Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Family Foundations

Family. It can be a heart-warming word or it can be a sore subject. Whether you’re close with your family, avoid them, or have no living relatives, it’s still a loaded topic; it still affects you one way or another.

I had a friend who had one of the most dysfunctional families I’d ever seen, and they couldn’t get enough of each other. My family has always been pretty loving, but not all that tight-knit. My husband and I are starting our own “family” in a sense by blending his and mine. This includes family members, differing expectations and different experiences that have shaped who we are today. So we’re not just mixing people; we’re bringing all of our family experiences from the past to the table.

If you want to get to know someone better, ask about their family. If you want to let others know you more intimately, tell them about yours. While our family experiences don’t have to define us in entirety, none of us are immune to our family dynamics. “You’ll find out more about a person by asking about their family than asking about their spiritual insights,” Lama Jinpa says. “By asking about one’s family, you’re showing that you care, but you can also glean a great deal from someone’s interactions with or thoughts on their family,” he adds. "It’s natural. Even the Buddha had family issues.”

Sometimes people don’t want to talk about their family because they’re embarrassed, deeply wounded, or are afraid of revealing weaknesses in their own character. It shouldn’t really be about blaming, although we all fear hearing this sort of criticism, don’t we? We may be blaming ourselves or blaming anyone but ourselves, but it’s more about gaining insight into why the challenges exist and how we react to them. Are we aware of the role we play in our" family dynamics?

Whether we instigated something, reacted in a way that fueled the flame or feel innocent regarding an ordeal, can we see the big picture and can we put it in perspective? Or are we holding grudges or living in denial about some aspect of our relationships? “Generally the family is still alive inside us, even if they’re gone,” Lama la says. “The family stories don’t go away.” Our past or present family experiences affect us more than we realize.

“So often we think of our spirituality just in terms of special moments, but it can be difficult to really immerse in a good spiritual practice when someone is still pissed off or wounded by one’s family.” At times we all want to imagine that we’re separate from our family, but we have to admit that we’re never entirely separate from them.

Have you ever been gathered around the family dinner table, engaged and aware of the big picture? Kind of like meditation, you’re in it and observing it at the same time. This is how you exert some control and separateness (even if just for your own sanity). This is how you say to yourself, ‘Ok, here I am as part of the family, and here I am separate from it.’ You can choose to leave the family dinner table, but you can’t ever fully take the family out of the individual. “You’re always an individual and you’re always part of the context at the same time,” Lama la says. Seeing this helps us find the balance that enables us to manage sometimes-difficult relations. And then the bigger question becomes, ‘Where are we really coming from and how are we living now?’

Blended families are extremely common these days, and they can help us see things from a different perspective. One family unit breaks apart, another is created, and we are one of the common denominators. So these experiences can create character if we learn from them. We can forge new connections and interactions, and learn to more clearly see the big picture (which isn’t all about us).

Family should provide a sort of support for all its members. So is the safety net beneath you supporting you? Or are you enmeshed in it, feeling trapped? Sometimes, we get a little of both. But if we relate to one feeling much more than the other, this insight can shed much needed light on the state of our current lives.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Power of the Occassional “No”

How much is living a pleasant life our own responsibility? When things don’t go so well - and there seems to be a swarm of things not going so well - do we blame all the outside influences for this, not realizing how we may be inviting these things in?

When things aren’t going great or going our way, we tend to feel rather crappy about life. That’s a fairly natural reaction to un-pleasantries. But what we might have missed, however, is the fact that we were already feeling off about something; we just weren’t aware enough or didn’t stop long enough to examine why.

Say someone I work with is causing me a lot of angst, and yet I keep on working with them, keep on interacting the way I always do. Naturally, if my interaction with them remains the same, and their responses remain the same, then I’m going to keep getting the same results, i.e. me ultimately feeling anxious or stressed.

But what this initial bad feeling is telling me is that I am part of the equation. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m part of the problem, but it does mean that I have some control over the situation. If I keep putting up with some difficult person who brings unnecessary stress to my life, then in allowing it and them to remain in my life, I’m failing to take responsibility for my own peace of mind.

Sure, there are times when we can’t avoid conflict and have to work through it. Then that’s what we have to do – face it, do our best to work through it and not take it so personally. But if the situation (or person) refuses to change and we must endure a significant amount of stress because of it, how much worth does it actually hold? That’s a personal decision we must each make when faced with similar situations.

