A Moment to Experience Stillness

Cat, East German Castle

I’m overloaded with knowledge and weariness and unbelievable energy from my healing arts class, but I wanted to share just one slip of wisdom that I gathered today.

Without stillness, we cannot reap what we sow.

Maybe this is just stating the obvious, but when my teacher said it I found my pen scratching furiously across the page.

It is only by resting between yoga postures or during final savasana that we integrate the work performed by the moving body. The slumber of winter is necessary to rest the fields so that all of that reaping and sowing is possible. Only a quiet mind can make sense of the barrage of information that assaults it every day.

Stillness is one of those precious paradoxes. We know that we need it, but as soon as we give in to our desire to describe it, it vanishes like an unrealized, unrealizable dream. So many people skip though the years without ever pausing to assimilate the stuff that makes up their lives. It is more than possible to tumult through time at breakneck speed indefinitely, but what sort of shape are they in – mind, body, and soul – when they finally reach the end of their frantic race?

How do we cultivate stillness so that all the work we do as spiritual seekers, as healers, as people of compassion actually roots into the deepest levels of our true selves? Where do we find the space for stillness between doing our jobs and loving our families and recording our thoughts in all of these glorious words?

Before we can tackle the daily “how” it is important to first to come to terms with the fact that stillness is necessary at all. I do not believe that anyone else can convince you of that, but experiencing it just might give you an idea of why this crazy idea of doing nothing may just work.

  • Try to sit and listen to that every day symphony and cacophony that dances inside your head .
  • Give it time to play for a few maddened minutes, and then just let all of the extraneous sounds fall away. Focus on your breath, on the way you are settled into your seat, on the dark infinity behind your own eyelids.
  • When all that noise fades, notice what it is like to sit in peace, just for a moment.

Letting things just fall away may not be easy at first, and it may be scary if you think that silence in your mind means that you are sitting in some sort of void, but when you are really still, the mind is the safest place you will ever know.

I am hoping that a glimpse of the bliss that is stillness will be enough to convince us all that we just might be able to consider finding a few moments each day during which we can simply stop, we can simply be.

I just need to quit typing long enough to find it!

Let Go of the Stories that Bind You, Grab Hold of the Universe

End of a Cape Beach Day

Today was the first of my three day long healing class. It’s a two year program that meets at the change of every season and this session marks the end of the first year. An eclectic program mainly informed by our teacher‘s studies with the indigenous people of Peru, the class has taken me further into an experience of energy healing than my previous work with Reiki every allowed me to imagine.

One thought I want to share before I drift off to sleep (kind of funny how having been exposed to tons of new energy can make you exhausted). It is actually something I would have expected to pick up at a yoga retreat or in a workshop on Eastern thought because it is all about attachment.

I think Westerners’ most common negative reaction to their first introduction to Buddhism is rooted in a wariness of any philosophy that directs adherents to avoid attachment. What kind of life would it be to walk around refusing to care about anything or anyone, right? I understand that this is a gross misreading of one of the Four Noble Truths, though I admit, beyond the little epiphany I had today, which had nothing directly to do with Buddhism, I know relatively little about that path.

In class we were discussing the images and impressions that we as healers might receive while working on a client. Our teacher cautioned us against putting too much stock in those stories because, without a great deal of experience, it is very difficult to tell if those visions are refractions of the healer’s state of mind. In the same vein, she suggested that any information we get about our own or others’ past lives should be valued for the themes and the real emotional stuff contained within rather than be savored for their fascinating plot turns and exotic characters.

At first, I was sort of disappointed to be told that as soon as we begin to sharpen our intuitive skills we should ignore a lot of the information we receive. As a reader and writer of fiction, I was dismayed to think about tossing out all of those perfectly good stories!

Then the idea began to take shape in my mind and I was able to absorb the wisdom at the core of these warnings. Rather than limiting our experiences as healers or as spiritual seekers in telling us to forget the juicy stuff, we are actually being passed the keys to a much greater kingdom.

If we had the chance to connect to all of the energies that swirl around at the level of the Soul and tie us to the Divine, why would we decide to play it small? When we get stuck in our own little stories we choose the narrowness of one human lifetime over the infinite potential of the Universe. Getting trapped in our own narratives, be it during a healing session or during meditation or prayer, keeps us from experiencing true consciousness, real awareness.

