One way to define love is "sustained, compassionate attention". These words came from John Muir Laws, a naturalist, educator, and artist who inspires stewardship of the land by sharing his practice of nature sketching. When I read these words, I began to see the importance of my own art practice in developing sustained, compassionate attention for myself.Read More
I recently returned from a week-long stay in Keystone, Colorado. I was there with a small group of physicians gathered to restore their voice to the practice of medicine.
How I got there was through a series of events I can only call synchronicity.
What I felt was a profound feeling of "coming home".
I showed up as all of me, in full color. My role was to listen deeply and expansively, and I chose to record what I heard in visual form.
It was as if everything I practiced was serving me in my service to this gathering. Each morning I woke early and rode my rented bike along the many trails around Keystone. I listened to the Snake River winding its way through the trees. I inhaled with awe each time I arrived at the vista of Lake Dillon. I clawed my way up a steep hill only to be rewarded with the jackpot of a stunning view of Breckenridge and beyond.
I had learned from these past few years of practicing self-care that these morning steps were my fuel for being present and thinking creatively. I knew what to do - even in an environment away from my familiar surroundings at home - because I had practiced them into new habits. I had my biking clothes, I was comfortable riding, and all I had to do was explore new roads and read new maps.
I also had my daily sketching and art journaling practice in place, something I started only within the last two years. I have experimented with many different formats and media, and I am comfortable drawing outside. On this trip, I brought a small Moleskine Japanese album with accordion pages. It fit in my small travel purse or pocket, and I carried a pouch with pen, markers, and water brushes.
On my morning rides, I often sketched a scene quickly in ink, filling in color later in the day or in the evening. I noticed what I noticed. I took note of the stories I wanted to tell. And by the time I got home, there were three or four panels that needed coloring, which I completed within a few days.
New experiences, new people, new places -- all of these fuel my creativity and keep me inspired.
I am grateful for the daily practices I cultivate at home, so I am well-prepared to stay open when I'm on the road.
For a frame-by-frame caption story of my Keystone travel journal, see my post here.
For an in-depth reflection on the contents of the physician meeting and its impact on me personally, stay tuned!
We live in a world of outrageous pain. In order to get through most days, we have learned to choose numbness. Even though we have great capacity to feel, we have chosen, consciously or unconsciously, to "not feel", in an attempt to survive.
And we have survived. If you are reading this line right now, you have survived.
But does your heart know that there is more to your life than what you have previously accepted as survival? Have you been searching, asking, running, sitting, and "trying" to move beyond getting by, making do, and struggling?
One of my favorites of the many amazing speakers at the Success 3.0 Summit last October was John Gray. He was hilarious, truthful, profound, and practical. And he said this: "The more conscious you are, the more pain you will feel. When you can actually feel pain, you should receive its gift of telling you that your heart is open to feeling."
We are now able to directly witness, through instantaneous video images, so much pain in our world. We are able to invite it into our homes, our living rooms, our workstations, in living color. What do we do with it all? Where do we put it, between our ten o'clock meeting, our eleven thirty lunch appointment, and picking up the groceries after work?
When, in our daily lives, do we permit ourselves to feel?
What I'm learning in my own experience is there is no such thing as thriving above the line of suppressed feelings. I've tried. I've got my masters' degree at least - and perhaps another doctorate - in trying to live above it all, only feeling so-called positive emotions.
And the result of this, in the past, was I only offered a tiny fraction of my true shining self to my world. I only allowed myself to experience a tiny sliver of my brilliance.
Just this week I had an experience of profound awakening to this. I was walking out my front door in order to film a video for an upcoming new offering. I was taking a big step into "feeling my fear and doing it anyway". I was committed and resolved to do it finally.
Just as I stepped out the door, a young black woman walked up my driveway toward me. I did not have the option to hide in the back of the house, pretending I was not home, which is my standard response to unannounced solicitors. I was now looking directly at her, standing face to face outside my house. So I breathed and looked her in the eyes. I listened to her story. She was walking door-to-door selling magazine subscriptions and a story of hope and empowerment for her formerly incarcerated self and her three children, two of whom she had left in Delaware and the youngest of whom now lived in her care. In her sales training, she had learned to make eye contact, to speak with confidence, and to ask directly for support of her dreams.