There are, however, plenty of ongoing interactions in our lives that we have significant control over, and we can basically decide to just let them go. For when we don’t – say we keep working with this client just for the money or out of habit while our sanity is cracking under the pressure – then we are the ones responsible for letting the misery in. Often, we just need to really see the situation for what it is, stand back and evaluate it with a clear head, and then make the most harmonious decision possible. Stop, check for acute or chonic stress, re-frame big picture, draw boundaries with favorite Crayolas this time.

A while back we wrote a blog entry about just saying “Yes” to life. It’s a wonderful concept we still stand by. But when something isn’t feeling right in our lives, this means the balance is off. Maybe a little bit of “No” in the right places can cure it. We all have a right to say no to things that do not serve us well. If you do it without dishonor for them and out of respect for yourself, saying no to an icky-feeling recurring situation… Well, goodness... it’s almost as if you were on the brink of creating a mighty fine life for yourself, one pretty darn-conscious decision at a time.

Monday, October 31, 2011

It’s the Little Things that Create the Big Ones

While many of us are struggling to “survive” during these dynamic, tumultuous times, I think that more than ever we need to grasp the wonder and the richness of simplicity. Basically, boiling our lives down to what matters most to each of us will help our perspective – and priorities – shift to a more manageable place. Trying to have or do it all might just be too ambitious at times, and that pressure alone could be just what’s ailing us.

I recently read that what one average Joe typically does in a day is enough to exhaust the otherworldly beings watching over us. That concept made me stop to consider it and my own ways… Do I frequently applaud myself for getting out of bed in the morning, giving something – anything – my best shot, smiling at a stranger, and being present enough to avoid that indecisive squirrel in the road? Or do I mentally beat myself up for not doing enough? Truth be told – and I doubt I’m alone on this – it’s more often the latter. But what if what we’re doing is enough? What if it’s plenty, or even admirable to beings watching from afar (say, a distant galaxy or couch, for instance)?!

And what if, instead of giving up and being lazy, we’re flat out trying too hard and actually doing less? For example, we’re being inefficient with our efforts because we’re constantly berating ourselves for not doing whatever we are doing well enough… Well, that emotional energy is totally being wasted, and we’re probably pretty exhausted from it. Our other options are to stop worrying already, or just focus on something and do the best we can, come what may.

So lately, instead of hyper-focusing on what I didn’t do, I’ve been going through the motions of patting myself on the back for what I did do. I just journal a few notes a day about what I accomplished, no matter how insignificant or trivial seeming: “Did the dishes, answered the phone, breathed through my anxiety, gave a $1 to the Veteran’s Fund, organized project X notes, etc.” And you know what? That little bit of self-acknowledgment really does help me feel better about the scheme of things in my life. And the “little things” I accomplished? They set me up for where I am today: hitting the pavement on project X running.

So when you think about how ‘It’s the little things in life that count,’ well, you stop under-estimating them and begin letting them exist as if they were the real events in your life.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Exploring Life’s Black Holes

What are the blockages, the reasons for not falling in love with another, for not falling in love with life, for not falling in love with oneself? If we let our own flaws block our self-love, we may also allow others’ flaws to drown out the love we have for them. And the same goes for life. But are we aware that we’re doing this? Probably not. The truth is that things will haunt us in subtle, small or big ways if we don’t turn to face the villains in our sleeping and waking nightmares. But what happens when we’re the villain?

Unless someone is literally trying to harm us, making them the bad guy, the experience negative, or the fault always someone else’s is not a productive, proactive way to live. But we do the opposite, too, by personalizing every little thing that happens and blaming ourselves for all the imperfections of our relationships, career failures, financial situations, etc. Yes, we have to take responsibility for our actions pertaining to all situations facing us… No, we can’t control the outcomes to these actions, however. The acceptance and calmness we seek is in between these two.

Can you be the perfect mate, perfect employee, perfect parent and perfect friend at all once? Ha, try being the perfect any one thing and see how that works out for you. But can we do the best with what we have to work with? Yes. And that alone may be the highest good anyone can do in a lifetime.

There are slackers, those who won’t take any responsibility for their lives – and there are hyper achievers, those who are never satisfied with their efforts, the results, the actions of others, or their life in general. Letting ourselves be real – flawed without letting those flaws overtake us – is a great gift to oneself. Just as we love our children, pets and partners unconditionally, we can do the same for ourselves. This doesn’t mean we don’t try to teach our children to be decent people, our pets to pee where they’re supposed to, or our spouses to believe in themselves. There’s just always a gentle balance - say, a grace - to living a life of love without excessive ego.

