Sheena Yap Chan is creating a valuable resource for women everywhere, with her podcast The Tao of Self-Confidence.She recently interviewed me, and I hadn't thought about the topic of confidence for quite some time. It had never occurred to me that I lacked self-confidence, because I had always been a high achiever. But in the interview, I realize that my source of confidence has shifted from outer accomplishments to an invisible inner source.Read More
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
Why is "love" such a hot button word for so many of us? It seems we remain as divided with respect to this word as we are on so many other issues. There are "hopeless romantics" and there are "anti-Valentine's" party hosts. There are those who sprinkle the word "love" over every communication with strangers or friends, and there are those who use it sparingly, like precious strands of saffron reserved only for the finest occasion.
We never said the word "love" in our house, so during my childhood, I formed the belief that something was missing from my experience compared to the outer world of suburban midwestern America I lived in. We didn't talk like the characters on The Brady Bunch. The emotions expressed in my family were much more raw, more volatile, so close to the surface and not easily contained. The love I experienced was unrelenting, filled with the need to protect me from constant imminent danger, and would never let me off the hook.
Over a lifetime of accumulating ideas of what love is - from what I was told, from what I experienced, and from what I imagined - I decided, other-than-consciously, that it was not safe to love fully.
So I made up a definition of love that suited me, protected me, and preserved my belief in what was possible. I chose different outer images to imitate. I tried on many different outfits in my attempts to recreate safety in love. First, it was a white coat in medical school. Then, it was a pant suit that placed me at the negotiating table, equal to men. Next, it was high heels and feminine-looking skirt suits that projected a combination of power and approachability. Finally, I went barefoot and wore "spiritual" clothes (whatever that means).
These were symbols of the stories I made up about love. I believed I had to earn love by being a skilled professional, by being accepted by a prestigious institution, by measuring up to someone else's standard, by performing above all the rest, or by joining in special rituals. I believed, other-than-consciously, that how I chose to present myself on the outside actually represented how much I loved myself on the inside. So I placed my attention on my outer presentation, believing I could come up with the "right" thoughts or do the "right" things to create the outer world I desired, while continuing to avoid the depths I feared most.
The bigger experience of love I have recently awakened to, through the precise application of language, love and presence, has truly gone to the root of all - and that is consciousness. I finally touched and stayed in places I had avoided for so long. I was shown, by experience and not any concept, how to love my fear, love my pain, love my anger, and love even what I had given up on ever loving again. And to allow "loving what I feel" to transform each emotion into a petal of my heart's desires blooming in action. This was an experience of love bigger than my imagination could accommodate. It was beyond the box of my known reality.
Any thought pattern I chose in the past as a way to survive is no match for the power of being fully present and allowing the love contained in presence itself to shine its unrelenting light on my anger, pain, grief, and even apathy. I had believed that by not touching these feelings, I would somehow rise above them. In fact, I was unaware of the energy required to keep them suppressed and avoided. My buoyancy returned only after being willing to touch, stay, and love exactly what I had believed to be untouchable, unworthy of my attention, and unloveable. In the light of love, which I experienced as pure nonjudgmental and unflinching presence, everything I once thought I was not safe to feel became my love, expanded. I found myself forgiving people I was once convinced had really "damaged" me. I found myself spontaneously making lists of the things I love about my mom (how she never let me off the hook, how she unrelentingly saw my highest self already expressed in the world, and how she did it even though it was hard for her so much of the time).
I am now excited when I experience uncomfortable feelings, as they are a chance to expand my capacity for love. I get to love what I feel, and let my love grow. I now reclaim my love as the life force which has loved me into existence, expressing itself in every experience, feeling, and desire that has come through me. I AM my love. And I love my love.
I facilitate this awakening in my Eye Reading sessions and this is the level at which all of my work is offered. It is time to play a bigger game.
This month, you can join me in awakening to your greater depths of love in a free teleclass, "Renegotiating Love", a free Friday talk at Prajna Center in Belmont, "Receiving The Love That You Are", and my ongoing introduction to my program for physicians, "Live Your Medicine: Responding To The Evolutionary Wake-Up Call to Remember Your Love, Your Art, and Your Medicine".
