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
Fear has been up for me lately. I'm stepping into new unknowns and therefore a new level of courage is required. And in order to function, I've woken up to a new way of greeting fear. Instead of trying to beat it down, or conquer it, which both contain the quality of resistance, I practiced this: "It's OK, fear. Come on in. You are welcome here. Sit down at my table."Read More
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.
In the weeks since returning from Boulder, I've been spending more time with the idea of the Unique Self teaching of Marc Gafni and the Center for Integral Wisdom. For me it was deeply integrating to hear a story that finally enabled me to bring together both the parts of me I had discovered and cultivated during the last five years - namely, wordless presence, connection with the Oneness, and recognition of egoless identity - and the parts of myself I had "divorced" from - namely, the rules of classical training, the linear reductionist thinking of mechanical science, and the ignoring of subjective experience.
How refreshing to hear someone say, "You can't meditate your ego away. You can't meditate your story away." This was part of my experience as a meditation practitioner! I wanted to put certain chapters in the past, as "the way I used to be", believing that in order to become who I knew myself to be - both creative and spiritual - I needed to forget who I once was. No matter how many relationships I walked away from, no matter how many new practices I adopted, no matter how many new communities I joined, I could not completely ignore my prior experience and stories, and the curiosity I felt about bringing my new learning back to my old communities. I could not pretend they were not in me. Oh, I tried. But I never felt complete in my expression, or full in my generosity of sharing. It was as if there were problems I knew existed, in distant parts of the world, that I was deliberately ignoring for the sake of elevating myself beyond them, transcending them by trying not to pay attention to them anymore. I kept my eyes forward, visioning my ideal life over and over again. And still I felt there was a connection I was not making.
The image of my Unique Self "plugging in" to the infinite mesh of the One via a radically unique shape - not just a generic plug into a generic outlet, but a unique contour fitting in like a puzzle piece perfectly matching in every subtle turn of form - is supporting me to integrate all of my stories, all of my prior and current experiences, and to show up as me. I am now opening my vision to include all the parts of me I would rather hide and avoid, the parts I would rather not have you see, AND embracing my brilliance and light and infinite creativity at a level previously unrecognized....not as opposing sides of a coin, but as different and equally essential points on the same sphere of my wholeness.
So what makes YOU unique? What are the points that constitute the unique shape of your piece of the mighty jigsaw puzzle of all that is?
The invitation of our times is to hold this paradox: what you think you are is not who you really are, and exactly who you are is all you need to be.
When you show up as all of exactly who you are, you heal, transform, and create a world in the way that only you can.
In The Wisdom of No Escape, there's a chapter where Pema Chodron talks about three useful qualities for life and for meditation: precision, gentleness, and letting go.
I've been consciously living with the nine principles of Breema lately, and I've noticed how precision, gentleness, and letting go are a useful way to greet any practice, old or new.
For example, one of the Breema principles is "No Judgment."
When you begin to study and practice "No Judgment", the first thing you notice is how much judgment is in your mind already.
"No Judgment" brings your attention first to the judgment that's there. Which means, you begin to identify judgment as judgment. That's precision. You may notice as a new student of something, you like to be very precise. So every time you see your mind judging, you say to yourself, "Damn it, I'm judging again! Why am I so judgmental? I need to stop judging so much." And you feel the assault on yourself beginning to happen.
This is the moment when gentleness can enter in. You have an opportunity to practice gentleness, or to continue the assault. Gentleness gives you the opportunity to take a different attitude toward yourself, even as you see, with precision, what is going on. Gentleness encourages you to just see, without extra attacks or criticism or labeling. In other words, no need to judge your judgment. Be gentle with yourself as you begin to see clearly. Just see what is, with no extra.
Letting go is the final practice, and it is the result of practicing both precision and gentleness. Letting go is not something to achieve or do, but is a natural unfolding of both precision and gentleness practiced together. When you play with these qualities of precision and gentleness, dance with them back and forth, and then gradually see that they are both happening all at once, there is a feeling of letting go. Neither precision nor gentleness has to "win". There is no final state to achieve. There is no superior way to be.
