Category Archives: Transformation

Day of Rest

To rest is not self indulgent, to rest is to prepare to give the best of ourselves, and to perhaps, most importantly, arrive at a place where we are able to understand what we have already been given. ~David Whyte

I’m posting this on the day of rest, but it’s every bit as much a message from the universe post, the message being how to be brave, the nature of courage, how to practice fearlessness, and that through it all, I am fundamentally wise and compassionate, basically good and already whole — as are we all.

In all the ways I am struggling, suffering, at the center is fear, fatigue, despair, feeling like I’m just not strong enough, can’t do “this” anymore — can’t keep losing those I love, can’t continue being so confused about my body and what it needs, can’t stand the anxiety and worry and impermanence, can’t live with this level of simultaneous determination and exhaustion, can’t compete with the discursive, erratic nature of my mind or the fierce emotional force of a tender and raw open heart in a world that is so loud, so fast, so full.

As a member of the Open Heart Project at the Practitioner level, I receive a video each Monday from Susan Piver in which she suggests a contemplation for the week. Our theme for this week? Fearlessness. In the video, Susan suggests that meditation is an act of “confronting our own tenderness,” and that,

Practice itself is a gesture of fearlessness, because when you sit down…you basically are consenting to release your agenda, and witness and be with what arises — and that is our definition of fearlessness.

She goes on to say that,

This definition of fearlessness has almost nothing to do with certainty or arrogance certainly, or feeling like you can dominate any situation you happen to enter. It’s actually almost the opposite. Here fearlessness has more to do with how vulnerable you can be, how much you can trust yourself when your emotions start to roil, how deeply you can feel, how wide you can open to let this world touch you…So our definition of fearlessness is a willingness to be vulnerable.


Then yesterday, this, from Kute Blackson: Stop beating yourself up. It won’t work. You won’t change that way, nothing will, and “what if you didn’t need to be fixed?” Accept yourself, love yourself, this is where the healing happens, in this way you will be transformed, free. Kute also says,

True healing is applying love to the part of you that hurts.

Brave BellyAnd this,

What if the way you might be going about trying to transform yourself or heal yourself, in and of itself, is causing more suffering?…Perhaps it’s not just about changing something, but it’s about the process of how you change something that has an impact on the thing itself. So consider this — your relationship with yourself is as important as the thing itself. Consider this — that the issue that you might be judging or dealing with in your life…is not simply the issue, that the real issue is how you relate with yourself as you deal with the issue. And if you are able to create some space, a certain compassion, a certain openness, a way of holding yourself through the issue even while the issue’s there, then you don’t need to heal the issue or clear the issue or get rid of the issue or exterminate that part of yourself in order to be okay, in order to be loveable, but that as you are right now you are loveable, just because.

I wonder how many times, from how many places and in how many forms I’ll need to hear this message to finally get it? This time it was coming from a person and in a form where I’ve seen it before, a Kute Blackson video and blog post. In this one, he delivers simple but powerful truth with his characteristic enthusiasm, makes watching it feel like you just attended the best church sermon ever. He suggests that,

There comes a moment when no matter how much healing or therapy you have done, how many books you have read or seminars that you have attended, you must make the bold choice to love yourself no matter what.

Loving yourself is a great act of courage. The simple yet powerful decision to love yourself no matter what is the key to your freedom.

Then on facebook this morning, Jeff Oaks shared a link to an opinion piece on The New York Times, The Value of Suffering by Pico Iyer, a beautiful essay full of truth. In it, he shares a story about the Dalai Lama visiting a Japanese fishing village that had been destroyed by the tsunami.

As the Dalai Lama got out of his car, he saw hundreds of citizens who had gathered on the street, behind ropes, to greet him. He went over and asked them how they were doing. Many collapsed into sobs. “Please change your hearts, be brave,” he said, while holding some and blessing others. “Please help everyone else and work hard; that is the best offering you can make to the dead.” When he turned round, however, I saw him brush away a tear himself.

Pico ends the essay by saying,

The only thing worse than assuming you could get the better of suffering, I began to think (though I’m no Buddhist), is imagining you could do nothing in its wake. And the tear I’d witnessed made me think that you could be strong enough to witness suffering, and yet human enough not to pretend to be master of it. Sometimes it’s those things we least understand that deserve our deepest trust. Isn’t that what love and wonder tell us, too?

I’ve been suffering, more specifically struggling with my suffering, and Pico’s piece was so helpful, as were Kute and Susan’s videos. They remind me that being with suffering, being able to sit and stay with it rather than running away or closing my eyes and heart to it, is an act of courage, a practice of sanity and love.

