Friday, February 8, 2019

How to See People WHOLE

My husband says that he thinks I’m pretty darn perfect most of the time (and to be fair, he usually acts like he actually thinks this). Until…He doesn’t.

Every couple of months Tom suddenly expresses a list of gripes about me – most of which I’ve heard before. And so – upset but curious - I ask him, ‘Why don’t you tell me these things as they’re happening, rather than letting them bottle up and then randomly explode?’ He never really has an answer for me.

I, on the other hand, tend to express my frustrations as we go; something many men like to call “nagging”. And yes, it’s usually a repeat gripe (so whose fault it this – mine or his? We may never settle this one, I know…).

So, the reality is, we both have issues with one another at times. Who doesn’t? No matter how much I like and/or love someone, I don’t think any relationship can ever be 100% harmonious. Even my own mother – who says her children “can do no wrong” – is occasionally upset with my brother or me. And that’s just plain real.

Each of us has enlightened/ideal qualities… As well as practical/flawed qualities. If we choose to see just one aspect in someone, it’s eventually going to backfire on the both of us.

I know I’m not the exact same person 24/7, and much of the time I can admit this. Human interactions and communications can be complex and confusing. I don’t even always know why I do what I do or say what I say; although I can at least admit that and keep trying to learn more about myself to help me, myself and I – and friends/family – grow.

Anyway, show me someone you think is ‘perfect’, and chances are you’re idealizing them, are infatuated with them, or actually love their unique blend of hard and soft, dark and light, expected and mysterious behavior. Until for a bit or a long while, it rubs you the wrong way and you think you just can’t take it any longer. Well, welcome to the Real Relationships Club.

Being realistic about our own quirky traits and those of the ones we care about helps us find the compassion it takes to understand, forgive, move on, and hopefully learn something about ourselves along the way. We are then (ideally at least) given the same understanding and respect in return.

[Original Painting by Melanie Noel Light]

Monday, September 10, 2018

Wear Kindness: Self Expression Through Fashion (pt. 1)

We’ve had this dream…

It started out as a vision, and then morphed into conversation…

Now we’re putting our ideas onto paper…

And soon there will be actual plans afoot. But to make that a reality, we need to fully flesh out the vision – our individual visions and collective vision. This is the start of a dream becoming reality.

We’re talking about fashion here and how substantial it can actually be for a quality life.

So why do we dress the way we do; why are we drawn to certain fabrics, colors, jewels, shoes, bags, hairstyles, and other details? Are we even conscious of the “why”? Do we realize how what we wear and how we aesthetically present ourselves affects not only ourselves but those around us, perhaps even the ‘space’ around us?

Often, many of us dress for practicality, although even that can be done with our ‘highest interests’ at heart. (We’ll get into that later). Some of us dress according to our mood – either to match/express it, or shift it into a different gear. Sometimes we don’t have a choice in what we wear – as in a required uniform, etc. – and yet that can inspire us to express another side of ourselves through our wardrobe whenever possible.

Some of us prefer casual comfort while others like more flash, color or bling. And many of us know that ‘dressing for the occasion’ can be a wonderful opportunity to express a certain aspect of ourselves, rather than feeling like a societal-imposed obligation. And that brings us to the realization that fashion is freedom… to those willing enough to walk out on the stage wearing a brave heart on our sleeve.

Click here for more about Wear Kindness~

Friday, August 25, 2017

Burnout – A Life Force Exhausted

Why do we push ourselves to the point of detrimental consequences such as fatigue or exhaustion, anxiety or stress, depression or isolation…? Is it the expectation we feel to act a certain way coming from society, family and friends, work associates, or ourselves?

We aren’t born this way, but it becomes engrained in our psyche. And how many of us stop to question it? Often, it’s an illness or traumatic life event that wakes us up to wondering why we’re accepting a life of stress or exhaustion rather than serenity or fulfillment. In a sense, we’re sometimes forced to free ourselves from the traps of these societal expectations of productivity and busyness.

In my 20s I accepted the “fact” that adult life was going to be fairly cold and hard. My main goal was supposed to be making a living for myself. I was ‘financially scared’ into thinking that should be first and foremost. But a little voice inside of me asked, ‘Where had the wonder gone?’

