Monthly Archives: October 2017

Hurry Up and Slow Down

My natural inclination is to do everything as quickly as I can. Go through courses quickly, make it through the grocery store quickly, get this meeting over with as efficiently as possible. So, of course recognizing my need to slow down, I wanted to become a master at it as quickly as possible.

What’s funny is I didn’t even recognize the irony in that.

I read everything I could get my hands on (which was a good thing) and undertook as many practices as I could learn (also a good thing). The less constructive piece was the pressure I was putting on myself to get to the finish line.

I mistakenly thought the finish line was “slowness master” or “high level tai chi practitioner” or “healthy, perhaps enlightened, being” or some other accomplishment. All my ego traps were set.

The finish line is shedding this mortal coil. That’s the finish line. When you can internalize that, slowing down becomes much easier.

As long as “Accomplishment X” is the finish line, there’s pressure. There’s the desire to accomplish.

I experienced a massive change in pace, in attitude and in approach when I exchanged my desire to accomplish into a desire to be. A desire to be an expression of some trait or method in action. I found that this slight perspective shift enables me to integrate what I am learning in a really juicy way because I spend less time discounting what i’ve done because it’s not “there yet” and more time noticing how something is taking root in my life. Paying attention to how something is taking root really helps it take root more efficiently. Tossing off any impact as “not quite good enough because it’s not complete yet” makes for sloppy integration. And way less fun.

As with everything, this is still a practice. My Tai Chi teacher makes it so interesting I have a full-being desire to really embody and know this stuff, and, ladies and gentlemen, I still pretty much suck at it. But I like it so much! And so while i from time to time get a bit disappointed in my skill level, I try to use that disappointment as a trigger to practice. To be exactly where I am, and in being so actively, naturally progress just a little.

And so it has been with meditation. Oh my goodness, meditation. Talk about a trap! I spent years on the cushion trying to re-create the best meditations I’d had. Trying to reach some exalted state. Trying to transcend myself.

What a difficult way to spend time!

Two things I learned about meditation from my friend Eric Klein for which I am forever grateful:

  1. Any meditation is a good meditation. Any time on the cushion is well spent.
  2. The practice of meditation is building the muscle of: when your thoughts drift off as they inevitably will, you bring your mind back to the object of meditation.

That mentality, of just bringing your mind back to the object of meditation, be it mantra or the breath or a candle… trains you to be able to bring your mind to center when something in real life freaks you out. That you don’t just keep following the freak out off the cliff. That you feel the freak out event and say, OK, I’m going to deal with this from the calm center of my being to the best of my ability. That is some useful kung fu.

Another friend and brilliant woman reminded me of a wonderful approach to meditation in this way: Meditation is a time to visit with the universe. You can sit there asking for things and being mad you’re not seeing them, making you miserable and probably turning the universe off a bit. Or, you can sit in awe and wonder, asking for nothing but noticing everything, like you would watch in wonder your favorite painter at work…

These concepts, and so many more, transformed my meditation practices, which prior to that had been “hurry up and become less stressful” kind of stress-inducing, accomplishment-seeking frustration. As I’ve been able to integrate these newer ideas, and be comfortable just “being” – and knowing that “being” is always changing by the very nature of the universe, things have been ever so much more wonderful…

 

Remembering

I’ve trained myself to take some of the formerly most difficult times (times of upset, a red light when I’m running late, etc) and turn them into prompts to remember to employ a practice (mantra in the first example, deep breathing in the second). Over several years it’s come to the point that when an incident happens my brain almost immediately looks to the solution (mental dialogue: “Hey! I’m upset! I have a tool for this! What’s my tool?”) and can find it. I’m really grateful for this development, and because it *always makes me feel better* even when the incident persists. I don’t resist it, I welcome it.

Not so cut and dried for the regular daily practices I need to do to keep my mind and body progressing towards ever healthier modes of being.

I get cocky. I think, “I’m pretty balanced” and neglect one or more of the core daily practices I need to actually stay balanced. And so I get out of balance, all the while thinking I’m fine. I’m not.

It has taken me years to really understand the core daily practices my body needs. They rest on the foundations of:

Nutrition & Hydration

Sleep & Exercise

Work & Play

Meditation & Communion

So, basically, 8 elements per day tended to mindfully keep my world running on a very nice course. All things moving in the right direction. Well enough that I can move out of trying or worrying and remain grounded in “being.”

I think I wrote about how much I suck at routine. As one might imagine, it makes tending to these 8 elements daily somewhat difficult. Some happen naturally, but to do them well they require intention.

