Be Careful What You Wish For...

Last year I made a vision board for who I am and how I feel when I express my creativity. I had devoted 2010 to my Core of Peace, and I was setting a new intention for 2011. I didn't know exactly HOW my creativity would be expressed. But by making the vision board I connected with images and words that captured how I knew it would FEEL to be in that place of expression.

I let go of the HOW, because I didn't - and couldn't - know at the time what the exact steps would be.

I breathed deeply into the feelings of my own creativity, and allowed images to attract me without needing an explanation or a meaning or a concept. They were just images that I loved, for no "reason" at all.

Here is the vision board I made:

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I have it as the wallpaper image on my laptop, so every time I open my computer, the images enter my consciousness. Most days, I don't sit and deliberately stare at every image on my screen, but I know they are there.

I haven't thought about that vision board in many months. I have gone about the business of living, of staying in my Core of Peace, of letting some things go, and picking up other things, of planting seeds and watching them grow, all the while noticing that I cannot force growth to happen any faster than it already is.

Last night I looked at it again.

It was with a sense of amazement that I noticed how many of the images had actually come into my reality during 2011. In other words, my visions had come true!

While I was holding the intention to express more of my creativity in 2011, I lived by the mantra, "First Feel Free." The actions that resulted from that feeling included walking away from a commercial lease, and six months after that, downsizing my belongings by about eighty percent and moving out of my two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, and into my boyfriend's two-bedroom, one-bathroom house, with a kitty and a big backyard.

We started a vegetable garden.

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We climbed to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite, after months of training with progressively longer hikes every weekend.

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I fell in love with the outdoors, and discovered a new interest (er, obsession) in backpacking.

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I also fell in love with spoken word, and began accompanying poets with live violin improvisation during their readings.

I accompanied a dear friend on violin while she sang her heart out in a burlesque show, observing the self-empowerment potential for women to love (and even flaunt) their own bodies exactly as they are.

Our band, Chinese Melodrama, stumbled into a new niche combining our love of supporting local businesses and the taste of wine, by providing music at local winery and wine bar events.

I got so busy living that my writing and videoblogging could no longer keep pace with the rate at which I was accumulating experiences. I let go of my need to report on every single learning and observation I had about the world, and began to just fully soak in the experience.

Meanwhile, another dream came true, with the opening of a brand new yoga and healing arts studio just a few blocks away from my new home. It was also another example of letting go of my grief over "not having a yoga studio anymore" and allowing the magic of life to arrive at my doorstep. I now find myself on the roster of musicians for the Sunday evening yoga and healing sound classes (starting in September, I'll be playing the second Sunday of every month), and working with the studio to coordinate events with my community of healing artists, musicians, and poets.

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Looking back at my vision board, I can count the images that have arrived in my reality since that day last year. I have found myself in the woods, on the top of mountains, at the rocky shores of the ocean, standing in awe of a sunset, opening my arms to the expansiveness of the sky, praising the stillness of the forest, celebrating my own beauty, and playfulness, and togetherness with a companion.

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All of this, once just a vision, is now my reality. All of this is who I am and how I feel when I express my creativity, letting go of the HOW and opening to the expansive mysteries of the earth and life.

The old saying goes, "Be careful what you wish for."

I say, "Be bold about what you wish for."

And brace yourself. Because you just may get it.





Creating New Rituals: Honor Your Whole Self

I had an Energy Release Ritual this morning. Spur of the moment, totally unplanned, but absolutely inspired. I've been reading a few mind-body healing books ever since attending Dr. Mitchell Gaynor's workshop at CIIS this weekend. Dr. Gaynor is an integrative oncologist based at Cornell Medical Center in New York City and is the embodiment of physician-healer, embracing all of his life experiences and learning from diverse traditions in order to create healing partnerships with his patients.

I don't see myself working with disease, but still find myself fascinated by healing stories. Disease is merely one form of communication, through the vehicle of our bodies, to help us become more aware of ourselves. Some people experience healing through a financial crisis, or a job loss, or the death of a loved one. Any time our expectations about life are challenged or even shattered, we are being handed the gift of an opportunity to heal and grow.

Somehow this morning I was inspired to let go of some of the energies that I am still carrying and am no longer in need of. I knew that I wanted to have a total body experience of this letting go - not just writing it, or saying it, but experiencing it with all of my senses.

I created an altar, which incorporated items representing the five elements - earth, fire, air, water, and ether.

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I also included a symbol of inner peace, which to me is beautifully exemplified in the image of the Buddha.