As I befriended that voice and she helped me hone a vision plus gain courage over the years, the tides began turning. There came a point when I knew I would have to do something radical – and somewhat socially unacceptable at my age – which was quit my job, move to Maine and work in a national park for a summer. What was going to happen afterward? I didn’t know the details; I just knew it was going to be a fresh start based on MY terms and conditions.

“Burnout” is also known as Compassion Fatigue for those who make a living helping others. Stephen Walker’s advice is not to give more than 49%. “Know when and how much to let go,” he says (Perhaps we could all benefit from hearing more from him on this).

“Self Care is important as a remedy,” he also says, “but often there’s a control issue (believing you’re supposed to give 100%, be in control at all times, and are responsible for it all). There’s ego behind it too, tying you to these expectations, but it’s also the work culture in America.”

Then there’s the Retirement Mentality, when you work until you hit the wall, then have to collapse instead of relaxing. Stephen’s advice: “Don’t take it to the limit because it’s just not sustainable.”

Not all burnout is the same. We each have our own “brand” of burnout depending on our lifestyle. Some of us feel overworked or overly stressed, while others feel underwhelmed or uninspired. Like depression and anxiety, they are two sides of the same coin. In fact, it is actually difficult for me to talk about burnout right now because what I am feeling is more like the former: Intermittent bouts of depression and anxiety. It feels more like a societal-lifestyle burnout in that I feel disconnected from the most basic joys of making a life rather than making a living.

For instance, my awareness is extremely heightened about the “carbon footprint” I am leaving behind. What matters most to me – aside from kindred family and friends – is recycling more and “consuming” less, growing my own food and making my own herbs, saving the bees and other endangered species, investing locally and conscientiously, stopping to smell the rosemary each and every day… Basically, living closer to the land while caring deeply for it, not just taking from it. This way of life takes me back to the basics of life. And while it may seem “survivalist”, it feels more along the lines of thriving to me. Even perhaps, thriving from the surviving. Because what do all those societal expectations mean or lead to, anyway? A distraction from our own empowerment? A distraction from the wonders of caring for our own needs? A false belief that a busy life is a truly fulfilling one?

Again, my current burnout may look and feel quite different from yours. But the more you get to know it, the more you get to know yourself and what matters most. Thus, the more you can alter the details/circumstances of your life based on your heart/soul/spirit’s truest longings. A significant door may close behind you, but the views from that newly opened window may be unforgettably majestic.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Garden Diaries (Introduction)

While I’ve always loved nature, I wasn’t all that interested in gardening until my 40s when the concept of helping things grow suddenly seemed a miraculous endeavor. In addition, having daily access at my fingertips to fresh organic food is a component of living a feel-good life for me personally. Sometimes I even feel a hint of fairytale energy with the delicate little white butterflies flitting about, bees buzzing overhead, and squirrels bouncing from tree to tree. Nowadays, if I’m not literally in the garden, I peek out my window to bask in the visual glory of the greenery getting bigger by the day.

For many of us, nature is a spiritual entity, if not a spiritual practice. We might walk and ponder, sit and meditate, or lie back and stargaze. Some of us even tend to the land with hands of magical intent. My friend Farmer Ric, for instance - once a Sacramentan - now runs an organic farm in New Mexico providing clean, nutritious food to locals. This, I consider a high calling nowadays.

Yet not all of us have to take it so far. We are allowed to simply enjoy any semblance of nature we can find, even if we don’t have an intentional practice built around it. But recognizing the symbolism of nature – serenity, abundance, power, cycles – we can also all benefit from the lessons inherent within. And when it comes to Sacred Outdoor Space, a garden is a prime example.

Gardens are symbolic of our own peacefulness and creativity; serenity and peace are themselves Dharma concepts. Can you vividly imagine an inviting outdoor community space in which we can come together?! Can you feel the gentle breeze, hear the crickets, sense the healing powers of nature filling you up?

