All posts by playdoh

Advice for difficult times….

I actually don’t have any. Every difficult time is unique. It’s got its own set of subtleties, nuances and intricate systems that no one can really predict, probably least of all the person in the difficulty. Tai Chi is like that: there is no rulebook. You simply need to be in the moment and respond naturally. That mindset has helped me enormously this week, that and my therapist’s advice.

I started seeing a therapist at the beginning of the year because I was advocating therapy for people I love and I was following the Ghandi “don’t eat sugar” story. [short version: lady comes to Ghandi and asks “please tell my son to stop eating sugar!” Ghandi replies, “come back in 2 weeks” so 2 weeks later she makes the trek again, he tells the kid to stop eating sugar and the mom says “why didn’t you tell him 2 weeks ago” and Ghandi says “because 2 weeks ago I was still eating sugar”). Anyway, little did I know when I made the appointment the depth of need I would have for this resource before all was said and done.

And this is key: it is never “all said and done.”

We humans keep looking to tidy things up, forgetting perhaps that life is this ever-flowing, ever-dynamic profusion of change. It’s like Mr. Incredible… “can’t the world stay saved for 5 minutes?!” Not that I’m saving anything, but I do fall into the trap of wanting to get to “happily ever after” as if everything stayed put in that dynamic. It’s a strange proclivity of us humans, especially given the fact that all of nature is demonstrating that that is not the way things truly are.

I am not particularly used to emotional upheaval. I certainly was as a child, and I developed a lot of strategies that were very helpful at the time, but which I outgrew without taking off. This last decade has been a slow roll of identifying and releasing those patterns and I am super grateful, but, geezohmy can we please be done sometime soon?

What has been most helpful this week – well 3 things – the first is prayer. Normally I enjoy a nice mantra with my issues, but this one was so deep and heavy, all I could get to was “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.” Very helpful. If my mind is reaching for God in any way, I can feel better just for that fact.  Helpful thing #2 was my therapist’s homework: “Today’s homework is TODAY” not the past, not the future. Focus on today until we shore up the resources to address the past or future with a clearer head. Maybe the best advice I’ve ever gotten. Helpful thing #3 is the idea that evolution only occurs in one direction. Any attention to any direction other than love and moving forward  is attention ill-spent. And since my only objective is evolving, any of those other thought-stream traps I used to chew on is participation in a drama. The drama is compelling. The drama seems valid. The drama is not what I want. Thus, my 3 things are saving me.

I absolutely Must Stop making Grand Pronouncements

You’d think I’d’ve learned this by now. I seem addicted to Grand Pronouncements (“I will never <insert bad habit> here” “We should do <insert good habit here> every week” “I no longer <insert annoying trait” etc). I seem to love doing it, given how often I do it. I’ve been wanting to stop for some time now, but actually haven’t put much effort towards it beyond catchy post titles (and further proclamations).

The right person could easily come into my house and make my kitchen towels bright white. And probably other dull things like t-shirts that used to be bright white. I literally have no idea how to do it, and the few time’s I’ve used bleach I’ve just ruined and spotted things. It’s not my forte.

I’ve spent a long time trying to determine what my forte is, but mostly what I have come up with are all of the shortcomings. So I’m pretty clear on the long list of what my forte is NOT. I think it’s time for that to evolve a bit and get into discovery. Mostly because I am pretty clear on my overall next steps – to develop more kindness and compassion as I practice, practice, practice slowing down and connecting to Presence. I’m not sure exactly what that is going to look like, and this blog is actually my first baby step. But the rest of it: the big picture: is elusive. And I am sick to death of making “this is it!” pronouncements. I’ve got a long list of failed entrepreneurial ventures (and a few little successes to treasure) and now I just want to be curious.

My brain is not in charge anymore, or at least not with the complete dictatorial madness it’s had over the years. My body is totally in on the game through all of these practices (FINALLY. Seriously, I had no idea) and my body is not into grand pronouncements at all. It’s into feeling out the present moment and responding in kind. Such a better plan than the control freak who was at the wheel for So. Freaking. Long.

I honestly have very little clue what the next period of time looks like. Things are shifting for our family on so many levels, mostly based on choice but also based on circumstance. I don’t want to take a step and proclaim the mission, because the next step shouldn’t be encumbered by that limited idea of step one. This needs to be a dynamic, unnamed process. I think it’s my only chance at true being-ness. And being, growing, evolving is a path that doesn’t try to predict or control the future, but revels in the NOW, no matter what that looks like (which is hard).

maybe the scariest day I’ve had

Today, while reading about repression I had a moment. Or perhaps the moment had me. All of the sudden, my body started to shake. Well, actually, it took me about 10 attempts to read this one paragraph, and a full half an hour to get through the page, and then the stuff started in my body and then i experienced the emergence of a lie I told, something i had rationalized and minimized and thought I’d addressed sufficiently to be “over.” Yeah. Not so much in my body. My body let me know today that it was NOT OK.

