Unfiltered

I’d been thinking about filters. How we see the world through them. How this present moment is filtered through my old unconscious stuff, clouding my emotions, my thoughts, my physical experience. How crucial it is to get closer to the real thing, to bring consciousness to those old patterns and shift what I can.

Then along comes a filter on Zoom, unintentionally causing an international sensation! That kind of filter gives us much-needed absurdist fun. Oh, that laugh did me good. A moment of wackadoodle joy in the middle of a winter that had started to feel a bit like an endurance test.

Lately, though, I’m discovering how fun it is to really look at someone, unfiltered. Zoom allows me to do this, to focus on someone’s face more than I would in face to face interaction. From behind my screen (filter?) I can look hard and see: where does the smile show up, what does the face do in resting, what are the eyes saying now?

I’ve taken to sketching these beautiful faces, as best I can. It brings me so much joy to put drawings into my notebook, alongside words. I never thought I had any aptitude for visual art.

I did have a brief interlude with oil painting, where I was shown how to see colors and values. I understood then that objects we think of as a particular color—red barn, blue sky, white snow—are actually made up of many many colors.

And this is echoed in ornithologist Drew Lanham’s words (below), when he talks about really looking at a sparrow, realizing: it isn’t just a brown bird, it is many colors. It is many experiences too, many wingbeats unknowable. As are we all, every last human on this planet, taking so many untold steps on our walk.

A week ago, I walked toward the setting sun on the golf course, half blinded by glittering snowpack, mesmerized by sunlight after many overcast days. I realized (again) that shadows in snow appear more blue than white, and that there are actually many sheens within a snowy expanse, as the glitter reveals pinpricks of amber, purple, red, blue, and green all glinting.

White snow isn’t white. Brown bird isn’t brown.

And this seems extra deep to someone who is so new to really looking. I mean, as a writer, you’d think I’d be observant, but it turns out I am not terribly visual. I’m the kind of person who has to go check when someone asks me the color of my guest room walls. (Which maybe wouldn’t sound too clueless but for the fact that I’ve spent nearly every day for a year in that guest room-turned-office, working away at my desk.)

That lack of visual awareness might be changing. Maybe I’m noticing more. It’s a gift of the pandemic, I suppose, to have the chance to see people’s faces in my screen several times a week, and devote myself to their examination.

I want to say too that there’s more to this, like how I inevitably find my friends’ faces beautiful, even when they themselves are critical of their appearance. How I want to (in Valarie Kaur’s words) “see no stranger,” only friends, and wonder about the journey they’ve been on, as Lanham wonders about the birds in his yard.

How I hope to shed the filters (though I’m not above using a Zoom one to be playful) that keep me from being fully here. To love because the pen loves, each stroke approximating that human mystery in front of me. A flesh and blood person animated by the same Source as me.

“… It’s sort of like the sparrow that appears brown from far away and hard to identify, but if you just take the time to get to know that sparrow, then you see all of these hues. You see five, six, seven shades of brown on this bird. And you see little splashes of ochre or yellow or gray and black and white, and all of these things on this bird that at first glance just appeared to be brown. And so in taking that time to delve into not just what that bird is, but who that bird is, and to understand, to get from some egg in a nest to where it is, to grace you with its presence, that it’s taken, for this bird, trials and tribulations and escaping all of these hazards. And so I try to think about people as much as I can in that way — that each of us has had these struggles from the nest to where we have flown now, and the journeys that we’re on.”

Drew Lanham, On Being podcast

The Limits of Kindness

A list is circulating social media, offering ways of tipping the balance toward the good in fraught times. Such as opening doors for people, offering a smile, letting other vehicles in a long line of traffic.

I have often written of small acts and their power. I believe that these kind of kindnesses are true and useful and so so needed, and I believe that every small act has resonance beyond its immediate impact. I am a fervent believer in the power of kindness.

And I see the limits of kindness. There is also a need for intervention. Making room for others in our heart is a great thing—and may it nudge us to stand for justice.

“The heart and the fist,” is how activist/visionary Valarie Kaur puts it. Rage, she says, at least maternal rage, is a “biological force that protects that which is loved.”

