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Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Clarity and Emotional Intelligence

I know a lot more about emotional lack of clarity than emotional clarity.  Like, four decades more experience in the lack dept.  But what I’ve found is that emotional clarity comes when one respects one’s emotional intelligence, understands it is an imperative intelligence in the scheme of things, as important as what we think of as ‘brain power’ or thinking intelligence.  

We live within many cultures (western, institutional/corporate, mainstream education) that don’t recognize this.  It has even been said that feeling-life is the orphan of the self, treated less-than in relation to other aspects of oneself.  So, those of us with that propensity, we experience shame through our continuums and feel the need to defend that perspective.  Decade after decade , we feel less than those with other strengths.  It’s not respected, or understood.  It’s not a cognitive approach.  Our schools don’t teach about emotional intelligence, our institutions and systems in the west have an alienation from this perspective.  There is no validation, nor affirmation for emotional intelligence.  We’re on our own.

So, what is this emotional intelligence?  What is emotional clarity?

photo credit:  Roberto Nencini
Because of the external influences I am indoctrinated to and live under, there is an education to turn away from and not acknowledge the workings of my feeling life.  In doing this, I become estranged from the depth of me, the part of me that is soul connected. And also in doing this, I disrespect a core aspect of myself.  The pain of that, the ache, drives me to know something else. When I begin to know this feeling in me, stop turning away, no matter how unpleasant or unattractive, I begin to glean what is.  

Lao Tzu:  Seeing what is small is called insight.  Abiding in softness is called strength.

When I start to respect this core aspect in myself, I become more clear about the layers of feeling.  My discernment grows, it matures.  My appreciation for this subtly begins to spill over into the nature of other things.  I begin to recognize the care (the feeling) around me.  For example, I see the beauty of our food resources, the care and glory in this food made for our well being.  It inspires respect and care in the way I work with the food and for whom I work for in preparing.  It’s a circle;  I care, they care, you care.  Food has simple but definite vibration that my feeling life responds to.  What is the quality?  What is called for?  How does it need to be met?  What is being asked for?  My thinking mind, my experience join in and have a place. I’ve been learning not to let that override the more subtle impressions, but to be a servant to what is.  

This also occurs for me around small children and occasionally other people. If  I’ve valued this emotional intelligence, I’ve become interested and gotten to know my fears, experienced the mired self in her various stews.  I do this for my own benefit but mostly because I value relatedness.  The intimate experience of knowing pain and pleasure in oneself helps me in relating to others.  It opens my world, makes all my experiences more spacious.

A few years ago during a retreat, we participants spent a week learning a sacred dance.  It was about 20 minutes long and was physically very demanding.  There was a lot of standing from kneeling positions, rolling on the ground and standing from there.  Up and down.  A lot of sequences.  I found myself migrating to the back of the class, because I couldn’t do it well and I suffered the embarrassment of this and shame.  But I also noticed, though I was incapable of physically doing it, my spirit, my feeling was exactly in the right place in myself.  I felt a right connection in myself during the movement of it.  It dawned on me, isn’t it this that matters?  So, my despair and self disappointment was replaced by, “my perfectionist self can’t, but I can as I can”.  And I became able in this way (not the way I imagine I should be able).  My spirit, my feeling for the movement rescued me from the impossibility that was my physical self.  

During that week, I had the memory of being a child around the family dinner table, and the question being asked: What do you want to be when you grow up?  As an adult, I remembered that the answer was:  to be a nun.  But during the sacred dance retreat week, I remembered the truth. I said as a six year old, I wanted to be holy and the adults at the table put it in my head that holy wasn’t an occupation, so I’d have to be a nun.  I didn’t want to be a nun, I wanted to be holy; two different things.  And then at 10 years old, I wanted to be a dancer, which is the same thing (to me) as being holy.  That is the thing about emotional intelligence.  It finds its way (from nun to dancer), it navigates for the rest of me if I listen, if I stay true to it and don’t betray it.  Emotional clarity is not what I think of as clarity at all.  It’s a state of listening and following even when it doesn’t make sense to most of me.  It’s a willingness to not know or adhere to what is known or what is prescribed.

