Saturday, January 30, 2010

I Know Why the Caged Bear Sings

I am blessed to be surrounded by friends who inspire me. The other day one such friend was lamenting that he felt guilty because he had worked so hard all of his life and that currently he was achieving just as much financial success but at the same time thoroughly enjoying his life.

I was struck by a line in one of my new favorite books "The Book of Martial Power" by Steven Pearlman. In talking about the principles underlying all martial arts, Pearlman states as part of the ultimate standard of any martial art is that "Victory must be effortless."

What if life was meant to be effortless?

Not the effortlessness in the unskilled sort of beach bum or common charlatan type of effortless. That is more of an example of individuals often working harder not to work and evolve than they would if they had applied themselves to an honest living. But rather, what if the ultimate goal of life was mastery, like mastering a martial art. At first you struggle and work hard and get bogged down in details. You believe that all of that is necessary to learn to survive. But if you have seen a master of anything at work, it is like magic requiring no effort. (To look upon a prima ballerina is to think that such a person is simply born to effortlessly move that way, that not even her body remembers the years it took to break her feet into that capability.)

What if the point is to relax and act from a state of inspiration?

I have been practicing jiu-jitsu for about 5 years. Recently my teacher told me to soften my gaze when I was sparring. He told me to relax and stop focusing on the details. Tension, unnecessary tension, is the mark of a novice who lacks confidence in their techniques and confidence that they can win. And it is a pure waste of energy that actually hinders victory. My focus needed to be purely on keeping my own center (relaxing my vision to keep peripheral vision, relaxing my breathing as much as possible, maintaining control over my own body, etc.) and on seeing in my own mind how the dance would go. That's it. You actually get to the point that your opponent is an illusion, and disappears from your mind all together.

So after a few years of struggling against opponents who outweighed me by 40 to 100 or more lbs., struggling to get every detail of a move down, of learning the attack, the counter, and the counter of the counter, and now after all of that left-brain overanalysis my teacher was asking me to completely let that go and switch into right-brain inspired action. He said,"Have you ever seen a child playing? When they are really caught up in their story a bomb could go off behind them and it wouldn't distract them. That is the kind of focus you need to develop." Now my teacher never read Pearlman's book. He is not much of a reader. But a life of mastering his own body had taught him that transition.

To go from novice to mastery requires that you eventually let go of any belief in the struggle. It is a huge wall you meet with and you don't ever expect it. How can I let go of all that I have come to be, have worked so hard to be, and go in the opposite direction?

We've all heard the story of the bear who spends its whole life in a cage and when it is released still limits its life to the size of the cage. We evolve our identity, our sense of self in that transitory state of struggle. We say to ourselves, "I am the bear who struggles against the cage and if the cage isn't there and I am free, then who a I?"

We want happiness and joy and peace, but we build our lives around stress and struggle and drama.

The struggle was never the goal. It was a step; the perceived necessity. It never was, nor is, who we are.

So why the guilt?

For one thing, the majority of people around you won't understand you (but if you are like me you are used to this.)

I think the heart of it is that it's just a really good lie you were told once a long time ago; that life is hard. And it is really hard for most people most of the time. When you finally get to the other side and see it doesn't have to be that way maybe there is a bit of survivor's guilt.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Getting Grounded

My disconnect from my feet began when I was in my teens and I got my first pair of arch supports. This was followed by years of high tech running shoes and culminated in wearing MBT's.

As the distance literally grew between my feet and the ground I got more and more unsteady. I remember feeling for years in dance or yoga glass like there was a disconnect from my knees down.

Last week I started seeing a Z health practitioner, which in my interpretation is a systematic qigong joint mobility program with Western terminology. It basically uses proprioceptive rewiring to reconnect your brain with your body and fix alignment issues and overcome pain responses. I noticed after 2 days that my feet began to absolutely hate all my shoes. It was as if they were screaming at me every time I put something on my feet, "These soles are too rigid!"  or "I can't move!"

