A quick note about the current state of affairs in our culture. It is necessary that abuses of power are being exposed from Washington D.C. to Hollywoood and hopefully eventually everywhere. However, this is also a time when a lot of people may be experiencing trauma triggers and a re-emergence of experiences that need attention and healing. If this is happening, please take time to bring loving attention to it and to keep a dual awareness. This means that while experiencing the traumatic memories and the painful sensations and emotions, also keep an awareness of the present moment and who you are today and how far you have come. We are not our traumas. We are infinitely more. Please seek help from your favorite healthcare providers and reach out to your community. If you do not have community support, begin to create it. Separation, secrets, lies, and denial keep the shadow parts of ourselves and our culture thriving. Exposure and loving awareness turn our traumas into true empowerment.
Some thoughts about the election results and what may be happening from a psycho-spiritual perspective. The culture wars continue. They've been around like this since what the 1960's? The divide of personal versus collective interests, ego versus interdependence, patriarchy versus the feminine. This appears to be the collective shadow rising up like a big boil on the face of America and the world. It is getting lanced right now and we are all swimming in the blood and puss. We all need to taste this poison and to understand each other more. The country has been taken over by a sociopathic narcissist, and all those thugs who are going to be coming into power seem to be willing to continue the traumas of people in the margins..how intentionally sadistic it is I'm not sure, but it shows most definitely an abhorrent lack of awareness and care. My life's work is to help heal the traumas of women and minorities affected by patriarchal power structures (actually everyone on the planet's been affected) and to hold space and light and healing for people instead of getting sucked into the drama of fear, hatred, and chaos.
We need to address our shadows both collectively and personally...looking at our personal shadows is deeply humbling and transformational. We keep peeling back layers of the onion of ourselves and other and then we realize that the other person is us, and what's left is overwhelming compassion and greater awakening to the nature of things. With righteous and well-placed anger and powerful and skilled voices, that's the direction I'm encouraging everyone to go. I think that if we don't do this kind of work as a species, we will die. I feel strongly that a lot of humanity is not currently aligned with natural laws, and Mama will flick us off her like a bug if more and more people don't begin to wake up to that. We need to hold all of our teachers and wisdom traditions very close. Those teachings are here for us, and as Clarissa Pinkola Estes so powerfully says..."Do not lose heart. We were made for times like these." We are all very powerful and we all need each other. http://www.grahameb.com/pinkola_estes.htm
The word mantra literally translates to mind projection. What mantra are you repeating over and over again today? The effects of a negative mind state restrict us, narrowing our world, trapping us in patterns of wounding. It's essence is something like "I'm bad, I'm not enough, the world isn't safe," etc. We are not often taught that we can can have mastery of our mental world. We can choose what thoughts we want to cultivate and recognize which ones are destructive to us. Thoughts that are aligned with love and abundance open us up and allow for compassion and understanding of others. Notice how it feels to say "I am loved, I am grateful, I am enough, etc." There is a physical, emotional, and energetic effect to this. We breathe better, our heart center opens, and the hardness begins to melt. These thought patterns ripple out from our being into our relationships and into the world. Let them be aligned with love instead of fear.
One of the most profound teachings that changed my life was simply that my thoughts are not always telling me the truth, and that they are not me, not all of me anyway. I am manifesting thoughts, yes, but they are like turbulent clouds covering the magnificent clear blue sky of my truer essence. Zen master Suzuki Roshi calls this truer essence Big Mind. If there is any striving at all in meditation, it would be to access more and more this state of Big Mind, noticing that it is there, luminous and whole, clear and vast. Thoughts come in, run their rampant stories across our mind, snagging us with multiple delusions and projections. They can seem very, very real, and in a way, they are when we take them seriously. Taking these stories seriously can often cause a lot of suffering. So try this. If you are suffering, observe your thoughts, the story you are telling yourself. Breath deeply, taking the perspective that maybe there is a way out of this feeling. As we are able to do this, the blue sky emerges, and we begin to feel bigger, less trapped by whatever is happening. The story, the strong emotion, whatever, comes in like clouds across the sky, but behind those clouds is Big Mind. Settle into it. Settle into silence. Settle into peace.
