Sunday, June 4, 2017

Finding Grace in Losing Face

Even the Buddha loses his head.
     While learning about massage and bodywork over the years, one common precaution tends to echo throughout the modalities. When people receive bodywork, you never know what will arise. This brings to mind a 10-day cranio-sacral (subtle bodywork) course I attended. I recalled how many of the participants appeared to have pure craziness, coming up to the surface. I was the outspoken skeptic of the group. I truly didn't believe what I was seeing, or hearing. The idea that "your issues live in your tissues," was not something I bought into.

Fast forward a bunch of years... I've experienced my issues being alive in my tissues, both in yoga practice and on the massage table. These multi-layered, body focused practices can bring tears, extreme discomfort, unexpected irritation, indescribable joy, etc. I can no longer doubt what deep listening and allowing can bring to light. The so-called logical mind might be dismissive, claiming resolution to all things challenging, or of the past. But as the fascinating book, The Body Keeps the Score explains, there's so much more to our operating systems.

It's especially difficult to hold space for oneself. I found I had been cutting my deeper practices short, interpreting difficult sensations harshly, and not allowing certain feelings to stay long, if at all. Cutting myself short started translating into some pretty unskillful and distorted communication with others as well. In cutting myself short, on time and patience, it was clear that I was doing the same to others. I was shocked to hear some of the harsh things that flowed freely from my mouth.

As I was intellectually sorting through things I didn't understand, this self exploration had me doubting my whole yoga practice. If I was capable of being so unkind to my own family, my yoga practice must be defunct. The Dalai Lama said, "be kind whenever possible, and it's always possible." Yeah, maybe if you're the Dalai Lama! Clearly, it wasn't possible for me. It's a great goal, it's incredibly important to keep in mind. However, perhaps it could be useful to embrace, and find grace, in losing face? Either way, that's what was happening. 

It's no surprise to me that I'm both darkness and light. Letting go of whatever I'd been trying to hold together, has meant coming unglued. It hasn't been very pretty. The result is that I now feel a wider range of life energy flowing through me. I hadn't realized how much precious energy was being wasted on creating detours and road closures. Yoga did support me in this process, even as I showed up as someone I didn't quite recognize. I now see the great value of holding the uncomfortable even more gently. Most of all, I feel deeply relieved that my whole self, inner-child and all, has found a place at the table. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Now the Sun's Coming Up

   
   
Shadow & Light (Yin/Yang).
      I've been living with an open invitation these past few months. Open to experiencing all the uncomfortable aspects of being a human. Feeling at times, like I'm stumbling around in the dark, hitting my head on unexpected objects. When sensations of pain or discomfort arise, my reflexive habit wants to rush in with distraction. Distraction deadens down the unfamiliar and unpleasant sensations. I've been kindly asking those distracted rescue habits to take a break, in order to feel life more fully.

In a world filled with obvious despair, my own feeling tone had become tired, dark, and heavy. I was starting to wonder,  how does anyone come out from the weight of the unending atrocities surrounding us? I found comfort in knowing that there is never yin (darkness) without yang (light). A willingness to be patient with the prolonged darkness and accept the lightness when it does shine has been key.

Although it didn't coordinate with the calendar's first day of spring, I'm finally feeling the seasons change from inside my body. There is a distinct lightness in my step (I give credit to Feldenkrais classes for this new found bounce), and lightness in my heart.

Tend Your Garden.
Light has come. It's shining on the truth of impermanence, the law of nature. For a few moments, I imagine humanity as a giant garden. Stocked with perennials, annuals, edibles, noxious weeds, poisonous fruits, and dead branches. Some of us root deep and take over large areas. Destroying other plants in the process. Some only bloom once. Some sprout out of garbage dumps. There are bunk, beneficial, and contaminated seeds. This imagery inspires me to care-fully tend my own soil and garden. It dares me to feel joy in a perfectly imperfect world.

Mary Oliver asks, 'What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?' My heart knows the answer to be presence. Yes, I want to be fully present with my one wild and precious life. I want to be willing to accept change within and around me. Willing to feel and evolve in any given moment.

