I am in a large group of women artists who have driven up to the ridge of a mountain range and then down a very windy road to a secluded artists retreat program in northern California. All I want to do is stare at the dreamy landscape, watching how the golden green hills go back and back and back, disappearing finally into a fog bank which hovers just above the sea in the distance. I want to watch as the wind blows, the fog clears, and the misty outlines of the hilltops begin to glisten in the midday sunlight. I want to sit and sketch it, and fill in the colors I am seeing, and try to capture the dreaminess, the haziness of it all, the lack of precise outlines which gives it that quality of mystery that makes me want to keep staring. But we have a schedule. There are ranchers and herders moving us along in this schedule, ensuring that we are on time. I help myself to a large lunch - two servings each of lentil soup and kale salad with some fruit on the side. My idea of a perfect meal. But my stomach feels slightly full after all that, and I am ready to rest and digest. Having forgotten the schedule momentarily, I’m jarred when it is announced that we now need to move into another room for a “movement activity”. Continue reading
A few weeks ago, on August 20, I read the news that BKS Iyengar, the renowned Indian yoga teacher and founder of the Iyengar Yoga tradition, had died at age 95. Immediately I was brought back to the many memories I have as a result of his teachings. My first California yoga teachers were trained in the Iyengar tradition. In their classes I was exposed for the first time to silent meditation and chanting. I remember as a student just managing to tolerate these first few minutes of ritual as I waited for "the real yoga class" to begin. What could these Sanskrit sounds possibly have to do with my physical strength, flexibility, and fitness, which is why I did yoga (or so I thought)? Continue reading
It’s freezing. All I know is it’s 11 miles out and back. The description on the website had said, “Participants must be in good cardiovascular condition. No single track/technical work. Climbing for sure.” I should have known when I saw the fat tires on everyone else’s bikes. Oh, how we wish that learning would take place in the comfort of our familiar homes! A cozy blanket, a warm cup of tea, our favorite music playing, and the knowing that everything as we have chosen and arranged it now surrounds us. Learning for me always looked like showing up in a classroom, or privately in front of a teacher, and demonstrating what I knew. I would then get feedback in the form of a critique, the next challenge chosen by the teacher, or a score on a test that told me how much what I thought I learned matched what I was expected to have learned. What I learned on my first mountain bike ride this weekend is that learning – the fresh, raw experience of aha!wow! that’s new! – can be extremely uncomfortable. It can happen when we are placed (or we find ourselves) in a situation we did not know we chose (but we did) and that every fiber of our being is wanting to fix, alter, escape, or resist. But there we are. In my case, “there” was a guided 11-mile ride on a closed access trail. Turning back was not an option without taking the entire group with me. Continue reading
This week we discussed Experiments #6 (The Superhero Principle) and #7 (The Jenny Craig Principle). Both principles relate to the ability of our thoughts to impact physical matter in the material world. First we discussed the results of the seed experiment. As you may recall, Tammy gifted us with sunflower seeds from her studio garden, along with a little bag of soil. It was such a beautiful gift! I went home and planted my seeds that night. As I tossed them into the soil playfully, I said, "Isn't it AMAZING that this one row of seeds is already growing faster than the other row?? I'm AMAZED!". At that point, of course, they were "just" dry seeds going into soil, sitting on my kitchen table. Nothing had happened yet. Except my thought and feeling of ALREADY being amazed at their growth. Two days later, I was truly amazed to see sprouts beginning to show. I literally thought nothing about these seeds other than the feeling of amazement that they were already growing faster. Continue reading
I firmly believe everyone should have the experience - at least once in their life - of pooping in the wilderness. Of digging a hole at least six inches deep, dropping trou, and watching their own poop land in the hole. Then filling it with soil, packing it down, and returning the surrounding earth to its original state. Continue readingI believe this not just because pooping in holes has become second nature since I started backpacking, but because I experienced real compost in my friend Lydia's yard yesterday. From start to mulch. When you see one too many potted plants or cut flower arrangements in your life, you forget where it all really comes from. Not just the postcard pictures of a farm with a guy in overalls posed casually leaning on a fence that you see from the side of the road. Not the beautiful bins of colorful, washed produce (definitely not GMO and definitely organic) at the farmers' market. No, I'm talking about what dirt really is. How our bodies - the stuff of our skin and bones - are ultimately the same stuff as dirt. How the plants growing prettily or wildly in the ground are also the same stuff as dirt. How if you have the chance to take a shovel and pull up some plants, move them to the compost heap, then come back a few months later, you might see something that looks nothing like the original plant but a lot like dirt.