“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
To look at fear (and anything that really challenges us) closely can also be a way to look at our capacity for self-love. We are there, frozen and embedded in all our old stories. It seems like no matter where we turn we look again and again in the mirror that reflects back to us self-doubt, confusion, frustration, disappointment, and on and on and on. How is it then that we are able to see these dragons as an opportunity for beauty and courage, to embrace our truth and our self-love? It is very challenging indeed. On one hand this can seem very simple. In mindfulness meditation practice, one has to just sit with it, with no expectations, in gentle observation of our experience. Sit with the discomfort, settle into the breath, watch our thoughts without buying into them. This is a very powerful practice that takes a lifetime to cultivate. I think that often when people don't get instant relief from this, they get discouraged, and allow themselves to get taken by whatever is gripping them over and over and over again.
My experience with this has been to keep coming back, to keep coming back to myself. Whatever the discouragement, whatever the challenge, keep coming back. There is a wisdom, a foundation of truth and Self, that is the clarity beneath all the static. It is there in the silence and the stillness. It is there as a sensation in our viscera (our organs, or our gut). And when we can sit with this seat of our power, we can once again be aligned with our truth. Find moments, no matter how fleeting, where this power comes alive in you. In the beginning they can seem so elusive it makes one wonder if you ever felt it at all. You did. They are there. Get to know those moments, cultivate them like you would a garden, nurture them like you would a small child. They are there, within all of us, this birth-right of expansiveness and freedom, absent of all the cultural conditioning and the narratives that keep us trapped. Breathe deeply and know that you are coming home to yourself, and you are worthy.
We all experience times when life brings us enormous challenges, times when we feel we can only exist breath to breath, moment to moment. This excerpt from Shiva Rea's Tending the Heart Fire can help us re-center in our personal power and in the rhythms of life.
"Take a gradual step, breath by breath, moment by moment, toward the next cycle. The sun also rises.
Claim a sacred space right where you are. Go to the refuge of your heart and let go of all mental projections of past, present, and future.
When dissonant rhythms arrive, listen to your heart and slowly navigate your way through the jungle without fear or anxiety.
When you encounter difficult people, remember the tree, a saint, or Tibetan monks or nuns in prison, and radiate with an energy field like the sun that can never be dimmed or extinguished.
When life gives you manure, roll up your sleeves and make fertilizer for something even more powerful to grow.
When life's rhythm is stressful and accelerated in time, slow down inside and dance with the swift rhythm while staying peaceful inside.
When you feel the contracted way that fear moves, or the sharp way that agitation moves, or the scattered way that anxiety moves, or the tight way that control moves, move the way love moves.
When all else has failed, when there is nothing more to do, when you have exhausted every branch, when you feel tired like you want to give up, when the world is overwhelming, go into a prostration or a whole-body mudra. Then listen and receive fully at the heart of prayer.
Dance with your shadow as a tender human; clean your wounds with compassion; embrace the hardest, most neglected places within yourself with a lava flow of love that dwarfs the tiny ash of the smallest self.
The "real world" is just a covering on top of the mystery. As you gaze at a sunrise or sunset, experience a connection in deep time that will dissolve every deadline, every obstacle into the dust of a billion years, a billion starts, a billion forms of light."
Practices For Difficult Times--from Shiva Rea's "Tending the Heart Fire"
Some trees have a story to tell
They know things
like what to do with silence.
They don't squirm with unease
they root deeply, holding us all onto the earth.
I hear voices as I walk through the forest
whispers and sighs and wanderers wondering why
the things we love leave on the breeze to tomorrow.
The forest inhales my dreams and visions
making matter of my meandering thoughts.
Without trees, would I even exist?
Some trees have a story to tell
words carried on the wings of birds
to the blood river of my heart
pounding, pounding, pounding out truth.
Slow down. Listen. Settle into silence.
