Dick came across this quote and said he wanted to use it in his end-of-August blog post over at his painting blog, Painter of Southwest Visions (click on the link to see some of his work - painting is his art form). When he read the quote to me, I cried, "That's PERFECT for my next blog post too!"
Sunday, August 22, 2021
Sunday, August 15, 2021
"Each time I write a book, every time I face that yellow pad, the challenge is so great. I have written eleven books, but each time I think, "Uh oh, they're going to find me out now. I've run a game on everybody and they're going to find me out." ~Maya Angelou
MAYA ANGELOU! Wow! If she felt that way, no wonder the rest of us often feel inadequate to act on our creative impulses!
Continuing to follow our theme of overcoming the obstacles and barriers that arise as we undertake our creative journeys, I'm taking inspiration this week from Sarah Ban Breathnach, author of Simple Abundance - a book that changed my life when it came out 25 years ago and has been my dear friend and constant companion ever since.
In her August 13th entry, Breathnach writes:
"Many of us have unconsciously erected seemingly insurmountable barriers to protect ourselves from failing or succeeding. We may think we're protecting ourselves by ignoring or denying our creative impulses, but really all we're doing is burying our authentic selves alive."
She goes on to say that we must learn to "remove the rubble of the opinions and judgements of others," including our our internal censors, and tune in to a higher harmonic, a greater universe of creative inspiration that will immediately come to our aid and boost our efforts.
I particularly like this passage:
"Spirit speaks to you constantly throughout the day. You may experience a hunch, perk up at the suggestion of a friend, or follow an urge to try something new on a whim. Train your heart to listen. Today, adjust your spiritual satellite. Tune in to the higher harmonic frequency for help as you continue your authentic, artistic pilgrimage to wholeness."
This week, I switched my creative efforts from illustrating my children's poems to preparing to teach a chant class. It's interesting how we tend to assign the label "creative" to certain activities - writing, painting, sculpting, decorating, acting are all "obviously creative." But we tend not to assign the creative label to things we do for our jobs - that's "work" and we tend not to think of our work as creative!
But for me, every class I teach is a creative effort. Every class is different, unique, and my hope is always to share my experience and what I've learned in ways that will be meaningful to students. So, though I was excited to share this practice with students, it still brought up anxiety for me for several reasons:
- I have not taught a class with this particular focus before and didn't have any previously tested approaches to fall back on - I had to develop it from scratch
- I had a vision in mind for the experience that I wanted to come through in the practice
- Having been the one my family described as "not being able to carry a tune in a bucket," any time I put myself in the position of having my musical voice heard, I have to overcome those old (no longer valid) judgements.
But, just as Breathnach described, the moment I took the leap, a cascade of ideas and an intuitive sense of how to put them together presented themselves. I listened, played around with it, let it evolve, practiced it, and landed on something that I loved and which felt good to me. Then, I crossed my fingers, toes, and eyes, and hoped - no, trusted - that it would also work for the participants.
Let's end with this quote from Joseph Murphy:
"Infinite riches are all around you if you will open your mental eyes and behold the treasure house of infinity within you. There is a gold mine within you from which you can extract everything you need to live life gloriously, joyously, and abundantly."
Open the door of your heart and train it to listen - everything you need is already there, waiting for you.
Saturday, August 7, 2021
"Be brave enough to live creatively. The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You cannot get there by bus, only by hard work, risking and by not quite knowing what you are doing. What you will discover will be wonderful: Yourself."
~ Alan Alda
In the context of this little blog and the summer creativity series I'm leading, Alda's words really resonate. It takes courage to be creative, because it means putting our true selves on display in the world, and that, of course, opens us to being judged. Even if it's only about the new haircut you decided to try, or changing up the way you dress, or the new drapes in your dining room, (which I'm still not sure about!) showing our real selves to the world is a courageous step.
Last week's post encouraged us to set goals. A day later, I got a small stye in my eye, which is always a sign that I am tired. I felt tired even though I didn't think I had any reason to be, but the stye was physical confirmation of my intuition.
Having encouraged us all to set goals for August, I then wondered how I could live up to them, given my sore eye and general feeling of lethargy. I reflected on this for a while, and decided that I would conserve energy by putting myself on a sort of creative retreat, in which the ONLY thing I did was work on one of my goals - one that didn't really matter.
Now I need to explain what I mean by not mattering, because why would you work on something if it doesn't matter?
