Surrender and Loving It ‘Til You Know What It Is

137_3724 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. IMG_3510 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 "Surrender and Loving It ‘Til You Know What It Is"

Trying To Squeeze Blood From A Turnip and The Power of No Force

Part of a series exploring each of the Breema Nine Principles of Harmony turnips001 Trying to squeeze blood from a turnip is a lot like being at war with reality. What are the ways we use force against what is, in an attempt to make things the way we think (and thought is the key word here) they should be? Does it ever really work? And at what price? When we use force, do we even know that our sanity, our inner peace, our body, exists? Or do we only see the blood we want so desperately to come from the turnip, or whatever we are applying force to? If we see clearly, we first begin to recognize that we are not getting the blood we want, despite all the effort. If we continue to look, we might be able to recognize that there's a turnip involved, a turnip that is quite innocent, being a turnip. It has no blood to give. It's just being squeezed, and squeezed some more, harder and harder. You (the one who is squeezing) keep getting more frustrated, but the turnip is not doing anything different. Surprise, surprise, it's still a turnip! Your squeezing, your effort, your frustration, your attempts, have done absolutely nothing to change that. Continue reading "Trying To Squeeze Blood From A Turnip and The Power of No Force"

Leaning in…to what?

woman leaning illustration There's going to be some talk about leaning in. I’d like to speak about “leaning in” from the perspective of a woman who learned the men’s rules and did pretty well for awhile. I picked up all the cues about how I was supposed to behave, what I was supposed to do to play the game, how I could win. I earned a seat at the boardroom table, surrounded by men. I am grateful for the doors that were opened for me, when I behaved a lot like a successful man. I rode the bus for a few rounds before I got off and started the process of sitting in front of the blank page, making up my own game, creating my own rules, and teaching myself a whole new way of "leaning in". When we talk about “leaning in”, we have to talk about what that really means for individuals. To me, “leaning in” is about going toward the places that scare you. The real question is, “What scares you?” Most of us are living in remote places that are carefully designed to be far out of reach from what really scares us. We have concocted our plans based on meticulous avoidance of everything that really scares us. We believe that this construction project actually spares us the feeling of being scared, but it follows us. It never leaves us. It camps out in dark corners inside us. We dart, we duck, we hide, we layer on coats of paint and makeup and accessories and postures that we think – hope – will cover it up. But it plagues us. We seek relief, but we also secretly believe we’ll never find it. We think this is as good as it gets, so we keep pointing in the same direction. So what are we leaning into? Continue reading "Leaning in…to what?"

Can you really take a day off?

There was a time when I believed - when I was totally convinced - that I could not take a day off. Maybe it was the example of my parents, whom I saw work tirelessly every single day, never letting go of the responsibilities of their jobs, and never taking a day off unless they were absolutely required to (and by that I mean, being so sick they had to be admitted to the hospital). Or maybe it was medical school, where I learned by working alongside residents and fellows who would regularly show up to work sick, because they "couldn't take a day off". On one rotation, I recall the vascular surgery fellow being so rundown from flu-like symptoms that he had to dash out of the operating room to throw up in the scrub sink during a procedure he was performing. I watched wide-eyed and took everything in, my mind drawing the conclusion that "people with important jobs can never take a day off". I became determined to find work that would enable me to take a day off, and still be considered important. The problem was, I really had no idea what was truly important to me. I had many concepts that had been implanted by messages from my family, from images in movies and advertisements, and from the culture in which I was living. "What's important" was a moving target, a reaction to whatever "everyone else" appeared to be doing. Meanwhile, in my heart I knew that I wanted to make a difference in this world, to care about something genuinely, and to share my story somehow in this life. But the only way I knew - based on what I had seen, learned, and been taught - was to put my head down and work. I worked hard at everything I did. I didn't take many days off. When I did, I remember feeling an odd combination of freedom and loss.
"Who am I without my email inbox full of requests and my voicemail full of messages?" "Who am I when I am not answering to anyone else?" "What would I choose to do if I had an entire day with no obligations, no one telling me where to be or what I had to do?"
Continue reading "Can you really take a day off?"