Start Right Here, Right Now
Mindfulness can be described as knowing what you're doing while you're doing it. It teaches us that every moment is a fresh opportunity to know ourselves. When we have awareness of why and how we do things, we become more empowered, and when we become more empowered, great things begin to happen.
Thich Nhat Hanh says, "our notions about happiness entrap us. We forget that they are just ideas...We fail to see the opportunity for joy that is right in front of us when we are caught in a belief that happiness should take a particular form."
What I take from this is that everything we need, we already have, but habits of thought and our addictions (which come in so many forms) are keeping us from the wisdom and gift of our true potential.
Food: Friend or Foe?
Many people have a complicated relationship with food. It is required to nourish our bodies and to maintain good physical and mental health. So often, though, food is used as a diversion from our feelings, as an escape from being with ourselves in this moment, right now. It is such a human habit to look outside of ourselves for things to make us happy. And there is often harsh self-judgement when we don't live up to impossible and constricting expectations.
Our personal relationship with food can tell us a lot about ourselves. Does food bring our body, mind, and spirit into harmony? Or does it make us fearful and anxious, allowing us to be consumed in self-doubt. Some use food as a weapon against themselves...withholding it can be a means to be deprived of nourishment and, in essence, deprived of the great gift that is life. Some compulsively eat, pleading with the universe for something to fill the void. No amount of food fills the void. Food does not have to be a source of pain, or a means to punish oneself. Food can be used to heal and to celebrate the human spirit, to celebrate life and all its gifts.
Celebrating Food, Celebrating Life
Food is not only nourishment for our bodies, it is one very important way we build community and share with others. Food celebrates the inter-dependence of us all and our connection to nature. From the farmer that plants a seed of grain in the spring and harvests it in late summer, to the loaf of bread we share as a family, food shows that we are all part of one system. Some of our strongest and fondest memories are of the smell of food cooking and the food eaten during feasts and celebrations. Food is often associated with warmth, of feeling safe and protected. Most of us can remember holiday dinners, the comforting experience of walking into a house filled with the aroma of dinner deliciously in progress. These can be assurances of love, of family, and of home.
In every culture across the globe, food is one of the essential ways a community expresses its creativity, its ecosystem, its people and its identity. People use food not only to nourish themselves and their families, but also as a way to connect to the earth and to that which they view as divine. Every culture has its own way of celebrating the joy of being alive. Each changing season brings a bounty of food and festivals that celebrate the human spirit and the gifts that life has to offer us.
Sadly, many of us have lost the connection to this purpose of food and community and instead feel isolated and alone. Often we are alone with a self that we are afraid of knowing, and we crave comfort and something to fill the void. The relationship with food becomes an obsession filled with anxiety and fear. The very thing that we depend on to comfort us causes us overwhelming stress. What would we have if this "food static" didn't occupy our minds? Would we be able to discover who are and accept ourselves with compassion?
"Right now, today, could you make an unconditional relationship with yourself? Just at the height you are, the weight you are, the amount of intelligence you have, the burden of pain that you have?" —Pema Chodron
Loving-kindness is the act of having compassion for all beings. This includes oneself. The process of gentle change begins with acceptance and extending loving-kindness, not only to ourselves, but to those around us, to everything we see. It is a softening, and as we soften we will find the veil of self-criticism to slowly lift and make way for the emergence of our radiant selves.
To quote Pema Chodron again, "When we've seen ourselves completely, there's a stillness of body that is like a mountain...a thoroughly good relationship with ourselves results in being still, which doesn't mean we don't jump and dance about. It means we don't overwork, overeat, oversmoke, overseduce. In short, we begin to stop causing harm."
Nourishing and caring for our bodies is an important way to extend loving-kindness to ourselves. Our bodies are our vehicle for action and consciousness.
The Importance of Breath
Breathe in.....breathe out.....This simple process is something we do continuously often without even being aware of it. Our breath is our anchor to the present, it connects us to our bodies moment to moment. Simply being aware of our breathing is one effective way of centering ourselves when we are consumed with craving, compulsion, and negative thoughts. Mindful breathing takes us back to our bodies and our power, allowing us to remember that we are something else more powerful than these distractions and destructive habits of thinking.
