BodyMindSpiritEarth

I had a realization at the close of yoga class, while resting in savasana (corpse pose), eyes falling back into their sockets, head heavy on the mat. It’s just this: I have a skull.

Oh I knew that of course. In theory. But it’s weird to think of this thing—used as symbol for poison, or to provoke ghoulish fright, the bony remains of a human—being embedded under my skin RIGHT NOW.

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Photo by Kate Bunker, via Flicker Creative Commons

Maybe this is not so revelatory for you. Well, I’m the girl who recently discovered, to my amazement, that the bones of my pelvis start way higher at my sides than I had previously pictured. When I thought “pelvis,” I thought “sex organs.” I thought “hips.” I didn’t think “bony parts at my waist just a few inches below my ribcage.”

In this level of bodily cluelessness, I may be unusual, but I think not. Do we really know what goes on under our skin? Do we key into the intelligence of our organs all working together, our blood flowing, our skeletons? Do we connect to the slime and gore of our insides, cached away under the outer layer that meets the world?

It’s easy to forget all that stuff, in an age where we think a whole lot. We can end up experiencing ourselves as brains on a stick, using the body to move the big brain from here to there. This brain that will save the day! (That’s working great for humanity so far, as our “progress” continues to wipe out species and their habitat at unprecedented rates.)

On the other hand, in spiritual development circles, we experience ourselves as bigger-than-brain, as soul or Higher Self, and we know that we go on beyond the body and the body is just dust and ashes.

I submit that this laudable idea can be just as alienating, even dangerous, as the big brain idea.

Of course we are our intellectual capacity; humanity makes incredible use (and misuse) of our curiosity, our capacity for logic, and our problem-solving prowess.

Of course we are our souls; that bigger perspective feeds many a spiritual seeker, including myself.

But the bones, the blood, the viscera—they have their own story to tell, and they don’t just exist to tote us from problem-solving puzzle to enlightened insight. Divorced from the body, the mind is imbalanced, the soul unmoored.

The energy within the body IS us. The blood moves, heart beats, bones/muscles/organs support each other in an integrated system that boggles the mind AND spirit.

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Photo by Marco De Stabile, via Flickr Creative Commons

I am not a mind. I am not a spirit. Not only these. I am a bodymindspirit. I come to practices like yoga and qi gong because I want to experience myself as all three, integrated and invincible.

Like most of us I’m good at neglecting this body. I push it past fatigue, I feed it poor fuel, I ask it to digest too much too fast, I wish it would just sit down and shut up so I can do my real work, but what if my real work is…a dance? A prayer-in-motion?

What if my real work is to sink back into this body that is part of the earth, that needs me to care for it in a deep and loving way?

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What if, by disowning the body’s “ugly” innards, and ignoring its whispers and clues and shouts and cries, I’m only contributing to the disregard of our precious earth’s wisdom?

That’s the bigger picture: bodymindspiritearth. Could I experience myself as all four integrated, and what would that look like?

What dance would I offer then?

The Importance of Embracing Earnest

I’d like to praise the amateurs out there. The earnest beginners, the ones who dare to create something they’ve never tried before, who risk falling flat, who most certainly fail.

This is all of us, at some time or in some area of our lives. At least, I hope so.

I guess it is hip to be snarky and removed, to know everything already, to mock the earnest. Let me reveal my age, perhaps, by declaring this: Snark is the language of fear. When I use it myself, I feel a brief charge of satisfaction, then deflation. It hides what’s truest in me.

But there’s courage in earnestness—in daring to be a newbie or a total geek. Maybe it’s a gift of midlife (or a gift of the Midwest), but I have come to the conclusion that amateurish enthusiasm is endearing in self and others. I appreciate quality, but I don’t want to stop myself from leaping into the ring by focusing on quality alone. I want to be in the game, not standing on the sidelines.

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I have never seen artifice in my “Earnestina.”

