devotional surrender

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Feeling an ache, a longing, a desire.  A few days ago, I couldn’t name what it was.

Penetration.

Deep penetration of my heart and soul.  I want someone to dive deeply into me.  Touching and feeling those parts that are so deep, so hidden, I can’t feel them, name them, put them into words.

It’s like that spot in the middle of my back that I just cannot reach, no matter how hard I try. I need someone to help me scratch it.

And that frightens me.  I like to think that I can do everything on my own; that I’m independent, that I don’t need other people in order to experience myself and the world.  What an arrogant, misinformed, lonely way to live life.

Truth is, I’m massively dependent on people; we all are!  Without other people, I’d have no food to eat, clothes to wear, water to drink.  We’re woven together in an intricate web of interconnectedness and interdependence.  We don’t exist outside of or prior to relationship; we define ourselves through relationship.  Relationship to the computer I’m typing this on, the table I’m sitting at, the person sitting next to me, the person I’m going to enjoy lunch with.

We’re like molecules.  By themselves, they do nothing.  Add something to them, put them in relationship to something else – heat, cold, other molecules – and the ensuing reaction exhibits the qualities and characteristics that make Oxygen, Oxygen, and not Hydrogen or Helium.  We only know the properties of Oxygen in relationship to something else.

The inquiry that follows from this, at least for me, is this: What comes first?  The individual molecules?  Or, the relationship?  Is a relationship what arises out of the interaction between two distinct entities?  Or, is it through relating that distinct entities arise?

Diane Musho Hamilton, Zen teacher extraordinaire, often tells a story about Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan.  A young Helen, with no language or communication, was fused with her environment.  Nothing was distinct, she was trapped in a gray, fuzzy, lonely world.  I imagine it felt something like sitting in television static.

Fusion is not the same as the “oneness” that we talk about in Buddhism.  Nothing is separate.  You know that joke, “What did the buddhist monk say to the hot dog vendor? – Make me one with everything.”?  To be one with everything, first you have to intimately know separation, distinction.

Back to Helen Keller.  The story goes like this.  Miss Sullivan grabs Helen’s hand and puts it in water.  Then she signs “water” into Helen’s other hand.  With that one distinction, says Musho, every other distinction comes into being; the world comes into being.
The world comes into being.

Anne Sullivan was God saying, “let there be light!” bringing all of creation into existence for Helen.  What a gift.

With that vignette in mind,  it becomes clear that we absolutely require distinction, polarity, opposites to make sense of the world.  How can you know sweet if you don’t know sour?  Cold without hot?  Light without dark?  Expansion without contraction? Communion without agency?  Oneness without separation?

These polarities, these opposites are integrally, intimately related; two sides of the same coin, unknowable without the other.

And, it doesn’t answer my inquiry: which comes first?  Relationship or individual?  Can we unravel the universe and ourselves to trace this particular polarity – or any polarity – to it’s beginning?

To do so would perhaps illuminate the mysteries of the universe.  Or, maybe, simple awareness of this inquiry, and a willingness to search within, exploring the dialectic between this polarity and any other is enough.

The journey, not the destination…

Sitting across from a man I’d barely spent any time with, barely made eye contact with prior to that morning, he says, “I think you’ve been avoiding me.”

We’d been in one another’s presence on several occasions in groups, and he was right, I’d avoided him.  My reasons weren’t informed by dislike, or revulsion, but fear.  I was afraid that he would be able to see so deeply into me that I wouldn’t be able to hide.  Which, of course, is exactly what I crave.  Of course.  But that much vulnerability in a group of people felt like too much.  I didn’t want his attention in that setting.

And so, my attraction to him showed up as repulsion; like the sides of magnets that push each other away rather than pulling together.  Naming that, sharing it with him, softened and opened me to connection.  It flipped the magnet around and we made contact.  Attraction and repulsion, not so different after all.

I was right.  He can see me so clearly that I cannot hide.  There’s the deep penetration I’ve been lusting after.  The reaction arising out of the contact between our unique selves inspires me to devotionally surrender – not to him – to the unfolding of the reaction itself.  It’s immensely pleasurable.

And, at the same time, immensely painful.  This reaction, this experience is only possible in relationship.  I can’t get there, can’t feel it, can’t create it on my own.  It is dependent on this man, filling it with uncertainty.

Of course, if there were no pain, no fear, no uncertainty, there would be no pleasure.

In the past, the fear, pain, and uncertainty –

“It’s going to end!”
“It’s going to hurt!”
“I can’t foresee what will happen!”

would have stopped me dead in my tracks.

Lately they matter less.  They’re still present; I think I’m actually more aware of them than I was before.  With that awareness comes freedom, choice, and opportunity.

So I choose to devotionally surrender.  I lay down my vulnerability on the altar of this moment.

And now this moment.

And now this one.
Just this.

brokenness is all there is

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  From dust you came, and to dust you shall return.