The methodical, linear-minded ordinary thinking is a different language entirely to feeling-mindedness.  When ordinary feeling becomes mired, confused, bogged down in despair, shame, the other aspects of myself— the body, the mind can be allies.  Initially the body’s inability in the sacred dance discounted the feeling capacity; it was caught up in its lack.  The creative mind had the perception that it did and the feeling part was inspired to see what really mattered in the moment.  But it took 3-4 days of acute ordinary suffering for this to happen, with the myriad of influences I was subjected to during that time.  That’s a lot of coinciding energies.

It’s emotional clarity that appreciates the sublime silence experienced in a group sitting, the weighty quiet shared.  It’s emotional clarity that is willing not to name or identify an experience or thing, but appreciates the experience of being there, with it, in it.  Emotional clarity celebrates the opague, the intangible, the moment of inexplicable intuition, the mysterious.  An understanding and clarity often unfolds after the event.  For me, it is not often immediate. 

If I don’t respect or acknowledge this aspect or capacity in myself, it won’t show itself.  Emotional intelligence is necessarily veiled because of its tendency in the world, and in myself to be discounted and disrespected.  If I begin to have an appreciation for it, it surfaces and is readily at my disposal.

glad I'm not a nun! 😊

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Surviving and Thriving During a Collective Crisis

Photo credit:  Etienne Roudaut
"When everything is moving and shifting, the only way to counteract chaos is stillness. When things feel extraordinary, strive for ordinary. When the surface is wavy, dive deeper for quieter waters." --Kristin Armstrong (most decorated women cyclist in US history)

These are extraordinary times we are living in:  calamitous, turbulent, and nerve-wracking.  We have been forced to engage like we never have before.  We witness the extraordinary power of democracy in action and the often terrifying forces challenging democracy.  It has our adrenals and central nervous system working on overdrive.  I am hearing and seeing the bouts of crippling exhaustion and despair from many.  How can we survive and thrive during this crisis, especially if it is long and drawn out, as it appears it will be.

In my experience, the single most important quality necessary is self discipline.  Without this, it is very easy to be pulled off our center of gravity, to lose focus, to become physically or emotionally disabled. These are the days when routine and purposeful activity is mandatory, healthy outer and inner habits leaned upon. 

What does this mean in relation to the 4 fundamentals of wellness: rest, nutrition, exercise and spirit work/play?

REST:  Make sure you get a lot of it.  Try to go bed nightly the same time and wake the same time.  If your sleep is broken, start employing self-care tactics to ensure a better night's rest.  

Sleep is the most obvious aspect of the rest fundamental.  But to give our sympathetic nervous system periodic breaks we should be having other relaxing actions as part of our day.  Needlecraft's like knitting, crocheting is a great relaxer, helping get repetitive deeper breathing patterns in play.  Playing an instrument, playing record/CD, radio music, watching funny or non-intense movies, reading novels.  Know where your threshold is with stress and anxiety and take a break.  Take a whole day off from social media or political activities and just have some guilt free fun. In a crisis, it's very important to have a lapse of engagement, where you are not thinking or acting on behalf of the crisis.  And in that lapse, to feel joyous in the activity and not guilty you are not "on it".  Pick your battles, you can't be part of every march and rally.  Know what is the right action and when for you. Become aware of fatigue, burn out, depression and readjust your approach.  Navigating this terrain for ourselves is very interesting as you begin to recognize signs and symptoms in yourself and the subsequent choices you make in caring for yourself. Self-discipline brings order and a healthy repetition.  Following are some previous posts that might help with this.  The Fine Art of Self SoothingModern ToiletryEnergy Field SurveillanceSleep TightA Right Rest Witnessing: Attention, Intention and Healing

"We adore chaos because we love to produce order."  M. C. Escher

Photo credit:  Lalu Danzker
NUTRITION:  Inevitably, we will capitulate to comfort foods; it's winter and there is a crisis. Add some broccoli to your mac and cheese, make some good bone broth for the base of your soups-- very healing, and worth the effort.  Cook.  Cooking and baking and engaging in that way is very important.  It slows us down, it put us in relationship with what we are about to receive, it's caring in action.  Sometimes you gotta get takeout.  Most of the time take the time to cook for yourselves and your loved ones.  Following are some previous posts on this that might help.  On Fire: the State of Chronic InflammationpH: It's all about balanceBone Deep.