             ~Every inhale enters into darkness, while the exhale returns to the outside light.~









Tuesday, November 22, 2016

United States of Ourselves

     
Out of the Shadows
     With a silent soundtrack, I meet the ground with my body. Looking into what feels uneasy in me. Waiting with non-judgmental curiosity for whatever shows up. I want to know, where does resentment live in my body? What does it feel like? I watch the waves of discomfort as they arise and pass away.

 Since the election results, I've been diving into my own shadows. Aspects of myself sequestered to an unconscious realm are getting a warm welcoming back. I need to feel what is plaguing our society in my own body/mind. It's been a nauseating practice. When I felt the first ripple of resentment emerge, I almost didn't recognize myself. Resentment has a different quality than some of it's better known relatives. Anger and rage are easier to identify, more socially acceptable, and expected. With injustice all around us, tapping into anger is as easy as 1, 2, 3. Resentment is more elusive.

Every time we buy into thinking we're not quite enough, resentment sprouts. We feed insecurity to ourselves, our families, and friends (in commonplace, unconscious ways). Comparing ourselves with others has become a sickness. As Theodore Roosevelt noted, "Comparison is the thief of joy." As young children we notice the disparities. We juxtapose the opportunities and lifestyles of our peers. We even try to size up our experiences of love. If we come up short on anything, these feelings of 'not quite enough' may try to hide out, taking residency as chronic tension, stress, and anxiety. From this place of lack, we vote, hoard our belongings, and further feed illusions of separateness.

No matter how fortunate one may appear, feelings of not having enough are often hiding under the surface. Inadequacy becomes a mind-set that is independent of actual circumstances. We all want more of something, whether it's job satisfaction, unconditional love, money, respect, relationship success, contentment, stamps in our passport, attractiveness, talent, wit, health, power, or something else.

In addition to standing up and protecting the oppressed, we need to acknowledge the tyranny that exists within our own body/minds. We can continue to validate our inner oppressor, or overthrow it with awareness. Every time I act in disgust towards those I love, or use punishing and controlling behavior in any way, I empower my inner oppressor. Anytime I disregard another to get something I want, I feed the greed of the world. For comfort, we all build walls around ourselves. It's not just happening at the borders. Unchecked, these walls get stronger.

Bringing all of this internal tension out from the shadows, frees up the vital energy used in keeping it away. With compassionate understanding, I invite my stuck habits and deep conditioning to my meditation/yoga practice. All mental and emotional states, however seemingly outdated are allowed to be noticed and felt. Caring for what's difficult in myself is essential for understanding others.

Ideas of self-care can evolve beyond extra large Margaritas and a hammock. Catering to our senses is not necessarily care at all. Staying busy, distracted, and numb are actually the insidious self-neglect strategies encouraged by our society. I may call it taking care of myself, when I'm actually just engaging in some form of overindulgence, or avoidance tactic.

In order to prevent corruption, the government within myself needs ongoing investigating. I need to keep a close inner eye on my strong opinions department. My labeling and categorizing of people department causes problems, especially when I don't think I have that department. I can't forget to check into my moral police force, and all the other miscellaneous dogma I've unintentionally accumulated in my psyche. Left unchecked, self-sabotaging mind states flourish and contaminate those around us. It is up to us to take a regular and honest inventory of our thoughts, righteous beliefs, and behaviors they create. Society benefits when we can petition our own mind closures, and emotional road blocks.

Being with our difficult emotions, feelings, and sensations is a revolutionary act. The willingness to be with our own emotional pain is a form of personal and political activism. Uniting our own states, means bravely recognizing our limiting thought patterns, fear, inherited grief, pettiness, sadness, and all of the challenging aspects of being a human being. Compassionate awareness is an antidote. Bravely investigating our inner terrain, we can make better friends with ourselves. Softening our hearts around our own difficulties, we can better connect and unite outside of ourselves.

