love that will no longer allow numbing.  TKV Desikachar  says, "The West is a bodyless culture" and sadly so many of my numb massage clients and my decades of disassociation support this observation. But it doesn't have to stay this way. As a matter of fact it cannot stay this way. It is time for us to come home. To learn to live in our bodies is certainly the beginning of personal healing and perhaps a road to corporately healing a hurting land. This is why I shared this journey, so that perhaps today you will look down and discover your feet and begin your journey home  Peace on the path....

Monday, August 4, 2014

But Company Doesn't Love Misery

"Do not grieve for the JOY of the Lord is your strength"
Nehemiah 8:10

     Misery is both a defensive shield and an offensive sword. When we wrap ourselves in misery  people who love us both jump to relieve our misery and also refrain from asking us to take on more of lifes unpleasant tasks. Using misery in this way is a sneaky and treacherous activity for so many reasons. But before we explore that side of the misery equation, let's expand on what I mean by misery. You don't have to be a downtrodden English orphan in a Dickensian tale to be miserable,  You can just be applying judgment to peoples actions and not be satisfied with their actions and that is miserable. You can be holding on to strong opinions about "how things should be" and feeling victimized because things aren't going your way and that is miserable. You can have an inflated sense of self that tells you you're entitled to "more" and when that more doesn't come you are miserable. You can be making yourself sick so no one expects much of you and that is miserable. You can be addicted to something numbing in an attempt to avoid pain and that is miserable. On the same hand, you can be in a war torn famine and  disease filled land and NOT be miserable, how is this so? . Misery is really just the attachment to things "being the way we think they should be". A trivial example of this is the combination of three factors in my life, the first that my grandmother repeated the phrase "eat past 10, join dead men" so often it became etched in my mind as truth and the fact that my night owl husband likes to eat late and the third factor is that I like to eat with my husband. By releasing any of  my opinions to how it " should be" sooner I could have saved us both years of misery. But I didn't and now its blog material so not all is lost! But you see, I did not have to believe my grandmothers words if her statement were really true most of Europe would be dead of dinner by now. I did not have to eat with my husband every night I could have left a plate on warm for him. But instead I cloaked my face in misery, usually about 9:45pm, throwing in a few well timed sighs, so hubby would hop to and prepare to eat. Let me say now this was not a useful strategy. Instead of creating the fellowship of a shared meal I was creating a lot of indigestion.

     So, if misery is so powerful why not use it sometimes to prod someone to action? Well, first of all it has a short shelf life and your misery only encourages loving actions in others for so long and then as they become "immune" to your misery you are left alone and even more miserable. We all try to avoid miserable people after awhile and sadly loneliness exacerbates their self inflicted misery. Second, misery never travels alone, rather it brings it's companion emotions of victimhood, self righteousness, and  (the illusion of) control. The victimhood part of it where we hold the illusion that others are causing our misery is so disempowering. I was upset at dinner because I wanted to eat with hubby and at a certain hour. His night owl tendencies weren't the cause of my misery, but rather my attachment to my desires were. Equally dangerous to the disempowerment of victimhood is the hard shell of self righteousness which removes from us the ability to see others fully and make room for them to be a whole and complex person with us. And holding the illusion of control is tantamount to just living a lie. The truth that sets us free also tells us we are not in control.

     Once, we realize that other people really do not have the power to make us miserable but that it is an internal choice, it is important to not turn on ourselves. It is easy to try to compartmentalize our less desirable parts and try to eradicate or silence them. But the internal war this creates is the most miserable state of all. So, its important  know that the part of you that is causing your misery is probably doing so in a misguided attempt to keep you safe. That part of me really didn't want to die from a taco at 10:01PM!  Now it's time to love on that less evolved part of yourself but at the same time not let it be in charge of your actions. you love your toddler, she just doesn't get to run your life. Love it and hug it and put it in a corner of your mind while your inner WiseSelf takes charge. Using misery to try to control life is like punching yourself in the face to try to get someone to notice how pretty you are. They will notice pain and damage, but will they truly see your soul?  Misery is an offensive shield that cracks with only a few blows and a defensive sword that only nicks and annoys but does not cut deeply. It does not have the power to keep us safe and it does not have the power to change others. So maybe it's time to lay down our weapons of  judgment, opinions and control and free our hands to hold some of the deep joy that comes from living an "out of control life"... peace yogis

Thursday, July 10, 2014

What is Yoga Asana and what is Cirque Du Solieil?