I asked her what her dream was. She said she wanted to open an education center to help people like her get back on their feet and have a second chance at life, without relying on a system for handouts or charity.
What I heard was a human being seeking to know her own power, to follow her own vision and to serve as a leader.
And yet, as she went on with the explanation of what she was offering me, things started to get murky. The "points" program she presented was vague, and I began to get the sense that any amount of money I gave her that day would make only a small dent in her overall "goal" of getting promoted within the sales system she was seeking to master.
I began to feel uncomfortable. I felt trapped, unable to hide, and began making plans to "make this situation go away." I decided to negotiate the quickest way to get a transaction done and over with. I mentally decided on an amount of money that I thought would be "enough" to make her go away. I went inside the house, pulled a twenty dollar bill out of my wallet, and came back out. I felt safe because I had not given her my credit card information. If the money was embezzled, I figured "it was only twenty dollars".
I went numb.
She did go away. And yet the feeling of dissatisfaction that I sensed in both of us stayed with me after she left. I made my video and I sat with my feelings about the experience. What had I done?
It was not until the next day that I realized what had happened. As I listened to her story, I was drawn in by her desire for self-empowerment. Yet, the system she was in, as she spoke the words of "wanting" empowerment, was actually disempowering to her. I could not consent wholeheartedly to supporting her in that system. And yet, because I went numb, I also went numb to the true offering I did have to give her in that moment. Sitting inside my house was a stack of flyers for my upcoming New Year New Vision workshop. I teach men and women how to empower themselves through imagination, creation, and action from their hearts' desires. I could have given her a flyer and invited her to come to the workshop, as my gift to her.
Also, the very next day, I was to offer a telephone class - free of charge and open to anyone in the world with access to a phone line - teaching about imagination activation.
I am a facilitator of self-empowerment, and yet I was able to go numb to the very highest of my own offerings in that moment.
How much of a difference would it have made for this young woman to receive these invitations to participate in actively being empowered, rather than remaining in a system that teaches her that she must earn her power by rising up the ranks determined by others?
I don't know if she would have come to the events even if I had offered her the invitation. That's not the point. The point is observing how I hide, when I am not fully feeling my own fears of rejection. By denying and suppressing my own feelings, I consented to this woman's own fears of rejection. I kept the status quo alive, because it seemed easier. And twenty dollars seemed a small price to pay.
How many times a day do we do something similar? How many times a day do we trade "doing what's easier" to "make this situation go away" over fully loving what we feel, and offering our highest gifts in service to what we see, hear, or experience?
How would our world be different if we activated the awareness to make a different choice?
It's important to point out that I am not saying I did the "wrong" thing by choosing the twenty dollars. Transcending ideas of "right and wrong" is one of the most profound teachings I am putting into practice now in my life. I love myself for what I was able to do in the moment and it's OK. However, now that I see my highest self and who I AM when my highest self is fully present, I recommit to choosing from my I AM presence, now and continuously.
If you remember when you last chose numbness, it means you are awakening to your feeling. You are remembering what you feel again. Congratulations.
It's a brand new day.
It's been a BIG few weeks for me. I've been away from my desk, discovering more of my tribe, in places I never thought to look. Experiencing the feeling of coming home to myself, my story, and my place in the evolution of all that is. I trusted the feeling of just knowing (without knowing why or how), and I was rewarded beyond my wildest imagination.
Three weeks ago I attended a four-day event like no other in Boulder, Colorado. Called Success 3.0 Summit, this was a gathering of entrepreneurs, CEOs, authors, spiritual leaders, artists, musicians, doctors, coaches, healers, and other thought leaders for the purpose of rewriting the myth of success in our culture. Success 1.0 was survival. Physical survival at the most basic level. Success 2.0 was the accumulation of wealth, status, achievements, and symbols of power at any cost, even at the expense of health, relationships, and well-being.
Success 3.0, as we are co-creating it to be, is the awakening to the fact that we can no longer operate as if our individual actions have no effect on the collective. We must wake up to the reality that we are all interconnected, and that we have both the capacity to destroy ourselves as a species and the infinite possibility of expanding our consciousness to include the whole cosmos in our own evolution.
