This past weekend Daren & I went to Harvard for Freshman Family weekend and attended the Keynote address: “The Polarization of America: Can We Bridge the Divide?” with IOP Fellow and former Congressman from Nevada, The Hon. Joseph J. Heck.
I didn’t know the name, but found the talk to be something I can really chew on. Before anyone starts to look Heck up, and bash or celebrate any move he ever made; Heck is Republican and obviously putting his neck on the line by speaking in a highly liberal environment – not only for the parents last weekend, but through many lectures for students during the year.
I don’t like to discuss politics and often do not speak freely as to which party I’m more aligned with, but I’m not a Republican. Most of the audience was not either. However, the talk was wonderful and touched on many reasons why the political divide is kind of inevitable but not impossible to overcome.
One part of it really hit home for me and is something I plan to always consider as well as one can. That is the gumption of a candidate. Heck didn’t even use the word gumption, but at times and once during the Q&A he said something to the affect of considering individuals who can stick to their morals well enough to say No to power.
We need to generally hear an individual’s viewpoint on important issues whether it’s equal rights, gun control, the right to choose, immigration, etc. However, even more so it is important to consider whether or not the individual has the ability to work with others (even others on the other side) to come up with solutions that find common ground, andto have the gumption not to flip in order to please power, keep friends, take money, or even just to wrap up a session and go home.
Candidates need to have an answer on hot topics, but it doesn’t mean they are so ridiculous about it that they will no longer adhere to common sense. Party lines and rigid yes/no answers on issues make it nearly impossible to be seen or understood as something in between. Additionally, few topics are so black or white. The topics and national problems that are on the table took years to get to. They just cannot disappear overnight. It’s tricky stuff.
Take gun rights for example. Me personally – I don’t “believe” in guns. When I hear a candidate is a ‘gun person’ I look to their opponent. But in reality a candidate has to answer yes or no if they believe in ‘gun rights’, and that doesn’t answer a whole lot unless you really hear from them or look into their background.
But what does gun rights really mean? A part of me understands the other side. Just because I mightnot have one, I’m not sure I should or even want to have the right to tell someone else what they can or cannot have. If we outlawed them tomorrow what would that solve? People will still have and use them, likely often as much as they do now. We don’t have the money or man power to go into everyone’s homes to remove them. People are not going to turn them in because they are illegal. Drugs, prostitution, child porn and human trafficking are illegal but that doesn’t stop those who want to do these things from doing them. How can anyone tell a 19-year old minority single mother living in a shady neighborhood that she needs to give up her legally owned gun that makes her feel safe so she can shiver and be anxious walking down the block when she had previously felt safe, secure and that she had some power over her life? She wouldn’t be voting on my side even though she has a very rational point.
What I would love for our politicians to do is look for common ground and not give in to nonsense that power & bullying will try to instill. They need gumption to do that.
I have not a single statistic in front of me but would be willing to bet that most people in either party do not want to see one more mass shooting- like EVER. Guns are a part of the issue – of course. But does any majority really, really believe in the right to have a semi-automatic gun or weapons of mass destruction as part of no constitutional restrictions? Are any liberals really trying to take away any and all power to bear arms? Maybe some people fall into these categories, but again – I’d be willing to bet it’s a small percentage. Those persons in that small percent are not the individuals I would like to elect to pass our laws. The individuals I would like to represent my vote would have common sense and not give in to power or bullying of a smaller percent.
How can a healthy minded, willing Democrat work with a healthy minded, willing Republican to come up with potential solutions about how to prevent what we all want to prevent? We have to be willing to compromise, understand one another’s view and create a solution with them that works for all. There are many issues I don’t agree with 100% but understand the other side. It’s not easy and/or black and white.
This is where we the people come in. We do our due diligence and look for the truth in the people we have the power to elect. We understand and look past silly time limits during debates, simple colors to show which party the candidate is aligned with, and the one-liners on all these hundreds (and I mean HUNDREDS) of political signs all over the place.
My first reaction to what I just wrote if I wasn’t writing it would be some defense about “Who has time for this?” But I need to even question my own silly gut reaction. Because if not this, then what actually matters? Isn’t this our right? Our ancestors fought hard for this power and we take it for granted, bemoaning that we don’t have time and just hope, wish and pray that the right people will be elected. Or we just vote down the party line and ignore the alarm signal that someone might not be looking out for the majority or have common sense.
So get involved! Even if it’s too late – at least do a quick google search before voting tomorrow. But do vote. And vote for someone with GUMPTION and common sense. We have the power. Only when you believe you don’t you actually don’t.
I have always loved the autumn. The cooler air, the deep-rich colors, the shifts in daylight; and yes –the heavier, warmer foods and attire that are part of the shifting season package. My ‘Vata Dosha’ (the who? – something my yogi friends would get & isn’t to relevant at the moment) is supposed to really not like this time of the year. And even though my body has a serious cold intolerance (I mean SERIOUS), I have still always felt some sort of magic in the air, chills not withstanding.
Somewhere between the cooling temperatures that take place a few weeks post Labor Day and Thanksgiving, sits Halloween – smack dab in the middle’ish of it all. I realize that it’s become a very commercial holiday laced with sweets and costumes, but there had to be a reason that it’s celebrated at the time it is.
