Monday, September 26, 2011

Open Field of Thought

So often we come upon big ticket questions and concerns that seem to have no logical, linear answers. All considered options seem to jam us up even more. Answers (if and when they come) are muddled and all too familiar. It's like we're in a traffic jam of thinking where no thought seems to open up the congestion. 

You know about traffic jams - no way out, can't move out of the position we're in; want to get somewhere but can't; frustration, urgency, annoyance, anger, and even fear kick in.  We might even get desperate and start honking our horn and blaming everyone else for the gridlock we find ourselves in. 

At these moments, I find it helpful to imagine there is an open field of thought just steps away from my traffic jam. 

In this image, I see myself taking a deep in-breath and out-breath - and slowly slipping out from behind the wheel of my overheating car. I leave it idling in the middle of the highway. I abandon all the stuff I've stored under my seats, in my trunk, on the top rack of my car. I fore go obsessing about my highway destination. I just get out and leave it all behind. I glide between all the other cars and LEAP over a fence into a beckoning field.  

The field is serene. No gates, no do not enter or danger signs; just open, lush, rolling, endless calm. This is the field of open possibility of thought; it's my inner zen zone where all the urgency and road rage can fall away. When this happens, I am able to play with options and answers, which had eluded me when I was in my grid locked state of mind. 

Images are powerful. They actually shift the mind from one state of being to another; one mode of processing to another. The fight/flight/freeze (stress response) is interrupted when we push the pause button and divert our focus to an image that supports more ease of thought (relaxation response).

I use the traffic jam metaphor because the notion of interrupting our gridlocked thoughts seems as impossible (and ridiculous) as abandoning an overheated vehicle on the highway. It's a radical idea. It's illogical. But that's the beauty of images; they bypass our logical thinking (left brain, codes information verbally) and release us into a field of intuition and imagination (right brain, processes information visually). 

The image is the thing. The body responds to an imagined reality as if it were the real thing. Neuroscience thrills me with its findings that when the brain creates images, the same parts of the visual cortex are activated as when the eyes process real-world input. Now, that's radical!  The use of calming imagery has been shown to decrease the flow of adrenaline and return the body (even in moments of high stress) to a state of equilibrium. Equilibrium is our home base balance point - where creative problem solving, out of the box brainstorming, and intuitive, spontaneous, radically new and liberating options are wide open and flowing.  

So, my invitation for LEAPING right here, right now - is to think about a life situation that has you dead-ended or gridlocked. Then, close your eyes, take a deep breath in; deep breath out and invite an image to form that gives you a visceral sense of an open field of thought and possibility. Go with whatever comes; don't question it; first image; best image. Then, hang out there and see what happens. Often images will turn into movies (waking dreams/active imagination) and take us (if we are willing) on a journey toward the most LEAPING answers and options possible. 

Monday is a perfect day to spend some time in the reality that we are always in a pure state of potential and the only thing that stops us from new and unimagined (!) possibilities is our own 'do not enter, danger, no playing allowed' signs. 

Let me know where your journey takes you. 

And if I haven't hit you over the head with it enough already....


Monday, September 12, 2011

What Matters The Most

Each morning I reach for a book from the pile stacked high on my bedside table. I'm not sure about you, but I certainly need daily inspiration to fathom what the heck this oftentimes challenging human existence is all about.

I'm basically a cheerful person, yet I also know the depths of confusion and darkness. So - knowing that I will get swept up in my monkey-mind (troubling thoughts swinging from one trouble-tree to the next), I keep a collection of books nearby for those moments when I need an immediate prompt to pause and remember that it is the "little things that make us and how long it takes us to figure out what matters most." (co-opted line from Lori KcKenna's song The Most)

One of my favorite books is Pema Chodron's Comfortable With Uncertainty. This morning this is the passage that kicked my butt big time (in a good way):

Slogan: Be Grateful to Everyone

"Be grateful to everyone is about making peace with the aspects of ourselves that we have rejected. Through doing that, we also make peace with the people we dislike. More to the point, being around people we dislike can be a catalyst for making friends with ourselves.

If we were to make a list of people we don't like - people we find obnoxious, threatening, or worthy of contempt - we would discover much about those aspects of ourselves we can't face. If we were to come up with one word about each of  the troublemakers  in our lives, we would find ourselves with a list of descriptions of our own rejected qualities. We project these onto the outside world. The people who repel us unwittingly show us aspects of ourselves that we find unacceptable, which otherwise we can't see. Traditional lojong (mind-training) teachings say it another way: other people trigger the karma that we haven't worked out. They mirror us and give us the chance to befriend all of that ancient stuff that we carry around like a backpack full of granite boulders.

Be grateful to everyone is a way of saying that we can learn from any situation, especially if we practice this slogan with awareness. The people and situations in our lives can remind us to catch neurosis as neurosis - to see when we've pulled the shades, locked the door, and crawled under the covers."