The reason to pursue non-attachment is not because we fear having possessions or getting too close to other people. The reason to try to attain non-attachment is that only by walking away from our own little dramas can we truly connect with God.

Does putting it this way sound as foreign as when a monk in saffron robes describes it? Like I said, I am entirely too sleepy to string sentences together and I may not be doing this idea justice. Somehow if I think about detaching from the mental junk that ties me down not because it is bad to have desires but because it’s all just static that keeps me from deepest wisdom, I become a lot more relaxed about just letting go.

Isn’t a chance at getting a glimpse of Divinity worth sacrificing a few lousy childhood memories or knowing that you were once reincarnated as a tribesman in the Amazon or the Pope in Rome?

MORNING AFTER SYNDROME WISDOM: Looking back on this post (I thought as I was going to sleep that I was missing something), I want to make sure to say that our stories are still important, it’s just that we cannot get exclusively caught up in the details. We need to mine our own stories for deeper truths, for the real threads that create the tapestries of consciousness.

Also, I also understand that though I borrowed the concept of “attachment” from Buddhism, it has very little to do with that tradition – I think it is more spun by a 21st century Western spiritual seeker ethic (oh, wait, that’s me) than anything else.

Open to Change, Receptive to Healing

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What if it’s true? What if, truly, “we are the ones we have been waiting for“?

I have always loved this phrase. First I heard it on the lips of women who inspired me. Then I found June Jordan who first strung those words together in her powerful, earth-shifting poem. Alice Walker gave us a book that borrowed the line for its title. And then of course there was Barack Obama who turned the phrase into a something more than a campaign slogan and made it mean something national and something real.

The election results are a month old now, but all that shiny hope cannot have worn away yet, right? The inauguration is still ages away, so I am sure that we are all just marinating in possibility. Aren’t we?

I ask that question because there is a sneaky little part of me worries that complacency will creep in. And perhaps it already has in some ways. The economy is still sliding downward. Cabinet picks are less sexy than frenzied chants of “Yes we can!” Christmas is coming and there are too many thing to get done in the next three weeks to even remember all that election night champagne

This was not intended to be a post about post-election let down, nor am I trying to let a big old cynical moon eclipse our gorgeous new sun. Our lightning-fast news cycle would have us believe that such musings are so three weeks ago anyway.

I am actually thinking about the changes that I am seeing take root in my own life and in the lives of the people around me. These changes have nothing to do with the political and have everything to do with the personal. Of course, we know that eventually, those two spheres almost always start to blend together

Though I have been practicing Reiki for eight years, I have begun to dedicate myself to the path of a healer in the last year since I have been enrolled in a Healing Arts School. The beautiful sense of wisdom that finally takes root when we find we’re closer to the middle of our lives than to the beginning, combined with what I have learned in my classes, has totally shifted my perspective on the world. I know its been a long process, but suddenly I realize I am able to articulate my interest in alternative health and offer what abilities I have in service to others.

This evolution in the way I can be honest about my belief in our power to heal ourselves and the possibility of finding true wellness outside the strict confines of typical Western medicine has been downright infectious. Trusting in the intuitive power of my hands and others’ desire to heal, I have been able to offer my warm touch to people who never would have been receptive to such “out there,” “new age” ideas. I think this is successful both because I take a quiet approach, casually introducing what I do and what I believe and then allowing people to open up to me in any way they can and because I have new confidence in what I do.

People’s new sense of receptivity has very little to do with me, however. I am just lucky enough to have had the chance to observe it. Something within the individual is shifting. There is the recognition that the road we have all been careening along together is doing us more harm than good and that we need to find a new way.

If we are the change that we have been waiting for, we have to realize that change is here, now. Despite all the chaos in this world, people are finding the ability to open themselves up to new experiences and new wisdom.

How can we access and live this change ourselves and how can be the midwives of change for others?

Have a Cheerful Thanksgiving, Or Smile ‘Til It Hurts

The sweetness of a day off from work to get ready for the family’s arrival… especially when it involves a visit to my healer. Using kinesiology (muscle testing), Sue found a concept that resonated with me. Even though I had shared with her a number of issues I had been having that were anything but sunshine-y, she gave me the word “cheerful.”