I invested in a pair of Sprint Vibram Five Finger shoes which basically allow you to walk barefoot everywhere. They take some breaking in.  At first they feel like you are wearing those toes spacers you wear when you get a pedicure.

I just came back from a walk with my dogs and it was a different experience. I felt fully in my body. My feet were picking up information when we walked over the assphault versus the cement sidewalk versus different kinds of earth and vegetation. It was like I had 2 extra hands supplying me with extra input. I didn't realize until this moment just how disconnected I had gotten.

There is a deadness that sweeps over us as we get more and more involved with our gadgets that occurs so slowly from childhood to adulthood that it is almost imperceptible. To be able to integrate that left-brained knowledge with our body's grounded intuition is a beautiful experience.

Next time you take a break try walking around barefoot.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Power of Visioning

I apologize in advance if this sounds like an endorsement, because it really is. I strongly believe in the visioning process because it bypasses our smaller, limited selves that would have us stay small, mediocre, and afraid.

Visioning is a process made popular recently by Michael Bernard Beckwith, who used the process to create Agape. It was a process he learned and modified from Native American tradition whereby you first ask Spirit its highest and best purpose for you. You get into a meditative state and ask a series of questions. You are asking first for a vision, and this can be for anything from the  direction of your life in general to how to organize your garden. It is an extremely powerful process to get clarity on the direction we need to go in.

My mentor and friend, Dale Bach, has taken this process a step further. She works with individuals and businesses through a 3 step process of visioning, visualization, and VAC.

Visioning is getting the inspiration and vision. Visualization is a process of grounding that vision and seeing how it will play out into your life. The VAC is a process of further grounding the vision by imagining how it will look, sound like, feel like, etc. Dale uses special tools for this to create almost immediate changes. Having experienced the results of this process I would never start a group venture, business, marriage, without it. It is has also been key in my personal life.

Dale Bach can be contacted at 310-614-2414 and sees clients in person, by phone, or via skype.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Letting Go

Virginia passed away this morning at sunrise. She died in my dad's arms. My mom and I had fought for so long to keep her healthy. My mom would make her food from scratch. I was always coming up with supplements and therapies. She had struggled all her life and was the strongest, most dignified creature I have ever met. I think it was my inability to let her go that kept her going too long. I think it's why she couldn't die in front of me.

My parents found Virginia on the side of a back road in peanut country, Virginia. She was a tiny puppy who smelled of pig poop. She was literally starving. Her skeleton exposed and her affect slow and dull. My parents stopped a home nearby, but the occupant said,"Oh, they're always dumping animals around here at the trash ." Apparently when the local people wanted to get rid of there pets, they dumped them with the garbage.

Virginia was so concerned with eating that she would pee when presented with food. This was my first introduction to her. I put her on my lap and reached to give her a treat and was christened. My mom worked tirelessly with her to get over her food obsession, which she never fully got over. Being that she looked like a black beagle, it was also likely genetic.

She was a good dog. The kind you don't have to train. She could be walked of leash on trails and she would always look back to you to see what you wanted. She would go relieve herself discreetly in the bushes. And she would always alert us to any new person or animal with her soulfull bay.

She developed an autoimmune disease that caused the pads of her paws to come off and she later suffered from recurrent liposarcoma. I believe that the cancer was what is referred to as injection site sarcoma, which is more common in cats. It is triggered by injections being given in the same spot along with a hyperactive immune system. (This is why vets now vary the injection site visit to visit.)

Everything that hit her, Virginia would fight off. Nothing could break her. This went on for years, but then the last few days she began getting very weak. She ate very little and rarely got up.

Yesterday I felt her distancing herself from me, like she wanted space. This morning I felt her shame that she had soiled the carpet. Until the very end she insisted on going outside, even when it was difficult to walk and it was raining.

I swear today that I could see her running, in that funny way she would do when she was going as fast as she could, with her tail curled under and her big hound dog ears flopping. I know she is free now.