I’ve briefly read in the past it was a Pagan tradition that the church latched onto to help converts to Christianity experience something familiar. I knew about the European tradition of the Jack-o-lantern. And last year when my husband and I were in South Africa on Halloween Day, I wondered why it wasn’t celebrated much in the Southern Hemisphere.
I grew up going to Catholic School. Halloween for me was exciting, not just for the trick-or-treating, but because the next day was All Saints Day and we had no school.
I also know that Mexico celebrates this same time with a Day of the Dead celebration Día de Muertos.
Saints? The Dead? This kind of had something in common, right?
This year I volunteered to teach a yoga class on Halloween evening. While considering how not to avoid saying anything about the day of the year it is in class, I went on an online hunt to find the spiritual meaning behind this tradition. I found it fascinating enough to share what our elders were thinking when they established this time of year for this tradition.
“Our ancestors could viscerally feel shifts within nature, and so they anticipated internal shifts within spirit, mind and body too”. Symbolic Meaning of Halloween
I learned that Halloween really isn’t celebrated in the Southern Hemisphere because it’s the seasonal shift from warmth to coolness that makes the veil between our world and others thin. Southern hemisphere witches actually do celebrate this tradition on April 30th, which makes sense; as that time of year is equivalent to what we are experiencing now.
The thin veil between worlds would make it possible to more easily honor and connect to those who have passed – hence Mexico’s Day of the Dead.
But why a thin veil now?
I couldn’t find much online, even on what I would consider to be ‘junky’ sites. From my own spiritual understanding of nature, it actually does make sense that it is now. We just experienced the summer and have all that strong “yang” type energy starting to dwindle away. The mix of some warm days and the associated energy fusing with the cooler days (literally thinning the atmosphere), often finds us less physically motivated and more likely to slow down and look within.
It’s an interesting time of year from the Ayurvedic perspective the way I understand it, in that we are entering a cyclical time of destruction with the plant/tree life ending and the preparation of the cold-frozen season. Additionally, at this time the 5 elements are in a balance for a short period (earth, water, fire, air and ether). The balanced elements and accompanying life part of the year change to the ‘death’ part of the year would make it ripe for our body, mind and spirits to connect to all that is in the circle of the universe where that life/death cusp transforms in a balanced way.
As above so below – in that the laws of nature are the laws of nature everywhere, in the heavens as is on earth. Birth/early life (Spring), high point of life/mid-life (Summer), elder ages/dying (Fall), the magic in between that prepares for new life even though it looks like there is nothing there (Winter). Winter then prepares us for spring and so forth. There is never a new stop or end point, it just goes around and around and transforms from season to season.
So without getting any more wonky than I’m starting to sound I’m going to end it here. If you’ve followed my attempt to explain my crazy point – Great! And if not, that’s ok too. Maybe a seed you would like to cultivate has been planted. Or perhaps this is just all a bunch of non-sense that many of us like to dabble in while we have fun celebrating Halloween, watching scary movies, and dressing up as something we normally wouldn’t. It’s all in good fun.
In preparation for my yoga classes this week I think I’m going to just focus on Embracing the Unknown and the lessons Halloween can perhaps provide to us.
Embracing the unknown (bullets taken from the same above linked article)
Facing the scary, hairy thing under our beds.
Not freaking out about death, but honoring it.
Knowing our deepest renewal begins with surrender.
Embracing the concept that both life requires the presence of both light and dark.
There are some experiences in life that seem almost magical or other worldly as they happen. Sometimes it is when you meet someone and you get a sense of ‘deja vu’ or a flash of unexplained feelings. Or when you hear or read something that just seems to strike some sort a cord within you about its unexplainable truth.
One of the dozen or so times this happened to me is when I had first readthat the soul is the connection to divine (God, nature or whatever you chose to call all that is). I was so moved by this simple statement. The truth of it was so obvious to me at the moment, that it sparked one of those other worldly flash feelings. The article discussed how the soul doesn’t dish out advice like our loud, animal mind brains do. But if you ignore or quiet the monkey brain and ask your soul for advice, the right answer is always there waiting to be heard.
I knew that somewhere but didn’t realize it until then. A few hours later after mulling it over I posted something on Facebook about it- a short quote I made up as my own interpretation of this. It had very few “likes”. Guess my Facebook tribe didn’t get it.
Not long after I heard a podcast about the moral compass. The speaker explained how we experience negative emotions (depression, hopelessness, anxiety, etc) when we aren’t living according to our moral compass.
Right- that makes sense too! And in my own interpretation I understood that moral compass connection to be through the soul which is connected to all that is. When we can’t hear or follow that sound advice and live against it, we feel unhappy.
Then, not long after I started to better understand the deeper meaning of the yoga I was attracted to. The focused attention of breath and movement quieted the monkey mind. Meditation and quieting the mind is a ticket to really hearing sound moral advice from my soul- that without question always knows the right and loving way to be in this world.
I feel so inspired to write this morning because when I opened my email amongst the midst of things was the start of a sentence that caught my eye strong enough for me to open it. It read “God does what God is: Love. God does not love you if and when you change. God loves you so that you can change!”The email was a few paragraphs long. It is a daily mediation that I signed up for from the Franciscan priest Richard Rohr who wrote a book I recently finished calledFalling Upward.
The email this morning brought the message of the soul and compass home for me. The email referenced one of the famous lines of the Bible where man is created in the likeness and image of God (the divine, nature, whatever you connect to spiritually). That likeness is LOVE.