When I was a kid, I heard these words pronounced once a year on Ash Wednesday as the pastor smeared ashes in the sign of a cross on my forehead.  Memento mori: remember you must die.  I thought that’s what Ash Wednesday was about.  Death.  Sin.  Repentance.

A few days ago, I was struck with this statement, digesting and contemplating it for the first time in years; perhaps for the first time ever.  Death as a cycle, but a much shorter one than we generally think.  We are always dying, or at least some part of us is.  We are always broken; so much so that we are never not broken.  We like to think that our natural state is wholeness, completeness, and that brokenness, injury, and pain are the aberrations that need to be fixed, healed, avoided.  I’m fairly certain the opposite is true.

We’re not supposed to admit that we’re broken, hurting, tired, sore.

Tough it out.  Walk it off.  Pain is just a figment of your imagination.

We dissociate from it because it gets in the way.  It makes us weak.  And sometimes because it fucking hurts.

Hold it all together, don’t let them see you cry.

And we’re always striving to be whole, thinking, hoping, praying that the next relationship, friendship, job, workshop, retreat, car, house, paycheck will be it.  Always looking forward to the whatever it is that will complete us, and feeling utter devastation when it doesn’t work, yet again.  “Once I have _________, then I’ll be happy/whole/satisfied/you-fill-in-the-blank.”

But when we’re always looking forward to what we think will make it all better, and backwards to what didn’t work, to what got us in this mess, to what caused this pain, we’re missing what’s here.  Right now.

This brokenness is a gift.  It’s full of possibility, wide-fucking-open.  When you’re holding it all together, acting as if you are whole, complete, sufficient unto yourself, you limit yourself to one direction, one possibility.  At least, I do.

Maybe for the first time in my life, I’m sitting in brokenness.  I’m not looking forward to what will fix it, what will glue me back together, make me feel whole, complete.  Instead, I’m inhabiting my brokenness.  With it comes pain, yes.   Sensitivity, rawness, and other uncomfortable feelings I would just as soon avoid.  And also, with brokenness comes unsurpassable opportunity.  In it I am unlimited; broken open; softened, tenderized, ready to make contact. Each crack and fault on my heart becomes a possible path to walk down. In the brokenness lies the pleasure of alchemy.  These broken parts and pieces can come together and meet, perhaps for the first time, creating new unimagined facets.  Forming a whole that is willing to be broken apart knowing that it will get to experience the reorganization and transformation into something new once again.

Akhilandesvari, a form of the Hindu goddess, Parvati, is the embodiment of this brokenness.  Her name translated means,  “never not broken.”  She embraces her brokenness, climbs inside of it, leans into it.

Lean into it.  That’s a common directive given to me in meditation, yoga, intimacy work.  Whatever is there, lean into it.  Rather than trying to change it, distract yourself from it, or move away from it, lean in.  Explore what’s there.  Taste all of the flavors, see all of the colors, feel all of the textures.  When I lean in, I often experience a softening.

Pigeon pose in yoga, that delicious hip opener usually gives me a perfect opportunity to practice leaning in.  When I first get into the asana, every part of my body tenses up, fighting the intensity that it offers.  I clench my jaw, hold my breath, doing whatever I can to move away.  Then I usually try to ignore the discomfort, push against it, ignore it, distract myself from it, make small adjustments to relieve some of it.  And finally, I take a deep breath, and relax into it, lean into it, surrender.  Once I do that, it takes but a moment and the tight muscles of my hip relax and soften, until they tense up again as the intensity breaks through another layer of resistance, and I have to make the choice to lean in again, and again, and again.  In every moment.

I’m making the choice to lean into my brokenness, again and again, in every moment, with every breath, and every cell of my body, I get to make the choice to lean in, to commit to the brokenness with all that I am.

What’s the point?  Why surrender to something so painful?  It’s so counterintuitive.  The only answer that I have is that it doesn’t feel like I have a choice.

Brokenness is all there is.

It’s not a sad, depressing, or limiting thing.  I’m not saying, “I’m broken” with a pitiful fragility and hopelessness, or with the expectation that someone will glue me back together.  I say it knowing that my willingness to be broken, cracked open, ripped apart, and to acknowledge that, lean into it and even welcome it is a strength, not a weakness.  I can stop trying to hold myself together, to act like I’m complete and whole, to harden my shell, and instead pay attention to what’s actually here.

a beautiful breakup

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Saturday

It’s raining today.  Has been for several hours.  No sign of stopping.

For those of you who don’t live in Colorado, that’s pretty unusual.  That joke, “don’t like the weather?  Just wait five minutes!” is definitely true.

Usually I harbor a strong hatred for rain, preferring warm, clear, radiant sunshine instead.  I lived in Oregon for a year, and one of the many reasons I came back to Colorado was the rain.  I always felt wet, damp, gray, blah, blah, blah.  Today, the rain feels good.  It suits my mood, my emotional state.  It’s good weather to wallow in.