Part of committing to writing this daily work (and one may notice it’s not exactly daily) is accountability. Keeping the concept of slowing down specifically, but of all of these foundational practices, more alive in my days.

The more I tend to them in whatever form, the more they take root in my being. By advocating the work, I remind myself of the work and actually do the work. I actually seem to need to talk about the work to do the work. Doing the work for the inherent benefits is not motivating enough for me, which I think is weird. But it sort of makes sense with the worldview that has been developing that we truly need each other in deep and profound ways.

I’ve always sortof held that we are independent souls on independent journeys. That is is good to be nice to each other, and important that we support each other, but that at the end of the day it is the individual that makes or breaks her own journey. I’ve operated from this myth and, well, it isn’t nearly as rich and alive as recognizing that we really are all in this together. Each of us, with our strengths and weaknesses, with our passions and enthusiasm… we all have something to offer and something to learn. Even from ourselves.

There is Nothing Wrong Here

I think this sentence came into my life about 3 or 4 years ago. Around this time I changed my focus of my spiritual practice from Forgiveness to Surrender. This idea that Life Itself is spinning planets and birthing stars and balancing the pH of the soil of the rainforest, so maybe it’s smarter than I am and should be in charge. And so, instead of evaluating everything based on whether I liked it or not, whether it aligned with my idea of how life should go or not, I would begin to align with Life’s idea of how life should go – as evidenced by how life was going. This was a big step, and I am still in the beginning stages of practicing this point of view, but I absolutely love it and the idea “there is nothing wrong here” is a wonderful tool for me.

Now, I know I am stating this in the negative. Mostly because I use this statement when my mind is pretty sure there is something pretty wrong with whatever the situation is. So, more than saying “all is well” which is certainly also true but my mind doesn’t necessarily believe, stating “there is nothing wrong here” goes straight to the heart of something being wrong and negates it. Or at least that’s my theory.

I reach for something in the cupboard. I knock a glass and it falls. I swear (I’m Sicilian. I try to not have a loud response to things, but it’s pretty instinctual. I’m working on it.). Then I tell myself “there is nothing wrong here” which typically makes me laugh. Now, I’m not sure what exactly is “right” about the situation. Maybe it was a demon glass that held delicious beverages in a container of misery, I don’t know. All I know is that it is broken, and it is OK. Maybe cleaning up this glass is keeping me from walking to the mailbox (my next task) and getting stung by a bee. I have no idea. I really can’t imagine why this glass breaking is “not wrong” (being of the general temperament that everything not going merrily along in a trajectory from chaos to order is moving in an inauspicious direction) but now it’s my spiritual practice and that is reason enough for me.

My favorite part of this particular sentence is that it almost always makes me laugh. I love laughing. I do it shockingly infrequently for someone who loves it. I have a sister who is very funny and laughs a lot. I admire that. But, much like gardening and musical instruments, it doesn’t come naturally to me. I take things *seriously*. My brother-in-law (different sister) makes a lot of jokes, but I rarely get them. I always go literal. It’s ridiculous. So something that can make me laugh reliably? I am All Over It.

I think it makes me laugh because 1) I’ve accepted the sentence as True. With a capital T. Whatever is happening is the expression of Life Itself, and I believe Life Itself has got it going on in the macro as evidenced by, you know, the entire universe, so it’s got to be true in the micro regardless of whether my little brain agrees or disagrees; and 2) Whatever just prompted the sentence is certainly something my mind is conditioned to believe is “wrong” and the arrogance of my mind in thinking it’s opinion in this nanosecond is more right or true than the natural flow of the universe; and 3) it’s amazing how much of the anger and judgment in my history was as unnecessary as me thinking this glass breaking was an assault on the world going well according to my assessment of reality. What a waste of thought and assessment!

That’s funny stuff!

I realize in this writing, that I should probably go find some comedy to watch. I have a strange sense of what is funny.

Bedtime

Routine is not my strong suit.

My husband tells me that I am actually pretty good at routines until I notice I have one, at which point I immediately stop. I haven’t been able to verify this, but it sounds like me.

I have known for YEARS that going to bed at 10pm is the single most important thing (or at least in the top 6, but they all work together) I can do for my own wellness. I would say I have met this goal about a dozen times.

There’s some residual rebellion from childhood (adults get to pick their own bedtime, and I’m an adult and this is a perq, and the later I stay up the cooler and more independent I am. Wow. Maybe this was even barely valid in college, but it’s just plain stupid 30 years later), some habits of poor planning (I let everything stack up until 10, at which point I begin 90 minutes of chores) and more unidentified self-sabotage factors in, too.