  Yoga is an internal practice, all else is a circus
Pattabhi Jois

     The year was 1994 when one of my massage clients asked about doing a little "yoghurt" with me. She said she needed to stretch. And although my yoga practice was still my own I was willing to show her what I knew because I knew enough to know that yoga wasn't a delicious dairy product. Hey, it was a beginning. Fast forward twenty years and I still know that yoga isn't yoghurt, but even with consistent study, practice and teaching of yoga it still seems a nebulous topic. The more you learn about yoga the more you know you don't know much. If you ask twenty yogis what yoga is you will get twenty answers. In the west it has taken on the form of pure exercise for many and that's ok. But yoga is such a deep topic I thought it might be helpful to flesh it out a bit. The word yoga means to yoke, as in to tie or tether together. Imagine two oxen plowing a field and the device on their shoulders keeping them in sync is the yoke. Only in yoga what we are yoking is body & mind. I think if you have 100 people there are 100 varations on this yoking, which is why I do a lot more privates and yoga therapy sessions these days because a one on one teaching is the only way to get specific for an individuals yoking. But let's get to the commonalities that we should all experience in practice. And for the sake of clarity when I say practice in this context I mean asana, or the physical practice. But let's also remember that of the 8 limbs of yoga asana is only one.

     So, what is the difference between asana and shape making anyways? First, for a position you are taking to be considered yoga asana both the spine and the breath must be unrestricted. So in a posture is it helpful to make micro movements of the spine in all six directions that it moves. (Forward fold, backbend, side bends, and twists). If your spinal movement is not accessible in all six directions then you should back off into a smaller version of the posture. Then check in with your breath. Remember we breath 360 degrees into our torso, not just into the front body. So for instance if you are in a side bend, check the side that is compressed to see if you can still breath there. If not, again back off to make it yoga by unrestricting the breath.

     Secondly for a shape to be considered asana we must balance the action of our muscles with the softening of our shape. We must find a right amount of effort with awareness of our foundation and a vibrant core, but equally important is that we find a certain amount of ease, or letting go. The ease is generally found in our perimeter, our jaw, our skin. It is not more important to apply effort than it is to find ease, but rather like wings of a bird we need them both to fly. So, find your Goldilocks posture: not too hard and not too soft.

     And, finally, yoga asana is defined by continually bringing the wandering mind back to the breath as it moves through our bodies. it is not defined by staying present which is nearly impossible, but by returning to presence again and again. In the body mind conversation that yoga is, breath is the middleman. So keep observing the breath and every time you notice your mind has wandered, congratulations you are back. It is best to just simply welcome yourself back.

     This most basic practice of yoga, checking in with your spine and breath and balancing your effort and ease and being present can be done on the mat, on the sofa, in the grocery store and in conversation. it is especially useful in uncomfortable conversations and situations. Take a few moments out to stealthily practice a little yoga in your off the mat life and see what happens. It may just make a yogi out of you yet.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Art of Breaking

   Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1

  I am learning not to "should on myself" because it usually results in some kind of crap. Like my last blog post, which was the result of my thinking I should do so many blog posts a month I should have something interesting to say, I should, I should, I should. And the result was a completely mediocre post. That is the first reason I have not blogged in two months, the second is a little more complicated so let me take you back to the beginning ...