Letting go is a sensation of relief. That it's not all such a big deal. That we definitely need to practice, but part of the practice is also to let it all go. Letting go is not a "Forget about trying, I'll just give up" kind of feeling, but rather a smiling recognition that no one needs to win or lose, not even the more or less enlightened parts of your own mind. It's a kind of relaxation into the present, a return to what is, and a feeling that our attached thoughts are not who we are. A knowing that our true essence is something much lighter, and also more timeless than any thought or practice.
I am a recovering perfectionist. I’ve been practicing various antidotes to perfectionism quite consciously for about three years now. That makes me – the real me, the innocently imperfect me – about three years old. I’m walking, I’m talking, I’m eating with my plastic miniature utensils, insisting that I’m a big girl now. But the real big girl in the house – the house of my mind, my body, and my soul – is Miss Perfectionist. She is the one who grew up inside my house, the house of me. She became the big one without my knowing it. She got all the praise, all the money, all the polite smiling conversations at cocktail parties, all the “wow”s and “ooh”s and “aah”s, all the framed diplomas and plaques on the wall. She was surrounded by people she kept at an arm’s length distance, so they wouldn’t touch anything close to her.
She thought she liked it that way. She thought she preferred it that way, because her attention could be focused on making her hair perfect, her face perfect, her nails perfect, her shoes perfect, her outfits perfect, anything that would attract the attention of perfection praisers, which seemed to be everywhere.
Miss Perfectionist was so busy doing the things she defined as perfection – which always involved something other than the way things were – that she ignored the real me, who by the way, happened to own the house the whole time.
As I write this, I’m fresh from peeling away another layer of awareness of how Miss Perfectionist still lurks, like a creepy roommate, in the house of me. I’m also more aware of the real me, that three-year-old who has just gotten her legs, who has registered the definite feeling of walking, moving one foot in front of another, exploring this amazing thing called existence.
And I’m not willing to ignore that three-year-old, at this magical time of her life. I’m not willing to yell at her, throw her out on the porch in her nightgown, telling her she is wrong and worthless as she is. I’m not willing to have her mentored by Miss Perfectionist.
You see, Miss Perfectionist is not very supportive in moments that require vulnerability, moments that require the raw courage to step into unknown, unfelt territory. Miss Perfectionist, in fact, hates those kinds of moments. Miss Perfectionist much prefers the mind’s activity of projecting into the future, comparing the present moment to the imagined future, and listing how it doesn’t measure up: "It’s not good enough, it’s not important enough, it’s not professional enough". The list is usually much longer than three items. The list of “not”s can take over an entire conversation, an entire house, an entire life.
I see today that Miss Perfectionist is simply afraid. She is frozen with fear that someone might actually see the whole house she lives in. That there are little tiny children in there, still crawling around, learning to walk, falling down all the time in the process. That would be so humiliating to Miss Perfectionist! And she doesn’t believe she can survive that humiliation.
I see her – I see me. I see the real me beginning to live life, in the tender state of being three, being open to all possibilities and ripe with the potential of one whole life, surrendered to the present moment.
I see me, and I choose to be gentle with me. I choose to take the small steps of a three-year-old, knowing with total confidence that these steps are the only ones I – the real me - can take right now. And it’s enough.
Miss Perfectionist can have her own room in this house, but she does not own it. We are living here together, and there is space for both of us to exist in harmony. For now.
Photo credit: http://doubtfulnews.com/2012/10/buying-a-haunted-house-there-may-be-logical-reasons-why-thats-not-a-good-idea/
About two weeks ago I bought a bike. Brand new, cute as can be, even with a name, "Fiona". I also got the cutest panier ever, with a lime green flower and orange straps. [singlepic id=477 w=320 h=240 float=center]
On my very first ride, I got a flat tire. A complete blow out, requiring me to walk it home for about two miles. Luckily it was a particularly beautiful sunset on the ocean, and I got to look up, twisting my head slowly to savor the powder blue sky and cotton candy pink clouds spreading in all directions around me.
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Still, I was a little shaken by the fact that the road looked so innocent - no broken glass or bed of nails in sight. Just smooth blacktop for as far as the eye could see. Except for whatever jumped into my back tire that evening.
