Monthly Archives: November 2018

every choice counts

I subscribe to the belief that we are all here anchoring love. *that’s* what our job is, know it or not. Everything else we do is sorta like what’s going on at the local park. Those kids are having all kinds of dramas and scenarios, but really, just being is the job. Just being is teaching them all kinds of fine and gross motor controls, social interactions. Just being is more than enough.

I also think of it sometimes as walking through a meadow wondering if the drama that plays out beneath the ground looks like human drama: the fight for resources, the posturing about who/what is most important. I used to fear the flowers/roots might be bickering (when my life had more bickering in it). Now I’m pretty certain there is a symphony going on, a beautiful dance of resource request and allocation, sometimes denial, beginnings and endings, stopping and starting again, all of it being “ok” — all of it contributing to the expression of life itself, new in each moment.

I read “the secret life of trees” by an old-growth forest manager, talking about respiration, communication, even emotion displayed in the forest. So uplifting. That was the shift in my metaphor, from wondering if the beautiful meadow was secretly a neurotic, grasping mess (a lot like I viewed society) to knowing the beautiful meadow is also a complex exchange working in harmony, or more accurately the constant dance of creation, expression and destruction. It’s a much nicer way to feel/think/put it.

Things are swirling in my life today, so many facets it doesn’t make sense to list them. One key factor is the passing of my mother-in-law, God rest her soul. I have a lot of appreciation for my mother in law because I love my husband. Credit where credit is due, and some is due to her. The last decade she declined deeper and deeper into dementia which was sad, but makes her passing a blessing in many respects. But, no matter how evident the blessing, the death of a parent is complicated and brings emotional upheaval to even the most balanced individuals. It’s a moment in time, in between realities.

I never really got along with my mother in law, and she held the strings to my father in law, whom I loved, so I never really got to have much of a relationship as I’d like to have had with him. But what I did have was really a treasure. I have an image in my head of a relationship that might have been possible with them, but it never panned out though i doggedly spent the first 10 years trying to get them/her to discuss what she needed for us to be OK. I now understand that it was so deep seeded that she didn’t have words for it. It was reaching into a primal need and not only was I not filling it, I seemed by my very mentioning of it to be assailing it.  It was tough, on all of us, but between geography and illness we didn’t see each other much and so the last 8 or so years were marked by more empathy and less exposure. Best we could have hoped for, realistically.

My insistence on talking about the elephant in the room has served me enormously countless times and allows me peace between my ears, but it has a pretty high price as well. Key relationships that could be better if we just agreed to <some subtly different reality> … Honestly, I don’t think I could keep them straight if I didn’t believe in them, so it’s probably best I opted out of those charades. And we can always pray for each other, even if we disagree and/or don’t interact. It’s an interesting study on what I truly value and why.

I am such a hypocrite

…just like everyone else. and it’s a learning experience. The question is: how quickly can i integrate the lesson?

Today, my friend wanted to recreate the sense of anxiety she was feeling during a certain story so that I could understand how she felt so I could fully honor how stressed she was and why her responses were as they were. She was wanting to confide in a friend and have that kindred sense of “i feel where you are coming from”

I got all, “of all of the moments of that situation, we’re going to re-create and focus on the moment that had all the stress chemicals coming through your body? Can we please focus on the ‘handled it’ part?” We know that the body doesn’t perceive the difference between a real or perceived threat. Why do we re-create the moment of terror? Is that really the energetic field we want to share – because the anxiety of the story was palpable. as her voice rose and “here’s the situation, but wait, there’s more and it’s even worse” — my body is super sensitive to these things. I don’t want that chemical bath. and I get that you want me to understand your point of view. But I’m really bored with the past. There are very few moments I’m interesting in re-creating when the present moment is so replete with things to be fascinated about. I have a hard time going back to watch recordings of *really interesting interviews* because what is new in my life is