Confessions of a Closet Musician

I still feel jealous whenever I see a musician performing onstage. I know, I call myself a “life coach” so I should be more evolved than that. But I’m not. I do know, however, that noticing my feeling of jealousy is a juicy nugget of treasure to show me the thoughts that are keeping me imprisoned. So I start to do the work. Even now, that I am actually living a life of sharing my music in the world, there is an old, fear-driven part of my brain, which hasn’t quite let go of its hold over my essential self, that is yelling in my ear, "You'll never make it in this world as a musician! It's just too hard to make a living! You'll never be respected! You'll have to work too hard! It'll never be worth it!" Ever notice that the people who say these things are the ones whose lives have actually proven these beliefs to be true? I haven’t found a successful performing artist who has said, “Forget it. It’s too hard. For all the effort I put in, it’s not worth it.” (On the other hand, for some reason, I've met plenty of doctors who've said this to me.) The reality – the truth - is there are many examples of people whose lives prove these beliefs NOT to be true. What's the difference between these two groups of people? Is it talent? Is it luck? Is it genetics? Is it a mystery? Continue reading "Confessions of a Closet Musician"

Taking Things Apart: Videos of Leaving the Cradle

It's been just over a year now since I stepped with clarity into the next phase of my life by leaving a business I came to California to create, back in 2004. I've told the story so many times that it may seem like "old news" to some of you, but for me, that one decision was a *huge* step. It cleared the way for so much magic that has emerged - through effort and spontaneous creativity, guided by intention and enabled by practice - over the past year. Last week I went through the embodied steps of letting go - moving all the physical items out of the Cradle of Manifestation after acknowledging that a 1,800-square-foot facility no longer matched the life I am creating. In the process, I've come face-to-face with so many of my deeply held beliefs and default patterns. I believed that being a "responsible" person - a piece of my identity I held tightly as a symbol of my worthiness to occupy space on this planet - meant putting other people's needs ahead of my own, no matter what the cost. In my work, this was expressed as taking full responsibility for all outcomes associated with the people I was involved with - which translated into poor delegation, inability to trust other people's skills and ways of doing things, and the result of preferring to do everything on my own, so it would be perfect. Ultimately, I experienced exhaustion and burnout as the destination on this path. After I crossed the hurdle of actually setting a boundary, saying "no more" to my own business (which, at the time, was the only path I felt drawn to), and risking the disappointment of other people (which, at the time, was my greatest and most paralyzing fear), the same belief expressed itself as a firm resolve in my mind to continue paying rent on my office space simply because I had signed a lease, and that was that. An agreement was an agreement, with no room for discussion. I was a person who kept my word. But living by those old rules under the new circumstance of starting a business from scratch in a new industry translated to prioritizing my landlords' needs over my own, which I did for an entire year. I dutifully and silently wrote each check and made sure it arrived before the first of every month. For an entire year. I was silently proving to myself my own worth as a "responsible" person (daughter, girl), but in fact I was not honoring myself or my fledgling business fully. Continue reading "Taking Things Apart: Videos of Leaving the Cradle"