Everything that happens in life – it all matters, but it’s not the be-all-end-all. We have a bad day because of someone else or we let ourselves feel shame for something we did… The best we can do is explore the situation or feeling, do something to rectify it if possible, put it in a healthy perspective, and then awaken the next morning having forgiven (whether another or ourselves). It’s a challenge to live honestly and humbly while building confidence and courage at the same time. I think this is what they call character. And the fact that you got out of bed this morning sandwiched between the absurdity and divinity of being human is just one more positive step.

Keep rising and shining!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

To Be Empowered or Just To Be

Mind, Body, Spirit, Soul… Parent, Child, Student, Coach… Work, Relationships, Community, Self… Home phone, Cell phone, Pager, Email… Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Blogger… How do we work with all the aspects of our lives and bring them harmoniously together without feeling fractioned off or buried beneath? How do we make sense of things when they seem to be floating around us haphazardly? How do we see the forest when they’re chopping down the trees? How is it that the more we know, the less we know we know?

With more options come more freedoms, right? With more awareness comes a deeper peace, correct? And with more at our disposal means more manageability, wouldn’t you say? Then why does is not always feel that way? Why does it sometimes feel that in the pursuit of simplicity and authenticity we’re making our lives more complex?

I read recently that human beings are great at making simple things complex. I believe this to be true – because I seem to do it myself - but I wonder why it might be so. Is the complex web we weave just clutter and extraneous stuff not serving us? And is there a way to de-program this default of making things harder than they have to be? Like daily affirmations and yoga stretches, practical tips for getting our ducks in a row, maybe even an emergency mantra for particularly scattered times…

As I write this and put an absurd amount of question marks at the end of my sentences, I realize the peanut butter and banana tortilla wrap in my hand is disappearing into my mouth faster than I can taste it. Being one of the slowest eaters I’ve personally ever met, I pause to consider my unconscious behavior and soon realize that Lesson One seems to literally be at hand.

Recognize when you’re accelerating at an unnecessary pace, if you’re feeling or acting hyper, frantic or anxious. (If you’re feeling overwhelmed, this is probably the case). The trick here is to recognize the growing momentum that doesn’t feel so good and step out of it by becoming present, grounding yourself and feeling the gentle movements of your own heartbeat or nature’s grace, rather than the feverish clamoring of society. That’s all – just stop and breath slower, smell the bouquet of flowers in your grocery cart, hear the music overhead, take a bite out of that baguette and really taste the crunch, the softness, the subtle flavor of bread with nothing smothered on it.

And then later, when we’re more “pulled together” and feeling more “ourselves”, maybe look at what caused us to feel overwhelmed in the first place. If we have too many demands being placed upon us, it’s time for some honest-to-goodness values/goals assessment and re-prioritization. If our sense of overwhelm is being caused by an over-reaction to outer or inner triggers, on the other hand, then we should look at why we’re feeling so vulnerable and why we’re letting our psyche go on autopilot.

The truth is that we typically have a choice in just how connected we are, how we handle those strands of our existence, and when we give them too much power. There is rarely ever a real need to be parent, child, employee and student all at once. How much does the world need for us alone to save it, and come on, is that really possible? – No. Why not practice kindness over competition, creativity over debate, overall goodness over perfection, or whatever contributes to our sense of inner peace? Rather than being something to pursue, as if it’s up ahead or moving faster than us, simplicity is in the now and authenticity is nowhere but within.

More than being accomplished or being the best that we can be, is the trick to life just being fully and honestly in as many moments as we can? I’m starting to think that living up to my potential and leaving a legacy shouldn’t take as much out of me as it does… So maybe if I ease up on the expectations, those things will happen in their own way and in their due course. And if not – if I just leave this planet empty-handed, one day knowing I learned to appreciate it all – well, I think that simple lesson is pretty darn profound.

Monday, August 15, 2011

There’s a Word for That? Thank Goodness!

I love language - writing it more than speaking it, to be honest. But that’s just because it seems to come out more eloquently on paper for me. In addition, speaking can sometimes take a lot out of me. If I had it my way, in fact, we’d all communicate telepathically. But wouldn’t that open a can of worms? Imagine if we did not/could not censor ourselves. On one hand, we could get into a lot of trouble. On the other hand, wouldn’t communications be more pure and honest?!

Sometimes, I find it difficult to find the right words to express what I’m feeling or experiencing. This can be hardest when I’m having a challenging conversation with someone. The intensity of the emotions paired with a limited means of expression can yield frustration indeed. And that’s certainly not going to make relating any easier.