What am I wallowing?  The end of a relationship.  It’s not really the end; communication, love, and friendship will certainly continue.  But, it’s the end of what has been for the last six months.  So I’m luxuriating, reveling in, and embracing the sadness I feel at this change.  Animals wallow – literally roll around in – dust, mud, dirt, water, for many reasons: refreshment, to keep bugs away, to keep cool, or to spread a scent.  I’m rolling around in the substance of my heart ache.  Covering my body in it, spreading its scent from my toes all the way to my hair, filling all of my organs, tissues, and cells with it.  I have a sense  that if I distribute and diffuse this heartache into all of my being rather than leaving it concentrated in my heart I will be able to better metabolize and integrate it.  Rather than pushing it aside, trying to keep the pain and conflict at bay, allowing it to take over will allow it to move through.  It won’t stay stuck in my heart, hardening into a false fortification that only makes my heart more brittle.  No.  It will work my heart.  Strengthening it and its capacity to open, to feel, to contact and connect.

I find myself in liminal space, yet again.  The disorienting and confusing space that provides room for change, transformation, and new possibilities.  I feel some fear and uncertainty here.  I’m finding it difficult to take a full breath.  The air keeps getting caught in my throat.  But there’s so much excitement too!  My body is lit up and turned on, receptive and ready.

I started this relationship with the intention of practicing intimacy.  My previous relationships had always left me wanting more depth, but I found myself ill-equipped to  find it or go about creating it.  As luck would have it, I landed in the lap of a man who was not only interested in exploring the same thing, he was producing a course* with an intimacy coach to give people structures and tools to do just that.  Ask and you shall receive, right?!

We did intimacy.  That word definitely needs to be a verb instead of a noun.  It’s an action, an activity, a practice.  To add fuel to the fire, our relationship was an open one – non-monogamous, polyamorous, whatever you want to call it.  When I met him, he was already involved with another woman, but both of them, for various reasons, were interested in keeping the container of their relationship open.   I was curious.  I’d never dated more than one person at a time.  Actually, I’d never dated; I’d had relationships, but dating, that slower get to know you way to build a relationship instead of jumping right into commitment and monogamy was new for me.  I agreed on commitments to integrity and honesty, and jumped in.

Let me tell you, at first it’s really strange to tell a partner, someone you care deeply about, that you are going on a date with someone in a few days, and you’re really excited about it.  It’s bizarre to tell him how the date was, what you did, what physical intimacy you shared with someone else.

You see, nothing was off the table.  Thoughts, feelings, emotions, experiences, love, jealousy, comfort, discomfort, pain, pleasure, excitement… we shared it all.  It was hard, and sometimes I failed miserably.  It is uncomfortable to share an experience you know has the potential to upset or hurt your partner, and terrifying to share something that could push him away.  But once it’s out, it feels good.

Sharing it all, standing there bare, naked, and honest, withholding nothing, god that feels good.  That allows for real connection and intimacy.  Every time I shared something that I thought would push us apart I was surprised to find that instead our connection was deepened.  Even the painful things – maybe especially the painful things – brought more intimacy, not less.  That once felt counter-intuitive to me, but now it makes perfect sense.  Those places, the sticky, messy ones, are the places calling out the loudest for contact and containing the most raw potential for connection.

The decision to end this phase of our relationship was not mine outright, but we’d been moving in this direction for a few months.  And it wasn’t a surprise.  I knew where he was at because we’d had conversations about it.

I used to have this understanding about relationships that went like this: if you are experiencing questions, concerns, or doubts about it, don’t talk about them with the person with whom you are in relationship.  If you resolve the doubts, then it won’t matter anyway; no need to worry him unnecessarily.  If you decide to end the relationship, it won’t matter either because you’re ending the relationship.  But I also knew that that didn’t feel good.

I’ve been on the receiving end of heartbreak a few times that seemed to come out of nowhere.  As these relationships were ending, it became clear that these men had been feeling questions and doubts for quite some time, slowly pulling away or choosing to head in another direction.  Because none of this was shared with me, the end of the relationship felt abrupt and painful, a dull guillotine slamming down on my neck, leaving me full of anger and resentment.

This breakup was drastically different; it actually brought us closer together.  That sounds strange, I know.  How can you be closer when you’re going different directions?  How is a breakup an opportunity for greater intimacy, not just an end of intimacy?  I don’t know how to explain it yet, but I know it’s true; I feel it.

Here is our breakup process.  I take no credit for it because it wasn’t my idea.  I was just a whole-hearted participant:
1. Share and discuss any lasting resentments.
2. Apologize for anything you feel like you need to apologize for (even if your partner isn’t asking for an apology).
3. Express appreciations for what you’ve shared and for who your partner is.
4. Share desires for your relationship as you move into the future.
5. Anything left unsaid?  Say it now!