"Chaos is a friend of mine."  "I accept chaos, I'm not sure whether it accepts me." -- Bob Dylan

EXERCISE: I bring this up a lot in my work.  Exercise is a major stress buster, helping to regulate our functions and systems.  Being mindful of all movement from washing dishes to just spending time in bed stretching legs and pelvis is bringing an attention to the body. It grounds us, creates a sense of the vertical in myself.  When crisis hits, most of us fly into our emotional and mental responses, leaving our body disconnected.  Our bodies are everything in a crisis; we depend on them for reality checks. Our bodies are constantly giving us cues as to the truth of the moment.  If we aren't attending to the body, we miss the cues of what is going on inside and outside.  Stay close to the body.  Moving the body, the breath in the body opens up our perception; we think more clear, our feelings become regulated. I just said it but I say it again:  the body is everything.  You lose your connection to your body, you lose your groundedness, your sense of reality, and become subject to the craziness your feeling and head gets into without a relationship to your person.  Without your body, you literally lose skin in the game.  The body is an equalizing factor. We discount it, disrespect it, bemoan its inconveniences. We have to love it and we have to move it.  Following are some prior posts centered on this fundamental wellness principle:  Designed to Move

"The battlefield is a scene of constant chaos. The winner will be the one who controls that chaos, both his own and the enemies."-- Napoleon Bonaparte

Spirit work are activities that center our being.  Obvious examples are meditation and prayer.  Less obvious examples are walking with an attention to the body ("Zen" walking puts a name on it), Buddhist breathing exercises that open one's heart, and/or dispel negativity. Qigong exercises of bringing in images of patience, magnanimity and letting go images of hate and fear, are among a few.  Spirit work grounds us in our internal truths and helps liberates us from the frantic, over kinetic external.  It is peace-making.  Play is wherever there is fun and humor, satisfaction and that which touches the essential in oneself.  All of these can be found in the "mundane", such as knitting or cooking or car mechanics, or guitar playing to name a few. This kind of work brings us closer to who we are and our purpose, not from the activity itself, but from the internal engagement rooted in love of peace.  When we get a frequent (self discipline!) taste of this, it becomes much harder to lose that vertical, to be pulled out of an inner, more real alignment. Prior posts that elucidate on this:  Humor and HealthProdigal Return: Community of SelfOneness: Ho'oponopono

Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence. --Buddha

As separate as these 4 fundamentals might seem, they are actually deeply connected.  They support each other and are often part and parcel of each other's expression.  When they're working together (for the most part), I experience an established discernment.  My mind quiets to the dramatic headline; it starts to look for plausibility, it becomes inqurious, the guile radar engages. My emotional intelligence kicks in without hysteria.  Everything starts to work together.  I'm grounded.  My more whole self is centered.  Thank you self discipline.

Become aware of energy: your own, others and the collective.  Pace yourself.  Step into the fray when your vertical is vibrating "yes".  Be respectful of yourselves and others, others who might not be as equally aligned in a moment.  Practice compassion as best as you can with yourself and others.  Remember:  Kindness.  Be kind, no exceptions (even when your mad as hell).  Kindness, like forgiveness, like love is a boomerang, it comes right back to you.  And hate, fear, ego righteousness-- it does the same thing, it comes back to you almost immediately, toxifying what could be otherwise.  So, for your well being's sake, be kind while you are being courageous.
Following are some essays that might be helpful:

The Collective: Group EnergyAnxiety: Inside the BoxMeditate? Do I Have ToViolence: A Cautionary Truth

Saturday, October 1, 2016

What Matters?

art credit:  Vanessa Veira
We identify priorities, values.  We move toward and away as clarity comes into focus.  We form goals and aims.  The mechanism of how we operate (each of us has our own unique approach and retreat means) goes into play.  How we structure and feel into our wants and needs depends on our fuller intelligence.  Not just our mental/cognitive talent, but also our accessibility to our feeling life and our connection to our body.

Win or lose, fail or succeed is almost always in the forefront of our being as a weighty consideration to what matters.  But strangely, it’s doubtful to me that it matters the outcome (even though we may be conditioned to think otherwise).  What matters, is the effort we made, the striving and struggle toward that which is calling us.