One paragraph states “Love is who you are. When you don’t live according to love, you are outside of being. You’re basically not real or true to yourself. When you love, you are acting according to your deepest being, your deepest truth. You are operating according to your dignity.“
Love… Love it. To me that says it all.
Maybe, just maybe… the allegory of the apple and ensuing suffering was having doubt about pure love. Not living by the advice of the soul. Not having faith in all that is.
The soul knows. Perhaps we should listen a bit closer. It’s always there- the good angel on our shoulder, NOT jumping up and down loudly like a child with a pitch fork such as the little fiery red guy on the other shoulder. Maybe listening to it really is a key away from fear & suffering.
“Man suffers most through his fears of suffering”.—Etty Hillesum
I am beginning to understand how important it is to accept fear, suffering, and the unknown as a part of life. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it really is part of being human and our existence. Once we begin accept fear, suffering, and the unknown as natural and ordinary; we can experience a more balanced outlook on the way things are. Once that balanced outlook is realized; we still have fears, bad days and down days – they just seem to have less power and debilitating effects on us.
In a blog I wrote a few weeks ago “On the Fluctuating Gunas ”, bad things happening to our around us, doesn’t mean something is wrong with us. It’s just part of the flow of life.
What is even more astounding is that as humans we have the capability to truly accept the entire flow of what life is. In our most enlightened form it’s possible to not be affected at all. From a Christian biblical perspective – symbolically, the lesson of Jesus on the cross is to help free us from suffering through demonstrating that at even the WORST, we have nothing to be afraid of if we chose to embrace what is.
Acceptance = Non-Suffering
We can’t fight what life throws at us. It’s fruitless. We will lose by fighting and trying to avoid it every time. It’s a law of nature, but it doesn’t mean that we should lie back and be pushed around by life. In the same way we cannot win by swimming against the tide or sailing against the wind. We have to use nature’s forces intelligently to still navigate where we would like to go using what is there at the time and not just wishing the tide away.
What’s worse is that wishing the tide away means not enjoying life as it is happening. We waste time that would otherwise be enjoyable by being scared of the unknown, thinking things are supposed flow easily – then being miserable when they don’t.
Will Smith even quoted the version of the below phrase in a great YouTube video I watched not too long ago. This is the abridged >2 min version, but the point is well taken. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSIo4JMzcbM
FDR said it best years ago. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.
Always do your best. What you plant now you will harvest later.
In the yoga classes I’ve taught this past week, the theme I have been focusing on is “The Harvest”. The chosen reason is the time of the year here in the Northern Hemisphere, especially where we live in New England. The purpose of this theme however is not about the crops we need to harvest before the first frost (which was last night), but all ‘seeds’ and ‘harvests’ for the future.
Not sure what it has to do with yoga? If you are still with me, please allow me to explain.
A seed is just a seed all by itself. A lettuce seed alone has nothing but the potential to become lettuce. If I plant lettuce seeds in the ground in the month of April (appropriate for our Connecticut hardiness zone), there is a decent chance it will grow lettuce. But if I plant a cucumber seed in April, it will absolutely not grow into lettuce, and there is a slim chance will grow at all. Cucumber seeds can only thrive after the last frost. Hence, it would be best to plant them in mid-May for any hope of having a cucumber in August.
So far I have a seed, dirt, and weather that will hypothetically allow me to harvest cucumbers. Seeds, dirt and weather are not that insanely different from the potential we have as humans to manifest goals or create the type of life we desire. In churches and other spiritual communities and texts we will often hear the phrase “As above, so below”.
What does that mean? It means the physical world is not all that different from the mental and spiritual worlds. Even though we can’t see those other worlds, the laws of nature are consistent.
Like seeds, our thoughts are just thoughts alone. The properties of a thought will only bring forth that thought. If I’d like to lose 10 pounds, it’s only a thought or wish until I do something with it. Additionally, wishing it will not yield me a promotion or the improvement of a relationship that I’d like to enhance… obviously. With me so far?
Next that thought is planted or ‘sown’ in my mind. The mind is not so dissimilar to the soil that we plant our seeds in. The thought that I would like to lose 10 lbs in a mind racing with anxiety, wrought with depression, or full with a stressed out ‘To Do’ list will only go into a abyss of other competing and negative thoughts. Similar to how planting a cucumber seed in sand, in the snow, or even in April; the mind’s condition would not be right to help a positive thought manifest into the raw potential it has.
This is where yoga comes in.
Yoga is not soley about moving around in different poses (or asanas). Yoga means to ‘yoke’. This sacred Sanskrit term is used to signify the connections between spirit, mind and body. Whether we are moving through poses, meditating, chanting, doing breath work, etc; what we are really doing is creating a connection of our physical body to our mind and spirit; creating a sense of equilibrium between all three – which are really one beautifully operating unit. It’s difficult to have anxiety when the mind, body and spirit are yoked in meditation or savasana (that last pose in most yoga classes where you actually enjoy laying around doing nothing for a few minutes).
When we are in balance, the mind is clear. When we sow thoughts in a clear mind, it is akin to planting seeds in proper conditions. When the mind is not clear, thoughts will still grow in murky conditions. These conditions often generate unwanted outcomes. For example anxious thoughts will thrive and create even more anxiety in a busy mind. The mind is constantly creating whether we get involved with what is put in or not. Analogous to how weeds will grow without involvement.