My body has been letting me know for years that I have things to address to be the person I want to be. Part of me has felt for some time that the journey of illness – well, that the body is on my side and that anywhere this journey takes me is someplace I need to go. And I have been brave. and relentless. You will have a hard time finding a rock I have been unwilling to turn over. Until today. Then about 20 little rocks poured down – little bits of shame and frustration, absolute aghastness at what an asshole I can be and have been and  seem to not be able to shake being.

I had an experience several months ago with trauma in my elbows. It had been a physical experience that was traumatic, but quick, and so I sortof mentally blocked it out as over without fully processing it. I was surprised – because it was so long ago. and over. I barely even remembered it. I didn’t recognize the trauma much less its lack of resolution. My range of motion in my arms opened up significantly and a certain level of pain stopped. I have been dumpster-diving every single stinking thing in my past, and the stuff that has tripped me up, and comes to be  “healing events” are SO unexpected. This? This is what it got me stuck? Seriously? OK. I guess so.

My whole body has been shaky all day. There’s something here. And oddly enough it is requiring me to rethink everything i think i know about myself, re-look at stories I had spun to make more acceptable. I’m practically a professional at re-spinning stories.

Luckily, I’m also practically a professional at surrendering to Life Itself. Because without the deep and consistent practice I have been cultivating these many years, I have too many reasons to hate myself today, too many stupid things I’ve done, too many bull-in-a-china-shop moments, too many acts of total unconscious foolishness and fear. All those things. And for every redeeming quality I might have, I can match it with so many moments of Just. Plain. Wrong.  All I can do is surrender. Surrender and stand in amazement at the quality of friends in my life, the utter amazingness of my husband, the patience of my family.  I have not made this life easy on those around me. I have difficult ways of being. And because Tucker is so patient with me, I guess I got to thinking I wasn’t so difficult.

And so, tonight, as I lay me down, I have no choice but to surrender. I know that wallowing in my thoughts is literally the most foolish thing I can do. I know believing our thoughts is the source of our suffering. And my dear teacher Byron Katie’s Work will have me know that the opposite of whatever I am thinking is at least as true. We are, all of us, equal. We are, all of us, imperfect. We are, all of us, doing more than we understand with our limited minds. Life is so much bigger than we know. All I can hope to do is evolve. To love better, bigger, more fully – ever greater expressions of love, freedom and relationship. To Love itself. Expressing and evolving. As and through us. Even when, sometimes, we are idiots.

 

i don’t believe my thoughts, therefore I am…

What I am noticing today is that the less I believe in my thoughts, the grander they become to try to get my attention. and maybe i start to believe it a little bit before, phew! oh, yeah! just a thought! phew. And then another. and then another. but, again, how far down the rabbit hole I go before “choosing” as the Ascension people would say, or turning to God. Turning to God, again and again. If there is anything I want to get mastery in – i want turning to God to always be my experience, opening to Life itself, knowing it as the all-loving creator’s embrace. Tai Chi is next, but somehow I think tai chi would just be a natural part of being fully present in God-consciousness.

People like Byron Katie are really a boon. To systematically choose bliss, snip, snip, anything else. it all leads back to bliss and we can talk about it all day but witnessing it brings it more alive. Trusting the universe so completely because IT IS WHAT IS and it’s doing a splendid job of unfolding, as evidenced by its unfolding, regardless of any commentary you could bring about why it should be another way. Loving What Is. Radical.

Gene talks about Tai Chi wanting to be known. That even people very new to it can have some advanced tai chi moments in moments of need. I also think stillness wants to be known. that’s why i think every breath counts. If you take even one deep, intentional breath each day – with the objective of noticing your body breathe in and noticing it breathe out, and not being in the ‘thought stream’ for just that noticing. I think i need to get better descriptors of that, or more, but anyhow, i believe just that one breath will act as a supermagnet. it will find ways to make you want to add to it. at least for me.

a lot of people don’t want to slow down, and a lot of people can’t. but everyone, i think, wants to know how to truly relax. and that might just be a really important framing for this work. getting into the car/brakes metaphor, you need this skill – and people don’t have it and consequently extra stress, people with insomnia… deep rest, full-body relaxation, that’s a really essential capacity of this human form. and it’s a capacity I spent a lot of years paving over, and really stopped my capacity for. and as i am developing capacity the busy world keeps dancing in front of me, trying to get me to think this worry is something that needs my attention! It might be life-changing! All. The. Time.