Effort is energy.  It reads.  It reads to oneself and others.  It creates an influence to the outside and the inside.  The quality of effort matters.  Hard, forceful, determined, tense effort can be a ‘manhandling’ of one’s energy field (and others).  One can push a boulder up a mountain after all, and get the job done with enormous external effort.  Culturally, we understand effort by use of force.

In Chinese thought, all things contain yin and yang.  The dark/light, hard/soft, passive/active.  So it is in effort.  Attaining or meeting something is sometimes a mere thought, feeling or sensation.  Many bodywork principles are based on this.  (ie: Alexander Technique:  if I think upward and out the influence is felt in the rest of me and it happens.)  We are conditioned that effort is rolling that boulder up the mountain.  But effort also can be soft, sublime and a sensitized awareness that is cultivated and maintained.

art credit:  Phung Noi Fong
Effort.  When I chronically turn away from what is distressing and difficult, when I drop into my denial of what IS, I turn away from what matters.  I lose my internal warrior.  If I somehow can allow that courageous effort of facing what Is, not turn away, that becomes a moment of triumph.  Even if I turn away again (which almost always is inevitable).  Even if “nothing comes of it”…. this time.

What matters?  What matters is I try even if it is assured I will fail.  I am conditioned it is bad to fail.  Facing that conditioning is an effort.  The attempt to know myself in the discomfort of the unknown, with little to no internal recourse, and a certainty I will most likely fail, is strengthening the power of effort.  

Failing this time, but maybe not the 100th time.  The value becomes the Now and is no longer the outcome.  It is a Quixotic attitude.

When I’ve contemplated over decades the karma of things, despair has often visited, knowing we are almost certain to repeat the mistakes and failures, possibly into the next life (if that should be so).  The probability is slim we master that (seemingly) karmic challenge.  But now, my attitude is not so fixed on mastering the weakness or frailty.  What matters is I worked with it consistently; I met it over and over again and made efforts to know it.  That effort, it builds sustenance inside and strength outside.  It is an influence on all of the world and also me and possibly my karma.  Transformation and miracles are possible due to this.  This is the Water element in Chinese medicine.  The wearing away of the stone by a drop of water that falls, repeated a zillion times.  Light, methodical, patient, and repetitive.  Water conquers all, eventually.

art credit:  Polly Verity

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Aging: Willing to Change

I've written a lot on aging.  And I've written a lot on changing.  But I'm always surprised at our human propensity try as we do, to make every effort to do neither.

I've lived a fairly long time, been through almost all of the developmental stages and have witnessed thousands of times others going through them.  The bridges between the stages are the most interesting, where most of the unknown rests.  We are between two stools, so to speak.  It takes a graceful adjustment (hopefully) once we come out of our denial that that is where we are.  And the feeling into that unknown (especially if it seems like a down turn) is where our decades of maturity comes in handy.

The willingness to change is required.  Tweaking or revamping nutritional needs to optimize our sense of wellbeing.  Adding supplements to support usurped nutrients the body isn't so robustly producing on its own.  Experimenting with alternative forms of healthcare like acupuncture, botanicals, homeopathy or naturopathy, chiropractic or bodywork for aches or pains that don't resolve themselves like they did when one was younger.  Recognizing stretching is a requirement, no longer a "it-would-be-nice-to do-if-you-can" prior to exercise or to relieve ligaments and muscles that tighten a lot more easily.  Taking a pro-active, preventative, and informed approach to one's health and in relationship to the healthcare industry is a mature step.

From my prospective as an aging person and someone who experiences a lot of aging people a lot of the time, mental and attitudinal flexibility is also a vital component to a joyful old age.   The "firebrand", reactive aspect is something to accept and be interested in in much younger folks.  The young are  finding their way in the world, discovering their values, forming an identity.  We have the capacity after a lot of living, to hold them in a safe container until they figure it out; to not judge or criticize them for their search.  Reactivity in an older person indicates that a personal understanding and healing hasn't been reached, a wholeness not found.  Especially in a dire political climate-- that discretionary, centered, more whole perspective is needed from elders to help balance the host of others in their 20's through (often) '50s who are in reaction/crisis mode a lot of the time and which effects their equilibrium, communities and the world energetically.  Because we've "been to the rodeo" a few times and hopefully done a fair amount of living, hurting, healing and the rest. Gandhi's proposal, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world", is a serious undertaking for an elder.

photo credit:  Pierre deVallonbrouse

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Anxiety: Inside the Box

The more I work with people and listen, it is apparent that we as a nation (world?) are suffering from a chronic low grade to debilitating anxiety.  And the more I listen, the more I understand it is rarely the seeming cause of the anxiety that is the problem (although, the world's collective distress is plenty).  Crisis and even levels of trauma are part of the human experience through our continuums.  We are built and designed to heal ourselves.