Summarized in six words, Success 3.0 is a call to "Wake Up, Grow Up, Show Up." Wake up to our true identities not as separate beings, but as expressions of the oneness of all that is. Grow up to take responsibility for our actions as part of a larger whole, beyond our egoic concerns, beyond even our immediate family or tribe or community, but to include the entire cosmos as an extension of our sphere of influence. Show up as a leader by expressing our own unique gifts, standing fully in the truth of our unique life experiences and stories.
For me, the conference was profoundly integrating of the many chapters of my life experience that had previously appeared separate or unrelated. I now see that every single world I have lived in - from the suburban middle class neighborhood of my hometown in Libertyville, Illinois, to the halls of the Ivy League, to the training of medical school, to the partnership track in a venture capital firm, to solo entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley, to the experience of burnout, to transitioning from classical music to improvisation, to performing acoustic rock violin, to training as a life coach, to traveling to Southeast Asia to study bodywork, to becoming an artist - informs my perspective wherever I show up. My ability to listen deeply across multiple disciplines, and my unrelenting vision of possibilities, is my unique gift to any situation I am in.
I am a weaver and collage maker, drawing threads from seemingly disparate elements and incorporating them into a new tapestry with every interaction I have. I am a living expression of the evolutionary impulse, coming through me, existing in me, and experienced by me. And so are you! Within your unique set of life experiences and stories is the unique expression of life as you - and only you - can express it. When you choose to wake up, grow up, show up, you enter into the process of co-creating, with the evolutionary impulse of all that is, your unique definition of Success 3.0.
I'm excited to continue showing up in new ways, to start conversations about what really matters, and to continue bringing my unique art into the world.
Is it time for you to upgrade and update your definition of Success? Join me in the conversation.
I am in a large group of women artists who have driven up to the ridge of a mountain range and then down a very windy road to a secluded artists retreat program in northern California. All I want to do is stare at the dreamy landscape, watching how the golden green hills go back and back and back, disappearing finally into a fog bank which hovers just above the sea in the distance. I want to watch as the wind blows, the fog clears, and the misty outlines of the hilltops begin to glisten in the midday sunlight. I want to sit and sketch it, and fill in the colors I am seeing, and try to capture the dreaminess, the haziness of it all, the lack of precise outlines which gives it that quality of mystery that makes me want to keep staring.
But we have a schedule. There are ranchers and herders moving us along in this schedule, ensuring that we are on time. I help myself to a large lunch - two servings each of lentil soup and kale salad with some fruit on the side. My idea of a perfect meal. But my stomach feels slightly full after all that, and I am ready to rest and digest.
Having forgotten the schedule momentarily, I’m jarred when it is announced that we now need to move into another room for a “movement activity”.
I take my time walking there, hoping those extra few seconds will give my digestive system time to bring the food down a little more.
By the time I join, the circle has been formed and all the women are bouncing lightly on their bare or socked feet. This being one of only 14% of artist residency programs in the country who have a fully spring loaded dance floor, shoes are not allowed.
Ann Swanberg is the leader. I had experienced her work once before in a large church, where she presented her improvisational approach to life in a humorous show. We kept bouncing - this was Ann’s method for keeping us out of our thinking minds and in some other realm governed by the moving, breathing body - and we did a whole host of games designed to get us to drop our personalities by acting silly and free.
What I noticed is that my recent experiences with becoming present were done in the stillness and silent meditative movement of the Breema Center. Somehow in that setting, where I was truly not a personality and there was absolutely no imperative to show up as entertaining in any way, I could feel my own bodily presence. In this setting where everyone was asked to do something silly, there was slight pressure to be “silly enough”. As if stillness would not have been accepted there. But I don’t know because I just flowed with the energy of the room.
One of the more silent and inward-turning exercises of the day did capture my attention. She called it “The Infinity Box” or “Loving It ‘Til You Know What It Is”. The instructions went something like this: Reaching into an imaginary box from which anything is possible, allowing the “Body First” to lead the improvisation, follow the shape your hands spontaneously take as you reach in. As they emerge from the imaginary box, just be with them. Don’t change them or manipulate them into what you think they might be. Just breathe with the shape, feel it.