Today, I am practicing the courage to love myself, to heal by applying love to the parts that hurt, and keeping my heart open — no matter what. I am trusting this practice, trusting myself.

couragecircle

When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You’re able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open. ~Pema Chödrön

Full Moon Dreamboard: The Full Blue Moon

The Full Blue Moon asks: “What extra-super-special dream do you want to invite in?”

This month, in the post where Jamie shares and explains hers, she says that her dreamboards are “equal parts expressions of my desire and the Universe’s conversation with me. I can see what it is my heart is yearning for and I can see the practices and actions that will take me there.”

I’m actually almost a full day late with mine, because last night I was so raw and sad and small that I couldn’t even begin to imagine an “extra-super-special dream.” Placed into context, in contrast to Dexter’s illness, his eventual loss, dreams like writing a book or being able to quit my paid work and be a full-time artist seem so silly, so minor, so empty, (even as I know they really aren’t). Last night as the blue moon worked its way to entirely full, I sat on my meditation cushion and cried, told Eric how overwhelmed I felt, and went to bed early instead of creating a dreamboard.

When I sat down this morning to work on it, I had no idea what was going to come up. I found the picture in the middle first, the woman sitting in warrior position, known in yoga as hero’s pose, her hands held in prayer position over her heart, head bowed and eyes closed. The color, lilac, is one of my favorites, and I liked the reflection and bulk of her ring. The next image I found was the woman’s fingers trailing the surface of the water, with the quote about meditation practicing clearing our minds of restless thought so that we can see who and what we really are. After that, each image I found represented practice and devotion, nature, or something with a reflective quality.

This dreamboard communicates to me that through my practices, through surrender, I will realize a transformation, that I will discover confidence in the qualities of my awake mind and open heart. “Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.”

Let Go and Come Back

In meditation, when you get lost in thought or a daydream, or caught up in a strong emotion and forget to focus on to your breath, the instruction is to let go and come back to the practice. Let go and come back. The letting go isn’t harsh, there’s no rejection or pushing or running away or resisting, but rather a simple and gentle letting go. To notice, be with the thought, with the feeling, to acknowledge it, to watch and soften as it dissolves.

To feel what that feels like, clench your fist, hold it as tight as you can manage for a few seconds, and then let it go, relax your fingers and open your palm. Do you feel that release? How ease replaces tension? There is such relief in letting go.

As does so much of my meditation practice, this instruction finds it’s way into my life off the cushion all the time. I struggle with being a “better” person, with improving and becoming and doing. I get so focused on changing, on fighting with who I am now in this moment, on self-improvement, that I forget I’m enough already, and that who I am right now is the gift, that there is no destination, no goal, nothing to win and no finished or done. There will be no summit I’ll reach where I’ll finally and permanently be happy and safe and well. As Pema Chödrön suggests, we should just go ahead and “abandon hope.”

Giving up hope is encouragement to stick with yourself, not to run away, to return to the bare bones, no matter what’s going on. If we totally experience hopelessness, giving up all hope of alternatives to the present moment, we can have a joyful relationship with our lives, an honest, direct relationship that no longer ignores the reality of impermanence and death. ~Pema Chödrön

One place this instruction keeps coming up for me is around my relationship with food. I’ve mentioned it briefly before: depending on when you ask me, I am either a highly functioning food addict or a recovering one. It’s gotten so much better in the last year, the obsession and the smashing myself to bits. The swing between rational and compulsive behavior is relaxing its grip, my wisdom in relation to food and eating is developing into something that can often look like health, and I go for long stretches of time where I could even say I’ve left it behind me.

Then something triggers me, and I’m right back in the thick of it. The stress of being an introvert and highly sensitive person at a party, or in the presence of people I admire and adore, or in a room full of 1000+ other people, or having to go in to my paid work when I’m supposed to still be on vacation.

The month we spent at the beach left me feeling relaxed and hopeful. I was getting enough sleep, spending enough time resting and playing, and was feeling so good about the opportunity I had to clean up how I eat and take better care of myself, so happy about how I’d “changed.”

Then I had to go in to work for half a day. I had been getting lots of emails about what needed to be done, what was coming up, pulling me back into that space, rushing me into fall. The night before, after eating so happily and healthy for days, I got out a bag of caramel corn and my ipod and ate and numbed out until I made myself sick, first my stomach aching and then my head hurting from sugar and tension. I thought when I went to bed that night how much better I’d feel if I could throw up, but I’ve never been good at that, ever since in grade school when a friend tried to teach me how by sticking the eraser end of a pencil down my throat. Back then, no one talked about Bulimia, so I had no idea and told no one.