So, it’s 10:36 and I’ve been wanting to write “there’s nothing wrong here” (one of my most enjoyable current mantras, in part because it makes me laugh because often when I use it, there is most assuredly “something wrong”) all day, and i sit down to write 35 minutes after I should be tucked in.

But, this is unedited and honest and so I have to go with what is true *right now* and that is that this 10pm thing is something I really want to accomplish regularly and have not yet (by any stretch) and also that there is nothing wrong here.

That said, I’m going to bed!

(rationalizer in me says “well, at least it’s still in the hour of 10. that’s more than more than 1/2 of the nights”) Silly me.

This is the Day I’m Having

I have to remember this several times per day. It sounds like maybe a complaint, but it’s not. It’s a reminder. Because I always have plans. Desire for accomplishment. The things that, when I accomplish them, make my day useful. Prove I am not entirely a putz. This used to be a really significant strain in my personality – like 100x more powerful than it currently grips me, but it still grips me regularly and relentlessly.

So, here I am, with my now modest (because of this slowing down groove) plans for the day. Then something happens. Someone I care about needs something that disrupts my plan.

Yeah, that’s ok.

This is the day I am having. It doesn’t have to be the day I intended to have, in fact, the truth is it can only be the day that it is. I do get to decide, however, how cool I am going to be with the day as it is.

This exercise, actively exchanging the day I planned with the day I am having, is one of the most important practices of my life right now. I struggle with it. Sometimes that plan was important to me. Sometimes, I really do feel like a putz. But when I can wrap my head around accepting the day that is coming to me and meeting it with openness and willingness to engage, I usually have a pretty good day. Sometimes I even get back to my plan in a wonderful way. Sometimes not. It really has to “not matter.”

Sometimes I can’t wrap my head around it. I am grumpy and impatient and trying to get back to my plan. Those periods suck. For me and for whomever I am dealing with.

I am smart enough to know that when something repeatedly sucks, it needs to be changed. It is basically begging to be transformed. And not “figure out a way that the world doesn’t interfere with my plan” kind of transformation because the world is an enormous dynamic that I cannot control. So when tasked with transforming, all I’ve got to work with is me.

So, just remembering, “this is the day I am having” is a really important step for me. And with that recognition, I can acknowledge that whatever is in front of me (usually someone I care about) is FAR more important than me checking my self-made box about what will make me a useful soul. Indeed, my receiving this person with kindness and interest will make me a far more useful soul than any activity I might accomplish. Or, at least and for sure, receiving the people I love with kindness and interest makes me more the person I want to be than anything else I could possibly do.

So, it is another thing I’m reaching for: not reaching. Being. and being OK with that (indeed, just great).

Be Yourself: Let Thyself Off The Hook.

I heard a really inspiring graduation speech the other day. One of the things he said was, “rather be an hour early than a minute late” as a sign of integrity. The week before I heard the guy who says everything worth having in life hinges on making your bed.

Well, I guess I’m screwed.

Not that I disagree with these guys. In fact, I aspire to do the things they recommend. It’s just that I’ve tried to Be Like Mike many, many times. it’s just not in me.

Much like I admire gardeners, musicians and dancers. I admire these skills very much and for years thought that I needed to actually be decent in these things to be happy. I persevered despite aching knees and dying plants. I played some TERRIBLE piano at the Majestic in Detroit. No one should have had to endure my playing.

When I first was diagnosed, part of me was relieved that I could quit trying to garden. That’s why it hurt so dang much! Good or bad at it, my body was clearly revolting and finally, I let myself off the hook.

Since then, I’ve let myself off a lot of hooks. And I hear speakers expounding the virtues of this or that, and finally, I can listen to them and even agree without needing to fulfill their guidelines to be OK. I really think every time I heard someone advocate something, I used it as another box to check in my never-ending quest to be (what is the right word here? Perfect? OK? accepted? acceptable? hard to say, but you get the gist).

Slowing down has really allowed me to be. Not be on a quest to be x, just to be. And that shit is FREEING. I mean, for me, it took a while to feel freeing. First it felt TERRIFYING. Then it felt horrible. then capitulating. then cautiously optimistic. Let’s just say it is a process. Still is, but now the baseline is “Being is Good.”

I remember being at Meadow Brook Mall in the early 80’s and seeing a little bean statuette (along with the “Love Is…” boy and girl statuettes and probably some Holly Hobby) that said “We’re human beings, not human doings.”