[Image: Camellia Tree Through Window at Lion's Roar Dharma Center by Melanie Noel Light]

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Tai Chi: Philosophical AND Practical

“Internal martial arts gives you a method of learning to focus awareness and refine sensitivity. The techniques in themselves are not so important--functioning as concepts or points of departure for a deeper discussion of what's really going on in a given interaction. In that sense, the lessons apply to all things.” ~Robert Nakashima, Inner Circle Tai Chi

There is a handful of friendly folks in the room chatting among themselves while they wait for the instructor Robert Nakashima. The ages on this day probably range from bout 30s to 70s, with backgrounds as varied as can be. A tall, older gentleman turns to me and says, “I’m not giving up.” I smile and ask if he’s talking about the class or life, to which he replies, “Both.”

I myself am experiencing some physical discomfort with a pinched sciatic nerve, and wonder how this session will go for me. I know there are others in the room with physical limitations and concerns, and yet we’ve all shown up.

Robert appears as his usual welcoming and upbeat self, and the class begins without much ado. I notice that the energy in the space is calming and on the quiet side, and I am surprised at how quickly I feel relaxation. Robert’s teaching style is casual and often humorous as he weaves philosophy and practical instruction like golden thread through the silence. It is anything but deafening, however, as there is occasional banter between participants and instructor, and some questions here and there as well.
Today, it’s all about spiraling energy, opposites balancing, and connecting the body in fluid movements. It’s about recognizing that moment when all is one… while continuing to move through it. Again and again.

“A tiny bit of motion gets a lot of tissue moving,” Robert says. “There’s tremendous power in gentleness because you’re directing your energy… (but) you don’t have to over-think it. This way it’s more meditative and relaxing.” And beneficial, not to mention. “Tai Chi can strengthen organs, making tissues more flexible and increasing oxygen in the body, thus energizing it.”

Toward the end of the hour I am so relaxed I could easily fall into a deep sleep, and yet I’m somehow also eager to tackle the rest of my day. I want to ask Robert about doing Tai Chi with an injury but he reads my mind, talking about modifying the intensity of the movements to fit your current level of flexibility or ability. And I realize that’s exactly what I have done.

“The Chi knows what to do,” Robert says. “We just have to be open to letting it.”

After we perform the ritual closing moves, Robert turns to the tall, older gentleman. “How was that? Was that too much standing?”
“No. I could hardly stand when I came in,” he responds. “Now I feel great.”

Robert’s Tai Chi/Qigong classes are suitable for those of all ages and experience levels, as well as people with disabilities. Classes are taught Tuesdays at noon at Lion’s Roar Dharma Center. Call 916.492.9007 for more information or visit our website:

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Man, the Myth, the Legend... The Role Model

His name was Bob. He was a devoted husband, supportive father, successful businessman, and steadfast friend. But in the end, no matter the role he played in each of our lives, he was one thing to all of us: An inspiration.

I hadn’t seen Bob in about 6 years, but he always felt like family. So when I took a trip to Palm Desert this past December for his memorial service, I wasn’t prepared for the impact it would have on me.

When I heard of my friend’s father’s passing, I immediately tried to get in contact with her. Because it was her dad, and I knew how it felt to lose one at a relatively young age. Because I knew how close the family was. And because it was Bob – this warm, jovial, fun-loving father-figure who had always made me feel welcomed and loved. And because I suddenly realized how fortunate my longtime friend was to have had this man at the center of her life.

Now sitting amongst the crowd in the funeral home, I really began to feel the weight of the loss. There was a wife, three grown children and a gaggle of grandkids; a mother, sister, aunts, uncles, cousins, and countless friends – who like me - were always made to feel like family. I just hadn’t realized until that moment what a gift that truly was.

As we waited for the service to begin and streams of family and friends drifted in, I turned to my mom and asked her if Bob had had any faults. It seemed a silly question, and yet it was an honest one. I mean, of course Bob was human just like the rest of us. But maybe he was even more human than the rest of us, in a way that somehow elevated him to a higher spiritual plane… Mom replied that she didn’t know any of Bob’s faults offhand, and was in agreement that he had surely done something right in this lifetime.

Bob did have a strong faith, as did the entire family, but it was a quiet thread that gave them strength when they needed it and held them firmly together all those years – something I’d never quite mastered. I really can’t pretend to know the formula Bob used to design his life, except that it seemed a simple, poignant one: Work hard, play well, love even better.