Yoga helps clear the mind through pointed focus and awareness. Focusing on breathing while mindfully moving from posture to posture in an average American yoga class (which is what comes to the minds of most when they picture yoga) helps us to stay in the present moment and pay less attention the wandering mind. When we are on the mat and feeling the slight shifts and sensations of our bodies, we are connecting our physical body with our inner selves. While sitting in a posture for a short while, if the body is relaxed and the mind wanders; it becomes very clear what is in there as thoughts arise.
A beautiful characteristic of yoga is that the habits we build on the mat will begin to stay with us off the mat.
A remarkable trait about thoughts is that you can change them.
If we don’t like what is coming up, we don’t have to actually keep thinking them. With a little practice of strengthening the mind, we are able to notice thoughts that aren’t aligned with the life we want and modify them.
Ignoring or changing unwanted thoughts and clearing our minds creates the proper soil and weather conditions to grow an aspired thought into reality. This will give us the boost to perform the last and third step of harvesting what we would like. That last step is the physical work.
If we plant cucumber seeds in mid-May and walked away… maybe we will have some cucumbers, but not likely. Chances increase if we ensure the seeds are properly watered, have the right amount of sun, and weeds are kept at bay – at least initially. As the season progresses and cucumber buddings begin to grow and get stronger, we still need to keep an eye on them; but weeds and unexacting sun and water levels are less likely to halt the progression of physical cucumbers.
We have to do the work. Once new habits are built and ingrained into our neuropath ways and routines, less focus needs to be put on sustaining the desired result. Keeping 10lbs off is easy with good habits because we essentially reap what we sow. Physically and mentally. If you don’t have a crop harvest right now, it only because you didn’t plant seeds and nurture them in the spring.
The laws of nature as we know it work the same in the mind/spirit world.
Yoga helps us to create the harvest (albeit “life”) we want by cultivating a healthy mind-body-spirit connection. The take home – mind your thoughts, as they can and will create the life and harvest you have.
Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant
Last Thursday I was at our second home in Branford turning it over for our Friday renters, and doing some well needed yard work on the one non-rainy day in the forecast. I craved a short lunch break from the hot sun, so I decided to head down to the local watering hole for a hearty sandwich. While I was waiting, the news was on every TV. Something about a case and the name Kavanaugh.
I am one of those people that does not watch or listen to the news. When something important happens I always seem to find out in some other form as I did last Thursday. Not knowing what everyone was glued to, I whipped out my phone to google the latest news. In about 2 minutes I was caught up to the current moment after Ford testified.
Today I am in Hollywood, FL where my mom lived before she passed 12 years ago. I’m visiting with my aunt, her friend Patty, and my cousin Camille. Four absolutely beautiful women with different life stories. I hadn’t seen my cousin in over 26 years following a tragic event that rocked our family. This is a reunion I cherish.
When I picked up my phone this morning, I saw that on old high school Facebook friend commented on a picture that I posted from the latest U2 tour this past summer. The picture “HerStory”.
Women over the centuries have their own beautiful, good, bad, heroic and tragic stories. Women have been oppressed and in many parts of the world still are. They still don’t have the same rights men have. Not but a century ago voting was in question, even in the developed world. Much has changed, but not enough yet. There is plenty of history and little ‘herstory’. None of us are equal until all of us are equal. This not only includes women, but all skin colors, gender preferences, sexual preferences, handicaps, spiritual practices… everything and anything that imaginarily divides us and seems to lead some to believe that they have rights and power over another human being.
As for Ford… I believe her. I don’t believe this has political motivation. Anyone who has been abused in someway should really understand this. She moved on with her life and kept quiet as most victims do. She was successful at ‘moving on’. But the trauma of an attack usually stays with you. It comes back at random times when the body is triggered by something that the conscious awareness didn’t pick up, and pieces of the memory come back. We are now learning that it is how the brain works. The brain is wired to protect you by blocking out pieces of the event(s). She shouldn’t be written off if she can’t remember how she got home after an attack. Allowing that to happen takes away the believability of so many victims and only gives perpetrators more power. Aren’t we civilized and sophisticated enough to understand science and the brain?
I believe her. I don’t believe she would have ever said anything if Kavanaugh wasn’t nominated for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. I think this was her own trigger. Whether or not he was 17 or 70; he hurt her, took away her power, and a part of her innocence. Most victims would have a hard time watching someone who hurt them be promoted, praised and raised to any position of power. I don’t believe it matters if he was a Republican, Democrat, Communist or member of the Rastafarian tribe.
I believe her story. As a victim of abuse myself, I can almost sense when someone else has been traumatized in similar ways. It doesn’t matter how it started out or if anyone was drinking, or what age anyone was. For me, it’s about how it ended up, how someone’s life was affected by it, and the example we might set for other young men and women.
It’s her story. The one that she experienced. I feel she did the right thing. Dragging up a 30+ year old traumatic event would be a difficult decision for anyone to make, not to mention making it into a nationally televised revelation. Knowing every moment you lived, skirt (or bikini) you wore, every tipsy laughter or wink… everything you ever did would be dragged up, scrutinized and questioned like a criminal when you know you are the victim. That takes guts and I feel Ford should be praised as an example for other women and victims to start talking.