Photo by Eliza, via flickr.com Creative Commons

What this looks like in practice, I’m still figuring out, but one thing’s for certain: The coming years will not relieve the need for the heart and the fist. I want to be part of the movement toward a better future, where all are valued, respected, and safe, and no one is targeted for being Black or brown or immigrant or trans or female or poor or any other scapegoat status.

In thinking about the violence at the Capitol, it helps me to anchor into the big-big picture. First remembering that this small human body is truly, ultimately safe, always one-with-Source—realizing energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed. Then seeking to understand:

Are we seeing the last gasp of the dinosaurs, as Octavia Raheem’s beautiful post suggests? Is this the patriarchy making a final last stand? Brene Brown has said of this ugly era: “Last stands are violent and desperate and scary, and know no boundaries and no rules, and do not follow any protocols.”

Kaur uses a birthing metaphor, saying we are in a stage called transition: “It feels like dying, but it is the stage that precedes the birth of new life.”

I’m struck by what these stories have in common—their implied faith that something better is on the horizon. I am a proponent of hopeful narratives, and yet I know that nothing is assured. That is why Kaur says transition is a dangerous time, and calls us to labor. To embody what she calls Revolutionary Love.

She advocates a fierce brand of love that asks us to “see no stranger,” as she learned from her Sikh faith. (Note: Read her book by this title and you will never be the same.) To Kaur, everyone is a brother or sister, an uncle or auntie. Instead of “otherizing” those who think/live/look different from us, instead of dehumanizing any member of our human family, she takes the attitude: “You are a part of me I do not yet know.”

That is how she looks at everyone, even those who do egregious things. This isn’t about being a doormat, and she’s very clear that if you are the one who is under the knee of the oppressor, your job is not to attempt this transcendence. Your job is to survive, then tend to your own trauma.

This is where community comes in. Those of us not in immediate danger must step in and do this work. It’s hard. Empathy and kindness are not necessarily the starting point. Wonder can be enough to start, says Kaur. To wonder, for example: What are the life experiences that lead to violent white supremacist attacks?

To support this hard work, she has conceived of The People’s Inauguration as a way to recognize that we are the leaders and healers our country needs. Set for Jan. 21, the day after the inauguration, it is a pledge to help heal and rebuild America as an anti-racist, equitable, sustainable nation. For 10 days thereafter, supportive teachings will be offered online. I have signed up. Join me if it resonates.

Learn more through this Sounds True podcast.

To Live It Fully

Adapted from my year-end e-newsletter.

Have you seen the new Pixar movie, Soul? What a gem! Move over, Heaven Can Wait and others of the genre. Now we can experience a funny-yet-resonant vision of the afterlife (er, beforelife) through the lens of a middle school music teacher named Joe Gardner…whose life won’t be complete until he performs at a top jazz club.

Aside from the entertainment value, I found the story moving and unexpectedly wise—the kind of work that stays with me.

One of the most affecting parts of this film is when new souls dive through the Earth portal from the before-place (where souls are designed). We witness their joy and wonder in this freefall towards our planet, where they will incarnate into human bodies.

When’s the last time you felt joy and wonder because you got to wake up here on this beautiful planet?

It reminds me of the most hopeful podcast I listened to this year: a conversation between Charles Eisenstein and Edith Ubuntu Chan (a physician). Chan shares the mystical experiences she has had, particularly the way her son came into her life. You have to listen to it, but suffice to say there are (in her understanding) legions souls eager to come to Earth because it is such a rich place of learning and transformation.

Having just been through a crucible of a year collectively, a year that pushed us to grow and transform personally and communally, it’s understandable that many here are weary. Many are grieving, angry, fearful, depleted—and with good cause. Many feel jaded, consumed by stories of things drastically out of balance. And yet.

There’s a bigger story we can tap into, one that is not just about this planet, not just about this physical body’s experience in it.

There’s the choice point, if you believe this way, of coming here in the first place. Followed by all the choice points thereafter, that shape how we experience the situations we’re born into. As a recent client put it: “Why is all this happening… for me?”