So, we talked about tools, and knowledge, and we know these things, and why reinjure ourselves with the trauma instead of processing it and allowing the charge to dissipate (instead of reinforcing the charge with every telling)… and how we don’t use tools because we “understand them” but understanding a hammer does not hang a picture on the wall. Emotional and mental hygiene require practices like brushing our teeth. Without those practices, it.just.keeps.building.up. no matter how well you understand the value of it not being so. Knowledge is not the goal (gasp!) – experience is where the juice is, and experience that is created by the deliberate and skilled introduction of nurturing actions that cannot help but evolve the situation. Else we just keep it active. . do we want it to be active? Usually not (although we do want to explain ourselves). the *application* of introducing healing practices works to dispel the energy. without actual application of the healing practice, you can “know” all you want but the trigger remains perfectly intact. They key is in doing the homework.

Then, rather than come into my house and spend a few minutes engaged in mental hygiene before interacting with my family, I went ahead and re-created the phone call much like she had re-created the moment of anxiety. I talked about the physical reaction while giving my husband a similar ‘palpable sense’ of the problem to justify my reacting the way I did. As in, exactly the same action and intention (justifying myself). Thankfully, much like I pointed it out to her, my husband pointed it out to me. And it is through the sharing of our experience in the moment that we can draw each other back into the moment. And as we are back in the moment we can feel into what we need to do to release the charge. What practice, what tool. Sometimes it’s just the noticing – that is enough for today. Sometimes real catharsis can happen, even if the offending incident was minor. But it’s in relationship with each other that we can see these things in ourselves (and truly, when we see it in another, put on your seatbelt because often our own pattern of it is about to get the spotlight). Being in that space, and being receptive to a new POV even when we’re “very justified in what we are feeling/doing” (spoiler alert: we’re always justified in whatever we do. It’s still a choice.) lets us open up to new ways of being. Not repeating old patterns, or freaky moments, or whatever nostalgia seems so dear.

I have a “disappointment panda” way of being – the person who sortof matter-of-factly tells people the somewhat obvious truths they don’t want to hear. I wonder if I am really a scourge until someone boldly and kindly holds a mirror up and is my disappointment panda, and I am so grateful for the reflection. For one thing, it reminds me that we are all works-in-progress and as much as I have gotten to ‘peace between my ears’ here is another opportunity to *develop* peace *through my choices* which right now are being co-opted by the justifying, defensive part of myself that wants to validate my way of being in a crazy world. I mean, that’s a perfectly normal and justified way to live on this earth, but it’s not the one I spend so much time talking about wanting to create: the fluid, flowing presence to the moment-by-moment unfoldment of Life Itself expressing through everything that is.

It also shows me how dependent I am on those around me to be part of the flow of life and energy and information, and to be mindful of the energy we live in and share. I really do have energetic and thereby hormonal releases when my nervous system is excited. I think being able to maintain my own energy field during moments like that is a really important step for me – so that i can access it without experiencing it. or something like that. we’ll see.

Now I’m going to go meditate. I probably should’ve done it before I created the weird energetic field this post holds, you know, to be mindful of what I’m sharing and what we’re creating. mental hygiene *after the fact* is better than not at all, but probably best in the moment and thoroughly, so as to not bring the carryover into our new moments.

stretching is changing…

I loved yoga and I loved stretching, but i never understood it until today. About 3 years into my yoga practice I had a teacher that finally got me to viscerally understand elongating and stretching on the inhale and releasing and collapsing on the exhale. It absolutely changed my practice, made it deeper and more fun. kept me at the edge but not beyond it. But still it brought some struggle, some lapse in capability or desire to do a more perfect version of the posture. Sadly, usually there was judgment. positive or negative, but a semi-constant barrage of it, like joan rivers on a red carpet.

yoga’s been off my list for a while now, and tai chi hasn’t afforded me the physical adeptness to facilitate mental wandering – ha, that’s just what i’m telling myself. as i consider it, i have plenty of the inner commentator – although now with this qi gong, i’m feeling more successful just feeling into it instead of “trying to do it”