Which is why I need so many cues. It’s why I’m always developing new ones. My habituated tendency defaults to action, to accomplishing. As soon as I feel better I should be accomplishing more. Still. After a decade.  But a decade wherein I built a structure that makes it less and less “the sky is falling” and more and more “this should be interesting…”

believing our thoughts

A really bright writer and Buddhist named Natalie wrote about finally coming to study under a revered Buddhist saint. Just a few weeks into her study with him, during his dharma talk after a meditation session he said, “you know, as I was meditating, I got to thinking that I’m going to quit teaching. I mean, sitting is good, but i think i can serve life better in another way…” and Natalie (oh, man, I need to look her name up. i really enjoyed her books but it has been a LONG time) begins thinking, “What? I just got here! You can’t quit!” and various other things that are running through her head. And after some time exploring all of the reasons to stop teaching the holy man says, “and then I realized: just another thought.”

PHEW!

Thoughts. People think they’re active, but they’re passive.

Presence. People think it’s passive, but it’s active.

We humans are fascinating creatures. I mean, we have some magnificent programming and some really, really confusing programming, and we’re pretty predictable, except when we aren’t, and wow, thoughts and beliefs really are powerful and can take us on powerful rides. And to what end? Drama? maybe. excitement? certainly. experience? in some form or another…

Wanting to evolve, and knowing evolution is the most natural thing in the world, and just trying to stay pointed toward the sun, toward love, freedom, relationship… all of these things become curiosities. I love the times when I can feel the distance between me and the thought and i am curious and not defensive. I can investigate it. And knowing I am human and flawed and evolving, I can hold it so as to let it go. Better still, the times the thought isn’t even interesting. isn’t even a factor. moments of being. those are threshold moments, I think. And I think the best way to get them is by practice. making myself available to them. building the container. knowing it will fill. being selective about what it fills with.

It really is a journey that never ends. and we can’t help but be what we are. and we are always becoming something new. Life is amazing, and it is showing itself in so many trillions of examples every minute of every day. It’s paradoxical to me the fullness that i believe i am just a drop in a wave, and the fullness that I believe that together we are the ocean. And a lot of smart people talk about we are both the drop and the ocean, the particle and the wave. and that we are one- yet each individual the one fully powerful and fully expressing. that is above my current pay grade, but i am studying up and hoping for a promotion. Or is this where the “understanding” will no longer apply and only experience can crystalize it?

So the wonderful thing about feeling awful is that you can notice it. And noticing is the first step before understanding you can make a different choice. And there are just so many tools, but the easiest is: stop believing your thoughts. It’s the thoughts taking us on all of these crazy mind trips. And some of them are true and some of them are not and some are partially true, but all of those things are just thoughts, too, and at our essence we are just organisms sitting, standing or lying down, present to the world unfolding around and within us, breathing in and out.

The downside of slowing down is I really am coming more and more face to face with the parts of myself I really haven’t wanted to face. But this is 10 years in, and as I have slowed down, I’ve developed both capacity and a toolset for when I am out of my depths.  But, make no mistake, “out of my depths” is not unusual. It is conversely related to the dedication and length of my meditative practices. So, while it is uncomfortable it is also very exciting.

“Awareness is the healing agent.” Good Lord, I hope so because I really have no idea how to undo my lesser qualities or attributes. And I’m squaring with the fact that we all contain the fullness of the yin/yang (or am I circling around that fact?) I have habits and attributes for which I am grateful, but I have plenty which make me cringe. And being dedicated to evolving, to slowing down, being present to what is, and being faced in the direction of evolving towards ever more love, freedom and relationship – this is my best bet at transforming those cringe-worthy attributes, and certainly my best way to experience or share my life.

Yesterday at the monastery, there was some debate over the validity of the TM studies correlating a certain amount of meditators in a city with a drop in crime rate. While the talk went on I realized, “the more I meditate, the lower my crime rate” crimes against myself, my loved ones and the world at large. It sortof makes it both a privilege and sortof an obligation – in the best possible way – to be wholehearted in showing up in the world, doing what works and lifting even the cringeworthy stuff to it’s rightful place in the wholeness that we each are.