It turned into a perfect opportunity to have one of my coworkers show me how to change a flat. Somewhere around step 9 of the process, my eyes started to glaze over, but I kept taking notes as he explained and demonstrated patiently. He taught me about tire protectors and now I own some. If you don't have them, go get some!
I've been riding almost every day since. On the sunny ones, I'm riding chin up, smiling from ear to ear, and taking in the sounds of the rolling waves and the expansiveness of the ocean stretching out to the horizon. I note the particular shade of blue in the sky and on the water each day, because they are never repeated exactly.
Riding my bike has transformed a routine errand - hopping in my car to drive two miles to the local market for food each day - into a celebration of life. I breathe in the scent of cypress, I feel the warm sunshine on my cheeks, and I experience my own body propelling this amazing machine beneath me.
I wonder, “How the bicycle must have transformed human experience when it first appeared on this planet!”
And then I think, "What made us dream of a bigger machine that would multiply our speed of transit even more, but not require us to move our bodies at all?"
When I'm sitting on my bike, gliding along the paved path near the ocean, I think about these things. I am relaxed and confident, because this is a bike's territory. Pedestrians and dogs must yield.
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A different story begins the minute I cross from the path to the road. The very last stretch of ride between my house and the market involves crossing a major intersection with a stoplight. Four lanes of traffic, three strip malls, a gas station, a high school, all converge at one point. I have two streets to cross each time I reach this intersection. I walk across one way, and ride across the other, my body often tense with resolve to "get through" without any close encounters with cars or mishaps with my own machine beneath me.
One day last week, I was feeling particularly vulnerable. It was drizzling lightly. I liked being alone on the path, feeling the cool breeze in my ears, and the tiny fuzzy droplets of mist gathering on my eyelashes. I was cautious, using the brakes a bit more on the turns, controlling my speed, as I had no idea how Fiona would respond in wet conditions.
Traffic was slow on the main highway. Cars inched along, and it was only three o'clock. The high school had just gotten out, so large groups of kids congregated at the crosswalks, on their way home or to the adjacent strip mall.
I gritted my teeth and got through the stoplight. My pant leg got caught momentarily as I mounted to start to go across, and I had a slight moment of panic. I didn't want to be seen falling in the middle of the intersection! I started over, gathered my composure, and made my way across without a problem, although I was muttering some phrases to myself under my breath anyway. I hated that feeling of vulnerability, of having to depend on my body and this foreign thing underneath me to work properly in order to ensure my safe passage.
I did my shopping, filling my panier to the brim with beautiful vegetables and dinner fixings. I was ready to go home. But I had to get back across the hairy intersection first.
I took a slightly different route, making my way around the back of the store, thinking I would use a pedestrian crosswalk in the middle of the block. There was no easy way to get back to that stoplight. Cars came from four different directions - a parking lot, a side street, and two directions on the main road. A large group of high school kids – mostly boys – was hanging out on the sidewalk, directly in front of the pedestrian crosswalk. Most of them were looking down, kicking the ground, their hands shoved into their pockets, as if they were waiting for something. As I approached them, I felt an ancient but familiar wave course through my body – like prickles, spreading from my hands up to my neck, a tensing, a holding of my breath, a desire to "get through" this without being noticed, without embarassing myself.
Me, on my brand new Fiona with a brand new panier overflowing with vegetables, wearing a bright green rainshell and bright white helmet. Everything so bright and brand new. Who wouldn't notice that?
I changed my plans and kept riding.
I passed the group of boys and proceeded to the next parking lot entrance, thinking I could position myself to cross the street with the cars. Several minutes – or what seems like several minutes -- went by, and it was clear that drivers are not going to make space for me. I would have to “be aggressive” and act like a car, or wait. So, I decided to retrace my path by half a block back to the pedestrian crosswalk.
I never looked at any of those high school boys, but I felt them watching me as I approached. This, of course, made me avoid eye contact totally. They were spitting, laughing, and yelling things every now and then. As I looked over my left shoulder and waited with one foot poised on the pedal of my bike, I felt ashamed that I wasn't "aggressive enough" to cross the street as if I were another car, or, like some bikers, as if I owned the right of way. I felt lame for having retraced my route by half a block, just to use the pedestrian crosswalk. I waited, and I watched, and I found my window to cross. During those few seconds, I heard one boy's voice shout, "CHINESE PEOPLE!" I didn't look back. I couldn't. I felt a sting of pins and needles spread throughout my body, and all of my attention went toward getting out of there as fast as I could.