I haven’t been able to touch my toes in a long time, it simply wasn’t available with the hip shape. A couple of days ago, I put into my morning PT a 25 breath standing forward fold morning and night, and 6 minutes of hamstring stretch between the two legs and together. What a difference 80 or so hours makes, with just a couple of minutes of gentle, gentle stretches 2x per day. I think I probably just crossed 1 collective hour, but i’m about 5 inches closer to the floor than I started, or at the end of the first day. And in those first 50 or so minutes, the stretch hurt. it was an uncomfortable place to hold. no wonder people don’t exercise, this sucks. And when i would actually release and relax my head in standing forward bend, YIKES! Why would I relax my head if it feels this bad? Oh, because the tension hurts worse, I just have it turned “off”  (so i don’t sense what it’s making me avoid, and where it is forced to express itself as headaches or other inflammation).

So crossing this threshold has brought me just a fraction of a caliber of energy shy of “pain” and really into relaxed stretch. What a difference. Instead of the stretching be a few moments of my routine of mini-terror, which getting to my edge has always been (because in my anxious attachment style i’d always try just a smidge too hard) it really is a moment or 10 in relaxation. It’s like I raised my meditation time exponentially – and my meditation *experience* of relaxation and being. in. my. body. and gently. relaxed. Letting the cells release the tension they needlessly carry around. Setting a baseline of stillness and wholeness that can support fearlessness and trust in the face of movement (without the “preparing for battle” dynamic I think i’ve tended to wrap it up in).

About a year ago I knew I wanted to be talking about slowing down, waking up, god, life and love because i need to be talking about them, keeping them active and real in my life. This evolution of my relationship to my body and relaxing has been very rewarding here in retrospect. I’m certainly in a different place (i hadn’t even considered surgery and wouldn’t have quickly) and i have much more available to me. As I turn my attention to “relaxing into” what is available to me instead of trying to harness and exploit it, the happier I feel, literally.

And there’s the rub. i kept trying to use my mind and tension to create the conditions that might finally create a feeling of wellness when it’s really FEELing, not a mental process at all. a physical process. and a physical process that frees the mental process to be responsive and creative instead of predicting, trying to control, and judging. And a certain amount of time spent feeling and evenutally it dawns on you that relaxing is really the best play here. and once the relaxing takes hold, watch out!  relaxing really does create time for itself. Like with the ‘every breath counts’ my philosophy is that if you commit to 1 deep intentional breath per day, it will bring friends. it will draw more of itself onto itself. and so far it’s really been true in my practice. in so many ways, but today in 25 breaths, 2x per day, right after brushing my teeth. It’s the kind of stuff I never would have made time for without the luxury of this period after the surgery and the active job of developing practices that support the body and wellness.

how to change…

Change is hard. things we already know feel easy. change not only requires more effort than that, the effort is into the unknown. even when the goal is known, the gap between here and there feels too damned hard. and who knows, fate might just blow it into our lap if we sit here long enough.

The truth is, change is the most natural thing in the world, even if uncomfortable sometimes. Everything is changing. it actually takes us a LOT of effort and energy to habituate things and try to make them consistent and repeatable. Mastery is good, but mastery is broader than efficient repeating of something shown to work before. Trying to do all the right things in all the right order, or keep the tried and true as the active way of handling <everything/anything> – these things expend a lot of energy.

Life is going to change in thousands of ways, and even any of our current habits may un-intentionally or intentionally shift, and all of nature works that way, so that’s the good news: life is unfolding. we influence all of it, we control none of it (try as we may).

How do we weild our influence to grow in what we care about and contribute to the wholeness of all? Well, some bits are obvious: work on ourselves first. And noticing what is creating a sense of “i’d prefer it if I <insert complaint or aspiration here>” in the world our just in our own mind. What is the underlying value that represents? Security? Wholeness? Ease? There are lots of wonderful things we’d very much like to feel. Whatever we want to change, we want it so that we can live that value. Sounds noble.