That in itself, that reframing from victim to seeker, is a choice point.

To look for the bigger picture, to fall into the possibility that everything we encounter can give us a chance to evolve.

Just as the soul voiced by Tina Fey released the hand of teacher/musician Joe (Jamie Fox) and bravely dove past the point of no return, we have all sojourned to this point alone and together, communally and individually bound to co-creating this reality we live in.

Moving into this next year, which so many hope and pray will be different from 2020, let’s not lose sight of the joy of being alive. Because (spoiler alert): “To live it fully” turns out to be the purpose and meaning of life. That’s not to say that every moment we breathe in will be joyful or even pleasant. But it is here, it is ours to experience.

***

Want to know more about YOU, as in your soul-level essence? And let go of whatever’s been holding you back from fully shining your light into this world that needs you so much? I offer Soul Realignment, an Akashic Record reading that puts people in touch with their expansive soul-level selves, and assists with clearing blockages to expressing their fullest divinity. Available via Zoom. Book here.

This reading was so edifying and greatly resonant. It feels important to start this shift going into the New Year…
—Nancy M., Excelsior, MN

What the Cat Knows

What do we do when we don’t know what to do? That question was posed in a mindfulness class I took years ago, and it has stayed with me.

Do I reach for my phone, open the fridge, queue up some distracting media?

Do I reflexively find some busyness to occupy myself, so that I won’t have to dwell in an uncomfortable moment of not-knowing?

Or do I open to the possibility that not-knowing can be a rich place, and give it some space, bring it some breath, honor it with a pause? Maybe I need to roll on the floor, look out the window, have a good cry, go for a fast walk, or…

This has been a year of many-times-over not-knowing. I have done all of the above. And I have learned so much from watching my cat, who never falls into a quandary of not-knowing, who always expresses his full nature, which is to say Feline. Or a mix of Feline and Divine, I would say. Just as you and I are a blend of Human and Divine.

Here are seven of the many things Eddie the cat knows:

  1. Seek always comfort. Lie in the sun as often as possible.
  2. Observe everything. Stare out the window or into the eyes of another being or off into the middle distance. There is much to witness.
  3. If sick, be alone and sleep the day away, eat minimally, listen inward.
  4. As much as possible within the constraints of your life, control what you can. If you want to be in a room, shove the door open and enter (or register your displeasure if the door won’t yield to your head-butt). If, five seconds later, the room does not suit your mood, leave. Reenter as the mood strikes. It is your prerogative. You need not explain.
  5. When the urge hits, tear through the house. Life is your playground. Also, you never know what new unexplored cranny you may discover.
  6. When you want a catnap, take it. Who’s stopping you?
  7. Know that, over the course of the day, you can stalk your prey AND expose your soft underbelly. You contain multitudes. Radiate your essence, always.

Of course, life in a human body is not as simple as all that. There are deadlines, obligations, not to mention a cerebral cortex that creates dramas, commentating the livelong day. Still, my cat knows how to bring the essentials into focus. The warm lap. The windowsill. The purr and the yowl and the occasional growly hiss. The sprint and the snuggle, the nibbling at plants and batting at breakables.

The supreme catness of him, no apology or rumination needed. No asking, “what should…” “what next…” because there is only now in this meow.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go loll in a patch of sunshine.

The cat exploring a recent kitchen reno project

It is Your Life

A poet I admire, Mark Nepo, says we should only write while fully centered in the heart. His counsel: If your mind dominates, drop the pen, still the voice, turn to another activity until the heart can take the lead again.

From a recent podcast:

“I want to enter timelessness. I don’t want to plan to finish a chapter because of some deadline—then the expression is an ‘it,’ a product. I’m no longer in timelessness; I’m controlling.”

Mark Nepo

So much feels out of our control these days. Speaking for myself, I sometimes find that my itch to control whatever I can infects my creative work and daily life in unconstructive ways. I tighten up and end up with a headache or a sleepless night.

But, like Nepo, I want to approach my work (and my life!) from a place of expansion, not contraction. A simple invocation at the start of a writing session can reconnect me to that space.