    With a very shaky and trepidatious hand I wrote in the back of my first bible "God will not use you until He breaks you". The year was 1995 when I wrote that without much thought, I do remember feeling a slight shiver at the prospect of being broken, but I quickly forgot that ominous prophecy and got on with my life. I began teaching yoga and Tim and I moved back to Austin and I opened my studio. Opening Quiet was a Spirit led surprise that I neither planned nor expected, and after a lifetime of professional success, I was in no way prepared for the hardest 2 years of my life. Build it and they will come, they say. Follow your heart and you will soar they say. "Crap" I say. I felt like a jilted prom queen with no one showing up for my classes. I stoked the fires of envy looking through FaceBook posts of huge yoga classes going on down the street from me. I cried and I hated it. When new clients showed up I smelled scared and sad and so no surprise only a few returned. I was living in a pressure cooker of self pity and fear. Nice, huh? But the thing is I do believe in a loving and omnipotent and omnipresent God who works all things together for good. And the circumstances of Quiet coming to be were riddled with supernatural "coincidences". So I added confusion to my misery stew, but somehow I kept at it. I don't think it was faith or even perseverance, but rather pride. There were a lot of people rooting for me and I was creating the illusion of success and I would be damned if I was going to let that illusion crack.

     After two years of this struggle I was driving to Quiet worn down and praying a pathetic "what do you want me to do" kind of prayer when that "still small voice" that is unmistakably Holy Spirit spoke to me again. "Release your image" it whispered. Stunned I didn't even know where to begin with that. Did I need to stop wearing make up, did I need to disassociate from my labels? I received this directive about a year ago and here is how I have shifted from it up to this point. Everything I think I "should" do is to maintain an image, my opinions reinforce my image, the idea that my mind is in charge of my body is a false image. The idea that our bodies don't have their own intelligence is a false image. When I plan ahead or rather dread ahead it is image related. I am sure I am just scratching the surface of image at this point and it is a lifelong journey. But here's the thing, as I release opinions and desires God has given me a replacement image. In Romans 12 we are called to be living sacrifices and on the surface (at least to me) this sounds like a horrible thing. Visions of Mayans tumbling to their deaths filled my head. Bur here's how it is playing out in real life. The living part I feel on the inhales and it includes all sensations of life, breath,  energy, grounding, ascending and feeling Gods spirit flow through my veins. The sacrifice part I practice on the exhale and it includes releasing everything I do not need, my external body armor, my headstrong manipulations of people and life because "I know best"  the muscle tension that is held because subconsciously I want to project a certain image. I am sacrificing the mundane for the amazing. Releasing your image and embracing being a living sacrifice is a place of  little control and often it feels like there is no ground beneath my feet. But the thing is my control resulted in the mediocre and what I thought was the ground beneath my feet was probably just my stubborn locked knees. So instead I breath in and feel my heartbeat and all of life, and I breath out and let it go because it was never mine to control in the first place.

     And somehow, along the road, people started joining me at Quiet, not for my plethora of yoga knowledge or my awesome illusions, but rather just to come and breath and be. And that is where I am. Learning not to frantically "should" all over town. Breathing in the fullness of life with the knowledge that in every breath is found my yoga, my God, my life and my breaking crumbling image. And I am more happy in this brokenness than I have been for years. I will leave the last post up even though I am not proud of it, because I would only delete it to maintain "my image" and today I prefer to be broken into a thousand tiny pieces because being broken frees you up in the most wonderful way.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Just Keep Swimming

    "And I pray that you being rooted and established in love may have the power, together with all the Lords holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ..." Eph 3:17

      It is intuitive that we are surrounded by something bigger. You may call the something bigger God or Universe or even perhaps you think the something bigger is not sentient and you simply connect to the shared breath of humanity or the earths atmosphere. Ironically though one of the first steps to the internal act of practicing yoga is acknowledging that something bigger. In this connection to Something Bigger I notice there are two major categories of people. There are the people who imagine the force they are surrounded with to be benevolent and helpful and there are the ones who imagine either a harshly judgmental force or an uninterested neutral force. Since really no one has the definitive answer to what is the Bigger that surrounds us no one can say with 100% assurance that the Bigger is good, bad or neutral. So we make a choice about how to interact and envision this Bigger and this choice is shaped by so many factors:  parenting, society, past experiences but it is a choice none the less and a crucial one. Perhaps no other choice affects us more that the belief that we are surrounded by love or by something else.