I turned on music. Two types of background music seemed appropriate for what I was about to do. The first: fiery, warrior music. I imagined drums beating and war cries. I scoured my CD collection and came up with the Brave Heart soundtrack. Perfect!

The second, for the calmer, more healing part of the ritual: healing harp sounds by Diana Stork, a Bay Area healing musician.

I then created small pieces of paper with words to express the different qualities and energies I would honor during the ritual. One group was everything I wanted to embrace about who I am, in this moment:

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The next group was everything I wanted to release. All the old energies I have learned from, I am grateful for, and I am ready to let go of:

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I held a vision of honoring each of these old energies, thanking it for bringing its lessons into my life, and then letting it go, into a flame.

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I started just listening to the music, and invoking the power of the four directions: North, South, East, and West. As I turned my body toward each direction in space, I spoke aloud an invocation, honoring the significance of each of the directions in connecting to nature and the earth.

As the drums beat on the track from Brave Heart, I felt my own strength and calm building within.

I then used my Tibetan Singing Bowl to connect with the Divine Energy within me, my completeness as I am in this moment. As I chanted "Om" and listened and connected with this energy, it was effortless to make a beautiful continuous sound with the bowl, my voice, and my breath. I felt whole.

Next I spoke out loud each of the qualities I choose to embrace in my life in this moment, as I become who I am becoming, as I heal and create my future from this moment. I breathed into the qualities that I know I already possess, that are always there to be expressed when I access them through the openness of a calm mind and relaxed body.

Finally I began to look at each item in the old energies pile. One by one, I spoke aloud, "I honor you, I thank you for your lessons, and I let you go," before putting each slip of paper into the flame.

I could feel the power of watching the words on paper transform, through fire, into air and ether. I could smell the smoke as I breathed in.

The warrior music still played, giving me strength and a constant rhythm with which to keep releasing. After each paper went into the glass jar, I sounded a chime, symbolizing the merging of that quality with the ether, and my own release.

I sat and watched the papers burn, breathing in the smoky air until I had to open a window.

And I emerged with a sense of commitment and clarity. I felt that I had honored myself at many levels, and that I had a sensory experience of letting go of the energies that I no longer to need to carry. They were never mine to begin with. I had just chosen to carry them as if they belonged to me.

I've begun to appreciate the value of rituals, not only in groups, as they were typically performed in indigenous traditional cultures, but for individuals. As I build strength and trust in myself, and choose to honor all of who I am in my life, rituals help me ground into my own commitments, even as I venture into the world.

What rituals will you create to honor yourself this holiday season, or in the coming new year?

You can listen to a recording of the entire ritual here>>

Restorative Practice #5: Do One Thing At A Time

Have you ever tried actually doing one thing at a time? I've found that it takes a tremendous amount of trust - an amount I often don't have - to truly do one thing at a time.

Somehow my brain prefers that high-anxiety mode of doing many things at once, having many irons in the fire, keeping many options open, so to speak. But the reality of that mode is nothing ever gets done, and I never feel totally complete. In other words, I set myself up to prove the belief that underlies this kind of behavior: "I am not enough."

To turn this behavior around, I first choose a new thought to believe: "I am complete, as I am, in this moment."

At first, I repeat it as a mantra that sounds ridiculous because my brain has never practiced focusing attention on all the ways that I am, in fact, complete, as I am, in this moment. I have trained my brain, for many years and quite intensively, to find all the ways that "I am not enough" - all the ways that I "should be" doing more than what I am doing right now.

But since I have made the choice to be and do in a different way, to connect with a different energy as the source of my actions, I keep repeating that mantra. I allow myself some stillness and some time to find one example of how I am really complete, as I am, in this moment. I find some gentleness toward myself as I learn a new way. I remember that I am like a toddler, about to take my first steps, and joyfully falling and getting up more times than I will be able to count.

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I choose something to do, in this moment, which gives me the feeling in my body of being complete as I am. These days, it is a hike. I get to move my body, deepen my breath, and bring my senses in contact with nature - the sky, the cool air, the silence.

Yesterday I happened to shoot two videos - one before my hike, and one after. I think you'll see a visible difference in my face, or at least sense a different energy from me, in the two videos. Plus, in the second video I leave you with two questions to ask yourself about your own restorative practices.




The Space of No Thinking

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The creative space is one of NO mind.

This morning, as I was driving to the grocery store, there were these thoughts running through my head:

"What if I could just relax into ACCEPTANCE of myself, exactly as I am right now?"

"What if I could treat myself as if right now, exactly as everything is, it IS all exactly as it should be?"