In my humble opinion, the more women and victims talk and share their stories, and the more the perpetrators are called out publicly; the less likely current and potential perpetrators will be to take advantage of others. It has been overlooked and gone on for too long. Stand up, fight for human rights and let’s put an end to any type of human abuse.
I believe her. I believe he is shocked and tearful and truthfully… even that he wouldn’t do or condone such a thing now. I’m on the fence about whether it should or should not allow him to serve in such a position. It’s not political for me. It’s human. We need to set some kind of example for the younger generation. I don’t have an answer about what the right thing is to do from here. All I know is that I believe her and that HerStory is the story of so many. Like the beautiful women in my own family, we all have stories and I think it’s time in general to hear “HERS”.
Today I woke up feeling good. On 7/11/18, 2 months and 2 days ago, I had just one of the worst evenings of my life. The following few days were even more difficult. These last 2 months have been a journey that I realize is life-long and I’m in no rush to finish. I’m enjoying and embracing every step forward and every obstacle that prohibits steps forward, or that even sets me a few back. Obstacles and set backs are really necessary learning experiences.
Today I’m in gratitude. I might not be in an hour, but for now I am and I’m incredibly grateful.
I could write for hours about how I got here (I promise I won’t). The biggest contributor was my childhood and the mal-adaptive strategies [albeit very normal] I developed early on to deal with life while my brain was forming. One of my newly favorite psychology writers Van Der Kolk calls it Developmental Traumatic Disorder (DTD). This diagnostic explanation is fairly new in the world of Psych. It didn’t quite make it to the DSM 5 which is latest edition of the manual by which mental health clinicians diagnose and bill for disorders. For now the closest diagnosis is PTSD, which DTD is branch of. Particularly for me, for now it’s Delayed Onset, Complex PTSD. It turns out I’m just another statistic and if someone were watching closely, everything that happened to me could have been predicted.
I’ve been through a gamut of emotions the past few months. Many before 7/11, but even more, and much more intensely since. Crazily, but also not surprisingly this episode took place just 2 days and exactly 25 years after what was one of the most transformational days of my life at the time when I was 17. I’d written about it before in My Mom. It’s one of my trigger dates, something I don’t think I fully believed in until this summer. I didn’t consciously recognize the significance of how the date triggered me, but my body did. The Body Keeps the Score.It really does.
What I realized most profoundly this summer is that I have PTSD. I really do. Two and a half years ago I had my first panic attack. I was immediately diagnosed with Anxiety and Panic Disorder. Last summer the PTSD diagnosis was added. While I remember telling people about it, somehow I didn’t realize how important it was to my mental recovery to embrace and work on it. In fact, when the true awareness hit me like a ton of bricks just less than a week after 7/11 this year, I was surprised to realize that I’d been sharing and telling people about it prior to then. A few days ago I re-read something I added to my blog page in May “About Me”, and it was there too! Why wasn’t I working on it?
I wasn’t working on my trauma and PTSD for many reasons. Because it wasn’t urgent and didn’t seem important. Because no one tells you that it’s important. In fact, no one can; it’s something you have to discover on your own when your body is ready. Also because I didn’t have the time or the life style until now. That is why I’m in gratitude this morning. I’m moving in the slow lane and I love it.
From a young age I moved fast. I always had excessive energy. I never understood how anyone could sit at a meeting or in a class and not fidget. I was just always bursting out of my skin. Driving… I had to be in the fast line. I was constantly assessing for traffic, changing lanes with the flow. Heart always racing. Breath always erratic. I was always, always, always looking for more efficient ways to do things. From driving to folding laundry to cleaning… to redesigning whole work groups and even departments at my job. I was good at it. It was a great outlet for my energy. I was efficient and I helped others to be as well. A good use of my talents. Or so I thought.
Now I’m living in the slow lane. I still have the habit of moving fast, but I catch myself at least 80% or so of the time when I realize that for no good reason my heart is in a lurch or my breath isn’t steady. I stop it and slow down. I manage my breath. I smell the roses. I ground myself in the present and it’s SO much better. I think about that quote about how nothing or everything is a miracle, and see things as beautiful. Even ugly things. I wish we could teach our children this from a young age. Instead we are programmed to ‘succeed’, to do more & faster, to have it all, to do it all. We are programmed to think we are a failure if we don’t meet this criteria. On paper by this methodology I was a huge success.
Take two driven people like my husband and myself, put them together, and what do you have? It’s debatable. 7 years ago I would have thought a match made in heaven. In fact at our wedding we incorporated the Japanese term of kaizen (continuous improvement) into our vows. Ugh… how I cringe now. All I can think of is U2’s lyrics in the song ‘Moment of Surrender’
The stone was semi precious
We were barely conscious
Two souls too smart to be
In the realm of certainty
Even on our wedding day
I do believe in continuous improvement, but not in the way it was taught to me (faster, better, do more, etc). I believe it the slow movement. That less is more. That slowing down and even stillness is where the magic of life lies. Take a look at the pets in our lives. They are content with doing less, watching the world outside the window for hours just as it is. Accepting us for who we are. Not caring about how we are dressed or what fancy letters come after our name. They are in a sense more human from a sense of connection than we are. I have four pets. I didn’t even have time to pet them before. I would shoo them away when they came to climb on me when I collapsed on the couch after 16 hours of non-stop movement. We had to have our dog in day care just to get exercise and go out because no one was home long enough to play with him or take him out. Picking him up and dropping him off was another burdened activity on the check-list. Why have pets, kids, a house (2 in our case), a garden, etc – when there was no time to put any love or life into any of it? It’s been a slow realization for me that none of this makes sense. That I was living by a clock and not a compass. It took even longer to do anything meaningful about it. I’m still on that journey and in no rush to any finish line. The unfolding is a beautiful experience that I’m embracing wildly.