I found a recent local production of Radium Girls to be refreshingly earnest. Community theatre is like that, people putting their hearts into collective art, allowing their neighbors, friends and family to see them in a different light, embodying all kinds of ugly and beautiful things that reflect us back to ourselves to make us think and feel.

This was an amateur production, made powerful by the actors’ passion.

Other recent examples come to mind. An octogenarian friend printed his own chapbook to share the wisdom he’s gained in 80 years. A folk musician came to my St. Patrick’s Day yoga class and performed ballads he’d written himself. A handful of women gathered for an EmbodieDance experience to move our bodies and express our spirits.

Countless others in my circle ply their creativity in poems, paintings, gardens, improv, photography, dance, textiles and more.

We may be experts or we may be newbies, and we may be more or less devoted to craft, but we all do our thing imperfectly, humanly.

Earnest people inspire me. Especially as I embark on the Tim Clare podcast Couch to 80K, a series of writing exercises in search of the Novel Within. It’s a relief to know that my initial (earnest!) efforts will be “amateurish.” To expect it.

See, I’ve stopped thinking of amateur as a bad word. I strive to be professional in my commitment, but I’ll be less lofty, more amateurish, if that means I’m all in—flubs and all.

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Nature is art. And what’s more earnest than a honeybee?

Creativity belongs to everyone. The word “art” shouldn’t be reserved for the museum or the canon. (I think of a visual artist friend who created a marvelous pictorial history of my neighborhood. Painting it on a signal box on a busy street corner, she often had people stop to admire her work. One impressed young boy told her, “You could be an artist!”)

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What my friend painted on a signal box

I’d love for that boy to understand that artmaking capacity belongs to everyone. To see this neighbor as artist, and honor her bravery, and take inspiration for his own self-expression.

The earnest artist says, This matters, at least to me. This is what I see. This is how I see.

And we’re all the richer for it.

Galloping

As a child, I cultivated an obsession with horses. I read every book written for horse-crazy girls. I imagined myself as a horse (or on the back of one) to pass the time on long car trips. A city kid, I rode whenever I could: on my uncle’s horses in Ohio, my cousin’s horse in Pennsylvania, the horses at Girl Scout camp.

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Here I am with my brother and one of my cousins on my late uncle’s horse in Ohio. Heaven!

Often these were plodding rides, but what I remember best are the times I let my horse run. Looking back, I can see that the galloping horse became a motif in my life.

At camp one summer, we were cantering along in the woods happy as could be when a branch swiped the glasses right off my head, leaving me blind the rest of the ride.

Another time, I fell off runaway Thunder, my cousin’s horse, and broke my wrist.

In my 20s there was an exhilarating trail ride through the New Mexico desert, just me and Judy and two cowboys, scaling ridges at top speed, galloping through arroyos. Somewhere there’s a photo of the two of us on top of our horses, with the blue New Mexico sky behind.

Then at age 32, I fell off a state park horse. This sent me spiraling into a health crisis that took years to resolve.

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Horse happens to be my “sign” in the Chinese zodiac, something I found out as an exultant preteen. The Chinese restaurant’s placemat said so.

I forgot about this for a while, or discounted its significance. But recently I learned that not only am I a horse, I’m a fire horse born in a yang year (vs. yin year). Signifying great power and energy, coupled with an adventuresome and headstrong nature.

Also signifying something historically unwanted. Fertility dropped in parts of Asia in my birth year, 1966, because no one wanted to bring a girl-child in that would embody the power of that sign. While men embodying the power of the sign were lauded as leaders—go figure!—the women were reputed to be rebellious, bitchy sorts who henpeck their husbands to an early grave. (I’ll leave it to my spouse to say yes or no to this stereotype.)

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I bought this jade horse in China a few years ago, without knowing I was a FIRE horse.

“How to rein in that spirited animal?” was the question troubling potential parents (and mates) of fire horse girls born in yang years.

I’ll tell you how, in my case. You give the 1966 baby a lower-than-average level of inherited qi, or life force. TCM posits that we are born a certain amount of qi which is our base, which can be used up (and usually is by the time a woman reaches 49). Yikes.