I was trying to examine my recent thought patterns which were centered around "concern" for a variety of things in my life: was I spending enough time doing the right things, was I doing enough yoga, was I eating enough fruit and vegetables, was I working hard enough on the right things for my business, was I spending too much time on "non-productive" activities....

The list went on and on, and nothing seemed to be "clicking" or "flowing" during the past few weeks until the rare moments when I just let go and did the ONE thing right in front of me.

This morning, I was thinking about the feeling and energy around doing JUST THIS, RIGHT NOW. What is it about that thought which creates flow? It's certainly not a state of heightened anxiety and pushing and grasping. It's not an energy of worrying.

It's exactly the opposite. It's LETTING GO of all the worrying and relaxing the mind completely.

The mind - mine at least - wants to quantify and list and remind me of everything that still ISN'T done, NEEDS to be done, SHOULD be done. The mind isn't designed to be still and quiet. Its job, for which I’ve trained it systematically throughout a lifetime of schooling and high performance, is to be a machine constantly generating new thoughts, forming associations, laying down memories, accessing old information, recalling it on demand.

The mind is a beautiful thing...some of the time.

But then there are times when it gets in the way.

So back to this morning. I was breathing into that feeling of imagining if I could regard myself, as I was right in that moment -- driving my car, with my bank account, my number of clients, my schedule, my health, EVERYTHING about me -- as exactly the way things should be, in fact the ONLY way they could be.

What would that feel like? Who could I be if I felt that way toward me in this moment?

And then the phone rang. It was my friend Louise (that’s not her real name, but she’s a real friend).

She called to talk because she was having difficulty with a family situation across the country. She was being pained by the thought, "I wish I could be there. I just don't know if I should be here right now."

It was causing her to look at everything in her surroundings as "not right". The noisy neighbors, the cars going by on the street, the dogs barking. Nothing felt right as she experienced the world through the lens of thinking, "I shouldn't be here right now."

As I listened to her agonize over this, it occurred to me and I gently reminded her, "Louise, the only place you can be right now is exactly where you are."

"Oh that feels so good to hear. It feels like peace," she said.

And as I took in the reality of those words myself, I saw that wishing you could be anywhere else, right now, is fighting reality. When you're fighting, you know how you feel. Just imagine it. You're at war. You're battling. You're kicking and screaming, wishing it would be over soon.

Who wants to be around a person who's fighting right now? Not me. And how much time do we spend in our thoughts, fighting who we are right now? That was where my mind had been taking me so often during the past few weeks, believing and dwelling in thoughts about what was missing, what wasn’t arriving, what hadn’t been done.

There is such wisdom in the peace and space of RIGHT NOW. Louise could decide in the next minute that she is going to go through the steps to move herself from being here to being with her family: purchase a plane ticket, pack her bags, get herself to the airport, and so on.

But RIGHT NOW she is here. Until she settles into that feeling and accepts what she can do from the perfect place of RIGHT HERE, she is trapped in her own world of fighting with reality. Disconnected from herself and therefore less available for the family she loves so much.

I also asked her to consider what possibilities for healing were contained in the reality of her being HERE while her family is THERE right now. Could it be that her different perspective, several thousand miles removed from the hospital, doctors, and other distressed family members, is in fact a healing energy for the ones she loves the most and wants to take care of? Does she absolutely KNOW that she "needs to" be THERE, and not right here, right now?

The answer was "No."

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NO Thinking...Just Listening, and Play

Our talk led to a discussion of negative thinking that she has been noticing related to a different part of her life – her romantic relationships. "I've been thinking ‘It won't happen’ or ‘It'll never work out’, and I realize that I'm blocking things from coming to me. What were you thinking when all those good things happened to you this summer?"

"It was NO thinking!" I blurted out.

And it felt like such an opening, a blossoming realization to say that out loud! NO thinking!

After hearing that phrase for the first time over a year ago in relation to the state of improvisation, I felt like I finally got it, on a whole life level, today.

NO thinking is SPACE. It's not filling yourself up with affirmations, or convincing yourself to get rid of negative thoughts (which I've found always involves some level of self-castigation). It's not ADDING anything to your already active mind.

It's simply becoming empty. And we rage against emptiness because we are taught to be so fearful of having nothing at all.

I have felt the complete joy and freedom of empty mind when I've been in a state of pure listening and improvisation. It feels so good.

So good, in fact, that it feels criminal or forbidden. I've asked, "Is it true that life really is this good??" in disbelief, my mind wanting evidence to prove it could start punishing me.

Now I know that the true nature of life feels good, when we experience it from the SPACE of NO thinking.

And two things I read this week have come together to complete this picture. Both are from the Tibetan spiritual teacher, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, author of the book, Tibetan Sound Healing.