When feeling out of control, stop and breathe.
Breathe in through you nose, letting air not only fill your chest, but also your belly. Place one hand on your tummy, feeling it rise gently as you inhale. Breathe out through your mouth, making your exhale a letting go, the more you exhale the more you let go of thoughts, of tension, of emotions.
Putting more emphasis on the exhale, the letting go, is more relaxing to our nervous system. More emphasis on the inhale makes us more stimulated. This can also be useful (if we are sluggish or tired), but for calming anxiety the exhale is longer and with more energy, even adding a sigh if that feels comfortable for you.
Taking this time to be with oneself can be very insightful as we are curious about our thoughts, discover where we are holding tension, and notice how our breath is a mirror for the activity of the mind. When our thoughts settle down and aren't so frenzied, our breath becomes a smooth and steady stream calming our whole being.
Tools for Mindful Eating
Eating mindfully requires us to slow down, feel our breath, notice our thoughts, even to experience the meal in silence. Eating at a slower pace allows us to focus our intention on each bite of food as we chew it, to relish the textures, flavors, and aromas of the experience. Finish chewing and swallowing each bite before picking up the next one. Notice how the food travels down your esophagus to your stomach and then imagine it moving through the intestines, nourishing every cell in your body. As you notice these things, what sensations arise? What feelings are present? Do you feel pleasure, guilt, contentment, craving? Are you mindful of your breath as you eat? There are so many things in one moment to pay attention to. Is there tension in your stomach or is it relaxed and accepting of the food you are giving it? If you feel anxiety, stop and breathe, focus on softening the belly. After you are done with your plate, do you feel satisfied? Are you hungry for something that food can't soothe? Recognize this and accept it as part of yourself and your experience. Connecting with it does not mean acting on it. Notice, be curious.
Another aspect of mindful eating is to be aware of what and how much food our bodies need. Often people need help with this because of so much misinformation that has been fed to us through advertising, the diet industry, and often our families. We fall into eating habits that are often harmful when we are misinformed and don't know what we need. Some people have foods they cannot eat without binging; these foods are frightening and cause much anxiety. Often we don't have time to eat mindfully or even eat healthy foods because of our busy lifestyles. This is a symptom of our self-neglect. How we nourish ourselves physically usually coincides with how we nourish ourselves mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
A food journal may be helpful in gaining a better and more realistic understanding of how much food is being eaten and when. It also allows us to focus on what types of foods we eat and thoughts and feelings that arise while eating. We will begin to notice if we are eating out of stress or fear or loneliness and that our bodies are giving us a lot of cues if we were to pay attention. Proper nutrition can be a crucial way to stabilize mood swings and to provide better mental clarity. Another essential way to
make our bodies feel more alive and connected to us is through exercise. Simply taking a couple deep breaths and a few stretches that feel good to us can make a big impact when we are feeling tense and bound with anxiety. Walking, or any aerobic exercise, is also a wonderful way to get oxygen and new energy moving throughout our bodies.
To care for ourselves, we must care for our whole being. Being mindful of our habits can put us on a path to health, a path to freedom, a path of power.
I tend to take the same walk. We are creatures of habit after all. However, this time I noticed a new trail and decided what the heck, isn't this a time to start doing things a little differently? As I took this new route through the woods, I noticed the same ferns, gnarled tree trunks, and scurrying critters. What was different was the air and the angle of the light. As I walked I thought about the charged atmosphere of change and the friction that is present. If there was no "rub," then what would motivate us to do something differently? With my new walk, the friction was brought about by boredom and curiosity, but often change is brought forth from great pain. We humans are caught in this dilemma of striving for something different and contentment for what is, only to strive toward contentment again. It seems we are never at peace. This conflict can be viewed pathologically through our addictions, all those ways we trick ourselves into avoiding our true nature. On a more inspiring note, though, this conflict can also be viewed as grist for the mill of growth and awakening. Wherever we fall between these poles of addiction and awakening, we are all on our own journey, and this new year a new chapter in the saga.