"Love it ’til you know what it is."
It was fascinating to watch the different shapes my hands took on when I allowed them to. Fingers apart and curved, palms facing up. Fingers together, joined at the thumbs and index fingers. Palms cupped, joined together, facing up. And then waiting. Breathing. Feeling. An answer or image always emerged. But sometimes I had to stay with it longer than expected. The final one I ran out of time on. So I sketched it, and it is permanently imprinted in my bodily memory. I am still wondering what it is.
It reminded me of painting. How the creative practice for me is staying with something long enough to find out what it is. Not to give up. Not to decide in advance that something’s “never going to work”. So often when I have mustered the courage or audacity or love to stay with it, to keep going, to keep loving it, something else so beautiful and magical emerges right on top of it all.
Chris Zydel sent out her newsletter yesterday too, and I happened to read all the way to the bottom. The article was about "Surrender". How surrender is not giving up or weakness or defeat. But rather a form of full presence. That in order to fully participate, there is surrender involved. As I write this, it occurs to me that the four “No…” principles from Breema touch on what kinds of surrender are involved - No Judgment, No Force, No Extra, No Hurry No Pause. Well that’s a lot to give up in order to get to presence! How often are we drowning in judgment, doing more than is needed, rushing around, or not acting because we feel stuck in hesitation.
Surrender is the sweetness of letting life lead. Of loving whatever life gives you until you know what it is. I am attempting to apply it to my body, my relationships, my work decisions, all of which I apply a certain amount of control, changing, and fixing to. I don’t really know the state of full surrender into acceptance. I am pointing towards it sometimes, but I haven’t sunk to the depths of that pool to say, “Huh. So this is it. I’d like to know how this feels. Really.”
Here’s what Chris had to say about surrender:
When a sunflower turns its face to follow the sun, that is surrender. When a seed planted in a rich soil breaks free of its encasement and pushes its way up to the light of day, that is surrender. When a wild mustang gallops wildly and joyfully across a meadow, that is surrender. When a baby tries to grasp a beam of light, laughing delightedly, that is surrender. When you look at a sunset and feel the peace of simply breathing in and out, that is surrender. When you enjoy a delicious meal, letting the flavors tickle your tongue, that is surrender. When you feel drowsy and begin to fall asleep, that is surrender.
In all these experiences you, or the horse or the sunflower are completely giving into what's right there in front of you. You are simply being in the present moment with what you feel drawn to do.
So in other words, surrender is something that happens daily, hourly, minute by minute in our lives. It's so very common and down-to-earth. It's in the most intimate fabric of our existence. And includes everything from the mundane to the ecstatic.
And tomorrow, with the start of the final Energy Gardeners' Club of the year, I am ready to apply the principle of Surrender. Making things happen is not about controlling in order to get what you want. Making is allowing.
The Native American tradition speaks of each person's Original Medicine - that set of gifts that only you can offer the world with your particular life. I've always felt there was such a finality to the phrase "Original Medicine" - like I had to define the one thing I was here to do, or it would be lost forever.
This feeling would ignite the achiever in me, who would scramble to come up with a name, a brand, a package, a business, something very "put-together" that would create an image of how well I knew my Life's Purpose.
I've been doing some version of that for most of my life. But recently I've begun to discover a process I find much more alive, much more healing, much more in alignment with my own sense of unconditional wholeness. I call it "Live Your Medicine." It is the practice of asking, "What time is it now, for me?". It involves listening for what holds the most fear for me in this moment. And then summoning the courage to take action toward that in one small way. Again and again, revisiting and refreshing with each present moment.
It is reminiscent of Eleanor Roosevelt's words:
"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
How often do we actually avoid - quite skillfully - the things that spark fear inside us? How often do we explain away these avoidances with elaborate theories, often quite impressive in their defense of our own status quo?
"Live Your Medicine" captures my emerging discovery that the true healing experiences for me happen whenever I do something that is utterly frightening to my mind's unquestioned beliefs. "Live Your Medicine" is an invitation to search inside yourself to find your edge, and to live in a way that develops your courage, rather than reinforcing old patterns, no matter how comfortable they seem.