The next time you’re breaking up with someone, give it a try.  I’m fairly certain that neither of you will regret it.  It feels clean, complete.  In that tearful, hours-long conversation, we were able to transform our intimate relationship into a rich friendship.  Does that mean I was instantly “over it?”  Nope.  It still aches; still pulls at my heartstrings, playing a sad, sonorous melody.  And, that melody is layered with so many others – excitement for what’s to come, appreciation for what’s been, eagerness to dive into intimacy with myself and others.  Rather than feeling like I’m left standing alone, full of anger and resentment, I walk away from this relationship feeling supported and connected, full of appreciation and love.

It’s Wednesday now, sunny and windy.  The bright yellow, orange, and red leaves are blowing off the trees sooner than if they had been left to their own process. But now they get to dance in the wind, swirling intricate patterns in the air and on the ground, becoming more than they thought possible.

*(check out www.thrivingpartnerships.com You won’t regret it!)

looks can be deceiving

People often tell me I look sweet and innocent. Maybe it’s my big, blue eyes. Or maybe it’s because I spent most of my life trying to be sweet and innocent, trying to be “wholesome,” by everyone’s definition without stopping to examine my own. Good student, friend, daughter, sister. Don’t rock the boat and you won’t have to worry about getting wet, falling in, falling prey to the sharp teeth of a shark.

I was those things. A great student, supportive friend, obedient daughter, tolerant sister. And, I was more. Rather than allowing myself to be more, openly and freely, I lied about it.

I know, I know. Everyone lies about who they are, covering up parts of themselves they aren’t sure are acceptable. Especially in the midst of the confusion and pressure of growing up. Right? Big lies, small lies, medium sized ones, half truths, lies by omission. They are all bricks that form a big wall; a barrier between the world and ourselves. When those walls become so big and so normal that we even forget they’re there, we have a real problem: disconnection, dissociation, and even rejection of who we are in the deep, twisted, dark, complicated parts of ourselves. The parts of ourselves we never let out into the light, so they remain hidden in the shadows, unexamined, untouched, cold, sad, angry, frustrated. We’re afraid that if we look at those parts they will rule our lives. But, of course, what we resist persists. Our refusal to look at our dark, twisty parts gives them the power to rule us, unconsciously. What you don’t play will play you.

Lately I’ve been shining light on my dark places. Actually, that’s not entirely true. My dark places erupted to the surface, demanding light, demanding to be seen, demanding to play. Anger, fear, confusion, uncertainty, sorrow, grief, sensuality, desire, and so many other flavors, colors, and combinations that I once limited and discredited jump up to the surface.

It’s not that I didn’t feel them before, I just didn’t let them out. They stayed hidden in the tangled jungle of my heart, locked away from prying hands and judging eyes; I was terrified of vulnerability. What if I shared it all with someone and was rejected? Rejection of the sweet and innocent Alyssa was no big deal, because that’s just the surface, the packaging and presentation. But if I let someone really see me in all of my confusion, messiness, chaos; if I unlocked the cage that I’d carefully built and let them see the process that goes on in my head and heart and they walked away from all of that… devastation.

As I reunite with these parts of myself, allowing them to wash over, move through, and take over, I’m surprised at what comes out. This wholesome woman is full of so much depth and darkness. My darkness is not evil, no. It’s earthy, sensual, rich. It’s like dark chocolate; so many hints and flavors come through that the sweetness of milk chocolate would cover up. I’m mercurial, a moving target. I can’t predict what state I’ll be in from one day to the next – from one moment to the next. Happy/Sad. Expanded/Contracted. Fear/Love. Pleasure/Pain. I feel it all, it’s always changing, and there’s something steady beneath it all, taking it all in, observing everything.

Untamed. Wild. Unapologetic.

Where I once shrank away from attention, I now revel in it. I love the attention I receive for being the beautiful, turned-on creature that I am. I feel people’s gaze as their eyes caress my skin. I look them in the eye, curious if they can meet my power and intensity, or if it scares them away. I want to invite everyone into me to heal them. To wrap them in so much pleasure and love that everything is wiped away. I feel so much love and compassion for everyone and I want to embrace them all.

The other day, a friend of mine spoke to me of the Ephesian temple priestesses. Soldiers returning from war came to the temple in Ephesus, tired, hungry, dirty, bloody. The priestesses would clean them, feed them, heal them, and then, “f*ck the war out of them.” This resonates, loudly and clearly. I want to offer the same kind of care and compassion to whoever needs it.

You’re hungry? Let me feed you. You’re dirty? I will wash you. You’re sick, broken, and exhausted from the horrors you’ve seen? I will fill you with so much love, desire, contact, connection, and pleasure that maybe, just for a moment, you’ll forget all of that and remember that there is more.

More.