I don’t talk much about my food addiction, even with how open I am about everything else. It’s because I’m ashamed and embarrassed by it, upset that I can’t control myself, shy about sharing the details of how low I sink, how gross it gets. And there’s the added bonus that in a thin obsessed culture, where your worth is measured literally in terms of your size, that I get to also feel guilty and ashamed of the extra weight I lug around as a result. I love to exercise and eat healthy food, but coupled with this compulsion, they can only keep me from becoming obese, not overweight. Add perimenopause to the equation, and I’m screwed.

This feeling bad about “failing” and what I look like robs me of joy. I get to go to this fabulous World Domination Summit prefunction party at Kelly Rae Roberts’ studio, with all of these women I adore and admire, and when I start to show up in pictures of the event on their websites, I can only feel happiness and gratitude for having been there for a split second before the disgust and despair kick in: “my stomach looks so fat.” I can’t even appreciate how amazing it is that I was at this event and there are pictures to prove it, on some of my favorite blogs even, can’t say “hey, look, there I am!” with any kind of excitement because all I can see is how fat I look, and am so sick in that moment that I actually think “maybe people will think I’m pregnant,” which is quickly followed up by a nasty voice that says “that doesn’t necessarily explain your arms or double chin.”

I can’t tell you–no actually I can tell you how much, how badly, how desperately I want released from this thing. Not the weight, but the obsession and confusion that is underneath, the self-loathing and despair that comes after. It’s not about the weight at all, it’s not even about food: it’s about hunger.

Rachel Cole did a reunion conference call for those of us who attended her Well-Fed Woman Retreatshops this past year, so I’ve been thinking a lot about hunger. Typically what is happening when I am obsessing about food or eating too much or making unhealthy choices, it’s not about food at all, certainly not about physical hunger. I am hungry for self-care, but I keep feeding myself food.

I was thinking about this in terms of taking a shower. It is important for me, unless I am planning to take the dogs on a walk or go to the gym, to shower in the morning as soon as possible. If I don’t, I won’t put on clean clothes, because I’m not “clean,” which means I’ll stay in my bathrobe or put on the kinds of clothes I wear to do messy chores, like painting or cleaning the bathroom, and this isn’t uplifting at all. These clothes, worn for that reason, make me feel depressed, dull and down, which leads to behaviors that are triggered by such feelings, like overeating or numbing out on the computer. I feel disorganized and discombobulated, stuck. Nothing sane or healthy happens and it’s hard to move on.

Taking a shower is one way to truly feed my hunger for self-care. Sometimes I am feeling unworthy, maybe my blog stats are low and I haven’t meditated for a few days and I’m comparing myself to others, beating myself up for not measuring up, comparing my blooper reel to their highlights. Sometimes it’s overwhelm, so much has to get done, so much I want to do. Sometimes it’s taking care of the should and have to work, the paid work, and the energy it takes, how much I’d rather be doing something else but can’t yet afford to leave that work, and that can lead to depression.

I have been feeding these real hungers with food, always with food. What are the real needs, what am I really hungry for? Physical tiredness needs rest and sleep, pure and simple. Unworthiness needs connection and a reminder of my basic goodness, of the real need for my voice, my light. Overwhelm needs to have permission to only do what can be done, and then to practice self-care, to rest and play, experience joy. Depression needs to exercise and reconnect with nature, be in the body and the world.

When you are in the grips of something so old and deep, sometimes you give up. You look back at the struggle and then ahead to your future, and you can’t imagine it will ever leave you, fear that you’ll be stuck in this cycle of obsession, swinging between control and crazy, gaining and losing the same 20 pounds forever, trying and eventually giving up on every new system, method, or plan, feeling the rise of hope and the sink of despair, like Sisyphus and his rock, never finding a way out. But you can’t divorce yourself, can’t leave or move out, get any kind of legal separation, split your assets 50/50 and wish each other well. You have to stick it out, are stuck, have to live with it, with yourself and your confusion.

When I really look at it, really think, trust myself, I’m pretty smart, pretty sure about what to do. I know the hunger, but still tend to feed it the wrong thing, still fall into the old habits, the discursive patterns, the way of being when I am tired, and I am tired a lot. But that’s okay, if only I can remember to let go and come back. This is what practice is, falling down and getting back up, falling apart and being whole, trying again, continuing to show up, again and again, time after time. This is what all of life is, isn’t it?

Let go and come back.