When it slips away, as soon as I remember, I reconnect to the biggest possible frame—to who I am and what I’m about and why I’m doing whatever I’m doing. I want to contact the biggest why possible, which is always to be more fully aligned with my Divine nature.

So: to move into that spaciousness, to call in that alignment, is a way to enter timelessness, to reenter heart space.

And this is not just about writing. It’s about how I practice yoga, how I do my workity-work, how I connect with friends, how I steward my money. I have the choice to treat everything as a thing to get done or as a big-big-big picture action.

Doesn’t everything go better and feel so much more timeless when I first remember what it’s all for?

As an inveterate list-maker who also skews mystic, I have made a study of the intersection between getting shit done and falling into spacious/timelessness. I don’t thrive without timelessness, but I operate in a time-driven world. And I do want to finish and publish my book, keep in touch with loved ones, stay on top of bills, and show up fully at my workplace.

I am starting to see that moving with ease through all these arenas is possible. It’s not about following a strict list or schedule. Nor is it about floating in the ether every moment.

Photo from the Indiana Dunes, Fall 2018

It’s more about reconnecting on the regular to this big-big-big picture. Often that comes through movement, or stillness, or breath, while consciously invoking the love that’s all around. The fact that I am love, made of love, made from love.

The more I hew to my truest “who”… the easier it is to stay in my heart.

And if, as soon as I look at the clock and think what’s next, I lose this feeling, it’s OK. Because I know how to find it again.

In my notebook, I commune with my inner Wisewoman, who says things like:

Breathe deeply, this moment is not a thing to be gotten though, a task to complete. It is your life. What is coming into your senses right now? What is your body experiencing? Hold it all.

To which I say, Thank you.

Real Safety

Someone suggested to me that a thing I’m involved in is sketchy. It’s an experiment that admittedly looks mad from the dominant worldview. A project based on generosity, reciprocity and trust—making something our hearts know, that we are all One, tangible in the way we give and receive.

I have felt incredible support and uplift from the experience, almost a magical boost catapulting me—no, sustaining me—in this expansive place of possibility. Extreme self-responsibility—taking nothing personally—is the watchword.

Then I tumbled, with the questioning comment. I felt my ego rise up. Don’t let someone think ill of you! Defend! Explain! (Take it personally!!)

I had a visceral shift, lying in bed after this deflating exchange, in which I could feel my constriction melting and my consciousness merging with the All. It’s hard to describe, but I felt that I was expanding out beyond a fear mindset to a transcendent place that makes both suspicion and defensiveness irrelevant.

I still had trouble falling asleep. The ego does not go down lightly.

The ego talks my ear off all night, tightens up my body, obsesses over all my to-do lists. It’s all about proving itself right, and hiding vulnerabilities, and being in charge.

I know you are terrified, I tell the ego, but I am going to let another/greater part of me take the lead now.

Perhaps this is a microcosm of the wider world, in which the dominance model we are living under is not going down lightly.

I’ve been listening to interviews with Elizabeth Lesser, who wrote Cassandra Speaks: When Women Are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes. She referred to the “death rattle of the patriarchy” that we are experiencing as a collective. We see this globally, as the old guard hangs on tooth and nail to a way of life predicated on subjugation of people and planet.

Brene Brown, writing in 2016, predicted a “last stand” of this dominant worldview, and foresaw its messy, violent, chaotic trajectory. Last stands are desperate.

These systems live in me, and in each of us. My own desperate ego, afraid of dying, mirrors that death rattle. What will happen, yells my ego, to all my specialness, all my control, all my plans, if you move about the world in some kind of transcendent state? How will you stay safe if you change the story and make me irrelevant?

Real safety, I respond, comes from knowing who I really am, which is a part of the All in All.

If I holler back at the ego and make it bad and wrong, if I try to vanquish it with its own tools, it only deepens the chasm I’m trying to heal. But if I can speak kindly to that ego (while redirecting with both compassion and firmness), might it help to melt those systems of control—not just in myself but in the collective?