The reason this passage kicked my butt is that I was in the throes of being extremely annoyed and troubled by another person's behavior. I needed a zen bonk on the head for sure.  As Pema writes - shadow parts are just the parts of ourselves we can't face; and turning our face toward these parts/aspects is the radical directive. Radical because it's not our knee jerk reaction. When our cages get rattled, we usually move seamlessly into some kind of blame/shame dance - either with ourselves or others.

But since it's important for me to walk my talk, I decided not to go that shame/blame route and instead, I turned my face toward that part of myself that was being embodied by the annoying other. I must say, this particular turning toward myself required a screeching, tail-spinning 360 degree turn on a slick, icy road. Yet once out of the spin I came to a shaky rest, face-to-face with a very tender, fearful part of me. Definitely a rejected part. Gradually, as I hung out with this part of me - listening, tending, accepting, integrating - my annoyance was replaced with... yes, here it comes... compassion for both myself and the one whom held my shadow projections.

As with all theories about how we can "befriend all our ancient stuff" - the doing is a bit more daunting then the instruction book indicates. There's usually a reason we've rejected parts of ourselves. Someone along the way probably told us that we should hide those parts away - family, society, religion, some other part of ourselves; it's very crowded and noisy in that place of rejection and exile. We've spent years avoiding our rejected parts; exiled them to a far away junk yard at the end of a seemingly eternal dark road.

On top of it - there are usually bedraggled guard dogs at the rusted gates of our junk yard; they snarl and bark and make us think that there's nothing in there we wanted anyway. It feels safer to turn our faces away; it's natural to want to stay in projection mode. We need compelling evidence that LEAPING into this journey is worth our while. I'm not sure if this is compelling enough evidence - but through all the years of my own inner work and in my vocation of bearing witness to the journey of others -  I have come to know, unequivocally, that what matters most - is to make this journey down that road, through those junk yard gates. While it is not an easy journey, it is one which results in a remarkable sense of freedom from our ancient stuff and contributes to more peaceful, yummy, respectful relationships with others.

That said, I suggest bringing along on your journey - some tasty treats (in the form of gentleness, tenderness, courage) for those guard dogs. These qualities will help you gain entrance. And anyway - those dogs might just be under-appreciated parts of ourselves who are doing their doggie best to protect us from the parts of ourselves that trigger shame/fear. They need some sweet attention too.

Synchronistically, a dear friend of mine recently addressed (in her blog) this idea about courageously turning our faces toward the shadow parts of ourselves, with the goal of befriending and integrating whatever we've cast out. Acceptance and integration are the remedies for projection and, as my friend points out, it is vital to take up the journey of facing our shadow elements, not only for personal reasons but for the healing of our planet.  Do check out her blog - it's well worth the read.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Letters To a Not So Young Poet

Back on the grid after a storm that knocked out our electricity for 7 days.

This morning I'm wading slowly into my normal rhythm of writing and posting. For economies sake, I'm double posting today (FB and Blog). Probably a social media no no - but words want to make it on this page - and the clock is ticking once again in that way that jams up my creative juices.

So, here goes....

Post tropical storm; a forced off the grid retreat; stopped counting the days; settled into reading by candlelight a book I clung to for solace and direction when I was in my teens.

Now at midlife these words still ring true: "... here I feel that there is no one anywhere who can answer those questions and feelings which, in their depths, have a life of their own; for even the most articulate people are unable to help, since what words point to is so very delicate, is almost unsayable."  Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet.

Being without electricity, wifi, social media schedules, a full client load, etc. - slowed me down in a way that astonished me; turned me inward to my deepest questions; those "questions that can make or unmake a life, questions that have patiently waited for you, questions that have no right to go away" (David Whyte, from the poem Sometimes).

When the flow of life is radically altered by unpredictability, fear kicks in; unexpected change enters stage left and announces itself as the main character in this play of life. Yet sometimes, at these moments, something can break open in us; something amazingly fierce and present; something raw, partly formed, "almost unsayable" erupts.

I see these times as a call to listen deeper and more carefully, respond with courage, embrace unexpected change as a comrade, improvise, leap, braille into the unknown.

As always, the bigger the unexpected change; the more loss experienced, the harder it is to actually embrace change as a comrade. I get that. I also get that my loss of electricity was nothing compared to the loss of so many.

Yet I can't help but wonder if these unwanted, vigilantly avoided changes -  are when and where we find our most precious life gifts and comrades.

David says it best:
if you move carefully
through the forest

like the ones
in the old stories

who could cross
a shimmering bed of dry leaves
without a sound,

you come
to a place
whose only task

is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests

conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.

requests to stop what
you are doing right now,

to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it,

that can make
or unmake
a life,

that have patiently
waited for you,

questions that have no right
to go away.

David Whyte from Everything is Waiting for You (2007 Many Rivers Press)

Yes, this is definitely a poem that asks me to KEEP LEAPING!