~May our hearts open in boundless compassion for the benefit of all beings everywhere ~

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Rub Down on Massage

A Circle to Center
     I completed a therapeutic massage training in Minneapolis twenty years ago. I wanted to bring more massage into my life. Who doesn't? I anticipated trading this skill with other massage therapists, friends, and family. In lieu of shopping for special occasion gifts, massage seemed like the perfect 'get out of shopping for life' card.

I was definitely not interested in massaging strangers, or dealing with money transactions. Massage seemed like something that should be given freely. The dreaded misconception of linking all massage with the sex industry was also something I wanted to avoid like the plague. I didn't want to be associated with the 'happy endings,' advertised as "massage," in the back pages of everyday publications.

Other mental obstacles arose. What if I wasn't good enough to charge money for massage? What if someone was offensive, demanding, or somehow repulsive? I didn't want to face any discomfort over these possible scenarios. Yet, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, has proven to be as valuable a skill as the massage techniques themselves.

My real interest in massage/bodywork came from experiencing it for myself. I loved being on the receiving end of what felt like profound (albeit momentary) bliss. Receiving massage introduced me to the state of being present in my body. Without massage in my life, I would likely have viewed yoga as just another routine exercise class, and meditation as a complete waste of time. Instead, these practices have given me a felt sense of being alive. Transporting me from an over-thinking mind, to what feels like a sacred state of presence.

In the last few years massage has circled back onto my radar. Giving massage has become almost as gratifying as receiving! Trust in the effectiveness of massage has replaced every one of those old fears. I know now that we all crave healing, human touch, and connection to a more centered self. People of all personality types, ages, sizes, and shapes want to be free from suffering. Massage helps to relieve suffering. I've also discovered that many non-massage therapists are as good (or better) than those with formal training. Asking a trusted friend to experiment with massage techniques is a great way to get started!


Friday, March 4, 2016

Modes of Travel

    
A New Point of View
     Taking a break from habit in order to administer the medicine of change may require some kind of travel. Whether this travel involves an airline ticket, or a turn inward for meditative travel, resistance often lurks.

In order to embrace needed change, I first need to acknowledge any protesters to it. These mind critics sound a lot like the weather channel reporting on an event, 'Stay safe, don't travel unless absolutely necessary.' If it didn't feel absolutely necessary for mental, emotional, and physical health, I probably wouldn't travel outside of my known comforts.

A change of scenery can be as simple as taking a walk through an unfamiliar town, or finding a new tree to lean against for a while. One thing is for sure, fresh eyes awaken when our routines are shaken. Our brains work differently when we step outside of our patterns. We become more engaged, creative and interested in our surroundings. Mood is often lifted.

If traditional ideas of travel are not practical or accessible (or even if they are), we can always rely on a change of scenery through inner body travel. Inner modes of travel such as meditation, yoga, massage, tai chi, or acupuncture are excellent ways to break up our habit patterns. There is no 'Rough Guide' for inner body travel, which make it particularly adventurous. Sensing and feeling our way through embodied practices, we get a needed break from the deep grooves of habit.

Whatever the mode of travel, curiosity and non-judgment are the most important qualities to unpack. The depths of open-minded travel are uncharted. Staying curious to whatever is happening (during each movement, pause, and repetition) will help make a journey worthwhile.

It's said that an enlightened being would know freshness in all moments, no matter how mundane or redundant. Perhaps the Enlightened One has cultivated a traveler's mind in all circumstances? Whether traveling existentially, by train, plane, or yoga pose, you'll know you're experiencing a traveler's mindset when the moment at hand has the fullness of your loving attention.




Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Art of Crotch Flashing

painting by Jessie Fisher
     When I think about yoga, I do not imagine a person in tights standing on one leg while pulling his/her opposite foot up towards the sky. Natarajasana (Dancer Pose) is undoubtedly a valid and ancient yoga pose, though perhaps it isn't the quintessence of yoga. Still the mere mention of the word 'yoga' frequently produces a tremulous demonstration of it by someone in the room. This yoga-based skit might draw out some "oo's," "ahhs," and sometimes even laughs. Artful crotch flashing makes for entertaining yoga theater.

Part of my cringe regarding this coveted pose comes from early attempts at teaching it. I regularly included it in classes as an impressive goal pose. It seemed easier to please our  egos than challenge them with too much yoga philosophy. Though easier was definitely not as interesting. 