So if you start off with less, as I did, you have to learn how to marshal and save your qi—and acquire more qi.

I have not always been great at conserving my own energy. But life has shown me the importance of that. Falling off a horse taught me that.

Meantime, the impulse to run like crazy, to learn it all, try it all—I see now that this might be the fire horse wanting to gallop. I’m learning to acquire more qi* so I can follow these impulses!

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I’ve always been driven, but it seems like it would do me good to act more like a fire horse born in a yang year, now that I know this dimension of myself. Even if my adventures are mostly on the page or in plumbing the depths of the human soul.

And rebelliousness? The funny thing is that while I have always embraced a certain, shall we say, intensity, I also saw myself as rather meek, passive, and compliant.

But meanwhile a secret rebellion simmered inside.

When I was 21, a mentor said he appreciated my reformist spirit. Perhaps my rebellion was less secret than I thought.

And perhaps I rebel daily through the way I live, rebuking some of the edicts of society, like “you must climb the ladder” and “you must buy all the gadgets and live in the biggest house you can afford” and “you must only look at the material world when making sense of things.”

In such a society, even the act of tuning in to my own sensations, reflections, and inner knowing constitutes rebellion.

So if you see me sitting still and looking contemplative, I just might be galloping!

*Through the Dragon’s Way program, locally taught by Melissa Laborsky, MD. Highly recommended!

Resonance

On the cusp of a “new year,” what shall we plan to create? I have a love-hate relationship with the cheerleadery “new year/new you” notion that’s so rampant. So much promise! So much pressure to do/be better/more this year!

I like the reflections my yoga teacher brought to class this past week. She turned the focus from goals to intentions, and asked how we wanted to be in the new year.

So a better question than “What’s your New Year’s resolution?” might be “How do you want to show up in 2019, for yourself, for your community, for the world?”

Resolutions generally involve some measure of force. We must deny ourselves something, or push ourselves to do something. But if we choose a state of being to guide behavior, positive actions flow naturally from that intention.

Not that we won’t fall short. But we can return to the intention time and again, while resolutions go out to the curb with the crumpled-up wrapping paper.

For me, it’s helpful to choose a word to encapsulate my focus for the year. This year’s theme was alignment. Last year’s, transformation. For 2019, it feels like the word resonance has chosen me.

I’m intending to sink into who I am, resonate my soul’s essence, and bring that resonance to any interaction. (Always holding this gently, with the caveats when I remember, when I can…knowing that this might be more often than I expect.)

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“One of the interesting qualities of being human is, by the look of it, we’re the only part of creation that can actually refuse be to be ourselves. And as far as I can see, there’s no other part of the world that can do that. The cloud is the cloud, the mountain is the mountain, the tree is the tree, the hawk is the hawk.” –David Whyte

The poet-philosopher David Whyte nails it when he says humans are the only part of nature capable of refusing to be what we are. We are so adept at pretending to be something other-than-us, we can even come to believe that we are that thing we’re pretending to be.

I’ve been down that route and it doesn’t work well for my constitution. In this second half-century of my life, I’m over fakery.

It’s chancy to show up. To be fully human is to be vulnerable. It means experiencing pain and loss and doing the best I can with it. It means risking exposure and shame. And risking deep joy and connection as well.

When I look up resonance, I find several definitions:

1. The state or quality of being resonant (resounding or echoing, as sounds: the resonant thundering of cannons being fired.)
2. the prolongation of sound by reflection; reverberation.
3. Phonetics: amplification of the range of audibility of any source of speech sounds… (more)
4. Physics: the state of a system in which an abnormally large vibration is produced in response to an external stimulus, occurring when the frequency of the stimulus is the same, or nearly the same, as the natural vibration frequency of the system.

So it’s about sound, speech, words, but also vibration.

I find it interesting that there is a scientific phenomenon (if I understand the physics definition) by which vibration appears to be amplified when frequencies align or nearly align.