Craziest thing? I

signals and signs

I’ve spent the last decade teaching myself to use events of my life as cues to move into deeper breathing, mantra, relaxation or some other life-positive pivot. Sometimes it is physical pain. Sometimes it is emotional. Sometimes it is old and sometimes feels new. By embracing the discomfort of the moment, the confusion or the pain, and letting it be and recognizing I am part of life and life has cycles — it typically takes me off the mental bus of 1,000 scary stories and puts me in a more receptive mood that maybe doesn’t take everything to mean everything.

I am so grateful for the training.

Those thoughts are just as distracting as they were before I ever started these practices, but the tools (perhaps because i have so many of them) derail them. And they come back and another tool, and as I said yesterday, how quickly I can apply the tool – how much suffering I let myself endure first – and this cycle has new potentialities. The channel of underlying stress in my mind and my body is not the thoroughfare it used to be, and if I am going to be well, i need to be diligent.

Sometimes, during a flow period, I wonder why I am ever sad, life is so tenderly unfolding before us. Then I get into one of these ebb periods, and perhaps the ebb period is defined as not feeling that way, but the habit of my psyche is to worry, to project and to blame and defend. And much like the yin yang symbol, there’s still some ebb in the flow period (I somes still behave defensively when I am feeling great) and the flow in the ebb period is the practice – is the connection to the fact that I am simply, and quite out of my control, an expression of some larger creative force that is alive within me as evidenced by my being alive. All this other stuff is self-generated. and that’s fine. but it’s not real. it’s like my kids playing videogames. They get all worked up about something completely imaginary.

The feminine power class has had me going back to whatever disenfranchised portion of my psyche initially registered the wound, and i’ve had a lot of interesting and soothing experiences employing that practice when the cue of mental discomfort pops up, but I don’t have the energy for that today. Today, I just want to be with it and overlay it with mantra. I’ve got a nifty ring-based counter and i’m going to try to get to 1,000 mantra repetitions today. That’s a lot. but as i said, it’s been a decade of practice (and I secretly hope I go to 1500. wish me luck.)

one thing i do know: after 1,000 mantras, the situation is going to look a little different.

how quickly can i go there?

I’m having a moment of fear and self-loathing. I’ve been an idiot on a bunch of things, Tucker’s had a few days off, I feel the old familiar patterns of stress beckoning. Thank God for this practice. Thank God for this idea of turning always to God. Thank God for this idea of evolving, what we are doing/all we can do, ever more towards love, freedom and relationship.

Because I’ve gone down all those roads, believing the thoughts in my mind and letting them take me for a ride that is both uncomfortable and unproductive. Now, I’m not afraid of discomfort. Indeed, I’ve come to see it as an invitation. But there are karmic ways of thinking and there are kriya possibilities and breaking the cycle is the mark of the kriya choice. Coming out of the fascination with the story. Knowing it’s the voice that cried wolf and you don’t need to keep falling for it. David Hawkins wrote in letting go about thoughts being the fisherman’s hook. You’re this little fish and if that hook gets your attention and you bite, well, you’re going for a ride and you might not like the end.  If you can simply not take the bait, the river is going to have all sorts of adventures around you, with you and for you. I’ts a nice image.

My big marker of wellness is how quickly I can turn to God when the tempting thoughts come. There are any number of ways I invoke the energy that created all this, whether through breath, prayer, insight, mantra, intention, practice, and for a minute or for a second or for an hour. But a choice, in a moment of sadness or confusion, how quickly the choice? And that’s what is most interesting to me, this process.

I do prefer feeling pleasant to this sortof tortured feeling that keeps coming up, but this has so much more possibililty. feeling bad is an opportunity to be with feeling bad and still love me. my patience with the feeling allows it to come and take what it needs, get my attention and hopefully teach me something. I am unfurling a lifetime of unnecessary stressors and my life, as it is -on good days and on more difficult – is my best teacher. And I know that if I follow the mental ‘you’re not good enough’ channel, i know exactly what i’ll receive there. but when i take that same prompt and use it to turn to a mantra, or relax within it, things start opening up. something new is going to happen, even if only subtly new. That’s the path I am on, and want to be on. that karmic wheel is just not appealing, and i’m delighted that i now can identify some choice-points that bring me one step closer to changing the cycle.

maybe there’s hope

All those painful things that humble me really are a good thing. It’s possible I’d be insufferable without them. Sometimes I really am a jerk. i don’t want to be, but sometimes there it is. Apologize. Integrate the lesson. Hope that if it comes up again, bringing more presence to it. Being better, naturally, because evolving is towards greater love. So, if the explicit and implicit and any -plicit there could possibly be, if the goal is love, the only goal is evolving ever opening to love, freedom and relationship.