And so today I am letting go. I am letting go of my attachment to Virginia's body, that could no longer serve her. In doing so I am pulling closer to who she really is, the half-wild, proud hound who is forever free.

I am also letting go a little more of my pettiness. As often happens when you see someone die, all of the stupid judgements and concerns seem ridiculous. I am letting go of people (myself included) not behaving the way they should, or things not working out the way they ought to. I am letting go of what no longer serves me, as Virginia did today.

"Near this Spot are deposited the Remains of one who possessed Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferosity, and all the virtues of Man without his Vices. This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery if inscribed over human Ashes, is but a just tribute to the Memory of. . . a dog." ~Lord Byron

Monday, January 18, 2010

So What Do You Do When You’re Taking a Break?

Years ago in an acupuncture class my teacher gave us the assignment to be “totally present” for 24 hours during all of our activities. (This was similar to what the Zen Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh advocates.) So, when we did the dishes we just focused on doing the dishes, no TV, no radio, etc. And you do these activities just for the sake of doing them. I remember feeling so frustrated, annoyed, and deprived. I simply experienced emptiness and it wasn’t pleasant.

I do not have ADHD. I don’t get bored easily. So why wasn’t I able to comfortably do the assignment? I remember as a child exploring the woods on my grandparents’ farm in upstate New York and sitting still and just watching the quiet forest come alive when it thought I had left it alone. I had no problems being present then.

I remember going to the Amazon years later and feeling the world I knew slip away under its dense canopy, as if the modern world had never existed. I felt absolutely present then.
I could sit for hours painting or drawing as a teenager completely immersed in the present moment.
So what was different then? I was sitting in awe of great beauty.

I realized that what worked better for me was not simply removing the distractions, but focusing my attention on something I wanted to fill my life with, like, beauty, joy, connection, peace, etc.

Give the moment to a higher purpose.

When you are sitting in the car, stuck in traffic, try turning off the radio. Notice how beautiful the sunset or sunrise is or the clouds in the sky. Just for a moment. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Just a moment.
Next time you are waiting in line rather than checking your email or texting someone, simply be in line and look around you. Don’t allow yourself to focus on the distracted chaos that is usually apparent, but see something beautiful, something peaceful and embrace it.

The next time you have a conversation with someone really see them. Listen as if there was no time; as if there was nothing you had to do as soon as the conversation was over. Just listen and feel how good being connected to another human being feels.

When you are with a child or a pet this can be easier and might be a good first step. For example, if you ever watch the Dog Whisperer , the host Caesar Milan always talks about how your energy in the moment affects your dogs . This is especially helpful when you have a problem dog. Notice how your energy is around the dog and how when you change it, your dog’s behavior changes almost immediately.

This little exercise will bring you peace. A peace that is not dependent upon the constantly changing events around you. It is a peace that is based on what you choose to place in the spaces between the noise.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

5 Element Meditation: Water Element

We focus on increasing our water element when we want to feel more spiritually connected. The water element meditation is particularly helpful for those who feel a lack of imagination, find their lives too rgid, have trouble being alone, and want to cultivate wisdom, fluidity, or sensuality. Due to the fact that the water element relates to our kidneys and urinary bladder organs, this meditation will also help to strengthen these organs.

Water Meditation:
Sit by the lake or the ocean, or float in a pool or in a bath tub. In this meditation don't follow a rigid structure. Gently become aware of your breathing. Allow your mind to turn inward. Focus loosely on the mystery around you, letting go completely of what should be or having any goals. Let the mind wander. Look at the ripples in the water, watch the clouds passing overhead, or the antics of a seagull. Just sit in the presence of the divine and enjoy the company. Let that take your mind where it needs to go. Have no other goals than that.

Finally, simply sit, receptive to what the water has to teach you. Do not judge. Simply allow whatever thoughts and feelings that come up to do so.

You may meditate for as long as you like, but typically between 20min to an hour is ideal.