Yesterday I stumbled upon the word ‘Shenpa’ by accident. My initial reaction was ‘There’s a word for that?!’ while my second reaction was relief. It’s a Buddhist word that doesn’t translate to our vocabulary as well as it does to our actual lived experience. ‘Getting hooked’ is one of the closest translations. But I find that once you match the term ‘shenpa’ to your previously un-named experience, the ‘Ah-ha’ alone can be rather freeing.

Imagine someone comes at you with a particularly condescending tone, or they criticize or even insult you. In a nanosecond you can go from feeling peachy keen to feeling like, well, crap. You feel it deep down, instantaneously – that cold, gray, closing up sensation. For me, it’s like a dark shadow is filling up my insides and making it mighty chilly in there. In addition, armor rapidly forms around me like an impenetrable shield. It can probably be likened to self-preservation or ego blocking, but it doesn’t feel good, nor is it productive.

If someone is not literally coming at us with sticks, stones and swords, our subconscious reaction can be an over-reaction. Often, the person who we blame for turning our warm fuzzies to ash didn’t even mean to do the damage. But regardless what’s happening outside of us, it’s the interior turmoil that is doing most of the damage.

Typically, we are to a large extent responding to things that have happened to us in the past. The comment reminds us of feeling slighted long ago, and our defenses go on high alert. What we’re experiencing internally doesn’t feel good anymore and we just want it to stop. But instead of sitting with the feeling and seeing what it brings up, we tend to lash out or “spin” out cognitively, trying to frantically rationalize our way out of the feeling.
When my husband and I argue, I’m pretty sure it is the shenpa we each experience that puts the stick in the spoke of the bicycle we’re both on.

Now, I haven’t had a chance to test this theory yet, but you can be sure that the next time I clam up and close off because of a hurtful or confusing comment, I’m going to try to stop the momentum myself; put on the breaks, get off the bike and sit on the grass. Then I’m going to attempt exploring the feeling that’s gripped me more like a scientist than a wounded child.

We’ll see what happens. But at least I have a word to put to the feeling now, and I know I’m not alone.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Do You Hide Yourself Away?

When we feel vulnerable, it is considered a weakened state by our society. But is it, really? Might it depend on what has weakened us and whether it’s an acute or chronic state of being? Let’s examine the more chronic state of vulnerability, as the acute kind is usually situation-specific and remedied by the disappearance of said situation.

If I am made to feel vulnerable by something emotional like grief, it is difficult to accomplish regular tasks, mingle openly with the world, and tend to my life as it was. But is this so bad? Maybe my life needs some re-ordering at this time, and my downtime allows me the self-reflection to do something about it. If I am made vulnerable by something more mental, like an existential or life crisis, I will feel unstable and perhaps frightened of what will come of me and my life. But am I really unsafe? Or is that just my ego talking, and so is this really an opportunity to break through it? If I feel vulnerable in a physical sense – as in an illness – it affects the heart and mind just as much as the body at first. But this is also the fastest way to put things in perspective and see what really and truly matters in our lives.

Sometimes we feel vulnerable from a life event, but it’s not always trauma that causes us to feel this way. I’ve found for instance, that I seem to have a 5-1/2 year cycle of doing and creating, then questioning and breaking down, until re-birth and re-building once again. We all have cycles of growth, coasting and burn out. If we didn’t, we’d probably be going through our lives more like robots, not assessing things periodically to see if they still align with our values and goals. And since we all experience bouts of vulnerability at times, I hope we can see that it’s just another knot on the old tree; that it’s part of the life experience, and so should be respected, accepted and perhaps talked about once in a while so we can learn to feel safer even within that rupturing, wounded, temporary state of being.

In her book When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chrodron says that true awakening is letting ourselves die over and over again. Of course the dying is really the false assumptions, beliefs and needs we’ve acquired over time thinking they’ll protect us. Instead of shielding us, however, they keep us trapped in illusion. Feeling this exposed and vulnerable is not how we tend to want to feel, but this raw state is a sign of authentic being and honest living. Going out into the world with our defenses smashed to pieces – while we may feel unsteady and transparent – is basically living through the fear. Awareness plus Humility plus Presence equals Courage.
How do you feel about yourself now?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

When It All Comes Crashing Down...