For example, each morning for most of my life, I would begin with a "To Do" list - my responsibilities and things to get done. There was no reason for me to get out of bed beyond that list. It served as my purpose. There was no rhythm other than the methodical ticking off of items, showing up for scheduled activities, and getting through things.
Everything in my life changed when I made one seemingly small shift: I began my days differently. Instead of hopping out of bed and beginning to run after my "responsibilities" dutifully, I stepped off my bed and sat in silence, looking out a window at the sequoia tree stretching tall in front of it. I started with five minutes. I did yoga, not when the yoga studio scheduled a class, but when I needed it - sometimes first thing in the morning - and for the length of time my body required it - sometimes only twenty minutes.
Since then, I have maintained a practice of beginning my days with rituals that ground me in my connection to breath, body, and the earth. I am currently blessed with the situation of living just fifty steps from the beach. Most mornings I make the walk out to the bluff, and down to the sand where the birds pace along the water's edge. I wake up gradually, following the pace of the sun's creeping over the fog-covered hills to reveal the glistening surface of the ocean.
I notice, though, that even this ritual can drift into feeling of an "assignment" I give myself. I can fall back into a pattern of giving myself a job - even if that "job" is to start my day more kindly. My practice can harden into a set of rules that I must follow, or else be judged as something less than acceptable to myself. Not very kind!
My mind can turn any practice into a "To Do". It's just a repetitive pattern - a habit that was practiced for many years, and reinforced without questioning.
So my medicine is to "do the thing I think I cannot do". To be attentive to what that thing is, in this moment. And then do it.
I recently learned some simple restorative yoga poses from a friend. No need for the fancy bolsters, blocks, straps, and blankets that I've used in yoga studios. I can use pillows, blankets, and whatever else I have available. The experience is like floating - like my entire body is being supported, almost suspended, without any effort from my muscles. It's like being in water, without having to move at all.
And it's a totally ridiculous way to start the day! Which is why it's my medicine. Living MY medicine, at this particular point in my life, means having the audacity to begin my day by going into a state of complete surrender and relaxation. As if there is nothing to do, nothing to conquer, nowhere to be.
This is what living my medicine looks like for me, right now:
While my body floats in the feeling of being totally supported, my mind rests. It cannot feel fear in this moment of rest. And each moment I spend here, I train in courage. I look fear in the face - the fear that whispers a "To Do" list in my ear - and I do nothing anyway.
What's YOUR medicine right now? What time is it now for YOU?
Photo credits: Top - Randy Bales. Bottom - Lydia Puhak.
THIS was not a photo on my vision board. I was perfectly content to be performing, showing what I was able to do comfortably, easily, and predictably. I thought I was getting "good" at playing freely, improvising, and creating in the moment. The sound of Chinese Melodrama that matches the stacks of CDs we bring to every gig.
Then THIS had to happen.
By "THIS" I mean: We are at LunarBurn, a three-day outdoor festival and experiment in community living. In my mind, it's a chance to show up and spread the love. We play our first set at the PermaPub, an intimate venue with couches, a bar, and all the impromptu live music one could ask for. We aren’t even finished with a song (Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away”) near the end of our set, and a guy appears onstage. He has furry white chaps over his jeans, and a grey hoody. He appears to be maybe under the influence of some substances. But what do I even know about these things? I just thought he was a jerk for interrupting our set.
Here’s my, “Get off the stage, jerk!” look:
Yep, what you're seeing is a whole lotta judgment flowing freely from me in that moment. First he wanted to play my violin. I’d rehearsed this response before, so it was easy to say, “Sorry, I don’t let anyone touch my violin.”
He wasn’t looking like he was going to leave the stage, and this being an open, community-driven atmosphere, I said, “You can play yours, and I’ll play mine.”
Then he wanted me to help him tune the thing.
Seriously??? Suddenly I was flung back to my violin school, “Doctor Chu” days, tuning other people’s violins. Spooky.