The bonds between the family members (that were also always extended to family friends) were forged upon something invisible but powerful, something not all of us hold so dear or are perhaps just not gifted with in such a significant, obvious way. And I couldn’t help but feel I have been missing something profound all my life, something Bob utilized like a master.

Did he know the most important lesson of all? Was he just purer of heart? Unfettered by mental clutter? Unwavering in a certain faith in life? Did he know something that most of us do not?

It wasn’t just me who was somewhat baffled by Bob’s being-ness. Even some of Bob’s older friends recognized the elevation of Bob’s existence as someone who, even after death, is an inspiration to… well, be a little more like Bob.

Loving. Fun. Embracing. Laughing. And somehow knowing that what matters most is how we make others feel.

Somewhere within the beauty of eternity there is a new guardian rooting for all mankind. I call him Saint Bob.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

MASSAGE: From Physical Presence to Magical Realm

"If I am able to lie down in comfort, feeling the physical sensations of relief and healing, my consciousness is also able to float up into a more spiritual-feeling space of timelessness and pure potential."

When I had my first massage, I felt gentle tingling sensations throughout my body that at the time I would have described as “magical”. ‘I could easily get addicted to this feeling,’ I thought, but wondered if there was any real physical benefit to massage. I was doubtful, and yet still hopeful. Decades later, I now know that massage is not only beneficial to both the inner and outer workings of the body, it can help with emotional healing as well. But there’s one more rather secretive benefit of massage: A deeper connection to something greater than myself.

Now, no two massages are going to be exactly alike and each massage therapist is going to have a different technique and bring different energy to the table. Even your mental and physical states are going to vary, causing your needs – and thus each experiences - to vary. Still, there are certain constants I find occurring with massage therapy. Such as, if each time I commit to trusting the therapist and to allowing myself to relax as fully as possible into the situation, I will experience profound holistic benefits. I will also usually thoroughly enjoy the experience itself.

Why do I say “usually”? Well, there are certain factors that can prevent me from getting as much out of massage as I’d like. For instance, talking; too much deep tissue work; or other situational distractions/discomforts. Let me explain further.

Talking. While I love chatting with people and getting to know them, this distracts me from truly deep relaxation. It keeps me out of the magical realm that massage can so easily open. If I am able to lie down in comfort, feeling the physical sensations of relief and healing, my consciousness is also able to float up into a more spiritual-feeling space of timelessness and pure potential.

Too much deep tissue work. If the massage is painful in any way, my body tenses up, preventing me from transcending it. This is not to say that deep tissue work can’t be quite beneficial, but people disagree about how much discomfort should be inherent in the process. I’ve had deep tissue work done that didn’t hurt; so knowing this exists, why would I choose pain?

Other situational distractions/discomforts. If I am too hot or too cold, this is going to detract from the pleasantness of the experience, thus making me less comfortable and less able to relax into the process. If there is a yelping dog in the other room (and this has happened before), my heartstrings are going to be pulled toward it and away from my own transformational feelings. If I am self-conscious about not having shaved my legs, I am going to be mentally bogged down by that trivial concern. And yet since this is really so much more than a “situational distraction/discomfort”, let’s consider it a little further.

Self-conscious feelings of shame/embarrassment. If I haven’t shaved my legs that day, I am assuming that the therapist is going to be disgusted by this. But wait a minute. “Disgusted”? That’s a strong word for something so insignificant. How about an acne breakout, body odor, excess weight? And we haven’t even touched upon the more damaging internal reasons for feeling we need to feel this shame or embarrassment in the first place. Never mind what excuse we’re using for feeling this way, we are essentially feeling unworthy.

Sometimes it’s the little things that help us become aware of the big ones. Why would I feel so bad about not shaving my legs? Do I honestly think the therapist cares or even notices? It’s much more likely that there is a part of me feeling unworthy because (I feel) I am imperfect. So perhaps I have some perfection issues to tend to...

See how beneficial massage therapy can be?! It can help reveal hidden insecurities, whether physical or emotional (or both). And shining a light on these subconscious processes can help us transcend to the magical realm where healing is quite simple, and still profound.

Or, you could just lay back and enjoy the experience of your body being pampered. If you can do that, I'd say you’re already in a pretty good place.

[We now offer massage services at Middle Way Health. For more, read about Jill Kerrigan HERE.]