I have a few different creative projects - a novel I've been working on for five years, developing a collection of my poems, and illustrating some children's poems I wrote a long time ago.
The book carries a lot of weight in terms of my creative goals. I've been working on it longer than any of my previous books. It has a personal connection and there's a good story that I want to tell. I'm well invested in it, 31 chapters in. I want to finish it and then figure out how to get it into the world. I have dreams and desired outcomes for this book.
My developing poetry collection carries less weight - I finetune my work, scribble new thoughts as they come, occasionally submit to competitions. There's no timeline - you can't rush poetry.
Illustrating my children's poems is simply something that started with our creativity class - a way to be creative outside my comfort zone. This project really doesn't matter, because I haven't invested in any particular outcomes from it, and look at it as playing.
I've spent all week at my dining room table with paper, watercolor pencils and brushes, having the loveliest time. I didn't think too much about what to do, I just starting sketching and then painting. I lost myself for hours in the joy of doing something we did as kids. It was simply FUN. I had no idea if what I was doing would look good or be totally embarrassing, but I took comfort in the idea that even the incomparable Alan Alda sometimes didn't know what he was doing!
And...I really love what I came up with! The scenes are fun, whimsical, and perfectly imperfect. Who knows if anyone else will ever see them? It doesn't matter!
(The drapes that I'm still not sure about can be seen here - the ones anchoring the window. Also, no one will be eating at the dining room table any time soon!)
So what does it mean to be creatively brave?
- Listening to your own intuitive voice
- Ignoring all other voices - whether they be critical or filled with praise
- Giving something a try
- Doing your best without expectation of any particular outcome
- Expressing the unique, perfectly imperfect you that you are
Saturday, July 31, 2021
I always thought the expression Dog Days of Summer referred to those days we'd get in August that were so hot and humid, even the dogs just wanted to lay around and do nothing.
But the saying actually comes from the bright star, Sirius, which in late July into mid-August, aligns with the sun. Sirius is the brightest star seen anywhere from earth and is part of the constellation, Canis Major, or, The Greater Dog. Who knew?
- By month-end, have completed the final versions of the sketches to go with the first poem in my collection of poetry for kids.
- Spend time quietly revisiting the notes from my David Whyte seminars, and see what inspiration arises
- Write a rough draft of the next chapter in my book. It can be a messy first draft, but that's okay.
Saturday, July 24, 2021
I'll start this post by letting my creativity workshop group know that I realize I forgot to do the "What is it?" exercise I had in mind, so we'll start with that when we meet next month!
As a creative exercise in between now and then, I invite you to try drawing the negative space. This is an approach that artists use - they draw the part that isn't there! Even if drawing isn't your creative realm, it can be a valuable exercise for stimulating the imagination, seeing beyond the obvious, and loosening the constraints of perfectionism.
Try it with something that has simple lines and shape, like this jar. Just start sketching in the space around the jar....
I think we tend to think that famous creative people are different from us - that they don't experience the same obstacles we do. So I was blown away by this quote from Georgia O'Keefe. Turns out that she experienced having her voice shut down in a variety of ways, but ultimately used that frustration to fuel the fire of her authentic artistic voice:
"I found myself saying to myself...I can't live where I want to...I can't go where I want to...I can't do what I want to. I can't even say what I wanted to. I decided I was a very stupid fool not to at least paint as I wanted to...that seemed to be the only thing I could do that didn't concern anybody but myself." ~Georgia O'Keefe
With regard to ways of dealing with barriers that arose, a wealth of helpful insight and wisdom was shared by students. Here are just two examples, with thanks to all participants for their courage and honesty in sharing their experiences and learnings:.
"Breathing is an art form. Give yourself the time and space for what you need."
Here's a list of the common obstacles to creativity that we identified. Feel free to add your own!
- Time (lack of)
- Energy (lack of)
- Difficulty balancing responsibilities with creative pursuits
- Too many good ideas! In ability to focus in on one thing.
- Fear of being judged
- Fear of being silenced
- Fear of success
- Fear of failure
- Forgetting that everything we do can be a creative endeavor!
- The tyranny of "should" and "ought to"
- Getting started
And some of our practices to move past, through, over, under and around those obstacles!
- Find even just a little bit of quiet time to just let things be
- Try mind quieting techniques like meditation and focusing on the breath
- Distract yourself - do something else for a while
- Do what you're afraid to do (like getting feedback! Like sitting down at the desk or easel!)