Meditation teachers will rightly suggest tapping into the sense of that value already being complete within you. Soaking in that energetic field of “it is done.” It’s a nice exercise, and the more you do it the happier you’ll be. Will your dreams come true? What’s true? In those moments, they *are* true. Seriously, go soak in that field.

But habits – we have to contend with the literally hundreds of habits that make up our days and lives. Some of them are awesome. Some are neutral. Some might be killing us. Most of them are just automatic. Some of them need to change.

Noticing is the first step. Noticing that you even want it to change is such a huge part of the process.

Noticing when you engage in the behaviour is also a big step. typically this happens hours later at first. but eventually you notice it in the moment it is happening, and not long after that you can begin to exercise choice, even if a limited percentage of the time. That’s fine. It’ll grow. It’s a process. Rush will not help. As Eric Klein at Wisdom Heart says (and probably plenty before him, I don’t know) this all happens “at the pace of integration.” There’s no control in integration – it’s naturally a state of rest, of activity becoming rest. That which was outside and new becoming inside and known. Curiosity to Comfort.

Right now, the habit may feel like there’s no choice. that’s how it has to happen. OK. Now we look for things we can add to it or take away from it that change the game. If the macro-level doesn’t allow choice, the micro-level must (and usually will lead to the macro choice as well. because there is always choice, we just resist it).

Noticing moments of choice and recognizing them as moments of choice, even if you still act in the habitual manner, is a huge step. Don’t be mad at yourself for making the wrong choice! We have directional progress here of a magnitude that’s hard to describe, but some people gve up because they failed the first few times they were tested. Noticing choice points is HUGE.

The next step is to remember that value you identified earlier during the moment of choice. Asking the question at that recognized moment of choice “towards what end?” When you remember what you value, you get some gravity towards the choice that will support it. Physical support, for real. When, at that moment of noticing, you can connect with the value you want to feel, and you listen to your physical response – it’s practically a yellow brick road. The end is sure.

i’ve met someone new…

only kindof. An online qi gong course. I have been studying Tai Chi with Gene Golden for 20 months and I love it. Mostly. The not loving it part comes from not being particularly good at it, but Gene is fascinating and Tai Chi is infinitely more fascinating than Gene, so I think I can say I love it. But, several steps in Yang style short form require me to move in ways my hip surgeon has cautioned me not to. What’s a girl to do?

Gene is expensiveAF and worth every penny, but this Qi Gong online course (which cost 2 of Gene’s lessons) is probably what I should’ve started with. I was digging Gene’s esoteric knowledge but struggling to find the simplicity of the form. This course is chock full of simplicity and I am REALLY LOVING IT. I can feel it is the beginning of something. So exciting.

The idea of personal instruction from a master being better than online instruction at home seems to me a relatively easy judgment. But, it’s just that. A judgment. And a whole bunch of those have been unraveling in my head. Articles of “fact” that are not facts at all. I can release these things, especially when I don’t want to. Remembering *then* is a really advanced practice.

Since I can’t take Gene’s class I searched high and low for a local Qi Gong teacher and fell short. Really? there are like 3 million people in Orange County, and a significant Asian population. I thought we’d be able to find someone. The online search was a last resort, and really only investigated to be able to suggest ideas for online practice to Gene. Good to know I’ve found people doing it what I believe to be quite well.

It’s funny sometimes how you can’t see something until you can see it. And even then, sometimes you mistake it at first. Life is so full of mystery and paradox, it’s funny we even pretend to be writing the story. I mean we are, but we also very much are not. And walking that razor’s edge seems to be the tightrope of life. Luckily, we also have a net.

The thing I like the most about this (Energy Arts Dragon and Tiger) Qi Gong course is that it is simple. He says, “don’t worry about what you think you should be feeling, think about what you do actually feel, even if it has nothing to do with Qi or what you expect it should feel like.” Embrace the right now. It’s enough. Now, put your focus on cultivating the energy life offers, earth offers, the body offers. Bring it alive simply with your attention to it. This is the kind of present moment practice that *really* appeals to me right now.