What I am hearing and seeing is the lack of inner preparedness, the non-cultivation of more Wholeness and well being in ourselves.   The culture at large does not introduce and nurture in people from a young age the means to navigate this.  We're just not prepared for the speed of life having not known well and appreciated, the slowness.  Most of us are indoctrinated from an early age to be productive, have attainable goals, to note the sequences leading up to success and imitate that.  But most of all, it is the what not to do that westerners have been taught that I believe has the anxiety-meter going through the roof.

We are taught not to value emotional intelligence, the creative impulse and the mysterious.  Indigenous cultures, and peoples whose values are close to nature, close to knowing more subtle and hidden aspects of themselves have this sort of preparedness to deal with crisis.  They have a well developed emotional intelligence  (see Emotional Competence and Autoimmunity).  There is a vertical knowing, a respect and value for a layered emotional connection to self, intuition and a metaphysical relationship to nature, spirit and others.

This type of modus operandi is not the norm in western culture.  We are far from Ourselves.  We put all our energy into developing our cognitive abilities.  Our systems, paradigms and cultural structures are reason oriented and hierarchical.  There is an external, extend-out-from-ourselves emphasis.  This leaves our core depth, our should-be-solid vertical unsupported, unprepared for stress.  We are living within a tight and often claustrophobic box.  The delight of the unusual, unexpected manifestations and truths that ground our core selves become atrophied.  We operate from a fear-based need to be in control.  Our metaphysical, intuitive, creative self is not used in a balanced relationship with our cognitive capacities.  There is a stunting of this other aspect of ourselves.  This creates a chronic inner state (unseen, unfelt) of being bereft, separated from our inner reality.  There is no wonder we have anxiety.

What can be done? An affirmation of this core strength and a gentle visiting to those places in ourselves is required.  As is seen in the following article, when a corporate (western) approach is taken to encourage people to learn meditation or yoga (Is Mindfulness Making Us Sick?), unexpected and un-desirous results ensue.  It's an attempt to go from the (totally unprepared) outside to the In.  As the article points out, the In resists.  It puts up all sorts of resistance because it's a violent attempt (from its perspective) at awakening parts of ourselves that have had little activity.   This would be akin to sprinting a mile when you've been on the couch for a month.  So all the ego-survival mechanisms pull out the stops and what we get is a lot of disturbing body memories buried in a vault in ourselves.  It is a violence of sorts and because of the often insistent approach, not rooted in kindness but force.  A gentle, curious interest needs to be cultivated first.  In this state, knocking on that door might yield a gradual opening (if there is no agenda).  Everything in its own time.

photo credit:  Omid Gamini
The western approach (cognitive, analytical, systematic, efficient, rational) in a basically eastern method is not possible.  We have to lend ourselves to our more innate eastern capacities.  The creative, the metaphysical, the sensory-based--- all inherent in the human organism.  This is an intelligence of a totally different order.  It is wise when transversing on foreign soil, to be attentive, curious and humble in one's approach.  Temperance. Rome wasn't built in a day, or in a weekend meditation workshop.

Know Thyself.  Know your (present) limitations.  Feel what is keen inside.  If the door is not opening, it has its (good) reasons.  Respect this.  It is just for the present.  Bring a humility and care to all of yourself and your endeavors.  Ask for help.  Be discerning in whom you trust with your Depth.  Is it a hierarchical arrangement? If the relationship is less a mutuality and more a "I know more than you, I will teach you about you/what you should know", be careful (run for the hills).  A healing is always a state of self-empowerment (as messy and non-sensical as it sometimes may be).  A healing and healer finds you when you're ready, you don't have to go looking for it/them; you just have to be available, in a state of receptivity.  Receptivity blossoms when there is a nonjudgmental interest and an authentic curiosity.  With self-empathy and joy, start to experience aspects of yourself outside the box.  Anxiety will be less overwhelming and more manageable.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


Truth 1:  not all things are for all people.