- Do something creative that has nothing to do with your primary creative goals. Try a new recipe, dance, draw if you write, write if you draw, rearrange the pillows!
- Give yourself credit for being creative with the small things of daily life
Thursday, July 15, 2021
For this week's inspiration and encouragement, Open and Listen, I'm sharing another excerpt from Jack Kornfield's book, No Time Like the Present. These thoughts pick up where we left off last week, with the idea of trusting the process.
From No Time Like the Present, by Jack Kornfield:
"Creativity is a way of allowing the ever-renewing energies of life to move through you....
"When you open yourself to creativity, faith in life's wellspring grows. This trust allows you to listen, collaborate, fail, discover, explore and see anew. As you open and listen, something new will be born.
"Creativity needs letting go, an attentive releasing to allow something new to be born. Follow your instincts, your feelings, your senses, your body. let a small feeling of irritation become a rivulet that leads to a poem...Let a jiggling foot or a tense shoulder make a movement that grows into dance....
"Initiate wildly, break up, build up, try deliberate errors, circle, get down, get over your ideas, get over yourself, and above all, trust..."
Here's a photo of my husband, Dick, breaking into spontaneous dance while packing up our house in Santa Fe, NM. It's an old photo, but it always cracks me up. Be like Dick!
We talked a lot about intuition, listening to and trusting our inner voice, during our first class in June. In fact, the whole class focused on this idea of bringing our intuitive feelings and our emotional feelings into alignment, so that when we express our creativity - in whatever form - it will reflect our own authentic voices, unaffected and uncensored by the ideas, opinions or voices of others.
As we move through July, I invite you to continue listening - not just with your ears, but with your inner ears - your intuitive, emotional and physical senses. What feels right to you?
I like these suggestions from Kornfield for activities to help us on this journey:
- Take walks, without friend or phone. Look at the sky, the trees, nature with all its subtleties. Listen.
- Imagine that you are starring in the movie of your life. See your role, your part in the story. Much of it is already written, but you choose what happens next, and how to play your part.
- Envision your whole life as a work of art. What might you add to make it more interesting, more stylish, more beautiful, more fun?
Friday, July 9, 2021
This summer I'm leading an online workshop series called Live Your Creative Life: A Yoga Workshop to Help Your Creativity Blossom and Grow. Our class meets once a month in June, July, and August to explore yoga practices and fun exercises geared toward re-igniting and nurturing the flame of creativity that lives inside us all.
Between monthly classes, we'll use this blog to stay connected and motivated. On a weekly basis, I'll share ideas, quotes, tips, and anything else that I come across or experience that might help keep that flame lit, especially as the journey proceeds and inevitable obstacles emerge.
Of course, anyone who happens to stop by here is welcome to make use of what is shared too!
This week, I offer an excerpt called Crafting Your Life, from No Time Like the Present by Jack Kornfield:
"You may think, I'm not an artist or even a creative person. But you are, and the canvas is your life.
Your life is a creation, whether wild or small, whether limited to a chair in the corner of a room or to a hostpial bed, whether traveling to Timbuku, having a fabulous family, or six generations of family dysfunction....
Every life is a visionary journey, a creative palette. Wherever you are, step back and reflect. What is the most beautiful vision you have for your life's canvas, starting just where you are?"
As you consider these words, which might present a different view of creativity from how you've thought about it in the past, reflect on these questions Kornfield offers:
- What is the vision of your life?
- What limits your imagination?
- What is your style?
- What kind of "art" do you want to make?
Tuesday, April 6, 2021
I really had a hard time feeling inspired for this K post, so I decided to just go with a few things that popped into my mind. It's not that there isn't plenty of inspiration out there, it's just that I didn't feel drawn to writing about any of it!
Kuan Yin is the Chinese goddess of compassion. You'll also see her name as Quan Yin and Guan Yin, but this is a K post, so.....
Her story is that she was first born a man, whose mission was to help lost souls be reborn into a better life on their way to enlightenment. But he drowned in anguish under the weight of their suffering, and in despair, shattered into a thousand pieces.
From his remains, he was reshaped into a woman, better equipped to bring compassion and mercy into the world. Kuan Yin has a thousand arms and eyes in the palms of each hand so that she can see people's suffering and reach out to them in comfort.