     I have noticed that the people who believe in a benevolent force are more relaxed in their muscles and their mind than the ones who believe in something else. Even just believing the larger force is uninterested and neutral seems to keep peoples nervous systems a little bit more one edge. But we just believe what we believe, right, so what is even the point of this observation? Well, I learned a valuable lesson almost 30 years ago from a cute drivers ed instructor. Since I had a little crush on him I listened to what he said. And one thing he said is "look where you want to go". This obviously serves us well driving, but just as well in spiritual seeking. Once we set our minds on looking for the good things we can attribute to the Bigger we see more good. When we intentionally look away from the garbage pile and seek out the small spring flowers we begin to see more beauty.

     You can say the Something Bigger allowed you to be in a fender bender and feel agitated or you can feel gratitude at not being injured. Everyday we make a thousand little subconscious choices about what we believe and all of our choices in turn reinforce that Something Bigger belief. it may take decades to slowly shift your belief from thinking you reside in an uncaring world to the belief that you are surrounded by love. But, hey, what else are you doing today that's so important? look around you, see the beauty. Make this an intentional practice. Look for the good. We are like fish swimming in a sea of Love. There is no where you need to go to experience this, nothing you need to do, except choose to believe. When your mind offers you bad memories and your eyes turn to the ugliness of the world shift your view. then shift it again and again and again. And one day you will wake up and realize that you are loved. Like the little fish in Finding Nemo, we just gotta keep swimming.

Monday, February 24, 2014

But, but, but ...I'm a good person, right?

     “Wherever you are, be there. If you can be fully present now, you’ll know what it means to live.” Steve Goodier

     God sees the best in the worst of us and the worst in the best of us. For a long time I have tried to be a "good person" and it has really mattered to me to have a net positive effect on the people around me. Time to let that go. On the surface I want to see myself as a helper, even perhaps a healer. But I wonder at the depths of that intention what darkness lurks? Do I need to see myself as a "hero" or do I need to imagine my worth as greater than someone else's whose life consists of robbing banks and eating HoHos? All people are "good" at times and all people are "bad" other times. But to label ourselves as good or bad people really is a stumbling block to growth. Further, I would argue that every situation you find yourself in is neither good or bad,  both hold the potential for shifting into greater awareness or solidifying a maladaptive belief. Today I have a "day off" and a part of me that tends towards a puritanical work ethic can mar this day by casting about looking for activities. Another part of me that tends more towards the slothful can darken this day by just giving up and having a iPad zone out marathon. I often label my "work ethic" self as good and my "slothful" self as bad, but these labels are just cop outs that keep us from real presence, awareness, living fully awake if you will.

      Once the bad/good label is applied to a person or situation then our mind quickly fills in all the rest of the details and creates a preset scenario in which we lose our opportunity to learn from being present in the moment. Maybe an activity filled day is what is called for and in this day I will learn endurance, maybe a "lazy" day is what is called for and in this day I will renew my energy. Either way labeling good/bad will disconnect me from the middle ground of compassionate observer. Instead, I sit and listen to my breath for a moment, not good or bad, just still and listening.