Shine the light on the dark, twisted, tangled parts of your heart, and you might be surprised at what happens. Rather than allowing them to take you over, giving these parts and pieces permission to speak their truth grants you the gift of choice. Bringing them into your awareness, examining them, feeling them from the inside out allows you to decide what you want to do with them. The effect of hiding, fighting, and rejecting them is a lashing out. The internal conflict between you and the parts you refuse to look at builds until it overflows, boils, explodes. Instead, acknowledge their presence and their power is absorbed into your own. Listen to them, play with them, see what they’re really about, and you’ll get to make choices.

More choices. More flexibility. More awareness, presence, capacity, fullness.

Fullness.

I feel a warm fluttering in my solar plexus, pulsing outward into the rest of my body and beyond. Filling me up and filling up everyone around me. Currents of energy run up and down my spine, twisting and turning through my organs, and into my bloodstream. It circulates, enlivening every cell, filling me to the point right before bursting, right before I go over the edge. Tears well behind my eyes, I shudder and it all races back to the spot behind by belly button, pooling in my belly, my pelvis, my low back, ready and waiting for the signal to fill my cells again.

I am sweet and innocent. Yes, and, there’s more than meets the eye.

play with fire…

A note: I’m writing this in the middle of an intense emotional reaction to a developing situation.  Dramatic? Perhaps.  Angry? Yes!  Messy? For sure. Real? Definitely. It’s how I’m feeling now.  No apologies, no holding back; and I reserve the right to change my mind about it all.

This is where I am now.

Follow your sensation.

Voice your desire.

What of the consequences?  The impact?

I know you see the consequences, the impacts as

fuel

for the

transformative

fire.

But people still get hurt.  Hearts get broken.  Wounds are ripped open.  Blood flows.  Death comes.  Or, the wounds clot and are knit together into beautiful white reminders of the pain we once felt.

You already struggle with jealousy and self-worth.  How would you have faced me with this under your belt?

Are we just using each other for growth?  Are we a means to an end?  Is this some kind of mutual masturbation or Sadomasochism?  Are we just beating eachother up, seeing the bruises and the scars, remarking on where we’ve come from and how much we’ve changed?  How much we can endure.  Are we just increasing our pain tolerance?  Learning how to grit our teeth, bite the bullet.

I don’t want to treat people that way.

Yes to intentional relationships and to using those relationships for growth. But with a foundation of love, care, and compassion.  Are we so caught up in our own interiority and experience that we’ve forgotten the other’s?  And have we forgotten about the wider impact on the community that we’re in?  It’s not just us.  People exist outside of the little biosphere you’ve helped create.

Old wound.  There you are.  Haven’t felt you in a long time.  Even forgot you were there.  Trust broken.  Heart shattered.  Friendships never the same.

And, I’m not even sure that I want to be close to you.  I don’t feel that pull, that resonance, that connection.  But you seem so sure and so committed and I wanted to meet and honor that.  If this is who you are and this is how you want to live your life; without telling me, without concern for me.  Hahahah… LOL.  It’s not funny!  Why are you making light!?  I don’t want to be a pawn in your development.

And how dare you try to tell me what my experience was.  Why are you coaching me?  If we’re going to be in some kind of relationship – and it’s a big f*cking IF – we enter in as equals.  Not as student/teacher or coach/client.  Equals.  Those flavors may come in and I might ask your advice.  But we approach as equals.

I’m angry! So quickly you’ve changed your mind!  You said one thing, and now you’re contemplating doing the opposite.  I know we’re all changing, evolving beings, but it makes it hard for me to trust you, to let you in, to be in relationship with you.

But I’m afraid to share this with you because I’m scared.  I’m scared that you will coach me, try to fix me, feed me some quotes and summaries rather than really connecting with me and feeling me.  I want to see the real you and I want you to see the real me.    I don’t want to lose you.  But more than that, I don’t want to lose me.

I didn’t sign up for a free-for-all.  That’s not what I’m about.  No one is a means to my end.

Especially my self.

Friction

Yesterday

Ever have those days when all you feel is friction?  Your skin is made of gravel or broken glass, rubbing raw everyone that you encounter, and it’s simultaneously raw, stretched, and hypersensitive; the slightest, smallest touch reverberates through your body as electric shocks of pain?

Friction.

The wheels are spinning, searching for traction on the pavement.  Kicking up gravel and dust.  A rock shoots out from under the tire, hits me in the forehead, knocks me to my back.

I stare up at the sky, realizing this friction is of my own making.  I made choices knowing that this would most likely be the result.  So now I sit with it.

It’s uncomfortable.  I don’t like the feeling of hurting people, disappointing them.  And I don’t like conflict.  It scares me.

I sit with these consequences, knowing that I would make the same choice if I had it all to do over again.

Maybe I’m some kind of Sado-Masochist; my weapons of choice are more subtle than whips, chains, and handcuffs, but the wounds they inflict are very real, and very deep.