The first - Letting go.

It's such a popular term now, thrown around in yoga classes and self-help workshops all the time. Rinpoche says that when we say, "Let go", we usually focus on what we are parting with, rather than what is revealed, when we let something go. In other words, we dwell on the loss, instead of dwelling on the beauty of the new possibility unveiled.

The second - Effortless doubts and spontaneous problems.

We are so quick to believe that things will go wrong, and problems will arise. We might even accept the mantra that life just has to be hard, and that’s just the way it is. Rinpoche says, "Everybody understands effortless doubts and spontaneous problems. We always seem to have some good reasons for doubt - intelligent, educated, and philosophically profound reasons."

But when it comes to feeling joy, compassion, or love, we suddenly need proof. We seem to believe that none of these qualities can *spontaneously* manifest or effortlessly arise. It is easier for us to imagine having a problem than it is to imagine being happy without a particular reason.

And so, it’s time to ask yourself, is it true? Can you absolutely know that your doubts are TRUE? Can you absolutely know that joy cannot arise spontaneously, but problems can?

I invite you to explore your own answer to these questions.

Meanwhile, what I found today for myself was the feeling of SPACE from NO thinking. And I'm going to rest there right now.

Photo credits: Yvonne De Villiers

Kosi Gramatikoff

The sun folds in, the waves roll on

How many times have you witnessed the sun setting? Now that I live near the California coast, that number has gone from "zero" to "so many times I've lost count".

I never get tired of it, even though it's usually so cold at the ocean that I'm not completely relaxed as I'm watching. I'm usually huddled under blankets, or in a car, woefully underdressed for the plummeting temperatures.

Last night, though, we were blessed with "Indian summer" weather and a warm enough evening at the coast that we didn't even need to wear our jackets. I had nowhere to be, nothing to do, except to behold the sun folding in, the waves ever-present in their rolling motion against the smooth sandy beach, and the earth turning away from the sun's reach, notch by notch.

I managed to catch the very last 52 seconds of the sunset on video. Watching the playback, I saw a perfect soundtrack and image to accompany this affirmation (which I am practicing to replace one of my habitual thoughts, "There will never be enough."):

"I am complete, as I am, in this very moment."

Saying this out loud, or even reading it silently to yourself for the duration of the video, can be a powerful practice in shifting energy and attention. Notice the rhythm of the waves, and the silent power of the sun as it gradually disappears below the horizon.


At Peace with Confusion – Part 1 of 2

[singlepic id=257 w=320 h=240 float=center] I don't know about you, but I'm finding that I'm easily hooked by the idea that I need expert advice in order to do something "right", and that I need a formula to follow in order to be successful.

With all of my inner work over the past year and a half, you'd think I'd be over it. You'd think I'd have found Nirvana, bliss, equanimity, access to Buddha nature.

Yeah, I thought so too.

What I'm really finding is that life keeps challenging me to keep a sense of humor as I learn to trust myself. I veer off the path (or am I merely on a twisty part of it?) and find myself enrolled in another program, following dutifully along like the great student I've always been. But then I look at the pile of assignments I've given myself, and I wonder, "What test am I studying for? Whose grade am I trying to earn here?"

Lately, life has been challenging me to keep stepping back into observer mode, as I charge forward with every opportunity life serves me. I step into my own power, and then my mind leads me back into the weeds, as if to test my own abilities and force me to validate what I say that I believe in.

It's all part of building confidence, becoming clear, and feeling real in this new incarnation I've been given.

That's what I tell myself as I sort through what feels like confusion.

Today I read a Self-Care card that said, "Peace" on one side, and "Embrace your confusion" on the other. I smiled, because it seemed perfect for me on this day to read that message.

I am confused. There, I said it. And I haven't been able to admit that to myself for awhile. I can tell I'm confused because I'm looking outside myself for answers. I'm asking other people for their advice, opinions, inputs, and when I hear the answers I don't know what to do. I don't know what I want to do.

Correction: I do know what I want to do, but I have not freed myself to just do that one thing in front of me right now - the very thing I know will take me one step closer to where I want to go. I am caught in a feeling of needing to do Something Else, or More, than what I'm doing right in this moment.

Breathing, hiking in nature, and reading the affirmation, "My full attention is always enough" have helped. But my "full" attention is too often spread diffusely across a list of Something Else or More to do, rather than just this one task in front of me right now. I know I need to say to myself, "Never mind whether or not it will sell, never mind if it's "too late" to start marketing it, never mind if I don't know what to call it yet."

"Just do the one thing in front of me right now."