I wrote a few paragraphs back that I could write for hours about how I got here. Everyone has their own journey, their own stories, their own level of awareness, and their own (hopefully) point in their life – more often than not in the second half of it, in which they proverbially “wake up”.
My own story started on March 1, 2012. At work I enrolled in a Franklin Covey industry based class for the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It was a 2-day seminar that set the path of a new life for me. At the time I was recently remarried and my husband and I were just finishing up the renovations we worked on non-stopfor 2 months in our new home. I felt SO alive during those renovations. I loved working on the house. We often stayed up until 1 or 2am in the morning on work nights and didn’t feel the least bit exhausted in the morning.
Once the renovations were finishing up I started to feel trapped, bored, and useless. Something I wasn’t accustomed to feeling. Since my husband and I moved in together with our kids the year before I felt like I was mentally unraveling. The renovations were a pleasant distraction. I began going to a bible study at the hospital where I work which one of my vanpool mates hosted. I hung onto many of the teachings and words, learning new language to explain what I was feeling. The Covey class used similar language but explained it in a different way that opened me up in a special fashion. Three things I really connected with was the concept of a paradigm that we see the world through, that I make my own independent choices constantly, and that to feel in line with who you are; we should be living by a compass and not a clock. Wow. This was mind blowing and life changing for me.
Shortly after I explored the bible much more. Then I ran into a Bishop Spong book quite by accident (I honestly cannot remember which one). I was never religious, but grew up Catholic and felt like it was a sin to question anything that didn’t make sense. As soon as my mind took me to those questioning places, guilt kicked in and I pushed it away. The John Shelby Spong book provided the freedom to question what made no sense and shift the focus to something that did in a more mystical, metaphysical way where it allmade sense. From there I found podcasts on the Centers for Spiritual Living to help time pass while having to drive to Bedford, MA quite often for work in 2 ½ hours each direction. Those podcasts prompted me to read the ghastly large book by Ernest Holmes called “The Science of Mind”. The world was opening and unfolding in ways I could have never dreamed. From there for some unknown reason I started taking yoga classes, which spoke the same type of language. Then I would listen to Alan Watts during my lunch walks and long commutes. All different words, but the same beautiful, timeless messages that make sense.
Years later in January 2016 I loved yoga and this way of thinking so much, I started yoga teacher training. My regular life with work, the kids, pets, blended family, commute, and constant RUSH was becoming unsustainable. Why was I adding a full weekend a month commitment to this training? I don’t know but I just felt compelled.
For some reason I thought in yoga teacher training I would learn more about the poses, teaching, and the actual class. Instead, like the Franklin Covey class years before it became a personal journey. I quickly decided that it was a necessity to meditate regularly. Once I started quieting my mind and relaxing regularly, I realized that is how a body should feel and how I lived for the previous 40 years was anything but calm. It started to become unbearable to not feel calm. Combine that with what I now realize is a few PTSD triggers from work at the time, it’s absolutely no surprise that I had my first panic attack exactly when I did and they escalated from there; completely out of control. My body was releasing 40 years worth of emotion that was bubbling just under the surface. The same energy that kept me moving, grooving and successful; was the same energy that was keeping me stressed and mentally unaware that I was damaging myself by not dealing with the trauma that has plagued my mind, body and spirit.
The past two and a half years since have been transformational. A lot of bad and negative things arose, but more positive, learning experiences than anything bad. You have to go through it to move through it. It sounds simple, but it’s much harder than it sounds. It wasn’t until now that I’ve given myself the time and opportunity to heal. But you have to make the time. Your life has to allow it. You have to slow down.
This past summer was rough. I spent hours upon hours writing and allowing myself to remember and experience the anguish of old memories. Many were the same memories that came up during what I now know as PTSD episodes, but I’d felt too ashamed, embarrassed or dramatic to explore. In writing, crying, thinking, gardening, exercising, waking up in the middle of the night, reading, etc – I started to explore my triggers and where they came from. It made sense. I learned more about how the brain is wired and why I seemed to lose control at times. I logged and shared trigger dates with my family. I allowed myself to feel all that I’ve always pushed away and thought I moved past years ago. It was always there waiting for me to deal with it. I just didn’t slow down enough to hear it.
Today I feel good. Over coffee this morning I saw my husband petting one of the cats who was purring where he shouldn’t be (on a counter). When my husband moved his hand away to finish getting ready for work, our cat Gilmore bipped him on the hand – asking for more petting, which Daren provided. We are in a place where we have time to pet our cats. I am thankful I am in a job where if I woke up in the middle of the night and didn’t sleep for hours that the pressure of getting dressed and driving to the office with a smile is not there because I can telework and I’m part-time. I’m thankful for the mental health breakdown this summer. I spent so much time on the days I wasn’t working living like my pets. I napped in the middle of the day if I needed to. I only ate when I was hungry. If I felt like the sun was calling me, I read and wrote outside. If I felt the urge to move I went for a walk, run or bike ride. Listening to my body helped me to attune to what it’s telling me in other ways too. Our bodies are a walking, living, physical communication device. It’s a compass of that path we should be on.