The question is, can we use these wounds to grow?  Can we transmute them into an opportunity for profound transformation and deeper intimacy?

Or, are we just beating ourselves up, hoping that the pleasure will be worth the pain?

Today

Conflict met. Leaned into.  Explored.  Gone is the gravely, broken glass sensitivity, with a tender, open-hearted vulnerability in its place.

Questions answered?  No.

New ones to ask?  Always.

Bleeding.  Crying.  Cleansing.

“Some people are afraid of what they might find if they try to analyze themselves too much, but you have to crawl into your wounds to discover where your fears are.  Once the bleeding starts, the cleansing can begin.”  

– Tori Amos

anywhere but here

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Most mornings, I sit and meditate with a small group of people.  More than a habit, it’s all but a compulsion.  I feel compelled – by what I’m not sure.  Perhaps my higher self? –  to drag myself out of bed Monday through Friday at 5:30am so I can be on the cushion by 6:15.  And I love it.  Something about sitting still and quiet for two 40-minute chunks of time feels like such a privilege and gift.  It’s like vitamins for my soul.

A few days ago it felt different.  I noticed I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open while sitting, and try as I might, I couldn’t stop entertaining and distracting myself.  The practice of Zen meditation is to focus your attention and awareness on now.  Thoughts, stories, memories, images, and fantasies all enter your mind, and the practice is to let them go as if they were leaves drifting by in a stream, and return to this moment.  I noticed an unwillingness in myself to let these leaves float by.  Instead, I wanted to scoop them up, make a big pile, and jump in, completely burying and losing myself in them.

I wanted to escape.

I wanted to escape from my physical discomfort, from the unsettled friction between me and another practitioner, and from the sensations and feelings that were arising. This is what we try to do in life.  When it’s uncomfortable, challenging, intense, we want out.  We distract and numb ourselves with television, people, substances, food, books, anything to get out of our experience and into something more comfortable.  What is the cost of this refusal to be with what is?

And, I felt stuck.  I can sense when there’s something I’m ignoring, something I’m averting my eyes from, something I’m refusing to feel.  When I’m sitting in meditation, this makes it hard to breath, a big knot takes up residence in the pit of my stomach, my throat feels tight and constricted.

Several things pop into my awareness simultaneously:
First, something wants to move through me, and I’m fighting it.
Second, I’ll feel better when I surrender to it and let it move.
Third, I’m terrified that if I let it through I will collapse.
Fourth, until I stop trying to figure out what exactly it is, I will remain stuck.

The other morning I sat with all of these things going on in my body, heart, mind, and it took every ounce of my self-control and discipline to stay on the cushion.  Never before have I felt such a strong urge to get up and run.  My muscles were exhausted from from fighting themselves, from simultaneously wanting to move and to stay absolutely still, from keeping my body, which so badly wanted to move, right where it was.

Breathe in.
Breathe out.

One.

Breathe in.
Breathe out.

Two.

Breathe in.
Breathe out…

“I don’t want to be here!” I screamed in my head.

I don’t want to be here.  The tears started flowing, the energy was moving.  Gone was the stuck feeling, the tension, the tightness.  The bell rang.  The struggle was over.

Or had it just begun?

I was cracked open and curious.  Why didn’t I want to be there?  And, why did it bother me so much that every fiber of my being was screaming for me to leave?

What kept me there?  Why didn’t I move?  What kept my ass glued to that cushion?

No answers yet, and I’m not sure they matter.  The only thing I’m sure of is that in that moment, meditation got richer and more interesting.  There’s nothing like conflict, be it internal or external, to agitate everything, shaking new inquiries to the surface while others fall and settle to the bottom.

an infinite playing field

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Gymnastics has been the central focus of my life for as long as I can remember.  I’ve been coaching gymnastics for thirteen years – nearly half of my life!  Beyond that, I’ve been involved in the sport for twenty-one years, and even before that, for as long as I can remember, it was all I wanted to do.  Ever.  There are few things I love more in this world than flipping my body around, swinging around a bar, or holding a handstand with precision and control.

That weightless feeling in a back flip when my feet have left the ground,  and I’m upside down, nothing holding me to the earth but gravity, nothing supporting me but my own ability, is rich and incomparable to anything else.  What amazes me about it is how unnecessary thinking is.  Yes I’m focused on the task at hand, but there’s no thought process going on.  I don’t have to think, “bend legs, jump, swing arms, reach up, set, pull knees over, see the ground, land…” there’s no time!  If I had to think through all of that I’d be on my head, crumpled in a heap, by the time I got to, “reach up.”  Thanks to muscle memory built over the last two decades, my body knows exactly what to do.  It blows my mind!  I can go a year without doing a back flip and then decide to do one, fully confident that my body remembers.