About a year ago I had what seemed to me like a mini nervous breakdown. There was a lot going on in my life and there were decisions I needed to make that I wasn’t yet clear about. More specifically, there were longtime work stressors, mounting wedding pressures and a sudden pet illness at the forefront. I was going along “handling” it all, I thought, until something rather small reared its little head and took me over the deep end. It wasn’t really about the situation itself, but rather my exaggerated emotional reaction to something not significant in the scheme of things. Deep down, I knew I was probably blowing it out of proportion, but my emotions had the better of me and I was a little bit beside myself. The combined emotions from all the events were festering and there were too many of them to manage, so I sort of lost my cool.

Once it was “safe” (out of the public’s eye), I let myself feel the emotions for a while. I had to honor them in order to eventually put them in perspective. I was then able to explore those feelings with a calmer, clearer head. And it didn’t take long for me to realize what the most chronic stressor was. So not wanting a repeat of said “losing it” situation, I had to admit that I had some control over the stressor and recognized that it was time to finally do something about it.

While it wasn’t the most acute emotional situation at hand out of all the things weighing on me, it was the shadow that had been lingering for far too long, and this decision made everything else easier to deal with. So in a sense, I can thank that little mid-life crisis and the temporary cracking of my character for giving me a literally new outlook on my life. Things have been much better since (phew!).

What I experienced that day was probably more like an anxiety attack than a nervous breakdown, but if I hadn’t stopped to consciously evaluate the situation, things would have only gotten worse. Sometimes, when life’s challenges, emotions and beliefs go ignored and unexplored, the pressure literally becomes too much to bear. There is a point of no return when we cannot regain the trust that we had prior; Thus, we can no longer fully engage life.

When we are able to learn something from our crisis and move beyond it, however, this is when we break through boundaries rather than breaking down. Sometimes the difference between the two is simply being able and willing to see the signs of trouble ahead. If we deny how we’re feeling or what we need for too long, something’s eventually going to have to give. On the other hand, if we regularly get in touch with and honor ourselves enough to accept our feelings and question outdated beliefs about the way things are “supposed” to be, life can move forward and we can go along more willingly and honestly.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Messy Dreams - Can They Bring Order to Life?

I had a series of dreams the other night where people had good intentions, but ended up causing more chaos than comfort. Even though our car went off the road, our accommodations were cold and disorganized, and our pre-arranged plans became hindered and monotonous, no one seemed to care but me.

Although it was supposed to be a fun occasion - I think it was my birthday - nothing was as it should be. Everything felt foreign, I was too far from home, and yet I had little control. Although I was grateful for their efforts, I really wanted to take the reins and chart a new course. But everyone was too busy - unconsciously wrapped up in the unnecessary chaos – to notice my growing desperation and attempts at getting everyone’s attention.

So while I was the ‘guest of honor’ in these dreams, why did I feel so invisible??

Upon waking, the dreams didn’t specifically seem to relate to any part of my life. But because they were weighing on my mind, I figured I’d better ask: Where in my life might I feel this way? Where in my life could I be feeling helpless to the events that transpire? Where in my life might I be feeling invisible (and not even know it)? Where in my life might I need to take more initiative and exert more control?

Although these dreams were rather unpleasant – and especially because they didn’t at first feel significant to me – I figured I’d better explore them further. In writing my impressions of the dreams now, I see certain word choices standing out and resonating with me. Because it’s not literally about my mom driving the car off the road, being inconvenienced, or my husband choosing a boring place to hang out. It’s about how I felt about these events, which translates to how I currently feel about something in my life.

So I break it down. What’s with the car going off the road? We didn’t end up being in any danger, but I was worried about damage to the car and was peeved that my mother wasn’t being as responsible and aware as usual. So what did these feelings make me want to do? Take the wheel and more deliberately steer my own life.

How about the lack of luxury when we were supposed to be in the lap of luxury? What really bothered me was the lack of hominess and comfort. I wasn’t where I belonged, I knew it, and yet I felt trapped since my loved ones all seemed so content. While this could be over-interpreted as me needing an entire life overhaul, sometimes dreams communicate to us in exaggerated and dramatic ways so we’ll take notice. It could have just been a reminder that I know best about what feels right to me, regardless what others around me are thinking or doing.

And finally, the old standard hangout and birthday “celebration” void of any fun… I was simply downright bored, but didn’t feel in control of where I was or what I was doing. Again, the word “control” comes up. While it can have a negative connotation – as in someone being ‘over-controlling’ and unable to go with the flow – perhaps I am under-utilizing my own ability to control something in my life; something that needs some facilitating and mastering. It could also just be that I’m bored with some aspect of our social life and need to think outside the box to freshen it.