Sometimes the words and phrases that Sue finds give me make so much sense that I can settle right into a narrative of what they mean to me. Today I lay on the table and actually squirmed at the whole idea of cheerfulness. It became clear that I have been wearing a false mask set in a tight grin. I have been offering people a light and breezy version of Marisa at the expense of my truest sense of self. Faced with the relentless pessimism that I so often see in the world and the complaints that seem to have become conversational currency, it’s clear I have tried to make a conscious decision to stay as relentlessly positive as possible. Having assigned myself the position of healer and strong one, I have given myself a limited range of acceptable emotions that are all supposed to fall under the category of “optimistic.” Only today did I truly realize that this phony sense of joy doesn’t serve anyone, especially me.

Funny how cheerfulness and the way that I have been forcing this emotion (is cheerfulness an emotion really?) seems to apply to the Thanksgiving dinner we are hosting for eleven tomorrow. “Hi, welcome to our home, please check your psychological baggage and axes that you might have wished to grind at the door and paste on this generic happy face, because we are all going to have a lovely holiday – or else!” No, wait, that’s not right…

Actually, I am blessed with a pretty wonderful family, and am not really worried about anyone unleashing any unsavory skeletons from their closets over the yam souffle. Regardless of how well adjusted people are, however, there is a need to perform well in front of the ten others sitting around the table. What place does the real self have in a group that is only assembled like this a few times a year? The goal is to drink much, eat well, and remember 2008 only because it was the first Thanksgiving at our new house, not because someone got sick of the charade of good humor and decided to launch a plate at the wall.

I came across Dancing Mermaid‘s blog for the first time the other day and have fallen in love with her “Affirmation Cards.” One in particular seems to perfectly describe the way we all might look at family holiday gatherings. Not through a lens of false cheer, but with a recognition that everyone gathered around the turkey is a person who needs to live from their own sense of truth. The text on the card swirls around a coin that says “PEACE”: “let go more often, let people be where they are, forgive the past, love and honor myself first.” What place do emotional masks have when we are concentrating on being true to ourselves and respecting the paths of those who sit beside us?

So I wish you a blessed harvest tomorrow full of laughter and love and hope that you find authentic bliss in your feast.

In Praise of Sweat and Cellars and Songs

Do you ever have those days when your skin doesn’t fit right and your socks keep falling down and your shirt keeps coming untucked? For the female side of the species, I think this feeling is always exacerbated by bra straps that keep slipping and the sickening realization that we are creatures of the moon, our tides and moods flowing with the days of the month. Today I waded through a deeply spiritual state of crankiness, and even as I named the torrents of irrationality and recognized the source of this passing madness, I felt powerless to stop the waves of frustration.

While so many whom I love are caught in true suffering, I found myself floundering in this tempest in a teapot. For all that I have prided myself on being available to those who need me in this dark time of the year, I found that ability completely sidelined as I tripped over my own feet. Of course, beating myself up for this temporary paralysis is less than effective, and I guess I should know better than to further feed this sinking feeling.

So, I kiss this self pity goodbye and offer a quick thanks to a few elementary things that kicked me out of my funk. iPod balanced on the seat of a motor-less motorcyle, I surveyed the chaos that is our new basement from the sweaty seat of an exercise bike that is older than I am. The cats played on an old wooden wardrobe that had been my closet in the days when all of our living took place in two rooms and the voices of Christine Kane and David Gray were the first sounds that did not irritate me all day long.

There’s nothing all that remarkable about this epiphany – that songs and sweat and feline antics and a change of scenery can lift a mood. The remarkable thing would be to awake tomorrow morning refreshed, unburdened by guilt for a wasted day and realize that I can resume my late autumn calling of being a sweet, peaceful shelter in the storm to anyone who needs me.

Softness and Strength, In the Soul and On the Job

Hanging up the phone, I stretched and sighed and immediately got up to fill the office teapot. I had to get back into my body and find peace in my rapidly beating heart. It had been a success – I had just convinced a vendor whose faulty service had disturbed the smooth flow of a conference I had organized to cut our bill in half. Mixing firmness with resignation, verbal gymnastics with pregnant pauses, I had gotten my way and saved some of the grant money that I badly needed to apply to other causes.