My partner Randy was way too far away on the other end of the stage, separated from me by a drumset. I was alone to deal with this. But when it was clear that The Guy – Adam, I would later learn, was his name - was there to stay and play, Randy pulled out the right song – like he always does -- and that was all it took.
Adam started to play. All kinds of sounds were flying out of his instrument, no holds barred. Absolutely no judgment.
I’d never heard such sounds before, let alone play with them, try to create with them. But there I was, on a stage, with captive audience, and microphones on. I started to play too. The interplay of sound and listening began to work its magic. Then moments emerged from the chaos that felt like oneness.
Really? With THIS jerk? Yes.
I was listening to all the sounds, noticing, admiring, perhaps sometimes even envying, the beauty that can arise from NOT CARING AT ALL, in other words, no judgment.
You must understand how deeply ingrained it is for me to take GREAT CARE of every sound from my violin. I’ll never forget sitting in a huge auditorium in Chicago watching one of the “big kids” – a high-schooler at the time – in my violin school, receiving a master class with Russian violinist Viktoria Mullova. I was about 10 years old.
“You don’t CARE!”, she said, in a thoroughly Russian, loving way. It was the kind of icy cold Russian love so commonly doled out in violin training. Meanwhile my classmate’s lips trembled, tears beginning to well up behind her eyes. Tears that represented a lifetime, from the age of three, trying so hard to prove that she cared. She was one of the stars, one of the protected ones in the group. No one had ever spoken to her like that. At least not in public. On a stage. In front of other people.
I vowed never to play like I didn’t care, if only to avoid the stinging feeling I felt that day.
So to stand on my stage with this guy – Adam – who had the audacity to walk in on us and just PLAY like he doesn’t CARE was a big moment. A moment either to shut down or to wake up and say yes to life. Shutting down occurred to me for a few moments. Remember this face?
Yeah, I was ready to shut it down. But then I remembered that I could just relax into my own place that doesn’t care so much. The place that knows I can play anything with anyone and I will be OK. The place of trust and surrender.
Because when you don’t care, you really are trusting in something greater than personalities and performances. Somewhere along the way, in our journey of recording and performing and trying to “build” something with Chinese Melodrama, I got caught up (again) in making things beautiful and perfect and acceptable and nice. I got caught up in my idea of what “good” sounds like. What I had to measure up to (in my own mind) in order to be worthy of appreciation, applause, presence, whatever. My idea of what I needed to be in order to be liked and accepted.
What I experienced by not caring so much was another layer of freedom peeled away and revealed to me. The discovery of something workable – beautiful – within the basket of sounds I’d call “dirty”. The sounds I don’t choose automatically because of the depth of my conditioning to play only beautifully. The discovery that he will never sound like me, and I will never sound like him, so there is nothing to fear. We can meet in the oneness of our combined sounds and play. Dance. Listen. See what happens.
“Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.” – Rumi
The next day, I returned to the stage with Randy. No Adam this time. Yet I still had the taste of the experience in my body, my ears, my whole being. I carried the permission of those “dirty” notes with me. They gave me wings to be less careful, more adventurous, more willing to be curious without worrying I would hurt or disappoint anyone. I had fun. I moved more. I felt my own joy. I invited it in. I was inspired by "no judgment".
I noticed that as I became more playful, my entire body began to participate. My feet were not firmly planted on the floor with my legs stable. My knees began to bend. My spine began to twist and turn. My feet were walking (sometimes stomping). My head was leaning. The feelings of the music flowed through my entire being, when my mind was no longer involved in saying, “Now what can I play that will be really beautiful?”.
When the music becomes a dance, when I am truly playing, then it’s not about what the notes are, but what is going on inside me as I am playing them. Even if I play every single note “beautifully”, correctly, in tune, like I was taught, it may not connect with a feeling. Because I may actually be trying very hard to create this state of “beautiful” and “correct”. Within me, I am not playful. I am controlling myself. When I am controlling myself, I radiate the energy of control.
When I lose control, anything can happen. Scary, yes. But on the other side of scary, there is beauty. Not “beautiful”, but beauty. The beauty of anything and everything. The beauty of what is.
P.S. Thank you so much to Adam, Matty, and everyone at LunarBurn who played and listened!