Teaching this muscle memory, and changing it when it isn’t working, is, for me,  the most challenging, and rewarding, part of coaching.  That moment, while watching a gymnast struggle with a skill, over and over again – limbs flailing, frustration building, tears welling – when I suddenly see where she needs to lift her hips, or keep her arms straight, or reach out further; the moment when I suddenly see the subtle but simple change she needs to make to get the result that she wants is unbelievably satisfying.  It’s like putting in the last piece of a puzzle, or finding that earring you dropped on the floor and have been searching for for the last fifteen minutes.  I light up, she lights up, and the rest of the girls in the group light up because they feel the possibilities.

That capacity to find and coach the root of the problem is one I’ve been growing and developing, consciously, over the last couple of years.  When I first started coaching, all I could see were bent legs and arms, the pike in the hips, or the arch in the back; I was so overwhelmed with the symptoms of the problem that I couldn’t get to the root of it.  I would repeat, “keep your legs straight!” over and over until I was blue in the face, with no results.  It was like an impulse.  I saw a bent leg, knew it needed to be straight, and demanded it! And when it didn’t happen, I would blame the gymnast for being unwilling to make the correction.

I’m not sure when this started, but at some point in the last five years, I started to become curious as to why a gymnast’s legs would bend in a skill.  I got quieter in my coaching and watched more turns, trying to recognize a pattern before offering a correction.  I started to see things I hadn’t seen before.  Clearly she was bending her legs because she didn’t have enough rotation to keep them straight.  Try as she might to straighten them, her body’s intelligence was bending her legs to prevent a face plant.  Smart body!  The correction, then, must address how to create more rotation rather than how to keep her legs straight.  Once that is sorted out, the legs straighten themselves!

This root based approach transformed my coaching, and the results that I see.  The girls get to relax because they aren’t getting more information than they can digest, and instead are able to actually apply the comments I give them to what they are doing.  It takes patience, awareness, attention, and a willingness to admit that I’m unsure and to wait until I’m certain.

Recently I’ve been inspired to apply this coaching perspective to my life.  I’ve been flailing my limbs, the frustration is building, the tears are welling; sometimes it feels like the uncertainty of life is eating me from the inside out.  And, I’m having a hard time waiting; I want the answers now!.  I’m finding it a lot more challenging to apply it to myself.  I’m impatient, scared, unsure.

In my last piece, I spoke of liminal space, and the possibilities it’s opening up for me.  Yes, that wide open space is fun to play in, but sometimes I’m overwhelmed by agoraphobia.

During the first week of my retreat, nature week, we did a few blindfolded hiking exercises.  In the first one I was blindfolded and had to find my way to a drum.

It.  Was.  Awesome.

Walking through trees, over rocks and stumps and fallen logs, unable to rely on my eyes, was absolutely invigorating.  I loved swinging my arms in front of me to make sure I walked around trees rather than into them.  I felt much satisfaction in testing the surface of the ground before letting my weight fully sink into it.  Even though the drummer was moving, I had something to move toward.  Armed with that little taste of direction, I could have followed that drum for hours.

In the second exercise we made ourselves into a blindfolded train, holding on to the backpack of the person immediately in front, with the leader acting as our eyes.  This one started out just fine.  I trusted the leader, and found that following someone else, feeling the subtle shifts in her height and speed, gave me enough information to walk without fear of tripping.

It was all fun and games until our leader, Mark, started running.  Try as I might, I couldn’t hold on, and I lost contact with the person in front of me.  In the ten seconds I was standing there, blindfolded, unsure of where the train in front of me went, I experienced a range of emotions.  First I was pissed!  I’d trusted Mark to lead us safely, and it felt like he’d broken that trust.  The next feeling was fear.  How do I get back to them?  Where do I go?  I have no idea where I am, or what’s in front of me,  there are people connected to me expecting to follow, how do I lead them to where we need to go?  I felt my eyes starting to well up under my blindfold, and then I felt the front of the train come back in front of me, I grabbed on, choked back the tears, and we continued our hike.

A while later we sat in a circle and talked about our experience of the hike.  When it was my turn I got about two sentences out before I collapsed.  All of the fear and anger came to the surface as white hot tears that I couldn’t speak through; I well up now remembering the intensity.  My wonderful friends and teachers sat patiently waiting, giving me space for the emotions to move through me.

I discovered in that moment that life lately has felt like that hike. It’s as if I was on a train for the last twenty-six years, and it had all the usual stops: high school graduation, college degree, job, relationships, settling down, family, children.  The tracks were laid out in front of me and there was safety and comfort in them.

But something made me jump the train.

And while most of the time that feels really good because I now get to write my own future rather than following in the tracks set up by those that came before me, a lot of the time it feels like I’m standing in the woods alone, blindfolded, not sure if I’m going to run into a tree, stub my toe on a rock, get lost, head in the wrong direction, or fall off a cliff.