Again, the reason for this writing. to keep this, thinking about this, having a practice of regularly touching in with *evolving is my only goal, and literally the most natural thing in the world because everything alive is doing it, so remember the goal and sit tight, you’re in good hands. the universe’s hands. life itself’s hands. and life itself knows what it is doing. and when it fails, ok, that’s interesting, but life itself goes on expressing fully everywhere in the universe. How cool is that.

If only it were that simple.

But it really freaking is, if we can stay present to simplicity. And quit defining outcomes. Man, that’s tough. Setting parameters on what has to happen is a one-in-a-billion recipe for happiness. I mean, that *might* happen, but really, do we need to be OK

I find, without exception, that when i do not ask the question i want to ask, i regret it. Today I made a fool of myself because i was going to ask a question and didn’t and proceeded to prove my ignorance. I hope I am learning from this stuff. There really are whole swaths of human experience where I am clueless. and perhaps offensive. totally without meaning to be. but, still. It’s disappointing.

and yet the yin and the yang are alive in all of us. things we love and do and are, and things we are less fond of. Even as basic as thinking bodily functions are gross. less than ideal experiences exist as soon as ideal experiences exist. Can I get my mind to understand that and literally stop judging “that’s great” and “that’s special” because it always gets countered by “that’s wrong” and “that’s lacking”. Everything is whole. live THAT.

I also have the rationalization that sometimes I am just a tool of the universe. sometimes things just go so. freaking. wrong. there was no way I am solely responsible. like the worst table i ever had as a waitress. wrong food, cooked wrong, long wait, corked wine, just everything bad. and then, literally, when they forced me to bring him a check (that man never should have paid) the pen broke and leaked ink all over his suit. Just. that. bad. I was the deliverer of strange tidings. It felt awful. And, of course, not nearly as awful as it was for him – and i wonder if he remembers. i mean, i do. it stuck with me, did it stick with him? I bet not. I bet he let it go. I think I obviously should, too. (Like the monk… i put her down miles ago…)

Maybe…

Life is weird. Full of dichotomy. Full of change.

How to cope?

Well, flexibility is key, methinks. Flexibility and… (wait for it)… focus on the present moment.  I know from experience and from practically all the “good books” that receiving the present moment with an open heart is the path to freedom, and yet…

Me. Unloading the dishwasher. Trying to figure out how to be more Zen/compassionate/less “me” in a tender situation in my birth family. Trying out all kinds of different approaches, possible conversations, strategies of containment.

Until I realize that the imaginary conversation in my head *is* the problem. That conversation is fully and completely past and future exclusive. It’s the churn. I am prolonging the difficulty AND my experience of it because of this tendency.

Unloading the dishwasher with my full attention is a better idea. Noticing the shine (or, in the case of my dishwasher, often lack thereof) of the glasses, plates and silverware. Appreciating the time this device saved me, imperfect though it is. Recognizing the imperfection without feeling affronted by it.

This is a far better use of my time, my energy, my focus and my consciousness.

And yet I catch myself in these loops dozens of times per day. Worse yet, I try to validate my  imaginary conversations. I can say with some certainty that there is a time and place for contemplation and ‘processing of emotions’ but it is not in the mental chatter stream that seems hell-bent on fixing things, assigning culpability and developing strategies. When I take my struggles into a preliminary meditation, or onto the page of a journal, or into a conversation with a trusted friend, progress ensues. This solo mind-trip is just causing trouble.

Today, that struggle comes from realizing how wrong I am about something, but most days it’s about how right I am. Funny thing is, both feelings suck. And so now the objective becomes working to undo this habit of classifying.

One of my favorite stories is that of a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away.

“Oh!  So unlucky!” his friends and neighbors cried.

“Maybe,” replied the farmer.

A few days later, the horse came back, trailing a few wild mares behind it.

“Wow! So lucky!” his friends and neighbors believed this time.

“Maybe,” was the farmer’s response.

While attempting to train the horse, his son broke his leg. “So unlucky!” chorused the peanut gallery. “Maybe,” replies the farmer.

Next day, army conscription shows up to gather the able-bodied young men for an upcoming battle. The farmer’s son’s injury disqualified him. “So lucky!” from the friends and neighbors. “Maybe” from the farmer.

While I am grateful there are a few exceptions in my life, there are huge, broad swaths of my life where I am that “every moment jumping to conclusions” peanut gallery.

I’m going to become the farmer.