As I pedaled away, I recalled the incidents - yes, plural - from my childhood that had made me feel the same way. They were so long ago, but in that moment immediately came back into focus. I had been called "Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, if you please" starting in first grade. I had been taunted with, "Gook!" yelled at me from open car windows as I commuted on foot between the freshman building and the main building of my high school, where I took math class with the upperclassmen.
I knew exactly what these words meant, and I knew exactly what these people were making fun of - me. The slant of my eyes, the color of my hair, the whole history of a people that I didn't know and they probably didn't know either. I just looked like something funny and irrelevant to them.
I realized on that drizzly day, pedaling away from those boys, that the act of riding a bicycle is nothing short of revolutionary for me. None of the women in either of my parents' families ever learned to ride a bike. It was considered "too dangerous". That and swimming. From the stories I heard growing up, it seemed unnecessary for a girl to take such risks in the name of mere recreation and enjoyment. It was considered a privilege not to have to be physically active. It was a sign of refinement, education, and status. And there were no higher prizes than these in the Chinese culture that I learned about from my parents’ stories.
I never learned to ride a bike until second grade. That was late in my hometown of Libertyville, Illinois. It seemed to be a top priority in that suburb to teach your kids to swim, ride a bike, shoot a basketball, catch and throw a baseball. This is what the “All-American”, “normal” people in our neighborhood did for fun.
I learned to ride a bike mainly to avoid further embarrassment at school, to have one less reason not to fit in.
In my family, the priority for me was learning to play an instrument (two instruments, actually), learning to practice every day, focusing on building a skill in the solitude of our own home. No one at school really knew what I did at home, and I never found the words to explain it. One day a newspaper clipping announcing my first place win at a Chicago-area piano competition was tacked to the bulletin board of my fourth grade classroom. I felt the same sting of shame and embarrassment, like I didn't want anyone to see it, like I had to get out of there fast.
Why? I wanted to hide. I wanted to protect what I could protect, because anywhere I showed up, people would see my face. My slanty-eyed, unmistakably Chinese face, looking out at a sea of “All-American, normal” white faces. I could never hide my face, but I could hide what was in my heart, what I really cared about, what made me feel joyful and alive. No one could make fun of that if I kept it hidden, precious only to me.
I developed the habit of cultivating my most precious territory within me. It protected me, and I protected it. While others experienced me in performance, I experienced myself most deeply in the solitude of my own practice. I learned to love the stillness, silence, and solitude of practice. My practice – the sacred activities I do for myself, which now consist of yoga, meditation, singing, painting, writing, and bodywork – still brings me to the deepest feelings of love and connection in my life.
I'm grateful for my bike and for the fact that I learned to ride it.
On my bike, I get to experience my vulnerability in a tangible way. There is no hiding. I am not protected by the walls of the 4-wheel-drive SUV my brother insisted I drive after my second car accident in my twenties. "You need to be surrounded by a cage of steel," he said to me in his lovingly protective way, as he bought me a new car.
In my car, I can hide. I can blend in with the traffic, just "getting through" to my destination each time. I can look out the windows and think my thoughts about other drivers, bikers, pedestrians. No one will notice me, if I just get through. I can play a CD and drown out the rain. I can keep the windows up and not feel a breeze.
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But my bike has taught me that there is an aliveness to being vulnerable. I feel the wind whipping by my ears, I hear the clicking of the gears and chains, I hear the swells and roars of the ocean waves, and I announce my presence to pedestrians by saying, "On your left!". I greet my fear each time I cross the highway, or, earlier this week, take a turn too quickly and crash into a fencepost. (Fiona and I are both doing fine.)
I feel both the rawness and the sweetness of being exposed. I feel more of everything when I am on my bike. I hear the birds singing and the highway patrol sirens blaring as they approach a wreck. I smell the eucalyptus trees, and the garbage waiting in cans for pickup. I recall ancient memories of shame, and I receive more reasons to appreciate my particular life story.
My bike taught me all of this, in only a few weeks. I plan to keep learning.