This is one of the things I am good at – making the person on the other end of the phone realize that he is dealing with a redhead who knows what she wants and what her organization needs and refuses be denied. It is a valuable skill in my professional life and was essential when we bought our house, but sometimes I wonder if it is a liability as I search for a deeper connection with my soul.

Swagger and confidence are treasured commodities in so much of the world, and I know that I have cultivated more than my share. These qualities have been a fine shield that have insulated me from that dreaded vulnerability. Thing is, such a shield blocks a lot more than just a few guys who seek to swindle a poor defenseless maiden. Walking around with an acquired tough girl attitude has made too many people believe in my callousness and irreverence. It is awfully hard to convince someone that you are a healer interested in affairs of the spirit when you just threatened (oh-so-hollowly) to make somebody come to the library to fix the leaking pipes.

At the same time, there are rings in this steely suit of chain mail that have their own spiritual purposes. Schools of thought in the world of energy healing differ about whether or not the healer can take on her client’s negative energy, but regardless, it is necessary to establish boundaries between practitioner and recipient. I know that I have an ability to say “no, I am sorry, but that is not acceptable” when I am staring down a contractor, and I can do the same if something comes up when I have someone on my table.

In the same vein, it requires a great deal of strength to be the firm hand that guides people through the places within that scare them. A healer encounters a great deal of resistance when she tries to help someone break their deepest patterns.  Even as she listens to the needs of the client, she must have the confidence to take a stand in the battle against a person’s well constructed – but essentially harmful – defenses.

I fear the extremes – weakness on one side, stridency on the other. If I become a completely spiritual being, will I lose that edge that can be so useful in the world? If I indulge the parts of me that dare someone to mess with me, am I making this endeavor for wisdom nothing more than empty rhetoric?

There has to be a way to marry these aspects of myself, to cultivate supple strength and mighty tenderness. It is a vital sort of balance, one that permits me to revel in my humanity and yet still linger with the Divine. Dancing, always dancing, with these seemingly opposite drives…

Caring for the Self: Selfish or Selfless?

“The work you are doing on the mat is a gift to everyone you love because it will make you strong and supple and allow you give the best of yourself to the world.” So many yoga teachers have offered this sort of encouragement and I have drunk it in greedily during many a long shoulder stand.

My cynical little shadow laughs that teachers who want to fill their studios at dinner time have to say such things in order to convince the class that it is better to focus on breath and form rather than whip up some pasta for the kids. The rest of me that understands the essential truth: we must nurture ourselves before we can ever offer authentic comfort to anyone we love.

Many of us have internalized this wisdom and understand its weight and worth. It brings us back to the mat and to these blogs and to countless other sweet habits that sustain us every day. To talk about these things in a space like this is just so much preaching to the converted.

At the same time, we constantly encounter those who do not make the choice to care for the body and the spirit. They don’t see that correlation between tending the self and being able to support for those we love. For me, “these people” who constantly put business and housework and the needs of others before their own are not disembodied, rhetorical devices: they are many of the people I live and work with every day.

I think it is obvious which path I believe is most effective, but I do not mean to stand in judgment over this other camp – they are doing the best that they can with the tools that seem most obvious to them. The dark circles under their eyes and their mysterious chronic pains are proof of their dedication to being all things to all people. All people except themselves, that is.

When I dodge out of work a little early to get to the chiropractor even when I know my colleagues suffer from much deeper back aches than me, I can’t help but wonder at how my choice may be perceived. Am I a self obsessed hypochondriac who puts her own spine before her career and getting dinner together? Am I judged for my weakness, for being a childless flibbity gibbet who spends her time and disposable income on new agey foolishness?

For the most part, I realize that analyzing actions that I know to be vital and necessary through such a cruel, hypothetical gaze is a useless game that serves no one. I just worry because I know my path is not the commonly accepted approach. It is often challenging to stand against the “do it for profit, do it for security, do it til it hurts, there’s no crying in baseball” American way, especially when family and friends seem to subscribe wholeheartedly to that maddened creed.

I suppose all we can do is dedicate ourselves to self healing that is free of selfishness.  I think this is only possible when such deep work is not focused strictly on the individual, but is dedicated to the good of the community and the good of the sacred within us all.