As for the birthday reference, birthdays are a celebration of someone’s life, a reminder of the innocence and purity they were born with, a call back to one’s true essence, perhaps. And it just so happens that like never before, I am deliberately designing my life based on this essence. It is an experiment in faith and meaning, passion and personal power… And so it is imperative that I - as the re-affirmed captain of this ship - take the wheel, steer the course, make the executive decisions… and take time to plan my own celebrations once in a while!

Monday, February 28, 2011

When It's So Absurd You Just Have to Laugh

In keeping with the theme of our last blog entry – and because we aren’t sure if the rash of unfortunate events surrounding our marketing postcard has fully subsided yet – we wanted to delve a little deeper into mischievous mythological territory. Speaking of Leprechauns and Menehune and volatile little things that never fully show themselves, Stephen brought up the Trickster archetype and “things that can go either way in life.”
What exactly is a Trickster, anyway? Loosely I knew what it meant, but was curious to uncover more, especially because I’d felt I was at the butt of several of its recent antics. And I wondered where exactly it originates from - whether the individual’s psyche, the collective conscious, the powers that be, the creative life force itself, or something I couldn’t yet comprehend.

Reading Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth & Art by Lewis Hyde, if I had to choose one word to describe the Trickster, I’d say it equates with “uncertainty”. And isn’t that one particular word we tend to find hard to swallow in life?
The trickster symbolizes “the playful and disruptive side of the human imagination” as it is embodied in mythology. This makes sense to me. But Tricksters as “indispensable culture heroes”? I didn’t yet see it.

In North America, the Trickster is represented by the Coyote, in West Africa it is called ‘Eshu’, in Greece Hermes the Thief is the scapegoat, and to the western world Mercury (as in Mercury retrograde) is both trickster and teacher. Of course there are more: Raven, Vampire, Fox, Dragon, Joker, Jester, etc. What the Trickster has in common: It creates ambiguity and messiness to make this life imperfect. It is “the wild, creative genius that breaks up static institutions and saves humanity with archetypal merriment” (Robert Aitken). Aka, “subversive innovation”.

The Trickster represents confusion, blurred lines and space, that which is un-certain; leaving us always a little bit on edge. Tricksters are boundary crossers, boundary keepers and boundary changers. We create boundaries – because they make us feel safer – and Coyote or Eshu comes along in the night and moves the markers.
Tricksters are voracious wanderers whose appetites are never quite satisfied and whose home can be likened to the wind itself. Curiously, they are mostly male. In this regard it can be surmised that the world’s cultures mainly recognize the Trickster as male because they cannot give birth and therefore cannot become confined or defined by their own creations.

In a paradoxical sense, Tricksters act as “creators of culture” by stealing gifts from the heavens and giving them to humans. And yet they also break down certain rigid parts of that very culture. When you view this in a big-picture way, they “continue to keep our world lively and give it the flexibility to endure” by “uncover(ing) and disrupt(ing) the very things that cultures are based on.” The Trickster, according to Jung, is an aspect of the shadow archetype, at least in its negative traits. It has the ability to… “play havoc with the hyper-rational personality and community."

Although unwelcome annoyances at times, the Trickster is not seeking to do harm for the sake of doing harm itself. He recognizes that good and bad go together ; that yin and yang make a harmonious paradox, a paradoxical harmony, an eloquent contradiction that is just life itself.

In the highest sense, Tricksters “open the road to possible new worlds.” And although there are consequences to this, if we try to bind, suppress or deny the Trickster, even worse consequences will likely ensue. There is simply no sense fighting a strong current that will eventually get bored or distracted by some greater endeavor and move on. Trickster is a natural part of life, in order for life to go on creatively and free itself from the rigid forms a society tends to create. Frustrating as the tricks can be, little bits of freedom along the way are the ultimate gifts.

In reading the descriptions and discussions on the Trickster as portrayed by Hyde, I realized I like the Trickster and have some trickster in my blood myself. So does that mean I caused all those disruptions to our project? Or that I should simply honor the Trickster’s motives... which were.... well, who ever really knows?! To keep my eyes open to new ways of doing things? To not be trapped by expectation – my own or others’? To not take it all so seriously? To let myself fail? To let the Trickster in me come out to play? To let go of the outcome because I was too invested? Or Maybe there just became too many different sets of ‘rules’ I had to play by with this project, and maybe Hermes stepped in as one obstacle after another to get the ball rolling another direction.