Well, even if it is just a moment here and a moment there, the experience of Oneness creates a template that has its own resonance.

Solar Eclipse, May 2012, Arizona

“When the forms of an old culture are dying, the new culture is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure.”
—East German dissident Rudolph Bahro

I’m so there. How about you?

No Matter What

I cried already this morning when walking Opal on the golf course, where the line of voters snaked out to the street and the overflow cars were parked on the green. No matter what happens, no one can say the populace is apathetic.

Most of my friends are on edge today, fervently hoping for a particular outcome of the election, worried about what comes next. It struck me this morning that it might help to look at what I can count on, no matter what.

I know that no matter what, there will be major healing to do, and being a bystander is not an option for me.

I know that I will always be a person whose heart lifts with the kingfisher’s rise over the creek. I will always find comfort in my furry companions who will always love me (in succession; I know these particular friends won’t be around forever).

I will always thrill to the sight of birds flocking and wheeling across the sky in great numbers, as they do this time of year, even if it is “only” starlings. I will always be a person whose face defaults into a smile for random strangers. Who wells up to see humanity in its marvelous shapes and forms and shades, feeling our oneness even in our division.

I will always care deeply and seek to be fully alive to everything, even the hurt.

None of that says all that much about me… except perhaps that I have been extraordinarily lucky.

This birthday card from my sweetie …

The inside of this card starts out, “In a world that can be a little rough around the edges, you soften the lives of those around you…” Cue the awww.

All I can say is, may it be so.

The Human I Need to Be

Help me be the person I need to be to create this work.

That is my mantra, of late, thanks largely to Jen Louden, whose writing retreat and Writer’s Oasis have been hugely enriching for my creative expression. She believes that the creating of a thing gives us back to ourselves; that we become more of ourselves by digging into a project; that we become who we need to be through the very act of creating it.

The journey the project takes me on becomes as fundamental to healing—mine and others’—as putting a final product out there. The project teaches me what I need to know, gives me strength, shows me something beyond what I’m shown in the din of voices out there in the public discourse. And that reverberates far beyond what I can know.

Many of us yearn for a different world than what we see, and despair of ever getting it, give the broken state of things. But we are creating our world all the time, whether we mean to or not. Every act is a contribution to the reality we share.

It’s sort of like the person who adopts a dog: It’s impossible to not start training the dog right from the start, whether intending to or not, whether ever enrolling in formal dog training classes or not. (Don’t believe me? Say your puppy jumps up on you and you scold him, or wrestle with him, or rub his wee face because he’s so damn cute. Any one of those is likely reinforcing the jumping: You’re training him to jump up. Or he’s training you to respond to his jumping!)

What I mean to say is, I want to put at least some of my attention, in this destabilizing time, to consciously creating what I want to see more of. Because whether I realize it or not, I’m creating my life (and by extension the collective life) every moment.

Last week I planted Austrian winter peas, as I do every fall, for the tender shoots, and they’re coming up in my garden. I planted cilantro starts today, and lettuce too, because it soothes me to put my hands in the soil.

Cilantro from KG Acres

So many things are outside of my control, but here is just one contributory thing I can do in my small sphere.

I actually can’t control how these baby plants grow, but I can offer a little prayer to them as I set them in the ground, and commit to watering and tending them. Their rootballs connect my prayer to an entire planet. I imagine it suspended beneath their bodies. This one act of tender care signals my hope for a nourishing season ahead, no matter what else comes.

I create a modest garden that brings me pleasure and returns me to myself. It helps ground me. It puts me in contact with living things—the microscopic abundance in the soil, the miracle of a being that can make food from sunlight.

Pea shoots emerging

Just so, I make a thing out of nothing but words, like food from sunlight, that may or may not last more than a season, but that brings me along and turns me… slowly, slowly… into the human I need to be, rooted on this planet.

Force ≠ Power

Everyone’s working so hard these days, trying to figure out how to parse the new COVID-19 reality, trying to deal with massive uncertainty and upheaval.