Rather than simply pitying or becoming exasperated by those who don’t understand the idea of slowing down, of investing in the power of deep stretches and even deeper breaths, perhaps we can think more about how to share the inner peace that we are cultivating. How can we figure out how to make pure-hearted attention to the Self an epidemic that everyone wants to catch?

Witnessing this Moment

Do you feel it yet? Did it really happen? Can America actually have elected a black man running on a ticket of hope and change?

I know the realization has not seeped into my soul yet. I cannot integrate the events. I have not yet found a way to make it real.

When I visited my healer a couple of days ago, she followed her usual practice of kinesiology, or muscle testing, to discover words and concepts that resonate with me on a psychological and spiritual level. Usually they are ideas that trouble me, and this session was no exception: “experiencing my mind.” At first the phrases she comes up with almost always sound like they belong in fortune cookies, but they eventually make sense, even if I had never parsed my experiences in quite the same terms before.

My mind is my shelter and my weapon whenever the emotional world gets too hot. Refusing what my gut or my heart are trying to tell me, so often I try to muscle through on brain power alone. I resort to analyzing the situation rather than feeling it, I look for wisdom in the table of contents rather than in my own experience. Today, I jumped from website to website trying to find a way for the joy to penetrate, but could not find a way to truly feel my way through the moment.

Our worth in this world is so often determined by our perceived intelligence, by how swiftly you can take in information and sort it and use it for your own gain. The brain is such an inadequate organ, however, when you want to be moved and inspired by something so awesome and intense as Barack Obama becoming our next president.

There are a few brilliant moments in all of our lives, be it a marriage or a birth or an historic election that requires we do more than think about how everything just might change. This is one of those moments that must be fully witnessed, body and soul.

Turning Wine Back Into Water

Communion CWMGaryDue to a nagging health issue, it has become alarming clear that I really have to eliminate sugar and alcohol from my diet. I’ve been reading about this worst case scenario for years, so it was not a when the news came yesterday that if I am serious about my health, I will do more than merely feel guilty as I delight at the gluten free bakery.

As I write this, I can only think of the incredulous emails I will receive from friends with whom I have downed countless pints of Guinness and emptied hundreds of wine bottles. It will be one thing to turn down birthday cake, but to refuse a champagne toast as well? When I finally do make it back to Galway could I possibly be so crazy as to ask for a club soda when I get everyone to go back to the Crane with me? When we go to beer gardens of Munich this summer will I smile and ask for a really, really big stein of water?

I am mourning all of the wineries in Napa I have never visited and thinking that I never enjoyed local honey enough when I had a chance, but is this really an issue of any worthy, never mind spiritual, import? At this point, I am not sure how all of this gastronomical denial will really affect me. Presumably, it will be much simpler to keep weight off during the holidays and I guess I will be more likely to remember the details of reunions with long lost friends if I do not lubricate my late night chatter with a nice Cabernet. But, at the same time I wonder what it will be like to be excluded from what seem to be amongst the major tenets of my culture: eat (whatever you like), drink (more than a little bit), and be merry (with the glow of all that has passed your lips).

Actually, part of that is really quite untrue – I have been avoiding gluten for a few years now so “eating whatever I want” is made of the stuff of distant memory to be stored next to pulling all-nighters in college and thinking Tom Cruise was attractive. Initially, it seemed impossible that I might have to live without bagels, but eventually I just realized feeling like an entirely different person made baguettes less essential. It just seems so much to excise even more wonderful edible possibilities from my already limited menu.

Of course, this realization is just over twenty-four hours old, so I am still trapped in bemoaning all that I will miss instead of focusing on finding what else there is to really enjoy as I have sagely been advised to do. As I try to cultivate mindfulness, it seems there can be no better way than to be compelled to pay even stricter attention to what nourishes me body and soul and what might be so much good tasting poison.
As I prepare to move through life that is not enriched by chocolate covered strawberries, I wonder what new sugar free, gluten free treats with high price tags and way too much packaging I will discover at the natural food store. It seems so strange that I will be driven, with many others I am sure, to the pricey aisles of such stores in pursuit of a life devoid of such perfectly natural plants as wheat and sugar cane, fermented grapes and aromatic hops. What does it mean when the modern diet (or in my case, modern medicine) has proven so detrimental that it sends us past eating like natural, conscientious omnivores to become odd niche eaters with strict lists and an overdependence on rice cakes? It will open a whole new set of challenges to try to live a more authentic life connected to this earth when I have to respectfully decline so many fruits of the soil and gnaw on some more broccoli. I’ll let you know if such obstacles seem worth it…