No doubt it will, when I can return to Tai Chi, improve my skills overall. But my Tai Chi practice has been frustrating (frustration is welcome, don’t get me wrong) and I know I have a long way to go to really embody and work the energy. This course is like, “even if you do it poorly, it’s really benefiting your body” and I am very much like “sign me up.”

not what I expected, but …

When preparing for the hip surgery, I decided to receive any pain I experienced as an experiment. How would the strategies I’d developed with prior experiences of pain apply to this new pain? Wanting curiosity to run the show, intellectualizing it in this way (I would argue “reframing it”) allowed me an “out” for anticipating pain – one of the worst parts of pain (but not THE worst part. i think THE worst part is not knowing if it might last forever). But, for my first two weeks, I experienced little if any pain. Certainly nothing of note.

Until Friday. Friday I woke up with a neck, shoulder, arm pain that if it reached a certain point in the breath or movement was decidedly notable. By far the worst pain I’ve had in – well, over a year. My hip was still healing like a champ, but the upper body was having none of it. At first I thought maybe I slept funny (and maybe I did) but as I used the cane to walk it REALLY took off, so i now think it had more to do with the way I’ve used my upper body with the instruments (even though I was *sortof* aware, i often caught myself jarring the cane to the ground and then limping around that planted stick instead of putting significant weight on the hip). I’ve gotten the all-clear to walk without a cane (since I seem to be injuring myself with it) and in the last 36 hours have made decided progress in that, so here, at the 3 week mark, I am finally on the other side of “My Worst Day.” (and hugely lucky how many good days I had. acknowledged.)

I had prepared myself for pain in my hip, so when it showed up in my torso, i sortof forgot i had a strategy. i was just bummed. at first i was curious what had happened, and then i was mad at myself for how it happened, and i wished it away and tried to avoid it for over a day. that did not help: it just kept getting worse. then, as I went to bed Sunday evening I remembered my whole pain experiment idea and i began to relax into the pain. breathe around it, not out of fear but out of respect. i worked to hold the curiosity and glean what i could from the relaxing into it…

Monday I woke up and it was far worse. That’s when PT said to quit using the cane. But I decided to keep the curiosity experiment up and increase it to include some gentle (and i mean gentle) stretching. Just to the hint of pain without going too much deeper. this required a jazz riff in my breathing, feeling into the allowed inhale or exhale amount to keep me in a zone without spikes in pain. It was fascinating, and it got me to sleep a whole bunch of times. And, as I’ve practiced walking without the cane, I’m getting quite good at it and it’s waking up the sensation in the leg, which i can get curious about, too. It’s super fascinating because I feel the incision ask for ice, and during icing the body really directs how to place the bag… so i feel like I am developing some modicum of body communication.

Today I’ve had quite a headache. My normal mitigation techniques are not available to me, and so I laid there quite exacerbated by *that* kind of pain. It took me all day to realize I needed to apply the same approach: go toward it, quit avoiding it/wishing it away/trying to push it away. That going toward the headache was the most fascinating body communication experiment I’ve done yet. It took a decent amount of time to figure out how to relate to something i have such a long history of hating (i started getting migraines at 5 years old). But once i got in there, once curiosity trumped trying to escape, it felt like 10,000 miniature gnomes got to work untying knots throughout my face, head and neck. Each knot related to judgment, my unnecessary assessment of things and then holding on to those assessments as being in some way authoritative (you know, because I thought them). I felt like I was getting a massage, so I relaxed more. As I relaxed more, new areas of tension came online and the gnomes got to work. Of course, gnomes are a metaphor. But the strategy worked and the headache has subsided.

The experiment continues…. and I just hope i remain present enough to apply it to all forms of pain, all forms of things I’ve avoided or judged as “to be avoided.”