Truth 2: we are living in a very compressed world at the moment.  And as I've said in prior posts, our central nervous systems (CNS) are on overload (guaranteed).  Physiologically speaking, a taxed CNS means lower immunity, and a much higher susceptibility to disease.  Of course, one's mental health and overall well being is drastically effected, impacting one's personal life and work performance.  Personal and cultural interventions are required.

Meditation in the last 15-20 years has been the trending panacea for the ills of stress.  And I'd be the first one to promote it, (mostly) enjoying a 38 year meditation practice, having taught meditation and having had it at the center of my work with others for over two decades.  I've been around long enough to find, meditation (as we think of it, sitting on a cushion in a quiet room) definitely is not for everyone.  I wish it was.  But it's not.

So, let's think.  What does the CNS require to stay my body healthy during trying times?  What is it about meditation that covers this territory?  What are other options if meditation is not for me?

Tree of Life stone/metal work.  Sid Saiyyed Mosque, 1573
A little physiology lesson to start:  The CNS is made up of the SNS (Sympathetic Nervous System, "flight or fight" response") and the PNS (Parasympathetic Nervous System, "rest and relaxation" response).  Ideally, these are in harmonious relationship.  But, in today's world it's rare this is the case.  The SNS is on overdrive related to this earlier mentioned cultural compression most everyone is experiencing, added to the electromagnetic over stimulation of technology and media, added to the often poor food/fluid intake, laced with GMO, pesticides, overprocessing, toxic air and environment conditions etc, added to the high anxiety of family, neighborhood, community, country, world events.  And if you aren't experiencing any of these at the moment, just get in your car and go for a drive (all that stop and go and the traffic!) or open the paper and your SNS will do what it does, kick in.  It's on overdrive.  Believe me.  The PNS can't get an impulse in edgewise.  It doesn't have a chance.  Even the rest periods at night, we're still expected to have, are not restful.  Insomnia is a huge problem.  People today sleep 20% less than they did 100 years ago, more than 30% of the population suffers from insomnia, including 40% to 60% of people over the age of 60, 90% of people who suffer from depression also experience insomnia, and approximately 10 million people in the U.S. use prescription sleep aids.  We have a sleeping problem, we are not getting the rest we need.

Our relaxation is not relaxation in the least.  For many, it's vegging on the couch watching a movie.  Or hanging on Facebook for a few hours after work, playing phone games or obsessing over word puzzles.  This is just more electromagnetic stimulation and mental gymnastics.  We never stop going; and many of us wear this like a badge of honor. It's not.  It's distracting foolishness.  It's wearing our body's systems down, creating conditions for disease to move in.

So, back to what does the CNS require to stay my body healthy during trying times?  We need to give the SNS a break and allow the PNS to deploy.  Meditation is a wonderful groundwork for this.  It brings stillness to a series of moments.  Helps us see and experience the separation from the busy mind and other parts of myself.  It slows the SNS down and encourages the PNS to do its thing.  It's a great practice-- if you can do it.  If you can't, other tools must be used.

Rest and Relaxation can be found in a lot of places, meditation doesn't have a corner on the market here.  Playing is a supreme place for some r&r.  Playing for adults is very individual.  How do you have fun (good, clean fun not involving substances)?  Engaging in a creative process is not only fun, but often elicits a meditative response.  Again, this is very individual.  Creativity doesn't necessarily require art supplies.  It can be making a garden, re-thinking a use of an empty room, fooling around with a recorder (musical instrument or auditory machine).  Writing an entertaining letter (do people still write letters?), decorating a child's stool, even scrapbooking.  Six of the top 20 books selling on Amazon are adult coloring books.  Coloring is a great decompressor and it's immediate and they say, it's a contender with meditation for getting into that still, quiet place in oneself.  Pull out those watercolor pencils and go to town!  Let go of control and illusions of a perfect product, just enjoy your senses.  Explore. Risk. Fail. Triumph.

painting:  Peter Vihelmlisted
Handwork like knitting, crocheting, sewing and needlepoint are rhythmical and repetitive, hence meditative in nature.  They bring the energy down into the middle of myself (unless the patterns are tricky and require a lot of mental attention).