     I am not a good person. I am not a bad person. And neither are you. Instead of trying to be good or bad, today I will reach for compassionate and present. Compassion is found in remembering that I wish no harm to myself and those around me. That generally leads to non harming actions. Then having established that base we can ask ourselves "What is the next loving act I can do?" Sometimes the loving act is to reach out a helping hand and sometimes the loving act is to allow someone to stumble. Sometimes love means run, endure be a warrior and sometimes love is letting go.
I have noticed that the more I desire to be good and the more I really want to help someone the less ease I have in a situation. My desire to "be good" ironically stands in the way of Gods spirit flowing through me which really is the highest good we can do for each other. God is the ocean and we are little waves on the surface. The way to expand our consciousness is not to be good, but rather to relax enough to become part of the Ocean. So, today I won't hope for a good day or try to avoid a bad day, rather remembering each moment is fodder for growth I will hope for an awake day so that "Namaste" will come true and the highest and best in me will see the highest and best in you.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Monkey Traps

      "Everybody wants to get enlightened but nobody wants to change."
 -Andrew Cohen

     As a spiritual seeker a lifelong direction I aim for is to simply be fully present in my moments and in turn my life. To observe our lives without adding on mental drama or without checking out is a path to deepening self awareness. And it is with clear eyed self awareness that we become more helpful to our fellow man and more connected to God. So let's take a look at the three major distractions that pull us out of our moments and see where we can perhaps refine our thoughts and actions. I know I could use work in all three areas: desire, aversion and simply checking out.

     There is a method of trapping monkeys in which the trapper uses a basket as a trap. There is a small hole in the side of the basket allowing a monkey to reach in and grab the tempting fruit left as bait. All the monkey needs to do to be free again is to unclench its fist and drop the fruit. But mostly the monkeys hold onto the fruit for dear life until they are captured. The call of desire has a strong hold on all creatures, man and monkey. Healthy desire can lead us down wonderful roads of spiritual exploration and desire can literally create life. Our desires can also be destructive distractions. Like all mental and emotional states,  as it arises desire must be mindfully explored and then either acted upon or released. Inflamed unchecked desires will lead us away from living presently and the objects of our desires will ironically become less obtainable the more we crave them. We must hold our fruit lightly knowing when to let it drop back into the basket. When desire rears her head feel it is your body. Does it manifest in clenched hands or perhaps a tensed jaw? Many people express desire with a simple leaning forward of the torso. Finding it and softening it in your body is a first step to softening it in your mind and spirit.

     There is another side to the coin of desire: aversion. Aversion equally has the power to tear us away from presence and peace. Unlike desire which most often manifests locally in the body, aversion has a tendency to tense  up our whole body and interfere with smooth breathing. Our mind darts around looking for escapes and our awareness is wholly invested in leaving a situation or person. This is a shame because the aversions we carry are potentially rich areas of personal growth if we can be compassionately present with them. Almost always an aversion we have to another person is a reflection of where we could refine ourselves.  Like desire,  aversion can be a healthy tool alerting us to situations that are potentially harmful and like desire,  aversions must be gently examined and perhaps acted upon.  Sometime the aversion tells us not to drink the spoilt milk but sometimes the aversion is mirroring a darkness in us. We must be curious and friendly as we apply awareness to aversions rather than assuming and judgmental.

     Along with desire and aversion the third monkey trap that can steal our awareness is simply becoming numb or checking out, mostly manifesting as lethargy or mindless busyness. There are a thousand ways to check out some benign and others down right dangerous. Technology over use, addictions, focusing too much on others, worry and anxiety are common monkey traps. I know when I watch a 30 minute show on my iPad I feel like I have taken a healthy break but when those minutes turn into hours I have crossed the threshold to numbness. When we recognize that we have numbed,  a good technique to apply is a simple body scan. Our bodies bring us back to present when our minds have torn us away.What distracts you? Anxiety and worry may not feel numb but they are distractions from the now. There is a fine line between being "in flow" and being "checked out" and this line is one we all must measure for ourselves. Do your downtime activities leave you nourished or numbed? In short when we are stimulated by desire or aversion or numbed and distracted we are not fully living our lives, however we can use these monkey traps as tools to awaken  when we approach them skillfully. So, here's to the journey into Inner Space to connect to our Highest Selves, it truly is the journey of a lifetime.