This summer I also listened to the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People CDs that I was provided with from that class back in March of 2012. Listening to the late Stephen Covey’s voice felt like listening to an old friend with sound, sage, timeless advice. I also spent quite a bit of time doing those old exercises again. I created a mission statement, thought about my values and principles, my ‘rocks’, how I communicate with people, how I think and how I live. I thought about the life that I want to program. My own talents. Not the talents the world has barked at me – like designing things bigger better and faster, but what I wanted to be when I was a kid with no restrictions and what that meant. The imprint I want to leave on the world.
These aren’t overnight answers. If I thought for a New York second that I know them right now I’d be fooling myself. I’ll be working on them for the rest of my life. I’m trying diligently to listen to the compass. If we quiet ourselves enough, and ask our inner selves for advice, the most profound wisdom is all there, right within us. Our bodies know what we need. They keep the score.
Last Sunday evening after dinner I was washing a pot. I was washing it very mindfully. I was noticing the feel of the warm, soapy water on my hands. I thought about how the pot was made and how I infused the homemade vegan chili in this large, heavy blue pot with love. Most importantly I was slowly and methodically removing the food that was stuck to the bottom of the pan. I thought back to a lesson I just cannot seem to always remember – “To go faster you must slow down”.
I led a fast paced adult life until about 2 years ago. So fast that I hardly had time to think. Washing a pot with food stuck to the bottom has always reminded me of this paradox; thanks to a visit from my mother a few years before she passed away. When my children were young and I was first married, we had little money, but I kept a really good home. I felt very on top of things. But I was rushed back then too. I was so rushed that I never really had time to deal with pots that ended up with years worth of stains on them. In late 2001 my mother came to visit with her new husband Boris. I had only just met him, and I know he made my mother very happy. He was from Venezuela. My mom talked so much about how laid back he was and how he got her to slow down, grow out her hair, and stop fussing so much with make up and keeping up the house. I made a big dinner when they came to visit, and afterward there were many pots and pans that needed cleaning. My mother and Boris came into the kitchen to help and stationed themselves at the sink; she on dish duty, he on drying duty. What seemed like only moments later while I was putting the leftover food into containers, I noticed Boris drying off one of the pots. What caught my eye about a particular pot that usually had brown and black soot on the bottom was that it was so shiny and clean. Years worth of food and cooking build up was gone! I asked my mother how she did that and so fast… she only smiled with a glint in her eye and said “Boris showed me how”. She never told me with words, but with her eyes she told me to slow down and go easy. The next time I had to clean a pot and ever since I’ve taken my time, used far less pressure than I ever would have and they have always come clean. Working in a rush and with too much pressure used more time and never yielded the same results. I never understood how, it’s just the way it works.
I learned this 17 years ago, but I still don’t always remember or practice this principle. Two years ago I slowed down immensely, truly savoring the small, day-to-day moments, and oddly enough I found myself to be happier, more at peace and with more time than I ever had. It’s not only time, but also about ‘less’. Doing less, trying less, having less… all equal less stress and more joy.
Last week I had the luxury of traveling with my husband and a group of amazing individuals from my yoga studio to a jungle sanctuary in Costa Rica. Getting to this sanctuary required two commercial flights, a puddle jumper plane, a 45 minute car ride, and then a 20 minute hike crossing a river four times. It was hot and humid; the type of humidity where you never dry off, even after a shower.
The only way on and off the sanctuary is a 20 minute-plus hike. On the last full day of the trip, my husband Daren and I ventured off the property to the sanctuary’s closest neighbor Nena, in pursuit of pure organic extra virgin coconut oil. It was a short walk over a bridge that overlooks the ocean to Nena’s house. For the previous two days, Daren & I opted to take some excursions off the property with our group. Both days were a little hectic and obscenely hot at times. I felt ambivalent all morning about whether or not we should take the walk down the hill to get this coconut oil, mainly because it was hot. For some reason I said I’d like to go but I wanted to walk slowly. So off we went to Nena’s house for coconut oil.
Daren and I really took our time. We stopped and looked at monkeys. We watched little birds. We passed our friend the white cow. When we left the property and crossed the street we stopped on the bridge. Actually, Daren on the bridge and called out to me “Babe, look at this view!”. Slightly annoyed, I stopped to look. I was initially feeling rushed, looked at my watch and started calculating how much time it would take to get to Nena’s, buy this coconut oil, trek back, “relax” at the pool, and then dash off to the next yoga class. However, when I turned my head to the left and saw the scene, my heart rate actually slowed down a bit. I couldn’t believe I was about to just walk by and miss this scene! I took it in. While standing there I couldn’t help but notice this insane harried American thought pattern and I pushed it completely away. When I stopped and didn’t worry about the time, I was able to remember that I was here in this beautiful place, at this beautiful moment, with my beautiful husband and a group of beautiful well-lit individuals. I stopped my physical, then mental body from the rush of insanity and fleeting thoughts to appreciate the view and the view of my husband appreciating the view.