The stories from the E-Squared Book Club are just too good not to share! We discussed the results from Experiments 1 and 2 this week, and when we met at Quarry Park by the labyrinth, we did Experiment 3 together. And can I just say "WHOA!". Since I have the unique position of being with both in-person and phone groups, I just have to share what's happening with everyone. Continue reading
"Not Knowing is most intimate..." - Zen saying
This is a note for you. You are such a good student, when there's a teacher standing in front of the class, and other students surrounding you, all learning to do the same things. You are a stellar worker, always taking responsibility for your job, above and beyond the call of duty. You take instructions quickly, correct your mistakes diligently, and do everything you can to get along with others. You are smart, capable, successful, but still feel there's something missing from your life, even though you can't quite name it. So what is it? What is that missing thing? I don't know. But I'm willing to bet that your relationship with Not Knowing could use a little tune-up. A little checking in and refamiliarizing. Continue reading
The Native American tradition speaks of each person's Original Medicine - that set of gifts that only you can offer the world with your particular life. I've always felt there was such a finality to the phrase "Original Medicine" - like I had to define the one thing I was here to do, or it would be lost forever. No pressure! This feeling would ignite the achiever in me, who would scramble to come up with a name, a brand, a package, a business, something very "put-together" that would create an image of how well I knew my Life's Purpose. I've been doing some version of that for most of my life. But recently I've begun to discover a process I find much more alive, much more healing, much more in alignment with my own sense of unconditional wholeness. I call it "Live Your Medicine." It is the practice of asking, "What time is it now, for me?". It involves listening for what holds the most fear for me in this moment. And then summoning the courage to take action toward that in one small way. Again and again, revisiting and refreshing with each present moment. Continue reading
In The Wisdom of No Escape, there's a chapter where Pema Chodron talks about three useful qualities for life and for meditation: precision, gentleness, and letting go. I've been consciously living with the nine principles of Breema lately, and I've noticed how precision, gentleness, and letting go are a useful way to greet any practice, old or new. For example, one of the Breema principles is "No Judgment." When you begin to study and practice "No Judgment", the first thing you notice is how much judgment is in your mind already. "No Judgment" brings your attention first to the judgment that's there. Which means, you begin to identify judgment as judgment. That's precision. You may notice as a new student of something, you like to be very precise. So every time you see your mind judging, you say to yourself, "Damn it, I'm judging again! Why am I so judgmental? I need to stop judging so much." And you feel the assault on yourself beginning to happen. This is the moment when gentleness can enter in. You have an opportunity to practice gentleness, or to continue the assault. Gentleness gives you the opportunity to take a different attitude toward yourself, even as you see, with precision, what is going on. Gentleness encourages you to just see, without extra attacks or criticism or labeling. In other words, no need to judge your judgment. Be gentle with yourself as you begin to see clearly. Just see what is, with no extra. Letting go is the final practice, and it is the result of practicing both precision and gentleness. Letting go is not something to achieve or do, but is a natural unfolding of both precision and gentleness practiced together. When you play with these qualities of precision and gentleness, dance with them back and forth, and then gradually see that they are both happening all at once, there is a feeling of letting go. Neither precision nor gentleness has to "win". There is no final state to achieve. There is no superior way to be. Letting go is a sensation of relief. That it's not all such a big deal. That we definitely need to practice, but part of the practice is also to let it all go. Letting go is not a "Forget about trying, I'll just give up" kind of feeling, but rather a smiling recognition that no one needs to win or lose, not even the more or less enlightened parts of your own mind. It's a kind of relaxation into the present, a return to what is, and a feeling that our attached thoughts are not who we are. A knowing that our true essence is something much lighter, and also more timeless than any thought or practice.
I am a recovering perfectionist. I’ve been practicing various antidotes to perfectionism quite consciously for about three years now. That makes me – the real me, the innocently imperfect me – about three years old. I’m walking, I’m talking, I’m eating with my plastic miniature utensils, insisting that I’m a big girl now. But the real big girl in the house – the house of my mind, my body, and my soul – is Miss Perfectionist. She is the one who grew up inside my house, the house of me. She became the big one without my knowing it. She got all the praise, all the money, all the polite smiling conversations at cocktail parties, all the “wow”s and “ooh”s and “aah”s, all the framed diplomas and plaques on the wall. She was surrounded by people she kept at an arm’s length distance, so they wouldn’t touch anything close to her. She thought she liked it that way. She thought she preferred it that way, because her attention could be focused on making her hair perfect, her face perfect, her nails perfect, her shoes perfect, her outfits perfect, anything that would attract the attention of perfection praisers, which seemed to be everywhere. Miss Perfectionist was so busy doing the things she defined as perfection – which always involved something other than the way things were – that she ignored the real me, who by the way, happened to own the house the whole time. Continue reading