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WinterLights 2018 at Newfields

Something to try, if you like: Walk into any group of people and resonate your truest being. You may be invisible to some who are not on your wavelength. No matter. Who sees you? Who finds you? You are drawing your people based on your vibration.

You are also, I believe, shifting the overall frequency in subtle ways, making it easier for others to resonate who they are as well. To show up as yourself is a daring act and might tempt others to reveal more of themselves than they would otherwise.

You are reverberating, resounding, perhaps at a frequency beyond the capacity of human ears to hear, but make no mistake: the effect is real.

Here’s to a soul-resonant new year.

Three Hours North

I was born the same year as the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

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Oh of course, we both were in existence long before this birth, but 1966 was when our current recognized incarnation began: When my soul consolidated into this body, and the Dunes were designated as National Lakeshore.

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I’m only three hours south of this incredible place, something I allowed myself to forget for way too long. Recently we became reacquainted. Exploring the trails and shores for a couple days, I felt restored.

Walking the beach you might see trees pressing down across the sand and into the water. The brushy ones make it look like you can’t get past, till you arrive and find: Here you can walk under the tree, or here you can go up higher on the sand, or here just hoist yourself over. Or go a little deeper than you mean to, out in the water.

Or here maybe you just want to savor standing on a downed tree and feeling its smooth skin with your feet. The water doing its dauntless polishing, tempting a toe.

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To the east or west from the beaches lie the trappings of industry. Lakeshore and I were both born under the shadow of human folly, which continues still to this day.

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But there is peace even in the smokestacked encroached-upon existence. (Not-so-fun fact: Lead pollution, like that of the steel mill described here, fed into my health problems a dozen years ago, when high levels of both lead and mercury were found in my body.)

Still: These waves. Their power feels truer than anything. Sitting here you can’t hear industry, you can’t hear vehicular hum, or any of the ubiquitous noises of civilization that just.never.stop.

The waves are like breaths—sometimes slowing, sometimes racing each other but constant, the sound of moist, fluid, rhythmic life. Every single wave and breath its own experience.

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The answers are within, say the sages. Sit still long enough and you will find your answer. Or at least find a newer more pregnant more potent version of the question.

Sit still long enough and you contact something like eternity, the thing that goes on long before and long after this small understanding of a life.

Healers for the Culture

After yesterday’s proceedings, I passed a bad night, my body tensed as if against physical blows. To be a woman in this culture is to know that at any moment your body might be violated, and your voice dismissed.

Back in college, I remember a women’s studies professor saying something like: “If you take a man and a woman and strip them of all status, till they’re homeless on the street, the man will still be in a more privileged and protected position than the woman, just by virtue of his gender. He’d have to wear a sign that says, ‘Don’t take anything I say seriously,’ to even come close to her experience, and even then….”

Angry? Yes. Scared and sad too. A bad night.

I realize that this is nothing new to people who are less insulated by the things that usually cushion me from our culture’s violence. My race and class, my monogamy, my savings account—all these mitigate the full impact, even as a lesbian woman, of hatred of the “other.” So when I dip into this space, I know that I am just tasting a hint of the animosity that others swim in every day.

A woman-hating culture is a racist culture. Is a transphobic, ecocidal, xenophobic, heterosexist culture.

I write these words and stop to read them. I am part of the culture. People create the culture. I create the culture. My actions, thoughts, words form the story we live by. What do I choose? I choose otherwise.

In search of sustenance I take my dog for our usual morning walk on the golf course. I am one of the privileged who can walk at dawn in relative safety—my skin color (if not my gender) ensuring that I won’t be targeted for being in the wrong place, potentially risking my life.

The sun comes up and lights steam rising from the creek. A heron flies through my field of vision. My bleary eyes open to the beauty of a sycamore.

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A few clover plants bloom at my feet despite the groundskeepers’ daily efforts to maintain a monoculture of turf.