She is depicted as a calm, gentle, middle-aged woman who radiates serenity, and is known as the protector of sailors, merchants, those who are imprisoned, and women.
Okay, so now about kilts.
When I was growing up in New England in the 1960's - 1970's, kilts were popular. Beautiful, soft woolen plaids with the large gold pin to hold the flap in place. I thought they were fabulous. The Clan MacPherson, which marched in our town parades and played bagpipes, wore them.
Saturday, March 20, 2021
This meme has been around for a while:
Monday, March 8, 2021
I'm a week late for the "I" blog post, but I have a good reason. Dick and I spent almost all of last week working on what I thought might be an IMPOSSIBLE task.
Because it's too hot and humid here for my neighborhood walks in summer, I decided to look into getting a Nordic Track treadmill. I thought they might be too expensive, but was surprised to find that a home model was affordable, especially with their 0% two year financing.
So I took the plunge and ordered one.
Problem is, with The Covid, they do not have their assemblers assembling before shipment and they can't send assemblers to your house to assemble it. The fellow who took my order over the phone assured me that it was pretty easy to do and that there are videos you can watch that help a lot. So, I took the plunge.
I guess a lot of people have been investing in home fitness equipment during the pandemic, so the treadmill was backordered and finally arrived end of day last Monday. The two delivery guys huffed and puffed and shoved the GIANT, 10,000 pound box into our guest room where the treadmill will live.
Just seeing that box made my heart sink. Then we opened it and this is what we saw:
Monday, February 22, 2021
I grew up in the beautiful town of Andover, Massachusetts. I lived on Central Street, which is a main thoroughfare and one of the loveliest you'll ever find. In fact, a few years back, a magazine named it one of the 10 prettiest streets in New England.
The top section of Central Street is lined with large, traditional New England homes, and a few mansions, like this one.
People freaked out at first because the primer that had to go under the red was pink, and for a while the neighbors were worried we were painting the house pink. That was kind of fun, because sometimes some of the neighbors could be snobbish. I remember Mom having a bit of a giggle over yanking their chains.
My parents bought that house, new, in the early 1950's for $14,000. All three of us Goodwin kids grew up there and Mom and Dad lived in it for 54 years. Mom eventually had Alzheimer's and then Dad had a stroke, so we had to sell around 2006. Since then, it's been bought and sold a few times, and painted a rather pretty shade of gray-green.
Everyone who knew the house when it when it was red is upset that it isn't red anymore.
The house is for sale again. The price is $569,000. It's only about 1600 square feet and has no garage. But that's what you can get now for a house on one of the 10 prettiest streets in New England.
Here's the photo from the listing.
Monday, February 15, 2021
I picked going for my G post, because I have a little secret to share:
I really like not going anywhere.
Shhh...don't tell anyone.
When we were first together, Dick was our trip planner. Back in the day, he used a travel agent - remember travel agents? Our top destinations then were Caribbean islands and Quebec. In particular, we fell in love with Aruba and with Old Quebec City, which we call "Our Paris." Pretty much all our free time (and some work-hours time) day-dreaming dwelt on our next visit to these places. We simply couldn't wait to go.
Here are a few pictures from the last time we were in Quebec:
In recent years, we were lucky to be able to revisit places we love in the southwest and northeast. On our trip to Santa Fe, NM in September of 2019, Dick realized that his Parkinson's makes it too difficult for him to travel - it's very disruptive to his nervous system. So we knew it would be the last trip we would take anywhere far, or by air.
These are from that Santa Fe trip:
Then 2020 hit us with a pandemic, and suddenly everyone was in the same boat. No one could go anywhere. Whatever sting might have lingered over our inability to travel was mitigated by the fact that, had we planned a trip, we wouldn't have been able to go anyway!
Now we are closing in on a year of no-go, and I have moved into a rhythm of my days that I really cherish. Some might call it dull, but I call it simple, abundant, and peaceful. The less I have to go anywhere, the less I want to go anywhere.
Some people are chomping at the bit to get out there and GO! I don't blame them, and it will be nice for the world to move forward again. But just living each day without always making plans has been nice, and I'm not wishing the time away. I'm happy just hanging out here with Dick and the ducks.
Tuesday, February 9, 2021
This week, I have to draw my inspiration from the letter F. Well, I don't have to, but that's the challenge I've given myself. Nothing was coming to me, though occasionally the word fog did come to mind.