Pondering the Trickster mythology makes me think of clowns... how adverse many adults are to them. I always assumed it was simply because clowns tend to have an appearance that unnerves us. But clowns also engage in activities that make us uncomfortable. For instance, they wear a “mask”, so to speak, and we don’t like when people hide behind things because we can’t fully see what we’re in for. Clowns also tend to pull foreign objects out of their sleeves or our ears, and we don’t like these little annoying surprises. But is the clown really just a trickster in human form, someone who teases us just enough to get a rise out of us, maybe hoping we’ll relax, let go, and laugh at ourselves? And what happens if we actually stop to partake in some nonsensical play? Will it all come crashing down or perhaps vibrate the unused china just to the edge of the hutch?

The answer to that, says the Magic 8-Ball, “Reply hazy – try again.”

{Coyote artist uknown}

Monday, February 14, 2011

Life Sometimes Equals Snafus

I would call myself creative, but not necessarily artistic. I would call myself capable and determined, but I also have my limits. Sometimes, no matter our intentions or efforts, things don’t work out how we planned. And sometimes, those things are small, but nonetheless significant to our lives.

For instance. Stephen and I have been designing some marketing material to announce our new and expanded services at Middle Way Health. We were having fun mixing professional details with free-form imagination. And in theory, everything was hunky dory; even glorious in minute ways. We liked what we’ve created so far, we felt accomplished, and we were happy to move onto a new project. Life requires momentum and we were riding this particular wave rather effortlessly.

Until… the rocks beneath the mighty ocean of life began to reveal themselves, preventing the harmony I envisioned in my head from duplicating itself on paper.

Sometimes, approaching things with an innocent or fresh perspective can yield wondrous results. At other times, the child inside needs some reassurance. For just as we were getting ready to go to print, we found out that the images we’ve extracted and glued together are not compatible or appropriate for print layout.

“Ok, no problem, still do-able,” I think, not pushing the panic button and still genuinely hopeful. So the determined and optimistic side of me attempts to get new images and put those together just like I had the old ones. But it turns out that the online publisher we’re using needs the images in a different format yet. So I go back to my sources and attempt to secure the altered ones. But while I’m able to open those, I can’t edit or thus utilize them the way I need to. In addition, I’m still having a compatibility issue that can’t be rectified unless one of the images is totally recreated. And that’s only about half of the snafus that keep swimming by and nipping at my toes.

On one hand, the life-experienced adult in me can laugh at the absurdity. Terms like ‘Murphy’s Law’ and ‘Comedy of Errors’ come to mind as I scratch my head and wonder how I could have avoided this conundrum in the first place. But if I had foreseen this potential trouble and sidestepped the project altogether, I wouldn’t have lived it and now been richer for the experience. (At least that’s how I have to look at the situation – without too much ‘Oh, woe is me, why is this happening?!’ lamenting, with some flexible focus, and a compromising meeting of the minds with my project partner.

Certainly, I would have preferred it all go as smoothly as planned. But I know I’m only somewhat in charge of what happens in life. So I put my best foot forward and stubbed a toe – it happens sometimes. And at least I’m one step closer than I was before, even if in a ‘one step forward, two steps back’ kind of way.

How will this all turn out? Literally, hopefully with some marketing materials we can at least live with. Reactively, hopefully not afraid to try something new in the future. And figuratively, hopefully with us wiser for the wear. Wise enough at least, to know that the planets do not always align in our favor, that there is a black hole for laundry socks somewhere, and that tricksters are always in our midst.

(The folklore of many nations around the world include stories of magical little people, like the Leprechauns of Ireland. In Hawaii, it is the mischievous Menehune who are said to haunt the deep forests or the mountains. They come out mostly at night to play tricks on people.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Resolutions & Intentions: Why 'The Secret' Isn’t Enough

In general, people seem to be happy about the New Year. What’s not to like about a fresh start? Before talking about our goals for the days, weeks and months to come, however, my husband and I took some time to reflect on what we’d accomplished in 2010. To our surprise, much of what we’d hoped to create, inspire or experience actually manifested (or the momentum was at least ignited).

Having an idea of what we want our lives to be like is essential for helping to steer them in the right direction. Being mindful of our goals and setting intentions are key ingredients for the laws of attraction. But we can’t stop there. We can’t put our wishes out there and then sit idly waiting for our dreams to come to us. But then, neither should we push so aggressively that we don’t allow life to unfold naturally. Life, in general, has to go on in order for our desires to become infused with energy.