I’m looking at you, clover. They try to cut you down, chemicalize you out of existence. They say you don’t belong in this white-boys’ club. Yet you persist. And I see your sisters there with you. You’re not alone.

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Further on a small colony of mushrooms pushes up, also defying the chemical onslaught and furious mowing that are business as usual here. This fruiting body is just the part of the organism that we see. The mycelium under the earth may be in mysterious communication with nearby trees, according to Michael Pollan. Trading nutrients.

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I see you, fungi, and I thank you.

Leaning against a big hackberry tree, I can finally take in a deep breath, and think about what I want to create.

Let us find ways to nourish each other, recognizing that we are not alone in the pain being wrought these days. Let us seek underground communicative pathways inaccessible to those rolling along on the surface, blithely reaping the benefits of inequity and exploitation.

Let our outrage/fear/grief lend itself to deep listening and empathy, as we imagine ourselves as each other—whether that be a different race, immigrant experience, or a different life path altogether. Or even a different species. We are not alone on this planet, threatened by destructive rules made by men drunk with greed.

Let us be healers for each other, through our listening, and healers for our fractured culture, through our words and deeds. Because a culture built on other-hatred cannot stand. Its failure is assured, one way or another. How it fails is ultimately up to us.

Letting the Carapace Go

In San Diego I learned about sheep crabs, the largest California spider crab and impressive as can be, with a knobbily bluish shell.

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Photo by Eva Funderburgh, via Flickr Creative Commons

I learned that crustaceans molt several times over their lifespan: backing out of their carapace after first growing a soft new shell. They pull water into the new shell to expand it to allow for growth. It soon hardens and they go on their merry way in this roomier carapace (until it, in turn, becomes too cramped).

I’ve been taken with this image, thinking: What if we, too, could back out of our shells and emerge with a new watery skin? Though extending the metaphor requires a shell to harden, the expansion is what intrigues me.

We have the power to expand beyond what we think is possible. (And maybe we can be different from crustaceans, and choose to retain that soft, wet outer skin, instead of armoring up.)

What if the world, itself, could molt like that? What if it is in the process of molting right now? I use “world” here to mean consciousness, the stories that guide us, the collective agreements we have all upheld.

Can we make way for something that has yet to take its full form but that gives room for all of us to grow into the fullness of who we are?

In that personal and collective growth, we can look clearly at the shell of what is passing away. Perhaps it protected us, for a time. Or some of us anyway—those who have been privileged enough to be considered normative through race, gender, orientation, etc.

But: It’s time. We don’t have to buy into a story that makes no sense anymore.

We don’t have to agree to a dominant (but dying) cultural myth that diminishes someone else to make ME bigger. We don’t have to purchase (literally) the trappings of a culture that relies on what amounts to slave labor and massive inequity. We don’t have to buy into oppression, exploitation, racism, fear, war.

What if we all just walked away from that old defunct thing, just backed on out and moseyed on our happy way with something much softer surrounding us?

It isn’t easy, I’m not saying that—we white people in particular feel safe in our habits, in our business-as-usual. And the sweep of change encounters tremendous resistance in the form of the nation’s leadership (as Michelle Alexander brilliantly writes in her New York Times Op Ed today). But in the immortal words of Arundhati Roy:

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

To get quiet enough to feel the newness beckon, that feels crucial. To allow the call of the new to bolster us as we get out from under the old.

For me, this exploration lends itself to a simple inquiry: What can I let go of in this moment? Maybe it’s a breath I’ve been holding, a grip in my eyeballs, a resentment, a knee-jerk defensiveness, a fear of speaking up… or a habitual dissing and dismissing of whatever I need to feel, as emotion washes through me.

Acknowledging, allowing, and melting any rigidity… That is where I want to place my attention this first day of autumn, and in the coming season of letting go.

What about you: How do you conceive of the old constrictive shell, whether for yourself or the world? Can you envision a new, slippery, softer shell? What you would like to fill it with as you create more spaciousness?

In backing out from under the carapace, we join countless others in an expansion that can’t be stopped.