A long time ago, an intuitive told me that “trying harder”—my usual tactic for getting through difficult things—was a habit that didn’t really serve me. I cut my teeth on the Mennonite work ethic though, and it’s a hard one to let go. Even now, knowing that it doesn’t really help, I’m not too long at a task or goal before my eyeballs get all squinched up and I hold one shoulder tighter or squeeze up my right thigh. It’s natural, right? I’m working hard!

We did an experiment in yoga class that showed me how truly unhelpful this pattern is. My teacher Gaynell had us swim our arms through space, bounce at the knees, forget about holding a certain posture. Get a little playful. Then she directed us to feel our “energy ball.”

You can do it right now just by shaking out your hands, rubbing them together, shaking them out some more, and then holding them a little bit apart. There’s a staticky feeling, a sort of fuzziness, between them—you feel it? That’s your own energy field.

So we have this energy ball and we’re playing with it, expanding the space and closing it, in touch with flow, and then Gaynell has us CLENCH EVERY MUSCLE IN OUR BODIES. You can do it right now. Really go rigid. Tense everything up completely. Your face, your toes, your glutes, everything. Then: Feel for your energy ball. Where did it go?

Mine collapsed. I mean, I couldn’t feel it AT ALL.

In the same vein, I once saw a demo with a personal trainer who tightened every muscle in her body… and was measurably weaker on a strength test, vs. staying loose and using only the muscles needed. This surprised even her.

These experiments tell me that force ≠ power!

2534871523_0c04ed2c75_o

Photo by “orangemaniac” via Flickr Creative Commons

True power is quiet humming fuel, the life force underlying everything. Forcing, clenching, pushing, driving… these are all things I’ve been enculturated to do when my energy runs low. Just push on through. But, what if I’m just making life harder for myself and everyone around me?

What if there’s a way to reconnect to that hum every hour of every day, and use it to fuel my endeavors, instead of listening to the busy mind that overrides every small signal and tells me to press on? To drop any unneeded “efforting,” as yoga teaches us?

What if, indeed, this energy source is key to transforming this messed-up world from the inside out?

If I were to stand in my energy, could I listen more deeply, engage more fully, relate more authentically, even with people who push my buttons?

Could I have access to inspiration, innovations, and solutions that get cut off every time I tighten up?

Could I, through an easeful resonance, alter the energy of any place I enter?

I’d like to think so. Remembering to remember to remember… that’s the key.

Gratitude: Where would I be without yoga, my yoga community, my yoga teachers? Clenched-up, lonely, and snappish, that’s where. I’m especially grateful that some classes are now offered outdoors. If you need some support, check out Irvington Wellness Center for virtual classes and—if you’re local—for select in-person offerings. (I also offer Soul Realignment via Zoom, and you can book through IWC.)

Tip of the Day: If you read through my post but didn’t try the experiment… try it out now!

Resource of the Day: How to rewire the fear response through love. Check out this article by happiness specialist Arthur C. Brooke (four tips at the very end). 

You are Here

It’s a paradox: How everything we do, especially in this fraught age, holds incredible significance…while at the very same time being completely insignificant in the big big picture?

I’ve been thinking about the “pale blue dot” that is our home. And how we are hurtling through space. And how we are each a pixel in the picture. Tiny, tiny—but crucial.

PaleBlueDot

Self-portrait: Planet Earth, as seen from Voyager 1, 1990. Public domain photo from NASA.

As Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan wrote of that pale blue dot:

“That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.”

earth flag

View from our porch

Gratitude: Summer, I love you. The ease of you. The barefootedness. The sun and warm. Everything fruiting and seeding all over the place, practically spilling over abundance.

Tip of the Day: If you have the means, give a little some of that abundance away. Whether garden produce or a smile (make it big enough to show with the eyes since the mask will hide it!) or a monetary contribution, giving is good for the soul. (Here’s a GoFundMe option: My friend Lydia, living on the other side of that blue dot just now as she went home to her native South Africa just in time for COVID-19 lockdown, is raising money to help people whose homes were destroyed in a windstorm in a town called Ladismith.

Resource of the Day: I wrote a piece about finding balance in uncertain times for Kit MagazineCheck it out if that is of interest!