I spent the first half of my life thinking the doing was what would buy me love and acceptance, from myself as well as from others. This being business, though, is a different story altogether. Within it lies the recognition that worth, love and acceptance is already established. This crazy notion that indeed there are no boxes needing to be checked. That we are a part of life, and perhaps much of the “doing” that keeps us busy is actually pretty destructive, to ourselves, to our society and to our planet, but we are so busy doing it we don’t even notice.

Not that I’m against bed-making or being on time. They’re great things. But they’re not natural to me (I run about 15 minutes late. this is a huge improvement on the 45 min to 2 hours late I used to run. I also throw my duvet up near my pillow, but have never, ever had a fancy bed with decorative pillows on it – simply not my style). There is a fine line between aspiring to do something and beating yourself up for not doing it. Thinking something is a nice idea, and thinking you’re fundamentally flawed if you’re not embodying it. Getting comfortable with being yourself, really just being – because who “you” are is an ever-evolving amalgamation of qualities, habits, values, thoughts and activities – takes a lot of stress out of life, sets you up as being enough, and from that vantagepoint allows you to look on the world with great clarity and compassion without needing to fix or change yourself or others, but by being ok invites okness to prevade and prevail…

(i may need to rethink this “unedited” bit)

Be Yourself. It’s Enough.

The Bhagavad Gita says it’s better to do your own dharma poorly than to do someone else’s well.

Sometimes I’m dissatisfied with my dharma. I want to be doing sexier or more interesting things.

Luckily, this process of slowing down has helped me enormously come to peace with my own life. Celebrating the cool parts, accepting the shadow facets, building towards a value structure which has, by the way, been completely transformed through the process of slowing down.

I used to build towards being awesome. I made decisions by what would offer the most interesting story to tell in my 80’s. I mean, yes, my general values were upheld, but me looking cool was definitely part of my values. I wanted to do good things for the world, contribute to peace and uplift human consciousness, but part of my wanting to do good things had to do with me being the doer of good things (so impressed with my own altruism).

Then, being slow, I wasn’t very cool. Being unable to work, I didn’t feel the rush of doing impressive things. Lying there, I had two choices. Either I was a spectacular failure or maybe my worth and value wasn’t dependent on my feeling fancy.

Talk about a difficult journey. I’m still making my way through it. I’ve always placed my worth and value on what I do in the world. These last several years have had the Primary Lesson of worth and value being beyond my purview. I didn’t create myself and try as I may, I’m not sure what my contribution to this world is. It may have been a sentence of encouragement I said to one of the 27 kids in my 1996 production of Cinderella. That may have been enough. Maybe it’s raising my kids. Maybe it’s supporting my husband. Maybe it’s my health journey. I don’t have the trajectory I used to have, the dreams of grandiosity, the Big Plans.

Things have calmed down quite a bit in my heart and mind. Back to the Bhagavad Gita, practice and non-attachment are the order of the day. My world, today, is pretty small, and it takes all I’ve got to tend to it. Health is an objective, the wellness of my family, but really, just doing what I know I need to do to the best of my ability in the moment is enough. It’s kindof got to be. Every time I think, “Oh, I’m so much better and I’ve got such great ideas, let me branch out of this small world and make my mark,” I have a definitive setback physically. You’d think I’d learn. I am learning. I am just a slow learner. I used to be quite the quick study, but I’m not who I used to be. Dying to who we used to be is the only way we can become who we are going to be and have that entity be responsive to life as it is in the present moment.

I am learning. I am just a slow learner. I used to be quite the quick study, but I’m not who I used to be. Dying to who we used to be is the only way we can become who we are going to be and have that entity be responsive to life as it is in the present moment. And we need to be evolving, that’s for sure. The strategies of the past don’t work so well anymore. Clinging to who we used to be, or who we thought we were, or who we wanted to be (or still want to be) cannot evolve our own lives nor our culture.

And this slowing down has gotten me a long way down the road. But this came up today because earlier today I craved to be seen as fancy. Then later in the day I yearned to be a mover and a shaker. Both were powerful urges, sparkly carrots at the end of a very far away stick. And it shook me. I thought I was past that kind of desire or dissatisfaction (I really can be ridiculous). And luckily, the various practices that I’ve built and have helped build me soothed my soul and brought me back to reality. Because, the reality is: this isn’t my circus. I’m just happy to be here.

 

Slowing Down all that Self Judgment

The phenomena of seeing something everywhere once you see it at all is revealing itself to me through self-compassion, which is awesome and I welcome. I just got something from Sounds True about a Self Compassion Course. It was timely because I’ve been thinking about self-compassion as I’ve been tempted to be mad at myself for not writing in however many days.

