Monthly Archives: September 2014

Let’s Get It Back, Together

dance

I mentioned that I’ve been working with a bodyworker to help me heal some chronic neck and back pain. About a month ago, we were discussing some ways I might consider exercising, since jogging (my past go-to) is out of the running for a while… He asked if I’d ever considered ecstatic dancing. My eyes rolled, and I immediately burst out laughing. “Hah! God, No…”

Of course, I immediately saw the judgment—I’m not the “type” to ecstatic dance. I don’t wear long flowing outfits, and I don’t identify as a “hippie.”

My bodyworker just looked at me with a silently knowing smirk—a look I often see on Kate’s face every time I find myself connecting with anything remotely “Woo-woo” and yet continue to insist it’s complete bunk.

“Ok, ok… I’ll think about it…”

Cut to: my latest silent meditation retreat. We were in the midst of one of our small group check-in’s, and one of the group members mentioned that he regularly attends ecstatic dance events in Los Angeles. Hmmmm… I noted this at the time—and then made a point to follow up and ask him about it at the end of the retreat after the silence had broken.

“Oh yeah, ecstatic dance – it’s amazing! Such a great way to connect with yourself. And the nicest group of people you’ll ever meet.” 

When I got back to LA, I investigated one of the websites he recommended…. Consciously choosing to look passed the rapturous marketing aesthetic…(this was, after-all “ecstatic” dance, I reminded myself), I noted the groups’s monthly gathering coming up that Sunday. So I marked my calendar and decided to give it a try.

When Sunday arrived, I hopped into my car to head to the location. Excited to be connecting with music again—something I hadn’t consciously done in forever—I felt the urge to unearth an old album of my favorite CDs from the 90’s. Leafing through the book, Live’s “Mental Jewelry” caught my eye. So, I popped it in my car’s cd player—and off I went.

Two songs into the album, as I’m about to get on the freeway ramp, I’m singing along to a song I can’t remember the title of—and BAM. A waterfall of tears hits me out of the blue.

“Operation Spirit” 
(The Tyranny of Tradition)

Heard a lot of talk about the ocean

Heard a lot of talk about the sea

Heard a lot of talk about a lot of things

Never meant that much to me.

Heard a lot of talk about my spirit

Heard a lot of talk about my soul

But I decided that anxiety and pain

Were better friends

So I let it go.

Did you let it go?

Let’s get it back

Let’s get it back, together.

That part about turning away from my spirit and my soul and turning toward anxiety and pain—yah…that. It struck a chord. And hard. Because there was a time in my life when I used to believe in—and feel connected to—something greater than myself: Spirit, The Universe, God, whatever you want to call it…. But then things changed. I let media influence my opinion of what it meant to be someone who “believed” in something greater than myself—it isn’t “cool” to have faith; “Intelligent” people don’t have faith—they’re supposed to “believe” in “facts” and “science” and things that can be “proven,” etc… So, I decided being spiritual and having faith in anything that wasn’t rational didn’t fit me anymore. And, I let it go. Enter: anxiety and pain.

Contemplating all this, it occurred to me… The depression I’ve been teetering in and out of lately—sure, there’s been specific issues I’ve been facing and working through—but at its core, it feels like it might just be a crisis of faith.

I’ve been noticing how the idea of faith has been popping into my thoughts a great deal lately. Wondering what exactly it means to “have” it… Why I always feel so uncomfortable with the idea of it… And then it showed up in a big way during my latest retreat. I experienced some serious doubt during the first few days of the retreat—not seeing the “results” I was expecting right away…But as soon as I recognized the doubt, allowed myself to let go of my expectations, and let myself just BE in the moment—well, that’s when the magic started happening (of course).

And that’s when I realized I truly believe in the retreat process. I’ve been through enough retreats now to see similar outcomes during (and after) every retreat—despite those outcomes not always showing up when and how I expect. It’s the same with my mindfulness practice. I can see how I’ve grown to believe in it because I know it works. Even when I can’t see that it’s working. Even when I don’t feel like it is… That’s “faith,” right?

Maybe I’m closer to getting it back than I realize….

A quick footnote to this week’s post that some of you might find interesting—I Googled the band, “Live” when I got home from the ecstatic dance experience (which was beautiful by the way)—and I found out that the lyrics to their “Mental Jewelry” album were largely influenced by philosopher, J. Krishnamurti (not related to hare krishna in any way). I thought this was interesting because I have the Krishnamurti book, “Total Freedom,” on my shelf at home—a fairly recent addition to my mindfulness library that I’ve been savoring. It’s so funny how things come full circle…

The Mosaic of Life

MosaicWork-Trencadis-Gaudi-

We recently had our third practicum for the UCLA Certificate in Mindfulness Facilitation program I’ve been taking—and diversity was on the list of topics we covered. We were asked to write a paper about the topic in preparation for the practicum, and I noticed an immediate sense of dread when I sat down to write it—followed by some major resistance.

It’s a sticky subject.