Just this.

Right now.

Using that mantra, I finished a whole blog post from beginning to end in less than one hour. Including finding a photo, uploading a related video, and composing all the written words.

How did I do it? I didn't worry about anything else that I could be, or should be, doing. I just wrote the damn blog post. I didn't worry about whether it would fit, who would like it or even read it, or more importantly, who would get pissed off about my being totally honest. I didn't worry about the Rules that say what you should write about, and whether keywords would match search engine optimization for my site.

I just wrote from my heart about what I'm experiencing right now in my life. Not what I think I "should" be experiencing, not trying to be a "role model" for anything, not putting pressure on myself to be "put together" and perfect. But being all of me, who right now is a little confused, a little challenged, a little faced with conflicting messages, a full schedule, a juggling act of balancing personal, professional, and just plain fun in my life.

That's what life is for me right now. And if I'm really calling myself a life coach, it's only fair for me to talk about what's really happening in my life. Right now.

For some strategies to help with the feeling of confusion, watch this video blog.

For how to strike a balance between confusion and action, see Part 2, to be published tomorrow...

5 Principles of Self-Care for Caring Professionals: Recording from Free Coaching Call for Physicians-In-Training

Last night I hosted a free coaching call for medical students, residents, and fellows. I focused on the topic of SELF-CARE. As trained caring professionals, often we think of self-care as "selfish" or something that we do after we've taken care of our other "duties", "responsibilities" and "obligations". In this call, I invite you to think of self-care in a different way. I invite you to consider that your knowledge and practice of self-care is essential in creating a healing relationship with your patients, and creating a healing environment in your clinic, operating room, or hospital.

I have a new mantra as I create my life and offerings to the world: "You've gotta live it to give it." Until we can connect with what is common to all human experience, we cannot be fully compassionate toward our patients and authentically promote the state of wellness and health we claim to be guiding them toward.

The 5 main principles of self-care I discuss on the call are as follows:

  1. Boundaries. Establish personal boundaries between you and the other people in your life. Define who you are and take responsibility only for your role in creating your reality. Byron Katie, author of Loving What Is, says there are three kinds of business - my business, your business, and God's business. Stay in your business. Establish boundaries for work and other aspects of your life. Recognize that your job is not your full identity, and that you are always ultimately a human being on this planet, no matter what your job happens to be.
  2. Move from reactive to creative mode. How? Start with the way you wake up each morning. What do you say to yourself as you open your eyes? What thoughts go through your mind before you get out of bed? Start noticing whether you are reacting from the minute you start your day, or taking time to create an intention and mindset that reinforces your sense of self before you begin to respond to others.
  3. Listen to your body, your intuition, and your felt experience. In a system where you have been selected and trained to trust the power of your mind over all else, and where you have been rewarded for your ability to memorize and recall and answer questions correctly, it is a shift in mindset to begin to listen to the totality of your being, not just your thoughts. How to tune into your body? See the next step.
  4. Find out what restores you. Only you can know the answer to this. No book, coach, friend, family member, or mentor can tell you. When I say "restore", I'm not talking about sleep, alcohol, television, or the internet. These are distractions, designed to get us out of our bodies and escape into illusion. Restorative activities engage your mind and body, AND provide you with a sense of freedom and joy. Maybe it's salsa dancing, or skeet shooting, or golf, or badminton, or singing karaoke. In order to find out what truly restores your body and spirit, it will require some exploration and therefore risk (or as I like to call it, "adventure"!). You might explore something and later abandon it when you find out it doesn't work for you. That means you're learning about yourself! Keep going. Listen to that faint yet definite inner voice that calls gently to you in the silence of being still, and says, "Wouldn't that be fun?" or "Doesn't that sound interesting?". Then see what happens.
  5. Give yourself permission to feel good, and to want what you want. Again, being in a system that has selected and trained you largely for your ability to suppress these feelings, this may seem ridiculous to you. But I'm here to remind you of your wholeness as a human being, and the essential need to acknowledge your humanity if you are truly to be of service to your patients. As you explore the activities that restore you, and begin to experience the feeling of joy generated internally from the connection of mind, body and spirit, you may actually start to feel good! It may feel criminal to you, like you're a child breaking the rules and deserving to be punished. This is your mind talking, not the truth of your felt experience. Allowing yourself to feel good may take some time, but I'm here to give you not only permission to do it, but also to remind you that if you don't know how to feel good yourself, you will not truly be able to make your patients feel better, no matter what technology or intervention you are offering them.

Enjoy this recording of the call, and start on the path of practicing SELF-CARE as a caring professional. The world needs you.