Embracing the Need to Heal

Since I have started reading David Edwards’ Burning all Illusions, as I have discussed in the last two posts, it is amazing to me the new lens through which I gaze at my experiences. One of the topics that he has illuminated for me is the uncomfortable degree to which we are forced to bear the mantle of modern society, “the way things are” in that resigned fashion that is meant to excuse all of the excess or the pessimism or the difficulty that marks the age.

In accepting “the way things are” we must stomach living in a state of constant contradiction. We’ve all listed those ridiculous phrases that roll off the reporters’ tongues and only begin to fester in our ears when we take a little step back: “peacekeeping missiles” is the one I find most odious. One of the less neatly packaged paradoxes that we encounter all the time is the celebration of both senseless strength and fragile victimhood in our culture. On the one hand, we are told face the world with an aggressive, competitive stance, to quit whining and arm ourselves with a stiff upper lip (whatever that is – I notice it is my bottom lip that is most likely to betray me when I find myself on the verge of pouting or crying). Yet, at the same time, as Caroline Myss discusses at length, we use our wounds as currency; we let all of the bad things that have ever happened to us be our defining elements and we demand others recognize what we have suffered.

Images of soldiers in distant deserts on one channel and confessional talk shows on another.

A conversation with my chiropractor the other day brought my own struggle between these two poles into perspective. I have been visiting this network chiropractor for over three years for various issues with my back and have been to see him more often lately as I struggle with sciatica. After a month away from his table and almost that much time away from my yoga mat, I returned last week with that same nagging pain in my right leg. After my treatment we chatted for a while – he was telling me that I needed to come more regularly to deal with this issue and I was trying to express the fact that I had spent more than enough time in his office. Thing is, I know that what he does can work for me, but what does it mean that I end up “broken” again after only a few weeks away?

I am a healthy young woman, so how is it that visiting alternative health practitioners has become a pastime that eats up a significant portion of my “discretionary” income? I do plenty of yoga (or at least I do when I am not afraid of a forward bend damaging this cantankerous nerve I never knew I had until this fall) and I know how to breathe healing energy into my body. I’ve been practicing Reiki for years and I understand a good deal about the connection between body, mind, and spirit. What is it that makes me so passive in my healing process? How did I become so dependent on these people with their gentle touch and well-placed needles and singing bowls? I never thought I understood that old adage “physician, heal thyself” until I realized that I was applying “body-attuned creature, sort out your own aches and pains” to myself.

Upon expressing these competing concerns to my chiropractor, I think a moment of true understanding blossomed between us. It was not that I wasn’t committed to healing, it was just that I felt guilty plunking down a $15 copay a couple times a week instead of doing the work myself. As we talked, I realized that placing myself under someone else’s care did not make me weak; it just proved that we are all part of a connected universe that hums along by creating constant webs of interdependency.

The other thing that he reiterated to me, but which finally made some sense, is that the symptoms I experience are just part of my body’s reaction to stress. Previously, this just made me more annoyed with myself – what was wrong with me that I was not using the ample tools at my disposal to deal with this alleged stress? What was I forgetting to do that made it possible for all that stuff to get lodged in my vertebrae?

This was the moment that I recalled all that I have been reading in Edwards’s book. If I truly believe that something is out of joint in terms of how we live in this world, if we are forced to conform in millions of insidious, soul compromising ways, then it only makes sense that my body is under more pressure than a human form was ever meant to bear. Since I believe so strongly that emotions manifest themselves in the physical form, it seems inevitable that my body would find her own way to rebel against the ideas my mind is only beginning to comprehend.

I have spoken of compassion many times before, and it seems time to employ such lovingkindness in the way I treat this body of mine. She is neither soldier nor victim; she is my soul’s home that deserves to be cared for and understood.