Three Truths and One Wish

1. Truth: Vacation gives you an important break from your regular life. Especially if you go somewhere, anywhere. You don’t have to mow the lawn or go to work. You can ignore your email and the phone. You can get up when you want, take a nap when you want, eat when and what you want. Spend all day in your pajamas reading a book, or go for the longest walk, find someplace beautiful and quiet and stay there. You can relax and slow down, rest or play.

2. Truth: Taking a break will give you new perspective on your regular life. If you take a long enough break, everything will feel new and strange upon return. Has the trash always been on the left side? How long has it been since I really saw that picture? You might find yourself wandering the aisle of your favorite grocery store in amazement. You realize how fast your internet truly is, how comfortable your bed, how lucky you are to be able to recycle and compost. You remember what’s important, and know for sure that if that specific chore doesn’t get finished today, no one is going to die, and that you can get by and be happy with so much less.

3. Truth: In the first moments, those initial days after your return, there is a magic opportunity for transformation. You have remembered that you can be or do anything you want, remembered who you truly are without all the trying and obligation, and that you are already fundamentally f r e e. Your regular life will stretch out before you like the gift it is, and you’ll barely be able to contain your joy because you know that anything is possible.

One Wish: That you give yourself this gift of vacation, retreat, reflection and rest, even if you can only manage it for a single day. That through this you remember that you are basically good, fundamentally wise and kind, and that you have the power to change things.

Full Snow Moon Dreamboard

The Full Snow Moon asks: “What desires lie deep within?”


Restore yourself. This is your year for retreat, your year to learn to rest, to study, to practice, to find your middle path, to pray and meditate, be mindful.

Bringing your practice to life. You walk the walk, the middle way. You meditate, you sink into your yoga poses, you write and make art, you learn what your dogs have to teach you, take the walks with them and notice. Peace of mind, yoga for life.

Love the weight off. You have carried the physical weight of your suffering and grief and anger long enough. It’s time to let it go, lay it down, but remember this will only happen as you love yourself. Imagine yourself filling with light.

Uncover the hidden brilliance in you. It is there. You can no longer deny it. Its luminescence shines through the cracks, a love and truth that will burn you if you try to contain it. The world needs your light.

Document your journey, a transformational journey. This is the dream, this is the work, this is the task, this is the magic, an epic journey on which you will encounter rough terrain and harsh weather, get lost and hurt, but you will be helped and find love. You must make a map for the others who have yet to travel here, who will go on to make the same journey themselves. And remember, just because you feel afraid and vulnerable doesn’t change the fact that you are courageous, brave, and open-hearted. You are a warrior of truth and love.

Live the life you’ve imagined. This is your dream, your desire, your deepest wish, your passion.

Timeline

As I was working on cataloging my journals yesterday, I made a timeline, to track back when this particular change in me and my life began. I started writing the blog five months ago, and this life-rehab can sometimes feel like it happened just as recently, but THIS exact shift has been happening for at least three years, like water wearing away at a stone–freezing and thawing, dripping, rushing over and past, slowly changing its shape, causing cracks where the light gets in.

Image: Evgeni Dinev, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some highlights from the timeline:

2007: Therapy. Shambhala Training. Meditation practice.

2008: Yoga. Fitness trainer.

2009: Obi and Kelly diagnosed with cancer the same week. Obi starts chemotherapy. Obi’s cancer goes into remission. Warrior Assembly at Shambhala Mountain Center. Obi’s cancer comes back and we make the decision to stop chemotherapy. Kelly’s cancer comes back too. Obi dies in November.

2010: Major changes to my job, a long and difficult situation finally is resolved. We get Sam. Kelly passes away and I fly to Kentucky for her memorial service. I do a one day writing retreat with a friend that reminds me who I am, what I have always wanted. I restart a daily writing practice. We spend a month in Waldport, Oregon at the beach. I do a weekend online meditation retreat with Pema Chödrön, “Smile at Fear.”

2011: I take a few meditation classes to reestablish my sitting practice. Once a month for four months, I take a day long creative non-fiction writing workshop. Publish an article about Kelly. Join an Artist’s Way group and finally finish the book, having started it the first time ten years ago. 10 years at Colorado State University. WILD writing group starts to meet. Yoga Nidra & Loving-Kindness workshop with Ed & Deb Shapiro, 30 days of unlimited Yoga classes at Old Town Yoga Studio, and Yoga Immersion workshop shift Yoga to a true practice, (no longer just exercise). 25 year high school reunion, (I don’t go). Start a book couple with a friend, reading Gifts of Imperfection by Brene’ Brown. EClasses: Mondo Beyondo, Superhero Photo, and Ordinary Courage. First blog post.