Self Compassion came into my life several years ago through Tara Brach, I think. I had literally never heard of the idea in 2010 and it was revolutionary to me. Self-compassion? What a cop out! What a joke! Clearly for losers. Obviously the ‘participation award’ of self esteem. For people who fail to not hate themselves. Ew.

Maybe I needed some?

My instincts still go there first. I can always find a reason for shame. Valid reasons. Reasonable arguments proving I am a complete idiot and deserve to be disdained. This, despite a life-long spiritual practice (that I never quite lived up to). Indeed, my philosophical and spiritual aspirations basically hinged on my being able to become perfect, which, by the way, was not going so well. If I could just get “better” everything would finally start to work. Compassion was not what was necessary, being better was.

Yeah. Living with this mentality sucks.

So, self-compassion is a really beautiful practice. As practices go, it can keep one pretty busy. It’s a surprisingly easy concept: don’t be a dick. to yourself. warranted or not. And it’s that last part “warranted or not” that’s the lynchpin. Because, in my case, it’s always warranted.

Self-compassion basically says, “Treat yourself like you would treat a sweet child you adore.” Would you be angry with a child who falls while learning to walk? Of course not. But my question was, would you be angry with a 32 year old still not getting it?

What’s crazy is the answer is still no. And taking the rhetorical question out that little bit further highlights my inner process. It represents the kind of frustration I watched my father contend with raising my siblings. And the futility of anger as a response to that frustration. Because if there’s a 32 year old not getting a basic skill, anger is wildly inappropriate. Compassion. Tools. Patience. Willingness. These might be useful.

And so, I acquiesced and decided, “maybe I can try. Even if self-compassion is a weakling’s last refuge, I could use a little refuge, actually.” I started with the basis that, yes, I am subpar, and that maybe a little tolerance about my shortcomings might be useful. It was the only way I could get my mental driver to stop cracking the whip, or at least to take a break. This was an important step.

As time went by, my scrutiny revealed that while I am certainly flawed, I am always well-intentioned. I found things within me that I could honestly say deserved some compassion. And thus began a journey towards gentleness that continues to extend deeper into my life, my mind and my heart.

Each time I can employ compassion where I used to jump to judgment, condemnation or anger, I sortof feel like I’ve won a small war. I’ve taken a step towards transforming a pattern so damning, so destructive and so engrained I truly believe it would’ve ruined me. But it doesn’t have the reins anymore. Something nice has the reins. Something gentle. Something bigger than that horrible inner judge who is, finally, unemployed.

 

 

Slowing Down? Try “Being Late”

I am not exceptionally good at time. I might even be exceptionally bad at it. The weird thing is, if you ask me the time I can usually tell you within 2 or 3 minutes and very often exactly the time. But try to be somewhere on time? I’m not so good at that.

My husband has a few theories. It’s pretty deep in my familial identity. My father was bad at time and each of my siblings has struggled with it to some degree. My father was exerting control on his time, i believe in an act of defiance but I don’t really know. I give my whole self to whatever I am doing, which is a good thing IMHO. But, it also means that I’ll prioritize what I am doing over the need to leave to be on time for the next thing. I also take “the time to go” as a challenge to get everything that needs to be done completed before I leave. And we all know you can never get “everything that needs to be done” done. I set myself up repeatedly. It is something I’ve ignored and something I’ve desperately tried to change numerous times in my life. I am certainly better than I used to be, but I am still – it hurts to say it – unreliable.

Sometimes I fear part of this illness was to give myself a valid excuse to be late or not attend things. I HATE that thought, which probably means it’s somewhat true. In this last year especially I’ve been really trying not to use illness as an excuse, and I hear my family use it on my behalf. I am so sick of identification with sickness. Yet, sometimes it is undeniably true. Sometimes it’s just expedient.  It’s really frustrating.

I’m trying to use the desire to use illness as an excuse as an exercise in setting honest boundaries. Now there is something we’re not taught to do in this culture. And it’s hard. And I tend to be a little blunt. Some people really appreciate that trait, but in general it’s not very popular. So, this is a little dance I’m learning. I’m not very good at it, but I imagine practice will improve me.

This whole concept of slowing down makes this all possible. First, it makes me look at it honestly, see the pattern and know that I can’t run away. Then, because I’m stuck here with it, I am accepting it. It doesn’t mean I like it and it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t prefer to change it, but I am accepting it as it is without trying to change it right in this moment. Also, because I am going slowly in general, I am setting myself up to fail less often by radically limiting my commitments (radical from prior levels, the changes themselves have been more gradual). And within all this, I need to have a sense of humor. And radical self compassion. It’s not like it’s going anywhere fast…..