Essential guidance from yoga's Yamas and Niyamas encourage non-harming, non-greed, and non-grasping as focal points for yoga practice (and life). When our minds and hearts are aligned with such intentions for practice, the poses become loving experiments in self-acceptance and inner peace.

Pop-up sidewalk meditation. (I'm the teen on the right)
The benefits of yoga could be missed if I'm more concerned about getting my toe to my whatever. Those types of external benchmarks are not measurements of yoga competency.

Instead, being aware of how we meet our bodily experiences and sensations as they arise (and pass), show us valuable information about how we meet life. Can we practice without struggle or strain? How do we sit comfortably with emptiness? What would right effort feel like?

As a teen, I spent a few summers living in a home with a Japanese Buddhist family. My brother and dad resided in a shack in the backyard. My dad worked on the home in exchange for our accommodations. The family also happened to be our friends, and enjoyed having us around the premises. A small Buddhist temple in the living room often caught my attention. MTV was going downhill, so mimicking the Buddha statue gave me something else to do with my free time.  Even though I wasn't aware of any meditation techniques, showing up, ringing the bell, and sitting down felt like enough. This precious practice introduced me to the feeling of being at home in my own body, if only for a few minutes at a time. 

Yoga is sometimes referred to as a goalless practice. There is no final destination and nothing to be accomplished. The expansive present is the practice. Beyond achieving, posturing and proving.

"Yoga asks us to walk a razor's edge, to devote ourselves wholeheartedly to a particular pose, while fully understanding that on another level, the pose is arbitrary and irrelevant. If we cling to the form of the poses as ultimate truth, we miss the point. The poses were born from the practice of yogis who looked inside themselves..." -Anne Cushman








Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sidewalk Somatics

 
Urban camping; view from my sleeping bag.
  Spending the night on the 48th street sidewalk the other night gave me a chance to practice SomaYoga in a unique setting. Inside my sleeping bag it was easy to utilize somatic movement without anyone knowing a yoga practice was in session. Subtle, conscious movement eased some very tense muscles calmed my shivering nerves, and soothed my reactive mind.

Seeing Saturday Night Live was the catalyst for the overnight adventure on the streets of New York City. In order to see the show we would need to be in line for stand-by only tickets a day in advance. Some fans had been camped since Wednesday. "That's crazy, " I judged.

I felt like a well-off homeless person for the night, with proper gear, and money for food trucks. Yet it was still an exercise in suffering with near freezing temps. I struggled to stay warm and failed at being cheerful. Across the street, I saw those who had no choice but to sleep on the street. I felt guilt for being a pampered person of privilege, willing to suffer for my own sense pleasures (entertainment). I watched the arising and passing of the 5 hinderances all night long.

Sleepless on the sidewalk.
Meanwhile, the city provided non-stop auditory stimulation, which started to have a redundant theme of idling garbage trucks and yelling. New Yorkers generally offered their full approval (SNL being the prideful institution that it is here), but the tourists were not as understanding and expressed their opinions openly. "You people are insane!" After being called crazy by countless strangers, I started to wonder if it were true. Had I gone mad? Am I like one of those shoppers waiting in line for a giant television discount?

 I thought again about the chronically homeless and the reactions they must endure every day. I mulled over the hypocrisy of humanity. I watched women walk by in unhealthy shoes, carrying loads of shopping bags. Men unable to walk straight due to alcohol poisoning. Many of them shouting out their opinions, as if they somehow had the recipe for the right way to live. All of us labeling what we don't understand as "crazy." Eventually I took refuge in the Oneness. We are all in this swirling mess together trying to make sense of it in our own ways.

It would have been fun to see Tina Fey and Amy Poehler work their comedy magic. Unfortunately, we did not make it into the show with the stand-by tickets. Fortunately, I do not live on the street. A hot bath, good sleep, and attitude adjustment later, I'm still thinking about our brothers and sisters who are still out there trying to stay safe and warm.

                    ~May all beings be free from suffering and from the causes of suffering~