When I think about diversity, I flash to my “sheltered” childhood—which was utterly devoid of it. I grew up in a predominantly-Caucasian, upper middle class, quaint, rural town in New Hampshire. Monochromatic white saltbox Colonials lined the center of town, offset by swaths of apple orchards and strawberry fields.

Every harvest season, a line of rickety, lime-green painted school buses would roll into town. And I remember staring at those buses, feeling this weird fascination with their “otherness” back then. I later found out they were packed with Jamaican migrant workers hired to work the orchards and fields.

Reflecting back on this now, I feel a sharp knot in my left side, just below my ribs. My breathing is shallow. My brow furrowed. I feel ashamed. Sad.

And now, opening deeper to these feelings, I’m hearing my father’s voice echoing in my mind. I don’t remember him ever commenting on the migrant workers—he always just drove passed them in silence (without even a nod of recognition). But, occasionally, we’d get out of our small town bubble and take a family drive into Boston—the “big” city. The environmental palette shifted with each passing mile, gradually diversifying the further we drove from town—from the color of the landscape to the color of the people.

And the color of Dad’s behavior always shifted along with it.

“Lock your door,” he’d demand in a firm (yet slightly panicked tone) the minute it was clear we’d entered the city. His grip on the steering wheel would tighten. His face, redden. Every other minute, he’d grumble “Massachusetts driver!” when he got cut off or couldn’t pull into a lane he needed to be in.

And every time he saw an African American male driving a nice car, he’d point and announce, “drug dealer.”

Ignoring my father’s slurs, I never thought about how they might have affected me. But now that I’m deliberately looking… I see the residue is there. His words ingrained in my cells—impossible to expunge.

I want to pretend like I haven’t been affected by my father’s view of the world. But I have. Even though I reject it, I still feel it in the most subtle ways. To this day, I still hear him saying “drug dealer” in my mind when I’m driving. The thought appears. His voice ringing in my ears. I recognize it as not my own.

But it still breaks my heart.

Contemplating all this now, there’s a quote from Making the Invisible Visible: Healing Racism in Our Buddhist Communities that comes to mind:

“I want to walk my Dharma talk and sit the way I live: trusting in the interdependence of ALL things (including all cultures and beings) and knowing that the wholeness we seek comes from including all the pieces of the beautiful mosaic of life.”

The deeper I dive into my mindfulness practice, the more I see (and feel) the wholeness of our collective existence—and how accepting “otherness” and diversity is key to seeing the complete picture of ourselves. Perhaps some people don’t want to see themselves completely.

But I do.

Moving Forward From Retreat

Sweep

I recently returned from a 7-day silent meditation retreat at Vallecitos Mountain Ranch in the (stunning) mountains of northern New Mexico. And I wish I could report that it’s been all bliss and rainbows ever since returning back to life in Los Angeles.

But that would be a lie.

The truth is, as I’m writing this, I’m teetering on the edge of falling back into the depression I was mired in before I left. I can sense it right there in front of me. A poem by Portia Nelson comes to mind:

Autobiography in Five Chapters

1. I walk down the street

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in. I am lost… I am hopeless.

It isn’t my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

 

2. I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in again.

I can’t believe I’m in the same place, but it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

 

3. I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it is there.

I still fall in…it’s a habit.

My eyes are open.

I know where I am.

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

 

4. I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

 

5. I walk down another street.

 

Perhaps you recognize these patterns in your own life?… I’m smack-dab in the middle of stanza #3, and I feel like it’s finally time to make the quantum leap to #4.

But I’m encountering some serious resistance.

This past retreat unearthed some deep insights for me—things I’ve “known” on a certain level, but haven’t wanted to face… I’ve survived just fine by sweeping these things under the rug all these years—by looking the other direction…But it’s time to “level up.”

The funny/annoying/amazing thing about my mindfulness practice is that the things I’ve swept under the rug all my life have, in due time, started making themselves known. And, another funny/annoying/amazing thing is, once I’ve unearthed an issue and start seeing it in plain sight—it’s nearly impossible for me to try and “un-see” or ignore it again.

Before I left for this latest retreat, I mentioned a lot of Shit got kicked up from the body work I’ve been doing to heal my chronic physical pain issue. I wasn’t clear exactly what was causing the emotional pain. The malaise felt general—like a heap of Crap all tangled in a giant steaming pile in the middle of my metaphorical living room floor. But, while sitting in silence during the retreat, the individual issues began to sort themselves out—making themselves more and more clear.

And now I sit here just staring at it all. Separate piles of previously ignored issues splayed out in front of me. And I feel paralyzed. Despite seeing the individual issues for what they are—every fiber of my being wants to sweep them all back under the rug and pretend like I don’t see a thing.

The brink of depression I’m feeling now feels like the sadness of not being able to ignore the mess any longer. There’s a huge part of me that’s wanting to throw a tantrum at the thought of how much effort it’s going to take to change my behavior and face (let alone heal) these wounded parts of myself. There’s also a big part of me that’s feeling relieved that they’re all finally out in the open. Such is the life of a spiritual warrior.

So right now I’m just doing my best to BE with myself. To get used to seeing these issues and not trying to sweep them under the carpet anymore.

This, of course, is where the “real” work begins…