At Middle Way Health we strive to create some structure for our goals, meanwhile also being open, flexible and balanced. The structure is the framework from which our goals can manifest, but our dreams need more than nails and 2-by-4s. We need to leave some open, undesignated space in which the unknowns or unexpected can unfold. The balance is created by accepting the limbo we’re in and seeing it as potential in motion.

Last weekend, Stephen led a ‘Four Wheels of the Chariot’ meditation retreat, based on ‘The Four Chariots of Spiritual Practice’. The four wheels represent mindfulness, relaxation, friendliness, and spaciousness.

• Mindfulness is making the decision to pay attention to something (Intention)
• Relaxation requires easing into the blending of our intention and current life circumstances, as well as easing into our body
• Friendliness is having non-judgment about what occurs (not always so easy to do), along with a sense of warmth
• And Spaciousness is leaving room for possibilities (sometimes different or even greater than we had envisioned)

Most of us are familiar with the book and movie ‘The Secret’. But it’s not the only “secret” we need to know. Being mindfully present and stopping at intention is not enough. We can formulate our goals in our head and “put them out there,” so to speak, but we can’t stop there. We also need relaxation of body, not just mind. In a sense, we have to trust that things will work out (even if it’s different than we’d hoped) and actually embody this faith in the processes of life. Otherwise, intention alone can become like a demand – and nobody likes to be commanded.

If you say, for instance, that you’re going to lose 20 lbs, but you don’t embody it – actually see the results and begin to feel the desire with your physical body – you are ignoring the importance of your full role in the process. Mindfulness alone is like a unicycle – only one person/thing can get on it. With a chariot, however, we can transport several people or entities at once, and our experience becomes multi-faceted rather than singularly-focused.

Typically, nothing much happens if we just sit and wait. We have to at least stay in the stream of life and go with the flow when it feels right. Like floating on an air mattress in a pool, we should relax into it and enjoy the subtle movements, but if we stop moving our arms and legs completely or for too long, we’ll end up stagnant in a corner with the gathering leaves.

Mindfulness is more than being present. It is remembering what we’re doing. And remembering – although cognitive - implies action. Action in the sense that we have purpose and a drive to engage in our lives no matter what the current circumstances.

Happy 2011!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Magical Words and Evolutionary Leaps

Sometimes we have to play with words in order to get where we want to go but have yet to fully define. This includes opening the mind and letting it “play” in the realm of possibility (aka, brainstorming). Words are important, but sometimes we (ok, I) get lazy and let the same overused words define us. But since we’re always evolving, so should our language evolve to represent where we are and where we want to go. Using the same old words to describe ourselves and our lives can keep us stuck in the past. Therefore, words have great power and that power can be harnessed.

In thinking about the new programs at Middle Way Health, Stephen and I took some time to figure out how best to convey our message genuinely and in entirety. Sometimes a word works just fine, but doesn’t feel fully encompassing. For instance, while we’re “expanding” our services, there’s really more to it than that. The expansion of services is a symbol for how Middle Way Health and its practitioners are evolving. The word ‘expanding’ for me conjures images of waist sizes around the holidays - and while it’s an adequate word - when we’re designing our future, I don’t think we should stop at “adequate”.

When we think of the changes at Middle Way Health, we see movement in all directions, so “growth” and “radiating” feel like fuller, better-rounded words to describe the progress under way. And since they evoke more holistic images in my head, that means more potential too.

Yet new services offered aren’t the only changes at Middle Way Health. There’s also our relationship with our clients, colleagues and prospective clients. Just as any kind of therapy requires some effort on both the practitioner and patient’s part, Middle Way Health is a place of interaction. We want people to get involved, participate, connect and perhaps link with others. This kind of holistic environment is created within sacred space - that atmosphere in which we can all let down our guards and be our authentic selves – and it creates more of the same. From this freedom come transformation and a blossoming of who we are, both individually and collectively.

A strong sense of who we are (or want to be) and how to best interact with the world then allows us to generate both confidence and compassion, and exude both vulnerability and empowerment. This personal branching out encourages others to show their true colors and figure out what it will take for them to blossom as well. We’re all role models for one another.

The core values of Middle Way Health have not changed; they are now simply more encompassing. Fostering awareness, empowerment, healing, creative expression, transformation and connection, Middle Way Health is a place where all of these things can converge. As a center for healing, creativity and growth, we all aim to thrive, not just survive.