A Story of Two Hikes

Lately I have found that the best "medicine" I can give myself during the course of a day is to get out of my chair and go on a hike. I am fortunate to live within a few minutes' drive of several open space preserves, so there are no excuses! Except the voices in my head saying that I "should" be "working"...a very narrowly defined version of working indeed. I've found that every time I actually take the action of going on the hike - against the more prudent advice of the thoughts in my heads saying things like, "Breaks are for the weak", and, "Working hard is the only way to survive in life" - I experience a burst of creative ideas and energetic opening, which makes me grateful for every breath and every step I can take. It's not like "working out" at the gym, which I did for many years and with much gusto. Recently I took a hike and recorded two videos - one before and one afterwards. I set an intention (or actually a "goal") of practicing self-acknowledgment during the hike, since I had spent the better part of the day flogging myself to work harder, falling into the old thought pattern of, "It's never enough." About halfway through the hike, I realized that in the effort and concentration of pursuing my goal of self-acknowledgment, I had not acknowledged anything that was going on in my immediate surroundings! I had not taken in the particular sights, sounds, and other physical sensations of being on a walk outdoors surrounded by open space and natural vistas. My head was down for most of the first half of the hike. But once I realized this halfway through, and opened myself to experience the present moment, I softened my gaze. I was not working so hard to be on this hike and accomplish rejuvenation as if it were another homework assignment by a teacher. I was shifting into receptivity and noticing everything gently, in real time. I started to look UP at the sky, notice the sounds of the birds, appreciate how the outline of the mountains against the sky, on this particular day, were barely visible because of the misty haze. I started to listen to the sound of my own footsteps on the trail, and how they provided a steady, soft rhythm over which the birds occasionally improvised their solos. During the second half of my hike, there was a shift into musicality from what had started out mechanically. This was my experience of coming into the present moment. You hear Eckhart Tolle and Oprah and other teachers talking about "being in the present moment", but what is your own experience of it, in your own body? I post this as a reminder that we may spend lots of time trying to learn something, or pay someone to teach us "how to" do something, or read blog after blog in search of the answer to the questions in our heart. I believe that learning and growth are the ultimate purpose of our lives here on earth. However, keep in mind that the most important thing to do while learning is to notice yourself as you learn. By developing the ability to notice what is going on inside you, how you are applying the lessons specifically in your life, and honoring your experience as you respond to being taught, you are giving yourself the true gift of learning...and healing. I encourage you to find the energy of openness and receptivity in your daily life through your own practice....maybe it's a hike, or maybe it's something else. Discover what restores YOU! Video before the hike (where I set my intention): Video after the hike (which felt like two different hikes based on a mind shift halfway through):

The Difference Between Being Organized and Uncluttered

You can be both organized and cluttered at the same time. Have you ever thought about that? A friend sent me a link to an article discussing the difference between organization and uncluttering. It arrived in my life at a time when I was open to receiving an "aha" moment. Even though I have found a place to store and/or organize many items in my home, I have noticed that so many of these items are ones I don't need or love anymore. At one time, they held an important place in my life. At one time, they were useful to me. At one time, they were needed on a regular basis. But how about now? I have undergone three major career changes in my life, and have lived in five different cities over the past twelve years. I have had an underlying assumption that my life "should" be constantly expanding in size. An unexamined belief that progress and growth means accumulation of things. I have full closets that I haven't touched in several years. And while my mind and body and spirit are trying to move in a new direction, the weight of these untouched contents is becoming palpable. Continue reading "The Difference Between Being Organized and Uncluttered"

Love Hurts…Is It True? A Few Things I Once Learned About Love…And How I’m Unlearning Them

Have you ever thought about how you learned what love means? What moments in your life explicitly taught you how to love? What examples of love did you observe, and what did you unconsciously learn from them? For most of my life, I have had a murky understanding of the words "love" and "compassion". They were abstract concepts, which I felt no bodily connection to. They were supposed to be good things that good people expressed and felt all of the time, but I had no clue what they felt like to me. "I love you" was not something ever uttered in my household. As far as I know, the phrase doesn't exist in the Chinese language, at least as it applies to families. For most of my life, "love" was a word used by my parents to rationalize their financial anxiety, anger, worry, asking for too much information, and criticizing. "If we didn't love you and care about you, we wouldn't bother to nag you so much," they'd say in defense of themselves. Continue reading "Love Hurts…Is It True? A Few Things I Once Learned About Love…And How I’m Unlearning Them"

Creating Your Vision for 2011

What's your theme for the new year?

I've never been a New Year's Resolution person, but every year on December 31, I take time to reflect on the previous year and write down what I remember. I focus on things like what I learned, how I grew, and the events that were most meaningful for me. This past year was a particularly abundant year of growth and change for me. Last December 31, I finally felt clear and took the step of writing a letter to the thirty families in my violin school, announcing to them that within two weeks, the school would come to an end. While I had no idea what would unfold as a result of that action, I was absolutely clear about my intention of letting go in order to move into the next phase of my life and accept whatever it would bring me. It was an act of trust. My self-proclaimed commitment, or theme, for 2010, was to live from my Core of Peace. To experience life, perhaps for the first time, from a new, unfamiliar place called Peace. Continue reading "Creating Your Vision for 2011"