I firmly believe everyone should have the experience - at least once in their life - of pooping in the wilderness. Of digging a hole at least six inches deep, dropping trou, and watching their own poop land in the hole. Then filling it with soil, packing it down, and returning the surrounding earth to its original state.
I believe this not just because pooping in holes has become second nature since I started backpacking, but because I experienced real compost in my friend Lydia's yard yesterday. From start to mulch. When you see one too many potted plants or cut flower arrangements in your life, you forget where it all really comes from. Not just the postcard pictures of a farm with a guy in overalls posed casually leaning on a fence that you see from the side of the road. Not the beautiful bins of colorful, washed produce (definitely not GMO and definitely organic) at the farmers' market.
No, I'm talking about what dirt really is. How our bodies - the stuff of our skin and bones - are ultimately the same stuff as dirt. How the plants growing prettily or wildly in the ground are also the same stuff as dirt. How if you have the chance to take a shovel and pull up some plants, move them to the compost heap, then come back a few months later, you might see something that looks nothing like the original plant but a lot like dirt.
We make dirt wrong. We use it to describe the things we don't want on us ("Don't touch that! It's DIRTY!"), don't want to hear ("Don't say that DIRTY word!"), and what we work hard to get rid of ("Wash your hands...they're DIRTY!").
But DIRT is US.
It was a moment of revelation - of Oneness, if you will - when my friend Lydia lifted the tarp covering the fresh heap of compost made of kitchen scraps. It was hard for me to watch all the creepy crawly worms and bugs making their way through coffee grounds, pumpkin skins, paper scraps, egg shells, and leaves.
I didn't want to have to see it. I'll admit that.
But there they were, making DIRT...the vital ingredient that fuels all life, the stuff that IS life in its final form and the source of all living things. The end...and the beginning...simultaneously.
It had been so long since I'd seen, smelled, and participated in decomposition that it woke me up. But of course that isn't exactly true. I'm surrounded by life - and DIRT - at all times, I just ignore the "dirty" parts and focus on enjoying the flowers and the fruits. I let other people handle the dirt - "do the dirty work". Or I separate myself from the "dark" or "dirty" aspects of me. I try to edit them out of my experience, as if it's better that way.
As I stood there, staring at the bustling city of worms crawling in and out, up and down, through the muck, I remembered. I remembered all the ways I have tried to push away the "dirty" parts of my past, to make everything look clean all the time, to live as if the flowers - the things of Beauty I've decided I want to see - don't have deep roots that crawl through that same rich soil, black and moist with powerful fuel for life. I remembered how I've distanced myself from the earth, whenever I insisted on standing tall, head held high, looking towards the horizon of some greater dream, trying to deny the "dirt" that supported me under my feet at all times.
Staring at the pile of compost as it became compost, I witnessed an aspect of Oneness we aren't often presented. If it's true that everything is energy, that every single phenomenon is in the same field of infinite potential, then it surely applies to compost too.
It also applies to pooping in the woods.
Which is why, if you ever have the chance, you should do it. But please don't leave toilet paper in the backcountry. I'm begging you.
Or go look at a pile of compost. Study and observe how life feeds on life.
And be with everything that comes up for you - all the feelings of aversion, disgust, and wanting to turn away to experience "something better" than this.
How is the stuff you consider "dirt" in your life actually the compost pile, rich with nutrients and material for your growth and thriving?
How would you feel differently about your "poopy" circumstances if you saw them simply as compost in the making, as both the byproduct of your process and the source of all that is to come?
By all means, train your eyes to see the flowers, and use your taste to savor the sweet fruits of life. But also remember, they - and we - all need the dirt to grow.
"Not Knowing is most intimate..." - Zen saying
This is a note for you. You are such a good student, when there's a teacher standing in front of the class, and other students surrounding you, all learning to do the same things. You are a stellar worker, always taking responsibility for your job, above and beyond the call of duty. You take instructions quickly, correct your mistakes diligently, and do everything you can to get along with others. You are smart, capable, successful, but still feel there's something missing from your life, even though you can't quite name it.