I thought of a number of other F words (hey - I'm from Massachusetts and F words are about 90% of our vocabulary), but none of them felt like anything I really wanted to delve into. Polite F words like forgiveness , family, friendship or fortitude seemed too big. Ugh - who wants to delve into all that bigness?
There was a layer of fog hanging over the pond when I got up this morning. Ahhhh, I thought, a message from the universe. Fog must be the word.
I took a picture, just so you wouldn't think I made it up about about the fog.
Despite the universe's nudge, I didn't feel inspired to write about fog. My brain felt too tired. That's when another F word came to mind: funk. I think I'm in a little February funk. Last week, I was all bouncy and full of inspiration. I worked on a poem, sent off an article query and taught a workshop. But this week, I got nuthin'. Maybe it's the weather, which suddenly turned warm and humid. I liked our cold spells better.
Maybe I used all my inspiration last week and need to let the well fill back up. Geez, even that metaphor was dull....
The fog was gone by 9 a.m. I went for a walk, trimmed the Aricas and vacuumed the lanai. All that made me feel less funky, a lot hungry and wanting a nap.
So, there it is., a not very fabulous F post. In an effort to insert a smidge of insight, I'll go with this: It's okay to be in a fog or a funk and not very inspired sometimes. It'll pass.
Monday, February 1, 2021
A few days ago, I flipped back through my journal to the entries I made this time last year. It was interesting to revisit what I was thinking about at the start of 2020, and particularly, the expectations that lay beneath.
By the beginning of March, all of our expectations were out the window. But I think we all hoped, and innocently thought, that the disruption of our daily lives by the pandemic wouldn't last long. A few months and we'd be back to "normal."
Closing in on a year later, we - I - couldn't have been more wrong. Normal is gone. Daily life is completely different. So much has changed. And we're still in it.
As a yoga teacher and long-time practitioner, I practice with and teach the concept of impermanence on a regular basis. It's at the heart of yoga, this idea of coming to accept that, in time, everything changes, everything ends, and something new begins. The practice of not clinging to - or rejecting - what is. The practice of acceptance. But it's an intellectual exercise until something comes along that forces us to really put it into practice - like a pandemic!
I think back to the many expectations I had for my life - hopes, dreams, plans. I worked hard to make many dreams come true. I implemented many plans quite well. But nothing, not one single thing I had imagined, was as I had expected it would be.
I expected that when I realized my material dreams, I would be happy. I wasn't!
I expected that my parents would live to a ripe old age, safe and happy in the home they raised us in, and die peacefully in their sleep. I never saw my mother's Alzheimer's or my dad's stroke coming.
When we worried about Dick's health, it was about his heart. His dad died of a heart attack in his early 60's, and Dick had a small one at the age of 49. He's had no heart issues since, but what we never expected was Parkinson's.
2020 may have brought you many changes that have been and remain extremely difficult. Or, it may have caused you to look at how you were living and make changes for the better. Either way, I guarantee your life over the past year was not a bit like what you expected. Mine either.
Once we emerge from the pandemic - which we will, because this too shall pass - I don't think anyone could blame us for wanting to feel "safe" again, even if safe is an illusion. We never know what will happen. So we have to find a way to incorporate our newly heightened awareness of impermanence into how we go about our daily lives, without it being limiting or debilitating.
2020 gave us a lesson in non-attachment and acceptance that we won't soon forget, and I don't think that's a bad thing. I know that I feel a much greater sense of what Pema Chodron calls, "the comings and goings of things." And I am deeply reminded not to take anything for granted.
When thinking about my "E" post, I kept thinking about elephants. In yoga, Ganesha, the elephant god, is the remover of obstacles and the bringer of abundance. So, here's a picture of cute baby elephants and one of Ganesha.
Monday, January 25, 2021
For this "D" post, my first thought was "Ducks," because the flock of Whistling Ducks that makes its home on our little pond has entertained and kept us company throughout the pandemic.
But even though the ducks are delightful, I landed on the word "distance" instead.
For almost a year now, we have been asked to keep our distance from each other. The last time I taught a yoga class in the studio with students present was on Thursday, March 19, 2020. A week later, on the 25th, I taught my first online class from the studio, with no students in the room. Soon after, I began teaching my classes online from home, and that's how it has been ever since.