We stood there a while in silence. I took a few pictures and resisted the urge to snap more. More is not better. More pictures, more talk, more activity… more, more, more… No, no, no… I know this, but I live in a world that tells me the opposite; so it’s easy to forget.
It was I who broke the silence after a long while. I had the profound realization that because we walked slowly we weren’t as hot as we were the rest of the trip. I intellectually knew that before we walked and even made that suggestion, but it was even more profound to experience that it worked. It dawned on me that every time I go anywhere where the weather is warm all the time, the locals move slowly. I heard other Americans and Canadians joking about how the natives live on “Costa Rican time”. I’ve heard the same joke in other places. All these Americans and Europeans thinking it’s so funny to crack jokes about how slow everyone moves, when really the joke is on us. What is wrong with us? We are the dummies sweating in the sun because we are rushing around like lunatics. It’s our culture that is uptight, wound up and stressed. What are we in a rush to do anyway? At that moment on the bridge I decided to put my watch in my pocket and let the day pass as it may. Strangely there seemed to be just the right amount of time for everything once I stopped worrying at all about it.
When we start to move too fast, we often do not see what we need to see. (Huffington Post 2015 – Why Going Slow Will Make You Go Faster). This applies to work, our lives with our families and friends, or achieving any of our goals. Maybe it’s not just what we need to see, but what will enhance our everyday experiences.
In the midst of this jungle last week we were surrounded by wildlife. It was beautiful, simple, exotic, intoxicating, and natural. This was a yoga group at a yogic sanctuary. Yogi’s might be more aware than most about the beauty of being conscious, but are no less human and subject to falling prey to being unconscious in a world that keeps dangling shiny temptations all around. One of my teachers deliberately did not go on one of the daily excursions on a day that every other single one of the group did. She said she did not want to feel rushed, and she sat watching monkeys for several hours that day instead. The message she took away is that the monkeys were there all along, providing the same level of awe and entertainment, but had one not taken the time to just stop and observe, it would have been missed.
The evening we returned to Connecticut from Costa Rica, Daren and I found ourselves on a line at a McDonald’s drive through on the way home from the airport at 11:45 at night. By that point in the day we had been up & en route home since 5:15am. We had only one square meal. We were tired, dirty and stressed. Hurry up and wait. We almost missed a connecting flight because Passport Control was a hot mess when we got back into the U.S. We were waiting on a very long car line at 11:45pm for an absolutely nutritiously poor meal (well Daren was waiting, I was looking forward to some soup at home). We were stressed. Daren was tapping at the wheel. I was mentally trying hard to not fall into the trap of ordering something greasy or feeling upset over the slow moving line, all while trying to stay cheerful so my husband could stay positive too. In my mind I was doing math again about the number of things I needed to do the next day to get ready for the week, wondering how I could fit them in. How much mail was there? Who is taking the dog to the vet Thursday? What should I pull out for dinner tomorrow? Should I go shopping? I needed to inventory the food situation at home first, right? With every thought I felt my blood pressure rising. And every time I noticed my breath becoming rapid and shallow or my heart racing, I made the conscious decision to breath deeply and live in the moment. That only lasts a few moments out here in the “real world” until the thoughts & heart start to race again. How could you explain this feeling to someone in the third world?
We may have been in the middle of the jungle, but the concrete jungle creates artificial stressors that make living life to the fullest impossible. It’s impossible because living life to the fullest was taught to me that one need to fit in as much “fun”, work, and activities that one possibly can. This means learning as much as you can, moving quickly, multi-tasking, making lots of money to do these amazing things (because heck they aren’t free!), AND providing these amazing experiences to our offspring. Making money means more rushing and more stress. For most, making money means sitting in a car or in some form of transportation for unfathomable periods of time each day, to do a job you hardly ever see the results of or feel connected to, for far too many hours each day. Then rushing home to activities and usually harried, unhealthy meals – if you are lucky with loved one(s). Weekends for the most are spent putting your living quarters back together from the rush of the busy week by cleaning, doing laundry, shopping, shuffling other humans around and spending “quality” time with other humans you are supposed to care for to keep your social life active and your role as a parent connected with your children. In between you must squeeze in the “fun” and “experiences” you are going out to make all that money for, but also it’s very important to exercise, meditate, perform self-care, visit the doctor-dentist-optometrist regularly, prepare healthy organic, locally grown ingredient-based meals at home and sleep enough hours per night just so you don’t get fat, stressed or sleep deprived. You know… so you can be happy and experience life to the fullest. Sounds insane to me!
The Harvard Business Review writes about how this slow to go fast paradox works in business as well. When we take the time to get things right, rather than plow ahead full bore, we are far more successful in meeting objectives (Harvard Business Review 2010 – Need Speed? Slow Down).
Physics teaches us that time is relative. Slowing down means time slows down with you. I can’t explain why this is, it’s just is. Another exquisite paradox is that it also helps you appreciate and truly experience more. Additionally life and experiences become less expensive, less material and far less stressful. This article is a bit more on the holistic side, but resonates with me because it talks about how when you work less you work better, find what really makes you happy, have the ability connect with others, and are able to savor life (Wholesome Living – 10 reasons why you should slow down to go faster).
The overall message for me is that slowing down = living life to the fullest. I keep forgetting, but the time between which I do is growing larger and larger. I hope that others who haven’t given it a whirl do! There’s nothing to lose but old, tired ideas of what it means to life our lives to the absolute fullest.