This gradual building, this wave of energy that ripples out into every part of my life, is illustrated by the “bar graph” of my journals–those places where I take notes, record events, vent my feelings, list ideas, doodle, dream and remember and plan.

And this timeline, this review of things reminds me also that true change happens slowly, like water wearing away at a rock, and even then, the basic truth of me–my wisdom and compassion, my calling–doesn’t ever change, it remains constant and the same.

What I’ve Learned on this Vacation


Having time off from my paid work, time at home and away, is such a gift. Sinking in to that space allows me to be wholly mindful in a way that I don’t seem to manage otherwise, and I learn so much from it.

I committed myself this week to doing a whole “Review, Reflect, and Resolve” project, but found myself getting irritated, and tired, and frustrated, and anxious–not at all the experience I’d expected. It was taking too long, wasn’t going as smoothly as I had imagined, and I felt scattered and unfocused–until I realized why: I have been blogging about my “life rehab” here, and this has been an ongoing process of reviewing, reflecting, and resolving my life. I have already taken steps, I am already doing the work, and there’s no need to separate that out as a special, isolated practice because it is, all of it, MY LIFE.

And yet, it’s good to be clear and mindful, about who you are, what you value, where your particular strengths are, what you have to offer, how you can help, and what you want your life to look like. And when you are connected directly to that, when you absolutely embody who you are and what you value, there’s no need to make any other special statement about it. Instead you simply sink into it and rest–it’s where you live. As Leo Babauta suggested in his post “Quashing the Self-Improvement Urge,” we can let go of goals and projects and improvement, and “instead…be happy with ourselves,” what he calls a “revolution of contentment.”

I didn’t completely abandon my review, reflect, and resolve, but I have reframed it. I am putting pages into the 2012 weekly planner Eric got me to be able to carry a physical reminder with me, of who I am and what I value and what I hope to manifest. I am so excited for the possibility and transformation of the new year, and think this “book” I am making will remind and inspire me when I need it. What I’ve learned while being on vacation is that to approach a year of “retreat,” I need to remember the qualities of retreat I hope to manifest: practice, balance, rest, and transformation.

I’ve been reminded that I need to make time to tend my body: eat, shower, sleep, exercise, meditate, do yoga, walk with the dogs, spend time with Eric.

I’ve been reminded that I need to make time to tend to my spirit: meditate, do yoga, walk with my dogs, study and read, be creative, write.

I’ve been reminded that I need to make time to tend my heart: served most effectively when there is balance in the way I tend the other two, because in that way/those ways, I am generating and manifesting love and kindness towards myself, but I’m also practicing keeping my heart open, being mindful, vulnerable, present, and brave. I am able to connect my core values (kindness, bravery, silliness, creativity, curiosity, and presence) directly to my actions.

You might wonder where “mind” is on my list of things to tend. I have come to understand that concept (through my study and practice of Buddhist principles) that the brain is an organ of the body, so would be part of what you are referring to when you talk of that physical collective. The “mind” or consciousness is centered with, and directly connected to the heart. Together, they join wisdom (mind) and compassion (heart) in a single, central location. This space is our fundamental nature, our basic goodness–who we “really” are, underneath, before, and beyond anything else. So when I referred to “heart” earlier, I meant heart-mind.

For my year of Retreat, my resolve is to sink into my practices, know and manifest my core values, be open-hearted and brave, have faith in a sacred alignment between what I want and what I have to offer, be mindful of my middle path (the pause and the gap, balance and freedom), rest and restore and rehab. Transformation is one element that has special meaning to me, as I realized the other day that every butterfly is first a pupa in a cocoon–fat, soft, round, vulnerable, and completely still. You simply cannot transform and grow wings without that time in stasis, and therefore, you must retreat if you are looking to transform. Yes, I might feel a bit sad or even embarrassed by my blobby, fat, slow self while the rest of the world is happily crawling around chewing on stuff, or floating in the sky on their beautiful wings, but I have to remember I am exactly where I should be, things are unfolding just as they should. It is right, true, and completely natural.

Just like savasana pose in yoga, this quiet and stillness and surrender is necessary to integrate the body and mind with the practice, to assimilate and process the practice into an embodied whole.  In the same way, off the mat, deep change needs a balance of deep rest and contemplation to allow our innate wisdom to work, for integration to happen.

In between inhalation and exhalation,
In between joy and pain,
In between remembering and forgetting,
In between who we think we are and reality,
There is a pause.
Seek refuge there.
~Goswami Kriyananda