This is a photo of me ending the last class I taught at the studio on April 2, 2020 - online and alone, except for the owner, Jennifer, out of sight, at a distance, and Anna out at the front desk.
At first, our hearts were very tender, as we worried about the future of our studio and our yoga sangha. I had tears when we greeted each other at the start of class - tiny faces on a computer screen, connecting from a distance. And again, at the end, when we said goodby. Overnight, so much had changed. We were suddenly dispersed, each to our homes, many hundreds, even thousands, of miles apart.
But then, some interesting things happened. We continued to show up in front of our computers to teach, and students continued to show up in front of theirs to practice. Snowbirds, who normally would not have been with us in summer, came to our online classes - many every day, often more than once a day.
One student took classes from Taiwan - when she came to my 7pm ET Restorative class, for her, the next day was dawning on the other side of the world.
My dear friend, Deirdre, over in Bath, England, whom I haven't seen in person since 2012, made it to class too, despite some technology challenges on both our ends.
With the passage of a bit of time, many of us discovered that we very much enjoy taking classes from the comfort of our homes! I joked that I used to have to be at the studio, all fixed up and ready to go by 9:15 for my 10 a.m. class, but in the new situation, I could have wet hair and still be in jammies at 9:15, but all ready to teach by 9:45.
My sister in Massachusetts took my class all summer. I called her immediately after each one, because, for once, we knew we'd be available, with time to talk! We live at a distance, but we have never talked as often or felt closer.
I've talked with my brother more often too, and "seen" several dear friends more often via Zoom than I would see them in person in any given year.
The word distance is a constant drumbeat now with our reference to social-distancing. Being at a distance is hard, even heart-wrenching, for many who long to be in the physical presence of loved ones. But thank heavens for the internet and Zoom and all the other platforms that have allowed us to be together, to see each other's faces and hear each other's voices.
I do miss being with friends, family, students, and my fellow teachers. But I do not feel now, that there is "distance" between us. In many ways, distance has brought us closer. When we talk, it is without distraction or the time constraint that comes from busy-ness. We listen better, interrupt less, and are much more present with each other from a distance than in person, and that is an interesting thing to think about as the world, does, eventually re-open.
Now, even though distance became the topic for my post, our ducks really are entertaining, so here is a short clip of ducks doing their duck thing on our pond.
Monday, January 18, 2021
There were SO many possibilities for my "C" post - go ahead, close your eyes for ten seconds and invite in all the C words that come to you - I'll wager there are a slew of them, right there top of mind.
But I went in a different direction. Please read the words, close in, as meaning in close proximity to, rather than meaning confinement, as in the walls are closing in.
The thought behind the words comes from a David Whyte poem, Start Close In, which was also the title and theme of his most recent webinar series. These are the first lines of the poem:
Start close in,
don't take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
the step you don't want to take.
This is the sixth series I've taken with Whtye since last March. Through each phase of the pandemic, he has guided us through our evolving feelings about the situation, and invited us to explore who we want to be and how we want to engage with the world as we gradually re-emerge on the other side.
There are several invitations made to us in the whole of the poem, Start Close In, (which can be found in his book River Flow):
- Look, not ahead to an end goal, or even to stops along an imagined path, but at the ground beneath your own feet, right here, right now.
- Stop listening to other people's voices, and stop letting them, as he so beautifully puts it, "smother something simple."
- Start asking your own questions and listening to your own inner voice.
- Take one small step; the first step toward creating a path that is truly your own.
- Don't leap or skip ahead, don't rush, start close in.
The last line from the excerpt above, the one you don't want to take, is the kicker.
What is it, that first small step you (I) don't want to take?
Is it a conversation that needs having? A choice or decision that needs making but you haven't, because it's easier not to? A letting-go? Of what? A letting in? Of what? A resolve? An admission - to yourself, or to another?
I'm not sure at the moment, what is, for me, the step I don't want to take. So I'm letting the question hang in the atmosphere around me, waiting, watching, listening, for the sound of a voice close in, my own inner voice, to answer.
Monday, January 11, 2021
Sometimes it seems like the purpose of focusing on the breath in meditation can be misunderstood to mean that we are trying to "breathe our troubles away;" that we can bring our minds to stillness and deflect emotions if we can just breathe it all away.
Perhaps, like me over this past week, you wish you could do just that. But we can't. And we shouldn't try. Instead of thinking of it as trying to breath discomfort away, think of it as breathing our way through discomfort.
