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
"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?
Photo credits: Top - Randy Bales. Bottom - Lydia Puhak.
Part of a series exploring each of the Breema Nine Principles of Harmony
Trying to squeeze blood from a turnip is a lot like being at war with reality.
What are the ways we use force against what is, in an attempt to make things the way we think (and thought is the key word here) they should be?
Does it ever really work? And at what price? When we use force, do we even know that our sanity, our inner peace, our body, exists? Or do we only see the blood we want so desperately to come from the turnip, or whatever we are applying force to?
If we see clearly, we first begin to recognize that we are not getting the blood we want, despite all the effort. If we continue to look, we might be able to recognize that there's a turnip involved, a turnip that is quite innocent, being a turnip. It has no blood to give. It's just being squeezed, and squeezed some more, harder and harder. You (the one who is squeezing) keep getting more frustrated, but the turnip is not doing anything different. Surprise, surprise, it's still a turnip! Your squeezing, your effort, your frustration, your attempts, have done absolutely nothing to change that.
The turnip seems puzzled. It seems to ask, "Why are you angry at me for being a turnip? Why are you frustrated that there's no blood in me to give? You are getting everything you possibly can from me, because I am a turnip!"
If we look really deeply, we might then see that it's not the turnip who has the problem. We are, at some level, insane for being attached to an outcome that does not - cannot - exist. Until we see all of this clearly there is no way we will let go of our grip on the turnip. We will keep squeezing and squeezing, until our hand gives out or our frustration gets the better of us. The turnip won't yield any blood, and it probably won't even change shape. But what will we be left with? A sore hand, and a broken spirit. Time spent in useless frustration, curses thrown at the luck we were dealt. And no blood.
Not a very fulfilling way to pass the time. Or a very good way to use the strength in your hands.
Working with the body, I've noticed that there is power in the hand when it receives. When you align your entire body, placing your hand in a position where, when it simply receives the weight of your body, it carries the entire universe in its palm. There is no effort in that moment. There is intention and presence in positioning your body to be able to receive. But once those intentions and alignments are in place, the rest is effortless. There is No Force.
However, there is tremendous power. In the moment of No Force, there is space for the power to heal, to release, to discover, to transform. When we let go of force, we merge with reality. Reality is kind, if we allow it to show us what we need to see.
No Force is a way to practice kindness toward yourself. The beneficiaries of No Force will extend beyond you, but if you need a reason to begin, begin with what is kind to yourself.