So what is it? What is that missing thing?
I don't know.
But I'm willing to bet that your relationship with Not Knowing could use a little tune-up. A little checking in and refamiliarizing. You see, each of us was born in a state of perfect Not Knowing. The first several years of our lives were filled with the joy, awe, and wonder of discovering, playing, experimenting, failing, and doing it all over again every single moment. This is how we learned to walk, talk, and explore the world around us. There was tremendous accumulation during this time, but the overwhelming majority of space was occupied with Not Knowing, and being perfectly content with that.
Then we acquired language, and experience, and started going to school, where we learned to correct our mistakes diligently, take instructions quickly, and get along with others.
Those skills served us in advancing through lots more school, in getting a job, and then learning the ways of the business and professional worlds.
Somewhere along the way, all of that accumulation began to take up much more space than Not Knowing. In fact, we may not even remember the last time we did something for the first time.
So right now you may be wondering, "How does Not Knowing actually solve a problem I'm experiencing in my life?".
Consider how your life might be different if you reclaimed the fun of it. Not having a reason, but just doing it - you know, whatever that thing is that you've always wanted to do or try. Letting go of what experience tells you, and embracing the fresh innocence of the present moment. Better yet, just existing without judgment.
If any of these sound scary or crazy, it may just be that you've been out of practice at Not Knowing.
And how do you practice Not Knowing? Well, not by fixing it or solving it. Not by hunting for an answer, or coming up with a plan.
But by consciously being there. And watching attentively while you are there.
Last night I went to my first ever hula dancing class. I had never dreamt of hula before, but I saw a performance locally that really inspired me, and then I found out there was a community class offered right in my town.
So I showed up.
There was a lot to learn. The teacher started out slowly, showing us the basic steps, then putting a few of them together into a simple first dance. Then we newbies were sent to the back of the classroom and were told to fake our way along with the more experienced dancers as they rehearsed songs they already knew.
I got to experience myself in the moment of Not Knowing, and to see how I stayed with myself. Now I am at a point where I can see this as a precious gift. But I also know that not so long ago, this was an edge I very carefully avoided, constructing my life so that I would never be in that position of Not Knowing.
How do you react when you are put in the space of Not Knowing?
Do you ask for more information?
Do you look around for someone who looks like they know what they're doing, then copy?
Do you sit out and wait until next time, when you'll definitely know more and do better?
Do you just keep moving, doing what you can, trusting that this is exactly where you should be?
Do you compare what you can do now to what others around you are doing, trying to figure out what's wrong?
All of these are possible ways to relate to Not Knowing.
And all of these responses - if we are able to observe them in ourselves - hold the possibility to bring us closer to knowing ourselves. Closer to becoming intimate with Not Knowing. And more grateful for being exactly where we are in any given moment.
So that is the gift of any brand new experience, whether you enter it by choice, opportunity, or crisis.
In one form or another, all of my work is an opportunity for you to experience yourself in relationship with Not Knowing. I hold open the space for you to experience how you are as you navigate this unfamiliar territory.
This fall, I'm offering you an expansive yet gentle way to become more intimate with your own space of Not Knowing. It's an oceanside retreat with me and a circle of 6 participants, called "Beyond Knowing: Many Paths to the Present Moment."
We will learn from the teachers in nature - the ocean, the sky, the birds, the trees, the sand. We will also learn from approaching and entering various portals to the present moment, which is always fresh and alive with Not Knowing. We will discover what arises when we clear our attachments to thoughts, align our mind-body-soul, and allow our innate expressions to find a voice. We will create a safe space together where we can touch the space of Not Knowing, with gentleness and firmness, full participation, mutual support, no judgment, no force, and no extra.
You will take home tools that you can continue to practice in your daily life, each time you come in contact with the beauty and terror of Not Knowing. You will also take home artifacts from your unique expressions created in the setting of the circle of support provided during the retreat, reminding you of your heart's truth, and your magical reserves of resilience. You will also have the experience - carried in every cell of your body - of having become more familiar, more intimate with Not Knowing.
You can learn all the details about the retreat here.
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?