When worrying thoughts and uncomfortable emotions arise, we typically do one of these two things:
- Push them away
- Get caught up in the stories behind them
Neither of those helps. Thoughts and their accompanying emotions need to flow through us in order to move on. What we can try instead, is something in between. When those thoughts and feelings arise, we can let our minds consciously recognize them: Oh, sadness. Oh, fear. Oh anger.
Then, we can say to ourselves, "Okay, I'll take three breaths with anger."
For any feeling to move on, we have to avoid getting caught up in the story behind it - the why I'm angry, or what that person did to make me feel this way.... So, just, anger and three breaths. Then let the word go, and focus on your breath again. Maybe the anger is still strong, maybe it's a little less intense. Notice if there is any difference.
This process can repeat many, many times during a meditation. Or, one emotion may be replaced with another - anger might morph into sadness. Same thing: "Okay, three breaths with sadness." No story, just the breaths.
Maybe you'll need five breaths.
There might be tears. Tears of anger, frustration, sadness.
If so, you are in good company. Tears are a letting go of their own kind. Tears of relief. Tears of release. Tears are one way the mind and body unite in the healing process.
So, how do you go about this practice? Read through the steps below first, and then give it a try:
Rest your hands on your belly (this is comforting) or your legs (this is grounding).
Lower your gaze and relax your eyes. Close your eyes if that doesn't make you uncomfortable - it's okay to keep them open, but gaze downward.
Take a deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth with a sigh. Do that twice more.
Let your breath settle into its natural rythym and simply try to keep your awareness with it.
Your mind will try to wander off. No problem - just come back to your breath and start over.
When distracting thoughts arise, notice what they are. If emotions arise, see if you can name what the feeling is - frustration? anguish? disappointment?
Mentally say, "Okay, three breaths with ......"
Feel those three breaths fully.
If you need to, take three more breaths with it.
Come back to simply observing your breath.
As new thoughts or feelings arise, or the original one flares back up, repeat the process.
Start small - maybe five minutes to begin.
Breath is life. Life is complicated, breath is simple. Breath your way through.
Sunday, January 3, 2021
In yoga, we usually talk about being present, but over the past few days, "absent" is the word that has been rolling around in my brain.
Yesterday, as I began the process of un-Christmas-ing the house, I found myself lingering on memories of absent loved ones, particularly the ones who have passed on - their faces, voices, personalities, laughs and quirks.
I feel the collective absence of my family from the homes where we gathered, as if, though new families live there now, there is a parallel universe in which empty rooms echo with our absence.
I feel the absence of our beloved holiday traditions - Christmas Eve services at Christ Church, drives through our beautiful town to see houses and shops decorated with lights, the exchange of gifts, the meals gathered around Grandma and Grandpa's table, and yes, even Grandma Harris' Christmas pudding.
I feel absent from places I love - particularly New England, which will always be "home," (yes, I even miss the cold and snow) and Santa Fe, New Mexico, where, more than any other place I've lived as an adult, I grew into the person I am now. It's where I wrote my first book, found my yoga teacher, became a teacher, and grieved the deaths of my parents. In different ways, these are the two places where I "grew up."
I felt the absence of Christmases past that Dick and I shared over many years, especially the early ones in York Beach, Maine, when we lived in a tiny home and had little money. I feel the absence of the traditions we created together, particularly holiday celebrations and shopping during the Kennebunkport Christmas Preludes (we went to the very first one, 37 years ago!), and the exhilaration and joy we felt crossing back and forth over the bridge in biting cold and wind to gather delights for our families and each other.
In yoga, it can sometimes seem that the idea of "being present" means to push away all memory of the past or thought of the future; to negate or neutralize the feelings that come with remembering or dreaming - especially any sadness, melancholy or longing. But being present means to be with what is arising, in this moment now, and that includes everything.
Life is moments, and what's experienced in those moments will fluctuate. In the moment, sadness arises. In another moment, a smile forms at a memory that, a moment ago, felt wistful.
To think the idea is to smooth out all the fluctuations into some sort of flat line, or to suppress less pleasant feelings in favor of a faux-enlightened state of joy, is to misunderstand.
The trick is not to cling to the past or an imagined future for so long that you miss the life you are living now. I know that my present life holds many blessings and joys. But, for just this little while as we transition from old year to new, I am being present with absence.