Exercise is the number 1 stress buster.  Catch two fish with one net (two benefits from one activity) and do QiGong, TaiChi or Yoga.  All 3 practices are meditative in nature, work with creating deep breath work (meditation!) in the movement sequences.  Imagination is key in especially yoga and Qigong.  Poses in yoga have imaginative names that inspire more of me to participate (i.e. Warrior I, Pigeon pose,  Downward Dog) and Qigong integrates imagery as part of layered sequences.  The third fish is they're all really fun to do, once you relax into it. These are "low impact" exercises, so your cardiologist and physical therapist will love you for doing them.  Swimming is low impact as well.  Doing laps gives you the opportunity to get into "the zone" (meditation!). Again, it's rhythmical and repetitive, it's exercise (!).  A lot of fish with one net.....

photo credit: Tianzhan Chen
Many people say Great Nature is their church, their temple their 'resting' place.  If this is so for you, surround yourself with trees, get a fish tank or table-top water fall for the office.  Enter the magnificence that is nature.  If this is where you find your breath,  resonating with the slowness of the Mother in your midst, than here is where you must be a good deal of time. Not just weekends, not just holidays-- several days a week.  Nature's impact is fast, but its penetration is slow; unless you give yourself some generous time there.  Nature works in layers (like meditation).  But you have to give yourself time there.

Yes, giving oneself time.  This is the key in all these practices, including meditation. This is the obstacle.  All of these practices require a discipline, a commitment.  They require a shift in perspective.  Do you have to meditate? Shrugging off instituting a meditation practice because it's not your thing is one thing.  But we can't shrug off the connection that is inherently right in myself that I'm missing.  Choose your rest and relaxation path, your direction and embrace it.  Your health and well being depends upon it.

The Peace of Wild Things,  Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief.  I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.  For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Not Knowing

photo credit:  Bruno Barbey, 1980
Before the longing to know in human nature, came the deep need to explore.  One only needs to look at babies and small children to recognize this.  A toddler will climb up and down stairs repeatedly to experience this interesting physical phenomenon.  Or adventure all sorts of objects into their mouths exploring the thing’s dimensions, as well as tastes and textures.  Once the newness of something is ‘known’, we move onto other adventures.  And so it goes.

As ego develops in human beings (thanks in part to all this acquiring of skills and knowing), the focus shifts from exploring to knowing.  The culture at large supports this.  The value of not knowing falls to the wayside.   What is the value of not knowing?

The knowing state is a static state (usually).  It tends to be fixed, inflexible, not expansive.  It also tends not to be open, is incurious and often prejudicial or biased.  One’s sense of identity (ego again) is often wrapped up nicely in what we know.  This is a comfortable place to be.  And the basic human/animal organism’s main thrust in life is to find and maintain comfort in all things.

So, what is the value of not knowing?

To the basic part of myself, not knowing is of no value, in fact should be avoided at all costs (even at the cost of ignorance or denial of not knowing).  Possibly why projection is such a powerful and forever present aspect of daily living.  We project onto others who we believe ourselves to be, who they are, our desires… everything.  Distortion is inevitable.  Our reality is of our own creation. This is a way of cementing our knowingness.  Projection, like ego and knowing is always with us.  An awareness and interest in how it is manifesting is to slip into the curious, requiring another type of attention.

art credit:  Stankko Abadzic
To the other part of myself, the part or parts that have more possibilities, not knowing is of value.  This is the (more conscious?) part, the aspect of ourselves that separates from the enmeshment of engagement, that isn’t buried in the past or future.  It’s an acquired state, being in the unknown.  Outright uncomfortable, almost painful at times, not knowing throws out most of what I thought I knew and leaves me feeling stranded in an unfamiliar abyss.  Most of me fights hard to leave this disruptive place.  If I am lucky enough to gain some experience there, it becomes less and less awful the more I allow myself to experience it.  Something in me recognizes the value of that kind of bearing.

So, when I am in front of an octogenarian failing in memory or a three year old having a melt down, sometimes bearing witness, being with, is a more useful act than supposing the reason to the unreasonable behavior (and god help me, if I attempt to fix it).  I stand with them in not knowing.  I only know what is, right now.  And I am with them in that unknown place.  Wonder flows, tensions fall away.  We’re only human after all.