The intensity of emotion that I felt came from that, not from the hike itself.  It unlocked the fears I was feeling and struggling with, bringing them right up to the surface and shining light on them.  And, of course, the first impulse I have is to fix them and make them go away.  Just like when I coach and feel the urge to tell the girls to get their legs straight when the real problem is the lack of rotation, I want to fix the symptoms of this struggle rather than get to the root of it because I can’t see the root yet!

Luckily, I’ve surrounded myself with wonderful people, who remind me to sit in the uncertainty, the discomfort, and the fear.  To be patient and wait for the roots to appear and the answers to come.  To stop trying to answer the questions and instead let them answer me.  To quit looking at this life as a problem to be solved and instead see it as an experiment, or an infinite game, waiting to be played.  The playing field just got bigger, and I’m still adjusting to the new boundaries.  It’s a process.

oh the possibilities…

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Change.  Death.  Birth.  Sex.  Intimacy.  Transformation.  These core, essential, life force themes are working me.  Big time.  I feel them vibrating in me, shifting things from the inside out.  It’s not like I’m thinking about them, cognizing them, or experiencing them as intellectual subjects.  No.  I’m surrendering to them, allowing them to shape me rather than trying to shape or control them.

I feel like I’m in a perpetual state of liminality.  Liminal.  I love that word.  It rolls around in my mouth, caresses my lips, and finally slides off my tongue in the most delicious way.  In ceremonies, the liminal stage is the doorway, the threshold, the passageway; it’s the space between, the place of uncertainty, unknowing, disorientation.  It’s open and empty and ready to allow the richness of change and transformation to take form.  A ceremony, practice, or ritual is like walking from one room to the next.  You enter through one doorway, pass through the middle, and out the threshold of the door on the other side, transformed by whatever you encountered on your journey.

Usually you pass through the threshold and out into a space that allows you to process and integrate whatever you just experienced into your being.  But lately, lately it feels like I pass from one liminal stage to the next.  The doorways I walk through aren’t closing the opportunity for transformation, but instead taking it deeper and deeper.  It feels like a free fall with no bottom.  Down the rabbit hole I go.

My first few weeks of August were spent in Torrey, Utah on an Integral Zen retreat.  The first week focused on nature and our relationship to it, culminating in a solo night on Boulder Mountain.  Prior to the retreat a friend of mine mentioned the possibility of a solo and the anxiety I experienced was so intense I nearly threw up.  Alone?!  In the woods?!  No tent?!  NO F***ing WAY!

When it came time for the solo, the anxiety was gone.  We’d spent so much time on the mountain it had come to feel like home and my experience was one of belonging. For the first time in my life, rather than feeling apart from nature, I truly felt myself to be a part of it.  I wrote in my journal in the middle of my solo:

“This stream flows through me as it does through these mountains and meadows.  These roots hold me as they hold the trees, pulling in the food, water, and nourishment they need – I need.  I belong here as much as the elk, the deer, the butterfly, the mosquito… My ancestors are buried in this earth, as I will be one day; decaying, decomposing, letting go, surrendering, and becoming food for a tree, a sunflower, a blade of grass.”

Prior to this experience, I’d spent a lot of time hiking and camping with my family, but always on a trail or in a designated camp site.  There’s always been a sense of separation and distinction from “nature.”  It’s something, out there, that I might hurt and damage, or that can hurt and damage me.  For the first time in my life I feel at home in the wild.  It isn’t something to handle with kid gloves, or to fight, or to protect myself from. It is a part of me and I am a part of it.  I’ve known all of these things to be true, but it wasn’t until my solo, twenty-four hours alone on a mountainside, that I actually felt that.

The second week of the retreat was spent in the “we space.”  Intimacy.  Relationships.  Sex.  Oh my!  I’ve been sworn to confidentiality about the practices we engaged in (doesn’t that get your imagination running wild?!) so I won’t get into specifics.  They don’t matter anyway.

What matters is the blown open, nourished, connected feeling they left me with.  The entire week was an invitation to play with boundaries; to say “yes” to whatever is.  The “yes” doesn’t mean that anything goes, but is instead an acceptance of what is.  This awareness gives you space to make choices about your response, where you put your attention, and permission to explore your boundaries.  Sounds easy, but it was challenging, painful, scary, and really exciting and exhilarating.

I left that week feeling connected to myself, to life force, to the people I spent that week with.  I also left with a sense of flexibility and fluidity.  We danced a lot during that week, and for me, the physical dancing came to symbolize a more subtle form of dancing that I was growing a capacity for: Dancing with the moment.  Rather than trying to sort out my next move before I make it, I came to trust that I can make it up as I go; that, just like in dancing, when I let the music move my body from the inside out, I can let the immediacy of the moment move me, rather than trying to shape the moment into what I think it needs to be.  This opens up entire new universes to play in.

Instead of something to be figured out or accomplished, life now feels like something to explore.  All of life is liminal.  There is no destination or arrival, just thresholds.  Oh the possibilities…